Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Season So Far: Heavy Sigh

I don’t even look at the standings anymore. For one thing, I no longer subscribe to a newspaper, and usually I forget to look at any online editions. I can’t remember the last time I looked at a boxscore, either, though I’ll checkthrough the Giants’ statistics on ESPN.com every so often.

Frankly, the Giants are too horrifying to want to pore over in detail (though probably I will at some point). I watch or listen to every game I can, and I’ve found a way to reduce my game-related stress (and subsequent utterances of some really foul imprecations). As I’ve detailed on The Giants newsgroup, often I’ll watch something entirely unrelated to the game, but keep the Walkman covering one ear. For instance, I do that a lot with the Law and Order shows on the premise that their victims only have to put up with being murdered and such, whereas I’m a Giants fan. It’s kind of the equivalent of watching Teletubbies instead of the news.

This technique works especially well this season, during which the Giants are fielding their worst team since 1996 and showing baseball fans the world over that yes, it is all about Bonds. As near as I can tell, during the last offseason, Brian Sabean, et al., made conscious efforts to add players whose skills might best complement Bonds’, shore up the defense, and grab hold of perhaps the league’s best closer. The only problem with this strategy is that it presumes that Bonds will be in the lineup. It’s not Sabean’s fault that he isn’t; it’s bloody unfortunate, is what it is.

The Giants definitely had some serious needs going into 2005. The shortstop was Deivi Cruz, whose addition, thankfully, spelled banishment for Neifi Perez, but whose defensive prowess leaves something to be desired. So enter Omar Vizquel, a defensive whiz who, I understand, has great-grandchildren in the Indians’ chain as we speak. The team seriously needed someone to hit behind Bonds—something they hadn’t had since Jeff Kent left (and even before that, since Dusty Baker started batting Kent ahead of Bonds midway through 2002). So enter Moises Alou, a good (but old) hitter with power and at least one glass leg. Because A.J. Pierzynski was so wretched on defense (and, evidently, in the clubhouse), out he went and in came Mike Matheny, a former Gold Glover whose catching skills supposedly outweigh his stunted batting skills. And, perhaps most importantly, the Giants, having taken long enough looks at Todd Worrell, Matt Herges, and Dustin Hermanson, finally realized how cheap the save statistic is and that they needed an actual closer, not just someone who pitches the ninth inning. So along came Armando Benitez, forty-some saves, a microscopic ERA, and his lousy postseason reputation.

Overall, honestly, none of this looked so bad. On the offensive side, Ray Durham—never injury prone before donning Orange and Black—was a good leadoff hitter with pop. Vizquel would very likely be an able second-place hitter. J.T. Snow ended up having an outstanding 2004 season. Bonds would’ve batted fourth (despite my fervent belief that he should bat third). Then we’d see Alou—maybe he and Snow would swap lineup spots, depending on who was pitching. Either Marquis Grissom or Edgardo Alfonzo, whichever one was hotter at the time, would bat sixth, followed by the other one. And batting eighth would be Matheny. Coming off the bench would be Michael Tucker, who had shown himself to be a more than adequate fourth outfielder, as well as Cruz, the light-hitting Yorvit Torrealba, and perhaps some youngsters, such as Jason Ellison and Lance Niekro. Given the age of the starting outfielders, plus the fact that Snow and Alfonzo require their share of rest, Pedro Feliz—who team officials seem to believe “blossomed” last year—would have wound up with perhaps 600 at-bats, spelling one guy or another.

The rotation would have included Jason Schmidt, poised to become the first Giants pitcher in nearly 30 years to win a Cy Young; Noah Lowry, a very pleasant surprise with a spotless won-lost record and a magical change-up; Brett Tomko, who clearly was inhabited by an alien throughout the second half; Jerome Williams, ready to break out; and Kirk Rueter, steady but anxiety-inducing.

Benitez would have anchored that bullpen, with Jim Brower or perhaps Scott Eyre setting him up. Brower and Herges, and maybe Jesse Foppert, would provide stalwart righthanded relief, while Eyre, Jason Christiansen, and the very very old Jeff Fassero would get the lefties out.

Defensively, Snow would have continued to save a bundle of throwing errors. Up the middle, even with Grissom still in center field, the defense would have improved drastically.

Thus was the human pyramid known as the San Francisco Giants. Tragically, it was an upside-down pyramid, with Bonds as the anchor. Once he came up lame, down went everybody, rapidly and in pain.

