Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Well, horrors! You know? My response to today’s post was, “I love my kid, too, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t annoy me sometimes.” Am I supposed to maintain psychotically inaccurate illusions about my team? Am I supposed to believe that—win or lose—they’re just wonderful and sublime? Well, yes, I guess. The Giants will always be my team, no matter who they trot out there, and while it’s true that once you don the colors, you’re One of The Beloved, why shouldn’t I complain if you stink?
All it really comes down to is that there are different types of fans, and who’s to say that one type is somehow superior to another? And when we talk about different types of fans, we enter the realm of personality types. Some folks are optimistic by nature, and I have to say that I envy them to some extent. I can’t imagine, for instance, waking up and thinking, “This is going to be a great day!” But I wouldn’t mind feeling like that—would you?
Rather than pessimistic, I tend to think that the diametric opposite to “optimistic” is “realistic.” Now, that’s not meant to imply that I possess the gift of seeing things exactly the way they are; it’s more like this: Maybe you were excited about the debut last night of Matt Cain, whom we may as well call “Super Bowl” because of the unbelievable hype we’ve been exposed to since the Giants drafted him, and maybe this excitement manifests itself in “Well, maybe he didn’t throw a perfect game, or even win, but we’ll be riding his arm to a World Championship!” I too was excited—probably as excited as I’d been before any game this season—but my expectations were not high, nor could they be. Hey, I wanted that perfect game, too, but I realized after a while that what I really wanted was (a) a Giants victory, and (b) something approaching a “quality start” from Cain, something that would provide some solid footing, some confidence, whatever else he needs to, I dunno, be a good pitcher for the Giants. I think of that not only as a reasonable hope, but a realistic one.
Think about the last few guys we’ve seen hyped. I’m sure I’m missing some key figures here, but the guys who come to mind, in reverse chronological order, are Jesse Foppert, Jerome Williams, Mike Remlinger, and Mark Grant. Foppert and Williams, definitely, were supposed to be The Real Deal. Indeed, they both threw some good games for the Giants, especially Williams. And they both threw some bad ones, as anyone else would. These two should have been rotation stalwarts for years to come, but even after all the hype, Brian Sabean traded them. Remlinger came up and threw a shutout, then another good game, then two not-so-great ones, then returned to Triple-A… and went to Seattle in the Kevin Mitchell deal. Grant managed to fashion a reasonable major league career, but he never really panned out with the Giants—and was traded in the previous Kevin Mitchell deal.
Okay, on the one hand, this tells me that you have to give up quality to get quality, as general managers are so fond of saying. That’s okay. I mean, as consumers, we all know that, for the most part, we get what we pay for. It’s just kind of depressing to see these kids come up, sporting a “Can’t Miss” label, and then leave. Thankfully, neither Grant nor Remlinger haunted the Giants all that much (though Remlinger’s career may have come to an end only within the last couple of days), and we don’t know about Williams and Foppert yet. But whether Cain is traded or not, I kind of expect the same thing.
I don’t want the same thing. I want him to be great. I want him to make Giants fans forget about Marichal and Perry—well, older Giants fans, anyway, because the younger ones often don’t know who those guys are. I want Cain—some Giant, anyway—to win a Cy Young. I’m tired of the fact that the Giants just don’t grow great pitchers anymore. (Nor do they grow great position players anymore, but for the moment, that’s beside the point.)
I did like what I saw in Cain last night. You have to temper his wildness by bearing in mind that he had to be pumped up like a monster-truck tire. I look forward to his next couple of starts, just to see if he comes up with something that works besides a 95-mile-an-hour fastball, and maybe puts some movement on that, too. It’s a shame he lost—he wasn’t great, but he didn’t deserve to lose, especially considering that the Rockies’ second run in this 2–1 game scored on a double-play ground ball.
But you know what I want for this guy? I want him to be fun to watch. The last Giants pitcher I can remember really enjoying was—wait for it—Atlee Hammaker. Yes! In the first half of 1983, he was masterful, and, as awful as the Giants were, I looked forward to his starts. I do enjoy watching Schmidt and Lowry, but I hope Cain—or some Giants pitcher, soon—can provide that much fun again.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
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Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Years Managed: 1992–2001, 2003–Present
Record as a Manager: 2,179 games: 1,128-1,051, .518
(With the Giants: 448 games, 246-202, .549 through 8/23/05)
Managers for Whom He Played: Bill Rigney, Tom Sheehan, Alvin Dark, Bobby Bragan, Billy Hitchcock, Ken Silvestri, Lum Harris, John McNamara, Dick Williams, Ralph Houk, Gene Mauch, Del Crandall.
Others by Whom He Was Influenced: How should I know? He was in the Expos organization for eons, during which times those with the longest managerial stints were Mauch, Williams, and Buck Rodgers. (Williams also was Alou’s manager with the A’s.)
