Archive for May, 2005

…. Ouch

Five straight losses is enough to render even the new, optimistic me verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. Topic: aging superstars surrounded by mediocrity. Discuss.

Randy Wolf has lowered his ERA from 6.52 to 4.57 over his last six starts, going 5-1 during that stretch. Hmmmmm, isn’t that special? Brett Tomko, on the other hand, has lowered his ERA from 6.75 to 4.05 over his last seven starts (which, by the way, is referred to as doing better!), and instead of receiving pitcher of the month awards, was rewarded with an exciting 3-4 record over that stretch. Isn’t that special?

So, I’m not exactly speechless.

…. Cha-cha-cha-cha-changes, Part II

…. Cha-cha-cha-cha-changes

Big doings in orange and black. The Giants traded Jerome Williams and David Aardsma for LaTroy Hawkins, one of the premiere setup men in baseball. Listening to Brian Sabean made my heart all aflutter:

…. “We’re in desperate need to remake the bullpen. The more we watched our games, home or on the road, we have a very difficult time stabilizing the game when we need to. This sends a message to the position players that we’re serious about straightening this thing out. It also sends a message to the bullpen, although there’s going to be some changes because of this, because when he reports on Sunday, somebody is going to have to go. We may not be done rearranging this thing.”

…. “It’s the price of doing business. You take a step backward. Maybe Jerome can get his stuff together in another organization. Money was very important. We’re going to wind up paying less than $1 million on the whole thing, and that gives us flexibility to do some more things up the line. Obviously we’re in a negative leverage situation. With Benitez hurt, teams come in and assess the situation. It’s one of those things we’re going to have to live with. Hopefully, LaTroy comes in and fills the void.”

….”The Benitez thing was a shock. We took a huge step backwards. I think we’ve regrouped with Walker taking over, but again, we’ve had the hardest time seemingly trying to find folks who can pitch an inning or can be slotted. That’s hopefully what LaTroy can do — give us some sanity. It’s been a credit to Felipe and Rags [Righetti] how they’ve juggled it. At this point, there’s no system. There’s no method to our madness.”

True dat.

LaTroy Hawkins has been pretty good this season, moving back and forth between setup man and closer. In 72 at bats, he’s allowed 18 hits, (although 4 of them have been home runs, 3 of those have come at homer friendly Wrigley), which runs out to a very nice looking .250/.316/.444 .761 OPS against. His ERA stands at 3.32, and he’s got a 13 to 7 strikeout to walks ratio. In 2002, 03, and 04, he’d been outstanding, averaging about 80 innings with an ERA around 2.00 and a 4-1 strikeout to walk ratio. Yummy.

As for dealing young pitching for another 32-year old, well, 32 isn’t that old, and it’s likely that Sabean has again properly assesed his bargaining chips, and these two pitchers may have already reached their ceilings. If that’s the case, once again the lunatic fringe and I will have to give Brian his due for knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.

It’s hard to see these two players in the same light as, say, Joe Nathan or Russ Ortiz, pitchers whose probability for continued big-league success was fairly high. Nathan in 2003 was essentially the same pitcher who went to the All-Star game for the Twins in ’04, something that was pretty hard to miss (I know I sure did, but in my defense, I had essentially no computer access for two whole months when the trade took place).

2003 79.0 IP 51 H 26 ER 7 HR 33 BB 83 SO 2.96 ERA
2004 72.1 IP 48 H 13 ER 3 HR 23 BB 89 SO 1.62 ERA

Jerome Williams, on the other hand, had pretty marginal numbers even when he was doing well. He went a combined 17-12 in 2003 and 2004, but he managed just 168 strikeouts in 260 innings, and with a less than 2-1 K/BB ratio, 5.5 strikeouts per 9 innings puts too much pressure on the defense, something that seemed evident this season as he’s struggled.

Kudos for Sabean for making a move before it got too late. It’ll be interesting to see how Williams and Aardsma fare over the next couple of seasons.

…. Setback

The combination of Jason Christiansen and a sudden squeeze by home plate umpire Dan Iassogna brought the Giants back to earth, as they rallied and then were rallied upon by the Dodgers, losing 6-4 last night. The Dodgers ninth-inning rally was built upon two walks, one deserved (Jason Christiansen, who was unable to come within a foot of the plate on any of his five pitches), one courtesy of Iassogna, who turned his head at not one, but two third strike calls that would have put a dent in the Dodgers plans. So, instead of sweeping the Dodgers, which would have been sweet revenge.

