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The Giants lost again yesterday, falling to 15-20 and eight games behind the
Dodgers in the NL West. That gap may be misleading–the blue boys are 10-0 in
one-run games
, which has inflated their record–but it’s hard to see how the Giants
can make up even the true five- or six-game difference between the teams.

Over the past few years, I’ve come around the the idea that while Brian Sabean
may not assemble baseball teams in the same manner that, say, I would, his
track record of success warranted respect. The Giants have succeeded with
mid-level payrolls and seemingly mid-level rosters for a number of years, in
part because many of Sabean’s acquisitions outperformed expectations. If we’re
going to be about performance, then the record of the Giants from 1997-2003
demands respect.

The 2004 Giants reflect a complete failing of Sabean to do his job, however.
Knowing that he had a player of Bonds’ caliber on the roster, he neglected to
bring in a hitter with a reasonable chance of complementing him.
“Protection” has been studied, and it has largely been dismissed as
a myth. Hitters’ performances do not depend on having a comparable hitter
behind them in the lineup. However, there is a weak effect on walks and
intentional walks, an effect we’ve seen taken to the extreme as Bonds has had one
of the greatest peaks in baseball history while surrounded by mediocre
veterans playing replacement-level baseball.

In yesterday’s game, the Phillies walked Bonds in each of his final three
plate appearances. All three were intentional, although just two were recorded
as such. Keep in mind that Bonds is hitting .091 and slugging .136 in the
month of May; if there was ever a time to take him on, it’s now. Yet, Joe
Kerrigan–Larry Bowa had been ejected–passed on three chances to face Bonds.
Each time, Pedro Feliz validated the decision by making an
out, the last time grounding into a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded and
one out in the ninth.

I watch a high percentage of Bonds’ at-bats, and I think the walks are
frustrating him and, more importantly, affecting his approach. I’ve written
about how he’s reduced his swing to the bare minimum of motion required to
propel a baseball a long way. Over the past few weeks, he’s gotten away from
that, taking wilder hacks and showing more wasted motion in doing so, as if
he’s trying to squeeze a game’s worth of cuts into one at-bat. I don’t think
it can be easy to hit in the major leagues when you’re getting just 10
chances a week to do so.

Moreover, his reactions to the walks are becoming more animated: taking off
his elbow pad earlier in the count, not standing at the plate in a batting
stance for the last pitch. I think we’re getting close to a point of Bonds
pulling a Norm Cash, and coming up to the plate with a piano
leg or a fungo bat or Edgardo Alfonzo‘s right arm.

Take this all with a grain of salt, as I’m not trained as a batting coach. I’d
definitely like to hear from those of you who watch Giants’ games with
regularlity, and hear your opinions on Bonds’ May. Frankly, this is how it’s
going to go for Bonds the rest of the way. There is no one on the Giants’
roster that you can bat behind Bonds who is going to make a manager even think
twice about walking him in any game-relevant situation. That’s not just about
Bonds being great; it’s about the wretched state of the Giants’ roster, and
that brings us back to Sabean. It’s not that Mike Tucker
and Jeffrey Hammonds and Dustan Mohr haven’t
hit; it’s that no one could have reasonably expected them to hit.

Felipe Alou hasn’t helped himself by batting Bonds fourth for two seasons,
particularly when he’s using Marquis Grissom in the #3 slot.
That’s not Grissom’s true level, but as long as he’s there, why not get him
behind Bonds and take advantage of his high slugging average? You want the OBP
in front of the slugging, not behind it. The Giants have inferior talent being
deployed inefficiently, and that’s a recipe for Piratedom.

Fixing the batting order is just a patch, however. The real solution is for
the Giants to acquire a .300 EqA hitter to join Bonds in the lineup, someone
with power. (Feliz may be hitting .308 with a .538 slugging average at the
moment, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that his 23-to-1 K/BB
ratio indicates that won’t hold. I’m a maniac that way.) I don’t know how
they’ll do this, because not only do the Giants have a lousy major-league
roster, they have basically no prospects who will attract that kind of player.
They can’t get into the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes with
Todd Linden and Tony Torcato; they can’t
even make a decent offer for Carlos Lee or Carlos
Pena
. Merkin Valdez, their #1 prospect, has yet to
throw a pitch this season, making it hard to trade him.

It’s been a good run in San Francisco, but unless Sabean finds some greater
fool to overpay for mediocre prospects and save his bacon, it’s over.