Archive for Giants

Joey Votto on Aging

“I don’t care about hitting home runs, I don’t care about any of that sort of stuff,” Joey Votto told me when I mentioned the stat. “I care about improving all of the facets of my game that can be repeatable and that age well.” And really, as great as his season has been this year, no quote better sums up the strides he’s made.

One things we know that ages terribly is contact on pitches outside of the zone (O-Contact%). It drops off the table quickly after 29.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Catcher Is Watching You

As Melvin Upton steps to the plate and readies for the pitch, Buster Posey appraises him. First, he looks at his feet as they dig in. Gradually, his eyes move up Upton’s body, brazenly staring as he takes in information. Down pops the sign as the catcher moves his attention to the pitcher.

It’s not just idle ogling. He’s looking for clues. Which ones?

Read the rest of this entry »

Madison Bumgarner Is Back to October Bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner has been having quite a month of August. He’s posted a 53:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing only six earned runs in 37.2 innings, and he’s looked almost as unhittable as he did last October, when he relentlessly took the ball for the Giants in high pressure situations during the playoffs. That’s not a coincidence, it turns out, as Bumgarner is currently exhibiting tendencies that are quite similar to the 2014 postseason version of himself.

Before we go down that particular road, let’s have a brief introduction to Bumgarner, 2015 starting pitcher. On these digital pages, we’ve featured an article on how well he hits — which is quite well indeed — but not much else in the way of analysis this season; I will remedy that fact in a brief, limited manner. We could spend an entire article about the minute changes Bumgarner has made in 2015. Instead, here’s a cliffs notes version:

  • He’s throwing more fastballs than at any point since 2011.
  • He’s basically ditched his changeup, as he’s relied almost strictly on a three-pitch combination of fastball, slider (referred to at times as a cutter), and curveball in 2015. Here is his pitch usage since 2010, his first semi-full season in the majors (courtesy of Brooks Baseball, which calls his slider a cutter):


  • Finally, his command improvements from last season have stuck, as he’s posting a career-low walk rate (4.3%) and career-high strikeout rate (27.4%).

These are all good things. By the numbers, Bumgarner is perhaps the best version of himself that he’s ever been, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s posting the best xFIP of his career while challenging his best in ERA and FIP.

That’s why this month has been extra interesting; because, in the midst of one of his best seasons, Bumgarner seems to be up to something. And that something just happens to be intentionally throwing slower.

Read the rest of this entry »

What Makes Bruce Bochy and Joe Maddon Great?

With the Cubs in San Francisco to face the team just behind them in the wild-card race, it makes sense to compare the two managers. After all, they both ended up within the top five in a recent survey, and their teams have both found success in recent years. Though they were born just a year apart, their styles are different enough that they seem to be a study in contrasts.

Who better to ask about what makes them great than their own players and coaches and beat writers? Well, maybe unbiased observers can be more critical than our sample, but the task at hand is to delineate the managers’ strengths.

So, what makes Bruce Bochy great? What makes Joe Maddon great?

Read the rest of this entry »

Brandon Crawford’s Latest Adjustment(s)

Brandon Crawford‘s big power breakout has been a big part of the Giants’ good work so far this season despite an iffy rotation. Jeff Sullivan did a great job pointing out the changes he saw in Crawford’s swing, and the player agreed with most of his analysis. But Sullivan also pointed out that pitchers were in the middle of adjusting to the player, and it’s been Crawford’s adjustment(s) back to their adjustment that has helped him sustain the power into the late months.

One was mechanical, the other had to do with approach. Taking the two together really makes Crawford’s new power level seem sustainable, though.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sergio Romo’s No-Dot Slider Revealed

If you watch Sergio Romo hold a ball even for just a minute, it’s obvious how he found the grip for his unique slider. Just like every other part of the Giants’ reliever, his fingers can’t stop moving. He’s constantly fidgeting, so he can’t remember the exact moment he settled on his particular finger placement. He continues that fidgeting when it comes to his craft, really.

To Romo, the slider isn’t maybe as legendary as it sounds when you talk about it as his No-Dot Slider with capital letters. “It’s just different. I don’t really see it as ‘good’ or ‘special,'” he told me. But there was one compliment that meant something to the pitcher at one point.

