Thursday, 6 October 2016

An appreciation of Conor Gillaspie

Never ever forget that Conor Gillaspie cemented himself in Giants history five years ago, when he hit the worlds greatest first career home run.

That was it for his initial stint with the Giants. He was around for part of 2012 as well, but nothing panned out for him the way you'd expect it would for a first round pick. He was traded in 2013 for someone you'd never heard of and will never know, and surely both parties were disappointed with the outcome.

2014 was without a doubt his best season. He had hit 13 home runs the year before, but in 2014 he was quite consistent and rounded out the year with a .752 OPS - better than the Giants got from Eduardo Nunez post-trade, for reference. After that his career took a a turn for the worse again, being designated for assignment twice in the span of a month by the White Sox and the Angels.

And then came the Giants, again.

We've heard this story before. Once promising talent turned journeyman returns to his old stomping grounds as a bench player. That ended pretty damn good. Very similarly to Travis Ishikawa two years ago, Gillapsie was a contributor all year long off the bench.  Never mind that he hit for a near .700 OPS as a backup, which is what the Giants just paid Denard Span $10 million to do this season as a starter. Though he really didn't need to, his success went beyond that.

Conor Gillaspie is one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball. That's a sentence, all right. But for this season, and maybe only this season, it actually rings true - buckle up. Out of the third basemen to play 300+ innings (remember, as a backup he didn't ever have the luxury of playing every day) his UZR was 10th best in baseball. Seriously. Better than last year's AL MVP, Josh Donaldson. Better than the man he's backing up, Eduardo Nunez. It get's better when you take that UZR and extrapolate over 150 games, which is what the UZR/150 stat is meant to do. When you take a look at that stat, well:

That's a real thing you're looking at. The way that Conor Gillaspie played third base this year, if sustained, was good enough to make him a better defensive third base than anyone else in baseball. Not bad for a faltered prospect fill-in, eh? He also had 5 Defensive Runs Saved in just those 300 innings, which is Nolan Arenado pace. Definitely getting ahead of myself, but Gillaspie has unquestionably been a very solid player at the hot corner for the Giants, and they really could not have asked for more.

His defense aside, Gillaspie was for the bulk of the season used mostly as a pinch hitter - very arguably the hardest job in baseball. Some think that pinch hitting is the toughest job in pro sports. I digress... only 12 players in 2016 amassed at least 50 pinch hit plate appearances. Of those, Gillaspie ranked 3rd with a completely respectable .769 OPS. Nice. He is truly this years Travis Ishikawa, and if this is just the interlude to his playoff performance, we can certainly start to expect a walk-off grand slam to win the world series as he cartwheels around the bases. Jokes aside, he's been as valuable to this years team as any of the other ragtag misfits that the Giants have used to upset every playoff opponent for over half a decade - and it's about time we truly appreciated what he's accomplished.

Never underestimate even year bullshit. 

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The kids are alright

Sunday's wacky win over the Arizona Diamondbacks was insane, but not just because it was won in extras after the Giants surrendered the lead via a home run for the second consecutive day. Sunday afternoon's win featured a bunch players that the Giants flat out did not expect to be relying so heavily upon. Where do we begin?

The starting lineup consisted of three regulars (Belt, Posey, and Crawford), one backup (Brown) and five players that were not on the opening day roster - one of them, Ruben Tejada, wasn't even in the organization. The starter at second, Grant Green, is essentially the 4th string second baseman. Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson, now both up from Sacramento, manned the outfield because Denard Span and Hunter Pence are both injured. The lunacy continues. In mid-May, the Giants called up reliever Albert Suarez to make his major league debut. One month later he was making his 6th major league start in place of Matt Cain.

Due not in part but entirely due to injuries, the Giants ran out the Sacramento Rivercats to take on a division rival - and won. This is because everyone the Giants have called upon is making their mark. And it's because of them that the Giants still maintain a division lead over the pesky Dodgers.

Return of the Mac

Since returning to the majors on his second callup of the season, Mac is batting .241/.353/.448, or an .801 OPS. Not only will the Giants gladly take that from a backup, they'd have loved that from Denard Span, who despite maintaining his ownership of the leadoff role has only amassed a .687 OPS over the full season to date. San Francisco has high hopes for Williamson, and it's pretty easy to see why when he's taking chunks out of Chase Field.

