Thursday, June 6, 2013

Giants Select High School Shortstop Christian Arroyo

Kiley McDaniel of Scout.com got the San Francisco Giants' 2013 first-round pick right when he wrote in his mock draft:
This pick was subject to the juiciest rumor at the Florida high school All-Star Game in Sebring: Florida prep SS Christian Arroyo going to the Giants at this pick for a discount and eventually being converted to catcher. The Giants were rolling four deep at the event, although Arroyo is more of a second-round talent and could make it to their second round pick. 
On Thursday, the Giants used the 25th pick of the draft to select Arroyo. However, Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay reported via Twitter that the Giants will have to pony up the cash to buy Arroyo out of his commitment to the University of Florida. If there wasn't a below-slot deal in place with Arroyo, then this pick is somewhat puzzling given that he ranked 99 on Keith Law's draft board and 102 on Baseball America's.

Of course, the Giants may have had Arroyo ranked higher on their draft board. The Giants have used first-round picks in recent years on Zack Wheeler (6th pick, 2009), Buster Posey (5th pick, 2008), Madison Bumgarner (10th pick, 2007), Tim Lincecum (10th pick, 2006) and Matt Cain (25th pick, 2002). The jury remains out on 2010 first-rounder Gary Brown (24th overall) and 2011 first-rounder Joe Panik (29th overall). Brown is currently hitting just .205/.268/.321 at Triple-A Fresno. Panik is hitting .281 with a .370 on-base percentage at Double-A Richmond. However, he's slugging just .376 with one home run.

If Brown doesn't make it to the show, his failure could ultimately be one of development. He hit .336/.407/.519 with 53 steals two years ago at High-A San Jose. He also profiled as a potentially elite defender in center field. Thus, the tools were obviously there with Brown. The fact that he's regressed significantly during the last two years doesn't necessarily mean he wasn't the right pick. 

Here's what Baseball America said about Arroyo via Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News:
If former Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius ran a draft room, he’d likely pick Arroyo very high. Brosius coached USA Baseball’s 18-and-under team last summer, when Arroyo led it to a gold medal as the shortstop, top hitter and tournament MVP. He carried that confidence into the spring, to the point that it turned off some scouts, who see a below-average runner and modest athlete who profiles best as a catcher. At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Arroyo has surprising pop and grades out as a solid-average hitter if not a tick better. He wants to play shortstop and has excellent hands, a quick release and instincts that allow him to make all the routine plays and some spectacular ones. Still, few scouts see him as a shortstop in the big leagues. Those who don’t think he can catch see him as a tweener, not quick enough for second and not powerful enough for third base.
On draft day, all of these guys are future All-Stars, even though most of them won't get to the big leagues. Four years from now, if Arroyo is hitting like Brown and someone picked behind him is succeeding in the big leagues, I'll write an angry blog about this pick. Until then, I won't pretend to have any clue if this is a good pick or not.

I have seen #1 overall pick Mark Appel pitch a handful of times over the last two seasons, and I would not have selected him if I were the Houston Astros' scouting director. I wrote a more detailed scouting report on him here.

Appel throws in the mid-90s, has a plus slider, pitches to both sides of the plate and attacks the strike zone. However, his fastball is not a swing-and-miss pitch despite the plus velocity and his command within the zone wavers. His slider is outstanding, but the changeup was extremely inconsistent each time I saw him. If I had the first pick of this year's draft, I would have passed on Appel and taken University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant. Position players have less injury risk than pitchers, and college position players have had the highest rate of success in the draft historically.

Appel is not a clear-cut future ace in my view. With his stuff, he should have been more dominant this year as a college senior. In the three starts I saw from him this season, he didn't look like a surefire top-of-the-rotation starter. If the fastball command and changeup improve, he has a chance to get to that level. However, if this is as good as it gets, he'll be a mid-rotation starter.

Draft Day Retrospective: What if Tampa Bay Had Selected Buster Posey?

They would have won a bunch of World Series titles, that's what.

