“A box score a day keeps winter blues away”
The first in a series(?) reviewing random games from the season just past. We begin at the beginning:
April 6: Arizona 5, San Francisco 4. The Opening Day starters were Tim Lincecum and Ian Kennedy, a pair of righties taken 10th and 21st in the pitching-rich 2006 draft. (Brandon Morrow went 5th, Clayton Kershaw 7th, Max Scherzer 11th … and alas, Luke Hochevar went #1.)
The shape of things to come: Tim Lincecum yielded 3 runs on 2 HRs in the 1st inning and 5 runs over 5.1 IP, taking the first of his league-high 15 losses. The two-time CYA winner would stumble into the All-Star break at 3-10 with a 6.42 ERA, reviving memories of Denny McLain‘s rapid descent. Few could have dreamed that The Freak’s stellar postseason work — out of the bullpen, no less — would help key another title run.
It’s not how you start:
- Chris Young homered in his first AB and smacked four more in the next 10 games. He was hitting .410/1.397 when he went on the DL; he returned a month later but hit .206/.655 in his last 90 games.
- The Snakes won their first four contests, but sputtered around .500 the rest of the way and finished dead even.
- The Giants were swept in this opening series and skidded into Denver hoping to avoid the club’s first 0-4 start since 1950. And as it would be in the NLCS, it was Barry Zito to the rescue, with his first shutout for SF and the first ever by a Giant in Coors Field.
Welcome back, we’re so glad you could make it: Buster Posey had two hits and a walk in his first live game since his ankle was shattered 10 months back. He made the game’s final out with the tying run on 2nd, but he didn’t have many other high-profile failures in a season that ended with MLB crowns for BA and OPS+, capped by his second championship in as many full years and his first MVP award.
Ian Kennedy picked up where 2011 had ended, extending his hot run to 14 wins in 16 starts. He’d win his next two decisions, but went 12-12 thereafter.
In his first game as a Giant, Melky Cabrera homered and doubled. He hit safely in his first seven games (12-29), but slumped to a .287 average by May 1. Then came another tear (22-47), and by August 14 he was on pace for 220 hits, a mark no Giant had reached in 80 years. Then the other shoe fell. Speaking of which….
Guillermo Mota got 4 outs in this game. A month later, he was suspended 100 games for his second positive P.E.D. test. He would return for the final month, enough to grow his season ERA from 5.06 to 5.23. Somehow he made the postseason roster, but only pitched in three lost causes (and quite poorly) before being dropped for the WS.
Aubrey Huff started in LF in game 1, and would start 10 of the first 14 games. Then he hit the DL and rode the bench the rest of the year, finishing with 1 HR and 7 RBI in just 95 PAs. The final tally for Brian Sabean’s head-scratching two-year, $20-million investment: 0.4 Wins Below Replacement value.
Jason Kubel went 0-3 in his Arizona debut, then was replaced for defense in the 7th. A midseason barrage put Kubel atop the NL RBI leaders for a time, but in the team’s last 50 games he managed just 13 RBI and a .172/.615 batting line, and his typically brutal fielding wiped out most of the value of his 30 HRs. Over the past 6 years combined, Kubel ranks among the 20 most damaging outfield defenders, despite averaging just 79 games per year in the far pastures.
Paul Goldschmidt began his first full year with a HR off Lincecum. He would join Albert Pujols as the only first basemen this year with 20+ HRs and 40+ doubles, and he added a surprising 18 steals in 21 tries.
Batting 8th, Aaron Hill went 0-4, but the next day he swatted two HRs in the first two innings, giving him 100 career round-trippers. Hill would add 24 more, and finished at .302 with 76 extra-base hits and 318 total bases; no other NL middle infielder topped 61 XBH or 278 TB. Meanwhile, Kelly Johnson, for whom Hill was swapped the previous August, showed little sign of resurrecting his career, batting .225 with an 84 OPS+. Not all of Alex Anthopoulos’s moves have been gems.
