Monday, November 17, 2008

Preeping Toward A Championship

by Cudgy Preep

Editor’s note: Once again, Cudgy Preep steps into the breech (which makes a nauseating squishy sound), donning the mantle of your humble Almost EEEEEE! correspondent—a mantle trimmed with ermine and hand-stitched using silk thread soaked in the tears of Giants fans who are still pissed off about the 2002 World Series. Preep, whose real name also isn’t Bat Fastard, often gets a lot of pleasure from making fun of my employment situation, whether I’m employed or not (that would still be “not”), is, himself, one of the many longtime award-winning Bay Area journalists who’s found himself looking for work despite not having won any actual awards. (I, at least, got a “good website!”-type award about 10 years ago, which I mention solely to rub Cudgy’s nose in it. But I digress.) In any case, Cudgy now has breech all over his best open-toed slippers, chiefly because I couldn’t think of much to say about the two latest Giants developments except “Hurrah!” and “Guh?” I’m hoping Cudgy can be even marginally more articulate.—GP

Recently, not once but twice, I’ve had the distinct lack of pleasure to hear something about our Giants that astounded me unto the point of spitting out my mouthful of microwaved sauerkraut, which I’d attempted to consume straight from the white-hot jar. The first would be Tim Lincecum winning the Cy Young Award. The second would be the Giants’ latest foray into the free-agent market.

“Hurrah!” I shrieked, spattering shavings of pickled cabbage at least seven feet in every direction, for Lincecum had become the first Giant since Mike McCormick in 1967 to win a Cy Young. Marichal? Perry? Swift? Burkett? Krukow? Reuschel? Bryant? Schmidt? Some closer? No effing way, no matter how clearly a given Giants pitcher should’ve won it in a given year.

It’s not just Lincecum winning the award that warmed my cockles. No, it was the combination of that and much of the sauerkraut falling into my lap, which warmed the damn things way more than I would’ve liked. Plus there was the fact that suddenly I felt that there might, somehow, some way, be some kind of hope. I mean, for as long as I’ve been a Giants fan, Giants DO NOT win Cy Young Awards. They DO NOT throw no-hitters. They utterly, utterly DO NOT win World Championships.

But now that one of these three mighty oaks has fallen (or is it “have”? I’m never really sure—I think you’re supposed to maintain subject-verb agreement. That said, I might instead just decide that we’re talking about a different kind of tree), I feel as though the barest whisper of hope might somehow have squeaked its way in through the steel-bolted door of Giants fandom.

Now, I’m not an idiot. I’m not going to go into the 2009 season thinking, “Yeah! This is our year! It’s gonna happen! The Giants are finally gonna get me a ring!” I’ve been conditioned over the years, as has every fan of the type who would read Gregg’s and my stuff, to know that even if there’s something to be enthusiastic about, pessimism and skepticism should always be right at hand. It’s not unlike Dave Barry’s description of his mother’s idea of a balanced meal, namely that for every food item the kids liked, there had to be one that they didn’t. I think the specific items were hamburgers and Brussels sprouts.

Until today there were 171 ballplayers hoping to be signed as free agents. These included a fair amount of big names, lots of “hey, he might fit nicely” people, and plenty of guys who, in testing the market, had better be awfully optimistic and willing to overlook their myriad flaws. And the first of these dominoes (or perhaps oak trees, or maybe beech) to fall was… lefty Jeremy Affeldt: two years with the San Francisco Giants, eight million simoleons, according to, which further insists that the Giants have wanted Affeldt for two years.

Because I’m a Giants fan, I’m guessing that those two years will have been the best of his career, as he put up a 3.51 ERA pitching for the Rockies and a 3.33 in Cincinnati. Neither of these is a mean feat. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has improved from 46-to-33 in 2007 to 80-to-25 last year. That ought to be a pretty good sign, no? (That’s ought to.) His splits were a little odd last year: .269/.293/.444/.738 vs. lefthanded batters, .255/.329/.391/.719 against that other kind. His ERA was quite a bit higher at home than on the road—another pretty nice sign, given that the Reds play in more of a hitter’s park than the Giants; however, AT&T Park favored the hitter last year, which was weird, especially with no Bonds around.

So at the moment I’m neither excited nor not about Affeldt, who I think has got to be a better choice out of the pen than, say, Osiris Matos or Patrick Misch. (He’s just got to!) In fact, the bullpen as a whole looks somewhat better now that we’ve seen the back of Brad Hennessey (who just signed with Baltimore), Tyler Walker, Kevin Correia, and Gino Espineli. Eric Hinshaw was the best lefty reliever this year, and Jack Taschner was… well, he was a lefthanded reliever. Either way, it looks as though there will be some rather fierce competition among the bullpen lefties next spring, with Affeldt virtually guaranteed a place.

But for $8 million over two years? Guh? I truly don’t get it, and I am convinced that only the San Francisco Giants—Brian Sabean or no Brian Sabean—would poop out that kind of dosh for a middle reliever.

As for the big names, such as C.C. Sabathia or Mark Teixeira, The Marin Independent Journal has Sabes saying, “If their interest in us is sincere, we'll continue to talk. But we're not going to let anything drag out. We won't be used to drive the price up.” The writer, Andrew Baggarly, goes on to say, “The Giants fell into that trap two winters ago in failed pursuits of Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee.”

Does that give you confidence? Hey hey! There’s nothing like knowing for sure that your team is a patsy, as opposed to merely suspecting it all your life.

And finally, in one of my earlier pieces I made passing mention of the silly crush I had on some blonde actress in some English cop show. More than one reader wanted to know who I was talking about, and what show. And I’m still not going to tell you because you’ll only taunt her and send her pictures of me. I shall say merely that I would appreciate it if she left her husband and kids behind to frolic in the surf with me in, I dunno, somewhere sunny and beachy. Probably I shouldn’t mention that it’s the character I’m in love with, not the actress. If she wants my love, she’s got to be a Giants fan—a Giants fan who’s not afraid to remind me that sauerkraut, microwave ovens, and astounding Giants news just don’t mix.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Inevitable Forestalled—For the Time Being

The Tampa Bay Rays did not win the 2008 World Series. Now we won’t have to worry for 11 months about some upstart claiming a ring before the Giants. Let me be the first to say: Hurrah.

Tonight my friend Steven Rubio posted a blog article, titled “51 Years and Counting,” that echoes what I’ve been saying for years. I’d have to look through my three billion pages of EEEEEE! archives to see if I actually made Steven’s points in print, but I’ve uttering them out loud and typing them into e-mail for yonks, and I’m figuring that somewhere in the archives, the main point can be found, and it is this: as Steven says, “There are no San Francisco Giants fans with that memory [i.e., of their team winning a World Series], because their team has NEVER won it all. No fans in baseball today have a longer zero-title streak than Giants fans.” Steven, an even longer-time Giants fan than I am, may be even more fed up with the suffering than I am—which is pretty hard to fathom.

What I think gripes me most is that traditionally, those who have run the Giants—and not just during the Magowan years—find it acceptable that the San Francisco Giants have never won a World Series. Perhaps they think their fans find it acceptable, too. This here fan does not.

Oh, it’s not as though I shall issue an ultimatum (“Win a damn ring or I’ll kill this dog!”), switch my allegiance to some other team, or give up on baseball altogether, but my current mood can be summed up thus: I’m mad as hell, but I’m gonna take it evermore. That is, I don’t know how I’ll manifest my newfound failure to accept the status quo, because it’s not as though I have any control over the situation. I will, however, offer these words of advice to those who are in control of the Giants, and I’d love to believe that this is old news to them:
  • Think great. Think champion. Think different.

  • Give a crap about your fans. Win for them, not just for you.

  • If your bottom-line goals involve not winning, get some new bottom-line goals.

Anything unreasonable about that? I thought not.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hatin’ Them Rays Right Now

If you’ve spent any time talking baseball with me or reading my stuff, you know that one of my tiny little pet peeves is the fact that the San Francisco Giants have staunchly refused to win even a single World Series in the entire 50 years of their existence. Now, yes, I too am aware that they spent lots of years in New York, where they won a handful of World Championships, but that’s the New York Giants. The San Francisco Giants are still holding tight to their championship cherry.

Some fans feel a sort of proud ownership of those New York titles, and I have to admit, so do I, to an extent. What Giants fan doesn’t get chills every time they hear the recording of Russ Hodges screaming “The Giants win the pennant!” over and over? What Giants fan feels no particular way about the Giants sweeping the heavily favored Cleveland Indians in 1954? But to me, the San Francisco Giants are as far apart from the New York Giants as San Francisco is from New York. They’re different worlds. It’s one franchise, but two teams. And sadly, the difference between the two isn’t that far off from the difference between M*A*S*H and After M*A*S*H.

All right, maybe that’s harsh, and maybe that’s my annoyance talking. Well, it is, to an extent (but that’s okay because annoyance is what the concept of “EEEEEE!” is all about). It’s wrong to say that the Giants have been worthless for 50 years: They were pretty much the best National League team in the 1960s; they were mostly fairly good from 1986 through 2003, if you can believe it. But no freaking rings. Frustrating? How can it not be? Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Perry, Cepeda. Clark, Clark, Thompson, Beck, Nen, Aurilia, Kent, Williams, Schmidt, Bonds, Bonds. Krukow, Kuiper, Brenly, for that matter. Nary a ring among them—at least while they were Giants.

The one constant, at least since 1958, is the fans. For the most part, I’m talking about fans who, for example, actually know who Marichal is and his place in Giants history. (For those who don’t, well, it’s not their fault they were born too late.) I don’t know how many long-time, rabid Giants fans there are in the world, and they fill the spectrum from highly optimistic to, well, me, I guess. But those who don’t feel frustration about the Giants’ half-century of non-winnerness probably are those lucky few who don’t feel frustration about anything, and good luck to them.

Almost all of the Giants fans I know, no matter how optimistic, feel deep down that It Just Ain’t Gonna Happen. And it’s a crappy feeling. Giants fans truly have had to sing for a supper that still fails to arrive, and we’re lucky—I guess—that the kitchen didn’t close forever after 1992, when the Giants nearly moved to Tampa-St. Petersburg.

Which suddenly brings me to the team I’ve tried to avoid thinking about: the Tampa Bay Rays. I hate the Tampa Bay Rays. Well, I don’t, but they certainly will annoy the hell out of me if they win the World Series this year. I will resent them forever, or until the Giants win their own World Series, whichever comes first, and I fear that I know all too well which will come first. And my current hostility toward the Rays is exacerbated by the fact that, throughout their 10-year history as the Devil Rays, they were awful awful awful, never winning more than 70 games in a season; and now, all of a sudden, they’re juggernauts who might become the next team to win a World Series before the San Francisco Giants ever do. And because baseball isn’t baseball without annoying me along the way, I’m quite convinced that the Rays will win this year’s World Series easily.

