A Look Back at My “Amazing” Predictions

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So I’m going to do something fun here. I’m going to take a look at the preseason predictions I made in April, and see which ones made me look like a genius, and which ones made me look drunker and crazier than Pete Rose on tonight’s postgame show. Before the season, I predicted the standings and the winners of each major award. Here they are, with the actual winners (or, for the awards, the probable winners) and a brief disclaimer after each describing what went horribly wrong.

American League East

Paul’s Projected Standings Actual 2016 Standings
1. Toronto Blue Jays 1. Boston
2. Tampa Bay Rays 2. Toronto
3. Boston Red Sox 3. Baltimore
4. New York Yankees 4. New York
5. Baltimore Orioles 5. Tampa Bay

My strange fixation on the Rays bit me in the rear. I thought Tampa’s excellent team defense would lead them to the playoffs, but their pitchers suddenly decided to start giving up home runs in bunches, and the best defense in the world won’t help a lick if every fly ball hit is going into the tenth row. That plus the expected lackluster offense torpedoed their season.

I was also way off on the Orioles. They did have all kinds of issues with their starting rotation, as I surmised, but their beer-league softball offense (they hit 253 home runs with just a .317 team OBP) and an amazing season from closer Zach Britton was enough to help them clinch a playoff spot.

I questioned Boston’s pitching staff, but Rick Porcello had a career year, David Price was his usual self after the All-Star Break, and that was enough for their ridiculous offense, which tore a swath through the American League. Toronto couldn’t quite bring the momentum of their red-hot 2015 second half into the regular season this year, but of course as we speak they’re still alive and looking to make their first World Series since 1993. The Yankees faded just like I expected and started the inevitable post-Jeter/Rivera rebuild midway through the season, which exposed the world to Gary Sanchez. He should be one of the most interesting stories of 2017.

American League Central

Paul’s Projected Standings Actual 2016 Standings
1. Cleveland Indians 1. Cleveland
2. Kansas City Royals 2. Detroit
3. Detroit Tigers 3. Kansas City
4. Minnesota Twins 4. Chicago
5 Chicago White Sox 5. Minnesota

The Indians are my best and proudest preseason prediction, and it’ll look even better if they make the World Series. Their starting pitching was just as good as expected and their offense was surprisingly potent. I had a feeling in March that this would be their year and so far, so good.

The Royals never recovered from the early-season loss of Mike Moustakas to injury and faded to .500. I predicted that Justin Verlander would need to bounce back for the Tigers for them to do anything. He was great, but it wasn’t quite enough and they missed the postseason by a hair. The Sox went 17-8 in April, but soon devolved into the same disjointed mess that we’re used to. The Twins’ pitching was (somehow) even worse than expected and they were the worst team in baseball, wasting an MVP-caliber season from Brian Dozier.

American League West

Paul’s Projected Standings Actual 2016 Standings
1. Houston Astros 1. Texas
2. Seattle Mariners 2.Seattle
3. Texas Rangers 3. Houston
4. Los Angeles Angels 4. Los Angeles
5. Oakland 5. Oakland

I expected the Rangers to finish third and instead they won the division rather easily, but was I really so off? Here are the AL West standings going by Pythagorean record:

  1. Seattle Mariners 87-75
  2. Houston Astros 83-79
  3. Texas Rangers 82-80
  4. Los Angeles Angels 80-82
  5. Oakland A’s 70-92

So going by how these teams probably should have done based on how many runs they scored versus how many they allowed, I was probably kinda right. That’s no knock on the Rangers’ season, but if I’m in their front office, I’m taking a good, long look at that near-.500 Pythagorean record and asking some serious questions about the team in front of me. Upgrading the rotation behind Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish would be a good place to start.

National League East

Paul’s Projected Standings Actual 2016 Standings
1. Washington Nationals 1. Washington
2. New York Mets 2. New York
3. Miami Marlins 3. Miami
4. Philadelphia Phillies 4. Philadelphia
5. Atlanta Braves 5. Atlanta

Nailed it! Honestly, this division was pretty easy. You knew the Braves and Phillies were going to stink and it was pretty clear the Nationals had the most talent. I guess the only question was whether or not they’d combust with all their conflicting egos and loud personalities. They didn’t, and give Dusty Baker credit for making sure of that.

