The Beauty of Game Score

Happy weekend… and welcome to San Francisco, Shark Samardzija! The Giants are finally off the shneid (for one day at least), and I thought today would be a good day to check in.

Ok folks, here’s the harsh reality. Cove Chatter is no longer a day to day blog – it hasn’t been for quite some time.  At this rate, it’s not even really a weekly blog anymore. I do feel guilty about that sometimes, but that’s why I have a Twitter account where I’m active nearly every day.

If you’re looking for that kind of coverage, the Giants beat writers are some of the best in baseball as far as I’m concerned. On the minor league front, there are so many places now to get your fill of prospect information. DrB’s is always a daily stopping point for me, as are Roger Munter’s daily recaps on McCovey Chronicles (I’m not sure I’ve ever given a plug for MCC, but Roger does an awesome job over there).

If you didn’t know, Conner P is back in the mix over at Giant Potential as well. He too does a much better job of covering the organization day-to-day than I could dream of. He’s asking for a small subscription commitment this year to help him keep things going. It’s far less than any other paid baseball site out there, and it’s highly recommended coverage.

As for me, I’ve been ready to take on something different a while now. I’ve been intrigued by baseball stats since my childhood card-collecting days. I was good at math all through school, though I didn’t take any stats classes in high school or college. I’m not into 95% of the advanced metrics, and I probably won’t ever be. But I have always played around a little with numbers and (very) simple formulas, in hopes of finding a new way to look at a baseball player.

Though I certainly didn’t create it, game score has really changed the way I look at baseball. There are three main reasons, I think, for why I have fallen in love with it. First, it reads more like a fantasy baseball number than any stat on the back of a baseball card – I’ve always loved fantasy, especially the head-to-head points leagues. Second, game score, though created by Bill James himself, has never caught on as a favored method of evaluating starting pitchers. It’s that “something different” I’ve been searching for. Finally, game score makes evaluating a pitcher so much easier to me. It literally takes all of those “counting stats” from the back of baseball cards (IP, H, ERA, BB, K) and incorporates them into one very clean, simple to calculate number.

Is game score perfect? No. No metric is. As I’ve posted more and more scores to Twitter lately, some people have asked me whether it is adjusted for park factor, opponent, etc. The answer is no, although I found a Bill James article from a few years ago where he talked about using an adjusted game score formula. I have no idea how I’d ever get my hands on said formula, but you know what? I’m ok with that. It seems everybody wants things to be normalized, adjusted, perfected in today’s society.

But life isn’t perfect, and baseball is no different. Is it tougher on average to pitch in Coors Field than it is in AT&T? Absolutely! But there are days (and even nights) during the season when the ball has major carry in San Francisco too. And honestly, the Rockies play 81 games a season outside of Colorado and still stink. So, while it would be fun to experiment with an adjusted version of game score, it really doesn’t bother me to use the same formula for every pitcher in every park in MLB (and the minors too). Think about this for a minute: when a pitcher gets blown up in Colorado, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, etc., does his ERA get an adjustment because he was pitching in a bandbox? Nope. I’m not sure his game score needs one either.

The beauty of game score for me is that I can sort the information in so many different ways. I can sort by the total game score a pitcher has accumulated during a season (total GSc), his average score (Avg GSc), his record based on each start (a “true” calculation of wins, losses, and no decisions, if you will), or the game score advantage (Advantage) that he’s earned over the course of the season. Game score advantage is a new wrinkle I added into my spreadsheets, and it was something Bill had mentioned in that article about adjusted GSc. What it boils down to is a + or – rating from the base score of 50 that each pitcher starts every game with.

For example, Jeff Samardzija’s 68 GSc (a win) from last night bumped his total Advantage for the season by +18, while Jarred Cosart’s 18 GSc (loss) dipped his Advantage a whopping 32 points for the year. In 2015, Clayton Kershaw owned the highest mark in MLB at +594. Kyle Kendrick was dead last at -213. That’s an 800 point difference. Just think about that for a second!

I can also use game score to measure team success. And quite often (as I showed in a post this offseason), the correlation is pretty solid. Consider our 2016 Gigantes, who have accumulated a game score record of 6-8-4 so far this year. If we take the 4 no decisions and evenly distribute them into the wins and losses, that’s a record of 8-10… exactly the same as the club in real life. Now, it doesn’t match up perfectly for every team, but it’s not too far off on most. That’s pretty cool to me (the correlation, not the 8-10 Giants record!).

Side note: I’ve explained this in previous posts, but a game score “win” is earned by a score of 55 or higher. So far this season, teams whose pitchers who pass that threshold are winning 70% of the time (165 wins in 234 chances). A no decision is handed out for a score of 44-54. Teams have won 46% of the 110 games where pitchers have scored in that range in 2016. A loss is given for a score of 43 or less (32 wins in 148 chances this year; 22%).

Another side note:. Apparently statistician Tom Tango (he goes by the nickname Tango Tiger) loves game score as well. He’s even created a new version (2.0) that starts each pitcher with 40 points instead of 50 and gives more reward for innings pitched. I’ve been reading a lot of Tom’s work lately, and I really like the version 2.0, which can be found in pitcher game logs at Fangraphs (the classic score can still be found in Baseball-Reference and MLB box scores). I’d love to take a closer look at it, but at this point, I have no desire to recalculate almost a month of data I’ve logged from this season.

Ok, so let’s take a look at what the numbers are telling us in 2016, both for teams and individual pitchers.

