Archive for September, 2004
Something I’ve noticed as the Giants have been pitching so well is that Alou has just stopped using these horrible pitchers. Matt Herges has seen only 4.2 innings in September. Jason Christiansen has 1.2 innings of work this month, Brower just 4.1 innings, Franklin hasn’t pitched since September 1st… these were guys who were pitching almost every day.
On the other side of the coin is Scott Eyre, with 8 effective appearances this month, Dustin Hermanson with 7 appearances and no runs allowed, Tyler Walker has had an effective month, 4.1 innings, 3 hits allowed, 4 strikeouts. Dave Burba immediately came in and assumed the role of middle reliever. Six appearances before he got hurt, not very effective, but apparently he’s the reason Christiansen and company were grabbing some pine.
Continuing on the positive side, Kirk Reuter has dropped his ERA by almost half a run over his last five starts. An effective Reuter gives the Giants a three-man rotation for the postseason they can count on. Woody has two more starts to see if he can continue his roll, or if the Giants will need to see if Lowry can handle the playoffs pressure.
The Giants have won 12 of 15 (a streak that begin right after I predicted they would need to go 18-7 down the stretch to make the postseason), after last night’s 9-2 pasting of the Astros.
Brett Tomko looks like the sports psycologist he’s been seeing has remade him. His runs allowed numbers, going backwards from yesterday:
2, 1, 0, 1, 2, 0, 6, 1, 4, 2, 5, 6, 2, 1, 1, 6
That’s July. That’s pretty damn good. He started seeing the psycologist after the third time he’d allowed six runs or more. His ERA in September is right around 1, he’s won eight of his last ten decisions…. And he’s carried the Giants while Schmidt has struggled to overcome his groin setback.
As for Schmidt, I wrote that the Giants had no chance for October without him, but they’ve only won one of his last six turns in the rotation (including the missed one). During that time, they’ve gone 17-9, and more importantly, they’re surging down the stretch (12 of 15, I might remind you again). With a healthy Schmidt and Tomko, the Giants look like they might have the beginnings of a postseason chance. And that’s all anyone can ask for.
As for a chance at October glory, here’s the latest update on my Pyth. prediction model. I’ll show you where they were, where they are, my original prediction, and the latest:
LA Dodgers (78-58) 86-64 EWP .604 ER 7-5 Final Record (94-68) 93-69
Chicago Cubs (73-60) 84-66 EWP .584 ER 7-5 Final Record (90-72) 91-71
San Fran Giants (74-63) 85-66 EWP .600 ER 7-4 Final Record (90-72) 92-70
Houston Astros (73-63) 83-68 EWP .627 ER 7-4 Final Record (89-73) 90-72
San Diego Padres (72-64) 81-70 EWP .545 ER 6-5 Final Record (86-76) 86-76
Florida Marlins (70-62) 79-71 EWP .671 ER 8-4 Final Record (90-72) 87-75
The Giants have out-played the competition since my original column, going 9-3, and interestingly, since I wrote that they needed to go 18-7 to make the playoffs, (right after that 18-7 win, remember?); they’ve gone 11-3. If they just hold to their expected winning percentage down the stretch and put together a modest 7-4 finish, they’ll end up with a 19-7 finish (somewhere I added stuff wrong). And what did I say the key would be for their playoff push? Pitching.
The Giants have lowest team ERA in the NL for the month of September. They have lowest OPS against, BA against, WHIP….. All of their peripherals, everything, is light years above their season standard. It’s exactly the same formula that pushed them to that .750 stretch in May/June, and they’ve re-discovered it at exactly the right time. Not unlike 2002, when they put up an 18-8 September, then surged all the way to the seventh game of the Serious.
In fact….. The Giants at the same point in the season in ’02 were 86-65. They won 9 of 10, including the last eight in a row to finish out the season on fire. Coincidence?
So here we are. The Giants are finally tied with the Cubs in the all-important loss column, with 66 each. The Astros have 67, all of the other wild card contenders have 70. (The Dodgers have 63 by the way)
So, basically, it’s he who loses least from this point forward. Go, Giants!
Barry Bonds just became the third man in major league history to hit 700 home runs!!!!!!
Update: They say you’re not supposed to write when you’re emotional. Whatever. If you cannot understand the impact, the stupendous accomplishment of one of the greatest to ever play the game of baseball, you must be dead. Baseball is a game of numbers, .300 batting average, 100 RBI, 3,000 hits, and the biggest number of them all, 714 home runs (don’t even begin to tell me that 755 is the number, Ruth’s record of 714 home runs is THE sacred number).
