Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Early Thoughts on Spring Training

The excitement of seeing ballplayers dressed in uniforms on a grass field wears off pretty quickly in the early days of spring training.  There is not much to report from a lineup of pitchers throwing to a lineup of catchers and there certainly is not a lot of running around.  This could lead into a diatribe about how spring training needs to be shortened, but I think I did that last year and maybe the year before.  It's more than a little risky to try to read too much into the early tea leaves of spring training.  Everybody is in the best shape of their lives.  Nobody is injured.  Everybody is looking forward to a great season.  Blah, blah, blah!  That said, there are a few tidbits from the first phase of the Giants spring training to tantalize us into thinking this might actually be a great season.

Matt Cain truly does look like he is in the best shape of his life!  Reports on his recovery from elbow surgery are encouraging.  He has near full range of motion in the elbow for the first time in years.  He is reportedly throwing without pain.  He took the opportunity to strengthen the shoulder during the rehab process.  Of course none of this means much until he toes the rubber in a game that counts, but a fully healthy and effective Matt Cain would be a huge shot in the arm for a starting rotation that looked very much frayed around the edges by the end of last season.

Tim Lincecum has steadily lost velocity and effectiveness over the past several years.  It is unclear how much of that is due to the emotional distance that grew between him and his dad, Chris Lincecum over the years, but Timmy went to his dad over the offseason and asked for help in rebuilding his mechanics.  Early reports from the bullpen sessions sound encouraging.  Timmy is not that far off.  He did pitch a no-hitter last season and had a pretty good mid-season run before things collapsed after Hector Sanchez got hurt.  He probably does not need to throw 94 MPH again to be effective.  91 with better command will get the job done.  Again, a healthy and effective Timmy would be another big shot in the arm for the frayed rotation.  Having both Cain and Timmy back with some semblance of effectiveness would be amazing!

On the not so good news side, Tim Hudson is a bit behind in his recovery from ankle surgery although the official line is still that he will be ready to start the season.  This one is less of a worry, especially if Cainer is healthy and Timmy is effective.  Getting Vogey back took care of that.

One interesting article came out about Buster Posey working with the minor league pitchers in camp.  Early word on Chris Stratton is encouraging as well as on Ty Blach.  Buster thought Kyle Crick seemed "tentative" in letting the ball go and gave him some encouragement to just let it fly.

Nori Aoki seems to be a bit of a character which fits right into the Giants clubhouse full of characters, in a good way.  He needs to make sure to not get too serious about wrestling Madison Bumgarner, though.  I can see visions of that Japanese wrestler kicking at Muhammed Ali's legs way back in the day.  That would not be good!

Angel Pagan's health is a huge key to the season.  Pagan did not show up to FanFest and took his sweet time getting to camp, but reportedly checked in yesterday afternoon and has assured Bruce Bochy he is ready to go 160 games this season.

Lastly, a tip of the cap to the miracles of modern medicine.  Just a few years ago, Bruce Bochy would have had to undergo coronary bypass surgery with his sternum sawed open and probably would have missed half the season.  As is, he had a couple of stents put in and was back on the field in 3 days.  Interesting that Boch said he felt better almost immediately after the blockage was opened up and he had been feeling less than 100% all winter.  Sounds like Boch may have dodged a bullet there, even with modern medicine.  He says he already eats pretty healthy.  His single biggest risk factor for recurrence is the cigars and chaw.  Those gotta go!

Still a week away from the first exhibition game.  Spring training is way too long and needs to be shortened!


  1. The optimism of spring training... I wish the press would move on to that instead of the constant whinging over the 'lack of big name signings' and the 'loss of power.'

    I look at going into 2014 and going into 2015 and I don't see how this team has 'fallen backwards.' First base is probably somewhat better as Belt continued his progression as a hitter until he was pummeled with injuries and even then had a nice bounce-back at the end of the season. At second base Panik is a solid replacement for Scutaro and there's no, IMO, real drop off in over-all contribution to the team in the swap. Short-stop is still the same with Crawford and his solid range and huge arm.

