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.

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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

 

 

 

The Shark is Worth It, and Here’s Why

You’ve been looking at this Samardzija thing all wrong.

Do you have your pitchforks ready? Jeff Samardzija is worth the money, and I’m going to tell you why.

Yep, feel that blood pressure spike. How? How can a guy who’s now 12-14 in a Giants uniform possibly be worth the $90 million the Giants front office doled out to sign him last offseason?

The answer is quite simple really, and it’s been on display not only during his short time with the Giants, but throughout his entire career as a starting pitcher. Jeff Samardzija does something that is much harder to come by then most people think: He makes every start, year in, and year out.

When you hear the names Sale, Kershaw, Verlander, and Cueto, the mind immediately jumps to All-Star games, Cy Young trophies, and huge paydays. Not so when one hears the name Samardzija (after you mistakenly say bless you to person who said it). Yet none of those established aces has thrown over 200 innings in each of the last four seasons, and Jeff Samardzija has.

Let’s take a look at the five starters who have joined the Shark in surpassing 200 IP every year since 2013, and the contracts they’re under:

David Price: 7 years, $217 million ($31MM per season)

Max Scherzer: 7 years, $210 million ($30MM per season)

Jon Lester: 6 years, $155 million ($25.8MM per season)

Cole Hamels: 6 years, $144 million ($24MM per season)

-Madison Bumgarner: 5 years, $35 million ($7MM per season)*

*Discount price the Giants currently pay, a number that is going to at least quadruple when he reaches FA.

An honorable mention goes out to Felix Hernandez, who broke a string of eight consecutive 200+IP seasons last year. He makes $26.8MM per season.

See what we’re driving at here? Samardzija chews up innings with the best in the game; frontline aces who make 30% more than him. The disparity between his overall performance and that of the starters named above is why he makes $6-$10 million less per season than they do.

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The ability to count on 600 innings from three of your starters doesn’t come cheap, or often. (Photo courtesy of SportsOnEarth.com)

Samardzija takes the ball every fifth day with extraordinary consistency, and he’s been doing it for a long time now. Yes, it’s all funny money anyway, and $18 million a year sounds preposterous for someone who’s above average, but not great at their job. But it’s all relative folks, and the Giants payed market value for what Samardzija brings to the table.

Another important factor to bear in mind, the Giants don’t need Samardzija to pitch like an ace. They already have two of those, and a third starter in Matt Moore who has his moments of inconsistency, but has also shown shades of dominance in big spots (See: Tail end of 2016). All the Giants need from Samardzija is to be the best damn fourth starter around, and it’s hard to argue he’s not.

If we take a look at the fourth starters of the other NL West clubs , we see names like Brandon McCarthy, Robbie Ray, and Antonio Senzatela. Not exactly world beaters. And the Padres couldn’t even tell you who their fourth starter is because it changes on a weekly basis.

The Cubs are trotting out Brett Anderson in the fourth spot of their rotation, who’s the polar opposite of Samardzija in terms of durability. The Mets, for all the praise their starting rotation gets, have some guy named Robert Gsellman as their fourth man. The only NL team that may be able to claim a fourth starter as strong as the Giants is the Nationals, who currently have Gio Gonzalez in the slot.

RobGsellman

This is Robert Gsellman. Now you know. (Photo courtesy of The New York Times)

It’s easy to see a 5 year, $90 million contract and set expectations sky high. But again, consistency at the level Samardzija maintains is valuable, and hard to come by. From 2012-2015, he averaged 206 IP per season, posting a 4.03 ERA and 1.23 WHIP with 2.5 BB/9 against 8.3 K/9. Those don’t look like the numbers of a pitcher who was 17 games under .500, but Samardzija was 35-52 over that span.

Prior to Sunday’s start against Colorado, his record with the Giants stood at 12-13, with a 3.97 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, and 7.6 K/9 over 215.1 IP. Did I mention he was consistent? Thus far, the Giants have basically received the exact pitcher they paid for based on prior track record, and it has afforded them the luxury of having 4/5 of their rotation set in stone. Again, that is not the case with many teams around the league, including contenders.

So while you lament his 0-3 start, and shake your fist at the reality that professional athletes make huge sums of money, keep these factors in mind. A premium is placed on stability in a profession where names and faces can change on a daily basis.

-AC

 

 

 

 

 

Taking A Spin on the LF Carousel

Here we are, one full week into the Giants regular season, staring into the face of two of the most stale, yet persistent topics surrounding the team. The situations in the bullpen and left field that were harped on throughout the offseason and spring training continue to dominate the discussion following a 2-5 start to the season.

Say “bullpen” to any San Francisco Giants fan right now and you’ll likely get a clenched fist, a shake of the head, or the single-eye twitch of someone on the verge of mass violence. The sorest of subjects among the fan base for the last 10 months, a first week beset with blown leads has the orange and black faithful on edge to a very August-like degree.

