Saturday, January 24, 2015

Your 2015 Giants: Vogie In!

As much as I thought that Vogelsong's exclamation at the victory parade for the 2014 Championship was his final words as a Giant - "Vogie Out!" - because of the full rotation we have plus Petit, a part of me was hoping beyond hope that the Giants could retain him.

That has come true, after various rumors of interest on the part of teams, then him flying into Houston, apparently THAT close to signing with them, it has been reported that Vogelsong will return to the Giants with a $4M deal with incentives (probably related to IP).  He had made it clear numerous times that he, in an ideal world, would return to the Giants, the team he loved so much that he begged for a job with the Giants, after being offered a spot with the Dodgers (they did so in 2011 and the rest is history...).  

He acknowledges that his role on the team is undefined, and he says he's fine with it, as he will take the ball when they give it to him and give it back when they ask for it back.  He (and particularly his wife) is happy to be back home in SF.

No news on who is next to be removed off of the 40-man roster.

FYI, Schulman tweeted that Scutaro was released with the thought that if a spot opens up early in the season (no DL outside of the season), they would add him to the roster and immediately put him on the 60-day DL.  I guess that would add to his MLB time for pension purposes.

ogc thoughts

Unless the Giants go with the 6-man rotation idea (my pet idea I've been pushing; however, according to Schulman tweet, none of the Giants upper brass is enamored with that idea), my best guess is that Vogelsong is rotation insurance and that he'll get first shot at the rotation should anything open up.

If the disaster scenario don't happen and all five starters keep their current spot - Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, Peavy, Lincecum, in that order - Vogelsong will get a spot in the bullpen, making the bullpen pretty set right now:  Casilla, Romo, Affeldt, Lopez, Vogelsong, Petit, with only one spot open.  Then Machi, Kontos, Strickland, and maybe Okert and Hall too, will battle for that last spot (Gutierrez too, I suppose, since he rejoined the team in the minors after being DFAed).

Hudson Rest Scenario

One scenario that Krukow laid out was that Hudson's recovery could extend into the first part of the season and that it would not be the worse thing to happen.  He's 40 now and extra rest like that would make him stronger later in the season.   So the idea here is to put Huddy on the DL to start the season, to rest up and get to 100% (and not just functional), with Vogie taking over the starting spot.  When Hudson is ready to return to the roster, I would guess that most probably, Vogie will be pushed to the bullpen unless another starter is having a really tough time (meaning, mostly, Lincecum, but we all know the question marks with everyone else:  Bumgarner's 270 IP, 4000+ pitches in 2014, Cain's own recovery, Peavy's reverting to first half or second half 2014 form, Lincecum able to dominate consistently with his Dad again helping game to game).

Thinking it over a lot, I think that this scenario makes the most sense.  Hudson probably would be ready by spring training and be able to take the starting mound to start the season, but probably not at 100% given his age and that the surgery just happened in late December.   Why not sign Vogelsong to start the season in his place, then see where the team is when Hudson is ready?  There are enough question marks that such a risk mitigation move would make a lot of sense.

Plus, Vogelsong really wanted to return to the team and he's at the age where he's not going to get a lot of chances to win it all again, better to take reduced role with potential champs than veteran teacher role with a losing team trying to transition back into the fast lane.  There's time enough to take such a role down the line as a coach if he wanted.

In addition, that allows the Giants to keep both Machi and presumably Kontos on the roster longer.  Both have done well in the majors for the Giants and both are out of options, I believe, so the Giants most likely will probably trade one off instead of DFAing him.   They would probably get more value from either player by trading in the middle of the coming season than they would trading them during spring, though if a team suddenly (injury) had need, they could do the trade then and let Strickland or Hall or Okert come up instead.
I like both, but neither has really distinguished themselves in the playoffs, certainly not like our four-some of Casilla, Romo, Affeldt, Lopez (and just imagine if Wilson had been able to stay healthy...).   And I'm torn between the two.  Machi is the only guy with a great fastball in our bullpen, so that is one great reason to keep him.  Kontos, on the other hand, is only 30 YO (Machi will be 33) and has a good slider to strike out people.  I think ultimately youth and specialty pitch will win over age and possibly fading fastball (Machi's K-rate went down a lot in 2014 vs. 2013).  But the Giants will do what they think is right, so it will be interesting what happens.

