Last winter, I discovered and fell in love with Bill James’ Game Score metric. In hopes that you’ve read some of my previous posts on the subject, I’m going to spare the basics this time around and jump right into my analysis of the Giants rotation this year.
First, a few quick things to note. With the immense help of a Play Index subscription via Baseball-Reference.com, I spent the majority of the 2016 season not only tracking Game Scores on a day-to-day basis, but also diving into the all-time greats (both individual seasons and careers), comparing different generations and adjusting what I had previously thought to be the benchmark scores for Game Score decisions (W-L-ND). I wanted to provide insights to a few of those adjustments here.
The cheat sheet:
In the current MLB Game Score era (roughly 2012-present), the pitching decisions are as follows.
Win = 58 GmSc or higher | Loss = 46 GmSc or lower | ND = GmSc 47-57
W = 56 or higher | L = 43 or lower | ND = 44-54
I will frequently mention Game Score averages and advantages (ADV) alongside pitcher records. As a baseline, an Avg GmSc of 50 is average; 60 is generally All-Star caliber, while anything under 47 should be considered replacement level. Advantage scores are fairly self-explanatory, but I consider a score of +100 above average, +200 very good, +300 great (All-Star), and +400 or better as Cy Young worthy. Anything below -50 is considered replacement level.
In 2016, Max Scherzer (+459 ADV) & Justin Verlander (+394) were the respective league Advantage leaders. Patrick Corbin (-180) and James Shields (-196) were worst among the two circuits. Essentially, the difference between the best and worst starter in each league was 600 Advantage points in 2016. It has become one of my favorite metrics to work with, and proves quite well as a ranking tool.
I’ll spare you the dirty details, but just know that GmSc Wins average out to about a .750 team win% league wide; GmSc Losses amount to a .250 team win%, and as you’d expect, GmSc No Decisions correlate to a .500 win%. This holds true for both leagues.
National League SP earned a cumulative Game Score record of 925-899-604 this year (.381), with an average score of 50.9. AL starters amassed a 1025-855-548 (.422) record, with an average score of 50.3. While it might seem odd that AL pitchers had such a higher GmSc Win% despite a lower overall average score, it’s worth noting that AL teams collectively won 50.6% of their games in 2016, while NL clubs won 49.3% of theirs. While the NL’s top arms (Scherzer, Kershaw, etc) were completely unmatched statistically by anyone in the AL, if you take the Cubs & Nationals out of the picture, the NL didn’t have a very good year, at least as far as W-L records are concerned.
So, how about our Gigantes and the promised “super rotation?” At least, that’s what I thought they could be coming into the season. While it turns out that designation went to the Cubs (117-45 projected GmSc record), our gang ended up fairing pretty well themselves.
First, let’s take a quick look back at what we had to deal with in 2015. Madison Bumgarner (18-4-10, +374 Advantage) was the truly only thing that held that group together. The other 8 starters on that club? They combined for a whopping -2 Advantage. Peavy (7-6-6, +72) & Heston (14-12-5, +50) were the only others with respectable lines, while Hudson (7-11-4, -51) & Cain (3-7-1, -61) brought the overall record down with poor performances.
Together, the 2015 rotation logged a 66-61-35 GmSc record. The 66 GmSc Wins were their worst as a staff in the current era (2012-present). Ironically enough, their projected record of 84-78 matched their on-field record last season. Did I mention I love Game Score as a measuring stick?
In 2016, Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto were among the elite starters in all of MLB, and Game Score affirmed that notion. Bumgarner (22-5-7, +398) ranked 3rd in the NL (and MLB) in both GmSc Wins and Advantage. His 22 Wins were most by a Giants starter since 2012. Cueto (as I hoped he would) proved to be the biggest bargain among free agent signings last winter. He finished 20-7-5 with a +320 ADV (7th in the NL). John Lackey also had 20 GmSc Wins, but his +249 ADV was significantly below Cueto’s.
So, your two horses check in at a combined 42-12-12, +718 ADV. That’s the best 1-2 combo in the bigs this year – even better than the combined +707 score of Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. Unfortunately for the Giants, Jake Arrieta (+291) and Lackey also finished top 10 in the NL. The rest of the Giants rotation combined for and Advantage of only +29. The Cubs as a group finished at +1385. Unbelievable. The Giants? Their +747 still checked in at #3 in all of MLB.
What about Jeff Samardzija? Nobody is going to mistake his first season in San Francisco for something amazing, but consider this: his 16 GmSc Wins were #13 in the NL, and his +134 ADV was 20th best in the league. On the flip side, his 12 GmSc Losses were tied for 11th in the NL, so there’s no doubt he took his lumps. After surviving his midseason disaster (2-8-1), he actually finished the season with a mark of 7-2-2. If he can just find even a smidge more consistency next year, there’s definitely some major helium potential for the Shark. It’s on him to even things out, though.
