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    World Champions – again!

    It is almost as hard to believe it now as it was in 2010. Did the San Francisco Giants really win the World Series? You’d better believe it.

    If it’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated, it’s got to be true!

    If 2010 was a team of castoffs and misfits, at least it was a veteran club, and one with dominant pitching. The 2012 Giants seemed like a bunch of kids, and the arms all seemed to fade as the season lurched to a close. The word I heard the most from the Giants this year was “grind.”

    Even as the playoffs started, the Giants did not carry any air of inevitability, or invincibility. Falling behind the Reds, and then the Cardinals, the season could have ended at any moment.

    Until, suddenly – dramatically – for the second time in the post-season, the Giants got their wake-up call. It was an unlikely time. Barry Zito, who had not looked good against the Reds, got the call as the stopper in St. Louis. He gave up three hits before the Giants had one.

    And then Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval singled, and with one out, Hunter Pence hit a weak dribbler back to pitcher Lance Lynn, and the Giants got the sort of lucky break that defined this entire post-season – and, I suppose if you believe in these things, defined the Giants as a Team of Destiny. Lynn threw to second base, and there was no one there. He tried to hold up his throw, and it hit the bag. Scutaro scored. Another out, another couple of singles – one on a beautifully planned bunt by Zito – and the Giants were on their way to a 5-0 victory. They would never lose again in 2012.

    About those lucky breaks the Giants caught, whether it was Johnny Cueto leaving Game 1 of the Cincinnati series, or Angel Pagan‘s grounder hitting third base against Detroit (again with the base!), or Gregor Blanco‘s exquisite bunt, stopping incredibly inside the chalk. Include in those the sloppy defense by the opponents in every series, and then consider: the Giants made no such blunders.

    And that’s by design. The Giants are built around pitching and defense. It makes sense, when you think that pitching wins games, and defense is a big part of pitching. Manager Bruce Bochy could have played Xavier Nady or Hector Sanchez in a quest for more offense, but he knew the formula. If you keep the other team from scoring, you don’t have to score too much yourself.

    In building that type of team, General Manager Brian Sabean also built just the right lineup for AT&T Park. The best defenders are not necessarily sluggers in the Barry Bonds mold. Instead, Sabean acquired and promoted contact hitters, who can spray the ball into the gaps. Players like Melky Cabrera, Pagan, Blanco, and even Pence, Buster Posey, Scutaro, Brandon Belt and Sandoval all fit this model. With Scutaro in particular showing the virtue of taking pitches, and not striking out, the Giants were built for the modern post-season.

    The Giants had one more ingredient: Heart. It sounds like a cliche. It is said of nearly every team. (Well, maybe not the 2009 Yankees.) But consider some of the stories on these Giants – and not just overcoming the Brian Wilson injury or the Cabrera suspension. Instead: Ryan Vogelsong, wandering baseball’s wilderness for years before he came home to San Francisco and became a bona fide star. Scutaro, the very definition of a journeyman infielder, earning the nickname Blockbuster as he turned into Ty Cobb when he arrived on the Giants in July. Zito, never living up to his massive contract, but suddenly becoming a consistent winner. Tim Lincecum, losing his magic touch, but happily accepting a role as a middle reliever, and becoming unhittable once again. Posey, coming back from the most devastating (and unnecessary) injury this side of Joe Theisman to become National League MVP. And plenty of other players – Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Sergio Romo, Brandon Crawford, Pence, Sandoval – putting plenty of other struggles behind them for the sake of the team. I have to believe even having guys like Nady, Aubrey Huff and Ryan Theriot just in the dugout cheering (never mind scoring the winning run in the clincher, as Theriot did) had to help.

    Without these guys, there’s no parade in San Francisco on Halloween.

    Nicely done. And thank you. Every one of you.

     

    World Series, baby!

    I almost did not recognize my San Francisco Giants when they started this postseason. And I’m not referring to the complete changeover in the starting eight from 2010 – with only Buster Posey remaining. (Pablo Sandoval rode the pine in that historic postseason.)

