Cubs v. Giants | Series Preview

After splitting a four-game set with the worst team in the National League (and, well, the majors), the Giants begin a three-game series against the Cubs — who just so happen to have the second-worst record in the National League at 57-77.

Probable pitchers:
Game one — Randy Wells v. Tim Lincecum
Game two — Matt Garza v. Ryan Vogelsong
Game three — Rodrigo Lopez v. Madison Bumgarner

Randy Wells has had a quite a down year — through 17 starts (~100 IP), he boasts a K/9 south of 6, a BB/9 at nearly 3.5, and a HR/9 of 1.78 — which ranks as the second-worst home run rate among starters with 90+ innings. At -0.2 fWAR, he’s essentially been replacement-level in 2011; meaning he fits the prototype for pitchers that dominate the Giants.

Garza, meanwhile, is the only legitimately good starter the Giants will face this series: he ranks in the top-ten in the NL in fWAR, and he’s striking out hitters at a clip of 24.1% (good for fifth-best in the majors). His FIP- sits at 75, marking a breakout season for the 27-year-old.

In game three, the Giants face off against a familiar face in Lopez — who, like Wells, is not a good pitcher at all. He’s struck out opponents at a rate of 12.5% this season, which is roughly half that of Garza. His season-high for strikeouts in a game is five, which he’s accomplished once. The only above-average facet of his game is his walk rate — which he maintains in the mid-twos.

The Cubs’ offense, by the way, isn’t too good either — their hitting is essentially in Astros/Marlins/Diamondbacks territory.

Basically, the Giants have no excuse for losing a series like this — they’re facing off against a horrible team, at home, and have the benefit of facing two awful pitchers in Wells and Lopez. Though as for Garza — I expect he’ll embarrass the Giants’ offense thoroughly (if they haven’t yet gotten that out of their system).

A few other notes:

  • Reed Johnson still exists, apparently, and is quietly having an excellent season: through 87 games (214 PA), he’s posted a .345/.385/.533 and amassed 1.6 wins above replacement.
  • Aramis Ramirez has been the Cubs’ best hitter this season (135 wRC+) after a disappointing 2010 campaign. His OBP is up to .357, from .294 last season.
  • I envy the Cubs for one reason: Starlin Castro. He doesn’t walk much at all (one of my pet peeves in a hitter), and he plays some pretty shoddy defense at shortstop, but none of that matters because he’s a) a shortstop, b) 21 years old, and c) good at hitting (currently sitting at a 105 wRC+). He’s not all that flashy, but as a young talented shortstop, he’s quite the invaluable commodity — one I wish the Giants had.

Update: Today’s lineup, courtesy of Extra Baggs:

CF Torres
2B Keppinger
RF Beltran
3B Sandoval
1B Huff
SS Cabrera
LF Belt
C Stewart
P Lincecum

Giants-Astros Series Preview

To preview the Giants-Astros series, I asked Timmy of the Crawfish Boxes several questions about the Astros –

The Astros have posted the worst record in the majors by far. Was it anticipated that Houston would perform this poorly? Or has it sort of come as a surprise?

Nobody expects their team to be the worst team in the league even if they know it’s going to be a bad season. So yes it was a bit of a surprise that they’re playing this bad but not entirely unexpected. I for one thought the Astros would begin playing better baseball in the second half of the season, as they typically do, but it hasn’t happened and with the recent trades of Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence it’s becoming less likely.

The Astros had quite a busy trade deadline. As a whole, what were your thoughts on their moves? Was it a successful deadline for Houston?

As a whole the trade deadline was a positive step in the right direction for the organization. It was a necessary move to try to get younger and shed payroll for an incoming owner. They added some much needed talent and depth to the system as well as clearing the way for highly touted prospects Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez who were residing at AA at the time of the trades. Overall Wade made a good move, a great move and a bad move, but overall I’d say it was a successful deadline for the Astros.