The Tampa Bay Rays used the first pick of the 2008 draft on high-school shortstop Tim Beckham. Four picks later, the San Francisco Giants nabbed catcher Buster Posey from Florida State University. Posey has helped the Giants win two out of the last three World Series titles. He won the National League Rookie of the Year in 2010 and the NL MVP and NL batting title in 2012. He's hit .312/.381/.503 thus far in his career with the Giants. He leads all 2008 draftees in wins above replacement (WAR).

Beckham is repeating the Triple-A level this season. He's currently hitting .273/.335/.384. He's hit .265/.331/.380 during his five-year minor league career. He's yet to make it to the big leagues. He was also suspended 50 games last season for testing positive for a drug of abuse.

Tampa Bay is arguably the most well-run organization in Major League Baseball. Despite perennially having one of the game's lowest payrolls, Tampa Bay has been a contender in baseball's most competitive division for six straight seasons.

They are currently 32-26. Last season, they barely missed the postseason with a 90-72 record. In 2011, they eked their way into the playoffs on the season's final day with a shocking come-from-behind win over the New York Yankees as the Boston Red Sox completed their September collapse. Tampa Bay went 91-71 that year, but were ousted by the Texas Rangers in the ALDS. They went 96-66 and won the AL East in 2010. However, they were beat in the ALDS by the Rangers that season as well. The Rays went just 84-78 and missed the postseason in 2009, one year after going 97-65 and losing the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies.

If Posey had come up for the Rays instead of the Giants in 2010, perhaps they would have won the World Series that season. Perhaps Posey never gets injured in a home-plate collision as he did with the Giants in 2011 and the Rays win it all again. They certainly would have made the playoffs last year if they had Posey's MVP production in the middle of the lineup. They would be favorites in the AL East right now. The Rays would probably be working on an extension to the cheap contract they would have signed Posey to after his rookie year. A one-two punch of Posey and Evan Longoria in the middle of the lineup would be among the game's most formidable. I would probably be the leader of the Tampa Bay Bandwagon right now.

Tampa Bay general manger Andrew Friedman hasn't made many mistakes during his career. Missing on Buster Posey in the 2008 draft was the organization's biggest blunder in his tenure to this point. With the draft being such a crapshoot, it's hard to call it a blunder with a straight face. Posey's high bonus demands and questions about his power ceiling and defense led the Rays to go with Beckham. However, I certainly wouldn't have selected Beckham over Posey.

I'd have taken Justin Smoak. 

Matt Cain Has Lost the Extra Two Percent

Matt Cain's struggles in 2013 for the San Francisco Giants boil down to the extra two percent, to steal the title of Jonah Keri's famous book about the Tampa Bay Rays.

Cain's stuff is virtually the same as it was last year. According to FanGraphs, his average fastball was 91.2 miles per hour in 2012. This season, it's 90.9 miles per hour. Since velocity tends to increase as the season goes on, that 0.3 mile-per-hour difference is negligible. Cain struck out 22 percent of hitters last year. He's striking out 22.6 percent thus far in 2013.

If the stuff is the same and the strikeout rate is even better, then why has Cain's ERA gone from 2.79 last season to 5.45 through 12 starts this year?

The first reason is that Cain's walk rate has increased by nearly two percent from 5.8 percent in 2012 to 7.6 percent in 2013. His control hasn't been quite as good as it was when he pitched like an ace last year.

The bigger problem is his wildness within the strike zone, particularly out of the stretch. With the bases empty, opponents are hitting just .166/.234/.293 against Cain this season. When he gets into the stretch, opponents are blasting him for a .356/.416/.663 slash line and eight home runs. Last year, Cain allowed only six home runs out of the stretch and a batting line of .223/.274/.321.

Why is Cain struggling so mightily from the stretch this season? It comes down to his inability to pitch to the corners. Cain has good stuff, but he's not over-powering. He typically sits in the 89-93 range with his fastball. He's got a sharp slider and an effective change that both sit in the mid-80s. He'll drop in the occasional curve around 78-80. It's a good repertoire, but far from a dominant one. Thus, he has to pitch to the edges of the zone.

