The Wheels on the Bus…

Usually go round and round, except when they start to come off. The San Francisco Giants’ bus is starting to wobble, and without panicking or jumping to baseless conclusions, it is legitimate to start asking what is going on with this team.

sfgraphicNormally, the end of May is a good time to step back and see where the season is at; one third of the games are in the books, and those uncertain early season trends around the Majors start to look and feel more real. Come August, those realities take on the look of history etched in reinforced concrete (unless you’re the Mets).

We are about two and a half weeks and some 18 or so games away from that one-third-of-the-way reality check, but we’d better take a look at the Giants right now because they are a couple of losing series away from starting to disappear into the netherworld of the National League West.

Here are some numbers, a managerial critique, and some other stuff I’m sure the Giants’ front office will be happy to take full responsibility for:

The Numbers
SF Giants runs scored – out of 30 MLB teams
2007 – 29th (683 runs)
2008 – 29th (640 runs)
2009 – 26th (657 runs)
2010 – 21st (144 runs)

So far in May, the Giants have scored 3.55 runs per game. They’re at 4.36 for the year, so that May number reflects a serious downward trend from their early season offensive successes. The team is reverting to its clichéd profile of great pitching, little run production, and no power.

The Manager
>During the 4th inning of the Wednesday May 12th game against the San Diego Padres, the Pads were up with two out and a runner at second base. With first base open, Bruce Bochy inexplicably chose to pitch to the number eight batter, Jerry Hairston, Jr., who promptly hit a double to score the runner. Two innings later, the same scenario; but this time Bochy walked the number eight batter with two out and a runner at second. The pitcher then struck out to end the inning.

>As Pablo Sandoval goes through the worst batting slump of his young career, Bochy repeatedly told reporters prior to last Sunday’s game with the Mets he was going sit Sandoval down to give him time to regroup. But Bochy never sat Pablo down, and in the following four games Sandoval went 2 for 16.

>During the 5th inning of the first game with San Diego on Monday, Pitching Coach Dave Righetti went to the mound to talk to pitcher Barry Zito. Right after Righetti returned to the dugout, Bochy decided to take Zito out of the game and he headed out to the mound to remove him— but you can’t visit the mound twice during the same at bat, and Bochy had to turn back. Zito was then removed between innings.
>On April 30th, Manager Bochy moved catcher Bengie Molina from the sixth spot in the line-up to the clean-up spot (dropping former #4 batter Aubrey Huff to 5th). Molina batted fourth the previous two years in a line-up that was one of the worst run producing units in the Majors. And while Molina is a superb clutch hitter and a Mount Rushmore-like personality in the club house, his low on base percentage (.285 in 2009) and lack of any speed essentially clogs up the Giants’ hitting attack in mid-line-up every game.

>The pitching management has at times been abysmal. Tim Lincecum was taken out of the April 28th game in the 8th inning leading the Phillies 4-1 with 11 strikeouts after throwing only 106 pitches. Brian Wilson, who’s job is to close out games in the 9th inning, was put into the game with one out in the 8th and the Giants proceeded to lose.

Sergio Romo probably needs some time out of the 8th inning set-up man role after giving up three late inning home runs so far this year (Romo gave up one home run all last year), but Bochy is determined to keep Romo in that role. The team continues to pitch Todd Wellemeyer in the fifth spot in the rotation despite his 1-3 record. And Wellemeyer could actually help this team from the bullpen.

Bruce Bochy is a steady, reliable Major League manager who will get steady, average results. But in the past two years this team has not been average, it has been unique and dynamic. Giant pitching is among the best in the game, and the elements of a viable offense finally seem within reach, but the team shows signs of regressing with every passing week.

The tipping point: this team has passed Bochy by, and his skills no longer match what the team is capable of achieving in 2010. On the field, there is confusion and a conservative approach to every aspect of the game where there should be flexibility, creativity and leadership.

The Front Office
Each of the past four years, the Giants front office has attempted to patch together just enough offense, crossing their fingers that, a) mediocre players who used to be good; b) older players; and, c) good players recovering from injuries, might somehow produce enough runs for a winning season. Needless to say, that strategy has been a dismal failure:
2007 – last place, 91 losses
2008 – 4th place, 90 losses
2009 – 3rd place, 74 losses

Oddly enough, in the midst of this penny-pinching approach, the team still managed to enter into an amazing number of really terrible contracts, Edgar Renteria’s two-year $19 million 2009-10 deal being a standout. In 2009 alone, the Giants paid Dave Roberts $6.5 million, Randy Winn $8.25 million, and Randy Johnson $8 million— that’s over $31 million for four marginal players (at that point in their careers) on a third place team. The previous two years featured an even worse line-up of bad contracts with marginal players.

The 2010 line-up has also featured several players who simply do not belong at the Major League level right now. Eugenio Velez was just sent down to Triple A, but Travis Ishikawa remains on the twenty-five man roster, while hitting phenom Buster Posey bats .355 with a 1.026 OPS at Fresno.

And then there is medical-gate. In the past ten months, the Giants have had to deal with unexpected medical issues sidelining newly signed players. The most recent problem involves left fielder Mark DeRosa, who the Giants signed as a high profile free agent for two years at $12 million. DeRosa recently called last year’s surgery on his left wrist “a total failure”; he may have to have additional surgery and miss much of the 2010 season.

Second baseman Freddie Sanchez, who the Giants also signed for two years at $12 million, has yet to play a game in 2010 (although he’s due to be activated in a few weeks). His torn shoulder labrum was supposedly repaired in the off-season, except that Sanchez apparently had additional surgery and didn’t inform the Giants. (You may recall the Giants traded their second best pitching prospect, Tim Alderson, to the Pirates to rent Sanchez for the last two months of 2009.) Who is utilmately responsible for making sure these big contract players are healthy and able to play?

For the San Francisco Giants, the lack of power on the field has been evenly matched by a lack of power from management. Ownership has not provided coherent direction and leadership for this franchise over the past four years. Amazingly, the abundance of talent and grit on this 2010 team still may be enough to break through this year and drive hard enough to take first place in the NL West.

But no doubt it’s going to be a very wild ride on a very wobbly bus.

Richard Dyer

About Richard Dyer

Writer, bass player, carrot juice wrangler. His Twitter following is limited to one person at a time. "My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music." --Vladimir Nabokov