Author Archive

San Francisco Giants Are Leading the National League West with Great Offense

The San Francisco Giants have a reputation for winning with pitching and defense. They’ve had four straight winning seasons and won two out of the last three World Series by allowing the fewest runs in baseball since 2009.

However, thus far in 2013, the Giants are leading the National League West with a great offense. Giants position players currently lead all of baseball in wins above replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs

The strength of the Giants’ lineup is its ability to make contact. They are tied with the Texas Rangers for the lowest strikeout rate in baseball.

Marco Scutaro (6.5 percent strikeout rate), Pablo Sandoval (9.8 percent), Angel Pagan (12 percent) and Buster Posey (13.5 percent) are the best hitters on the squad at putting the ball in play.

That consistent ability to get the bat on the ball is why the Giants lead the National League with a .269 team batting average. The Giants are also the best team in the National League at hitting with runners in scoring position, according to ESPN. They’re hitting .298/.379/.474 in those clutch situations.

The club’s clutch hitting has made up for its lack of home run power. The Giants are near the bottom of the National League in home runs. However, they are fifth in slugging percentage, third in doubles and fourth in triples.

The middle of the Giants’ lineup is extremely difficult to get through. Sandoval, Posey and Pence—the three-through-five hitters—have combined for 19 home runs and 77 RBI. They are the top three qualified hitters on the team in on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).

Brandon Crawford has provided tremendous production from the bottom of the order. He’s put up an .819 OPS with 16 extra-base hits thus far in 2013. He entered the season with a reputation as a defense-only player, but he’s quickly shattering that notion.

Crawford’s double-play partner Marco Scutaro got off to a slow start to the season due to a back injury. He’s gotten healthier, and he now leads the team with a .318 batting average. He’s currently in the midst of a 15-game hitting streak.

Even light-hitting left fielder Gregor Blanco has gotten in on the offensive action. He doesn’t hit for the type of power normally associated with the left field position. However, he’s hitting .280 with a robust .351 on-base percentage to more than make up for his lack of home run pop.

First baseman Brandon Belt is tied for third on the team in home runs and is fourth in RBI. He’s hitting only .248 due to a slow start in April. However, he’s picked it up by hitting .275/.383/.575 thus far in May.

General manager Brian Sabean told Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area that Belt is the key to the success of the lineup. Sabean told Baggarly:

And it [the platoon in left field] wouldn’t be that much of an eyesore statistically from a run production standpoint if we had a bona fide six hitter, which should be Belt…The more quality at-bats he [Belt] can create, the better he’ll be equipped to be what we need him to do, and that’s be a run producer as a six hitter. 

Those pitching-and-defense-oriented Giants from yesteryear no longer exist. The new version of the two-time champion Giants is getting it done with one of the game’s best lineups.

Given that six of the team’s starting eight position players are 30 years old or younger, expect this offensive trend to continue.

The only question facing the Giants this year is whether or not the starting rotation will round back into shape. If it does, the Giants will run away with the National League West once again.


All statistics in this article are courtesy of ESPN.

Read more MLB news on

San Francisco Giants: Does It Matter Who Catches Tim Lincecum?

Tim Lincecum has looked like a different pitcher over his last two starts with Buster Posey behind the plate in place of Hector Sanchez. 

Over his first three starts with Sanchez catching, Lincecum struggled. He allowed 13 hits, 12 runs, 12 walks and three home runs in 16 innings of work. His ERA was 5.63.

In his last two starts against the Padres, Lincecum has suddenly looked like a different pitcher. He’s allowed 10 hits, two runs, five walks and no home runs over 13.2 innings. His ERA with Posey catching him this season is 1.32.

Given that Posey was also the catcher for Lincecum during his phenomenal run as a reliever last postseason, it seems obvious that he should be catching Timmy. Posey is a better defender than Sanchez, and Lincecum needs all the support he can get at this point in his career.

Posey is much more athletic behind the plate than Sanchez. He clearly does a better job of framing the ball to get borderline pitches called strikes for his pitchers.

According to research done by Matt Klaassen, Posey ranked as the fifth-best defensive catcher in baseball last season. Sanchez ranked as the sixth-worst. Thus, the numbers back up what most Giants‘ fans have been observing over the last year-plus.

This looks like an open-and-shut case. Lincecum has looked dominant in the two starts that he’s made this season with Posey catching. He was exceptional pitching to Posey last postseason and terrible in his lone postseason start with Sanchez catching. The advanced numbers and the eye test combine to show that Posey is superior to Sanchez defensively.

Thus, as long as manager Bruce Bochy keeps pairing Lincecum and Posey together, Timmy will continue to pitch well, right? Well, not based on last year’s numbers.

Lincecum’s statistics based on who was catching him last year are not available anywhere that I could find online. Therefore, I had to compile Lincecum‘s numbers from last season throwing to each of the Giants’ three catchers using his game log available at ESPN.

I then looked at each box score to see who the catcher was when Lincecum pitched. Finally, I created a spreadsheet with Lincecum’s numbers throwing to each catcher and totaled up the final results.

Last season, Lincecum threw to Sanchez 16 times, Posey 15 times and Eli Whiteside twice. Surprisingly, my research found that Lincecum had a better record and ERA last year when Sanchez was catching him.

