Behind Madison Bumgarner, Giants Snap Losing Streak

The story today was Madison Bumgarner. Nothing — missed calls, sloppy defense, a lack of run support — was going to get in his way. That’s what it felt like when he worked through that messy fifth inning. And when he rebounded from a leadoff error in the sixth — an inexcusable miscue between Angel Pagan and Brett Pill that put Aramis Ramirez in scoring position — to shut the Brewers down. But the lasting image was when he stepped up to the plate in the fifth inning — following a futile one-pitch at-bat from Conor Gillaspie — and lined a double into left field to tie the game at one.

All in all, he turned in yet another stellar performance on the mound, allowing one run through seven innings of work, as he improved to a 2.31 ERA (3.61 FIP) on the season and carried the Giants to a 5-2 victory. In four of Bumgarner’s six starts this season, he’s gone 7+ innings without allowing more than one run.

Obligatory reminder: he’s 22 years old. His first five starts alone put his 2012 season among the best by a 22-year-old Giants starter. Is there any question he can work his way up to #1 on that list by season’s end?

  • Five runs…feels like it’s been a while, eh? It has. Last time they scored five runs in a game was back in Cincinnati, nine days ago.
  • Hector Sanchez, who entered this game hitting .233/.244/.302, finally got things going with a pair of doubles (one of which nearly went over the centerfield wall for a homer). These were his second and third extra-base hits on the season, respectively, and needless to say, it’s great to see a game like this out of Hector.
  • Melky Cabrera had a quality game as well, with a couple hits (including a triple) and some very good glovework in right field. He’s now put together four consecutive multi-hit games, which has brought him up to a .364 wOBA this season. At this point, it seems pretty clear that I was wrong about Cabrera — something I’m very happy to say.
  • Angel Pagan has now hit safely in 19 consecutive games; however, he’s also now gone 16 consecutive games without a walk. I do wonder if he’s slightly altered his approach, becoming more hacktastic for the sake of preserving his hitting streak. It’s not likely, but it’s worth throwing out there. And while we’re on the subject of walks — the Giants had another walk-less game today, keeping their season total at 65. That’s third-worst in the National League.

Angel Pagan and the Importance of Patience

I didn’t catch today’s game, but I did see this. That three-run homer, which won today’s game for the Giants, was one of two hits on the day for Angel Pagan, who extended his hitting streak to a career-high 11 games. Over that span, he’s collected a total of 16 hits — seven of them going for extra bases — and he’s managed to raise his OPS nearly 400 points. More interestingly though, his performance has reaffirmed the importance of patience when it comes to making sweeping judgements about players.

Pagan had a .358 wOBA in 2009. That fell to .341 the next season, and dropped another 28 points to .313 last season. Then he stumbled out of the gate, hitting .171/.203/.303 in Spring, and failed to redeem himself in the first week of the regular season (.111/.172/.185). In spite of all the Spring Training stat caveats that are spouted ad nauseam throughout March, and the small-sample-size caveats that follow in April, it was easy to sour on Pagan quickly.

After watching a player for several weeks, their performance inevitably factors into our ever-changing perception of how good (or bad) that player is. We’re all human, after all.

And in this case, it perhaps didn’t seem like a player whose struggles were a product of random variation, because it was a continuation of a trend that had been going on for a few years. The narrative wrote itself: Pagan had put up progressively worse numbers since 2009, and 2012 was to be the next step in this decline phase.

Then Pagan started to hit. And eighteen games into the season, his overall numbers are right about where we’d expect them to be (give a few walks, take a few total bases). If he keeps this up (by which I mean his overall numbers) — which seems probable, he’ll be everything the Giants need him to be: a solid if unspectacular everyday centerfielder. Just another reminder that patience is a virtue.

Matt Cain Dominates Again in Giants’ 1-0 Victory

This was one of those special games in which both pitchers were in total control for the entire night. Through the first nine innings, Matt Cain and Cliff Lee combined to record 54 outs on 179 pitches. Lee went out for the tenth inning, which was another rarity — the last time a starter went past the ninth was Aaron Harang, back in 2007. Eventually, Brandon Belt — pinch hitting in the bottom of the 11th — knocked a single off Antonio Bastardo, and a couple batters later, Melky Cabrera drove him in for the walkoff win: 1-0.

