The San Francisco Giants, who have won two of the last three World Series, have been forgotten by most of the media, partially because they had such a poor season and partially because it was such a long time ago. In 2012, to refresh our memories, the US was fighting a war in Afghanistan, Barack Obama was president and Miguel Cabrera was viewed as baseball's best hitter. Many of the things that make the Cardinals a great organization were true of those 2010-2012 Giants as well. They developed a core of great young players like Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. They invested wisely in players thought to be washed up such as Aubrey Huff, Ryan Vogelsong and Andres Torres and they had a strong and deep bullpen. The Giants also had a manager who was at his best in the post-season. It is worth remembering that one of the reasons the Giants won in 2012 is because Bruce Bochy ran circles around Cardinal manager Mike Matheny in the NLCS that year.
This is why, with only a few months to go before he becomes a free agent, Lincecum and the Giants are facing some very tough decisions. It is likely that both the Giants and their one-time superstar pitcher would like to see Lincecum have a strong second half and then sign a big, multi-year contract. However, it is not likely that things will go that smoothly. If Lincecum continues to struggle while showing occasional signs of brilliance, the Giants may offer a contract in the three-years, $20-million range, but not much more than that. Lincecum may get lucky and find another team willing to take a chance on him, but if not he might stay with the Giants because he has always played there, or he might leave because he feels insulted at not receiving a better offer. Either way, the likelihood is that if he continues to struggle through the end of this season, Lincecum's days as a dominant starter will be behind him.
This second World Series win in three years is a fantastic accomplishment for the San Francisco Giants; and it is also an opportunity to reflect on some of the players who were key parts of this win and, in some cases, both World Series wins by taking a brief, if early, look at there Hall of Fame chances. There are four players on the team Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, who have played well enough to establish a chance at being elected to the Hall of Fame.Interestingly, these four players were among the few holdovers from 2010 to be part of the 2012 team. The remaining Giants are either two young or are clearly not on a Hall of Fame path.
Fifty years after that tough defeat, and more importantly two years after finally getting their World Series victory, Giants fans can look at that 1962 team more charitably. They can recognize the impressive talent and interesting baseball stories that were brought together on that team. It is still possible, but not likely, that that great World Series will be commemorated by a 50th anniversary rematch. Even if this does not occur, it is worth taking a few minutes this October to remember this extraordinary team that came up just a foot or so short of a championship.
San Francisco Giant first baseman Brandon Belt has been the subject of some controversy as many Giants fans feel he has not been given a fair chance over the last season and a half while others believe he has been a disappointment. Belt, who began the 2011 season as the Giants’ top hitting prospect, spent most of 2011 moving back and forth from first base to the outfield, the starting lineup to the bench, and the big leagues and AAA. This year, Belt spent the first month or two of the season being moved in and out of the lineup before settling, at least for now, into the starting first baseman’s role
On the surface, these three could not have been more different. Blue was an African American from Louisiana, Hunter a country boy from North Carolina, and Holtzman was from St. Louis and retired with more wins than any other Jewish pitcher in baseball history. It has been more than 25 years since any of these pitchers has thrown a pitch in the big leagues and their respective places in baseball history are now secure. Hunter became a Hall of Famer and a beloved figure in North Carolina before passing away in 1999 at the far too young age of 53. Holtzman’s name occasionally crops up in connection with his longtime friend and teammate Reggie Jackson and was briefly a manager in the Israeli baseball league, but is generally remembered as a solid and dependable pitcher, but not much more than that. Vida Blue is remembered as the guy who had all the talent in the world, but could never entirely get it together.
The Yankees inability to develop highly touted pitching prospects into quality major league starters is an organizational problem that probably involves scouts, minor league managers and coaches, big league managers and coaches and front office management. Solving this problem will not be easy and probably cannot be done simply by bringing in one pitching guru like the San Francisco Giants’ Dick Tidrow.
On Monday fans of the San Francisco Giants received the best piece of news since their team won the World Series in 2010. Matt Cain, one of the team’s, and the game’s, best pitchers, opted to sign a five year $112 million extension with the Giants, rather than test the free agent market after this season. Cain, who will be 28 in October has pitched over 1300 innings, with an ERA+ of 125 since his big league career began in 2005. In the 2010 post-season, he helped lead the Giants to their World Series title, pitching 21.1 innings without giving up an earned run. Cain is also a workhorse who has pitched more than 200 innings in each of the last five seasons.
When Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel sent Chad Durbin to the mound to start the bottom of the fifth inning of game six of the 2009 World Series, replacing future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, it was the end of a baseball era. Martinez’s last game in the big leagues had not gone well as the New York Yankees, led by Hideki Matsui, rocked him for four runs in four innings. Martinez was the last of a quartet of pitching superstars also including Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux, who, at a time when offensive production was higher than ever, dominated the game as no other group of pitching peers ever have.
