Waiting for Boof
Blog devoted to the San Francisco Giants
     Wednesday, May 19, 2004

1) Jason Schmidt threw a complete game, one-hit shutout on Tuesday night. He also threw 144 pitches. Some people might blame Felipe Alou for leaving him in the game for that many pitches, but it was understandable. Alou was preoccupied, going down to the clubhouse between innings to check the Zenith Trans-Oceanic for news about Lucky Lindy's baby. Because the only way Alou's decision makes sense is if he's trapped in some 1932 time-warp psychosis, where men wear derby hats everywhere they go, and pitchers throw 140-pitch complete games every time out. If the arm hurts, just spit on it and rub in some Mandrake's Multi-Wonder Miracle Balm, said Alou, possibly while jitterbugging.

There is a certain subset of baseball fans who take pitch counts very seriously. If a pitcher younger than 30 throws anything over 100 pitches, they put the back of their hand to their forehead, fan themselves with their other hand, and quietly sob, all in the exaggerated manner of a Southern belle extra from Gone with the Wind. There's something about the nice rotundity of the number 100 which can make a logical person freeze up. The twinge felt by Todd Van Poppel at pitch 87 might not show up for Livan Hernandez until pound pitch 268; and that makes the 100th pitch little more than a curiosity when trying to apply it to every pitcher, everywhere.

The moving parts of the human arm and shoulder used while pitching can be affected by so, so many factors. Number of pitches thrown is a good place to start. A great place to start, even. However, when every arm is different, every pitching motion is different, and every workout/training regiment is different, there is no room for definitive statements in the great pitch count debate. This many pitches will cause injury. That many pitches are safe for a young pitcher. It's all a bunch of lame conjecture.

Schmidt throwing 144 pitches was too many. While no one knows how many pitches are too many, really, it was more pitches than will be thrown by a single pitcher in 99% of all the games which will be played this season. When you have a pitcher coming off a serious injury, and you're on the hook to pay him millions of dollars for his future performance, you don't want him in that top one percentile. That's putting a lot on the craps table.

The downside to taking Schmidt out in the eighth inning would have been measured in intangibles. The team would have lost its umpteenth straight game. Heads would hang low. Matt Herges might have taken another blown save hard, perhaps asking to go to another organization. After being informed that the Fantastic Four didn't need another Human Torch, though, he probably just would have been demoted by the Giants to middle relief. That's it.

While it isn't a pretty picture, it beats paying someone $9M not to pitch for you. The downside to leaving Schmidt in isn't only measurable in mushroom clouds and other worst-case scenarios. It's been posited that high-pitch outings lead to lesser performances in subsequent starts. It will be interesting to watch how Schmidt fares in his next start, but the worst-case scenario is why you don't risk the arm for one non-playoff win.

The worst part about this sort of thing is the lack of closure. If Schmidt's elbow bursts into flames in August, it might have been from the stress of a single awkward pickoff throw, and not this high-pitch outing. If fatigue catches up with him because of this specific start, it might not manifest itself until October. Or, at least, it might if he were still pitching in October. Sigh. We'll never know, but it wasn't ever a risk worth taking for the short term, or the long term.

A bizarre tangent to Alou's madness is there wasn't anyone warming up in the bullpen at any point of the game. If Schmidt walked three people in a row, missing badly with tired fastballs, he was going to stay in. Like the old saying goes; if you're going to beat your horse to death, you might as well do it with a cactus. Alright, that isn't an actual old saying, but it should be.

2) Someone asked if it was hard to get up the motivation to write when the Giants are so bad. That's like asking a old-time country singer if it was hard to write songs after their spouse walked out on them. We're Giants fans, and we roll around in our self-pity like a beagle in stink. What a silly question.

Barry Bonds might go on the disabled list. The team is far below .500. With two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth inning of a tie game, Deivi Cruz is who is used to pinch-hit. And that's just the first verse. The chorus could simply be a two-part harmony crooning, "Ringless...", as a pedal steel swells in the background.