Characteristics as a Player: Righthanded-hitting outfielder with some pop, hardly ever walked, didn’t strike out much. His lifetime range factor and fielding percentage (for whatever those are worth) are above league averages, and he’s been described—during Giants broadcasts—as having been a very good defensive outfielder. He also played nearly 500 games at first base, and the numbers suggest that he was about average. Except for his first two years and his last, he played at least 100 games a season, and of those 100-plus years, you could call him a regular for eight of them. He stole over a hundred bases, but was successful only 61 percent of the time. His OBPs were almost always about 40 points above his batting average, suggesting, in his case, roughly 30 walks a season. Note his lifetime OBP, .328, and his highest batting average, .327 in 1966, when he lost the batting crown to his brother Matty. That year his OBP was .361—roughly Omar Vizquel territory.
WHAT HE BRINGS TO A BALL CLUB
Is he an intense manager or more of an easy-to-get-along-with type?
He seems like way less of a player’s manager than Dusty Baker. I don’t know whether he’s what you’d call a good communicator, but I get the sense that he doesn’t have that much time to waste on mere ballplayers. I could be wrong, but that’s the sense I get. Over the last two-plus seasons, there have been at least a couple of incidents where players have received bad news from a coach or the press, rather than Alou. It is said that with Montreal he had a doghouse, where naughty players go, but that hasn’t seemed real clear since he came to the Giants.
Is he more of an emotional leader of a decision maker?
Depends on what you mean. He’s an “emotional leader” in the sense of playing hunches; in this way, Dusty Baker is a piker by comparison, and I used to go on at length about how he played hunches. His demeanor usually suggests that his emotional range is firmly between 4.9 and 5.1; indeed, he rarely gets animated during arguments, and seems to give up way too soon. When he gets ejected, it’s a real surprise. Is he a decision maker? Well, he seems to pigeonhole all his pitchers very tightly, and he has no hesitation about yanking them. So in that way, yes.
Is he more of an optimist or more of a problem solver?
Well, both. Attempting to get anything out of Alex Sanchez was awfully optimistic, I’d say, but that’s just a small example. Once Armando Benitez went down, he tried a few guys in the closer role before going with Tyler Walker—and sticking with him. I really don’t see how he could have considered this a solution so much as a stopgap, especially given his choices in that role last year. Since he plays hunches to death, “optimist” seems to be the right category, doesn’t it?
His in-game decisions, however, suggest that he at least considers himself a problem solver: burn a pinch-runner or phantom pinch-hitter; play percentages till you want to strike him (“Allemande left and allemande right, stand up, sit down, fight fight fight!”). The only problem is that he often leaves himself without a safety valve of any kind—viz J.T. Snow being in desperate need of a pinch-runner in the final game of the 2003 Division Series, but with no one available to do the chore since he’d already burned some guys earlier, unnecessarily.
HOW HE USES HIS PERSONNEL
Does he favor a set lineup or a rotation system?
This guy definitely uses his whole roster. Everybody plays—it’s almost like Little League sometimes (which is something I don’t mean in a disparaging way). He understands the value of rest, especially in that his team is awfully old. He moves hitters around in the lineup, though I’m not sure there’s much rhyme or reason to it. For instance, Marquis Grissom batted leadoff, third, and eighth as a Giant (and elsewhere, but I think these examples clarify my point). When Randy Winn came aboard, Alou batted him second, behind Vizquel. Then suddenly he flip-flopped them, perhaps because Vizquel wasn’t hitting much. It probably doesn’t matter either way in this case, but it seemed as though the move was made just to make a move. Sometimes I think that when he makes a lineup, the first two spots and the last three (not counting the pitcher) seem like a priority, and whoever’s left over goes into the three-, four-, and five-holes. I suppose that sounds mean, but it might explain putting Grissom, J.T. Snow, Edgardo Alfonzo, Deivi Cruz, Lance Niekro, and Pedro Feliz in the three-hole at various times. (If Bonds were around, that would be a set lineup position: fourth; I think he should hit third.)
This year, anyway, people move in and out of the starting rotation, and the sequence has changed.
Does he like to platoon?
Even though with his pitchers he loves to play the lefty-righty-lefty-righty thing, he doesn’t really do that with his hitters. Michael Tucker doesn’t usually start against lefties, but he often does when he’s hot. And this year Niekro’s gotten a lot of starts against righties, although he and Snow seem to be a clear platoon pair, if not necessarily a good one.
Perhaps because he usually has at least 12 pitchers, he doesn’t often pinch-hit to get the platoon advantage. The other side of that coin is that many of the guys he does use as pinch-hitters are people you’d often want to pinch-hit for.
