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Off-day fun, 5/31 edition

May 31, 2012

Yet again an off day comes conveniently at the end of the month, an arbitrary deadline for making assessments about baseball players and teams, but an altogether common one because we are all moon children.

To wit: Melky Cabrera has 51 hits in May! That’s amazing! Willie Mays never had that many in May!* Melky is great. We won that trade with the Royals. Sign Melky long-term; he’s clearly just entering his prime.

*At least, in San Francisco he didn’t. Regarding New York Willie, who knows? But since all the talk about Melky’s record came with the qualifier “In the SF era,” it’s fair to assume that NY Willie hit more than 51 in May once.

I don’t mean to downplay Melky’s accomplishment, or suggest that the success he’s enjoyed the last two years isn’t the real him. While it’s certainly fun to note statistical oddities and small milestones like Melky’s amazing May, we shouldn’t get carried away with it just because his success was packaged neatly in a string of 31 days that humans have grouped together for reasons completely unrelated to baseball. In other words, if Melky had 51 hits in 127 plate appearances between September of one year and April of the next, no one would give a shit. Or maybe they would, but it wouldn’t be used as evidence in the popular narrative that this Melky is a New Melky. New Melky has realized the importance of conditioning, they say, and he’s 27, so this is the beginning of his prime.

I do think that locking Melky up for the next four or five years is a good idea. Our chances of winning the World Series are increased with him in right field. (Why Bochy hasn’t moved Melky to right, Gregor Blanco to center and Angel Pagan to left stumps me. Melky’s easily got the best arm of the three.) No one has reported that the Giants and Melky’s agent have entered into talks about an extension yet. That’s a savvy move on the Giants’ part: better to wait until he inevitably cools off and his value is a bit lower.

***

NL West Standings

The teams have not changed position since the first time I did these standing, so updating them takes relatively little effort. Relatively little effort is one of my favorite phrases. Read more about what Pyth means here.

The Dodgers still have a sizable lead, but it has slowly shrunk, as if it had hung out in the pool for a while. All signs point to the Giants closing this gap further; Matt Kemp just went back on the DL and the Giants’ next seven games come against the Padres (the above table speaks volumes) and the Cubs (I have no table for them, so just take my word that they are awful).

Arizona’s losing record can’t be easily explained. Justin Upton’s struggles (.249 average, only 5 home runs) have no doubt robbed the lineup of its potency, sure, but the pitching staff was supposed to be good enough to make up for it. Of their top four starters—Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Trevor Cahill and Joe Saunders—none have an ERA below 3.50, and it’s not like they’ve been particularly unlucky—their FIPs line up pretty well with their ERAs. Closer J.J. Putz has imploded so far this year. If they haven’t made David Hernandez, he of the 12.34 (one, two, three, four!) K/9, their closer yet, they should get on that. It seems like the only home runs Paul Goldschmidt has hit this year have come off Lincecum. His underwhelming second season gives credence to the “sophomore slump” clichè. But he has started to hit better recently, so perhaps a hot streak will offset his early-season slump to make his numbers respectable.

***

Let’s stay on the subject of Tim Lincecum. I told my friend Dylan that I would only start worrying if Lincecum hadn’t righted the ship by the end of May. With last night’s decent start, I can still say that I’m not worried about him and mean it. But something is different from years past, and it’s resulted in more walks and pitches in general. In trying to find out what specifically has changed, I went to Brooks Baseball in order to see if his 2012 pitches have resulted in different outcomes compared to previous years.

A quick rundown of all possible pitch outcomes: ball, called strike, foul, whiff (swinging strike), ball in play. Balls in play can be broken down in to ground balls, fly balls, line drives and pop-ups, but since Voros McCracken proved that pitchers have little to no control over where a ball lands once it is hit, I opt for the large umbrella category.

The graph shows the percentage of each outcome occurring in every year since Lincecum joined the league. Because I am still a Microsoft Excel novice, all I could manage to put in the bars was the count of each outcome; you’ll have to use the grid lines to estimate the percentages. Even without the percentages, the graph shows no significant changes since last year.

Much ado has been made about the decreased velocity on his fastball, so I looked at that specifically.

Again, 2012 looks a lot like 2007-11. At this point I got discouraged, but I still made these graphs for each type of pitch to be a good man, and thorough. I’ll show you the changeup graph (it’s his best pitch), then offer a theory.

Lincecum’s 2012 changeup is getting hit into play more and fouled off less. I propose that hitters can sit on the changeup without fear of the fastball being blown by them, since it hasn’t been very fast for most of the year. Expecting the changeup and adjusting for the fastball isn’t too difficult when the difference between the two is only seven mph. With this theory, the hope is that the increase in Lincecum’s velocity seen in his last two starts will force hitters to respect that pitch again.

Of course, I’m spitballing without much certainty here because I don’t want two hours of my life wasted on making fruitless bar graphs. The problem with Lincecum could be mechanical, which would explain both his reduced velocity and lack of control. His delivery is as intricate as the inner workings of a watch, and he mentioned losing a lot of weight in the offseason. These two months may just be an adjustment period to the new body type.

What I am certain about, though, is that the problems with Lincecum are permanent or signs of an imminent decline. He was simply too great before to be this bad without all that much (at least in terms of pitch outcomes) changing.

***

I was going to write about pitching coach Dave Righetti and Zitocakes, but I haven’t done enough research on either yet. Come back in June!

***

Giancarlo Stanton’s Home Run of the Weekish

Why the fuck does he practice bunting?

Giancarlo Stanton is a strong lad who regularly hits home runs that titillate and terrify the viewer. I was going to show you one especially powerful home run before I saw that the good people at Notgraphs compiled five of those for me.

***

Fun in the form of sponsored videos:

The best catch I ever made was similar to this one by Shelley Duncan. I was in left field, and some kid smoked a line drive over my head and toward the foul line. I didn’t even track the ball, I just turned around and ran with my head down to where I thought it was going to land and raised my glove once I thought I got there. The ball fell in immediately. I am a shitty fielder most of the time, so I think about that moment a lot.

Bryce Harper or Mike Trout, who ya got as the player of our generation?

Troy Tulowitzki went on the DL today with a strained groin, so Carlos Gonzalez is pretty much the only good thing going for the Rockies. He only has hit home runs in four straight at-bats today. No big deal.

***

I have not been posting very much. That’s partially because I’m exhausted from cart-pushing and partially because I’m coming up with a story that’s not beholden to Merriam-Webster. Hopefully I can have that up by the weekend. Here’s a song to make it up to you.

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From → Baseball

4 Comments
  1. Dylan permalink

    Meant to comment on this earlier. I can’t think of anything to say about this article except that I agree with it, so I’ll just point out how funny it is that “intellectual” and “masturbation” are right next to each other on your tags section. there’s something poetic about that combination.

    • That’s because they are actually part of one tag. I slap it on there to preempt anyone who wants to criticize me that way, because I think I leave myself open to it.

      • Dylan permalink

        you should really cover all your bases then, people could still call you a “mental self-stimulator”

      • I don’t see how that’s a criticism.

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