Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I Hate When They Pull Him in the Sixth with a One-Run Lead

As of today, August 7, 2007, the all-time home run champion for a career is Barry Bonds. Not:
  • Hank Aaron
  • Babe Ruth
  • “Barry Bonds *

It is Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants.

To restate: The person who has hit the most home runs in a major league baseball career is Barry Bonds. I should also point out that the person who has hit the most home runs in a major league baseball season is Barry Bonds.

I mention this because of all the messages posted to the Giants newsgroup, and others, from people who refuse to acknowledge Bonds’ accomplishments. To them I say that the True Career Home Run Champion is not Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, or anybody other than Barry Bonds, and that the True Season Home Run Champion is not Mark McGwire, Roger Maris, or Babe Ruth. Right there in the record books, atop both lists, is Barry Bonds, with 73 for a season, 756—and counting, I hope—for a career.

One can whine all one wants about steroids or other performance-enhancing substances. I say, for the umptieth time, that those substances do not enhance performance. They may enable one to enhance one’s performance by allowing that person to work out more, and more frequently—i.e., to work harder. It’s funny that Bonds is so commonly called a cheater, accused, essentially, of achieving his particular level of greatness “without having to work for it.” Drugs or no, the dude probably works harder than any other ballplayer.

The title of this post refers to the fact that after the home run (which Bonds hit in the bottom of the fifth inning of what had been a 4-4 tie against the Nationals), a shot of the dugout showed Bonds and Bruce Bochy “discussing” something (as opposed to exchanging high-fives or something), and then, after Bonds took his position in the top of the sixth, Bochy came out and pulled a double-switch, getting starter Barry Zito out of there as well. I thought that kind of stank. I really wanted to see Bonds come to the plate again, maybe hit 757, and maybe 758. I mean, what else do Giants fans have to look forward to this year? Anyway, the title also came about because of Bochy’s tendency to pull Bonds after the seventh or eighth inning of a one-run game, which would be great if Bonds’ spot was unlikely to come up again, but it always seems as though it does… and instead of Bonds batting, we’d get Fred Lewis or somebody. Whee.

Meanwhile, Matt Murphy, the guy who came up with the ball Bonds hit is gonna be one wealthy individual. (I assume he’s gonna sell the ball, anyway.) At first glance, he looked a lot like my friend Pat, but then I noticed that the baseball jersey Murphy wore bore some other team’s logo—Pat would never wear such a thing—and Pat’s got about a 15-year head start on Murphy in terms of losing his hair.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

All-Star Spluttitude!

Okay, we all know that the whole Major League Baseball All-Star Extravaganza is awfully silly these days, what with the Fox Network and its football-style coverage, the endless hype, ballplayers as animated by The Simpsons animators, and the completely unnecessary pomp and grandeur normally associated with presidential coronations or a Super Bowl. But there I was, living with it, having turned on the TV at five, just in time for a touching if odd tribute to Willie Mays. And there I was, sitting on the phone with original EEEEEE! staffer David Beck, making silly remarks about everything related to the splendor. And in mid-laugh… Fzzzzzzt! No more Comcast Digitial Cable. No more Comcast High-Speed Internet. No more Comcast Digital Voice.

At about 5:30 my “immediate area” sustained an “outage,” the Comcast folks said. Of the 141 “subscribers in your area,” only 40 currently had service, meaning that I was the “1” on the end of the remaining, screwed 101. “And why am I not one of those 40?” I ventured. The Comcast lady laughed, reasoning that I was joking, because what kind of an idiot would even ask a question like that?

So anyway, as I write this, it’s 7:30, and the cable just went back on, in the bottom of the sixth. What a terrific All-Star Game experience. That’s two and a half hours I refuse to pay Comcast for.

The National League hero so far is Ken Griffey Jr., not Barry Bonds, who went 0-for-2, then did the“four and fly” thing. Griffey, meanwhile, has driven in the National League’s two runs and thrown out Alex Rodriguez at third base. Or maybe home. Ask ESPN radio. It should go without saying, however, that the AL leads it 3-2, thanks largely to an inside-the-park home run—I swear—by Ichiro Suzuki. At least I think it was him—it’s hard to pay attention to the ESPN radio guys. At least I think it was ESPN. In any case, I liked it way better back when the NL used to win every single All-Star Game.

Meanwhile, the crowd was very kind to Bonds in the pregame introduction, however, and I have to hand it to Fox for restraining themselves from pointing out that you’d expect to hear a lot more boos, even from home-town season-ticket holders, for such a cheating, genocidal maniac. So kudos, Fox. Or at least a kudo.

And earlier today, there was I, cracking myself up over the notion, “Boy, National League manager Tony LaRussa is such a classless boob that he refuses to voluntarily select a Giant to the team as a reserve or one of the pitchers! What a classless boob, that boob!” Because I cannot honestly name a San Francisco Giant aside from Bonds who would rate more than maybe a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10 illustrating how All-Star worthy a given player might be. Even in lean years, usually I could name at least two guys who could’ve or should’ve been added to the squad; even in 1984, the last time we saw All-Star Baseball in San Francisco, the horrendous San Francisco Giants sent two representatives. And this time LaRussa coulda picked… um… Bengie Molina! Yeah! He’s gotta be a 4, easy! Or Matt Morris! Another 4! What about dark horse Noah Lowry? A 3.5, maybe a 4! But noooooooo, LaRussa had to pick two Dodgers, to go with starting catcher Russell Martin. So fair!

Wow, this team is weak.

The Giants, I mean.

From Rubio and Me

With Steven Rubio’s kind permission, I’m reproducing two of his recent blog entries at http://begonias.typepad.com/srubio/, partly because his stuff’s always dead on and insightful, but also because I responded at length—as is my wont, poor creature—rather than just putting it all on this blog, which might have made more sense.

We begin with “giants at the break”:
Might as well spend a bit of time talking about the Giants, as All-Star Fever hits San Francisco.

First, a statement of my basic set of assumptions. While it has been shown that in most cases, one individual player is not worth as much as people think (it’s common to hear people say “he saved the team ten wins with his glove,” for instance), Barry Bonds is such a remarkable baseball player that he is an outlier… he makes more difference than people think, not less. The specifics for the Giants are this: they have done well over the past decade, but far and away the primary reason for this is Barry Bonds. Duh, I know, but because he is an outlier, that statement is less obvious than it seems. Others get lots of the public credit for the team’s successes, but I give that credit mostly to Bonds. The primary recipient of the public praise (in the past… their current problems have resulted in a decline in his reputation) is General Manager Brian Sabean. I contend that Sabean had little to do with the acquisition of Bonds, so he shouldn’t get credit for Barry. I further contend that while Sabean has his strong points, they tend to be old school in an era of new paradigms, so that his strong points become less useful with each passing season. Therefore, I have always been suspicious of Sabean… that’s not true, I think he does a bad job… even though a team he put together came closer to winning a World Series than any Giants team since 1962.

OK, there’s a summation of my biases. What’s up in 2007? Is the team performing as expected, better, worse, different? And what does this tell us about their future?

First, to get the obvious out of the way: things aren’t going well. Their current winning percentage is their lowest since 1996, and they are in last place. The year 1996 is significant, because the next year was Sabean’s first as general manager, and that year the Giants won their division, starting an eight-year run of winning seasons that included four trips to the postseason and one trip to the World Series. It is that record on which Sabean’s reputation rose: he took a bad team, the story goes, and turned them into winners. The bloom is off that particular rose, though, since 2007 looks to be the third straight losing season for the club, and Sabean’s job is reported to be on the line.

What was expected in 2007? Partly, your expectations revolve around your opinion regarding the value of keeping Barry Bonds on the team. Since Barry makes a lot of money, some argue that the team is wrong to spend so much on an old guy when they could get two or three good younger players for the same amount. There are two problems with this theory. First, Barry is still performing as well or better than all the other guys at his position… he may cost a lot, but he still gives value, even at his advanced age. Second, the theory assumes that Brian Sabean would get some good talent with the money he saved on Bonds, while Brian’s track record suggests otherwise… while he doesn’t do too badly at evaluating pitching, his idea of a good hitter is very much old school, behind the times, and thus poor relative to his peers.

Anyway… the 2006 Giants were mediocre. Their bullpen was OK, and they had a couple of good starters, but they lacked depth in the rotation, and their offense was filled with old guys, some of whom were over the hill, others who had never really made it up the hill in the first place. Since the Giants had some potentially good pitchers in the organization, the strategy seemed pretty clear: gradually work those younger pitchers into bigger roles on the major league club while weeding out the bad old hitters and making moves to both improve the offense and make it younger.

The plan has not been a total bust. Some of those younger pitchers are indeed showing promise, and while mega-bucks starter Barry Zito was not worth anything near what Sabean paid for him, the guy he essentially replaced (Jason Schmidt) has fallen victim to injuries. The pitching is better now than it was last year, and there is every reason to believe that improvement will last into at least the near future.

Ah, but the offense. It’s almost exactly the same as in 2006. Last year, the Giants had Barry Bonds, two other aging but effective hitters, and a bunch of crap. This year, they have Barry Bonds, one aging but effective hitter, and a bunch of crap. Their offense is still too old, and the hitters’ skills are still too old school (I might as well be specific on this point at least once: Sabean tends to sign hitters who have proven veteran status with decent numbers in categories like RBI, but who don’t draw many walks and thus don’t get on base very often, on-base percentage being perhaps the single most important step between what was considered good back in the day and what is considered good under the new paradigm).

The Giants have been unlucky this year… they’ve scored more runs than they’ve allowed, suggesting a team that should thus win more games than they lose. The improved pitching is the reason they’re better this year than last, despite the W-L record. They have indeed taken steps in the right direction, as far as pitching goes. But they are stagnant on offense, not because they have Barry Bonds (he remains far and away their best offensive player), but because Brian Sabean doesn’t know what the fuck he is doing when it comes time to get hitting talent.

So, to the questions I asked earlier. How are they performing? The pitching is better, the hitting is the same, their luck is bad, their record is poor. What does it mean for the future? The pitching looks good, so if they can improve the hitting, they will be contenders very soon.