Other Scenarios

Obviously, if any other starter should need to be replaced, be it injury or poor performance, Vogelsong will probably be the first in line to take his spot.  Should the rotation stay healthy and productive together, he'll probably be the spot starter who will get a few middle innings relief jobs to keep his pitches sharp, while Petit will be the full-time long relief and occasional spot starter, especially given that Petit has done very well when placed in the rotation, but not as well when spot starting.   Sabean in an interview a day or two ago, noted that Petit will be a "super reliever", which suggests that he'll be used like Lincecum was in the 2012 playoffs, much like how I was hoping that Lincecum would do for the Giants at some point when he's no longer starter material.

I'm just happy he's back with the team, and (unfortunately for him) hope that he's stuck in the bullpen all season long.  But hopefully he'll be plenty rested and ready to do great things in the playoffs, should we make it in (and I think we should).

Go Giants!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Your 2015 Giants: Aoki is A-OK With Me

The Giants reportedly signed Nori(chika) Aoki, formerly with the KC Royals, to come over to the clubhouse across from them in the World Series, to be the Giants starting LF, as the Giants appear to view Blanco as a valuable 4th OF (as reported by Chron).  He has mostly played RF during his MLB career, spanning the last three seasons (not sure what he mostly played in Japan, but given that he played his last season there in CF, presumably he was a CF in Japan).  He has mostly led off for his teams (occasionally batted second too), but the Giants appear to favor him batting 7th (Blanco's usual spot), though he would lead off when Pagan gets a game off.

He gets a $4M contract for 2015 (age 33 season), with $1.5M in incentives that he can earn, plus a team option for 2016 for $5.5M (also with $1.5M in incentives) or a $700K buyout.   MLBTR reports that he took less years and money so that he could get more playing time playing for a contender, and he liked the idea of living in SF) .

ogc thoughts

Great acquisition by the Giants, as now we have a great backup (career .353 OBP both overall and batting leadoff) for lead-off should Pagan hit the DL again.  He has averaged 22 SB per season, and 25 SB over a 162 game season.  Makes great contact, over 90%, plus his K/BB ratio is a hair over 1.0, which is great, he is a hitter in the mode of Scutaro:  high BA, high OBP, low SLG/ISO.   That is great for both leadoff and batting second, which Aoki has mostly been doing during his MLB career.

He is kind of a reverse Blanco in that he has hit LHP better than RHP as a major leaguer.   Yet he's the starter and Blanco is the backup, and I would attribute that to Blanco never figuring out how to be himself when he's leading off.  He lets the pressure gets to him up there, whereas he's been a good (i.e. average) hitter batting lower in the lineup, 5, 6, 7.  If he could just do what he does lower in the lineup, he'll be a starter and could get a nice longer-term contract.

Personally, if Aoki is the starter, I would rather just go with Aoki at leadoff now, instead of Pagan, since he has a low SLG, and use Pagan in the middle of the lineup, like 3rd, where he has hit before, giving us a couple of speedsters hitting ahead of Posey, Pence, Belt, for them to drive in, with Pagan having the ability to drive in guys as well.   Pagan has said he's fine anywhere in the lineup, as long as he is in the lineup, though that could have been for show.  Aoki has been healthy so far as a major leaguer, for the most part, with just the one DL in late June last season, with a left groin strain, so he would be more likely to provide stability up top.

And if we are going to bat Aoki in the bottom of the lineup (frankly, I don't agree with all the talk so far, as Bochy noted hitting McGehee anywhere from 4th on down, and I think it would be better to mix up 6/7/8 among McGehee, Aoki, and Crawford, depending on who the starter is, and what they have in the bullpen), it might be better to bat him 8th because then he could function as a secondary leadoff hitter, heck, bat him 9th and the pitcher 8th, to put another speedster ahead of the top of the lineup.  But as we all know, this is probably all for naught, as Bochy's talk ahead of the season will typically yield to what his gut (and circumstances) tell him to do later in the season.

On the financial analysis side, it's a pretty good deal even at what he produced last season, where he was at 1.0 WAR (WAR is being priced around $7M per WAR right now, so he's getting paid at around 0.7 WAR production), but if he reverts to his 2012-13 rate of 3+ WAR, the Giants got a huge bargain plus can keep him for 2016 as well.  The main difference appears to be his defense, he was kinda good in Milwaukee, but horrible with KC, resulting in the wide swing.  And so far, wide swings like that is common, it's not uncommon to see players rate well then swing around up and down, like BABIP does.

But if you want to go by performance, he's been good in 2012-13, poor in 2014, which could be a result of him playing with a pulled groin muscle, which would cut into his speed and ability to cover as much as he used to, resulting in lowered defensive stats.  Then again, while rWAR has his defense good then bad, fWAR has his defense bad then OK, so who knows?  UZR has an opposite assessment of his fielding relative to DRS and that other metrics that Baseball-Reference.com uses.

