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2007 Giants Report - v. 1.3: Pitching
by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
May 29, 2007

With a little more than a quarter of the 2007 major league baseball season now in the books, it’s time for me to take a more in-depth look at how things are shaping up for the San Francisco Giants. In this first of a two-part report, I’ll take a closer look at the state of the Giants pitching through the clubs first 49 games.

When I last checked in, the team had won their last five in a row on their way to a season high 8-game winning streak. The teams’ record was 9-8 after a 1-5 run to open the year and Barry Zito and Barry Bonds were both on a roll. Things were looking up.

As baseball reaches the Memorial Day checkpoint a month later, the Giants sit in fourth place in the NL West, four and half games behind the Dodgers and Padres with an overall record of 24-25, and they are just 15-17 since April 24. Between that time and May 19, the Giants won as many as two in a row just once, and lost as many as three straight twice. They followed that stretch with a four-game winning streak, which has since been supplanted by losses in their last three games. To say the Giants have been inconsistent would be hitting the nail on the head.

Starting Pitching

Once again it’s been the Giants starting pitchers who have thus far kept the team’s collective head above water. Through the Memorial Day weekend, the rotation had a collective 3.70 ERA and .245 BAA, fifth and sixth best in the majors respectively, and they were second in innings pitched (313.2) and first in IP/GS (6.40).

Save for one bad outing, Cain has been strong all season for the Giants, although his 2-4 record doesn’t reflect that. A mere 4.92 runs of support per game for Matt (49th lowest in MLB) and a leaky bullpen (the Giants have lost 3 of the 4 starts Cain left leading) have been the main issues. His .200 BAA ranks 5th in all of baseball, his .307 SLGA is 6th and his 6.33 H/9 allowed is the 3rd best mark. His 3.23 ERA ranks 16th in the NL and his 1.22 WHIP is 12th.

Matt Morris has been equally solid with a 5-2 record, a 2.90 ERA and a .258 BAA in 10 starts. He has played the role of stopper for the team, starting 8 games following a Giants loss and going 5-2, including a 2-hitter against Oakland on May 20. In the one no-decision, he left after 7 innings with a 3-2 lead in a game the Giants would eventually lose.

His steady veteran leadership has also proved invaluable to Cain as well as Noah Lowry, who has bounced back from an injury plagued ’06 season to go 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA and a .251 BAA despite a meager 3.64 runs per game of support (103rd in MLB).

Barry Zito, meanwhile, has embodied the inconsistency that has plagued the team, going 4-5 with a 4.70 ERA and walking 30 batters while striking out just 32 in 60.1 innings. However, his .235 BAA and 7.78 H/9 allowed thus far are his best marks since the 2003 season. Following a disastrous start against his former Athletics teammates in which he walked 7 batters total (including 3 in the first inning with the bases loaded on full counts), Zito and batterymate Bengie Molina had a Sunday afternoon discussion where the main topic was aggressiveness. “That was one of the first things I mentioned to him, that he’s trying to pick up too many corners and trying to make them miss instead of making the hitters hit his pitch,” Molina later told reporters.

What followed was one of Zito’s best performances yet as a Giant: 7 innings, 4 hits, 1 run, 2 walks and 2 strikeouts (the only blemish a Morgan Ensberg HR) as the Giants routed the Astros 9-1 while Zito improved to 3-0 with a 1.98 ERA in his last three starts at Willie Mays Field. “It feels more comfortable in this stadium, definitely,” Zito told the press after the game. “The first game was kind of strange for me.”

However, if Zito has been afforded the luxury of getting comfortable in his new surroundings due thanks to the performances of Cain, Morris and Lowry, then his task got even easier when on May 6 the Giants recalled last season’s #10 overall pick in the draft, Tim Lincecum, to replace the injured Russ Ortiz. The highly touted rookie pitcher had a mildly rough debut against the Phillies on national television, but has since turned in a very solid outing against the Rockies and two sparkling performances in which he out-pitched Astros ace Roy Oswalt.

And among all rookie pitchers in the majors with at least 20 innings pitched, his 3.08 ERA, .202 BAA and .227 BABIP rank fourth overall, including first among starting pitchers. His 1.03 WHIP is fifth overall and his 8.54 K/9 ranks 7th (second among starters behind only Matsuzaka). His impressive performance has earned him a permanent spot in the Giants rotation and has relegated Ortiz to the pen. Lincecum will face his biggest challenge yet on Tuesday, as he climbs the hill in the Big Apple to face the talent-laden Mets, possessors of the highest team batting average in the majors (.281).

Giants Starting Pitchers Factoid ~ All five current members of the Giants rotation were once selected in the first round of the amateur draft, including Cain, Lowry and Lincecum by San Francisco GM Brian Sabean.