Which leads to the most important question of all: is Brian Sabean the right General Manager for what this team needs? Clearly, the answer is no. The area that needs the most work is the area where Sabean is at his worst. He is not the worst GM in the game, and he could be a good fit for a team just shy of contention that needed one or two players to put them over the top in 2008. But the Giants need a GM well versed in contemporary baseball analytics, they need an entire team in the front office of people who understand the new paradigm, they need, in short, the anti-Sabean. I can think of a couple of candidates… Jonathan Bernstein, a poli-sci professor in Texas and a long-time Giants fan, would be great filling an analyst role, although he kinda already has a job. Jacob Jackson has the best solution, though: a man named Paul DePodesta. You can read Jackson’s thoughts in his piece “The best unemployed GM in baseball.“ DePodesta is available, he knows what he’s doing… what the heck, he was even fired by the Dodgers (and replaced by a Sabean protégé), which would make his successes with the Giants that much more enjoyable. If Sabean’s replacement is at the level of a DePodesta, the Giants will rise again, sooner rather than later. If they hire the usual hack, or even worse, if they keep Sabean around, they won’t be winners for a long time to come.

Here’s where I come in, daring Steven not to know that I would respond. First, I should congratulate Steven on his classiness in not mentioning that my response is longer than his article, and then some:
  • “Barry Bonds is such a remarkable baseball player that he is an outlier… he makes more difference than people think, not less. The specifics for the Giants are this: they have done well over the past decade, but far and away the primary reason for this is Barry Bonds. Duh, I know, but because he is an outlier, that statement is less obvious than it seems. Others get lots of the public credit for the team’s successes, but I give that credit mostly to Bonds.”

    This should be such a “duh” that there should be no need to explain it to anybody more on the ball than Ali G. Indeed, it’s been pretty clear that Bonds has essentially been Brian Sabean’s armor, and the more it erodes with time, the more exposed Sabean’s weaknesses, and chitlins, are.

  • “The primary recipient of the public praise (in the past… their current problems have resulted in a decline in his reputation) is General Manager Brian Sabean. I contend that Sabean had little to do with the acquisition of Bonds, so he shouldn’t get credit for Barry.”

    I will assume that you are employing understatement in saying “little to do,” because Sabes had zippo to do with signing Bonds in the first place. He wasn’t even around. In fact, technically, Bob Quinn, his predecessor, wasn’t even around. Evidently, during the job interview process, when asked which single player Quinn would pursue, he said “Bonds,” and that pretty much got him his job. What’s interesting to me is that most folks’ gut reaction to that would be long the lines of, well, “Duh!”—translated as, “Any general manager (or candidate for such a position) would have said “Bonds.’” But apparently this isn’t true. Al Rosen reportedly said that he never would’ve gone after Bonds. That right there made me awfully glad Rosen was out.

  • “I further contend that while Sabean has his strong points, they tend to be old school in an era of new paradigms, so that his strong points become less useful with each passing season. Therefore, I have always been suspicious of Sabean… that’s not true, I think he does a bad job… even though a team he put together came closer to winning a World Series than any Giants team since 1962.”

    The 2002 team was mostly about Bonds, Kent, Aurilia, Schmidt, Ortiz, and Nen. Well, those were the stars. We’ve already established that Sabean can’t take credit for Bonds—except in being savvy enough to re-sign him here and there—and Aurilia’s not really his boy either, as he came over in the John Burkett trade after the 1994 season and came up at the end of 1995. I guess one could give him credit for recognizing that Aurilia was a major leaguer, but lots of Richie’s early at-bats were stolen by Jose Vizcaino and Rey Sanchez, so just how much credit is debatable. I do give Sabes credit for getting Kent, but not for knowing how good he’d actually be. In fact, it was Julian Tavarez who was supposed to be the key acquisition in the Matt Williams trade. Certainly, though, Sabes pretty much stole Schmidt and Nen, and he deserves recognition in a big way there. Ortiz too, I guess.

    But the rest of the team? Hits and misses. Tsuyoshi Shinjo might have been to center field what Hal Lanier was to shortstop—I mean, obviously Shinjo wasn’t nearly as bad a hitter as Lanier (since almost no one could be), but I would say that he was about as below average a center fielder as Lanier was a shortstop (or second baseman), to the point where—recognizing this, amazingly—Sabean went and got Kenny Lofton, and Dusty Baker wound up changing horses after that… right up till the World Series, when he insisted on (a) playing Shinjo, and (b) using him as a DH instead of a ninth-place-hitting center fielder (if at all). I mean, it wasn’t even clear that Shinjo should’ve been on the postseason roster.

    The David Bell acquisition turned out good for the 2002 team. His numbers weren’t spectacular, but he was asked to inhabit either the leadoff spot of the second slot on any given day—and that ain’t Bell—and he played all four infield positions, which he wouldn’t have had to do except for injuries. And the trade for Lofton turned out just dandy.

    Snow was Snow, though he picked it up in the postseason, ish, and Reggie Sanders was Reggie Sanders. He had a rough postseason, but I don’t blame that on Sabean. And Benito Santiago was just fine. No complaints there. In the postseason, I mean. During the season, he drove me bats a lot of the time.

    Kirk Rueter did more or less what he was supposed to do, and Livan Hernandez… well, I know it’s not as though he put up Jim Poole-like numbers in the World Series, but let us just say that he did not pitch well enough to win. Some Giants fans called him “the real deal” when Sabes traded for him, but no one was saying that anymore in 2002, even well before the postseason. I won’t say the guy was a head case, but it appears that he wouldn’t allow himself to be coached. What we hear about him since is that “He’s throwing inside a lot more—why wouldn’t he do that when Dave Righetti was trying to get him to?” So I’m guessing that as happy as some folks might have been when we got Livan, they were equally happy when he exited. I know I was.

    Aside from Nen and Felix Rodriguez, the bullpen sort of came down to Scott Eyre, who turned out to be a good pickup, although despite a superb ERA, he gave up a hell of a lot of baserunners. Still, he was a waiver-wire pickup. It seems that whatever acumen he might have had for such transactions Sabes no longer trusted it after 2002. And Rodriguez… well, he’d been great before 2002, so congratulate Sabean, I guess; but probably he’d been overused and then went coo-coo for Coco-Puffs.

    What I’m getting at, I guess, is that Sabes did have a pretty big hand in building that league champion, but so much of it also was, as you say, Bonds; and Kent was an amazingly lucky break.

  • “What was expected in 2007? Partly, your expectations revolve around your opinion regarding the value of keeping Barry Bonds on the team. Since Barry makes a lot of money, some argue that the team is wrong to spend so much on an old guy when they could get two or three good younger players for the same amount. There are two problems with this theory. First, Barry is still performing as well or better than all the other guys at his position… he may cost a lot, but he still gives value, even at his advanced age. Second, the theory assumes that Brian Sabean would get some good talent with the money he saved on Bonds, while Brian’s track record suggests otherwise… while he doesn’t do too badly at evaluating pitching, his idea of a good hitter is very much old school, behind the times, and thus poor relative to his peers.”

    This is a great point, i.e., that baseball has passed Sabean by. Even at his best, though, would you call him an “outside the box” thinker?

    The other thing about the idea of having gotten two or three or four or 80 talented guys for Bonds’ salary is the notion that those guys’ contribution would equal or surpass Bonds’. Which they wouldn’t. Still, that statement presupposes that one Bonds is worth two or three or four or 80 other talented guys, and that’s a hard one to get past the sensors.

  • “The plan has not been a total bust. Some of those younger pitchers are indeed showing promise, and while mega-bucks starter Barry Zito was not worth anything near what Sabean paid for him, the guy he essentially replaced (Jason Schmidt) has fallen victim to injuries. The pitching is better now than it was last year, and there is every reason to believe that improvement will last into at least the near future.”

    The Zito/Schmidt thing, I think escapes notice solely because of the sheer amount of money Zito’s getting, which I don’t think is exactly a fair way to evaluate the guy. The way I see it, he’s supposed to be our ace. It’s not that he’s not pitching like a guy worth $126 million—he’s not—but, more importantly, he’s not pitching like an ace. He’s a game or two away, maybe three, from getting his ERA down to league average, though, and he’s got a whole post-All-Star stretch to work it down even further. He’s frustrating, but not a bust. Yet. And, as you point out, there’s the Schmidt thing—i.e., Zito’s giving us at least as much value as Schmidt is giving the Dodgers, depending on one’s definition of “value” (i.e., ERA, “eating up innings,” whatever). However, since people like to bitch about Zito’s contract, the “at least as much value as Schmidt” thing will never sound good enough.

  • “Their offense is still too old, and the hitters’ skills are still too old school (I might as well be specific on this point at least once: Sabean tends to sign hitters who have proven veteran status with decent numbers in categories like RBI, but who don’t draw many walks and thus don’t get on base very often, on-base percentage being perhaps the single most important step between what was considered good back in the day and what is considered good under the new paradigm).”

    Sabean’s preferred offense sounds a lot like Dave Barry’s mother’s idea of a balanced meal: for every food item that he and his siblings liked, such as hamburgers, she’d serve a food item they hated, such as brussels sprouts. Pedro Feliz, here, would be a Brussels sprout. And what gets to me about him is the same thing that got to me when Sabean got J.T. Snow: the notion of “How can you complain about a guy who hits 20 home runs and drives in 80 every year?” The best answer is, “Watch Feliz.”

  • “The Giants have been unlucky this year….”

    Ha! I put it to you that they’re unlucky every year.”

  • “Brian Sabean doesn’t know what the fuck he is doing when it comes time to get hitting talent.”

    I don’t know that the Billy Beane approach is the approach to building a champion (especially ‘cause Beane hasn’t built any champions yet), but I’m willing to find out.

  • “… the Giants need a GM well versed in contemporary baseball analytics, they need an entire team in the front office of people who understand the new paradigm, they need, in short, the anti-Sabean. I can think of a couple of candidates… Jonathan Bernstein, a poli-sci professor in Texas and a long-time Giants fan, would be great filling an analyst role, although he kinda already has a job. Jacob Jackson has the best solution, though: a man named Paul DePodesta. You can read Jackson’s thoughts in his piece ‘The best unemployed GM in baseball.’ DePodesta is available, he knows what he’s doing… what the heck, he was even fired by the Dodgers (and replaced by a Sabean protégé), which would make his successes with the Giants that much more enjoyable. If Sabean’s replacement is at the level of a DePodesta, the Giants will rise again, sooner rather than later. If they hire the usual hack, or even worse, if they keep Sabean around, they won’t be winners for a long time to come.”

    Of course, since I’ve known Jonathan online for about 11 or 12 years and think of him as a “kinda” friend because we swap genial e-mails now and again (but not often enough), I’d be happy to campaign for him as the next Giants GM. He is, in my opinion, a fantastic analyst—one whose stuff in the newsgroup I never fail to read—and also someone who I think would have an excellent big-picture view. Plus, I’m hoping that by touting him this heavily, he might return the favor and find me a highly paid sinecure position within the organization.

