Following last night’s loss to the Mets, the San Francisco Giants made a few roster moves. Hector Sanchez, who was out with a left knee strain, was activated and caught Barry Zito‘s start today. In a corresponding move, the Giants optioned Eli Whiteside back to Triple-A Fresno. Additionally, Justin Christian was optioned to Fresno, with Shane Loux reinstated to take his spot on the roster. In other words, the Giants will go with a 13-man bullpen for now. Lastly, Emmanuel Burriss, as expected, has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Fresno.
For the first time in what seemed like forever — it had actually been a month — Brandon Belt and Hector Sanchez were both in the starting lineup. The last time it happened, Barry Zito tossed seven scoreless innings and the Giants ended up defeating the Dodgers by a score of 8-0. Today’s game was like the polar opposite of that.
Zito’s first inning included three consecutive three-ball counts, followed by a David Murphy HBP and back-to-back hits from Jason “.157 average” Bay and Ronny Cedeno — although in all fairness to Zito, Cedeno’s double arguably should have been scored as an error on Melky Cabrera. Melky was able to get to the ball in time, but failed to snag it. Anyway, Zito miraculously pitched into the fifth, but ended up finishing today with the following line: 4.1 IP, 7 ER, 6 H, 1 K, 3 BB. He brought a shiny 3.89 ERA into this start, but it seems like that didn’t entirely reflect how bad he’s been. Before today, his ERA+ (90) was the second-worst mark he’s ever had over a full season, the worst being the 85 ERA+ he carried in 2008. And after today’s showing, which raised his ERA by 38 points, Zito’s ERA+ has assuredly dipped below 85.
The lone bright spot in today’s blowout was Melky Cabrera, who collected three of the Giants’ four hits. With a triple, an opposite-field ground-rule double, and a single, Melky fell a homer short of the cycle — which was refreshing to see, considering he’s been pretty quiet lately. Before today, Melky had gone 10 for 37 on this homestand without a walk or an extra-base hit.
But of course, it wasn’t nearly enough. And so the Giants finished this disheartening homestand 3-7, with those seven losses having come over their past eight games. The D’backs have quietly cut the Giants’ division lead to two games, and the Dodgers remain just half a game back. I wrote a week ago (over at Beyond the Box Score) that Arizona is still in the thick of the playoff hunt, and it’s pretty clear at this point that they pose a big threat to San Francisco. Both Arizona and Los Angeles have the day off, though.
- The 13-man bullpen is excessive, but I think it makes sense for the Giants right now. They’re about to start a three-game series at Coors Field — and knowing how those games tend to go, it’ll be convenient to have an extra arm in the ‘pen. After the Colorado series, they’ll begin a four-game set at St. Louis, against an offense that has been historically good thus far – so again, it makes sense to have some extra help. Besides, Justin Christian had been utterly worthless during his brief major-league stint.
- The only non-Melky to get a hit was Brandon Belt, who obliterated a ball into right field for a triple. He later deposited a ball into the bay, but it was foul (and he ended up striking out on a weak-looking hack).
- For someone that hasn’t played third base since 2008 (when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays), Marco Scutaro has filled in pretty nicely there for Pablo Sandoval — he made a couple good picks there today. And this was just the first time since joining the Giants that Scutaro has failed to get a hit. It occurred to me that I never got a chance to write up my thoughts on the Marco Scutaro trade, so to quickly sum it up: I loved it. I don’t think the Giants gave up much of anything in Charlie Culberson, who couldn’t even muster a .700 OPS in the PCL; and in return, San Francisco got a decent and necessary contact bat that can play third, short, and second without looking silly.
- Have we reached the point where Andres Torres is having a better season than Angel Pagan? Torres is hitting .238/.352/.323, 94 wRC+. Pagan is hitting .272/.317/.389, 94 wRC+. And there’s no question that Torres is the far superior defender.
Yesterday, I looked at how the Giants’ rotation fared in the first half. Today, I’ll look at the position players — the offense.