    Marco Scutaro drinking in raindrops in 2012 NLCS Game 7

    What I was wondering, less than one month ago: Where was the Torture? The Giants clinched the West so early, the world seemed upside-down.

    But through the National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds, and the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Giants have shown that even though they have so many new cast members, they all know the script: Torture.

    Having fallen behind two games to none against the Reds, the Giants managed to come all the way back. They proceeded to drop three of the first four games to the Cards, and once again won three straight to take the pennant.

    Memo to Bruce Bochy and the boys: Please just win this next series early!

    I had great fun the other day discussing this and other weighty matters on Michael Krasny‘s excellent program Forum on KQED. (Krasny graciously said that “Giants Past and Present” is “one of the best books about the Giants.”)  You can listen to the show here:

    The show opened with Giants’ President Larry Baer, and you could really hear how much fun he’s having. Larry is a lifelong Giants fan in his dream job, and you can’t help but smile every time you see him. Then Michael led a spirited discussion with me, KNBR’s awesome Marty Lurie, and San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy. I sure learned a lot listening to those guys – especially when Marty told us that, however bad Pete Kozma played shorstop for the Cardinals in the NLCS, he was not as bad as the Washington Senators’ Roger Peckinpaugh in the 1925 World Series, who made eight errors! (Another highlight: Marty let me try on his 2010 World Series ring – and it is a thing of beauty!)

    One thought I had that I did not get to share: As we discussed the Giants, and beautiful AT&T Park, I wanted to give props to General Manager Brian Sabean for building a team perfect for its ballpark. Instead of going out and signing home run hitters, who only get frustrated with the park’s wide open spaces, Sabean brought in gap hitters like Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Gregor Blanco. You could put Melky Cabrera in there too (even though we don’t really like to talk about him any more), and it looks like it’ll be a good fit for the Brandons – Belt and Crawford. Need I say Buster Posey?

    And maybe, if Hunter Pence hits more line drives like his famed “triple double” from game 7 of the NLCS – the ball that hit the bat three times – instead of swinging for the fences, the Giants will have the ingredients necessary to foil those big bopping Tigers.

    After all, Marty Lurie viewed Pence’s lucky-breaking line drive as karmic payback for Willie McCovey’s smash that ended the 1962 World Series. No one could have hit that ball any harder, but it went straight to the Yankees’ Bobby Richardson. Pence’s ball curved away from Kozma, and the Giants were in business.

    It’s good to be good. But sometimes it’s better to be lucky.

    Even if it’s a little Torturous.

    Orange October

    Kruk and Kuip know Torture when they see it. (Thanks to the Facebook group, “Giants baseball… torture.”)

    Once again, the Giants are roaring into October, and the diehards are ready for another magical run. I sure am. But I can’t help but note that things feel different this time.

    For one thing: Where is the Torture?

    And for another: What happened to our lovable band of castoffs and misfits?

    The Giants of 2010 knew how to break a curse. They took all the Torture of the past half-century-plus in San Francisco — all the second place finishes of the 1960s, McCovey’s line drive, Jose Oquendo, Candy Maldonado, Dusty Baker and Russ Ortiz — and they owned it. When Duane Kuiper coined his slogan in May of that season, “Giants Baseball: It’s Torture!,” he gave the team a rallying cry that told the world, we don’t care how many times we bring it to the brink, we can win.

    No one personified Torture more than Brian Wilson. He became the face of the franchise, muscle-bound, and weird beyond words, stalking to the mound, throwing heat – and giving up the walks that would bring opponents tantalizingly close, only to slam the door on such Torture. And it all flowed from Wilson: His pal, Pat Burrell, donning the leather straps as the Machine; Burrell’s pal, Aubrey Huff, donning the satin thong that assured the postseason; and the rest of the castoffs, midseason acquisitions like Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, and Cody Ross, who was claimed off waivers and went on to author some improbably insane postseason heroics.

    The Giants kept their team remarkably intact in 2011, and it got them nowhere. But they did learn something important that season: the importance of Buster. When Posey went down in May, the Giants were essentially done.