  • “Given where the Giants are now, [Fred] Lewis should be playing a lot more than Randy Winn… Lewis isn’t likely to be a part of the next good Giants team, but Winn is defintely not going to be a contributor to that club, so the Giants should be giving Lewis every opportunity to show what he can do. It will be interesting to see what Bochy does the second half of the season… so far, he keeps running Winn out there almost every day, and Winn’s decent BA is just covering up the fact that he no longer hits well enough to be a regular, and pretty much hasn’t since those great two months with the Giants at the end of ’05.”

    I don’t think it’s Winn who’s the problem. It’s Roberts, who (a) is signed to a disturbingly long contract, and (b) stinks. It’s not like he gets on base enough or hits with enough power to cover that .218 batting average—which has stayed steady since about the third week of the season. I would be much happier with an outfield of Bonds, Winn, and Lewis than Bonds, Roberts, and Lewis—or, for that matter, Bonds, Roberts, and Winn.

    Meanwhile, I feel a little bad for both Dan Ortmeier and Nate Schierholtz, because it’s Roberts and Lewis who are keeping them out of the bigs. Though certainly Schierholtz, is the better hitter and younger player, I liked what I saw of Ortmeier, to the point where maybe it’s Mark Sweeney who’s keeping him out of the bigs.

  • “They should dump Roberts and Winn for whatever they can get, run Lewis and Schierholtz or whoever out there every day, live with the losses that will surely pile up, and work on the future.”

    I could live with this. Sadly, if they get any takers for Roberts, we’ll wind up either paying some Neifiesque clown a million and a half dollars to suck, or some 25-year-old single-A pitching “prospect” whose fastball went from 98 to 88 after Tommy John surgery.

Next, poor Steven makes the mistake of commenting on Barry Bonds and the Home Run Derby:

I’ll post some pix later, but here are some quick thoughts:

It’s more fun than you’d think. The competition, I’m talking about… the endless breaks for television commercials meant the entire affair moved at a snail’s pace, but watching these guys hit homers was actually a blast. Much of the between-batter “entertainment” was lame, although I understand they felt the need to do something to fill those five-minute commercial breaks. Kudos, though, to the Bucket Boys, four guys who pounded on buckets with drumsticks… they rooled.

More proof, if needed, that Barry Bonds is from another planet: they had some of the best home run hitters in the game here tonight, and after the first round, all of the lefties were eliminated. AT&T Park, you see, is a very hard place for lefties to hit homers. Barry Bonds, who has hit more homers than anyone not named Hank Aaron, is a lefty hitter. He set the single-season record for HR playing his home games at AT&T Park.

Apparently there are a lot of people saying Barry crapped on the local fans by opting out of the contest. We’ll show America just how much we hate him for that tomorrow when he is introduced. Here’s a preview: he’ll get far and away the most cheers of any player unless Willie Mays gets more.

Probably the most entertaining thing about the contest was… no, not the Counting Crows mini-concert… was the kids they had shagging flies during the competition. Some big stud would hit a fly ball about two miles into the air in right-center field, and 25 kids would chase after the ball, most of them beginning from some place far away from the eventual destination of the ball. They wouldn’t come anywhere near close to the ball when it landed, of course, but they sure didn’t lack for hustle!

Maybe it’s standard Giants-fan paranoia, but I feel as though he, and the ballpark, have been denigrated in the sense of the park being tailored for him, making it that much easier for him to set records and such. Paranoia or not, though, somehow the place really was built for Barry Bonds. I have no idea why he, and no other hitter, including lefties, succeeds at that place. (Obviously, lots of folks who hate the guy will say that they have an idea why, but I don’t care.) But it’s not like he’s a dead-pull-hitter (Shut up, dissenters: a ludicrous infield shift doesn’t mean he pulls all his fly balls, too.) in a bandbox with a low fence and the win always blowing out.

Indeed, when Bonds set the single-season home run record, I think he hit one more home run at home than on the road, but I wanted to mention, for those who might not know, but not for you, ‘cause you know, so you can stick your fingers in your eyes and hum “Camptown Races” during this part, that the place is hard on all hitters, including lefties, which the distance to the right-field foul pole might well belie. I could be wrong, but I think there’s a general assumption that Bonds just pokes lazy little fly balls down the right-field line that somehow carry into the bay, but in fact, it’s not as though he hits all his home runs in the same place. He’s lost plenty of home runs in the wind and high off that right-field wall, but he’s hit a bunch just over the 421 sign. Anyway, what I’m getting at is, somehow that park works for him, and all the naughty substances in the world can’t explain it. Neither can I.

Any reasonable fan can understand Bonds opting out of the home run derby—He’s 87 years old with 151-year-old knees, doesn’t want to get hurt of screw up his swing for the rest of the season, etc.—but lots of unreasonable fans have wet lots of pants over it: “What a horrid human being he must be!” Of course, if he had opted in, these same goofs would be ripping him for risking his health and the rest of the season. No way this guy ever wins.

As I’ve said in the past, if Barry Bonds were to save the life of a sportswriter by pushing him out of the way of an onrushing bus, the headlines would read, “Bonds Shoves Reporter.”

And, yes, I know: Why am I not putting this stuff in my blog?

Sunday, June 24, 2007


We haven’t heard the how or the why yet: just the who, what, and where:

Rod Beck.


In his Arizona home.


He was 38 and had young kids. What a horrible, appalling loss for his family. My thoughts go out to them, and to anybody to whom he was important.

For years, Beck has been the closer on my all-time favorite Giants team. How could one not like the guy? He was more like the fans than any other player I can think of. In interviews he always came across as a nice guy, honest and funny. In one interview I remember, he made the point that the players really don’t quite comprehend exactly how much money they make, saying that they think in terms of the number of years, and the number divided by a million, as in "12.6." He said that the actual numbers are just too big to fit into people’s heads.

In another interview he said that his name on his Fireman of the Year trophy was rendered as "Ron Beck."

Dusty Baker is the first person I ever heard call Beck “Shooter,” and I gathered that the nickname came from his way of staring down a hitter before, well, shooting him down. From the time he came up in 1991, he threw an awful lot, and by the time he left the Giants after 1997, he was pitching almost solely on guts. I’m not going to recount a lot of his on-field moments, but watching him get that double play out of Eddie Murray in the Brian Johnson game, after he had loaded the bases to begin the inning… well, when Johnson hit the homer, I felt just as good for Beck as I did for Johnson. There was no way not to root for him.

Beck is the closer on my all-time favorite Giants team and always will be.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Unwatchables

The “blecchh”-style noise hasn’t been invented yet that can accurately and fully encapsulate the horror that is the 2007 San Francisco Giants. Remember way back when the Giants’ biggest worry was whether Barry Bonds would bat third or fourth? I sure miss those halcyon days, don’t you? Back then the Giants had a double-play combination that was solid on offense and defense; a starting rotation with only one question mark—who would be the fifth starter?—and a healthy, again-effective closer; a longtime superstar whose every at-bat was worth stopping whatever you were doing to watch; a speedy and effective new leadoff hitter; a modest power platoon at first base; some good young pitching; and several other reasons we should be optimistic that the Giants could easily finish as high as third place.

Compared to now, those were carefree days, weren’t they? (The same could be said about the 2005 season, when they merely stank.) But now… wow. The worse they get, the more you think it’s impossible for them to keep getting worse, and the more they do so anyway. Last night’s game saw the Giants down 6-0 after two innings to the inexplicably good Milwaukee Brewers, with Tim Lincecum on the mound. First, know that I wish no success on the Brewers: I resent the Selig-induced idiocy leading to them switching leagues, and they’re still Selig’s team, no matter what anyone says, and Selig makes my skin crawl. But it’s really only worth complaining about those things when the Giants are playing reasonably well and one must complain about something.

Last night’s game ended up at 6-2, but it still brought to mind a major league Dads vs. Kids game, where the major leaguers, laughing all the way, lose 43-0, gleefully doing everything they can to make it easy for their offspring to hit and run all day long. It’s fun for everybody—which is what distinguishes it from last night’s Giants-Brewers game.

The details of last night’s Giants-Brewers game? What’s the difference? “Putrid Giants loss” tells you all you need to know. You don’t want to hear about Lincecum’s wildness or his teammates bringing dead flounders to the plate instead of baseball bats.

It’s way easier to switch over to TV shows about fictional people being murdered than it is to stick with a Giants game these days.

This team is Omar Vizquel hitting weak fly balls; Pedro Feliz whapping grounders to third with nobody out and a runner on second; Randy Winn, off his hot streak, flailing miserably for strike three; Barry Bonds popping up. It’s hit-and-run singles—ground balls hit exactly where a Giants middle infielder would be if he weren’t busy covering second. It’s Kevin Correia or Steve Kline giving up a huge base hit on the first pitch he throws; Jack Taschner giving up a key hit to the lefthanded batter he was brought in to face; Rich Aurilia or Ray Durham batting third but not hitting; curveballs bouncing crazily off the edge of the plate, getting away from Bengie Molina; the false hope generated by Russ Ortiz; knowing that a Giants rally, no matter how big, won’t be enough and won’t be sustained; and knowing, on those rare occasions when the Giants have a lead going to the last inning, that whoever comes in to close it out is not going to get the job done. And somewhere out there is a general manager, smiling in grim satisfaction, saying “I told you so,” but for the wrong reasons.

The 2007 Giants are what EEEEEE!—the concept, the website, the “almost” blog, the noise itself—is all about.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Nobody Else Can Lose Like This

It actually feels sort of odd to report the facts of last night’s game, because anybody reading this will know about it (except maybe if they read it way in the future), but while I can call the Giants’ loss neither quintessential nor typical, it is, never the less, somehow so Giantsesque that I must detail it, or at least parts of it, here. Mostly I’m going to draw on details and one-liners from e-mails and posts I made in the newsgroup while it was all happening.

First of all, Tim Lincecum just didn’t have it. Lasted 4-1/3 and was lucky to have given up only three runs. The Giants loaded the bases a lot, and not once could they come through. Not once. One such culprit, in a key situation, was Bonds, who grounded out meekly to end one of the early innings—who cares which one?

Lincecum actually retired the first seven hitters of the game, whereupon we encounter my nomination for the “Dusty Gives the Ball to Russ” moment: Third inning, Feliz makes a great play on a bunt for a would-be base hit. Mike Krukow says, “That’s the kind of plays they make during no-hitters.” Next batter, Jason Kendall: Base hit up the middle, and the party begins.