Parker can swing it too

At one point in time, Parker's production wasn't exactly critical, as the Giants were relying on an outfield of Pagan, Span and Blanco. With Span out and Blanco's production wavering, Parker's importance has taken a stark 180. Without the offense that Jarrett Parker has provided, one could make the argument that the Giants would have gone outside the organization to replace the injured Hunter Pence, costing them prospects and/or MLB-ready talent that they'd absolutely like to hold on to. His playing good baseball has alleviated all of that. He's currently sitting at .267/.377/.467, good for an .844 OPS. When you look at what he's done in the month of June alone, it gets even better. A .296 batting average, .433 on-base percentage, and .481 slugging percentage - .914 OPS overall. What the organization needs is for him to continue his success, so that they can turn their trade deadline attention to shoring up the bullpen, which has struggled mightily.

The backup, backup, backup infielders

Conor Gillaspie , Ramiro Pena, Ruben Tejada and Grant Green are all on the Giants because Matt Duffy, Joe Panik and both backup middle infielders are enduring injury. With Tejada being the exception, the other three are swinging to a better OPS than Matt Duffy did before injury. Ramiro Pena had the game-winning hit on Sunday. Gillaspie had a walk-off double last homestand against the Phillies. Grant Green just yesterday made a very Joe Panik-like play up the middle that very well could have saved the game. The Giants are calling on absolutely everyone to hold down the fort while the starters recover, and they are taking the Giants to the most wins in baseball. In another reality, the Giants are down a game or two to the Dodgers in the NL west, and they have these reinforcements to thank for not living it.

Suarez and Buster Brown
I like Albert Suarez. With the way the Giants schedule works, they won't require his services again until after the All-Star break, but they're sure to use him again in some capacity. He too stepped up and filled a void left by Matt Cain, and what began as a spot start turned into his regular spot in the rotation because of how well he was throwing the ball. Were it not for suspect bullpen work, as ever, his numbers heading into the break would be even more impressive - especially considering the circumstances.

Trevor Brown has been up with the big club since the season began. His offensive numbers may not be outstanding, but when you pair them with his defensive ability and consider that he is only a backup, you realize he's doing a heck of a job. Fangraphs rates his defense higher than several notable starters, like Mesoraco, Wieters, d'Arnaud to name a few. His game calling seems to be great, and he's essentially been Peavy's personal catcher all year, so you can bet he's had a hand in Peavy regaining some dominance.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Giants' starters beginning to excel; offense needs to keep pace

When your offseason is capped off by spending five billion dollars on the starting rotation, naturally you expect big things. And almost as promised, they've delivered. Sure there was that whole thing with Bumgarner struggling with his command at the very beginning of the year and Johnny Cueto being vulnerable to a five run first inning implosion. But that aside, they've been fantastic. Hell, including all those unfortunate anomalies, the Giants rotation still ranks among the top few in baseball statistically.

The Starters are legit

This past week in particular, the rotation is really showing what they're capable of when they're firing on all cylinders. Fangraphs fWAR has the Giants rotation as the 2nd most valuable in baseball over the last seven days - second to the Phillies, of all teams. Over that stretch, they've also logged the most innings (48.2) over seven games, rounding out to an average of 7 IP per start. This is not be overlooked - the amount of innings the starters are good for very plainly limits the amount that the bullpen needs to be used. Probably due to several key injuries, the bullpen has been lacking this year, and now that we can expect Bochy to tiptoe around Sergio Romo and George Kontos the rest of the year, the fewer innings the bullpen needs to throw, the better.

So let's expand that window to fourteen days now. The Giants are still in the top 5 for fWAR over that stretch and have still logged the most innings of any rotation at 93 IP. This rounds out to 6.64 IP per start, so essentially keeping pace with the last week alone. The story is the same when you look at the last month as a whole. Still top five in fWAR, still throwing the most innings. Pretty safe to say the starting pitchers are going to pull their weight over the full 162 to get the Giants to the playoffs.

So what about the other half of the team? The half that started off the year with back-to-back-to-back home runs? They've been struggling, and although the season may be long, it's already 1/5th over. And especially while the pitching staff is standing on it's head, the offense needs to be there in some capacity.

