‘Early' Impressions

The mantra of the optimists amongst Giants fans has been "It's Still Early." And, well, they're right. The response we've gotten from the Lunatic Fringe is that for most of this team, we have no reason to believe they'll get better. And, well, they're also right. Somewhat. So who can we expect to improve, and who has no hope of turning it around?

A.J. Pierzynski: Will Get Better. By far, the most controversy amongst the players this season has fallen on A.J., considering he was the biggest acquisition the Giants got, and came in as a reigning AL All-star and career .300 hitter. The doubters have complained that he is slow, a double-play machine, and only hit so well because he played in a hitters park in Minnesota. It certainly sounds like a good argument, but they are completely wrong.

In 2003, when A.J. hit .312, he hit only .295(avg)/.336(OBP)/.440(SLG) at home, while hitting .328/.381/.486 on the road. They also complain that he won't have power hitting at a park biased against left handed hitters like SBC, but that comes from their own misconceptions about what to expect from A.J. He's only hit double digits in home runs once, and the type of hitter he is can make good use of SBC's spacious outfield and deep gaps.

And as for double plays, he hit the same number of GIDP's (13) as the starter he replaced from last year, Benito Santiago. The difference is that A.J. played in 29 more games than Santiago, so he is an improvement there.

The bottom line is that A.J. is a better hitter than he's shown, and there is no real reason to believe he will keep up this poor hitting. In fact, after he hit a season low .188 in his batting average following an 0-4 Thursday against San Diego, he has gone 4-8 to raise his average back to .232. He may not hit .300 for the first time in three years, but he should rebound to be a major contributor to this team.

Neifi Perez: Will Not Get Better. Seriously, I don't know what Sabean was expecting from Neifi Perez. In his last full year as a starter, he hit .236 for KC in 2002. Even in Colorado, Neifi couldn't break the .300 plateau. He simply has never hit outside of Colorado, and is riding that wave still, thanks to our GM. After a solid start, he has dropped bellow even his terrible career usuals, and after logging an 0-3 against the left hander Ishii, the type of pitcher he's supposed to be able to hit, dropped to an incredibly bad .178/.221/.233. He made the ridiculous comment that, since the former switch hitter will only be hitting right handed now, no pitcher had better hang a curveball to him; right now, I don't think he could base hits if he was hitting from a tee. Maybe he'll get his average back up to over .200 at some point, but if Feliz is going to get everyday playing time, it's time to seriously consider it at shortstop.

Edgardo Alfonzo: Will Get Better. Unfortunately, it really does appear that Alfonzo's prime has past, and the Giants may have made a mistake in his deal. He is off to his second terrible start for the Giants in as many seasons, and despite his 2nd half turnaround in 2003, this has become a bit of a sore spot for Giants fans.

What's most disturbing is that, despite this having happened last year, Giants management still seems to be clueless as to what's wrong with him. Perhaps the answer is in Pedro Feliz. Last year, when Alfonzo hit bottom with a .216 average, he was sat for two games against the A's, and Feliz played enough to impress a lot of people, thanks to some big homers. After that, Alfonzo went on his tear for the rest of the season. The Giants have done that again recently, benching him against San Diego, and he went 4 for 11 in the following three games, raising his average over 30 points before an 0-2 on Sunday. But even Sunday's performance had two walks, a good sign for him. It might also help that he's now batting 3rd ahead of Bonds, a move that was credited (rightfully or not) for getting Kent out of his 2002 slump. Alfonzo is a lot like former Giant Rich Aurilia, he'll never return to his glory season a few years ago, but it's early enough, and he's shown signs of returning to being a .275 hitter.

Michael Tucker: Will Not Get Better. I thought I saw the reason for Sabean picking up Tucker in the offseason this year: his platoon numbers vs. RHP (.274/.342/.474) mixed with the previously signed Hammonds' numbers vs. LHP (.333/.538/.556) would be nice, it would increase outfield depth, and it added another left handed bat against a Giants team that was terrible against right handed pitching last year.

Now, I'm speechless.

I don't know what bothers me more, that we gave up a first round pick on purpose for this guy, or that he seemingly doesn't care about how he's doing. I watched him last Thursday laugh off a double play he hit into to end yet another inning, and that sealed it for me. I want to see players who care about what's going on with them, and neither Tucker nor the fans have much of anything to laugh about right now. He can't hit the changeup, and everyone knows it. And he isn't trying to improve himself, or at least lay off the pitch. It's a recipe for disaster for the Giants, quite frankly.

J.T. Snow: Will Get Better. To be even clearer, he already is getting better. The Giants briefly tried hitting him against left handed pitchers, a terrible idea, and then decided to put him back into a platoon with a very appropriate Pedro Feliz. That combined with a better swing helped things much. Starting last Friday at home against Los Angeles, he went 7 for 20 with 4 doubles over the rest of the homestand, and raised his average from .182 to .245. He suffered a set back this weekend going 0 for 6, starting one game in Los Angeles, but he should continue to improve back to his career norms of hitting .260-.275. He might do better moved out of the 2nd spot in the order, where his doubles might be used better in driving in runs, rather than leading to being left on base. Despite getting on base 10 times during that streak, he only scored 4 times. Others, like Durham, Grissom and Bonds, have been getting on base at better clips, and need a solid hitter behind all of them to drive in runs.