With Sanchez catching, Lincecum went 6-5 with a 4.76 ERA in 90.2 innings pitched. He allowed 85 hits, 50 runs, 48 earned runs, 44 walks and 11 home runs while striking out 84.

With Posey catching, Lincecum went just 3-9 with a 5.48 ERA in 85.1 innings pitched. He allowed 86 hits, 54 runs, 52 earned runs, 41 walks and nine home runs while striking out 92.

With Whiteside behind the plate, Lincecum went 1-1 with a 5.39 ERA over 11.2 innings pitched. He had one fantastic start and one bad one throwing to Whiteside last season.

The good news from last season is that Lincecum’s rate of strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed were slightly better with Posey catching him. Strikeout, walk and home run rates are less dependent on defense and luck than ERA and won-loss record.

Thus, while Lincecum allowed fewer runs per game and won more games with Sanchez catching last year, his core numbers were actually better with Posey catching.

If you prefer traditional stats like wins, losses and ERA, then Lincecum did throw better with Sanchez catching him last year. If you prefer modern, advanced stats like strikeouts per nine innings pitched, then Lincecum actually pitched better with Posey catching despite the sky-high ERA.

Posey has been the catcher when Lincecum has looked at his best so far this season. Posey could be the reason for Lincecum’s improved results over his last two starts. However, given last season’s results, it’s too early to conclude that definitively.

Lincecum could have made a mechanical or mental adjustment that is the reason for his improvement. Or, his results could be completely random and have nothing to do with who the catcher is. Perhaps the Padres lineup just isn’t very good.

Posey should continue to catch Lincecum because he’s a very good defensive catcher and Sanchez is not. Sanchez should honestly be in Fresno working on his game. It’s doing him no good to sit on the bench in San Francisco right now. Playing everyday at Triple-A would help improve his game much more than rotting on the bench.

However, even if Posey continues to catch Lincecum, that doesn’t guarantee Timmy will keep pitching well. For that to happen, Lincecum will have to keep making pitches regardless of who the catcher is.

If Lincecum is going to continue to have a successful season in 2013, it’s going to have more to do with the guy on the mound than the guy behind the plate. Posey can put the right signs down and steal a few extra strikes, but Lincecum will have to continue to show improved command of his arsenal.

After Lincecum’s last two starts, there are reasons to be optimistic about him again. However, it’s not fair to Lincecum to give all the credit to Posey. Lincecum deserves the majority of the credit for his outstanding recent work.

All statistics in this article are courtesy of ESPN.

Read more MLB news on

San Francisco Giants: Breaking Down the Early Struggles of the Starting Rotation

The San Francisco Giants‘ starting rotation—which has been the foundation of the team’s run toward two World Series titles in the last three years—is struggling to open 2013.

The Giants’ 4.95 rotation ERA is the fifth worst in baseball entering play on Saturday. Giants starters have combined to allow a home run rate of 1.35 per nine innings pitched (HR/9), which is also fifth worst in baseball.

On the bright side, the season is only 17 games old. Thus, it’s way too early to get worked up over the rotation’s struggles.

It’s also too early to get overly excited about Madison Bumgarner’s tremendous start to the season. However, he sure does look like a Cy Young candidate through his first four starts. He’s 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA. He’s struck out 27 percent of the hitters he’s faced while walking only seven percent in 26.1 innings of work.

The other four starters have had their struggles though.

Opening Day starter Matt Cain has thrown well in two of his starts but been pounded in the other two. Barry Zito opened the year with 14 straight shutout innings before getting lit up for nine runs in 2.2 innings in his third start. Ryan Vogelsong has had just one quality start in three tries. The Giants are 3-0 when Tim Lincecum takes the ball, but he leads the National League in walk rate.

Let’s take a more in depth look at what’s going on with Cain, Zito, Vogelsong and Lincecum to open the year.


Matt Cain

Cain threw six shutout innings on Opening Day and was cruising through three scoreless innings in his second start. Then, things suddenly fell apart on him.

After retiring the first nine Cardinals hitters, Cain allowed seven hits, two walks and nine runs in the fourth inning. That was by far the worst inning of his illustrious career.

Cain bounced back with seven strong innings in his next start. However, the Brewers tagged him for seven hits, seven runs and three homers in his latest outing.

Looking at Cain’s overall stat line, his walk and strikeout rates are right in line with where they were last year. The biggest reason for his 7.15 ERA through four starts is the long ball. After allowing only 21 home runs in 219.1 innings last year, Cain has already allowed five in 22.2 innings this season.

Cain has allowed an astounding 15.6 percent of the fly balls hit off him to leave the yard this season. For his career, he’s allowed only 6.9 percent of the fly balls hit off him to go for home runs.

Thus, regression to the mean is almost assuredly coming. For that to happen, Cain is going to have to stop making so many location mistakes within the strike zone.

Once Cain gets his home run rate under control, his ERA should get back around the 3.00 level it’s been at for the last four years.


Barry Zito

Zito has had two great starts and one bad one. Last postseason, Zito was knocked out early in his first start before putting together two terrific performances in the NLCS and World Series. Two great starts, one bad start—that seems to be the trend with Zito.

