Archive for October, 2005
…. 1. Only Baseball Matters Not just about the Giants, but still lengthy, meaty, beefish posts from John Perricone that balance the brain, the heart and the soul of the game. You won’t believe the number of words this guy can devote to Pedro Feliz.
Before I get into some more offensive review, let’s hear what Mia has to say:
…. In Felipe’s own words:
“I was afraid of last place,” manager Felipe Alou confessed. “There were a lot of fears. Below .500 — I never thought I’d see that here. Then, losing 100 games seemed like a possibility, then 90 games. All of those things could have been a reality here. The grave seemed like a reality here, but the guys didn’t let it happen.”
Afraid?! That’s one that John left out…. Fear. It explains a lot of the 4 pitchers for one out tactic. It would explain his losing control on a national stage after the “Messenger of Satan” incident. It would also explain the schizophrenic line-up bungling that Snow alluded to. Just one more shortcoming to add to the list of weaknesses. Self-admitted fear. Not much of a recommendation to make one buy into a manager’s program is it?
These insurmountable weaknesses of lineup bungling, poor communicating, pitching staff misuse, and self-disclosed fear of criticism; apparent to many outside of the Giant organization as well, are weaknesses we choose to live with voluntarily as observers/fans/critics. The same cannot be said for those who suffer the consequences of these deficincies of leadership, involuntarily, on a daily basis; the players. As fans, if these weaknesses are irritating enough over a period of time, fans and to a more subtle degree, players, will follow a well worn pattern and respond sequentially with denial, malaise, anger, followed by the franchise-killer; apathy. It happened under the Stoneham and Lurie stewardships at roughly the 15-17 year mark of their San Francisco stewardships (around 1973-74 and 1990-91 respectively). We have just finished Magowan’s 13th year. The franchise is at another crossroads and is headed for another crisis potentially in the next season or two.
She goes on to criticize Assistant GM Ned Colletti’s declaration that the Giants will maintain an $85 million dollar payroll and make minor changes to the team. Great work, and spot on.
A manager cannot admit to being afraid, more importantly, he cannot manage with fear, and the fact that so many of his best players ended up being hurt can only partially explain his actions. I can remember him having Winn put down a suicide squeeze not too long ago, in the midst of the hottest month a Giants hitter has had in more than 30 years. He was afraid they wouldn’t get even one run with first and third and one out.
Anyway, back to the hitters. Some of you wanted to know where Moises Alou was yesterday, so let’s look at the manager’s son. Alou finished with 18 home runs and 62 RBI in 424 at-bats, putting up a .318/.398/.509 .908 OPS line. That’s pretty nice, really, but still, that’s a lot of at-bats for just 18 home runs and 62 RBI, and a closer look at his season shows that, for the most part, he was terrific for only about a month and a half. He cranked out 11 home runs and 36 RBI (roughly 60% of his season) in May and June. From July through the end of the season, he had 6 home runs and 24 RBI in 199 at-bats.
That’s not the best hitter on the team, that’s an old man who played something like 45 games in a row because his manager didn’t have the sense to rest him when he needed to, which led to another injury, causing him to miss most of August. How many players did this happen to? Seemed like every other week, a Giant went on or off the DL. How could the manager not know that his team of 30-somethings needed to be handled with care and fore-thought? How could the team’s management, as a whole, allow Alou to play his 39-year old son for 45 games in a row?
We come back to Felipe again and again, in analyzing the players, or the team, or the season. He had a terrible year managing this team of geriatrics. He needed to plan and analyze and organize his lineup, pitching staff, and corp of relievers with deliberation, and he did not. And he was abandoned by Sabean and Colletti, who should have warned him, who should have called him in to a meeting, who should have done something, anything.
He used Tyler Walker like he was playing a video-game, 9 times in 15 days in August, until Walker too, went on the DL. Snow played in all but 4 of the Giants first 35 games, until he missed a week. Then, after his return from the injured list, he went from August 10th until September 12th playing in all but one game, upon which he went on the DL again and missed 11 more days. Should that result have been surprising? Snow is almost as old as me, for crying out loud. Omar Vizquel played in 151 games this season. 151. Are you telling me that Deivi Cruz is so bad as a shortstop that Alou had no choice at all but to play Vizquel every single day?
