Splash Hits: 8/21/12

The Cool Things That Madison Bumgarner Does | Getting Blanked | Blogs | theScore.com
Madison Bumgarner does cool things.

San Francisco Giants pitchers excel at ‘stealing’ strikes – ESPN
Giants pitchers have excelled at “stealing strikes” early in counts, as Chris Quick notes.

Scouting Report: Kyle Crick (RHP) | Baseball Prospect Nation
A scouting report on Giants pitching prospect Kyle Crick.

Pence’s Impatience Costing Him with Giants – Baseball Analytics Blog – MLB Baseball Analytics
Pence has been chasing lots of pitches since coming over to San Francisco.

Melky Cabrera’s Positive Test, Not Performance, Proves PED Use – Pinstripe Alley
There’s no concrete evidence to suggest that Melky’s use of PEDs was responsible for the uptick in his production.

What’s San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera worth now? – ESPN
Jayson Stark on what Melky Cabrera is worth now.

Madison Bumgarner Outduels Clayton Kershaw in 2-1 Giants Victory

We all came into this game expecting a pitching duel. Clayton Kershaw, reigning Cy Young Award winner, 24 years old, going up against the just-turned-23-year-old Madison Bumgarner. This wasn’t the first time the two had faced — they’d met once before, in April 2011. But that wasn’t much of a battle. Today’s head-to-head, unlike the previous one, did not disappoint.

Bumgarner scattered four hits across eight innings; each of those hits was a single, and Kershaw, surprisingly enough, had two of them.

That fourth inning sequence of events, in which Bumgarner breezed past the heart of the Dodgers’ order, just blew me away:

  • He worked around Matt Kemp for six pitches, mostly staying out of the strikezone, and eventually got him to ground out.
  • Then after falling 2-0 to Hanley Ramirez, he came at him with four straight sliders, freezing him on a high-and-inside pitch for a called strike three.
  • And then to top it all off, after Andre Ethier fouled off a few pitches, Bumgarner got him to swing right through the high heat.

Of course, Bumgarner was on top of his game all night long. And that was the most amazing part, really. Even with his pitch count running well past 100, and the Dodgers’ hitters having gotten to see him a couple times, he was still untouchable in those final two innings.

Kershaw himself dominated the Giants’ lineup, though he wasn’t able to keep them entirely quiet — thanks to some timely hitting. Angel Pagan led off the game with a double, and came around to score on a sac fly; and then with two outs in the sixth inning, the Giants managed to string together back-to-back-to-back singles for the second (and final) run.

The final pitching lines:

Kershaw – 8 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 10 K, 0 BB.
Bumgarner – 8 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 10 K, 0 BB.

Surely you notice the symmetry in the two lines. Both went eight innings, notching ten strikeouts with zero walks. How often do you see that?

Well, I dug through Baseball-Reference’s Play Index and the answer is: never. Only twice before, at least dating back to 1918, have two opposing pitchers in the same game tallied ten or more strikeouts while not walking anybody. The last occurrence was on April 9, 2003, with Mark Prior and Javier Vazquez doing the pitching. But Vazquez failed to go past the seventh. Before that, the only other occurrence was on July 12, 1997, in a duel between Roger Clemens and Aaron Sele. But again, Sele only went seven innings.

Shockingly, as I tweeted earlier: This was the first occurrence in baseball history in which both starters have gone at least eight innings with 10+ strikeouts and zero walks.

In other words, we just witnessed an historically great pitching duel.

And the best part is that the Giants came out on top. Although not before making things a little more interesting… Sergio Romo was one strike away from securing the win for the Giants, at which point Hanley Ramirez unloaded on a 1-2 pitch and promptly sent it into the left field stands. If anything, this should serve as a reminder that Hanley Ramirez is still a dangerous hitter, and has certainly channeled his younger self since coming over to the Dodgers. This was his fifth homer (and 12th extra-base hit) in 25 games with LA. Hanley is definitely something to be concerned about.

Anyway, following the home run, Javier Lopez came in and finished off Andre Ethier, giving the Giants the 2-1 victory. And just like that, they’re back in first place.

Splash Hits: Post-Melky Edition

Bay Area Sports Guy – Deflated Giants lose first game after losing Melky Cabrera
A recap of yesterday’s events, with video interviews of several Giants players.

Big, Important Opinions on Melky Cabrera – McCovey Chronicles
Not an easy topic, but Grant knocked it out of the park.