For the year, Samardzija’s Average Game Score finished at a 54.2. That mark was actually 24th among all NL starters with at least 10 GS, putting him squarely in the middle of the 2nd tier for the league. His closest NL comparisons this season (by GmSc Avg) were Dan Straily (54.5), Jerad Eickhoff (53.9), Jeremy Hellickson (53.8), and Matt Moore (53.8 in 12 GS for the Giants). That list certainly isn’t a who’s-who among MLB pitchers, but all of those guys provided pretty good value for their clubs this year.
Here’s how the rest of the Giants staff fared, according to Game Score.
Matt Moore: 12 GS; 7-5-0, +46 ADV
He was 15-10-8, +95 between SF & TB, with a 52.9 Avg. We’ve seen some good and some bad from Moore already, but frankly, his healthy presence could make the Giants a serious contender for the NL West next year.
Jake Peavy: 21 GS; 7-12-2, -69 ADV.
Statistically, Peavy was among the worst SP in the Majors for the first month or so of the season. He leveled out a bit, but his -69 ADV was still 76th among qualified NL pitchers (10 GS or more), putting him right on the line between “below average” & “far below average.”
Is Peavy’s career as a starter over? That’s very hard to know, but if it is, it was a very good one. I calculated career Advantage scores for active SP, and Peavy’s +2,036 is 7th best. Walter Johnson’s estimated +9,029 is the highest career ADV in MLB history, for comparison. Peavy’s adjusted Advantage per 32 starts (A measure I created and call ADV32) is a +173, meaning he is a well above average pitcher for his career. When you consider he’s made 377 starts, that’s pretty darn impressive.
Matt Cain: 17 GS; 5-10-2, -99 ADV
There’s really no sugar-coating how bad Cain was this year. 97 pitchers made 10 or more starts in the NL, and Cain’s -99 ADV was 88th among them. For this last two seasons, he is a combined 8-17-3, with a -160 ADV. That’s not quite the equivalent of a full season’s worth of starts, and he’s earned enough negative Advantage to be among the worst pitchers in either league in any given year.
Amazingly enough, Cain’s career average GmSc of 55.4 is identical to that of Jake Peavy, giving them matching +173 ADV32 scores. Cain’s made about 70 starts fewer than Peavy, and it really doesn’t appear that he’ll make it to +2,000 Advantage for his career. However, his current mark of +1,663 is top 15 among active pitchers (no surprise). These days though, he really doesn’t look to hold any value as a SP.
Albert Suarez: 12 GS; 0-4-8, -7 ADV
Suarez was a 50/50 pitcher if there ever was one in 2016. He failed to earn a GmSc Win in any of his 12 starts, yet still gave the Giants a fair shot to win 2 out of 3 times he took the ball. There’s value in earning ND’s, and Suarez’ Advantage score places him 50th in the NL. That’s Tier 4, or league average (though his 49.4 Avg GmSc is about 1.5 points below the actual NL Avg).
Ty Blach: 2 GS; 1-1-0, +24 ADV
Blach essentially saved the season with his performance on the final weekend of the year, matching up against Clayton Kershaw no less. Blach’s 81 Game Score that day was the 7th best performance by a Giants starter all season (they had 11 outings of 80 or higher GmSc this year). It’s a very small sample, but if you’re like me, you’d really like to see Ty settle into a more permanent role with the club next season.
As a staff, the Giants earned a Game Score record of 78-56-28 in 2016. Their 78 Wins were 3rd in the NL, their best as a team in the past 5 seasons, and a 12 game improvement on 2015. Their projected W-L record for the year was 92-70. With the addition of Matt Moore, I can see that mark improving next season. Now the questions are, can they find a 9th inning presence, and can they get more consistent production at the plate? If so, this team has a chance to be a real contender again going forward.
Thanks for reading, and please feel free to post any thoughts, questions, or concerns in the comments.
Has it really been six months since my last post? Man. For the few folks out there who actually dedicated their time to following this site, I really am sorry. I could have at least put out some dead-end signs to warn you. Just one of those seasons, I suppose.
And boy, was it one of those years. The slow start, the torrid June, the murky waters for the Shark, the injuries, the inept second-half offense, Cueto & Bumgarner, the trade deadline, losing Duffy, losing the division, losing leads… And that bullpen. Damn that bullpen. This season wasn’t without its great moments (like absolutely owning the Dodgers in the early going, and again on the final weekend), but it sure was a trying one, wasn’t it?