    3B loses a bit with McGehee, but in 2014 Sandoval had his second best WAR last year at 3.0 while McGehee put in his second-best WAR at 2.0. So while there is a 1.0 WAR drop-off, it's not like we got Middlebrooks for 3B and moved into a potential/likely -WAR situation.

    Pence is Pence and there are no worries there. Pagan is back and past the knee and back problems that plagued his injury shortened season from April until he ended his seasons. And while his fragility remains an issue, I think Blanco proved he's an excellent 4th OF, though not in Pagan's class as a hitter.

    Loosing Morse was not as a big of deal to me as it was to the press and others. Yes, he hit a lot of HRs. But in about one-third of season's worth of LF he had a -9 DRS. That put a big dent in the 'production' benefit of the 10HRs he hit during his time as a LF. If we were a AL team I'd be crying about the loss if he were a DH. But his defense is so bad that it turns him into a 1.0 WAR player and with a cumulative career WAR of 3.6 (of which 3.1 came in one year with the Nationals) in 10 seasons (full & partial) in the majors.

    In short, Morse is (typically) not any better than replacement level as his negatives tend to wipe out his positives. We'd be better with Blanco as the starter, never mind Aoki who is, IMO, a significant upgrade over Morse. Or, let me put it this way, last year Aoki had a bad defensive season, he still put up a better WAR than Morse and in his 3 MLB seasons has a culmulative WAR of 6.2 while being very steady in his WAR generation.

    So, for position players, I think this team is better than last years. As far as pitching goes... I don't see it being worse. It could be better with a healthy, pain-free Cain. And as long as Peavy and Hudson don't fall off the earth, this year's opening day staff should be somewhat better than last year's opening day staff while the bull-pen remains at least the same, possibly improved with Vogelsong to be the spot-starter over Petit and his 5.03 spot-starter ERA.

    1. Not to mention that Lincecum might snap back with his father's direction. If his problems of the last three years have brought with them more anxiety because he felt or knew that his father was thinking and maybe saying "I told you so," he may have his mental state improved and not only his mechanics on the mound, now that the two Lincecums are working together again.

    2. I believe in WAR probably more than most. But, Aoki for Morse is a loss:

      Lost in Ishikawa's heroics in NLCS Game 5 is Morse's shot to tie it in the 8th. Critical.

      Lost in MadBum's extraordinary performance in WS game 7 is Morse driving in 2 runs, in a 3-2 victory. Pretty important RBIs.

      I realize it's SSS, but crucial games ARE small sample size.

      WAR stats are useful for the season, useful for getting to the playoffs. But you've gotta perform when you arrive.

      (Same argument, more data on the McGehee Pablo, you can fill in the details)

    3. One thing that gets lost with WAR and stats is personality. Pablo and Morse were good club house guys. They both kept the team loose. Pablo is putting on Bum's cowboy boots after a big hit. Morse is talking to Pence about something a pitcher just threw. You can't judge their worth to the team just by WAR. Aoki and Mc Hits might have a better WAR score. My hope is somehow they can replace the energy in the clubhouse that is now gone. It's very important in a 162 game season.

    4. WAR certainly is not a perfect stat and clearly has its limitations, but I believe it is the single best stat for approximating a players relative overall value. By WAR, Aoki is a clear upgrade on Morse in LF, less so on Blanco.

      As for postseason performance and "clutch" performance, a lot of it is just random chance attributable to small sample sizes. Bumgarner had a tremendous postseason, but were any of us surprised at that? Bumgarner is a pretty darn good performer over the long haul too. It was just an elite player elevating his performance just enough to dominate.

      When he's healthy, Morse is a very good hitter, so his postseason heroics were not out of line with his expected performance, but the guy cannot play anywhere in the field except 1B.

      As for Aoki, he had a rough World Series, but starred in the previous postseason series' leading up to the World Series, so it is most likely just a sample size thing.

      You put Travis Ishikawa up there in the exact same situation 20 times and hitting the walk off would probably only happen once. Is that luck? Not entirely. It took skill to put that swing on the ball, but statistics tell you with a high degree of certainty that in repeated AB's in the same situation, he would have some sort of positive outcome a little more than 3 times out of 10 and hit a HR about 1 out of 20.

