Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Your 2012 Giants: Game 4 of the NLDS: Zito vs. Leake

Wow, what an exciting game that was!  Obviously, very nerve racking for both sides, as both teams were pretty much shut down, the Reds after the first inning, the Giants until the 10th, by great pitching.  So obviously, the pitching was the heroes in this game, both the starter, Vogelsong, as well as all the relievers who came in, in particular, Affeldt and Romo going for two innings each (and each will be expected to be available to pitch tomorrow if needed; though both were very efficient, Affeldt only threw 22 pitches, Romo only 15).  Even Lincecum was up warming up late:  had the game continued, Lincecum would have come in the 11th.

Of course, when there's hardly any offense (scored one run with no hits), the key hitters are clear, but no doubt that Posey and Pence were the players of the game for the Giants, both for offense and defense.  If Posey didn't have the presence of mind to throw a strike to 3B when Phillips tried to take third on the wild pitch, the Reds would have scored more than one run most probably because there were two hits and a walk afterward, and then they would have won in 9 innings.  Pence helped with his sliding catch in the third.  And, of course, their two hits in the 10th set up the winning run for Arias to drive in.

Of course, Dusty helped with some questionable managing, which harkens back to issues that I had with him when he was the Giants manager.  Most of all, I would have left in Homer Bailey.  He was dealing, his pitch count was only 88, I would have left him out there longer, which would preserve my ability to use Marshall and Chapman later.  Moreover, Marshall and Chapman was last used Saturday, 3 days before, after 4 days rest from the regular season, they should have been able to go at least two innings each, much like how Bochy used his top relievers.  Close out SF now, can rest until the next series.

I was OK, however, with him pitching to Arias instead of Sanchez, I view Sanchez as the more dangerous hitter to drive in a run plus even if the Giants took out Romo, then Lincecum would have pitched and he did well against them on Saturday, that must have been fresh in his memory.  And they got what they wanted, a groundball, but Rolen just muffed it and Arias' speed legged it out.

Game 3:  Zito vs. Leake
Barry Zito: The Giants have won each of the last 11 games Zito has started, and the left-hander is 7-0 in that stretch with a 3.92 ERA. Zito is 0-2 with a 6.10 ERA in six career starts in Cincinnati.
Mike Leake:  In 30 regular-season starts, Leake was 8-9 with a 4.58 ERA in 179 innings. He was the least heralded of a Reds starting rotation that made every single one of its starts as scheduled.
Zito has a career 6.10 ERA in Cincinnati, but he has pitched well there before, earlier this year he pitched 6.0 IP, giving up only 5 hits and 2 walks, striking out 4, a 5 PQS DOM start.  He also shut them down here in 2009 as well.  But he has had bad BABIP days there before as well.  But given how poorly each team hit in Tuesday's game, perhaps the weather is not conducive to hits?

But it could be a tough game, most of the hitters have hit Zito well in the past, and that reflects his truly bad games he has had here:  Ludwick (.778 OPS in 31 PA), Phillips (1.099 OPS in 25 PA), Bruce (.976 OPS in 15 PA), Stubbs (.928 OPS in 15 PA), Cairo (1.049 OPS in 14 PA), Rolen (1.538 OPS in 13 PA), Valdez (.846 OPS in 13 PA), Frazier (1.867 OPS in 6 PA).  The very slim silver lining is he dominates Votto (.452 OPS in 21 PA) and does OK against Hanigan (.583 OPS in 9 PA).

Leake starting is not surprising, because Cueto cannot make a go of it this series and Latos is so ill with the flu that he found it hard to shake hands, according to Schulman's report.  The main question is why it took them so long to decide (this also mean Latos is starting Game 5 if necessary).  He has a 5.06 ERA against the Giants in 2 starts in Cincy.  He did shut them down in SF, but notice he only got 4 strikeouts, so he had a good BABIP day there.  Mirroring this is his career numbers, 4.66 ERA at home, 3.74 ERA on the road.  He has done better against RHP (.268/.318/.438/.756) than LHP (.284/.330/.462/.792) but neither are that good.

