Your 2016 Giants: The Shark Fin Is Circling, Senses Blood In the Water

A couple of good recent articles on Samardzija.  One was a Beyond the Box Score analysis of how he has been able to pitch so well this season after last season's abomination, pointing out that he was returning to his prior form, using the pitches that are his best pitches, his sinker and his cutter:
That cutter and sinker are back up to where they need to be to induce more grounders. The sinker, in particular, returning back to where it was in previous years represents an encouraging trend. And as such, his groundballs per ball in play are back to looking like exactly what they should look like... 
This return to form, although not necessarily a "resurrection", is taking place across the board. He hasn't experienced any sort of real velocity change, but the fact that he's able to utilize all of his pitches is allowing those strikeout numbers to creep back up. After a 6.86 K/9 season last year, he's currently at 7.69 in 2016, with a swinging strike rate up a touch (9.8 to 10.4) from last year. His walks are also down, at 1.82 per nine thus far. The rest of his statistics across the board feature a 2.66 ERA, a 2.77 FIP, and a WHIP down at 1.03. Not only are these numbers vastly improved from last year, but these are some of the best figures that Shark has posted in his career. As a veteran pitcher,, and having spent a previous year in baseball purgatory, Samardzija appears to have the look of a guy who knows exactly what works for him and what doesn't and the Giants are allowing him to roll with it. 
What might seem like a simple, and perhaps even obvious, change for him has led him down the path to not only earning that $90 million contract, but perhaps even justifying it as a bargain at some point.
This is matched up with professional observation by Mike Krukow, from his KNBR show, as reported by CSNBA:
"He's simplifying things," Krukow started. "A lot of times, guys have four or five things they can do with the ball. They feel compelled that they have to throw all of them. 
And I think what (Dave) Righetti and (Mark) Gardner have done with this guy, is they've simplified it, and said 'Wait a second. Let's take a look at what your true strengths are. 
"Your true strengths are your fastball ... and your cut ... so you've got two different types of movement, one going away from the other. And it's late movement. Why not let's focus on being able to corner pitch with it. To locate. 
"We'll introduce a slider, we'll throw it out there, and we'll work on an offspeed pitch to give you an eventual third speed.' That's what they've done." 
"His mechanics are impeccable and he's got great finish with the crack of the whip," Krukow added. "He's in command so that maximizes velocity, movement and location capabilities. He's got all that going. 
"And I think because of his athleticism he's able to repeat this stroke of the arm with great consistency." 
"It gets back to Dave Righetti. If you're a pitcher, and you've got abilities, whatever type of athlete you are, you're going to get better around him," Krukow declared. "You're going to get better around Mark Gardner. They're the best at what they do. This is just another example of it." 
Krukow closed the topic by making a bold prediction. 
Samardzija's "not a finished product. He is a work in progress. I think when he masters that third speed, that changeup, you're gonna see a guy who's gonna be a perennial All-Star and he'll challenge for the Cy Young. I do believe he has that type of ceiling."

ogc thoughts

This was the sort of stuff I was hoping the Giants would be doing with Samardzija once they got their hands on him.

To build on top of what was noted in the Beyond the Box Score (surprised the author didn't point out this chart):  Fangraph Samardzija Pitch Values.  While this has limited predictive value, it is a descriptive stat, showing how good he has been in the season.

Surprising the Cutter Has Been So Good

Amazingly enough, he had not had a lot of success with his cutter in the past (and part of the value shown in this table is the sequencing that happens for the pitcher, based on the circumstances he happens to be in for each instance, making a pitch more or less valuable, depending on how the sequencing is), his only year was way back in 2011, yet the Giants keyed on that pitch, had him simplify to using mainly his fastball along with the cutter.  Yet, despite his lack of success before (remember, sequencing matters), they have found the right sequencing to enable him to create a lot of value with this pitch, something none of his pitching coaches nor team scouts ever realized.

Slider Has Always Been His Plus Value Pitch

Plus the slider is his most often used third pitch this season, which has always been a very valuable pitch in the past.  Apparently by paring back the usage of the slider to key situations, he has been able to create even more value than ever before with his slider, despite not using it as much (and we are only nearing the one-third point of the season).

Now Slider is Keyed with Cutter

Likewise, the Giants keyed on his cutter, which he didn't use as much before in his career.  They have nearly doubled the usage of the cutter in 2016, from 20.2% in 2015 (and roughly 10-13% before) to 39.4% currently.  They still use his four-seamer a lot, but dropped that a lot from before, from roughly 30-ish in last few years to 22.8% this season.  Two-seamer has been reduced too, from the 24.1% in 2014, his most successful year by far (and only one previously, really).  The splitter has been almost eliminated, down to 5.4%.   Even the usage of the slider was down, from the 20-ish he was at before, and it seems like the Chicago White Sox realized that and tried to double down on that, pushing his usage up to 24.4%, but the Giants now only employ it 15.1%, and in spite of the lessened usage, he has almost created as much value with this pitch as any other season he has used it.

Resulting in Success in 2016 Unlike 2014

And this season is totally unlike his most successful season in 2014.  In 2014, he created his value with his fastball, slider, and split-finger fastball, with most of it from his fastball.  For the Giants, most of the value is created with the cutter and slider, with some from the fastball.  It is totally counter-intuitive, because Samardzija is known for his fastball, and yet he is creating most of his value from the other two pitches in his repertoire.