Team GSc Wins

  1. Cubs = 13
  2. White Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Nationals = 11

Giants = 6

Team GSc Avg (league average is 51.8)

  1. Cubs = 63.5
  2. Nats = 59.8
  3. White Sox = 58.8
  4. Phillies = 57.7
  5. Royals = 56.6

Giants = 49.1

Individual Total GSc

  1. Jake Arrieta = 301
  2. Clayton Kershaw = 283
  3. Chris Sale = 281
  4. Jon Lester = 262
  5. Edinson Volquez = 250
  6. Jose Quintana = 241
  7. Cole Hamels = 235
  8. Sonny Gray = 234
  9. Jonny Cueto = 229
  10. Aaron Nola = 229

Individual GSc Avg

  1. Jake Arrieta = 75.3
  2. Noah Syndergaard = 71.0
  3. Clayton Kershaw = 70.8
  4. Vince Velasquez = 70.7
  5. Chris Sale = 70.3
  6. Stephen Strasburg = 69.7
  7. Mat Latos = 69.0
  8. Drew Smyly = 68.7
  9. Danny Salazar = 67.7
  10. Ian Kennedy = 67.3

Individual GSc Wins

Arrieta, Kershaw, and Sale are tied for first at 4-0-0. There are 23 pitchers who have 3 GSc wins this year.

Advantage (Top 10)

  1. Jake Arrieta – +101
  2. Clayton Kershaw – +83
  3. Chris Sale – +81
  4. Noah Syndergaard – +63
  5. Vincent Velasquez – +62
  6. Jon Lester – +62
  7. Stephen Strasburg – +59
  8. Mat Latos – +57
  9. Drew Smyly – +56
  10. Danny Salazar – +53)

Giants: Cueto +29; Samardzija +24; Bumgarner +10; Cain -22; Peavy -57

158 pitchers have started a game in MLB this year. Peavy’s -57 advantage is #156.

That’s a lot of information, but I hope I’ve laid it out in a manner that’s easy to read and comprehend. I’ll post more as we move through the season. I’m keeping tabs on SP prospects throughout the Giants organization, and will give periodic updates on that front as well. What are your thoughts? Does game score pass the sniff test? Should it get more recognition and coverage? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

As always, thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

 

 

 

Week One in the Books

Checking in on a Sunday night for a quick look at our 1st place Giants, as well as some tidbits about starting pitching around MLB.

Giants – A Whole Lotta Runs

It’s important to get the season off on the right foot. Remember last year’s April slide? Well, 5-2 (good for 1st in the West) ain’t bad at all. When you consider a 1-run loss in Milwaukee and a blown 9th inning lead against the Dodgers are the only blemishes, it’s easy to see that this is one of the hottest clubs in baseball at the moment.

Though the bullpen’s done a pretty nice job of limiting runs, the rotation hasn’t hit full stride so far (Bumgarner’s Saturday notwithstanding). Still, you have to admire Cueto’s tenacity today. All kinds of dinks and dunks plus a ton of bad luck, and he’s looking at a 5-0 hole in the first. Six innings later, he’s pitching with a 9-6 lead. That dude can absolutely pitch, and his teammates had his back today. Would Hudson/Vogey/Lincecum have been able to get back on the bump for 7 innings like that last year after laboring through the first? I’m not so sure.

Anyway, this team is riding an offense that is #1 in MLB runs scored, #2 in homeruns (sometimes spring training trends DO continue!), #5 in OPS, and #6 in walks. This is supposed to be a team of gap hitters, but so far they’re putting the ball over the fence with ease. It’s been fun to watch. You know what else I love about this lineup? They’re 6th in the league with only 36 K’s. Every team above them (Miami is #1 with 30) has played 2 or 3 fewer games. Most lineups who hit the long ball also swing and miss. The Giants are packing the punch without striking out. Now THAT’s impressive.

What About Game Score?

I wrote extensively about pitcher Game Score (GSc) this offseason and have taken on the challenge of calculating it for every starting pitcher in every game this year. Remember, Game Score is an easy to calculate metric (start with 50; add 1 pt for every out; 2 pts for every IP after the 4th; 1 pt for every K; subtract 2 for every hit; 2 for every run; 4 for every earned run; 1 for every BB).

Game Scores are often used to compare dominant outings (particularly no-hitters & perfect games), but very few people have ever used them to compare pitchers (and rotations) over a full season or a career. When IP, ERA, H/9, BB/9, and K/9 are still some of the most prevalent counting stats used to evaluate pitchers, why are we not using a metric that combines all of them into one I ask?

A study was done by Sabr.org in 2007 to show the correlation between specific game scores and team wins. Long story short, a pitcher who earns a score of 55 or higher gives his team at least a 60% chance of winning, while a score of 43 or less lowers the team’s win probably to under 40%. The middle area, that 50/50 spot, falls in the range of 44-54. I use this information to award pitchers with wins (55+ GSc), losses (0-43), and no decisions (44-54).

So, just how has the league fared so far in the eyes of Game Score this season?

MLB Totals: 172 GP, 75 W, 54 L, 43 ND – .436 win% | 50.6 GSc avg

NL Pitchers: 87 GP, 37-31-19 | .425 win%  | 49.8 avg

AL Pitchers: 85 GP, 38-23-24 | .447 win% | 51.4 avg

The league average looks to be pretty close to last year (Baseball-Reference lists it at 52 for 2015). How are the win probabilities holding up so far? Teams whose SP’s earn a 55 or higher (GSc W) are winning at a 71% clip. 44-54 (GSc ND) have a win% of 44%. Scores of 43 or less are winning at only a 26% clip so far.