With a fastball that sits between 82-85 mph, Zito has no margin for error. When he has command of his arsenal, he can rattle off seven shutout innings. When his command is a little bit off, he’s in trouble because he doesn’t have the velocity to get away with many mistakes.

After struggling through an injury-plagued season in 2011, Zito made 17 quality starts last year and finished with a 4.15 ERA. He made 19 quality starts and finished with a 4.15 ERA in 2010.

Expect him to finish with a 4.15 ERA and plenty of quality starts again in 2013. That’s perfectly adequate for a fourth starter, even if Giants fans were expecting more after his tremendous postseason and beginning to 2013. 


Ryan Vogelsong

Vogelsong’s issues appeared to be tied to a lack of fastball velocity in his first two starts of the season. He had to ramp it up earlier this year because of his participation in the World Baseball Classic, and that may have set him back.

After averaging around 91 mph with his fastball the last two years, Vogelsong averaged 88 in his first start and 89 in his second start, according to data from Brooks Baseball.

His velocity was back up to averaging 91 in his third start. Predictably, the results were back to being very good for Vogelsong. He had his first quality start of the year—going seven innings and allowing only five hits and three runs.

As long as Vogey stays in the low 90s with his fastball, he’ll have another excellent year for San Francisco.


Tim Lincecum

The Giants are 3-0 when Lincecum takes the hill this year. He beat the Dodgers in his first start of the season. He’s struck out 15 hitters in 16 innings, and opponents are only hitting .217 against him thus far.

So, all is well with The Freak, right?

Well, he’s also walked 12, allowed 12 runs and put up a 5.63 ERA in 16 innings of work. To be fair, nine of those runs came over two bad innings. On the other hand, those bad innings still count.

Taking the longer view, here are Lincecum’s numbers since the beginning of last season:

36 11-15 5.21 202 196 102 123

Can Lincecum turn it around? The Giants obviously believe that he can; otherwise, they probably would have traded him this winter or moved him permanently to the bullpen. Instead, they keep running him out there every fifth day in the hope that he’ll rediscover his former dominant self.

Lincecum was arguably the best pitcher in the game from 2008 through 2011. He won two Cy Young awards and was dominant as the ace of the staff during the Giants’ 2010 run to the World Series title.

His velocity is down a few ticks since then, but the stuff is still good enough dominate. The issue for Lincecum is pitch-to-pitch consistency. If he can start putting the ball where he wants to when he wants to, he can avoid the walks and the big innings that have plagued him for a year-plus now.


The Giants brass know pitching. The organization’s combined 3.45 ERA over the last four years is the best in baseball. Cain, Zito, Vogelsong and Lincecum are big reasons why the Giants have won two championships and had four straight winning seasons.

Their early season struggles are notable only because of their prior achievements. Cain will be fine once he gets his home run problem under control. The Giants know what they are going to get from Zito. It appears that Vogelsong has already turned the corner. Lincecum was once the best pitcher on the planet.

There’s 145 games left in the season. If the Giants rotation is still struggling around the trade deadline and it’s affecting their place in the standings, general manager Brian Sabean can address the problem then.

In the meantime, expect the game’s best pitching staff over the last four years to start to figure it out.

All statistics in this article are courtesy of FanGraphs and ESPN.

Read more MLB news on

San Francisco Giants’ Investment in the Bullpen Paying off Early in 2013

In the top of the sixth inning Monday night, the Colorado Rockies knocked out San Francisco Giants‘ starter Madison Bumgarner. They coaxed five walks out of him on the night and cut the Giants’ 3-0 lead to 3-2 against him.

The Giants bullpen would let the Rockies get no further. Santiago Casilla stranded the tying run at second base with a strikeout of Yorvit Torrealba to end the sixth before throwing a perfect seventh.

Jeremy Affeldt followed with a scoreless eighth inning. Sergio Romo allowed a leadoff double in the ninth, but then struck out the next three hitters to end the game for his fourth save of the season.

The Giants bullpen combined to throw 3.1 innings of scoreless baseball Monday night. They struck out six of the 11 hitters they faced while only allowing one baserunner. It was a dominant performance that helped vindicate general manger Brian Sabean‘s decision to invest heavily in the bullpen this offseason.

One of Sabean‘s first moves of the winter was to re-sign Affeldt to a three-year, $18 million contract. He also gave Casilla a three-year, $15 million extension with a club option for a fourth year. He then finished by buying out Romo’s two remaining seasons of arbitration for $9 million.

According to research by Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles, the Giants now have the second most expensive bullpen in the game after Sabean‘s winter shopping spree. They are eighth in percentage of payroll allocated to the bullpen.

It’s sabermetric dogma that it isn’t good business to invest heavily in the pen. Relievers can be created out of thin air on the cheap, which saves resources for the rest of the roster.

Romo—a 28th-round draft pick—and Casilla—whom the Giants signed as a minor league free agent—are good examples of why teams shouldn’t overpay for relief pitching on the free agent market.

However, Sabean decided that he had to spend some money to keep his three horses off the market. Since Casilla came aboard in 2010, he’s put up a 2.25 ERA for the Giants—good for eighth best in baseball among relievers. Romo has the third best ERA at 1.81 during that period. Affeldt‘s 3.03 ERA since 2010 is pretty good, too.