Maybe someone can explain to me, but Beyond the Box Score used Brooks and noted his usage of the sinker, but PitchFX has no sinker to speak of, so I don't know how to reconcile the two sources of pitch type data.  Based on the up and down, it appears that the two-seamer is what Brooks is calling the sinker, but while Brooks has that around 28%, FG has it around 17%.   And FG has the cutter at 39.4% while Brooks has it at around 32%.

And Success with Slider Exponentially Increased

In any case, a lot of additional value is being derived by whatever the Giants are doing with Samardzija.  Looking at the "/C" values, which rates the value of each pitch per 100 pitches, his slider's value has leapt from the 1.0-1.5 per 100 pitches value range to 3.07 per 100 so far this season.  And showing how screwed up Samardzija was with the White Sox, after easily creating value in the 5-8 range previously, he was actually -6.7 with the White Sox.  His cutter value was returned to what it was long ago, in 2011, when he was still a reliever.  And while his fastball value is not that high, on a per 100 pitch basis, is his best since 2014's 0.50, as it is at 0.38.

Despite Plus Plus Velocity, Success With It Has Been Spotty

Despite his plus plus velocity, none of his pitching coaches or teams have ever had him produce value regularly with his fastball.  No wonder Samardzija, according to Baer, told the Giants that he really wanted to join the Giants, and when told that the Giants were busy with Greinke, but would sign him if that fell through, he purposefully stalled negotiations with other teams in order to see what happens.  And once that fell through, that is why the Giants signed him so quickly.

The Giants success with the Shark has come faster than I had hoped.  I thought maybe half to a whole season, then he'll be ready to take over for Cueto before Cueto leaves after two years and opting out.   With a three headed monster, all we need are average back of rotation starters to have a great season.  And Cain's recent stretch of good pitching shows what can happen when you get four good starts in every turn of the rotation.

Giants look good to run away with the division, but, again, injuries to the lineup is the Achilles Heel.  We've already lost Pagan, and aches and pains have took out Panik, Pence, and now Span.  Continued health is what we need to keep the good times going.  

Dodgers Calling Up Uber Prospect Urias

The news is LA Dodgers uber prospect Julio Urias is being brought up (already started at the time I'm writing this, getting hit a bit, not the reason I'm writing this, and could make this post moot).

ogc thoughts

I'm not terribly afraid of Urias coming up.  Not that he isn't a great pitching prospect, not that I don't expect him to do really well as a SP for LAD.  It's because he's not going to be around for all that long.  His previous high in innings pitched before this season is 87.2 IP.   He's already at 41.0 IP.

The Giants have gone way beyond the rule that Tom Verducci has been promulgating since he talked with former A's pitching coach, Rick Peterson, that a young pitcher should not increase the number of innings he throws in a season by more than 25-30 innings.  He writes about this almost every year, and the article I linked to is the one he wrote after Bumgarner added 46.2 IP in 2014.   The Giants have jumped beyond that limit frequently, doing that with Cain, Sanchez, Lincecum, and Bumgarner.

For examples, Cain leaped 84.2 IP in 2004, another 33.1 IP in 2005.  Bumgarner 72.2 IP in 2010, then 46.2 IP in 2014 (I wrote about this when it happened, this don't apply as much for Madison because he used to throw a heck of a lot in between starts, so much that when he came to the majors in 2009, he found out major league pitchers throw a lot less, and so he thought he might back off some, which I doubt he did).

Urias Most Likely Won't Pitch That Many Starts This Season

Let's say they let Urias get to 137.2 IP.  That's another 96.2 IP, maybe 15-20 starts, which would stop him down the stretch (roughly 23 starts left in the season), when a playoff contending team would presumably need him most.  That was the issue with young pitchers like Strasburg and Harvey, when their teams thought about taking them out of the rotation and shutting him down for the season.

However, LAD is run by a sabermetric oriented front office.   And most sabers are much more worried about pitch count and PAP, much like Verducci.  If he is limited to 30 IP jump, then that is only 10-15 starts left to pitch, which could mean he would be taken out of the rotation by the ASB.  And given that he's being hit hard right now, got took out before he could end the 3rd inning.  Not an auspicious start, so this post could be moot, or it could just be nerves and he'll be better in his next start.  In any case, I don't see how he can pitch that many games for them.

Or course, maybe they just want to use him as a bridge to acquiring a veteran pitcher by mid-season, that's possible.

In any case, another thing that bothers me, if I were a Dodger's fan, is that they actually stopped him from pitching more innings in 2015.  They jumped him 33.1 IP in 2014, so if they had done that again in 2015, then he would have been at 121.0 IP last season, and could reach roughly 155 IP this season.  There could have been some physical reason why they did that, and if so, then that's another more important reason why they should take it easy on him in terms of IP jumps, because an injury usually portends future injuries, not if, but when.

Your 2015 Giants: Pagan Putting uP Pain Pagain

Once again, Pagan hits the 15-day DL, re-injuring his left hamstring again, which had costed him (and especially us) 11 games previously.

ogc thoughts

Ugh, don't you hate this?  What do you all think?  I'm looking forward to his contract being over.  As much as I like him as a player, his proneness to injury has been frustrating.  Unlike Bonds, Pagan seems to have never understood that there are limits he should obey, going all out just injures him, which injures his team's chances of winning, and thus our chances of getting into the playoffs.

