The Giants Have a Historic Issue Developing Outfielders

Earlier this week, a friend and I were sharing a good laugh about the Giants’ horrendous outfield production this season, when the topic of the upcoming MLB draft arose. The conversation went from humorous to thought provoking when he asked me the following question:

“Who was the last decent homegrown player the Giants have developed at any outfield position?”

I paused. The internal wheels began to spin. “Well, there was…no, they didn’t draft him. But they had…no, he came in a trade. Hm. Um, last legitimate starting outfielder was, uh…”

I flailed. Darren Lewis was the first name I could muster. But Darren Lewis was drafted by the Oakland A’s, and was traded to the Giants in late 1990 after appearing in 25 games with Oakland that season. And he stretched the term “decent” to begin with.

Another friend posited Chili Davis, whom the Giants drafted in 1977. Sure, Chili was a fine homegrown outfielder. Chili was a bright spot on some bad Giants teams in the early 1980s, and was very good when the team returned to the playoffs in 1987. But he was drafted 40 years ago; the franchise has lived at least three life cycles since then. Who is the last true, long term (Which we’ll define as more than two full seasons) starting outfielder the Giants have drafted since the mid-1980s?

Chili

Davis spent his first 7 big league seasons in San Francisco, and went on to reach 350 home runs in his career. Photo Courtesy of pinterest.com

So, with plenty of help from my favorite sources of draft and minor league info: TheBaseballCube.com and BaseballAmerica.com, I dug. I pored through every outfielder the San Francisco Giants drafted from 1985-2015, which came out to more than 100 picks. I left out 2016, because it’s unreasonable to think any pick from last year would have already hit the big leagues. A 30-year period seemed perfect, as it would span five general managers, five managers, and six farm directors (A position, I found, that isn’t officially designated every season).

The results were startling. It wasn’t just my memory failing me when I struggled to come up with an answer to who was the last above-average outfielder drafted by the Giants. San Francisco hasn’t developed a single All-Star outfielder in 30 years, and of the small percentage of their outfield draft picks who have even cracked the big leagues, none have really come close. Let’s take a look at the list of Giants outfield picks since 1985 who had at least one major league plate appearance:

1985-1989

  • Trevor Wilson (drafted as both an OF and pitcher)
  • Ted Wood
  • Reggie Williams
  • Steve Hosey

1990-1999

  • Adam Hyzdu
  • Dax Jones
  • Calvin Murray
  • Marvin Benard
  • Chris Singleton
  • Keith Williams
  • Dante Powell
  • Jacob Cruz
  • Chris Magruder
  • Doug Clark

2000-2009

  • Jason Ellison
  • Adam Shabala
  • Todd Linden
  • Fred Lewis
  • Daniel Ortmeier
  • Travis Ishikawa (1B/OF)
  • John Bowker (1B/OF)
  • Clay Timpner
  • Roger Kieschnick
  • Juan Perez
  • Ryan Lollis

2010-2015

  • Gary Brown
  • Jarrett Parker
  • Mac Williamson
  • Austin Slater

Go ahead, rub your eyes and scroll through again. Unfortunately they aren’t deceiving you. From that illustrious group, let’s break it down further to the players on the list who had a total of 200 or more major league plate appearances with any team:

  • Trevor Wilson (as a pitcher)
  • Adam Hyzdu
  • Calvin Murray
  • Marvin Benard
  • Chris Singleton
  • Jacob Cruz
  • Chris Magruder
  • Jason Ellison
  • Todd Linden
  • Fred Lewis
  • Daniel Ortmeier
  • Travis Ishikawa
  • John Bowker
  • Juan Perez
  • Jarrett Parker

And of those, the players who had at least 200 plate appearances with the Giants:

  • Calvin Murray
  • Marvin Benard
  • Jason Ellison
  • Todd Linden
  • Fred Lewis
  • Daniel Ortmeier
  • Travis Ishikawa
  • John Bowker
  • Juan Perez
  • Jarrett Parker

Next, let’s knock off Bowker and Ishikawa, who appeared in more games as first basemen than they did as outfielders. Finally, let’s whittle it down to the players who had more than 1,000 plate appearances in a Giants uniform, a rough equivalent of two full seasons:

  • Marvin Benard
  • Fred Lewis

There you have it folks, the two most accomplished outfielders drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the last 31 years. Benard, a 50th round pick in the 1992 draft out of Lewis-Clark State College (Idaho), and Lewis, chosen 10 years later in the 2nd round out of Southern (Louisiana).

For a player chosen in a round so late it doesn’t exist anymore, Marvin Benard had a solid major league career. During his four-year peak from 1998-2001, he averaged 12 home runs and 50 RBI per season, posting a 105 OPS+. His best season came in 1999, when he finished the year with a .290 average, 16 homers and 64 runs driven in across 625 plate appearances as the Giants primary center fielder. Not bad for a guy who could have easily been just another minor-league wash out.

Benard Bulldoze

Listed at 5’10, 180 lbs, Marvin Benard was a charter member of the Giants “Fightin’ Hydrants” of the late 1990s. Photo Courtesy of Daily Sports Pages

The expectations for “Freddy Lew” were quite different. Chosen 66th overall, Lewis jumped straight from High-A San Jose to Triple-A Fresno in 2004, finishing the year with a .301 average, .876 OPS, and 34 steals over 121 games. The following season he became Baseball America’s #78 ranked prospect and spent all of 2005 with Double-A Norwich, notching 42 extra-base hits and stealing 30 bags with a respectable .757 OPS.

Next came a full season at Fresno, where Lewis knocked 12 homers and stole another 18 bases, bringing his minor league total to 30 HR and 121 SB across four seasons. Now 25, it appeared the Giants had a talented outfielder capable of being a top-of-the-order hitter with serviceable power, who also brought an element of speed the major league club lacked at the time. Lewis earned a call-up that September and went 5-11 with five runs scored, stirring excitement in a fan base that would soon say goodbye to their larger-than-life left fielder.

After a strong start to the 2007 campaign with Fresno, Lewis was called up in early May to a big league club on it’s way to a last place finish. He burst on to the scene with a cycle against Colorado just four days after his promotion, and hit .287 with a .782 OPS over 180 plate appearances, positioning himself for a starting left field role 2008. All he had to do was take over for arguably the greatest to ever play the game.

San Francisco once again struggled in 2008, but Fred Lewis gave the indication that finally, after 20+ years of homegrown outfield futility, the franchise had found an every day player with big upside. Lewis slashed .282/.351/.440 with 45 extra-base hits and 21 steals, adding 81 runs scored.

But 2009 saw him regress to a .258/.348/.390 line in nearly 200 fewer plate appearances, and the now 28-year-old appeared to run out of time in San Francisco. Andres Torres rose to the starting left field role heading in to 2010, and Lewis was dealt to Toronto in early April. Just like that, the Giants most successful outfield prospect in two decades was gone without ever reaching his anticipated peak.

Since Fred Lewis the Giants have had a couple more false alarms when it came to touted outfield prospects, most notably 2010 1st rounder Gary Brown. The Fullerton product rose to #38 on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects following an outstanding 2011 season in San Jose, but stalled in Triple-A and ended up making a grand total of seven big league plate appearances.

Most recently the Giants have been awaiting the development of 2010 2nd rounder Jarrett Parker and 2012 3rd rounder Mac Williamson. Parker, finally given a chance at a regular starting role in 2017, had a significant portion of his season taken away by the left field wall at AT&T Park. Parker will turn 29 this winter, and after seven seasons in the Giants organization is beginning to run out of time.

