Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Top 10 Giants Moments of 2015

Rejoice, Giants fans. An even year is coming. The blessed year of Our Lord 2016 will soon be upon us, so now is the time to look back on the 12 months that were. Certainly, part of what took place in 2015 was a baseball season. And part of that baseball season was 162 Giants games. Some of them were delightful. Others were less delightful (I'm looking at you, Justin Bour). In this post, however, we'll focus only on the positive. Without further ado, here are the top 10 moments (and an honorable mention) of the 2015 Giants season:

Honorable Mention:
Madison Bumgarner Rides a Horse at AT&T Park; Giants Celebrate 2014 Title


It doesn't get much better than this. The Giants raising the championship banner and receiving their rings is just an honorable mention on this list because the ceremonies were in honor of the previous season. Nobody wanted 2015 to be about 2014, and the Giants succeeded in that regard: 2015 was special. It was a good year in which the team ultimately fell short. However, the images of Madison Bumgarner riding a horse while hoisting the championship banner and Giants executives, coaches, and players receiving World Series rings will not soon be forgotten.

10) Khris Davis Doesn't (But Does?) Step On Home Plate

What fun! A first inning home run was, for a couple of minutes at least, ruled an out. Eventually the call was overturned, but for a few exciting and hilarious moments, Khris Davis homered into an out. Credit Andrew Susac for watching Davis as he danced straight over home plate, and credit Bruce Bochy for talking to the umpires and calling for an appeal. As Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper said at the time, "You have to touch home plate; that's part of the deal."

9) Pence Returns from DL, Makes Immediate Impact

Hunter Pence had missed 30 consecutive games before this one against the Mets on July 7. Not only was his sliding catch and throw one of the best plays of the year, it energized the team and fanbase, which breathed a sigh of relief knowing that their star right fielder was back. Just three days later, Pence's grand slam off Cole Hamels sent AT&T Park into a frenzy. Pence didn't play much in 2015, but when he was on the field, his presence was felt and his energy was contagious.

8) Juan Perez's Catch

In my opinion, one of the top five catches of the year. It wasn't even nominated for the Esurance Best Defensive Play Award, but oh well. Esurance may have been born online and majored in efficiency, but it doesn't know much about top defensive baseball plays. Some of the plays that were nominated for the award were not nearly as impressive as this. Maybe Perez was snubbed because he's a relative unknown. Maybe it's because the Giants as a team are often overlooked. It's probably a combination of both those things, and other things. Regardless, this was the best play any Giant made in 2015, and it belongs on this list. To hell with Esurance.

7) Pagan's Triple Following Gum Gate

What an unbelievable sequence of events. I have no idea why Pagan threw gum at Derek Norris, nor do I really care. Pagan said it was an "accident," but I don't believe him. Craig Kimbrel didn't believe him either, and he brushed Pagan back on the very next pitch. I have no problem with that. Pagan probably deserved it. After the brushback, Pagan tripled off Kimbrel, in a 0-0 game in the 9th inning, in the Padres Home Opener, after the Padres made all those offseason moves to bring themselves into national relevancy for first time in years. Needless to say, Pagan was fired up at third base. It was a macho moment, one of the best of 2015.

6) Bumgarner's Impressive Plate Appearances

What do we have here? Ho hum, it's just Madison Bumgarner (noted pitcher and World Series legend) drawing a pinch-hit walk off Aroldis Chapman and hitting a tape measure home run off Clayton Kershaw. Bumgarner had two of his best plate appearances of the year off the best reliever in baseball the best starter in baseball. Go figure. Business as usual for Bumgarner, who hit .247 with five home runs and a 107 wRC+ in 2015.

5) Kelby Tomlinson's Major League Debut

This was a special moment. Kelby Tomlinson had just been called up from Triple-A Sacramento when Joe Panik went down with lower back inflammation. It was an extra innings game in Atlanta, always a tough place to play for the Giants. Tomlinson lined a one-out single in his first Major League plate appearance, and his wife and father-in-law were overcome with emotion in the stands. Tomlinson eventually scored the go-ahead run, although the Giants lost the game in the bottom of the inning.