Seriously, why didn't the Giants just DL him the first time too?  Bochy said it was a no-brainer to DL him this time, because it was the same injury, but, really, it is an issue he has had his entire career.  And they went through this with Durham, you think they would have learned to bite the bullet, the second time, shame on you Giants, it has been four years of this, Parker could have been up for 11 games while Pagan was sitting, nursing his injury, instead of the Giants playing short-handed.  They were 6-5 in the games he missed during that period.

Plus, even when he came back, he was horrible.  He only had a .393 OPS during that period, and the team averaged 2.56 runs per game with him in the lineup (but the team went 8-1 because of the starting pitching).   The team averaged 3.7 runs per game during the 11 games he was out, which is low, but right now, I think many would take that over the recent bad offense.   I would estimate that his poor hitting was responsible for at least half of that drop in offense.   The Giants would have been much better off DLing him once he was hurt, and a prospect (or Tomlinson) could have been getting all the AB's over those 20 games Pagan missed or did poorly in.

The good news is that this gives more opportunity to our prospects, particularly Jarrett Parker, since he is up right now.   And I expect Pagan to go down again later in the season, which could give Williamson an opportunity again.  And, unfortunately, Pence is becoming old, reaching that stage too, his hammy has been barking too, so that might also present opportunities for our prospects (but hopefully not).   Plus, who knows how long Pagan will be out, this is his second bout with the hamstring this season, he could be out for much longer than the 15-day DL.

Pagan Has Hit Well Though, Overall

His .338 OBP is pretty good.  The average OBP in the NL is only .321. The average OBP for hitters in the 3 to 6 positions in the lineup is .334, so he is up there with middle lineup hitters. It is not as high as leadoff hitters, which is at .349, but he's not a leadoff hitter now. And only leadoff and #3 hitters have a higher OBP on average, he would be above average in any other batting position.  

So him hitting 9th was actually very good for our offense, particularly since Span hasn't started hitting yet, so he's been partially a bust so far (lack of power has killed his SLG and OPS), though he at least has a .354 OBP, which is the main component of his job.   He appears to have reached that point in his career (older players suddenly find religion in walks at some point, if they are still playing) where he has upped his walks, and given he didn't strike out much before, his BB/K ratio is roughly 1.0, which is the mark of a good hitter, and thus, most likely, his .286 BABIP (career .320 BABIP before this season) is more a factor of bad luck than a decline in batting skills, though it is possible he is working more walks because he realized that he's not hitting as well.  Perhaps someone reading knows how to analyze a hitter in this way, regarding hard hit vs. soft hit balls.

In any case, for Pagan, .338 OBP is a good rate, it is above average, both in the NL and for most batting positions, and his .722 OPS would be good in any lower lineup batting positions, great for the #8/9 positions he has been batting in.  If he had enough to qualify, his OBP would be in the top 85-90 hitters in the majors, which makes him a Top 3 hitter (if players were assigned a team from high OBP to low, he would be in the third round of player assignments), which is more good than bad.  He's fine in the lineup when healthy.

But Lets Stop the "Giants Can Only Win with Pagan" Talk

Plus the Giants have done well with him (20-14 in his starts) as well as without him (10-5).  I never cared much when the beat writers would jump all over how well the Giants did with him in the lineup vs. without.  Not that I doubted his value, but the major reason that the Giants tanked without him in those instances was because he generally (partly because he was so injury prone) was the first injury among many others following, and the reason the team didn't do so well without him was because they were not just without him, but also Scutaro, Crawford, Belt, and there were many others.

Plus his replacement had his ups and downs.  People forget, but after that first injury long ago running around the bases for an inside the park homer, Blanco took over and he hit even better than what Pagan was hitting (Pagan was actually holding the team back up to that point, I think his OPS was in the high 600's) and the Giants did well in that first month or so without Pagan.  Then the injuries kept on piling up, and at some point, Blanco started pressing (that has been his Achilles Heel in baseball, when the pressure is on, he stops playing his game and hits poorly), and that was another cement anchor added to the team's lagging offense in mid-2013.

Teams Win With DOM Starts

As I've been trying to show over the years, it is dominant, well-pitched games that win games for teams, offense or no offense.  We have seen it over and over here with the Giants, even with poor offense, when you got great pitching, you can win a lot of games.  We saw it from 2009-2012, and we are seeing it again this season.  And if it is dominant games that win games, any team should want starting pitchers who can throw a lot of DOM starts every season.  You want good pitchers like that.

There is a wide spread in good pitchers, ranging from 40's DOM% to 70's+ DOM%.  As we have seen this season, it makes a huge difference having 70+ DOMs than 40's DOMs.  Our Big 3 are all currently at 80% DOM.  Because there is only 100% to distribute between DOM, MID, and DIS, the closer DOM gets to 100%, it also greatly reduces the odds of DIS start too, which is where a SP ERA gets blown up, so advantages accrue as a pitcher gets better at throwing dominant games.

This period reminds me of the end of 2010, when we ran off a stretch of 20+ games where the team's pitching did not give up more than 3 or 4 runs (don't remember which; perhaps there were two such streaks involving those two numbers).   The only difference is that I believe that we can continue this indefinitely, that this is the skill level for these pitchers.  If that does happen, we will run away with the division and win in the 95-100 games range, or perhaps better if the offense kicks in (Duffy has been hurting the team).

Your 2016 Giants: Is Lincecumming Here?