As far as I’m concerned, even Phillies fans would have a reasonably fair gripe if the Rays beat their team, since the Phillies have gone nearly 30 years without a championship—having won their previous one 30 years before. But until the day the San Francisco Giants win their first World Championship, you will never convince me that fans of the Phillies—or any other team, including the Cubs—have a more legitimate gripe than Giants fans.

Those are pretty chilling lists. (I decided arbitrarily that the last 20 years were recent enough.) For one thing, of all the teams that have ever won a World Series, only three have not done so since 1979 (inclusive)—and, of course, only one of those teams has moved from the place where it last won a ring. That in itself is so odd: In the 48 years since the leagues first expanded, the Giants are the only non-expansion club never to win a ring after moving to a new metropolitan area. (That’s only mildly different from my usual gripe, namely that no club in its current home has gone longer than the Giants without even once having won a ring, but still, I hadn’t thought out the non-expansion thing before, so now I’m mildly more annoyed.) As far as I’m concerned, only Montreal fans have anything like as much to complain about, given 37 years of no championships… and then no team.

Also amazing, really, is that the Dodgers and A’s haven’t won it all in such a long time—which I’ve failed to lament. In fact, most of the teams in that second column had a real “story”… and yet haven’t won since: Giants (sweep heavily favored Indians; Dusty Rhodes), Pirates (“We Are Famileee,” “Pops” as MVP), Phillies (first ring in eons), Tigers (35-5 start, Roger Craig’s book), Royals (bad call, Andujar meltdown), Mets (Buckner), Dodgers (Hershiser, Gimpy Gibson, crappy team, hateful season).

I deeply wish to be wrong about this, but I see no reason for the Giants to win anytime soon, if ever. Well, you could remove the words anytime, soon, and if. Indeed they currently play in a weak division, but they’re one of the key reasons the division’s so weak. This year the Dodgers were 84-78, and the Giants, at 72-90, were only 12 games out. The Rockies started to return to form, which is fine, but the Padres were almost entirely injured all year and should’ve been better. I don’t think the Dodgers played over their heads, and what’s really disturbing is that they started playing well when they started benching (or disabling) multimillion-dollar millstones such as Juan Pierre and Andrew Jones. So barring loads of injuries next year, I don’t see them going away. Ditto Arizona, which seems to have put together a good team, and not by simply throwing money around. So unless, say, the Giants’ rotation seriously puts it together, and they pick up a bat (or two) that matters while getting rid of some deadwood, I don’t see them doing better than third place for the foreseeable future… by which time Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain will have become free agents in order to go and win Cy Youngs for other teams, and the guys the Giants are really high on won’t have panned out, so they’ll be a tail-ender again. (As it happens, though, the Giants have gotten rid of some deadwood, which I suppose is encouraging.)

David Beck directs my attention to the 1973 Giants, who finished in third place at 88-74. “I’d always just had this idea,” Dave says, “that after ‘71 the Giants just sucked always. What’s awful is that this record was not only better than the Dodgers this year, but was way better than the 1973 Mets, who came within a game of winning the whole thing that year. It is just so putrifyingly Giantsesque.”

I remember that year all too well: good team that faded down the stretch. Reruns took place in’78 and ‘86. Mostly, though, 1973 was the year Bobby Bonds hit 39 home runs and stole 43 bases. I thought he had a terrific year and was most annoyed when Pete Rose won the MVP anyway.

At the time, though, I didn’t connect this to the Mets’ rather pathetic 82-79 record, probably because I was as yet unaware of the utter, utter unfairness of life and/or Major League Baseball. You should know, too, that the Mets’ top RBI man had 76, and the top slugging percentage on the team was .423; the team had an ERA of 3.26, but still somehow managed just those 82 wins. But I digress.

Dave points out the injustice of the Giants being such a good team in the 1960s, yet almost always being a bridesmaid—usually the maid of honor. “Yes, it is meaningless to go over this,” he says, “because bad things happen to all teams, and it’s a long long time ago, but you know? Sorry, the entire San Francisco Giants history has just been more horrific than any other team.”

Cubs fans, who at least have a 100-year-old ring to feel proud about, would say that they have it worse because the Cubs almost always reek, and let’s not even talk about what Kansas City A’s or Montreal Expos fans might say. But I too am sorry: we have it worse. The way many of us feel about the Giants can’t be that different from how Sisyphus felt about the boulder.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Sort of a Postmortem

The Giants stink. This is not news, as you know, but it needs to be said. They are, however, entertaining at times—those times, for the most part, being after July 31—which is saying something. Tim Lincecum, Bengie Molina, Omar Vizquel, Eugenio Velez, Aaron Rowand, Brian Wilson—they’re all interesting to watch, though not always for good reasons, but that makes them no less entertaining. That’s this team’s silver lining—a lining covered in tears and snot, but silver nonetheless.

Since we hadn’t seen them for so long, I’d almost forgotten about Eliezer Alfonzo, Brian Bocock, Vinnie Chulk, Rajai Davis, Travis Denker, Brian Horwitz, Dan Ortmeier, Erick Threets, Clay Timpner, and Merkin Valdez. So did you, I’ll bet. That’s 10 guys right there. More recent forgettable players include Jose Castillo and Matt Palmer, and some guys are easy to forget—Ivan Ochoa, Pat Misch, Osiris Matos, Geno Espineli—despite still being on the team. That’s 16 players who, if you forget them, still make you think the Giants employed more players than they did. If I hadn’t counted for myself just now, I never would have believed that 49 men took the field as San Francisco Giants this year. I would’ve guessed more like 60. And I’m sorry to say that in no way does this list include everybody who was just plain bad.

Still, there were some bright spots. No, really! This year’s team finished 72-90, granted, but that’s still better than last year’s finish—71-91—and there I was, certain that the Giants had no prayer of accomplishing this feat. Does that mean we should be encouraged? Does that mean we should take heart in the fact that this team was “better” without Barry Bonds than with? I don’t know. I’ll assume it’s none of my business.

I’ll cover all 49 of this year’s Giants in this article, even J.T. Snow. At various points I’ll mention a player’s OPS+, which—don’t ask me why—stands for “adjusted OPS,” This is regular old OPS—on-base percentage plus slugging percentage—which has been adjusted (No! Really?) for the effects of a player’s home park and league, but not for defensive position. You derive it via these factors: take a player’s OBP and divide it by park-adjusted league OBP; divide the player’s slugging percentage by the park-adjusted league slugging percentage; add these two numbers together, then subtract 1; then multiply the result by 100. As for how to calculate park-adjusted stuff… well, different people do it differently. If you really wanted to, you could try it the way. (For pitchers, you might see me use ERA+, which is analogous to OPS+ and differs from ERA in that you want to have a high ERA+.)

A league-average OPS+ is 100. The way it works is, 50 is awful, 150 excellent. It probably would be easier to interpret if the average were zero, but who am I to argue? And why should a player’s defensive position matter anyway? For the same reason it always has: the level of demand that each position has, as illustrated on the defensive spectrum, which basically tells you how demanding a defensive position is, relative to the others, and the more demanding a player’s defensive position is, the less you can reasonably expect from him at the plate. From least to most demanding it goes: DH 1B LF RF 3B CF 2B SS. (Catcher isn’t included on the defensive spectrum because the position is that much more demanding even than shortstop.) So because shortstop is so much more demanding a position than first base, you really have the same expectations of offensive output from shortstops than you can from first basemen. That means that it’s more impressive when a shortstop hits .300 than when a first baseman does. But since OPS+ doesn’t use defensive positions, each hitter is compared to all hitters, not just the ones at his position. OPS+ also doesn’t take left-right breakdowns and other splits into consideration. (Well, it could: You could have “OPS+ vs. lefties.” I’m just saying that an overall OPS+ doesn’t involve those breakdowns.)

For the 2008 Giants, it might be worth knowing that two-time Willie Mac Award winner Bengie Molina’s OPS+ is 99. This is almost exactly dead average in terms of all hitters, and while technically it does mean that as a hitter, he was ever so slightly below average, that doesn’t mean that this is necessarily a horrible thing, mainly because of the defensive demands on catchers. Bearing in mind that it’s hard to get a particularly good read on a player with less than, say, a few hundred at-bats, the best OPS+ on the team was 125, put up by… Nate Schierholtz. You weren’t expecting that either. I figured it would be Pablo Sandoval, and indeed his OPS+ was 120. We shouldn’t read a lot into this, though, since Schierholtz had only 75 at-bats, Sandoval 145. Among the players you could reasonably call regulars, Randy Winn and Fred Lewis each put up a 107 OPS+, leading the team. Aaron Rowand, the big offseason free-agent signing, had an OPS+ of 96. You might not be amazed to know that Omar Vizquel’s OPS+ was 46, but would it surprise you to know that he had only 266 at-bats? It surprised me.

If you’d rather look at plain old OPS, it won’t tell you how a player did in comparison to his peers, but it’ll still give you a decent idea. Usually I mentally divide by three—that is, I mentally divide OPS numbers by three; I don’t turn into three people—because since a .400 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage are the unofficial standards for “good,” that means that a .900 OPS is “good.” The same is true for a .300 batting average, meaning that dividing an OPS by three gives you a number that looks like a batting average, and most fans probably are more comfortable with batting average than any o’ them newfangled stats like OPS. So if you see a guy such as Ray Durham, who batted .293 and put up an OPS of .799, you’ll get the sense (since .799 divided by three is .266) that it was a pretty soft .293. I suppose you could say that he was “really only as good as a .266 hitter,” but I doubt you’d enjoy it any.

I’d love to give you a converse illustration, such as “On the other hand, Ted Tinkle’s .248 batting average belies his production, as he put up an OPS of .930,” but I can’t because the highest OPS on the team, even among guys who hardly ever played, was Schierholtz’s .864—even better than Sandoval’s .847. As a whole, the team OPSed .703—divide that by three, then stop weeping—compared to their opponents’ .745. Remember Barry Bonds, that broken-down has-been? Last year his OPS was 1.045, with a 170 OPS+… not so great for him, but way better than anyone on the team this year. (For the sake of comparison, though, from 2001 through 2004, each of which, at one point, was called “the best offensive season ever,” his OPSes were 1.378, 1.381, 1.278, and 1.421, with OPS+-es of 259, 268, 231, and 263. He spoiled us rotten.)

Among the pitchers, Tim Lincecum led all Giants starters with a 164 ERA+. Among relievers, Merkin Valdez and Sergio Romo put up ERA+-es well over 200, but they both pitched so few innings that it doesn’t matter much. Brian Wilson’s ERA+ was 93; Barry Zito’s was 83.

Since I usually do these (for lack of a better word) assessments by position, I’ve decided to throw you a curve and do them by position again, in order of playing time. When a player’s name appears in italics, it means he’ll be discussed under a different position:

First Base: John Bowker, Rich Aurilia, Travis Ishikawa, Pablo Sandoval, Dan Ortmeier, Scott McClain, J.T. Snow.