More than 2000 sliders ago, Romo was a good middle reliever for the Giants as they headed to the World Series. There, he faced Bengie Molina, who had just been traded from the Giants to the Rangers. After the Giants won, Molina gave the reliever “the greatest compliment.” The catcher told Romo that “catching it and seeing it in the box were two completely different things,” and that “if I don’t have confidence in my stuff, I’m a waste of talent.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Today’s MLB Network Game to Feature Advanced Metrics

Advanced stats have had a huge influence on baseball over the last generation. Every front office makes use of statistics, metrics, and methods that would fall under the umbrella of sabermetrics. Websites and blogs like this one, meanwhile, have created a niche for interested fans to absorb the game through a sabermetric prism. While the clubs have embraced sabermetrics in the name of remaining competitive, and online media have formed around a collection of die-hards, getting modern statistics onto broadcasts has been a more challenging endeavor.

We’ve seen many broadcasts make an effort to adapt to the changing climate, but there remains a delicate balance between providing sabermetric information and appealing to the widest possible audience. Given that there is only a single radio and television broadcast experience for each club, networks have been cautious about radical changes to the way they present games given that a large portion of their audience does not a regularly visit sites like FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Beyond the Box Score.

On Wednesday afternoon (3:30pm Eastern), MLB Network will roll out a new format for calling live games that diverges from standard broadcast paradigm. Brian Kenny will be joined by Kevin Millar, Jim Duquette, and Rob Neyer to provide play-by-play and analysis for the Astros-Giants game based around the network’s sabermetric-friendly talk show, MLB Now.

Read the rest of this entry »

Josh Hamilton or Madison Bumgarner?

Madison Bumgarner starts for the Giants today, in Atlanta. That’s good for them, for two reasons. One, it means the Giants get to have Bumgarner pitch. Two, it means the Giants get to have Bumgarner hit. Bumgarner regularly dazzles in batting practice, and that isn’t where his ability is confined — in his most recent start in an NL ballpark, he went deep. Bumgarner was outspoken in his disagreement with Max Scherzer earlier in the year, when Scherzer lobbied for the NL to adopt the designated hitter. Bumgarner, see, takes pride in his slugging, and he wouldn’t want to lose that advantage.

Not that Bumgarner was always much at the plate. As recently as 2013, he was a mess, like pretty much every other pitcher. But then he devoted more attention to the offensive side of things, and his successes have been numerous and remarkable. In honor of Bumgarner’s hitting, then, I’ve put together this poll-post, comparing Bumgarner and Josh Hamilton. Hamilton has obviously been a disappointment since signing his nine-figure contract, but he remains a threat, batting fifth or sixth in a Rangers lineup with a lot of name value. Below, there will be six polls, for six statistics. I’ll show you the high value, and ask you to pick which guy is responsible. Answers are revealed at the end. Good luck!

Read the rest of this entry »

NL Rookie of the Year No Longer a Two-Horse Race

Heading into the season, Kris Bryant enjoyed favored status when it came to predicting a National League Rookie of the Year. When FanGraphs writers were polled before the season, 20 of 36 votes went to the Chicago Cubs’ third baseman; seven went Joc Pederson; six were cast for Jorge SolerNoah Syndergaard, Jung Ho Kang and Raisel Iglesias each got one. A couple months into the season, Pederson inserted himself into the race with 13 home runs by the end of May. As the year has moved on, Bryant and Pederson have come back to the pack a bit while Matt Duffy, Kang and Syndergaard have moved into the conversation for the NL’s top rookie. The award is no longer a two-horse battle, and all the players who have risen up are sure to see plenty of exposure since each of them is in the middle of a pennant race.

As Owen Watson wrote, this season has been a historic one for rookies, particularly position players. With Bryant and Pederson leading the way, the rookie class is producing at a greater level than any in the past decade. It’s likely the best class in nearly 30 years, back when Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco were rookies. In the past month, Bryant and Pederson have allowed a few other players to enter the race. Pederson — a three-true-outcomes player to begin the season — has removed the two positive outcomes over the past month, walking just 3% of the time and hitting only one home run. Bryant hasn’t fallen quite as far. He’s still drawing walks, but he is striking out nearly one-third of the time and has a wRC+ of 58 over the past 30 days. Read the rest of this entry »

Grading the 58 Prospects Dealt at the Trade Deadline

This breakdown starts with the Scott Kazmir deal on July 23, but there weren’t any trades from the 16th to the 23rd, so this covers the whole second half of the month, trade-wise, up until now. I count 25 total trades with prospects involved in that span that add together to have 58 prospects on the move. Check out the preseason Top 200 List for more details, but I’ve added the range that each Future Value (FV) group fell in last year’s Top 200 to give you an idea of where they will fall in this winter’s list. Also see the preseason team-specific lists to see where the lower-rated prospects may fall within their new organization.