Top 5 GSc by Team

Royals 60.8 | Dodgers 60.7 | Cubs 60.3 | Phillies 58.3 | Mets 58.2

Bottom 5 by Team

D-Backs 37.9 | Rockies 39.2 | Padres 40.5 | Cardinals 40.8 | Astros 41.8

Giants: 2 W -3 L- 2 ND (49.1 avg)

It’ll be interesting to check back in on these throughout the season. If the trends of the first week continue though, the Giants are going to have a lot of fun scoring runs against NL West pitching. As we get a little farther along, I’ll start posting individual pitcher scores and W/L records. For now, it’s a little too early for that. I do know that Clayton Kershaw leads the Majors with a 76.5 Avg through 2 starts. Zack Greinke? 32 Avg.

After two starts of their own Bumgarner’s average is 54.5, Cueto’s is 52.

Thanks for reading everyone. Here’s to another great week of Giants baseball!

 

April 7: The “Real” Opening Day is Here

I’ve got about 15 minutes, so let’s see how many topics we can get to here.

Giants-Dodgers  – Opening Day at the yard! I can’t remember a home-opener series feeling so important, but this one sure does. The Giants looked good in Milwaukee, but they probably felt like they should have swept that series. Lots of big flies, not enough runners on base cashed in. The Dodgers had their way with the miserable Padres, not allowing a run in 3 games. The first two (Peavy & Cain) in this series are crucial, as they pave the way for Saturday’s Bumgarner/Kershaw dual. Taking 3 out of 4 sure would be nice, but  won’t be easy against a confident LA squad.

Minor League Opening Day – Happy Opening Day to all your minors fools like me out there! It’s an exciting day every season, but this year just feels a little different to me. The Giants have added so much talent to their system over the past year or two, and it’s hard to decide which squad I’m most excited for. I didn’t get a chance to preview Richmond or Sacto last week, but I expect good things from both this teams this year. Most people have Arroyo & Beede 1-2 in the organization… how often do your top two prospects get to play on the same roster? It’s not as common as you might think. We saw the kind of talent guys like Mac, Blackburn, Parker, Gorkys Hernandez, etc. have in spring training this year. There’s major depth in Sacramento this season, and I’m excited. Watch out for Hak-Ju Lee too.

MLB Scheduling  – It’s a great time to be a baseball fan. There’s young talent all over the place (did you see Noah Syndergaard pumping 92 mph sliders past KC the other night?), and the AL is about as wide open as it’s ever been. But every year at this time, I get a little frustrated with MLB. You have to know your audience. Younger people are trying to get fired up about these guys like Posey, Trout, Harper, Harvey, McCutchen, Correa, etc. So, what’s the deal with starting the majority of the games on a Monday during work hours? And most of the teams who played Sunday, didn’t play Monday. These guys sometimes go 30 days without a day off… you give them one after the first game of the year? I’m nitpicking here, but we’re four games into the season and I’ve barely been able to watch my favorite club because I work a regular 40-hour a week job. There’s got to be a better way!

Cueto/Samardzija – Johnny Cueto sure is fun to watch isn’t he? The best way I can describe him is a dart-thrower. He paints corners, changes speeds, works quick, deceives hitters… it’s a totally new experience for me, and I think it’s awesome. Samardzija struggled a bit in his debut, but he always seemed to limit the damage. Would he like to do better? Yes. Would we like to see him pitch better? Of course. Do I think he’ll give the Giants 6-8 competitive innings most nights this season? Yes, I do.

Matt Duffy – Your team leader in homers after three games. Duffy (and many of the others in the lineup) is a just a joy to watch. Does he push 20 HR this season (sacrificing some average in the process)? Does he hit 10-15 like last year and steal 20 bags? Does he put everything together and go 20-20 with a .300 average? That last one might seem pie-in-the-sky, but the talent is there. You start talking about numbers like that with great defense, and those guys get MVP votes. How many people thought Dustin Pedroia would be an MVP before he won his? Not many. Watch out for Duffy.

Bullpen – Nobody talks about the Giants bullpen, and yet there they were in Milwaukee, getting outs and preserving leads like they’ve done for the past 6 years. One unearned run (the winning run yesterday) in 3 days was all they surrendered. Quietly, I think this group is in for a big season. Did you see Casilla Tuesday night? That does not look like a guy ready to give up his job (the talk of every offseason). Ok, I take back my first claim. People were talking about the Giants pen this year, in regards to their increased velocity. I took it as a “the Giants are finally joining the party” deal, in regards to guys like Osich, Strickland, Broadway, etc. and their big fastballs. I find it ironic, though, that the Giants were given little mention for their bullpen success in any of the 3 title seasons. When Kansas City leaned on its dominant pen last season, the narrative was written, “Royals write new formula for postseason success.” Hey, ask Jeremy Affeldt about that “new” formula…

Thanks for reading everyone. Here’s to a great early season #BEATLA weekend, and good luck to all of the Giants minor league clubs, players, parents, wives, girlfriends, etc. Enjoy the ride!

Giants Minor League Rosters… They’re Here!

Part 1

Ok, so Richmond’s roster hasn’t been revealed, but we can put the pieces together through process of elimination, and they do have a partial roster posted to their website… So I’m going for it anyway!

I won’t list every last player here (you can find complete rosters/announcements for Augusta, San Jose, and Sacramento at MiLB.com), but I definitely wanted to touch on the headliners for each group. This is a big day for us “prospect hounds,” you know.

