Friday, November 21, 2014

2015 Giants Depth Chart: Starting Pitching Part I

Despite winning their 3'rd championship in 5 years, the Giants come out of 2014 with their starting pitching looking more unsettled and precarious than it has in more than 5 seasons.  The roster as it currently stands has 1 ace pitcher and 4 major question marks with not a lot of help immediately available in the upper minors.  

MLB Starters:

1.  Madison Bumgarner- 18-10, 2.98, 217.1 IP, 9.07 K/9, 1.78 BB/9.  Undisputed ace of the staff and one of the elite pitchers in baseball, especially in the postseason.  The best part he is still getting better adding in the high heater and the slow curve late as serious weapons late in the season and postseason.

2.  Matt Cain- 2-7, 4.18, 90.1 IP, 6.97 K/9, 3.19 BB/9.  We'll pencil Cainer in as the #2 until proven otherwise, but lots of questions in the wake of his early season ending elbow surgery.  Can he fully recover?  What will his velocity be like?  Can he succeed with the same stuff and approach he is used to?  We could be at a career crossroads for The Hoss.

3.  Tim Hudson- 9-13, 3.57, 189.1 IP, 5.70 K/9, 1.62 BB/9.  Will the offseason be enough to rejuvenate Huddy?  He was tremendous in the first half last year, kind of collapsed down the stretch and was clearly out of gas by the end of the World Series.

4.  Yusmeiro Petit- 5-5, 3.69, 117 IP, 10.23 K/9, 1.69 BB/9.  Petit took over Lincecum's spot in the rotation down the stretch and was tremendous.  He carried that into the postseason.  He may be the second best SP on the team at this point, but has a history of inconsistency.  Rags tweaked the curveball and made is harder and sharper.  Is that the key to a new consistency?

5. Tim Lincecum- 12-9, 4.74, 155.2 IP, 7.75 K/9, 3.64 BB/9.  Maybe it was coincidence but Timmy fell apart when Hector Sanchez went out with the concussion.  He seemed to get a bit stronger as the postseason wore on, but Bochy still clearly did not trust him.  $18 M says he will be back in the rotation  to start the season, but for how long?  He has steadily lost velocity each season and was under 90 MPH for his average FB for the first time last year.  Tough to see him turn that around and tough to see him as a finesse pitcher.

Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong are both FA's.  The tea leaves are telling me that Peavy is gone, but that Vogey will probably be back on a similar deal as last year.  Vogey might be the guy who goes to the long relief/spot starter role.

AAA:

Chris Heston(RHP)- 12-9, 3.38, 173 IP, 6.50 K/9, 2.65 BB/9.  Heston is probably the 6'th starter as it currently sits, but it is almost certain someone will be brought in for that role before the offseason is over.  If not Vogey, then 2-3 minor league signs with ST invites.

Mike Kickham(LHP)- 8-8, 4.43, 148.1 IP, 7.95 K/9, 3.88 BB/9.  Kickham got worse as the season progressed.  At this point, his career seems to be going backwards.  Frustrating to watch because he appears to have good stuff.  Can he turn it around?  

Jake Dunning(RHP)- 0-3, 4.57, 65 IP, 7.06 K/9, 3.60 BB/9.  Dunning was exclusively a reliever until the final 3 weeks of the season when he got 4 starts.  The beat writers had been reporting that the Giants thought he might have a starters repertoire.  He went 3.60 ERA with 15 IP, 2 BB, 12 K's in those 4 starts.  Kind of a sleeper for 2015.

Austin Fleet(RHP)- 4-2, 3.95, 43.1 IP, 6.85 K/9, 2.70 BB/9.  AA- 8-1, 2.78, 97 IP, 7.14 K/9, 3.34 BB/9.  Fleet has been slowly and quietly working his way up the minor league ladder.  He held his own in the PCL which is a notoriously tough place to pitch.  Another sleeper candidate.

Kelvin Marte(LHP)- 1-2, 5.45, 36.1 IP, 5.20 K/9, 1.98 BB/9.  AA- 8-3, 3.83, 5.69 K/9, 2.38 BB/9. As you can see, Marte is an extreme contact pitcher.  I saw him pitch a couple of years ago with San Jose.  He had a FB that sat 90-92 MPH with a nice breaking ball and a solid changeup.  Longshot to be an eventual back of the rotation MLB starter.

Because of volume, we will cover lower levels in future installments.