A large part of their success is due to their ability to pitch effectively against opposite-handed hitters. Over the last three years prior to 2013, Romo has held lefties to a weak .590 OPS, Affeldt has held righties to a .734 OPS and Casilla has held lefties to a .687 OPS (the league average OPS has hovered between .719 and .728 from 2010-12).

The Giants are more dependent on the bullpen than most teams because they play so many tight, low-scoring games in their spacious home ballpark. They absolutely need to win close games in order to make the playoffs because they don’t have an explosive offense that can consistently blow the opposition out.

So far this season, Romo and the bullpen have saved leads of 3-0, 5-3, 1-0 and 4-2. Last year, the Giants tied the Reds for the best winning percentage in one-run games by going 30-20. They were 33-22 in one-run games the year before and 28-24 in one-run games on their run to the first World Series title in 2010.

The relief trio of Affeldt, Casilla and Romo has helped the Giants hold on to a lot of close leads on the path to winning two out of the last three World Series titles. Sabean invested heavily to retain them this winter and reward them for a job well done. On Monday night, he looked wise for having done so.

Early in 2013, the Giants’ formula for winning looks a lot like it did over the last three years. That means the bullpen is going to be counted on to save a lot of tight games.

So far, Sabean‘s veterans appear up to the task once more.

Read more MLB news on

2013 MLB Draft: Scouting Top Overall Prospect Mark Appel

On Friday night, Stanford ace Mark Appel beat Utah in front of a contingent of eagle-eyed scouts who were closely watching Appel in preparation for the 2013 MLB draft.

Appel was also one of the top prospects in last year’s draft. The Pittsburgh Pirates took him with the eighth pick of the draft and ultimately offered him a $3.8 million signing bonus, which was nearly one million dollars above the slot recommendation. Appel rejected the Pirates’ offer and returned to Stanford for his senior season.

Appel recently explained his decision to George Dohrmann of Sports Illustrated by saying:

When I made that decision, people only looked at the money. I also factored in that I would get to be here at Stanford, which is like home, for another year, and I would get another chance to help my team get to [the College World Series], and I would get my degree.

ESPN draft analyst Keith Law currently ranks Appel has the top overall prospect (subscription required) in this year’s June draft. Last year, many projected that the Houston Astros would take Appel with the top overall pick and award him the $7.2 million bonus that was recommended for that slot.

However, the Astros decided to select shortstop Carlos Correa and give him a below-slot bonus in order to spread out their allotted draft money on high-upside prospects during subsequent rounds. The rebuilding Astros have the top pick again this year, and they could once again pass on Appel to follow the same strategy they used last season. That would give the pitching-needy Chicago Cubs a chance to select Appel with the second pick.

On Friday night, Appel featured a three-pitch mix including a fastball that sat between 93-96 miles per hour, an 85-88 mile-per-hour slider and an 82-85 mile-per-hour changeup. He allowed six hits, two runs, one walk and one home run while striking out 11 of the 33 batters he faced over eight innings of work.

His slider was his main out pitch against Utah. It’s definitely a plus pitch for him, but it actually looks more like a very hard curveball than a true slider because it has an earlier and wider break than the typical slider. His changeup is still a work in progress, but he can also miss bats with it—particularly against lefties.

His fastball has outstanding velocity that he is able to maintain deep into games and he can throw strikes with it to both sides of the plate. He also mixes in a two-seam fastball with movement to his armside to complement the four-seamer. He has outstanding control of his fastball and slider, but he has a harder time consistently controlling the changeup.

His fastball command is a little behind his control, as he’ll have stretches in each start where he’ll get the fastball up and out over the middle of the plate. Stanford pitching coach Rusty Filter told Dohrmann that he’s been working with Appel to increase the downward angle of his fastball after a rough outing to open the season against Rice,

The opener against Rice was just a game where the ball was up…We made some adjustments, and he has kept the ball down. People will look at the strikeouts, but whenever he keeps the ball down he is pretty difficult to hit. 

Appel is now 3-2 with a 1.18 ERA over five starts this season. He’s allowed only 23 hits, seven walks (1.65 walks per nine) and one home run while striking out 54 (12.78 K/9) in 38 innings of work.

Last season, he went 10-2 with a 2.56 ERA over 16 starts. He allowed 97 hits, 30 walks (2.19 BB/9) and three home runs while striking out 130 (9.50 K/9) over 123 innings.

Whoever selects Appel in a few months will be getting a 6’5″ workhorse who has the velocity, control and secondary pitches to succeed at the top of a rotation. He also has the experience to move quickly through any minor league system after spending the last four years at one of the best baseball programs in the country.

This time, the team that drafts Appel won’t have to deal with the possibility of him staying at Stanford for another year. That should ensure that he goes within the top few picks of this year’s draft to help rebuild the rotation of the Astros, Cubs or Rockies in the near future.

Read more MLB news on

San Francisco Giants Top Prospect Gary Brown Demoted to Work on Hitting Approach

After spending the last two years trying to get Brandon Belt to change his hitting mechanics, the San Francisco Giants want another one of their top prospects to rework his stance according to Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area. Baggarly wrote,

Being different often means making tough decisions. Coaches want Brown to put some space between his hands and chest, which should allow him to barrel up inside pitches from right-handers. It’s reminiscent of Brandon Belt’s crossroads the previous two springs, when the Giants urged him to move back in the box and stand up straighter.