Augusta

I have the 2008 Greenjackets to thank for introducing me to the magical world of minor league baseball. Bumgarner, Nick Noonan, Angel Villalona, Thomas Neal, Dan Runzler… That club was so talented. Well, this year’s Augusta club has a roster that jumps off the page at you.

The Giants, as I had hoped (but certainly didn’t assume), are ready to push their young shortstops, Lucius Fox and Jalen Miller. Both are opening in the SALLY, as is the rejuvenated Gustavo Cabrera. Did you catch the BANG video interview with him last week? Pretty inspiring stuff. Those three tools machines are joined by 1st rounder Phil Bickford, he of the video game numbers at Southern Nevada last season.

Fox

Lucius Fox headlines a talented young Augusta roster. | Photo Credit: SFGiants.MLBlogs.com

Starter Michael Santos gets another shot at A-ball after missing most of last year, and should pitch near the top of the rotation. Young guys Logan Webb and Mac Marshall should be in the rotation too. Cory Taylor, the righty drafted out of Dallas Baptist last summer, is a name to file away for later. He’s a stockier guy, but it sounds like he’s got some real heat on his fastball.

A few others worth noting: 19-year-old SS Manuel Geraldo gets the nod in Augusta straight from the DSL… that is something you don’t see happen very often. Kelvin Beltre has very little experience to his name, but the Giants LOVE his potential. Where are they going to play all these young infielders?!

Tyler Brown, a teammate of Bickford at CSN, gets a shot in the Augusta infield as well. He was #50 on my list this winter and a definite sleeper in the system. Finally, if you’re out there Carmot – I’m excited to see how Jean Angomas plays in his first full-season gig. He’s put in his time, but skipping him from the AZL to Augusta tells me the young man impressed some folks in the organization this spring.

Reminder: The Giants were given no consideration as a top-10 system in MLB this offseason. Most of the publications still put this organization’s prospects firmly in the bottom half of the league. And yet I find myself giddy over the Augusta roster. So many tools, so much to dream on. Isn’t that what prospecting is all about?

San Jose

If the Greenjackets are a dreamy team for their youth, the little Giants are a pretty stout group in terms of their college talent. I expect big things from this team in 2016, and it starts with the rotation.

Most lower level minor league teams employ a 6-man rotation, as the Giants nearly always do with their clubs below AAA. I don’t know how San Jose’s will shake out exactly, but my recommendation from their new roster would be Sam Coonrod, Andrew Suarez, and Jordan Johnson at the top. How’s that for a 1-2-3? If I were to amend my prospect rankings based on spring observations, ample room would be made near the top for Coonrod. The guy was electric in Arizona, and should be a headliner in the Cal League this year. Suarez is the polished lefty from Miami, and Johnson is one of the biggest wildcards in the system. He has TREMENDOUS upside.

Coonrod

Sam Coonrod heads to San Jose after an impressive spring. | Photo Credit: Augusta Chronicle

Rodolfo Martinez turned heads in fall instructs. That will happen when a guy throws 100 mph! He’ll likely compete for a late-inning role in San Jose. Reyes Moronta throws hard as well. What about Martin Agosta? He’s back in the CAL after racking up the K’s last year, but he wasn’t mentioned as a starter in the press release. Will his stuff play up in relief, as it was believed coming out of college?

The Giants had a solid run on college position players in the early rounds of last summer’s draft, and those guys will be infiltrating San Jose this spring. Chris Shaw has an easy swing and some of the greatest power potential in the organization. If he’s healthy, look out. Jose Vizcaino, Ronny Jebavy, and C.J. Hinojosa all had varying degrees of success in Salem-Keizer last summer, and I’m excited to see how they look in high-A.

Steven Duggar (Clemson) is heading to San Jose as well. Duggar had trouble putting everything together at times in college, but he sure caught my attention the other night in Sacramento. We’re talking about some moonshots off the bat in BP. Speed, defense, and a cannon in right field too? Yep, there’s a lot to like with this guy. Keep his name in mind.

Aramis Garcia is one of the best catching prospects nobody is talking about. He can hit, he can throw, but further developing his glove will be the key.

Others of note: Jonah Arenado made it through the grind of the SALLY last year. That is not an easy task. Marty Lurie had good things to say about him this spring. Johneshwy Fargas made it out of Augusta alive as well. He was stealing bases at ease in minor league camp last week. He can roam CF and he’s got a very good arm. Between Fargas, Duggar, and Jebavy, there’s going to be some highlights in the outfield this year.

It’s getting late, so I’ll check back in with looks at Richmond and Sacramento’s respective rosters tomorrow. Thanks for reading. Are you excited yet?

Checking in on Giants Camp

Posey ST

Posey in camp | Photo Courtesy of Kuro Kuma

Spring training is about 1/3 of the way over (still 3 full weeks left until regular season play), and I’d say at this point we’ve got some major storylines taking shape. How about we do a little rundown, quick hits style?

Regulars Heating Up

Essentially every starting position on this club was secure heading into camp, so it really shouldn’t be a surprise that the regular players have come along slowly so far. We are beginning to see most of them in action now. Still no Pence, Romo or Cain, but Hunter is ticketed to be out there tomorrow as far as I know.

As far as performance goes, Belt is the only starter who doesn’t yet have a hit, though he’s only logged 5 AB. Posey hasn’t had one since the spring opener, but his swing has looked crisp in the few times I’ve seen him so far. Duffy has sure squared a few balls up, but he’s only got a 1-11 to show for it. The hottest regular to this point has been Joe Panik, who is now 6-16 with 2 doubles and a 3-bagger. Joe looked locked in on Tuesday night (the CSNBA game), no doubt a tremendous sight to see.