Deivi Cruz and, especially, Neifi Perez would fit those categories. (None of this, though, is nearly as heinous as the time Dusty Baker sent up Cody Ransom in place of Andres Galarraga. Once Ransom was in the game, clearly it was a bunt situation—nobody didn’t know that—and Ransom couldn’t get the job done. The point is, even with Galarraga being over 40 at the time (and he still is, by the way), happy and hitting after a bad time with the Rangers, it’s (a) pretty weird to pinch-hit for someone with his power unless it’s a lefty batter who’s just like him, and (b) really stupid to pinch-hit Ransom for anybody, let alone someone with Galarraga’s power. Sometimes it’s best to risk the double play.)
Does he try to solve his problems with proven players of with youngsters who still may have had something to learn?
With the Giants he’s done both. That might have to do more with Brian Sabean than Alou, though. This year has been a real Sabean aberration in that tons of rookies and youngsters have gotten decent chances, and, indeed, four well-liked veterans—Grissom, Kirk Rueter, Matt Herges, and Jim Brower—got the boot. What suggested to me that Alou is fond of youth was when Perez got released last year and Alou named Ransom as “the shortstop of the future.”
How many players does he make regulars who had not been regulars before, and who were they?
I’m not interested in researching Alou’s Montreal years, but with the Giants he’s made regulars out of Jason Ellison, Pedro Feliz, and Deivi Cruz in particular. (Of those, only Feliz currently plays almost every day—indeed, Ellison’s back in Fresno.) Ellison looked to be mostly a defensive replacement, but Grissom wasn’t hitting and kept getting hurt besides. Feliz has played three infield positions and two outfield positions under Alou, so desperate are the Giants to get his bat in the lineup (for reasons I don’t entirely fathom). And Cruz really was just a stopgap.
Giving the closer job to Tim Worrell, Herges, and Walker probably qualifies a mention here, too. And Noah Lowry looked as though he’d just be a Young Bullpen Lefty, but suddenly here he was, starting games and winning them. So he certainly counts.
Does he prefer to go with good offensive players or did he like the glove men?
Well, I wouldn’t say he’s had a lot of either. Bonds you play no matter what, barring, say, a devastating injury, and he’s pretty much become a liability out there. Grissom became one, too, but he played almost every day when healthy. Ray Durham, ditto. Cruz gets a lot of time at second base, but he’s not a second baseman. (Nor is he much of a shortstop, since you asked.) Ellison has a good defensive rep, but I have the feeling that’s mostly because he’s fast. So to actually answer the question above, you pretty much have to conclude that he likes hitters. On the other hand, J.T. Snow has been his first baseman, for the most part, even though he hasn’t hit much in two of Alou’s three years. And Snow is an occasional defensive replacement.
Having Mike Matheny behind the plate suggests that he at least appreciates the value of a good defensive catcher. (Let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, that Matheny is a good defensive catcher; some folks think otherwise. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen any particularly effective measures that would tell us how good a given catcher is on defense.) He certainly doesn’t hit much. Aside from perennial backup Yorvit Torrealba, now gone, Alou’s catchers the last two years were Benito Santiago and A.J. Pierzynski, neither of whom was in there for his glove. On the other hand, neither was anything close to a spectacular hitter—I guess they were just perceived that way.
Does he like an offense based on power, speed, or high averages?
Not high OBPs, that’s for sure. He doesn’t seem to value walks at all, as his own playing career might suggest. That’s why we’d see, for instance, Ellison in the leadoff spot. Alou seems to like high averages, given Ellison’s and Niekro’s early success and Sanchez’ immediate insertion into the lineup in the top spot. I get the sense that Alou likes speed, but the Giants rarely have any of that, and this year is no exception. Durham, for instance has sick legs now—only two—so he doesn’t steal. Ellison tried to, quite a bit, but then started getting thrown out constantly, as if he’d been aching for it. Vizquel is the closest thing this team has to a stolen-base threat, and he’s been getting thrown out a lot lately. It remains to be seen if Winn’s speed will have an impact. In any case a real “disruptor” just isn’t a priority for the Giants, and a lot of baseball analysts will tell you that stolen bases aren’t that important anyway. Speed in the outfield is, though, and with the gimpy Grissom and Moises Alou out there, not to mention Feliz, the Giants’ outfield has been cringe-making, for the most part. With Winn out there, at least, the complexion has changed somewhat.
Does he use the entire roster or did he keep people sitting on the bench?
I swear, he’d put all 25 men in the game if he could. If a guy sits for any length of time, you have to assume he’s hurt.
Does he build his bench around young players who could step into the breach if need be, or around veteran role-players who had their own functions within a game?