The Mets somehow made the postseason despite injuries to, like, everybody. The Marlins started strong but faded in the second half and of course had to deal with the emotional stomach punch of Jose Fernandez’s tragic passing at season’s end. The Braves were a joke for five months but actually looked really good in September. They might actually be on to something for 2017.

National League Central

Paul’s Projected Standings Actual 2016 Standings
1. Chicago Cubs 1. Chicago
2. Pittsburgh Pirates 2. St. Louis
3. St. Louis Cardinals 3. Pittsburgh
4. Milwaukee Brewers 4. Milwaukee
5. Cincinnati Reds 5. Cincinnati

I figured the Cubs would be good, but maybe not this good. They surpassed my lofty expectations and ran rampant over the league, winning 103 games (and it probably could have been more if they hadn’t clinched early and started resting some of their guys). They’re alive and well and trying to fight off the goat as we speak.

The Pirates were the big disappointment. Injuries, bad pitching, and a down year from Andrew McCutchen totally derailed them. I was spot on with the Cardinals…they missed the playoffs by a game. They’ll be back in the picture next year because they always are. The rebuilding Brewers and Reds went through the motions, and they’ve got their work cut out for them trying to make it back to contention in a division that figures to be dominated by the Cubs for at least the next half-decade.

National League West

Paul’s Projected Standings Actual 2016 Standings
1. San Francisco Giants 1. Los Angeles
2. Los Angeles Dodgers 2. San Francisco
3. Arizona Diamondbacks 3. Colorado
4. San Diego Padres 4. Arizona
5. Colorado Rockies 5. San Diego

Welp, my fanboy Giants prediction looked swell at the All-Star Break. That didn’t work out, and I’m just sitting here watching the Dodgers in the NLCS. The other three teams in the division continued to bumble as per usual, but it’s worth pointing out that the Diamondbacks in particular were a complete disgrace. Famously called out by ESPN’s Keith Law in August (Insider-only), the team finally cleaned out a front office that, among other things, traded the number one pick in the draft for Shelby Miller (who finished 2016 with a 6.15 ERA). They hired a new GM today, so their days of being the laughingstock of baseball may be over.

Awards

Paul’s 2016 Preseason Award Picks Probable 2016 Winner
NL MVP: Bryce Harper Kris Bryant
AL MVP: Carlos Correa Mookie Betts, maybe Trout or Altuve
NL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole Max Scherzer
AL Cy Young: Chris Archer Zach Britton, maybe Kluber or Porcello
NL ROTY: Corey Seager Seager
AL ROTY: Tyler White Michael Fulmer

Harper seemed like a safe bet before the season, but he didn’t come close to matching his epic 2015 season. Correa had a season that would be great for any 21-year-old shortstop, but with the way he burst on the scene last year, I think he was seen by many as somewhat of a disappointment. Not that I think that is fair.

Cole probably has a Cy in his future, but he missed half of this season with injuries. The field in both leagues is open for the Cy Young. Kershaw would have won it again, but he missed time to injury, opening it up for Scherzer, who looks like the odds-on favorite to win his second of these awards (his first in the NL). In the American League, it’s also anyone’s guess. Kluber was probably the AL’s best pitcher, but Britton had one of the best reliever seasons ever, and the writers love them some good narrative like that, so I’d bet he wins it.

It definitely won’t be Archer, who lost 19 games. Archer wasn’t awful, but he, like most of his Rays rotation-mates, started giving up home runs in bushels suddenly. He settled down and was much better in the season’s second half, and I still expect him to have a Cy Young year before all is said and done.

Hey, with Seager I got one right! Seager will run away with the NL award and he even has an outside shot at the MVP. So I guess I’ll pat myself on the back for that one, though it was really kinda obvious. And that brings us to…

Tyler White. Yeah, no. White hit five home runs in the season’s first week, then slumped badly and the Astros gave up on him. White has always kinda projected as a poor man’s Billy Butler, so with A.J. Reed breathing down his neck, he had to hit and keep hitting to stick around. He didn’t and he was jettisoned to AAA in June. This prediction was all part of this strange Tyler White fetish I held all season (I picked him up in a fantasy league, too) and let’s just forget this all ever happened.