Like it or not however, the Giants bullpen is relatively set for the time being. Aside from the fate of Matt Cain’s position in the rotation and the trickle down effect it will have on guys like Ty Blach, Cory Gearrin, and Steven Okert, barring injury this is the unit San Francisco will likely do battle with for at least the next 6-8 weeks. It will be some mixture of Gearrin, George Kontos and Neil Ramirez in innings 5-7, and Derek Law, Hunter Strickland and Mark Melancon at the back end.

The left field situation on the other hand, now seems completely up in the air following a dreadful first week from Jarrett Parker and Chris Marrero, who struggled so badly that Aaron Hill emerged as a candidate to see more time in the outfield. In spite of the organization’s insistence throughout the offseason that the team was looking for one player to seize the majority of innings in left, Parker and Marrero have seen nearly equal playing time, with Hill and Gorkys Hernandez both making appearances in left as well.

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Things haven’t quite materialized for Marrero since “The Catch That Sealed the Deal” during the Bay Bridge Series

Let’s not forget the Giants still have Justin Ruggiano, who missed the cut for the opening day roster playing in Sacramento with Mac Williamson, currently injured but certainly not lost for significant time. And if you believe in miracles, Michael Morse hasn’t conceded retirement just yet.

So naturally, the Giants went out and inked two unemployed veteran outfielders, Drew Stubbs and Melvin (formerly Bossman) Upton Jr., to minor league deals this week. Both 32, with multiple full seasons as starting outfielders under their belts, Stubbs and Upton were not signed to fill holes in a relatively full Sacramento River Cats outfield. The moves signal the organization’s desire to find an answer in left sooner rather than later, perhaps even before Williamson returns to full strength.

Let’s review the candidates one more time, in case you didn’t catch all of that:

-Jarrett Parker

-Chris Marrero

-Aaron Hill

-Justin Ruggiano

-Mac Williamson

-Drew Stubbs

-Melvin Upton Jr.

Seven, seven left fielders! Ah ah ah…

And just to really convolute things, there are Giants Twitter GMs floating around hoping to #FreeHwang, or reunite with your mom’s favorite 36 year-old unsigned superstar Angel Pagan.

We know the story with the first five names on the list (we’re at least 80% sure Ruggiano was in Arizona this March), so let’s take a look at the two newcomers: Robert Andrew Stubbs and the artist formerly known as B.J.

Stubbs made his biggest mark in the big leagues during his tenure with the Cincinnati Reds, where he was the starting center fielder for some formidable Reds teams from 2010-2012. Giants fans may recall the 2012 NLDS just a lil’ bit. Drew was there.

Following the 2012 season, Stubbs swapped views of Kentucky for the clearly superior vistas of Lake Erie, when he found himself on the other side of Ohio with Cleveland. He was thoroughly meh with the Indians in 2013, so he set sail for Colorado, where he had his last season as a regular starter with the Rockies. Since then, Stubbs has had cups of Joe with Texas, Atlanta, Baltimore, and most recently this spring with Minnesota, but has failed to gain any traction over the last two seasons.

The book on the former #8 overall pick hasn’t changed much over the years. He can hit a homer here and there, steal a bag here and there, but won’t wow anyone with his defense and will strike out a TON. Like, won’t make contact, at all, for long periods of time. But that doesn’t sound like any of the current Giants left fielders, does it?

As for Upton the Elder, things were looking pretty grim following his departure from Tampa Bay, where from 2007-2012 he established himself as a productive, borderline All-Star caliber player with a combination of speed, power, and outstanding defense. His stint with Atlanta was by all accounts a disaster, as he struggled to hit .200 and saw his power numbers plummet in 2013-14.

A change of scenery to San Diego however, came with a small resurgence for Upton, who saw his average creep up around the .250 range he averaged for the Rays, along with a modest return of some pop. In 2016 he managed to post a 20-20 season for the first time since 2012, his fourth 20-20 year overall. Much of the production came early in the season with the Padres when Upton was seeing regular playing time, his numbers dropped significantly following a midseason trade to Toronto.

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Roster numbers led to Upton’s departure from Toronto, but a poor showing following his acquisition didn’t help his cause. Photo courtesy of The Toronto Star

Upton spent this spring in Toronto’s camp, but was ultimately a roster casualty when the Jays decided to carry just four outfielders into the regular season.

In several ways Stubbs and Upton are similar players; both have been base stealers with power in the past, both hit lefties fairly well, and both will hit for a low average with plenty of strikeouts. Upton has the upper hand defensively, and for my money is a better bet to provide some form of production at this stage in his career. Stubbs couldn’t crack the Twins roster, so yea.

Will it even matter though? Ruggiano showed flashes of life late in spring, and Williamson still has yet to get a real chance to be an everyday player, but are any of the guys on this lengthy list legitimate starting left fielders? Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it. Unfortunately it appears the Giants will need to hang in with this revolving door platoon for the time being, until either someone steps up and takes command of the position or the market develops enough for the team to acquire an established starter.

