Well, That Didn’t Help

Tim Lincecum’s outing started in typically rough fashion today, as the Nationals tagged him for two runs in the first inning, and worked up his pitch count to 38. He was actually pretty sharp at times in today’s start, but by the end of the fourth inning, he was in the midst of his third go-round at the Nationals’ lineup and already up near 100 pitches. So that would do it for him.

There’s no question that today was all about Melky. But had Lincecum pitched well, and the Giants won this game (and the series), it would have been a heck of a lot easier to forget about Melky, even if only for a while. Today’s game was especially painful because five of Lincecum’s six second-half starts had been good — one more start like the one he had on July 14th, and I probably would have been ready to toss aside any concerns about Lincecum. Should we be as concerned about Lincecum as before?

In the later innings of this one, it looked like the Giants might be able to put together a comeback. They had runners on second and third with no outs in the eighth, but only managed to score one run. And in the ninth, when Pablo Sandoval appeared to have popped out to end the game, the ball dropped and Hector Sanchez came around to score. Suddenly, the Giants had Buster Posey up at the plate, representing the tying run.

And he struck out. And they lost. And that’s just how it goes sometimes.

There are a few silver linings though (not that they outweigh today’s unfortunate news). Among them:

  • The Giants scored four runs on a day that Stephen Strasburg started against them.
  • Brandon Crawford reached base a couple of times, and has now hit safely in eight consecutive games.
  • Gregor Blanco, taking over in left field for Melky, had a multi-hit game. He had gone 21 at-bats without a hit before his single in the sixth inning.
  • Pablo Sandoval went two for four with a walk.

Tomorrow’s a new day. A day off, in fact. Much needed.

Melky Cabrera Receives 50-Game Suspension for PEDs

Melky Cabrera has been suspended for 50 games without pay, effective immediately, for testing positive for Testosterone. Here’s the Giants’ statement on the suspension.

I’m shocked. I’ve just been sitting here, staring at a blank computer screen for the last five minutes. Just as the Giants’ offense was starting to look really good, there’s no more Melky for the rest of the regular season. Wow.

Not even a week ago, I wrote about Melky Cabrera’s historic hit pace. Not only did he look like a lock for 200 hits, but he also appeared to have a solid shot at breaking the San Francisco Giants’ single-season hit record.

All of that is gone. Melky is gone, at least for the remainder of the regular season. Instead, we’re talking about PEDs. I hate talking about PEDs. Instead of appreciating Melky’s contributions, we’re now speculating on how much they were impacted by his use of testosterone. I don’t want to speculate on that.

The Giants are tied for first place in the NL West. With fewer than 50 games remaining, they have just lost a major piece of the puzzle, and will now have even less room for error in what will likely prove to be a tight race.

It’s all too easy to react as though the Giants are doomed; that’s not the case. For one, the Giants likely lost 2011 Melky, not 2012 Melky — which is to say, he probably wouldn’t have kept playing at this level down the stretch. Secondly, the Giants aren’t exactly replacing him with garbage. I guess the assumption is that Gregor Blanco will take over most of Melky’s playing time; that’s certainly discouraging — it’s hard to feel confident in any corner outfielder that can’t muster a .350 slugging percentage, but realistically, the difference between Blanco and Melky over what amounts to roughly 40 games is, what, half a win?

The Giants took a major hit, no doubt. But they’re still in this.

On another note, I can’t help but wonder what the future now holds for Melky. I’d have to imagine he just saw tens of millions of dollars flushed down the drain. What a mess all of this is.

The Importance of Gregor Blanco

Every spring, the Giants go out and sign a bunch of players to minor-league deals. It’s baseball’s bargain bin, and history would suggest the Giants are particularly adept at this dumpster diving. Most teams are happy to come across the occasional Joaquin Arias, a useful yet seriously flawed player that is capable of serving a functional purpose at the major-league level. In past years though, the Giants have struck gold: last year, it was Ryan Vogelsong, who now has a 2.50 ERA in 309.1 innings with San Francisco. In 2010, it was Santiago Casilla, who has pitched to a 160 ERA+ in 145.2 innings here. A couple years before, it was Andres Torres, who ended up playing an integral role in bringing the Giants their championship in 2010. This year’s hidden gem: Gregor Blanco.

Blanco has appeared in 91 games with the Giants, providing value in just about every possible way: at the plate, in the outfield, and on the basepaths. His season line currently stands at .238/.333/.352 (98 wRC+), and his defense has unquestionably saved many runs. Just the other day, he had another one of those otherworldly diving catches to rob Jordany Valdespin of an extra-base hit.

