The Giants gave the Dodgers a drubbing on Saturday afternoon, beating them 10-0 behind a what-we’ve-come-to-expect start from Matt Cain. It was a six-inning, four-leaf-clover charmed effort with only three strikeouts. Three strikeouts! What a fraud. Fortunately, his luck will run out in another 1,000 innings or so. Other than that, they looked (and smelled) like hot garbage on Thursday, Friday and Sunday while more or less handing three of four to the archrival Dodgers.
Anyway, let’s put Thursday and Friday behind us and consider some things we learned today:
1) You should not throw thigh-high 84-mph fastballs on the inner half of the plate to [Matt Kemp]*.
Barry Zito will not be a league-average starting pitcher in 2011 if he’s topping out at 84 mph. Let’s hope the poor velocity was more “someone t-boned me on Wednesday night” and less “this is the end of the yellow brick road.”
2) The suggested sample size for when you want to take a player’s UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) to the bank is 2,000 innings.
If you didn’t catch the game, this will give you an idea of how Huff looked in right field.
Look, UZR is a wonderfully useful statistic, but it’s also not without its limitations, even admitted as much in its recent interview with Joe Posnanski. Aubrey Huff played in 502.1 seemingly adequate innings in the outfield in 2010 – he had a UZR of 1.3 (2.6 UZR/150) — and many believed this was enough to conclude he could easily shift to right and left field when Brandon Belt arrived in San Francisco. Even if you include the well-received 2010, he had about 2,500 innings in the outfield with a -16.4 UZR (-8.4 UZR/150) over his career. What’s more, the majority of those innings came when he was a young man — and what should have been the physical prime of his career — at ages 26-29.
While he’s certainly not as bad as he looked tonight – at least I don’t think – this is exactly why some of us were concerned about re-signing a soon-to-be 34-year-old hitter that was coming off a wildly-unexpected career year, and whose position (first base) was the same of a hot prospect that put up the most impressive statistics of any minor league player in 2010. A player that there was a good chance would be ready for the big leagues by mid-season 2011 at the latest.
It’s too early to be too concerned about this. It really is. For one, Huff didn’t get nearly enough reps in the outfield in spring training. When Cody Ross went down with a calf injury late in the exhibition schedule, the Giants’ brass were forced to more seriously consider Belt as an option to make the club. Prior to that, the Giants were not seriously considering the possibility that Huff would have to play right field. Not so soon, anyway. Still, though, San Francisco owes Huff $22 million over the next two seasons and he’s currently a man without a position. If Belt continues to produce – we have reason to believe he might, given the quality of his at bats so far – Huff’s not going back to first. And at his age, he’s not going to get any better as a water buffalo grazing in the outfield grass.
I still understand the signing, the hesitance to let an above-average left-handed bat walk away after helping carry you to a World Series championship. The hesitance of putting all your eggs into one basket, a kid with one year of professional experience. The Giants were in one hell of a tough, and in many ways, unenviable position. That doesn’t mean it will turn out poorly. But it also doesn’t mean it will turn out well. It’s just something that is, something that we will have to wait out.
3) Patience is a virtue.
Matt Guerrier came in to relieve Hong-Chih Kuo in the eighth inning in order to face Pat Burrell. In case you have not heard, Pat “The Bat” is a three-true-outcome type. It’s what we (who want to be) in the business call a guy that tends to either a) strike out b) walk or c) hit a home run in most of their at bats. He’d already struck out and he’d already hit a home run. To my delight, Guerrier walked him. Next, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed rookie Brandon Belt strode to the plate, a 23-year-old kid who’d seen 66 pitches total major league pitches in his young career. He was batting with the bases loaded, down by four, and before a nationally broadcast audience thanks for ESPN. Oh, he was also in Dodgers stadium, the most hostile place a San Francisco Giant can find himself. He walked on five pitches, taking a few tough breaking balls. No sweat.
Up came Miguel Tejada. Tejada’s been in the league since 1997. Since ESPN started tracking how many pitches a player sees while at the plate back in 2002, when Tejada won his AL MVP award, he’d seen 22,072 pitches prior to Sunday evening. On the very first pitch, here’s what he chose to swing at, weakly popping it up and ending the threat:
There’s a good chance he’s going to be a frustrating player to watch. He’s no longer a really reliable bat; he’s now nearer to a liability. He’s extremely far removed from being an average defensive shortstop. Perhaps most importantly (and frustratingly), though, he’s the best we got right now.
4) That the 2011 Giants will have a shutdown bullpen is not a given.
Dan Runzler came in tonight and didn’t pitch well at all. His work led to a four-run Dodgers inning that essentially sunk the Giants’ chances of winning. Had the crooked number have just been a two, and not a four, well they might still be playing. Santiago Casilla was a stalwart for much of 2010; he might not be this year. Other than Sergio Romo and Wilson, I’m not getting a warm and fuzzy feeling from any of the other arms in the pen.
I don’t want to dwell on the series too much. I think the Giants are a good team, that they, despite the ugly-as-sin weekend, are still favorites to win the National League West. They’ve got Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain and Buster Posey and Brandon Belt! and they’ll probably have Brian Wilson back soon, too.
But like almost any team out there, even the good ones, they are not a team without questions. They’ll need to address some of those questions, and soon, if they want to go from good to really good… or great.