Oh, and by fWAR, he's been roughly average WAR (slightly over) each season for the past three seasons.  That is probably part of the reason Fangraphs thinks the Giants got a bargain (right near end of article; though this other Fangraph article calls it "a steal").  An average player is earning around $12-14M per season right now, and the Giants could retain him for $12.5M over the next two seasons, or roughly half his production value of the past three seasons per fWAR.

The Fangraphs article mentions something that has been noted before:  the Giants are powerless.   To be more precise (as I am wont to do), the article notes the Giants lack of homerun power.   But it is not like they have no power, for while they lack overall HR power, they make up for it with other power, as shown by ISO.  Belt, Posey, and Pence are good power hitters, with pretty high ISO, plus Crawford is right around average power and Pagan a bit behind.  It is McGehee, Panik, and Aoki who are powerless.   And I would note again, the BP study of linkage between a team's offensive profile and success in the post-season found that there is no correlation between power hitting, whether HR or otherwise, with deep post-season runs.  So while this is interesting as a talking point, because of fans' preoccupation with dingers, for us Giants fans, the more relevant fact is that it won't hurt our chances to win another trophy.

The Giants, having their defensive focus, hopefully can help him be good defensively (they have been able to coax good defensive years out of Burrell and Huff in the OF, per advanced fielding metrics), which would mean a huge bargain for the Giants in terms of WAR, because of how well he bats.  Appears that they have learned from the Huff deal:  if you are giving a player an opportunity to make good on returning to prior goodness, get a team option so you don't have to pay through the nose in order to retain him for another season, in case the first one was a fluke.  Though as noted above, Aoki took a lesser deal (less years and money) in order to get more playing time with a contender (plus he likes the idea of living in SF).

But again, the greater deal for the Giants is that they got a great leadoff option in Aoki should anything drastic happens to the lineup, that is a great risk mitigation move on the part of the Giants.   Pagan going out has obviously been a huge problem, both in 2013 and 2014.  But losing other players in the lineup could mess things up, at which point, Aoki could take over leadoff duties, and Pagan could hit in a run-producing role, should something happen there.  Great depth for the 25-man roster and lineup, depth at leadoff that we haven't had in years (heck, there were years where we wondered who would lead off:  remember Dusty pushing Shinjo into the leadoff spot?).

Rosterbation

The roster seems pretty set now, with only a few positions open for competition.  The starting lineup appears to be Pagan, Petit, Posey, Belt, Pence, McGehee, Aoki, Crawford (my best guess at the Giants expected lineup, at the moment).  The starting rotation appears to be Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, Peavy, Lincecum, with Petit as 6th starter/long relief.  The bullpen is Casilla (presumably still closer), Romo, Affeldt, Lopez, Machi, Kontos/Strickland/Okert/Cordier.  The bench is Hanchez/Susac, Arias, Adrianza, Blanco, Perez/Ishikawa.

One thing that Sabean has been trying to do in the recent era of competitive play, is something I call risk mitigation in terms of roster construction.  He's been talking about this for a long time, talking about the flexibility that certain players provide because they can play multiple positions, and well enough, guys like Winn, DeRosa, Melky, Pagan, Blanco, Arias.  That gives the team the opportunity to move players in the lineup, like a Rubik's Cube, shifting without losing a huge step, as most teams need to do when they lose someone important to the lineup.

As I noted, Aoki is a key addition in this risk mitigation scenario as the backup leadoff hitter, in case Pagan is lost again, for any reason, during the 2015 season.  This is important because Pagan has played only one full season (2012) out of the last four seasons, missing large parts of three seasons.  It is also important because Blanco has proved to not be able to hit consistently well as a leadoff hitter for us during that timeframe.

He actually outhit Pagan for the first month plus after taking over in 2013, but when the bottom dropped out of the lineup, he was caught in the undertow, and started to try hitting 5-run homers to make up for that, dooming his efforts.  And that is what has costed him during this career, being unable to hit within his abilities instead of trying to hit according to what he thinks he should be hitting when leading off.

I think he would have been fine as our starting LF, batting 7th, but if Pagan is gone, he would be the logical leadoff guy again, and we've been there, done that, we know that don't work.  He's just too valuable as a 4th OF who would not be as huge a drop from the starting OF, because of his great defense.  With Aoki in place as the replacement leadoff hitter, Blanco can step in for Pagan and bat in Aoki's 7th place position, with little dropoff in overall production.