There were several reasons why 2010 was a memorable baseball season. Fans of the San Francisco Giants saw their team win the World Series for the first time ever in San Francisco, while Texas Ranger fans saw their team play in the World Series for the first time ever. There were two perfect games and one almost perfect game thrown. Pitching dominated the game to an extent not seen for years. New stars such as Joey Votto emerged while proven stars like Roy Halladay switched leagues but otherwise maintained their dominant level of play. The trends and events raise some interesting questions to look at as the 2011 season approaches with bearing both on and off the field.
There are nineteen new players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot: Carlos Baerga, Jeff Bagwell, Brett Boone, Kevin Brown, John Franco, Juan Gonzalez, Marquis Grissom, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Al Leiter, Tino Martinez, Raul Mondesi, John Olerud, Rafael Palmeiro, Kirk Reuter, Benito Santiago, B.J. Surhoff and Larry Walker. There are no new candidates this year that can be expected to easily get elected. The closest to this is Jeff Bagwell, who is deserving of the Hall of Fame, but is not viewed as a sure thing. There are, however, several players on the ballot who, while being good players, in some cases for many years, are clearly not Hall of Famers. This group includes Baerga, Boone, Grissom, Harris, Higginson, Johnson, Leiter, Martinez, Mondesi, Reuter, Santiago and Surhoff. That leaves a diverse group of seven players including Bagwell, Brown, Franco, Gonzalez, Olerud, Palmeiro and Walker whose candidacies should at least be seriously considered.
The 2010 baseball season, like most baseball seasons, was full of surprises, disappointments and great moments. Although the playoffs have not yet begun, it is still a good time to reflect back on the season which is just ending. Looking at the great moments, surprising seasons, great plays and the like are all good ways to do this. However, 2010 like almost all seasons raise intriguing questions across a range of baseball related topics. Some of these questions will be answered in the next weeks, others next year, and still others in the next decade or so.
Nonetheless, Halladay occupies a strange place in the pantheon of great pitchers as his career fell between two generations of great pitchers. He spent the first part of his career in the shadow of the Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez cohort who dominated the game from the late 1980s until the middle of the last decade and were all better pitchers than Halladay. When these pitchers began to retire few years ago, a new group of pitchers including Tim Lincecum, Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez emerged as the top pitchers in the game. Although there is certainly no guarantee that these pitchers will have better careers than Halladay’s, it likely that for much of the duration of his career, Halladay will be not quite as good as at least some of this next generation of stars.
There is another issue which should be part of that discussion as well which is the question of the central definition and role of the Hall of Fame. According to theHall of Fame’s mission statement the Hall of Fame seeks to “Honor(ing), by enshrinement, those individuals who had exceptional careers, and recognizing others for their significant achievements.” This sounds pretty straightforward, but there is an implicit, if at first glance insignificant, conflict between this definition and the name of the institution. It is, after all, the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Excellence. This suggests that fame should also be an important consideration for considering election to the Hall of Fame. It is this notion of fame that often makes Hall of Fame voting more complicated. It seems pretty clear to many that, for example, Dwight Evans was a more valuable player than his longtime teammate Jim Rice, but the latter was certainly more famous which helps explain why Rice is in and Evans is out.
While the last fifteen years have not been a great period for pitching in general, it has been a surprisingly good period for a small handful of individual pitchers. The quartet of Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez, was able to post extraordinary numbers during this period despite the increase in offense. Several other pitchers such as Zack Greinke in 2009, Mark Prior in 2003 and Kevin Brown in 1996 had one or more great seasons in this period as well.
Lincecum, known as “The Freak” because of his size and unorthodox pitching delivery has been an extraordinary pitcher during his first two years plus in the Major Leagues. During this time, he has pitched 598.2 innings striking out 671 while walking 217 with an ERA of 2.90. While these numbers are extremely impressive, they do not provide much of a context. Lincecum’s numbers look better in a comparative context. Only 24 pitchers have pitched 550 or more innings with an ERA+ of 135 or better before the age of 25. Lincecum’s career ERA+ is 152. The only players who had better ERA+ for their age, with 550 or more innings pitched were Walter Johnson and Ed Reulbach. The closest postwar pitcher was Tom Seaver whose ERA+ at a comparable age was 149.
Among these four aces, Lincecum has more strikeouts, complete games and shutouts and a lower ERA, while pitching the second most innings, Wainwright is first. Lincecum is also second, to Carpenter, in fewest walks plus hits over nine innings. Carpenter and Wainwright would both be respectable Cy Young choices, and together with an Albert Pujols led Cardinal offense could help the Cardinals play well into October, but the best NL pitcher, and the best top of the rotation so far in 2009, have both been in San Francisco.
Andy Pettitte probably won’t and probably shouldn’t go into the Hall of Fame. However, the image of Pettitte as the all-time Yankee leader in wins and strikeouts who fits into a long history of great Yankee lefties who spent their whole career with the franchise might have been enough to get Pettitte significantly more consideration. However, that is not the narrative at which voters will be looking. Instead they will see a pitcher who is not one of the very few great players to spend their career with one team, who is second or third, but not first in a few categories for Yankee pitchers and who was just a little too close to Roger Clemens during the latter’s steroid period.