For three weeks now, there has been a strong urge to write the "I give up on this team" column, but I resisted. It's still May. If they win six games in a row, they're over .500, and the Dodgers aren't as good as they have been. I can't give up on this team yet. Edgardo Alfonzo is going to rebound. Kirk Rueter is back. If you think about the first amino acids, which evolved into something that crawled out of the primordial ooze, which in turn evolved into some vertebrate mammal, which in turn evolved into a something approximating a human, and then thousands of these apelike creatures actually evolved into humans who had to meet, mate, and keep those children alive long enough to mate on their own just for Neifi Perez to be here; well, that's pretty amazing in its own special way.

Then they were swept by the Pirates at home. This team is done. I thought the 2004 Giants were going to win the division, and now I'm not only wrong, but screwed. It's better to predict doom, and then ride the coattails of a surprise success. Lesson learned. The 2004 team isn't a winner, it's a fifty-foot long flute; full of holes, and, brother, does it blow.

3) If I'm wrong, I'll gladly eat a crow-flavored Clif bar while hiking to plant a flag on Mount Ignorance. If this team is playing in the playoffs, giving up on them in May will be the least of my worries. But now it's time to jump into the abyss, and wonder what this team can barter away in July.

Marquis Grissom, even if he slumps to a .290 average, should have pretty good value. He is holding his own in the field, and there should be a couple of playoff-bound teams who could use a right-handed centerfielder with power. He should bring a B- prospect, at the least.

Kirk Rueter could do his team a favor by continuing his mini-hot streak, but he would have the right to veto any trade as a 10-5 man (ten years in the league, the last five with the same team). His contract would also be a big obstacle, with the Giants eating a lot of money if they wanted a decent return of any kind. The same would go for Ray Durham and Alfonzo, which makes them all less likely to be dealt.

Pedro Feliz is already in his arbitration years, and has an inflated value. The Giants see the grizzled 29-year old as some perverted variation of a building block, though, so he's probably staying put. If the team thinks of Feliz as a good young player, it almost seems like a waste of time wondering what other "good young players" they can trade for. However, if the Feliz-at-short gag works, then I'm being much too harsh on him.

Random relievers can always be dealt, usually garnering minimal returns. If Jason Christiansen has anything approaching a 3.00 ERA around July, he's gone. Other odds and ends from the bullpen could be traded, with the prospects received more interesting than promising.

If A.J. Pierzynski starts to hit -- he had a horrible first month last year, as well, if you want to drink from the optimism-laced Kool-Aid -- he should be the easiest to move. Maybe the Angels could use him, sending over Jeff Mathis, Casey Kotchman, Francisco Rodriguez, and, if I may channel Sam Kinison for a moment here, THE DAMN TROPHY THAT RIGHTFULLY BELONGS TO US, YOU ONE-HIT WONDER DISNEY OWNED FLUKE BASTARDS! OH, OH, OHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Someone should want Pierzynski, hopefully giving up as much as the Giants did in the trade which made Joe Nathan a future millionaire.

There really isn't much to trade away. What if you held a fire sale, and no one came? It's a shame the Giants decided to be awful in a year when Jeff Kent wasn't approaching free agency, or Robb Nen was healthy. The players with a little trade value are saddled with huge contracts. The cheap players are either bad, mediocre, or Jerome Williams. It will be interesting to see what Brian Sabean can get for his wares, and whether he can separate the Joe Fontenots from the Russ Ortizes when they're coming from another organization.

4) The Blue Jays signed Marvin Benard to a minor-league contract. Good luck, Marvin, and here's hoping you make it back to the big leagues soon. Don't let this opportunity pass you by. If it does pass you by, it was probably because you first broke in, froze, and then raced back to wave your arms at it. The Skydome can use your unique brand of pluck, and I'm rooting for you.

5) A newish Giants/A's blog has come to my attention recently, so pay the folks at Bridge Ball a visit. When I'm drunk enough, I'll admit the A's are jostling for position as my second favorite team with the Red Sox, though not enough to actively think about either of them.

5) Comment starter of the week: Have you given up on this team? Perhaps leaving them on a doorstep, ringing the doorbell, and running like all hell?

posted by G at 11:49 PM

     Thursday, May 13, 2004

1) In the science fair of baseball, it's getting easier to figure where the Matt Herges experiment will place. Definitely behind the baking soda and vinegar volcano. Probably behind the kid who hooks up a dead goldfish to his model rocket launcher. A wide-eyed Brian Sabean hopes for the blue ribbon, but doesn't even get a certificate of entry. Nothing exciting to see here. Please move along.