Brown was candid: It’s been a push and pull.

“I’ve been hitting [my] way for a long time and had success, so being honest, it’s hard to change that on a whim,” he said. “But I’ll keep working at it. I’d like to force the issue this year and I don’t think that’s out of the question.”

As a junior at Cal State Fullerton, he hit .438 en route to winning the Big West Player of the Year award. The Giants used the 24th pick of the 2010 draft to select Brown, and he picked up right where he left off in his first full minor league season. He hit .336 and stole 53 bases at High-A San Jose in 2011 to establish himself as one of the game’s top prospects.

Since his breakout campaign in San Jose, Brown’s stock has fallen. He hit just .220 against the stiffer competition in the Arizona Fall League in 2011.

Then, his on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) dropped nearly 200 points from .925 at San Jose down to .731 at Double-A Richmond last year. His stolen base total dropped from 53 down to 33, and his success rate fell from 73.6 percent to 64.7 percent.

He had a better go of it in his second crack at the Arizona Fall League last year—hitting .313/.357/.375 over 75 plate appearances. However, he went 7-for-28 (.250) with just one walk and nine strikeouts during spring training. He’s been optioned to Triple-A Fresno, where he’s likely to spend most of 2013.

General manager Brian Sabean said that Brown’s bat still needs more seasoning.

He needs to go back to the Minor Leagues and work on his approach…He obviously can play the outfield. But to be an everyday player, he has to swing the bat with more authority and he’s still learning how to do that (h/t Chris Haft,

His future success is dependent on him finding consistent success against right-handed pitching. The right-handed hitting Brown batted just .264/.325/.353 against same-sided pitchers last season compared to .317/.404/.472 against lefties.

In order to improve against right-handed pitching, he’ll either have to find a better set of hitting mechanics as the Giants want him to, or he’ll have to compete better with the stance he currently employs.

Hitting is ultimately about competing with the opposing pitcher, seeing the ball well out of his hand and squaring up a good pitch to hit. If you’re worrying about mechanics, you can’t compete at a high level against the best pitchers on the planet.

Chicago White Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto believes that succeeding in Major League Baseball is less about mechanics and more about having a strong approach at the plate. He told David Laurila of FanGraphs,

I firmly believe — and I’m probably in the minority on this — that once you get to the big leagues, your mechanics are just about fine. I don’t think you ever have the perfect mechanics on every swing, but if you have a good approach every night, you can succeed. Everybody at this level has the mechanics to play here…

One thing we try to do here is worry about the ball. We believe that if we worry about the ball, the ball becomes the most important thing and mechanics will take care of themselves.

The Giants want Brown to change his mechanics, but the upper levels of the minor leagues aren’t the best place for that. Brown needs to feel confident in his stance and swing so that instead of fighting himself, he’s only fighting the opposing pitcher.

The Giants wanted Belt to retool his swing, but there’s little noticeable difference between his hitting mechanics now compared to when he first came up two years ago. Belt seems to have improved with experience and confidence, not by drastically overhauling his stance and swing.

Perhaps the Giants would help Brown reestablish himself as a top prospect by allowing him to hit from whatever stance feels most comfortable so that he can go about rebuilding his confidence at the plate instead of second-guessing himself.

Hitting a 95-mile-per-hour fastball is an exceptionally difficult task, especially when the pitcher has other offerings to account for. Trying to hit a baseball while worrying about the way you are going about it makes hitting just about impossible.

Read more MLB news on

Buster Posey: Why the San Francisco Giants MVP Will Stay at Catcher Long Term

There’s a lot of speculation that San Francisco Giants‘ star catcher Buster Posey will eventually move out from behind the plate and become a full-time first baseman.

After Posey suffered a catastrophic injury in a brutal collision with Scott Cousins at the plate in 2011, his career seemed to be in jeopardy. No one, including Posey, had any idea how much he was going to be able to play last year after his lengthy rehab.

After missing 114 games in 2011 to repair his broken ankle and torn ligaments, Posey returned with a vengeance.

He started 111 games at catcher and 29 more at first base. He hit .336/.408/.549 with 24 home runs and 103 RBI out of the cleanup spot last season. He won his second World Series title, the National League MVP and Comeback Player of the Year awards and the batting title. 

His defense behind the plate was fantastic as well. According to the advanced catcher defensive metrics created by Matt Klaassen, Posey was worth nearly seven runs with his glove—fifth best in baseball.

His bat would be solid at any position, but having the combination of Posey’s defensive acumen and offensive talents behind the plate is arguably the biggest reason why the Giants have won two out of the last three World Series titles.

The year Posey was injured the Giants did an admirable job of staying afloat without him, but they ultimately didn’t come very close to getting back to the postseason. They finished eight games behind the first place Diamondbacks in the NL West. 

As long as Posey’s body continues to hold up and he still has the desire to wear the tools of ignorance, he should remain the Giants’ starting catcher. Hector Sanchez is an intriguing young catcher, but he isn’t ever going to be in the same stratosphere as Posey on offense or defense. Either is top catching prospect Andrew Susac.