Woody pitched well, the hitters were a bit overmatched by Brad Penny, and the Padres are coming.

…. Up, up & away

Brett Tomko was dominating, allowing two runs over 8 innings, as the Giants beat the Dodgers 10-2. The Giants hitters came alive, especially Pedro Feliz, (who was can’t watch awful the night before) and Moises Alou; both hit two home runs, and four Giants had two-out RBI hits. It was a rare night of offense for Tomko, who had seen less than 2 runs per start from his teammates prior to last night’s explosion.

Tomko hit 97 on the radar gun more than once, and more than just the numbers, his fastball was exploding. His ERA (4.05) has fallen almost three runs after his last four starts, (one more start like this and he’ll get it below three), and at 4-6, he leads the team in wins. The win pushes the Giants back over .500, and at 23-22, they are tied with the free-falling Dodgers, (who once held a six game lead over the G-men) four games behind Arizona.

Scott Munter gave up one hit in ninth, (damn, did you see the size of that kid?), as the Giants used the big lead and gave Walker the night off.

Alfonzo’s back up to .323, Deivi Cruz continued to shine with the bat, he’s hitting .320 bouncing around the infield, Alou now has 7 home runs and 20 RBI, Feliz leads the team with 8 home runs and 32 RBI. I might add that Mike ~ Run Saver ~ Matheny has as many home runs (5) already this season as he had all of last (and is only three away from his career high), and with his 22 RBI, is on pace for a 20 home run, 80 RBI campaign, which, if it happens, would cause the rotation of the earth to change, forever.

Meanwhile, the Giants have six hitters(!) with an on-base percentage over .350, and four of them are in the .390′s, which is just outstanding. It would be great if we are witnessing the stabilization of the picthing staff, because the hitters have been adequate, (if not more than); and Bonds’ return now seems closer than ever.

…. About Schmidt, Part III

Jason Schmidt looked only about a million times better last night, striking out the side in the first inning, and he hit his fifth career home run as the Giants beat the Dodgers 5-3 to get back to where they started. At 22-22, they are alive, if not exactly well, but Schmidt’s return from the DL may be just the thing to give them a boost. Not only was he hitting 95 MPH consistently, he was spotting corners, doing just about everything he wanted until his one tough inning, his last. He struggled to control his changeup during that final frame, something he said afterward he knew would be trouble.

Watching, I got the feeling he was throwing seven straight changeups because he was trying to work something out, and it almost cost him.

After he was done, the entire bullpen combined to throw four more shutout innings, punctuated by a perfect two batter save for Mr. Walker, who looked quite excellent.

…. A call to arms

The Cincinnatti Reds designated today, ending his Cincinnatti career. Listening to the Reds GM Dan O’Brien made me laugh:

His performance has been unsatisfactory and unacceptable. It hasn’t been up to the standards we’ve come to expect for the Cincinnati Reds organization. We appreciate Danny’s contributions to the organization, and we hope he finds an opportunity with another major league club.

His performance hasn’t been up to the standards we’ve come to expect for the Reds?!? Is this the same Reds who’ve lost 90-plus games for like the last ten years? The same Reds who asked Graves to go from the bullpen to a starting role to help the team, starting him on this slide to oblivion? In the same article Graves wonders about that:

…. Graves, 31, hasn’t been the same since he agreed to help the team by moving into the rotation in 2003. A career reliever, Graves wore down during a 4-15 season that took several miles per hour off his fastball and took a toll on his body. He was throwing around 88 mph this season, down from 94 mph in his prime.

“I changed roles and probably ruined my career,” Graves said. “I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. I felt like I’ve been given up on. It’s a shock to me. If I can recall, I’m not the only closer that has struggled.”

Yeah, and the Reds coaching staff seemed to have really helped him with that:

…. “It became a confidence factor,” manager Dave Miley said. “His confidence has been shaken in the month of May, and we weren’t comfortable bringing him in certain situations. We weren’t seeing what we were accustomed to seeing.”

Confidence, yeah, he’s lost confidence. Nothing’s like a ready made excuse for a coaching staff to clear itself of any part of players troubles. We don’t think he has any confidence, or maybe it’s his lack of heart, or any other completely unmeasurable intangible. Here’s a thought: maybe the coaching staff of this laughingstock of a team team failed to perform at a level that Graves’ had come to expect.

