Stack dump on yesterday’s Giants/Brewers game. I’ll see the Giants again on Monday, so this entry will focus on the Brew Crew:
Keep something in mind as you read my column over the next few days: I am not a scout. I’ve watched baseball for 30 years, I played it for a bit less than half of that, and I am a fairly good performance analyst. You should read statements I make about players’ skills, my observations at these games, with that in mind. I’ve fooled myself before, and while I learned from that, there’s nothing saying I can’t do it again. Personally, I don’t think you can reach conclusions from watching players play once, twice, a handful of times. You need more, and that’s where a performance record comes in.
- David Bush got the start for the Brewers. I’ve been a big fan of his for a while, going so far as to say that the Brewers may have won the Lyle Overbay trade for getting him. His track record is solid, with good statistical and health markers. He was a closer in college, which kept his arm from being abused while he went through the injury nexus.
Watching him yesterday, my enthusiasm for his future was unchanged, but I now think that future may be as a reliever, (a notion confirmed by one MLB exec I talked to). He short-arms the ball a bit, and he was fooling hitters–badly–with a fastball/change-up combination that will probably play better in short stints. He and Rick Helling are battling for the Brewers’ #5 starter slot, and I don’t think Bush losing would be a disaster for him or the team. I still think he could handle a starting role, as well; his star potential is as a reliever.
- Something to keep in mind as you watch the first few weeks of spring training: opposition is very, very important. This is usually the case before St. Patrick’s Day, but even moreso this year as the World Baseball Classic drains talent from the camps.
As good as Bush looked (and Ben Hendrickson wasn’t bad, either), it was against a lineup that included more minor-league utility infielders (Kevin Frandsen, Angel Chavez, Tomas de la Rosa) than major-league regulars (none; Steve Finley and Mark Sweeney came closest). Bush threw seven pitches in the second inning, not a ball among them, but he was facing Chavez, de la Rosa and the outfielding Abraham Nunez.
It was particularly weird because usually the road team in a spring-training game runs out a lineup like that. The Brewers, despite splitting their squad, had a pretty representative team start the game. The Giants, at home and playing one game, started the shock troops.
Spring training stat lines are larded with problems. Watching a game like yesterday’s just brings them into focus.
- You can pick up some things, however. Consider Nunez, 29 years old, in his fourth organization, with a major-league line of .209/.288/.308 and his best opportunity for a career, last year with the Royals, blown. You could feel the pressure he’s putting on himself: in three plate appearances, he saw nine pitches, swinging at eight of them, missing four, fouling off three and grounding one to shortstop. This is a guy who has had decent walk rates for much of his career, but he’s feeling the need to make an impression right now.
- Matt Cain, BP’s #12 prospect and the second pitcher on the list, started for the Giants. It’s easy to see why scouts like him: he’s a good size, and throws hard from a smooth delivery. He really seems to use his lower body, a trait I like in pitchers. I didn’t see anything that makes me think he won’t be an effective mid-rotation guy for the Giants this year. The only downside is that he did seem to struggle a bit from the stretch, with considerably less command and some awkwardness in his delivery. I don’t think it’s a big deal, but it is something for him to work on.
- Justin Thompson threw two innings after Bush, allowing a run on three hits and two walks. It’s impossible to not root for Thompson, who’s now nine years removed from his breakout season with the Tigers, and seven removed from his last major-league start. He’s 33 now, and you’d like to see him have just one good year, even out of the bullpen, as a reward for spending the better part of the 21st century rehabbing.
- Keeping score at a game like yesterday’s is practically a competitive sport. The regulars played about half the game; starting in the fifth inning, my scorecard looks like a Bic had a horrible encounter with a hedge trimmer. The Brewers brought about a dozen guys who not only didn’t have roster spots, they didn’t have uniforms, instead decked out in nameless jerseys that were little more than warmups.
It’s great if you’re Drew Anderson or Ozzie Chavez, however, each of whom hit two-run doubles in a four-run seventh inning, hits that could easily end up as their Brewer career highlights.
- One of the more entertaining spring training things is closers who get their work in the early innings, a concession to veterans, as well as to the dramatic change in opposition from the early frames to the last. Armando Benitez struggled with his command, a bit, and allowed a random double to Bush, but escaped unharmed.
Seeing Benitez so early did make me think about the closer myth. If pitching the ninth inning really is so much different than pitching the other eight, shouldn’t closers have to prepare for the season by working that frame? I would think the willingness to let closers work an earlier inning in March would be an indication that MLB teams themselves don’t completely buy into the myth.
- Speaking of the closer myth, Tyler Walker had a shaky outing yesterday. He saved 23 games in the absence of Benitez last summer, without pitching all that effectively. The Giants have about a million mildly effective right-handed relievers–Scott Munter, to name one, looked good in an inning yesterday–so they should really try and leverage those saves in the trade market before Walker gives away all the perceived value. They’ll never miss him.
Off to Tempe…back tomorrow with notes from the Angels and Rockies.