Williamson has yet to stick in the big leagues as a result of both injuries and inconsistency, and there have been indications San Francisco is preparing to move on from the soon-to-be 27 year old. Rather than allow Williamson to get significant big league at-bats this season, they opted for a parade of aging replacement players in left field, and after that failed miserably the team has apparently moved on to younger prospects like Orlando Calixte and Austin Slater.

You saw Calixte throw that ball into the stands in Milwaukee, right?

So here’s to Heliot Ramos, whom the Giants selected with the 19th overall pick yesterday. Just 17 years old, with a potentially long baseball life in front of him.

Fingers crossed.

-AC

 

 

 

Is This the Best Rockies Team Ever?

As spring turns to summer in the MLB season, misleading first months give way to a clearer picture of which teams will contend, and which will prepare to endure a long season. The expected cream of the National League — the Dodgers, Nationals, and Cubs — have taken their expected seats at or near the tops of their divisions. However, one club few saw coming is emerging as a dangerous pennant party crasher. If the season ended today, the Colorado Rockies would be the No. 1 seed in the NL, and would host the wild card winner in Game 1 of the division series at Coors Field.

It is the Rockies though, they’ll fall back to the pack, right? They always bring the bats, but they don’t pitch, and they don’t play well on the road. Well, not so fast. We may be looking at the best team Colorado has ever fielded.

For the bulk of the last quarter century, one didn’t have to look much higher than 4th place in the NL West in order to find the Colorado Rockies. In spite of stars like Walker, Helton, Castilla, Galarraga, Tulowitzski, and Gonzalez rolling through Denver over the years, Colorado has endured seven 90-loss seasons. They’ve finished last in the NL West six times, and fourth place eight times. While the club has made three playoff appearances, all came via the wild card. Now in their 25th season, the Rockies still seek their first ever division crown.

BlakeBombers2

From L-R, Colorado’s “Blake Street Bombers” of the mid-1990s: Dante Bichette, Larry Walker, Vinny Castilla, and Andres Galarraga. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times

There has been short periods of winning baseball scattered among all of the losing seasons. Colorado posted three consecutive winning seasons from 1995-1997, powered by a wrecking crew offense that defined the Coors Field mystique as a hitter’s paradise. However, nine consecutive losing seasons followed before the Rockies would return to the playoffs in 2007, led by MVP runner-up Matt Holliday, star rookie Troy Tulowitzski, and ace-to-be Jeff Francis.

That team stood just 54-52 on August 1 but famously captured lightning in a bottle in September, winning 13 of their final 14 regular season games and besting San Diego in a legendary game 163 to secure the wild card. “Rocktober” was born, and Colorado rode the tremendous momentum all the way to the National League pennant before being swept in the World Series by the Boston Red Sox.

In 2009, on the strength of the most successful starting rotation in team history (Five starters with double-digit wins) the Rockies set the franchise mark with 92 wins, but were bested in four games in the NLDS by the eventual pennant winning Philadelphia Phillies. The team managed 83 wins the following season, but finished a distant third place in the NL West.

It’s been a walk through the darkness for Colorado since then, as they entered 2017 on a string of six consecutive losing seasons that includes three years of 94+ losses. That streak appears bound to be broken this season however, as the Rockies have steamed out to a 41-24 start and currently sit atop the NL West. They’ve done it not only with a typically stellar offense, but with surprisingly good starting pitching and one of the best back-end bullpens in baseball.

It always begins with the bats in Colorado, and they’ve been led this season by break out star Charlie Blackmon, established stud Nolan Arenado, and veteran Mark Reynolds, who at 33-years-old is on his way to a career year. The trio has a combined .290 average with 46 homers and 152 RBI through the season’s first 65 games. Blackmon currently leads the major leagues in hits, is sixth in batting average, and sits third in RBI, just behind Reynolds. Arenado is second in the majors in doubles and ranks ninth in RBI.

mark-reynolds

Always known for his prodigious power and propensity for huge strikeout totals, Mark Reynolds’ average has sat above .300 for most of the season. Photo Courtesy of roxpile.com

Blackmon, Reynolds, and Arenado have been so impressive they’ve more than made up for slow starts from Trevor Story and Carlos Gonzalez, and a relative drop-off from reigning NL batting champ D.J. LeMahieu (who still ranks sixth in the NL in hits). Colorado leads baseball in runs scored, and one could still argue they have not fully hit their stride offensively.

While we’ve come to expect gaudy offensive numbers from the Rockies, lack of starting pitching has been a perennial issue for the franchise for most of it’s existence. Ace starters would rather run through Hades in gasoline underwear than make 15 starts a year at Coors, and as a result Colorado has turned to developing starters from the ground up. Homegrown rookies Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland have combined for 15 wins in 25 starts and have emerged as the leaders of the rotation.

Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez, another pair of rookies acquired via trade as minor leaguers, have added 8 more wins over 13 starts. Overall, the Rockies starters lead the major leagues with 32 wins, and they’ve done that without a single victory from projected ace Jon Gray, who has been on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his left foot that will keep him sidelined through June.

Seattle Mariners v Colorado Rockies

The #3 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Jon Gray was a 10-game winner in his first full season in 2016 and could provide a huge boost to the Rockies’ rotation down the stretch. Photo Courtesy of ESPN.com

Not only have the Rockies gotten length from their starters (Averaging nearly 6 IP per start) they’ve been witness to a dominant comeback from former all-star closer Greg Holland, who missed all of 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Holland leads all of baseball with 23 saves, and has a minuscule 0.89 WHIP to go along with a 1.14 ERA. Jake McGee, a big offseason acquisition following the 2015 season, has bounced back from a rough 2016 and regained the form that made him one of the best middle relievers in the AL with Tampa Bay. Toss in Adam Ottavino, who had been very effective prior to a recent bout with shoulder inflammation landing him on the DL, and you have the makings of a shut down bullpen at the end of games.

What about the Rockies historic struggles playing on the road? It’s not just a biased perception. The 2009 team that set the franchise record for wins went 41-40 on the road, the only club to date with a winning road record in team history. The 2017 version? All they’ve done is win nine road series, good for a 24-11 record away from the friendly confines of Coors Field.

Are you convinced the Rockies are a legitimate contender yet? Ok, because there’s more. In addition to an already potent lineup, the Rockies have depth on the bench that is already paying dividends. Major acquisition Ian Desmond, slated to be the club’s starting first baseman heading into the campaign, has been forced into a utility role thanks to Reynolds taking command of the position. Gerardo Parra, who has served as the primary left fielder, was hitting .318 prior to hitting the DL this week with a quadriceps strain. No sweat for Colorado, as Desmond now easily slides in as the starting left fielder for the duration.

Alexi Amarista, a former starter in San Diego, has taken on a bench role with Colorado and is currently hitting .329. This is a team built to withstand injuries, and the ups and downs of a big league season.

Still, I’m not ready to crown the Rockies NL West champs and World Series contenders just yet. The team has ridden rookie starting pitchers thus far, but there is still 100 games left in the regular season, and the league could still figure out some of the Rockies youngsters. Assuming they will get a healthy and effective Jon Gray back for the stretch run, this team still needs a veteran starter to push them over the top, and they have the farm system to do it. MLB Pipeline ranked the Rockies system No. 8 prior to the season.

The White Sox Jose Quintana immediately comes to mind as a candidate, as does the Royals Jason Vargas, although Vargas’ high fly ball percentage may not serve him well in Denver. Regardless, the Rockies should dive heavily into the starting pitching market at the deadline, and they just may find themselves playing late October baseball.