I’ve believed for a long time, thanks to former Giants middle infielder Dave Anderson, that if a marginal or otherwise unspectacular player has a year that is (or is perceived to be) outstanding, you’d probably better trade him now while the getting is good, because he’s going to revert to form next year—if you’re lucky. Granted, many exceptions abound, but Brower embodied this. I’ve also come to believe that it’s a wonderful idea to get rid of guys after horrific years, so I wouldn’t have missed Herges or Christiansen (who actually was canned, then brought back). In fact, hardly any Giant has done as well as expected, or hoped for, in 2005:

  • First base: Snow has batted third most of the year. To this point he has a total of two home runs and maybe three-dozen RBIs, if that. Whatever magic he discovered last year has worn off, and if he’s a starter, he should hit roughly seventh. Niekro, however, has been something of a revelation. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but I sure didn’t expect what he’s done so far. I expected a righthanded Snow without the defense. Yes, he still has a ways to go in the field, but especially early on, he hit for power I didn’t know or believe he had. However, he bats third a lot, too, and his strike-zone judgment does not befit a third-place hitter. Overall, first base isn’t a black hole, butit’s not particularly good, either.

  • Second base: What happened to Ray Durham? Why’d he save up his injuries for us? What’d we ever do to him? And even when he’s in the lineup and healthy, he’s no longer a stolen-base threat, and—I’m going on observation, here; statistically I can’t be sure—he’s not the OBP ace he’s been in the past. Felipe Alou’s been batting him fifth, which actually isn’t a bad spot for him (but would be if Bonds were around). Cruz has spent a lot of time there, and (a) he ain’t no second baseman, and (b) he may be this year’s Dave Anderson.

  • Shortstop: Vizquel is indeed spectacular on defense. I don’t know how his numbers stack up, but after watching Rich Aurilia for several years and then a whole bunch of Cruz last year, I welcome the opportunity to watch a guy who can get to the ball. Vizquel has come up with so many plays that his predecessors couldn’t have, so in this respect the Giants really pulled off a coup. As a hitter, he’s just not fun to watch, especially since he’s always leading off or batting second. I’m not big on slap-hitters, which is what Vizquel is from the left side of the plate; from the right side he’s got more pop and presence, but that doesn’t happen often enough because he simply doesn’t face enough lefties. Also, the guy can bunt, which is a welcome change. If there’s one thing I really want Vizquel to abandon, it’s that head-first dive into first base, which only slows him down. It paid off in a game during the Cincinnati series, but I’m sure he’s blown at least half a dozen infield hits this year by not running through the bag. Luckily he’s pretty durable, though, because Cruz is the alternative.

  • Third base: As has been pointed out frequently, Alfonzo homered twice in the first week of the season, but not at all since. Yeesh. His range seems to have decreased to the point where if a batted ball is outside the boundaries of his shadow, it’s a base hit. But he was hitting well right when he was rumored to be dealt, and then he got hurt. I’m mad at him for that, because I’m convinced his trade value will never again be as high as it was before that. Feliz played a lot of third while Alfonzo languished on the DL, but... well, we’ll get to Feliz in a bit.

  • Left field: This was supposed to be the one spot we’d never have to worry about. Bonds was going to breeze past Babe Ruth and finish the season maybe 10 home runs short of Aaron. With Alou behind him, he might not have walked even 175 times this year, if you can imagine. But no. Left field this year has belonged largely to Feliz, who evidently has enough raw talent to stay in the lineup but whose strike-zone judgment is, at best, on par with my son’s, and the kid should’ve been wearing glasses. Feliz is kind of like Glenallen Hill Lite: less power, fewer strikeouts, but almost as frustrating. At least he’s performed reasonably well in the field, especially given that he’s a natural third baseman and still not very comfortable-looking in the outfield. Still, he’s slugging about .450 and, I’d guess, has an OBP around .315. That’s a bit less than what had been expected from this position. Alou has played a lot of left field, too, especially with Feliz playing third in Alfonzo’s absence. I think he’s done just fine on defense—ditto in right field—and he’s the closest thing to an offensive stud this team has. However, right now he’s on his second DL stint, and I figure he’ll wind up the season with fewer than 20 home runs, even if he plays every day once he’s back. That’s frustrating—especially for him, I imagine—because he’s so strong and has been a legitimate power hitter for so long. Can SBC Park reallyhave done this to him?