Lincecum had his long awaited showcase.  Baggarly and Pavlovic had nice accounts, plus Pavlovic provided the video of the whole session on Facebook.  A reported 23 teams attended, with many sending multiple representatives to view him live.

The Giants reiterated their interest in him as a long reliever.  Jeremy Shelley represented the Giants at the showcase, but, interestingly, it was reported that Lincecum gave a private viewing to Bobby Evans and Dick Tidrow ten days earlier.  Both Javier Lopez and Bruce Bochy were interviewed for their reaction to the video of the showcase, and both were happy for Lincecum, they saw him back healthy,

ESPN's Eric Longenhagen wrote up his thoughts on Lincecum, read it here.
I think there's still a big leaguer here, albeit in a limited role as a relief option. While he doesn't have the mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider that is typical of today's bullpen arm, Lincecum's repertoire would be uniquely deep for a reliever. 
If he can find a way to keep hitters off of his fastball -- either through some of the natural deception created by his delivery, by throwing his curveball for strikes early in counts, by finding changeup consistency or through some combination of these things -- I believe get outs at a rate that befits a big league reliever. 
If Lincecum were to work as a starter, he'd need better fastball command than was evident in this workout and much better command than he has displayed in his recent healthy seasons.

ESPN's Dave Schoenfield wrote up his ideas for five teams he might end up with, starting with the Giants:  "1. San Francisco Giants: The obvious favorite for several reasons. "

ogc thoughts

For those of us who want Lincecum back under the right conditions - and I'm definitely in that camp - the above is probably the best news we can get.

If Lincecum had came back with his old velocity, teams would definitely be lined up looking to sign him up for a starting rotation spot (not that I would root against him regaining it, just that it is what it is).  And that would have been fine with me, and who knows, given how poorly Peavy and Cain has done, maybe the Giants would have given him a good contract to be a starter and replace one of them.

But he didn't, he came back with the velocity he has had for a number of years now, diminished and ordinary, according to Longenhagen's account.  And Longenhagen said that he was, at best, a reliever.  And he seemed to still be needing some time to get into baseball shape, in any case, even if he were hired to be a starting pitcher.  He has stated that he wanted to avoid having to pitch in AAA before returning to the majors.

All these conditions are right for his return to the Giants.  Assuming most teams agree with Longenhagen's description, they will at best offer him a relief role, not even long relief.  Even if a team were willing to take him on as a starter, I would have to think most of them would be wanting to place him in AAA to get into shape for starting.

The Giants at this time is searching for a long reliever, and potentially a new starter if either Peavy or Cain continues to struggle like this into June.  They can afford to promise Lincecum that he won't spend one day in AAA, as they believe in him as a long reliever, and as Bochy noted in one of the interviews, beyond that if circumstances change.   He, of course, have stated that coming back to the Giants is ideal, but he wants to start and he don't want to have to do any minor league time.  And that is mostly what the Giants can promise to him, with the possibility that a starting spot could open up at some point, a gamble on his part, but he'll be in a familiar situation and not forced to spend any time in AAA.

Of course, maybe another team would be willing to make him the long reliever initially with the promise that he'll be the starter when ready.  But given Longenhagen's assessment, the odds appear to be very low that there is such a team.

And I doubt money will be a problem, he's made plenty of it, I think he's mainly looking for the opportunity, as well as a good situation, which he hasn't stated, but I think he would want that too.

Your 2016 Giants: Belt Finally Putting Things Together

As reported by the media (great account and interview by Baggarly here, and I pulled out some of it below), Brandon Belt figured out the last major piece to his mechanics to enable him to be the hitter he was in the minors:  power hitter (high SLG/ISO) with good contact (low K's) and eye (high BB/K).   He actually figured it out last year, but got concussed in the same series.  Fortunately, he was able to remember what that was and thought hard about it during the off-season:
It was against the Reds at AT&T Park last September when Belt finally found a stance and a feeling at the plate that allowed him to see the ball deeper, allowing him to react to the pitch rather than keep falling back on guesswork. It was the comfort zone he had spent his entire big league life searching to find. 
“Basically, yeah, I found an approach that I liked and then got concussed,” Belt said. “But fortunately, I still remembered it.” 
He is putting it into practice this season, and even in a small sample, the difference is striking. 
“I thought about it a lot in the offseason, and honestly, it came down to the last series I played against the Reds,” Belt said. 
“I thought about that often, about how I can put the ball in play more. 
“It was more approach than anything, and it was something I had to contemplate a lot in the offseason. I beat it into my head over and over. It’s something I held onto, and it’ll make me be more consistent in the long run.” 
What is it, exactly? “It’s getting back to seeing the ball and not guessing, which I still do at times,” said Belt, who signed a five-year, $79 million extension in April. "The results aren’t good when I do that. I tried to find a place where I felt more square with the plate. I stuck with that feeling.” 
Giants manager Bruce Bochy sees a hitter who continues to emerge. “He’s being a little more selective and he’s looking for his pitch,” Bochy said.  
“Honestly, that’s what excites me, that my strikeouts are down,” Belt said. “I wanted to put the ball in play more, because stuff can happen. I think that’s what makes us so tough as a lineup. There’s not an easy out.” 
“For a few years, I was searching for something and, yeah, I had some good years,” Belt said. “But I was still looking for something I could hold onto. And I think I found it.”

ogc thoughts

This has been a huge struggle for Belt all his career:  combining his ability to hit for power along with his ability to hit for contact.  I followed his contact rate in his early seasons, covering the rate over 10, 20, and 30 games, and he was able to keep it up for around that long, but then he would lose it and then strike out a lot.  This has prevented him from reaching the potential that many saw for him, being a Votto-like player:  power hitter, with good contact and eye, enough speed to steal in the teens, while providing gold glove defense at 1B.