-AC

Blossoming Blach Brightening Bleak 2017

Heading in to the 2017 season, the main question surrounding the Giants largely set starting rotation was how long Matt Cain could last in the fifth starter role before being yanked in favor of Ty Blach. Then a certain two-wheeled travesty took place, and the course of San Francisco’s season and potentially it’s future was altered. As many expected, Blach entered the rotation in late April, but it was to replace the current ace, not the former.

It began earnestly, with a five inning effort against the Dodgers in which Blach allowed 4 hits and two earned runs in a tough luck 2-1 loss. Since then, with the exception of a rogue clunker in Cincinnati, Blach has emerged as the Giants stopper and most consistent starter, going 7 innings or more in 6 of his last 7 starts. His recent brilliance culminated Friday night with his first career complete game shutout, a tidy 112-pitch gem in which he walked none and did not allow an extra-base hit, notching his fourth consecutive win.

Sure it came against a plummeting Philadelphia Phillies team that ranks 13th in the NL in runs scored (just ahead of the 14th ranked Giants) but it was the type of performance that showcased Blach’s efficient, polished style. With a fastball that averages right around 90 mph and no true swing-and-miss pitch, the 26-year old’s pitch to contact approach looks more like a seasoned veteran who’s learned to win with less than a rookie in his first full big league season.

While it’s no sleight against Blach, it’s in sharp contrast to the blue chip starter formula that generally calls for a 95+mph fastball and a devastating breaking ball. The Creighton product primarily relies on a sinking fastball and change up, mixing in a slider and curve ball that rarely generate swinging strikes. It’s a style that’s a joy to watch as a fan, keeping games crisp and moving quickly, and it is well known its beneficial to the defense playing behind Blach. To that point, San Francisco has not made an error in any of the rookie’s last 5 starts.

Brooksbaseball-Chart

Ty Blach’s whiff percentage by pitch type. While he saw a slight uptick in swinging strikes on his fastball and breaking balls in May, the left-hander still did not have a whiff rate higher than 8% for any of his pitches. Data courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net

Don’t expect any Bumgarn-ian blasts from Blach, but he has shown some competency with the bat as well. Aside from his noted dominance of All-World ace Clayton Kershaw, Blach nearly made history Friday night when he came within one ball of walking in four straight at-bats, which would have made him the first pitcher since 1950 to draw four walks in a game. His OPS now sits at .521, 37 points higher than that of center fielder Gorkys Hernandez.

As Blach continues to impress in the starting rotation, the question becomes: What will the Giants do with the rookie upon Madison Bumgarner’s return? Given his performance, it seems unlikely he’ll be sent back to the bullpen, but thus far Matt Cain has performed well enough to keep his fifth spot in the rotation. The decision will depend largely on a) How soon Bumgarner will make his return and b) Who the Giants trade if they do indeed become sellers. The club expects Bumgarner to be ready sometime during the month of July, but there are still two full months until the trade deadline. Will the Giants move a starter prior to July 31st?

It’s tough to say. With the West emerging as the most competitive division in the National League, it would take a remarkable run to vault San Francisco back in to the playoff race. However, if the team can crawl back to somewhere near the .500 mark by midseason, will that be enough to convince the front office that the nucleus of a contender remains in place, and they should largely stay the course with the current roster? The precedent is there; the Giants were on their way to a losing season in 2013 and chose to keep potential trade pieces Hunter Pence and Javier Lopez, and we know what happened the following year.

-AC

Obligatory Brawl Take

It was just a Giants game like any other, with the team’s impotent offense on full display. Until it wasn’t.

By now you’ve watched the replays 247 times, read every national pundit’s take on who was right, who was wrong, who’s a wussy and who’s not. Your fingers are probably aching from furious keystrokes after being embroiled in a half dozen social media debates.

Maybe you’ve torn your Buster Posey poster down, for a coward will not adorn the walls of your cubicle. Or perhaps you’ve reached out to him on Twitter, applauding him for abstaining from battle, like the level-headed, positive role model you always knew he was.

By now you’ve taken up your side, and you’re more than likely sticking to it. It probably sounds something like this: “Harper’s an a**, I loved every minute” or “Strickland’s a salty bum, what a crybaby”. Right?

I’m not here to cast blame, nor am I here to say who was justified and who was not. Plenty of others have already contributed to that portion of the discussion. What I am here to say, is those criticizing Buster Posey for not coming to Strickland’s aid are surely barking up the wrong tree.

Posey Concussion

Buster Posey “selfishly” tries to avoid further blows to the head these days. Photo via USA Today

We all have that one friend who has a few too many at the bar, and starts going on about what grinds his or her gears, who’s pissing them off, and who deserves a straight right to the jaw. And with that friend comes your other friend, trying to deescalate, “Calm down bud, he ain’t hurtin’ nobody”. But they keep insisting, keep glaring across the bar at that one guy who “keeps lookin’ at me funny, somebody should teach him a lesson.” Maybe some words are exchanged, and the bartender comes over to peacemaker friend, and let’s him know that maybe it’s time for aggressor friend to get an Uber.

But when peacemaker friend looks up, aggressor friend has already walked to the other side of the bar and shoved someone in the chest. It’s on now, and aggressor friend is getting what he was looking for. Patrons and bouncers step in and separate the combatants, and escort them outside. Peacemaker friend shakes his head, but he saw it coming. He’s not going to hold it against aggressor friend, because aggressor friend is, well, kind of aggressive in general. But it was not peacemaker friend’s battle, nor was it his responsibility to get involved.

Now, there are those who live by the code of always stand up for your friends, regardless of the situation or circumstances. And while they may feel that keeps their band of brotherhood intact, it’s probably also roped them into situations that weren’t good for them, and weren’t of their doing.

Buster Posey is not an enforcer, he’s the captain. He’s the guy that has to see beyond personal squabbles, and what he sees is a team that was supposed to compete for the playoffs sitting 11 games out of first place, fighting to escape the quick sand they now find themselves waist deep in. His concern is winning, not getting even, and you have to believe he was frustrated that even for just a brief moment, with two outs and nobody on base, Hunter Strickland decided it was time to settle the score.

And now, even though he didn’t join the fracas, peacemaker friend is going to have to watch his back the next time he sits down at that bar.

-AC

 

NL West Round Up: 5/17-5/24

With just one week left in May, the MLB season is nearing its 1/3 mark. Misleading Aprils have given way to more concrete ideas of who will contend and who won’t, and the NL West is shaping up to be the most competitive division in the senior circuit in 2017. Let’s take a look at where the Giants’ division rivals stand in this week’s round up:

1. Colorado Rockies: 31-17

The Rockies became the first National League team to reach 30 wins this week, and are tied with the Houston Astros for the major league lead in victories. We expect Colorado to bring offensive thunder every year, but this year’s young pitching staff is exceeding expectations, and have done it largely without projected ace Jon Gray. Rookies Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland have a combined 11-3 record, and 22 year-old second year man German Marquez has filled in admirably for the injured Gray.

While the rotation has relied on youngsters, the Rockies bullpen is stocked with veterans off to strong starts. Jake McGee has regained the form that made him a top reliever with Tampa Bay, and Adam Ottavino appears to be bouncing back after injury plagued 2015-2016 seasons. Most impressive of all has been Greg Holland, who missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Holland leads the MLB with 19 saves in 19 chances, and has a 0.96 ERA and 0.84 WHIP.

