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Giants release Fontenot, have 1 week to sign Cain, and other thoughts in Giants Primer, Part I

March 31, 2012

Maybe you are asking, “The fuck do I care about your Giants primer? You’re just some limp-dick kid sitting in your living room right now.” While both of your assessments are true (for the moment), I also know much more about baseball than the common limp-dick man or woman. I wouldn’t write this if I didn’t seriously think my opinion on baseball and especially the Giants was without merit. So read this. If you don’t agree with me after you’re done, then I guess that’s my own fault.

Opening Day is a week away, and the roster needs to be whittled down to 25 players by then. That process began today with the release of Mike Fontenot, clearing up the middle infield situation immensely. Fontenot was a member of the 2010 World Series squad and an inspiration to mousy kids everywhere (he’s 5’7″, 180). But to be honest, I will miss his mutton chops more than any aspect of his game.

Fontenot’s release, because of its timing and a provision in his contract, saved the Giants from paying 3/4 of his salary. Still, it could not have been financially related. The Giants were going to have to choose between Fontenot and Ryan Theriot for the role of utility infielder, and they had the same contract provision with Theriot. Theriot was slated to make $200,000 more than Fontenot, according to Cot’s Contracts, so the Giants actually would have saved $150,000 had they cut Theriot instead. It’s not much, but in a competition for a limited role between two similar players, that sum was most likely a factor. Theriot must have some attribute that the Giants value above everything else, because he has looked bad this spring, can’t play as many positions as Fontenot can, and fields the positions he can play worse than Fontenot does.

Bruce Bochy has already made it pretty clear that Manny Burriss will be the starting second baseman to begin the season. Setting aside the senselessness of that for now, let’s look at how Theriot might be a superior fit as Burriss’ backup compared to Fontenot, starting with career lefty/righty splits.

Burriss  (PA, AVG/OBP/SLG)
vs. L – 181, .277/.316/.319
vs. R – 470, .239/.310/.266

Theriot
vs. L – 835, .301/.373/.401
vs. R – 2396, .276/.334/.337

Fontenot
vs. L – 215, .237/.303/.360
vs. R – 1266, .267/.337/.413

As you can plainly see, Burriss doesn’t hit many pitches, no matter which hand does the throwing. He is slightly better in a small sample against lefties, though. Theriot, meanwhile, hits lefties very well by any standard, and though righties sap him of his power, he still hits them at a respectable clip for a second baseman. Fontenot, a lefty himself, struggles against southpaws, but hits righties well and with pop. It seems that the ideal platoon would be between Fontenot most days and Theriot against lefties. Since Burriss is already guaranteed a spot, though, the best offensive combination would be him and Fontenot.

So far it’s hard to tell what the Giants saw in Theriot to make them hold onto him, but let’s not forget that he will be backing up Brandon Crawford at shortstop as well. Let’s look at his splits while being mindful of small-sample perils.

Crawford
vs. L – 34, .133/.212/.223
vs. R – 186, .217/.301/.307

Crawford was truly an abomination against lefties. The Giants are hyping his allegedly much-improved bat, but spring training stats don’t really mean shit. Picking Theriot now makes more sense, and we should see him starting at short in every game against left-handed pitchers.

***

Matt Cain has stated repeatedly that contract negotiations will cease come Opening Day. If that happens, Cain will be a free agent at the end of the year and the Giants will have to bid for him in the open market. All teams will be interested, and most would be able to pay him more than the Giants can. Not only is it imperative that the Giants get this done before April 6, I’d say that we as fans are entitled to it.

GM Brian Sabean loves to say that the organization’s top priority is locking up the pitching talent with multiple-year deals. That was one of the reasons behind the Giants lack of interest in re-signing Carlos Beltrán (who ended up with the Cardinals for a very reasonable two years, $26 million). But if Cain isn’t retained it will prove that line is a load of horseshit, and the organization is just cheap.

Chris Quick on Bay City Ball wrote that ownership apparently doesn’t want to go over $130 million in team salary (Cot’s estimates the current payroll $126 million—I know Giants fans hate that number). In the same article, Quick estimated that Cain would probably command $20 million in average annual value, and reported that he wants at least a five-year contract. That’s only a $5 million increase on his current salary, and the length of the contract isn’t all that risky considering his durability and the historic start to his career.