  • Center field: Even including the Tsuyoshi Shinjo experiment, this year’s center field choices haven’t been the worst in Giants history, but they might be the saddest. Marquis Grissom couldn’t stay healthy, and didn’t hit when he wasn’t on the DL, so instead of being a steady everyday center fielder (who probably would’ve ended up batting third a lot, to my chagrin), his absences and poor play opened the door for Jason Ellison—whom we’ve pretty much seen before, albeit in the guise of Darren Lewis. Well, that’s not really fair. For one thing, Lewis was a way better center fielder, and I’d say Ellison is far more exciting. Is he better? I don’t think so. He certainly is streaky, but he really can’t hit righthanded pitching and he doesn’t draw walks, so he’s frustrating to watch sometimes. He’s fast and he can bunt, but he’s not a good base-stealer. So to try and address this situation, the Giants picked up Alex Sanchez, who had been canned, in rapid succession, by the Brewers, Tigers, and Devil Rays. He is also, if memory serves, the first major leaguer to be suspended for steroid use. He left the American League hitting in the .340’s, and yet I can’t remember a player to whose Giants debut I looked less forward. I did not want this guy—not because of the steroids, but because of the bad defensive reputation, the lack of power, and the lack of walks. Well, I’m here to tell you that his defensive rep utterly failed to do him justice: He very well could be even a worse outfielder than Glenallen Hill. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a guy take poorer routes to a ball or exhibit worse judgment. Awful awful awful. Add to this the fact that he started out in a slump, and I couldn’t wait to see him go. Then he got hurt... and even while he was on the disabled list, we’d heard rumors of his release. Ultimately, the second he got off the DL, he was gone. I felt that he should’ve milked that injury for all it was worth. The good news, I guess, is that the Giants finally addressed the need by picking up Randy Winn from Seattle for Torrealba and Foppert (who almost certainly will turn into John Smoltz now that he’s gone). Winn seems pretty decent on defense. His numbers are decent, but they don’t reflect those of a leadoff hitter. Also, the Giants ended up releasing Grissom, which was pretty sad, but what choice did they have?

  • Right field: It should have been Alou, with Bonds in left. However, we’ve seen a lot of Alou and Tucker out there, and with Winn around, Ellison has moved to right, which seems okay with me given that I think Winn’s a better outfielder. Ellison (unlike Darren Lewis, by the way) has a pretty good arm, almost certainly better than Winn’s (given that Winn also plays left, but not right). Meanwhile, since Tucker’s early-season grand slams againstthe Rockies on consecutive Sundays, he’s had few particularly good days.

  • Catcher: Matheny, or so say Mike Krukow and Giants pitchers, has been everything anybody could have hoped for. Krukow was even campaigning for an All-Star berth for this guy. I’m perfectly happy with him, though I know a lot of fans aren’t. Meanwhile, I liked Torrealba, but I’m not sorry to see him go. I really don’t think he ever was going to be a starting catcher for this team, and I have the feeling that this will be borne out by his tour of duty in Seattle. No matter how good he might be defensively—and I’m not all that impressed, since he seems to commit the occasional careless passed ball—there’s no way his glove can carry that bat. And with him gone, Yamid Haad is the Giants’ new backup. It took him a while, but he finally got his first major-league hit. I gather that he’s got a good defensive reputation, but you certainly couldn’t prove it by his first major-league start behind the plate. He nailed a runner trying to steal, but he alsodropped a popup and gave up an easy passed ball. So bleah.

This is a heck of a lot for now. Next up: the pitchers.

6 comments:

  1. Not a lot of arguement from here. I've seen the Giants in five different cities and they've looked wretched each time. Yet, as a glutton for punishment, I continue to make my way to see My Team. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

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  2. Hey there, Jeff:

    Thanks for being my first respondent. I’m just sorry you had to do so much traveling when you easily could have grieved from the comfort of your own home.

    Incidentally, is anybody seeing garbage characters where apostrophes are supposed to be? I see them in Explorer (today, but not yesterday), but not in Netscape.

    G

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  3. The apostrophes look fine to me in Firefox.

    And welcome to the blogging world!

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  4. Thanks, Steven. Couldn’t view your profile, but if this is Mr. Rubio... just the word “blog” conjures up your serene image for me, every time.

    Yeah, they looked fine to me in Firefox as well, and Safari. They still look funky in IE, but maybe that’s ’cause there hasn’t been a Mac update in a long time. I dunno.

    G

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  5. Hey, your blog would look great if I could actually see it, but being a limp untendered plant in a college dorm room and, well, dead for now 25 years it is kind of difficult to travel about in the blogosphere. - Merl

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  6. Hmm. That's pretty sad, really, especially since I was thinking of you just the other day. Mostly I was wondering, given that spider plants are nearly impossible to kill, how Dave managed to kill you anyway.

    But thanks for getting in touch. This is way easier than trying to contact you on a Ouija board.

    G

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