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A Giants Fan’s Immediate, Drunken Reaction to a Horrific Playoff Loss

sadhunter

 

Bruce Bochy has been more or less flawless in the postseason since becoming the Giants manager in 2007. In 2010, 2012, and 2014, every button he pushed just seemed to be the correct one. Every reliever matchup went his way, every risk he took panned out. He managed circles around the likes of Mike Matheny, Bobby Cox, and Matt Williams, making them look like grade schoolers crying into their Strato-matics.

Make no mistake, though, he screwed up tonight’s ninth inning six ways to Sunday.

It’s all right though. I ain’t even mad. It happens. Even the best stumble once in a while. Without going into the gory details, let’s just chalk it up as one of Bochy’s not-so-hot moments as a manager and move on with our lives. Until next season.

Should Derek Law have started the ninth inning? No. Should the ever-erratic Javy Lopez have followed Law by facing Anthony Rizzo? God no. Should Bochy have started the inning with Will Smith, who has been nails for a month, to face Kris Bryant, with the lefty and switch-hitter coming up after him? Abso-fucking-lutely. Should he have given up on Romo after the one batter? Probably not. Should Hunter Strickland have thrown an 0-2 fastball right down the middle to Javier Baez? Won’t dignify that with a response. Did any decision Bochy made in that ninth inning make a lick of sense? Of course not.

Let’s get one thing straight. That loss royally sucked. We’re going to go into work or get on Twitter and flaunt the three rings and make the jerk-off motion and say “hey, no problem, Cody Ross, bitches!” but in reality that was one of the worst losses in the history of the franchise, and we’ll be stewing over it all offseason. And rightfully so. That loss was so…so…2016 San Francisco Giants. Adam Jones says hello.

Perhaps we had this coming. I mean, it’s kinda been a while. The last sucky playoff loss like this was way back in 2003. It’s like, after Cody Ross and Brooks Conrad and Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner’s 2014, baseball Jehovah finally just had enough and put His foot down. Every great franchise has to be humbled. The Yankees had Luis Gonzalez. The Lakers had Chancey Billups. The Patriots had David Tyree. The Giants had their own miserable bullpen. Lick the wounds, repair left field and the bullpen, reevaluate third base, and come back stronger next season.

–The major positive from tonight’s game is that Matt Moore was just awesome, and that portends good things for the team starting some odd year BS. If it weren’t for an (uncharacteristic) error by Brandon Crawford, he would have given up just one run in eight innings. He struck out ten and had the best offense in the National League eating out of his hand. Talk about something to look forward to next season.

Moore was acquired for the immensely popular (for good reason) Matt Duffy in July. He was dominant at times, awful at others in his two months, but in the last few weeks he gave us glimpses of exactly what sort of weapon he could be in 2017. Moore is under team control for the grand total of $26 million for the next three years. In 21st century baseballese, that’s a bargain. Moore is still only 27 and there’s a reason he was once seen as one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball. If Duffy hits .230 for the Rays next year and Moore wins 17 games, no one is going to give a crap anymore about Duffy’s gargantuan (albeit awesome) cat.

–I have to close with this, and it pains me to the core to write what I’m about to write. Trust me, as a lifelong Giants fan, I don’t type these next few sentences lightly.

I don’t write these next hundred-odd words as a bitter fan whose team just suffered a brutal playoff loss. I really don’t. I’ve watched the Giants lose before, often in ghastly ways. I’ve watched them lose hard-fought, bitter postseason series where I’ve wanted to punch players on the opposing team (I’m looking at you, Agbayani). I’ve never, though, used that as a reason to automatically root against the team that beat them. I rooted for the Marlins in 1997 and in 2003, and I rooted for the Mets after they beat the Giants in the 2000 NLDS. I’ve rooted many, many times for NL West rivals (most avidly the 2006 Padres or the 2009 Rockies) that bested the Giants in close division races. I’m not a sore loser. I worship at the church of tip your cap and move on. Gracious in victory, humble in defeat, and so on.

I despise the Dodgers. I despise the concept of the Dodgers. They’re a franchise long-affiliated with unabashed evil. However- and it pains me to say this to no end, just shreds my soul to pieces- if the Dodgers win tomorrow, I will be rooting for them to beat the Cubs in the NLCS (and then, of course, to lose in the World Series). The Dodgers are terrible, a franchise so reprehensible that I break out in boils every time I turn on one of their broadcasts. So why would I take this drastic step and root for them? Because the Cubs, and specifically their fans, are worse.

