George Kontos

San Francisco Giants Midseason Grades: Offense, Defense and Pitching

This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.

Jul 13, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum (55) celebrates with teammates after throwing a no hitter against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. The Giants won 9-0. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 season for the San Francisco Giants has certainly been a disappointment. After winning two World Series titles in three years, the Giants have looked tired this season and are now struggling just to get back to being a .500 team. Going into the All-Star break, the Giants have a 43-51 record, which puts them six and a half games back from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West standings.

One word to sum up the Giants’ season so far: inconsistent. Sometimes, this team looks unstoppable. When the Giants do what got them two World Series titles in the past three years, such as stellar starting pitching, perfect defense, and timely hitting, then they can win a lot of games.

Other times, this team’s effort is laughable. It all starts with the starting pitcher. If the starter gets off to a rough start and gives up some runs, it puts more pressure on the offense and defense, and many times, the Giants can’t recover.

The All-Star break couldn’t come soon enough for the Giants. They could use a break from the long road trips and the mental grind of the game.

Here are the Giants’ midseason grades:

San Francisco Giants: 3 Players They Should Pursue at the Trade Deadline

This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.

June 2, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Francisco Giants third baseman Nick Noonan (left) catcher Buster Posey (center) and relief pitcher Sergio Romo (right) celebrate with teammates after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. San Francisco defeated St. Louis 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Out of 15 National League teams, the San Francisco Giants currently rank 13th with a 4.47 ERA for their starters. This is hard to believe given the fact that the Giants have won two World Series titles in the past three seasons behind dominant starting pitching.

Matt Cain struggled in the beginning of the season, Tim Lincecum has been inconsistent, and Barry Zito has a 10.41 ERA on the road. Because of their struggles, many analysts and fans have suggested that the Giants acquire a starting pitcher.

By adding another starting pitcher, the Giants could move Chad Gaudin back into his role as a reliever, which would strengthen the struggling bullpen. In addition, when Ryan Vogelsong comes back from injury, the Giants could also consider moving Lincecum to the bullpen. According to a club source, the Giants would convert Lincecum into a late-inning reliever “in a heartbeat,” and Lincecum said he is open to that change as well.

On the other hand, Bruce Bochy has said the Giants need the most help in the bullpen. If the Giants acquire a relief pitcher, they could continue to use Gaudin as a starter until Vogelsong comes back, and then when Vogelsong is healthy again, the Giants could move Gaudin back into his long reliever role.

The Giants also need a veteran outfielder, with Angel Pagan expected to be out until September, at the earliest. Gregor Blanco, Andres Torres, and Juan Perez are currently filling the void at center field and left field, but they’re collectively not providing enough offense to make up for Pagan’s energy and production in the leadoff spot.

Here are three players that the Giants could acquire at the trade deadline that would fill these needs:

San Francisco Giants: Why Fatigue Has Led to Their Recent Struggles

This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.

The San Francisco Giants are tired. They aren’t just physically tired; they’re also mentally tired. After playing a total of 178 games last season, the Giants had a shortened offseason and less time to recover, both mentally and physically, before this season. The Giants currently have a 38-40 record, third in the NL West, and they have lost four games in a row.

May 16, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain (18) reacts after giving up a home run during the third inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

In their last two games, the Giants have been outscored 7-0 in the 6th inning. Is this onslaught just bad luck? A coincidence? Actually, this stat explains a lot about the Giants’ recent struggles.

The sixth inning, in particular, has brought trouble to the Giants recently for several reasons. First of all, their pitching has taken a downturn starting around the sixth inning. The Giants’ pitching, in general, has been up and down all season.

At the beginning of the season, the starting pitching was horrendous. Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong, usually steady forces in the rotation, were horrible and didn’t show consistent command of their pitches. Because of this, the bullpen had to step up and pitch more than usual.

Recently, the starting pitching has picked up. In the month of June, Tim Lincecum has looked better and has posted a 3.60 ERA. Cain has improved steadily since his horrendous month of April when he had a 6.49 ERA. In the month of May, Cain had a 3.48 ERA and in June, Cain has a 3.58 ERA. Even though the starting pitching has picked up, the Giants have not yet thrown a complete game, which explains why the bullpen has looked tired.

The bullpen’s effectiveness has started to decline because of overuse in the beginning of the season. Several pitchers, such as George Kontos, have struggled with command, perhaps because of exhaustion.

The second reason why the sixth inning has been problematic is that the starting pitchers aren’t consistently making the right adjustments. As the sixth inning approaches, pitchers are generally set to face the opposing lineup the third time around. Often, it seems like the Giants’ starting pitcher will either pitch to the opposing batter the same way they have been all game, which ends up backfiring, or, if adjustments are made, the opposing batter anticipates it and knows how to beat that move.

By this time, the opposing batters have made their own adjustments as to how to approach their next at-bat, given what the pitcher has done in their previous at-bats. Therefore, the batter knows exactly how the pitcher is going to pitch to him, which can lead to base hits and runs.

The third reason these runs in the sixth inning could be occurring is simple exhaustion from high pitch counts. The Giants’ starters rank first in the NL for most pitches per plate appearance with 3.9 pitches. Many Giants’ starters drive the pitch count up high in each at-bat, which forces them to become more tired, earlier in the game. When pitchers become tired over the course of a game, they start to lose command of their pitches, and this has started happening to the Giants starters around the dreadful sixth inning.

Jun 17, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito (75) hands the ball to manager Bruce Bochy (15) after being taken against the San Diego Padres during the sixth inning at AT

Because of these reasons, Bruce Bochy has two options when managing a tough situation like this. He can leave the starter in the game longer, but that can backfire because it’s hard for a pitcher to re-gain command once he’s already lost it. It does seem like Bochy trusts his starters too much sometimes. He can get into the habit of leaving a pitcher in one batter too many, and it can end up costing the Giants a run or two.

The other option Bochy has is to pull the starter at the first sign of exhaustion and go to the bullpen. However, since the bullpen has been used so much this season, he has been hesitant to do that, which forces him to leave his starter in longer. This whole process becomes a vicious cycle, and the Giants are stuck in one right now.

In addition to the struggles the Giants have had with their pitching, they have also seemed lost at the plate recently. The Giants have several players on their roster who are known as “free swingers.” These players don’t generally take too many pitches, and, they have been swinging at pitches early in the pitch count. In addition, many of these pitches are out of the strike zone or just generally unhittable.

The Giants aren’t showing enough patience at the plate, so they miss the opportunity of being rewarded with mistake pitches or pitches that are more hittable. It just seems as if the long 2012 season is starting to catch up with them in terms of mental mistakes, fatigue, and injuries.

The Giants are in quite a difficult situation. They’re stuck in a vicious cycle where Bochy can’t trust his relief pitchers, and the starters are slowly falling apart. The mental and physical exhaustion has started to spread into the offense as well.

The All-Star break couldn’t come soon enough for the Giants. They could use a break from the long road trips and the mental grind of the game. The Giants will recover though; it’s just a matter of time.