The 2010 Giants are back, sort of. Meanwhile, Noah Syndergaard continues his takeover of the world, while Joe Kelly flashes great stuff.
The Weekend Takeaway
The ghost of the 2010 Giants was resurrected on Saturday when Matt Cain delivered his first win of 2016. Yes, yes, the baseball-god-defying Giants did lay claim to championship titles in 2012 and 2014, but the last time Cain’s cFIP dipped under 100 in a winning Giants season, he was headlining the rotation with Tim Lincecum and sporting a career-high 6.1 WARP while the club marched to their its World Series in San Francisco.
What did we learn about various players and teams this month? Less than we'll learn in the next one.
Early season baseball is full of articles about “What we’ve learned so far” after a week, or two weeks, or a month of play. You can’t really blame the sportswriters and TV sports producers and podcast hosts who come up with these pieces. They have to talk about something, and there aren’t any pennant races or awards competitions to discuss in April.
As Russell Carleton has demonstrated, though, most measures of baseball performance take far longer than a week or three to stabilize. Drawing conclusions from a 10- or 20-game sample is akin to statistics problem sets involving drawing balls from an urn. A really, really big urn. With lots and lots of balls in it. When you draw a few balls from a really, really big urn with lots and lots of balls in it, you don’t get a good picture of what’s really in the urn.
We can look at the relevance of April numbers by correlating them to players’ full-year figures, and comparing the correlation in April to that of May, June, July, August, and September. (Throughout this analysis, April includes a few days of March play in the relevant years, and September includes a few days of October games.) To do this, I selected batting title and ERA qualifiers from each of the past 10 seasons and compared their monthly results to their full-year results. I had a sample of 1,487 batter seasons with corresponding monthly data in about 87 percent of months and 850 pitcher seasons with corresponding monthly data in 86 percent of months.
Admittedly, there’s a selection bias in April data, and it applies mostly to young players. Since I’m comparing monthly data to full-year data for batting title and ERA qualifiers, I’m selecting from those players who hung around long enough to compile 502 plate appearances or 162 innings pitched. If you’re a young player who puts up a .298/.461/.596 batting line in April, as Joc Pederson did last April, you get to stick around to get your 502 plate appearances, even though 261 of your plate appearances occurred during July, August, and September, when you hit .170/.300/.284. On the other hand, if you bat .147/.284/.235 in April, as Rougned Odor did, you do get a chance to bat .352/.426/.639 in 124 plate appearances spread between May and June, but you get them in Round Rock instead of Arlington. So there’s a bias in this analysis in favor of players who perform well in April (giving them a chance to continue to play) compared to those who don’t (who may get shipped out). This shouldn’t have a big impact on the overall variability of April data, though, since the presence of early-season outperformers like Pederson who get full-time status on the strength of their April is canceled, to an extent, by early-season underperformers like Odor who don’t.
So is April more predictive than other months? Here’s a chart for batters, using OPS as the measure, comparing the correlation between batters’ full-year performance and that of each month.
Trevor Story can't stop hitting home runs, Vince Velasquez nearly pulls off a no-hitter, and Bartolo Colon resurrects the panache of Willie Mays.
The Weekend Takeaway
Both the Padres and the Rockies had something to rejoice over in the 13-6 slugfest on Friday night. It’s been a long, long week in the NL West, especially for the Friars, who had managed to string together 30 scoreless innings to begin the season. Those 13 runs must've felt like an exorcism.
Ruben Tejada is released, Johnny Cueto is rattled, and Adam LaRoche is retired.
Adam LaRoche would rather kick it with his boy than play for the Chicago White Sox
Earlier this week, Adam LaRoche shocked the Chicago White Sox by abruptly announcing his retirement from baseball. The timing of this move was particularly interesting, as it’s the middle of spring training and he’s also walking away from $13 million. Even when you consider that he didn’t exactly have a glorious 2015 season—he hit .207/.293/.340 with a TAv of .233, same as Tyson Ross—and was entering his age-36 season on a bit of a slow start due to health concern, it was hard to see why LaRoche would choose to walk away from so much money and a starting job.
I’d say that Fuller House, the Netflix revival of the 1990s sitcom of a slightly shorter name, is a guilty pleasure of mine, but first you have to feel guilty about it. Yes, the scripts are still uproariously bad, but the cheese factor was what made the show good to begin with. In a world where everyone has to be too cool for everyone and everything, it’s nice to think that we can all solve our problems in the space of 30 minutes with a hug. Maybe it’s just nice to remember the 90s, when everyone wasn’t so uptight about everything.
Alas, it wasn’t in the cards. The AL Central team that now employs Jackson is not the Tribe but the White Sox, who inked him to a one-year, $5 million contract. And the runner-up in the race to sign the 29-year-old wasn’t Cleveland, but Anaheim, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.
When Johnny Cueto makes his first start for the Giants, it will end a very unusual streak in San Francisco.
Over the past 19 seasons, there have been 6,700 regular-season major-league games started (GS) logged by pitchers born in the Dominican Republic. The Giants are responsible for one of them.
On April 2, 2008, the Giants were slated to play the Dodgers in Los Angeles in the third game of each club’s regular season. The sky was partly clear at first-pitch time, but the Doppler radar just west of Dodger Stadium was as green as the oncoming clouds were dark, and managers Bruce Bochy and Joe Torre were in a bind. Starting the probables, Tim Lincecum and Chad Billingsley, meant begging for a mid-game dilemma—pitching a dynamic young starter on both sides of a delay or wearing out the bullpen in an early-April contest—which would leave each skipper open to media scrutiny just days into the season. After some deliberation, Torre gave the ball to one of his relievers, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Bochy followed suit by scratching Lincecum for Merkin Valdez.
Rain delays are a rarity in Chavez Ravine—almost as rare as Dominican-born starters donning the Giants’ orange and black. There have been only two of them since that April evening: on May 23, 2008, and April 7, 2015. One of those brought the tarp out pre-game, the other in the ninth. Neither required a manager to weigh the risk of losing his starter in the early frames.
Valdez, whose career in the majors spanned parts of five rocky seasons, is the answer to several trivia questions. He is one of eight players to appear in three different Futures Games. He was once traded (with Damian Moss) for Russ Ortiz. And he went by Manny Mateo at the time of said trade. But all of those pale in comparison to this one:
In a 19-year span, Valdez was the Giants’ only Dominican-born starter. And he was afforded that opportunity by accident.
Since Juan Marichal—the first-ever Dominican-born Hall of Famer, a Giants legend immortalized with a statue outside AT&T Park’s right-field gate—left San Francisco for Boston after the 1973 season, precious few of his fellow countrymen have pitched in the Giants’ rotation:
Barry Bonds was not a human being. He was a Kryptonian alien sent from another planet to destroy all baseballs. Like Superman, he was amazing at so many things it seemed unfair. You can get lost in Bonds fun facts. As mentioned in a recent podcast on this very site, though, Barry Bonds was also not a great human being. Much like the Last Son of Krypton, his mission was to destroy and not to befriend. Bonds made a lot of enemies in his days in the majors. In his last season he finished with a slash line of .276/.480/.565 with 28 home runs as a left fielder. It seems ludicrous that his career ended when he was so productive; lawsuit worthy, even. It’s apparent that Bonds’ off-field issues and clubhouse presence were deemed too destructive for benefit, and his career was cut short.