Same with other players.  Arias at 3B, he's been even better than Sandoval defensively there, while OK offensively.  Sandoval being out and replaced by Arias would result in minimal reduction in overall production for the Giants in seasons past.  He and Adrianza would also be good enough for a while at 2B, while Adrianza would be good enough at SS should Crawford end up injured again, instead of Bochy simply playing him, as he did in 2013, having Adrianza around could enable the Giants to DL Crawford and let him heal properly and more quickly.

Same with Petit in the starting rotation, he probably would have been fine in that role for 2015, but given the fragility of pitchers (TINSTAAPP), it behooves a team built on pitching and fielding to be able to substitute in Petit when necessary, unlike the Bridegrooms, who, while they had a boatload of starting pitchers that they could go to, they were of the ilk of Maholm, Hernandez, and Correia, they altogether were 5-8 (11-14 overall) with a collective 5.22 ERA in 25 starts.

That type of pitching just eats innings, it leaves a team in poorer position, had Bochy been as good in one-run games as on average, the Giants would have ended up with more wins and won the division.  Starting pitching depth is not the most important factor, quality replacement starting pitching is.  Petit is quality replacement and he can keep the position warm until the Giants can trade for someone like Peavy.

And, of course, we still have multiple closers, good backup there.  Casilla looks likely to continue to be the closer, but we got Romo back, and obviously he was a closer before.  And while he's never been a closer for us (except perhaps briefly, when Bochy said he was going to a committee but still mostly just used one guy, whether Casilla or Romo), Affeldt probably would do a great job for us there as well, if necessary.   And we have had this trio now since 2010.

Need for Another Starting Pitcher

The Giants have continually been mentioned in rumors, even after the Peavy signing, for a starting pitcher.    For example, Shields.  Not sure what that would have meant for the rotation because we already had five starters and the Giants have already said that Lincecum was a starter.  The only way another starter would work, from what I can figure out, is if the Giants went with my idea that I've been mentioning in comments and posts regarding going with a 6-man rotation, in order to lessen the strain on your aces' arm, and the staff in general.

Clearly, post-season work both adds on strain on the arm, while shortening the off-season for rest and recovery.   Having a 6-man rotation means that the average starter gets 27 starts (at 6 IP average that's only 142 IP, at 7 IP, 189 IP).  Plus, it gives the manager the ability to skip someone's start occasionally, which pushes up the other starters up a day, while giving the pitcher a 12-14 day blow to rest or work on stuff.   Or they could go with the top 5 for a month or so, then sometime in May, go to the 6-man rotation.  I think that there are many benefits to having a 6-man rotation, but the negative here is that then there is one less man on the bench, either position player or reliever.  And that would limit Bochy's potential moves, and flexibility in strategy.

I think one way this could work is if the team had a position player who could also pitch relief, like if he pitched only to eat innings in a big blowout type of game.  A guy like Brooks Kieschnick.   I know this is risky, and I'm not suggesting that Posey be the guinea pig, but Buster was a closer in college, and there are other position players who played duo roles like that.  Being able to bring in somebody like that would given the manager another weapon to rely on, assuming the Giants develop the guy's pitching as well as his hitting and fielding.

If you have an alternative idea for why the team is looking for another starting pitcher, even one as good as Shield, I would love to hear it.  Replacing Lincecum is one idea I've seen, but then that means he's in the bullpen or traded for nothing much (plus the Giants would have to cover most of his salary, that would seem to be a waste).   Some might say to replace Hudson, but what if he recovers as advertised and is ready for the start of the 2015 season?  Seems we are back to replacing Lincecum.  Backup for Cain is another possible reason, but again, if Cain is good to go, we are back to replacing Lincecum.  Or the 6-man rotation.

Arbitration Follies

The Chronicle article also noted the arbitration situations for the players eligible and who had not agreed to deals yet.  Petit agreed to a one year deal for $2.1M before figures got exchanged.   Also, subsequent to that article, the Giants (per MLBTR) agreed to a two year deal with Blanco for $3.6M in 2015, and $3.9M in 2016, covering his remaining arbitration years.  He had asked for $4.0M and the Giants had offered $3.3M, so the Giants roughly hewed to their formula of signing some arbitration players to a two year contract with first the Giants offer, then the player's asking salary.  He got $200K more overall, bumped up in 2015, while taking slightly less in 2016.

