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head-to-head matchups: giants v. cards

i just want to start by saying that, while i came into the season with high hopes and great expectations for the cardinals, the team has really exceeded my wishes. april has been a great month for cardinal baseball so far. a few slightly worrisome trends - chris carpenter's home run rate, the bullpen's performance, some early errors by david freese - have been sighted (and some are on the wane already), but the team has never looked outclassed even in its losses. i have not yet watched a game with a sense of futility - a sense i felt many times in each of the last three seasons. i'm pleased with the hitting, pleased with the defense, and pleased with the rotation. i'm pleased with the bull. . . well, with dennys reyes. 

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i spotted this feature and noticed something that got overlooked . . . .

before you proceed, though, i just want to say that i don't want discussion of this item to become political. i hope discussion of this article is interesting because of baseball, and not anything else.

the philadelphia daily news sat down with, of all people, justice samuel alito of the united states supreme court, a huge phillies fan. alito had these comments:

DN: So do you take your children to games?

Alito: I do, although they're both grown up. My daughter is a senior in college and my son is in law school . . . My son is a very rabid baseball fan. He's really into the sophisticated baseball statistics. He does computer programs, analyzing everything. My wife accuses us of talking only about baseball. [Laughing] Once the season begins, she gets tired of hearing us.

DN: So you're more of a sabermetrics guy than a traditionalist?

Alito: Well, I'm very interested in it and I'm attracted to it. I can't say I really understand it all that well. But it makes a lot of sense to me. I guess it has its limits. But the nature of baseball just lends itself to a statistical analysis.

DN: So if you had a choice of having dinner with Bill James or a top scout, you'd go with Bill James?

Alito: I don't know. It depends on what the scout would tell me. I think they know things but either they don't want to tell ordinary people or they have trouble explaining it.

I don't think you can look at a high school kid, or even a college kid, and tell how that player is going to do in professional baseball. So the scouts have to be able to see something in a very nascent form, which I think is very, very difficult to do. I don't know what the secret is.

further down, he mentions pete rose and the "intangibles" rose brought to the game. so let's not be too quick to declare our first sabermetrician on the high court. he does clearly appreciate the intellectual side of baseball. he compliments tony la russa as a great tactician and identifies chase utley and roy halladay as great baseball "thinkers."

also, a brief survey of the remainder of the court yields two yankees fans, a red sox fan, and a (soon-to-retire) cubs fan. for those counting at home, that's a narrow majority for high-profile, big-budget clubs. somehow, i suppose it's unlikely ruth bader ginsberg is a big baseball fan. no word on who, if anyone, roberts, thomas, and kennedy support. 

no word on whether alito has ever been projectile vomited on (or, for that matter, projectile vomited on anyone) at a phillies game, but i think both are frowned on, at least where supreme court justices are involved.

* * * 

speaking of the phillies, jimmy rollins is out with a calf injury, potentially for quite a while. anybody recall hearing the phillies infield depth criticized recently? well, now they've got a less-than-replacement player, juan castro, filling in at short. over a full season - which, lucky for the phillies, it won't likely be - this would be a drop of four whole wins. the phils are sufficiently dominant they'd still be the favorites in the NL east, but having rollins out any substantial period of time would diminish whatever margin for error they have between themselves and the braves. 

last week's story gave us a poll on who to have in our last installment. i was leaning towards last year's division winners, the dodgers, who return a position player contingent mostly similar to the division-winning team of last year, though the rotation got dodgier in the offseason. instead, we have a majority of readers wanting to see the giants. give the people what they want, i always say.

speaking of dodgy rotations, the giants have brought a familiar face to their rotation, one who just gave up seven runs to the dodgers in the first two innings of his second start of the year. luckily for bay area folk, there are a couple pitchers on the team slightly better than our kentucky fried friend. 

tim lincecum, as much as it caused great distress in st. louis and, in some quarters, irate rantings against intellectual pinheads poring over spreadsheets, won the 2009 NL cy young. matt cain, barry "my contract is like 50 pound lead boots on this team" zito, jonathan sanchez, and todd "boom headshot" wellemeyer round out the rotation. which of these is not like the other? 





Chris Carpenter


Tim Lincecum


Adam Wainwright


Matt Cain


Brad Penny


Barry Zito


Kyle Lohse


Johnathan Sanchez


Jaime Garcia*


Todd Wellemeyer






*sadly, fangraphs removed both the FANS and CHONE WAR calculations posted at each player's profiles that I used in earlier calculations. now, only the ZIPS calculations remain. i've tried to provide a semi-faithful extrapolation based on prior valuation and the projected FIP by ZIPS. needless to say, this makes the whole process a lot more questionable. the idea is to give a general notion of how the teams stack up, so while the loss of the projections is unfortunate i don't think it's fatal to the exercise. 

even with the best pitcher in baseball at the top of the rotation, the giants' rotation is just good, not extraordinary, comparable to the phillies' or cardinals' rotations and behind the deep atlanta rotation. cain had a fine year by ERA but his FIP barely nudged, suggesting much of the improved results were not due to improved pitching on his part (his groundball rate improved somewhat from 2008 to 2009). he did benefit from a very high (81%) strand rate. look for him to regress to an ERA in the high threes.  zito and sanchez look like pretty ordinary pitchers. and, well, you know todd.

the bullpen has some high points. brian wilson is a decent closer and jeremy affeldt projects to have a decent 2010. 

the position players are much more concerning.






Yadier Molina



Bengie Molina


Albert Pujols



Aubrey Huff


Skip Schumaker



J. Uribe/F. Sanchez


Brendan Ryan



Edgar Renteria


David Freese



Pablo Sandoval


Matt Holliday



Mark DeRosa


Colby Rasmus



Aaron Rowand


Ryan Ludwick



John Bowker






there are a bunch of average or slightly less than average players, with one standout in sandoval. with a lot of aging players - derosa, rowand, renteria, sanchez - there's not a ton of chance of a pleasant surprise from these guys. sandoval remains interesting and bowker is a player to watch. the remaining outfield depth is not overwhelming, with nate schierholtz projecting as an okay player and two other players (velez and torres) looking like replacement parts. with mark derosa and uribe (velez allegedly pulls a schumaker and plays second, too), the giants will be able to cover gaps in the infield. as they are doing with sanchez out right now. unfortunately, most of the existing pieces are not that interesting as is. 

in short, the position players on the giants are subpar for a playoff contender. the rotation is good, but very heavily dependent on a single pitcher. an injury to lincecum would absolutely doom the rotation, because almost half its value is vested in him.  the sixth starter would likely be bumgarner, who impressed the giants so much in spring training they started todd wellemeyer instead.

i stick with my earlier instinct; the giants look like a third or maybe second place finisher, not likely to take a wild card slot from anyone. on reflection, i don't know that they look better than the dodgers, or the diamondbacks (should brandon webb get healthy).