Not counting Snow, who only donned a uniform for his lone appearance at first base because the rules say that he had to, the only natural first baseman on the team was Ishikawa. None of these guys played a great first base, though you could probably argue that he was the best of them. Bowker led the team with 550 innings there—the rough equivalent of 61 games—so obviously first base was a problem spot, and a rather big one. His only other professional experience at first base consists of 13 games at Fresno, also this year. It’s fair to say that he played first because he had to play somewhere, and the outfield was full. He never showed much in the minors, but he homered three times in his first two starts with the Giants, which seduced them into giving him over 300 at-bats, which included only seven more dingers, to go with 14 doubles and three triples. He hit .255, and his OPS was only .708, with an OPS+ of 84. He was not impressive. He walked only 19 times, which has to change, while striking out 74 times (although by today’s standards, that’s hardly calamitous: This year Mark Reynolds of the Diamondbacks became the first hitter to crack the 200-whiff barrier, and Ryan Howard struck out 199 times this year and last year; but don’t worry: I will not point out that Reynolds’ OPS+ was better than Aaron Rowand’s). Bowker hardly ever batted against lefthanders, but that appears to be a good thing, since he managed only five singles in 33 at-bats. Strangely, he put up far better numbers during Giants losses than during their wins. Of course, he had far more opportunity to do well during the losses. Went 9-for-23 as a pinch-hitter, though.

Ishikawa had only 95 at-bats—hardly enough to prove himself—but he didn’t look bad, with three homers and six doubles. In only two of these at-bats did he face a lefty, though, and I assume the Giants have good reasons for that. He batted only 35 times at home and 60 on the road, and on the basis of those limited samples, one might guess that he despises home cooking and flourishes on the road. I’ll reserve judgment, though, until he has several more at-bats under his belt. However, he ought to avoid pinch-hitting: he went 0-for-6 in that role, striking out four times and hitting into a double play.

Ortmeier had a lost season, and I have to figure that his is a lost career, since the Giants ended up dropping him from the 40-man roster. He had only 64 at-bats, only 14 of which resulted in hits, and he struck out 18 times. He looked overmatched most of the time. He’s really an outfielder, and he made no errors in left or right field, but for all the talk about his speed during broadcasts, he was well below average in terms of actually getting to fly balls. Then again, he played only 85 innings out there. He played first for 52 innings, but probably that should have been zero—not that he was a rotten first baseman; just that the move may well have screwed up his head enough to make a lousy hitter out of him.

Snow, of course, didn’t really play. He was signed to a one-day deal so he could retire as a Giant. One day before the end of the season, the team had him take his position and warm up the other infielders, all of whom threw difficult one-hops to him. Before the game actually started, Ishikawa took his position, and Snow walked off into the sunset to warm applause.

Second Base: Rich Aurilia, Emmanuel Burriss, Jose Castillo, Travis Denker, Kevin Frandsen, Ray Durham, Ivan Ochoa, Ryan Rohlinger, Eugenio Velez

Sadly, the best of the lot was Durham, who wound up being traded to Milwaukee. He did manage a .293 batting average and .385 OBP for the Giants, though, and I wish him well in the postseason (though not the Brewers as a whole…). His range was pretty bad compared to other second basemen, but then, none of the Giants’ second basemen had an above-average range factor. Given that none of them hit all that much, that’s a problem.

Another problem, all by himself, might be Velez. If you like players who make dumb mistakes, you won’t have missed Pedro Feliz at all. What Velez is, mostly, is fast. They say he’s got pop, and indeed he hit seven triples this year in only 275 at-bats, but his slugging percentage was only .382. Also, he rarely walks, so if he doesn’t hit about .350, he’s not very useful as a hitter. And he didn’t hit any .350. Early in the season he ran a lot, going 6-for-8 in steal attempts before May, but after getting picked off about seven dozen times, he pretty much shut down the running game, going 9-for-13 the rest of the way. I think all those pickoffs made him gun-shy, but in his case, maybe that’s good. In any case, as the Giants’ announcers seemed fond of pointing out over the last month of the season, Velez is good for about one boneheaded maneuver per game, whether in the field, at bat, or on base. And when the Giants couldn’t find time for him at second base, he wound up in the outfield—and even in center field once, late in the season. He’s not an outfielder. He’s barely an infielder.

I’m not sure why Denker didn’t receive a September call-up. Seems to me that he did what the team asked of him, though he did appear in only 24 games and bat only 37 times. Six of his nine hits, however, were for extra bases, and he had an OPS+, for what it’s worth, of 112. It could be that the Giants don’t like his glove much, though. He only played 70 innings at second base, but his range factor was 2.69, whereas the league average was 4.04.

Next year’s second baseman could well be Frandsen. He didn’t actually play on defense this year, mainly because he tore up his Achilles’ tendon in the spring. If it’s not him, it might be Burriss, but I have the feeling he’ll be the shortstop.

Shortstop: Omar Vizquel, Emmanuel Burriss, Ivan Ochoa, Brian Bocock, Jose Castillo

Before Opening Day the Giants made the somewhat eccentric decision to go with Bocock as their starting shortstop, as Vizquel was going to begin the year on the disabled list. Bocock was only 23 and hadn’t played above A-ball, plus he’s not much of a hitter, but the Giants were happy with their choice, until they watched him try to hit big-league pitching. At the moment, he can’t. He went 11-for-77, though one of those hits managed to be a double; he struck out 29 times. His OPS+ was 13. He failed to earn a September call-up. I don’t know if that means anything, however.

Once Vizquel returned, though, he got off to such an amazingly bad start at the plate that the Giants started taking a look at Burriss and Ochoa, and he spent quite a lot of time on the bench. This is no big surprise, as he’s 41, and though he still plays a pretty mean shortstop, he’s just about through as a hitter. He did bring his batting average all the way up to .222, which is pretty amazing considering he hit .159 in the first half. He also was scintillatingly bad on the road, managing a .460 OPS, which is a rotten OPS for a potted plant. But though he hit for no power at all, he batted .344 in September with an .840 OPS and managed to annoy lots of opposing players in the process. He says he wants to keep playing, preferably in San Francisco, but I’m not sure he has that option, especially since his 3.93 range factor was well below the league-average 4.43. (Sadly, none of the other shortstops did much better in that regard, if at all. Bocock did manage a range factor of 4.44, but Burriss was at 4.09 and Ochoa was at 4.39. Castillo doesn’t count.)

Burriss, though, is someone you could reasonably call “exciting.” He’s fast, and he managed 13 steals in 18 attempts. Not much power there—a .283 average and a .329 slugging percentage—but he walks a fair amount and doesn’t strike out that much. I get the sense that he probably would fit better in the eight-hole than in the one or two, though.

Ochoa, meanwhile, might fit in no holes. He doesn’t hit. It’s true that he only had 120 at-bats to show this, but his .200 batting average and .511 OPS were not encouraging. (His OPS+? Why, 35—higher than I thought it would be.) He made some amazing defensive plays, but doesn’t appear to be an amazing defensive player, so I don’t know what the plan is for him. I have the feeling he’s Just Another Middle Infielder.

Third Base: Rich Aurilia, Jose Castillo, Travis Denker, Conor Gillaspie, Scott McClain, Ryan Rohlinger, Pablo Sandoval

Once Sandoval came up and started hitting, naturally Giants fans wondered where he’d been all season while we’d had to endure over 100 games of Castillo, who showed below-average range and made 15 errors besides (or, not very preferably, “to boot”). Add to this the fact that Castillo provided almost nothing at the plate, and you have something of a lost season. He did pound 28 doubles, four triples, and six home runs, but his OPS was .671, in large part because of a .244 batting average and .290 OBP. He also hit into 16 double plays. Still, I was mildly surprised (though not bothered) that the Giants simply cut him loose.

Aurilia put up what I think is a pretty decent year, at least at this stage of his career. I would not be surprised if he’d played his last major league game, though I don’t think he’s even close to through. Still, I imagine the Giants will jettison him, but I’m not sure he’s a bad guy to have around. His OPS was only .745, but that’s still well above the team average, so it’s hard to complain. To my surprise, he played zero innings at shortstop this year—which is fine, actually—and it’s pretty clear that there’s not much defensive prowess there anymore, but I still think he’s valuable. The Giants did, anyway, which is why he managed over 400 at-bats as a bench player.

I have the feeling Rohlinger wishes he were someone else, or at least had come up at a different time, or maybe with a different team. He went 3-for-32, comical enough by itself, but a scream when coupled with a -20 OPS+. The Giants had been impressed with him in spring training, and 32 at-bats is hardly any kind of sample size, so there could well be hope for him. I like him better than Edwards Guzman, anyway. The poor guy made two quick errors in his debut, and his range was a touch below average, but it’s hard to tell after only 68 innings at third.

McClain isn’t so much a baseball player as a “story.” He’s 36 and has played 44 games in parts of four major league seasons, starting in 1998, and he hit his first two major league home runs this year after 287 in the minors plus about 75 in Japan. What’s funny is that he had the highest range factor among Giants third basemen—funny since he wasn’t up there for his glove (which isn’t bad, actually). I’m not sure why he just never got a real shot, since he was a pretty solid minor league hitter. Maybe the timing was always bad. If he were 10 years younger, I’d be just fine with him on the team as a backup corner infielder and stud pinch-hitter, but he’s not, and he may well have played his last major league game. As it is, I still don’t think I’d mind him on the team as a backup corner infielder and stud pinch-hitter.

Gillaspie, the Giants’ second-round pick this year, is about 14 years old. I’m not sure why they brought him up, especially since Buster Posey, the first-round pick, wasn’t afforded that courtesy. Gillaspie, who spells both of his names wrong, went 1-for-5 as a Giant, with two walks, and he doesn’t look bad at the plate. He was fair in rookie ball and not particularly good in low-A, but I see no reason not to have high hopes for the guy. So I will.

Left Field: John Bowker, Rajai Davis, Brian Horwitz, Fred Lewis, Dan Ortmeier, Dave Roberts, Clay Timpner, Eugenio Velez, Randy Winn

Lewis is one of those guys who makes difficult plays look easy and vice-versa. Statistically, his glove is a bit below average, and so far, so’s his range. He should stay in left field, though, because in center, his range is even more below average, but, I think he could turn into a better outfielder. I’m reluctant to talk about him in terms of “as he develops,” however, since he’s already almost 28. His OPS+ is just over 100 in 636 lifetime at-bats, and while the Giants are convinced he’ll turn into someone with pretty good power and that he already has pretty good strike-zone judgment, I just don’t see it. I do think he could hit .300—but it’d be a weird .300. He missed the last several days after getting surgery on one of his feet—he’s said to have played with painful bunions all year. I don’t know what that’s like, but I do know that if your feet aren’t right, it’ll screw you up completely, so you may as well get them fixed.

