This is a graph of Tim Lincecum‘s strikeout-to-walk ratio through the years. Ignore that last data point if you want — he’s only thrown thirty innings this season — but the trend is still the same. He peaked in 2009, when he was 25 years old. At this point, I think it’s pretty safe to expect Lincecum to never reach that point again.
Now here’s Matt Cain‘s graph. Again, ignore that last data point if you want, but the general point is clear: even as Cain has gotten older, he’s kept on goin’. He’s now 27 years old, and he’s already passed the point where he should’ve began his decline. Cain’s track record speaks for itself, but one of the main things that stands out to me is that he hasn’t started to drop off yet; in fact, one could argue that he’s improved. After today’s performance, his K/9 is at a career high, his BB/9 is at a career low, and his ERA is at a career low. Small samples be damned, his ability to stand the test of time has been wonderful, and it’s not something to take for granted. While Tim Lincecum’s future (both as a Giant and in general) is up in the air at this point, Cain is here for the long haul. After Madison Bumgarner‘s excellent start yesterday, there was a lot of talk about how Bumgarner had claimed the title of “most reliable Giants starter” or “best Giants starter so far.” Whatever it was, I think Cain stated his case pretty clearly today.
Cain didn’t get the win though, of course. But the offense did just enough to give the Giants the series victory. A couple players in particular stood out to me with their hitting today, and obviously they’re the two guys I can’t shut up about: Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera.
Pagan extended his hitting streak to 20 games, though he’s been getting by with a lot of .250/.250/.250 performances (meaningless 1-for4s). Today wasn’t one of those, as Pagan had two hits — one of them a well-struck double down the first base line — and got the Giants a very important run in the first inning by beating out a double play. Oh yeah, and he stole a base. His OBP is still in sub-.300 territory, but whatever. Fueled by an early power surge, he’s been above-average hitter thus far (105 wRC+). He dug himself a sizable hole at the beginning of the year with that first-week slump, but he’s already worked his way out of it and then some.
As for Melky, he put up a 1-for-5 — but that was only because he was robbed of a double in the tenth inning. Both of his hits — the actual one and the would-be one — were to the opposite field, too. In case you haven’t noticed, he’s pretty good at this opposite-field hitting business: since the start of 2011, he has 61 opposite-field hits.
And unlike Pagan, he’s been excellent with the glove: today’s notable was that 11th inning double play — he robbed Jonathan Lucroy of a bloop single then proceeded to double up Corey Hart at first base.
Pagan, meanwhile, continues to disappoint with his defense. I’m not sure if an average centerfielder catches Travis Ishikawa‘s ninth inning game-tying double. But I’m certain of the fact that Pagan is capable of getting to that ball if he takes a better route, and I also have no doubt that Andres Torres would have made that catch.
Entering the season, I felt the Giants had a top-notch defense; so far, that hasn’t been the case at all. Melky has been better than expected, and Emmanuel Burriss has shown a bit more range than I thought he had. But other than that, they’ve been utterly disappointing. Especially with the easy stuff — the routine plays. Bobbling grounders, failing to communicate in the outfield, et al. That’s exactly why I’m not too worried about this, though. I don’t think the Giants are fundamentally flawed on defense — it’s not as though they’re not getting to the ball in the first place, for example; they’re just making a few (costly) mistakes here and there. In other words, I don’t expect this to be a lingering issue.
Anyway, the Giants came away with the W, and sloppy as they were at times, a win is a win. Considering their next stop is LA, for the 18-10 Dodgers, it’s a good thing they were able to rebound and grab a couple wins to end this homestand.
The story today was Madison Bumgarner. Nothing — missed calls, sloppy defense, a lack of run support — was going to get in his way. That’s what it felt like when he worked through that messy fifth inning. And when he rebounded from a leadoff error in the sixth — an inexcusable miscue between Angel Pagan and Brett Pill that put Aramis Ramirez in scoring position — to shut the Brewers down. But the lasting image was when he stepped up to the plate in the fifth inning — following a futile one-pitch at-bat from Conor Gillaspie — and lined a double into left field to tie the game at one.
All in all, he turned in yet another stellar performance on the mound, allowing one run through seven innings of work, as he improved to a 2.31 ERA (3.61 FIP) on the season and carried the Giants to a 5-2 victory. In four of Bumgarner’s six starts this season, he’s gone 7+ innings without allowing more than one run.
Obligatory reminder: he’s 22 years old. His first five starts alone put his 2012 season among the best by a 22-year-old Giants starter. Is there any question he can work his way up to #1 on that list by season’s end?
- Five runs…feels like it’s been a while, eh? It has. Last time they scored five runs in a game was back in Cincinnati, nine days ago.
- Hector Sanchez, who entered this game hitting .233/.244/.302, finally got things going with a pair of doubles (one of which nearly went over the centerfield wall for a homer). These were his second and third extra-base hits on the season, respectively, and needless to say, it’s great to see a game like this out of Hector.
- Melky Cabrera had a quality game as well, with a couple hits (including a triple) and some very good glovework in right field. He’s now put together four consecutive multi-hit games, which has brought him up to a .364 wOBA this season. At this point, it seems pretty clear that I was wrong about Cabrera — something I’m very happy to say.
- Angel Pagan has now hit safely in 19 consecutive games; however, he’s also now gone 16 consecutive games without a walk. I do wonder if he’s slightly altered his approach, becoming more hacktastic for the sake of preserving his hitting streak. It’s not likely, but it’s worth throwing out there. And while we’re on the subject of walks — the Giants had another walk-less game today, keeping their season total at 65. That’s third-worst in the National League.
I didn’t catch today’s game, but I did see this. That three-run homer, which won today’s game for the Giants, was one of two hits on the day for Angel Pagan, who extended his hitting streak to a career-high 11 games. Over that span, he’s collected a total of 16 hits — seven of them going for extra bases — and he’s managed to raise his OPS nearly 400 points. More interestingly though, his performance has reaffirmed the importance of patience when it comes to making sweeping judgements about players.
Pagan had a .358 wOBA in 2009. That fell to .341 the next season, and dropped another 28 points to .313 last season. Then he stumbled out of the gate, hitting .171/.203/.303 in Spring, and failed to redeem himself in the first week of the regular season (.111/.172/.185). In spite of all the Spring Training stat caveats that are spouted ad nauseam throughout March, and the small-sample-size caveats that follow in April, it was easy to sour on Pagan quickly.
After watching a player for several weeks, their performance inevitably factors into our ever-changing perception of how good (or bad) that player is. We’re all human, after all.
And in this case, it perhaps didn’t seem like a player whose struggles were a product of random variation, because it was a continuation of a trend that had been going on for a few years. The narrative wrote itself: Pagan had put up progressively worse numbers since 2009, and 2012 was to be the next step in this decline phase.
Then Pagan started to hit. And eighteen games into the season, his overall numbers are right about where we’d expect them to be (give a few walks, take a few total bases). If he keeps this up (by which I mean his overall numbers) — which seems probable, he’ll be everything the Giants need him to be: a solid if unspectacular everyday centerfielder. Just another reminder that patience is a virtue.