The impressive debut earned Tomlinson more playing time, and he took advantage of it. He finished the year with a .303 average, .358 OBP, and .404 slugging percentage in 193 plate appearances. He hit two home runs and stole five bases. Like Matt Duffy before him, Tomlinson came out of virtually nowhere. He is now up for serious consideration for a permanent roster spot as a utility infielder.

4) Chris Heston's No-Hitter

Even if he hadn't thrown a no-hitter, Chris Heston would have made this list. He saved the Giants in the first half of the season when Matt Cain and Jake Peavy couldn't pitch because of injury. Heston's brilliant first half culminated in this no-hitter against the Mets at Citi Field in New York on June 9. It made 2015 the fourth consecutive season in which a Giant pitched a no-hitter.

3) Affeldt and Hudson Retire; Vogelsong Says Goodbye

Read Ryan Vogelsong's lips. He says, "I will always, always, be a Giant." Yes you will, Vogey. Yes, you will. 

Vogelsong had his hands all over the 2012 and 2014 championships. He helped the Giants stave off elimination and force a Game 7 against the Cardinals in Game 6 of the 2012 NLCS. He went seven innings, allowing one run on four hits, one walk, and nine strikeouts; he pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings in Game 3 of the 2012 World Series in Detroit; and he pitched the Giants to the NLDS clincher against the Nationals in 2014. This man will never, ever be forgotten in Giants lore. Farewell, Vogey, and thanks for the memories.

Next, Jeremy Affeldt. He played a critical role in all three championships. Who could forget his clutch relief appearances in the 2010 NLCS? He followed it up with 10 1/3 scoreless innings in the 2012 postseason, in which he struck out 10 and allowed just five hits. And his relief appearance and win in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series will never be forgotten. Affeldt retires with the third-best postseason ERA of all time (min. 30 innings) at 0.86 and the second longest postseason scoreless streak at 22 innings, trailing only Mariano Rivera's 23. 

Tim Hudson will be remembered by most baseball fans for his days with the A's and Braves, but he played a key role in bringing the Giants a title in 2014. It was Hudson's first and only championship, and he will always be remembered as a great Giant and a champion.

2) The Stare

One of the greatest things I've ever seen on a baseball field. This was more than just your average pitcher-umpire confrontation. No, this was something deeper. Bumgarner was ticked off all night with Joe West's strike zone. He cursed loudly after he walked Jedd Gyorko on a 3-1 pitch. Joe West removed his mask, took a few steps toward the mound, and proceeded to stare at Bumgarner. Bumgarner proceeded to stare back. These two fine country gentlemen stared into the very depths of each other's souls. Buster Posey didn't know what to do. He looked back and forth between the two like, uhh, guys? GUYS? 

Then, it happened. Joe West gave Bumgarner a single nod, signifying respect and understanding. Bumgarner nodded back. Without ever uttering a single word, these two cowboys stared into each other's souls and came to an understanding. They may not have liked each other, but god damnit did they respect one another. This would have been the top moment of the year if not for...

1) Matt Duffy Finishes Second to Kris Bryant in Rookie of the Year Voting

This was supposed to be the year of Casey McGehee. Matt Duffy wasn't guaranteed to make the Opening Day roster. He was never a top prospect. He was more of an afterthought. Maybe he could be a capable utility infielder. Maybe

McGehee struggled mightily. Duffy played well when given the chance. Duffy took off. McGehee was released. Duffy took the league by storm. 

The Duffman finished the season with a .295 average, .334 OBP, and .428 slugging percentage. He clubbed 12 homers and stole 12 bases. His baserunning and defense were superb. He was worth 4.9 fWAR. He was the first Giants rookie ever to win the Willie Mac Award. The emergence of Duffy now gives the Giants a completely homegrown infield that's also probably the best in baseball. 

Pablo who?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Case for Juan Uribe (and Others)

The San Francisco Giants subtly revealed that they're looking for infield depth when they signed former Padres and Orioles infielder Everth Cabrera to a minor league deal on Friday.

Joaquin Arias hit just .254/.281/.301 in 204 plate appearances last year and is hitting an even worse .211/.211/.281 this season. Using WAR to consider his overall offensive and defensive value, Arias has been below replacement level each of the last two seasons.

Ehire Adrianza hasn’t been much better. He’s a career .228/.272/.315 hitter in the big leagues, although he does provide some defensive and baserunning value. According to, Adrianza’s WAR this season is 0.0, meaning he has been merely a replacement level player.