    I’ve often felt that Posey could be the Giants’ Derek Jeter. Like Jeter, he provided the missing ingredient to bring his team a championship in his rookie year. He is calm, poised beyond his years, confident and capable. I don’t think anyone would argue with the Giants naming Buster their captain.

    And that’s where the big difference between 2010 and 2012 comes in. Instead of Buster quietly fitting in among the Freak, the Beard and the rest of the castoffs, he is the undisputed leader of this year’s squad. The Giants have a much more understated, workmanlike approach, exemplified for me by three young, strong, silent Southerners – Posey, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. I think (warning: armchair psychoanalysis ahead) this may be why Tim Lincecum is struggling; the free-spirited, pot-smoking, long-haired Freak is no longer at home in his own clubhouse.

    One of the interesting things about this switch in team personality hit me in August, when Carl Steward, a fine columnist for the Bay Area Newspaper Group (aka the San Jose Oakland Contra Costa Marin Mercury Times News Journal), took note of the Giants hitting a real low point in the season. They had been swept by the Dodgers at home. They looked like they couldn’t score runs. Steward wondered if Coors Field could prove a tonic (it did), and if Posey and Cain were too quiet to fire up the team the way Huff and Burrell did two years earlier. Steward wrote:

    Good teams need strong, occasionally outspoken leaders. Leadership can’t always be by setting a good example aka Cain/Posey. Sometimes you have to get in players’ ears. Sometimes you need to throw a fit or berate one of us media types after a loss. Sometimes you have to remind teammates that it’s baseball and it’s supposed to be fun as you set off a cherry bomb in the middle of the clubhouse, or hide a four-day-old chicken neck in somebody’s locker.

    It may be Cain’s team and Posey’s team, but they’re the strong, silent, stable types. The Giants need somebody right now to throw the cherry bomb. Make somebody laugh. Make somebody ticked off. Become the human defibrillator.

    Not only did the Giants start hitting at Coors, but they got their cherry bomb two weeks later, when Melky Cabrera was suspended.

    He was cast off. The Giants were misfits no more. And never mind Torture, they overtook the Dodgers and clinched the division with 10 games to spare.

    I can’t wait to see what they do in October.

    Free Crawford!

    No one gets too excited when Brandon Crawford comes to bat. I can speak for all Giants fans and say we hold our collective breath and hope for the best for this kid. It would be so great if he could emerge as a big league hitter, but we fear he’s been thrown to the wolves too early and may not get there.

    Yet I couldn’t help but notice that he has gone through some pretty impressive stretches this season. I’ve looked at the stats, and found this:

    After dropping to a dismal .173 batting average on April 21 in New York – yes, well below his listed weight of 215 pounds – Crawford went on an impressive little run, hitting .259 in the next 17 games. Then Bruce Bochy boldly batted Brendan second in the order – where he’s likely to see better pitches – and he responded, hitting .300 over the next nine games, with an on-base percentage of .356, 7 RBI and 8 runs scored.

    You can see and sort Crawford’s game-by-game stats at the table below. (I love Baseball Reference! The column headed BOP indicates batting order position; from May 17 to May 28, Crawford hit second in all but one game. If you click on those dates, you can get a table showing the stats from those games – my source of information.)

    Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
    Generated 6/7/2012.

     

    Boch said at the time he was experimenting, but that Crawford had been hitting well enough to merit a shot.

    I would have thought Crawford had passed his audition, but then Ryan Theriot came off the disabled list, and as a proven major league hitter (in years prior to this one), Bochy handed him the 2-hole. I can’t criticize that move, especially since Crawford struck out 15 times in his 45 plate appearances batting second. (Bochy also gave him two more shots at the 2-hole and he went oh-for-7.) And Theriot has proven Bochy right so far, batting .321 with a .406 OBA and zero whiffs in 32 plate appearances.

    It’s funny, because I had been wondering why Angel Pagan doesn’t bat second, and Henry Schulman today reports that Bochy has considered that idea. (Schulman mostly writes about Pablo Sandoval‘s weight, thank goodness – I had long thought of that as, if you’ll excuse me, the elephant in the room, and I’m glad to read that the Giants are addressing it.) Wouldn’t you love a lineup of Blanco-Pagan-Cabrera-Posey-Sandoval? I sure would.