How’s that Rotation?

Bumgarner, Peavy and Samardzija have each taken the ball twice in Cactus play thus far, while Johnny Cueto was slapped around a bit in his unofficial Giants debut yesterday afternoon. Can I admit I don’t know as much about Cueto as I thought I did? I knew he varied his look from time to time, but I had no clue he had such a complex mound routine he has to maintain. Has he always been this way, or has he added more deception as he’s gotten older? Either way, there’s no reason to fret over a rough Arizona outing (Bumgarner had one against Cincy on Tuesday), but the pitch Cueto served up to Cargo sure didn’t look like it had much sizzle on it.

This isn’t meant to be a knock on Cueto at all. I’m still so excited about him in this rotation I can’t even explain it. But it’s clear he has bugs to work out just like everyone else. I tell you what, even if the Giants don’t quite get a vintage performance out of their $130M man this year, I’m really getting the feeling they could get one from their $90M man Samardzija. Shark’s performance against the Dodgers was downright dominant. The Giants haven’t had a starter who could hump their fastball up like that guy does in quite some time, and Samardzija sure looks like a guy with something to prove this year… Am I the only one seeing that already?

What about Cain? Do the Giants rush him back? My gut says no, and it really makes more sense not to. Regardless of the circumstances, you’re talking about a guy who just wasn’t very good last season. We know how much pride Cainer has, but the organization isn’t going to put him on a mound if they aren’t 100% confident in his health and stamina. Chris Heston tired down the stretch last year, so it’s easy to forget he made 30 starts. He was also the 2nd most reliable starter the Giants had in 2015, and from what I’ve seen of him early on, I think he’s out to show that he’s no one-year wonder. I, (like some others) say Cain starts on the DL, and Heston gets some time in the rotation.

 Roster Battles

This is the fun part of spring training. It’s even more fun when the spots guys are fighting for are of the reserve variety. So far, I have no clue who’s going to win those last bench spots, and it’s not because players aren’t stepping up. Quite the opposite, really, as the organization did a great job bringing in depth at every position this offseason in my opinion. Between guys like Kyle Blanks (who’s already homered twice in only 7 AB) and Grant Green (7-21 with 6 RBI), the competition for these bench jobs is pretty fierce. I don’t see that changing.

I’m no expert and so much could change by April, but here’s my early spring take on the roster battles. At this point I’d say Kelby has a job locked up. Finding playing time for him might be the hardest part once the regular season begins, but I think the team could break camp with him as their only viable middle-infielder on the bench and be just fine. It’s not like Adrianza is having a poor spring at all. It’s just that their skillsets are similar. Ehire might have the slight advantage on the defensive side, but it’s not enough to offset the fact that Tomlinson’s a much better hitter.

I’m loving the fact that no matter which way the Giants go, there’s really not a bad option out there. Ok, that may not be true. With so many potential reserve bats showing up, I’d be a little miffed if the team decided to open with an extra pitcher. I’m over short benches!

Who do I like for those reserve spots? Well, I’ll admit I’m actually partial to the idea of carrying 3 catchers. Trevor Brown looks like a fine defensive option, and Susac’s bat needs to be in the lineup more this year. I don’t think that’s out of the question. Otherwise, the guys who’ve stood out to me so far are Gorkys Hernandez, Jarrett Parker, and Blanks. I wouldn’t sleep on Green and his utility profile (I’ve always liked him), nor would I rule out Gillaspie. Even Ramiro Pena and Hak-Ju Lee are interesting players. Seriously, when’s the last time the Giants had THIS many options in camp?

Kids in Camp

Speaking of talented players in camp… anybody else notice that NONE of the prospects have been reassigned yet? We’re 10 games in and the full boat of them is still hanging around the big league camp. That’s not a coincidence; these guys can play!

Look, it’s no secret that Christian Arroyo is the #1 prospect in the organization. It is one of the best-kept secrets of the organization though that Arroyo is the next Giants homegrown star. I personally don’t feel he’ll be anything less. 20 years old, in his second MLB camp, and he already looks like a big leaguer. Krukow was comparing the kid to Jeff Kent on KNBR Wednesday morning. Think about that for a second. Where is he going to play? Heck, I don’t know, but those things do have a way of working themselves out. But I do believe, and you can quote me on it, that Arroyo will be a Giant in 2016 if he’s healthy. He’s that good.

I hope folks are starting to get an idea of why Mac Williamson is my clear cut #2 prospect in the system right now, though I’m sure know most of you reading already realize the kind of potential he has. Mac really doesn’t have a lot of minor league experience (only two full seasons) under his belt. What he’s done in that time is impressive. His .370 average in the AFL last year? Impressive. Through 9 games, he’s the team leader in hits and average, and he’s certainly making Bruce Bochy’s decision to keep him in Sacramento harder. Look, I’m not saying the Giants should just send Angel Pagan down the road. I have no beef with Pagan whatsoever. But I do believe Mac has the type of power to change a game (as he’s shown)… and the best part is, he’s not just a power hitter. At some point this season, he, like Arroyo, will force the front office’s hand. I’ll be excited for that day when it arrives.

It’s also hard not to be excited about the plethora of hard-throwing arms in Giants camp. I’m loving the positive press these guys (Black, Gardeck, Smith, Law) are getting. It won’t be long before some of them are right alongside Strickland and Osich in the big league bullpen.