Melky Cabrera came over in a buy-high sell-low trade of Jonathan Sanchez, and wasn’t expected to repeat his excellent 2011 season — which was far and above what he’d done on the baseball diamond in the years prior to that. Instead, Melky has actually improved upon last year’s performance. He’s currently second in the National League in batting average, sixth in OBP, and top-15 in slugging. The near-.400 batting average on balls in play has a little to do with that, but at this point, I think it’s safe to say 2011 Melky was real. The Giants have had to handle Buster Posey with care, and they lost Pablo Sandoval for a while, but Melky Cabrera has been a constant for the Giants all season long, putting up a .353/.391/.519 while appearing in 83 of the team’s 86 games. The focus now, with Melky’s impending free agency, is signing him to a contract extension. The front office is going to have a tough decision to make…
Angel Pagan, the other outfield trade acquisition, has also proven a solid addition thus far. He got off to an unbelievably rough start, but managed to rebound quite well. Unfortunately, he failed to finish the first half strong, carrying a .488 OPS over his final 94 plate appearances before the all-star break. He’s ultimately been slightly above average with the bat, and he’s also been a pretty efficient basestealer (15 SB, 2 CS). His defense, on the other hand, has been a series of misadventures; but in all fairness to Pagan, Andres Torres isn’t exactly an easy act to follow.
After the Scott Cousins collision last season, Buster Posey was a major concern (at least for me) going into the season. How would he hold up behind the wear and tear of catching on a regular basis? Would he be as productive as before? Fortunately, Posey essentially picked up right where he left off. He’s as productive as he was last year prior to the injury, except he’s hitting with significantly more power. Plus, he’s continued to provide steady glovework behind the plate. As the season continues and the Giants head toward the stretch run, they would probably be wise to give Posey some more rest in lieu of some of these first base starts.
Along with the two aforementioned outfielders, Gregor Blanco has given the Giants one of the more productive outfields in the majors. Another brilliant minor-league pick-up, Blanco has added considerable value in the field, at the plate, and on the basepaths. Like Pagan, his production tailed off a little as the all-star break approached, but as with Pagan, it’s too early to hit the panic button. On another note, Blanco’s range in right field has been particularly convenient given Pagan’s defensive struggles.
Crawford has been a polarizing figure of sorts since the season began. The Giants committed to him as their starting shortstop for one reason — his defense; and Crawford’s defense has been anything but perfect (through 77 games, he’s committed 12 errors). But he’s also made some great picks at short, and in spite of the occasional bobbles and miscues, he’s been above average in that facet. His bat, expectedly, has left a lot to be desired. But the .268 wOBA is oddly tolerable from a plus defensive shortstop. Fangraphs has him at 0.8 WAR through 274 plate appearances, which is a hair below average production. Perhaps it’s a generous valuation, but overall, Crawford has certainly been okay.
Brandon Belt’s season can arbitrarily be divided into three segments:
- April 6 to June 10: .224/.340/.328, 141 PA
- June 12 to June 23: .441/.568/.882, 44 PA
- June 24 to July 8: .179/.195/.282, 41 PA
Belt was so blistering hot over that 11-game span in mid-June that he completely destroyed any doubts I may have had about him — at least for the time being. Overall, he’s had a solid season — and hopefully, given consistent playing time in the second half, he can start to produce consistently.
Pablo Sandoval picked up where he left off in 2011 — that is, until he broke his other hamate bone in early May. Upon his return, Sandoval’s power numbers took somewhat of a hit, and it’ll be interesting to see if that continues. In any event, while healthy, he’s inarguably hit very well (133 wRC+). The real disappointment — if any — has been Sandoval’s defense. Last season, he had a pretty strong Gold Glove case; this season, he’s been mediocre at best.
Joaquin Arias had a 51 wRC+ in Triple-A last season. But thanks to the Giants’ miserable middle-infield situation and the hamate injury that kept Pablo Sandoval out for several weeks, Arias has seen a lot of playing time — 54 games in total. Arias is the proverbial replacement level player, and he’s performed like it.
