Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Let No One Say I Didn’t Post on Opening Day

I hate when work gets in the way of the ballgame, especially on Opening Day or something of even more importance.

Perhaps I should clarify: No, I’m not working yet, but I’m trying to be, with many of today’s hours being devoted to finding a job. By the time I realized that the game would be on (assuming it wasn’t rained out, as had been feared), it was 2 o’clock, and Tim Lincecum had just finished walking Milwaukee’s Mike Cameron to lead off the second. What usually happens when I tune in late is that the Giants immediately go into tank mode: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned on the radio to hear the beginning of a home run call for the other team, for instance. Lincecum didn’t do that, though. Instead, he gave up a two-out RBI double to the pitcher. Apparently the lad has been “off” all day.

How very “me” this game has been already. I mean, I’ve had the radio on for just 10 minutes. Oh, even better: next guy up hits a run-scoring double. The Giants are still ahead, 3-2, thanks to a bases-loaded triple by Travis Ishikawa in the first. That should last! Yeah! No problem! I swear, runs scored as a result of a pitcher’s hitting prowess should count double on the pitching pitcher’s ERA. In this case, Lincecum’s would stand at 18.00, now that he finished the inning without further damage. Perhaps we should refer to these extra, phantom runs as “un-unearned.” To determine un-unearned runs (UURs), you reconstruct the inning as though the pitcher had done what he’s supposed to do, namely strike out. I haven’t worked out all the logic yet, but I’m thinking that if the pitcher reaches base on an error, all runs scoring as a result would be un-un-unearned.

Meanwhile, my almost superhumanly vast legion of fans has been wondering when I might be writing some kind of 2009 season preview, which is silly because what they should have been wondering is “if.” And well should they have been wondering. And the answer is, no time soon. I’d rather take a more general look at the team.

(And just so you know, Lincecum, with Emmanuel Burris on the move (after being hit by the first pitch of the inning) just faked a bunt, then bounced one hard off the plate and into center, putting runners on first and third. Two potential un-unearned runs are sitting there, waiting to be knocked in. Ah, there’s a sacrifice fly by Randy Winn, so that adds two UURs to Jeff Suppan’s ledger—but that’s all, because Edgar Renteria, our very expensive new shortstop, has just hit into an inning-ending double play. That’s very annoying. But hey, at least the Giants are up by two. Well, one. And guess what? Lincecum’s through after three innings, and now we’re being treated to the major league debut of Joe Martinez. What the hell is going on out there?)

Most predictions I’ve seen have the Giants finishing third in the West, usually behind the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, in that order. Though I really don’t picture the Giants finishing much higher, I don’t see a reason not to consider the division wide open. Oh, the Padres are abominable, and the Rockies were a total fluke two years ago—a fluke which no longer employs Matt Holliday—and thus returned to form last year: 14 games under .500, and yet two ahead of the Giants. Baseball Prospectus evidently thinks the Giants and Rockies will tie for third, with close to 90 losses apiece. Now, far be it from me to poke holes in that prediction—so far be it, in fact, that I’m unable to do so. I sure can’t analyze the predictions in a quantitative way. But you know what? The Dodgers led the division with 84 wins, and the Diamondbacks had only 82. Has either team really become much better during the offseason? Then again, have the Giants?

Which is the question. I, being the terminally pessimistic Giants fan I am, will immediately say “Nah!” But is that fair? Think of who’s not around anymore (or, at least, not on the Opening Day roster):
  • Guys I won’t miss (I’m pretty sure): Brian Bocock, John Bowker, Rajai Davis, Ray Durham, Geno Espineli, Brian Horowitz, Osiris Matos, Scott McClain, Pat Misch, Ryan Rohlinger, Billy Sadler, Erick Threets, Clay Timpner, and Omar Vizquel. I bet you don’t even remember some of these guys. Others, I think just aren’t needed on the team right now. Vizquel, well, we all enjoyed watching him play shortstop, and we’ve all heard about what a great presence he was on the team, but—depending on how Renteria does—I don’t envision myself wailing, “Why—O! Oh, why!—did we let Omar Vizquel go?

  • Guys whom I’m perfectly happy not to see on the team: Eliezer Alfonzo, Jose Castillo, Vinnie Chulk, Brad Hennessey, Ivan Ochoa, Dan Ortmeier, Matt Palmer, Dave Roberts, Jack Taschner, and Tyler Walker. Oh, and J.T. Snow.