Cain's walk rate is up nearly two percent and his fastball edge percentage—a measure of pitches thrown to the corners—is down by nearly two percent:

FastballCareer2013
Edge%19.8%17.6%
Heart%35.6%36.9%

It also seems like he's hanging more breaking balls in the middle of the zone this year. One explanation for Cain's increased wildness in and out of the zone is that he appears to be dropping his arm slot. Cain has thrown over 200 innings for six straight seasons. Additionally, he threw 30 innings last postseason and 21.1 during the 2010 playoffs. Cain could be lowering his arm angle because he's fatigued, and thus mechanically unsound.

The Giants need Cain to pitch like an ace again this season and for the next four thereafter. He's in the second year of the 6-year, $127.5 million contract extension the Giants rewarded him with last spring. The Giants are paying Cain to pitch like a top-of-the-rotation starter.

They're also paying Tim Lincecum ($22 million) and Barry Zito ($20 million) ace money, but those two are back-end starters at this point. Lincecum and Zito will both hit the market as free agents after this season, though the Giants will owe Zito a $7 million buyout on an $18 million option that won't vest unless Zito throws 200 innings this year. He's currently on pace to fall 13 innings short.

The Giants currently sit in third place in the National League West. They're three games back of the Arizona Diamondbacks, where they'll head this weekend for a three-game series. Cain will take the ball on Friday night.

If the Giants are going to surpass the Diamondbacks for first place this season, they'll need their ace to start pitching like he did last year. For that to happen, Cain will have to pitch to the edges of the strike zone more often. The stuff is still good enough, but the command and control have been wavering for Cain. He needs to throw an extra two percent of his pitches away from the middle of the plate and on the corners of the zone instead. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Oakland Athletics Control the Strike Zone

I meant to write about the Oakland Athletics last week when they were busy annihilating their cross-Bay rivals, the San Francisco Giants.

I was only four years old when the A's swept the Giants in the 1989 World Series. However, when I used to stay home from elementary schoolwhich was quite oftenI would watch the film Champions by the Bay, which is about that 1989 season. The A's demolition of the Giants last week brought back the painful memories buried in my subconscious from the A's 1989 World Series sweep of the Giants.

The difference between the A's and Giants last week was Oakland's ability to control the strike zone. A's hitters didn't chase out of the zone and A's pitchers pounded the zone with strikes. The A's drew 25 walks in the four-game set while the Giants walked just 10 times. The A's out-walked the Giants 25-10 and they outscored the Giants 21-15 while taking three of four.

The A's lead all of baseball with a 10.5 percent walk rate. The Giants are 19th at 7.4 percent. A's hitters chase pitches out of the zone only 26.3 percent of the time, second-best in baseball. Giants hitters expand the zone 31.3 percent of the time, which is near the bottom of the league.

On the pitching side, the A's are fourth in baseball with a 6.6 percent walk rate. The Giants are 23rd at 8.7 percent. A's starter Bartolo Colon has the lowest walk rate in baseball at 1.5 percent. Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin are also in the top 50 in walk rate. Meanwhile, only five pitchers in baseball issue free passes at a higher rate than Tim Lincecum.

Oakland is also a very efficient defensive team. Coco Crisp is a tremendous defensive center fielder. Josh Donaldson has excellent first-step quickness and plus range at third base. Josh Reddick and Chris Young are Gold Glove caliber outfielders. Oakland is fifth in baseball in defensive efficiency, a Baseball Prospectus stat that measures a team's ability to convert balls put in play into outs. The Giants are just 20th. Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt are elite defenders at shortstop and first base, respectively. Gregor Blanco has good range in the outfield. The rest of the Giants' defense has been lacking in 2013.