Roberts, you may be surprised to know, played zero innings in center field this year. Or maybe you won’t be surprised. But I was—almost as much as I was surprised to see that he’d only played 205 innings in the outfield, albeit 205 pretty good innings, from a range standpoint. Too bad he can’t hit. He spent about 90 games on the DL, but was he injured the rest of the time, too? Still, he only had 107 at-bats, so it’s hard to be too critical—except that only four of his 24 hits went for extra bases, and his .224 average was backed by a .280 slugging percentage, which is absurdly bad. Evidently he’s one of those Good Guys To Have Around, so I wonder if they’re gonna keep him. I don’t know why—I can’t say I missed him while he was gone. And he’s not cheap.

Horwitz was dropped from the 40-man roster, which surprised me mildly. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of “there” there, but he did hit a pair of home runs in 36 at-bats. Then again, as I look at his minor-league stats, I see that while his home run power has picked up some, his doubles and triples power has dropped, such that his slugging percentage at Fresno this year was lower than last year, in the same number of at-bats. He’s about 26, which suggests that he’s not going to improve much if at all, but I guess it’s better to decide early that a guy’s not going to make it than to wait until he proves he won’t.

Timpner struck out in both his major league at-bats, which tells us almost nothing, but his minor-league stats do not acquit him well. Early on, he stole bases at a pretty good clip, and at a pretty good percentage, too; the last three years, though, both totals and percentage have dropped (which, to be fair, has a lot to do with playing time), and speed might be just about all he has. He’s 25, doesn’t walk much, and doesn’t seem to have much range.

Center Field: Rajai Davis, Fred Lewis, Aaron Rowand, Eugenio Velez, Randy Winn

Am I being unfair by being disappointed in Rowand? I didn’t expect all that much—lots of people expected less than that—but I got the sense that the team’s expectations, and those of lots of fans, was that he’d put up great numbers, like he did in Philadelphia, and play Gold Glove center field. I expected maybe an .800 OPS to go along with 20 home runs, but in fact those numbers were .749 and 13. His fielding percentage was a point below league average, but his range factor was 2.95, compared to a league average of 2.61 for NL center fielders, so it’s hard to complain about his defense… and yet, I will. It reached a point where I winced whenever it looked like he was going to try and throw a runner out on the bases. It seemed as though, with very few exceptions, the throws he let fly would go 50 feet up the third-base line, and the Giants were lucky if anyone could track the ball down before it reached the dugout. Often, these throws were a bad idea even before they were executed—which means, in essence, that he threw to the wrong base a tad more often than you want to see from the reigning Gold Glover. To be fair, I wonder if the cracked rib(s) that hampered his swing early in the season never stopped bothering him and affecting his play. That might account for the lousy throws—and lots of lousy swings, too. Heck, perhaps it’s why he drove in only one run in all of September. Also, I wondered if his home ballpark was hurting him, and indeed he threw up a .714 OPS and 86 OPS+ (which makes me want to throw up), but his .784 (and 115) on the road isn’t much better. He was quite a bit better on the road in 2007, which is more impressive considering that he played half his games in a pretty serious hitter’s park and that AT&T was one of his road parks then. That is, Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia clearly was a hitter’s park, with a 1.034 park factor, while AT&T was a pitcher’s park, at .987. Weirdly, while the Phillies’ home stayed pretty much the same at 1.029 this year, AT&T’s park factor was 1.045. (That particular park factor is derived by dividing all runs scored (per game) in a team’s home games by all runs scored (per game) in a team’s road games.) So while playing his home games in a park that was way more hitterish this year than last year, Rowand still did better on the road.

This is not to say that he’s a bust or anything. I mean, how can one not like the guy, for one thing, and he strikes me as the kind of player who could be a very important part of a winning team. Indeed, he’s shown this twice in the three years before 2008. But now the team he’s with is fairly bad, and it can’t be easy to be an important part of a losing team. What went wrong, I think, is that he was billed as practically the savior of the Giants, the guy who’d get them out of the sewage Barry Bonds had put them into by being such a cheating slacker. That’s an awful lot to ask of any player, especially a guy who’s not the type of player that you could ever call “The Man.” He’s a number-six hitter whom the Giants tried to plug into the five, three, and even two holes. In some ways it’s Tsuyoshi Shinjo all over again, except that Rowand isn’t a joke.

Davis made such a big splash when he came to the Giants in the Matt Morris deal last year. He was fast, exciting, and a good fielder—exactly the kind of player the Giants seem to want most these days. For all the denigration of the stolen base that you’re likely to hear from those who are way more well-versed in baseball statistics than I am, I happen to think that—irrespective of the actual, statistical effect—a top-level base stealer who gets on base a lot can be tremendously disruptive to a pitcher and the defense behind him. Rickey Henderson spent his career proving that. And even Davis, who’s no Henderson, had this effect as well. This year, though, he went 1-for-18 before getting canned and winding up in Oakland.

But a fair number of Giants had—or at least tried to have—that effect on opposing defenses, though none of them is what you’d call a world-class base stealer. In fact, for all the speed the Giants tried to tell people they had, their top thief was Randy Winn, with 25. However, he was only caught twice, making him a baserunning force to be reckoned with, sort of. Fred Lewis was 21-for-28, Eugenio Velez was 15-for-21, and Emmanuel Burris was 13-for-18. Together, those four guys had a 79% success rate, which ain’t bad. Still, if a running team is what the Giants want to put on the field, they’ll need to do way better than that, because they sure as hell aren’t a power-hitting team.

Right Field: John Bowker, Emmanuel Burriss, Rajai Davis, Brian Horwitz, Fred Lewis, Dan Ortmeier, Nate Schierholtz, Eugenio Velez, Randy Winn

Winn put up a .306 average and a .363 OBP, but just a .426 slugging percentage, thanks to only 10 home runs. He did hit 38 doubles, though, and if he’s going to remain with the team—and I wouldn’t put money on that—I think they need to keep him out of the number-three slot. Though I think it’s pointless using him (well, most people) to bunt fast people to second, perhaps the two-hole is best for him. I don’t think he’s a leadoff hitter. He did awfully well in right field, though, considering that he hadn’t spent all that much time out there until 2006. He’s a Steady-Eddie kind of player, however, and while I’m not exactly in love with the guy, I wouldn’t mind seeing him come back.

Schierholtz had only 75 at-bats, but he was fairly impressive, with a .320 batting average and .864 OPS. He doesn’t seem to have nearly enough power , though (in the majors, anyway; his power has been decent in the minors), and given that he drew only three walks, he sure doesn’t seem like a high-in-the-order kind of hitter. His range in the outfield is pretty good, though he does seem to make the occasional odd decision on fly balls. I think what we’re going to end up seeing is a guy whose offensive weaknesses will be exposed if he doesn’t keep his batting average high enough.

Catcher: Eliezer Alfonzo, Steve Holm, Bengie Molina, Pablo Sandoval

I would bet that most Giants fans would call Molina the team’s 2008 MVP (unless you’re going to count pitchers), and sadly, maybe he is. Those 95 RBIs look good, but he got them all in the cleanup spot, where you’re supposed to drive in loads of runs. He hit a few home runs late in the season to wind up at 16—leading the team, if you can believe it—but for a long time there, it wasn’t obvious that the Giants would have any players in double figures. Indeed, they only had five, and three of those had exactly 10. Somehow I picture the Giants’ Powers-That-Be feeling just fine about this, since they’d made the organizational decision to de-emphasize the home run. However, if you’re gonna do that, you’d better pick up the slack somewhere, and they didn’t come close to doing that.

Molina deserves loads of credit for rarely striking out—38 in 530 at-bats—but he walked only 19 times (and got plunked nine times), so that .292 batting average was almost all there was to his .322 OBP. Still, he’s a catcher, so it’s hard to complain about his output at the plate. Behind the plate… well, evidently the pitchers like him, so he must do something right, but he sure seems to let a lot of pitched baseballs zoom on past him. Also—and understand, I don’t expect speed from a catcher—his almost superhuman lack of foot-speed is no longer an adorable novelty. I’m amazed that he hit into only 23 double plays, and that that’s a career-high figure; my only explanation is that he must not hit that many ground balls, because if he does hit one with a runner on first and less than two outs, it’s automatic. He may as well not even run. At this point in his career, if not for his entire career, he is to foot-speed what Duane Kuiper was to home-run power. They call him “Big Money” ’cause “Sloth” would just be mean. No matter what, though, Molina deserves applause for putting up significantly better offensive numbers after the All-Star Game than before—noteworthy because he’s a catcher who plays almost every day, and it’s easy to expect him to fall off the map in August and September.

Holm only got into 49 games and managed just 84 at-bats, but he drew a few walks and hit some doubles. Not sure if this matters, though, because if Molina sticks around, he and Sandoval will do all the catching, barring injury.

Sandoval is a fun player—I mean, who’s the last catcher/first baseman/third baseman you can remember? Does Paul LoDuca count? (If so, who cares?) It’s not obvious to me which is his best position, though I’m not going out on a limb by saying that third base is his worst. As a catcher, he threw out 30% of those who tried to steal against him—just 10 guys, but still, 30% isn’t bad these days (and he didn’t throw any balls into center field). Molina’s success rate was 35%, and Holm’s was… 9%—that’s 2 of 23. I’d love to say that as a hitter, Sandoval’s something special, but he’s not—not that I have any complaints. He doesn’t walk, but, well, some guys just don’t walk. He hit 10 doubles in 145 at-bats, but only three home runs. He generally hits the ball hard, and I’d like to see a little elevation on some of those line shots, but if he were forced to hit, say, 12 home runs over the course of a full season, it wouldn’t be so bad if he hit, say, 50 doubles. He spent a lot of time batting third in the order, and I’m not sure he’s that kind of hitter; maybe a five. The Giants must not like him as a righthanded batter much, though, because he had only 38 at-bats against lefties. (I forgot to mention that he’s a switch-hitter, which is something the Giants are saturated with, having played seven of them (not counting pitchers): Sandoval, Vizquel, Winn, Velez, Burriss, Ortmeier, and Durham.)

Alfonzo got a long suspension for a drug violation, but the Giants liked him enough to bring him up in midseason. I don’t know why. He’s not much of a hitter. Or much of a catcher. If he doesn’t come back, I won’t mourn, even though he’s always spoken very highly of me.

Starting Pitchers: Matt Cain, Kevin Correia, Brad Hennessey, Tim Lincecum, Patrick Misch, Matt Palmer, Jonathan Sanchez, Merkin Valdez, and Barry Zito

In several late-season games, Bruce Bochy left Tim Lincecum in too long, evidently in an effort to bolster the kid’s Cy Young chances. Lots of Giants fans, at least in the newsgroup , were pretty angry about this, but I don’t know what to think. Lincecum’s being widely touted as a “freak” who just never gets tired or sore. Clearly that’s not strictly true, since he looked worn out in several of his late starts, but it’s easy to look at that physique of his—he looks like he weighs 78 pounds—and think that leaving him in for 130 pitches absolutely must be detrimental, especially since they babied him a lot last year and early on this year.