40 FV is the lowest grade that shows up on these numbered team lists, with 35+ and 35 FV prospects mentioned in the “Others of Note” section, so I’ll give blurbs for the 40 FV or better prospects here. I’ve also linked to the post-trade prospect breakdown for the trades I was able to analyze individually, so click there for more information. Alternately, click on the player’s name to see his player page with all his prior articles listed if I didn’t write up his trade.

I opted to not numerically rank these players now, but I will once I’ve made the dozens and dozens of calls necessary this fall and winter to have that level of precision with this many players. Look for the individual team lists to start rolling out in the next month, with the 2016 Top 200 list coming in early 2016. Lastly, the players are not ranked within their tiers, so these aren’t clues for where they will fall on the Top 200.

Read the rest of this entry »

Giants Add Mike Leake, Aim to Keep Pace With Dodgers

After a few days of being linked to top-line starting-pitching help like David Price and Cole Hamels — though never showing serious enough interest to land either player — the Giants have gone a less conspicuous route. Although the trade netting them Mike Leake from the Reds for two prospects (one of whom is was at the top of the Giants’ prospect list) only materialized late last night with little forewarning, the Giants have nonetheless added upside and depth to a rotation that has struggled this season. In doing so, they’ve positioned themselves to make a potential run at the division.

And why not? Sitting only a half game back from the Dodgers in the NL West, the Giants are probably closer than a lot of people thought they would be to the top of the standings, and having to go through a Wild Card play-in game isn’t fun. And, with only two of their five regular starters currently possessing ERAs or FIPs under 4.00, San Francisco has gotten to this point largely without the help of most of their pitching staff. With Leake, they’re counting on having a third reliable starter to go with Madison Bumgarner and Chris Heston, which at this point wouldn’t be too much to ask for: just take a look at the Giants’ record when Bumgarner and Heston have started compared to anyone else in the rotation, along with each pitcher’s WAR:

 Starter Team W/L WAR
Bumgarner/Heston 22-10 4.7
All Others 23-24 0.1

This is a crude but effective way of showing the serious dichotomy between the top and bottom of the Giants rotation. With Leake, the goal is to bridge that production gap, all the while hoping that Matt Cain and Jake Peavy can find some of their former magic during the second half of the season. Tim Hudson, who has pitched only one game out of the bullpen in his entire career, will now be adding to that singular tally as the odd man out.

There’s an upside consideration with Leake as well. He’ll now move from one of the most hitter-friendly parks to one of the most pitcher-friendly, with his ground-ball and limited swing-and-miss skill set lending itself well to the spacious nature of AT&T Park. His total effectiveness (considering he has had to pitch around half of his innings at Great American Ballpark) should cause us to wonder if the Giants might be in store for even better performance than we’ve seen out of Leake the past few years; let us consider a few statistics on the matter.

Read the rest of this entry »

JABO: Matt Duffy, The Other Breakout Giants Project

Over the past half decade, the San Francisco Giants have found ways of getting meaningful contributions out of players who were thought to be past their prime or not highly-regarded. This year, the Giants have nurtured the offensive development of three infielders who didn’t show much power before the major leagues, turning what might otherwise have been an average lineup into one of the best offenses in baseball.

Those three infielders are Matt Duffy, Brandon Crawford, and Joe Panik. Together they form three quarters of one of the most productive offensive infields in the game, and it’s fair to say not many people predicted that statement being made about the Giants before the start of the season. The stories behind Crawford and Panik’s breakouts have already been chronicled: through a few swing changes and pulling more fly balls, both Giants middle infielders have increased their power production by leaps and bounds this season. However, we can’t be terribly surprised by those two putting it together, as one was a highly-regarded prospect (Panik), and the other was a very good college player (Crawford).