His OPS of .945 (as of May 3, 2016;  all data from the great site,, I should be noting this more often, but been slacking, apologies to them) is much higher than his career .803 OPS prior to this season, or .823 OPS for the prior three seasons or his best of .841 in 2013.  So he is roughly about 140 points higher than what he had produced in his career before.  League OPS of .744 is 201 points less, so he went from being better than average to an elite level hitter.

Some of his improvement is from the change in league offensive environment, though.  League OPS of .744 is higher than in recent years, .721 OPS in 2015, and roughly .700 OPS in the years prior for Belt's career, showing that part of his rise is due to the league standard going up (and with reports that overall offense has been up the past two seasons).   Thus, 43 points of that rise over the past two years is related to the league environment change.

Where Has He Improved?

Looking at components of his hitting gives more clarity as to where this is happening.  His significant improvement was in his batting average, which has roughly been around .280 the past four seasons, with 2014 being the outlier due to the various injuries he had that season, but is .311 as of May 3rd.  But his improved BA is not from BABIP.  His BABIP has been basically the same this season, as of May 3rd, at .342 vs. career .340 BABIP, so the boost is not from abnormal BABIP.  So the improvement is from some other improvement in his hitting.

And where it is, is because of his sharp drop in strikeouts.  Career prior 24.4% SO%, average of 26.7% the prior two seasons, he currently is at 14.2%, which translates to a contact rate of 82.2%.  His contact rate for his career prior is 72.5%, 72.3% for the three prior years, and so this is a huge improvement, and over 113 PA.  With less strikeouts, there are more balls in play.  More balls in play, at a .340 BABIP adds up to a lot more hits, and the bump in BA.

His other big improvement is in his walk rate.  A career 9.8% walk rate prior to this season, he is currently at 18.6%.  So he has roughly dropped his strikeouts in half, while at the same time roughly doubling his walks!  And that results in a BB/K ratio of 1.3, which is great, anything over 1.0 is considered good, generally.  And that adds to his OBP.

Per Fangraphs, both his K% and BB% should be relatively stabilized at this point in the season:
With respect to sample size, it’s important to know that K% and BB% tend to “stabilize” in a relatively low number of PA. You don’t need more than about 60 PA for K% or 120 PA for BB% before the numbers start to become meaningful, which means that it’s very unlikely that even a half season of K% or BB% are simply functions of random variation. More directly, a player’s K% and BB% are skills that you can estimate from a reasonably small amount of data. This means that if you have a good sample of PA, you can feel good about the validity of the information you’re using.
Belt is at 113 PA as of May 3rd (and added 4 PA with one BB and no K on May 4th, so he is pretty much at 120 PA), and thus this is looking like Belt is doing what he says he's doing in the above interview:  he's found the right adjustment to allow him to utilize his skills in making hard contact, while avoiding the pitches that he can't make hard contact with, leading to less strikeouts and many more walks.

Now he's walking more than he strikes out, which is a sign of a very good hitter, which was something he did in the minors in his meteoric rise, and that gives us four hitters who are roughly in the 1 K:BB ratio range:  Posey, Span, Panik, and now Belt.  And I studied Crawford's contact rate as well, and he also had periods of good contact rates, and so he could add a fifth hitter at some point in his career.

In addition, there is a table in the Fangraph link on how good each rate is.  His K% went from a below average to poor 24.4-26.7% to an above average 14.2% and closing in on great (which is at 12.5%).  Meanwhile, his BB% went from an above average 9.8% to a excellent 18.6% (where above 15% is excellent).   With his reduced K%, the Giants now only has two hitters in the lineup who are not above average or better in K%:  Pence and Crawford.  And both are slightly above average, so the Giants lineup no longer has any hitter below average, all make good enough contact.

Lastly, oddly enough, his ISO of .200 (so far) is basically the same as it has been the past three seasons for Belt (and really, seems to be his talent level, he had a .187 ISO in his first MLB season).   So the improvement in OPS is not coming from increased power, just from improved BA (due to reduced K%) and improved BB% (adding to OBP).

Adding It All Up

Overall, his OPS has gone up 140-150 points.  A 30 point jump in BA translates into both OBP and SLG, so that covers around 60-90 points (rise in BA results in boost of SLG, still haven't figured out right way of accounting for this boost) of the jump in OPS, still leaving a big jump to be accounted for, which came from his greatly improved walk rate.   The near doubling of his walk rate has added a lot to OBP:  for his career prior, walks added 76 points to his BA, but in 2016, the walks are adding 123 points, adding another 47 points.  This is on top of the 60-90 being added by his improved batting average.  And those are the components that make up his improved OPS.

Will he continue this improved rate of hitting?  As pizzacutter (Russell Carleton's handle), notes frequently, just because a hitter has shown a stabilized skill over a long enough period of PA does not mean that he will continue to do that, just that he was capable of doing it long enough to show that this is a skill for him.  The issue, as I quote frequently from Baseball Forecaster, is for the player to repeat and exhibit that skill again.  According to the interview, this change is permanent for him, so I think it's reasonable to believe that he will be able to continue this level of hitting going forward.   But we shall see, does anyone see any reason he won't be able to do this?