To hit 700 home runs in a career is one of the singular standards in all of sports. The list of superstar baseball sluggers who haven’t gotten there (McGwire, Mantle, Mays, McCovey, Killebrew, Yastermski, Williams, Dimaggio) is a list of all of them but two, before tonight. It is impossible to overstate the difficulty involved, the luck, the odds, the obstacles. The greatest player of our generation, the greatest living ballplayer; did the impossible tonight, for us to see. Congratulations to Barry, the Giants organization, and to all the fans who are there tonight. (I was there for 600, so I have some idea of how you feel)
Ruth did it 70 years ago, Aaron did it 40 years ago, and now Bonds. How lucky we are, baseball fans of 2004. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love this game.
El Lefty Malo, (who has been raking as my cleanup hitter) is pondering JT Snow’s amazing resurgence this season. He, and one of his readers ran through all of the possible explanations; luck, health, Bonds, no more platoon, etc., and since I have spent so much time writing about how horrible Snow is, I thought I’d apply some of my time to seek an explanation that I think fits.
JT Snow hasn’t hit like this for any length of time that I’ve been a Giants fan. I started following the Giants seriously in 1999, just as they were getting ready to move to PacBell. Since ’99, Snow has been one of the least productive hitters in all of baseball, particularly as a first-baseman is expected to provide more offense than anywhere other than the outfield. Keep in mind that I grew up as a Mattingly fan, so you can understand my bias. Snow, at his best, 1997-98, was Mattingly-lite. At his worst, he was a devastatingly slow, strikeout-prone, double-play grenerating, out-making machine.
Circa 2004, Snow is driving the ball with authority, driving in runs, and producing in the clutch. His numbers show an across the board change that is quite impressive:
2002 422 AB 47 R 104 H 26 2B 6 HR 53 RBI 59 BB 90 SO .246/.344/.360 .704 OPS
2003 330 AB 48 R 90 H 18 2B 8 HR 51 RBI 55 BB 55 SO .273/.387/.418 .805 OPS
2004 310 AB 58 R 103 H 27 2B 11 HR 50 RBI 51 BB 53 SO .332/.431/.532 .963 OPS
A lot of those numbers are eerily similar. He’s been at 50 RBI, walks, and runs three seasons in a row. Weird. Anyway, his ’04 numbers show that something is different. What is it, you ask? Check out these numbers:
2002 352 AB 34 R 88 H 20 2B 4 HR 43 RBI 45 BB 68 SO .250/.336/.347 .683 OPS
2003 282 AB 44 R 80 H 18 2B 8 HR 45 RBI 45 BB 43 SO .284/.387/.450 .837 OPS
2004 271 AB 52 R 93 H 24 2B 11 HR 44 RBI 42 BB 45 SO .343/.436/.561 .997 OPS
These are his platoon splits against righties. He has gone from 70 to 48 to just 39 at-bats against lefties over the last three seasons. I’d guess that Alou has finally done what Dusty could not, convince Snow to platoon essentially full-time and stop giving up huge numbers of outs to left-handed pitchers. Looking back even further, in 1999, when Snow posted one of his best seasons:
1999 570 AB 93 R 156 H 25 2B 24 HR 98 RBI 86 BB 121 SO .274/.370/.451 .821 OPS
Same season, just against righties:
1999 401 AB 68 R 117 H 19 2B 21 HR 75 RBI 68 BB 75 SO .292/.394/.501 .895 OPS
And here’s Snow’s right-handed split, 1999-2003 (I can’t find these splits earlier than 1999):
1678 AB 247 R 459 H 94 2B 55 HR 259 RBI 262 BB 341 SO .274/.371/.437 .808 OPS
So there. Snow has always had a pretty strong platoon split, I’d guess it was something even he acknowledged, as evidenced by his switch-hitting efforts through the first three quarters of his career. What we’re seeing now would seem to be a combination of luck (small samples allow for greater extremes), comfort, (he’s able to concentrate on being a left-handed platoon hitter), and health (injury-free for the first time in about four seasons).
Has he reached a new level of performance? I don’t think so. I think that should the Giants re-sign him for next season, we’d probably see a return to the .290/.380/.480 level he’s shown he’s capable of when he doesn’t have his numbers decimated by facing left-handers all season long.