About two weeks into September, I reached my breaking point. I had such high hopes for this team, especially with the revamped rotation (which was still one of the best in baseball, as Game Score will prove – more on that in a future post), but we were two weeks from October ball, and this just wasn’t a playoff team. Not to me, anyway.
And somehow, they still found a way. It doesn’t matter how many championships you see, there’s still nothing like the postseason. Just ask Conor Gillaspie.
After missing my chance for three years, I decided I wouldn’t let another opportunity slip by. Within minutes of the final out at Citi Field, my wife and I had tickets for Game 3 at The Yard. I can’t remember being more giddy, nervous, excited, everything all at once for a baseball game. Watching the best postseason pitcher of my time (maybe anytime!). How could you not be jacked up for that?
Then Jake Arrieta did the most improbable thing he could have possibly done. Even more improbable than getting a 7 spot hung on him and exiting in the first inning, in my humble opinion. I think that’s when it really hit me that we were up against something fierce, something bigger than even the gritty October Giants could handle. Then, when it seemed like all was lost, Conor G. did it again. You talk about improbable… sticking it to Chapman like that was unbelievable stuff, regardless of the inning or inherited baserunner situation.
But Romo couldn’t hold the lead, and those of us with work the next morning and a three-hour drive home just couldn’t justify staying there all night. It would have been awesome to stay, but ultimately I was just grateful for the chance to see October baseball in person. What a feeling.
Those damn Giants though. Three-time champs, and yet they’re perennial underdogs. You thought they had a chance to take down those mighty Cubs, didn’t you? I did. By the 8th inning of game 4, I had fully bought in. Cueto and Lester for all the marbles at Wrigley? Give me the underdogs, and the dude with the flowing dreads. It was all right there. A story waiting to rewrite itself, just as it had done so many times for this club.
You know, I shot a quick message to a good Giants Twitter buddy just before the final series against LA. Just a little conversation starter. “Are the Giants a playoff team,” I asked him. He gave me his take, and like a gentleman asked for mine in return.
“I’m going to say it comes down to the final game, with the bullpen having to protect a late lead to survive. How appropriate would that be?!”
That was September 28th, and I just knew it was coming at some point… I just didn’t know when.
When that first runner reached base on Law in the 9th of Game 4 (I don’t remember who it was… Bryant? I don’t really care to look it up), I wasn’t really sweating. Yes, Law had thrown the night before, but he’d shown some major guts – and stuff – too. Rookie or not, I believed the dude could lock down a THREE-RUN LEAD.
It was in that next moment, when Bochy lifted the kid, that my entire outlook changed. If I had learned anything this season, it was that the Giants were not a closer-by-committee team. For whatever reason, the match-up approach just didn’t work (to be fair, no approach really worked after Casilla fell apart). Maybe you felt the same, maybe not, but I truly believed the Giants chances were shot from the second Law left the game. Nothing after that point surprised me.
The rest, as they say, is history. A lot of great Giants left the mound somberly for likely the final time in their SFG career, and another wept in the locker room that night over not getting a chance at redemption. Just a filthy, rotten, terrible situation. Worst-case scenario at its finest. And yet, you just knew it was coming at some point. The clock had finally struck midnight for the 2016 Giants.
A fitting end to a topsy-turvy season. Until next year.
Thanks for reading…
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
- Cubs = 13
- White Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Nationals = 11
Giants = 6
Team GSc Avg (league average is 51.8)
- Cubs = 63.5
- Nats = 59.8
- White Sox = 58.8
- Phillies = 57.7
- Royals = 56.6
Giants = 49.1
Individual Total GSc
- Jake Arrieta = 301
- Clayton Kershaw = 283
- Chris Sale = 281
- Jon Lester = 262
- Edinson Volquez = 250
- Jose Quintana = 241
- Cole Hamels = 235
- Sonny Gray = 234
- Jonny Cueto = 229
- Aaron Nola = 229
Individual GSc Avg
- Jake Arrieta = 75.3
- Noah Syndergaard = 71.0
- Clayton Kershaw = 70.8
- Vince Velasquez = 70.7
- Chris Sale = 70.3
- Stephen Strasburg = 69.7
- Mat Latos = 69.0
- Drew Smyly = 68.7
- Danny Salazar = 67.7
- 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)
- Jake Arrieta – +101
- Clayton Kershaw – +83
- Chris Sale – +81
- Noah Syndergaard – +63
- Vincent Velasquez – +62
- Jon Lester – +62
- Stephen Strasburg – +59
- Mat Latos – +57
- Drew Smyly – +56
- 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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.