The idea that a pitcher needed to have an eight-ball of magical closer dust to pick up saves was rejected last year, with the relative success of Tim Worrell. With the Giants winning 100 games last year, and the most expensive pitcher on the roster molding on the bench, it's hoped that everyone learned a lesson about overpaying for closers. Brian Sabean, Larry Baer, Peter Magowan; all wary of investing 15% of a team's budget in a pitcher who pitches 80 innings a year, if the lesson was properly learned.

It doesn't make watching Herges any easier, though. In July, he'll rattle off an ERA under 2.00, and all will be forgotten. Maybe. If he doesn't, the fear is there's a part in the back of Sabean's brain telling him he should have signed Eddie Guardardo to an $18M contract. This team needs help everywhere. If the team uses the savings realized when Robb Nen's contract comes up on a closer in the offseason, it'll be like buying a belt for a man without pants.

One of Herges' main problems is his entry music. When Trevor Hoffman is ready to come in, a bell sounds. Not just any bell, but Hell's bell. Brian Johnson yelps, "Satan's coming for you!". The guitars move from ominous to chugging. Brrrr. It's almost wasted on a pitcher who features a changeup, and not a devastating fastball, but it's a great entry song. "Enter Sandman" has its place in closer folklore, and Nen's entry to "Smoke on the Water" was more than appropriate.

Now the Giants have someone who comes in to a Rush song. That's all well and good if the team is looking to slay a level-12 mage, but not so much if they are looking to protect a one-run lead. No one is in the opposing dugout, crimping up a rally cap, thinking they have a chance, when an Eastwoodian figure emerges from the bullpen:

"A Monday warrior, mean mean pride
Today's Tom Sawyer, mean mean stride
Or some crap like that."

Oh, no. They forgot about Herges. The Monday Warrior. The game was already over, dammit. Hitters can't concentrate on hitting if they're in the dugout, having an ugly debate about the philosophies of Ayn Rand. Damn you, Herges, and your bewitching Canadian prog-rock, the other teams cry!

My own suggestion: The music from Star Wars that plays whenever Darth Vader appears on screen.

2) The Texas Rangers have more good position players from their own farm system in their current starting lineup than the Giants have had come through their system in the past 15 years. So when a second-round pick like Nate Schierholtz starts tearing through A-ball at the age of 20, it's only natural for Giants fans to get excited.

In World War II, our G.I.s made it through some tough times with Betty Grable and her illustrated gams. It almost seems silly now, that the object of their indescribable desire probably couldn't titillate a teenage boy of today. And yet, Giants fans haven't even had Betty Grable. We've maybe had an apparition of a dress-clad Milton Berle appear on a tortilla. Guiseppe Chiaramonte was once a glimmer of the future. Jacob Cruz and Armando Rios turned out to be the same person. Dante Powell was never the answer, unless the question was "Just who was that goof who tried to throw through the pitcher's mound in the 1997 playoffs?"

So, hop up on the Schierholtz bandwagon. Pack a light lunch. He's hitting for power, talking an acceptable amount of walks, and mauling everything in sight. The standard disclaimers apply, as it is a long way to the majors from A-ball, and there is no guarantee Sabean isn't going to trade him for Omar Daal. In the limited sample of last year and the start of this year, though, he is one of the Giants most exciting prospects in years.

3) Apologies to Jayson Stark:

Players currently with two doubles: Kirk Rueter, Jeff Weaver, and A.J. Pierzynski

Number of Giants starters who still haven't reached 10 strikeouts: Three

Number of people who claim putting the ball in play will result in a superior offense who can shut up: All of them

What happened when J.T. Snow met the lady with a freakishly large nose: Caught looking

Number of homeruns hit by the Giants opening day infield: Three

Number of middle infielders who have hit as many or more homeruns: Twenty nine

Number of double plays hit into by the Giants รท number of old white men who golf: One

Times Jeff Kent has looked at a sports section, and laughed at the Giants misfortune: Several

Times karma has responded by snagging Kent's moustache in his electric toothbrush: Zero

Odds Damon Minor could currently hit better than Snow: Even

Odds Ryan Minor could currently hit better than Snow: Even

Odds a cardboard cutout of Ursa Minor lifted from a planetarium could currently hit and run better than Snow: Even

Edgardo Alfonzo's career: Konocti Harbor's booking agent called; said you're too washed up to play there.