Do you see Wandy Rodriguez being moved within the near future, and if so, how soon?

This is a real tricky one to pin down, my feeling is that he won’t be moved at the waiver trade deadline and instead will be moved sometime in the offseason. There are several factors involved with trading Wandy. Obviously the one talked about the most is his contract and whether a team would be willing to pick that contract up and how much the Astros are willing to eat. With Jim Crane wanting the payroll at 50-60 million moving Wandy is viewed as one of the quickest and easiest ways to hit that target. Now that the approval process for Crane has been delayed again the plans for moving Wandy could be in limbo. Ultimately I believe he’ll be moved this offseason.

Granted, he’s only made two starts for the Astros thus far, but what are your thoughts on Henry Sosa?

Sosa has certainly got some potential to be a solid guy in a Major League rotation. In both his starts he’s had trouble in the early inning, but then settled down and was able to make it through the six innings. It appears he can get his fastball into the low to mid 90′s which would be something this rotation needs. Obviously it’s still early but he’s shown positive signs.

Any specific player to watch for in this series?

Matt Downs, I know he was only a bench guy with the Giants last year and technically he’s only a bench guy with the Astros, but this guy is just statistically sound and really should be starting a lot more than he has been. I’m guessing because of his connection to San Francisco and his recent success he could be in the lineup for a game or two, if anything though he’ll be used in close late game situations.

Another guy I’d like to point out is J.D. Martinez who is the Astros new three hole hitter an unlike Downs should be starting all three games this series. Drafted in the 20th round in 2009 by the Astros this guy has done nothing but rake and is now starting to show some promising power potential.

Who takes the series — Astros or Giants?

I think there’s no question the Giants take this series. The real question is if it’s going to be two games to one or a sweep. I know the Giants have been struggling recently but the Astros are just what thy need. The Astros have made a habit this season of winning a series, showing signs of progress and hope, and then quickly turning right back around and going the other way. The Astros just took a series against the Cubs so the Giants are in town at just the right time.

Giants-Reds Series Preview

The Giants need an upgrade at catcher.

The Reds, conveniently have three of ‘em:

  • Ryan Hanigan is under team control through 2014, and has a career OBP of .372(!)
  • Devin Mesoraco is a top catching prospect hitting .306/.379/.500 in 93 games at Triple-A.
  • And Ramon Hernandez is 35 years old, and a free agent after this season.

I assume, therefore, that Hernandez is expendable. The Reds, currently 50-55, are 6.5 games out of first place in the NL Central, and 10.5 games out of first in the NL Wild Card. Baseball Prospectus’ handy-dandy postseason odds say they have a 3.5% chance of making the playoffs.

What reason would the Reds honestly have not to trade him?

The latest update, via Hank Schulman:

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Reds want pitching for C Ramon Hernandez. As one Giants honcho put it, “That, we got a lot of.”Fri Jul 29 19:55:55 via Echofon

The probable pitchers:

Game one: Ryan Vogelsong v. Dontrelle Willis (I think)
Game two: Madison Bumgarner v. Travis Wood
Game three: TBA v. Johnny Cueto

Should be an interesting series, for a number of reasons:
1. Ramon Hernandez (duh)
2. Who will start for the Giants on Sunday?
3. Dontrelle Willis and Johnny Cueto (1.88 ERA?!). Both doing well (moreso Cueto) with low K rates.
4. Fred Lewis and Edgar Renteria. You forgot they existed, huh?

Giants-Phillies Series Preview

Probable pitchers:

Tuesday: Tim Lincecum v. Vance Worley
Wednesday: Barry Zito v. Cole Hamels
Thursday: Matt Cain v. Kyle Kendrick

I asked Peter of the Good Phight several questions about the Phillies to preview the upcoming series. Check out his answers after the jump…

1) What should we expect from Vance Worley?

Damned if I know. Worley was an OK prospect coming into the season. Lots of reasonable people thought his ceiling was that of a solid #4 starter on a good team. Needless to say, he’s exceeded expectations.

