Giants Make Moves, Lose Ballgame

Following last night’s loss to the Mets, the San Francisco Giants made a few roster moves. Hector Sanchez, who was out with a left knee strain, was activated and caught Barry Zito‘s start today. In a corresponding move, the Giants optioned Eli Whiteside back to Triple-A Fresno. Additionally, Justin Christian was optioned to Fresno, with Shane Loux reinstated to take his spot on the roster. In other words, the Giants will go with a 13-man bullpen for now. Lastly, Emmanuel Burriss, as expected, has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Fresno.

For the first time in what seemed like forever — it had actually been a monthBrandon Belt and Hector Sanchez were both in the starting lineup. The last time it happened, Barry Zito tossed seven scoreless innings and the Giants ended up defeating the Dodgers by a score of 8-0. Today’s game was like the polar opposite of that.

Zito’s first inning included three consecutive three-ball counts, followed by a David Murphy HBP and back-to-back hits from Jason “.157 average” Bay and Ronny Cedeno — although in all fairness to Zito, Cedeno’s double arguably should have been scored as an error on Melky Cabrera. Melky was able to get to the ball in time, but failed to snag it. Anyway, Zito miraculously pitched into the fifth, but ended up finishing today with the following line: 4.1 IP, 7 ER, 6 H, 1 K, 3 BB. He brought a shiny 3.89 ERA into this start, but it seems like that didn’t entirely reflect how bad he’s been. Before today, his ERA+ (90) was the second-worst mark he’s ever had over a full season, the worst being the 85 ERA+ he carried in 2008. And after today’s showing, which raised his ERA by 38 points, Zito’s ERA+ has assuredly dipped below 85.

The lone bright spot in today’s blowout was Melky Cabrera, who collected three of the Giants’ four hits. With a triple, an opposite-field ground-rule double, and a single, Melky fell a homer short of the cycle — which was refreshing to see, considering he’s been pretty quiet lately. Before today, Melky had gone 10 for 37 on this homestand without a walk or an extra-base hit.

But of course, it wasn’t nearly enough. And so the Giants finished this disheartening homestand 3-7, with those seven losses having come over their past eight games. The D’backs have quietly cut the Giants’ division lead to two games, and the Dodgers remain just half a game back. I wrote a week ago (over at Beyond the Box Score) that Arizona is still in the thick of the playoff hunt, and it’s pretty clear at this point that they pose a big threat to San Francisco. Both Arizona and Los Angeles have the day off, though.

Notes:

  • The 13-man bullpen is excessive, but I think it makes sense for the Giants right now. They’re about to start a three-game series at Coors Field — and knowing how those games tend to go, it’ll be convenient to have an extra arm in the ‘pen. After the Colorado series, they’ll begin a four-game set at St. Louis, against an offense that has been historically good thus far – so again, it makes sense to have some extra help. Besides, Justin Christian had been utterly worthless during his brief major-league stint.
  • The only non-Melky to get a hit was Brandon Belt, who obliterated a ball into right field for a triple. He later deposited a ball into the bay, but it was foul (and he ended up striking out on a weak-looking hack).
  • For someone that hasn’t played third base since 2008 (when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays), Marco Scutaro has filled in pretty nicely there for Pablo Sandoval — he made a couple good picks there today. And this was just the first time since joining the Giants that Scutaro has failed to get a hit. It occurred to me that I never got a chance to write up my thoughts on the Marco Scutaro trade, so to quickly sum it up: I loved it. I don’t think the Giants gave up much of anything in Charlie Culberson, who couldn’t even muster a .700 OPS in the PCL; and in return, San Francisco got a decent and necessary contact bat that can play third, short, and second without looking silly.
  • Have we reached the point where Andres Torres is having a better season than Angel Pagan? Torres is hitting .238/.352/.323, 94 wRC+. Pagan is hitting .272/.317/.389, 94 wRC+. And there’s no question that Torres is the far superior defender.

Hector Sanchez to the DL, Eli Whiteside Called Up

Earlier today, the San Francisco Giants placed Hector Sanchez on the 15-day DL with a left knee strain, with Eli Whiteside coming up from Triple-A Fresno to replace him. Sanchez’s injury isn’t supposed to be all that serious — it won’t require surgery, and he should be fine within a week, but according to Baggs, with Sanchez likely out for a week, the Giants felt it made more sense to just DL him and go with Whiteside as the backup for the time being.

Most are likely bemoaning the return of Whiteside, and understandably so. He’s spent the entirety of 2012 in the minors, in a hitter-friendly environment, and all he has is a .292 wOBA to show for it. That said, the dropoff in backup catcher production from Whiteside to Sanchez won’t be all that significant over the course of a couple weeks. And for what it’s worth, Whiteside is easily the more advanced defender — and that difference is perhaps understated. Earlier this year, Max Marchi published an article at Baseball Prospectus quantifying the cumulative effect of catchers’ defensive skills, and he found that Eli Whiteside had saved +35 runs from 2008 to 2011 (5146 PAs) — largely because of his game-calling. By this measure, he’s one of the better defensive catchers in baseball.

Not that any of this really matters — again, the difference between Whiteside and Sanchez over a few games is minimal at best. The bigger implication of this injury is how it affects Brandon Belt. Just yesterday, Bruce Bochy was asked if he believed Sanchez’s bat is preferable to Belt’s. His answer?

“Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. Wouldn’t you?”

It’s difficult to infer exactly what Bochy means by that statement, but it is quite telling. Hector has been receiving steady playing time at the expense of Belt, and frankly, at the expense of the team. When Hector catches and Posey plays first, the Giants are worse off both defensively and offensively. Belt (110 wRC+), by all accounts, is a better hitter than Sanchez (78 wRC+). Posey needs his rest obviously, but it’s gotten to the point where Hector is starting nearly as many games as Belt. In July, Hector has started five games; Belt has started six. If it’s merely for the sake of giving Posey rest, why not give him actual rest by letting him sit on the bench? And if it’s not merely that — if it’s to get Sanchez’s bat in the lineup more often — then why?

So the silver lining here is that Hector’s injury opens the door for Belt to get consistent playing time at first base the next couple weeks. He’s been scuffling lately, but this might give him ample opportunity to seize back an everyday role — a role which he really shouldn’t have to fight for. The good news is that there’s just no way Whiteside will get the kind of playing time Hector has been getting. These next couple weeks could prove to be very important, though. There’s already talk of the Giants trading for a first baseman, or Belt himself being traded with the deadline approaching.