On Melky And Morality | Getting Blanked | Blogs | theScore.com
A well-reasoned look at the moral implications of Melky’s actions.

Baseball Prospectus | BP Unfiltered: Melky Cabrera, PEDs, and the Giants’ Playoff Odds
How much did Melky Cabrera‘s suspension affect San Francisco’s odds of appearing in October?

Is 50 Games Too Weak a PED Punishment? | FanGraphs Baseball
Alex Remington explores whether the 50-game suspension is too weak a punishment for PEDs.

Should S.F. sign Cabrera after this? – SFGate
Should the Giants re-sign Melky? I say absolutely yes.

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.

Buster Posey and the Plate Appearance of the Season

Fast-forward to the eighth inning. Buster Posey is up. The bases are loaded, with one out. The Giants are down by one run. The game is essentially in Posey’s hands. The leverage index (LI) of the situation is 7.59, the second-highest it’s been for any Giants batter at any point this season. And Rafael Betancourt, who has held right-handed hitters to a .196 wOBA this season, is on the mound.

This was, as I noted, the second-highest LI of a Giants plate appearance this season. The highest was an at-bat by Gregor Blanco. That at-bat lasted one pitch. Posey’s lasted ten pitches. This was tense, folks.

The sequence: ball, taken strike, ball, ball, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, and then…a sacrifice fly to tie the game. And you can bet Posey had at least something to do with how the rest of the inning went. Following that ten-pitch adventure, Betancourt served up a three-run homer to Hunter Pence — which ended up being the difference in the game — and to top it all off, a double to Brandon Belt.

How about that Posey? He’s sure something, eh? This was his most important contribution at the plate today, and arguably the plate appearance of the season, but he actually reached base the other four times he came to bat. An update on his numbers: .332/.406/.547, .404 wOBA, 158 wRC+. Wowza.

There were lots of stories today. Among them: Hunter Pence’s first homer in a Giants uniform, which couldn’t have come at a better time. Angel Pagan, who has continued to put together a strong August, after looking lost at the plate for a couple months. And Pablo Sandoval, who I believe is set to return tomorrow.

But you know who I’m actually going to talk about. I’m going to talk about Brandon Belt.

Brandon Belt came to the plate five times today. He reached base every time. Twice via the double, twice via the single, and once via the walk. When he was struggling in July, I’d have to dig deep for positives. I’ve remained cautiously optimistic about Belt all season long, but when he was struggling, I’d have to cling to the little stuff. “He made hard contact on this pitch.” “He looked patient in this at-bat.” I haven’t had to do that this month. Belt is swinging a hot bat, and the results are there.

And here’s where I digress. Today was my sixth time in the press box. Either my fifth or sixth, actually — I can’t remember for sure, and I’m too lazy to confirm. I’m going to be there on Tuesday and Wednesday as well. Anyway, the whole “bloggers getting access” thing seems to be a hot topic these days, so I feel obligated to chime in — especially since I’m one of the lucky ones. As I understand it, very few teams do this. I’ve given all of this a lot of thought, and…well…I don’t really have anything substantial to contribute to the discussion; but I will say, having media credentials has been an overwhelmingly positive experience.

A recap of my day: This morning, right down the hall from the Giants’ broadcast booth, I sat down to a brunch buffet with Steve Berman (Bay Area Sports Guy) and Alex Pavlovic. We discussed — you guessed it — the San Francisco Giants, and the food (eggs, sausage, oatmeal) was delicious.

After that, I went back down to the press box where I sat — for the majority of the game — next to Steve, a guy I really admire. I struggle to produce insightful commentary on the Giants. He manages to do it while staying on top of 19 other sports as well. I owe a debt of gratitude to him, too — not only has he constantly helped me with things, but he’s also put up with hours upon hours of my boring, pointless observations as he’s sitting there next to me. If you think this blog is boring, keep in mind that you don’t get the stuff that I filter out.

(With all these positive comments about BASG, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression; he’s not perfect. He went 0-for-4 on Brandon Belt home run predictions today).

Anyhow, I enjoyed my Sunday. It’s been cool hanging out with Steve, and getting to know Pavlovic.

At some point in the game, I began to wonder what the return of Pablo Sandoval would mean for others’ playing time. And so at the post-game press conference, I asked Bruce Bochy that very question (to which he responded that he’d be mixing it up a lot). It occurred to me that this is the real luxury of having this kind of access, at least for me: I’m curious about something, and I have the opportunity to simply ask Bochy myself.