On offense, the Rockies have arguably the best 1-7 in all of baseball, with Charlie Blackmon leading the way at the top of the order. Blackmon has emerged as a perennial All-Star candidate, and leads the majors in hits, RBI, and triples. Nolan Arenado has been as steady as ever, with a .293/.349/.574 line to go along with 12 homers and 33 RBI heading into Thursday’s contest. Mark Reynolds was so outstanding filling in for the injured Ian Desmond that he’s implanted himself as the team’s first baseman. He’s slashed .311/.387/.561, with 12 home runs and 39 RBI. D.J. LeMahieu, the reigning NL batting champion, has not quite matched last year’s output thus far but still ranks 7th in the NL in hits.

Charlie-Blackmon-Swing

After career highs across the board in 2016, Charlie Blackmon has ascended to one of the top center fielders in baseball.

Colorado has not had a winning June since 2011, so the upcoming month will be crucial in determining whether or not this team is a legitimate NL powerhouse.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks: 29-19

The Dbacks had high hopes heading into the 2016 season, thanks to the additions of top end starters Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller. It turned out to be a disaster in the desert however, with a down year from Greinke and a combined 40 losses from Miller, Patrick Corbin, and Robbie Ray. Arizona finished with 93 losses, and both manager Chip Hale and GM Dave Stewart were shown the door. Still, the Dbacks had a young and talented core in place, and it appears they are back with a vengeance in 2017.

Greinke has regained the form that made him baseball’s highest paid player, and currently sits at 6-2 with a 2.82 ERA. While Arizona got the unfortunate news that Miller would undergo TJ and miss the rest of the year, Ray and Corbin have pitched much better, and offseason acquisition Taijuan Walker (recently placed on the DL with a blister issue) has been a key pick up thus far. Closer Fernando Rodney has had a few rough outings of late, but has still managed to notch 12 saves. Former starter Archie Bradley and left hander Andrew Chafin have stepped up big for the Dbacks pen, allowing just six earned runs in 36 innings of work combined.

Like division leading Colorado, offense is not in short supply in the desert. Arizona ranks in the top three in the NL in hits, home runs, batting average, slugging, runs scored, and stolen bases. Jake Lamb has emerged as a franchise third baseman to couple with resident MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, and the pair have combined for 24 homers and 77 RBI on the young season. Chris Owings has been a surprise bright spot on offense, coming into Thursday with a .321 average while serving as a utility man extraordinaire on defense.

Lamb-Goldie

Lamb and Goldie look to have the corner infield locked down for the foreseeable future in Arizona.

Arizona did take another injury hit this week however, as star center fielder A.J. Pollock was place on the 10-day DL with a strained groin, and will likely miss all of Arizona’s upcoming 11-game road trip. The Diamondbacks will play a four game series against NL Central contender Milwaukee before traveling to Pittsburgh for a three game series. The club will wrap up the trip with a four game series against Miami before returning home to the friendly confines of Chase Field on June 6.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers: 27-20

Slated as a World Series contender by many heading into the 2017 season, the Dodgers went just 14-12 in April, but have bounced back for a 13-8 mark thus far in May and currently sit 3.5 games behind Colorado. Clayton Kershaw has been his typically dominant self, but its been up and down for the rest of the Los Angeles starting rotation. Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda have both spent time on the disabled list, and Hyun-Jin Ryu has struggled with his command as well as allowing the long ball. Depth is a hallmark of this club however, and the Dodgers have seen solid work from Brandon McCarthy and a stellar start from Alex Wood. Wood enters Thursday with a 5-0 record and 1.88 ERA, and his 213 ERA+ actually outpaces Kershaw’s 203.

Where the Dodgers have truly excelled is in the bullpen, which ranks tops in the National League with a 3.01 ERA. Kenley Jansen has been as dominant as ever, with an absurd 16.5 K/9. He’s struck out 33 and has yet to walk a batter in 18 IP. Journeyman Josh Fields is having the best season of his career (0.92 ERA, 0.91 WHIP) and Pedro Baez has picked up where he left off last year as one of the top work horses in the NL.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Pittsburgh Pirates

Already an All-Star, if Kenley Jansen can maintain his current dominance, he could become the first reliever to win the Cy Young award since Eric Gagne in 2003.

On offense, Cody Bellinger is looking every bit like the star the organization anticipated, leading the club in both homers (9) and RBI (25) with an OPS+ of 151. Corey Seager has shown no signs of a sophomore slump, slashing .284/.384/.485 to pair with 7 homers and 23 RBI. In Seager and Bellinger, the Dodgers appear to have a tandem that will be a thorn in the side of their NL West rivals for years to come. Justin Turner, coming off a career year in 2016, currently leads all of baseball with a .379 average, but just landed on the DL with a Grade 1 hamstring strain. The team does not believe the injury will keep Turner out far beyond the minimum 10 days.

Of some concern for the Dodgers may be veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who currently has a .325 SLG and has yet to homer this season. This appears to be a continuation of a growing trend for the 34 year-old, who posted the lowest OPS+ (112) of any full season in his career last year. Center fielder Joc Pederson has also struggled, with a .200/.305/.408 line and a meager 68 OPS+. As previously stated however, depth is a major strength for Los Angeles, and one has to believe the cream will rise, and the Dodgers will be at or near the top of the division by midseason.

4. San Francisco Giants: 20-28

We cover this team with just a bit more depth in other sections of this website.

5. San Diego Padres: 17-31

The Padres were a near unanimous choice to finish at the bottom of the NL West, and they’ve been kind enough to oblige. It’s going to be a long season for San Diego, as the team appears poised to lose 95+ games. The Friars have a -90 run differential, and have actually outperformed their 15-33 Pythagorean W-L record. Not surprisingly, Wil Myers leads the club in nearly every offensive category, but is also third in the NL with a whopping 55 strikeouts. Ryan Schimpf however, is taking baseball’s all or nothing trend to new heights, with a full 50% of his 22 hits leaving the ballpark. Prized rookie Manuel Margot has shown flashes of what has the Padres excited for his future, but went just 2-17 in the last week.

Wil Myers

For the Padres it’s Wil Myers and a whole bunch of, yikes.

San Diego has struggled on the mound as well, allowing the most runs in the National League. They have the second highest team ERA in the league, and only the Phillies and Marlins (9) have gotten fewer wins from their starters. Clayton Richard has been a relative bright spot, ranking 6th in the NL in innings pitched, and Brad Hand has a 1.73 ERA in relief.

It won’t get any easier for the Padres next week, as they travel to Washington for a three game set with the NL East leading Nats, then return home to play the defending champion Cubs for three.

 

-AC

 

Nunez stabilizing left field, but could that be a problem?

Don’t look now, but Eduardo Nunez is heating up. The sometimes maligned, exiled third baseman turned left fielder is 7-20 with 2 HR and 4 RBI over his last 5 games, and is sitting at .300/.315/.471 with those two homers, six doubles, and 10 RBI overall in May. While many attribute the Giants improved play recently to the power surge from Buster Posey, in addition to the returns of Brandon Crawford and Denard Span to the line up, the increased production from Nunez cannot be overlooked.

The 2016 midseason acquisition ranks second on the team in hits, tied for second in RBI, tied for first in doubles, is third in runs scored and fourth in batting average. And while some may consider it the result of overaggressive “hacking” at the plate, his 8.8% K-rate is by far the lowest of his career. For a Giants team that brings very little overall speed to the table, it’s better to see the club’s biggest (only?) base stealing threat put the ball in play at a high rate.

Toss in the fact Nunez has made a few stellar grabs in left that have helped offset some of his early gaffes, and all of a sudden it appears that when Hunter Pence returns from the DL, San Francisco will have some semblance of a regular starting outfield. Nunez has already appeared in more games in left than any other Giant this season, and it looks like the club will allow Christian Arroyo to work through any struggles at the big league level.

