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Archive for the 'Matt Cain' Category


…. Backtalk

Martin (sorry, I knew that), over at Obsessive Compulsive, thinks I missed a couple of points in my recent rants. He thinks the Giants weren’t thinking about contending prior to the season, that the failure of the team to draft good offensive players isn’t Sabean’s fault, that the team over-achieved and Sabean deserves some credit for that, that the team is rebuilding and I’m being too harsh. I disagree on most of his points. Here’s what I wrote in response:

Well, I disagree on a lot of your points. Brian Sabean made minor changes to a team that he thought was good enough. He added a fifth starter, a relief specialist, and a (worthless) shortstop to a team that scored 640 runs the previous year, because he thought he was fine-tuning a competitive club. He absolutely said so several times before the season started, and then he acted accordingly. You don’t make those kinds of cosmetic, expensive additions to a rebuilding team, you just don’t. You play Burriss, you save your money, and you go out and get younger. Sabean was going for it, and his idea of going for it was absurd.

And as for your prediction that the Giants would contend, and that no one else thought that they could; I predicted, way back in the beginning of the season, that if every single thing went right, a superstar season by Sandoval, and Zito bouncing back, and Lincecum not having a sophmore slump, and Cain having his best year ever, and every other possible break going their way, the Giants still wouldn’t be able to make the postseason. It was my long-term view that was the correct one, not yours, Martin. You’ve missed the point of this season, just like Brian Sabean did. The 88 wins were a mirage, a combination of good luck, timing, and the completely unseen event of our entire pitching staff shaving a full run off our ERA from the year before.

And what is this rebuilding thing you keep referring to? Winn, Rowand, Molina, Ishikawa, Lewis, Renteria, these are all players that Sabean went out and got. He paid handsomely for their services. Rebuilding? What is that? He BUILT this team.

Alderson and Barnes had value, and Sabean transformed that value into more useless, league average players, who fit in exactly with the same league-average players he has been bringing here for going on seven years in a row. If the Giants are rebuilding, it’s because of his own failure. He’s not rebuilding a team that he just came to run. He’s cleaning up his mess. Let’s not forget his decision to forgo draft choices several years back; just one more of the ridiculous ways he has hamstrung his own team.

As for the draft being a crapshoot, well, sure it is, but what’s that got to do with anything? Forget about the draft. Sabean doesn’t know what makes an offense go. He doesn’t know how to build an offense. If you value the wrong traits in a player, then it doesn’t matter what you do, because you will fail. Brian Sabean values steady, veteran, experienced, high batting average gamers. These players have a place in the game, you just can’t have an entire offense made of these types of players. You cannot field an entire team of replacement-level players, which what the Giants have been doing for the last five or six years.

Don’t talk to me about rebuilding, we’re rebuilding because the players Sabean went out and got are terrible, laughably overpaid, 2 home run a year players who deserve to make about a third of what they earn.

You talk about rebuilding like a team that hasn’t won a title in the history of the city the play in can afford to shit away a once in a lifetime chance to win a championship, WHICH THE GIANTS HAD THIS SEASON, and they shit it away like so much aggravating extra work they just didn’t want to do.

It was a disgraceful performance by Sabean and Neukom. There should have been no ends to which they wouldn’t have gone once it became clear that we had a championship-caliber pitching staff, in the midst of an historic performance the likes of which we may never see again, and all the team needed to do was spend money and send a couple of valuable, tradable commodities you seem to think were so expendable, so unpredictably worthless, and get a hitter or two who could’ve made a difference.

Instead, we traded away those valuable prospects and got Ryan Garko (as in, WHO THE FUCK IS RYAN GARKO?!?) and a completely broken-down, empty batting average 32-year old Freddie Sanchez, who contributed one home run and two walks.

THAT IS FAILURE OF THE ABSOLUTE HIGHEST ORDER.

A playoff berth was there for the taking, and our GM failed in every way imaginable, wasting resources and coming up so empty that he actually had to replace Garko with the player that Garko had been brought in to replace. Are you kidding somebody? If it hadn’t been for Juan Uribe and Eugenio Velez coming completely out of nowhere, the season would’ve been lost months ago, our GM failed so spectacularly.