Clearly, the Giants need help at the backup infield position. Matt Duffy, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, and Brandon Belt have all played at a high level this season, and no one in their right mind would suggest that the Giants need to upgrade their starting infield. But with Arias and Adrianza, the infield bench has been an issue. The July 31 trade deadline is approaching, so now's the time to make a move that fixes the problem.

Here’s a wild but not-so-crazy proposal: Juan Uribe.

Even at age 36, Uribe still rates as a top defender. What’s more, he can still hit. He’s batting .267/.322/.404 and has a 103 wRC+ in 245 plate appearances this season. If you think that’s too small of a sample size, Uribe hit .311/.337/.440 with a 120 wRC+ in 404 plate appearances for the Dodgers last season.

Uribe is an underrated, quality big league infielder. His contract expires after the 2015 season so he shouldn’t cost too much to acquire from the Atlanta Braves—maybe a mid-level relief pitching prospect.

He wouldn’t take any regular’s job on the Giants, but he would give Bruce Bochy a chance to rest his regular infielders. With Arias and Adrianza as his current backup infielders, Bochy seems reluctant to give any of his starters a day off. Having a solid player like Uribe on the bench would allow Bochy to rest Duffy, Crawford, and Panik periodically. In his career, Uribe has played 548 games at third base, 917 games at shortstop, and 221 games at second base. And he's played them all well.

The Giants could take their pick of whom they'd want Uribe to replace. They could cut Arias in favor of keeping the younger, more athletic, and switch-hitting Adrianza. Or they could send Adrianza to the minors and keep Arias, who’s more of a veteran and he's been with the Giants for many big moments throughout the past few seasons.

Either way, Uribe would be a big and necessary upgrade for this team. The Giants are a quality baseball team, but they aren't without their holes. Backup middle infield help, and specifically Uribe, would be an easy and substantial upgrade. 

But the team could also use help in the outfield, in the bullpen, and in the rotation.

The rotation is log-jammed and the Giants are unlikely to make any moves there unless there’s an injury to a top guy like Bumgarner or Cain.

The bullpen is tricky, too, as they have a lot of moving parts and veteran guys not performing up to their usual levels. Aroldis Chapman would be an excellent addition but the Reds may want too much in return.

The outfield is an area that could be upgraded fairly easily. Angel Pagan is clearly playing hurt, and it’s possible he’s put on the DL as soon as Nori Aoki returns from his leg injury. If that’s the case, Aoki would play left, Blanco would play center, and Pence would play right, leaving Maxwell (and Belt) as the only backup outfielder(s). This means they could really use another outfield bat as a depth piece, as insurance and a bench bat, if you will.

Gerardo Parra of the Milwaukee Brewers would be a great fit. Parra in his career has a demonstrated ability to play strong outfield defense and he has a cannon for an arm. He’s always played well against the Giants and he’s a pretty good hitter to boot. He owns a .277/.328/.404 slash line, although he has always played for teams with extreme hitter friendly ballparks. He has a career 94 wRC+, and this season he has a 128 wRC+. He’s not a great player, but he would be a very strong backup outfielder and left handed bench bat. 

He also wouldn’t cost too terribly much, and Hank Schulman suggested on Twitter the other night that Parra could probably be had for Giants minor leaguer Adam Duvall, who’s crushing in the minors this season.

Duvall came up last year and the results were similar to those of Brett Pill and John Bowker. He looked destined, for whatever reason, to be one of those players who's too good for Triple-A and not good enough for the Majors. He couldn’t lay off breaking pitches down in the dirt. But the Brewers may be willing to take a shot on Duvall, who is, after all, really tearing it up in Triple-A.

Anyway, that’s the case for a few under-the-radar moves. Those tend to be the types of moves the Giants make in years like this, where the team is pretty strong but could use a few tweaks.

In a perfect world, the team would add a dominant starter (or two). But that may have to wait until the offseason, when the crop of free agent starters is as good as it’s ever been. Some of the names that should be available include David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, and Jordan Zimmermann. The Giants seem poised to sign one of those top guys in the offseason, with the money they saved by not signing Pablo Sandoval and with several of their starters' contracts expiring at season’s end.