    Meanwhile, since Crawford returned to his usual spot in Siberia, I mean the 8-hole, with its diet of pitches outside the strike zone, he has resumed his old ways, going 2-for-13 in the past five games.

    He may be a future number two hitter, but he’s not there yet – at least, not for a team, like the Giants, that has serious playoff plans.

     

     

    Torture, again

    My son and I in the stands at AT&T Park on May 6, 2012 - a "Torture" classic in which Giants closer Santiago Casilla coughed up a ninth inning lead to the Brewers, only to see the Giants win it in the 11th on a Hector Sanchez bases loaded single.

    Nearly two months into the 2012 season, I think we’re getting a pretty good sense of what we’ve got in this year’s Giants team. It both pains and pleases me to report that we are not yet ready to retire the label the Giants earned the past two seasons: Torture.

    Yes, Torture with a capital T and that rhymes with B and that stands for Bochy…. And Brandon…. And Bad Hitting and Bungled Baseballs. Yet another season of stellar pitching is at risk of fizzling in a .500 rathole because the offense and the defense don’t adequately support the aces on the hill. The Giants’ staff is the envy of baseball, and if you doubt that, think of it this way: What manager wouldn’t want his biggest pitching problem to be – Tim Lincecum?

    Plus, injuries keep threatening to sink the season before it even gets rolling, whether it’s Brian Wilson going down for his second Tommy John surgery, or Pablo Sandoval showing a new disadvantage to switch-hitting by breaking the same bone in his left hand that he broke in his right hand last year.

    So while so many of my fellow fans sink into that funk of watching our version of the Mudville Nine rally only to lose again, I see the potential for another glorious 2010-type season. In fact, think of how torturous 2010 really was. For starters, 2010 was the year Duane Kuiper hung his sputtering Torture moniker on the orange-and-black after an endless supply of nail-biters.

    That season’s opening day lineup included names like John Bowker, Mark DeRosa, Aaron Rowand and Bengie Molina. (Good guys, but do any fans miss them?) In 2010, the Giants trailed the Padres nearly all year (and the 2010 Pads were a better team than the 2012 Dodgers, in my opinion – much better pitching, fueled by a lights-out bullpen). Pablo Sandoval suffered not only a sophomore slump, but threatened to become the Kung Fu Hippo. And remember August? Just when you want your team to make a stretch run, the Giants’ pitching staff began to unravel. They led the league in walks. Lincecum went through the first prolonged struggle in his charmed career.

    And we never really came to love Edgar Renteria until his very last game in a Giants’ uniform.

    Happy endings like 2010’s enable us to forget all the struggles that comprise a baseball season. Before a game I went to last year, Giants’ coach Tim Flannery addressed a crowd of Little Leaguers, telling them that the secret to baseball success is “tricking your mind into staying positive.” In 2010, he pointed out, the world champion Giants lost 70 games.

    Maybe I’m just tricking my own mind here, but I find a lot to be positive about in 2012.

    • First, and foremost, Buster Posey is back and better than ever.
    • To our great relief as well, Buster at last has a backup, Hector Sanchez, who can really hit. It feels fine whenever Bochy wants to give Buster a rest, or a day at first base.
    • Melky Cabrera is a true major league superstar – and Pablo Sandoval is on his way there. Angel Pagan is solid, speedy, and a team leader. (I’m biased toward Angel, since I just wrote a story about him for the Giants magazine – look for it at the ballpark this summer.)
    • Melky and Angel aren’t the only great additions. Gregor Blanco is a revelation. Joaquin Arias fills the utility role nicely. Ryan Theriot is a great guy to have on the bench.
    • Bruce Bochy is getting comfortable trusting his young guys, and Brandons Belt and Crawford are starting to come around. (By-the-By, what is it with the Base-Ball Giants and the initials BB? From Bobby Bonds to Barry Bonds, from Bob Brenly and Brett Butler to Bruce Bochy and Brandon Belt, we love shooting BBs here in Baghdad by the Bay. Then again, Brian Bocock couldn’t carry the bat of old New York Giant Hall-of-Famer Beauty Bancroft.)