Bottom of the ninth, one out, tie game: Dan Ortmeier—in the two-hole because Freddy Lewis left with an injury in the second (after hitting into a double play for the second game in a row—hits a triple. With Klesko and Bonds coming up, the A’s have but one option, really—and even that should ensure a loss (for the A’s, I mean): walking both Klesko and Bonds to set up the double play. This they do. Game over, right? Wrong. Durham pops up. Frandsen—in the sixth slot as a pinch-hitter due to a double-switch, itself undertaken because Molina got hurt at the end of the top of the fifth—does his best Eliezer Alfonzo impression and swings feebly at three sliders out of the strike zone, missing each by an average of two feet. And I thought it was as predictable as if it had been Alfonzo. Or Todd Linden.

Anyway, to expand a little, what the A’s did seems to me to be their only strategic choice on defense, at least if the two guys coming up are any good. You walk the first guy to set up the double play… but even that’s risky, if only because he’ll almost certainly steal second uncontested, so you walk the second guy to set up the force at any base. Obviously that’s risky, too, if only because, when forced to throw ball after ball, some pitchers can’t find the strike zone. The bottom line, here, is that I feel it’s the correct strategy in that situation, but it still shouldn’t work. Even against the Giants.

Top of the tenth: Naturally the new pitcher, Hennessey, is in Frandsen’s spot in the lineup. And because of the injuries, and the fact that both Mark Sweeney and Rich Aurilia were used as pinch-hitters for the pitcher in earlier innings, the Giants have no position players left on the bench. With one out, some A’s bozo—who cares who?—gets a hit, and there’s a major collision at home plate that results in out number two. And now it’s Alfonzo who’s toasted. Then comes a fairly long pain delay, during which Hennessey’s getting antsy and needs to warm up… only we have no third catcher.

So who’s our emergency catcher? I would’ve thought it was Frandsen, but he was just taken out of the game for Hennessey. Turns out it’s… Feliz. Who has caught a total of zero major league (and, I daresay, professional) innings. So he dons the tools of stupidity.

Now who’ll play third base? We’re hearing that Matt Morris is starting to stretch, but where would he play? We have no infielders left… no outfielders left… Klesko’s at first, and lefthanded, so it won’t be him, and we’re not gonna be moving Durham or Vizquel. This leaves Bonds, Winn, and Ortmeier. Of these, only Winn throws righthanded, so it’s Winn—who has played zero infield innings in his major league career. Ortmeier moves to center field, probably for the first time ever.

And now we need a right fielder—a new player, i.e., one not moving from another position. And we have no outfielders left. Nor infielders. Nor catchers. So who’ll our right fielder be? There’s starting pitcher—indeed, we’d already heard about Morris getting ready. And… we’ve used all our lefty relievers—you know, to relieve; we’ve used all our righty relievers except… Vinnie Chulk.

So it should go without saying that our new right fielder is… Noah Lowry.

At this point I hark back first to the Kent Tekulve game in 1979, when he caught a Darrell Evans fly ball in right field to end a game, and then to late September of 1986, the Fan Appreciation Day game against the Dodgers. The game goes 16 innings. The Giants—even with the expanded roster—are laid low with injury and illness. Several guys have to play positions they’d never played before, or since. Two pitchers have to play the outfield, alternating between left and right with Mike Aldrete, depending on who’s batting. Indeed, Mike Krukow pinch-hits for Robby Thompson, who can’t swing the bat, becoming the first pitcher I’d ever seen, or known of, pinch-hitting for a position player. Later, Randy Bockus pinch-hits for Jeff Robinson (now the “outfielder”), becoming the second (and most recent) pitcher I’d ever seen pinch-hitting for a position player. In the bottom of the sixteenth, Greg Minton singles, Bob Brenly doubles, ballgame over.

Is that what would happen on this occasion? Let’s read on, shall we?

First, no, Lowry and Bonds do not flip-flop depending on who’s batting. (Bonds has, incidentally, played in one major league game in right field in his career, 20 years ago—which I know thanks to James Farrar in the group). Either way, we had four guys making their major league debuts in certain positions.

Second, with Feliz behind the plate, Mark Kotsay, the runner on first, starts to try and steal, then stops for some reason. The reason becomes apparent on the next pitch, when the A’s attempt a hit-and-run. Needless to say, the batter hits the ball exactly where Durham should have been had the latter not been covering second. Right before that pitch I was thinking, “He has to get the out, and the Giants have to score in the tenth, because no way can they keep putting that defense out on the field.” But that becomes academic, since eventually the A’s come up with a two-run single, an absolute punch in the stomach—a stomach that was already on the edge of nausea. Nobody, thankfully, hits the ball to Lowry. The half-inning ends on a foul ball caught near the dugout by third baseman Winn.

It is now the bottom of the tenth. The Giants—I hate not to emphasize this—are entirely, completely out of position players. They’re now down by two runs. Catcher Feliz flies out. Vizquel gets out in some weenie way. This brings up the dreaded “man due to bat third in the inning”—not Hennessey, right fielder Lowry.

It should go without saying that not only does Lowry refuse to just go down swinging in a three-pitch at-bat. It has to be a seven-pitch at-bat, replete with the kind of foul balls that suggest that he’s zeroing in. And do you know who the A’s pitcher is who’s in the process of (a) being zeroed in on, and (b) instead, striking out Lowry, for (c) the save? Why, Alan Embree, of course.

This was, in every way, a game that only the Giants could have played, and that only the Giants could have lost. And yet it’s exactly the kind of game that should pull them together as a unit and make them go “Grrrr!” a lot and reel off, like, 14 straight victories. But no, a bunch of guys will hit the DL later today, there’ll be new faces, and the team will have no identity whatsoever.

But if I had to look for a silver lining, it would be the fact that hey, at least the Giants found a creative way to lose.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Humm Baby! It's Gonna Be Fun, Right?

by Cudgy Preep

Cudgy Preep is the new pseudonym for Bat Fastard, who discovered during a Google search that there are about 4,000 links for “Bat Fastard,” none of them relevant to him, EEEEEE!, or Almost EEEEEE! Searches on “Cudgy Preep,” however, turn up empty, which makes Cudgy—i.e., Bat—feel a lot better, albeit still generally grumpy.

Look at this team. Do you like it? I mean, if you weren’t a Giants fan, or if they were some other team nobody gives a shit about, like the Devil Rays or Cardinals or somebody (or a team nobody should give a shit about, like the Dodgers), what would you think? Would you see a team with an established superstar, a solid supporting cast, and some up-and-comers? Would you see a team with one Barry Bonds and 24 Mike Benjamins, to steal one of Gregg’s favorite blithery analogies? Would you see a team with a few seriously old farts, several past-their-primers, and no-name youngsters? What? What, I’m asking you?

Know what I see? A fairly boring team with little to no identity, especially now that Bonds isn’t being awesome. Even so, though, it’s not as boring a team as it has been the last few years. I swear. In fact, I see some entertainment value:

  • Omar Vizquel’s defense: These days he’s Johnnie LeMaster at the plate; when he becomes Hal Lanier, that glove ain’t gonna carry that bat no more. But until then, it’s fun to watch ground balls hit toward Vizquel Country, if for the footwork alone. Vizquel, kids, is one of those “Practice Makes Perfect” examples that should inspire us all to practice a lot, but doesn’t. The guy’s an acrobat with an amazing sense of timing, where the runners are, who he’s throwing to, etc. That 4-6-5 double play, last year, was genius. And those double plays he turns where he does these balletic little leaps: poetry. Or ballet. Your pick. Also he’s been barehanding ground balls a lot lately and throwing to first, or second, in a fluid motion, like he’s been doing it all his life (which he has). He does make it fun—although sometimes I wonder if he’s not doing it mostly to amuse himself, given that the overall team is so dull.

  • You gotta like these kids: I’m talking about Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, though more the latter these days than the former. Cain looked great on the mound early on: poised, confident, knowing he was gonna get you out. I think he started the season giving up 12 hits in 31 innings, something like that. Since then he’s not the same guy, which makes me wonder if he’d thrown too damn many pitches in April or something. But if he gets back into a groove, watch out: It’s a ball watching other teams’ hitters get out, again and again. I’m one of those guys who utterly aches for a San Francisco Giants no-hitter—a species not seen in 30 years—and I swear to you, Cain seemed to be going for one every time out.

    Lincecum… less so, but he’s fun even when he’s not going good. He sort of needs to get over the belief that nobody’s ever gonna hit his fastball, though, and he needs to stop throwing it groin-high, down the middle, because every time you turn around, he’s given up another home run. That’s fairly off-pissing. What isn’t, though, is watching opposing hitters trudge away from the box after striking out yet again, tossing an embittered look toward the mound, then continuing toward the dugout, shaking their heads. We never have pitchers like that.

  • Freddy Lewis: Way entertaining. Not necessarily good, though. He might be Deion Sanders Lite. Deion had loads of talent and athletic ability, but he never seemed to channel it properly or something. I really liked watching him with the Giants in 1995, even though, despite his age and years of experience, he seemed so green. I feel the same way about Lewis, only I don’t think he’s nearly as talented, which means he probably won’t stick for long, especially since he’s about 26 and, thus, fairly set in his ways. But if there’s been a faster Giant in the last 30 years, I can’t think of who it could be. It’s a kick in the ass to watch this guy run the bases.

  • Bonds: Loathe him, hate him, you can’t ignore him. I love how the tone of the crowd changes when he steps up, even in a nothing situation. I love how sometimes a guy just can’t throw him a strike—I mean “can’t,” not “won’t.” (The “won’t” situations are pretty boring.) I love his swing—even his little bat-waves at the plate are on the same plane as the swing, and when he’s going good, he has that way of bringing the ball right into that plane and murdering it.

Beyond that… what is there to keep our interest? Noah Lowry’s change-up? Not anymore. There was a time when I thought it might have been the best change I’d ever seen, but now it’s ordinary, like all his pitches. Ryan Klesko’s balls-out style? Who the hell wants to see his balls? Especially the balls that he hits into crucial double plays with, or the ones he lets zoom past him to the outfield wall, on those (thankfully) rare occasions when he’s in the outfield. (As I write this, for instance, he’s our right fielder, if you can imagine. I still can’t, and I’ve seen it. Somehow I would’ve excused it more easily from Winn or Ortmeier or even Bonds, but Klesko’s badly timed, ill-advised dive on a sinking liner led to a two-run triple that turned a one-run lead for us into a one-run lead for them. Something not real charming about that. Still not as bad as trying to go to third when there’s already a teammate there, then standing around till he gets tagged out.)

I dunno, these guys are just plain pissing me off. Man on third, nobody out? Other teams score the guy. The Giants don’t. Nor do they hold the guy at third on defense. That guy scores. Gregg bitches about Pedro Feliz not making productive outs, but tonight it’s former All-Star Rich Aurilia hitting a two-hopper to short, with the infield in and Lewis on third—on the first pitch. How adorable is that?