Alou clearly likes versatility, so that may be a higher priority than either of those criteria. However, you’d have to say he leans toward veteran role-players, such as Perez, Cruz, and even Feliz. He’s more reluctant to throw a young player such as Todd Linden into the deep end.
GAME MANAGING AND USE OF STRATEGIES
Does he go for the big-inning offense, or does he like to use the one-run strategies?
Alou sometimes, but not terribly often, bunts when he shouldn’t. (No Ransom-for-Galarraga setups here.) He’ll almost always bunt his pitcher with one out, which I’m okay with—I mean, you may as well get a guy into scoring position if you’re going to get out anyway—but on the other hand, double plays have just murdered this team this year (and, thanks in large part to Pierzynski, last year). Dusty used to bunt a lot because, I thought, he didn’t trust the ability of any of his baserunners to reach second on their own power. So there has to be a happy medium between nearly gratuitous bunting and constant double plays.
Unlike Dusty, Alou will squeeze now and again, and he likes the hit-and-run, which he’ll sometimes use in an effort to help a slumping hitter. Another thing is, the Giants don’t have a big-inning-style offense, so one-run strategies are the order of the day. Sadly, the team’s lack of speed makes that a tough row to hoe. Also, these guys do seem to make a lot of unproductive outs: lots of popups, short fly balls, and grounders to third with runners on second.
Does he pinch-hit much, and if so, when?
He doesn’t pinch-hit much for nonpitchers, at least not this year. For instance, I would have expected to see Matheny pulled for a pinch-hitter now and again, but that doesn’t happen. He’ll pinch-hit for his pitchers about as often as he should, but the “trouble” inning seems to be the bottom of the sixth or top of the seventh, depending on whether the Giants are home or not. If it’s Jason Schmidt or Lowry, let him hit if he’s not worn out. If it’s Rueter, Brad Hennessey, or Kevin Correia, you’re not going to get much more out of him, so pull him. With Brett Tomko, you never know. All too often we’ve seen Alou let a pitcher hit and then get bombed once he’s back on the mound.
Is there anything unusual about his lineup selection?
Double-play king Snow batting second leaps readily to mind. Longtime leadoff man Durham batting fifth behind Moises Alou certainly is weird. Batting Cruz anywhere above sixth is odd. Batting Niekro third makes hardly any sense at all. Feliz seems to migrate slowly between the third and seventh spots, with many stops along the way. And sometimes Alou will go with an all-righty lineup against a lefty, but not always. Also, it’s not at all unusual for Alou, when he sits a regular, to put the replacement into that player’s spot. I think we see this more with, say, the second and third spots than fourth and fifth.
Does he use the sac bunt often?
Every time a pitcher is up with less than two outs and a runner on first and/or second, and often first and third, he’ll bunt. With the position players, I don’t see it that often. Vizquel and Ellison like to bunt for hits, though, and often their failed attempts will be credited as sacrifices. Alou also will ask the wrong kind of guy to bunt—say, a Snow or an Alfonzo or a Tucker.
Does he like to use the running game?
Oh, I’m sure he’d love to if he had one. He’s tried it out with Ellison and Vizquel, mostly, to very little avail. He’ll hit-and-run more than Dusty seemed to, and certainly he’ll squeeze more often.
In what circumstances would he issue an intentional walk?
I think mostly to get the pitcher to the plate. Sometimes he uses it to load the bases and set up a devastating hit by a weaker batter. In fact, he doesn’t use the intentional walk all that much.
Does he hit and run very often?
He seems to try it about every third game. Is that often? I don’t know. He does like to stay out of the double play, and I think he’s more likely to hit-and-run than to steal or bunt.
How does he change the game?
Does he? If anything, he impacts the demographics of his roster. Currently active are 14 white players, seven Latinos, and four African Americans. (Compare this with the Latino-bereft Roger Craig years, for instance.) Of the 12 pitchers, 10 are white, but of the seven infielders (counting Feliz), only the first basemen are, with one African American and four Latinos. Alou’s outfielders tend to be African American or Latino, though this is less obvious with Grissom, Ellison, and Sanchez recently taking a hike.
There’s nothing, though, that would lead me to believe that he “changes the game.” That’s not a criticism, though.
HANDLING THE PITCHING STAFF
Does he like power pitchers, or did he prefer to go with the people who put the ball in play?
Schmidt, Tomko, and Correia throw hard; Hennessey and Lowry, not so much. Alou inherited Rueter, but obviously he liked him enough to keep him in Montreal from 1993 into ’96. Eyre throws hard, but Christiansen and Fassero don’t. Walker throws pretty hard, as do LaTroy Hawkins and Jeremy Accardo; Scott Munter doesn’t, and Benitez doesn’t throw as hard as he used to.
