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Where we tend to talk about the recent past a lot

Updated: 2017-09-20T10:50:37-07:00


Brian Sabean still believes in clutch hitting


Which is fine. But there’s a quick misconception that I’d like to clear up. Brian Sabean was an underrated GM the whole time, it turns out. While I was making fun of him acquiring Rey Sanchez, it turns out that WAR was going to prove him right retroactively. Same with Jose Vizcaino. And it would have told us that Jeff Kent was as valuable as Matt Williams in 1996, except he was younger, cheaper, and playing a tougher position on the defensive spectrum. He was ahead of his time. But while you can take the brain away from the flip phone, you can’t always take the flip phone away from the brain. The Chronicle published some outtakes from his one-on-one interview with Bruce Jenkins, and this stood out: And if you’re at the plate, I’ll kiss your ass on Main Street if you tell me certain hitters don’t have a nose for an RBI, the big clutch hit. To the SABR people it’s random circumstance, and I just can’t rationalize that. It’s an art form, a higher level of talent. Kiss your ass on ... wait, what? But, anyway, I’m not here to make fun of this. I’m here to explain the current stat-nerd orthodoxy. It’s a two-parter. Based on what we know about the brain and human nature, it’s completely logical to believe that one person might perform better in crucial situations than one of his peers. Like hell can you tell the difference with your puny human brain. Your puny human brain is wired to look for patterns and coincidences. It helped us find mastodons to eat. It doesn’t always help us evaluate individual baseball players, though. Anecdotes are powerful and deceptive, and watching a player succeed in the clutch five out of eight times will color your perceptions forever. Tony Gwynn is often held up as one of the greatest clutch players of all-time, and the stats back that up. He was statistically better in close and late situations. There’s a stat called tOPS+ that measures a player’s adjusted OPS in close and late situations to his overall adjusted OPS. The higher the number, the better that player was in clutch spots compared to his overall numbers. Gwynn was 11 percent better in clutch spots. Pedro Feliz was 13 percent better in clutch spots compared to his normal body of work. If you buy into tOPS+, he was the 28th clutchest player of all time, relatively speaking. Jackie Robinson was the second clutchest player of all time ... behind Dan Ford. Darin Erstad was one of the greatest clutch players of all time ... but Edgar Renteria is one of the worst? I can actually think of an instance in which that was not true, if you can believe it. If you don’t want to use stuff like close-and-late stats, you’re relying on your eyeballs and a limited data set. Jeff Bagwell sure seemed like the greatest clutch hitter I ever watched, and he hit much better with runners in scoring position. But he hit worse in close-and-late situations. He was far better in blowouts than tie games, but he was also better in high-leverage situations than low-leverage? It’s all noise. And to pretend like you’re going to see through the matrix and determine who’s actually better in the clutch, well, that’s a very optimistic evaluation of your own abilities. Yet I know what Sabean means. I’d want Bagwell up with the bases loaded, too. I’ve mentally assigned him a clutch label, and that’s not something I’ll ever give up. I believe that some players are clutch, after all. I just don’t believe in my ability to tell the difference in a definitive way. That’s a crucial distinction. I’ll kick the tires on the idea that clutch hitters exist, but at the end of the day, I’m not comfortable using anecdotal evidence to assert that a certain player is better when he’s in a tough spot. [...]