Is he gonna win the Cy? Nah. This is the limb on which I shall go out: It’ll be Brandon Webb, who won 22 games. Lincecum won 18. He led the league in strikeouts, by a wide margin, and lost out on the ERA title by .04 (because he got knocked around in some of those late-season starts). I’m not sure how many games he would have won if the bullpen had been able to keep his leads, but I have no doubt it’d be over 20. One of his five losses was due to a really stupid balk call early in the season, and he reasonably could have won two of those, plus seven of his 11 no-decisions. (Maybe Webb could make a similar claim.) But the thing is, Cy Young voters tend to be seduced by gaudy win totals—not that there’s anything wrong with gaudy win totals—and a 22-game winner for a second-place team will almost certainly trump an 18-game winner for a fourth-place team. But the Giants haven’t seen a Cy Young winner since Mike McCormick did it in 1967, so they were kind of desperate to get Lincecum that award. Even though I don’t see how he can win it this year, I’ll be annoyed if and when he doesn’t, just like I was when Mike Krukow (in an odd departure from the “Wins Trumps ERA” format), Billy Swift, and Jason Schmidt failed to win the award in their big years.

But I can’t remember another Giants pitcher for whom you had to stop what you were doing to watch. (Actually, Atlee Hammaker in 1983 comes to mind, and the only thing that keeps people from remembering how good he was—aside from his horrific All-Star outing—is the fact that he lost his last five decisions after a 10-4 start.) For some reason, I get a kick out of pitchers who can strike out loads of hitters (unless they’re Giants hitters, I mean). Nolan Ryan was a lot of fun to watch, for instance, and I consider myself lucky to have seen him no-hit the Dodgers in 1981 (on TV, I mean). I loved it when Schmidt would whiff, say, 12 guys, thanks in large part to that 90-mph changeup. Lincecum could easily be a 300-strikeout guy, though ain’t nobody gonna be blowing by Ryan’s record—people just don’t pitch nearly as much nowadays. Another thing that makes Lincecum fun to watch is his demeanor. He looks like he’s having a ball when they show him in the dugout between starts, but when he’s on the mound, with a face like an 11-year-old, he looks all business, and there’s even something intimidating in his expression. I really, really hope they don’t screw him up, because I’d love for him to have a great career, especially as a Giant.

I wish Cain would, too. He has pretty rotten luck out there: 15-30 over the last two years, but with ERAs well below the league average. He had an ERA of 2.90 in his 12 no-decisions this year, too. He walks too many guys, though. Even so, he strikes me as a potential Cy Young winner, and if he accomplishes that feat, I sure hope he’s still with the Giants.

Zito never put up an above-league-average ERA until he came to the Giants. This year the difference was 0.85 earned runs per nine innings, which is a lot. He also walked over 100 batters for the first time. I don’t know what it is. I refuse to believe that now that he’s got the big contract, he doesn’t care about earning it—in fact, I don’t believe that about any big-leaguer—and I really don’t think it’s a mental or emotional thing. I swear, if he were a righthander, you wouldn’t hear talk about the fragility of his ego, or whatever. One factor that’s easy to point to is that he has trouble getting his fastball up over 85 anymore. Right now, as I’ve said before elsewhere, he’s the last couple years of Kirk Rueter, only way more expensive. If Zito has physical problems, I’d sure appreciate it if he got them fixed.

Sanchez strikes out a lot of guys, but he walks too many and gives up too many hits. That pretty much sums him up. His ERA was 5.01—substantially better than last year, but still rotten—and I don’t get why the Giants are so high on him. Perhaps it was his 8-5, 3.97 showing in the first half—it sure couldn’t be his 1-7, 7.47 second half. Actually, he was pitching just dandy until hitting the disabled list in midseason, and the easy call is that he never recovered from the injury. The announcers, especially Miller and Flemming, made much of the trouble he had against opposing pitchers, but to his credit, he wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared: .225/.326/.325—9-for-40 plus six walks, which is still pretty awful, but hey, you can’t have everything.

The Correia experiment might need to be over, though. He was pretty good in 2006 and 2007, actually: a whole run below the league-average ERA. But this year, mostly in a starting role, he showed us what he showed in 2005: don’t put him mostly in a starting role. How he managed to get his ERA up over six this year might be a mystery, but one main culprit has to be the 141 hits he gave up in 110 innings. Opposing batters hit .310 against him, with an .856 OPS and an OPS+ of 128—higher than any of the Giants’ actual hitters. He too had trouble retiring pitchers, who went 10-for-37 against him: a .270 average. He only threw 7-2/3 innings in relief, but gave up 13 runs on 20 hits and four walks. Even so, I’m pretty sure he’d be strictly a reliever, if I had to keep him in my bullpen.

Misch was also quite terrible, albeit in only seven starts and eight relief appearances. He can’t really get lefties out, but then he can’t get righties out either, so it probably doesn’t matter. He’s 25 and may well have some value, but I’m not sure I need to see him back in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, I don’t understand why they bothered with Palmer, who started three games and put up an 8.53 ERA. He has a lifetime minor league ERA of 3.46, which looks impressive, but he spent two and a half years in Triple-A before coming up, so how good can he be? He didn’t rate a September call-up—in fact, he was dropped from the 40-man roster—so we might not see him again.

Relief Pitchers: Vinnie Chulk, Geno Espineli, Brad Hennessey, Alex Hinshaw, Osiris Matos, Sergio Romo, Billy Sadler, Jack Taschner, Erick Threets, Merkin Valdez, Tyler Walker, Brian Wilson, Keiichi Yabu

Wilson might have had the worst season a 40-save pitcher has ever had. It’s true that he was an All-Star, but even that makes me wonder, given his 4.58 ERA at the break. In fact, as much as I think I like Wilson, he pretty much embodies the inherent flaws in the “closer mentality,” and he’s virtually proven how dangerous it is to evaluate closers in terms of the number of saves they put up. I would say that Wilson was this year’s Jeff Brantley, whose middle name is Hoke, but that’s really unfair to Brantley, whose ERAs as the Giants closer were 1.56 and 2.45. Wilson doesn’t even stack up all that well against Armando Benitez. However, I’d still rather have Wilson as my closer, because Benitez is sort of hateful and Brantley is 45. Wilson’s main asset is that he throws hard, sometimes topping 100 on the gun. His main problem may be that he has trouble retiring the first batter he faces, and he has trouble getting outs when there are none. Also, interestingly, he threw 27-2/3 innings on two or more days’ rest and gave up 24 runs (7.81 ERA), as opposed to eight runs in 34-2/3 innings (2.08) on zero or one day’s rest. Sounds like the key is to keep him busy. However, since the closer mentality requires you to use your closer only in save situations, you wouldn’t expect Wilson to pitch much at all, since the Giants so rarely have a late-game lead. But if Wilson’s that good on little rest, here’s a novel idea: why not use him in tie games, or even when the team is just a run or two behind, so as to keep the opposition from inflicting more damage? That’s a Bill James thing from years back, i.e., the idea of using your best reliever when it matters most. And it might be disturbing to note that Wilson led Giants relievers in innings pitched.

Yabu’s only previous major league experience was with Oakland in 2005, and he’s 40 now. He put up a 3.57 ERA this year and thus is hard to complain about, but I’m sure I’ll find a way: Lefties pounded this guy for a .355 batting average (.901 OPS), and he stank on the road (5.20 ERA). His 3.28 first-half ERA was a whole lot better than his 4.22 second-half ERA. Other than that, he did pretty well, really, but how much longer can he be effective?

Walker tricked the Giants by putting up a 1.26 ERA in 15 games toward the end of last year, so, on that basis, he had a fairly important role this year and, in my opinion, pitched worse than a 4.56 ERA would indicate. I’m not sure where all that ERA comes from, though: He gave up fewer hits than innings pitched, and struck out nearly a batter per inning; he only walked 21 in 53-1/3. True, he couldn’t get lefties out (.969 OPS, 146 OPS+), and he had a 6.38 ERA at home, but he was awfully good at preventing the first batter he faced in a game to reach base (.266 OBP). Perhaps it was the fact that of the 47 hits he surrendered, 10 were doubles, one was a triple, and seven were home runs. I really don’t know. I do know that if he were to depart again, I would fail to grieve.

Lefties hit .288 against Taschner, which is a little troubling since he’s so frequently brought in specifically to face them. And the first guy to face him in a game, lefty or not hit .314 with some power. Perhaps the solution is to keep him out of the game until the second batter he faces comes to the plate. I like Taschner, but is he gonna get any better? Well, I guess you could say yes, given that his last three ERAs, in order, were 8.38, 5.40, and 4.88. But he’s 30 now, so how much more faith can you place in him?

Know who had the fifth-highest total of innings pitched in as a Giants reliever this year? No, it was Sadler. Know why? Me neither. I was shocked to see that his ERA was only 4.06, if only because he gave up eight home runs in 44-1/3 innings, which is appalling. He gave up only 34 hits, but he walked 27 and drilled eight, if you can believe it. He’s good at getting that first guy out, but not those subsequent guys, apparently, and he’s pretty useless on more than a day’s rest. I don’t get the attraction here. A little Sadler sure seems to go a long way.

Hinshaw was one of the team’s best relievers—certainly the best lefty reliever. He gave up five home runs, which is more than you might want to see in 39-2/3 innings, but he struck out 47 and gave up only 31 hits. If he had only one aspect of his game worth improving, it would be his control: 29 walks—or 6.6 per nine innings. That’s appalling. Righthanded hitters drew a lot of those walks and knocked him around some, for an .888 OPS despite a .235 batting average. He also was way better before the All-Star Break than after.

The bullpen revelation this year was Sergio Romo, who put up a 2.12 ERA in 34 innings, during which he gave up 16 hits and eight walks. When he entered a game, the first batter he faced got one hit, zero walks, and two hit-by-pitches—that’s a .107 OBP. Sure, the hit was a home run, but it’s still hard to be too bent out of shape.

Chulk might be lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry. He’s the guy we had instead of Jeremy Accardo, who at least was good last year. Chulk was the guy you could count on to give up the key dinger, righthanded batters had a .512 slugging percentage against him, and when he entered a game, the first batter he faced had an OPS of 1.126 against him (with a 190 OPS+). Still, he’s been gone since June, having been outrighted to Fresno. I’m guessing he’ll get a look in spring training, but if the Giants think he’ll be a vital piece of the puzzle, they’re direly mistaken.

Matos was almost as bad, though he threw only 20-2/3 innings, so it’s hard to tell. Still: too many hits, too many walks. He had a 1.23 ERA in Double-A, and gave up no runs in 9-2/3 innings at Fresno. He didn’t inspire me with the big club, but he’s only 23, so there’s hope. I hope.