With Hunter Pence now donning the orange and black, the other outfielders — specifically Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco — will likely see their roles diminished. My initial guess was that Pagan would remain the regular centerfielder, given that he’s the established major-leaguer. But Pagan has been struggling for months now, and he’s really burned through his leash. Yesterday, after another couple poor at-bats from Pagan in the six-spot of the batting order, Bochy subbed in Gregor Blanco in the fifth inning. Blanco himself hasn’t exactly been hitting well since his blistering hot May, but he’s still surpassed Pagan in terms of overall hitting production, and his defense has been much better.

As Pagan continues to get mowed down at the plate, Blanco becomes more important — and not just for the stretch run. I’m talking 2013 as well. Back when Pagan was raking and Gary Brown had hit a roadblock in his development, there was discussion of Pagan’s future role with the team. He’s precisely the kind of player that could sign a relatively cheap one-year committment in the offseason, and then make way for Brown when the time came. But in the wake of his extended struggles, this would no longer appear to be a desirable route.

Enter Gregor Blanco, who could very well seize the everyday job from Pagan in center. Blanco enters his first year of arbitration eligibility this offseason, and given that it’s his first go-around, he’ll come pretty cheap. Gary Brown has finally hit his stride in Richmond, and he’s boosted his numbers from “disappointing” to “respectable.” But it’s still highly possible — probable, even — that the Giants won’t feel he’s developmentally ready by the start of 2013. In this case, why not rely on Blanco to start in centerfield, then eventually hand the job to Brown and put Blanco back in the roaming fourth outfielder role? Given that the Giants will already be focused on investing in the corner outfield (welcome back, Melky?) and middle infield markets this offseason, it would make a lot of sense for them to go with Blanco as the short-term solution in center — assuming, of course, that he continues to perform well over the rest of the season — and just worry about the other stuff.

2012 First Half Review: The Position Players

Yesterday, I looked at how the Giants’ rotation fared in the first half. Today, I’ll look at the position players — the offense.

Melky Cabrera

Melky Cabrera came over in a buy-high sell-low trade of Jonathan Sanchez, and wasn’t expected to repeat his excellent 2011 season — which was far and above what he’d done on the baseball diamond in the years prior to that. Instead, Melky has actually improved upon last year’s performance. He’s currently second in the National League in batting average, sixth in OBP, and top-15 in slugging. The near-.400 batting average on balls in play has a little to do with that, but at this point, I think it’s safe to say 2011 Melky was real. The Giants have had to handle Buster Posey with care, and they lost Pablo Sandoval for a while, but Melky Cabrera has been a constant for the Giants all season long, putting up a .353/.391/.519 while appearing in 83 of the team’s 86 games. The focus now, with Melky’s impending free agency, is signing him to a contract extension. The front office is going to have a tough decision to make…

Angel Pagan

Angel Pagan, the other outfield trade acquisition, has also proven a solid addition thus far. He got off to an unbelievably rough start, but managed to rebound quite well. Unfortunately, he failed to finish the first half strong, carrying a .488 OPS over his final 94 plate appearances before the all-star break. He’s ultimately been slightly above average with the bat, and he’s also been a pretty efficient basestealer (15 SB, 2 CS). His defense, on the other hand, has been a series of misadventures; but in all fairness to Pagan, Andres Torres isn’t exactly an easy act to follow.

Buster Posey

After the Scott Cousins collision last season, Buster Posey was a major concern (at least for me) going into the season. How would he hold up behind the wear and tear of catching on a regular basis? Would he be as productive as before? Fortunately, Posey essentially picked up right where he left off. He’s as productive as he was last year prior to the injury, except he’s hitting with significantly more power. Plus, he’s continued to provide steady glovework behind the plate. As the season continues and the Giants head toward the stretch run, they would probably be wise to give Posey some more rest in lieu of some of these first base starts.

Gregor Blanco

Along with the two aforementioned outfielders, Gregor Blanco has given the Giants one of the more productive outfields in the majors. Another brilliant minor-league pick-up, Blanco has added considerable value in the field, at the plate, and on the basepaths. Like Pagan, his production tailed off a little as the all-star break approached, but as with Pagan, it’s too early to hit the panic button. On another note, Blanco’s range in right field has been particularly convenient given Pagan’s defensive struggles.

Brandon Crawford

Crawford has been a polarizing figure of sorts since the season began. The Giants committed to him as their starting shortstop for one reason — his defense; and Crawford’s defense has been anything but perfect (through 77 games, he’s committed 12 errors). But he’s also made some great picks at short, and in spite of the occasional bobbles and miscues, he’s been above average in that facet. His bat, expectedly, has left a lot to be desired. But the .268 wOBA is oddly tolerable from a plus defensive shortstop. Fangraphs has him at 0.8 WAR through 274 plate appearances, which is a hair below average production. Perhaps it’s a generous valuation, but overall, Crawford has certainly been okay.