None of this answers the question, really, but over the years, especially during the Dusty years, the Giants didn’t strike out a lot of guys per nine innings. This year they have two closers who are power pitchers, more or less. Eyre gets strikeouts. But except maybe for Schmidt, I don’t think this team has anybody hitters are afraid to face.
I don’t know that either Alou or Sabean has a marked preference.
Does he stay with his starters, or go to the bullpen quickly?
Both. Frequently he either doesn’t stay with them long enough or he leaves them in too long. Often, when I’m watching a game, I seem to figure out when a starter is tiring before he does. I don’t know why—maybe I’m seeing something that registers subconsciously. I do know that when I think a guy is losing it, I get antsy because Alou and Dave Righetti don’t seem to be acting on it fast enough.
I don’t get a strong sense that Alou pays attention to pitch counts. If he did, he’d have known—well, this would mostly be the last two years, because this year was off-the-charts bad—to pull Rueter after about 90 pitches, without fail.
Does he use a four-man rotation?
Who does anymore?
Does he use the entire staff, or does he try to get five or six people to do most of the work?
Oh, he uses everybody. He runs his bullpen into the ground, partly because he seldom has more than one starter who can go even a full six consistently. Schmidt does, but he still throws lots of pitches.
Not that I think Walker is any kind of star, but I do think that Alou wore him out, even though the Giants haven’t had that many save situations this year. Walker, for instance, has had at least a few games in which he entered during the eighth inning, and he seems to have guys warm up often, which takes a toll. Lately, in fact, Christiansen complained in the papers about how Alou uses his bullpen. I’m not sure that’s entirely his fault, though. True, he seems reluctant to keep Correia or Hennessey out there past the sixth, but otherwise there are huge periods where you just can’t expect a starter to last much past the fifth. In other words, the starting rotation needs some kind of upgrade. At the moment, I would say that means replacing Tomko.
How long would he stay with a starting pitcher who was struggling?
Well, at what point do we determine “struggling”? In the second, when he gives up three runs on two doubles, a single, and a walk? Or in the seventh, when he walks the first two hitters? I’ll tell you this, though: He’ll stay with that closer till the sound of the Trump of Doom. He showed that with Benitez early in the year against the Dodgers, when hit after hit after hit gave them a victory that never should have happened, and he showed it with Walker on Friday, when the Cardinals turned an 0-4 deficit into a 5-4 win.
When it’s a starter giving up a quick three or four, Alou often will let him try and right the ship, at least if the pitcher is a veteran. Last year, if I remember right, he pulled Lowry a couple times with the lead during the fifth inning.
Is there anything unique about his handling of his pitchers?
I hope so. He does not tend to win those games where seven pitchers appear in the ninth inning. His constant, almost desperate attempt to gain the platoon advantage on defense drives me crazy, along with everyone else. Eyre, for instance, gets righthanded hitters out just fine... but he’ll pull him in favor of, I dunno, Brandon Puffer because there’s a righthanded hitter on deck. Some day in the distant future (I hope, for all concerned), when Alou manages in heaven, when Rafael Belliard shows up as a pinch-hitter, I fully expect Alou to pull Sandy Koufax and bring in Stephen Mintz to face him, only to see Barry Bonds come up instead. You’d think a manager would ask himself, “Which matchup would I prefer?” Sometimes Alou doesn’t seem to.
What is his strongest point as a manager?
Maybe that he has good instincts about resting position players. He’s said to be a good motivator and a good guy to play for, but that’s hard to reconcile with the idea that he often doesn’t communicate directly with his players. To me he does seem very smart and thoughtful, though. I do feel that he manages the team, not just the ballgames.
If there were no professional baseball, what would he have done with his life?
Retire early and fish nonstop.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
Of these, who hasn’t stunk? I mean on the whole; almost all of these guys have had reasonably good stretches at some point. Schmidt’s pitching well now, generally, and so is Lowry. Eyre had been doing just dandy until he got bombed in the recent Sunday game against Houston. Correia and Hennessey have had some noteworthy starts (i.e., noteworthy for being good). Munter had been doing great until, in rapid succession, he started giving up fly balls and then landed on the DL. Taschner looked good. Williams’ first start was wonderful. You could reason that Tomko and Walker haven’t been actively bad. Even Cooper hasn’t looked bad, and he’s the one you’d expect to reek. The rest of them you need to slather with Old Spice and pray.
Schmidt is probably the most worrisome. Just during the season he’s lost some speed, and the talk has been that he’ll “never be the same.” Still, his change-up has been good enough to keep hitters off balance. However, as they’ve been saying in the Giants newsgroup, you never know whether you’re going to get the Good Schmidt or the Bad Schmidt. Used to be that you’d always get the Good Schmidt, though sometimes he’d have a rough day.