After I left the press conference room, I headed back up to the press box. As I walked down the hall, Brian Sabean and his little kid walked by. I waved hello. They waved back. This has all been quite surreal.

Giants Defeat Rockies, 9-3

The Giants, at least for now, have regained sole possession of first place, thanks to — well, everybody…

Matt Cain, in the nine-game stretch between his perfect game and today’s start: 57.1 innings, 46 K, 16 BB, 10 HR, 4.40 ERA. He hadn’t been awful. He hadn’t even been bad, really, by normal standards. By Cain standards, of course, he’d been a disappointment. The glaring problem: those ten home runs; he allowed nine in all of 2011.

But anyway, in six of those nine starts, he allowed three earned runs or fewer. In each of those nine starts, he lasted 5+ innings. His average game score over that span: 51, where a 50 is generally considered average. You could say he’d been really good in a couple of those outings, even — the Oakland and Houston starts, specifically.

But never was he outstanding. He had ventured past the seventh inning just once, and even in that start, he surrendered five runs.

For five innings today, Cain finally looked outstanding. No walks. Just a few hits. Three swinging strikeouts in the third. Lots of flyballs scattered around the outfield — most of them routine flyouts, a few hit well; none was hit well enough, though. Through five, Cain had faced 16 batters and recorded 15 outs.

And that was the story…until Cain found himself in a no-outs bases-loaded jam. With the heart of the Rockies’ order set to bat, no less. But he pitched through it. After a fielder’s choice at third and a lineout that was fortunately hit right at Brett Pill (and frankly, should have been ruled an inning-ending double play, as Pill beat Carlos Gonzalez to the bag), Cain struck out Ramon Hernandez to end the threat.

Cain went out for the seventh, and had a pretty quick 1-2-3 inning. Then the eighth came, and he sort of lost his rhythm, despite a relatively low pitch count. D.J. LeMahieu hit his first career homer, and the Rockies’ 1-2 hitters each collected singles. That was it for Cain.

The final line: 7.1 IP, 2 ER, 6 K, 1 BB, 7 H, 1 HR. Perhaps not his best start since the perfect game, but a very good outing nonetheless. Oh, and he just so happened to drive in the second run of the game.

Alas, the Giants didn’t even end up needing that much out of Cain, as the offense exploded for nine runs. Every player who batted for the Giants in this game collected a hit…except for Brandon Belt — who walked in his lone at-bat.

Notes:

  • Buster Posey’s day: 2 for 5 with a single, an intentional walk, and a two-run homer (following a bunt single by Melky Cabrera); and to top it all off, he gunned down a runner at second.
  • On a similar note, is there a better 1-2 punch against left-handed pitching  than Buster Posey and Melky Cabrera? Before today, they stood at a 228 wRC+ and 207 wRC+ against southpaws, respectively.
  • As much as I complain about Joaquin Arias, he’s done a bang up job as Brandon Crawford’s platoon partner. Would you believe that he came into today with a .313/.349/.384 line against left-handers?

Melky Cabrera and 200 Hits

A couple days ago, Jon Heyman published an article noting that Melky Cabrera and the Giants will put aside contract talks until after the season is over; the article inevitably started up another wave of speculation and discussion on what kind of money Cabrera should and/or will receive this offseason. But oddly enough, I’m not concerned with that — at least for the time being. The Giants don’t seem to be, either. Once the season has come to an end, we’ll all have an even clearer picture of what Melky is. For now, I’m inclined to just sit back and enjoy what Melky is doing.

We’re four months into this thing. He’s come to the plate nearly 500 times this season. And he’s currently rocking a .352/.395/.527 slash line. What’s more, he’s got a pretty comfortable major-league lead in the hit column, at 154. Andrew McCutchen, who stands second in the majors in hits, trails by six.

Melky is just 46 hits away from 200. The 200-hit mark is a frivolous milestone, for what should be fairly obvious reasons: it’s a counting stat, so it’s largely dependent upon opportunity — sheer quantity of at-bats; and secondly, it doesn’t account for important factors in a player’s production, namely walks and power. As such, “200 hits” doesn’t automatically mean “good season.” Juan Pierre compiled 204 hits in 2006, a year in which he posted an 82 OPS+.

But the frivolities in baseball are fun. That’s part of what makes the sport enjoyable. I mean, hitting for the cycle is a frivolous feat, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to watch a player accomplish it.