How adorable is it when a guy like Kevin Frandsen, sent in to pinch-bunt, can’t get the job done? Not too. That’s my assessment. Diamondbacks fans love that sort of thing, but fuck ’em. Give ’em a dollar. (One thousand Almost EEEEEE! points for whoever fills in the rest of the punchline.)

Know what else pickles my innards? Watching strikes called on Bonds—strikes that obviously are not strikes. Especially strike threes that obviously are not strikes. What is this, the umpires’ way of showing disdain for alleged performance-enhancing substances?

Sorry if this sounds like a bitch-fest, but that’s what it is, and I’m not sorry. I’m just tired of watching them fail to execute, fail to come through.

But to end this on a happy note: Hey, no Armando!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Roughly a Third of the Way—Whee…

The Giants right now are 27-30, so I missed the one-third cutoff by three games. That’s your fault, so let’s just stop dwelling on it, shall we?

Frankly, 27-30 is better than I thought they were going to be, though at the beginning of the year I really had no idea how bad the offense would be. I didn’t expect the starting pitching to be quite as good as it is, either—not that we’re talking about the 1971 Orioles or anything. But this team certainly is almost exactly as frustrating as I expected. But then, that’s just part of their charm—the majority, to be sure, but still just part.

So let’s go position by position in a qualitative “analysis” of what we’ve seen so far—“qualitative” because, for the most part, I don’t want to look up numbers:
  • First base—Rich Aurilia, Ryan Klesko, Mark Sweeney, Lance Niekro, maybe even Pedro Feliz (I forget): Mostly first base has been an awfully dark hole, even compared to J.T. Snow at his most average. Aurilia seems to be pretty decent on defense, but he’s not a first baseman. He’s still sort of a shortstop, but I have the feeling third base is a better slot for him. He started out hitting reasonably well, too, but except for the odd three- or four-hit game (such as last night’s), he’s been in a massive funk, the likes of which would gag Courtney Love’s inner circle, perhaps even Ms. Love herself. Now, if he batted sixth or seventh most of the time, probably it wouldn’t faze me as much as it does with him usually batting third. And it’s not just batting average, which is putrid enough: he doesn’t walk, and he’s not hitting for power. I really like the guy, but Aurilia 2007 and Aurilia 2001 are two entirely different animals. The guy probably should be a four-position backup who starts three or four times a week—or whatever his role was in Cincinnati last year. At most, he should be the more-or-less regular third baseman.

    Klesko, meanwhile, has kind of been this year’s Todd Greene: a power-hitting dude without home runs. Granted, it took Klesko less time to hit his first of the year than it took Greene last year, and Klesko even waited less than a month to hit his second. Indeed, I’m filled—to about the quarter-full line—with the hope that Klesko ‘s gonna move into the power-hitting mode he needs to be in. I mean, it’d be nice to have a legitimate power threat in the lineup other than Bonds. Then again, it’d also be nice to have a legitimate not-hit-into-a-key-double-play threat, too. The guy can hit, though.

    His presence makes me wonder how bad the Giants need Sweeney. That is, I wondered that more often early in the season, when the Giants still had Niekro. (And let’s not talk about how often I wondered how bad they needed Niekro.) But if Klesko begins to pick up most of the starts, Sweeney’s presence will make more sense—assuming he starts hitting. He’d been something like 4-for-8 as a pinch-hitter—wonderful stuff—but 1-for-18 as a starter, or numbers to that effect. And I suppose I should think of him more as an outfielder than a first baseman, but I’m not sure either appellation applies. He’s not Kleskoesque in the outfield—luckily, almost no one is—but let’s just say he’s not on this team for his glove, which makes the lack of offense all the more frustrating, even given that he hardly ever plays. The dude’s historically a very good pinch-hitter, though, which provides enough juice to want to keep him, and yet I wonder if he really provides anything on the field, at this stage in his career, that Dan Ortmeier doesn’t.

    Niekro is back in Frenso, possibly for good, having been outrighted last month. He’s the kind of guy who’s easy to pull for, but clearly he just can’t hit big-league pitching well enough to keep a job for a long time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back with the Giants, but I don’t know why it should happen unless he spends about two months hitting .750 with power.

    Overall, Aurilia and Klesko would be an adequate platoon combination, you’d think. Or maybe you wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. I think their respective proportions of games started needs to lean toward Klesko, and I imagine it doesn’t because of the fear of other teams’ late-inning lefty relievers. Also, does anybody else mentally address Klesko as “Klezzy” or “Klezbo”? I sure hope not.

  • Second base—Ray Durham, Kevin Frandsen, Rich Aurilia: I guess Durham has pretty much been Durham: hot, then not, then hot, then not, with some nagging-injury-related bench time sprinkled in here and there. Though he’s capable of the occasional glaring misplay, he’s looked pretty solid afield, especially if you don’t count the two errors he made the other day (and I don’t, because I didn’t see them, so they didn’t happen). I’d probably be fairly pleased with the guy if he hadn’t started out the year as the cleanup hitter before spending the rest of his time in the five-hole. I’m not sure where he should bat, though. He’s not a leadoff hitter anymore; maybe second or sixth would be best.

    Frandsen surprises me with his hitting every so often, which is bad because he doesn’t do it often enough not to surprise me. Sometimes I get him confused with Brian Dallimore, which is unfair because Dallimore almost always looked overmatched. Maybe it’s the way Frandsen sometimes looks overmatched, plus the occasional bonehead maneuver—more prevalent last year than now, admittedly. This time around he’s played second, short, third, and left, which is okay with me because current-day 12-man pitching staffs (and God knows the Giants can easily go to 13 every so often) make it necessary for bench players (and even some regulars) to be versatile. You know who I liked in Frandsen-ish roles? Guys like Greg Litton and Steve Scarsone. Sure, if you look those guys up, you’ll note that either of them could’ve broken loads of strikeout records if given the chance, and you’ll also note that neither of them was exactly Brooks Robinson out there, but they were fun. Especially Litton, with his cannon of an arm. Scarsone was more like Litton Lite. I’m hoping Frandsen won’t wind up being Scarsone Lite, or the Giants fans’ whipping-boy.

  • Shortstop—Omar Vizquel, Rich Aurilia, Kevin Frandsen: I really don’t care what the numbers say, because they show Vizquel to be a pretty average shortstop. I just don’t believe that. He gets to balls nobody else can, and he improvises like nobody else can. He’s simply too good out there. The appellation “The Out-Maker” isn’t entirely ironic. Would that he could still hit, though. It’s taken a long time, but the Giants have finally started batting him eighth. I’m sure he hates it, but it seems to be a better spot for him than second or, heaven help us, leadoff. The guy’s 40, an age at which most ballplayers, even good ones, are spending more time at home with their kids. Vizquel’s got probably another year or two after this, but not as a Giant—not if he keeps hitting like this. But he sure is fun to watch in the field. He’s the anti-Batiste: I expect him to make a successful play on every ball hit near him.

  • Third base—Pedro Feliz, Rich Aurilia, Kevin Frandsen: Feliz just isn’t very good. Indeed, if you said that to Giants fan/baseball writer/blogger Steven Rubio, he’d provide plenty of evidence that Feliz is not only not very good, he’s the worst regular third baseman in the world, rating at or near the bottom of every important offensive category. Dave Flemming is the only Giants broadcaster I’ve heard speak my thoughts on the matter, namely that Feliz just doesn’t seem to have a plan when he goes to the plate. (Flemming, however, recently modified that view to “Whatever plan Feliz has, he doesn’t stick with it during an at-bat.) Maybe it had never struck me before, but until Feliz came along, I’d never seen anybody make so many outs with so few of them being productive. Get that runner to third with a ground ball? Forget it—time to smack a two-hopper to the third baseman. Get the guy home with a fly ball? Sorry—gotta whiff. It’s hard to take, over and over and over and over, and while Feliz seems like a nice enough guy and all, I would be thrilled to see him dealt, assuming we don’t send along, say, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in the process. If the Giants can somehow jettison Feliz (and somehow wind up with a good bat), I’d be okay with Aurilia playing third most of the time. (Then again, even if they keep Feliz, I’m not sure I’d mind seeing Aurilia playing third most of the time.)

  • Left field—Barry Bonds, Dan Ortmeier, Todd Linden, Mark Sweeney, Pedro Feliz, Ryan Klesko (hee!), Fred Lewis: Supposedly it’s Bonds’ left knee, the one that didn’t endure three rapid-fire surgeries, that’s giving him trouble now. And today I heard something about shinsplints and swollen ankles. Whatever hurts, it hurts a lot, because Bonds isn’t Bonds right now. He had an astounding April and a puzzling May, and his June, thus far, is nothing to write home about. He’s got 12 dingers at this writing and is nine behind Aaron, and he’s generating a lot more hate messages than offense right now. He’d been hitting home runs like a house afire (see
    for specifics), and now he’s hitting them like Sweeney. Good thing he’s still drawing walks. Oh, he’ll have the occasional two-for-three game with a line-drive single and a double to the base of the center-field wall, but mostly he’s popping up and hitting ground balls into the shift. And striking out. Does that mean the league has figured him out? I don’t know. He sure doesn’t look right, though.

    Ortmeier has hardly been a revelation, but he’s gotten some timely hits, including his first two major league home runs. He’s a switch-hitter who throws lefthanded—not often you see that—and he seems to play a decent outfield with a decent arm and decent speed. I’d like to believe he’s a significant upgrade over Linden. How can he not be?

    At bat, Linden looked like he didn’t even know what planet he was on. Talk about not having any evident plan at the plate. He seemed to have it backward, routinely taking strikes, swinging at balls, and, well, reeking. Once it reached the point where he even looked stupid on defense, finally the Giants made a decision and cut him loose. I think they thought he’d clear waivers, like Niekro—and so did I—but for some reason the Marlins, either desperately needing a body or believing they could reclaim him, picked him up, perhaps to serve as the welcoming committee for Armando Benitez. Whatever progress Linden may have made last year, he lost that and more this year. Maybe he’ll be a decent player some day—just not with the Giants. But don’t worry, Giants fans: he’ll haunt the hell out of us, probably by OPSing 3.000 against the Giants and dropping the fly ball that put the Dodgers into the postseason.

  • Center field—Dave Roberts, Randy Winn, Todd Linden, Fred Lewis: I don’t know if the team’s really feeling Roberts’ absence. He sure didn’t hit at all—except for a booming home run the day before he went on the DL—and he didn’t reach base often enough for steals to really be a factor. He seemed to do just fine in center field, and I like the kind of player he’s supposed to be: pesky, base-reachy, disruptive-speedy. It feels as though he’s been out since about April 10—or maybe he just hasn’t done enough to remember all that well. I sure hope he heals up and does whatever the Giants hope he’ll do. As a Giant, I mean.