Cubs fans are the most vile, scum-sucking bunch of misbegotten ingrates to disgrace the game of baseball. They’ll beg you every year to look upon their franchise as a sort of lovable, hapless, 1962 Mets bunch of scamps who just can’t catch a break. Woe is them. In reality they’re just another soulless big market team with an asshole of an owner throwing wads of money at their problems, and their fans project their drunken frustrations on any scapegoat they can find, no matter how silly, whenever their team inevitably fails. And they also project beer, and lots of it, on said scapegoat. Why are Cubs fans awful, and why should every decent human being root against their team? This is a good start.

Before you send me an angry e-mail disputing any of this why don’t you redirect that email to Steve Bartman and ask his opinion on the matter? Ask if he thinks the Cubs and their fans just need a break from the universe and if we should feel sorry for them. Common decency begs for the Cubs to lose this next series and every other postseason matchup for the rest of their franchise’s miserable, slime-ridden existence. The Dodgers may suck, but their fans aren’t responsible for ruining the life of some poor guy who just tried to catch a foul ball.

 

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Paul’s Amazing and Sure-To-Be-Perfect 2016 MLB Predictions

pencephan

The amount of research that went into these predictions would be laughably insufficient if it even existed. This would be back-of-napkin, but I don’t have a napkin around and I’m too lazy to get up to get one. This is more like scribbling on the underside of a plastic red cup that was once filled with Emergen-C. With that being said, I’m sure they will be 100% accurate at season’s end and we’ll all be able to come back and marvel at how my baseball intellect is on such a higher plane than all of you luddites.

American League East

  1. Toronto Blue Jays
  2. Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)
  3. Boston Red Sox
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Baltimore Orioles

The Blue Jays’ loaded offense should carry them to a second straight division title despite some iffy starting pitching. The Rays have a charming lineup full of guys you’ve never heard of but their pitching and defense is so strong that I think they’re going to sneak their way into the playoff conversation. Despite the potential star power of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox still look like a mess to me and their starting pitching behind David Price…blech. The Yankees get a lot of hype for having the best bullpen in baseball, but having the best bullpen in April has never won anybody any division titles, and their lineup is old and susceptible to collapse at any moment. Baltimore’s lineup could just as easily blast 250 homers as it could devolve into an unwatchable parade of high-strikeout .220 hitters, and their chronic inability to develop any pitching will likely bite them in the butt once again.

American League Central

  1. Cleveland Indians
  2. Kansas City Royals (Wild Card)
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Minnesota Twins
  5. Chicago White Sox

I absolutely love Cleveland’s starting pitching and I think this is the first time in nearly a decade that they make serious waves in the playoffs. The Royals barely had any turnover in their lineup from their championship year and they should be just as strong as ever, easily clearing 90 wins. The Tigers could challenge the Blue Jays for best offense in the AL, but their season hinges on whether Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez can stay healthy and effective, because their bullpen and back end starters look nightmarish. Despite the arrival of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, the Twins look primed to fall victim to the Plexiglass Principle and regress, mostly because they continue to refuse to develop strikeout pitchers as if it were still 1974. The White Sox made moves in the offseason but did nothing to address an absolutely terrible defensive unit and they apparently abandoned a coherent team-building philosophy circa 2009.

American League West

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Seattle Mariners
  3. Texas Rangers
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Oakland A’s

The Astros’ all-or-nothing offense can be ugly to watch at times, but full season contributions from budding superstar Carlos Correa and an improved bullpen should let them coast to the division title. I’m perennially bullish on the Mariners, for some reason, but now that they’re out of the Jack Zduriencik era, they may be able to finally develop some of their hitters. The Rangers caught fire in the last couple months of last season and strike me as a regression candidate with a high potential to disappoint. The Angels are going to waste another Mike Trout MVP-type year because their pitching is mostly crap. No one knows what in the hell the A’s are doing these days, but it’s at least blatantly clear that they’re going to be terrible.

National League East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. Philadelphia Phillies
  5. Atlanta Braves

Don’t underestimate the ability of Dusty Baker to get the most out of a roster oozing talent. Baker gets flak for not being sabermetrically-inclined (to put it mildly) and he always wears out his welcome eventually, but I loved this signing. He’s historically been a great players’ manager and that’s exactly what the Nationals need after last year’s disaster. The Mets have insane pitching, but I think they’ll miss the playoffs by a hair because I just don’t think they’re as good as the Wild Card contending Pirates, Cardinals, or Dodgers. The Marlins are a dark horse playoff team if everything shakes out right, but it’s impossible to root for any franchise run by Jeffrey Loria, so screw them. The Phillies are in full tear-down mode and will be a whipping boy for at least another two years. The Braves made a lot of great moves this offseason to strengthen their farm system, but the major league product is an abomination.

