Lefty Rage

 

Complete box here.

by Dr Lefty

I’ve had enough of this.

I had a bad week. The second week of my spring quarter sabbatical got completely conscripted by a frustrating and stressful turn on jury duty. It wasn’t even an interesting case. The defendant was a small-potatoes career criminal who spends his time driving around the Sacramento-Davis area in a very recognizable car with “burglary tools” (to quote one of the officers who testified) in plain view, breaking into apartment complex laundry rooms to pry loose the coin boxes with said tools and steal a bunch of quarters, which doesn’t quite seem worth all that effort to me–at least rob a bank or an ATM or something. We were told he’d been caught in the act of doing so 18 days before the incident in our case took place and is, we learned afterward, currently serving time for the earlier event. The car was photographed on site by a resident (license number clearly visible), and the witness picked the defendant out of a photo lineup with zero hesitation. But none of that was enough for our rogue juror, who knew better than the rest of us that there was “reasonable doubt.” Ugh. No wonder the U.S. justice system is a mess.

I came home late Thursday afternoon, finally having escaped what was declared a mistrial. Within about 90 seconds, the phone rang, an AT & T repairman was at the door (we’ve been having Internet problems), our senior dog, who’s having “bathroom issues,” dropped a deuce right in front of him, and a UPS guy arrived, thankfully with a much-needed wine club delivery. Later that evening, I got blindsided by an email in which a professional acquaintance who not only let me down but also stabbed me in the back while doing so–still trying to process all of that. It was just a fabulous day to end a terrific week.

So I didn’t need a Giants game like last night’s. And now they shall feel my wrath. But first, some praise.

 

The Young Pitchers

The Giants’ farm system is, it’s fair to say, much-maligned. But the truth is, to the extent the Giants have been competitive at all so far this season, it’s been because of young guys whom the Giants either developed or astutely picked up (Pierce Johnson). On the offensive side, the best hitters have been homegrown first-rounders Buster Posey and Joe Panik. But it’s the pitching that has really stepped up. The Giants’ Big Three of Bumgarner, Cueto, and Samardzija, who were supposed to be the key to the Giants returning to respectability this year, are all on the disabled list as of this moment of writing. The $62 million closer may never be seen again.

So the heroes of the early season, in no particular order, are Ty Blach, Chris Stratton, Reyes Moronta, Pierce Johnson, and Roberto Gomez. I’ll even throw in Tyler Beede and Andrew Suarez–though neither won their major league debuts this week, they both provided timely starts and kept the team in the game for at least a while. The Giants even eventually won the game Beede started. Derek Law came up from the minors Thursday and threw two perfect innings to close out a Giants win. Steven Okert…well, I hope he at least got mileage reimbursement.

(No, I’m not forgetting Tony Watson or Hunter Strickland. But I’m making a point here. Work with me.)

 

The Offensive Offense

The Giants have, in 13 games to date, faced eight (8) lefty starters. But no problem, because our front office went out and obtained a bunch of great righty bats this offseason!

Yeah, about that. It’s been a big problem. The Giants are 3-2 in games started by right-handed opponents but 3-5 in games started by lefties.

The Giants are batting .168 with runners in scoring position, and the two big right-handed additions, Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, are 4 for 31 in those situations. Another important right-handed bat, Hunter Pence, went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts on his 35th birthday and is now batting an anemic .200 with a .229 on-base percentage and a .451 OPS (still better than Longoria’s .149 average and .444 OPS). Along with Posey, who had a rare (so far) off night, those four guys went 0-16 with 6 strikeouts last night.

That just isn’t going to work. #FreeMac #FreeSlater. Hell, #FreeGorkys and #FreeKelby.

(By the way, if you get The Athletic, be sure to read Baggarly’s “birthday piece” on Pence. It provides both a poignant reminder of all he has meant to this team–and a realistic perspective that the sands in his hourglass may be running out.)

 

The Giraffe in the Room

Brandon Belt is not hitting as well as either Panik or Posey, but he’s the third-best hitter among the regulars this year (.270/.400/.405/.805). And despite his unfortunate misplay last night, he’s widely considered to be an outstanding defensive first baseman; both the eye test and the metrics, for what they’re worth, back that up. So why is he getting so much hate from some fans and even from the announcers?

The Belt-bashing thing has always mystified me. Yes, he can be streaky and frustrating to watch at times. (I’ve compared him to Klay Thompson in a cold shooting streak before.) But over a seven-year career, Belt has been a valuable, above-average hitter and player, the starting first baseman on two World Series teams. The bias and anger just defies logic and ignores facts.

Myth: Belt never hits in the clutch. Never, ever ever.

Fact: Belt led the team last year in batting average with runners in scoring position. This year with men on, he’s batting .400 (8 for 20) and is 3 for 8 with runners in scoring position (.375 batting average, .920 OPS). For his career, his OPS with RISP is a respectable .823. His “late-and-close” career OPS is .796. Now, this is not Barry Bonds we’re talking about. But Belt is a perfectly competent hitter in clutch situations.

Myth: Belt always looks for walks and strikes out looking.

Fact: Belt has struck out looking exactly three times this season. Two of those arguably were not strikes at all, especially the game-ending pitch from Jansen last weekend. Even Bochy defended Belt on that one. Unfortunately, all three times were in late-game situations that were more memorable. There is also data that’s been presented by writers not affiliated at all with the Giants that has demonstrated that (a) left-handed hitters are far more likely than right-handed hitters to be victimized by erroneous strike calls (b) among left-handed hitters, Belt has been among the most victimized and (c) Belt is actually superb, even unique, in his strike zone awareness and plate discipline.

Logic: OK, no one wants to see a guy strike out looking. It’s frustrating to watch. But why is that worse than grounding into a double play like McCutchen did last night right after Belt took a called third or as Posey often does? (Career GIDP: Posey, 119, Belt, 28). Why is it worse than Longoria and Pence flailing helplessly at pitches without a clue? Isn’t it better to have a player actually bring a thoughtful approach to the plate, even if sometimes he guesses wrong about the home plate umpire’s capricious strike zone?

Finally: I’ve blocked from my feed the commenters whom I think of as “Belt Trolls.” By that I don’t mean “occasionally critical of Belt along with many other topics.” I mean commenters whose apparent only purpose here is to come on the board during games and say nasty things about Belt. I don’t need to mention names, but you know who they are. I highly recommend this. The games are much more enjoyable without them.

Here’s a good postgame writeup by the Chronicle’s John Shea. I like it because it gives Belt exactly zero crap.

 

Tonight’s Game

Giants at Padres, 5:40 p.m., Petco Park (a/k/a AT & T South)
Derek Holland (0-2, 4.09 ERA) vs. Clayton Richard, no-hitter spoiler (1-1, 5.29 ERA)

 

After (with some trepidation), watching the Warriors’ first playoff game, we’re going out to the River Cats game again tonight, but I’ll try to keep up on the Giants game and will be back tomorrow morning with a wrap-up.

In the meantime, things could be worse–our team could be outdrawn by their own Double-A team, and the AA team could be called the “Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.”