So should we get used to the idea of Nunez as the starter moving forward as the team attempts to get back into the race? Or is he still merely an extended stop-gap solution?

Many Giants fans will be quick to shout that he could not possibly be a long-term fit in left field, and they could be right. After all, it took a series of unfortunate events and a black hole of production from the position to force the Giants to toss Nunez out there, figuring that at the very least they could keep his bat in the line up and deal with any defensive misadventures he may have.

nunez-eduardo-giants-left

Nunez has certainly made Giants fans nervous with his outfield play, but with consistent innings the club hopes he can put the team’s left field woes to rest for the time being. Photo courtesy of CSN Bay Area

But if Nunez continues to produce with the bat, improve in the field, and the club continues its upswing in the win column, does it become a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” situation? Or does it simply give the Giants more leverage to move Nunez at the deadline in order to acquire a “true” left fielder or a bullpen piece?

Unfortunately the longer Nunez plays left field, the less value he may have in a trade. Could the Giants still shop him as a third baseman after he spends two months in left field? It’s unlikely any contender looking to fill a hole in the outfield would place Nunez high on their list of viable targets, so he becomes more of a utility knife, and not one that will command a huge return by himself. The Giants would still need to include a package of prospects around him, and may be hesitant to do so given the sparse pickings in their minor league system.

Looking around the league at potential contenders who may look to add at the deadline, the Red Sox are the only team that could have a hole at third base. With the future of Pablo Sandoval uncertain, Boston has seen little production from the position as they’ve shuffled through several players. Deven Marrero, brother of Chris Marrero, is the current starter and comes in to Monday with a .139/.184/.194 line. The Red Sox starting outfield (Benintendi, Bradley, Betts) is untouchable, but an experienced bullpen arm like Joe Kelly could be a potential target for Evans and Co.

Aside from Boston, San Francisco could have trouble finding a market for Nunez. If that’s the case, perhaps we will see the 29 year-old make the full transition to the outfield as the season progresses.

The Giants have won three championships without the benefit of a “real” left fielder, maybe it’s their rabbit’s foot in disguise.

-AC

 

The 1997 San Francisco Giants: 20 Years Later (Part II)

In Part 1 (found below), we discussed the climate surrounding the Giants in late 1996, and the series of offseason roster moves that created an overnight contender heading into 1997. Today, we’ll cover the second half of the 1997 season, all leading up to the thrilling two-game set with the Dodgers that September, and the eventual clinching of the NL West.

The White Flag Trade

On the final day of July, the Giants and White Sox agreed to a nine-player deal that became infamously known to White Sox fans as “The White Flag Trade”. While Chicago stood just 3.5 games out of first place in the AL Central, GM Jerry Reinsdorf traded three pitchers; starters Danny Darwin and Wilson Alvarez, as well as relief ace Roberto Hernandez, for a package of six minor-leaguers that included Mike Caruso, Bobby Howry, and Keith Foulke.

Osvaldo Fernandez had made his last appearance of the season on June 25th, and just a week after the deadline deal, VanLandingham was waived. While Darwin and Alvarez would provide a steady presence at the end of the rotation, Roberto Hernandez was the key figure in the trade, as he joined Tavarez, Rodriguez, and Rod Beck in forming a staunch bullpen.

Hernandez ChiSox

When Roberto Hernandez arrived in San Francisco, he brought a career 2.87 ERA and 161 saves with him. Photo Courtesy of ESPN.com

The White Flag Trade received the majority of the publicity, however it was a much quieter deal made two weeks before the deadline that set the stage for the most memorable moment of the 1997 season. On July 16th, the Giants sent catcher and former first-round pick Marcus Jensen to Detroit in a straight up exchange for Tigers catcher (and Stanford alum) Brian Johnson. A part time player with Detroit, Johnson was acquired to replace the struggling Rick Wilkins (who was soon released) and became the Giants primary catcher for the season’s final two months, knocking 11 homers and driving in 27 runs over 56 games.

Boosted by the new acquisitions, the Giants went 16-13 in August, but still found themselves 2.5 games behind the Dodgers as the campaign entered it’s final month. For the first time since the 1982 season, the arch rivals were locked in a playoff race that was going to come down to the wire.

September

Oddly enough, in the days before the unbalanced schedule, the two teams would face each other just twice in the month of September. Scoreboard watching took on a new gravity as the clubs battled to the finish. The Florida Marlins held a comfortable lead in the Wild Card race, meaning it was division or bust for the NL West foes.

Up two games on September 7th, the Dodgers went on a five-game slide, allowing the Giants to pull even on September 14th. The Giants dropped their next two games to the powerhouse Braves however, while Los Angeles swept a two game series over the Cardinals.

That set up the match up that would define the season, as the Dodgers entered 3Com Park on Wednesday, September 17th up two games in the division. 56,625 fans, the Giants largest home crowd of the season (by a comfortable margin), packed the venerable concrete hulk to watch 12-game winner Kirk Rueter toe the slab against the Dodgers 13-game winner Chan Ho Park.

In a game that took a tidy 2 hours and 26 minutes, Rueter out-dueled Park, allowing just one run on four hits over seven strong innings. Park only allowed two hits himself, but a 2-run first inning homer off the bat of Barry Bonds was the difference in the ballgame. Roberto Hernandez entered in the 8th and slammed the door, and the Giants had cut the Dodgers’ lead to just one game.

The following day, another 52,000 stormed through the Candlestick gates for a game that began at 9:40AM local time. The pitching match up featured two veterans, as 39 year-old Tom Candiotti faced off against the 34 year-old Terry Mulholland. Mulholland, a former first round pick by the Giants, had been reacquired in early August and was making a spot start in place of the injured Mark Gardner.

The Giants led 2-1 after four innings, and put up three more runs in the fifth on the strength of a 3-run bomb from Bonds, his 35th of the season. The Dodgers struck back with two in the top of the 6th however, thanks in part to an error by Gold Glover J.T. Snow to begin the inning.

Mulholland would be relieved in the seventh by Julian Tavarez, who retired Wilton Guerrero to begin the inning before allowing singles to Todd Hollandsworth and Eric Young. Dusty Baker then pulled Tavarez in favor of Roberto Hernandez, who entered with runners at the corners and one out. A stolen base moved Young to second, but Hernandez fanned Otis Nixon for the second out. But in stepped MVP candidate Mike Piazza, who lined a two-run single to left that knotted the game at 5-5.

The Giants would load the bases with one out in the bottom of the seventh, but Mark Lewis lined in to a double play to end the threat. After Doug Henry tossed a perfect 1-2-3 top of the 8th, the Giants put runners on first and second with two outs in the bottom half of the inning, only to strand two more men as Snow popped out to end the inning.

The teams traded zeros in the ninth before “Shooter” took the hill for the top of the 10th. Beck allowed three consecutive singles to begin the inning, and it appeared inevitable the Dodgers would take the lead. Up came Todd Zeile, who stepped in with 27 home runs and 85 RBIs on the season. Beck struck out the slugger looking however, before facing pinch hitter Eddie Murray, in the final season of a Hall of Fame career. This time Beck was able to induce an inning-ending double play, miraculously escaping the bases-loaded, no out jam unscathed.

Shooter

Few players were more synonymous with Giants baseball in the 1990s than Shooter, who recorded 199 saves with San Francisco. Photo Courtesy of sfgate.com

It appeared then, that fate was on San Francisco’s side.

After both bullpens recorded three up, three down innings in the 11th, the game moved to the 12th still tied at 5-5. Beck, still in the game and rolling following his escape in the 10th, retired the Dodgers in order in the top of the inning.