    I love Giants fans, but I do find it funny that they complained so long to “Free Belt,” yet they show as little patience with the miscues of youth as they used to accuse Bochy and Brian Sabean of having. You can’t have it both ways. We are spoiled by guys like Posey and Sandoval, who hit well right from the start, but instead we ought to consider the example of Melky Cabrera, who struggled and bounced around for years until he found his stroke last year in Kansas City.

    So don’t get down. If the 2010 Giants could rally from 7.5 games back on July 4 – to say nothing of forbears like the 1951 team, which was 13 back on Aug. 11 –this year’s model can certainly overcome a May deficit. It may take some more Sabean midseason magic. It may take some help in getting the Dodgers to fall to earth. It may require the folks at Dignity Health (cue Renel: formerly Catholic Healthcare West, the official health care provider of your San Francisco Giants) to restore both dignity and health to a team that needs both.

    Whatever it takes, though, remember this: With a second wild card this year, it’s easier than ever to make the playoffs. And once in the playoffs, pitching can carry you a long, long way.

    Right Timmy?

    RIP, 2011 baseball season

    The funny thing is, we thought 2010 was “Torture.”

    We could laugh about Torture when the Giants managed to win the World Series. But in 2011, we became re-acquainted with our old friend Torture when the Giants suddenly stopped winning all those walk-off, one-run ballgames. It seemed they just stopped scoring runs, period, and the challenge of stringing together three hits in a row became an insurmountable obstacle.

    And 2011 truly defined Torture, Giants-style, with a seemingly endless array of injuries. None hurt more than Buster Posey’s season-ending loss in that eminently avoidable crash at home plate back in May. But it was equally painful to see rock-solid Brian Wilson go down, and Pablo Sandoval’s fabulous comeback momentarily derailed. And of course it turned out Freddy Sanchez never did vacate his room in the Hotel Disabled, moving right back in on schedule. (Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez, those injuries I can forgive.)

    I admire the way the Giants never gave up. I like that Brian Sabean brought in Carlos Beltran and Jeff Keppinger. (Orlando Cabrera, I was not so crazy about. I understand why Brandon Crawford couldn’t stay – you don’t want a rookie falling into a double digit batting average and thinking he will never hit big league pitching – but if you have to hire a shortstop who can’t hit, couldn’t you at least bring back Omar Vizquel?) I liked that the team stayed in the race til the final week.

    Hey, I liked that the Atlanta Braves collapsed and the Diamondbacks never showed anything too dominant, enabling that race to linger.

    But it sure has been Torture watching a postseason without the Giants, especially one in which the starting pitchers all seem highly inferior to Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong. I have to feel our guys would be giving any team in the playoffs a good run once again, if they’d only gotten there.

    So now I’ve tossed this year’s Sporting Greens into the hot stove, and am ready to burnish my optimism for 2012. Re-sign Beltran. Get the Brandons – Belt and Crawford – into a big league boot camp all winter. Make Aubrey Huff and Brett Pill battle it out for first base in Spring Training. Sign Coco Crisp. (Let the A’s have San Jose in exchange for some Moneyball mojo.)

    The Giants are not too far from putting together another run at the title. I cannot wait until Spring!

     

    A modest proposal

    Now batting: Brian Wilson drives a Gatorade jug deep to the end of the Giants' dugout, as clubhouse manager Mike Murphy ponders the cleanup operation to follow. (Photo by John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)

    Under the rules of baseball, the statisticians the winning pitcher to be the guy who is in the game when the winning run scored. I would like to suggest, in this era of SABRmetrics, when the win has already been devalued (see Hernandez, Felix), that the rule be changed.

    The clearest example of why this should be is last night’s San Francisco Giants game. Madison Bumgarner pitched a beauty against a devastating Detroit Tigers lineup — 7.3 innings, 1 hit, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts, 1 earned run. But then in the eighth and ninth, Brian Wilson — and don’t get me wrong, for all the torture, I love the guy — gets two outs and surrenders 4 hits, 1 walk and 2 earned runs.