Espineli threw only 16 innings, walking and striking out eight apiece, and giving up 17 hits—of which five went over far-distant walls. His ERA at Fresno was 2.66, though, which may be a good sign. He throws about 80 with a weird sidearm/submarine delivery such that every hitter should try bunting on him, and it seems to me that the Giants have enough lefties who throw about 80.

Valdez also threw only 16 innings, but that’s because he got hurt. Again. Mostly his career has been about being hurt. It’s a shame, too, because he looked like he’d be such a stud when he came here in the Russ Ortiz deal before the 2003 season. Sure, his debut four years ago was highly forgettable, but this year he was on a pretty good roll. Righties couldn’t touch him, and neither could the first guy he faced in a given inning. He gave up runs in only three of his 17 outings, and of the five runs scored, three of them came in the game before he went on the DL. He’s pretty clearly a one-inning guy, though his in lone two-inning appearance, he retired all six batters, striking out four, in that weird start he had against the Dodgers during that long rain delay—Lincecum was the scheduled starter, but Bochy, et al., didn’t want to risk injury, so they opted to sacrifice Valdez instead.

Threets always seemed Just About To Make It, but last year was his first major league experience, when he was terrible in three games. This year he pitched only 10 innings and gave up four runs, but that hardly tells the story: He walked nine batters, for a total of 12 in 12-1/3 major league innings, and he hit three guys. He started the season with the big club because he was out of options and the Giants were afraid of losing him on waivers, but it turned out that they had worried for naught. Threets cleared waivers and pitched pretty well at Fresno, but he still walked too many people.

Overall, it’s hard to be disappointed with the 2008 Giants, since you have to admit that they exceeded expectations. You certainly have to admit that they exceeded my expectations. The offense isn’t very encouraging in terms of 2009, but hey, maybe they’ll get something out of Sandoval and Schierholtz, and even Ishikawa. If Noah Lowry returns—and returns to form—the starting rotation ought to be reasonably good, and I’m pretty sure I prefer a bullpen with Romo, Valdez, and Hinshaw to one with Chulk, Walker, and Taschner. Barring some major acquisitions (or even with them), I don’t see this team being great next year by any means, but hey, if they finish above .500, I wouldn’t be surprised. I would be disappointed, of course, because yet again they won’t win me a damn ring, but we can’t have everything in life. Sometimes we can’t have anything.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Witnessed Firsts, or Look! A Blog Entry!

Watch a ballgame every day, and you’ll see something you haven’t seen before. You’ve heard that hundreds of times, and you’ve never believed it. But if you limited your sample size to games number 160 and 161 of the 2008 season for the Giants and Dodgers, you’ve become a believer. I have, anyway, because stuff happened in each game that I’d never seen before, and I’m really glad to have had the chance to witness this stuff. I’m pretty sure.

Last night was the really weird one. With a runner on first and the Giants down 2-0, Bengie Molina hammered a high fly ball to right field that struck... well, it was hard to tell what it struck. If it hit the green tin roof, it was a home run; if not, then not. Initially the ball was ruled in play, so Molina—who would have a tough time beating a pregnant harbor seal around the bases—wound up on first with yet another “long single.” (Note: I do not advocate beating harbor seals. Hey, you asked!)

Bruce Bochy emerged from the Giants dugout to grump about the call, eventually asking for an instant replay review. Now, that’s something I never thought I’d see: a baseball manager requesting that an umpire’s call be reversed—or not—with the help of instant replay. And yet that’s been okay in the major leagues for the last several weeks, thanks to MLB’s eccentric decision to introduce instant replay on certain plays—eccentric, that is, because of the timing.

Why make the rule change during a season, especially right around the stretch drive? I’m very much in favor of umpire calls being right, and I like the fact that bad calls sometimes actually get reversed nowadays. And I’m fine with the use of replay when a call is disputed. Sure, let’s be reasonable: no challenges on ball-strike calls. But I don’t see how the camera can lie on fair-foul, home run-in play, or even safe-out—though let’s not have protests on every call we don’t like. In any case, I’d much rather they’d waited until next season, even if it meant sacrificing a vital Giants victory like last night’s.

As I understand it, would-be home-run calls can be challenged: that’s “home run-in play” and “fair-foul” (but only if what we’re talking about is a ball with home-run distance). Hey, fine with me, especially since the first official challenge in a Giants game went in the Giants’ favor.

And that, for those who might read this several years from now, is not the “haven’t seen before” part. As Bochy came out to argue the call, Emmanuel Burriss jogged to first base to pinch-run. Several minutes later, the umpires decided that Molina’s hit was a home run—no doubt their decision was influenced by the presence of green paint on the ball that was the same color as the tin roof. So okay, it’s a home run... but who scores the run?

Jon Miller and Dave Flemming chewed this over on the radio. Flemming was concerned that Molina wouldn’t be credited with the home run if Burriss scored the run, and Miller was sure that since the home-run call would supercede the decision for Burriss to pinch-run—meaning that Burriss’ entry into the game “never happened,” so Molina should be able to run out the home run. And both seemed concerned that Molina wouldn’t get both RBIs, since he didn’t drive himself in. I figured they were both wrong (even after I imagined the umpires deciding to nullify the home run on the grounds that it’d make it too hard to render a decision).

I thought they were wrong in part because of an incident I heard about involving the Yankees sometime in the 1980s: Lou Piniella, the DH, went out to first base between innings to warm up the infielders while Chris Chambliss, the actual first baseman, was taking his time getting out of the dugout for some reason. Then Chambliss got out to his position and took over for Piniella, only the umpires ruled that as soon as Piniella had reached Chambliss’ position, he was now officially in the game on defense. As far as I can remember, that’s the right call: If you go out to a position and do anything, such as take a ground ball or a throw from an infielder, you’re in the game at that position. That is, if you run out to, say, second base between innings, then learn immediately that no, the manager doesn’t want you out there, he wants to stick with the incumbent, then it’s not a problem, and you can return to the dugout without having been entered into the game officially. It’s not that different from a guy standing in the on-deck circle, apparently waiting to pinch-hit, and then—before an official announcement is made—returning to the dugout in favor of the already-scheduled hitter.

The exception to the “If you go out to a position and do anything” rule is when somebody—a backup catcher or other bench player who otherwise is not in the game (or has left it)—warms up the pitcher while the current catcher is busy getting into his gear. Once he’s ready, the actual catcher can return, and the bench player can go away, all with impunity. (Admittedly, this makes me wonder what happens when a player who has already left the game runs out to first base to warm up the infielders. I’ll assume that this is treated just like the catcher situation, i.e., as though no substitution has taken place. I could look it up, but that would involve effort, so screw it.) So as soon as Burriss reached first base, he became the pinch-runner.

Another reason Miller and Flemming were wrong was that unless things have changed in the 10 or 20 years since I read this in a “what if?”-type book about baseball rules, Burriss would run out the homer—which he did—and get credit for the run, while Molina would get credit for the home run and both RBIs, but not the run scored. In other words, if it had been Molina’s only plate appearance, the boxscore would show one at-bat, zero runs, one hit, two RBIs, and one home run. I think the book mentioned instances where this had happened—say, because the batter had somehow hurt himself during his trip around the bases. Not only that, but the utterly thoroughly realistic and not at all completely stupid or particularly insulting documentary movie The Babe, starring the roughly 40-year-old, 300-pound John Goodman as not only the 40-year-old, 300-pound Babe Ruth, but also as the 19-year-old, 300-pound Babe Ruth, even though the real Babe Ruth, listed at 215 at, might not even have cracked 200 pounds by age 19, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he never topped 275. Anyway, late in his career, Goodman/Ruth is shown as having hit a home run, then huffing and puffing—in that order; accept no imitations, especially those showing him puffing and huffing—to first base, then stopping as a younger, thinner guy runs out the rest of the home run. Did that ever happen to the actual Babe Ruth? I don’t remember hearing as much. But then, I also don’t recall any stories about the actual Babe hitting a popup so high that he was able to circle the bases before the ball touched the ground. (Nor do I remember stories about the Babe farting real loud to entertain a bunch of rich people, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had happened, and neither would you.)

So I took about 1,200 words to describe the first thing I’d never seen before, but take heart: 1,200 is a fraction of the actual words spoken by broadcasters all over the place. The second thing is not Billy Sadler celebrating far too exuberantly after striking out Casey Blake, and both dugouts emptying because the Dodgers got all huffy about it. We see that kind of thing all the time. No, the second thing is J.T. Snow’s appearance in tonight’s game. Well, J.T. Snow appearing in a game is not exactly a first, but it may well be the first time in major league history that someone has signed a one-day contract for the express purpose of taking the field in the top of the first inning, then leaving before the game actually starts—thus making an official appearance without actually playing. (He wore his old number, 6; I never got a look at Tim Flannery’s back, so I don’t know what number he wore. Even if it was 6, that wouldn’t be unprecedented: Just last year, several Giants wore 42 in the same game to honor Jackie Robinson.)

This happened because Snow wanted to retire as a Giant—he last played in Boston in 2006—and the Giants wanted to grant his wish. The fans got to give him a nice hand as he took the field; everybody got to laugh as Eugenio Velez, Omar Vizquel, and Rich Aurilia all threw difficult one-hops to him during warmups; Jate got a good hand as he left the field; and a good time was got by all. I thought it was a nice (albeit silly) gesture.

My eyes popped, though, upon seeing—that’s what my eyes do: they see—that Snow got a prorated contract for the major league minimum: roughly $2,100 for that one day of work. Since my work schedule is wide, wide open these days, I sent the Giants a note offering my services for $2,100 a day—for however many days as necessary—and added that I look forward to beginning negotiations. To date I have received no reply, but then, hey, there’s a lot to do at the end of the season. But I say this to my legions, my multitudes of fans: Don’t worry. I fully expect to be the first 48-year-old center fielder to make an Opening Day start for the San Francisco Giants. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Read Dave Zirin’s latest column about Barry Bonds. I order you. Zirin’s written a lot about Bonds, and he isn’t what I would call a staunch defender of Bonds so much as a staunch defender of the notion that the knee-jerk vilification of the guy is moronic.

Essentially, Zirin makes the point that Bonds isn’t on a team right now due to collusion on the part of club owners—in other words, he’s being blackballed. Indeed, AT&T Park (and I haven’t been there lately to confirm this with my own eyes, and even if I had been, I probably woulda just sat in my seat and confirmed it via turning my head) is now devoid of anything associated with Bonds: no big ol’ banner proclaiming his home run kingitude, no portrait on the left field wall, no good team, certainly no retired number, etc.

