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Posts Tagged ‘san francisco giants

Tim Lincecum silences catcalls, gets Giants closer to my dream World Series matchup.

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San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum can do whatever he wants.

If he wants to grow his hair so that it’s fourteen feet long, I’m into it—as long as he keeps winning.

Last night, Major League Baseball fans were treated to a semi-masterful performance by “The Freak” as he silenced the Phillie’s potent lineup for seven innings and struck out eight, including power-hitting first baseman Ryan Howard twice. For those not paying attention, Lincecum’s twenty-two strikeouts through his first two postseason starts ties a record set by the St. Louis Cardinals’ Bob Gibson way back in 1964. He’s also won seven of his last eight starts, including two postseason bids, a fitting cap to his unusually underwhelming 2010 regular season.

I couldn’t be more excited because I’ll be the first to admit it: I do not want another New York Yankees/Philadelphia Phillies matchup in the World Series.

I’ve been alive for twenty-five years and of those twenty-five years, the New York Yankees have appeared in the postseason fifteen times. Most of those appearances happened to occur during my formative years, and as someone from New Bedford, Massachusetts, I guess you could say I’m scarred. Knowing that the Yankees are an almost-lock to appear in the postseason means that there’s only three real postseason spots.

And recently, it seems, the Philadelphia Phillies have routinely occupied one of those three spots. It’s like Groundhog Day—things are predictable and boring and, as a result, I’m generally ho-hum about the postseason. Sure, a team like the Tampa Bay Rays pops in and makes its mark, but a year later, it’s the same old song and dance. It’s baseball’s version of a monopoly, and it makes for a poor experience for fans living outside of New York and Philadelphia.

So last night, I was dazzled, awed, even smitten, with Tim Lincecum’s performance. Even if he does look like a barely legal girl on the mound, I’ll latch onto anything he does, as long as it means that the Philadelphia Phillies don’t make the World Series and there’s still a chance of a Texas Rangers versus San Francisco Giants finale.

The television ratings would probably be lower than a Mormon’s blood alcohol level on a Sunday, but for me, the prospect of that matchup is exceedingly exhilarating.

Think about it: Tim Lincecum versus Cliff Lee in game one, C.J. Wilson versus Jonathan Sanchez in game two, Colby Lewis versus Matt Cain in game three, or some combination thereof. No, no pitcher tossed a postseason no-hitter, but that’s a damn good list of pitching matchups for die-hard baseball fans.

Something’s going to have to happen for this matchup to occur, however.

San Francisco’s offense is anemic. The Phillies’ big boppers haven’t gotten it going yet.

Add to that the relentless, unstoppable, just-when-you-think-you’ve-got-’em-they-beat-you New York Yankees, and my World Series dream matchup may be just that.

Still, I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Written by dylansharek

October 17, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Prospects In Action: Zack Wheeler, RHP, Augusta GreenJackets – May 12, 2010

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If you’re a first round pick or a budding superstar, chances are you don’t want me in the stands when it’s your turn to take the bump.

A few weeks ago, I coaxed a bad start out of the Rome Brave’s Arodys Vizcaino.

And last Wednesday, I hexed the Augusta GreenJacket’s flamethrowing righty Zack Wheeler. In just 2.2 miserable innings, Wheeler gave up six hits, six earned runs, three bases on balls, two wild pitches, and a hit by pitch.

How’s that for a line?

I wanted Wheeler to do well last night. I mean, I really did. About six months ago, I wrote this post about Wheeler. It basically put me behind the wheel (no pun intended) of the Wheeler bandwagon, before there even really was one. There’s just something about a 6’4″ righthander that touches 95 miles per hour that intrigues me like nothing else but maybe a pizza with a donut topping.

But as is the course of the last couple weeks, another big prospect left town a beaten man, leaving me wondering how much longer I can continue this bad luck streak of awful starts by good pitchers.

When the night started, it looked like Wheeler was ready to deal. His bullpen session left the family next to me confounded; they hadn’t seen anyone with the velocity of Wheeler and they weren’t afraid to repeatedly admit it, noticing my notebook and hoping I was someone who could quote them in something worthwhile.

And even the catcher, Tommy Joseph, was feeling good about their chances: “Ah, it’s just an 88 mile per hour changeup. No big deal!”

And, like clockwork, Wheeler’s first inning went well.

His fastball sat at 95-96 according to the stadium gun, a pretty big bump from the 93 he had been previously reported at. One pitch caused a buzz amidst the Charleston fans when it registered at 99 miles per hour on the big board. It was an obvious glitch in electronics, an outlier of the purest sense, but a cool glitch, nonetheless.