The remaining players and the offer and asks:

  • Belt:  $3.0M/$4.5M
  • Crawford:  $2.4M/$3.95M
  • McGehee:  $4.0M/$5.4M

I do not expect McGehee to get a two year deal.  So he'll probably get somewhere in near the middle ($4.7M is exact middle).

Crawford I can see getting a two year deal, maybe even three years to cover his entire arbitration eligibility.  Honestly, the Giants offer looks to be on the low side.  Using the 40% rule of thumb for the first year arbitration value, that only values him at $6.0M or roughly a 1 WAR player.  His ask puts him at $10M per season.  Maybe 2 years at $2.5M/$4M, or 3 years at $3M/$4M/$6M.

Belt might be the second arbitration meeting to happen (AJP being the first).  The two sides have been contentious before.  Apparently the Giants offer is only $100K above his salary last season, from what I read in comments somewhere.  Then again, it was a wasted season, as he didn't play very much of the season, plus his batting line went down, as his BA and walk rate plunged, while his strikeout rate went up.  At least they didn't ask for a pay cut, as some teams have done in this situation before.  His agents appear to be like Lincecum's, looking to avoid committing long-term to anything because they expect the player to have an even better season and really knock the ball out of the park in the next round of arbitration.

I can't really see the Giants getting a $3M/$4.5M two year deal.   $4M and $6M is obviously more realistic (mid-point is $3.75M, and the Giants sometimes round upward a few hundred grand for the better players), but I don't really see it happening.  I only expect a one year deal, probably just short of $4M, as Belt and his agents continue to bet on a breakout year from him.  Don't blame them.

I would love to sign him to a three year deal to cover his arbitration years, plus maybe option a free agent year, as I think he's capable of great things and be Votto-lite, but I don't think his side will allow it.  I wouldn't either, if I were his agent.

But as a player gets deeper into arbitration - this is Belt's second of four - money is starting to get kind of big (it's all relative in baseball), and you never know how much a player is willing to take, just for the security, even if he might be leaving money on the table.   $10M could tempt some players.  Throw in a third year at, say, $8M, and the player might bite, $18M is a lot to turn down, especially given Belt's injury prone ways while batting, with two HBP broken hands in four seasons.  Round it up to $20M, and that might get a player willing to sign up.  We'll see, it'll be interesting either way.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Your 2015 Giants: Rotation

I see a lot of consternation with the Giants rotation and the depth.  The great blog Raising Matt Cain has had some comments about this (like this one).

ogc thoughts

The rotation right now is Bumgarner, Cain, Hudson, Peavy, Lincecum, with Petit as long man/6th starter.

Madison Bumgarner

Most are not worried about him except for the 270+ inning he threw in 2014.   While it is true that Bumgarner has never thrown that many innings before (covering 4,000+ pitches), something else one has to consider is that in 2010, he threw 3,393 pitches between the minors and majors, while still keeping up with his routine of throwing on the side:  every day!  Pitchers in the majors, he discovered, did not throw every day, in order to conserve strength for their starts, and at some point he decided that he should do the same thing too.

So it is very probable that Bumgarner has already thrown more than 4,000 pitches in a season before, in 2010 when you include his throwing every day, and he did not have any problems with that then, and thus he should not have any problems with it in 2014.  And who is kidding who, while he might not throw every day, I would bet that he still throws more than most pitchers do between starts.  Furthermore, many pitchers have thrown over 300 innings and had long careers in the past.  And look at the guys who have the bodies to handle that type of work - Feller, Ryan, Clemens - Bumgarner has the type of body that I would categorize as "farm boy" who seem to be able to handle the workload jess fine sir.

So while I understand the concern, there are mitigating factors as to why it is not a problem.  Though, really, this is the least of anyone's worries, I'll note.

Matt Cain

Obviously, people are worried about his recovery from elbow and ankle surgery.  I'm not sure exactly why.

For me, the major danger from these surgeries is the possibility of infection and of a mistake being made.  We are past the point of infection as it should have healed over by now.  And if there was any mistake, it should have been obvious to Matt by now because he should have started his off-season throwing program by now and there would be talk about him possibly needing to go under the knife again.  So neither of these should be in play anymore.

That then leaves the irrational fear that surgery means something could have changed for the worse.  It didn't, it changed for the better, as he had the chips removed from his elbow, which is very minor (relatively) surgery as arthroscopy is minimally invasive, which he's been dealing with since forever and the bone spurs on his ankle.  It is not like they did some structural change or move body parts around (like in TJS).  Despite these long term impediments, he has pitched very well as a major league pitcher for his whole career.