The same cannot be said of Matt Duffy. An 18th round pick in the 2012 draft out of Long Beach State, Duffy tallied a total of 501 college at-bats, hitting zero home runs during them. Over parts of three years in the minors between 2012-2014, Duffy hit 13 home runs in 1,087 plate appearances: that’s a minor league home run rate of one every 84 plate appearances. To put it another way, Jose Altuve hit a home run, on average, every 77 plate appearances between the 2013 and 2014 seasons, so Duffy homered in the minors at a rate just below what Jose Altuve has for the past two seasons. Duffy was productive in other ways, however, showing doubles power and a nice balance of patience and limited strikeouts.

Then 2015 rolled around, and the 24-year-old forced himself into an everyday role over Casey McGehee by hitting everything in sight. Duffy had eight homers in the first half of the season, performing 27% better than the average major league hitter (while also barely showing his stolen base ability). His average fly ball and home run distance currently sits at 297 feet, ranking 34th in the majors — just behind Andrew McCutchen. That power explosion, coupled with his above average defensive work (something he was known for dating back to his college days), have put him in very good company among rookies in 2015. Take a look at the top 10 rookies in the first half of the season by Wins Above Replacement:


Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.

San Francisco Has the Best Infield in Baseball

The San Francisco Giants began the season with what appeared to be an adequate, but perhaps underwhelming, infield. Buster Posey was the star at catcher and Brandon Belt seemed like a solid young first baseman. Brandon Crawford looked to be a decent glove-first shortstop while not much was expected from Joe Panik at second — and even less than that was expected from Casey McGehee at third base. McGehee could not quite catch fire the way he had done in Miami the previous season and has since been replaced by the previously unknown Matt Duffy. Nearly halfway through the first half of the Major League Baseball season, however, the Giants’ quintet of infielders has been the best in all of baseball.

Buster Posey has been right in line with his very high expectations, and Brandon Belt has been solidly aboveaverage as expected, but Panik, Crawford, and Duffy have vastly exceeded expectations in 2015. The group as a whole was projected for 12.4 wins before the season according to the FanGraphs Depth Chart projections. Those players have already accumulated nearly 13 wins and have more than half of the season to go. That number is the best in MLB this season.


Read the rest of this entry »

Chris Heston Is the Giants’ Latest Find

Chris Heston was listed on only two of the six major preseason prospect reports. John Sickels listed him in his “Others” section at the end of his top-20 list, and FanGraphs’ own Kiley McDaniel placed Heston 14th on his list. Kiley called him an “inventory starter” but did allow for some potential as well. Here was his final sentence on Heston:

Heston may be one of the small percentage of potential #5 starters that turns into more, but we’ll need to see how he performs his second time through the league.

Read the rest of this entry »

San Francisco’s Secret Home-Field Advantage

ATT Park, from behind home plate, at game time for a night game.

Justin Upton has hit the ground running in San Diego. His power stats have not suffered as much as you might expect, at least, as his isolated slugging (.194) and home runs per fly ball (16.7%) are right in line with career norms (.201 and 15.1%, respectively). When I asked him about hitting in San Diego, he shrugged it off. He also said something interesting about San Francisco’s park.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Plays Behind Chris Heston

There’s a belief that, when a guy throws a no-hitter, that means that somewhere along the line a defensive player made a hell of a play to keep it alive. There are certain famous examples that prop the theory up, and without doubt, there are easier plays made, and more difficult plays made, every single time. One of the interesting things about Chris Heston‘s no-hitter is that no defensive plays really stand out. Granted, because of the strikeouts, there were just 15 balls put into play, but all of those turned into 16 outs, and no one had to make an all-out dive. It was, in retrospect, an easy-seeming no-hitter, if that’s not an oxymoron. (It is, but, anyway.)

Heston’s not the best pitcher to ever throw a no-hitter. Nor is he the worst. In fact, we don’t yet really know what Heston is, because his big-league career is barely underway. All we know for sure is he’s something of a groundball machine. There are only so many ways to analyze a game like this, such that you’re in any way original, but then there is that new Statcast wrinkle. We’ve got some Statcast information for all of Heston’s balls in play allowed. That’s potentially useful.