    Wilson gets the win, and goes berserk on a Gatorade cooler. What’s wrong with this picture?

    I would like to see baseball’s official scorers empowered to decide who is the winning pitcher based on merit. Lord knows Brian Wilson is not looking to pad his stats with wins thanks to all the Giants’ late inning rallies. When Bumgarner – and for that matter Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and the rest of the Giants’ aces – pitch deep into games, giving up next to nothing, they deserve a win, instead of the mediocre win-loss records that they carry around with them.

    The Cy Young voters already know this. (See also Lincecum, Tim, and Greinke, Zack.) The fans know it. The players know it. When will Bud Selig and the big league statisticians figure it out?

    (Footnote: I actually had to edit Lincecum’s Wikipedia page to show his 18-5 record in his first Cy Young season of 2008.)

    Damon Bruce loves the book!

    I had a great conversation with Damon Bruce last Friday on his show. We talked about Giants Past and Present. It was a great interview and a great treat for fathers day. Damon said, “It is a 1st class product all the way through – a well written, well crafted book.”

     

    Dan Fost on the Damon Bruce Show

    Protect the catcher!

    Brad Mangin's excellent shot of the tag that Buster Posey applied to Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies in Game 4 of the 2010 NLCS.

    I want to see a rule change. And I’m not alone.

    I want to see catchers protected from home plate collisions.

    Buster Posey may be out for the year, just because baseball says it’s all right that Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins came barreling down the third base line at top speed and, instead of sliding, dove at Posey like a linebacker in hopes of jarring the ball loose – a ball, it turns out, that Posey wasn’t even holding in the first place.

    The Giants had told Posey not to block home plate. They told him no run, no single game, was worth the damage he could do to himself, to his career. He got it right last year in the NLCS – as important a game as he’d ever played in to that point, applying a sweep-tag on Carlos Ruiz to nail the runner yet stay out of harm’s way. Indeed, even in the Marlins game, Buster Ballgame was in front of home plate, toward the mound, taking the throw and then trying to turn into Cousins to apply the tag.

    I don’t fault Cousins. He was within the rules, written or otherwise. But baseball has rules to prevent runners from creaming middle infielders in the same fashion. Hockey has rules to protect the goaltender. Football protects the quarterback. Major sports are getting more sensitive to injuries, especially concussions.

    The Giants have already lost Mike Matheny to a similar play. Joe Mauer is continually banged up in Minnesota. The tools of ignorance are hardly protection for an athlete running right at you like a freight train.

    Evan Brunell summarized the situation very well over at CBS Sports, noting that Posey’s agent and his manager have also called for a rules change:

    Posey’s agent, Jeff Berry, said he was planning on calling Joe Torre, the new leader of on-field operations, in the hopes of changing the rules that allow runners to barrel into catchers.

    “You leave players way too vulnerable,” Berry said. “I can tell you Major League Baseball is less than it was before [Posey's injury]. It’s stupid. I don’t know if this ends up leading to a rule change, but it should. The guy [at the plate] is too exposed.

    “If you go helmet to helmet in the NFL, it’s a $100,000 fine, but in baseball, you have a situation in which runners are [slamming into] fielders. It’s brutal. It’s borderline shocking. It just stinks for baseball. I’m going to call Major League Baseball and put this on the radar. Because it’s just wrong.”

    “It’s part of baseball. I understand that,” Bochy said in a news conference on Thursday according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “Guys run into catchers. Being a catcher, I’ve been in a few of them. You’re in harm’s way there. I do think we need to consider changing the rules a little bit because the catcher’s so vulnerable — and there are so many who’ve gotten hurt, and just a little bit. I mean, they’ve had their careers or shortened. And here’s a guy that’s very popular in baseball. Fans want to see him play. Now, he’s out for a while. I’d like to see maybe something considered here where we can protect these guys a little bit more. They just don’t have the protection to take a guy coming in full speed, with that kind of force.”

    Bochy said he had previously spoken to Posey about not getting out in front and blocking the plate — and to an extent, Posey tried to honor that.