Scouting the 2015 Draft: Justin Hooper

Justin Hooper is a big(6'7", 230 lb) HS LHP from Northern California with about as high a ceiling as you can get in a draft prospect.  Despite his size, he is athletic looking and muscular as opposed to doughy looking.  His FB on the summer showcase circuit hit 97 MPH and he has a good hard curve to go with it.  He is just starting to work on a changeup, but it has already shown some promise.

He has a low 3/4 delivery somewhat reminiscent of Madison Bumgarner's but with less sweep.  He also  rocks back in more of a drop and drive style.  His release point is closer to his body than Bummy's.  There is some effort in his delivery, but not an excessive amount.  The drop and drive thing reminds me a bit of Clayton Kershaw except with the low release point.

BA has him ranked as the #7 draft prospect for 2015.  Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs has him at #9.  Barring injury, I think he will easily go top 5.  For me, he easily has the highest ceiling of any of the 2015 draft prospects I have seen.  Personally, I have him as my current 1-1.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hot Stove Update: Giants Add 4 to 40 Man Roster

One of the most senseless events in all of sports, the Rule 5 Draft, is coming up in a few days.  Today was the deadline for adding minor league players who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft to 40 man rosters where they are protected.  The rule for the Rule 5 Draft is that prospects drafted out of college with 4 years of service and HS draftees and international signees with 5 years of service time can be selected by other teams in a draft order.  Selecting teams have to pay the team losing the player $25 K.  The drafted player has to stay on the selecting team's 25 man roster all season or else be offered back for $50 K.  Or maybe I have the $$$ backwards?  At any rate, it is a ridiculous exercise that yields a star player for the selecting team about as often as Halley's Comet comes around, in case someone wants to bring up Johan Santana.

At any rate, the Giants DFA'd Juan Gutierrez and added RHP's Ray Black, Joan Gregorio, Derek Law and Cody Hall to the 40 man roster.  Pitchers, especially relief pitchers, are probably the most vulnerable to the Rule 5 Draft process because the bullpen is the most likely place a young player might contribute right away even with unpolished stuff so these adds make sense if the Giants think they might be future contributors to the MLB club.

2015 Giants Depth Chart: Corner Outfield

The Giants have one corner OF spot locked down for the next 4 years and another that seems to be a chronic source of frustration.  The farm has some interesting possibilities for the not too distant future.

MLB STARTER:  RF Hunter Pence- .277/.332/.445, 20 HR, 13 SB, 7.3 BB%, 18.4 K%, 708 PA, 4.7 fWAR. Barring injury, Pence has RF locked down for the next 4 seasons.

LF  Open.

MLB RESERVE:  Gregor Blanco- .260/.333/.374, 5 HR, 16 SB, 9.2 BB%, 17.3 K%, 444 PA, 2.0 fWAR.  Blanco is a candidate to be the starter in LF.  He's averaged 3.1 fWAR/600 PA over the last 3 seasons.  If you limit potentially available starting LF to guys who are likely to do at least that well, the line is not long!

Travis Ishikawa- .274/.333/.397, 2 HR, 7.4 BB%, 28.4 K%, 81 PA.  Ishikawa had basically never played LF in the majors before the postseason.  The extra versatility makes it likely he will be on the 25 man roster in 2015.  He's arb eligible and may be non-tendered first.

Juan Perez- .170/.224/.270.  Love little Juan, but bless his heart, I do hope the Giants can find a better option for reserve OF next season.

AAA:  Mark Minicozzi- .298/.400/.470, 12 HR, 13.2 BB%, 22.4 K%, 370 PA.  Minicozzi is a minor league FA, but will probably be back.

Chris Dominguez- .274/.307/.460, 21 HR, 21 SB, 4.2 BB%, 27.1 K%, 528 PA.  Hacker Supreme!  Interesting tools but probably will never make enough contact for the bat to play in MLB.

Jarrett Parker- .278/.360/.456, 3 HR, 1 SB, 10.1 BB%, 25.8 K%, 89 PA.  AA:  .275/.370/.463, 12 HR, 11 SB, 10.7 BB%, 24.6 K%, 419 PA.  Parker is a 3 True Outcomes guy, so it probably should not be surprising that he seems to put up about the same numbers wherever he goes.  He does that in MLB with at least average D and he's a very valuable player.  Worry is the K's would balloon and the BA would collapse in the majors.

AA:  Devin Harris- .256/.310/.437, 13 HR, 7 BB%, 28.2 K%, 429 PA.  I like Harris a lot, but at age 27, you have to think his career is going to run out of gas somewhere in AAA.

Elliott Blair- .240/.318/.313, HR, 4 SB, 9.3 BB%, 25 K%, 108 PA.  Blair was a low round draft pick in 2011 and he keeps hanging around.  Again, at age 27, time may be running short.

