Your 2016 Giants: They're Down, They're Really Down

(oops, had wrote this on 4/21, intending for it to publish late that night, but for some reason still had it open and unpublished until now).

The Giants just lost their fifth straight game, and 8 of the last 9 games, sinking to 7-10.  Giants fans are moaning everywhere.

ogc thoughts
The issue seems so very simple once I followed my instincts on what could be wrong and looked at the stats:

Buster Posey to 4/10:
  • .391/.444/.696/1.140
  • .333 BABIP
  • 0.519 WPA
  • 4.80 RE24 (111 run seasonal pace, roughly 11-12 wins)
  • 7 games, 6 starts
  • Giants are 5-2
Buster Posey after Utley foul ball on 4/10:
  • .143/.226/.143/.369
  • .174 BABIP
  • -0.215 WPA
  • -3.29 RE24 
  • 7 games/starts
  • Giants are 2-8 with Posey batting third
The losing streak began on 4/13, starting with the second game that Posey missed.  

Light at end of tunnel?  
  • After 0-for-12 in 3 starts, he had a short 3 game hitting streak, hitting .333/.429/.333/.762, before an 0-for-4 again.  
  • Last five games:  3 walks and 3 K's in 20 AB (85% contact rate and 1.00 K/BB ratio, which are considered good).
All very SSS, so nothing is a statistically significant trend.  But still, clearly, there is a before and after.  

Pitching Has Been Up and Down, but Mostly Up

The pitching has actually been on the borderline good side per PQS, but not great, where we have had 7 DOM starts out of 17 games (41% DOM) and 4 DIS (24% DIS, which is OK, but should be better).  The problem has been our 1-6 record in MID starts, where we should be somewhere in the middle, 3-4, roughly.  Change to that and we are 9-8, which is where the D-backs are right now (since the Giants lost two MID starts to them, it is possible that the two MID changed could involve at least one of the D-back's games).  

I'm not worried yet, though obviously this is not great.  We are not that far back, and Bumgarner hasn't been himself in two of his first three starts.  Once we get BumCuetoSam all going good at the same time, things will be a lot better, I believe. 

Between Peavy and Cain, Cain is the most worrisome and yet not that far away.  He had that great first start.  He seems to be having a dead arm period, perhaps due to his abbreviated spring training.  He dominates for 3-4 innings now and then everything explodes by the 5th inning.  We might see Broadway shipped back to AAA at some point, to bring up Heston for one Cain start, then swap Broadway out for another reliever on the 40-man (Black?  Gregorio?).  Cain might just need one skipped start to rest and maybe work on something.

Peavy I was expecting more out of, but he seems to be down like Cain too.    But he's more like a high wire act, you expect him to fall at some point.  Sometimes he is bad like this, but he's actually been mostly a great pitcher for us, so it seems reasonable that this will be temporary, that he would be good for us again.

Except for the playoffs, where he has come up small, like he has all through his career.   I was not overjoyed when he was resigned, hoping they would get someone better.  But I didn't think he would hurt our chances greatly in the playoffs either, he would be tolerable as our 4th starter, if he was that, or, as I was hoping, moved into long relief if he was the worse starter. 

But generally he has been great at helping us during the season, when healthy, so that helped me tolerate him.  The amazing thing is that while he's not that dominant a pitcher, he does just well enough in all facets of pitching that he was great for us last season, even including the two starts when he should have been DLed for his back:  61% DOM, 11% DIS.  He did not have one DIS start after healing up and returning, putting up a 68% DOM, 0% DIS, which is elite pitching.  He has been dominant just enough, and on a very consistent basis, allowing him to compile a lot of DOM starts while avoiding DIS starts for the most part.

He just seems to do it with mirrors.  And that creates the seed of doubt that sit sin my stomach wondering if he will snap out of this and start pitching well again, or if he's finally entering the final decline phase of his career.  

But his FIP before today's game is at 3.89, and he has a great K/BB ratio, so this just appears to just be a phase.  His BABIP is huge and he has given up more homers than 1.0 HR/9, but that falls within reasonable random range given it's been only 3 starts.  Hopefully today's start is the start of the Good Peavy streaks that he seems to go on since he's been with the Giants, he ended 2014 and 2015 with very long streaks of pitching dominance, and if he can do that while our top 3 of Bumgarner, Cueto, and Samardzija keeps doing well, we will forget about this unfortunately blip of a losing streak when all is said and done.