A very underrated aspect of the system is the starting pitching depth that’s showing up in camp right now. Between Clayton Blackburn, Chris Stratton, Ty Blach, and Adalberto Mejia, the Giants have four arms ticketed for Sacramento that have all had some early success this spring. Many of us have been underwhelmed by Stratton so far in his career, but the organization continues to show faith in him. When you consider that Beede and Chase Johnson are likely headed for AA, with Sam Coonrod not far behind, you start to get a sense of just how much coverage the team has if guys like Cain and Peavy (or others) miss time. Not to mention, guys succeeding at the upper minors usually make for solid trade chips as well.

All right, I’d say that’s enough talk for one night. At the moment, things are looking up in Giants camp. If Pence gets out there tomorrow and proves healthy, things will be looking WAY up. We’ll check back in on all of these topics a couple weeks from now. For the time being, let’s hope for continued good health as the regulars continue to ramp things up. The bench battles will no doubt be worth following all spring too. As always, thanks for reading, and go Giants!

Spring Kickoff: 2016 Camp Preview (Catchers & Infielders)

 

Mac ST

Mac Williamson in intrasquad action. Photo courtesy of Kuro Kuma

Part 1 of 4

Hey, Cactus League games are finally here! Is there anything sweeter than that? If you’re like me, you might have forgotten the Giants stream free webcasts for most of their spring games live on SFGiants.com. MLB probably isn’t very happy they do that, but you know what? Good for the organization’s media team for thinking of the fans. What a concept, right?!

Now that we’ve gotten the prospects and projections out of the way, it’s time for the third “P” of spring, the previews. I haven’t written on many MLB-Giants related topics lately, so let’s take a position-by-position look at the players you’ll be seeing, hearing, and reading about in camp this spring. I’ll do my best to comment on as many of them as possible here, but it may just be a quick blurb for the prospects whose chances of making the team are very slim.

Catcher

Do I need to mention Buster Posey here? One of the most important goals for the coaching staff this spring is getting Posey in tune with Samardzija and Cueto, so you can bet Buster will be out there every time either of those two is on the hill. Otherwise, the focus here will be finding a competent backup for the face of the franchise.

Is Andrew Susac the favorite to win that coveted roster spot? He’s easily the most offensive-oriented of anybody fighting for the job, but that’s not necessarily what makes a valuable reserve catcher. I still believe he can be a game-changer with his bat, but anybody who’s been following Susac since his amateur days knows injuries have played a major role in his career. He’ll have to prove he can stay healthy this spring.

Trevor Brown made the MLB club out of necessity (and emergency) last September, and he’s done nothing but impress people with his glovework, rapport, and even his ability to put bat to ball. There’s been a lot of talk about both young backstops getting some time at 1B this spring, and we already saw it in the opener with Brown (who went 2-2 at the dish).

Brown and Susac are the only other catchers on the 40-man roster, so they’re the odds-on favorites to win the job from my vantage point. It would likely take a very good spring from veteran George Kottaras – who I honestly don’t know much about aside from his 7 seasons of off-and-on MLB experience – to make the club out of camp. He’s got some pop, but spent all of 2015 in AAA. Will the Giants keep three backstops on the roster? I know there’s been talk of it, and I really think it’s an idea worth exploring… especially with the talk about Belt sitting against Kershaw.

Aramis Garcia, Ty Ross, and Matt Winn are the three prospects in camp, serving as added depth and catching bullpens at the facility. All three will likely see a handful of plate appearances. Garcia’s bat could make him a valuable commodity if his receiving skills develop, while Ross’ defensive rep may get him to the majors in a reserve role someday. Winn was drafted last year out of VMI, so getting the invite so soon is quite an honor. He too apparently has offensive pop and some savvy behind the plate.

Infield

The best homegrown infield in baseball is securely in place heading into spring. For all the talk and excitement of the big three atop the rotation, this group (plus Posey) is the real strength of the team. Not only are all four of Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, and Matt Duffy above average hitters, but the foursome can absolutely pick it on the defensive side. If Panik is really over his back injury, it’s going to be a treat and a huge competitive advantage to have this group together again.

Again, the infield camp storylines revolve around depth. How many openings are there, and who steps up to earn them? I think Kelby Tomlinson is a lock, especially if he keeps playing like he did yesterday at shortstop. KT’s energy and versatility are a huge boon for this club, and could really help dictate what the opening day roster looks like.

I don’t feel the same about Ehire Adrianza, but that doesn’t mean he can’t earn a 25-man job himself. I just think he’s got a lot of heat on him from NRI’s at the moment, and his in-season look didn’t do him any favors last year. Hopefully his added weight this winter will help him offensively.

As for newcomers, the names I’ll be following in camp are Connor Gillaspie, Hak-Ju Lee, Ramiro Pena, and Grant Green. Gillaspie has some defensive short-comings, but he put a very nice swing on a ball yesterday, and the fact that he can play a few different positions should help his case. If I had to choose between Gillaspie and Adrianza for the 25th spot, I’d take the guy with the better bat.

Lee was once the #44 prospect in MLB, but nowadays he’s just trying to prove he can hit advanced pitching enough to earn a major league job. I think he’s ticketed for Sacramento, but I don’t see a big difference between Lee and Adrianza (as far as MLB skillsets goes – Adrianza hit pretty well in AAA last year) at the moment.