So my minimum expectations is that he'll return to prior goodness, the Cain we have known and loved during this extended period of competitiveness, 2009-2013.  And, as a possible bonus, perhaps be better than ever, now that he's not impinged in any way now.  And I realize that he was pretty good before, and perhaps I'm being too simplistic, but basically he was healthy before but pitched well in spite of the chips being in the way sometimes, but now he has no chips to worry about, but still has healthy as before.  Seems obvious to me that he should at minimum return to prior goodness.

Tim Hudson

I can see the fear that people are having, due to him getting surgery at age 40, and especially on the ankle that was horribly broken not that long ago.  Again, I'm not seeing why the fear is so large.

Yes, surgery can be dangerous.  It should be a number of weeks for the sutures to heal, so infection is still a possibility, but at under 1%, it is very uncommon and unlikely.  So surgery today, while not 100%, is generally safely done.

And bone spurs are not that big a deal to be operated on (same thing Cain got done too).  This is a relatively common and easy surgery, from what I understand.  Arthroscopy has made such surgery much safer, as it is minimally invasive, speeding recovery time as well.  Roughly 80% of such a simple problem have good or excellent results.  So while there is a chance of a problem, it is more likely that he will be OK.

In addition, two factors mitigate any issues regarding delaying Hudson's start of the season.  First of all, many teams operate with only four starters for the first month or so, and the Giants could chose to do that.  They have generally not done that in recent years, especially after a playoff season, but could.  Secondly, they have Petit around to take up the slack, should the Giants chose to go with a 5-man rotation to start the season, until Hudson is ready.   And Petit has done well when placed in the rotation and not an emergency starter, as I get into below.

Jake Peavy

For Peavy, his prior stretch of poor performance, particularly punctuated by his very bad first half of 2014, when he lost, like, 9 starts in a row, then lost his first one with the Giants, has scarred Giants fans memories, overshadowing his great performance with us.   They fear that the first half is more representative of his future than the second half with us.

I don't share that concern.  If you look at Peavy's PQS stats, over the past 4-5 seasons, he's been very good at putting up high DOM% (i.e. quality starts) and not throwing a lot of disaster starts.  Except, that is, for the first half in 2014, when he wasn't doing as well.  That's why I place my bet on Peavy's performance with us being the real deal and not the first half, as the first half is the anomaly over the past few years and not the second half.  And pitchers with great PQS stats, while no guarantee that they will have great stats, generally end up with great stats.

If you look at his stats, the bad years appear to be a correction, regression to the mean.  His career ERA and FIP are almost exactly the same.  However, in recent years, his FIP has been less than his ERA.  In his bad seasons, the FIP has been much less than his actual ERA, except for the first half of 2014, which again is the outlier in the whole period.   Something to be concerned about, sure, since we don't have any idea why he was bad for that period of time, but since he returned to his prior goodness with us (he reported that he really loved working with Posey and Susac, and basically he waited for the Giants to come to him, instead of moving on when the Giants were pursuing Lester), I am not as worried about this struggles in the first half ow 2014.

Here is the only thing I can see to be concerned about, and perhaps this explains his first half struggles.  Peavy is at the age where his velocity will eventually decline and he will need to adjust.  And his K/9 has been dropping down in recent years.   Whereas he's been superior for years, he's now down to average range at 6.6 K/9 with us last season.

However, he's already dealt with this before, his K/9 was very high until age 29, when probably whatever physical problems that kept him out of games started to crop up, and so his K/9 went down from 2009-2013, as he adjusted so that he can pitch and stay healthy.   And in spite of the lower K/9, he kept his K/BB at the same level, 3.44 K/BB from 2004-2009, 3.52 K/BB from 2010-2013.

But now it's gone down again, and it would be my speculation that his time with Boston was when he was struggling to adjust to this new reality, and his time with the Giants was when he figured out how to continue to pitch well in spite of this.  He's always been good at keeping walks down while striking out a lot so that his K/BB is still high, as I showed above.  His time with Boston has a much lower K/BB, 2.23, but with the Giants he's back to 3.41 K/BB, in line with what he had done previous.   Again, his time with Boston was the anomaly.

It is very similar to Hudson's career arc.  Circumstances change, but Peavy and Hudson have adjusted to keep their K/BB at a very good level, even as their K/9 goes down.  So barring the usual concerns about a pitcher his age, I think his time with Boston is the outlier, not his time with SF.

Tim Lincecum

Lincecum has a three year record of poor performances:  or does he?  Every season, he has had an extended period of very strong pitching:  the second halves of 2012 and 2013, and in 2014, he had a 3.65 ERA as late as mid-to-late July (when he saved that game).   And his PQS also shows that his performance during that period has actually been good in one very important aspect:  his DOM% is still very high.