As for ’04, enjoy it for what it is, a terrific resurgence from a fan favorite who has struggled for most of the last four seasons. Upon his return from the DL on June 26th, Snow went 0 for 3 against the A’s; dropping his season rate stats to an anemic .232/.342/.320 with a .662 OPS. A glance at his game logs show that he has been on a steady rise ever since, a tremendous July (1.079 OPS), August (1.313 OPS), September (1.123 OPS) run of some of the best hitting of his life.
The Giants finished off the Brewers, winning 4-0 behind the stellar effort of Brad Hennessey. Bonds didn’t get 700, which is great, since I was at work and couldn’t watch. (Sorry, it’s all about me ;-)
Actually, it’s all about Barry. Over at Across the Seams, King Kaufman’s been brought up since he is running a daily Bonds’ stat to prove that Bonds is the MVP again. Here’s one I picked up at the SF Chronicle this morning. Barry Bonds could set yet another single-season record, for the fewest at-bats in a season in which a player drives in 100 RBI. He has 95 RBI in 340 At-bats right now.
Bonds is the MVP, again. Re-name the award the Barry Bonds Award and be done with it. That way, deserving players like Rolen and Pujols and Edmonds can win one before it’s too late.
Oh, and one more thing. KNBR finally realized they had made an egregious error when they brought in the John London, Not just Sports Show for the morning slot. I called them when they had just hired the idiot and told them what a huge mistake they were making. How could it be that a dummy like me could have figured it out three years sooner than people who’s jobs depend on making these calls? No idea.
It’s been ten games since my wild card prediction column, a perfect time to review the teams and the results. I’ve revised the expected records and the final records as needed:
LA Dodgers (6-3) 84-61 EWP .604 ER 10-7 Final Record (94-68) 94-68
Chicago Cubs (6-4) 79-64 EWP .584 ER 11-8 Final Record (90-72) 90-72
San Fran Giants (8-2) 81-65 EWP .600 ER 10-6 Final Record ( 90-72) 91-71
Houston Astros (6-4) 79-67 EWP .627 ER 10-6 Final Record (89-73) 89-73
San Diego Padres (6-4) 78-68 EWP .545 ER Final Record (86-76) 86-76
Florida Marlins (6-5) 76-67 EWP .671 ER 13-6 Final Record (90-72) 89-73
As you can see, everyone is pretty much right on schedule, with the exception of the Giants, who have picked up a game by out-performing their Pythagorean estimates during the 8-2 run they are currently on. Even with winning 8 of 10, they still trail the Dodgers by 4 games in the loss column, but one or two more games will make the remaining head to heads very interesting. (By the way, I am certain that the Giants are now a season-high 16 games over .500)
As for the wild card, I’ve been saying all along how tough it is to pick up games in the loss column; but amazingly, every team has given at least two games back to the Giants over the last ten, something I could hardly have expected. It is imperative that they finish off the sweep today and head home to face the Padres with just the 65 losses. Giving back games right now, against the sad-sacks, simply cannot happen, not with the toughest opponent of the season lined up for a three game set.
And this three game series with the Padres could be perfectly set up for redemption. A 3-10 season record will be forgotten if the Giants can take two games from them right now. Push the Padres to 70 losses, and come out of the series with just 66, and there’s one contender less to worry about. Hennessey goes today in the Milwaukee finale.
The matchups for the Padres series:
Peavy’s been light’s out againts the Giants, while Lowry’s been up and down. When Lowry’s on, he can be very good. When he’s off, he can be very bad. Wells is Wells, he’s no stranger to pennant race pressure, matching up against Schmidt, who may have turned a corner, won’t scare Wells. And the Rueter/Germano matchup in what could be the rubber game and a huge wild card game is scary. Rueter’s had a horrible year, but the Giants have won his last two starts, and three of his last five. He’s also had some bad breaks with his defense being so unimpressive; but he could be due. His best hope is that he gets the bounces early, and the Giants jump out against Germano.
Update: MLB has annouced the results of the coin flips they’ve done should there be ties for division or wild card standings. The Giants won all five coin flips, which means that should they end up tied with any team in the NL for a postseason slot, the game to decide who advances will be at PacBell. That is a tremendous advantage, obviously.