Bochy on my Mind: His Spectrum of Management

A recent comment about Bochy on Raising Cain got me thinking.  He was compared to Dusty Baker.  And I've added on, as usual.
ogc thoughts

First off, I loved Dusty Baker while he was manager of the Giants.  He was an excellent player manager, getting a lot out of his players.  The team won under him (and having Bonds and Kent helped greatly).  He also led the charge from the old era to the new Magowan era, so there was a lot to like about him.

However, I was done with him after the 2002 World Series.  How do I count the ways?  First and foremost, I would have started Reuter in Game 7 over Livan.  Yes, he did win key games for us along the way, but you want a bulldog going for you in that game, not a marshmellow like Livan.  I was not surprised by the results.  Secondly, searching around for a DH was bad enough - he should have just used Shinjo in that spot, he had the most regular play, and when he was used properly - in the bottom half of the order - he was actually valuable there.  Instead, he started Feliz in Game 7, a rookie he barely used all season, and just threw him to the wolves in the most important game of the year.

Thirdly, given that Nen's shoulder was weaker than a wet tissue paper AND Ortiz was pitching well enough up to that point, he could have left in his veteran to get out of the inning, perhaps get a ground ball (he was 50/50 in that game up to then) double play.  As a fan, it was enough to know that I would have left Ortiz in to try to get out of the 7th, but finding out later that Nen was not 100% just made the decision all the worse.  And if you ever get into Dusty's doghouse, forget about ever getting out of it.

Mainly, his problem is that he's always the players' buddy, but never the parent he needs to be when it's time to win a series.  A series need to be managed differently from a season, when you are playing for all the marbles.  At some point, the players need to understand that he's making moves that will bruise egos, but at that time, he has to in order to win that game, that day.  He never realized that distinction or, worse, did know but just didn't know how to get his players to stay loyal to him and motivated to win while doing it.

Why I Love Bochy: From Player Manager to Playing to Win

I think Bochy has a spectrum of how he manages.  He imperceptibly moves along that spectrum from Player Manager to Playing to Win over the season.

Player Manager

Early on, it's showing confidence in guys and letting them show what they can do, managing as a player manager. In addition, he doesn't always put players into boxes or doghouse forever, as some do, he will sometimes give players chances to succeed or fail early on, even if that player had failed a lot before. He realizes that it's early in the season, no time for knee jerk reactions, and he doesn't focus on the negatives about what a player does, but appreciates the overall positives that he can provide. He's managing to get through the first half or so of the season, until the stretch run, while keeping in mind that he needs to step on the accelerator so that the team never gets too far back to win. 

Stretch Run Transition

Around mid-season, that's when he starts to get his ducks in a row, as he heads into the stretch run. Roughly half the season is gone now, should have a pretty good idea of where you stand in the battle for the division title. Also pretty good idea of who is producing. He starts lessening the flexibility and experimentation that characterizes the start of the season, and starts to stick with set roles and lineups, playing the guys who are producing. He will bench people (Rowand, Tejada) and starts to manage for the win more and more often. He will, as I would characterize it, go for the kill more often, in order to get the win.

Playing to Win:  Showing the Killer Instinct

By the playoffs, the transition has reached the other end of the spectrum. He don't care who you are, he will manage to win each game, then worry about the next game. He will bench people (Zito) or demote them (Lincecum), as necessary. He usually goes by merit who gets to be on a playoff roster, with Lincecum in 2014 as the exception, due to his stature and ego, most probably. He will bench people (Sandoval) while starting others (Renteria) who had done much up to then. He will take them out very early (Hudson and others) and use others in roles they hadn't been used in all season (Lincecum, Bumgarner). And it's all hands on deck to win the series (Phillies, Royals).

He seems to have learned that from his failure to win with the Padres in their only trip to the World Series with him.   I recall an interview with him where he expressed his disappointment with how that series went.  And all the Padres' fans' complaints about him favoring veterans and such seemed true until late in the 2010 season when he was making moves to win, damn the consequences, like starting Torres over Rowand.  And I was full blown in love when he left Zito off the playoff roster.  Again and again!

How he does it, I would like to think that he's very open with everyone about how they are producing and what they need to do if they don't like their situation.  They might not be happy about it, but if he's fair about it and consistent, then it's up to the player to prove him wrong by producing, and he gives them that chance early in the season.  How else does he get Sandoval to still play for him after benching him, or, even more, Zito to continue to pitch well enough for him after being left off the playoff roster throughout the playoffs?  There is no 2012 Championship, most probably, if Zito was not there winning key games for us.