And as much as the Giants would love to distance themselves from the guy, apparently, so would the rest of Major League Baseball. Now, Zirin is hardly the first person to bring up the collusion angle—I am—but to be fair, I ought to point out that in any given year, you can pretty much count on all club owners to collectively refuse to dish out seven figures to any 43-year-old player with bad knees who can’t play defense anymore and who’d be likely to contribute maybe 20 or 25 home runs. In other words, on that basis alone, I don’t blame clubs for not signing Bonds, and I find it odd that the Players Association has Launched An Investigation into this matter—sort of a hoot in itself, as Zirin points out, given that “In 2003, [Bonds] became the first player in thirty years to not sign the Player’s [sic] Association’s group licensing agreement.” (Normally I would only “sic” someone if he or she was a complete boob and made a really stupid spelling, grammatical, or factual error, and I wanted to act all superior. I usually see it rendered as “Players Association,” though “Players’ Association” probably would be more correct. Since you asked.)

I love the San Francisco Giants, and my heart tells me they can do no wrong. My brain tells me otherwise—quite often, really. For instance, I find it awfully hypocritical of the Giants to pretend Bonds doesn’t exist, given—assuming (as I do) that Bonds is guilty guilty guilty—the tacit approval and encouragement by the front office of the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Now it’s as though they’re making Bonds out to be a big fat cheater, but they were perfectly happy to turn a blind eye when he was hitting loads of home runs and walking 232 times in a season. (Understand that, as I’ve said before, I really don’t care about performance-enhancing drugs except to the extent that they could harm an athlete or, by extension, his loved ones. I do not believe that such drugs can turn a 40-homer hitter into a 70-homer hitter, and I certainly do not buy the notion that if a player hits even one tainted homer, that nullifies all his honest ones. Thus, I do not care whether Bonds used or not, and I’m grateful for having been able to watch the guy be amazing for 15 years.)

Even stinkier is Major League Baseball’s apparent stance on the matter: again, tacit approval and encouragement, on the premise that “Chicks dig the longball.” Is someone gonna tell me that the people who run the sport didn’t know players were using? Is someone gonna tell me—believably, I mean—that wasn’t okay with them?

Peter Magowan said, in a radio interview the other day, that Bud Selig is the greatest commissioner in baseball history. After spontaneously and vigorously throwing up on my shirt, I thought about just what that might mean, and it pretty much comes down to “bottom line,” which, obviously, means more mmmmmmmmmmoney—again, essentially, because of the chickitudinal preference for the longball. Home runs positively affect the bottom line... ergo performance-enhancing drugs positively affect the bottom line. Oh, and pitchers striking batters out a lot—it would be wrong of me to forget to mention Roger Clemens here. (I also don’t care whether Clemens has been using. He’s always sort of annoyed me, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t put together a Hall-of-Fame career.)

This whole thing is just one reason I roll my eyes every time some Bonds- or Clemens-basher blithers about how this player has Sullied The Virginal And Pristine Grand Old Game. Gimme a break. Major League Baseball stinks from the top down. By miles, the best things about Major League Baseball all take place on the field.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

“Muse Muse,” he Mused

Remember the 1996 Giants? Of course not—you’re not an idiot. You took all necessary and judicious steps to wipe them from your mind. I, on the other hand, remember them—or, at least, whenever I feel a queasy kind of heartburn, I think of them. But you know what? With the 1996 Giants, at least there was some hope that somehow they could pull out of their yearlong swan-dive.

There was! The team had Barry Bonds, for one thing. (You remember Bonds, right? He was a 40-40 man that year.) That right there spelled “hope.” And that’s the difference between the 1996 Giants and the 2008 Giants: not so much the lack of Bonds (which had to happen at some point anyway), but simply the lack of hope. It is frightening to think that they’re at the beginning of this steep descent. That is, the descent has been in progress since, at the latest, October 2003, but the downward slope was more gradual—something you could at least drive on, if you had to, without significant danger to yourselves or others. But the end of the 2007 season was basically a precipice. It’s not exactly a cliff—in a graph where the X-line represents time, a cliff would be pretty impossible—but you certainly want to stop the car and possibly erect a barrier festooned with signs saying things like “Go back!” and “If you continue, you most surely will die!”

Tragically, we Giants fans—or at least this one—keep putting that car into a forward gear, crashing through the barrier, hurtling down the 89-degree slope, futilely hammering the brake pedal. Now, if this were an actual scenario, involving an actual car and an actual, paved, nearly vertical grade, there would at least be an end in sight—a horrifying, prayer-inducing, “EEEEEE!”-screaming, ultimately messy end, but an end nonetheless. As it is, though, how long will you keep plunging downward, out of control? Will the angle ever lessen? If so, will it be enough to matter? Or will the Giants suddenly throw you a curve, like they did in 1997—the kind of curve that’s hard to hit, Zeets—and become good enough to turn the slope sharply upwards, thus enabling you to collide head-on with suddenly, sharply rising pavement, but enabling you at least to expire with a mingled sense of mild relief, extreme frustration, and resigned acceptance, knowing that it’s actually getting better but you won’t be around to see it? Or is any illustration of upward movement an indication of too much hope?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The 2008 Giants! What Fun!

This blog sprang to life late in the 2006 season. My website, EEEEEE!, mostly had been collecting dust since the 2002 World Series, and I wanted to get myself back into the habit of writing about the Giants several times a week. Those of you who have stuck with EEEEEE! (or even this blog) from the beginning know that hasn’t happened. I’m a little disappointed with myself, but I’m not rending any garments over it. Mostly I blame the Giants for being just so excrementally awful.

The funny thing is, the Giants’ awfulness is what led me to start EEEEEE! in the first place. Indeed, it started out as just one area of my first yet long-gone website, Pearlmanland, which covered a few topics, including baseball. Most Pearlmanland pieces, some over 20 years old, now are part of EEEEEE! Every so often—well, not so often, really; more like “every so seldom”—I hear from someone who’s read one of my silly little Star Trek pieces, or what have you, and while I appreciate the recognition and even praise—Yes! It happens! It does too!—it’s not easy for me to get into the spirit, since those pieces are so far removed from the present day.

I no longer get e-mails about EEEEEE!, partly because my entire user account was deleted from my Web server inadvertently, and I haven’t fixed it, but mostly because... well, it’s not as though fixing it, and thus making available boatloads of weekly season notes from 1999, is likely to lead to vigorous discussion or, say, a great new job. I should fix it, but it feels as though it’d just be sitting there, not being read. Once in a while I look up some things on the site myself to answer a burning question, but it’s been a long, long time since those fantastic days when perfect strangers would walk around the San Francisco Bay Area in EEEEEE! T-shirts, carrying signs that said “Read EEEEEE! You’ll be glad you did.” (Okay, that never happened—the signs or the shirts.)

In fact, EEEEEE! sort of fell off the table in 2000. The Giants were good that year, but I’d really run out of energy, and I’ve never gotten it back. As I said in at least a few pieces on the site, my EEEEEE! routine involved collecting loads and loads of posts from, e-mails, and various other sources (including newspapers), then rereading and editing them painstakingly until I had something to put on the site. Usually these pieces contained lots and lots of words. So I’d collect (and write) those posts during the week, then on Saturday night, starting an hour or two before midnight, I’d process them. By then I’d usually written at least a few paragraphs about something or other, and generally I led with that, then tacked on the newsgroup quotes. This tended to keep me up till three or four on Sunday morning. Roughly four years of that took its toll, as I had an actual full-time job at the time (though not one that demanded more than 40 of my weekly hours, usually). There were other full-time (and part-time) aspects of my life that demanded more time than I could devote to EEEEEE!, so this site, for which I had received an actual award at one point (though I don’t remember what it was for, exactly), and which had gone down well with readers, suddenly was static—the one thing a website really shouldn’t be.

So the idea of a blog appealed to me in 2006. I felt as though I could just write stuff when I felt like it, about whatever caught my attention at that moment, and I didn’t have to post any “formal” pieces. I could put up messages every 15 minutes if I wanted, complaining about some game or other; or I could back off for several days. Unfortunately, the latter appealed to me much more than the former. I’d like to blame the Giants—because of their lousy play, the buzzing stress brought about by everything that centered on Barry Bonds, the team’s ever-increasing bereftness of World Championships, etc.—but I probably shouldn’t. I mean, if I could devote so much time to writing about a wretched team in 1996, why couldn’t I do so in 2006? Or 2008? I think I just reached a point where I was tired of complaining ceaselessly about the Giants. In any case, Grant Brisbee’s McCovey Chronicles blog is terrific.

So Important!

Like many of you—most, I daresay—every loss ached, especially the really important ones. The 2002 World Series, for example, took a lot out of me; even the 2003 Division Series put me in an angry funk. The losses ached way more than the stirring victories stirred. I suspect that’s true for a large percentage of sports fans, but you know what? It can really wear one out. It’s fair to say that my level of “active devotion” has waned somewhat since 2003. I mean, I still love baseball, I still love the Giants even more, and I still grit my teeth at some of their more retarded losses and player moves, but every year I find myself looking forward less and less to the upcoming season because I know—even if I’m wrong, I know—that yet again, my team will not win the World Series. And now it’s fifty years—five-oh why-EEEEEE! ay-are-ess—of Bay Area baseball in which the championship pennants all hang on the wrong side of the bay. The Giants, essentially, are the team equivalent of Charlie Brown’s favorite player, Joe Shlabotnik, about whom Chuck once said, “Other kids’ heroes hit home runs; mine gets sent to the minors.”

I’m at a point in my sports fandom wherein, if my team doesn’t Win It All, the season is lost. That’s especially true with the Giants. Even in 2002, when they won the pennant on Kenny Lofton’s stirring base hit and David Bell’s mad dash to the plate, I was pleased... but not all that excited. Instead I began focusing immediately on the upcoming World Series, knowing that I had a minimum of four more games to get through before I could finally relax with the knowledge that my team was actually a World Champion. Of course, “minimum of four games” carries the implication of “maximum of seven games,” but I meant it in terms of a very open-ended future. That’s why it was life or death to me that my team Win It All. Which reminds me that the “death” part blasted me pretty hard, as a longtime friend, a guy I’d grown up with, died suddenly in September of that year (and was buried on September 11, of all days). He’d finally found the love of his life and had been married just over a year, and then bam! So in addition to obsessing on the World Series, I was pretty much freaking out over my friend (and in many ways I still am). I felt awfully silly being just so concerned about the Giants’ fate, knowing that my friend’s wife and family had something on their minds that was much closer to home, and much harder to push out of their minds. In other words, when I wasn’t mourning or thinking about him, I was thinking, “How can all this baseball stuff get so much of my attention when I should be thinking about his family?” So I did both. And it was stressful, to say the least.

