Most of my blog posts are more like features or columns… or something. Humans are creatures of habit. This post will not be a feature or a column. This one will be different, likely a side effect of missing most of the games over the past week – aside from scrutinizing over the box scores and catching Friday night’s game in the desert* – while I was on a road trip. I did catch yesterday’s game, in which Tim Lincecum pummeled the Rockies at Coors Field. Delicious.
Sergio Romo’s quick-pitch sneaky-time slider ball:
I’m sure I could take the time to figure out what the swinging-strike percentage against Romo’s slider is, but my guess is, it must be high. His fastball isn’t a great pitch, so he’s used the slider nearly as often throughout his career (54 percent versus 41 percent). This season, he’s actually throwing the Frisbee slide-piece more often. A lot of pitchers steal strikes with breaking pitches, but Romo often steals strikes with his heater. It’s great fun.
He’s thrown 6.2 innings in eight games so far, whiffing 10, walking zero, and allowing just three base runners and no runs. He’s already nailed down three shutdowns (Win Probability Added of 0.60 or better) to zero meltdowns. He’s been close to perfect; he’s been the best reliever on the team. He won’t finish the season with his current ERA of 0.0000000, but I expect he’ll have some sweet facial hair and nice numbers come October.
Anyway, the quick pitch he delivered to Ryan Roberts on Saturday and Justin Upton on Sunday is why I brought our favorite set-up man up. On Saturday, Romo came set and stayed set after Robertscalled time out. The pitch was a ball, but after he made an out on the next pitch – a slider, go figure – Romo smiled and Roberts evidently felt disrespected.
On Sunday, Romo struck again. Upton called timeout late during his at bat; his request granted. After he stepped back in the box, Upton called timeout again, perhaps for a bit of gamesmanship. He lost that game, as Romo had come set while Upton stepped out and, as soon as he stepped back in, Romo delivered a wipeout slider that Upton looked ugly and ill-prepared for. It was thoroughly enjoyable. I hope you saw it too.
More, after the jump.
Miguel Tejada’s defense
That’s rough, I know, but it’s also true. Has been. We know about his range, but we need him to make the routine plays. He dropped a blistering strike from Buster Posey on Sunday that handed the D’backs a huge run, and potentially cost the Giants the game. But, those things happen. Unfortunately, those are the things that Tejada needs to avoid to make his defense sorta-kinda palatable, versus utterly insufferable.
The pop out he went out for in Monday’s game, during which he started to panic while looking for help from slow Pat Burrell and again Aaron Rowand in the expansive real estate that is the Coors Field outfield, was not an encouraging play to witness. He did, however, make the play – which just so happens to be the only thing anyone is asking of him.
Actually, never mind what I said. He’s also been asked not to hit .213/.246/.344 (average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) for a weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .244. He should probably stop hitting that. Or else we’ll soon be unable to call it hitting.
Outfield defense, Brandon Belt
These two go hand in hand. I hate to say it, but despite my insistence during the spring that Belt should absolutely make the team, if ready, I’m now ready to agree he and the Giants might be best served by sending him to Fresno.
I think he’s going to hit, and I think that might coincide with an opportunity afforded to him by the slumping of others. Aubrey Huff is hitting .254/.303/.356. He’s also quite possibly one of the most ungraceful runners and terrible outfielders the world has ever seen. Watching him run after a lazy fly ball – that inevitably lands for a hit – is one of most painful things I have had to observe recently. Will Ferrell – as Harry Caray – said staring at the sun will burn your eyes out. Watching Huff play outfield defense will too.
The more I watch him out there, the more I’m astounded at how decent-ish he looked out there in 2010 while he and Burrell flanked Andres Torres, and the more astounded I am that this exact configuration was an integral part of the World Series run they made. Magical, it was.
Huff deserves a lot more rope, obviously, given his tremendous 2010 season, experience and paycheck – hold the Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand jokes. He shouldn’t be allowed to hang himself with that rope, though I’m guessing Bochy will give him every opportunity to. But I’m hopeful a return to first, thereby resting his battered legs, will boost his bat some. Meanwhile, I wish the skipper would at least contemplate installing someone else in the three-spot at least until his bat awakes from its winter slumber.
Burrell hasn’t looked swell, either. He’s holding to his three-true outcome reputation – mostly walking, striking out and putting balls in the bleachers – but it hasn’t been pretty. It’s been more 2010 Carlos Pena than 2008-2009 Carlos Pena. A 40 percent strikeout rate is ghastly and probably unplayable given his defensive contributions (or lack there of), should his swing and miss flurry continue. Remarkably, the five long balls and 13 percent walk rate has him sitting at a .377 wOBA. It’s a goofy start and rather odd looking, but we probably need to get into May before we draw many conclusions on Burrell… or anyone else for that matter.