In fact, no other catcher in all of baseball matched Posey’s overall value last year. His eight Wins Above Replacement (WAR) led all catchers and NL players last season.

A huge chunk of Posey’s value comes from his defensive ability at a premium, demanding position. Combine that with his ability to put up a .957 OPS at a spot where the average player had a .715 OPS last season and it’s hard to see the Giants ever moving him to first base unless his body forces them to.

Some have pointed to Joe Mauer as the example for where Posey’s defensive career is heading. At the age of 29 last season, Mauer started only 72 games at catcher for the Twins.

However, the Mauer comparison misses two key points. First, Mauer is 6’5″—which is tall for a catcher—whereas Posey is a more compact 6’1″. More importantly, Posey has suffered one major injury that he has recovered from. Mauer was continually getting banged up from the wear and tear of squatting.

Mauer missed 122 games in 2004 with a knee injury, 37 games in 2007 with a thigh strain, 22 games in 2009 due to a back strain and 57 games in 2011 with lower leg fatigue.

Posey had one major injury from a vicious collision. Now that he no longer even comes close to blocking the plate, another injury of that magnitude seems unlikely.

Jason Kendall is a better comparison for Posey than Mauer. Kendall, who is about the same height as Posey, missed the remainder of the 1999 season due to a fractured and broken ankle. Kendall returned from the injury the following year and was a durable catcher for the rest of his career, playing an average of 147 games per season in the decade after shattering his ankle.

Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area recently detailed Posey’s grueling rehabilitation. While Posey was better than ever last season, he will likely always have to manage his ankle according to Giants’ head trainer Dave Groeschner. He told Baggarly,

The truth is, this is something he’ll have to continue to work on throughout his career, and we’ll have to stay on top of it. He’ll wear orthotics for the rest of his career. Those cracks, snaps and pops he’ll have the rest of his life. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a couple more bouts of soreness.

But you do watch him now, and it’s amazing to think just a year ago we were hoping he could run bases.

Even though the effects of the injury will continue to linger for Posey, his work ethic and intelligence should allow him to continue to manage the pain. He may never catch 140 games for the Giants, but he should remain the primary catcher as long as his health permits.

Catchers that are this good on both sides of the ball come around once in a generation, while slugging first basemen are easier to find. A brutal collision nearly destroyed Posey’s ascending career, but he was able to fight through it and come out even better than before.

Posey’s career is on a Hall of Fame trajectory. As long as his legs continue to hold up and he maintains the torrid pace he’s set at the start of his career, he’ll eventually be inducted as a catcher.

Read more MLB news on

Major League Baseball Has a Major Problem with Antitrust Lawsuit

The last, best hope for the continued preeminence of cable television is live sporting events.

Live sports are basically DVR-proof television because games are obviously more entertaining to watch for fans when the result is unknown. Everything else on television can be recorded and watched later, which allows the viewer to fast-forward through the commercials.

The demand for sports on television is fueling the increase in the cost of cable subscriptions. Major League Baseball (MLB) and other sports leagues are charging cable companies and networks more for the rights to broadcast their games on television, and those costs are being passed on to consumers—even those who don’t watch sports.

However, Major League Baseball is being targeted in an antitrust lawsuit that could ultimately curtail the growth in league-wide revenues from television deals.

According to Joe Flint and Meg James of The Los Angeles Times, nearly half of the cost for the average cable bill is from sports programming. Flint and James also reported that “monthly cable and satellite bills are expected to rise an average of nearly 40%, to $125, according to the market research company NPD Group.”

The increased revenue from growing cable deals has been a driving factor in MLB’s earnings growth. Revenues have increased by 257 percent since 1995, from $1.4 billion to $7.5 billion in 2012, according to Maury Brown of the website The Biz of Baseball. Brown also reported that earnings will at least exceed $8.4 billion by 2014 due to MLB’s new contracts with Fox, TBS and ESPN that will bring an additional $788 million per year into the coffers.

Individual teams have benefited significantly in recent years from the boom in rights fees. The Los Angeles Dodgers were the latest organization to reap the benefits with a reported $7 billion agreement over 25 years with Time Warner Cable.

Yet the seemingly endless growth in revenue from increasing television contracts may not last forever. The cable industry’s top lobbyist and former Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell recently warned that government intervention could be the end result of the unchecked growth in rights fees (h/t Joe Flint, Los Angeles Times). In an interview with C-SPAN’s The Communicators, Powell said:

We all ought to wake up and be careful … so we don’t blow this into smithereens at some point and invite the government to do it for you, which I think nobody would be a winner in.

Government intervention could ultimately prove to be unnecessary to protect consumers depending on the outcome of the antitrust case against MLB. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported recently on the lawsuit aimed at MLB, the National Hockey League, regional sports networks, Comcast and DirecTV. Passan wrote:

The antitrust lawsuit aimed at blowing up Major League Baseball’s lucrative television-rights territories and forcing the league to abandon its antiquated blackout policy will proceed after a federal judge Wednesday affirmed the claims that MLB’s media structure is anti-competitive.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin said MLB’s policy, which includes offering out-of-market games only in a package and blacking out in-market games, raises prices, reduces competition among teams and used “monopoly power” to restrict fans’ ability to watch games…

The plaintiffs argue that prices for viewing games would go down with natural competition and a new system – perhaps one in which MLB offered a-la-carte games on the Internet or mobile devices – would benefit fans.