Matt Morris – Selected by St. Louis in 1st Round – 1995 (#12 overall) Barry Zito – Selected by Oakland in 1st Round – 1999 (#9 overall) Noah Lowry – Selected by San Francisco in 1st Round – 2001 (#30 overall) Matt Cain – Selected by San Francisco in 1st Round – 2002 (#25 overall) Tim Lincecum – Selected by San Francisco in 1st Round – 2006 (#10 overall)

Relief Pitching

Overall the team’s relief pitchers have put up middle-of-the-road to back-of-the-pack numbers. The bullpen’s collective ERA of 4.15 and WHIP of 1.42 both rank 19th in the majors and their BAA of .255 places them 18th. As a staff, they have blown 5 saves in 15 opportunities (67%), tying them for 16th in MLB in save percentage. On the other hand, since allowing 8 of their first 10 inherited runners this season to score, the members of the pen collectively have allowed just 21 of 68 IR (30%) to cross home plate and have held the first hitter faced to a .233 BA (27-for-116). Or in other words, they’ve been inconsistent.

Individually, some have been better than others, but none have shown the kind of consistency you’d like to have. Perhaps the most consistent of the group has been another former first round draft pick Brad Hennessey (2001 – 21st overall), who has laid claim to a setup role to closer Armando Benitez by posting a 3.10 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and a .244 BAA in 20 1/3 innings spanning 19 appearances. Hennessey has walked just 4 batters all season, a rate of 1.77 per 9 innings pitched that is less than half his career mark of 3.73. He has also allowed just 31% (5 of 16) of his inherited runners to score (including a stretch of just 1 of 11) and has held the first batter faced to a .150 batting average (3-for-20). He has been the closest thing to automatic out of the Giants pen all year, yet displaying classic Giant inconsistency; he contributed to the Giants current three game slide by allowing inherited runners to score in each of his last two outings while giving up 2 runs of his own on 4 hits and a walk in 1 1/3 innings.

Jack Taschner fits the description of inconsistency, having walked 9 batters in just 13.2 innings while posting a 4.61 ERA, but also having held opposing hitters to a .204 batting average. Oddly enough lefties are batting .286 against him (8 hits in 7 IP) while right handed hitters are batting just .095 (2 hits in 6.2 IP). Overall though, like Hennessey, he’s been one of the pen’s better performers, allowing just 6 of 20 inherited runners to score (30%) and holding the first batter faced to a .235 average (4-for-17).

Likewise Kevin Correia has been good at times, holding opposing batters to a .205 average but he’s also allowed 3 of his 5 inherited runners to score. He’s been very strong of late though, allowing just 3 runs on 6 hits in 13.1 innings in May (2.03 ERA, .136 BAA). On the other hand his K:BB ratio in May is 9:9, as opposed to a 10:1 ratio in April.

Benitez has saved 9 games in 10 opportunities and averaged nearly 9.72 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. But with a 1.44 WHIP and nearly four and a half walks per 9, he simply does not instill confidence. He has been the losing pitcher in 2 of the 3 tie games he’s entered, and in his last 7 games, he has allowed 5 runs on 8 hits in 6.2 innings with opposing hitters batting .296 during that span.

Young lefty Jonathan Sanchez held the first batter faced to a .083 BA (1-for-12), but also walked 13 batters in 14.2 innings and that inconsistency coupled with Ortiz’ return from the DL and his corresponding move to the bullpen earned Sanchez a trip to Fresno.

Ortiz has now been used out of the pen twice and looked good, allowing just 1 hit in 3 innings. Should Benitez struggle, the former minor league closer might get a shot at filling that role.

Two of the pen’s least productive members have been right hander Vinnie Chulk and lefty Steve Kline. Despite a 3.92 ERA in 21 outings, Chulk has not pitched well. Batters are hitting .291 against him and he’s surrendered over 10 hits per 9 innings while allowing 8 of 13 inherited runners to score (62%). And while Kline has managed to strand 7 of 8 inherited base runners, he has been simply awful in every other respect. He has given up 18 hits and walked 5 in 10 2/3 innings, while striking out just 2 (15.19 H/9 – 4.22 BB/9 – 1.69 K/9 – 2.16 WHIP), and his ERA stands at 7.59. Hitters are batting .383 against him and reaching base over 46% of the time.

If this Giants fan had his wish, those two would be shipped out immediately in favor of younger talent within the organization, most specifically AA right hander Justin Hedrick and AAA lefty Patrck Misch.

Summary

The Giants starters have consistently kept the team in the game all season long yet the team continues to struggle in part because of the bullpen but largely due to an inept offense. In part two, I’ll take a closer look at that punchless Giants offense to see who’s been pulling their weight as well as who’s been dead weight.


Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard resides in San Francisco, California and can be reached at richard@baseballevolution.com.

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