How you can fail to see that is remarkable to me. I know you’re smart. But, in this instance, you are blind. The Giants, out of nowhere, had a legitimate chance to make some noise in the postseason. All it would’ve taken is smart moves by our GM. Instead, he made stupid, wasteful moves, moves that accomplished nothing. And, for that, he was rewarded with a new two year contract, and millions of dollars.

UPDATE: Yeah, and in case you were wondering about the ownership and accountability of the team’s management; Carney Lansford was fired today. So, even though, Brian Sabean got all the props for the team winning 88 games with no offense, Lansford was fired because he failed to make Randy Winn hit home runs. So much for winning 88 games being the important factor in the team’s success and failure. I guess that only counts for the GM and the coach.



…. And so it begins

With the end in sight, the stories begin as everyone tries to understand why:

…. Bruce Bochy’s decision-making with his outfielders this year has left a lot to be desired, and in no case is that more obvious than his decision to bury Lewis in favor of Nate Schierholtz, and to a lesser extent Eugenio Velez, back in June.

Lewis is the third-best offensive player on the Giants, behind Pablo Sandoval and, oddly, Juan Uribe. He is the only regular other than Sandoval with an above-average OBP, making him water for an offense thirsty for baserunners. Yet Lewis has started just 20 games, about twice a week, since June 9, a time during which the Giants as a team have an execrable .305 OBP.

Of course, Sheehan is right. Lewis was the third best player on the team all season long, and it was Bochy’s poor handling of his weaknesses that ended his terrific start and began his slide. It was Bochy who wrote everybody’s name in the lineup except Lewis’ for such long stretches. But, in Bonehead’s defense, Lewis was terrifically bad in the field –something even I was eventually forced to concede– and with a team so dependent on preventing runs, Lewis’ “play” in the field was a problem that had to be addressed. (As an aside, Lewis did not provide the kind of offensive boost that would have mandated accepting the good with the bad here. He’s not Adam Dunn good with the bat, he’s simply the third best hitter on the worst offense in the league. There’s a difference.)

But, I digress….

The issue isn’t that Lewis was buried on the bench. The issue was that the team couldn’t figure out a way to help a player stay on the field. They couldn’t find a place for him, coach him up, and get the offense they so desperately needed in the game. So they played one dead body after another, and used him as a pinch hitter, or pinch runner; and hoped nobody would notice their failure. I noticed. And so did Joe.

I also noticed that Matt Cain seems to have faltered down the stretch. His last ten starts have been pretty bad, and I’m wondering whether he’s run down a bit, or if his earlier success was due more to luck than excellence. So, I looked it up.

At the end of July, he was 12-2, and leading the league in ERA, (2.12). His ERA was terrific, but, there were some mitigating circumstances for that stellar record. He beat some really bad offenses in the beginning of the season, notably the Mets, Athletics, Nationals, and Padres; and he won several games in which he allowed a bunch of hits, runs and home runs. He won on April 21st, against San Diego, despite allowing 9 hits in 6 innings. On May 12th, he escaped a loss when he allowed 9 hits and 4 earned runs in 7 innings, but the Giants somehow scored 9 runs and won the game. In fact, the Giants offense was certainly the reason he was 12-2 instead of a more pedestrian 8-5 or so.

At the end of June, Cain was 9-1. But he’d given up 4 runs or more four times, and he only lost one of those games. He was the starting pitcher in games the Giants scored 7, 8, 8, 9, 9, and 7 runs. He won five of those games, and got a no decision in the one I mentioned earlier. In those games, he allowed 1, 2, 0, 4, 4, and 1 runs. At the end of June, he was 9-1, and certainly could have been 6-4.

Had he started the season 6-4, instead of 9-1, his current stretch wouldn’t be so startling, because a pitcher that wins 9 of his first 10 decisions is thought of differently. He’s thought of as being a stopper, an Ace, and when your Ace struggles it’s noticed. But Cain has never been an Ace this season. His numbers have never been as good as Lincecum’s, not that that’s a reason to be down on him, nobody’s numbers are as good as Lincecum’s, but you get the point.