Pena has some MLB experience, though he spent all of 2015 in AAA. He handled the bat well in El Paso, and again in the Mexican Winter league (.302-6-25). He’s a name to watch, and definitely a sleeper candidate to earn a backup SS job out of camp.

Speaking of sleeper candidates, Green is one of the NRI’s I’m most excited about this year. He was a star for USC in the late 2000’s, then burst onto the minor league scene after the A’s drafted him in the 1st round. He crushes minor league pitching, but really hasn’t been able to establish himself above AAA. The Giants could really use an Inf/OF utility type, and Green is one of the few guys in camp with that skillset. If Muelens can help him figure his swing out, I can really envision an MLB role for him in 2016.

Kyle Blanks is another wildcard. I figured the Giants signed him to compete for a reserve OF spot, but they’ve got him listed as a 1B on the roster. What that means exactly, I don’t know. The projected roster doesn’t have a ton of RHH power, so Blanks could provide value if he’s healthy. That’s always been the catch for him though, so his status will be worth monitoring all spring.

Christian Arroyo, Ryder Jones, and Rando Moreno are the prospects hanging around in camp. I don’t think it matters how many veterans are fighting for spots, we are absolutely going to see a lot of Arroyo this year. Will he play SS, 2B, 3B, LF, RF? I really don’t know how much they’ll move him around this spring, but I believe he’ll step up no matter where they put him. He already looks locked in, and if he hits in AA, it’s not out of the question to see Arroyo in SF this summer… Bobby Evans said so himself.

Jones is a guy who has taken some heat in Giants prospect rankings, but the organization obviously still believes in his offensive potential. Moreno is a versatile middle infielder who’s made the back end of my top 50 twice in the past three seasons.

Spring Kickoff: 2016 Infield Projections

Featured Photo Credit: SFGiantsPhotos.mlblogs.com

San Francisco Giants 2016 Projections:

Infield

Buster Posey | C | Age 29 (on Opening Day)

2015 Projection: 519 AB, .314, .381 OBP, 22 HR, 93 RBI

2015 Performance: 557 AB, .318 AVG, .379 OBP, 19 HR, 95 RBI, 2 SB

2016 Projection

  • AB: 542
  • AVG: .315
  • OBP: .379
  • HR: 20
  • RBI: 97
  • SB: 1

Forecast: It’s scary to think that Buster is getting better offensively, but that’s exactly what’s happening. He walked more than he struck out last year, and the guy owns a lifetime .310 average. Though he does so much more for the organization, he’s truly one of the best pure hitters in baseball. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Brandon Belt | 1B | Age 27

2015 Projection: 549 AB, .274 AVG, .342 OBP, 26 HR, 86 RBI

2015 Performance: 492 AB, .280 AVG, .356 OBP, 18 HR, 68 RBI, 9 SB

2016 Projection

  • AB: 510
  • AVG: .281
  • OBP: .358
  • HR: 19
  • RBI: 73
  • SB: 8

Forecast: Belt is a pretty steady performer when he’s healthy. He’s solid defensively, and he’s got a nice combination of contact and power at the plate. Does he still have that 25+ HR breakout season coming? He’s just now entering what should be his “prime” years, but for now, I’m going to say he puts up numbers similar to what he did last season.

Joe Panik | 2B | Age 25

2015 Projection: 536 AB, .280 AVG, .334 OBP, 3 HR, 48 RBI

2015 Performance: 382 AB, .312 AVG, .378, 8 HR, 37 RBI, 3 SB

2016 Projection

  • AB: 528
  • AVG: .304
  • OBP: .364
  • HR: 9
  • RBI: 55
  • SB: 5

Forecast: The only thing contributing to a sophomore slump for Panik was his back, which as we recently learned was a stress fracture, not inflammation as was reported last summer. If Posey is one of the best pure hitters in baseball, I don’t think Joe is far behind. Between his defense at 2B and his tremendous approach at the dish, Panik’s one of the most exciting players on the club. If he’s healthy all year, I’m very confident in predicting another .300 campaign.

Matt Duffy | 3B | Age 25

2015 Performance: 573 AB, .295 AVG, .334 OBP, 12 HR, 77 RBI, 12 SB

2016 Projection

  • AB: 599
  • AVG: .301
  • OBP: .342
  • HR: 14
  • RBI: 73
  • SB: 17

Forecast: It is my opinion that Duffy can, and will top his dynamic rookie season. This is a guy who hit .300+ in 4 of 6 full months during 2015, a guy who works so hard at his craft, and literally does not seem to have any holes in his swing. I think he’s one of the most exciting young players in the game, and I especially love his AB’s. He uses the whole field, and when he gets a pitch in his wheelhouse, he absolutely unloads. I think Duffy keeps those trends going in 2016, and this time he keeps his AVG over .300 all year.

Brandon Crawford | SS | Age 29

2015 Projection: 495 AB, .246 AVG, .320 OBP, 12 HR, 59 RBI

2015 Performance: 507 AB, .256 AVG, .321 OBP, 21 HR, 84 RBI, 6 SB

2016 Projection

  • AB: 514
  • AVG: .261
  • OBP: .327
  • HR: 18
  • RBI: 78
  • SB: 5

Forecast: If not for his lingering late-season injuries, I thought Crawford looked like a lock for 25 HR last year. Regardless, his best season to date earned the slick SS a fat extension and some nice security for his family. Personally, I don’t think he’s done swinging the bat yet, although I really can’t say if he’ll hit 20 HR again (can you?). B-Craw is a Giant through and through, and his elevated level of play in pressure situations is exciting to watch. I think he continues the trend of improved offense this season, no matter where he hits in the lineup.