Assuming Melky remains healthy, he’s all but guaranteed to reach 200 hits. There are 50 games left in the season, so he’ll likely get another 200 or so plate appearances. ZiPS projects 182 at-bats for him over the rest of the season. If that’s the case, Melky would need to hit .253 from this point forward. He’s hit .352 so far. He’s hit .285 over his career. ZiPS projects him to hit .308 the rest of the way. Even in his notoriously terrible 2010 campaign, he hit .255. Melky essentially has this locked up.

A complete list of every San Francisco Giants player to eclipse 200 hits in a single season:

Rk Player Year H Age Tm Lg G PA AB BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Rich Aurilia 2001 206 29 SFG NL 156 689 636 .324 .369 .572 .941
2 Bobby Bonds 1970 200 24 SFG NL 157 745 663 .302 .375 .504 .879
3 Willie Mays 1958 208 27 SFG NL 152 685 600 .347 .419 .583 1.002
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/10/2012.

 

Not only is Melky set to join an exclusive group of Giants hitters, but at this rate, he looks like he could best each of them in terms of hit totals. Willie Mays holds the San Francisco Giants’ single-season record for hits, at 208. He’s held that record since the Giants’ very first season in San Francisco. Cabrera needs just 55 hits over the final 50 games of the season in order to overtake Mays. Pretty cool, eh?

Splash Hits: The Giants Are 61-50

Scouting Report Giants Prospect Kyle Crick | Bullpen Banter
A comprehensive scouting report on Giants prospect and Augusta GreenJackets pitcher Kyle Crick.

Bonds is right: No-doubt Hall of Famer – SweetSpot Blog – ESPN
It almost goes without saying, but Barry Bonds is deserving of Hall of Fame induction, and there’s no doubt about it.

2012: Year of the Catcher? – Beyond the Box Score
A brief piece I wrote on the strong showing that 2012 catchers have put together. Buster Posey, along with Carlos Ruiz, leads the way.

In (Almost) Support of Lyle Overbay – McCovey Chronicles
Should the Giants sign Lyle Overbay? At first glance, no. At second glance, maybe. At third glance, no.

New Theory: Ryan Vogelsong is a wizard « Bay City Ball – A Giants Blog
Go for the Ryan Vogelsong analysis. Stay for the Brandon Crawford GIF.

Emerging star Melky and Giants agree to pick up contract talks after the year – CBSSports.com
Melky Cabrera and the Giants will put aside contract discussions for now, reports Jon Heyman.

Giants Pythag the Cardinals, 15-0

Tonight’s game was what you’d call a good old-fashioned “Pythagging.” The Giants already had a seven-run lead on the Cardinals by the end of the sixth inning, but they went and tacked on another eight runs in the latter two innings of the blowout. The final score: 15-0. That was just ridiculous, jaw-dropping material right there. I’m almost at a loss for words, to be honest.

A few thoughts:

  • Not to be lost in all of this “Giants scoring boatloads of runs” nonsense is the fact that Ryan Vogelsong, once again, pitched masterfully. Three hits scattered over seven scoreless innings. He’s now made 21 starts this season; he’s now pitched 6+ innings 21 times this season. Dating back to his final start of 2011, he’s now tossed 6+ innings in 22 consecutive outings, which ties Atlee Hammaker for the third-longest such streak in franchise history. I assuredly sound like a broken record at this point, but Vogelsong never ceases to amaze me.
  • This is just the second time in the San Francisco era that the Giants have scored 15+ runs in a shutout. 50+ years of baseball, and they’ve only done it once before. Every position player in the starting lineup had a hit. Five had multiple hits. Crazy, crazy stuff.
  • Have I mentioned how much I love the Marco Scutaro acquisition? I have. I don’t care — I’ll blab about it again. He’s really wasted no time in getting comfortable here — he brought a .326/.375/.395 line with San Francisco into today, and that was before this three-hit seven-RBI affair. He’s now hit safely in 10 of 12 games since joining the team.
  • Maybe the most positive thing in all of this was Brandon Belt‘s performance: he a) went two for five with a double; b) didn’t strike out once; c) made contact with every pitch he swung at, in fact; and d) even had loud outs. He sure appears to be finding a groove once again.
  • The Giants are now two games ahead of the Dodgers (who are still playing their game as of now), and they’ve also really started to distance themselves from Arizona — they’re now five games ahead.