Lowry came into the season without a major league loss to his name. Then he started losing like he’d been doing it all his life. His control really suffered, and the hitters weren’t buying that fabulous change-up the way they had been. Now he seems to be back on track, despite the occasional weird bout of wildness. My only question about Lowry is, what’s that thing under his eye? I thought it came from some kind of would last year, but you’d think it would’ve gone away by now.
Tomko seems to be pitching better in the latter half of the season, as he did last year, but he’s hardly a world beater. However, and maybe this is just me not remembering well enough, he seems to be throwing harder this year—certainly harder than Schmidt these days, which is sad.
Correia and Hennessey—they’re the rest of the rotation. Isn’t that weird? Remember way, way back when Rueter and Williams owned those spots, with Foppert waiting in the wings? No more. They’re dust. Anyway, Hennessey seems to be more of a “pitcher” than Correia, but that doesn’t mean he’s a better pitcher. His best has been better than Correia’s best, but his worst has been at least as bad as Correia’s. We hear Mike Krukow tell us that these guys will anchor the rotation for decades to come, but I’m not sure how forward I look to that. Indeed, if the Giants had stayed relatively healthy (and had Bonds), and if they’d actually played reasonably well, I’m sure they would have given up one or both of these guys for one or more medium-impact players.
Rueter... well, I’d like to say he was steady, and, unfortunately, I can. He was almost uniformly horrific. As has been said perhaps trillions of times over the last three or four years, he’s got no margin for error. First, he only throws about 80, and second, he cannot succeed unless his umpire gives him roughly the same treatment as Eric Gregg gave Livan Hernandez during the 1997 postseason (as opposed to what Livan did during the 2002 World Series, for which he will never be forgiven). Really, Rueter needs strikes called on pitches about eight inches outside and two below the knee. Otherwise, he’s batting practice. Granted, that’s all academic now, as the Giants designated him for assignment last week. Disturbingly, at least for him, he cleared waivers and received his release. Brian Sabean has said that he almost had a trade in the works, but I’m assuming the other GM’s laudanum wore off just in time for him to back off. Rueter’s only 34, and he doesn’t look old, but he has the air of a 20-year veteran who’s run out of tricks.
The trade of Williams to the Cubs still ticks me off. It still doesn’t make sense. I have to believe that the Giants ended up writing him off as a headcase or an attitude problem, because their decisions about him this season have bordered on the irretrievably insane. His first start of the year was terrific. Then he didn’t pitch for about 10 days, during which he got shoved into the bullpen, which apparently weirded him out. Then he got bombed in his next start. Next thing you know, he’s in Fresno, trying to Find Himself, for reasons I have yet to fathom. And there
he stayed, until the Giants packaged him with David Aardsma—a recent first-round draft pick whom the Giants thought would be the Next Big Thing—and sent him to the Cubs for LaTroy Hawkins, who, after a couple of decent-to-good years with the Twins, wore out his Chicago welcome in a hurry. I honestly think that even one of these guys was too much for Hawkins (even if Hawkins had done well), and I have the feeling that most other major league GMs could have gotten Hawkins for one of those guys, or somebody else entirely who wasn’t as good. On the other hand, I have the feeling that Aardsma’s main contribution to the game, when all is said and done, will be his spot ahead of Hank Aaron in Major League Baseball’s all-time alphabetical roster. Williams, I think, will be a stud.
Foppert, too. Randy Winn’s been badmouthed in the newsgroup somewhat, the general sense being that he’s not an “impact” player—i.e., he ain’t nothin’ special. I don’t know yet. He’s been an All-Star (because someone has to be chosen each year from Tampa Bay), and he seems to be kind of an exciting player. However, because he’s not a pitcher, I’ll focus instead on Foppert here. Seemed to me that the Giants trumpeted his praises about as much as those of Matt Cain, if not more. Clearly Foppert was going to be our next Marichal, with his devastating speed and control. His major league performances generally didn’t bear that out, but sometimes a horrifying injury will do that to a guy. I know you have to give up quality to get quality. Sometimes you even have to give up quality to get LaTroy Hawkins. But while Foppert didn’t impress me overall, I just think it was nuts to trade him. Give the guy a full season at the big-league level first, you know? Apparently it’s still generally believed that Foppert will raise a lot of eyebrows, and it grieves me that the Giants seem to be tired of pitchers like that.