    5. Wow I'm kind of stunned. You base an entire argument on one play? A play that doesn't happen 26 out of 27 times for Morse? Because that's his average HR/AB rate in the past three years.

      It's such a silly proposition that it's not even worth an argument when one considers that 26 out of 27 times he'd have failed. And yet that's what you've hung your hat on...

    6. For KJ, if you add runs scored and RBI for Morse in 2014, you get 109, and for Aoki 106. Morse, to get to his sum, needed a BABIP of .348, and he also struck out a quarter of the time, thereby advancing no runners. Aoki had a .311 BABIP, an easily sustainable level, and struck out less than nine percent of the time. Offensively I'm just as glad to have Aoki's skills as Morse's, in different roles of course. Defensively everyone will agree there's no comparison.

      As to the benefits of clubhouse camaraderie, Aoki's joking about a wrestling match with Bumgarner suggests to me that he will be a very welcome clubhouse presence. I dare say that the Giants know how to take team chemistry into account when they make personnel moves. Is this really in doubt?

    7. To be clear, I support what the Giants have this off-season. I understand the limitations of Morse and the large and ever-growing liability he is in left field. And Pablo was leaving, save some kind of really outlandish, ridiculous offer by the Giants.

      So the Giants got replacements, as best they could that would serve the team now (preserving a decent opportunity to make the playoffs) and would not cripple financial flexibility going forward. Not an exciting off-season. But, they did a good job all things considered.

      But let's not pretend that that makes this a better team.

      One time MosesZD? Yeah, hell of a time. NLCS, down a run in the bottom of the 8th. Important game to tie up. With nobody on base.

      And, oh, yeah, and those two RBIs in game 7. (Not beat Aoki up, I think he's good player. But if HE had had 2 RBIs in Game 7, the Royals would be World Series Champions. Little things like that in little single (ONE) games can make or break a season. Ask the Royals.

      Campanari, the Giants do have some mis-steps with acquiring very good players who, well, didn't fit: AJ & Beltran come to mind. The Giants paid dearly for both, and neither fit. At all.

      And while Aoki seems like a live personality, I'm not as sure about McGehee. But it's fair to think, at this point, that clubhouse wise, you take Pablo/Morse over Aoki/McGehee.

    8. If any stat head wonders why I used R + RBI instead of wRC+, I did so to put the offensive performance in a team context, because KJ addressed situational hitting, not isolated performance. The stats are shaky in that although the total run environment was similar--the Giants and Royals scored about the same number of runs in 2014--Aoki had more PAs than Morse and batted in a quite different spot in the lineup. Nor do I know of stats that reflect how productive Morse's and Aoki's outs were, how many men, that is, got moved into scoring position or from second to third with fewer than two out, by Morse and Aoki. I used the strikeout percentage as a loose proxy for a likely comparison between them as to productive outs; and I would count its effects in favor of Aoki to at least balance out the disparity in the number of PAs each of the men had in 2014.

    9. KJ, I'm not pretending anything. I think this may be a better team than last year's. Aoki is actually a pretty big upgrade on the OF over Morse. McGehee may be a small downgrade on Pablo at 3B, but then Panik plays a whole season at 2B. Hopefully Cain and Pagan are healthy. Full season of Peaves. Belt continues to develop and stays healthy. I don't think it's a give than this team is worse than last year's at all and there is a real possibility that it may be better.

      Campanari, I'm OK with R+RBI. I know other players contribute, but it actually happens on the field. wRC+ has its uses, but it is a derived stat, and therefore subject to the built-in errors of calculation.

  2. Still, would life without cigars really be worth living?

  3. Biggest pluses for the season:

    Aoki over Morse
    Panik over no one
    Belt over no one.
    A healthy EA/Duffy

    With Belt at 1b, there is no reason to play Posey every day. That will keep him fresh. Susac may be a drop off, but not by much and we had a drop off regardles of who gives Posey a breather.
    Duffy/EA at back ups will give Panik and, more importantly, Crawford a break. Same issue.
    Aoki is a far superior defensive out fielder. Regardless of what Belt does, his production at first will (I'm betting) be equal or better to Morse plus whatever we got out of 1b when Belt was hurt.
    Panik is lightyears of the scrubs playing 2b last year.