Even though Worley is playing well above his head and outside where his peripheral stats indicate he should be, if and when he “regresses” to his actual abilities, his 4.09 SIERA, 4.01 xFIP, and 3.21 FIP are those of a nice major league pitcher.

2) Jimmy Rollins will be a free agent after this year. Do you see him re-signing with the Phillies? Could the Giants make a run at him?

The Giants have long been a rumored destination for Rollins after his current contract. And it makes sense — he’s a Bay Area native, and the Giants certainly have a need at shortstop. The problem for the Giants is that the Phillies still have a need at the position as well, and no one really on the horizon in the minors who poses a threat to take over.

Rollins is quietly having a very nice bounceback season, posting a .268/.338/.398 line in a deflated run scoring environment. At 32 years old, teams will be wise to keep any contracts with Rollins at three years or below, but he’s shown he has lots left in the tank.

3) The Phillies seem to be among the top suitors for Carlos Beltran. Is he necessary — i.e. how much of an upgrade would he be for the Phils?

Of course Beltran is having a great season and would instantly become the best hitter in the Phillies lineup (apologies to the en fuego Chase Utley). But it’s really a matter of how much better he makes a team that has the best record in the National League by a long stretch and is the favorite for home field advantage throughout the postseason.

If you subscribe to the idea that the playoffs have just slightly better odds than a crapshoot, I don’t think it makes sense to trade too much for a guy who’s only going to improve your odds of winning a championship by a few points. The Phillies, like the Giants, have the resources and infrastructure to be competitive every year if they manage their personnel properly. Trading a top prospect like Domonic Brown for two months of Beltran is sheer lunacy.

4) When Joe Blanton and Roy Oswalt were healthy, it was pretty clear that the Phils had a better rotation than the Giants; but with those two out, and Ryan Vogelsong emerging as a quality starter this season, do you think the Phils still have the upper edge?

I still prefer the Phillies, but not by too much. And it’s predicated mostly on the ability of starters Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels to pitch deep into ballgames and miss bats.

Halladay (7.74), Lee (4.93) and Hamels (4.62) are first, second, and third in the league, respectively, in strikeout-to-walk ratio. The Phillies’ pitching staff as a whole has a 3.03 K/BB ratio, which is better than all but seventeen other single pitchers in the National League.

The Giants have a terrific pitching staff, and the bullpen gets a notable edge, but the Phillies’ pitching staff overall is historically great.

5) What’s up with Ryan Howard? He’s hit .198/.296/.314 over the last 30 days (6/24-7/23), and seems to be having a disappointing season overall.

Ryan Howard has historically played his best baseball in August and September. And he has been atrocious over the past month or so. He’s an incredibly streaky player caught in one of his bad streaks right now. Pitchers seem to have wised up and started throwing him more off-speed stuff, resulting in a lot less good contact but an increased walk rate.

Howard has shown an ability to adapt before. Hopefully he will again.

Giants-Brewers Series Preview

The Giants begin a three-game set tonight with Milwaukee, an extraordinarily interesting team. Rany Jayazerli recently penned a fantastic article on the Brewers over at Grantland, in which he discussed their neglect of defense:

Doug Melvin managed to assemble one of the best pitching rotations in baseball while also preserving a lineup that included Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, and Rickie Weeks, who were all among MLB’s best hitters at their positions. But Melvin had to compromise on something, and that was defense.

In recent years, the emphasis on the value of defense has increased throughout the majors, with the Mariners, A’s and Rays as examples. As Rany describes it, “Over the past few seasons defensive specialists may have swung from undervalued to overrated.”

It’s subtle yet brilliant. Milwaukee has emptied its farm system to the point where it’s completely barren in order to build a team that will contend this year. They acquired a couple top-notch starters in Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, and have ultimately compromised their defense to build a strong offense. I love it.