I can't find the article, but last year, someone interviewed Oakland general manager Billy Beane about his philosophy on pitching. They were expecting that Beane would be a big proponent of the strikeout because sabermetric orthodoxy holds that the strikeout is the best possible outcome for a pitcher. However, Beane talked about wanting efficient outs more than strikeouts. He wasn't trying to acquire strikeout pitchers. He just wanted guys that would get outs without walking the park.

There's nothing wrong with San Francisco's aggressive approach to hitting. Oakland's approach does not guarantee success. Giants hitters are batting .269/.326/.401 with 42 home runs. A's hitters are batting .251/.336/.404 with 55 home runs. The Giants are averaging 4.35 runs per game. The A's are averaging 4.76 runs per game. The A's have the advantage of the designated hitter. Take that away, and these teams would be dead even offensively despite their vastly different philosophies.

However, the Giants' inability to throw strikes and catch the ball has killed them this year. Their 4.21 staff ERA is just 20th in baseball despite the pitcher-friendly confines of AT&T Park.

When it comes to hitting, there's more than one way to have success. The idea is to get a good pitch to hit. Sometimes that means being aggressive early in the count. Other times that means trying to work deeper in the count to try to get the pitcher to make a mistake. The A's don't want their guys chasing out of the zone. The Giants don't want their guys striking out looking. The A's probably don't mind watching a guy take a called third strike on a borderline pitch. An out is an out whether you tap softly to short or strikeout looking. In Bruce Bochy's mind, a strikeout looking probably counts as two outs while a weakly hit double-play grounder only costs you one out.

The point is that when it comes to hitting, there's no right path to finding success. I prefer Oakland's patient approach to watching Pablo Sandoval try to hit the ball on a bounce, but I'm just some blogger with a calculator and the box scores. Pablo's style is unique and entertaining, and it works for him. But when it doesn't work, it's absolutely infuriating. His rotund physique is also infuriating, unless he's jogging around the bases after a dinger.

In the end, you can hit however you want to, as long as it works. But you need to throw strikes and catch the ball in order to prevent runs (I have no evidence to support this claim, but it sure sounds right). The A's are doing that. The Giants aren't. Thus, as last week's series demonstrated, the A's are currently superior to the Giants. They're also more entertaining for me to watch.

Thanks for those two championships, Giants. But, what have you done for me lately?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Chad Gaudin, Staff Ace

A sign that your season isn't going quite as planned: Chad Gaudin is your staff ace.

Okay, that's not entirely accurate. Gaudin has made one start for the San Francisco Giants, and incredibly, it went very well. Before Sunday, Gaudin hadn't pitched in the big leagues as a starter since 2009. Despite pitching in the friendly confines of Petco Park for the San Diego Padres that year, Gaudin went 4-10 with a 5.23 ERA over 19 starts. He struck out 102 in 103.1 innings of work, but he also allowed 104 hits, 55 walks and 60 earned runs. In 415.2 career innings as a starter, his ERA is 4.70.

Gaudin hasn't been an effective starter because he can't get lefties out. Lefties have hit .293/.390/.448 in 1,634 trips to the plate against Gaudin during his career. Gaudin can't get lefties out because he doesn't have an effective changeup that he can neutralize them with. He's a fastball/slider guy who drops in the occasional, ineffective change for show.

Because Giants general manager Brian Sabean didn't bother acquiring a reasonably effective sixth starter this offseason, Gaudin was pressed into action as a starter against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday. Ryan Vogelsong got injured, top prospect Michael Kickham showed he wasn't ready for the big leagues in his lone start and Gaudin was the only card left to play for a GM who figured he'd only need five starters this year despite Tim Lincecum's miserable 2012 season, Barry Zito's miserable 2011 season and Vogelsong's horrific track record prior to 2011.

Gaudin delivered a rare quality start for a rotation that has been running on fumes all season. Gaudin's quality start was the just the 23rd by a Giants starter this season in 57 games, which is the second-worst quality start rate in the National League. The staff's 4.89 ERA is third worst. Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, has a 4.87 ERA this season for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Giants would have been better off running out five Carmona's through the first two months of the season. The Five Carmona's would probably be a great band, too.