HIGH A:  Tyler Horan- .321/.376/.670, 10 HR, 6 SB, 7.7 BB%, 26.5 K%, 117 PA.  Low A:  .273/.350/.481, 15 HR, 9 SB, 9.4 BB%, 23.3 K%, 417 PA.  Horan hit well in Augusta then kicked it up a notch after a promotion to SJ.  He was promoted to Richmond for the EL postseason which usually means that's where he will start in 2015.  Richmond will be the big test.

Chuckie Jones- .256/.326/.404, 15 HR, 17 SB, 8.8 BB%, 27.4 K%, 547 PA.  Chuckie Jones does a lot of things well.  Can he overcome the K tendency?  Is he ready to try AA?  Still has a little time at age 22.

Mac Williamson-.318/.420/.506, 3 HR, 6 SB, 13.0 BB%, 14.0 K%, 100 PA.  Mac would have been assigned to AA, but could not throw due to a torn UCL, so he went to SJ to DH.  He underwent TJ surgery after about a month and should be ready to play in the spring.  The Giants tend to be cautious with rehabbing players, so don't be shocked if he's back in SJ to start the season.

LOW A:  Rafael Rodriguez- .269/.309/.357, 5 HR, 3.7 BB%, 11.0 K%, 301 PA.  This was RafRod's best pro season, but barring an unexpected breakout, he's probably not going far.

SHORT SEASON:  Austin Slater- .347/.417/.449, 2 HR, 7 SB, 7.6 BB%, 12.9 K%, 132 PA.  I really like the early returns on Slater and think he has some power upside.  Can't wait to see what he does in 2015.

Dylan Davis- .200/.269/.341, 4 HR, 7.5 BB%, 24.7 K%, 93 PA.  After hitting .297 in 41 PA in Arizona, Davis struggled to make contact in the NWL.  Is pitching in his future?

Hunter Cole- .239/.311/.424, 4 HR, 7.7 BB%, 19.2 K%, 104 PA.  Interesting low round draft pick to keep an eye on.

Shilo McCall- .200/.269/.333.  Very disappointing season for McCall.  Not sure where he goes from here.  Probably has 1 more season at the most to get some traction on his career.

ROOKIE AZL:  Brennan Metzger- .354/.460/..500, 4 SB, 15.8 BB%, 7.9 K%, 101 PA.  24 yo but coming off a debilitating illness that cost him a full season.  Will need to move fast.

Byron Murray- .279/.347/.412, 8 BB%, 20 K%, 75 PA.  Love the upside of this 19 yo HS draftee.

DSL:  Jean Angomas- .286/.384/.383, 9 SB, 12.3 BB%, 8.3 K%, 204 PA.  Some speed and plate discipline.

Robinson Medrano- .268/.368/.373, 2 HR, 3 SB, 11.2 BB%, 20.7 K%, 242 PA.  Improved on his 2013 DSL season.  Will he get a call to the states in 2015?  I am intrigued by his size at 6'3", 180 lbs.

Carlos Valdez- .240/.333/.388, 3 HR, 2 SB, 11.3 BB%, 12.0 K%, 142 PA.  If he does not get called up to the states this year, he's probably done.

I am cautiously optimistic about Williamson, Horan and Slater.  I am cautiously hopeful about Chuckie Jones, Byron Murray and Robinson Medrano.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hot Stove Update: Billy Beane Signs Billy Butler

Has a nice ring to it, no?  In fact, I am not convinced that the name alliteration is not one of the main reasons this deal happened!  After striking out when he loaded up on pitching at the trade deadline last year, Billy Beane goes back to what he knows best, which is stocking up on DH's. Billy Butler is probably an upgrade on Nate Frieman for RH side of a DH platoon, but from the price, you might think Billy Butler is being brought in to DH full time.  That's OK if you are getting the 2012 version of Country Breakfast, but Butler's numbers have declined rather steeply for 2 consecutive seasons for no obvious reason.  You certainly can't blame his paltry .702 OPS from 2014 on a low BABIP as that was .310 although I admit Butler is a guy who sustained higher BABIP's for several years.  He's just a big slow guy who hits a ton of ground balls who can't play a position.  Perfect fit for Billy Beane and the Oakland A's!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Scouting the 2015 Draft: Dansby Swanson

Before we get started on Dansby Swanson's profile, the Giants moved up to the #20 pick in the first round of the 2015 draft yesterday when the Toronto Blue Jays signed Russell Martin.