As for Belt, well, he is still a league leader in pitchers per plate appearance to go with a 13.6 percent walk rate. That said, he’s not squaring anything up. Through 59 plate appearances, he’s grounded out to second 72 times. Look it up. At times, perhaps most of the time, the kid has looked frustrated both at the plate and in the field. It’s not that he’s carried it to the field; it’s that his body language leaves something to be desired.
I think there’s a chance he could figure it out if given then at bats. I’m just not sure they’re there, not with Cody Ross returning tomorrow. Improving the defense in the outfield tremendously, allowing Belt to gain some confidence in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) and even potentially pushing his free agency back by a year, now that seems like a decent idea in the present.
But when he does return, which seems inevitable, where does he play? Huff cannot play outfield. He just can’t. The ball probably won’t find him as often as it has in left field, which is where he’d likely go if Belt returns to first base at some point. But I can’t help but wonder how much energy is being sapped from his legs and bat while patrolling the outfield grass. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Belt spends time in the outfield in Fresno.
This will be a continuing problem, as Huff will be blocking Belt at first base just as soon as he asserts himself offensively in the major leagues. Not just in 2011, but in 2012 as well. If he doesn’t start hitting, that signing is going to look awful. People aren’t yet talking about Huff’s slow start, but he’s doing little better offensively than Belt and is a far worse defender, regardless of where he plays.
When Bruce Jenkins wrote about the possibility the Giants would release Zito outright, I quickly wrote why that was a ludicrous proposition. Zito has been far from worthless over the past four seasons. He’s been about league average, and that’s highly valued in this game we love. Just ask the Pirates’ pitching coach – he’d look like on Zito like a canteen in the scorching desert.
With that out of the way, an 83.6 mile an hour fastball won’t do. That’s what FanGraphs has him at so far in 2011, down just more than two mile per hour from 2010. That’s by far the worst fastball he’s ever had, and it’s getting dangerously close to Jamie Moyer status. It’s nearly a full mile per hour slower than 2007, the worst season of his career. I hate to say it, but I don’t think he can be much more than a replacement starter unless he’s able to improve his slowball.
That velocity drop worries me just as much replacing him and his replacement-pitching ways – at best, at least thus far in 2011 – with a replacement starter: enter Ryan Vogelsong. The Giants’ severe lack of starting pitching depth is a major concern, and one that will elevate to a four-alarm fire should another starter go down.
Wilson’s injury still costs
Brian Wilson is back from the DL, but his injury is still hurting the Giants. On Sunday, the Giants blew the lead in the eighth with some shoddy defense and a little too much reliance on Ramon Ramirezand Jeremy Affeldt in a high-leverage situation. Ordinarily, Romo would have pitched the eighth – he pitched a perfect ninth with a strikeout – and Wilson the ninth. But with Wilson having pitched Friday and Saturday, Bochy didn’t want to use his closer and held on to Romo while trying to get to the final frame with less-than-stellar options.
They should have – or at least could have – still won that game, even without Wilson’s filthiness. But this is something we ought to keep an eye on. Wilson was deployed for four- and five-out saves routinely in 2010, with great success. That luxury simply doesn’t exist right now. Bummer. The hope is that they let him out of his cage at some point, but for the time being, the Giants would do themselves a lot of good by scoring more runs and avoiding extra tight ball games on a nightly basis.
Jonathan Sanchez opposes the Giants’ worst nightmare from a year ago tonight: Ubaldo Jimenez. He’s returning from a cuticle cut on his right thumb. His Opening Day start was ruined by the finger injury and a “slow” fastball, at least by his standards. If he’s fully healthy, the Giants will have their hands full.
But the Giants thus far have the fourth-most home runs in baseball with 20 and they’re in Colorado. So there’s that. And did you see Nate Schierholtz’s mammoth blast yesterday?
*Chase Field really is a nice yard and feels small, like many of the parks being built today. The temperature was unbelievably comfortable, and I can only imagine it’s one of the best parks in baseball during the first month of the season. The crowd was slim, which was to be expected. That said, I wonder if it would have been even an anorexic one had it night be Jackie Robinson night, complete with post-game fireworks. I always enjoy them, anyway. Lastly, my orange Giants shirt and Giants cap weren’t met with the least bit of hostility. I wasn’t almost embarrassed for the Diamondbacks in that sense – a complete and utter apathy as far as I could tell. In all fairness, though, I paid for some nice seats and the fans in those sections tend to be far more reasonable and mild tempered. Still, feeling as comfortable as though I were eating milk and cookies at grandma’s place felt a bit odd, a bit wrong even.