Over six innings against the Cards, all Gaudin allowed was a two-run dinger on a hanging slider to the right-handed batting David Freese. He allowed four hits, two runs and no walks. He struck out five, induced five ground-outs and eight fly-outs. He pounded the strike zone with a fastball that averaged 93.65 miles per hour according to Brooks Baseball. He topped out at nearly 96 (Brooks Baseball's readings seem higher, probably because they measure pitch speed at 55 feet). He only threw 15 offspeed pitches—13 sliders and two changeups. 55 of his 79 pitches were strikes. Lefties went just 2-for-9 against Gaudin.

It was the best start by a Giants pitcher in a long time—probably since Madison Bumgarner's seven strong innings against the Washington Nationals in a losing effort on May 22. After Shelby Miller and Adam Wainwright dominated Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and the Giants by a combined score of 15-1 in a doubleheader on Saturday, the Giants were in desperate need of a decent start.  Gaudin delivered by pumping well-located heaters throughout his six solid innings of work.

For a day, Chad Gaudin was the staff ace. It probably won't ever happen again this season, but that doesn't mean Gaudin hasn't earned another start. His fastball velocity ticked up on Sunday, possibly from the adrenaline of starting for the first time in four years. Will he throw 91-96 in his next start? Probably not, given that he was 90-94 as a reliever. Will he have the same success against lefties again? Probably not, given his career track record. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny did Gaudin a big favor by failing to load up his lineup with lefties. If Carlos Beltran and Daniel Descalso had started in place of Matt Holliday and Pete Kozma, it might have been a different story for Gaudin. His next opponent might have a better understanding of platoon splits and basic mathematics.

Gaudin isn't likely to continue to pitch effectively as a starter. However, for a day, he was the stopper. We'll always have St. Louis with Gaudin, and with Barry Zito—who delivered a similarly improbable gem in St. Louis to stave off elimination in Game 5 of last year's NLCS.

Matt Cain will not want to remember St. Louis after his disastrous start on Saturday. Cain retired the first six hitters of the game before allowing nine hits and seven runs in an atrocious third inning. There was some talk about Cain possibly tipping his pitches out of the stretch, and that's certainly a possibility. However, look at the locations of the nine hits he allowed in the third inning:

Image courtesy of Brooks Baseball. The light blue squares represent hits.
Seven of the nine hits and one of the three outs in the inning were on belt-high mistakes right out over the plate. Sure, there was some bad luck involved. Not every location mistake automatically goes for a hit in this god-forsaken sport. Some of those balls in play would normally have found gloves to limit the damage. Two of those hits were on pitches off the plate. Allen Craig dug out a low-and-inside changeup and flared it for a single to left. Yet when you have an inning where you consistently miss the target and deliver fat pitches for a good lineup to hit, you have to expect that they'll take advantage. Cain allowed no other baserunners in his other five innings of work, which made his day all the more perplexing in what has been a confounding two months for the Giants ace.

Finally, I'm starting to think that some of the guys on the periphery of this roster are not big leaguers. Nick Noonan (.211/.262/.228), Guillermo Quiroz (.176/.263/.353) and Ramon Ramirez (10.80 ERA) are stretched as members of a roster with championship aspirations. And, if the Giants aren't going to pitch this year, they'll need more offense from left field than Andres Torres (up to .276/.323/.388 after a recent hot streak) and Gregor Blanco (down to .255/.318/.320 after a recent cold streak) can be expected to provide. Two fourth outfielders can be cobbled together for a reasonable platoon in some situations. However, the Giants look like they're going to need to win 9-8 more often than 2-1, which makes the speed-and-defense left field platoon look outdated, just like the starting staff. You can't replace five struggling starters, but you can find one more bat for a lineup that looks like it's going to have to carry this team.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Retirement

Distinguished guests, fellow partners, various employees who I am just seeing for the first time today for the most part, President Obama, Speaker Boner: Welcome. Tomorrow, May 31, 2013, I will retire from my fake law firm for the second time in 13 months. In many ways, I'm like Lazarus from the Bible. When Jesus brings him back from the dead, he isn't too happy with ole JC because he knows he has to die again. (This may not have actually happened at all. I've never read the Bible much despite 12 years of Catholic school. But that story sure does sound right. If it's not in there, perhaps they could file an amendment to the Bible to add that story in. I doubt Alabama would ratify that one, but I think we could get enough states on board.) Anyway, this time, there will be no comeback. I'm washed out. I'm finished. I'm no good to the team anymore.