4) Apologies for the late, somewhat abridged update. I'm exhausted due to an increased workload, and getting ready to move from Oregon back to the Bay Area. I am waaaaay behind on responding to emails, which I apologize for. Nothing personal.

I'm knee deep in a job search as well. I have some decent leads in the field I'm experienced in -- property management -- but I'll take this space to ask if anyone out there knows of a job involving writing. I want to write for a living, and anything I can do to further that goal is my top priority.

Know of a position writing biographies for Ultimate Fighting Championship programs? Let me hear it. Are you an ad exec for Doll Reader magazine? I could learn to write a column about Madame Alexanders that would blow your freakin' mind. Nothing is too small or entry-level to be out of consideration. There's a part of me resigned to working in a cubicle, checking my soul at the door, for the rest of my life. I've made my peace with it, even though I still have no idea what to tip a soul-check attendant. But if I could write to pay the bills, man, that'd be sweet.

5) Comment starter of the week: You're a closer. What's your entry music?

posted by G at 11:28 PM

     Thursday, May 06, 2004

1) And every once in a while, things go your way. My incessant pimping of Brian Dallimore, as one commenter put it, made me look smart for this week, at least. I'll admit to some minor pimping, sure. Picture Taxi Driver, but the obviously adolescent Jodie Foster would have to be replaced with Ralph Macchio. Macchio was used to playing the part of a fresh faced young kid, but was at least 38 when he made Karate Kid, which would make him a good comparison for the pseudo-rookie stylings of Dallimore.

In that hypothetical situation, I would be playing the Harvey Keitel part. Gratuitous nude scenes, ahoy.

In a similar feel-good story, Yorvit Torrealba returned to the lineup, and had a succession of huge hits. A.J. Pierzynski apparently spends the time before games chomping on a big cigar, and blowing the smoke in the faces of orphans. What better way to get psyched up to hit into double plays, indeed. The pitchers want Yorvit, the fans want Yorvit. We all need a little more Yorvit in our lives, in these times.

The Giants needed the cavalry to arrive after their rough start. Picture the 55th Brigade screaming over the horizon; a bugle sounding, sabers drawn. That isn't this bunch. If Dallimore, Yorvit, and Deivi Cruz are a cavalry, it's one comprised more of burros and drunken swings, less of graceful Arabian horses and mounted troops. The excitement needs to be tempered, if just a touch.

Yorvit is good enough to start, but even after the horrible first month, the smart money is on Pierzynski. Dallimore has deserved a utility spot for a while, but he's no one's idea of a starter. Deivi is not Neifi, so he's got that going for him, which is nice. Creating an argument why the three should start begins and ends with the early miserable hitting of the incumbents. This is fair, of course, but it is only a month into the season.

Getting Neifi out of the lineup is like going after Big Tobacco; who the hell is against it? Benching Alfonzo in favor of Dallimore or Pedro Feliz is still a little short-sighted, but a strong argument could be made Alfonzo is never going to find what he has lost. My optimism is probably misplaced. Less understandable is the cry to bench Pierzynski. He has the track record, and it isn't like Yorvit has murdered the ball over the past two years. Yorvit's been perfectly acceptable, and nothing more, in his Giants career.

Felipe Alou has taken to Dallimore, so it will be interested to see who is axed from the team when Ray Durham comes back. Let's hope Dustan Mohr is working with a month-to-month arrangement, and not a lease, on his current apartment.

2) Most successful relievers have an atypical career path. This is a sentiment which should be on a plaque hanging on the wall of every major league executive, perhaps involving Ziggy in some way. The top ten active leaders in saves are a jumbled mess of failed starters, converted position players, and blue-chip starting pitching prospects who were moved to the bullpen to fill an immediate need. Witness:

John Franco was not a good prospect statistically. When he was 23, he floundered in AAA, with an ERA of 4.85, walking 42 and striking out only 54 in 115 innings.