  • Matt Cain was unbelievable during this homestand: 18 innings, zero runs, three hits, 15 strikeouts, one walk. Now keep in mind that he did all of that in under 200 total pitches. Seriously, give it a moment to let that sink in — incredible pitching. He becomes the first San Francisco Giants starter with back-to-back shutouts since Livan Hernandez, back in 2000. The last time any pitcher allowed two or fewer hits in back-to-back complete game outings? 1994.
  • Cliff Lee became the first pitcher to throw 10+ scoreless innings against the Giants since Joe Niekro, back in 1983. (Johnnie LeMaster was the Giants’ leadoff hitter in that game.)
  • I’ve become an Angel Pagan apologist, but there’s little excuse for his failed execution in the ninth inning. And his reaction to the bunt sign (h/t @bubbaprog) was Tejada-esque. That double play (which caused a ~15% drop in win expectancy) was huge. On the other hand, he also happened to demonstrate a few of the reasons why I like him: in the first inning, he led off with a single against Lee, and went from first to third — excellent baserunning — on the Melky Cabrera single that followed. And in the 11th inning, he reached on an error. Nothing special, but he put the ball in play — and the result got Brandon Belt in scoring position. That’s the great thing about a hitter that rarely strikes out (he has two strikeouts in 54 plate appearances thus far), particularly one that never — er, rarely — grounds into a double play. One of the areas in which Pagan consistently adds unnoticed value: reaching base via errors. If Pagan strikes out in that situation, Melky doesn’t hit that walkoff single….By the way, Pagan has collected a hit in all five games since I wrote this (and three of those games were multi-hit games).
  • Javier Lopez‘s strikeout of Jim Thome, beautifully pitched: +.195 WPA. For all the complaints this offseason about how much money the Giants gave to Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, I wouldn’t have felt confident about Dan Runzler coming out to pitch in that critical situation. (For the record, I’m with Lefty Malo and Hanging Sliders on this one — the Lopez contract made sense; the Affeldt one didn’t).
  • That Antonio Bastardo pitch to Melky Cabrera that resulted in the walkoff single wasn’t necessarily a great pitch (it was left over the plate), but it was down in the zone and Melky had a tremendous approach lining it over the second baseman for a hit. It was his third hit on the night, and even though he’d cooled off a little over the past several games, I’m still feeling very good about him this season. He looks like a completely different player than he was pre-2011.
  • Clay Hensley is turning out to be the latest great, cheap bullpen addition. He’s only pitched a few innings so far, but his stuff really seems to translate well to the bullpen. For a non-guaranteed contract with a base salary of $750K? Excellent.
  • The Giants grounded into four double plays in their first 11 games. The Giants grounded into four double plays tonight.
  • Via GN contributor Daniel Rathman: “The starting pitchers combined to record 57 outs tonight. The winning pitcher recorded one.” Yep, wins are stupid.

The offense has reverted to its old ways, but the Giants are rolling anyway: three consecutive series wins, and 6-3 overall since they left Arizona.

Angel Pagan’s Slow Start

Angel Pagan was 13 for 76 with a .505 OPS this spring. He’s now 3 for 27 with a .358 OPS to begin the season. We know that spring training stats don’t matter. We know that small sample sizes don’t tell us much about how a player will perform in the future. Yet here we are, seven games into the 2012 season, and everyone seems to have soured on Angel Pagan. Considering the downward trend in his numbers (122 OPS+ in 2009, 108 OPS+ in 2010, 94 OPS+ in 2011), it’s easy to rush to the conclusion that Pagan is nearing the end of his usefulness.

Fortunately, it’s much too early to give up on Pagan. In fact, looking through Pagan’s past, we can see that a slow start is nothing new for him:

  • In 2010, Pagan had a .208/.240/.208 line through his first 25 plate appearances. He hit .294/.344/.434 the rest of the way.
  • In 2011, Pagan had a .179/.304/.256 line through his first 46 plate appearances. He hit .269/.324/.383 the rest of the way.

For his career, Pagan is a .224/.300/.321 hitter in April. That’s by far his worst month. Even though I wouldn’t necessarily say his career month splits have much predictive value (I’m not expecting a .385 OBP this May), they do certainly serve as yet another example that a slow April doesn’t preclude a player from having a good season.

With one strikeout in 29 plate appearances, Pagan is doing an excellent job putting the ball in play. Eventually, those will start falling for hits. He’s hitting .000 on groundballs right now, and .000 on flyballs (all three of his hits have come off line drives) — that definitely won’t continue. And he hasn’t even looked all that bad at the plate — yesterday, for example, he had a couple well-struck balls, and a flyball that reached the warning track.

So, be patient. That’s all I ask. Even with a fluky UZR (-14), Pagan was worth 0.9 fWAR last season. And he’s looked good in the field so far. I expect that he’ll get things going eventually.