Read the rest of this entry »

Giants’ Chris Heston Throws a No-Hitter

Throwing a no-hitter can seem like a random occurrence. Edwin Jackson has a no-hitter. Dallas Braden has a no-hitter. One of Bud Smith’s 24 starts in the majors was a no hitter. Philip Humber has a perfect game. Tim Lincecum threw zero no-hitters in his incredible prime, and has thrown two since entering his decline. Pedro Martinez never threw one. Steve Carlton never did, either. No-hitters in major-league baseball require incredible skill, opportunity, and some luck. Thousands upon thousands of pitchers have had all three of those things, but fewer than 300 pitchers in MLB history have thrown a no-hitter. Chris Heston is now among that rare group.

Tidbits using the Baseball Reference Play Index:

  • Chris Heston is only the 13th pitcher in MLB history to throw a no-hitter within his first 15 games in the majors. The last pitcher to match that feat was Clay Buchholz in 2007.
  • Heston’s no-hitter was only the third in history in which the only hitters to reach base did so by means of a hit-by-pitch (HBP). The other two were Kevin Brown in 1997 and Lew Burdette in 1960.
  • Heston’s three HBPs are the most in any no-hitter.
  • Only ten pitchers have thrown a nine-inning no-hitter with a higher Game Score than Heston’s 98. Clayton Kershaw’s 102 mark from last season remains the top score.
  • Of the 24 pitchers to throw a no-hitter within their first 30 games, Heston is the fifth-oldest at 27 years and 60 days. Bobo Holloman was the oldest at 30 years and 60 days when he threw his no-hitter in 1953 for the St. Louis Browns. Read the rest of this entry »

Joe Panik: The Other Brandon Crawford

Strictly based on WAR, the top middle-infield tandem so far has been playing half the time in Miami. The season hasn’t been a complete disaster for the Marlins, because they’ve observed steps forward by Dee Gordon and Adeiny Hechavarria, and that bodes well for the future, if the present is a little bit shot. Also based on WAR, the Marlins’ lead is about as small as it gets. Right on their heels is the Giants’ tag-team of Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik. The difference is something like one-tenth of one point. Let’s not split figurative hairs.

It’s a really interesting evolution that’s taking place in San Francisco. Crawford’s offensive development has been something to behold, starting out as a glove-first shortstop with a better bat than most pitchers. Crawford, now, is one of the best shortstops in baseball, provided the season doesn’t wear him down. But any attention paid to Crawford is attention not paid to Panik. And while Panik didn’t begin his big-league career in the same sort of way, he’s also reaching a level at the plate few would’ve imagined. Joe Panik isn’t just a slap hitter. Joe Panik is a genuine threat!

Read the rest of this entry »

Brandon Belt Looks to Break Out Again (Again)

Brandon Belt has shown this before: a 10- or 15-game stretch in which he looks to be the real slugging threat everyone talked about during his prospect days. He did it in August of 2013, and then he did it again to open the season in 2014; the latter seemed like it might be the one that would stick, but Belt broke his thumb on a hit by pitch in early May, suffered a concussion in July, and his season was effectively derailed.

In truth, we haven’t seen this sort of thing too often from San Francisco’s giraffe-like first baseman:


Sometimes a hitter just runs into one, and sometimes balls go very far at Coors Field. Regardless, his homer from last week was quite a punctuation mark — a mic drop, if you will — and it should at the very least force us to ask that familiar question concerning Belt: what can we really expect from him?

Read the rest of this entry »

Brandon Crawford’s Development in Just a Few Pictures

As I look at things now, Brandon Crawford has been as good a hitter this year as Matt Holliday and Kris Bryant. But, I understand it’s just May. Small samples can turn opposites into comparisons. So, turning to the past calendar year, I see beside Crawford’s name those of Torii Hunter and Aramis Ramirez. By now, it seems evident that Crawford is at least an average hitter or so. He’s showing signs, this year, of being something greater than that.

And maybe that’s something you’ve grown used to. We adapt with remarkable speed. But, try to remember what Crawford was when he was younger. Or, failing that, let me just remind you. In the minors, in Double-A, Crawford managed a .682 OPS. In Triple-A, he was dozens of points worse than that. As a major-league rookie, Crawford didn’t exactly hit like a pitcher, but he hit like one of those people we call a good-hitting pitcher. This was the first paragraph of an article from March 2012:

Read the rest of this entry »