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.

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.

Hector Sanchez Powers Giants Over Brewers in Extras

In the first inning of this game, Buster Posey unloaded a monster of a three-run homer into the left field bleachers. It was only the third three-run homer of the season for the Giants (along with zero grand slams), and it was their first in about a month.

So Madison Bumgarner took the mound with a three-run lead; and that was supposed to be enough. Because he’s Madison Bumgarner. He’s been great all season long (3.10 ERA across his first eight starts), but we had yet to see the overpowering Bumgarner — the one that would rack up double-digit strikeouts toward the end of last season. And for the first time in 2012, that Bumgarner made his appearance.

He was phenomenal. In the first inning, he retired the side in order. In the third, he struck out the side in order (all three of them swinging strikeouts). In the fourth, he set down the heart of the Brewers’ order (admittedly not as intimidating with Prince Fielder now in Detroit) on nine pitches. Through five innings, he had recorded seven strikeouts (already a new season-high), with just two hits and one walk allowed.

Then the Brewers managed to score a run off of Bumgarner in the sixth, but that wasn’t all his fault. Ryan Braun had reached on a single to second base that wasn’t played very well by Charlie Culberson, and Nate Schierholtz — uncharacteristically — failed to keep Braun from scoring on a double to right field. He had run into the wall, and couldn’t fire off a good throw.

In any event, Bumgarner got out of the inning without much damage done, and continued to cruise along. The seventh inning was an eight-pitch 1-2-3. In the eighth, Bumgarner struck out the first two batters he faced — bringing him to a total of ten K’s on the day. Then Brandon Crawford — who would later strike out with runners on first and second to end the ninth inning — committed his ninth error of the season on a routine groundball to short, which allowed Norichika Aoki to reach base.

Two outs in the eighth inning, a two-run game, a runner on first, the lefty Bumgarner at 106 pitches, and the reigning NL MVP — right-handed slugger Ryan Braun at the plate. At that point, I tweeted the following: “Gotta be honest, I think I’d go to Romo at this point.” Bumgarner had looked phenomenal, but the safe decision was obviously to bring Sergio Romo into the game. And of course, Braun proceeded to launch the ball into the left field bleachers, tying the game at three. Bringing in Romo wasn’t an obvious decision (at least, not as obvious it’s been made out to be) — Bumgarner is an excellent pitcher, after all. But it was a risky one, and — in retrospect — the wrong decision. I don’t think this was nearly as bad as some of Bruce Bochy’s other recent failures with pitching management. But it also wasn’t an isolated incident. It seems like time and again, Bochy leaves a pitcher in just too long. And it’s been costly.

I’m not sure that was even his worst decision, though. How about leaving Brett Pill in the game to bat in an important situation (runners on the corners, less than two outs) against right-handed reliever Francisco Rodriguez, only to bring Brandon Belt into the game the next half-inning?

…then another five innings happened. And Hector Sanchez was double-switched into the game (a prudent measure, given that Buster Posey had just ended the previous inning, and had already caught 13 innings). And, leading off the fourteenth inning, he crushed a ball into the Brewers’ bullpen to give the Giants the lead. The homer brought his line up to .297/.299/.438 for the season (no, that OBP isn’t a typo). But hey, that’s good for a 99 wRC+. Which is great for a catcher. It’s amazing what a homer can do to a player’s numbers, even this late in the season (Sanchez entered the game with his wRC+ at 80).

Anyway, after going scoreless for 12 consecutive innings, they actually won. With some sloppy defense, fruitless offense, and questionable decisions, they made it tougher than it needed to be. But they won.

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.