Giants walk off against Rockies, 4-3


I’ve seen this game between these two teams before. And that’s what made it so fun. There is a natural order to things when it comes to the Giants and Rockies. The Giants go to Coors Field and lose 9-8 after a five-run Rockies rally in the late innings. The Rockies come to AT&T Park and score three runs or fewer, only to lose on a bunch of infield singles. Violations of this natural order lead to some weird consequences. In 2010, the Rockies had a three-game winning streak at AT&T Park. In 2014, the Rockies swept a series at AT&T. Both times, the Giants were awarded championships in a baseball-god perversion of NCAA violations. Do not mess with the natural order. And speaking as someone who still wakes up in the middle of the night shrieking Neifi Perez’s name, I hope the Rockies miss the postseason by a single game and think back to this game before any of the other 161 on the schedule. Because here’s how the Giants won: Pablo Sandoval infield single Ryder Jones sac-bunt-turned-infield single Kelby Tomlinson slapper Sac fly You aren’t thinking about this, necessarily. The Giants won, and there was a big scrum, and someone threw water on Hunter Pence, and it was so much fun, everyone. The hows and whys aren’t as important as the end result. But Rockies fans are livid. Livid. This favor is returned when the Rockies score four runs in the bottom of the ninth and Giants fans have foam coming out of their ears, and Rockies fans are like, “What? That’s just how baseball is!”, so we’re owed this one. Eternally. That doesn’t mean that the Rockies are somehow rendered unannoying when they come to San Francisco. D.J. LeMahieu is a rash on the inside of the Giants’ scalp, and he will always make some sort of absurd play because he hates you. Gerardo Parra is worth 1.9 dWAR in his career, and exactly 1.84 of that has come against the Giants. He has thrown out 487 different Giants runners in his career, and he needs to be traded to the Orioles. Or the moon. At the same time, the game was so close because Johnny Cueto was solid. He walked four and racked up a lot of pitches early for the second straight start, but he was still effective, with six strikeouts and two runs allowed. The best part might have been how he started the 1-6-3 double play in the sixth inning, which is absolutely the hardest play in professional sports. The hero of the game, of course, is Hunter Pence, who hit one of the longest home runs of the year. It was just his fourth homer at AT&T Park this year, which is still stunning, but he picked a good spot. It gave the Giants the lead, and it made a divisional rival sad. This kind of game is the reason why you trick yourself into watching. The Giants are out of it. They’ve given you ulcers all season. You deserve a break. But ... but ... what if they have one of those games where they pull the Rockies’ nose hairs out one by one and make them curse AT&T Park? Yeah, what if? It would look a lot like that. This is the part of the recap where I ignore the existence of Nolan Arenado, which is pretty much the best feeling in the world. Let’s take a moment to appreciate that Bruce Bochy didn’t make Kelby Tomlinson bunt. The reason you don’t want to do that is because it takes away the possibility of a home run from the batter, but he didn’t really have to worry about that, so there was no shame in going for the bunt. But Bochy hates bunts even more than nerds do, so he told Tomlinson to slap away. Tomlinson slapped away. He was successful. As a connoisseur of the unwritten rules, I’m delighted to announce that Johnny Cueto can be kind of a jerk when it suits him: Johnny Cueto will not allow you to go Full Throttle!— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) September 20, 2017 I’ve seen players take their time around the bases. I’ve never seen one player tell another player to take his time around the bases. That has to violate 64 different unwritten rules. But Cueto w[...]