The Giants made the right move to sign him to this long-term $79M extension before the season.  That works out to $16M per season for his free agent years, or roughly 2 WAR production.  And covers his age 28 to 33 YO seasons, when a hitter's production is at his steadiest.  True, he has been injury prone throughout his career, and that probably was priced in as well.  But he's been a good hitter previously and now appears to be a great hitter, and that's a player any team would want to keep in their lineup for the long-term.

2016 Giants: April PQS

This post has the Giants Pure Quality Start scores for the month of April 2016, PQS as defined in Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster annual book and they published the details here (unfortunately, they removed the article; this link gets you at least to the PQS definition, read down to middle for details). I wrote on this first in 2006 (wow, 11th year of this!  10th anniversary!) and have compiled their stats on a regular basis, so I'm continuing it this season for continuity and historical comparison (there is the "PQS" label that you can click to see the old posts on this). Regular readers can skip to the next section.

This is the Quality Start with a sabermetric DIPS twist, and it gets really easy to calculate once you get used to it. I don't think it's the end all or be all, but then nothing really is that. It is, as I like to say, another piece of the puzzle. A dominating start is scored a 4 or 5 and a disaster start is scored a 0 or 1. DOM% is the percentage of starts that are dominating, DIS% is the percentage of starts that are disasters (any start under 5.0 IP is automatically a 0, or disaster).

What's Good and What's Not

From my observations, a DOM at or above the 40% mark is indicative of good pitching; above 50% is great; above 70% is elite. A low DIS is also indicative of good pitching, just look at the table in the link above showing DOM% and DIS% on the axes.

Basically, you want to see a pitcher's DOM% to be over 40% and ideally over 50%, and you want their DIS to be under 20% and ideally under 10%. For example, Johan Santana has a 76% DOM and 3% DIS in 2006 (2.77 ERA), whereas Orlando Hernandez had a 52% DOM and 28% DIS (4.66 ERA), and Adam Eaton had a 31% DOM and 31% DIS (5.12 ERA). Read the link (unfortunately, they removed the article and thus the table is no longer available, sorry), as I noted, there's a nice chart there showing the combination of high DOM% and low DIS%, and there you can see particularly how a low DIS% is so important to a low ERA.

If you had to chose a high DOM% or a low DIS%, pitchers tend to have a lower ERA when you have a low DIS% vs. a high DOM% (obviously if you combine both, you have a much better chance of having an elite pitcher).  But I think when the DOM% is high enough, you win more by choosing a high DOM% over a low DIS%, as there are more high quality games pitched overall.

I wholeheartedly recommend buying Baseball Forecaster and learning more about their methods of analyzing baseball. It has been greatly illuminating for me, and if you want to get a taste for it without paying full price, they used to sell their old editions of their annuals on their website for half price or less (plus shipping); but that was before he sold the company off, and I haven't checked recently.

Giants Starters' PQS for 2015 Season

Madison Bumgarner- (60% DOM, 0% DIS; 3:0/5):  2, 5, 2, 5, 5/

Matt Cain- (20% DOM, 40% DIS; 1:2/5):  4, 0, 0, 3, 3/

Johnny Cueto - (80% DOM, 0% DIS; 4:0/5):  4, 4, 5, 3, 5/

Chris Heston - (0% DOM, 0% DIS; 0:0/0):  /

Jake Peavy - (20% DOM, 40% DIS; 1:2/5):  3, 0, 2, 4, 0/

Jeff Samardzija - (60% DOM, 0% DIS; 3:0/5):  3, 4, 3, 4, 4/

Giants Season overall - 48% DOM, 16% DIS out of 25 games counted (12:4/25)
Giants Month of April - 48% DOM, 16% DIS out of 25 games counted (12:4/25)

The month of April for PQS was worse than we have been used to from our starting pitchers for a long time now, but common for the past year, unfortunately, and hence why we acquired Cueto and Samardzija.  (FYI, all of this commentary is about their 5th Rotation Turn as well, as it worked that way this season)

And that has been a great success, as Cueto led the rotation in DOM starts in April with 4, followed by Bumgarner and Samardzija with 3 DOM.  Both Peavy and Cain only had 1 DOM start.  And this is mirrored in DIS starts, with Peavy and Cain having 2 DIS starts each, and the rest of the rotation had none.

Again, with Bumgarner as our ace, he got off to a slow start, but without DIS starts as in prior seasons.  First three starts, he had only one DOM.  It should be noted, however, that he was suffering from the effects of the flu in these first three starts, something he would not cop to, but it should still be noted.  He actually did note that he's been struggling to find his mechanics and so far hasn't.

Despite the slow start, and like last season, he righted himself by mid-month and has a streak of 5 PQS starts, including the first start of May.  But unlike last season, he lost to the Dodgers twice, unable to out-duel Kershaw as he did last season.  He actually did beat Kershaw in his first matchup, but the bullpen coughed up the win.  The second time, he was just out pitched (again, I note that he was suffering the effects of the flu in this start).