As the game crept into it’s fourth hour, catcher Brian Johnson stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the 12th inning. He would face Dodgers left-hander Mark Guthrie, in to relieve Todd Worrell. Johnson had already reached based three times on the day, with two base hits and a walk. He had struck out in his other two plate appearances.

On this day however, one swing would forever place him in San Francisco Giants lore. The Oakland native and Stanford alum sent Guthrie’s first pitch screaming in to the left field bleachers for a game ending homer, tying the NL West race and sending the home crowd into delirium. Both arms extended above his head, Johnson was greeted by a mob of teammates at home plate, and took his curtain call as chants of “Beat LA” echoed into the early afternoon sky.

It was arguably the biggest moment at Candlestick Park since the Loma Prieta quake struck before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series, but one that fans will remember fondly instead of with grave reverence.

While the moment was huge, the Giants were still far from securing their first trip to the postseason in seven years. They had nine games yet to play: two with Colorado and a whopping seven with the San Diego Padres. The Dodgers would finish the season with the inverse, with two against the Padres and seven against the Rockies. The Rockies stood at 79-75, while the Padres were scuffling at 73-81.

Momentum, schedule, and fate were all on the Giants side, and they would deliver. The Dodgers were swept at home by the Rockies following the walk-off in San Francisco, while the Giants took two of three from the Padres. Los Angeles would never get closer than 1.5 games for the rest of the season, as the Giants would win six of nine, clinching the division with a 6-1 victory over the Padres on September 27th. Fittingly, it was a Rod Beck strike out that sealed the NL West.

Bonds, who had up to then been criticized during his time in San Francisco for his brooding, “diva” attitude celebrated arm in arm with fans behind the Giants dugout. He stayed to absorb the moment while many teammates headed to the clubhouse for the team celebration. More than four years after signing the superstar, the Giants were finally heading to the postseason.

Unfortunately for Giants fans, while San Francisco may have been the team of destiny during the regular season, they ran into the team that may have been fate’s favorite in the postseason. The Florida Marlins won the first two games of the NLDS via walk-off hits, and would secure the third and clinching game in San Francisco with a 6-2 victory. They would go on to defeat a stellar Atlanta Braves team that won 101 games for the NL pennant, and defeat the Cleveland Indians in one of the most memorable World Series in baseball history.

While the playoff run was short-lived, the 1997 Giants ushered in a new era of winning baseball for San Francisco, which would finish with a winning record every year from 1998-2004, including a run of four straight 90+ win seasons from 2000-2004. The opening of Pacific Bell Park in the year 2000, coupled with a 97-win team, marked the complete revitalization of a franchise that was on the precipice of leaving the city just eight years prior.

But most importantly, it was the first season in which your author was old enough to fully pay attention and be aware of what was happening in a Major League game, and I have fond memories of raising two fists in the air following neighborhood round-trippers. A lifelong love affair had begun, and here I sit, 20 years later, just as smitten with a team and a game that has been the guiding light of my life.

Thanks, Brian.

-AC

 

 

1997 San Francisco Giants Notables:

Position Players:

Barry Bonds: .291/.446/.585, 40 HR, 101 RBI, 37 SB

Jeff Kent: .250/.316/.474, 29 HR, 121 RBI

J.T. Snow: .287/.381/.510,  28 HR, 104 RBI

Bill Mueller: .292 BA (led team)

Stan Javier: 25 SB

Jose Vizcaino: 151 hits (2nd on team)

Pitchers:

Shawn Estes: 19-5, 3.18 ERA, 181 K

Kirk Rueter: 13-6, 3.45 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

Rich Rodriguez: 71 G, 3.17 ERA, 131 ERA+

Julian Tavarez: 89 G (led league)

Rod Beck: 3.47 ERA, 37 SV

Roberto Hernandez: 28 G (after 7/31 acquisition), 2.48 ERA, 4 SV

 

 

 

The 1997 San Francisco Giants: 20 Years Later (Part I)

The Loma Prieta Hangover

After a lopsided defeat in the earthquake-mired 1989 World Series, hard times would fall upon the San Francisco Giants in the early 1990s. Following a 90-loss 1992 season in which attendance at Candlestick Park dropped to 1.5 million, it took a famous 11th hour push from a Peter McGowan-led ownership group and a vote from National League owners to block the sale of the Giants to a Tampa-based group that would have moved the team to St. Petersburg.

The effort to save major league baseball in San Francisco seemed to rally the Giants as they headed in to the 1993 campaign, and new ownership staked their commitment to bringing winning baseball back to the city by signing reigning National League MVP Barry Bonds. Bonds made an immediate impact with the Giants, setting career highs with 46 home runs and 123 RBIs, and joined established stars Matt Williams, Will Clark and Robby Thompson in forming a powerhouse team. However, in spite of the MVP season from Bonds, 38 homers from Williams, and the presence of two 20-game winners in the rotation (Bill Swift and John Burkett), the 103 win Giants infamously missed the playoffs by a game; an occurrence that many believe helped push divisional expansion and the creation of the Wild Card.

1993Giants

The 1993 Giants led the NL West by as many as 10 games as late as July 22, but still could not hold off a furious Atlanta Braves run. Photo courtesy of thisgreatgame.com

Following the demoralizing end to the 1993 season, the Giants were unable to replicate the same success in the strike-shortened 1994 and 1995 seasons, and by 1996 had fallen to the bottom of the National League, losing 94 games and seeing home attendance drop to second-lowest in the league. There was no question the star-studded 49ers were the toast of San Francisco, and the Giants were merely attempting to regain respectability after missing the playoffs in seven straight years.

Dawn of the Sabean Age

On September 30, 1996, senior vice president of player personnel Brian Sabean was promoted to general manager, taking over for Bob Quinn. Sabean wasted little time making a splash, trading homegrown favorite and four-time All-Star Williams to the Indians in exchange for 2B Jeff Kent, SS Jose Vizcaino, RHP Julian Tavarez, and a player to be named (RHP Joe Roa). Sabean was mercilessly criticized for the move, as fans saw a beloved All-Star swapped in exchange for what was at the time an underwhelming trio.

Kent, in spite of a couple of 20-homer seasons during his stint with the Mets, was traded to Cleveland in the middle of the 1996 season, and failed to make a major impact with the Indians. Vizcaino had been traded four times in six seasons since his 1990 debut with the Dodgers and was a productive player, but not one that would make fans forget Williams. He had shared the middle infield with Kent in New York, and was also included in the deal that sent the second baseman to Cleveland. The pair would presumably fill the middle infield gaps left by departing free agents Shawon Dunston and Thompson.

Kent Mets

Kent, a UC Berkeley product, was originally drafted by the Blue Jays, but did not see significant big league time until a trade to the New York Mets in 1992. Photo courtesy of pinterest.com

Tavarez had burst on to the scene at age 22 with an outstanding rookie campaign for the 1995 AL pennant winning Indians, but endured a rough 1996 season that made him expendable in the eyes of title-contending Cleveland. In him Sabean saw a viable set-up man for resident closer Rod Beck.

That move came on November 13, 1996. Just 13 days later, on November 26, Sabean would make another trade that would reshape the Giants infield, stealing back-to-back AL Gold Glove winning first baseman J.T. Snow from the Angels in exchange for under- performing starting pitcher Allen Watson.

Just a day prior, on November 25, Sabean had quietly added right-handed reliever Rich Rodriguez via free agency. Rodriguez enjoyed strong seasons in the early 90s with San Diego, but had appeared in just one regular season game since 1994, and had spent the entire 1996 season in Triple-A.