I used baseball-reference’s wonderful play index to see who Cain best compares to historically. Since 1961, only 28 pitchers have played in seven seasons by their 27th birthday, started at least 200 games and pitched at least 1300 innings. Of those 28, Cain ranks 13th in WAR (25.0), in the middle of a pack that includes C.C. Sabathia, Greg Maddux, Don Sutton and Mark Buehrle. Cain is tied for sixth with Dwight Gooden in ERA+ (125), which is measured like an IQ score (as in, 100 is average) and is better than traditional ERA because adjusts for park and historical factors. He is also sixth among that group in K/9, or strikeouts per nine innings, with 7.41. All of this is to say that Matt Cain has been historically great so far and could be a Hall of Fame pitcher if he merely continues what he is doing. To let him go in his prime over a few million dollars a year would be plain stupid, not to mention dishonest toward the fans.

Comb through the whole table below.

Player WAR ▾ GS IP Age W-L% ERA+ H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
Tom Seaver 42.5 210 1641.1 22-27 .637 143 7.16 2.35 7.70 3.27
Roger Clemens 41.8 205 1513.0 21-27 .695 147 7.62 2.53 8.47 3.35
Bert Blyleven 41.8 249 1909.0 19-25 .517 132 8.01 2.28 7.29 3.19
Dave Stieb 37.9 220 1654.0 21-27 .543 135 7.80 2.96 5.13 1.73
Dwight Gooden 32.9 209 1523.2 19-25 .721 125 7.57 2.65 8.22 3.10
Fernando Valenzuela 29.3 200 1554.2 19-25 .593 119 7.50 3.13 7.38 2.36
Felix Hernandez 29.1 205 1388.1 19-25 .559 129 8.27 2.75 8.19 2.98
Dennis Eckersley 28.5 208 1500.0 20-26 .576 119 8.14 2.59 6.33 2.45
CC Sabathia 25.9 219 1406.1 20-26 .613 115 8.43 2.97 7.31 2.46
Mark Gubicza 25.6 203 1407.1 21-27 .543 116 8.36 3.45 5.89 1.71
Greg Maddux 25.5 208 1442.0 20-26 .559 115 8.44 2.84 5.85 2.06
Don Sutton 25.2 245 1757.2 21-27 .520 106 7.84 2.33 6.96 2.99
Matt Cain 25.0 203 1317.1 20-26 .486 125 7.53 3.23 7.41 2.29
Dean Chance 24.4 207 1520.1 20-26 .540 123 7.68 3.14 6.38 2.03
Mark Buehrle 24.3 204 1428.0 21-27 .595 121 9.28 2.07 5.22 2.52
Jim Abbott 20.6 211 1418.1 21-27 .488 110 9.28 3.10 4.94 1.60
John Smoltz 19.5 202 1358.0 21-27 .510 109 7.82 3.31 7.02 2.12
Mike Witt 19.0 205 1475.1 20-26 .544 114 8.53 3.10 6.18 1.99
Tom Glavine 18.7 208 1357.0 21-27 .590 110 8.58 2.94 5.07 1.72
Javier Vazquez 18.4 223 1427.1 21-27 .500 105 9.02 2.47 7.73 3.14
Denny McLain 18.3 205 1501.2 19-25 .667 113 7.32 2.53 6.58 2.60
Dan Petry 17.7 204 1388.0 20-26 .592 115 8.16 3.37 4.65 1.38
Lary Sorensen 14.7 206 1406.1 21-27 .506 100 9.95 2.04 2.83 1.39
Frank Viola 14.5 200 1341.2 22-27 .519 106 9.18 2.82 5.92 2.10
Clay Kirby 12.4 224 1469.1 21-27 .435 94 8.26 3.98 6.19 1.55
Jim Slaton 10.9 206 1448.2 21-27 .439 96 9.06 3.44 4.36 1.27
Catfish Hunter 10.1 226 1586.1 19-25 .514 97 7.88 2.85 6.03 2.12
Ross Grimsley 10.1 214 1449.0 21-27 .561 98 8.94 2.44 3.58 1.47
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/31/2012.

(Side note: Wow, King Félix.)

 ***

  • As much as I love Cain, I think Madison Bumgarner will be even better. He is better than Cain was at his age. I think strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) is a convenient shorthand for talent, and Bumgarner’s is superb.

(courtesy fangraphs.com)

  • I, like most fans, want to see Brandon Belt starting, at the very least so I could see more of these around.

Click on it to view the designer's website.

  • I’m not sure about our playoff chances, but at the very least 2012 will be the last year we pay Aaron Rowand. I refuse to link to him because, a) he doesn’t deserve it and, b) it would just depress you.

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