Many Giants have hit him well.  Pence (.944 OPS in 18 PA), Sandoval (2.227 OPS in 11 with 2 homers), Huff (1.500 OPS in 8 PA), Posey (1.375 OPS in 8 PA), Pagan (.833 OPS in 6 PA), Scutaro (2.000 OPS in 3 PA).  Pence, Sandoval, Huff, Posey all had homers against him.

ogc thoughts

Does not look good for the Giants based on Zito's career here, it is a coin flip how he does here, will he get clobbered or will he shut them down totally?  Given that he ended the season on a roll (not the win streak, but the good string of OK PQS starts, culminating in 2 DOM starts out of his last 4, including his last start), I feel like he will have a good start here:  but will it be good enough to win?  It helps that two of their key hitters are LHB - Votto and Bruce - though Bruce has done well before, so perhaps Zito can kill rallies started up by other hitters.

But Leake is not that great a pitcher either, so Zito appears to be evenly matched up here, perhaps he's at an advantage.  But Reds are at home and their hitters have pounded Zito before, so I have to lean their way, even though he did do well here earlier this season.  Should be a fun, exciting game!

Go Giants!

Lincecum vs. Zito Starting

I wrote most of the below (tweaker!) in response to a The Hardball Times post on how the author would have started Lincecum.  Thought I would share it here:

This is why I feel that it is very hard for writers to write on teams that they don't follow closely, they don't know a lot of details intimately that fans of the team do.

Zito may have similar numbers between 2010 and 2012 - that is a meme I've seen all over - but that ignores the fact that he was totally lost as a pitcher in September 2010 while he was on a roll (for him) in September 2012.

People are shocked because of all the bad press Zito gets, but he's actually pretty good most of the time.  It is when he is bad that his overall numbers go kerplooey.  His ERA in 2010 was under 4 most of the season until the last week of August, but his slide actually began in August and continued to the end of the season, he had a 6.66 ERA in his last 11 games, 3.35 ERA before that.

Calling his five seasons terrible is easy to do but incorrect, in my opinion.  They are terrible - given his salary.  Truly terrible.

If you take the salary and those expectations out and just look at the numbers, he hasn't been half bad (just haven't been half good).  His first season he was OK, even good, mid 4 ERA.  Second season - horrible.  Third and fourth seasons, I think that he was good.  Looking at his ERA- for those seasons - 102, 120, 98, 108 - he was basically around average in years 1, 3, 4, and average is considered good in sabermetrics today.

His fifth season was terrible, but I would qualify it.  Most baseball fans don't know this but Zito was in a horrific car accident (totalled) literally just before his first start in 2011.  It was a high speed collision where the other car ran a red light, and Zito reported that had he not stepped on it at the last second, it would have been a head-on collision.  Zito actually pitched well for a couple of starts before the bad start came, then his first DL of his career.  He later came back, had a couple of good starts before the bad starts, and then his second DL that basically shut him down for the season.

Not that I totally blame the Giants training staff, because you don't run into many instances of baseball players in horrific car crashes then playing baseball, but as someone who has been sideswiped by a car running a red light, I was surprised the Giants didn't DL him immediately after the accident instead of letting him start the first game of the season.  I was pretty banged up and not feeling good, though nothing was broken.  Of course, I'm no professional athlete either, but the human body is not that much different in a car crash, in my opinion.  Given that he was totally healthy before and healthy all this season, I believe that his injuries in 2011 were related to his car accident, that there were issues with his body that were not detectable and/or would be fine for regular folks doing regular work, but not for high performance athletes putting extra-ordinary strains on their bodies.  If I recall right, his DL injury was to his ankle.

And this season, he's slightly below average again, per ERA-, but at 34YO, some decline is to be expected.  But I would not characterize his season as "terrible".  For the Giants #5 starter, his performance was actually pretty good, much better than most teams' #5 starter.