You may not remember this, but a lot of folks, not just in the media (local, of course) but even a great many fans, considered it a foregone conclusion that the Giants had the division wrapped up—even without Bonds. I never understood that, mainly because they’re the Giants, for whom no form of success is a foregone conclusion, but no matter. Anyway, one of the reasons for the unaccustomed optimism was Armando Benitez, last year’s Florida closer, who was, as they say, lights out. Granted, he comes with a rotten postseason reputation, as J.T. Snow could tell you, but that kind of thing doesn’t worry me, given that you have to get to the postseason before you can worry about succeeding in it. Not that I’ve ever been crazy about Benitez, but his signing sure should’ve been a load off our minds. He took an alternative approach, though, which was to get hit very hard before that train ran over his hamstring. (Amazingly, he’s back now, after surgery wherein two tendons had to be reattached to the bone.) It strikes me that the injury had to be present, possibly weeks beforehand, but he probably figured he could play through the pain and keep getting diathermy, or whatever players get for hamstring injuries these days. But even more than his devastatingly bad performance to that point, his four-month absence hurt the Giants even worse, to the point where I’d probably rather have Felix Rodriguez back than the guys who’ve been saving games (or not) in the meantime.
Brower couldn’t do the job. Herges had already shown he couldn’t do the job last year, so at least he wasn’t much of a factor.) The Giants even brought up Accardo—and Felipe Alou threw him into a key save situation in one of his very first games (possibly his debut), and of course, Accardo failed, which made Alou look like an idiot. Eventually he settled—and in my opinion, this is settling—on Tyler Walker, whom my sister calls “Piggy” because he looks like he should be a pig farmer somewhere. I still don’t understand this decision. (In fact, I found it surprising to begin with that Walker making the club out of spring training apparently was a foregone conclusion.) I’ve said before that the Giants should have learned by now, if only from the horrendous Herges experiement, that the save statistic is gaudy and nearly meaningless, and that they need to stop letting it seduce them. But no. Assuming Walker comes back this season—he just went on the DL yesterday after being largely responsible for the Giants blowing a 4-0 lead in the ninth on Friday and losing then and there—he’ll get his twenty-some saves… and I daresay the Giants will have the nerve to be impressed. Look how well he filled in for our expensive, injured closer! Please. If you’re going to be a team’s closer, just about the only way not to get twenty-some saves is to get bombed every time out. Walker did have an amazing moment earlier, when he entered a game with the bases loaded in the ninth inning and struck out the next three Detroit hitters, the first time (at least since they began recording saves in 1969) that had ever happened. But aside from that, there hasn’t been a lot of “there” there. He sure doesn’t seem to fool a lot of guys; nor—except for three Tigers—does he overpower them. At best, his control is nothing special. And yet, when the Giants acquired LaTroy Hawkins, they made him the eighth-inning guy, not the closer.
In itself, that’s probably a good thing, as Hawkins stank as the Cubs’ closer. Supposedly he just doesn’t have the mental makeup. And after a very snappy 1-2-3 in his Giants debut, he gave up a grand slam to lose a game, and he never got any better. Then he went on the DL. Since his return, he’s been better, though not actively good. I’ll always remember this guy, though, for being just excoriated by Cubs fans upon his return to Wrigley. Even Giants fans don’t get that nasty. I kind of hoped Hawkins would take out a full-page ad in the Chicago Sun-Times consisting mostly of a huge photo of his right hand extending its middle finger. If he doesn’t feel that way even now, he’s a bigger man than I. Either way, I’m pretty sure he’s a taller one.
The guy I think has been a surprise—Krukow even has touted him as perhaps the Giants’ MVP—is Eyre. He’s been awfully stingy. This has to be his best year ever, and he’s 33. It’s well known that he suffers from ADHD, so I’m wondering if his treatment has played a large part in his success this year. I’d like to know what he thinks on the matter, because if indeed his meds, or therapy, or whatever, have helped him this significantly, he certainly has to be somewhat of an inspiration to others with ADHD. And I’m telling you, ADHD ain’t no joke.
Another surprise has been Munter, who, for all I know, may not pitch again this season. He’s a big ol’ guy, and they call him “Herman,” which is kind of funny (once or twice), but he doesn’t overpower the hitters. When healthy, at least, he just makes them hit into double plays. I imagine he has the inside track on being next year’s seventh-inning guy, on the theory that Hawkins (or Eyre) and Benitez are the top of the bill. The Giants have also gotten some pleasant appearances out of Accardo, who looks like a Frosh-Soph player and who’d been closing in Double-A before his first call-up. He throws hard and his ball moves. I’d be surprised if he made the club out of spring training next year, but I figure on seeing plenty of him, unless we trade him and, say, Munter for the next Michael Tucker.