People seem to think they could have gotten a better pitcher, but eating that much money, they probably could have only afforded a Wellemeyer type pitcher, who is willing to take the veteran's minimum to pitch for you.  There has also been some blowups (Rowand and Tejada) where there was no going back, and they were summarily let go, but mostly players just seem to love playing for him.  And that's because he plays to win while balancing that with being a player's manager, something that is truly a rare skill to have.

Your 2016 Giants: Cueto Fatigue

Continuing my series of posts on Cueto.  As I have been finding out, Cueto have splits, both by home vs. road, and first half vs. second half.  And those splits hold even when taking the two splits into account, both home and road gets worse in the second half.  The mysteries are two-fold:  why is he so much better in Cincinnati and why is he that much worse in the second half?

I don't think we can ever answer the former (my best guess is that there is something in the background of the stadium that works well with his deceptive pitching motion; there was an analysis long ago of why San Jose Municipal Stadium has a much higher strikeout rate and Giants hitters (including Bowker), noted that there were mountains in the background in CF that hid the ball in some visual haze plus also the sun would set in CF in the second half of the season and the hitter would be looking into the sun, so there was no hitter's eye, making it harder for the hitters to see the ball) but let's take a look at his monthly stats and see what's there.

ogc thoughts

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/14/2016.

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/14/2016.

Sometimes a chart tells a thousand words.  As one can see in his OPS, it just get steadily worse and worse, until he's pretty bad in Sept/Oct.  And his ERA mirrors that mostly, though as one can see, his OPS almost linearly gets worse, but there is a big jump in ERA once he gets to July, and the bigger jump in Sept/Oct.  His BABIP mostly mirrors that, as well as his K/BB (or SO/W in the chart), except for his odd improvement in peripherals in August, but still worsening ERA and OPS.  So it appears to be fatigue.

The thing is, I'm not sure what else he can do to combat that.  It helps now that he's in a temperate ballpark, so we'll see if he can avoid the second half decline at home this season.  He is known as an innings eater, that is a big reason we signed him, but it might behoove the Giants not to ride him too hard, if the relievers are well rested and needing work.

The Reds appear to have kept an eye on him, his pitch count was actually lower by 1.6 pitches in H2 vs. H1.  He also pitched about a third of an inning less, probably as the result of giving up so many more hits and XBH's.   Still, his PQS fell from 3.91 to 3.31 and Game Score fell from 62 to 56, from H1 to H2.  He's giving up much more homers, though, only up slightly, and it was still very good, from 5.5% to 5.8%.

Your 2016 Giants: Cueto Home and Road, First Half and Second Half, Splits

I had discussed Cueto's stats regarding first and second half previously.  When he had his first start for us in Milwaukee, much was made about his much better results at home vs. on the road.  So I thought I would look into that as well.

ogc thoughts

Unfortunately, none of the baseball stat sites look at splits of splits, so the data would not have been that easy to collect and analyze.  So most likely, I probably wouldn't have bothered to follow up on this thought.  However, I had already went and collected Cueto's stats for calculating his PQS (pretty darn good) and, though it was some work to split everything up, it seemed doable enough, so here's what I found.

First off, yes, he has been much better at home than on the road, especially home at Cincinnati:  3.05 ERA at home, 3.54 ERA on the road.   So basically ace at home, good on the road.

But he has also changed significantly from his early seasons, starting in 2011.  Clearly, he's much better at home, but that don't matter anymore for us since he's pitching in SF now, so, to me, the interesting number is his 3.17 ERA on the road since 2011 (and these numbers are all before any of his SF stats).   Like with his first half stats, it's his BABIP of .286 that helps him perform better, so his corresponding FIP is 3.56.  Also, as we'll see later, clearly, he has a very low HR/FB rate is contributing to his higher xFIP, as xFIP assumes both an average BABIP of .300 as well as an average HR/FB of 10.5% (Fangraphs using that but from what I learned it was 10%).  Though per Fangraphs, xFIP not that much higher than FIP, so it appears that his lower HR/FB don't affect his ERA as much as his peripherals much.  And I would note that his SIERA is about the same as his FIP/xFIP, so all the major estimators view his stats as not representative of his skills.  So I'm not going to bother with FIP below, as he's clearly beating FIP through most of his career, and by a good margin.