And, FYI, if you are going to quote any FIP numbers for Zito, you should caveat that FIP assumes regression to the mean for a pitcher's BABIP and Zito's BABIP has almost always been below the mean, meaning his FIPs are all wrong and does not represent his true performance  (.288 this season vs. .300 in NL; .273 for his career, .298 for MLB)  Tangotiger has noted previously that once a starting pitcher has accumulated around 7 seasons worth of IP, he has pitched enough to conclude whether his BABIP is going to regress to mean or if it is significantly below mean.

Meanwhile, Lincecum was actually pretty much performing at his normal regular self (only much wilder) in the second half, in fact he was leading the rotation most of the second half in ERA, until he final starts of the season, where he struggled.

Bochy made the call that Lincecum could help the Giants more out of the pen than as a starter.

I too found that decision a bit baffling until I had an epiphany yesterday.  Most fans are not keenly aware of this, but Giants lost their closer - The Beard - in the first few games of the season and never really replaced him. The Giants are currently using a closer-by-committee setup, though Romo has mostly been getting the saves opportunities, unless there is a tough lefty to get out, then Lopez is usually called in.

Putting Lincecum in the bullpen gives the Giants great flexibility now, which is something Bochy loves.  If a starter loses it early or just needs replacing early, Lincecum can come in and pitch multiple innings.  That's especially important when Zito is starting.

But Zito more often than not is OK and don't need an early reliever, which then allows Bochy the opportunity to throw all of his relievers via platoon matchups in order to close out the game in 9 innings.  Then, if the game should go into extra innings, he can throw out Lincecum to pitch (he warms up with very minimal warm up pitches) 4 or more innings while the other team is scrambling with their relievers or starters who are not used to relieving (Lincecum relieved extensively in college).

In addition, should Bochy needs his closer-by-committee to take care of business earlier than the 9th, Lincecum can come in as the closer.

So I see your point about the risk of not starting Lincecum, and especially of starting Zito in his place, but isn't this type of move like what people have been writing about the new playoffs, or rather, the one game play-in, where the team could manage the roster differently regarding pitchers because it is only one game?

A five game series is basically a series of must win games for one or both of the teams.  Both teams must win the first game because, if not, the losing team must win the second game because otherwise, they are already one game away from elimination.  Either way, game three is must win for either team, because either one team is down 0-2 and must win, or both are 1-1 and must win, or you will be down 1-2 and one game away from elimination.  And so on.

Using Lincecum as the reliever is a risky move, and not a move one would have done given his performance in previous seasons.  But as noted above, his FIP was not that bad, but not that good.  And with a rubber arm that can recover within a day (he long tosses every day, foul pole to foul pole), he can be used almost every day, potentially, since there is a travel rest day between the two cities.  And as the Freak, he came into the game the other day having thrown maybe a handful of pitches, where many pitchers need a dozen or two pitches to do that.

He could long relieve if necessary, but most times, he can be saved for later leveraged situations, including closer duties, where there would be almost no need to hurry to get him ready, he would pop up, throw a few and be ready.  And as a reliever, he won't need to hold back anything, so he should be able to throw with greater velocity and be more like his old self.

It is a head-scratcher, given his past, but using him in this manner yields a lot of competitive advantages.

And given his physical issues, as noted in the Boddy article linked, would it not be reasonable to believe that Lincecum might be more physically tired than usual, than other athletes whose bodies are in better fitness?  That's something that only Bochy and the team staff would be aware of.  Maybe Bochy made this call partly because of that.  He's not as young as he used to be (28 YO, and most commentators thought he didn't have the body to last that long as a starter), didn't throw as many innings as before but still had 3,299 pitches thrown this season.

Lastly, I would note that Bochy made the decision for Zito to start over Lincecum in this series.  We don't know what he would do in future series, if any.  Lincecum had not pitched well in his one start in Cincy, and GAB favors LHB in terms of homeruns given up.  He also has not done well against the Nats but have dominated the Cards previously.  If the Giants can do what had never been done before, it would be interesting to know what Bochy would have done next, particularly against the Cards.

1 comment:

  1. Shame on me for forgetting to mention that Sanchez is starting catcher, pushing Posey to 1B and Belt out of the starting lineup. Here goes the #FreeBelt crowd again...



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