Barry Bonds: Will Not Get Better. What, you want him to improve on a .500 batting average? Enjoy him while you can folks.

If two of those three guys I listed get back to their career norms, this is a much better baseball team. Despite a couple of recent wipeouts, this team has played tough and close in many games. With some improved hitting to keep out of double plays and drive in a few more of the runners that have already been getting on base consistently, this team will improve a lot quicker than people expect.


  • Don't Panic Button #1: With defending AL MVP Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees are hitting .217. Without defending NL MVP Barry Bonds, the Giants are hitting .220. The Yankees, at 8-11, are one game ahead of the Giants in the standings. It is, indeed, still early.

  • Could it have been any more appropriate for Bonds to hit home run 666 on a dark and stormy night?
  • Big props for ‘The Rock' KSJO 92.3, the bay area's best purveyor of hard rock, for airing the following commercial on Monday Night after the game: "We congratulate Barry Bonds for hitting home run number 666. He, like us, has a little devil in him." Classic stuff, guys.

  • One last note on Monday night; it was a throwback to Candlestick in every sense. The wind was swirling (and it could be clearly seen to be traveling in no less than three directions at different spots of the field at the same time, thanks to the rain glistening in the lights), and the lines of the coffee stands in the park were longer than the beer lines. At least one cart ran out of coffee before the sixth inning.

  • It is definitely time to at least get off Jerome Williams' back. He has been incredible in his last two starts, and been a big boost to this rotation. If Tomko and Rueter can similarly follow suit with bounce backs, the Giants rotation will be in very good shape the rest of the year.

  • It was encouraging to see that Sabean is going to try and tweak what he can with this team, and finally showed some initiative in moving players between here and Fresno. I'm not sure if Cooper is a long term answer, but the recent call-up of Correia is probably better for this team. Correia's callup was prefaced as being a temporary deal, with him being sent back down for an infielder this week. At this point, it might be a 50% chance it'll be Cooper sent down than Correia, but a move is sure to happen.

  • Also, as part of Sabean's announced changes from his KNBR interview last week, Feliz is now a full-time starter. Kind of. When the announcement was made, it was implied that Feliz would start against right handers at 3rd base, and then replace J.T. Snow at 1st base against lefties. With Alfonzo having a good shot to eventually pull out of his slump, Sabean might want to consider having Feliz at Shortstop. Perez's ability would be maximized as a bench hitter and starting against RHP, whom he does hit marginally better against. In the end, I still don't believe Feliz is a much better hitter in terms of batting average or on base percentage than Neifi; he just has the possibility of power. Still, that would be an improvement.

  • More from the "Look Within Yourself For Answers" department: In Fresno, outfielder Todd Linden is hitting .328 for the season, and has 4 doubles and 1 home run in 61 at bats. Mix in a team high 10 RBI's while batting mostly in the #2 and 3 spots of the order, 11 runs scored, 5 walks and 1 SB, and this guy is looking better and better against the three so-called ‘established major leaguers' in our right field platoon now. And then there's Brian Dallimore, last years AAA batting champion, who had a 4-5 day on Sunday to raise his average to .406. In 69 at bats, he's got 5 doubles, a home run, 8 RBI, 12 runs scored, 4 walks vs. 6 SO, and 2 SB. And don't forget he can play 1B, 2B, 3B, or the corner outfield spots. If Feliz becomes a more or less full time starter, this guy would be an excellent utilityman to come off the bench.

  • Boy, after reading all that, doesn't it look good for Brian Dallimore to be called up this week to be our utility man? It would be a call far too long in the coming for the not-so-young man, but he is deserving.

  • Every game at this point is important, but this upcoming week has interesting significance. First the Braves come to town, a meeting of former NL powers. The Braves are in a better position than the Giants at 10-8, but are still struggling in their ‘retooling' effort. Then come the Marlins, a team that I still think the Giants were better than last year, but then, I thought the Marlins were under matched against every team they met and beat. The Marlins right now are tied with the Cubs and Dodgers for best record in the NL, so this is a big match-up for the Giants to make a statement that they can still compete.

  • Homecomings this week for former Giant Russ Ortiz, scheduled to pitch against the Giants on Wednesday, and Alameda native Dontrelle Willis, scheduled to throw on Friday. Willis gave up his first runs of the season on Sunday, his fourth start of the year.

  • Don't Panic Button #2: That Marlins team, the defending World Champs, were 19-29 on May 22, a .396 winning percentage. Look what they did. Your Giants are 7-12 on April 25, a .368 winning percentage, with a month more in the season to go.

    It is, indeed, still early.

    Love me, hate me, idolize me, or laugh at me, just don't ignore me. Let me know what you think: write me at kevin@ugcfilms.com .

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