Archive for July, 2005

…. Speechless

Kirk Rueter and Felipe Alou are practically in tears over how poorly Woody has pitched this year, according to this SF Chronicle piece.

…. Rueter insisted he does not feel entitled to a spot in the Giants’ rotation because of who he is or what he has done in past years. On the contrary, he said, “I’m not saying I’m better than (Brad) Hennessey or (Kevin) Correia. I think they’re both going to be great, so let them pitch.”

Rueter said he simply believes it is difficult for him, and particularly for inexperienced pitchers such as Hennessey and Correia, to succeed when they have to look over their shoulders wondering if one bad start is going to get them knocked out of the rotation.

“I don’t know if the whole atmosphere is conducive to performing,” Rueter said.

The 34-year-old left-hander reiterated his belief that he is not helping the team by pitching sporadically out of the bullpen and is taking a spot from a deserving reliever. Rueter would prefer going to a team that will let him start every fifth day for the rest of the season to see if he still can do the job.

…. Manager Felipe Alou was distressed to hear Rueter was upset, because of their long association. Alou said he has loved even the players who disliked him, such as catcher Benito Santiago, “so you can imagine (how I feel about) a guy like Woody, who pitched for me when he was a baby. I’m dying a thousand deaths every time he comes to the mound and doesn’t bring his ‘A’ stuff. I hope Woody throws the crap out of the ball in Milwaukee.”

At the same time, Alou would not apologize for the frequent changes in the rotation and how they might have affected Rueter and the younger pitchers. The big leagues, he said, are all about performance.

“The kids don’t come up to stay in the big leagues. The kids come up to be judged and evaluated,” Alou said. “When older guys are not throwing the ball well or swinging the bat well, they are being evaluated, too. Young guys better do their thing quickly. You’ve got to do what Noah Lowry did last year to stick around. The door to enter the big leagues is a very narrow one. It is not a wide gate.

“I hope it’s not people looking over their shoulders making them walk guys or give up 0-2 hits. If anybody is looking over their shoulders, it started in 2005 because we are losing,” Alou said.

“Some people are falling terribly short. If we don’t say it, we’re going to have to lie. We are failing. We are 14 games below .500, so I am failing. I don’t want to blame (just) the pitchers and the hitters.

I copied most of what they had to say, because I think it is illuminating. First of all, kudos to the competitor in Rueter, who still believes he can take the ball every fifth day. It is exactly that kind of supreme single-mindedness that has carried him to 100 big league wins with some of the worst stuff in the game.

It is also, however, up to the manager and general manager to determine whether or not someone is actually getting the job done, and believe me, Woody don’t need no ten more starts for him or anyone to know the answer to that question. Rueter has won but 21 of his last 79 starts, and just 2 of 17 this season. He is, in fact, finished, and he deserves exactly what he is getting (minus the $6 million, of course). It is imperative for the Giants to give these young pitchers the opportunity to start, and I don’t mean spot starts, which brings us to the other part of the article I wanted to comment on.

Alou is wrong when he says these pitchers have to prove themselves game in and game out. They need to be allowed to go out there and throw 100 or so pitches, every fifth day, and learn whether their talents will, in fact, enable them to get big-league hitters out. Whether they succeed or fail right now is immaterial. 2005 is over. The Giants have to accept that, and, for crying out loud, stop giving playing time to 35-year old players.

The time to use 5 relievers to get three outs in one inning is over, and has been for about two months. Let Correia and Hennessey and the rest of these young pitchers and hitters, play, every day, in preparation for 2006. Trade anyone you can to get younger, faster and cheaper. Many, many teams are desperate for starting pitching. Trade Schmidt, Reuter or Tomko if you can get some upper tier minor league talent. Do it.

…. Comeback kid

Jason Giambi (my pre-season pick for Comeback Player of the Year) is currently leading the American League in on-base percentage (.437), and has something like 8 home runs since the All Star break. David Pinto thinks the Yankees ought to trade him for some pitching. I think he’s hit the nail on the head, Branch Rickey style. Trade somebody when they’re at their most desirable, instead of waiting until they begin their decline.

Giambi could hardly be hotter, and the Yankees desperately need pitching. The Padres, Dodgers, Indians, and even the Mets could use some power in their lineups. Even if they have to take on some of his salary, they could win a World Series with the right deal. As hot as he’s been, without him, they’d still have an outstanding offense, and their ERA is about the same as the Giants. Ouch.