LOOGY Joe Paterson came into a tight spot in the 7th and retired Huff with the tying runs aboard. It was his best game of the year. Over his next five games, Paterson faced 25 men and retired just 7, allowing 15 hits and 3 walks, with no strikeouts. In his last two games, Paterson faced 5 batters each time and got no outs — the first such “streak” since Bruce Kison in 1975 (in a pair of June starts!). Kison recovered nicely, with a 2.93 ERA for the rest of the year; but Paterson was sent to the minors and did not resurface.
Justin Upton, Justin Upton … is the enigma in your genes? For the second time in his young career, Upton followed a year of huge promise with a mediocre campaign. Through age 24, Upton has a 117 career OPS+ in about 3,000 PAs. What do similar players suggest about Upton’s immediate future? There are 47 players since 1901 who logged 2,500+ PAs through age 24 with an OPS+ between 100 and 135. Their median OPS+ through age 24 was 115; for age 25-27, it was 118. Which is good; and there’s still plenty of time for Upton to become a big star. But the visions that danced in historians’ head when a 21-year-old Upton hit .300 with 26 HRs and 20 steals are gradually being replaced with more earthly expectations.
Miguel Montero began a season that would see him break the Arizona record for games caught, further cementing his status as the best backstop in club history. Montero has topped 3.0 WAR in three of the past four seasons, while no other D-backs catcher has ever reached that mark. Montero has yet to win a Gold Glove, thanks to Yadier Molina, but he’s a big reason the Snakes (not the Cards) have led the majors in fewest SB allowed each of the last two years.
Angel Pagan began his SF career with a double in five trips. He would lead the club with 95 Runs, 15 triples (MLB high) and 29 steals. His .188 postseason BA notwithstanding, Angel’s bounce-back year was rewarded Sabeanically with a 4-year, $40-million extension … despite what history suggests about CFs in their 30s.
In the 7th, Geoff Blum came off the bench hacking as usual and went down on 4 pitches. Blum collected 4 hits in 28 ABs before he was released in July, and his long, improbable career would seem to be over. How do you figure a 3B gets over 4,000 PAs in the majors while posting an 81 OPS+ and a grand total of 1.6 WAR? Out of 53 third sackers since 1990 with 3,000+ PAs, Blum topped only the immortal Pedro Feliz in OPS+. Feliz at least was a good glove who also hit 20+ HRs four straight years. Looking back at Blum’s career, I can’t find a moment where he really showed any promise of being even an average MLB player. He began his pro career at SS but soon flipped over to 2B. In about 600 minor-league games, he batted .268 with 28 HRs and 40 steals. In the majors, he got 10 seasons of 299+ PAs; he never reached 2 WAR and just once topped a 94 OPS+, that being a 107 in 2002 (when he batted 7th and accepted a career-high 49 walks in front of Brad Ausmus). In his one qualifying year, he posted a 71 OPS+, 4th-worst in the league. He’s been viewed as a decent pinch-hitter, but in 299 career PAs he’s hit .245 with 1 HR. (And yet, with all that, there’s also this.)
David Hernandez worked a clean 8th inning on 9 pitches, fanning two. Hernandez was a failed SP when Arizona acquired him for Mark Reynolds after the 2010 season. But in his second year as a pure reliever, he had a 2.50 ERA with 25 Holds and ranked 4th in reliever strikeouts … while Reynolds has continued his drift towards Incaviglia Land.
Something else these O.D. starters shared: Lincecum finished 4th-worst in OPS against among NL qualifiers, while Kennedy was 3rd-worst, allowing 87 extra-base hits. Yet Ian finished with a solid 4.02 ERA and 103 ERA+, compared to Timmy’s 5.18 and 67. The big difference in their results: Kennedy excelled with men in scoring position (.229/.708), while Lincecum faltered (.286/.887).
I’m sure there’s more, but this should get the juices flowing.
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