He was a little bit lucky early, and he’s been quite a bit mediocre lately. Since the end of July, when he was leading the league in ERA, he’s allowed 4, 5, 3, 1, 1, 4, 2, 4, and 4 earned runs. He’s gone 1-5 during that stretch, and that’s about right. He could’ve gone 3-6, which would leave him with an overall record of 15-8, which would look better than 13-7, but it’s the same, really.

He never was the best pitcher in the league, regardless of his numbers at the end of July. He doesn’t strike out enough guys, really, and he never has. He’s actually allowed more home runs this season than ever before (22), and his peripherals are decent, but in the end, his ERA is on the way to landing pretty much where it was last year, and the year before that, around 3.50. That’s very good, but it’s not great.

Matt Cain is a fine number two starter, and the Giants are lucky to have him and Lincecum at the same time, in their prime.



…. Call me teased, (again)

Two games back in the AILC with fifteen to go. Can the Giants get enough offense to catch the Rockies? Will Matt Cain ever win again? Can Lincecum throw out a couple of monster, dominating games to snatch the Cy Young Award back from Adam Wainwright? Will Sandoval average more than an RBI per game and get to 100?

Seriously, it looks like I might’ve been wrong about the Rockies, (or, at the least, I was a bit hasty). Or maybe, just maybe, they’ve hit the wall. If they keep losing, anything is possible. And they could keep losing. Their last nine games are the Cardinals, Brewers and Dodgers. Our last twelve are Padres, D’backs and Cubs. That’s a bit of an edge.



…. Dropped balls

Between the errors and the lack of hitting and the lousy pitching and the double plays, the Giants were lucky to get one win this weekend against the mediocre Reds. I don't know if it's the first time a team has beaten the bo

th Cain and Lincecum in the same series this year, but I wouldn't bet against it.

They picked a bad time to go flat, with the Dodgers coming in for a big series, one that will determine whether the Giants have any chance to catch them, or if they will spend the rest of the summer fighting for the Wild Card slot.

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…. Young at heart

After last night, in which Tim Lincecum threw 8 shutout innings against the best offense in the league, leading the Giants to a taut, 2-0 win; the time has come to talk Cy.

The 2009 National League Cy Young race is looking like a two horse race between Tim Lincecum, and Matt Cain, who are thisclose in a heated battle of can you top this. Both are tied for the league lead with twelve wins, both are in the top three in ERA. Lincecum is leading the league in innings pitched (158), Cain ranks 9th, (140). Lincecum is leading all of baseball in strikeouts, with 191, (33 more than the number two man in the NL, Javier Vazquez) Cain is way back with only 112. Lincecum leads the league in complete games (4) and shutouts (2), and he really could have at least two more. Lincecum has allowed only 6 home runs in 156 innings(!), Cain has allowed 12. Only Dan Haren can match Lincecum's stinginess regards opponents batting, and his 10-6 record is not really going to catch the eye of the voters.

On ESPN's Cy Young Prediction machine, Lincecum leads Cain by 5 points. Also puttin

g up Cy Young type seasons are Dan Haren and Jonathan Broxton, but in my humble opinion, the award will be won or lost by one of the two young San Francisco stars. Broxton's numbers are startling, but with two starters on the same team throwing up such powerhouse numbers, the only way reliever wins this ward is if Cain and Lincecum pull votes away from each other.

My money is on Lincecum. As the reigning Cy Young Award winner, he has followed up last year by having the best season of any pitcher in baseball, and his strikeout numbers make a compelling case to overrule all of the other similarities with Cain, Haren or, for instance, Chris Carpenter.

Matt Cain's only chance would seem to be by compiling at least two or three more wins. Barring that, the Freak's dominance will land him his second coveted piece of hardware.

UPDATE: WIth this afternoon's 7-3 win, the Giants take three of four from the NL East leaders, finish a 6-1 homestand, and hold on to a tie for the Wild Card lead with the Rockies, who beat the Reds 6-4.