The first thing I noticed about Wheeler was his delivery. It features an odd hesitation with his lead foot; instead of using the weight of his right leg to propel his arm and body weight forward, he basically takes it out of the mix, dangling it over the forward part of the mound until his snake-like right arm reaches its pinnacle and begins its downward movement. Only then does he finally drop the foot. The hesitation, once spotted, seems very out of place for a power pitcher. In person, it’s much more pronounced than in any of the video I’d previously seen.

You can clearly see that he is not consistently repeating the movement in this video. On the first pitch, the hesitation is apparent, but by the third pitch, there’s almost no delay.

That being said, Wheeler generates tremendously easy velocity from his tall, broad, and lanky frame.

His changeup had good running movement, coming in at 87-89 miles per hour. He didn’t throw many curveballs, which was a major disappointment since I’ve heard it’s a good looking pitch. When he did throw it, it spun in almost exclusively at 78 miles per hour. It has a tight rotation and looks like it could be a true power curve. My only notes are: “78, 78, 78, small break.”

In the first, Wheeler gave up just a run on a bloop single to left field.

But that’s just about all the positives I have to report. Check out this recap of Wheeler’s second inning:

  • Deangelo Mack grounds out, second baseman Ryan Cavan to first baseman Luke Anders.
  • Garrison Lassiter strikes out swinging.
  • Kelvin Castro singles on a fly ball to right fielder Ryan Lollis.
  • With Raymond Kruml batting, passed ball by Thomas Joseph, Kelvin Castro to 2nd.
  • Raymond Kruml singles on a ground ball to center fielder Evan Crawford. Kelvin Castro scores.
  • Jimmy Paredes doubles (5) on a fly ball to center fielder Evan Crawford. Raymond Kruml scores.
  • Justin Milo singles on a ground ball to left fielder Dan Cook. Jimmy Paredes scores.
  • Luke Murton walks. Justin Milo to 2nd.
  • With Robert Lyerly batting, wild pitch by Zack Wheeler, Justin Milo scores. Luke Murton to 3rd.
  • With Robert Lyerly batting, wild pitch by Zack Wheeler, Luke Murton scores.
  • Robert Lyerly grounds out, second baseman Ryan Cavan to first baseman Luke Anders.

It was ugly. When Joseph allowed the passed ball, it looked like there was a breakdown in communication between the battery mates. However, that wasn’t my biggest concern.

In the second inning, Wheeler’s velocity dropped almost four miles per hour. Instead of the 94-96 he was tossing in the first, his first five pitches in the second were 90, 91, 90, 92, and 90. And it remained there for much of the inning. He got back up to 94 during the Luke Murton at-bat, but the results were just not there.

Was he pitching with adrenaline in the first? Did he over-exert himself? Or had he just lost control?

I don’t know. But I do know that to the semi-trained eye, each time an abbreviated velocity reading popped on the board during the second, I put a mini red flag up. And when he lost all control during the second half of the second inning, I was reminded of something I saw during the bullpen session.

While working in the bullpen, Wheeler would start his windup, then look down to see where that lagging lead foot was, and then continue on.

I do not know if the pause I saw was present when he pitched in high school. But to me, it certainly looked more pronounced and intentional. It did not look like he was quite comfortable with it yet and it looked like something he was thinking about. And when you pitch, you don’t want to think.

Strangely enough, Augusta’s manager sent him back out there for the third. His velocity returned, but after a hit-by-pitch and a nasty walk, Wheeler’s night was over.

So, there it is. I wish I could send San Francisco fans revelatory information about the ace potential of Zack Wheeler, but I simply can’t. I’m still confused by what I saw.

For one inning, Zack Wheeler looked every bit the $3.3 million San Francisco thinks he is worth. But for the next 1.2 innings, he looked every bit Jason Grilli, the last pitcher the Giants picked up in the first round.

We’ll just have to wait.

Note: That obnoxious high-pitched voice isn’t me. That little rat ruined made my night a living hell.

Sometimes all you need is a ‘lil shot in the arm…

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Or maybe, in this case, it should be shot in the ass.

I’ve spent a month away from blogging. In that time, I’ve started a new nine-to-five job and a brand, spanking new roommate moved in. Needless to say, it’s been hard to find the time to write. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted to. So, with that said, pardon me if I’m a little rusty…

Mark McGwire. That’s who we’re here to talk about. Today, his admission to using steroids was the lightning bolt that came out of the sky, hit me right in the ass, and made me fire up Blogging About Baseball once again.