So that’s who the Brewers are:

  • Really good offense
  • Decent pitching
  • Awful defense

The matchups in the series will be as follows:

Game one: Shaun Marcum v. Matt Cain
Game two: Randy Wolf v. Ryan Vogelsong
Game three: Yovani Gallardo v. Madison Bumgarner

Shaun Marcum is one of my favorite pitchers. He’s no ace, but he’s a great number-two starter, and succeeds without overpowering stuff. He’s a changeup pitcher, as he throws the pitch 32% of the time, and it’s one of the best changeups in the bigs: though pitch values are a little iffy, as they aren’t adjusted for luck on balls in play, his changeup has been worth 33.7 runs above average since the start of 2010, which ranks second in the majors (Tim Lincecum ranks third). Whereas the average changeup induces a swinging strike 12.6% of the time, Marcum’s changeup gets a whiff 19.9% of the time. In addition to the changeup, Marcum throws an 87-MPH four-seamer (yeah, not overpowering stuff), a cutter, a two-seamer, and an average curve. In addition to the excellent change, Marcum succeeds by virtue of his plus control: in 2010, he walked just under two hitters per nine innings, and he’s kept his BB/9 below 3 in 2011. So yeah, not your typical star pitcher….which I guess is why I like him. I think he’s one of the most underrated arms in the game.

Randy Wolf, on the other hand, is a fairly-below-average starter at this point in his career. Slightly above-average walk rate, but he’s a flyball pitcher that doesn’t induce a lot of whiffs. In general, he strikes me as a pretty unremarkable pitcher.

In game three, Yovani Gallardo will face off against Madison Bumgarner, who I wrote about last night. There’s an interesting pattern in Gallardo’s numbers over the last three years:

Year K% BB%
2009 25.7% 11.9%
2010 24.9% 9.3%
2011 20.4% 8.2%

He used to be an erratic pitcher that got tons of strikeouts, but seems to have moved in more of a pitch-to-contact type direction, or so to speak. Fewer K’s, as well as fewer walks. In any event, he’s been slightly worse than last year, but is certainly still an elite starter (xFIP of 3.44 puts in top 30 among qualified MLB starters).

Of note: Milwaukee pitchers can hit. Their bats have already been worth a couple wins above replacement on the season, and they’re OPSing nearly .500; for comparison, their .496 OPS on the season is better than that of Emmanuel Burriss (.493).

Lastly, keep an eye on Rickie Weeks. I toss this word around a lot it seems, but there’s an argument to be made that he’s the most underrated player in baseball. A solid defensive 2B with his kind of on-base skills and power is extremely special.

Giants-Dodgers Series Preview

Fresh off a brief 3-1 road series against San Diego, the Giants head back home for a three-game set against the Dodgers. The Dodgers, who recently filed for bankruptcy, currently sit 12 and a half games out of first place in the NL West with a 42-53 record. Overall, their pitching has been fairly average (104 ERA-, 100 FIP-, 97 xFIP-), and that hasn’t been enough to carry a team averaging 3.67 runs per game.

Nevertheless, the trio of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Hiroki Kuroda has been pretty excellent, posting a collective 6.8 wins above replacement (per Baseball-Reference). The Giants will have to face two of those starters in this series…the probables:

Game one — Chad Billingsley v. Ryan Vogelsong
Game two — Rubby De La Rosa v. Madison Bumgarner
Game three — Clayton Kershaw v. Tim Lincecum

In game two, the Giants face Rubby de la Rosa, who was ranked as the Dodgers’ fifth best prospect coming into the season. Rubby has made seven starts on the season for the Dodgers and has been pretty solid, posting a 3.74 ERA backed by a 3.40 FIP. He sits in the mid-90s with his fastball, and his changeup (which he throws 16% of the time) has been very good, as he’s gotten whiffs with it 19.4% of the time (as compared to a 12.6% MLB average).