    In Roberts’ absence, Winn has been manning the post. I guess the Giants really don’t like him much as a center fielder, and indeed he gets mixed reviews. I’ve never had a problem with him out there, and I thought his fairly rotten 2006 season might have had something to do with him never knowing where he was going to play from inning to inning. I’m not sure he’s really a right fielder, though—he’s probably best suited for left field, but that’s where Bonds hangs out. Winn had a brutal start to the year and has picked up tremendously, helped in no small part by a 20-game hitting streak. I’d like to believe he’ll keep hitting. I mean, while he’s not the same guy the Giants picked up for the last couple months of 2005, I do think he’s capable of putting up pretty good numbers, and when he’s hot, nobody’s hotter, even Bonds.

  • Right field—Randy Winn, Fred Lewis, Todd Linden, Dan Ortmeier: I’m not really sure what’s going on with Lewis and Ortmeier. Lewis seemed to be the guy they brought up to replace Linden, and Ortmeier appeared to come up mostly because Roberts hit the DL, but they’re both getting a fair amount of playing time, especially Lewis, who’s exceptionally fleet afoot. I think he might be a worse outfielder than Linden, however, and that’s problematic. He also has a long, looping swing that concerns me—I don’t see how he can hit a fastball. But he’s managed a couple of off-field home runs and some slashy hits. He’s even been stealing bases—something he’s supposedly not all that good at. In fact, I think his first two steals involved third base. He seems to be an exciting player, but he might be hitting too high in the order. Even so, he seems to have an idea at the plate. Still, he’s 26—older than Linden—and unlikely to improve a lot. I’d love it if he did, though. Shortening that swing might be a good start.

  • Catcher—Bengie Molina, Eliezer Alfonzo: They’ve hyped Molina’s superhuman lack of footspeed. They’ve hyped his hitting with two outs and runners in scoring position. So far he’s lived up to the hype. Not to focus on the negative, but indeed this dude might not be able to win a footrace against Smoky Burgess at his fattest. Indeed, even J.T. Snow—dubbed “D.P. Slow” by some in the Giants newsgroup—could lap this guy. You’re not even sure Molina will score from second on a double—maybe not even from third. He looks like he’s jogging, but maybe that’s his top output. It’s really something. Meanwhile, they say he handles the staff very well, and he does seem to fight for his pitchers. He’s let more pitches get by him than one might like to see, however. Still, as skeptical as I was when the Giants signed him, I’m more or less a believer now.

    Alfonzo hasn’t shown the absurd inability to catch pitched baseballs that we all got to know and loathe last year. He’s thrown a few balls into center field, though—in attempts to catch base stealers, I mean; not just as random acts. At the plate… well, what he does is, he gets big hits in two, three games in a row, then drives me bats by utterly, utterly failing to produce for weeks thereafter. He’s got that sort of Felizesque strike-zone judgment, and you know what happens a lot? When he swings and misses at strike one, you know his at-bat will only last two more pitches, both to be swung on and missed. So I usually cringe a lot when I see him come up as a pinch-hitter. Especially in the middle innings, given that the Giants have only two catchers. I mean, what’s up with that?

  • Starting pitchers—Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Matt Morris, Noah Lowry, Tim Lincecum, Russ Ortiz: This is the closest the Giants have come to having an actual strength, and it’s got to be their best rotation, one through five, in years. Zito’s having trouble reeling off more than one or two good starts in a row, which I suppose is what most people have expected of him. We all know he signed a ludicrously fat contract, and his signing has been hailed by Baseball Prospectus, among other folks, as the worst, dumbest free-agent signing of all time, including other sports and even non-sports. I don’t see it that way. The Giants knew they were going to lose Schmidt, and they felt they needed an ace, or reasonable facsimile thereof. They know they overpaid for Zito: Brian Sabean has said as much—It’s as though he was trying to say that the market required overpayment. All that said, though, I don’t care how much they’re paying Zito. All that matters is that he perform. I think he’s doing reasonably well, considering that he’s going up against number-one starters a whole lot. His control is not what I’d like it to be, though, and it’s hard to feel very confident when your team’s starting pitcher rarely breaks 85 on the gun. In three years he has a good chance of becoming Kirk Rueter—but will it be the 2002 model or the 2005 model? There’s a big difference. On the other hand, before becoming Kirk Rueter himself, Rueter never won a Cy Young. I don’t think Zito’s Cy was any fluke—he just hasn’t been nearly as good since. Either way, I have no reason to think he won’t end up being a solid Giant. Granted, for the money they’re paying, fans tend to want him to be a spectacular Giant, but, again, I don’t care about the money.

    Cain started off looking like a Cy Young candidate, but lately he looks more like Sean Young. True, Sean, even now, is still a visual treat, but I’d be very surprised if she gave up less than a hit per inning. Cain, early on, was giving up roughly a hit every three innings, but from the day the Phillies roughed him up for the first time all season, he hasn’t been the same guy. His control is terrible—how the Diamondbacks scored only three runs off him last night is beyond me, since he seemed determined to just get it over with and shatter the season record now for walks allowed. I also don’t understand how he doesn’t strike more hitters out. He sure gets a lot of two-strike counts, but unlike his immediate elder, Lincecum, he doesn’t finish off the hitters nearly enough, especially for a guy who seems to be trying to strike out everyone. He throws an awful lot of pitches, and maybe this has contributed to his fastball dropping from about 96 to about 92 lately.

    Morris has had some terrific starts, which comes as a surprise to me. He’s way up there among the ERA leaders, which leads me, as a Giants fan, to wait for the other shoe to drop. If you told me last year that he would be the team’s ERA leader on June 6, 2007, I might well have wept, picturing a team ERA well in excess of a million. Had you told me, however, that his ERA would be 2.66 after his last start, I might well have plotzed. It’s as though… it’s as though… I don’t know if I can say it… it’s as though he’s… the team’s… ace. Indeed, if no Giant is elected as an All-Star starter—and maybe Bonds will be, maybe he won’t—Morris should receive plenty of thought as a managerial selection, as should Molina.

    Lowry’s had some hard-luck losses, but then again, this team doesn’t hit. You shouldn’t be a 5-5 starter with a 3.28 ERA, should you? (Nor should you be a 2-5 starter with a 3.54 ERA, if you’re Matt Cain.) It bugs me that while he doesn’t walk that many, he doesn’t strike anybody out, either. If we wanted that, wouldn’t we bring back Rueter?

    The guy on the staff getting the most press these days is Lincecum, and with good reason, even though his ERA is half a run higher than any of his rotation mates. He strikes out about a batter per inning, doesn’t walk many, doesn’t give up a lot of hits… indeed, he surrenders just over a baserunner an inning—so why’s his ERA over four? Probably because he gives up home runs at an alarming rate. If everything else pretty much remains status quo and if he, I dunno, keeps the ball down more or something, nobody’s gonna touch him. Of course, I’m afraid of saying stuff like that because of the dangers of Earnest Praising, so maybe I should stop now.

    Lincecum came up when Ortiz went on the DL, and it was pretty obvious that the former would not only have to stay but would also require a place in the rotation. It would be fair to consider Ortiz the odd man out, and indeed he is, at least as a starter. He was a great story in the spring, a reclamation project coming back after an absurdly bad 2006 season. Indeed, his first few starts weren’t bad—even when he was busy giving up five runs against the Dodgers, he still struck out seven and nearly completed the game. However, he gave up more than one hit per inning in all his starts, and that’s trouble, despite the fact that he didn’t walk many. So now he’s had four relief appearances and hasn’t been scored upon yet. However, he faced two Phillies the other day, retired them both, then left with a forearm injury, so who knows?

  • Closer—Armando Benitez, Brad Hennessey: There are yak herders in Buna-Tufi, New Guinea (assuming they have yaks there) who know how I feel about Benitez and how delighted I am that he’s gone gone gone. The guy left here with a reputation for being a choke artist and a whiner, and he did nothing to dispel either notion.

    On Grant Brisbee’s McCovey Chronicles blog I said, “Don’t sweat the Benitez deal. We already know he’ll haunt us as often as possible, though because the Giants will only play the Marlins roughly six times a year (until the Marlins decide they can’t stand him anymore either, and he goes to the Dodgers), he won’t haunt us as a Marlin nearly as often as he haunted us as a Giant. If we accept it rather than dread it, we’ll be marginally less miserable. And since we’re Giants fans, what more can we hope for?” (Well, one thing we could hope for is… reports are that not only is Eric Gagne pitching very well for the Rangers, he’s also on the block because the Rangers suck. I shudder to think who we’d have to cough up in exchange, though.) (Note to Sabes: Look into my eyes, look into my eyes, not around my eyes, look into my eyes and… you’re under. Feliz Feliz Feliz Feliz Chulk. And… you’re back in the room.)

    Hennessey seems to be the closer pro tem. He could give up fewer hits without making me upset, but mostly he’s looked pretty good, and he’s striking out more guys lately. Is he “closer material”? Well, let’s forget everything I’ve ever said about “closer mentality” and “do we really need set roles?” and all that stuff, and pretend that every team definitely needs a guy they can turn to to slam the door in the ninth. Is Hennessey that guy? How the hell should I know? What, you people think I’m an expert now? How fair is that? You never did before! Either way, he’s the best candidate on the big-league roster (and was, even before the Benitez deal). I don’t detect the Atlee Look on his face—a look that was tattooed (painfully, no doubt) onto the countenance of Benitez and, before him, would-be closers such as Matt Herges (though not necessarily Tyler Walker). I’m willing—as if I have a choice in the matter—to wait Hennessey out.

  • Other righty relievers—Kevin Correia, Vinnie Chulk, Scott Munter, Randy Messenger: Well, Munter only pitched an inning before getting sent back down, so he doesn’t count. Correia, though, is our latest walkoff loser, having surrendered a predictable game-ending home run last night. He strikes out lots of hitters, doesn’t walk that many, doesn’t even give up all that many hits—so why don’t I trust him? Maybe it’s the timing. Maybe it’s the home run, along with two others. Whatever it is, I don’t think he’s a closer in the making.

    Nor is Chulk, whose ERA—I still can’t believe this, because I would’ve guessed twice as high—is 3.24. He doesn’t walk anybody, doesn’t give up that many hits—so why does he stink? He’s pitched well since I seriously (and very Earnestly) ragged on him here a few weeks ago, but I can’t remember a lot of key appearances for him. In other words, maybe mopup relief is where he needs to stay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Messenger, meanwhile, is the guy we got for Benitez. He put up a 2.66 ERA for the Marlins, though he allowed a lot of baserunners. So far he’s walked two opponents in 2-1/3 innings as a Giant, and it’s hard to tell much from that. (Benitez, incidentally, has given up a run in four innings as a Marlin. Jerk.)

