Related Articles: Baseball, All

Giants Roundup

Traditional Thinking

One thing can be said about Felipe Alou: He's not part of the new guard.

You won't find him having roundtable discussions with Billy Beane and J.P. Ricciardi about the latest study performed by the Society of American Baseball Research. He won't be quoting Bill James in any of his upcoming postgame interviews.

Alou's a meat and potatoes sort of manager, a disciple to the metrics of yesteryear; the almighty RBI for hitters and the venerable win for pitchers.

It's exactly why Alou's management of the Giants' bullpen confounds so many of us. Before Alou pulled on a pair of stirrups for the first time, it was common knowledge that a team's best reliever should be saved for the final frame. More recently, it's been established that your next best reliever should handle the inning before that. As with all rules though, exceptions exist. For example, veteran closers often hold on to their jobs even after a young flamethrower demonstrates that he's a better option. Call it baseball's version of the tenure track.

And while this traditional setup is not the ideal way to maximize bullpen productivity, it is generally a reasonable approximation of ideal strategy. However, Alou, normally a bastion of old baseball thinking, has opted out of the traditional setup. Unfortunately, his surrogate strategy is neither logical nor effective.

Not only are the Giants not using their best reliever as their closer, they're not using their second best reliever in that role either. They're not using them in the setup role either. Instead, they've relegated both individuals, Scott Munter and Scott Eyre, to the anonymous world of middle relief.

Instead, they've tabbed Tyler Walker and LaTroy Hawkins to handle the closing and setup duties respectively, a tactic that has no discernible link to anything that could be construed as strategic. Walker's ERA is two runs higher than either of the Scotts, while Hawkins has been the worst pitcher on a team that is saturated with aging, Triple-A caliber hurlers.

Here is a synopsis of Hawkins' performance in a recent three-game set with the Cubs.

July 25 Hawkins enters the game in the bottom of the eighth with the Giants leading by one run. He surrenders a single to Todd Walker, who eventually scores the game-tying run.

July 26 Hawkins enters the game in the bottom of the eighth with the Giants leading by one run. He surrenders the game-tying home run to Michael Barrett.

July 27 Hawkins enters the game in the bottom half of the eighth with the Giants leading by one run. He surrenders a single to Derrek Lee who eventually scores the game-tying run.

With outings like these and an ERA of 7.07 since joining San Francisco, Hawkins has to be wondering why Alou keeps bringing him in at critical junctures of games. Cubs fans are wondering the same thing, though they're not complaining.

In the second game of the series, 40,000 intoxicated Chicagoans chanted in unison "Hawkins sucks" for the entire inning that Hawkins pitched. You'd think Alou would have got the hint.

On another note, it's been stated several times during telecasts by commentators, coaches and players that the Giants believe they have a chance to be playoff bound. Most of this optimism can be attributed to the woeful play of the Padres over the last two weeks. Due to the Padres' eight game slide, the Giants find themselves within shouting distance of the leaders, just 7.5 games back.

But let us not mince words. While we hope the Giants can justify their faith, we the rational know it's simply not true. For non-believers consider the following:

- The Giants lead the league with a batting average of .290 with runners in scoring position, 18 points higher than their overall batting average. Repeated studies show that clutch hitting is not a skill, meaning the Giants impressive performance with runners in scoring position is likely to decline.
- The Giants' expected win-loss record shows they have actually been slightly lucky this season. This makes it unlikely that they will play significantly better in the last 60 games than they have in the first 100. And playing at their current level, they might not make up 7.5 games on the Bad News Bears.*

* This does not take into consideration the minute possibility that Barry Bonds returns this season and immediately becomes the best player in the world again.

Comments and complaints should be directed to [email protected].