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Entries in San Francisco Giants (49)


Will Melky Bring His Bat to San Francisco?

Frustrated with Jonathan Sanchez's walks and injury woes and looking to resuscitate the National League's worst offense, the Giants traded the lefty to the Kansas City Royals a couple of days ago for outfielder Melky Cabrera. The switch-hitter, released by the Braves following a 2010 season in which his bat was skimpy and his belt, well, wasn't, rebounded in K.C. this past year. A .267/.328/.379 career hitter prior to 2011, Cabrera batted .305/.339/.470 in 706 plate appearances, establishing new highs in home runs (18) and Isolated Power (.164).

The question now becomes, can he maintain those offensive gains? He probably won't revert to being the slap hitter who aggravated both the Yankees and Braves, but I wouldn't fully drink the Melk-Man's Kool-Aid, either.

Cabrera did do a much better job of putting forceful swings on pitches thrown low in the strike zone. Pitchers like to hammer Melky at the knees from both sides of the plate:

Opponent pitch location to Cabrera in 2011

In the past, Cabrera struggled on low pitches. He slugged .305 on low pitches from 2008-2010, well below the .342 average for non-pitchers. That changed in 2011:

Cabrera's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2011Cabrera had a .476 slugging percentage on low pitches with the Royals. Given the sample size involved, we can't just toss aside Melky's power display. Cabrera's 2011 Isolated Power was 52 points above his career average entering the year, and changes in ISO become reliable at about 550 plate appearances. That said, you can't just expect this is the new norm for him -- past performance does matter. The Hardball Times' Oliver projection system expects Cabrera to split the difference in 2012, posting a .139 ISO.

There's another reason to be skeptical that Melky will continue to hit as well as he did in 2011: his .332 batting average on balls in play was 42 points above his career average entering the season. You'll note that BABIP isn't on the list of stats with sample sizes linked to above, and that's because BABIP changes don't stabilize over one season and show much less of a year-to-year correlation. Cabrera's 2011 BABIP was in the 87th percentile among MLB hitters; his BABIP the previous three years was in the 62nd percentile. Odds are, he doesn't benefit from as many bloops and bleeders in 2012.

Overall, THT's Oliver forecasts a .279/.322/.418 line for Cabrera next season. That's close to the cumulative 2011 triple-slash for center fielders of .261/.326/.410, but there's also the issue of whether Cabrera is really someone you want patrolling the middle pasture (he has been a little more than seven runs worse than the average CF per 150 defensive games, per Ultimate Zone Rating). If he's going to be an asset for the Giants, Cabrera will need to prove the projections wrong and keep more of his power and contact gains.


Jonathan Sanchez on the Block

Looking to free up some cash to add punch to an offense that brought up the rear in run scoring in the NL last season, the Giants are reportedly shopping left-hander Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez, 29 later this month, averaged 9.4 K/9, 4.5 BB/9 and 2.3 Wins Above Replacement per season from 2008-2010. But this past year, Sanchez channeled Oliver Perez. He still struck out a batter per inning, but his walk rate (5.9 BB/9) was highest among starters and he was limited to just 101.1 frames due to biceps tendinitis and a right ankle sprain.

San Francisco could non-tender Sanchez, who MLBTradeRumors projects to pull down $5.2 million is his final season of arbitration eligibility. But the more likely scenario is that the Giants ship him to a club that finds the free agent market for starters unappealing and is willing to take a chance on Sanchez in hopes that he returns to health and keeps his walk rate under five per nine.

If Sanchez is going to return to form in 2012, he'll need to do a much better job of keeping right-handed hitters off the base paths. Righties got on base at a .372 clip against Sanchez in 2011. Among lefties who faced 300+ righty batters, only Brian Duensing, Phil Coke and Danny Duffy had higher opponent OBPs against those swinging from the opposite side.

Sanchez's problems with righties are two-fold. For one, his rather zipless fastball (89.7 mph average, down a tick from 2010) didn't miss as many bats and missed the strike zone more often. Right-handers came up empty 18 percent of the time they swung at Sanchez's fastball, compared to 21 percent the previous three seasons, and his percentage of strikes thrown with the pitch dipped to 59 percent from 62 percent over 2008-2010. Sanchez frequently missed to the arm side in 2011:

Sanchez's fastball location vs. right-handed hitters, 2011

His other main problem against righties was that he lost the feel for his breaking stuff. Sanchez threw his slider for a strike just 53 percent of the time against right-handers, well below his 62 percent average the previous three years. He located lots of sliders below batters' knees...

Sanchez's slider location vs. RHB, 2011

 ...But they weren't biting. Check out righty hitters' swing rate by pitch location against Sanchez's sliders, compared to the MLB average for lefty pitchers versus right-handed batters:

 Right-handed hitters' swing rate by pitch location vs. Sanchez's slider, 2011

League average swing rate vs. sliders for RHB vs. LHPRighties chased 30 percent of Sanchez's sliders off the plate in 2011, compared to 33 percent from '08 to '10 and the 36 percent big league average for LHP vs. RHB. That's a significant change, considering that Sanchez's percentage of sliders thrown in the zone fell from 48 percent from '08 to '10 to just 39 percent in 2011.

Sanchez's injury and control woes probably mean that he wouldn't bring back much more than salary relief and a C-level prospect in a trade. Given that likely lukewarm return, the Giants might be best off holding on to Sanchez instead of expecting a full season's workload form Eric Surkamp or a return to relevance from Barry Zito.


Lincecum's Ups and Downs

Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants pitched a strange game on Saturday night, Sept 3, 2011.  Facing the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks with a division race on the line, Tim struck out seven batters in five innings.  A high strikeout rate like that usually leads to few hits, as strikeouts limit the number of balls in play that can go for hits.  The Diamondbacks, however, managed hits on nine of 16 balls in play against Tim.  How did Lincecum manage to pitch both poorly and well in the same game?

Tha answer lies in location.  Tim usually gets his strikeouts on pitches that batters chase low out of the strike zone:

Tim Lincecum, pitch frequency on strikeouts, 2011.Saturday night, Tim's strikeouts were up:

Tim Lincecum, pitch frequency on strikeouts, 2011-09-03.This was his problem throughout the night.  His pitches were up in the hittable part of the strike zone:

 Tim Lincecum, pitch frequency, 2011-09-03.

Compare that to his frequency for the year.


Tim Lincecum, pitch frequency, 2011.Tim moves a batter's eyes up and down in the zone.  On Saturday, he mostly kept his pitches in a single plane.  It's a credit to his ability that even when he didn't have his best stuff, Lincecum was able to strike out seven.  That wasn't enough to overcome the phat pitches he left in the strike zone, however.

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