Meanwhile, I’ve gotten in the habit of crazily and desperately exhorting my team, aching for their ultimate success, because of the increasingly firm belief that if they don’t do it now, they never will. That peaked in 2002, it’s fair to say, though I did feel it acutely in 2003. But it’s also the main reason the World Series failure knocked me on my butt: I really did honestly believe that it had to be now; otherwise it would be never. And the idea of “never” was hugely daunting and nurtured in me a kind of dread similar to that felt by people forever doomed to push boulders up hills, only to have the boulders crash back down to the bottom after getting to within inches of the top. The idea of continuing to devote so much emotional energy into this ever-futile race, knowing that I would do so whether I wanted to or not, became, at that time, the kind of horror that the prospect of encountering Lord Voldemort put into the hearts of J.K. Rowling’s magical community. It came down to this: I wasn’t sure I could go through it again and again and again... but I knew I would. I had to. I’m a Giants fan—that’s my job.

So I’ve found it increasingly difficult to enjoy being a Giants fan. Because of that, and other priorities in life, the losses still bite, but not quite as hard; the wins are pleasant, but hardly sublime, since there’ll be another game tomorrow that Our Boys could lose in spectacular, innard-wrenching fashion. What this has all made me do is try to back off somewhat from the obsessive nature of my Giants fandom. Sometimes I stop listening to or watching a game when I don’t like the way it’s going—I never used to do that. And when faced with an obligation that conflicts with the Giants’ schedule, I experience a pang, but I don’t go crazy wondering what’s happening in the game. Mainly that’s because I figure that all I’m going to find out is: they lost. This doesn’t mean I care less than I used to—just that I can no longer agonize to the extent that I have for so long. I’m guessing I’d feel differently if they were this unstoppable powerhouse that had no choice but to win at least one World Series in a row—and would again express myself in flowing detail about the team’s fortunes—but I wouldn’t know for sure.

I get sick of other teams’ fans exuding a sense of entitlement—Yankees fans can epitomize this: “Let’s bring the trophy back to the Bronx, where it belongs!” Screw that. I guess it’s jealous behavior on my part, because I’d like to feel that entitlement, and have it fulfilled; and it shows me that God got it completely right in saying “Thou shall not covet,” not because the jealous feelings and expressions themselves are necessarily wrong, but because of how awful it feels to covet. It’s way easier to rationalize it into sour grapes, but no more satisfying.

In EEEEEE!, over the years, I’ve mentioned what fandom has entailed for me, but I’ll go over it again here, with fewer words (I hope): When I first started really following sports in 1970, every Giants victory was cool (and ditto A’s, but not as cool), and the postseason was for showcasing other really good teams. It didn’t faze me when the Giants didn’t at least win their division, because it never occurred to me that they might. I mean, yeah, they did in 1971, and that was fabulous; but after that, for several years, it didn’t bug me that much when they lost, because I figured they’d win it again soon enough. Their run in 1982 was one of the most fun, most exciting times I can remember as a Giants fan, and even that wasn’t as disappointing as it could have been—because I hadn’t yet reached that stage of fandom I’m about to discuss.

Starting with the Roger Craig era in 1986, it became important to me—crucial—that the Giants Win It All Now. I don’t know how that happened. Maybe Craig had me believing—for which I won’t blame him (much). Apparently I didn’t enter that phase gradually, but so suddenly that I didn’t even notice it. So when Atlee, Candy, et al. lost the playoffs in 1987, well, that was horrible. It wasn’t so bad in 1989—in fact, the moment Robby Thompson threw that ball to Will Clark at first base to seal the pennant was, and still is, one of the happiest moments in my life—because the Giants were never going to beat the A’s in that World Series; I had resigned myself to that disgusting truth. But next year, oh, that was gonna be our year.

No. They had to win it in 1990, much as they had to win it in 1988. But no. They’d peaked in 1989—heck, perhaps they’d peaked in 1987—and it was only going to get worse, at least for a while. And it did. The 1990 through 1992 seasons were ugly. Then along came Barry Bonds, and suddenly there was hope. The man helped the team to 31 more wins in 1993 than the year before. Of course, other teams conspired to make them an also-ran with 103 wins; and a strike the next year took care of any postseason hopes. (Well, a strike and not being good enough.) And then poof! They were actively bad for two years. Next came eight years in which they just couldn’t get over the hump. And now they’re horrible. There’s just no hope. I don’t like feeling that way, but oh, well.

I’m still in that “must win” mode, and I think I always will be, though I’m manifesting it less desperately than in the past. I would like to get back to a state where it was enough that it was baseball, but I don’t see that happening.

Stuff About the Actual 2008 Giants

Granted, much of my negative attitude right now has to come from the team I’m trying to watch. Perhaps you’ve heard of them: the San Francisco Unwatchables. My friend Woody, a former newsgroup denizen, sums it up thus: “I hate Barry Zito. I hate Jeff Kent. And I now hate Joe Torre, and hate Anduh-ruw Jones even more than before. Know what else? I kinda hate the Giants, too.” I’ll never hate them, but they sure are hard to love right now. Let’s ignore the fact that at this moment it’s the eighth inning of what appears to want to be a 5-0 loss. Let’s ignore Joe Beimel, before even throwing a pitch, picked off Brian Bocock, the Giants’ new shortstop, whose major league debut suddenly became one of those memories we’d all like to forget. Perhaps we should try to remember that after today, the Giants will be only one game out of first place. It’s all we’ve got.

Bengie Molina is the cleanup hitter. This is the man who started last season batting seventh solely because he was too slow to bat eighth. But now he’s the new Barry Bonds. Backing him up behind the plate is Steve Holm, a longtime minor leaguer. Well, hey, it was either him, longtime minor-leaguer Eliezer Alfonzo, or longtime minor-leaguer Guillermo Rodriguez. Catching for the Dodgers is Russell Martin, and I really don’t want to say anymore about that.

Rich Aurilia got the start at first base today, and he’s actually played well—on defense, anyway. At the plate, he looks like he’ll never get another hit. This fails to make him unique. Tomorrow Dan Ortmeier will probably start at first. He homered six times in 191 at-bats last year, and despite being new to the position (having been a pretty good outfielder), suddenly the first base job was his to lose, almost. If the Giants were looking into a real first baseman during the offseason, that news was kept pretty quiet.

Ray Durham started today’s game and dropped an easy, looping line drive to give the Dodgers a run. He had a great contract year two years ago. Then he re-signed. And now... you know, it’s easier not to talk about him. Kevin Frandsen had a good chance of becoming the starting second baseman, but the most remarkable thing he did in the Cactus League was rupture his Achilles tendon. Whenever that happens, know who I think of? Bobby Tolan. He was coming into his own as the Reds’ center fielder in the early 1970s—in fact, he may well have been on the way toward superstardom—before rupturing his Achilles playing basketball and was never close to the same player again. I don’t see how the hopes can possibly be as high for Frandsen, but it’s still unfortunate that this happened. Replacing him on the roster is Eugenio Velez. (Actually, it’s Jose Castillo, but he’s been put at third base.) The Giants announcers rave about his speed, and with good reason, but he’s not much of a fielder, and I fear he won’t hit much either. So obviously second base is in fabulous shape, too.

Omar Vizquel is on the disabled list, so the shortstop these days is Bocock. He threw out Andruw Jones from short left field on a ground ball way into the hole; defensively, he looks like the real deal. Offensively... well, I’ll put it this way: the other day, Mike Krukow was raving about him and, with delight in his voice, said that Bocock reminded him of Mike Benjamin. Even Krukow knew that this sounded awfully lefthanded as compliments go, so he quickly added that Benjamin had put together a nice career. Know how exciting that is? Me neither, except that curling is more exciting.

The aforementioned Castillo is the third baseman so far. He actually has a little pop, or at least he did in Pittsburgh. Well, he has pop compared to what I expected before I looked up his stats; he’s not an inspiring choice at all. The guy the Giants were rumored to be pursuing was Joe Crede of the White Sox, who hit .216 last season after a pretty darned good 2006. Also part of the rumor was Noah Lowry, whom I would have hated to see go in such a deal (before he got hurt, at least).

Dave Roberts, Fred Lewis, and Rajai Davis will hop from outfield position to outfield position, but mostly they’re the left fielders this year. And yet, a huge proportion of Giants fans are delighted to see the back of Barry Bonds. For crying out loud, the Giants themselves are doing all they can to disassociate themselves from the guy. In the process, they’ve also disassociated themselves from anybody you’d call a legitimate power threat. This isn’t to say they should have hung onto Bonds—frankly, I don’t know whether they should have or not—but you’d think he’d be worth replacing with someone who... well, I’m sorry, but the answer they’ve come up with? They ain’t the answer. (Roberts led off the game with a single, then got thrown out trying to steal. This team can’t steal with Martin behind the plate, and yet speed is what the Giants are pushing this year, trying to tell us that they’re True Gamers, as if to say “Well, with Bonds here, we were lazy and complacent.” Wait. Maybe they have a point.)

Aaron Rowand was the Giants’ Big Offseason Free-Agent Signing. Last year, at age 29, he hit quite a few dingers, hit over .300, and reached base a fair amount. He had what was probably a better year in Chicago in 2004, but other than those two years, he’s been pretty boring. They love his defense, but he made two absolutely idiotic throws in today’s game alone. Yeesh.

And the number-three hitter these days is Randy Winn, who’s now the right fielder. He hit .300 last year, but his OPS was only .798—if OPS doesn’t mean anything to you, divide it by three for an idea of just how impressive that is. (Heck, OPS is a discussion in itself. Somebody else discuss it, please.)

The starting pitching is what the Giants believe will carry them this year. Noah Lowry’s out, so the starters are Barry Zito, who gave up four runs in five innings today; Matt Cain, who lost 16 games last year despite a 3.65 ERA because his team chose not to score for him; and Tim Lincecum and his “no-hit stuff” (which is legit, by the way—for now). The fifth starter will come out of the group consisting of Kevin Correia, Brad Hennessey, and Jonathan Sanchez, and the best you can say about that is, at least we’re not talking about the number-one starter. (Well, Correia has put up pretty good ERAs the last two years.)

At the moment, the bullpen consists of new closer Brian Wilson, who took the job from Hennessey last year and gave the Giants a 2.28 ERA (albeit in only 23-2/3 innings) and a WHIP below one. (That’s “walks plus hits per inning pitched,” for those who don’t know.) He’s fairly impressive, and I’d love for him to be terrific—but how many save opportunities could he possibly have this year? The eighth-inning guy could well be Tyler Walker, who was very impressive in only 14-1/3 innings. Does this give you any confidence? Me, not so much. The rest of the bullpen consists of three newcomers-ish: Erick Threets and Merkin Valdez, longtime Giants prospects, and Keiichi Yabu, possibly the first Giant ever to have two consecutive I’s in his name. His only previous major league time was 58 innings with the A’s in 2006—when he was 36.

It might be fun to load this team into a baseball simulation like Diamond Mind or Out of the Park with, say, the New York Yankees of 1927 just to see if the Giants would win even one game. The sad thing is, I’m already feeling the same way about real life, against much worse competition.