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…. Unbelievable but true

Joe Sheehan is probably gonna be pissed that I am cutting and pasting almost his entire article today, but, Jesus Fucking Christ, I feel like Nostradamus:

…. Let’s get something out of the way: as currently constituted, the Giants are unlikely to make the playoffs. True, they have played well so far, thanks in no small part to a devastating one-two rotation punch and a surprisingly strong bullpen. The Giants are very, very good at preventing the other team from scoring, and that’s the skill that has enabled them to be a factor in this summer’s playoff chase.

…. What they can’t fake is an offense, which has been hideously bad. The team is 15th in the NL in runs scored, and 16th in Equivalent Average with a .241 mark that’s seven points worse than the Padres. They have one good bat in Pablo Sandoval, one average one in Aaron Rowand, and seven guys who can’t hit.

…. they can acquire and play just about any player in baseball because they have so few players who can’t be benched.

…. the other factor in play here is that the Giants have significantly outperformed their expected record, not just from the preseason, but what you’d expect from what they’ve done on the field. The Giants have scored 33 more runs their their third-order prediction, and allowed 17 fewer. That’s a five-win swing, right now the difference between second place the wild-card chase and nowhere.

…. it brings up the question of how good the team really is, and how good it can be? If the Giants are “only” a .500 team, improving them to .550 is harder than if they’re a .530 team. The Playoff Odds Report is seeing this problem as well, giving the Giants a mere 9.5 percent chance to make the playoffs, a small chunk of which is their chance to win the division.

…. With that in mind, should the Giants bother to make a big move? As mentioned, their top-heavy farm system is a challenge, as teams want their very best prospects, and four of those guys are among the top 60 prospects in the game. Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Angel Villalona, Tim Alderson… these guys are the core of a championship team down the line. Add in Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, and you can see the Giants playing deep into October in the not-too-distant future.

On the other hand, four of those guys are pitchers, and one, by definition, will be the fourth starter in that rotation. The Freak isn’t tradeable, and Matt Cain’s contract and jump in performance make him a fixture. Bumgarner is ahead of Alderson by any evaluation, and I haven’t mentioned Sanchez, himself an incredible talent, in this paragraph yet.

Alder

son could be in the major leagues a year from now, and he’ll be a top-40 prospect on next year’s list. He is, however, a level back of the guys who will be one-two-three at that time. As Kevin Goldstein said, “His ceiling is nowhere near that of teammate Madison Bumgarner, but he could be closer to the major league rotation.” That actually could be a selling point in a deal, as GMs trading away veteran talent like to do so for players who are close to the majors. Alderson could be starting for his new team next summer, providing the local fans proof positive of the value of what could be an unpopular deal.

…. What your team needs more than anything else is guys who don’t make outs. Nick Johnson doesn’t make outs to the tune of a .410 OBP. There’s not much power left in his bat, and he runs poorly, but you’d be picking up 15-20 runs at first base over the rest of the season, with no loss in defensive performance compared to Travis Ishikawa, himself a good glove man. That’s about two wins. The Nationals also have two left fielders better than Randy Winn or Fred Lewis, one expensive, one less so. Josh Willingham is having a nice season, but it’s Adam Dunn that you want. A poor left fielder, Dunn hits more than enough to make up for that, and it’s not as if Lewis is a tough act to follow out there. Even if Dunn asks for a trade this winter, so what? Let him walk as a free agent and take back the $10 million you would have owed him. For now, bank the 20-25 extra runs he’ll be worth and start taking yourself seriously as a contender.

First, I'm sending Joe an email apology for posting pretty much his whole fucking article.

Second, Joe only affirms that I have been right about the fact that Adam Dunn is the single most effective player available to solve the Giants offensive woes, and he has been SINCE THE END OF LAST SEASON!!!!!!!

My thanks go out to Joe for confirming that I –in fact– am not an idiot. “A poor left fielder, Dunn hits more than enough to make up for that.” Yes, I have only been saying that for going on seven months now.

So, trading for Dunn, (as opposed to signing him as a free agent, which would have been the absolutely best possible move the team could have made last off-season), is, in point of fact, pretty much the only move the team could or should make, even though Brian Sabean should be fired for coming to this conclusion now, because the facts were there, for all of us to see, in November of last year.