So now, after 203 walks this season (limiting him to just 331 at-bats), after 726 walks(!) over the last 4 seasons, after 104 intentional walks, after watching NL managers protect themselves and their own ideas of pride and power; now, finally, our great and wise commissioner has something to say about all the Barry Bonds’ walks:
Every manager has to decide what strategy gives them the best chance to win. Having said that, someone gave Hank Aaron the opportunity to hit 500 and 755. Great players should be allowed to be great. He’s the dominant player to play the game, one of the greatest players of all time. So I can understand having some trepidation to pitching to him. But can you take that too far? How far is too far? That’s tough to answer. I can accept strategy. The greatness of our sport are the players who have set tremendous records and have been allowed to break them. That is a sensitive line and a unique issue. Just play the game. Just make sure that whatever moves you make do not affect the integrity of the game
While I am appreciative that Seligula has finally addressed the issue, as I have stated repeatedly, it’s not the managers who need to hear Selig’s pitch. It’s the owners. By bringing it into a public forum, he has brought some pressure on the men who have decided that they would rather not allow themselves to look bad. Great. Guys like Pedrique and Hurdle deserve to be publicly embarrassed and called on the carpet. The only drawback I can see is that it sets up the manly, nobody’s gonna tell me what to do BS. But if the national media can pick up the drumbeat, (something that should have happened at least two years ago, by the way.), then maybe teams will start to think twice about walking Barry intentionally with the bases empty and a five run lead. When someone does that, like, say Clint Hurdle, it is bad for baseball. A move like that is bush-league, it is more than just about winning games; it’s about being disrespectful to Barry and the Giants, and it’s about one’s selfish interests outweighing the integrity of competition. And it’s been happening again and again, for going on four seasons now. It’s about time.
Update: The great Jim Adams has once again brought my attention to the obvious, (that I missed):
I’ve posted this idea before, but it’s worth repeating that Bill James has proposed a very simple, sensible way to eliminate this problem: Make a rule that a player has the right to turn down a walk and start his at-bat over again — not just an IBB, but ANY walk. If the batter turns down a walk and is then walked a second time, he gets second base; if he turns down the first two walks and is then walked again he gets third base, etc.
99% of the time, of course, the batter will accept the walk. However if the pure form of the proposed rule seems too drastic, you could amend it so that a player who turns down a walk that was issued on a 3-1 count starts the next at-bat with one strike against him, and a hitter who is walked on a 3-2 count would re-start his at-bat with an 0-2 count. The practical effect of this would be that pitchers would have to throw at least one strike to Barry Bonds, since even Bonds might hesitate to turn down a walk in order to hit behind on the count.
Bill James presents this idea on page 199 of the 1988 Baseball Abstract, arguing that giving the batter the option to turn down a walk “is probably the most major change in the rules that I could support. Think about it: the walk rule…was adopted to force the pitcher to pitch to the batter, not to dodge him by throwing balls out of reach. The rule accomplished this, ordinarily, by creating a penalty for not pitching to the hitter — he gets a free pass. The problem is that in some game situations the penalty is so weak that the rule does not work, and is actually stood on its head: the pitcher takes the very rule that was adopted to force him to pitch to the batter — and uses it to avoid facing a tough hitter. It’s directly contrary to the intent of the rule, and for that reason I think it’s totally consistent with the rules for the hitter to be given an option as to whether or not he wants a walk.”
I think James’s idea is a really good one. It lets the fans see greats like Bonds, Pujols, and Sheffield hit in key situations (or at least they get to see a strike). Baseball is supposed to be entertainment, and I don’t think it’s entertaining for the fans when the best in the game are deprived of the chance to perform with the game on the line.
I agree that the idea has merit… I can remember reading about it way back when and not really thinking much about it. It makes me realize how far ahead of things Bill James can be; I wouldn’t say he knew there was a possibility of a player so good, or a situation so unbalanced that the rule would be exposed eventually; but he saw a flaw in the game that should have been addressed, and wasn’t. Baseball, by not being willing to examine some of it’s so-called ‘fundamentals,’ allows itself to be painted into a corner; if they do something about it now, it’ll be the “Barry” rule.
Both David Pinto and Joe Mulder weigh in on the issue of Barry Bonds’ historic walk totals these last few seasons, in particular, his intentional walk totals. Both men agree that a rule change, as proposed by Jason Stark and company, would be counter-productive and ill-equipped to address the real problem. David asks what he thinks is the real question, “Why can’t your pitchers get Barry out?” Well, we know why, cause Barry is the best hitter alive. So what is the real problem?
The real problem is that the managers in the National League have quit trying to get him out. They’ve given up. The managers in the NL have decided they’d rather allow the Giants to have the best offense in the league, than pitch to Bary and try and get him out. The managers in the NL have decided they’d rather have their pitchers pitching from the stretch the entire game than try and get Barry out.