The pattern for both home/road and first/second half holds in his career too (all averages):
  • H1:Home: 2.71 ERA, 3.53 K/BB, 7.6% HR/FB, 3.98 PQS, 61.0 Game Score 
  • H1:Road:  3.25 ERA, 2.51 K/BB, 5.2% HR/FB, 3.34 PQS, 55.6 Game Score
  • H2:Home:  3.39 ERA, 3.90 K/BB, 6.9% HR/FB, 3.37 PQS, 55.6 Game Score
  • H2:Road:  4.06 ERA, 2.03 K/BB, 6.4% HR/FB, 3.00 PQS, 50.9 Game Score
But, as good as that looks, it does get a lot better once he reached his potential (for example, ERA of 4.27 before), particularly in Cincinnati, starting in 2011:
  • H1:Home: 1.97 ERA, 4.51 K/BB, 7.5% HR/FB, 4.21 PQS, 65.9 Game Score 
  • H1:Road:  2.78 ERA, 2.91 K/BB, 4.1% HR/FB, 3.67 PQS, 58.9 Game Score
  • H2:Home:  2.46 ERA, 4.33 K/BB, 6.3% HR/FB, 3.46 PQS, 60.8 Game Score
  • H2:Road:  3.76 ERA, 2.20 K/BB, 5.2% HR/FB, 3.17 PQS, 52.1 Game Score
Looking at parks that he pitched in, here are some interesting splits:
  • SF-AT&T:  1.69 ERA, 1.75 K/BB, 5.9 K/9 (3 starts)
  • NL West:  3.33 ERA, 2.23 K/BB, 6.8 K/9 (17 starts)
  • NL Central:  3.32 ERA, 2.36 K/BB, 6.58 K/9 (47 starts)
  • NL East:  4.20 ERA, 2.48 K/BB, 7.8 K/9 (26 starts)
  • CIN-GAB:  2.91 ERA, 3.60 K/BB, 8.1 K/9  (98 starts)
  • AL teams:  3.55 ERA, 2.20 K/BB, 6.4 K/9 (28 starts; includes a couple of KC starts w/ Reds)
No HR/FB, PQS or Game Score stats, just used the Park splits from  It would be interesting to see how the splits by H1/H2 affects his stats by parks.   Did he see NL East teams mainly in H2 and NL West teams mainly in H1?

I also found it odd that he faced that many more NL East than NL West.  He faced even more AL teams, and did a little worse against them.  Perhaps that's just how it fell since he was the ace most seasons for them and got the opening day start.   There were the three NL East games in 2013, when he had a very shortened season, plus the three in AT&T, and subtracting those, he only had 3 more starts against the NL East, so it appears to just be how the rotation fell for him.  He also had three AL games in 2013 as well.

Maybe I'll tackle splitting the parks by halves with my collected stats another day, as it was a pain summing up by home/road, H1/H2 splits, plus my goal to keep these posts shorter.  He was roughly the same by any slice you look at except for NL East being much worse ERA but much better peripherals, oddly enough.

In any case, he has pitched about as well against NL West teams as he did NL Central, so him moving from Cincinnati to SF should not affect his road stats much, if he just continues what he has done before.   Maybe improve slightly as he'll be pitching in Cincinnati on the road, and might not have such a tilt towards NL East teams as he did in his career stats.

How Will He Pitch With and In SF?

The major questions are:  why did he do so well in Cincinnati, and can he reduplicate that in SF?  His home stats in Cincinnati were stellar across the board.  Will he be able to do that in SF?

He has done well in SF in terms of ERA, but his K/BB and K/9 were not good at all; but only 3 starts and against the Giants offense, not other teams.  So that's not a great guide as to what he'll do in AT&T for us.  Of course, he got bombed in the first inning in his first SF start, then was dominant in the following 6 IP, so perhaps it was initial nerves?

As a coincidence, his first home start for the Giants matched his first start in AT&T in 2011, 7.0 IP, 2 walks, 8 K's, only the hits and runs are wildly different, he shut them out on 5 hits then.  Also wildly different are his second and third starts in SF, when walked 6 and struck out only 6 in 14.1 IP, but only gave up 4 ER, for 2.51 ERA.  So he struggled, relatively, against the better Giants offense in 2012 and 2014, but still pitched well there.  All small samples, single games, but should be noted, I believe.

Plus, in the history of the park, AT&T has mostly been a pitcher's park.  There was a period in the middle where it played as a neutral park, and I had thought that Bonds was a major factor, but it continued to 2009.  Since 2010, however, it has been a pitcher's park mostly, though not in 2014, when it was near neutral again.