Game three should be a great matchup, as Clayton Kershaw (28.3%) and Tim Lincecum (26.0%) rank first and third in the majors in K%, respectively.

On the offensive side of things, the Dodgers are pretty mediocre (91 wRC+), but are still better than the Giants (84 wRC+). Matt Kemp, who ranks second in the majors in fWAR (4.8), has emerged as a serious MVP candidate after a disappointing 2010. Jamey Carroll (1.5 fWAR) — who I recently pegged as a trade target for the Giants — and Andre Ethier (2.4 fWAR) have also been good; beyond that, however, the Dodgers haven’t gotten much production. To illustrate their offensive struggles: Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley have been worth a collective 1.4 wins above replacement with their bats, which ranks them as 7th and 8th best on the Dodgers respectively.

Lastly, keep an eye on Juan Rivera, who just joined the Dodgers recently. In spite of his struggles with the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this year, he absolutely devours left-handed pitching, with a career .292/.338/.505 mark against southpaws.

Twins-Giants Series Preview

Probable pitchers, along with their current FIPs…

Tuesday: Carl Pavano (3.87) v. Madison Bumgarner (2.91)
Wednesday: Nick Blackburn (4.48) v. Ryan Vogelsong (2.91)
Thursday: Brian Duensing (3.57) v. Tim Lincecum (3.01)

I asked Bill of The Platoon Advantage (ESPN SweetSpot affiliate) several questions about the Minnesota Twins–he’s a Twins fan–to preview the upcoming series. Check out his answers after the jump…

1. The Twins are an unimpressive 31-39, but they’ve won 14 of their last 16 games. Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Joe Mauer have just recently come off the DL. So I take it that, at the moment, the Twins are a better team than their overall W-L record indicates?

That’s fair, but I think it’s also a mistake to assume they’re suddenly cured. Six of those wins, including each of the last four, have been by one run. While it’s great to have Mauer and Nishioka back, other injuries have meant that they’re still starting multiple guys every day with names like Luke Hughes, Matt Tolbert, and Rene Tosoni. And there’s not much to put any faith in down in the bullpen. This run has been great, but it’s been driven by excellent starting pitching and luck; there are still a lot of holes on this team.

2. A while ago, 8th Inning Weirdness suggested on Twitter that Denard Span is one of the most underrated players in baseball, and Carson Cistulli recently declared Span the most underrated player in baseball. Do you agree with that assessment?

I might be tempted to go with Ben Zobrist for the most underrated, but Span is close. He’s a very solid leadoff hitter, with his ability to both hit and draw a walk and his tendency to see a lot of pitches, and he plays excellent defense. And few outside of Minnesota seem to know who he is, which is just sad. You’ll be missing him this week, though. You’ll see 2007 first rounder Ben Revere in his place, who hasn’t been hitting at all but is awfully exciting to watch. (My suspicion is that the Twins are impressed enough with Revere that both he and Span will start in the outfield most days whenever Span comes back, which will be great for the D.)

3. I know Carl Pavano and Nick Blackburn pretty well, but I’m not too familiar with Brian Duensing. Is he, at this point, the best starter of the three?

I suspect that Pavano is still the best (he’s been steadily improving after a rocky start), but Duensing (despite an ugly ERA this season) has certainly been better than I ever would have expected. He’s not going to blow anybody away, but he’s got good control, he’s consistently kept his home run numbers down (even if xFIP doesn’t think he should be able to), and he’s even upped his strikeouts to something fairly close to league average this year (up to 6.39 from 5.37 in 2010; the AL average in 2011 has been 6.7). He’s certainly nothing to be scared of (only Liriano is that, and the Giants get to miss him), but he’s just another in the line of solid number-three-or-so starters of whom the Twins seem able to find an endless supply.

4. J.J. Hardy and Brendan Harris for Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson. Care to explain?

There is no explanation. Here’s what I wrote about it as it was happening. They just didn’t like Hardy, for some reason we may or may not understand, and seriously underestimated his value. That one is going to keep hurting until (at least) Hardy is out of baseball or Bill Smith is finally relieved of his duties.