Aside from Eyre, the principal Giants lefties have been Christiansen and Fassero, neither of whom should scare anyone except Giants fans. Though he looks at least 10 years older, Fassero’s “only” 42, and while I wouldn’t characterize him as “through,” I also wouldn’t characterize him as “effective.” (Plus he has a surprisingly high voice. I kind of expected more gravelly tones.) Like Chad Zerbe before him, Fassero has done whatever the Giants have asked—that is, he’s pitched in whatever role they’ve needed; he hasn’t succeeded whenever they’ve asked, though, and I can’t imagine he’ll be around next year. Why should he when—I suspect—Jack Taschner almost certainly can do at least as well? (Taschner’s not with the club right now. Got sent down—I mean, they had four lefthanded relievers for a while.) Meanwhile, Christiansen doesn’t strike people out, walks too many, and gives up too many ringing base hits. That’s really a shame, given how good he was when the giants acquired him in 2001. His injury and subsequent Tommy John surgery have changed his career path dramatically.
Because Walker went on the DL, Cooper came up, after being outrighted just a few days ago. I remember him having an impressive spring last year, then later coming up, getting bombed, being released, and pitching in Korea. What he’s doing back here, I’ll never know. However, he started against Roger Clemens and pitched well in the only game I’ve been able to attend this year, and he got his first major league hit, which is one more than I’ll ever get. (Actually, it wasn’t him pitching well so much as the Astros hitting poorly.) They’ve since used him a couple of relief outings, to little avail. I think he’s up here because somebody has to be.
Other guys like that have been Levine and Puffer. Levine, in particular, had a very good spring, and yet again the Giants were seduced: I don’t know if they’ll ever learn to view a good spring by a mediocre player with suspicion. He came up, got hit, got hurt, came back, got bombed, got outrighted… but at least he isn’t Puffer, whom I’d remembered—falsely, I’m sure—as an effective, hard-throwing middle-reliever with Houston. Instead, he took the mound with that weird sidearm/submarine delivery and served up batting practice a couple of times. Let us just say that a September call-up for either of these guys should, by all rights, surprise me.
Herges started out not horrible, then stopped getting people out altogether, then got traded to the Diamondbacks, who canned him within days. This wasn’t a huge surprise, given how awful he was last year. What was marginally surprising was how wretched Brower was. Talk about batting practice. The Giants simply waived him one day—I gather they didn’t want to designate him for assignment so he wouldn’t have to wait 10 days to get a job. And indeed he didn’t. He went to the Braves, did well in Leo Mazzone territory (with a 3.57 ERA), and then they designated him for assignment just now. I had guessed that he was about to be traded, probably to the Giants, but Bobby Cox has said he's trying to get him through waivers to Triple-A.
Well, I think I covered all of the Giants’ pitchers this year, which is more than I can say about the hitters. (I left out Brian Dallimore, Adam Shabala, Justin Knoedler, and Tony Torcato—there’s just not much to say there.) I keep telling myself I can’t believe how bad this team is, but now that I’ve taken a closer look at their personnel, it should be pretty evident, shouldn’t it?
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Hi there. I'm new to blogging, at least in a technical sense. I've been told that EEEEEE! more or less is a blog, or was one before we'd ever heard of blogs. So I like to think of myself as a pioneer, at least in the sense of having to endure long, boring rides in an uncomfortable vehicle, only to find that when I get where I'm going, there's nothing interesting to see.Why a blog? Why not just do what I'd been doing? Actually I'll be doing both. Standalone articles will show up back at the home office, with links here; general comments and observations will appear here. This blog, in effect, will take the place of the season notes I used to make available, often on a weekly basis.
Not that you want to hear my sob-story, but those notes, while always fun and challenging, pretty much wore me out. As I've mentioned in various pieces over the years, often I spent my Saturday nights staring glassily at my monitor till the moderately wee hours (meaning 3 or 4 a.m.), and by the time I'd get back to work on Monday I was a wreck. Also, and perhaps more importantly, I reached a point where I didn't feel like EEEEEE! was something I was doing for myself anymore. I felt as though I had to meet a "demand." Now, don't misunderstand: I was an still am grateful for the readership and support I've gotten over the years, and indeed I've made some terrific, deeply valued friends as a result. But in short, I worked too hard, too long, too much on something for which I was not paid.The site ended up just sitting there while readers wondered if it would ever be updated. That gave me pangs of guilt, especially in regard to writers who submitted stuff that I never posted (and for that I apologize). I just couldn't bring myself to work on EEEEEE! because I was simply too tired and otherwise too harried. And I still am, and no less than before. However, I also still want to provide this forum for not only me but the other annoyed Giants fans (which, at last count, included every Giants fan). And some day I still want to print up the hotly rumored but otherwise nonexistent EEEEEE! T-shirts.
So if you have something to say, welcome. (Granted, I reserve the right to dump it if I want, so there.) It doesn't have to be about the Giants, if only because not everything is. And my thanks, once again, go out to those who've spent so much time reading my stuff, as well as that of Richard Booroojian, Todd Hawley, David Beck, and the many other contributors. Let's have fun with this.
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.