Twitter GMs

“This wouldn’t have happened with Angel or Morse!”

There you have it social media Giants fans, your itinerary of gripe for the next several weeks. It doesn’t look like this undying question will be answered any time soon.

-AC

 

 

Giants Opt For Lone Lefty ‘Pen, For Now

Following official announcements naming Matt Cain the #5 starter and Chris Marrero as a member of the opening day roster, the final bullpen slots were the only remaining question mark for the 25 man roster that will open up the season in Arizona this Sunday. After news broke of the demotions of Josh Osich and Albert Suarez, it became a three-man race to fill two spots, with returners Cory Gearrin and Steven Okert competing against non-roster dark horse Neil Ramirez.

The smart money was on Okert to make the roster by virtue of not only his left throwing arm, but by a very strong spring in which he allowed just one earned run in 10 2/3 innings of work. With Will Smith done for the year and Osich on his way to Sacramento, kind of a no-brainer right?

As for Ramirez, all he did was pile up strikeouts to the tune of 16 K/9 this spring, in addition to making it perfectly clear he would not accept “no” for an answer in regards to opening the season in the big leagues.

Ramirez has played nine pro seasons since being taken in the first round of the 2007 draft out of high school, and has seen time in the minor leagues in all nine. Neil ain’t feeling any more bus rides.

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“Like hell I’m gonna be a Rivercat!”

So it seemed fairly obvious that Cory Gearrin would wind up as the odd man out given the reasons above, coupled with a less than impressive spring in which he posted a 7.00 ERA. Right?

Nope. Bruce Bochy essentially proclaimed, “We don’t need no stinking lefties” Saturday afternoon, as the team announced it would be Okert headed to Triple-A and right-handers Ramirez and Gearrin heading to Phoenix to begin the 2017 season. The fact both Ramirez and Gearrin are out of minor league options no doubt played a role in the decision, something Bochy spelled out to MLB.com’s Alex Espinoza in no uncertain terms in regards to Ramirez:

“Okert had a very nice spring. He gave up one run,”Bochy said. “But this is where we’re at right now, how we wanted to start it. We didn’t want to lose Ramirez, he had a good spring, too. We’re set. We’re set to go in the bullpen.”

Ty Blach, who will begin the year in the big leagues as an every-man out of the pen, will join Matt Moore and Bumgarner as the staff’s southpaw contingent, and will be the Giants only left-handed reliever. Blach making the team despite losing out in the competition for the fifth starter spot comes as a bit of a surprise as well, as it appears the team views him as a starter-only in the future, and therefore a guy who might benefit more from regular starts in the minors.

What it could mean is Matt Cain’s leash may be even shorter than most have considered it to be, and the team wants Blach to be literally on-hand should the veteran falter. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Blach remains in the seldom used swingman role for a significant part of the season, so there’s also the possibility Blach is sent down to get more innings at some point during the season, leaving the door open for Okert (or Osich) to be recalled.

I know what you’re thinking though, what happens when Carlos Gonzalez comes to the plate with two runners on in the 8th inning of a one-run game? Or Adrian Gonzalez? Or Corey Seager? Or Jake Lamb? Affeldt and Javy are doing TV, and the guy the Giants traded a top prospect for to be their late inning lefty won’t see the field this season. Is Blach going to be that guy?? What the hell do we do now!?

Luckily for the Giants, of the six right-handers they will employ from the bullpen, only Gearrin has struggled against lefties in his career. Lefties have hit just .196 with a .248 BABIP against Mark Melancon, .228 with a .254 BABIP against Hunter Strickland, and .230/.260 off George Kontos. While it’s a small sample size from Derek Law, he was especially successful against left-handers in his rookie season, holding them to a .188 BAA and a .224 BABIP. One doesn’t HAVE to use a LH pitcher against a power hitting lefty batter, something Bochy also elaborated on to Espinoza:

“It’s the old adage — you go with your best pitchers,” Bochy said. “If they’re right-handed, they’re right-handed.”

It’s also worth mentioning that this isn’t uncharted territory for Bochy, who’s 1996 Padres team won the NL West with a bullpen that was entirely right-handed.

“Sometimes you can overdo the matchup, trust me.”

The beauty of March is whatever happens on the field can always be explained away with, “It’s early.” April is the same way, and much is still subject to change.

-AC

“Rockies are a Sleeper, Calling It…”

So, we’ve heard this every year for how many seasons now? “The Rockies are going to sneak up on people” and “They sure can swing it”. Yes, the Rockies have been able to hit for the better part of 20 years. They also have had less than a handful of bona-fide front line starting pitchers in that same span. If you can’t pitch, you can’t win playoff games.

Sure Arenado, Car-Go and Trevor Story are going to combine for like, 100 homers and 350 RBIs, but the Rocks are also going to give up a touchdown a game. But hey, at least their mascot screams bravado from Rocky Mountain highs.

forsale

Dinger will find you, and he will gore you.