To help plug the gap at third base left behind by Williams, Sabean acquired 2B/3B Mark Lewis from the Tigers in exchange for minor leaguer Jesse Ibarra. In addition to Lewis, the Giants would employ young homegrown 3B Bill Mueller, who had batted .330 in a 55 game audition with the team in 1996.

Finally, to help complete an outfield that already contained Bonds and the power hitting Glenallen Hill, the club was able to sign center fielder Darryl Hamilton to a free agent contract. Hamilton was coming off a career year with Texas in which he posted a strong .293/.348/.381 line to go along with 184 hits, 10th most in the AL. Hamilton also brought an element of speed and was known as a strong defender; he did not make an error in 147 games played in 1996. Sabean and the Giants were in talks with Hamilton early in the offseason, but broke off talks as the center fielder pursued other offers. However a better offer did not materialize, and San Francisco was able to sign Hamilton at a fraction of their original offer.

The team chose to stick with an in-house approach to the starting rotation. They re-signed Mark Gardner, who had a team-leading 12 wins in 1996, retained 13-game loser Osvaldo Fernandez, and chose to fill out the rest of the rotation with a trio of young arms: William VanLandingham, Shawn Estes, and Kirk Rueter.

VanLandingham was a top prospect and former 5th round pick of the Giants who had pitched well in limited action across the 1994-1995 seasons. However he stumbled to a 9-14 record with a 5.40 ERA in 1996, his first full season in the starting rotation. Estes was a former #11 overall pick by the Mariners whom the Giants acquired in a 1995 deal that sent Salomon Torres to Seattle. After a strong showing in 11 starts in 1996, the 24 year-old Estes was ready to step in at the top of the rotation.

Kirk Rueter debuted in 1993 with a perfect 8-0 record and 2.73 ERA for the Montreal Expos, and was 12-6 over 29 starts across the 1994-1995 seasons. In spite of a tenure in Montreal that could only be described as an overall success, the Expos chose to swap Rueter for Giants RHP Mark Leiter at the 1996 trade deadline . Rueter finished the 1996 season with a stellar 1.93 ERA over four starts with San Francisco, poising himself for the thick of the rotation in 1997.

Winning Baseball Returns

The new look Giants opened the ’97 season with a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates, with the newly signed Rich Rodriguez taking the loss after allowing 2 earned runs that broke a 2-2 tie in the 7th inning. From that point on however, the Giants would do very little losing in the month of April. They ripped off a 13-2 run over their next 15 games, and finished the month 17-7 overall. The club’s hot start was matched by the power hitting Colorado Rockies, and the teams sat tied for first with the second best record in the National League.

The team went just 14-14 in the month of May, but were able to build a 2.5 game lead in the NL West, and were seeing immediate dividends from some of Sabean’s offseason acquisitions. Like a fish to water, Kent took to the role of protecting Barry Bonds in the line up, and through 52 games the pair combined for 19 homers and 72 RBIs. Jose Vizcaino had a .342 OBP and had piled up 26 runs scored, and Rich Rodriguez emerged as a pivotal piece of the bullpen, posting a 0.94 ERA over his first 29 appearances.

As spring became summer, J.T. Snow found the power stroke he had been missing early on, and belted 15 home runs while driving in 39 runs in June and July. And Julian Tavarez, who’s ERA sat at 7.11 at the end of May, lowered that number to 3.79 after a dominant two month stretch in which he allowed just five earned runs over 34 IP. On July 6th the Giants record stood at 51-36, second best in the NL, and they had opened up a six game lead on the Dodgers, who had overtaken the fading Rockies for second place in the division.

Tavarez

After a shaky start to the year, Julian Tavarez recaptured what made him an outstanding rookie in Cleveland, finishing the season as the National League leader in appearances. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images-Otto Greule Jr.

As the non-waiver trade deadline approached however, San Francisco went on a slide, going 6-12 from July 10-27. The team saw it’s lead in the division shrink to just 1.5 games over the surging Dodgers, and it became clear they would look to bolster their roster at the deadline. VanLandingham and Fernandez were a combined 7-11 with a 4.95 ERA at the back end of the rotation, so starting pitching became a top target for Sabean and the Giants front office.

 

On July 30, 1997, the Giants record stood at 59-49, and the charging Dodgers had cut their division lead to just a half game. San Francisco’s front office knew they had a pennant race on their hands, and the following day would make a trade that would pay serious dividends in the second half.

Look for Part 2 of the 1997 Giants story tomorrow, on Tales From the Stick.

-AC

 

The Great Debate: Brandon Belt

If the Giants named an official team captain, there’s not a single San Francisco fan that would argue with Buster Posey being given the designation. First alternate? Also nearly unanimous: Brandon Crawford. And should something Designated Survivor-ish befall those two titans of the orange and black, few would bat an eye at Joe Panik becoming the leader of the position players.


Of the established core of homegrown starters in the Giants line up, only one has failed to receive majority approval from the fan base, and has been the subject of such continued debate over the years it’s easy to overlook he’s now in his seventh season at the big league level. Brandon Belt has appeared in 739 games for San Francisco, owns two championship rings, and as of last July earned the prefix “All-Star first baseman”. Yet on a daily basis it seems, many in Giants nation debate whether he should be with the ball club at all.


Belt Gumby

Body language isn’t exactly an area where Belt excels (Photo courtesy of Scoutables.com)


There are a few reasons one might surmise as to why Giants fans have never been completely sold when it comes to Belt. We can begin with the fact the Giants haven’t had a true, major impact power hitter manning first base since Thrilling William (something like that, right?) burst on to the scene in the late 1980s. In fact, you have to go back 30 years to Clark’s sophomore season of 1987 to find the last Giant first baseman to hit 30+ home runs.


J.T. Snow posted a 28 homer season in 1997 and added a 24 home run output in 1999, but aside from that, no San Francisco first baseman besides Clark (who did it four times) has even broken the 20 homer barrier since Mike Ivie blasted 27 home runs in 1979. So to break it down further, the Giants have seen their primary first baseman top 20 home runs just six times in the last 36 seasons.


Fans were teased with the likes of Damon Minor, Lance Niekro and John Bowker; who each at one point looked like they may be the future at first base, only to never quite pan out. So when word came from the farm that a 6’5 Texan with a name seemingly destined for a slugger was rapidly rising through the Giants minor league system, fans starved for a power hitting first baseman thought that finally, the big bopper would soon arrive.


Belt reached the major leagues in 2011 and was immediately implanted as the team’s starting first baseman after just one full minor league season. However, lack of performance and injuries led to him being optioned back to the minor leagues, and he would not be back in the major leagues to stay until mid-July. Then came August, and the power the organization had seen in 2010 began to emerge. Belt hit seven home runs in the last two months of the season, and positioned himself as the presumptive first baseman of the future.


2012 saw Belt get the lion’s share of starts at first, but in spite of a respectable .275/.360/.421 line Belt hit just seven home runs to go along with a rather pedestrian 56 RBIs. Then came 2013, when it appeared he had come in to his own as a franchise player. Belt’s average jumped to .289, and he more than doubled his home run total to 17. He added 39 doubles, sixth most in the NL, and finished the year with an impressive 139 OPS+.


2014 represented a step back for Belt however, as a broken thumb early in the season forced him to miss nearly two months. Then upon being reactivated he was infamously struck in the head with a throw during warm-ups, and concussion symptoms plagued him into September. In all he was able to appear in just 61 games, finishing the regular season with 12 home runs, just 27 RBI, and a .243 average.