Posey with Men in Scoring Position

Of the 55 players with at least 40 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Buster Posey has the fifth worst batting average - second worst in the National League only to the Brewers Chris Carter, who's semi famous for slugging in the big leagues despite trying to usurp Mario Mendoza of his only accolade. There are literally no positive stats to brighten Posey's performance with 'RISP'. On base percentage? Fifth worst. How about wRC+? Fourth worst. Let me put it to you this way: So far this year, Giants pitchers are hitting better with runners in scoring position. This is a trend that basically cannot continue, as there's no alternative. Bruce Bochy will let Posey hit .000 with runners in scoring position over a full season before he considers batting Posey in a spot other than cleanup, so Buster's simply got to break out of whatever bad habits are causing him to flounder like this.

Peavy and Cain, pray for rain?

Super super small sample size incoming: over their last 3 combined starts, Peavy and Cain have allowed just 6 runs in 19 innings pitched (2.84 ERA). Excluding that important fact, they've also pitched better. They haven't made so many damned mistakes and they thrown the ball where they intended to (you know, pitching almost by definition). Last night not only was Peavy in a position to potentially go out and pitch the seventh inning (94 pitches through 6), but you could even argue that the one run he did allow could have very easily been scored as unearned. In Matt Cain's last start, he completed eight innings for the first time in almost three full years. Neither of those two things are more shocking than the other, either. The point is that if these guys are turning their seasons around, and the offense can get back to even 50% of what it was at the start of the season, the Giants are going to be exceptionally fun to root for over the summer.

Even year bullshit on the rise.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Another loss to the Dodgers that shouldn't have been

In a scenario seemingly plucked from previous frustrating Giants seasons, the Giants got a great outing from their starting pitcher and still managed to lose a very winnable game.

Even world series wins can't erase the memory of outings that birthed the "Cain'd" verb, created to summarize the 496 outings where Matt Cain pitched to a win, but had no team behind him.

Tonight was like watching the Giants through a time machine. Denard Span struck out on an 80mph slider with a swing that started once Dodgers catcher Grandal had caught it. Buster Posey carried an 0-18 road trip streak into the 9th inning. Matt Duffy's 0-4 capped off a disgusting 2-23 road trip of his own. Angel pagan had a hat trick. Bruce Bochy once again handicapped the team by leaving the starter in too long. There were, at most, 4 well struck balls off the Giants bats all night.

And yet, after all that, the final was just 3-1.

Because they're not going to have the teams offensive engine stalled every single night, and they are likely to get good pitching performances from the top 3 most days. They're going to be fine, but they have quite the mess to work through at the moment.

• What was Bochy doing leaving Samardzija in to bat in the 7th? There's nothing to gain from sending him out for one more inning. He essentially wasted their 3rd to last scoring opportunity.

• More upsetting than the Giants losing to the Dodgers is how bad the majority of their swings looked. That's a trend that has to end immediately, especially with two predictably average outings upcoming from Jake Peavy and Matt Cain.

• josh Osich is excellent. Inducing a huge double play to end the threat and keep them in it. He should have started the inning, Bruce.

Javier Lopez is not himself

Javier Lopez was automatic last year. Opponents had just a .145 batting average against him, he had a ridiculous ERA+ of 237, and allowed a run in only 10% of his appearances (77). If Bruce Bochy brought him in to face a tough lefty with a runner in scoring position and two outs, you knew the inning was over. There was good reason to have more confidence in him than anyone else, save for Madison Bumgarner.

Things haven't started out quite the same way for Lopez's 2016 campaign. He's already allowed over a quarter as many hits as he did all last year, in 36.2 fewer innings pitched, 71 fewer appearances. His struggles can mainly be traced back to issues with his command. He's walking batters and having trouble putting them away succinctly, but more importantly he's also leaving pitches right over the heart of the plate.

Seager's Homerun came off a mid-eighties pitch
right down the middle.
Lopez can typically dominate lefties and even handle righties because of his low, deceptive arm angle, and ability to put the ball exactly where he wants from said arm slot. All of it hinges on where he ends up throwing the ball, and more so because he has no where near the velocity to make up for any location mistakes. Lopez is going to need to turn the command around quickly, otherwise Bruce Bochy would be wise to mix up how he uses Javier and fellow lefty Josh Osich.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Leave Kelby alone

Just eleven games into this very young season, panicky fans (like myself, sometimes) like to make knee-jerk statements and create awful opinions of players based on the smallest of sample sizes.