  • Lefty relievers—Jack Taschner, Steve Kline, Jonathan Sanchez: All these guys have been really, really bad. With Taschner that’s more of a recent development: he got seriously roughed up in Philadelphia. And I don’t know whether to think of him as “consistent” or not. After he coughed up a home run to the lefthanded batter he was brought in to face in his first appearance this year, he had eight straight scoreless appearances, got blasted by the Diamondbacks, had five more scoreless appearances, then three scoreful appearances, then two scoreless, two scoreful, and last night’s two-batter, two-strikeout performance. Without his two games in Philly and his horrific time against Arizona, his ERA is 2.40. Unfortunately, you have to count all of his numbers, so it’s 5.74.

    Kline is… well, he might be through. Then again, his last two appearances were very good. Indeed, he’s only had a couple bad performances: early against the Padres, last month against the A’s. That one was world-beatingly bad, though—four runs, zero innings pitched—and without that one his ERA would only be 3.38, and I wouldn’t be complaining. But it’s 6.08, and I am. So maybe he’s not through, but he sure gives up a hell of a lot of baserunners and never strikes anybody out. True, he’s only pitched 13-1/3 innings all year, but how important is it to keep him over Sanchez, no matter how great a “teammate” he supposedly is?

    Then again, Sanchez was pretty awful before his demotion. He strikes out an awful lot of people—one and a half per inning this year—but he also walks nearly one and gives up one hit per inning, and he seems a tad susceptible to the home run ball. Why? Maybe he’s got lots of speed but not a lot of movement. Maybe he only throws one speed. I don’t know. Still, I hope to see him back soon. I like guys who rack up a buttload of strikeouts. I think he can be fixed.
I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about this team. Sometimes I think that at 27-30 they’re playing over their heads. Sometimes I think they could be so much better. Mostly they drive me nuts.

How good are they really? If I had to sum it up in one word, I think it’d have to be: Meh. Assuming “meh” ever really becomes a word.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Looky There: It Is Over

Unless it turns out to be even more of a disaster than Tuesday’s game, I’ve decided to take sole credit for last night’s trade of Armando Benitez, assuming that the decision was based on my previous blog entry. In his blog, Steven Rubio calls attention to Brian Sabean leaving “no doubt he was unhappy that he was forced by public opinion to consummate a trade that leaves the Giants with no experienced closer.” Sabean said, “Apparently the fans, the press and some people in the clubhouse felt he needed to go.”

Steven says, “Brian Sabean’s job is to make the Giants as good a team as he can. His job is not to act on the basis of public opinion… I may think that he'd be better off listening to me, I have in fact been quoted in public about my negative opinions of Sabean, but the idea is that Sabean use his noggin to reconsider his methods, not that he whines like a baby and says ‘ok, HAVE it your way!’”

Sabean has an interesting approach to laying blame, namely one of not looking in a mirror. That’s “interesting,” not “unique.” I mean, how many GMs do cop to making dingleberry moves? (And how many should?) Usually they don’t blame the fans, though. Or teammates of the problem children at hand. And the press… well, everybody blames them, but I don’t have a problem with that.

Still, I understand Sabean’s desire not to badmouth his departing bozo player, and that’s sort of noble, while at the same time sort of covering his butt. Also, I think that if it’s fair to say “Who knew?” about the results of Sabes’ acquisition of Jeff Kent eons ago (and it is), It’s just as fair to say the same thing about the signing of Benitez. I mean, as a Giant, the guy’s ERA was 4.10—bringing his lifetime ERA up to 2.99. The guy saved 35 in three years—as opposed to 47 in 2003 alone—and blew 15, astounding numbers that really weren’t indicated by past performance. Now, sure, he’s had some big-game meltdowns in the past, but hey, he was tied for 23rd in MVP voting in 2003, right? I mean, there were *signs* that as a Giant he might not be the pitcher he was in 2003, but still: who knew? I don’t really fault Sabean for signing the guy in the first place (actual dollar figures aside), because it was reasonable to believe that he’d have chalked up three times as many saves in these three years, and that his ERA would be, say, three-quarters of a run lower, at least.

“Armando Benitez is a better pitcher than the boo birds seem to realize,” Steven says, “but he plies his trade as a closer, the most overrated position on the roster (not the most worthless, but the most overrated, meaning the position where the player is likely to be overpaid relative to his contributions, meaning the position where an astute GM can make a difference, meaning a position where a more traditional GM will overpay). Benitez was signed for $21.5 million. He has now been traded when his trade value is [very] low, with the Giants having to pay $4.7 of the remaining $5 million on his contract. Looking for a whipping boy? Who signed Benitez to that contract?”

Sabean is no more immune than most other GMs to the Seductive Qualities of Closer Numbers (SQCN). As I’ve pointed out a number of times in EEEEEE! over the years, “saves” is a gaudy statistic that is too heavily emphasized. How so? Well, when do closers enter a game? Nine times out of ten, it’s when it’s a save situation. What’s a save situation? Here’s what Rule 10.19 in the baseball rulebook says:
The official scorer shall credit a pitcher with a save when such pitcher meets all four of the following conditions: (a) He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his team; (b) He is not the winning pitcher; (c) He is credited with at least a third of an inning pitched; and (d) He satisfies one of the following conditions: (1) He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning; (2) He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, or at bat or on deck (that is, the potential tying run is either already on base or is one of the first two batters he faces); or (3) He pitches for at least three innings.
Closers usually enter the game before an inning starts, when they’d have to get three outs with at least a one-run lead. Even when they enter during an inning, a save is still possible even with a five-run lead (i.e., with the bases loaded and the tying run on deck). In other words, success is pretty much built in. Even though the rule is defined better than the one for individual pitching victories, it’s a lot easier to get a save than a win. In fact, it might be fair to say that it’s as easy to get a save as it is for a starting pitcher to get a win when his team scores, say, four runs in the top of the first.

Also, because closers usually have to pitch just one inning in any given appearance, their ERAs, as a breed, are lower than those of other pitchers. So while an ERA below 4.00 is good for a starter (and lots of relievers) these days, it’s horrendous for a closer. In fact, anything over 3.00 is pretty unsatisfactory. Thus, often, when a GM sees a free-agent closer available, he sees those 40 saves, that 2.80 ERA, and licks his chops. Perhaps he doesn’t see those 10 blown saves—which doesn’t sound like much, I suppose, but it is—and those 12 decisions, many of which are the product of blown saves.

Not only that, but some closers—Robb Nen comes to mind—will come right out and say that they just don’t concentrate, at least not as well, when it’s not a save situation. Why? Because it’s the saves that get them the big money, not the scoreless innings with nothing on the line. Indeed, some of these guys aren’t nearly as intense when their team’s lead exceeds one run. This, I suppose, is what passes for mental toughness.

The “closer mentality”—that is, the tendency among major league managers and general managers to overvalue the role of the closer—has been discussed many times over the years in the Giants newsgroup. Mostly we bemoan the fact that the flashiness of the save statistic and the normal closer-type ERA causes teams to heavily emphasize the closer role itself, if not the pitcher in it. These factors also determine how well closers get paid, which in turn places even more emphasis on the role itself.

Instead of sticking someone in the closer pigeonhole and sticking with it all year, if a manager were to let other factors dictate which pitcher closes on a given day—factors such as game situation, who’s been pitching well, who’s rested, etc.—know what would happen? Anarchy. Why? Because ballplayers like having specific roles. Apparently. The other night, with the Giants ahead 3-0 in the ninth—the night after Benitez’s final implosion as a Giant—you know who closed? Brad Hennessey. Why? Purportedly because Benitez’s knee flared up during the previous night’s fiasco; not because Hennessey was the right man for the job at the time.

But what if Bruce Bochy had said before the game that in closing situations, he planned to use the pitcher he thought had the best chance of doing the job well, rather than using a designated closer? Well, maybe Hennessey gets his save that night, but then maybe we see Steve Kline or Kevin Correia or even Vinnie Chulk (or Benitez) in save situations over the next several days. And you know what we’d read in the papers? Grousing from unnamed relievers about how nobody knows what his role is. It’d just be too confusing. Pants would be wet. Skies would fall. Hence guys like Benitez keeping their jobs for years, and doing them poorly. Hence guys like Matt Herges and Tyler Walker, once ensconced in the closer role, racking enough saves to keep the closer role without necessarily pitching well.

As you know, if you read my previous entry, I completely lost patience with Benitez, right around the time Sabean did. Indeed, on KNBR yesterday, he said, in so many words, that we should expect to see the problem addressed within 24 to 48 hours—which I’m sure most people interpreted as “There’s a trade coming.” And indeed there was. The new guy is reliever Randy Messenger, a big dude with a sparkling ERA—which in this case is to say he’s been awfully lucky, given that he’s allowed something like 36 baserunners and only seven have scored.

Messenger’s probably not going to be the closer, so who is? My joke, and I hope it is a joke, is that it’ll be Hennessey until he goes cold, then Correia until he goes cold… and then maybe Tyler Walker (who’s back in the system, recovering from an injury). Then who? Brian Wilson, who was supposed to make the team this spring but stank too bad? Jonathan Sanchez, a recent departee to Fresno? I don’t suppose it matters too much with this team—as long as the new closer isn’t Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum, d’you hear?

Meanwhile, what you may well have missed yesterday was something that lots of on-air radio people might call “good radio,” but which I call uncomfortable, namely a shouting match between Sabean and KNBR’s Ralph Barbieri. Now, in such circumstances, the radio guy is always gonna win because his voice will be louder than that of the guy on the phone, but Barbieri almost always interrupts his guests anyway, and his approach was (not entirely without reason) very accusing. These two guys went at it a few years back over Sabean’s failure to pursue, let alone sign, Vladimir Guerrero, and Sabes hung up loudly. And yet, to their credit, they’re both professional enough, apparently, not to let these squabbles prevent subsequent amiability. We’ll see after yesterday’s, though.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Benitez Experiment: Over—Please

Here’s a recipe for losing a ballgame that includes one nutbag umpire and one emotionally fragile pitcher:

  • Take a one-run lead into the twelfth inning.
  • Dispense one base on balls to the leadoff hitter.
  • Add one balk call for no discernible reason.
  • Broach one sacrifice bunt.
  • Induce one ground-ball-hold-the-runner surprise.
  • Infuse another balk.
  • Lose composure entirely.
  • Cough up game-winning dinger.

This was Armando Benitez’s night at Shea Stadium. The Giants are 24-26.