The revenue growth taking place via MLB’s anti-competitive media structure appears to be a case of MLB using its antitrust exemption to manipulate people into paying higher cable prices. Cable subscribers that do actually want to pay to watch baseball don’t have any other options besides paying higher prices because of MLB’s blackout policies. The only way around paying for cable is to move out of your favorite team’s market in order to bypass the imposed blackouts, or to find a new favorite out-of-market team to watch.

Major League Baseball’s golden goose is undergoing a squeeze in the courts right now, and that could turn out to be a major problem for the game’s revenue flow. However, the result of the court case could help cable consumers and baseball fans.

In the end, what is in the best interests of MLB is not necessarily the same thing as what is in the best interests of the fans.

Read more MLB news on

Giants Spring Training Stock Watch: Which Players Are on Fire and Slumping?

Spring training stats don’t mean much, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t exciting to look at.

In spring training, established players are often working on things and rounding into shape rather than going full bore. Early in the spring, the starters are usually only playing a handful of innings before giving way to minor league players and guys fighting for backup jobs. Thus, there’s a lot of noise in spring training numbers, and that’s before considering the small sample sizes involved.

The fact that Buster Posey is hitting just .222 means absolutely nothing. Matt Cain’s 6.43 ERA is equally meaningless. Given their track records as established All-Stars and key contributors on two World Series teams, Posey and Cain can save their bullets for the games that actually count.

With those caveats aside, the numbers do mean a little more for the guys fighting for jobs, trying to re-establish themselves or catch the organization’s eye.

Entering spring training play on Tuesday, Brandon Belt, Brett Pill, Pablo Sandoval and Brock Bond have been hot with the bats, while Posey, Gregor Blanco and Kensuke Tanaka have struggled.

Belt is 11-for-22 with a double, a triple and two home runs thus far in spring training. If he had started off 1-for-22, he would still be the team’s starting first baseman, but it’s good to see him continue his hot streak from the second half of last season when he hit .293 after the All-Star break. At 25 years old, this could be the year he puts it all together and replicates his outstanding minor league production.

Pill is fighting for a job on the Giants’ bench, and the team could use his right-handed thump. He’s gone 6-for-22 with a double, a triple and two home runs thus far in spring. If he continues his torrid pace, there’s a good chance the Giants will consider bringing him north with the big league club given their lack of offense off the bench last season.

Francisco Peguero is fighting with Pill and Cole Gillespie (4-for-18) for a bench job, and his 9-for-16 start may have put him in the lead. Peguero has outstanding bat speed, good range in the outfield and a huge arm, but his plate discipline needs drastic improvement.

Brock Bond has a .410 career on-base percentage in the minor leagues and he’s opened some eyes this spring with a 6-for-12 start. Giants’ pinch-hitters put up a tepid .284 on-base percentage last season, so Bond’s patient approach would be a welcomed addition. However, he doesn’t have any power and he’s a limited defensive player.

Pablo Sandoval went 7-for-14 with three extra-base hits while also meeting manager Bruce Bochy’s weight targets before leaving for the World Baseball Classic. There’s no question that the Panda can hit, but can he keep his weight in check to stay healthy for a full season this year?

Gregor Blanco has gotten off to a cold start, going 3-for-15 in the early going. He’s in the lineup for his speed and defense, but he’s going to have to improve on last year’s .244 batting average in order to receive the majority of the playing time in left field this season.

Kensuke Tanaka is battling Bond, Wilson Valdez (3-for-11) and the injured Tony Abreu for the final utility infielder job on the bench alongside Joaquin Arias. He’s gone just 5-for-21 with a double in the early going.

The Giants are taking a look at Tanaka at shortstop this spring after he predominantly played second base in Japan. With shortstops Brandon Crawford, Joaquin Arias and current second baseman Marco Scutaro on the roster, the Giants should be able to carry a reserve infielder that doesn’t have to be able to handle short, however. That could benefit Tanaka or Bond over defensive-oriented players like Valdez and Abreu when the Giants settle the final 25-man roster.

On the pitching side, starters Ryan Vogelsong (3.38 ERA), Madison Bumgarner (3.18 ERA) and Barry Zito (3.86 ERA) have picked up right where they left off in the World Series, while Cain has struggled and Tim Lincecum has made only one start due to a blister issue.

In the battle for the final two bullpen spots, George Kontos appears to be a roster lock after a stellar 2012 campaign and four shutout innings with five strikeouts to open spring training. Dan Runzler has put himself back in the mix with three solid innings to begin spring training. An elbow injury to Jose Mijares could open the door for Runzler to start the season with the Giants.

Scott Procotor (2.25 ERA), Chad Gaudin (3.38 ERA) and Yusmerio Petit (0.00 ERA) have pitched well in the battle for the last bullpen job. On the flip side, bullpen candidates Ramon Ramirez (18.00 ERA) and Steve Edlfesen (6.75 ERA) have been roughed up in their two innings of work thus far.