Others:

Andrew Susac: 150 AB, .248, .319, 5 HR, 24 RBI

Kelby Tomlinson: 162 AB, .277, . 336, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 10 SB

Ehire Adrianza: 87 AB, .220, .306, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 2 SB

Kyle Blanks: 80 AB, .263, .332, 4 HR, 10 RBI

Spring Kickoff: 2016 Outfield Projections

Span

Photo Credit | San Francisco Giants

San Francisco Giants 2016 Projections:

Outfield

Hunter Pence | RF | Age 33

2015 Projection: 543 AB, .276, .332, 20 HR, 78 RBI, 44 BB, 108 K

2015 Performance: 207 AB, .275, .327, 9 HR, 40 RBI, 16 BB, 48 K, 4 SB

2016 Projection

  • AB: 589
  • AVG: .274
  • OBP: .331
  • HR: 21
  • RBI: 91
  • BB: 48
  • K: 123
  • SB: 15

Forecast: Pence may be getting older, but he’s still one of the best athletes in the league. He was playing All-Star caliber ball when he was on the field last year, and he’s got his sights set on regaining his ironman status this season. All fluke injuries aside, I see no reason to believe the Rev. will be slowing down in 2016.

Angel Pagan | LF | Age 34

2015 Projection: 456 AB, .285, .333, 5 HR, 39 RBI, 35 BB, 65 K

2015 Performance: 512 AB, .262, .303, 3 HR, 37 RBI, 32 BB, 93 K, 12 SB

2016 Projection

  • AB: 369
  • AVG: .271
  • OBP: .318
  • HR: 3
  • RBI: 27
  • BB: 26
  • K: 62
  • SB: 9

Forecast: Next to Matt Cain, Pagan might be the hardest player on the Giants to project this season. There’s no doubt (at least in my mind) that he’s still a good hitter when healthy, but can we really count on him to stay on the field anymore? It’s a contract year for Angel, and I do think he’ll be improved offensively from last year. I’m just no convinced he’ll be a healthy, reliable option for the Giants all season. Believe me, I’d love to be wrong on this one!

Denard Span | CF | Age 31

2015 Performance: 246 AB, .301 AVG, .365 OBP, 5 HR, 22 RBI, 25 BB, 26 K, 11 SB

2016 Projection

  • AB: 520
  • AVG: .295
  • OBP: .353
  • HR: 5
  • RBI: 43
  • BB: 47
  • K: 53
  • SB: 20

Forecast: The first thing Span has to do this spring is prove he has completely recovered from the extensive injuries/surgeries he suffered through in 2015. If he can do that, I think we’re in for a real treat. When the offseason began, I thought Span could be a realistic Giants target as both his high contact and low strikeout rates were something I felt would attract the organization. I’m not sure I can project 650+ PA for him right now, but that doesn’t mean Span can’t be a difference-maker from his leadoff position this year. He was a .300 hitter during his time in Washington, and I believe he’ll stay around that mark in his first season with Los Gigantes.

Gregor Blanco | OF | Age 32

2015 Projection: 345 AB, .257 AVG, .330 OBP, 4 HR, 31 RBI, 38 BB, 70 K

2015 Performance: 327 AB, .291 AVG, .368 OBP, 5 HR, 26 RBI, 40 BB, 59 K, 13 SB

2016 Projection:

  • AB: 338
  • AVG: .272
  • OBP: .351
  • HR: 4
  • RBI: 29
  • BB: 39
  • K: 65
  • SB: 14

Forecast: Blanco posted career bests in K% and batting average last season and was really on a roll offensively before a concussion cut his year short. While I think 2015 could wind up being a career best for him, he seems like a pretty solid lock for 350-450 PA of valuable production from his 4th OF/duct tape position. With 3 guys who’ve all missed significant time to injury starting ahead of him, it’s not a matter of if Blanco steps in, but when. If 2016 ends up being his last season in San Francisco, it’ll have been a pretty special run for the former non-roster camp invite.

Mac Williamson | LF | Age 25

2015 (Minors): 448 AB, .275 AVG, .368 OBP, 13 HR, 73 RBI, 51 BB, 108 K, 4 SB

2015 (Majors): 32 AB, .219 AVG, .235 OBP, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 BB, 8 K, 0 SB

2016 Projection

  • AB: 145
  • AVG: .269
  • OBP: .336
  • HR: 6
  • RBI: 21
  • BB: 12
  • K: 40
  • SB: 3

Forecast: Last season I made the mistake of thinking there weren’t enough plate appearances to go around for Matt Duffy to make an impact. I’m not making the same mistake this season with Mac, who is my #2 prospect in the organization. I expect the big guy to be the Giants Opening Day LF in 2017, and I believe he’ll force the front office’s hand at some point this summer.

Jarrett Parker | OF | Age 27

2015 Performance: 49 AB, .347 AVG, .407 OBP, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 5 BB, 21 K, 1 SB

2016 Projection

  • AB: 80
  • AVG: .275
  • OBP: .369
  • HR: 7
  • RBI: 19
  • BB: 10
  • K: 31
  • SB: 3

Forecast: If the Giants don’t add another OF (Ryan Raburn’s name has come up), Parker seems like a pretty serious contender for a final bench spot. It’s pretty clear at this point that his power will play at the MLB level, but I just don’t see him as more than a platoon option. That doesn’t mean he can’t be successful, and I do envision him giving the team a nice power threat off the bench this year if he earns a roster spot.