Johnny Black

Okeedokee Giants fans. I have not been this excited about the Giants since 2021. With the injection of young blood in the Giants baseball corpus this San Francisco team suddenly looks like a new club compared to the pretty sad sack bunch we saw in April. Yes, the Giants lost yesterday, 7-5 to the Brewers (I will get to that game in a minute), but let’s be clear: This has been a super duper road trip with the Giants taking 2 of 3 in the Twin cities and 3 of 4 in Milwaukee. Each team was in first place when the Giants flew into town. Each team was expecting to beat up on our boys. Each team got a taste of Casey Schmitt, Patrick Bailey and a very hot Michael Conforto.

Those three players have been the difference-makers, by and large, in this Giants hot streak. Throw in the general awesomeness of Logan Webb and the bullpen’s resurgence and it all adds up to a record of 27-26 after the Giants started the season, as Dr. Lefty noted in her standard weekly beautiful post, 6-13 in April. They are 21-13 since then.

Johnny Black likes this Giants hot streak.

Yesterday’s Game: Blake Sabol and the Catching Position

Yesterday the Giants had a chance to complete a rare four-game sweep on the road, against a good team, no -less. They failed and they lost 7-5. What’s more, this is the fourth series in which the Giants had a chance to sweep this season and failed. Alex Cobb started the game yesterday and was not able to escape a troublesome first and second inning. There is context here. It’s not like Cobb was rocked. He was pitching to Blake Sabol who was catching for two reasons:

Patrick Bailey needed a day off


Joey Bart is on the IL

Blake Sabol is not quite Major League catching material. I hate to pile on but the numbers and the eye test don’t lie. The Giants, with yesterday’s loss, are now 1-9 in the last ten Sabol starts when he is donning the tools of ignorance and 8-15 overall. Want more evidence? Just watch the way he catches the ball. Just read the ERA. Just watch replays of the double steal the Brewers pulled off with one out and runners on first and second base in the top of the second inning. Sabol appeared caught by surprise and was not able to get a throw off to third base since he could not get a grip on the baseball and since his one-knee squat puts him in a more compromising position than a standard squaaaat, when it comes to making throws. Now, keep in mind the one-knee thingy appears to be a Giants system-side analytics-driven decision designed to get more calls as strikes from pitches. I was never a fan but the point is, Sabol looked pretty awful behind the plate yesterday.

There is another factor here: How a catcher handles a pitching staff. Let me refine my use of “handle.” There are many demands made on a catcher throughout a baseball game. Buster Posey was the rare elite talent who was super at all of them and that’s why, despite his relatively modest offensive numbers overall, he will end up in the Hall of Fame. Let’s begin with defense since that is the most important part of the catching position. A good catcher has to steal strikes on border-line pitches. He has to throw runners out on the bases. He has to call a good game in terms of pitches selected. This may be the most important element. A good catcher makes every pitcher the best he can be. That’s what Buster did. That’s what Patrick Bailey appears to have a talent for. That’s what Blake Sabol lacks. I could get into the mechanics of all this, the type of target, the relationship with the pitcher and much more but suffice it to say that Sabol does not have those tools and does not play enough behind the plate to develop them at the Major League level.

Second, a catcher has to play regularly to guide his team. He has to know the pitching staff and become a part of their routine, knowing what each pitcher offers on any given day. This is not possible when a player has to learn the outfield position as well, as is the case with Blake Sabol. Sorry, versatility fetishists, it’s just not!

This is why Joey Bart is not going anywhere. When he returns he will be a competent number 2 behind Bailey. Sabol’s value lies in his ability to be an emergency catcher and hit the occasional homer, as he did yesterday. Otherwise, with Pederson and Slater returning soon from injuries and the possible promotion of Luis Matos, the Sabol era may not last past the All Star Break, despite Farhan Zaidi’s claims to the contrary.