In the first Bumgarner-Kershaw match up of the season, Tomlinson muffed a play that could have sent all the orange and black dawning peoples home happy. He didn't, they lost, that's baseball.

Last night, he had an all around rough game. A couple of physical errors and at least one of the mental variety. That of course wasn't going to sit well with the whose memories are short and appalling.

Opinions like those are laughable, save for the second one, which was one of the only constructive comments I could find on the entire Facebook page.

The terrifying reality for the pessimists is that Kelby Tomlinson was the 11th most valuable offensive player on the Giants last season. He was more valuable than Justin maxwell, Andrew susac and Ehire Adrianza in a similar number of plate appearances. He was only slightly less valuable than Nori Aoki despite less than half the plate appearances, and his wRC+ was 119, both above average and better than Aoki's.

Before people start piling on him for a couple mistakes, it's important to remember two things.
One, the Giants don't have a better option. Christian Arroyo would almost certainly be one, but he is not on the 40 man and the Giants don't need to start his service clock. Adrianza is out, Crawford is ailing and that means Tomlinson is going to play - which is not the end of the world.
Two, the Giants didn't lose this game because Tomlinson made a couple mistakes. Not solely, anyways. They lost this game because:
They had one run-scoring hit, the other two runs coming on wild pitches.

Clayton Kershaw pitched better than Madison Bumgarner.

The Giants had 6 baserunners in 7 innings, one of which reached on an error.

Zero extra-base hits, the first game this season where the Giants did not hit a home run.

The defense as a whole was not good.

To cry for an infielder to be benched/demoted when plenty of other things went wrong is indicative of someone who's a 'fan' of the top 5 nameable players on the Giants, and pretends to know what's going on when one of the other twenty is mentioned. Don't be that person. Today is a new day, and you can be sure Tomlinson has a good shot of being in the lineup again tonight.

Beat LA.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Matt Duffy is outperforming Pablo Sandoval

Duffman is the hero we all deserve, after Pablo Sandoval's graceful departure from San Francisco. Casey McGehee was already penciled in as the starting third baseman, but Duffy's huge spring warranted a spot on the roster - thank goodness.

To date, McGehee has been nothing short of really bad, while his successor at the hot corner seems to be making more than just the most of his opportunity. He's in even filling the shoes he nor McGehee were expected to fill. I'll get to the numbers in a second, and they're pretty great.

It's important to remember that the Giants anticipated taking a hit in their offensive output from 3b at the start of 2015. They had every reason to believe that even their intended starter wouldn't measure up to the success that Pablo had for years. They also hoped to be close to on par defensively. But the failure of McGehee has, in short, led to the Giants looking better and more consistent at third base than they have in years.

Since his inarguable best year in 2011 (.315/.357/.552), Sandoval settled into a much more average but consistent player.

Here are his batting averages, on-base percentages and slugging percentages from 2013, 2014, and thus far in 2015, respectively:

             '13    '14    '15
AVG: .278  .279  .270
OBP:  .341  .324  .322
SLG:  .417  .415  .410

In a game this difficult with such a long season, that's pretty damn consistent. And no one's going to knock those numbers, in fact the Giants desperately wanted a few more seasons of them. And yet, here's Matt Duffy.

AVG:  .290
OBP:  .340
SLG:  .435

That's just the surface level stuff, though. Watching him play, it's actually kind of fun watching a third baseman who doesn't forfeit his own at bats with awful swings as often as he squares one up. It's fun watching Duffy play and much more rarely have to worry if he's up with a runner at first base and less than two outs. It's even more fun watching him play the position, because he does it better than the large version of the panda, and the numbers support that statement.

It's incredible to think that two years ago, he was putting up similar numbers for the San Jose Giants, and now he's manning third base for the big club. I appreciate what Sandoval did for the Giants, it's hard not to - but I am pulling for a $509k a year 568th overall pick to end up being a preferable option to a formerly loved and now loathed $17.6m a year fast food connoisseur.