I’m sure free agents will look at the way he was handled at the end and think twice (or even three times) about joining the perennially under-acheiving Reds. His teammates certainly feel like management pulled the rug out from under the team:

…. Stunned teammates sat in folding chairs in the clubhouse after learning of the move, which leaves the team without a proven closer. Several players said Graves should have been given a chance to work out his problems.

“This is not his fault,” first baseman Sean Casey said. “We stink. For us to be 15-28 has nothing to do with Danny Graves. That’s the frustrating part for me.

“I know I’m a little emotional right now, but I think the Cincinnati Reds as an organization owe a lot more to Danny Graves for the eight years he stepped up every year. They owe him more than to just release him like this. I just disagree with it.”

Outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. said he’s never seen anything quite like the move.

“It’s tough,” Griffey said. “He’s not a troublemaker. He’s not a guy that complained. He wants the ball. It’s just upsetting. It’s a tough way to lose a guy that’s been here and dedicated himself to the organization.”

Yeah, that’ll rally the troops. Throw Graves out the window. Let me be the first to suggest that Sabean call up Graves agent and get him out here fast. Sure, he’s been horrible for a while, but I guarantee you, for $316,000, somebody will sit him down and try to figure out what the Reds were doing to screw him up, and he’ll be back throwing bullets again. It might as well be the Giants.

…. Walk this way

Tyler Walker?

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Tyler Walker? The same Tyler Walker who began the season with an ERA of infinity? I guess so.

The Giants, behind Noah Lowry’s best effort of the season, Moises Alou’s big, two-out, two-run, sixth inning home run, and the afore-mentioned Walker took the rubber game of their weekend series with the A’s.

Walker earned his fifth save in a row, (so much for the bullpen-by-committee BS, eh, Felipe?), something this writer would have considered unthinkable a month ago:

…. Tyler Walker is pitching his way out of baseball, or at least into Herges-ville. After allowing a three-run home run to the first hitter he faced last night, he got the final out of the inning ~ his first out recorded in 2005 ~ to lower his ERA to an astronomical 108.00. He then got three outs in the next inning to bring his season line to 6 hits, 5 runs, 1 HR and 4 outs, which translates to a 33.75 ERA.

His season line, after today, actually looks like, well…. like a major-league pitcher’s line. Here’s then and now:

Then 1.1 IP 6 H 5 ER 1 HR 0 BB 1 SO
Now 20.1 IP 19 H 8 ER 2 HR 12 BB 12 SO
Since 19 IP 13 H 3 ER 1 HR 12 BB 11 SO

He had a streak of 12 straight games without allowing an earned run, and after his May 11th meltdown against the Pirates, he has been just this shy of perfect, 5.2 IP 0 H O R 1 BB 2 SO. He’s not getting many strikeouts, but he has seemed to embrace the pressure I spoke of when I suggested that Jason Christiansen might be the guy. Let’s see if Walker can keep this up for any stretch of time. Giants are 21-22, 5 games out.

UPDATE: Reader Mark notes that 25 baserunners in 19 innings ain’t no great shakes. True, but Walker seems to be all or nothing, so his totals look worse than his performance actually is. Looking at his game logs, he’s had two horrible outings, (7 of his 8 earned runs and 8 of his 19 hits), two in which he’s had no control, (7 of his 12 walks), and 15 pretty damn good ones. Last season, he struck out 48 and walked 24, so maybe it’s still early to look too closely at his rate stats; but just for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that he never made that first appearance. Forget about the walks for a second, –Hey, his name is Walker. Get it?– if you take away his first horror-show outing, his numbers look like this:

20.1 IP 15 H 4 ER 1 HR 12 BB 12 SO 1.80 ERA

Sure, his strikeout and walk numbers look a bit suspect, but no matter how you look at it, that ain’t hash. Just about a week ago, I wrote about the amazing start to the season Dustin Hermanson had put together for the White Sox. Here’s how Walker looks (minus his first appearance) against him and Joe Nathan, since I started this whole closer thing pining for the two ex-Giants:

Walker 20.1 IP 15 H 4 ER 1 HR 12 BB 12 SO 1.80 ERA 6 saves 0.80 K/BB 5.31 K/9IP
Dustin 20.1 IP 12 H 0 ER 0 HR 6 BB 15 SO 0.00 ERA 10 saves 2.14 K/BB 6.64 K/9IP
Nathan 18.1 IP 14 H 4 ER 0 HR 3 BB 21 SO 1.96 ERA 12 saves 7 K/BB 10.31 K/9IP

The point isn’t that he’s as good as these two guys. I know they blow him away in all of the important rate stats:

Walker 0.80 K/BB 5.31 K/9IP 8.41H/9IP
Dustin 2.14 K/BB 6.64 K/9IP 5.31 H/9IP
Nathan 7.0 K/BB 10.31 K/9IP 6.87 H/9IP

But these two guys have been among the very best in the league, and I was just sitting here wishing on a star that we had somebody who was capable of performing at anything even close such a high level, and somebody has. More walks, fewer strikeouts, sure, but not too shabby at all. Take away those two horrible appearances, and Walker looks like maybe baby. Add in Bonds’ appearance this weekend, the news that he’s off the antibiotics, the possibility that Alou’s finally starting to hit a little…. I don’t know, maybe the worst is behind us.

…. Hitter

Using the Keltner List (a Bill James creation), Westwood Blues takes a look at Will Clark’s Hall of Fame chances.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James ranks Clark as the 14th best first baseman in baseball history. The only Hall of Fame eligible player ranked ahead of Clark who is not already in the Hall of Fame is Don Mattingly.

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Also, James ranks Clark ahead of Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Dan Brouthers, Roger Connor, George Sisler, Frank Chance, Bill Terry, Jim Bottomley, and George Kelly.

For Giants fans, this qualifies as a must-read.

…. Hypocrisy, ad infintum

If there were any doubt about the true intentions of our ‘fearless leaders’ in Congress, it’s gone now:

A third congressional committee opened an investigation into steroids in U.S. sports, asking Major League Baseball, the NBA, NFL, NHL and their unions to turn over documents about their drug programs.

…. “The more the merrier. This is an important issue, and we’re glad other committees agree,” said Dave Marin, spokesman for Government Reform chairman Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican.

The more the merrier. As opposed to, the waste of time. Or, the waste of taxpayers money. Or, the bullshit we are using to distract you from the fact that we do nothing but suck at the corporate teat and lie. Or, the easiest way to get our names in the papers.

Not one of the men and women involved in these ‘investigations’ has one time evinced a desire to either know what the hell they are talking about, or act like they care to learn; swinging from baseless accusations to pointless scoldings, from ridiculous declarations of ‘toughness’ and ‘uncompromising integrity’ to cliche’d assertions of ‘protecting the children.’

They should all be ashamed of themselves, everyone of them. This country is going to hell in a handbasket right now; the list of true ‘scandals’ these absolutely useless morons should be trying to do something about is essentially endless; corporate wrongdoings, the environment, Iraq, the increasing political power of the religious right…. I am hardly qualified to even know a tenth of what’s really in need of ‘investigation’ by the men and women who are paid money by you and me to protect our interests.

I am, however, qualified to know that these important issues are being ignored while the grandstanding goes on.

UPDATE: Michael O’Keefe of the NY Daily News comes thisclose to cutting and pasting from OBM in today’s editorial. ;-)

Dozens of witnesses – jocks, commissioners, union bosses, medical experts, grieving mothers – have appeared at an endless series of congressional hearings on steroids in sports. But America’s lawmakers overlooked two of the nation’s biggest experts, Greg Stejskal and Bill Randall.

Stejskal and Randall are the two FBI agents behind Operation Equine, the landmark steroid investigation that led to 70 convictions in the early ’90s despite lukewarm support from their superiors. Operation Equine targeted big-time dealers, not athletes, but as the Daily News reported in March, the names of hundreds of athletes – including Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco – came up during that investigation.

A decade later, important members of the House of Representatives have decided that ridding sports of steroids is the most important issue facing the nation. So while millions of Americans go without health insurance and a bloody war continues in Iraq, our leaders conduct marathon blabfests that give congressmen the opportunity to profess love of sports, disdain for steroids and plead, like Rev. Lovejoy’s wife on The Simpsons, “WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?”

That’s some tasty crumpets.

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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
None of the opinions expressed should be construed as being endorsed by the
San Francisco Giants, Major League Baseball, or any other organization mentioned herein.

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