My co-senior partner, who prefers not to be named in this retirement announcement, has bought me out. A few weeks ago he said to me, "Mark, if I had the money, I would buy you out. That's how sick of you I am. But, I haven't got the money. I'm tapped out right now."

Luckily for him, I come quite cheaply. Since I'm going to be taken in by the charity of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid triumvirate with free Obmacare, unemployment insurance, and other goodies, I don't need much anymore. All I asked of my British co-senior partner was for him to set me up with his fellow British compatriot Emily Blunt. Britain is probably a small country where everyone knows everyone, so it shouldn't be too much trouble for him.

I knew he really wanted me out a few weeks ago when he maliciously broke my stamp while I was away from the office. He knew that I would come back to work, see the stamp was broken, and then manage to give myself ink poisoning by getting the broken stamp all over myself. But, let's not talk about my huffing problem today. That's for another time.



The day I was out of the office, he e-mailed me saying, "Mark, it has come to my attention that you are not in the office today.  Please explain." When I explained that I'm a senior partner that doesn't answer to anyone, he replied, "If you are well enough to e-mail you are well enough to work.  If you leave for work now you can be done with work by 8 tonight. I know you like to leave early. In fact, I was not aware you were out today until 11 – I kept wandering over to your office to talk to you but I thought I just kept missing you." I replied, "I only want to to talk to you about money from now on. Never talk to me again unless it has to do with money."
That must have set him off on the stamp gate path. Luckily, I caught on to the coup attempt before it was too late, and here we are. 
In my retirement, I'm planning to devote my time to Ms. Blunt and something called sports "blogging"—which is a term that was probably created by former Illinois Governor and noted American Hero Rod Blagojevich. Apparently, you just write about sports and say ridiculous things all day and then get filthy rich from all the ad revenue. It sounds kind of like a Ponzi scheme, which is great, because my fake law firm was a gigantic Ponzi scheme built off of Dave & Buster's money and bit coins. Too much information? Don't worry about it, the Feds won't bother with a well-connected pol like myself.

Anyway, where were we? Let's see, we already touched on the Bible, politics, religion, love, money—all the politically correct topics. Who else can we offend? Just kidding. Not really.

I will probably continue my series as a fake guest lecturer at Stanford Law. I'm really disappointed with the fake alma mater's baseball season this year. Let's just say I won't be sending my annual million dollar donation over to the Clarke and Elizabeth Nelson Director of Baseball next year. I am looking forward to some yachting with Clarke and Elizabeth soon, though. I'm proud to call Clarke a Stanford Man.

So, I bid you adieu. You won't have old Tricky Dick to kick around anymore. Well, that didn't sound too good. 

Anyway, I want to thank all of you for helping me along my journey. ME! As Secretary Clinton once said, "It takes a village." It really does, Madame Secretary. I couldn't have retired at 27 without corporate welfare from my good friends, the taxpayers. I couldn't have done it without the help of so many corrupt politicians willing help out a poor fellow One Percenter. I am so proud of all of you. We've pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. Congratulations to me. Hero would not be too strong of a word to use on a day like today. Thank you all.

(The author is not actually retiring from a fake law firm tomorrow with millions in the bank. He's an unemployed sports blogger living with Grandma, and probably a dangerously insane individual. If you come across him, alert the proper authorities immediately.)  