So have at it, Giants. Let’s bring Uribe back and let’s get Parra so he can start contributing to Giants wins instead of Giants losses. And whole we’re at it, maybe see if we can get an Aroldis Champan or another dominant reliever without giving up more than we're comfortable letting go.

The roster is strong but it’s not without its weak spots. San Francisco has a legitimate shot at back-to-back titles and I think the team and the fan base deserve a shot at some rare and elusive odd year magic. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Curious Case of Tim Lincecum

Strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) and left-on-base percentage (LOB%) are often closely correlated. According to, "Most pitchers have LOB%s around league average (which is approximately 70-72%, depending upon the season), and pitchers that deviate from that average tend to see their numbers regress towards average in the future." The MLB average LOB% from 2008-present is 72.4%. 

However, if a pitcher has a high strikeout rate, it's reasonable to expect he'll also have a high LOB%. Also according to, this is because "Pitchers that record a high numbers [sic] of strikeouts can pitch their way out of jams more easily than pitchers that rely upon their team’s defense, so they are able to maintain LOB%s higher than league average." 

Take a look at the correlation for yourself over the last seven-plus seasons:

As K/9 rises, LOB% rises. As K/9 falls, LOB% falls. 

From 2008-11, Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum struck out 9.96 batters per nine innings and stranded 77.2% of baserunners. The National League averages during that time were 7.19 K/9 and 72.4 LOB%. So Lincecum had both averages beat handily, and that was perfectly explainable.

Moving to the present, Lincecum’s K/9 has decreased each of the last four seasons, from 9.19 in 2012 to 7.00 in 2015 (even after striking out eight Marlins in six innings in his last start). As Lincecum’s K/9 has decreased, so has his LOB%—that is, until this season.

Indeed, Lincecum’s LOB% fell from 78.5% in ‘11 to 67.8% in ‘12, and he couldn’t manage to reach even 70% in ’13 or ’14.

This year, however, Lincecum’s LOB% is 81.7%, despite having the lowest K/9 (7.00) of his career. Here's a closer look:

The most likely explanation is luck. Even in last night’s start there were three or four times Lincecum was bailed out by outstanding outfield defense. Additionally, the Marlins hit a few balls that looked like home runs off the bat that died and found gloves (or the wall) in the cold and expansive AT&T Park.

Another factor to Lincecum’s success is his HR/FB ratio. From 2012-14, 13.5% of fly balls allowed by Lincecum were home runs. Even from 2008-2011, Lincecum’s dominant years, his HR/FB ratio was 7.25%. This year, it's a microscopic (and unsustainable) 3.6%.

But one of the more curious and intriguing facts about Lincecum’s 2015 season is his ground ball rate. For Lincecum’s entire career before this season, he induced ground balls at a rate of 46.7%. He's never had a season in which it was higher than 48.9%.

So far this year, it’s 54.0%. The N.L. average GB% from 2008-present is 45.2%. Tim Hudson, who throws a sinker, has a career GB% of 58.1%. 

So Lincecum’s high GB% and low HR/FB rate make sense taken together. And they suggest that we could be looking at something more than just luck.

Lincecum has always had tremendous downward movement on his pitches. If he’s learned to harness his movement and pitch toward the bottom of the strike zone, the high ground ball rate could be sustainable. (This could, of course, cause a sustainable dip in his home run rate.) And the Giants infield boasts some top defensive talent in Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, and Bradon Belt. So more ground balls would help Lincecum in a number of ways and could revitalize his career.

But inducing more grounders should be a matter of control if it’s intentional, and Lincecum’s 3.49 BB/9 this season is almost identical to his career average of 3.50. So it might be unrealistic to think that Lincecum suddenly has newfound command of his pitches.

Only one thing is certain. Lincecum is a very different pitcher now than he was when he took the league by storm from 2008-11.

With the new Tim Lincecum, we should absolutely expect his LOB% to regress toward league average (~72%) because of his below average strikeout rate.

A sustained high ground ball rate, then, seems like Lincecum's only hope of becoming highly effective at this point in his career. With ever decreasing velocity and strikeout rates, Lincecum’s must continue to induce lots of ground balls and limit home runs. We don't know if this will happen, but the numbers indicate that it just might.


All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Beautifully Managed (by Bochy, at least) National League Baseball Game

Tonight’s Giants/Angels game—San Francisco’s first interleague game of the year—was a striking example of the beauty of National League baseball. It was an also an example of manager Bruce Bochy’s mastery of N.L. technique.