A quick look at Vizquel’s splits reveals what Felipe apparently could not see with his own eyes:
April .307/.390/.455 .845 OPS
May .258/.318/.299 .617 OPs
June .344/.375/.444 .819 OPS
July .278/.327/.381 .708 OPS
Aug .239/.327/.315 .642 OPS
Sept .204/.310/.224 .534 OPS
Can you say, trend?
And you know what’s funny? When it came to penciling in a guy’s name into the lineup, Alou had no trouble writing down the name of a guy with 10 years of MLB service. But when it came to following the team’s plan to get younger, he couldn’t do it. Fear? Looks like it to me. More importantly, it looks like stupidity. It’s stupid to play 35, 36, 39-year old players every day. Stupid. Desperate. Thoughtless.
The older Giants hitters all had seasons that looked pretty much the same. Good production that “earned” them the right to play day after day, even though anyone could have told Felipe that they would break down, even though the Giants had qualified backups at every position, Linden and Ellison to back up Moises, Cruz to back up Vizquel, Neikro to spell Snow. The pitching staff was used in much the same way, especially the relievers, asked to pitch day after day after day, pitch through injuries, through pain — something that has been discouraged in baseball since the 1930′s, by the way — until, they too, were broken down and ineffective.
The story of the San Franciscio Giants’ 2005 season is the story of the game passing one of it’s oldest managers by. The Giants of 2006 would do well to heed the lesson Felipe taught them this season. With a lineup that will almost certainly be nothing more than older, Felipe and the rest of management need to get together and figure out how to keep their team from repeatedly breaking down, or all the fans will have to watch next season is Bonds’s chase of Aaron.
UPDATE: In response to some of the backtalk from the previous post…..
A better lineup was available to Alou. Once Moises was playing, a simple change to the lineup would have been to insert hiim as the #3 hitter, with Durham leading off, and really, Snow or Vizquel could have batted second depending which one was hot or healthy. Once Winn got here, and was so en fuego, he should have been the #3 hitter, and Alou could have moved to cleanup. It only really matters for the first inning anyway, so we’re only talking about the top of the order anyway. (But it’s important to remember that the first inning is the only inning in which the manager can bat his hitters any way he wants. To not do so to his and the team’s advantage is to give away the one chance you have to get the most bang for your buck. To not do so is idiocy!)
Add in, that, for pretty much the entire time he was here, Winn led off or batted second, even though he had more extra-base hits than anyone in baseball during that time. He batted Snow third ahead of Winn, meaning he lessened Winn’s impact by probably 20% or more. At the same time, he had Vizquel batting second every single day, even during the last two months of the season when he could hardly get the bat off his shoulder, let alone demonstrate his amazing speed (only 24 for 34 stealing, with just 4 triples playing in one of the best triples parks in the game).
And how about Durham? How the hell does he get only 84 at-bats as leadoff? That’s his job!! He’s a leadoff hitter. He was the best hitter the Giants had all year long, and Alou had him bat in the top third of the lineup only 106 times. He. Was. The. Best. Hitter. On. The. Team. All. Year. Long. And he spent the majority of that time batting fifth?! Isn’t that a bit curious? Fifth is normally where you find a team’s low-OBP slugger (like, say, Feliz), not a Tim Raines/Rickey Henderson wannabe.
So, no, I don’t buy the argument that he had no choice with all the injuries. On the one hand, some of the injuries are due to his mis-management. And on the other, he had the players to build a more effective lineup, especially his top of the order. Snow and Vizquel getting two-thirds of the first inning at-bats for the entire season is a failure on his part. One that had to play a big part in the Giants offensive ineptitude all year long.
A season-ending review is in order, and the first thing I wanted to talk about was the problems in the offense. To whit:
The Giants missed Barry Bonds far more than anyone could have imagined, (except me, of course), and his absence made it abundantly clear why he was the MVP the last four years in a row. The team scored just 649 runs, just over 4 runs per game, and as bad as that was, the pitching staff allowed 745, which would explain their terrible 75-87 record.
The hitters were simply dreadful, top to bottom. Ray Durham was the only hitter to post a top 40 batting average, and with a .290./356/.429 .785 OPS line, he was arguably the least valuable best hitter on his team in the entire league. More importantly, between his injury problems and his dreadful start, (16 for 72 in April), his production was pretty much useless. By the time he really got on track, (.980 OPS in July), the team was out of contention and talking about playing the kids.