Tim's problem the past few years has been his disaster starts.  That is one nuance I've learned in studying this statistic, that a pitcher's ERA can still be good, even if he don't have many quality starts, as long as he's avoiding disaster starts too.  Brad Hennessey was rarely good for us, but he was rarely bad too, and as a result, he could be a serviceable starter like that.  That got me to looking for other pitchers like that, he has mostly what I call MID starts - neither DOM nor DIS, 2 or 3 PQS - and I found that a pitcher can be mediocre even if he can't dominate the other team, as long as he can avoid disaster starts as well.  However, Tim has been horrible in avoiding disaster starts in recent seasons, even as he's been good at throwing dominant starts as well.

This is why I think that Lincecum's father returning to his prior role of game-by-game coach will help Tim return to being a good pitcher again.  Not necessarily Cy Young good, since he's older and not striking out as many, though I would not take that off the table either, frankly since he's been very good over longish stretches, for example, he had a 3.11 ERA over an 18 game stretch from April 15 to July 20 last season.

Some worry that Lincecum would not be able to integrate his Dad's instruction into games.  I totally agree that it is up to Lincecum, but feel that this is not a concern.  This is a nice article (which is mostly a cut and paste of e-mails Chris sent to the blog’s author) with his father describing what he did with his son.   Tim has been throwing with his Dad’s instructions since age 8. He’s been off the tether since age 26 for a total of five seasons now, after getting instruction and game-by-game advise and instruction for 18 seasons before that.  While I agree that he would need to be able to take the instruction into games, given that this is something he has been internalizing starting 23 years ago.

In addition, it hasn’t been like he forgot everything even in 2014 (based on the long stretch of good pitching overall), it seems to me that the key areas his father can help in is diagnosing when he is not following his father’s methodology/mechanics and what he needs to do to get back to where his father wants him to be. As I tried to show above, his problem the past few years have not been being able to throw nice starts regularly, but that when he gets lost mechanically, he’s bad for a long time until he fixes it, resulting in a lot of disaster starts.

So I think that it's clear that he don’t know exactly why and how his mechanics work, but appears capable of working on it until he gets it back into good shape.  However, then, meanwhile, he’s horrible, like a batting practice pitcher, until he does figure it out.  Hopefully his father’s coming back and helping game-by-game will lessen the severity and the duration of these down spells.

But I would note here that even when Dad was around, he had bad months where he was not very good, so it’s not all manna from the heavens. Still, lets say that the first 20 games of 2014 was his talent level (that’s all the starts up to the save game, then he went from very good to very bad, so it appears to me that changing up his routine caused him to change a key mechanical motion, as he didn’t have another good start for the rest of the season): he had a 3.68 ERA during that stretch of bad and good.  I would take that from our 5th starter any day.

I’m not looking for him to be Cy Young Timmy, but given that he’s not far from OK to good performances, hopefully his Dad can help him maintain that consistency over a full season instead of roughly half a season, as he has in recent seasons.  It is not a slam dunk, but I'm glad the Giants are still giving him a chance.

While I think that Petit right now is better, $18M or no $18M, I think that the Giants need to give Lincecum a chance to show what he can do now that his Dad is helping him again with his mechanics, and keeping it tuned.  Even when he was winning Cy Youngs, there would be a month where he would go off the rails and there would be regular reports that he would lose his mechanics and need his father to help him get back to where he should be. And even in his poor last few seasons, he actually pitched well for around half the season, it would just be that he would blow up at some point in the season, and just lose it, ruining his overall seasonal results.

So I like the Giants position right now that Linceum is the starter and Petit is the long reliever/6th starter. It allows him to keep face, while the Giants use spring training to assess where Timmy is now and how productive he can be in 2015. Petit as the starter with Lincecum in the bullpen is an option that could still be done mid-season (or when necessary) without harming irreparably, their playoff chances. Meanwhile, the Giants can see if working with his Dad will help him reach prior heights, as the Giants don’t need Linecum to be a Cy Young winner again for them to win the division, they just need him to be pretty good, like he has been in long stretches even in recent seasons.

The risk/reward is too high for the Giants not to start Lincecum.  And the logic for why he should return to goodnes, as I laid out above, makes a lot of sense to me.  Despite his poor seasonal results, he has still been a dominant starter and for long stretches.  It has been when he was lost mechanically when his seasonal results suffered.  And his father is the one who knows his form so well that he can tell what is wrong just from hearing what the announcer is seeing over the radio.  Now, his father will be helping him again, as he did in 2009 and for the nearly two decades before that.  Seems like an easy equation to understand.