It has been shown throughout history that men have chosen the lesser of two evils when faced with a difficult choice. In this case, the managers in the NL have chosen the easier of two evils. Pitch to Pedro Feliz, or DP AJ, or Edgardo Alfonzo with Barry on first, instead of pitching to Barry at all. Keep in mind that the Giants performance after the bat has been taken out of Barry’s hands has been disgustingly anemic, further bolstering the feeling that the right choice has been made. As recorded by the Great El Lefty Malo, the Giants have posted the following line with Bonds on base:
72 for 260
28 double plays
19 BBs/4 SAC/3 HBP
7 2B/0 3B/5 HR
If the Lefty is right, (and I have no reason to assume he isn’t) the Giants have hit 5 home runs following a Bonds plate appearance that has him standing on base, (as opposed to a plate appearance in which he hits a home run, get it?). Given that kind of result, as much as I and everyone else wants to see Bonds hit, for the most part, the strategy has worked. A .696 OPS!? Why bother pitching to him? Obviously, he’d have hit way more than 5 home runs in the 100 plus IBB situations alone.
I still think that my solution is the right one: Seligula should have called the owners of the teams in the NL and directed them to quit being such babies and take him on. Simple. Be men. Take him on. Sure, he’s the greatest ever, but quitting is not an option. Of course, that would require that Seligula be a man, and we know what the odds of that would be….
Jason Schmidt retired 22 in a row until a two-out double in the ninth, on his way to his fourth complete game of the season, and the Giants beat the D’backs 5-2.
Schmidt’s performance must have been quite a lift to his team, as I wrote earlier this month, if Schmidt doesn’t find his groove, the Giants had no chance. I know he was facing what amounted to a Triple AAA lineup, but nonetheless, that was an impressive performance. He seemed relaxed and in a real rythym, something that’s been noticably absent since his return from the groin injury. He probably has what, five starts left? If he stays true to form, he’ll win 20 games for the first time in his career, and should still have a chance at a Cy Young. Again, it bears mentioning that his performance in a tight race will certainly influence the voters.
Oh, and Superman hit number 699, a titanic blast that went an estimated 460 feet. The shot landed just below the Sony Jumbotron image of Barry, and had to be one of the most impressive home runs of the season for the soon to be king of swing. And while we’re on the subject, here’s what I wrote about Barry way back in June:
Speaking of Superman, Bonds’ first half of ’04 is starting to look obscene.
.376/.628/.842 1.470 OPS 88 BB 12 SO
That’s right, boys and girls, he’s got an insane .628 on-base percentage. He’s well on his way to a 200 walk season, (he’ll pass Rickey Henderson for first all-time career walks within a month or so), and 48 of the 88 are intentional, so he’s probably gonna break his season record of 68 by the end of July. He’s four hits shy of .400, (May just killed him, what with the sinus infection and the back acting up, he managed just 12 hits).
He’s 38 home runs away from Ruth, and he’s averaging just about 2 at bats per Giants game played, they have 99 games left, meaning he should get something like another 200 AB’s; he’s hitting a home run every 7.38 AB’s, sooooo….
He probably won’t catch him this season. According to my calculations, he’s gonna hit about 28 more home runs this season, which will give him 46 or so, (which appears to be all the NL will allow him to hit in a season anymore. After hitting 73, he’s hit 46, 45, and this year, he’ll finish with something like 46 again), leaving him with 704, 705, something like that. If he can somehow get an extra five home runs this season, that would set him up for a historic 2005 campaign, in which he could pass Ruth and Aaron in the same season. Good Golly, Miss Molly.
So how did I do?
.375/.614/.831 1.445 OPS 203 BB 33 SO 42 HR
He actually has a chance, a slight one, but a chance nonetheless, to catch Ruth this season. A hot streak of 6 home runs in 8 games or something like that would put the Bambino in his sights. As for his other numbers, he’s gonna destroy the OBP season record, and the OPS season record too. He’s not gonna hit .400, but damn, if he hadn’t gotten sick in May, he’d probably be around .390 right now, and if he was, he’d do it, guaranteed.
The win today pushed the Giants back into the wild card lead, the Cubs are a game back after their loss to the Marilns. In the all-important loss column, the Cubs have 64, the Giants and Marlins 65, the Astros 66, Padres 67, and Phillies 69. Tight tight tight.