National League Central

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates (Wild Card)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Cincinnati Reds

The Cubs have so much talent in their lineup that it’s unfair. Even with Kyle Schwarber out for the season, they should sleepwalk to 95 wins, at the least. The Pirates’ front office is maybe the smartest in the game, and their ability to turn retreads into contributors is unmatched in the game today. They also have a star-studded outfield and an ace in Gerrit Cole. In a world where the Cubs didn’t exist, they’d dominate this division. The Cardinals are a factory of young talent and will be in it right to the end, but I think this is the year they finally fall short of the playoffs with the loss of Jason Heyward. The Brewers stink but watch out for my guy Domingo Santana, who has star potential if he can cut his whiffs down (granted, it’s a big “if”). The Reds are in teardown mode and I challenge you to name more than three players on their roster without looking.

National League West

  1. San Francisco Giants
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers (Wild Card)
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies

With bias proudly on display, I will predict that this Giants team will turn out to be the best of the 2010s thus far. I love the offense and the signings of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija will bolster the rotation enough to make them one of the NL’s best teams. The loss of Zack Greinke will hurt the Dodgers more than people think, but not enough so that they won’t nab a Wild Card spot. The Diamondbacks made a lot of commotion in the offseason but they still appear to be a rudderless ship, and the loss of A.J. Pollock is potentially season-immolating. The Padres aren’t as bad as they looked in the first three games of the season against the Dodgers, but they’re still going to be sunk by a horrific outfield defense. The Rockies will continue to be utterly incapable of developing quality pitchers and their team ERA will once again be unsightly.

AL Playoffs

Wild Card: Royals over Rays

ALDS: Royals over Astros, Blue Jays over Indians

ALCS: Blue Jays over Royals

NL Playoffs

Wild Card: Pirates over Dodgers

ALDS: Giants over Nationals, Pirates over Cubs

ALCS: Giants over Pirates

World Series: Giants over Blue Jays because even year.

Awards:

AL MVP: Carlos Correa

NL MVP: Bryce Harper

AL Cy Young: Chris Archer

NL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole

AL Rookie of the Year: Tyler White

NL Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

Number of times yours truly has a horribly unproductive Sunday because his MLBTV subscription renewed: Infinity.

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Giants Holiday Spending Spree, Part 3: Denard Span

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During the 2014-2015 offseason, the Giants had a hole in left field. Mike Morse was not returning, Travis Ishikawa was no one’s idea of a long-term solution, and the team didn’t trust Gregor Blanco to man the position again as a regular. I proposed in an article (I’d link, but the web site it was posted on is unfortunately down for the time being) that the Giants should focus their attention on acquiring a center fielder, and shift the oft-injured Angel Pagan to left field. I argued that a move to left would help keep Pagan’s achy back in one piece and if the team was going to spend money or trade farm talent, why not pick up a better player at a premium position?

Shockingly, the Giants didn’t follow my advice. They kept Pagan in center and signed Nori Aoki to man left, which…well, fair enough. Aoki was awesome. Frankly, I’m sad he was only a Giant for one year. He was such an awesomely weird player, looking at times like he had never put on a glove or held a bat but still managing to be a very valuable player. But that’s a love-in for another day…

Pagan stayed mostly healthy but he didn’t hit a lick until September. This offseason the Giants decided to listen to my sage words and signed a better center fielder as a free agent, thus moving Pagan over to left field. So I was right, just a year premature. What was it Branch Rickey said about being early? Does that apply here?

The third major free agent signing by the Giants was, of course, Denard Span. A speedy runner and extreme contact hitter, Span will take over not only as the new center fielder but also as the Giants’ leadoff hitter. Span was signed to a very reasonable three year, $31 million contract. Perhaps it’s a lot of faith to place in a player who missed more than half of last season with injuries, but in a world where Nick Markakis gets four years and $44 million…

Span fits the mold of what I call the “new Moneyball” players. In a league top-heavy with players who swing big and miss a lot, Span goes against the grain by never striking out. He relies on a high-contact approach and his legs to pump up his batting average and set the table for his teammates. The Royals succeeded with a lineup full of these guys the past two years, while most other teams were filling their lineups with walks and taters guys. Span will fight in nicely with Joe Panik, Matt Duffy, and Buster Posey in a Giants lineup balanced nicely with hitters who avoid whiffs at a high rate, so it’s not hard to see why they went after him (Span struck out in only 9.7% of his at-bats the past two seasons; the league average is closer to 20%).