Being at .500, there were a lot of losses to spread around, as well as wins.  And that is reflected in the SP ERA of 4.81 overall.  Most of the pitchers were good, though.   Cueto led the staff with 2.65 ERA, with Bumgarner at 3.00 ERA, not far behind.  Samardzija did his thing:  in spite of his great 60% DOM/0% DIS, he had a 3.86 ERA.

However, Peavy and Cain have stunk it up for the most part, so far.  8.61 ERA for Peavy, 7.00 ERA for Cain.  Both had K/BB which had been good before but with the strikeout explosion, their 2.43 and 2.33 K/BB, respectively, isn't all that good anymore.  Samardzija was only at 2.60 himself, but Bumgarner had a 3.80 K/BB and Cueto a 6.60 K/BB.

From what I've read, it sounds like Cain is physically sound, but is searching for some extra stamina.  His delayed spring training seems to have put him behind everyone more than had been thought or represented through the media.

I had thought it would be easy for him once healthy, but clearly I was very wrong.  Physically, he seems fine, and he was reported to be throwing easy in the low 90's in his recent starts, so the velocity is there.  And the start of games have gone well for him, it's when he gets to the middle innings that things have gone bad for him, and that is very encouraging, seems like once he gets over the hump, he could be the Cain of old that we all love and respect.  

But his inconsistencies would be more tolerable if Peavy had been at least pitching well, but it is arguable who has been worse, Cain or Peavy.  As well as the top three has been pitching, you can't have two starters who are pitching like 5th starters and do well overall, as there will be times our top guys get out-pitched, or not get supported by the bullpen, or just plain not do well, it happens, they aren't robots.

And Peavy again disappoints to start off the season.  Seems to be a pattern for him, when we got him from Boston, he had a horrible start to the season, and he basically blamed it on their catchers, raving about how great our catchers were, including the backups.  But here we are, two seasons later, same pattern, start off the season pretty bad.  The only great thing is that sometime mid-season, he finally gets right and is pretty much great, until he gets into the playoffs, where something just goes wrong for me (my guess is that he just gets too ramped up to be his good self).

Not that it's entirely their fault.  Brown has a much higher ERA than Posey does, though Buster has a huge advantage in that he catches all of Bumgarner's starts.   Plus, Cain's ERA is doable at 4.96 with Brown, but 10.12 with Posey.   But for Peavy, he's bad with both, 7.58 ERA with Posey, 13.50 ERA with Brown.

But the pattern holds for the better pitchers too (obviously, since Brown overall has been worse).  With Cueto, he has a 2.37 ERA with Posey (though that will change greatly with the Cincy start) vs. 3.86 ERA with Brown.  And for Samardzija, he has a 3.32 ERA with Posey and 4.61 ERA with Brown.  This is probably why Bochy has been mostly having Brown catch whoever happens to be pitching (besides Bumgarner), to spread the pain instead of forcing Brown on one or two other starters.

And, of course, all of this is SSS.

April 2015 Comments

I'm sure that there are fans very disappointed with the results so far, but I think things will look better going forward.  In spite of all the bad pitching, the Giants were 12-13 in April because our offense averaged 4.96 runs scored per game.  And that was with Posey and Crawford, our two top RBI guys from 2015, hitting pretty poorly with RISP so far (they were a combined 5 for 40 in RISP up to the game on May 2nd, when Crawford got a couple of big hits).  If most people stay healthy - and we've already lost some time for Posey, Panik, and now Pagan (again!) - the offense should continue to stoke the fire in the engine.

Although their record is reflective of their Pythagorean (124 runs scored vs. 121 runs allowed), the Giants underperformed in April.  A 48% DOM/16% DIS is actually good, and the dichotomy is shown when examining the Giants record by performance.  Of course, when they get a DOM start they win a lot (10-2) and when they get a DIS start they lose a lot (0-4).  Their problem has been the MID starts:  2-7.

Normally, MID starts are usually somewhere in the middle, around .500:  .521 winning percentage in 2015, .455 in 2014.  Of course, the problem is that the MID starts so far has resulted in 6.12 ERA, which tells the bigger story about why they are 2-7 in such starts:  because they have been disaster results.   They had a 4.45 ERA in MID starts in 2015.

And a lot of this can be attributed to very high BABIP for our starters, as that is where Peavy and Cain have suffered in terms of PQS, in addition to not lasting at least 6 IP (need 6 IP to get 1 PQS added, need hits equal to IP or less than to get another added; without those two, best can get is 3 PQS or less).  Cain had a .357 BABIP while Peavy had a .440 BABIP.  Lots of problems solved if they both can regress to the .300 BABIP mean.

However, bad pitchers eventually are just hittable, BABIP mean or no BABIP mean.  So we don't know yet whether this is a blip that they can pitch out of or a sign of end times.  Peavy is third in the rotation in strikes thrown (64.3%), edging out Samardzija (63.9%), with Cain last but not that far behind Samardzija (63.5%).  Cain is actually third on the team in strikes thrown looking (17.51%), edging out Samardzija (17.48%), but Peavy is a whole percentage point less (16.50%).  However, for swinging strikes, Peavy almost leads the team with 11.0% (Bum had 11.3%), and Cain brought up the rear with only 7.6% (Samardzija didn't get a lot of swing throughs either, only 9.1%).  So it looks like they might be just missing spots right now, but their arms are relatively accurate, or at least not any worse than what Samardzija has been doing.