As an alternative, Josh WIllingham, simply because he's just a bit younger, would be equally valuable to a team that has pretty much the very worst offense you can possibly have and still talk about contending.

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…. Painful

Is there a worse successful closer? Wilson came into that game last night, and as far as I was concerned, he was just as likely to walk two guys and give up a three-run homer as he was to get the save. 100-MPH fastball and all, he is so unpredictable, so wild, that I can't help feeling that he will eventually blow the game that derails this season.

It would be nice to know that we will have a game that actually determines whether we make the playoffs or not, but man, I sure would've preferred Cain just go the distance last night.

As for Cain, he's pitching himself right into the C

y Young Award argument. 12-2 for a team that is just shy of last in runs scored in all of baseball? Talk about karma, Cain is basically getting all of the las two seasons worth this year.

…. Cain was outstanding again as he lowered his overall ERA to 2.27 and his July Era to 1.23 in five starts. Remarkably, Cain has allowed one or no earned runs in 12 of his 15 starts dating to a May 7 win here.

That should've been a shutout last night, in Coors field, no less. Lewis horribly misplayed that ball, a tough but fairly routine fly ball that he turned into a double.

That must be kind of defense Dunn plays. ;-)

Still could use a bat, there, Brian.

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…. Buzz Killington

Barry Zito tried to throw cold water cold water on pretty much the whole last week, coming out of the gate and allowing two three run homers –to a team that had been struggling to even get a hit– before most Giants fans had even sat down. He allowed 9 earned runs and got 10 outs…. enough said.

The Giants head into the All Star break 10 games over .500, with the second-best record in the NL. They have posted an outstanding team ERA, they have thrown a world-best 13 shutouts, they have two 10-2 pitchers, and a 22-year old who is leading the team in batting average, home runs, RBI, and OPS. Sandoval has 15 home runs, 55 RBI and run out a .333/.385/.579 .964 OPS line. Wow. That's a hell of a first half, all things considered.

All things being….

Barry Zito is a complete washout. Randy Johnson, 8 wins notwithstanding, isn't one of the top forty starting pitchers in the NL. Edgar Renteria (.260/.317/.326 .643 OPS) as advertised, isn't worth $18 dollars, let alone $18 million dollars. The jury is still out on Travis Ishikawa (.269/.324/.430 .754 OPS), who may be able to hit just enough to be the next JT Snow. I know, I know, that's a horrible thought, but still, he's not the problem right now, and that's saying something.

Randy Winn, Fred Lewis and pretty much any outfielder other than Aaron Rowand would be the problem. With a combined total of 10 home runs, our entire offensive weakness can be attributed to the lack of power being demonstrated by that group.

Joe Sheehan got me thinking:

…. What if a team offered the Blue Jays not its very best prospects (for Roy Halladay), but offered it the kind of payroll relief that would pay off for years to come? What if a team took Vernon Wells off of its hands?

When the Blue Jays signed Vernon Wells after the 2006 season, it was very clearly a case of buying high. The center fielder was coming off his age-27 season, his fifth as a full-time player, and just his second of those with an OBP above .340

. Wells’ core skills showed him to be a good-not-great player, whose value was buoyed by excellent defense in center field, but lacking the on-base skills to be a true middle-of-the-order anchor, and with speed that was more perceived than actual (he was at 53/15 SB/CS to that point in his career). The contract was doomed the moment it was signed, massively backloaded to make it affordable to the team, but ensuring that Wells would eventually be an albatross. Here’s what’s left on it after this year:

2010: $12.5 million + $8.5 million share of signing bonus
2011: $23 million
2012: $21 million
2013: $21 million
2014: $21 million

That’s five years and $107 million, or about $11 million less than what’s left on Johan Santana’s contract. It’s just a bit less than what Sabathia will make in those years. It’s more than what’s left on the laughingstock contracts signed by Alfonso Soriano and Barry Zito.

Even as bad as Wells has been over the last year and a half, he would immediately be the best hitter in our outfield. We're talking blockbuster here –BLOCKBUSTER– but we're also talking about a team that has the best pitching in baseball, right now, and more importantly, we're talking about a team that has never, NEVER won a championship. It's a deal that would instantly alter the dynamics in the National League.