More Thoughts on Tim Lincecum

This is my 700th article on Tim Lincecum this year and we aren't even through May yet. You are sick of this subject, I am sick of this subject, but we beat on nonetheless because he's Timmy and he won those Cy Young Awards. He's like a Kardashian. We are obligated to pay attention to him even if he's past the point of being interesting.

This article will be different though. Each article praising Lincecum for his past success is the same, but each article dissecting his struggles is miserable in its own unique way. There will be no statistics this time. You already know that Tim Lincecum ceased being a good starting pitcher after the 2011 season. You already know his ERA is over 5.00 for the second year in a row. You already know that he walks too many hitters, falls behind in the count too much, makes too many mistakes when he does come into the zone, doesn't throw as hard anymore, can't pitch effectively out of the stretch, and allows too many home runs now. You don't need me to go to FanGraphs and Baseball Reference and ESPN to pull some numbers to prove those facts.

But here's an image of the 3-2 pitch that Yoenis Cespedes dented the center field wall with last night to beat the point home:

Image courtesy of Brooks Baseball.
Cespedes fouled off a fat 3-1 fastball but didn't miss the 3-2 fastball, which was up and out over the plate. That at-bat summarized everything that is wrong with Lincecum. After walking Coco Crisp to open the game, he falls behind 3-1 on Cespedes. He throws a high fastball right over the plate without much velocity and Cespedes just misses blasting it across The Bay to Oakland. He comes back with another high fastball over the plate and this time Cespedes nearly knocks it out of the park for an RBI-triple. That's the story of Lincecum as a starter: walks, location mistakes, struggles from the stretch, hard-hit balls.

The other story is all of the excuses and qualifiers. Marco Scutaro dropped a popup to allow the second run to score. Buster Posey doesn't do a great job of blocking pitches in the dirt. Hector Sanchez didn't do a good job of framing pitches, which is why Timmy was walking all those hitters before. Gregor Blanco took a crappy route on the ball Cespedes blasted. The bullpen allowed two inherited runners to score. His FIP is way better than his ERA. His strikeout rate is still good. He's unlucky on balls in play and balls in the air. He's getting squeezed. He didn't cover first base on a grounder to Brett Pill because he thought it was going to get through so he was thinking about backing up the plate. And so on.

I thought Tim Lincecum would bounce back this year. Then, I watched each of his spring training starts and quickly realized that the Giants needed to stick him in the bullpen and go sign Kyle Lohse while he was still available. He wasn't very good in his first few starts to the regular season, and I wrote a column arguing that he should be moved to the bullpen regardless of the available starting rotation options. Would you rather have 90 potentially dominant innings from Lincecum out of the pen, or would you rather have 200 more terrible innings from him as a starter?

I understand why the Giants didn't move him to the bullpen then and why they won't do it now. They don't have four other good starters right now, much less a fifth who would be needed to replace Lincecum in the rotation. They can't even find someone to replace the injured Ryan Vogelsong, who was also terrible this year before getting injured. You can't move every starter to the bullpen and you can't bench every regular who struggles, unless it's Brandon Belt.

But my evaluation of Lincecum this spring was deadly accurate. He's a reliever now. He could be a great reliever. His fastball velocity would probably tick back up. His three offspeed pitches would be too much to handle if he was throwing 92-95 instead of 88-92, particularly if the hitters only got one crack at him. That high fastball to Cespedes might have been a swing-through had it been 95 instead of 90. Those high fastballs used to be swing-throughs back when Lincecum could throw consistently in the low-to-mid 90s.

Last postseason was evidence enough for converting Lincecum to the bullpen. He was dominant as a reliever and pretty bad in his lone start. He's been pretty bad in most of his starts for the last two years.

One of my first columns ever on this blog foreshadowed Lincecum's problems back in 2010. It was clear to me then that Lincecum wasn't going to pitch effectively with reduced velocity unless he developed better control or found a way to get the velocity back. The velocity hasn't returned, it's worsened. The control hasn't improved, it's worsened.

As long as the Giants keep running Lincecum out there as a starter, I'll keep writing these columns pointing out that he's a reliever.