Edgardo Alfonzo has proven to be just one more albatross contract in a long line of terrible, terrible deals that Sabean has negotiated. After getting out from under the horrific JT Snow and Marvin Benard deals that prevented the team from being able to make a serious run at any quality free agents, the Giants find themselves right back in the same boat with deals like Alfonzo’s ($7.5 million for 20 extra-base hits and a .672 OPS). Between Alfonzo and JT Snow, (23 extra-base hits, and a .365 slugging percentage) the Giants got less production from their corner infield positions than any team in baseball, something a Bonds-less team could not overcome.
What’s left for me to say about Snow? He has been, for the last five seasons, the weakest offensive first basemen in all of baseball, and Brian Sabean can’t seem to get it in his head that catching the ball is actually less than 20% of a first-baseman’s job. Hence, JT the Outman will probably be back again for a final season of warning track flyballs and 14-pitch at-bats that end with another base-clogging walk by a guy slower than many catchers. That Felipe Alou batted him third an astounding 301 times (out of his 367 at-bats, and astounding 82% of his plate appearances), in which he produced a putrid .259/.334/.346 .680 OPS line says it all. In case you don’t know what I am referring to, let me be even more direct:
Batting Snow in the #3 slot more than, say, 20 times, demonstrates that Felipe Alou has ABSOLUTELY NO BUSINESS RUNNING A BASEBALL TEAM. No other decision a manager makes day to day is more important than the proper utilization of your players, and the place in which he has the most impact in doing that is in the lineup card. Alou doesn’t have to decide whether to play Vizquel behind the plate, or whether a starter should be a closer, or if he should pinch hit for his best hitter with the bases-loaded. There is a tremendous number of “decisions” a manager makes that aren’t decisions at all. They require that you simply do what you are supposed to do. Making out the lineup card is the most important decision a manager can make. Alou’s failed, miserably, to put a lineup card together that maximized his team’s offense, and not only did he do it wrong, he did it wrong over and over and over, in the face of a mountain of evidence that he was, in fact, screwing up.
That’s not to say that Alou is the entire reason the Giants were floating some 15 games under .500 for most of the season. It’s just to say that he did little, in fact, in my opinion, he did nothing to change the outcome of any series or game that I can think of. I will mention that he did call for the suicide a couple of times, and that for the most part, it worked and made an impact. But a suicide squeeze every hundred games or so does not represent anything that one could consider an impact managerial decision. There were numerous times when the players lost games, particularly the relievers. There were several games where the hitters failed to drive in crucial runs, or the fielders made errors.
But there were also huge holes in Alou’s approach to managing that were exploited repeatedly. His four relievers to get three outs approach essentially worked as often as not, which is to say that he may as well have done nothing. His poor lineup construction, his overuse of pitchers, his poor communication skills; any one of these weaknesses would be problematic. All of them made it impossible for the team to overcome the multitude of plagues that befell them this season.
Continuing with the hitters….
Pedro Feliz clearly took a step back this season, devolving into a #6 hitter at best. He made something in the range of 400 outs (with just 38 walks), counting DP’s and caught stealings, and produced just 69 runs and 80 RBI. Seeing him everyday at third next season seems likely, the only worry is whether Alou will confine him to the bottom of the order where he belongs, along with Mike Matheny. Matheny produced far more offense than anyone expected, but just like Feliz, he did so at an enormous cost to the team. Between the two of them, they produced 33 home runs and 64 doubles, but Mathney also made a huge number of outs (over 350 outs in just 443 at-bats, with a ridiculous 29 walks).
And therein lies the problem with every Giants hitter other than Bonds and the third of a season we saw from Winn. Brain-dead Carribean slap hitters might be a bit overboard, but the bottom line is that only Durham and Snow managed even modest OBP numbers over the course of the whole season, and without Bonds, the team had no power and no one on base, making it very, very difficult for them to score 5 or 6 runs without a lot of luck.
Omar Vizquel essentially reproduced his seasonal averages:
Which is to say, he was a below average hitter with a decent eye. He has no business at the top of a batting order, regardless of how (absurdly) enamored of his great eye and bunting skills you may be. Of course, he managed to bat second 470 times, which means that, for most of the season, the Giant had two of the first three slots in their lineup eat up over 800 at-bats with slugging percentages below .360. Which simply illustrates, again, how poorly Felipe Alou understands the most basic job a manager has, building a lineup.
On to the pitchers tomorrow.