Dansby Swanson has played 2B for Vanderbilt the last 2 seasons, but is expected to take over their SS position for 2015 and is seen as a player who can stick at the position in the pros.  Here is his batting line from 2014:

.333/.411/.475, 27 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 22 SB, 5 CS, 37 BB, 49 K's in 282 AB.  As you can see, he is a contact hitter with gap power and some speed who can draw a walk.

On video, he has a short, quick swing with almost no load, kind of a RH version of Joe Panik.

BA ranks him #6 on their list of 2015 draft prospects while Kiley McDaniel has him at #7.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hot Stove Update: Stoking the Fire!

The Hot Stove got stoked to a white hot intensity level today as there was a major trade, a major FA signing and the announcement of the biggest contract in the history of not just baseball, but all of professional sports!  Let's start with the trade:

The Atlanta Braves traded OF Jason Heyward and RHP Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for RHP's Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins, a prospect who is a former first round draft pick, but who has also struggled with injuries and has yet to pitch above A ball.  We all know who Jason Heyward is.  He is the OF who was drafted in the first round the same year, 2007, that Madison Bumgarner was drafted by the Giants.  A lot of Giants fans, me included, desperately wanted the Giants to draft a hitter that year and Heyward was high on my list and a lot of others too, so there is always going to be that comparison.

Heyward is coming off a down offensive season, but he is a true 5 tool athlete who runs well and played excellent defense so his fWAR as an impressive 5.2 despite the relatively disappointing offensive stats. Heyward will provide a big upgrade on RF for the Cardinals for at least 1 season.  He is scheduled to become a FA at the end of the 2015 season and appears to be intent on testing the open market.

Granted, Heyward's offensive output in 2014 may well be his floor, but it has declined for 2 consecutive seasons.  Just for fun, let's compare Jason Heyward's 2014 numbers with an unnamed player we will call Player A:

Jason Heyward:  .271/.351/.384, .329 wOBA, 110 wRC+, 5.2 fWAR, 649 PA.
Player A:             .260/.333/.374, .317 wOBA, 107 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR, 444 PA.

The wOBA's ranked #42 and 54 among MLB OF's while the wRC+'s ranked #41 and #48.  Since fWAR is a counting stat, if Player A is normalized to 649 PA's the fWAR comes up to nearly 3.0.  The remainder of the difference is mainly due to a much higher UZR on defense for Heyward.  It turns out that Player A is Gregor Blanco who probably is closer to Heyward on defense than their UZR's would indicate. So, from that perspective, the Cardinals gave up Shelby Miller and a prospect for one year's service from a player who was slightly better than Gregor Blanco last year. On the other hand, as I said before, even at worst, Heyward is a significant upgrade on RF for the Cards.

The other piece coming to the Cardinals is Jordan Walden a hard throwing reliever who was once considered an elite prospect.  He should fit right in with the other flame throwers in the Cardinals bullpen.  I will just mention that Walden has a very unorthodox windup and delivery where he takes a skip step with his back foot that I do not understand why it is not an illegal pitch.

Shelby Miller is a solid young RHP who has at least 3 years of team control on his contract.  He will bolster a Braves rotation that has been decimated by injuries in the past 2 seasons.  Evan Gattis will move to LF with Justin Upton moving to RF if he is not also traded.  Christian Betancourt will presumably take over catching duties.

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Russell Martin, a native of Canada signed a 5 year/$85 M contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.  Martin has always been an excellent defensive catcher with some power, but had a spike in his BA to .290 in 2014.  This seems to me to be an example of an undervalued skill, pitch framing, becoming so sought after, it may have become overvalued!  That and the shiny spike in BA from last year would seem to be the drivers of this large, long contract.  I will predict that this quickly becomes a bad contract for the Blue Jays.

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On the other hand, it just might be true that there is no longer such a thing as a bad contract in baseball with the way owners seem to be able to sign mind-bogglingly enormous contracts any time the urge hits them.  That was certainly the case today as news emerged of a 13 year/$325 M contract between the Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton.  Stanton is the premier young power hitter in baseball and power is becoming an increasingly rare and valuable commodity.  Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs wrote a nice piece showing that Stanton will likely come close to producing to the value of his contract over it's duration, and may well even surpass it!  I would caution that Stanton has already been banged up a bit in his career and is already a negative defender in the OF, so those could be factors that drag down the value of his production.  In addition, the history of very large contracts is that they have never produced championships for the teams that sign them.  Perhaps the best thing to come out of the Stanton contract its that we will no longer be plagued by wildly implausible trade proposals for him on baseball oriented websites!