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Giants' Baseball

Catching up

Catching the Dodgers? Catching the Cubs!

Tuesday night: Los Angeles is 66-45 and the Giants are 60-54. If the Dodgers go 25-26 (unlikely) the rest of the way, the Giants have to go 31-17 to tie them! San Francisco has 16 games left against awful teams (Montreal, Colorado, Arizona), five games against very bad teams (Pittsburgh, Milwaukee) and 28 games against teams that are basically as good as or better than they are, even if they've packed it in. The Giants are 20-9 against the Expos, Rockies and D'Backs this year, and let's say they keep that up - they'll go 11-5 in these games - and I'll give them 3-2 vs. the Pirates and Brewers. They'll still need to go 17-11 against the Phillies, Mets, Marlins, Braves, Astros, Dodgers and Padres. Does that seem very likely?

So it's time to start talking about the Wild Card and the Cubs. From August 17th to September 30th, Chicago has two series against Milwaukee, Houston, Montreal, Florida, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and one against the Mets. In other words, a month and a half without having to play the four-best teams in the NL: Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Diego and St. Louis. Best of luck to anyone trying to catch them.

Albert Pujols, MVP?

While the Giants were playing the Cards, I heard several suggestions that the NL MVP is not Barry Bonds, but rather, Albert Pujols. Neither Bonds nor Pujols plays a significant defensive position, so their value is almost entirely offensive. Let's compare their stat lines:

AVG > .353
SLG > .771
OBP > .602
RC > 118
GP > 96

AVG > .323
SLG > .628
OBP > .409
RC > 97
GP > 103

The 4th column is Runs Created, which measures a player's overall offensive value. You can see that Bonds is better than Pujols in every category. Bonds' only deficiency is that he takes more days off than Pujols does, which is what you'd expect from a 40-year old man and a 24-year old man. But Bonds would have to play 25% fewer games than Pujols to have the same overall level of productivity as Pujols. That's simply not going to happen, and Bonds should be this year's MVP, even if St. Louis runs away with everything.

Tomko's Trying Times

Brett Tomko made his first relief appearance against the Cubs on August 7, and gave up a two-run home run to Moises Alou, which effectively put the game out of the Giants' reach. The Giants announcers told viewers that fans were not booing, but were in fact chanting "Alooouuu! Alooouuu!" I kid you not.

Tomko's start against the Reds on August 4 was not much better. He almost got hit in the head by a line drive, gave up two home runs to Adam Dunn, and then a fan threw a foul ball back onto the field and almost hit him. He's also been on the disabled list and Noah Lowry almost stole his spot by pitching well while he was out. Giants fans have booed his wife, Playboy Playmate Julia Schultz. (Is that the first time in history a Playboy Playmate has been booed at a sporting event?)

Now it's true that Tomko is not a very good pitcher, and he ties everyone's stomach in knots until he's finally relieved, but let's keep it in perspective: Brett Tomko makes $1.2 million. Basically what Jeffrey Hammonds makes even though he's been released. Half of what Jason Christiansen makes. Half of what Neifi Perez makes. So on the one hand, the Giants are getting their $1.2 million worth out of Tomko. And on the other hand, if Peter Magowan hadn't decided to cut costs this year and Brian Sabean hadn't signed so many bad free agents the last two years that would have freed up a lot of money to sign a better pitcher than Tomko. So let's give the guy a break and stop booing his wife and throwing balls at him while he's on the mound, ok?

Up your nose with a Rubber Chicken!

My apologies to the Sweathogs, but I think it's time I finally waded into the great Barry Bonds Intentional Walk debate. Conventional wisdom seems to be that it makes sense to walk Bonds - after all, he's far and away the best hitter in the majors. But does it really make sense to give Bonds more than 250 free passes this year? From 1990-2001, Bonds was intentionally walked 9% of the time that he came up with runners on base; in 2002 and 2003, it rose to 21%; and in 2004, it's an unbelievable 37%! Bonds isn't infallible - you can get him out - and he's certainly not much better than he was in 2001, nor are the hitters behind him much worse.

In 2001-2003, Bonds made an out in between 43% and 50% of his plate appearances, but this year, due to his exceptional intentional walk rate, he's been making outs at a career-best rate of just 39%! In 2001, when he hit a fearsome 73 home runs, he made 2.16 outs per game, while this year, he has made just 1.68. In other words, the Giants have been the beneficiaries of an extra half out per game that they wouldn't have otherwise had. Over the course of the season, with a few rest days for Bonds, that adds up to about 75 extra opportunities for other players to bat, which means at least 15 extra runs for the Giants.

And, more to the point, it gives the Giants' #5 hitters a lot more opportunities to hit with runners on base. The two-headed #5 monster - mostly Edgardo Alfonzo and A.J. Pierzynski - has hit just .232 with 22 extra-base hits, second-worst in the league ahead of only the Montreal Expos. But with Bonds on base so much, the Giants cleanup slot leads the majors in runs scored, and this .232 has already turned into 62 RBIs, which is in the top ten in the majors. In 2001, with much better hitters following Bonds, the Giants #5 spot drove in just 82 runs all season.

At any rate, no matter what I infer from Bonds's out rates and record-setting walk rate, there is definitive data on this subject. Bill James conducted an extensive study, where he surrounded Babe Ruth with terrible hitters, and had a computer opponent either pitch Ruth normally or walk Ruth every time. It wasn't even close - when Ruth was walked every time, the team scored nearly 10% more runs than when he was pitched to normally, and the crappy hitter behind him drove in 152 runs a year. Clearly, it doesn't make sense. I'll run an analysis of the potential benefits of walking Bonds in different situations over the next couple of weeks.