Moving on to the prospects in camp, Gary Brown has gone just 5-for-20 with no walks and six strikeouts, but three of his five hits have been for extra bases. He’s also looked exceptional in center field.

Pitching prospects Heath Hembree and Michael Kickham have thrown well, but Chris Heston has been tattooed for eight hits and six runs in 2.2 innings this spring. His lack of fastball velocity is a concern, even after he dominated hitters last season at Double-A Richmond.

There’s still nearly a month to go before the real games begin, but the Giants have plenty of competition in camp for the few open jobs on the bench and in the bullpen. Spring training stats don’t matter at all for the stars like Posey and Cain, but they do mean something for the guys trying to make the team and the prospects trying to push their way on to the radar.

The rest of spring training will be about the established players getting their reps, settling the final reserve battles and taking a long look at prospects like Brown.

(All stats in this article are from the official website of the San Francisco Giants and are valid through Monday’s spring training games.)

Read more MLB news on

Madison Bumgarner: How the Giants Lefty Can Take Another Leap Forward in 2013

Two-and-a-half seasons into his professional career, Madison Bumgarner is already established as one of the game’s premiere pitchers. He’ll slot in behind ace Matt Cain and in front of two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum in the San Francisco Giants‘ rotation to open this season.

The 23-year-old lefty has already thrown 534 regular-season innings and signed a long-term contract extension that will keep him at the top of the rotation with Cain through at least 2017. Listed at 6’5″ and 227 pounds, the big Southerner is built to continue to eat 200 innings every season for the foreseeable future.

To be an ace, a starting pitcher must be able to do these five things: throw strikes (control), throw quality pitches within the zone (command), miss bats, keep the ball in the park and get opposite-handed hitters out. Bumgarner has shown that he can do all of those things thus far in his professional career, though he has room for improvement against right-handed hitters.

He’s only walked 5.6 percent of the hitters he’s faced while striking out 21.7 percent—showing his ability to throw strikes and miss bats. He’s allowed just 48 home runs in his career, and opponents have hit .248 against him—proving that he can keep the ball in the park and throw quality pitches in the zone to consistently get hitters out.

Right-handed hitters have hit .255/.307/.400 against Bumgarner, and while that’s perfectly acceptable, it’s the one area where he can improve the most.

Bumgarner has put up a 3.23 ERA since he established himself as a fixture in the Giants’ rotation, which ranks him among the top 20 pitchers in the game in that time frame. Despite his regular-season excellence and the 15 shutout innings he’s thrown in the World Series, he can still get even better by further neutralizing righties.

His repertoire consists predominantly of a 90-92 mph four-seam fastball and an 86-90 mph slider. He combines to throw those two pitches more than 80 percent of the time for a good reason: They are his two best offerings.

His slider is his best pitch and one of the best secondary pitches in the game. It will sometimes look like a cutter with flatter movement and other times look like a true slider with the traditional tilt and sweeping action away from a lefty or into a righty.

He throws from a low arm slot that makes it nearly impossible for left-handed hitters to pick him up. Lefties have hit just .223 off of Bumgarner thus far in his career.

However, right-handed batters have had more success off of Bumgarner because they get a better look at the ball from his low release point. Since his changeup and curve aren’t pitches that he really trusts, right-handed hitters can just sit on his two-pitch mix. His fastball and slider are both hard pitches that move into right-handed hitters from his low arm slot.

Thus, in order to have more success against righties, Bumgarner has to come up with something different to keep them off balance. Throwing the changeup, which is slower than the fastball and slider with movement in the opposite direction, is one solution.

Another option is to develop a two-seam fastball, and that is something Bumgarner is working on this spring. Like the changeup, the two-seam fastball has movement away from a righty.

Alex Pavolvic of the San Jose Mercury News wrote about Bumgarner‘s new weapon on Friday:

Madison Bumgarner gave up three hits and walked two in 1 2/3, but said much of that had to do with him working in a two-seamer, a pitch he hasn’t thrown in a couple of years. Bumgarner said he wants to give hitters a different look.

“I just feel like it would help to have a couple of pitches going the other way,” he said. “It’s just about getting a little tail [on pitches].”

It will be interesting to see how that pitch develops for him this spring. Bumgarner doesn’t throw a great curve or changeup in part because of the way he slings the ball across his body from the low arm slot, and that could also give him trouble with the two-seam fastball.

Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong throws an excellent two-seam fastball, changeup and curve because he stays on top of the ball by throwing from a higher release point. All three of those pitches are more effective when the pitcher stays on top of the ball and drives it downward, something that is hard to do from a lower release point.

Bumgarner has emerged as an elite pitcher at an age where most of his peers are still honing their craft in the minor leagues. He’s done it by relying primarily on just two pitches—albeit two outstanding ones.

His low release point makes him hard to hit, but it also makes it tough for him to throw anything other than the four-seam fastball and slider. In order for him take another leap forward this season, he’ll have to find a third pitch that hitters need to account for.

Developing a consistent third pitch will further enhance the effects of the four-seamer and the slider. If he can develop another consistent weapon, his ERA will assuredly drop below 3.00 this season and his first All-Star appearance will be a lock.

Read more MLB news on

Copyright © 1996-2010 Kuzul. All rights reserved.
iDream theme by Templates Next | Powered by WordPress