Maybe I’m ahead of the curve, but I believe I discovered Mark McGwire was juicing sometime in 1998. And if it wasn’t in ’98, then it was sure as hell in 2005 when, during his testimony in front of the House Government Reform Committee, he famously and repeatedly stated, “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

Still, I’m truly shocked about the upwelling of genuine emotion his heretofore inevitable admission has brought out of me.

I’m amazingly pissed. I mean really, really, really, f’ing pissed.

And there’s one reason: McGwire, along with fellow cheat, Sammy Sosa, broke Roger Maris’ decades old record for most homeruns (61) in a full season in 1998. And they didn’t just break it. They pulled their pants down and defecated on it. And then they set it on fire and put the fire out by urinating on it. In essence, they opened the door for Barry Bonds (who I will only dedicated this one sentence because I just might lose it) who put that crap in a flaming paper bag and put it on Roger Maris’ doorstep in 2001.

That’s disrespect. If you know you’re doing something questionable and that something could possibly ruin everything the very game you supposedly love and revere stands for, you just don’t do that.

The integrity of the game. Tarnished.

The legendary records of the game. Tarnished.

Now, I’ve come to the realization that the game I love has never been played perfectly. Through the centuries we’ve seen pitchers throw spitballs. We’ve seen signs getting stolen in the most ridiculous of ways. We’ve seen batters cork their bats. We’ve seen guys hopped up on greenies. If there’s been an avenue to exploit, baseball players have found it.

But this is my generation of baseball and I’m entitled to all the tunnel vision I want. Except that I don’t truly think this is tunnel vision.

I don’t think we will ever look at those cheating tactics with the same disdain as we do steroids. And I don’t think future fans will be able to turn the same blind eye as we did to amphetamines and corked bats and scuffed balls to steroids.

The gains that both pitchers and hitters earned from sticking needles in their ass was (and possibly is) so exponentially and quantifiably higher than any of those other means of one-upmanship.

Brady Anderson hit 50 homeruns in 1996. Before that season, his season high was 21. After that season, he never hit more than 24. He was the team’s leadoff batter. Just think about how f’ing mind boggling that is.

And then we can think about guys like Luis Gonzalez (57 homeruns in 2001) or Greg Vaughn (50 in 1998) who are a little less glaring.

Every statistic from the 1990’s is skewed…or is it screwed?

If Bonds, McGwire and Sosa had not set any records in the 1990’s or 2000’s, we would be able to forget this whole catastrophe. In 15 years, it would have been like none of this had happened, another greenie epidemic, another stolen sign debacle. If only Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa had done exceptionally well, given all of the records a spirited chase and fallen short.

If only…

Know Your Prospects: Zack Wheeler, RHP, San Francisco Giants

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Sometime tomorrow, Baseball America will roll out its prospect rankings for the San Francisco Giant’s organization. The best left-handed pitching prospect in Minor League Baseball, Madison Bumgarner, or the best catching prospect in the game, Buster Posey, will nab the team’s No. 1 spot.

I know this because, well, it really doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure it out and because my Dad and Step Mom are awesome and surprised me with a little pre-Christmas love. Now I can read all the B.A. analysts gushing about prospects in real-time:

Thank you!

But anyway, back to the San Francisco Giants. In recent years, the team has exponentially fortified its minor league system by uncharacteristically handing out large bonuses. As a result, General Manager Brian Sabean has had tremendous success securing above-average pitching prospects and impact bats at premier positions. Prior to the 2009 season, the organization was ranked fifth in Baseball America‘s talent rankings, the club’s highest mark in the publication’s history.

The organization won’t rank as highly this year, but its still got all the trappings of an impact system.

Behind Bumgarner and Posey, the team’s No. 3 prospect will be Zack Wheeler.

Wheeler, a 6’4″, 170 pound, right-handed power pitcher out of Georgia’s East Paulding High School was considered one of the few elite pitchers in the 2009 draft class. Scouts lauded Wheeler’s prototypical pitcher’s body, potential plus stuff, and poise.

And all the marks were earned: during his senior year at East Paulding High, Wheeler went 9-0 with an ERA of 0.54. During the first round of the Georgia state playoffs, he added a no-hitter and a two-hit complete game to his already impressive resume. He was named the 2009 Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Georgia.

A consensus first round pick, analysts believed Wheeler would go somewhere between fourth and sixth in the draft; Baltimore, San Francisco, and Atlanta seemed to be the most logical suitors for pitching talent once the few impact bats were taken off the boards.

Would Baltimore pass on premier left-hander Tyler Matzek because of his lofty asking price and pursue Wheeler instead? Or would Wheeler fall to San Francisco? Or his home club in Atlanta?

Well, the Orioles (and a slew of other teams) passed on the pricey Matzek and instead opted for up-’til-then unheralded high school product Matthew Hobgood.