What it will take for the Giants to avoid 100 losses


Five wins out of 11 games. Doesn’t sound bad when you put it like that, right? Right? I’m fond of mentioning the 2008 Giants around here. It’s my scarecrow, a bogeyman to remind you youngsters of just how bad teams can get. Jose Castillo started at third base. The Giants decided they didn’t need a proper backup for their 41-year-old shortstop, which means they were caught off guard when Brian Bocock was the Opening Day starter. They employed Eugenio Velez, Emmanuel Burriss, and Ivan Ochoa, and the team hit even fewer home runs than this year’s team, with just 94. Their cleanup hitter had 16 homers and a .322 on-base percentage. The 2008 Giants didn’t lose 100 games, though. In fact, the 2017 Giants have already lost more games than them, with 11 left to play. The 2017 Giants are already the worst team I’ve ever covered. The worst team since 1985. And they still have time to be worse. The Giants need seven more losses to reach 100, and they have 11 to play, which means they’ll need to go 5-6 or better to avoid 100 losses. The problem with this is that they’re playing two kinds of teams for the remainder of the season: Teams that are going to the postseason, and the Padres, who mysteriously dominate them. Another way to put it is that the Giants are 23-42 against the opponents left on their schedule. That’s right: They’re even worse against the Rockies, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Padres than they’ve been in general this year. They have a .354 winning percentage against those four teams, which is worse than their .384 winning percentage overall. This means that their only chance is to be better against these teams. They can’t be just as lousy as they have been. They have to improve. Let’s look at the records it would take to avoid 100 losses, then. How realistic are they? 11-0 I’m not convinced this is realistic. 10-1 I’m not convinced this is realistic, either. 9-2 This would need to include three sweeps of the above listed teams. The Giants have swept two series all year. 8-3 Not unthinkable. They went 8-3 for different stretches in May, but it took their biggest winning streak of the year to get it. 7-4 That would look something like this: vs. Colorado (W)vs. Colorado (L) @ Los Angeles (W)@ Los Angeles (W)@ Los Angeles (L) @ Arizona (W)@ Arizona (W)@ Arizona (L) vs. San Diego (W)vs. San Diego (W)vs. San Diego (L) That is, the Giants would have to go the rest of the season without losing a series. So. 6-5 Take that above schedule and flip one of the series wins into a series loss, and it’s still possible. Let’s say the Giants win one of their games against the Rockies. In that scenario, they would either need to sweep one of the remaining three teams, or they would need to win two out of their next three series to get this record. Again, that’s if they split the Rockies series. 5-6 The most realistic option, of course. A 5-6 stretch looks like this: vs. Colorado (W)vs. Colorado (W) @ Los Angeles (W)@ Los Angeles (L)@ Los Angeles (L) @ Arizona (W)@ Arizona (L)@ Arizona (L) vs. San Diego (W)vs. San Diego (L)vs. San Diego (L) They need to win one series. That’s it. If they sweep the Rockies, they need just one win in each of the next three series. If they split with the Rockies, they need one series win out of the next three. If they’re swept by the Rockies, welp, they’ll need to win at least two out of the final three series. TL;DR? The Giants have four series left. They have to win at least one of them to avoid 100 losses. The last time they won a series was a month ago. They haven’t won any of their last seven series. So it will be a challenge. Winning baseball games usually is a challenge for teams that can’t win, now that you mention it. One series win. That’s what it will take. I’m all for this new pretend World Series. Just win one series, you dorks, and you avoid the painful stigma that comes with 100 losses. It shouldn’t be that hard. And yet ... [...]