With the emergence of Gregor Blanco, Schierholtz has seen his playing time dwindle — and it’s probably for the better. He’s more or less been the same Schierholtz of 2009/2010 — a useful but dispensable fourth outfielder.
I don’t know what’s sadder — the fact that Emmanuel Burriss has an ISO of .008 or the fact that it’s actually an improvement over last year.
It’s easy be tough on Hector Sanchez, who’s drawn all of two walks this season. But it’s important to remember that he’s a) a backup catcher, and b) 22 years old. In light of that, his performance has been perfectly back-up catcher-y.
As of this writing, Melky Cabrera leads the major leagues in hits; frankly, nobody’s even all that close, as Melky has a seven-hit advantage over the next-best in hits, Derek Jeter (67). Overall, Melky is hitting a red-hot .369/.412/.556 on the season, good for a .417 wOBA and 168 wRC+. It’s nearly June, and here we are, with Melky Cabrera in the top-ten in the majors in wRC+.
Naturally, with all of the buzz Melky has created, the topic of contract extension talks has come up. Cabrera is set to hit free agency after this season, and he’ll only be 28 years old. Do the Giants really want to let a player like that walk away?
In 2010, he was the laughing stock of baseball. He barely slugged .350, wasn’t much of a threat on the basepaths, and his defense was poor at best.
Then 2011 happened. And he collected 200+ hits en route to a .305/.339/.470 season with the Royals. He had a couple things going for him: for one, he was 26 years old, which would qualify as a typical breakout point. And secondly, he had been a productive everyday major-leaguer at age 21, something that should be recognized. At an age when many promising future stars are playing A-ball, Melky was in the majors putting up league-average numbers. Yes, that was quite a while ago, but that tells me that there’s an underlying special element to Melky; it’s something that takes a lot of talent.
Still, I was among the many that felt Melky’s 2011 season was an outlier of sorts — that he was a slightly below average player playing a couple notches above his true talent level. And, clearly, I was wrong. You can only learn so much from a couple month’s worth of play, but Melky’s .400+ wOBA is evidence enough for me to conclude that 2011 was more than just a fluke.
Many have made note of the fact that Melky’s success has been rooted in his batting average on balls in play. Through 2010, Melky’s career BABIP stood at .290. Since then, he’s maintained a .350 BABIP. There’s a tendency in the baseball community to dismiss all BABIP fluctuations as products of luck and randomness, but that’s a gross misapplication and oversimplification; in Melky’s case, I think it’s just flat-out false. While Melky is obviously not going to continue seeing 40% of his balls in play fall for hits (his 2012 BABIP sits at an astounding mark of .406), his dramatic improvement in this area shouldn’t be dismissed. BABIP is dependent upon factors of luck, but also upon skill-related factors like speed and type/strength of contact. Melky’s improvement, while probably boosted a bit by luck, signals that he’s hitting the ball harder and probably running harder, too. In fact, this is right in line with all of the news about his improved fitness level following his dreadful 2010.
ZiPS projection system has Melky posting a .331 BABIP over the rest of 2012, which seems pretty reasonable. That’s not ridiculously high, but at the same time, it’s a significant step up from league-average BABIP. I think Melky has done enough over his last 900 plate appearances to warrant an adjustment of expectations.
That said, I don’t think that Melky Cabrera is a superstar. I think he’s an above-average player. And it makes sense that the Giants are considering handing him a contract extension. If we’re talking 2/$20M or 3/$25M, the figures that Matt Klaasen suggested, I see no reason why the Giants shouldn’t hammer out a deal. In light of Melky’s phenomenal start to 2012, I don’t think those figures are all that realistic, though.
If we’re talking Aaron Rowand money, um…no.
It sounds like Brian Sabean is taking the perfect approach with Melky. According to Andrew Baggarly, Sabean has said that the “stars would have to align” for the Giants to extend Melky during the season, but that it hasn’t been ruled out. Sounds good to me.