Trevor Hoffman was a minor league reliever, and a pretty good one, before he was in the majors. Before he was a reliever, he was a shortstop, but that's another story.

Roberto Hernandez was a starter who struggled early in his career, made a return to respectability in his age-25 season. His strikeout numbers weren't anything special in the minor leagues until he was 26.

Robb Nen was a starter, and he was wilder than a coked-up Keith Moon. He was a fine starting prospect when he was a 19-year old in low-A, but didn't find success until five years later, in the bullpen.

Rod Beck was stolen from the A's, and used as a starter for most of his minor league career. He posted some nice ERAs, and excellent control. His numbers for the San Jose Giants were reminiscent of current farmhand Jeff Clark:
Rod Beck, age 21 in San Jose: 97.1 innings, 88 strikeouts, 26 walks, 2.40 ERA
Jeff Clark, age 22 in San Jose: 140 innings, 129 strikeouts, 18 walks, 2.06 ERA
Not that similar, actually, but, crap, look at those numbers for Clark! Clark is said to have a wicked curve and little else, so he might be a candidate for relief if he can't make it as a starter.

Troy Percival had pitched over 40 innings once in his four year career as a minor league pitcher -- he had been a catcher in college -- before he was in Anaheim, with varying degrees of success. He dominated the Northwest League in his pitching debut, but didn't have the same success until he was actually in the majors.

Mariano Rivera has basically never had a bad season, at any level, except for his first 19 games in the majors. He put up good numbers for a starter in the minors, but he was likely a one-pitch guy back then as well.

Jose Mesa was a bad starter in the majors after being a mediocre starter in the minors. His first extended success came his first year as a reliever, and he has had a inconsistent career ever since.

Billy Wagner is probably the biggest what-if of the bunch. He was a starter, and an awesome one. Would he have blown his shoulder out as a starter, or would he be hovering around 175 wins about now? It's best to save the second guessing for the players who don't have spectacular careers, which Wagner has surely had.

Ugueth Urbina wasn't a great starter prospect, but made it to the majors to stay by the age of 22. This was probably a case of something scouts were able to pick up on before the stats caught up.

Most of the above are among the best relievers of their generation. Then there are the middle relievers. The not-as-dominant pitchers who greatly contribute to a team's success, and become millionaires as a result. Off the top of my head: Tim Worrell1, Jeff Brantley2, Turk Wendell3, Dave Weathers4, and Paul Quantrill5. Match those up with the following:

1. Didn't have his first good major league season until age 29; didn't have his second good one until age 33.
2. Mediocre starter in the minors, converted to relieving at age 25 and had a nice career.
3. Had some impressive minor league seasons as a starter, before a poor season in AAA at age 26. He blew out his arm, and didn't pitch again until he was 28. He is also a grade-A, froot loop jackass.
4. Mediocre prospect, awful major leaguer until he hit his stride at age 31.
5. Had consistent success as a reliever, but had to endure some awful seasons as a young starter.

If you want comedy, check out Jeff Nelson's minor league stats. From 1986-1988, he was one of the worst pitchers professional baseball had ever seen. In 1990 he converted to relieving, and has had an excellent career.

Measuring defense through statistics is not an exact science. Trying to predict who will succeed in the bullpen from a pool of failed starters or career relievers is even less encouraging, and on the same level of scientific respectability as cryptozoology or phrenology. Bullpens aren't built through the draft; they're assembled from the pieces of driftwood which float by. While searching the internet to confirm Trevor Hoffman's past as a shortstop, I came upon an article by the always entertaining Chris Kahrl, who made a host of similar points. It doesn't take a Newtonian epiphany to realize that one season's Joe Nathan is the next season's Joe Nathan.

That's about 800 words to both satisfy my own curiosity, and to support my wild-ass assertion that Tyler Walker is here to stay. Too early to tell? Absolutely. Let's just file this one under "gut feeling". He's a hometown fella, and has some slinky movement on his fastball. His breaking ball can miss bats, and there is little to not like. As a starter, he hasn't embarrassed himself. As a reliever, let's hope he's entering a second career. For all the grief Brian Sabean has received for his off-season tinkering -- mostly deserved, mind you -- it is a point in his favor that two of the more interesting contributors to the Giants successful homestand were dredged from the minor league free agent pool.