    I'm betting our offense will actually be much better, and we'll have better defense to boot. If Timmy and Cain are even close to .500, with Bumgarner and Peavey, we could be very very good.

    ah, spring.

  4. I am very optimistic about Cain, not so much about Timmy. Cain's issues were clearly health related while Timmy seems to be grasping at straws. Reminds me of when Zito when come into camp with a different strategy trying to fix his woes ( doing it again this year with the A's) and the end result was the same. You give it to these guys for not giving up but at some point that "magic" is just done and I think we have reached that point with Timmy but I hope I am wrong. I think the front office has prepared us for that too with all the starting pitching and long men options we have in camp.

    Billy Baseball

    1. I don't expect the magic. What I want is for him to stay in control and avoid the big melt downs. Every pitcher is going to have a few of them every year. But Timmy had a good 7 or 8 with the rest of his games being anywhere from great to good-enough-to-win.

  5. The good news about ST being too long is, if it were shorter, it would start later, and we'd be focusing on the holes rather than the plugs!

  6. What was the good word on Ty Blach?

    1. Nothing specific. Just that his pitches looked crisp in the bullpen sessions.

    2. I'll take it. He or Blackburn would be guys who you could see a Panikian rise. Mildly disappointing years in Richmond then a bettr year after and a solid jump to the show.

  7. Question about WAR you guys probably know:

    How many games would a team comprised entirely of Replacement Players win during the 162-game MLB season?

    Where I'm going with that is, I'd like to add an MLB team's total WAR (Say the Giants) to the wins a replacement team would have won, and see if the sum matches the team's actual wins. Or how close it comes.

    Anyone know?

    1. I don't have the exact number, but it's around 45 Wins for a team comprised of exclusively replacement players.

    2. So, just wild ballparking, using Baseball Reference WAR for the 2014 Giants, shows 20.2 WAR for batting/defense & 15.2 WAR. (I believe I'm reading that correctly. Anyone feel free to correct me.)

      Puts the Giants at around 81 Wins (45 + 20.2 + 15.2).

      Assuming this is accurate (big assumption), where did the other 7 wins come from?

    3. According to the same Baseball Reference, the Giants 2014 Pythagorean W-L was 87-75 so they were actually only 1 game better than they should have been by WAR. Don't ask me how that was calculated. Maybe Replacement Team WAR is closer to 50 Wins?

    4. I used to do Pythagorean W/L stuff. It's not bad in baseball, but in football in can be way off:

      Team A -- Year 1 367PF 351PA -- 10-6 (no major blow-outs on offense or defense and won or lost the majority of it's games by narrow margins)
      Team A: -- Year 2 384PF 337PA -- 7-9 (blew out a number of opponents, and lost games by narrow margins)
      Team A: -- Year 5 298PF 412 PA -- 7-9 (no blows, won games by narrow margins, got blown out quite a few times)

      Works much, much better in baseball due to the 162 game schedule.

      The theory would tell us Year 2 should have a higher record. But football is, very much and among many things, a sport that has a tremendous small-sample bias problem when it comes to many of its stats.

    5. According to baseballreference.com, replacement team WAR is 48 games. As to the Giants' rWAR collectively and this base number, I assume that any discrepancies have to do with the formulas by which BR calculates WAR. I wonder if there are the same discrepancies with Fangraphs, which I infer from the BR website also uses 48 as the base number for a replacement-level team. My preference has been to use fWAR rather than rWAR, a preference wholly based on impressionistic reasons.

  8. Pythagorean, as I understand it, is solely based on Runs Scored vs. Runs Against. So it only considers the bottom line of the actual runs that a team has produced and allowed.

    So as MosesZD points out above, this system my be inaccurate with regard to inordinate ratio amount of blowouts vs. close games. And small sample size beats it up pretty well. (except, of course, a sample size of 1, which is the runs scored and allowed in an actual single game, in which case it works perfectly.)

    WAR seems much more complex, measuring an individual's performance, as it contributes to wins. Some of these areas of performance may have more wiggle room than others (Defensive Metrics). More complexity should allow for more +/- error potential. When multiplied by all the players that have played for a team in a year. Could add up to something.