    “He was not completely in front of the plate. He was in a position where he could make a tag without being hit, too,” Bochy said. “He just got himself in a tough position there because [the way] his leg was situated. He was down on one knee, and ideally, you’d like to have the foot pointed that way to protect you a little bit. But, again, you’re trying to handle a throw. You don’t have time to get set up perfectly. That’s what hurt him was his leg was tucked underneath him when he got hit.”

    It should have been changed years ago, when Pete Rose wrecked Ray Fosse in the All-Star Game. But just because it’s late doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. Let’s do it now. Call it the Buster Posey Rule. And protect the catcher!

    Oh, and when Buster does come back? Put him at third base. First base. Anywhere but behind the plate!

     

    Bruce Bochy Looks Like the Best in the Business

    Big hat, big brain: Bruce Bochy (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

    Today’s guest post is from Bleacher Report Contributor Simon Cherin-Gordon, a Berkeley High Senior who has been helping me on projects large and small on this site and elsewhere for the past year.

    After Bruce Bochy led the Giants on a second half surge that netted them an unexpected division title, many Giants’ fans were calling for Bochy to win the Manager of the Year award. While Bochy was deserving, so were others, including Padres’ skipper Bud Black, who won 90 games with a roster that most expected to struggle all year. The award went to him, and rightfully so.

    Bochy, meanwhile, went on to win the World Series, strengthening his position as one of the game’s best.

    However, it is only now, two months into the 2011 season, that we are seeing Bochy’s finest work. After an uneventful offseason, the Giants looked like they’d be caught in another fierce battle with better offensive teams out west, and would need heroic career years out of guys who already delivered their heroic career years in 2010. While Pat Burrell’s resurrection and Cody Ross’ hot streak could be attributed to Bochy, that may be giving him more credit than he deserves.

    In fact, the 2010 Giants may have underperformed in multiple, albeit subtle, ways. The 2010 team was 6th in the NL in total bases, batting average, and home runs, yet finished only 9th in runs scored, indicating an inefficient offense. On the defensive side, they led the league in fielding percentage as well as ERA, a seemingly fool-proof formula for allowing the fewest runs. However, Bud Black’s Padres allowed less runs than the Giants in 2010. And even when taking the end result of runs allowed and runs scored for San Francisco, their 92-70 record was slightly worse than their Pythagorean projection (a simple Bill Jamesian stat that projects W-L record based on run differential), which had them at 94-68.

    As anyone should have seen coming, the offense has taken a step back so far in 2011, and, to the surprise of many, the defense has gotten a whole lot worse. Mark DeRosa may eventually help some, and Aubrey Huff will likely pick his numbers up. Other than that, not many hitters are underperforming, and the lack of pop may be here to stay. The pitching staff is still excellent, but the defense has hurt them. Bochy doesn’t have the benefit of this being “the Giants’ year,” and needs to squeeze as much as he can out of this deep but flawed roster.

    He’s done so miraculously, using his depth to its full capacity and, in doing so, covering up the flaws. His game management, use of certain players in certain roles, and steady presence has the Giants winning way more than they should be. Despite the league’s 3rd best ERA and 13th best defense, San Francisco is 3rd best in the league in runs allowed. And while the Pythagorean projection says the team should be 23-24, Bochy has them at 27-20, solely atop the NL West.

    The toughest thing about managing the defending champs is the heightened desire around the league to defeat you, especially early in the season. Every other team out there circles the Giants on their calenders, and plays with an added intensity when they meet. Facing teams that are playing with an extra edge every single day can, and often does, prove to be too much for a defending champ. This leads to a scrambling manager, a belief in the players that they aren’t good as they were last year, and a downward spiral. Bochy and his 2011 club has been the antithesis of this. The Giants are playing more intensely than their opponents. Bochy has his player’s roles figured out and never panics when a decision backfires.

    Although no team has won back-to-back World Series titles since 2000, no manager of a defending champ has done as good a job as Bruce Bochy in a long time. And regardless of what happens this October, a return to the playoffs for this team should net Bochy the Manager of the Year award in a landslide.

    Read more of Simon Cherin-Gordon’s sportswriting here

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