Tonight’s first-base umpire, Bob Davidson, sees a balk around every corner, hence Mike Krukow’s longtime nickname for him: Balkin’ Bob. (I think of Davidson as someone who was through at least 10 years ago, but that’s just my correct opinion.) Davidson just doesn’t feel comfortable in a game until his fist has shot into the air—still attached to his arm, I mean. The defense could still be in the dugout, waiting to take the field, and Davidson will still call a balk if he can. Then again, it could be not a balk call so much as an extremely weird, inconvenient nervous tic. There has to be some rational explanation for Davidson calling a balk on a stationary Benitez—I mean, the guy did not move. Not the first time, anyway. The second balk, in all fairness, was all Benitez.

As our closer prepared to enter his stretch, Carlos Beltran began scooting down the line at third… and Benitez bit. And balked. And blew. The save, I mean. Tie game. Then Armando turned his attention… Carlos Delgado, the batter? The game situation? Nah—Balkin’ Bob. So upset was Armando that he felt he had no choice but to lob what appeared to be a Pony-League-pitching-machine fastball. This Delgado crushed—I mean, I nearly turned off the TV before the pitch, but no, I had to stay tuned. Had to watch Delgado’s ball zoom over a distant fence. Must be my fault.

But no. I won’t cop to this one. What we have here is someone who’s lost whatever guts he’s ever had, despite whatever confidence he may unjustly retain. I wouldn’t be surprised if he yet again said, “Hey, I did my job”—his standard line when he blows a save despite, say, getting a ground ball. All I know is that I’m sick of this guy and want him out.

And yet, I’m not even angry. It’s not as though tonight’s result was a surprise or something, even though he’d saved nine of 10 this year (somehow). Indeed, I’d been pretty patient all season. Really. Benitez threw well in the spring, and he looked as though maybe he’d turned it around. But now, every appearance he makes ups the collective blood pressure of Giants fans everywhere—even, I daresay, the ones who say they’ve got faith in him.

I can’t imagine another team being willing to take Benitez (and his contract) off the Giants’ hands, but if there’s anybody in the world in worse need of a change of professional scenery (besides me, I mean), he must be one sorry bastard. He needs out. I need him out. I’d rather have Rod Beck and his 10-years-dead arm out there. He’s 38, three years removed from Major League Baseball, and all he has is guts. Maybe the only current Giant I’d hate to see closing games more than Benitez is Vinnie Chulk. Maybe.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Lincecum Shots

Posted today, mostly written yesterday:

Mike Krukow said before tonight’s game that he expected Tim Lincecum either to get rocked in the first inning of his major league debut or to strike out the side on nine pitches. Therefore, when Phillies leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins took an 0-1 pitch for a ball, I knew that meant it was time to go “Uh-oh.” Rollins ended up nudging a slow ground ball up the middle into center field somehow, and Shane Victorino hit an 0-2 curve just into the crowd in the right-field arcade for a 2-0 Phillies lead. Lincecum then struck out two guys, walked one, and struck out another. The Giants managed an unearned run in the bottom of the inning against Cole Hamels, the Phils’ own phenom. If anything was particularly noteworthy about the inning, it’s that Lincecum, who gave up two runs through two batters, had surrendered only one run in 31 innings at Fresno before his recall. Then again, I suppose it’s not that noteworthy. “Giving up twice as many runs in one inning as he had at Fresno” would’ve been a lot more interesting if he’d given up, say, 15 at Fresno.

It took me longer to write that paragraph than it took Lincecum to get through the top of the second inning, however—and I type fast. I hope that means he’s settled down. Meanwhile, though, if he isn’t thinking, “Thanks piles, Boch,” he’s a stronger man than I, because today’s lineup features Pedro Feliz in left field, Todd Linden in center, and Kevin Frandsen at third, with Barry Bonds and Dave Roberts (who hasn’t hit much anyway) on the bench. Let’s see… Phils phenom… Linden and Frandsen in a lineup… you go ahead and do the math, ‘cause I refuse. (And well I did, because—Earnest Ragging being what it is—Linden took a four-pitch walk instead of a three-pitch whiff, and Frandsen poked a hustle double into right field. Lincecum struck out on three pitches, though, but Randy Winn tied the game on a 3-0 pitch, a run-scoring ground ball. Then Omar Vizquel doubled over Aaron Rowand’s head in center—his 2,500th career hit—so it’s 3-2. So yay. The still-homerless Rich Aurilia, though, has been stone cold, and despite Vizquel’s subsequent steal of third, Richie’s three-pitch strikeout ended the inning. So whee.)

Incidentally, Bonds has 10 home runs this year, 744 total, so there’s been plenty of talk about Hank Aaron’s plans for Bonds’ record-tying and record-breaking home runs (which, frankly, I wish he’d hit tomorrow—which would set a few more records, but still). At present, Aaron reportedly does not plan to be in attendance. Now, on the surface, that’s not so bad, right? It’s not like planning for Cal Ripken’s record-breaking 2,131st straight game: you’d have a darned good idea of the date for such an event. But with Bonds… well, geez, if he gets hot and gets pitched to, he could easily break the thing by the end of May. If one or the other condition isn’t met, who knows? And all that is true as long as it’s a given that Bonds is gonna break the record anyway. I mean, he might not—the world could end, or worse. So if Aaron were expected to chase Bonds around the country until he hits 755 and/or 756, well, you could see how that might annoy the man. (Not as much as the two-out, two-run home run crushed by Ryan Howard—who’d been hitting kind of like Lincecum all season—that puts Philly in front 4-3. E! Lincecum has now walked three, along with five strikeouts, and I don’t see him getting much past the fourth. Too many pitches.) (Addendum: Well, how prophetic of me! He left with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth, having thrown 100 pitches. But you know what? I don't think he pitched badly. He made a couple of mistakes, but unless this all somehow gets inside his head, I think he’ll be okay—possibly even great, once we trade him for the not-yet-awful Shane Victorino. Don’t worry, though—I won’t even mention the fact that Lincecum’s short stint was somewhat mitigated by possibly the worst call I’ve ever seen: Lincecum picked off Victorino, who got himself in a rundown; he’d initially been running on the outfield side of the baseline, then went several feet onto the infield grass, then collided with Omar Vizquel—upon whom the appalling Gary Cederstrom called obstruction. The man blew the call horrendously. He knew he did. He still knows he did. His three partners know he did—but they chose to uphold the call. So I won’t bring it up. Nor will I mention Peter Gammons saying something about how one or more of the umps have since pointed out that “every time the runner changes direction, he's defining his own baseline, so the call is correct because Vizquel was in his way.” Or words to that effect. If that’s true, couldn’t the runner could just zip one way or the other and take out infielders at will? Or was it no more than a classic umpire bluff? And doesn’t the runner have to actually be running toward a base, rather than the mound?)

However, Aaron has pretty much said he has no intention of being present at the big event. It doesn’t really matter to me, but… why not? For the aforementioned travel-related reason? For reasons related to his stated disdain for records that are not achieved “honestly”? Or because he’d rather not see the record broken to begin with?

I’m sure the travel thing is a small factor, but I suspect it’s that last thing that matters most to Aaron, and I don’t think I blame him. Ruth’s 714 stood for nearly 40 years, and Aaron’s 755 for around 33. Long time either way, but at least Ruth didn’t get to (or have to) live to watch his mark fall. Aaron probably won’t feel so great about watching his fall.

If, however, Aaron’s reluctance is about the “honesty” thing, I pity him not. First, we don’t know about Bonds, we only suspect, and no matter how reasonable those suspicions are, that’s all they are. No proof. No proof about Aaron, either: lots of folks think he used amphetamines. (Well, Bonds has copped to using those….)

And during tonight’s game, shortly after Lincecum coughed up the lead, ESPN showed the results of a poll of (maybe a few hundred) black and white fans regarding Bonds and the record, and black fans are overwhelmingly more “forgiving” of Bonds. In short, the white people polled believe Bonds is knowingly dirty, his records shouldn’t stand, and he shouldn’t go into the Hall of Fame. This white fan considers those white fans to be pretty stupid and transparent. I mean, I have no doubt that fans exist who used to admire Bonds but don’t anymore because of steroid allegations, and believe he should be punished, etc., but for the most part, the anti-Bonds faction will have to go a very, very long way to convince me that the anti-Bonds sentiment is about steroids and cheating rather than simple dislike for a player who, admittedly, isn’t easy to like. When I hear nonsense about cherished records and the integrity of the game, it’s hard not to laugh. First… what integrity? Baseball has a history that is as far from unblemished as Pluto is from the sun. An entirely different sun, in an entirely different galaxy. (Next guy who screams about baseball’s integrity, I want him to have a sit-down with Gary Cederstrom and his umpiring crew.) Second… if records are cherished, it’s solely because Babe Ruth was cherished, and well he should be, sort of. What other records are cherished? Cy Young’s 511 wins? Well, they’re safe, so why cherish (or not)? Ryan’s five zillion strikeouts? Ty Cobb’s historically adjusted batting average? DiMaggio’s hitting streak? Gehrig’s playing streak? Well, those two are cherished—but for any reason other than them being career Yankees? I kinda doubt it. Even Aaron—as I’ve said in EEEEEE!—isn’t “the all-time home run champion”: He’s the guy who took down Ruth. Cherishing records is mostly about Ruth and the Yankees—the team the whole country is told to love. This doesn’t exactly smack of integrity and “purity,” or whatever, either. It smacks mildly of vomit.

Meanwhile, ESPN has shown a quote from Bud Selig pointing out that he wasn’t present for Roger Clemens’ 300th win—apparently as a justification for possibly (if not probably) missing Bonds’ 756th. As if those 300 wins are somehow a Cherished Record rather than a very impressive milestone (and less than 60 percent of the record figure). Translation: Selig doesn’t want to be there to see The Cheater break the record of a man who hit many of his home runs in Milwaukee—Selig’s town—and a man whom Selig brought “home” at the end of his career. It’s the same mentality that led Ford Frick, as commissioner, to declare that Roger Maris’ 61 home runs would only count as a record if he’d achieved them within 154 games. Frick was a buddy of Ruth’s, and you could safely bet that such a condition wouldn’t be decreed by a commissioner who wasn’t.

I love baseball. True, I’m not fond of the history of cheating, lying, drug use, and other crazy crap that has permeated the game in its professional incarnation, but I accept it, though not all that happily. However, it’s happened; it does happen—and, outside of baseball, far worse happens. So how ‘bout we just accept what we cannot change, and move on?

Besides: Soon enough that Cherished Record will be set by Alex Rodriguez or Ryan Howard or somebody.