The Giants have evenly spread out their complete and total collapse


It’s not that the Giants are getting disappointing performances from their top players. Everyone is to blame. Over at FanGraphs last week, Jeff Sullivan wrote about the different makeups of teams around baseball. The Cardinals have a lot of players in the middle of successful seasons, but they don’t have anyone threatening to win the MVP. The Angels have Mike Trout, who is somehow getting better, but they don’t have a lot of support behind him. To do this, Sullivan looked at three categories: The five best players on every team, by WAR The next five best players, by WAR The rest of the players after those top 10 The results were helpful when it came to explaining the relative successes and failures of some teams. But they were absolutely essential in explaining the failures of the 2017 Giants. The Giants’ five best players are worse than almost every other team’s five best players, and they’ve fallen off drastically compared to last year The Giants’ top five players, according to FanGraphs’ WAR: Jeff Samardzija (3.9), Buster Posey (3.7), Brandon Belt (2.3), Joe Panik (1.9), and Brandon Crawford (1.7). Only the Padres, A’s, and White Sox have a quintet that’s less productive. Note that gaudy number for Samardzija is based on his stellar FIP. If FanGraphs used his ERA to calculate his WAR, the Giants would fare even worse. Their best players haven’t been as good as the best players around the rest of the league. Oh, and here’s the best part: The Giants have fallen more in this category than any other team in baseball. Last year, they ranked fifth in this category, which means they dropped 22 spots. They had some of the best players around last year. Everything was better last year. Do you remember when we were so mad at last year? I miss last year. The Giants’ best players after their top five are worse than almost every other team’s best players after their top five, and they’ve fallen off drastically compared to last year The next five players have been even worse for the Giants. Those would be Madison Bumgarner (1.6), Ty Blach (1.2), Eduardo Nuñez (1.1), Denard Span (1.1), and Matt Moore (1.0). Yes, the second tier of the most valuable Giants includes a) a pitcher who missed half the season, b) a pitcher out of the rotation, c) a hitter who was traded over a month ago, d) a center fielder who can’t field and is propped up in these rankings because of defensive metrics that defy belief, and e) the pitcher with the worst ERA in the National League. The good news is that other teams have dropped off even more in this category. It’s why the Cubs aren’t as dominant this year, and it’s why the Rockies are clawing for the wild card, even though they’re enjoying MVP performances from several players. But the Giants have still dropped off, losing 14 spots from last year. The Giants’ players after their top 10 are worse than almost every other team’s players after their top 10, and they’ve fallen off drastically compared to last year This is a group that includes everyone from Johnny Cueto to Drew Stubbs. The Giants have used 14 hitters this year who racked up negative WAR. Just two of the 22 pitchers they’ve used have a negative WAR (Steven Okert and Josh Osich), but 16 of them are in limbo, somewhere between 0.0 and 0.9. Or, to put it simply: The middle to bottom of the Giants’ roster has been atrocious. Except they rank 26th in baseball here, which is their best showing out of the three categories. Which means the Aaron Hills and Bryan Morrises have been their clearest competitive advantage. Which ... dammit, Giants. The Giants have dropped 22 spots in this ranking, which is the biggest drop by far. Considering the Giants, as a team, have dropped more than any other, including the White Sox, who traded their very best players, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Giants aren’t just worse because of disappointing seasons at the top. They’re not worse because of d[...]

It’s the 20th anniversary of Brian Johnson’s home run


Or, as I like to refer to it, the 20th anniversary of Rod Beck getting out of a bases loaded, no-out jam. Brian Johnson’s home run was 20 years ago today, and it’s impossible to describe what that means to the young folks and punk kids. But I’m going to try. For a while, it was on a short list of the greatest moments in San Francisco Giants history. It still is, of course, but it sure used to be a lot closer to the top. The year was 1997, and the Giants were supposed to be useless. The progression went like this: 1950s: Hello, Giants! 1960s: Second place. Every damned year. 1970s: Started strong, but was basically 10 straight years of harsh chemical burns. 1980s: Two postseason appearances in the same decade for the first time since moving to San Francisco! The first postseason series victory since moving to San Francisco! Still plenty of disappointment and pain! 1990s: Disappointment and pain, but at least Tampa can go to hell. The 1996 Giants were like this year’s team with Barry Bonds stapled to it. He was worth 9.6 WAR, and the ‘96 Giants lost 94 games, so the math even checks out. They were absolutely dreadful, and then they traded away their second-best player. There was no hope, and there shouldn’t have been hope. That roster was awful. Except ... look, I don’t know exactly what happened, either. I guess we have to start with the conclusion that it was absolutely brilliant to trade Matt Williams a few days before his 31st birthday. And I actually wrote about 1000 words after this that I’ll have to publish separately, because I started going off on tangents about J.T. Snow and Jose Vizcaino and Allen Watson. It’s too big of a story to jam into a celebration of a single game, but just know that the Giants were supposed to be bad. Then they weren’t. The Dodgers weren’t supposed to be bad. They were supposed to win the division by 10 games. They had a player win the Rookie of the Year award in five straight seasons. So they were supposed to be good, rich, and young. It was the last time we would have to worry about the Dodgers like that again. But, man, they had Piazza, Karros, Mondesi, Nomo, Valdez, Park, Astacio. They had a five-man rotation in which every pitcher was clearly, unambiguously better than anyone the Giants could start. The Giants had Barry Bonds. Oh, and they had some serious luck! That was important. They finished with a team OPS+ of 98, even with Bonds. They finished with a team ERA+ of 94, and I’m surprised they weren’t worse. They had two good starting pitchers for most of the season, and both of them had ERAs that were outpacing their peripheral numbers. The 1997 Giants were outscored on the year, probably because of a game against the Expos that is still going on right now, and yet they still managed to win 90 games. This was one of those games: src="" style="border: 0; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; position: absolute;" allowfullscreen="" scrolling="no"> More context: The Giants were supposed to be awful, and they were being outscored on the season, so even after they made the huge trade for Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez, no one really believed they were going to win the division. They lost four games in a row before this two-game series against the Dodgers, and it was like, well, yeah, of course they were going to fade away. They were terrible and the Dodgers were not. If the Dodgers won that game, they would have been two up with nine games to play. The Giants went into the series with a chance to fall out of the race, tread water, or suddenly find themselves back in a tie. Those were the three options, and there was only one palatable choice. They had to win both games. And this one was wild. Check out the win-probability chart from When the red line is under the 50-percent threshold, that’s when the Giants were likelier to w[...]