In the Giant’s tradition of going after right-handers in the first round (Cain, 2002; Aardsma, 2003; Lincecum, 2006; Alderson, 2007), Wheeler became the team’s natural pick. He was chosen by the San Francisco Giants sixth overall in the 2009 draft.

And this is where things get interesting.

Zack Wheeler has yet to thrown a professional pitch, yet his stock is still incredibly high.

On August 17, 2009, the Giants signed Wheeler just minutes before the deadline for a record-breaking $3.3 million, the sixth highest bonus ever handed out to a high school draftee. The contract stipulated that he would be under control starting in 2010, a move that ensured another year of his service, but also meant he wouldn’t pitch in 2009.

Still, professional scouts aren’t letting the right-hander’s inexperience get in the way of their judgments.

Throwing from a low three-quarters arm slot, Wheeler’s fastball is easily his best pitch. It routinely sits 90-93 miles-per-hour, but he can rear back and touch 95. In a Giant’s audition in early 2009, it was reported that he actually reached 97, though that seems slightly high. It has tremendous sinking movement and bores in on the hands of righties, making it especially lethal.

Wheeler also possesses an above-average, 78-80 mile-per-hour curveball. It’s too hard to deem it a plus pitch right now because he so much trouble controlling it, but it should play well in the higher levels. Working on his other offspeed offering, a sub-par changeup, will be the main focus of his initial rookie campaign.

Coaches will also work with Wheeler on his inconsistent control, which is more a product of his delivery than of his stuff. Wheeler’s motion is far from unconventional, but he is still prone to bringing his hands too far back and as a result his elbow flies open, wreaking havoc on his offspeed pitches. When his hands remain stable, he’s at his best.

But Wheeler should be coachable enough for those problems to iron themselves out; scouts praise him for his terrific makeup and concentration and he’s also been called a “baseball rat.” Wheeler is listed a just 170 pounds, but once his thin, wiry frame fills out, its highly likely that he will add a few more miles-per-hour to his fastball.

It’s risky to label a 19-year-old who hasn’t even pitched a professional game a future ace, but Wheeler certainly appears to have that upside.

For Giant’s fans, a fully developed Wheeler is part of a tantalizing vision. To go along with a dynamic offense, a starting five of Lincecum, Cain, Barry Zito, Bumgarner, and Wheeler could add up to the team’s first postseason appearance since 2003.

Zack Wheeler: the enigma that hasn’t pitched professionally, but could be the Giant’s third best prospect.

Trading baseball’s second best closer should not be on anyone’s “to-do” list.

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Joe Nathan struggled down the stretch.The high-profile implosion of the Minnesota Twin’s Joe Nathan have many calling for a changing of the guard in one of Major League Baseball’s premier bullpens.

I, however, don’t plan on anything drastic happening during the Twin’s offseason.

Over the course of the last six seasons as Twin’s closer, Nathan has compiled 246 saves without posting an earned run average above 2.70. He’s failed to lock down just 24 saves over that same time frame for a success rate somewhere right around 90 percent. I’m hesitant to say “lights out” when describing a closer other than the Yankee’s Mariano Rivera, but Nathan’s as close to that standard as possible.

Some cite Nathan’s advanced age (35) as why the remainder of his hefty two-year, $22.5 million contract should be moved this offseason. Others believe, despite contradictory statistical evidence, that his stuff is waning and that he may be headed towards his twilight years.

In 2009, Nathan posted the highest K/9 of his last three seasons. His WHIP hovered at its career norm and so did his innings pitched. He appeared in a few more games than normal, but other than that, the only anomaly in his otherwise spectacular year is his HR/9. Nathan gave up seven homeruns in 2009, the most since his insertion into the Twin’s closer role.

Sure, Nathan struggled down the stretch, but one must keep in mind that he’s never been a great postseason pitcher: in eight postseason outings with the San Francisco Giants and the Twins, he’s posted an ERA approaching 8.00.

The fact that he blew a save against the Detroit Tigers in front of one of baseball’s highest rated television audiences and then during a postseason game against the Yankees makes his 2009 seem more like an outlier than it actually was.

And despite his shortcomings, Nathan is certainly far from an “expendable asset,” a sentiment I’m sure General Manager Bill Smith shares.

Moving into the new Target Field, the Twin’s front office is going to need to sell tickets. The best way to do that is to put a consistent, winning product on the field. Most of the team’s expenditures this offseason will revolve around core players like Most Valuable Player Joe Mauer and fan favorite Michael Cuddyer.

Nathan, his history with the team and year-after-year success, needs to be a part of that equation.