The criticism most often cited in regards to Belt is inconsistency, or “streakiness”. He’s prone to long slumps in between scalding hot streaks, and the hot streaks don’t come often enough. But when one examines the numbers, Belt has actually been about as consistent as they come over the last two plus seasons. His lines in 2015-2016 were strikingly similar:


2015: .280/.356/.478/.834, OPS+ 127, 138 H, 33 2B, 18 HR, 68 RBI

2016: .275/.394/.474/.868, OPS+ 134, 149 H, 41 2B, 17 HR, 82 RBI


Through 28 games in 2017, Belt’s line sits a .260/.393/.470/.863, with an OPS+ of 131. In spite of a dip in batting average (which can be attributed to a jump in K%) Belt’s OPS sits right where it usually does, which is well above average. If we project his current number of hits, doubles, home runs and RBI for a full season, they are all right on pace with his usual production:


2017 (projected): 150 H, 42 2B, 24 HR, 78 RBI


The rub lies in the expectations surrounding Belt’s ability as an offensive player. There are those still waiting on that 30 homer, 100 RBI season, the “real first baseman numbers”. Unfortunately for Giants fans, that’s a train that will likely never pull in to the station when it comes to Brandon Belt. What you’ve seen is what you’re going to get from Belt, and that’s 15-20 homers, 70-85 RBIs, plenty of walks, and plenty of strikeouts. While that may not sound very exciting, when you couple it with his perennially above average ratings as a defender what you get is a steady, every day first baseman.

Belt First Base

Belt has rated in the positive in both Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) in every full season of his career. (Photo courtesy of aroundthefoghorn.com)

For some, Belt will never be enough. He will always strike out too much, not hit enough homers, and slump his shoulders too often. I’m here to say that Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, or Wil Myers are not walking through the door, and with the remaining years left on Belt’s recently signed deal, trade suitors will be hard to come by.


Like it or not, Brandon Belt is in San Francisco to stay.


-AC

Christian Arroyo is Not the Answer (Yet)

Hexed. Jinxed. Snake bit. F***ed.

The world is crumbling around us, it’s time to load up that magic bullet. It’s 2010 all over again, and the second coming of Posey and Bumgarner is waiting in the wings, eager to wretch the San Francisco Giants from the depths of oblivion and once again deliver them to the promised land.

Ah, sounds wonderful, right? Well, so was that dream I had where my buddy was in a real bind and needed to unload his Corvette Z06, and my 500 bucks would cover it.

Christian Arroyo‘s start to the Triple-A season at Sacramento has Giants fans standing at attention, thanks to a forgettable (to say the least) April where seemingly everything has gone wrong. As the bad news and losses at the big league level continue to mount with each passing day, so does Arroyo’s hit total.

Arroyo-Cats

Christian Arroyo has collected 25 hits over his first 15 games with Sacramento, and has already matched his 2016 home run total. (Photo courtesy of sacbee.com)

So, exactly what are we waiting for? Get him up, NOW!

Unfortunately, what could be the most frustrating aspect of this first month of the season is that the team really doesn’t have a magic bullet, or a better option to immediately fix everything. This fan base has become accustomed to winning, and had every expectation of contending this season. Well placed expectations, might I add.

But Bobby Evans made it very clear in a recent KNBR interview with Kevin Frandsen and Larry Krueger that Arroyo will not be called up until he has an every day opportunity at third base open, and the team is just fine with Eduardo Nunez remaining at the position for now:

“If we come to a point where we feel like we want to make a position change for Nunez, that would be a different issue, but right now we don’t see that happening, and our focal point for Arroyo is just getting time in Triple-A”.

Now, I can already hear the newly minted Evans-detractors “He’s wasting time! We need him now! He didn’t get a closer last year, and he’s sabotaging us again!”

Sorry folks, but Evans is right, and he went on into further specifics as to why now is not the time to bring up Arroyo. For one, it’s been two weeks. Literally two weeks, where Arroyo is hitting at a clip he’s never even come close to throughout his relatively brief minor league career.

Call me daffy, but I have a hard time believing Arroyo is going to hit 35 homers and drive in 120 runs this season, after hitting three home runs and driving in 49 in 119 games at AA last season. I also think it’s unlikely he’ll maintain a .425 average and a 1.138 OPS, when he finished last year at .274 and .689 in those categories, respectively.

KNBR’s Brian Murphy wrote an Arroyo-centric call to arms earlier this week, and presented the laundry list of maladies that have befallen the Giants this April, with the crux of his argument being the team’s need for a “mojo change”. Now, baseball features the element of random chance far more than any other major sport, and it can’t be denied that mojo, or momentum, or “vibes” plays a role in a team’s success.

There’s also no doubt that the “vibes” surrounding the Giants right now are decidedly bad. They just got absolutely smoked in Colorado, and were awful both offensively and on the pitcher’s mound. So much is wrong, I don’t have enough fingers to point.

Giants Sad April

And this was like, the opening of the second act of disasters. (Photo courtesy of sfgate.com)

For that very reason, now is NOT the time to call up Arroyo. Arroyo is already well aware of the expectations surrounding him, and to call him up at a time when fans would look to him to put the team on his back, after fewer than 100 at-bats in Triple-A, is a perfect recipe for a youngster to press. This was the most important point Evans made in his interview with Frandsen and Krueger:

“…and you’ve got to make sure the rest of the club is in a good position to support him when he struggles. We don’t want him to feel like he’s bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders when he comes up.”

Circle it. Underline it. Highlight it. Print this page, cut it out, and clip it to your fridge. Murphy compared Arroyo’s similar minor league service time to that of Corey Seager and Nolan Arenado as part of his argument that the time has come for the 22 year-old to rise to the big leagues. I’ll just nip this in the bud now, Arroyo simply does not have the same tools as either of those game-changing, MVP-caliber talents.

With him, the Giants are looking at a player much more in the Joe Panik mold: A solid defender with the potential to be a consistent contact hitter who will add some power. Arroyo’s ceiling is most likely as an every day #2 hitter–perhaps All-Star caliber–but it’s impossible to say at this point if he will ever be truly elite.

“But they didn’t wait with Bumgarner! They didn’t wait with Posey! And look how that turned out!” Again, no. Just no. Both Bumgarner and Posey received their first big league call-ups in September of 2009; with Bumgarner performing quite well in his brief stint, and Posey not so well.

Both began 2010 in Triple-A, with Posey not receiving his call-up until late May, after 47 games and over 200 at-bats with Fresno. Bumgarner did not make it to the big leagues for good until late June, after making 14 starts for the Grizzlies. Both players were tearing it up, and the team still waited 2-3 months before promoting them.

Don’t expect the approach with Arroyo to be any different, even with the team scuffling in such a complete manner. If he was a left fielder, yes, he would have been in the big leagues a week ago. But he isn’t, and the Giants don’t want to risk harming the development of one of their few top prospects by forcing him into an unnatural position on a team that currently has no answers.

Eduardo Nunez is one of the most exciting players on this club, and the front office recognizes that, whether the frustrated fan base does or not. He also plays third base far better than he would play left field.

Buster Posey was hitting .350 in Triple-A when the Giants called him up just under 50 games in to the 2010 season. If Arroyo tears up the 916 for another month, then we could be talking. Another point Evans acknowledged in a separate interview with beat writer Henry Schulman:

“We want him to push himself up here rather than us pulling him up here, and have him make the decision for us. It’s hard to do that in two weeks.”

Remember that scene in Braveheart, when William Wallace commanded his nervous Scottish rebels to hold, while the stampeding English army charged ever closer? This is sort of like that. Except with less pikes, I guess.

-AC