Come to Pitch Talks SF!



Or, you could listen to Henry Schulman and me talk about why the Giants are so bad.

Hello, and welcome to Grant’s weekly suggestion on how you should spend your money! In today’s episode, I’ll explain why you should pay $25 to listen to me speak, when you can just stand out in front of my house and yell at me for free. Well, I’ll tell you: because this way is much more comfortable for everyone involved.

And it’s not just me! You can even skip me and still arrive in time for the main event, which is a Q&A with Giants GM Bobby Evans, who is surprisingly candid for someone in his position. If you’re used to the tight-lipped Brian Sabean years, it’s a huge contrast to have a GM actually answer questions. That’s not a complaint about Sabean, either, because I understood his reticience, but it sure is different.

a Q&A with Giants VP of Baseball Operations, Yeshayah Goldfarb! (Evans had to cancel at the last second for a very, very good reason, but I’m pretty sure Goldfarb can give us some goods.)

Here’s the full lineup:


This year’s Pitch Talks is being held at the Independent on Divisadero St. like last year’s, and the schedule goes like this:

Sarris, Leroux, Middlekauff, and Ramos — WHO WAS MADE FAMOUS BY ME, I DID THIS, I’M WHOLLY RESPONSIBLE FOR WHATEVER PROFESSIONAL SUCCESS WILL FOLLOW, ME — will talk about the Future of Sports. That’s a varied panel covering different sports, and I’m super interested to listen to it.

Then comes a panel with me and Schulman, and while it’s titled the “Giants Beat Panel,” I’m assuming that’s a reference to them losing a lot, because I’m not a beat writer. Let this be your regular reminder that I get to make this stuff up while he’s actually working. The panel will be moderated by Therese Viñal, too, which means it will be filled with Spaceballs references and ... well, Spaceballs is kind of all she’s got, but at least she uses the best references.

Then it’s Viñal and Goldfarb with a one-on-one Q&A session that will be opened up to the audience. So if you have questions for him ...

Why Pablo Sandoval?

... you’ll get a chance ...

So what’s the deal with Pablo Sandoval?

... toward the end of the panel.

Hi, this is a two-parter: First, are you serious about Pablo Sandoval, and second, no, really, are you serious?

The doors open at 7:30 and, sorry, but it’s 21 and over because of the venue. To make up for it, I promise to buy whatever alcohol my under-21 friends would like and give it to them outside of the show, unless there are laws prohibiting that, which I’ll have to check on.

So come join us! It’s Pitch Talks SF, and it should be a lot of fun. I’ll see some of you there. The good ones.

McCovey Chroncast Episode #67 - Late Night Baseball and Forever Giants



A weird week in the midst of a weird season led to some pretty fun things this week.