  • Guys about whom my feelings are mixed: Kevin Correia, Kevin Frandsen, Steve Holm, and Keiichi Yabu. Frandsen is easy to like, but does a team really need both him and Burris? Holm will be back before long, probably, because right now the backup catcher is Pablo Sandoval—which I wouldn’t see as a problem, except that he’s already the regular third baseman (which I’m afraid I do see as a problem, but not one that looks easy to solve; however, it does make me feel nostalgic for the days when the Giants tried to turn most of their outfielders into third basemen). Yabu, too, will be back soon—when Martinez hits a wall, probably. (It seems to be happening right this minute, now that the Brewers have taken the lead. Boobs.) Correia made the Padres’ starting rotation, which either says something unfortunate about the Padres or tells you the Giants gave up on him too soon. Rationally, the former should be the case. Because I’m the Giants fan I am, though, I fear it’s the latter. Not that I particularly want the guy back.

  • Guys I’m mildly bummed about but am not losing sleep over: Travis Denker and Noah Lowry. I’d love for Lowry to get healthy and dazzle hitters—and Giants fans—with that amazing changeup, but how would he be used? The starting rotation looks impenetrable—by other pitchers, I mean, not by opposing hitters. It’s the lefties who concern me. For instance, as much as I’d like Barry Zito to be an $18-million pitcher for the Giants, I don’t expect it. Oh, everybody in the organization’s looking for a “bounce-back year” from the guy, but I don’t know that he’s ever going to be much more than an innings-eater (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), and perhaps an innings-eater who continually puts up two digits’ worth of losses but only one of wins, to say nothing of, say, a 5.68 ERA. I really don’t need to see that anymore. Meanwhile, do you expect Randy Johnson to be Randy Johnson? That’d be cool, but it sure doesn’t seem likely. I figure he has to be better than Zito, assuming he stays healthy, but is he a number-two starter anymore? And then there’s Jonathan Sanchez, who strikes out lots of people but still manages to get lit up quite often. He had a nice start last year, and it’d be nice to believe he could spend a whole season pitching well—and in good health. I don’t know what exactly will happen with Lowry, but unless he’s nearly permanently injured, it looks like he’ll have a place in the rotation at some point. Not Denker, though—because he’s an infielder. He showed some pop, grit, and moxie (all of which, I guess, are comestible substances), and I was surprised that he didn’t get a late-season call-up (though he may have been injured—I don’t remember). I was surprised also when, early in the offseason, he went to the Padres on waivers. I thought he was someone at whom to give a longer look. But hey, maybe not.

  • Guys whose absence is no surprise, since they’re really green and need time in the minors: Conor Gillaspie. That’s a pretty easy one. I assume they brought him up last September solely because it was in his contract.

  • Guys whose absence definitely hurts: Sergio Romo. I don’t think it’s any accident that he pitched well last year. The Giants were excited about adding Bobby Howry and Jeremy Affeldt to the bullpen, figuring that Romo (and probably Yabu, eventually) would help them form a formidable relief corps that also features Alex Hinshaw—but unfortunately, that hinged somewhat on Romo actually being able to pitch, which is something that’s difficult to do from the disabled list.
Oh, yay! A two-run homer by Aaron Rowand gives the Giants the lead again, 6-5. Granted, it’s the fourth, so it’s too early to get too excited, but the guy was so bad in Arizona, and I lost all confidence in him by the end of last season. I was mildly surprised—because I hadn’t heard media folk complaining about this—to hear Ralph Barbieri on KNBR point out recently that Rowand made some brutal, ill-advised throws from center field. In fact, because I seemed to be the only person complaining about this, I wondered if perhaps my perception was off the beam. Not that Barbieri thoroughly vindicates my opinion, but at least I’m not alone. (I ought to be nice and say that Rowand broke hundreds of his ribs, perhaps thousands, going after a ball early last season, and I have no doubt that his mobility was somewhat limited all season long.)

What’s nice about the Giants is that for the first time in what seems like eons, they’ve got several players you could reasonably characterize as “exciting,” without the quotation marks: Sandoval, Burriss, Fred Lewis, Lincecum, Cain, and Johnson, at least. Players like Rowand, Molina, and Winn are, or should be, Steady Eddies Who Come Up Big With The Game On The Line. And Ishikawa and Brian Wilson should be fun to watch, assuming they develop. Yeah, Wilson saved a load of games last year and made the All-Star team, but (a) you probably know how I feel about saves anyway, and (b) I don’t think he pitched nearly well enough to merit much, plaudit-wise. That doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s any good, because I do. He throws very hard—I like guys who throw very hard—and he seems to be developing a slider not entirely unlike Robb Nen’s. His control, though, is a concern, way more than Nen’s ever was. Ishikawa, worryingly, strikes me as sort of a J.T. Snow clone, but without as good a glove. I doubt he’ll ever put up the kind of power numbers you want from a first baseman, though I think he could be a .300 hitter (in a while). I don’t know if the statistics will back me up, but he reminds me of players like Doug Mientkiewicz or even Dave Magadan. At best, I think he’d be almost but not quite as good as Keith Hernandez. The other upside is, he’s not J.R. Phillips.

And in the meantime, Our Boys have managed to hold onto a 7-5 lead all the into the seventh.

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