In this low-scoring, nine-inning game, the Giants used all but one of their active position players, and that 'one' was their third string catcher.

The game started off at a torrid pace. Both starters—C.J. Wilson and Chris Heston—sailed into the seventh. The Giants led 1-0 on a first inning sac fly.

But in the top of the seventh, Kole Calhoun led off with a bloop single. Then David Freese grounded into what should have been a double play to Casey McGehee, but he booted the ball to Brandon Crawford who threw to second for a force out. The play was reviewed and upheld.

C.J. Cron singled to right and Matt Joyce singled to center, tying the game and putting runners on the corners. Bochy came out and Jean Machi replaced Heston. Machi struck out Chris Iannetta, then Angels manager Mike Scioscia made his first mistake. He let his starting pitcher hit with two outs and runners on the corners in the seventh inning of a tie game. Unsurprisingly, Wilson popped out and the threat was over.

The Giants took the lead once again in the bottom of the seventh on a two-out Andrew Susac single up the middle that scored Angel Pagan.

In the top of the eighth, Sergio Romo took over for Machi, whose spot didn’t come up in the seventh.

Erick Aybar reached to lead off the inning on an error by second baseman Matt Duffy. Then Johnny Giavotella singled on a soft liner to center.

With none out and the tying run on third, Romo struck out Mike Trout with a slider.

With Calhoun—a lefty—coming up, Bochy replaced Romo with Jeremy Affeldt. With runners on the corners and one out, Affeldt hit Calhoun on an 0-2 fastball.

This loaded the bases for David Freese, a righty, so Bochy brought in his closer, Santiago Casilla. What’s more, with the pitcher’s spot due to lead off the bottom of the eighth for the Giants, Bochy brought in Casilla on a double switch, putting Joaquin Arias at third base in place of McGehee.

Casilla got Freese to his a shallow fly ball to center, but Angel Pagan triple-clutched on the throw and Aybar scored from third.

So the game was tied again, 2-2, and Casilla got Cron to pop out to Buster Posey at first base to end the inning.

Scioscia removed Wilson from the game, and Fernando Salas pitched a scoreless eighth.

Casilla followed suit with a scoreless ninth.

Then in the bottom of the ninth, Scioscia brought in side-winding right-hander Joe Smith.

Buster Posey legged out an infield single to lead off the inning. Bochy sent out Gregor Blanco to pinch run.

Justin Maxwell sacrificed Blanco to second.

Susac walked and Blanco advanced to third on a passed ball that hit home plate umpire Bill Miller on the left knee. Miller collapsed in pain and remained on the ground for some time and was attended to by trainers. Miller remained in the game.

With runners on first and third and one out, Brandon Belt pinch hit for Santiago Casilla, who had been placed into McGehee’s spot in the lineup.

The Angels deployed a five-man infield and a two-man outfield, but Belt struck out looking.

Brandon Crawford came up with runners on the corners and two outs, a righty in Smith on the mound and Arias on deck.

Crawford was 0 for 3 but had hit the ball hard all night. Scioscia elected not to let Smith face Crawford and had him walked intentionally.

Bochy had lefty Joe Panik pinch-hit for Arias. Scioscia had nobody up in his bullpen.

He had to know Panik was on the bench, so he essentially chose to have Panik at the plate with the bases loaded instead of Crawford with runners on the corners. Panik is a career .299 hitter with a .339 OBP and Crawford is a career .242 hitter with a .312 OBP.

What’s more, both hitters are left handed and Scioscia didn’t even have one of his two lefties warming up.

Panik promptly lined a single up the middle and the ballgame was over.

It was a fascinating game. It was National League baseball at its finest. Bochy demonstrated his genius. Scioscia did not.

On a related note, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright is out for the season after he tore his Achilles running to first base on a popup. Since the injury, many have been calling for the DH in the National League (although Wainwright himself said the DH has no place in the N.L.).

Baseball purists rightly denounce this effort. The National League game offers so much more in the way of strategy and bench management from having a pitcher in the lineup. Tonight was the perfect example. 

It was a beautiful. It was eventful. It was exceptionally managed (at least by the N.L. guy). It was a National League baseball game. May it never, ever change.