Given how powerful it is to outpitch the other starter, I've started calculating how many PQS wins and losses (and ties) that happen in starts.  Per that, the Giants should be around 17-8, not 12-13.  This is further supported by the poor results in MID starts and lack of wins in DIS starts, which should have ended up around 15-10.

However, per Game Score (also something new I can calculate and play around with), they are basically where they should be:  average 49 Game Score.  As some might remember, I took at look at Game Score for an analysis of Kyle Crick's performances, as PQS don't work so well when the pitcher rarely makes even 5 IP, let along 6 IP, and linked to some good studies in there.  As I noted in that post, Game Score can be used in a similar way as PQS, in terms of wins (DOM starts), losses (DIS starts), or "ties" (MID starts), so to be clear, here is my view on PQS vs. Game Score:  Game Score tells you how well the pitcher did, PQS tries to tell you how well the pitcher did sabermetrically.  Kind of like the different between and Fangraphs.

Thus, Game Score is a nice stat to use to examine how well a pitcher did, plus give a much finer tool for comparing pitcher's best games, but misses when it is a matter of the baseball bouncing the wrong way in the game, which PQS catches better, I believe.   For example, a team could get two great 60 Game Scores, but then a 30, and that averages out to simply a 50 Game Score.  A team should have a great season doing that in every series, but according to Game Score, the team is simply average.

That is the granularity (or lack thereof) that I love about PQS over Game Score.  A bad game is just a bad game, it does not make other good games look bad, as this example did.   It is kind of like how a bad ERA is not always indicative of how well a pitcher had done, one really bad start will plump up the ERA, even if all the other starts were good.  Still, even if we look only at Game Score Wins and Losses, the Giants are still under .500 (9-11, with 5 ties; I don't really like the term "ties" in this context, as it suggests what the other team did, I would prefer "coin toss" but that's not as short and sweet...).  So by Game Score, the Giants rotation has not been doing that well overall.

Still, the pitching has been great for the top 3.  Cueto was at a great 80% DOM in April, and both Bumgarner and Samardzija were at 60% DOM.  Plus all three were able to avoid a DIS start, which is key to keeping your overall ERA on the lower side.  In other words, 60% of our rotation is doing well, and I think that means we are in a good spot as long as they continue pitching well.  And our back end starters start to pitch better.

Overall, this just goes to show what can happen in SSS.  The Giants are currently 14-13, and that works out to .571 winning percentage at home and .462 winning percentage on the road.  Given that the goal every season is to be .600 at home (49 wins) and .500 on the road (41 wins), they are not that far behind goal, which would put them at 15-12 right now if they were on goal.   Just one win instead of a sweep in Colorado would put us there.  I would like things to be better, but I'm OK with where we are now, we are in pretty good shape overall, I think.

Should There be Changes to the Rotation?  

With Lincecum scheduling his showcase (finally), there are the same reported 20 teams who are interested (making me suspect this number might just be thrown out there by Lincecum's reps), and thus there could be an alternative, as none of our closest SP prospects are doing all that great right now.

I still think Lincecum should be a reliever and not a starter now, that is best for his longevity and results.  However, I think there is some chance that he could still be a very effective starter, especially with reports that his velocity is back into the low 90's (90-91 reported by Heyman, who appears to be Lincecum's agent's mouth piece).  And the Giants are attending, as they have stated their interest a number of times, and he has stated a number of times how he would love to be back with the Giants, but he really wants to be a starter.

Here is how I think the Giants should play it.

  • First off, if any team offers more than $5M to start, let him go.  Under that, I think it's worth a shot to try to get him.  
  • If all the teams want him for a reliever, then the Giants should be in like crazy, he would be great as our long reliever/super utility guy.
  • If a team wants him as a starter for under $5M, then I think the Giants should seriously consider pushing Peavy either onto the DL (he was like Hudson this spring, when asked how he's feeling, he never said straight out that he's feeling good, he said he felt better than last spring - and who wouldn't, his back was out and he still tried to pitch - so I think he could use some additional rest and rehab to get into playing shape, seems to take him 2-3 months) or make him the long reliever (but also kind of super-utility, bringing him in high leverage situations every once in a while) and insert Lincecum in the rotation.  Scenarios:
    • Lincecum does well:  that's obviously good
    • Lincecum tires out like he did in previous seasons:  put Peavy back into rotation, make Lincecum long reliever/super utility
    • Lincecum does OK, just middling:  Up to Giants, but I would put Peavy back in as he was great last season after returning, and make Lincecum the long reliever/super utility guy.  
    • Lincecum does poorly:  we gave it a shot, put Peavy back into the rotation, and the Giants could try Lincecum in long relief, but if he continues to struggle, we DFA him.   I've seen some people worry about doing something like that to a great icon like Lincecum, but I don't think it taints anything, he tried, he failed, we gave it a shot.  That's life.
Given how well, as I've documented here, Lincecum has actually done before either tiring out or losing his mechanics, I think he's worth a shot.  Has nothing to do with his past other than that I think he has done well if used right in recent seasons and we can use a long reliever, and if he can start, all the better, and $5M is pocket change for an MLB team in today's game.  

It's worth a try to get the Lincecum the reliever we got in the 2012 playoffs.  THAT is a weapon.  And with his rubber arm, he can pitch often and in different roles.   Plus he's still young, and he could be a linchpin in the bullpen for the next decade, if he's good (and I doubt he'll showcase himself if he's at least throwing strikes).  And our bullpen is in flux anyway, perhaps he can help steady it.