In addition, GAB is a severe hitter's park, and to have a pitcher like Cueto who not only wasn't affected by the problems that affected other pitchers there, but was superlative, period, was a huge advantage for them when he was pitching for them.   One would think they could have matched the Giants offer (especially since taxes in CA >>> OH), and thus less money overall could still be equal after taxes.

Plus, we aren't even looking for him to do as well as he did in GAB for his deal to work out for the Giants.  Here is his road stats from 2011-2015:

  • Road-2011-2015:  3.17 ERA, 2.59 K/BB, 3.47 PQS, 56.1 GameScore

If he can do that for us overall in 2016, I think everyone would be happy with that.

Lincecum, Bumgarner and Cain have been better at home than on the road, minimum of 0.36 better.   Looking at the NL 2015 stats, pitchers were 0.35 better ERA.  And that makes sense, there is a slight home advantage in the MLB.  If Cueto could continue his road dominance of 3.17 ERA that he did in 2011-2015, then if he matched that min improvement, he would have a 2.82 ERA at AT&T in 2016.   Assuming an even 50/50 split for his home and road, that works out a 3.00 ERA overall for Cueto.   That is twin ace performance, paired with Bumgarner.

He Already Had the Righetti Magic Going For Him

Righetti, as one Fangraph analysis noted, appears to have some sort of magic going for him:  Giants pitchers appear able to avoid homers no matter whether at home or on the road.  The 10% HR/FB mean that FIP+ incorporates, don't really apply to Giants pitchers, at least in the Sabean-Righetti era.

I believe it relates to how the Giants approach hitters.  An analysis by ESPN long ago looked at Rueter's (I said a long time ago :^) splits between bases empty and runners on base, and found that once a runner got on, he gave up more walks and less strikeouts and homers, in order to avoid allowing the runner to score.  I think the Giants focuses on that with their pitchers.

Same for Cueto, he gives up much less homers than average.  No matter where he has pitched, at least looking at the aggregated H/R and H1/H2 splits, his HR/FB was significantly under the standard of 10% HR/FB, roughly 5% on the road (and obviously significantly higher in Cincinnati, due to the park, making his great numbers home vs. road even more impressive).   He obviously has figured out how to prevent homers previously with the Reds.

And now he pitches in a park that severely hurts LH power hitters and even hurts RH power hitters (as well as non-power hitters, clearly).   And thus LHH should not hurt him as much with their power as they would elsewhere.  So his HR/FB numbers should improve pitching half his starts in AT&T.

Though, however, he has a reverse split against hitters:  .690 OPS and 145 ISO vs. RHH, .674 OPS and 134 ISO vs. LHH.   So he already has an advantage against LHH.   Thus AT&T should give him some sort of additional advantage, and he should have even more of a reverse split, as he reduces his LHH numbers significantly in SF.

Thoughts on Cueto

Cueto is just a good pitcher, has been for many years now.  He figured out the key to GAB and dominated there with that knowledge.  Still, he was pretty good on the road as well, everywhere except the NL East.   Not sure if that's a career long problem, or one where, maybe, he got blasted there early in his career, skewing his ERA there.  Anyway, barring injury, he should have a very good season with us, if career patterns hold, a great season if he can figure out AT&T like he did GAB.

There is that issue of pre and post All Star Game, as I mentioned in my prior post, where he is good but not great in the second half on the road.  Still not sure what could have caused that.  It was mentioned in my prior Cueto post that perhaps it was the heat in Cincinnati and the East, but don't know how to check that.  Still, that makes some sense.

In any case, I think that his career stats are representative of his skills.  That modern sabermetrics can't capture that shows that it is missing something valuable in certain pitchers.  Something that teams can exploit if saber-driven teams is also wearing blinders, blindly thinking that sabermetrics is the be all and end all to the question of evaluating baseball talent.  As they won't bid up these players, resulting in a lower final contract.  And that's the essence of Moneyball, buying undervalued assets/skills.

In this case, Cueto's unusual pitching mechanics and motions is creating a lot of deception, kind of like a knuckleballer, and would explain how he beats FIP by such a wide margin.  And perhaps that's the key to his second half decline, as most players are fatigued sometime in the second half, and maybe that split second loss due to fatigue results in a loss of deception.  I'll try to look into his monthly stats another time.

I have the game stats compiled and pivoted, so if anyone can think of another stat that would be interesting to look at, let me know.  I am thinking of following this up with a look at his strike stats, as those are available, but this is probably too long already and so I'll save it for another day.