In those two rough innings for Cobb the Giants fell behind 7-0 but battled back to make it a game and lose 7-5. If one of those runners trying to steal is thrown out… If Brett Wisely is not playing so far up the middle on a routine grounder that went as a hit in the bottom of the first… the game may have gone the Giants way. As it stands, Cobb was not himself, often falling behind hitters and giving up hits in crucial moments when he needed outs. It’s not all on Sabol, of course, but at some point the decision needs to be made that Sabol should only ever catch in an emergency and should never start behind the plate.

As a counter-argument I will present you with his numbers as a hitter, courtesy of Andrew Baggarly at The Athletic:

Why are the Giants committed to continuing this trial? That part is easy enough to figure out. Sabol entered Wednesday’s game with a .926 OPS against right-handed pitching. Not only did that platoon-split production lead all Giants left-handed hitters, it ranked 14th among all lefties in MLB. Raise your hand if you thought it’d be late May and Sabol would be out-OPS-ing Shohei Ohtani by 15 points against right-handed pitching.

So there you have it: Sabol’s value is as a lefty off the bench and playing the outfield. Maybe the Giants deal Pederson to free up Sabol?

Let’s end this section on a positive note:

Atta boy!

Saturday’s Game

I have to admit, I enjoyed this game, a lot. First, Logan Webb was doing his usual Logan Webb stuff like firing strikes, frustrating hitters, initiating weak contact when he wasn’t striking Brewers out and then getting the WIN! The Giants won this game, 3-1 over the Brewers in Milwaukee thanks to a variety of factors that boiled down to Webb matching Burnes with pitching excellence, Mitch Haniger delivering the big hit, a two-run homer to dead center in the top of the eighth inning, and the Giants bullpen, perhaps the most amazing aspect of the team’s turnaround, preserving the lead.

This was a classic pitcher’s duel from the beginning. Neither Corbin Burnes nor Logan Webb was at his best but both aces were very good, mixing speeds and locations and using changeups to fool hitters. Both pitchers also kept aggressive rhythms and took the initiative in almost every at bat with early lead counts and quick paces. It was fun to watch if you like good pitching.

It’s nice to see Mitch Haniger hit!

The Black Monday© Wrap

I gave you the numbers in the opening paragraph, Giants fans. The Giants are HOT! They are fun to watch. Their youth is contributing. Their veterans are getting big hits and their defensive play has been pretty much lights out. Decent starting pitching and a money bullpen all add up to a hot streak where the Giants suddenly look like contenders for the Division. The Dodgers may end up regretting not running away with the Division when they had the chance in April. The DBacks are still kind of undecided or not yet ripe. The Padres are just… underachievers, the worst label of all. (I remember when a bitter ex-girlfriend called me that once. In hindsight it was kind of a compliment coming from her).

Maybe the Padres will turn it around. All I know is this: The performances of Casey Schmitt and Patrick Bailey have been a revelation, and All-Star caliber. We will see how long that goes and if those rookies have the staying power. Let’s hope so (crosses fingers, prays to Willie Mays). I think the success of Michael Conforto has been a big factor for the team as well. With Joc Pederson out Conforto has picked up the left-handed power hitting slack and suddenly the Giants look like they don’t really need Pederson and his $19 million salary!

I like, no LOVE this team right now. If they can figure out their fifth spot in the rotation issues and get Joey Bart back to give Bailey some time off every week, the team could be performing at this level right on through October and beyond. Who knows? What a difference a hot month of baseball makes!?

Johnny Black’s Non-Profit of the Week

Since GG has pretty much given me carte blanche for this column I wanted to start a new series on my favorite Bay Area non-profits. This week I want to profile Alemany Farm. This community garden and institution based in San Francisco does great things to give people food security:

Friends of Alemany Farm grows food security and educates local residents about how they can become their own food producers. We strive to increase ecological knowledge and habitat value, and to sow the seeds for economic and environmental justice. All of the food we grow is given away for free to neighbors, volunteers, The Free Farm Stand, and other groups.

Stop by for a visit. Volunteer or send them a donation. They do great things for the city and people of San Francisco!

Johnny Black out!