…. Real deal

So the Giants have lost 3 of 5 so far to the big kids. They’re done, by the way. I’ve read some of the excellent backtalks (54! A new record!) and those of you that think the Giants are hanging around the NL West race are deluding yourselves. They already have 54 losses. A playoff team will have perhaps 70 or 72 losses, and that would represent a weak, weak team at that. A contender will be around 65, meaning that this team would have to win 9 of 10 the rest of the way. ’nuff said.

2006 depends on Sabean’s next month or so of work. If he cannot figure out how to move the right dead weight and replace it with youth and ability (a tall order, I know, with the ridiculous contracts he’s given some of these stiffs), then the ’05-06 Giants will go down as one of the most spectacular (and predictable) collapse teams of all time, and he and the Giants will forever rue their inability to capture a title while enjoying the greatest ten year run of performance by the best player in baseball history.

Center field, right field, first base are all offensive positions. This team is looking at something in the range of 20 home runs from those three slots, when they should be looking at 50-65. We have no rotation at all, just a bunch of under-achieving, over-paid, old and getting older guys. It’s tough to admit, but looking at next year, it’s pretty clear that Sabean made all the wrong moves in the aftermath of Game Six, and there is little short of a miracle that can save us now.

…. Crumbling blue?

The Giants came within one bad call of sweeping the four-game set from the completely hapless Dodgers. Instead, they settled for winning a rare road series on the combination of Brad Hennessey stingy pitching and Michael Tucker’s hot bat. Last night’s 4-1 win, coupled with the Padres loss, leaves the G-men 8 games back in the loss column, 11 games under .500.

The Dodgers looked lifeless all weekend, and the Giants were happy they stayed that way. Now the Giants get to face real baseball teams, the Marlins and tthe Braves, for a six-game homestand that will decide the season. Anything short of 5 wins will probably signal the death knell on the 2005 campaign, and Sabean will begin clearing out all the dead weight on the roster in preparation for 2006.

Part of me still wishes the team would rally, but the roster is so screwed up that the realist in me wants to see them face facts and begin the process of rebuilding, especially the pitching staff.

And let’s stop with the “Barry Bonds met with his teammates” stories already. He’s coming back or not depending on whether this group of chumps can get within sniffing distance of the playoffs. Enough with the tease.

…. Countdown to Armageddon

I’m sorry, but this is just delusional.

…. General manager Brian Sabean was asked Sunday if he ever saw this coming.

“In a word,” he said, “no.”

“It was unforeseen, and a lot of stuff that happened couldn’t be predicted, inside or outside the organization. We’re kind of at a loss at how things spun out of control. Injuries are part of the game, the severity of which you have to deal with. Some things didn’t happen with expectations, including the pitching staff and starting staff, that we’re still scratching our heads about.”

I mean, the entire online baseball community, with the exception of a few dedicated Giants sites, predicted that the Giants would have a very tough time staying healthy with such an old lineup. For crying out loud, Bill James wrote about this stuff twenty years ago! For Sabean to sit there and say that he and his crack team of baseball experts had no idea that they could be hit with an epidemic of injuries is absurd, and suggests a long rebuilding process, as the article also hints that should the Giants put together any kind of win streak, they would be willing to trade youth for veterans yet again.

…. The other shoe drops

According to this well-researched SF Chronicle piece, the Giants will find themselves in the unenviable position of having to sell significant ticket price increases to season ticket holders just one season removed from a 2005 season that promises to be one of the worst in at least a decade.

…. That’s when seven years of ticket “price protection” runs out for the holders of 6,800 club-level season tickets, and their ticket prices may rise by about 40 percent. These people help form the backbone of the Giants’ fan base, and the club is banking on their continued support.

Of the Giants’ 28,271 season ticket-holders, 7,715 charter-club seat holders hold protection plans limiting how much their ticket prices could rise each year.

…. Overall, Baer estimates the Giants will have a net loss of $1 million-to- $2 million this year mainly because of an increased payroll. The club takes a $13 million-to-$14 million hit each year in revenue sharing, a figure that Baer said “has more than doubled from what we anticipated in the late ’90s.” Sponsorships provided “a few million more than we anticipated,” but he said the Giants would have to sell out every game in order to break even.