If the Giants were able to swing a deal like that, a deal that landed the All Star starter for the AL, a deal that would preclude giving up any of our true blue-chip prospects, they would transform themselves into a championship contender instantly.

Will Bowker hit enough to keep the Giants in contention? Will the Giants get enough pitching from the 3rd, 4th and 5th starters? Can Cain and Lincecum repeat their success? Can this team make the playoffs? All of these questions fall to the wayside after a deal like this. The only question that needs to be asked is whether Bill Neukom will take on another albatross contract. And, not for nothing, we seem to pretty much lead the league in albatross contracts.

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…. Kung Fu Panda

Pablo Sandoval made a strong case for being elected to his first All Star Game, belting a grand slam in the fifth inning to lead the Giants past the Marlins. Matt Cain (already All Star Game bound) earned his 10th win, and Brian Wilson, laughably being touted as an All Star candidate himself by Kruk and Kuip last night, barely held on for the save.

I may have been wrong about this team's ability to contend, (currently holding fast to the Wild Card lead, with the second best record in the NL), but I wasn't wrong about the offense. The Giants are 45-37, meaning they are almost exactly halfway through the season. They have scored 342 runs, and allowed 303, so they are on pace to almost exactly match last years 680 runs scored, which means, for all the posturing about how Renteria was gonna make some kind of big difference, as of right now, even with the tremendous season Sandoval is having, we're still gonna score less than 700 runs. (Unless you wanna believe the surge in offense over the last five weeks is a real indicator of a team on the rise. I need a little more convincing, myself).

But the Giants big improvement has obviously been because of the pitching staff. A year ago today, the Giants were 39-50, having score 367 runs and allowed 408. Saving 100 runs in 80 games is unbelievable, really, and is the sole reason the team is contending. Matt Cain has dropped his

ERA over a run per game, in fact, he's allowed 31 runs in 17 starts, as opposed to 91 in 34. That's a big drop. Lincecum has also allowed fewer runs per game, although he was so dominant last year, the improvement is a bit more incremental.

Across the board, however, the pitching staff has shown tremendous improvement. Last season, our starters posted a 4.34 ERA, this year they're at 3.62, best in the league. Our relievers have been even better, posting a stellar 3.33 ERA this year. Last season, they were cover-your-eyes awful, posting a second to last ERA of 4.45. Wow. Having one of your young pitchers post a run per game improvement is terrific. Having your entire group of relievers do so is unbelievable. Kudos to Sabean and Righetti for both the planning and the coaching involved in such a breakthrough.

The combination means the improvement is real. As of today, the team has seen a 80 runs differential improvement over last season. The maturation and season long effectiveness of Matt Cain has been terrific, but he's not been the only one. The improvement has been across the board, and allowing 100 fewer runs in a half season is simply outstanding.

UPDATE: I never said the Giants scored 367 runs in 81 games. I compared the teams by date, as in, “a year ago today.” Thanks for reacting instead of paying attention to my point.

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…. Wrong, Part II

OK, so maybe I was wrong about being wrong. ;-)

Both Gwen Knapp and John Shea point out the same problems I mentioned in yesterday's update, mainly that the Giants seem to have trouble with the better teams, even though their records may be similar:

….Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain promised to camouflage a lot of flaws elsewhere on the roster, offering hope that they could take the Giants to the playoffs and then to an upset, past a team that seemed vastly superior in every other way.

…. They can do a lot by themselves. They can overcom

e a wan offense. They can overcome a mediocre defense. But they can't overcome both against a talented, predatory opponent, at least not enough to turn a five- or seven-game playoff series in the Giants' favor.

The Giants' weaknesses at the plate have drawn a lot of attention, but sloppiness in certain parts of the field and the staggering failure to hold baserunners (see the Mets) probably have been more disappointing. The Angels' three-run eighth benefited from a passed ball, a line drive that bounced off the end of diving second baseman Matt Downs' glove, and Pablo Sandoval's misguided decision to throw to first when he had a shot at preventing the go-ahead run at home.

Sounds like +MIA.

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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
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