This week, Sami and guest-host Joanne discuss Ryan Vogelsong’s triumphant return to the Bay Area to retire as a Giant. They defend his Giants legacy against callous national writers who just don’t get it, as well as plotting a similar return for other Forever Giants.

They also discuss the late-night shenanigans of the win over the Dodgers last week, as well as digging into some playoff expectations. Will the Giants make things difficult for the Rockies? Will they get a single win against the Dodgers? Odds are, no. But that doesn’t stop them from hoping! Even if everyone has long since stopped believing.

Follow the McCovey Chroncast on Twitter and subscribe to us via Stitcher or iTunes or our RSS feed. Or you can just listen through the player below:

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Giants honor Ryan Vogelsong, win


Because winning is an homage to Ryan Vogelsong, see. On a day that the Giants honored Ryan Vogelsong, they won. He soaked up the cheers, acknowledged the crowd, and the crowd gave him cheers to soak up and acknowledged him back. Then they went out and played like a team that wasn’t dead inside. That’s probably a coincidence, but I’d like to think it wasn’t. Remembering that Vogelsong existed is a nifty batch of smelling salts. By now, you’ve probably read this article, in which a misguided fellow spent 142 words explaining that the Giants were silly to honor Vogelsong. It’s the kind of article that exists when a site’s niche is, “Dumb person did dumb thing, and we’re here to point and laugh at them for being dumb,” and if that’s Deadspin’s niche, at least they do it really, really well. But talking to even one Giants fan would have made the article unnecessary. The kicker of ... I remember Eli Whiteside. Maybe the Giants can retire his number. ... would have been promptly peed on. No, Vogelsong isn’t the equivalent of a random backup catcher to Giants fans. Vogelsong was the gift of the unexpected. He was delayed gratification. He was the extension of hope. After failing and failing again in San Francisco, the Giants finally won for the first time since moving from New York, and the baseball gods rewarded them by hitting their best player with a train. There were no guarantees that Buster Posey would catch again, much less be the best player on his team, and 2011 was a dark season for a while, man. It felt like the end of something to me, and I can’t be the only person who thought that. Well, here comes Ryan Vogelsong, a dude who was a Giants prospect back when Candlestick was a thing, someone known only in team lore as the losing pitcher in a 1-0 18-inning game and the main prospect given up for Jason Schmidt. He was a minor-league invite, no different than Ricky Romero or Byung-hyung Kim, both of whom wore a Giants uniform in March, and the only notable thing about him was the oh-yeah-that-guy factor. Then he made it through spring training and impressed everyone enough that he stayed in the organization. Then he was called up. Then he made a spot start. Then he made another spot start. Then he made another couple of spot starts. Then he was a thing. And he didn’t leave for a few years. Vogelsong kept grinding out quality starts and unexpected gems, and he was suddenly the best story of the season. He was the best story of a lost season, the only thing that went right in the odd year before we knew what odd years were. If he were just a consolation prize, a way to feel better about Posey, he would have been remembered fondly. But then he came back the next season and repeated his success. Repeated it in a way that allowed his team to make the postseason. Then he pitched well enough in the postseason for them to advance, advance again, and sweep the World Series. Then he did it again two years later, to a lesser degree, but the overarching point is that he existed, and he was a huge part of what made Giants baseball the best possible experience in sports for a few years. It didn’t matter what other team you came up with — Patriots, Lakers, other Giants, Yankees, whatever — the Giants were the best time a sports fan could have. A lot of that had to do with Vogelsong, who came out of nowhere, a 33-year-old drifter by way of the Hanshin Tigers, Orix Buffaloes, Salt Lake Bees, and Lehigh Valley IronPigs. It would be like Mike Kickham coming back to help the 2023 Giants win a World Series, but only if they had never won one before. Anyway, Vogelsong is the best, and if you can’t see why he was the best, maybe you weren’t there? Just a thought. This ties into Sunday’s win because you still get to use Vogelsong as a way to explain away whatever you want. Take Pablo Sandoval[...]