The Twins do not have a reliable source of saves in their bullpen. Jon Rauch, the 6’11” righty and former National’s closer, is the most viable option. Aside from him, the team would likely turn to unproven arms like lefty Jose Mijares or righties Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier. Ailing submariner Pat Neshek is not an option.

There’s plenty of big name free agent closers on the market (highlighted by Atlanta’s Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, Detroit’s Fernando Rodney and Houston’s Jose Valverde), but they are sure to command similar contracts, give or take $2 million, as Nathan.

After that, the Twins would have to delve into the junk pile littered with the likes of Kevin Gregg, Brandon Lyon, and Octavio Dotel.

The Twins don’t want an adventure when they move into Target Field. Fans want a winning product and keping Joe Nathan is one way to ensure that.

Know Your Prospects: Joe Martinez, RHP, Giants

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Following your heart is often followed by getting fired. In the life of a professional baseball scout, that’s the harsh reality of the business. In these days of million dollar contracts for high school and college draftees, there’s no room for error. You better pick a guy based on research and on statistics, but certainly not because of how you feel.

Well, this is a story all about feelings: feelings about a prospect, more concisely, feelings about a prospect’s future based mostly on intangibles.

I’ll never make it as a baseball scout. And I’m fine with that.

Joe Martinez gets hit in the head.The San Francisco Giant’s Joe Martinez is a fringe prospect at best. According to Baseball America, he was the team’s 30th best prospect heading into the 2009 season. Despite pitching well in Low, High, and Double-A ball, Martinez is best known for getting drilled in the head by a Mike Cameron line drive earlier this season. If it weren’t for that moment, Martinez wouldn’t even be a blip on the prospect radar.

But I get a good feeling about Martinez.

I saw him pitch in his first game. And while the results weren’t particularly impressive (2.0 innings pitched, 2 earned runs), I got a glimpse of something I liked.

Martinez’s pitch selection is perfect for the hitter-friendly confines of San Francisco’s AT&T Park. He throws a nasty 86-88 mile-per-hour sinking fastball that induces a lot of grounders and double plays. And while the sample size is simply too small to show how the pitch will translate during extended major league experience, he allowed just six home runs in 148 innings pitched last year at Double-A Connecticut. In 163 innings pitched the year before, he gave up just 11. And with AT&T’s infamous Triple’s Alley, the less fly balls, the better.

Martinez also features a league average curveball and a changeup that also profiles as a plus pitch. And while it’s totally unfair to compare anything to Tim Lincecum’s change, Martinez’s offering has the same diving, dipping movement, making it appear almost like a slider. Martinez is stingy with walks, too, allowing just one through 7.2 innings this season.

Martinez pitches.His motion is easily repeatable and he’s proven to be extremely durable, pitching 547 innings through four minor league seasons.

But what impressed me most about Martinez is his mound presence. He exudes a quiet confidence, confidence in his stuff and confidence in the defense behind him. Martinez doesn’t nibble and relies extensively on his stuff to get him out of jams.

On August 5, Martinez earned his second career win in his first MLB career start. The line wasn’t exactly shimmering (5 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 4 SO, 0 BB), but considering it was Martinez’s first appearance since fracturing three bones in his face and suffering a severe concussion, it was an amazing feat. He pitched without fear, as if what happened on April 7 didn’t even happen.

Martinez’s stuff profiles him as nothing more than an able fifth starter. Still, a fifth starter with confidence and good stuff can do amazing things.

Is it so wrong for me to believe Joe Martinez can do more?

Adam LaRoche traded to San Fran/Boston/Mexico/Kentucky…

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As one of the three followers of Pittsburgh Pirate’s baseball, I knew it was just a matter of time before first baseman Adam Laroche changed uniforms. Besides second baseman Freddy Sanchez and shortstop Jack Wilson, LaRoche was one of the team’s last valuable trading chips and we all know what the Pittsburgh front office loves to do with its solid players…

With Garrett Jones showing that he’ll be a capable replacement at first base and Lastings Milledge ready to take Jones’ outfield patrol, LaRoche recently became the team’s definition of “expendable.”

Is LaRoche on his way out?

The team has taken an inordinate amount of time posting its lineup for this evening’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, leading to speculation that LaRoche has already been dealt to the San Francisco Giants.

I’ll keep you updated as the information rolls in.

UPDATE: LaRoche is not in tonight’s lineup. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he has actually been moved to the Red Sox, although the return is not yet known. It seems the two clubs are “going steady” following the Bay/Hansen/Moss deal. Pittsburgh should grab a few prospects in the deal, but knowing Theo Epstein, they’ll get nothing substantial. LaRoche would most likely be in the lineup on days Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell need rest.