3) There is a way to dutifully pick apart Sabean's moves, and a way not to do it. Making sweeping, clumsy generalizations about his acquisitions as if the benefit of hindsight didn't exist isn't helping anyone. Nick Peters has one of these columns, and it's a shame, because there is a lot Sabean needs to be called on.

Myth #1: Sabean made a mistake by acquiring Edgardo Alfonzo instead of retaining Bill Mueller at 1/6th the price.

Mueller had just finished two injury-filled seasons. When the Giants reacquired him from the Cubs, he was hitting .262 with no power. The last season he had played with the Giants, he hit .268 with a .333 on-base percentage and no power. He was going to be 32. The shoulda-resigned-Mueller contingent are the worst kind of morons.

Alfonzo had back problems, and four years is a long time. Those are legitimate concerns. However, he was 28, and for three of the previous four years he was one of the best infielders in the league. His poor 2002 looked like a hiccup. Other than the nebulous back problems, there weren't any yellow lights. And, to be fair, the back problems have never been mentioned as a reason for his prolonged awfulness.

Myth #2: Ray Durham was always brittle, and the Giants shouldn't be surprised with his constant injuries.

Durham was always healthy, never going to the disabled list until he was with the Giants. The wisdom of signing a 30-year old to play second base for four years can be questioned, but injuries were not a concern.

Myth #3: The Giants should have kept Reggie Sanders.

Maybe. They maybe should have kept him around after the 2002 season, if he came cheap enough. Given the choice between Sanders and Jose Cruz, Jr., without the benefit of hindsight, Sabean made the right choice. Sanders had a .324 on-base percentage, and a long, long injury history. He was going to be 35.

After playing for six teams in six years, Sanders put his foot down -- probably injuring it -- and said he wasn't taking anything less than a two year deal. It's hard to blame him, especially after he came off one of his better years. That doesn't mean he was a good investment, though. He's still injury-prone, and now he's 36. The Cardinals look like they got a good deal now, but there is still plenty of time for that contract to look bad. Remember, Damian Moss had an ERA under 4.00 at this point last year.

Myth #4: The Giants were being cheap by not signing Tim Worrell.

No way. Paying $4M to an aging reliever who, at his best, was only above-average is poor business. Matt Herges is the same pitcher, but came much cheaper. Before Worrell was on the Giants, and before he found success with the Cubs, he was kicking around the waiver wire. There's guys like him out there right now, and one of Sabean's best attributes is in finding them.

Myth #5: The Giants should have kept Russ Ortiz instead of Kirk Rueter.

Er, probably. Pitchers like Ortiz tend to age better than pitchers like Rueter. The Giants were holding a dozen eggs in Jesse Foppert, Jerome Williams, and Kurt Ainsworth, while dreaming about how much fun they were going to have when they became chickens. The real problem isn't that the Giants gave Ortiz up, it's that they pissed the savings away on Michael Tucker, Neifi Perez, and J.T. Snow instead of buying one real player.

Those three acquisitions are where Sabean should be taking the most heat. Tucker was a poor starter, even when his numbers aren't adjusted for Kaufmann Stadium. Perez was, is, and will always be awful. If the Giants had Richie Sexson at first, and Bobby Abreu in right, his presence would be acceptable. Instead they have Tucker, who would be acceptable if the Giants had Sexson at first, and Miguel Tejada at short. Instead, they have Snow, who would be acceptable if the Giants had Tejada at first, and Abreu in right. Round and round it goes, where it stops, nobody knows. Wait, that's not true. It stops at fourth place. Damn.

By second-guessing all the moves Sabean made which didn't work out, even if they appeared sound at the time, it's letting him off the hook. He can ignore all the second-guessing, because a segment of it is ridiculous to the point of not deserving of a response. The Giants have black holes for 3/8ths of the lineup. That's enough second-guessing fodder for the whole season, before the 20/20 hindsight comes into play.

4) Comment starter of the week: If you could make one move for the Giants, what would it be? It could be a trade, future free agent signing, or calling up one of the hitting prospect. Kicking Lou Seal in the crotch is implied, so think up something different.

posted by G at 2:39 AM



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