Besides payroll, the other big expenses are the $18 million the club pays each year for loans on the park construction and $2 million in loans for the purchase of the team, Baer said. Other teams don’t have to pay such sizable mortgages, but may have to pay considerable rent on publicly owned facilities.

The Giants will be paying off the park until 2017.

First things first. The team finds itself with 50 losses at the All Star break due to a three-year “re-tooling” program that has been just shy of a total disaster. I’ve covered this in detail, I know, but in this context, it’s important to note that a team that has been built to revolve around one transcendent player has not set itself up to replace that player, even though there have been players available on the free agent and/or trade market.

From a performance standpoint, the Giants unwillingness and inability to handle this situation has been frustrating, to say the least. From a financial standpoint, it has been a nothing short of a disaster. Heading into 2006 after a lost 2005, with an ancient lineup, a patchwork pitching staff, and the possiblity that Bonds is finished, the Giants will find themselves paying for their poor planning, because you can bet that a 100-loss team will be an impossible sell for the prices they are going to be selling at.

Add in the fact that they never fail to tell us how little money they’re making, or how tough it is to own your own ballpark, or how big their mortgage is, and you see a side of the organization that makes me wonder whether they really have any idea at all what the hell they’re doing.

I’m no financial expert, but I know that owning a baseball team and a ballpark puts them in position to have a pretty substantial stream of revenue, and although it may be true that they show a book loss of a million dollars this season, there can be no doubt that Magowan and company are doing very, very well with their investment. And we know that Baer is -knowingly- choosing to ignore the revenue sharing refund that the Giants receive in the form of their deducted ballpark construction costs.

The last Forbes report I linked to showed the Giants as one of the top ten baseball teams in terms of estimated value, and the poor-mouthing the owners insist on doing every chance they get is frankly insulting. Asking fans for thousands of dollars while telling them how poor you are is, well, a really shitty sales pitch, and one that would get your average car salesmen fired. Why the Giants think it’ll work is beyond me.

…. Backtalk

Readers unite in backtalking the OBM God. ;-)

Jim Adams and I are usually in agreement, but I think he may have misunderstood my earlier post about Hennessey:

…. The thing about pitchers is, sometimes they surprise you. If a guy can’t hit by the time he’s 25 he’s not going to hit, period. But with pitchers, there’s always that chance. Did anyone think that Livan Hernandez had it in him to do what he’s done the past two years? Did anyone think, back in 2002, that Joe Nathan would become a top-notch closer? How about Dustin Hermansen? Russ Ortiz’s minor league record didn’t look like much. Kirk Reuter and Felix Rodriguez looked like nothing at the time the Giants acquired them. And Dave Stewart was a 30-year nobody who had been released by Texas at the time the A’s acquired him; he later won 20 games four years in a row.

So I say let’s give Hennessey his shot. Sure, he’s probably nothing special, but the kid has been through some tough times, he’s not blocking any Grade-A prospects, and maybe he’ll surprise us. I am rooting for him, and I hope he’ll be one of the feel-good stories of the second half. In a season like this one we need all the good feelings we can get.

Livan Hernandez was an established major league pitcher at age 21. He was striking guys out at a better than league average rate from the minute he put on a uniform. The odds that he would have an upswing as he matured were pretty damn good, even though I was as frustrated by him as anyone. But again, that illustrates the organizational problems the Giants have had during the last several years. In large part, the Giants frustrations with Livan had to do with their own insistence that he was the team’s ace, something that he resisted strenuously. Had they allowed him to grow into the role, as he seems to have done in Washington, perhaps he would have embraced it and he’d still be here. Instead, they alienated him much the same way they alienated Jeff Kent, and he’s at the All Star game in a different uniform.

Russ Ortiz was an established major leaguer at 24 years old, and by the time the Giants traded him, had a track record of almost 1000 innings striking out 7 men per 9 innings to look at when determining whether he or Woody should be the guy to give $15 million dollars to. Felix Rodriguez was striking out guys (more than 7 per 9 IP) from the minute he was a pro.

Joe Nathan, coming off surgery, still struck out almost ten guys per 9 IP in 2003, whether he had the makeup to be a closer isn’t the question; it’s whether the Giants brass understood what to look for in making these choices? In my opinion, they didn’t, and they still don’t.

Rueter’s the only real outlier, there’s really no explanation for his success, but the rest of the guy’s we’re talking about (even Hermanson) have always had the one thing needed to be a major-league pitcher -the ability to strike guys out. Hennessey does not have that ability.