Ryan Theriot

Ryan Theriot has been Ryan Theriot.

 Brandon Belt

Brandon Belt’s season can arbitrarily be divided into three segments:

  • April 6 to June 10: .224/.340/.328, 141 PA
  • June 12 to June 23: .441/.568/.882, 44 PA
  • June 24 to July 8: .179/.195/.282, 41 PA

Belt was so blistering hot over that 11-game span in mid-June that he completely destroyed any doubts I may have had about him — at least for the time being. Overall, he’s had a solid season — and hopefully, given consistent playing time in the second half, he can start to produce consistently.

Pablo Sandoval

Pablo Sandoval picked up where he left off in 2011 — that is, until he broke his other hamate bone in early May. Upon his return, Sandoval’s power numbers took somewhat of a hit, and it’ll be interesting to see if that continues. In any event, while healthy, he’s inarguably hit very well (133 wRC+). The real disappointment — if any — has been Sandoval’s defense. Last season, he had a pretty strong Gold Glove case; this season, he’s been mediocre at best.

Joaquin Arias

Joaquin Arias had a 51 wRC+ in Triple-A last season. But thanks to the Giants’ miserable middle-infield situation and the hamate injury that kept Pablo Sandoval out for several weeks, Arias has seen a lot of playing time — 54 games in total. Arias is the proverbial replacement level player, and he’s performed like it.

Nate Schierholtz

With the emergence of Gregor Blanco, Schierholtz has seen his playing time dwindle — and it’s probably for the better. He’s more or less been the same Schierholtz of 2009/2010 — a useful but dispensable fourth outfielder.

Emmanuel Burriss

I don’t know what’s sadder — the fact that Emmanuel Burriss has an ISO of .008 or the fact that it’s actually an improvement over last year.

Hector Sanchez

It’s easy be tough on Hector Sanchez, who’s drawn all of two walks this season. But it’s important to remember that he’s a) a backup catcher, and b) 22 years old. In light of that, his performance has been perfectly back-up catcher-y.

Ryan Vogelsong Leads Giants to 4-0 Victory

For seven innings today, Ryan Vogelsong was at the top of his game. Through the first 4.1 innings, in fact, he was perfect — sending each of the first thirteen hitters straight back to the dugout. Seth Smith eventually broke up the perfect game bid with a single into right field, but that would be the only hit off Vogelsong on the day, as he promptly coaxed a double play out of Josh Donaldson and proceeded to tack on another couple scoreless innings. He needed to face only 22 batters to record 21 outs. For a guy that’s had a rollercoaster of a career, this is quite probably the best game he’s ever pitched; the game score — 79 — marks a new career-best.

Both teams were scoreless through six, but the heart of the Giants’ order came through in the seventh, with Melky Cabrera, Buster Posey, and Angel Pagan combining to drive in four runs. And that would be all the Giants needed, as Javier Lopez and Clay Hensley were shut-down mode in relief.

Notes:

  • I hate the idea of Brandon Crawford batting second in the order. It’s a common-sense thing — why give one of the team’s worst hitters the second-most at-bats? That said, it is nice to see Crawford starting to find a groove. It’s worth noting that he’s been somewhat unlucky to this point; after today, his line is up to .233/.276/.342 on the season. I don’t think he’s much better than that, but he’s certainly capable of fighting his way to a .270 wOBA and smoothing out the defense, and that’ll at least be a step up from the replacement level production he’s given the Giants thus far.
  • Angel Pagan has gone hitless once in the last 31 games. After that one horrible week to begin the season, Pagan has managed to bring his numbers up to .304/.353/.462 — and he’s eight for nine on stolen base attempts. It’s made his frequent defensive gaffes a bit more tolerable.
  • What a godsend Gregor Blanco has turned out to be. In not even 100 plate appearances, he’s already posted 1 WAR. He’s currently getting on base at a clip of .416, and he’s drawn a walk for every strikeout. He’s also swiped four bags and looked solid with the glove. Aside from the lack of power, he’s pretty much the whole package, eh? Another brilliant minor-league signing.
  • Speaking of which, three players in today’s starting lineup — Blanco, Arias, Vogelsong — were originally acquired via minor-league free agency; nothing extraordinary, but it struck me as noteworthy.
  • Quick — who leads the majors in multi-hit games? You can’t go wrong with either M. Cabrera — Melky and Miguel are now tied for the major-league lead in multi-hit games, at 19. For all the problems with the Giants’ current infield, I’m feeling pretty good about the Cabrera-Pagan-Blanco trio in the outfield.
  • The Giants signed Brad Penny to a minor-league contract. This is a guy who averaged 3.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 31 starts last season, so I’m (understandably) not expecting much. At the very least, I hope he isn’t needed in any important situations.