5. Who takes the series — Twins or Giants?

I’d never seriously try to predict a series this short, but if you’re going to put me on the spot, I’ll say the Twins take two of three. Nobody is hitting for the Giants at all right now (though contact pitchers like each of Pavano, Blackburn and Duensing are pretty decent guys to get healthy against), and I get this feeling that this is the series where Mauer finally just goes nuts. Until Lincecum’s one-hitter on Thursday.

Thanks again to Bill for doing this! Be sure to check out the Platoon Advantage.

Giants-Pirates Series Preview

To preview the Giants-Pirates series, I exchanged questions with Brian at Raise the Jolly Roger. Check out his responses below, and I’ll post a link to my responses when they’re up.

UPDATE: You can find my responses here.

1. Tuesday, the Giants face Charlie Morton (ERA 3.33). He’s been pretty successful this year so far — partially due to a high ground ball rate — but his K/BB (0.80) is rather awful. All things considered, what should we expect from him?

Morton is quite an enigma and really is one of the most interesting pitchers in the league to examine closely. As soon as the Bucs traded for him in 2009 you could see his great potential with his “electric stuff” – a 95MPH fastball, great curve, and tons of movement on every pitch. Last year, though, he was dreadful (and also the victim of miserable luck), and really fell out of favor with fans.

Luckily, nobody gave up on Morton and new pitching coach Ray Searage has modified his delivery (to look just like Roy Halladay‘s) and brought back his sinker, which he stopped throwing last year for whatever reason. Now, Morton seems to be much less of a strikeout guy…but far more effective overall, inducing tons and tons of ground balls this season. I think the K/BB ratio will improve as he settles into this new style of pitching (the ratio was far better last year, and control wasn’t really a problem for him at all). He actually had 6 K’s and 3 walks last time out (in his first bad start of the year, at Florida). It will be really interesting to see whether he goes back to getting more strikeouts, but I would certainly expect the walks to come down. For now, though, expect him to throw his sinker a zillion times and get lots of groundballs…and then mix it up more only if it’s not working well.

2. Jose Tabata is off to a red-hot start this season — already at 1.2 fWAR…do you expect him to keep this up — at least to some extent?

Ever since Tabata broke into the majors last season, he’s impressed. His approach at the plate and style of hitting is fun to watch, and he’s been incredibly effective at the top of the lineup (I believe he’s right up around the MLB leaders in hits since last year’s All-Star Break). We were kind of hoping for some more power out of him, but certainly nobody’s complaining about what he’s done so far. I expect him to remain very solid…maybe not this good, but close.

3. This question came up a while ago…is Andrew McCutchen the best all-around centerfielder in the game? Or Colby Rasmus/Matt Kemp?

MLB Network said that he was in the offseason which generated a lot of buzz. I think it was a perfectly fair statement at the time…but Kemp and Rasmus are both off to really great starts. McCutchen suffered through a rough slump after the first two series this year, but seems to be recovering well. I’d give the edge to Kemp now with his scorching hot start, but when Cutch is at the top of his game, he’s really the whole package.

4. Pedro Alvarez has struggled mightily thus far — .200/.263/.286…what should the Pirates do with him? Just wait it out?

Yes, absolutely. Pedro is essentially the “face of the new management” here in Pittsburgh (being the first hyped-up 1st round pick in a while they’ve been willing to spend big bucks on–drafted just ahead of Buster Posey), and he needs to get going or else the Bucs will be in big trouble. Alvarez has always been very strikeout prone, and also is a notoriously slow starter. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon, and has actually been better over the last week or so.

5. Who takes the series — Giants or Pirates?

Looking at the pitching matchups, it’s awfully tough to rationalize predicting the Pirates to win two games (or maybe even one). The Giants take the series, and hopefully the Bucs can take a game and keep the other two close?

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