What are the odds of him becoming another Rueter? 500-1?

You mention Dave Stewart as a guy who came from nowhere to have a terrific run at 30 years old. Well, Stewart, when he was struggling, managed to strike out hitters right around Hennessey’s rate, (5.55 per 9IP, 600 innings, 380 strikeouts) when Oakland got him. His strikeout numbers went up a bit under LaRussa, but he was pitching for a team that was an offensive juggernaut (Bash Brothers, et al), and his overall numbers were never quite as good as his won-loss record. He averaged around 250 innings per season(!) during that run, in around 35 starts per, meaning he was allowed to stay in games until the offense gave him a lead, and then Eckersley made sure he didn’t lose it. And anyway, Stewart’s as big an outlier as Rueter, a pitcher who put it together at 30 after flailing around for ten seasons is pretty rare.

Meanwhile, we’ve got a manager who seems to think a 25-year old pitcher, fresh from a two week stay in Fresno, finally got the one piece of coaching advice he’s been missing all these years and now deserves a shot in the second half, even if it means messing up the teams plans.

That was my point, anyway. Not that Hennessey’s garbage, but that the Giants are clueless right now. They have no idea what to do, why to do it, and when to.

…. No respect

Not surprisingly, the Giants find themselves below the status of an afterthought in NY, as we head into the All Star break. No Barry, well under .500, in fact, just about the worst team in the NL, really, and now Murray Chass ignores them completely in this state of the game piece. How can Chass not even mention the Giants as one of the biggest disappointments so far this season? All they’ve done is finish first or second for most of the last decade, not to mention sporting the NL MVP for the last five seasons, and they’re not the biggest disappointment in the league? And how could he ignore Jason Schmidt in his list of players who’ve underperformed?

The only thing the NY writers have to say about the Giants as we head into the All Star break is that some jackoff old-timer named Paul Blair thinks Barry’s a cheater, (which, according to Christian Red of the NY Daily News, he is). Hey Christian, I know it’s easy to keep targeting Bonds when you’re looking for somebody to bash, but I can’t believe that after all this time, you would state that Bonds admitted to using steroids unknowingly. That’s not what he said, that never happened. Here’s an idea, do some research and actually find out what happened before you send your copy into your equally obtuse editor.

Here’s Paul Blair. Hey, Blair, how’d you go from 7 home runs in ’68 to 26 in ’69? And how come you never hit that many again? Maybe a little help from your friend the greenies?

…. Fantastic Four

The Giants have a chance for the series win against the best team in baseball, after Brad Hennessey’s seven shutout innings. The 2-0 win puts the Giants in an enviable position, as not too many teams have been winning series’ against the Cards lately. Manager Felipe Alou seemed pretty impressed by Hennessey’s outing:

…. “So, what about Hennessey, the mystery starter? He looked like a different guy on the mound, more relaxed. We owe it to that guy to give him a little more credit, more than a guy used for emergency. The way he threw, he looked professional today. It was especially impressive against that team. I’d like to make him a starter in the second half. We’re going to wait until after the break because Hennessey was not one of the guys we were considering before, so we’ll have to assemble again and talk about it.”

So here’s a great chance to do something more than just criticize the Giants brass after they make a decision.

Let’s say they decide to give Hennessey the ball the rest of the way, let him work his way through the league the whole second half, and see what happens. Has he shown enough to produce? He threw seven innings of shutout ball today, but he only struck out 2, meaning he got 19 of his 21 outs through the work of his defense, which is not exactly stellar. Heading into today’s start, he’d averaged 5.79 strikeouts per 9 innings, and 1.45 strikeouts per walk, pretty mediocre numbers really. Add in his .318/.390/.517 .907 OPS against….

I’d say that, barring some miraculous change in his mechanics and/or demeanor that Alou seemed so enamored of….

Brad Hennessey has just about no chance to be anything more than a league average pitcher.

He’ll fit in nicely with the rest of the Giants pitching medicority, but his success today should hardly be attributed to anything more than luck, and should the Giants decide to alter their post All Star plans because of it; you can rest assured that they will earn the wrath of this writer and many of my more well-read readers.

There. No one can accuse me of hindsight when I rip Sabean and Alou for wasting 15 starts on Hennessey, or more worrisome, listing him as some untouchable Giant in trade talks.

…. Organizational issues?

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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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