Yusmeiro Petit

Some fans still don't think much of Petit.  They look at his overall results or question his abilities because the Giants have thus far been reluctant to put him permanently into the rotation.  Other fans think that Petit should be in the rotation.  While I would love to put Petit into the rotation, as I noted above, I like what the Giants are doing.

First off, Petit, when he's been placed in the rotation and not thrown into a start cold, has been a very good starting pitcher.  As a starter at the end of the 2015 season, he was 67% DOM and 17% DIS in 6 starts.  When just thrown into starts in 2015, he had a 33% DOM and 17% DIS, a much lower performance.  In 2014, when placed into the rotation, he had a 57% DOM and 14% DIS in the 7 starts.   Between 2013-2014, when in the rotation, he had 13 starts, with a 3.74 ERA, 9.8 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 for a great 5.4 K/BB, 62% DOM and 15% DIS.  He's been consistently good when placed into the rotation, so that is not a worry for me.

Some question his abilities because the Giants didn't simply put him in the rotation, instead of resigning Peavy or replacing Lincecum.   I don't view it as the Giants being really reluctant to give him a rotation slot, but more as the Giants being really reluctant to not have a backup starter who can deliver the goods as well or better than the starters in the rotation.   That is quite a competitive weapon to have, and on the cheap.

Most teams losing one of their top starters in the rotation usually can kiss the season goodbye (see Twins with Francisco Liriano). If the Giants lose anyone, per the prevailing worries right now (as per above, Bumgarner's innings, Cain's surgery, Hudson's surgery, Peavy's up and down season, Lincecum's poor stretch of seasons), then they can swap in Petit while they try to get the afflicted pitcher back into playing shape.  Or finish the season for him.  

However, it's not very fair to Petit since he probably could be a very good starter for somebody right now and perhaps he could take his return to long relief as a negative.  I mean, not only was he one out away from a perfect game, but also has the record for the longest stretch of consecutively retired batters and which is unique in that he did this as a reliever, mostly, whereas it has usually been starters over two games.  He did it over an 8 game stretch of games.   And not only is his K/9 superior but his walk rate is very low too, for a stupendous K/BB ratio.

However, it's a glass half full situation, because before the Giants took him on and developed him, he was relegated to pitching in the Mexican League previously.  He probably wouldn't be in this position without them, as nobody was willing to give him a chance.  And thus he's probably just happy to be in the majors and earning a great living.

And it's a matter of patience, as Hudson will probably be leaving the rotation after the season, at which point Petit will be the most likely replacement, assuming he can beat out our young prospects like Crick and Blackburn, or maybe even Beede, for the starting spot.  And he's been waiting for a long time anyway, and traveled the life of a journeyman, much like Vogelsong, so he is more likely to be appreciative of the opportunity to pitch in the majors, versus unhappy over not starting full-time.

Starting Rotation

So I see the worries that people have, but I think that they are overly worried.  It is almost like any negative is the end of the world.  It's not and worrying about it does not make the worry any likelier.   Bumgarner is built like the horses that he handles and built himself up to be able to absorb throwing so many pitches.  After all, he's the guy who had Hall of Fame as his long-term goal as a senior in high school.  And the Giants are likely to lessen his load this season by pulling him out sooner.

The other worries are bigger, but still not as bad as people make it out to be.  Cain and Hudson were operated on with minimally invasive techniques, and should be back to normal eventually.  Peavy's outlier was his time with Boston, not the other way around, and he should be back to his prior levels of performance.  And Lincecum, even if his father is no help, can, at worse, eat a lot of innings for us, like he's done the past few seasons, and at a competent 5th starter performance level, while giving us valid and good hope that he might actually be good this season with his Dad's help.

And while I don't think any of these worries individually are particularly worrisome, I think that the odds of one of the five happening, including adding in the fact that they are pitchers, make it very likely that one of them will have some sort of issue come up, whether one of the worries or something out of the blue (like Vogelsong getting HBP in 2013 and getting put on the DL).   And that's where having a pitcher like Petit, ready to step in without losing a step (or perhaps gaining a step) is so powerful and why it was good that the Giants decided to keep him in the long relief role and keep Peavy and Lincecum in their roles.  That's risk mitigation up the wazoo, for me, and part of me wonder if we might eventually sign Vogelsong in the future to take on that role, when he's ready for it.

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