Since he puts the ball in play all the time, Span is naturally a bit of a slave to BABIP. In the years where it’s been below .300, he hasn’t been very good. When it’s .330 or above, like in 2014, he’s awesome. With the ability to steal 30 bags a year, he’s extremely valuable to the Giants if he can maintain his .350 career OBP for the course of this deal.

Denard Span has all the indicators of your typical Giants player of recent vintage. He puts the ball in play, he’s fast, he plays good defense, he has a reputation as a good clubhouse guy. His recent injury problems are a worry and he doesn’t have any power (so of course he hit a three-run bomb on Opening Day), but if he stays healthy his strengths make him an asset to a playoff team, the star on the Christmas tree of the Giants’ winter spending spree. As the final piece of a championship-caliber puzzle, he does quite nicely.

This is a signing that I probably would have had nothing but invective for circa 2007. In these post-“Jack Cust-is-life-” times, though, I’m a fan. A three year deal for a good outfielder is a pretty small price to pay to get Angel Pagan out of center field and away from the top of the lineup.

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Giants Holiday Spending Spree, Part 2: Johnny Cueto

cueto

Johnny Cueto is the closest thing the modern baseball world has to Luis Tiant (you know, this guy!). Cueto is just fun. He can go through an entire at-bat without repeating the same windup twice. He’ll corkscrew himself around and hesitate mid-windup, like he’s pausing to reconsider, then unleash a 96-mph fastball in on a hitter’s hands. On the next pitch, he’s apt to barely wind up at all, only to drop in a long, slow, looping breaking pitch that might remind a few of the eephus. All of this with dreadlocks flying around wildly, and hitters tying themselves in knots trying to figure out what’s coming next.

I was ecstatic when the Giants signed Cueto to a six-year deal (with a player opt-out after two…more on that in a sec) this offseason. While I’m merely in like with the Jeff Samardzija signing, I’m flat out head-over-heels, ready to propose over this sign. Cueto is not only one of the most entertaining pitchers in the league, but he also has some of the filthiest stuff, and should be instantly popular with Giants loyalists. When he’s on his game, he’s a joy to witness, mixing five different pitches with just as many goofy-looking windups.

Case in point: Watching him carve up the Astros in his ALDS Game Five start was a thing of beauty (unless you’re an Astros fan). He gave up a two-run homer in the second inning and then retired 20 straight; the hard-swinging Astros never got another runner on base against him after his second-inning blip. Cueto had them eating out of his hand. When he’s on, he combines dominance with showmanship and, hell, isn’t that why we watch sports?

Since 2011, Cueto has been pretty much always been “on”. His ERA from 2011 to 2014 was 2.48, and he’s been one of the National League’s dominant pitchers for years now, though maybe his brilliance has flown a bit under the radar after pitching in Cincinnati. He won 19 games in 2012 and would have coasted to the Cy Young in 2014 in a world where Clayton Kershaw didn’t exist (Cueto’s numbers that year were ridiculous…2.25 ERA in 241 innings). He was his same old self in the first four months with the Reds last year, too. He’s an ace, worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as the Kershaws and Greinkes and Prices of the world.

However, enthusiasm over Cueto’s services this offseason was a bit dampened, at least more than you’d expect for a guy with his resume. There are 81 and 1/3 reasons for that.

Cueto kind of sucked after being traded to Kansas City. In those 81 innings and change, Cueto’s ERA was 4.74 and he gave up ten home runs, which was disconcerting because he left a homer-friendly park for one that was not-so. He also got absolutely blasted by Toronto in his one ALCS start, so there’s certainly still a bit of a bad aftertaste for anyone who watched that debacle.

If you perform an autopsy on his stint with the Royals, though, it’s clear that his crumminess was limited to four bad starts (which was four more than he’d had in the previous four months with the Reds, but oh well). Those ten home runs? Yeah, seven of those were hit by the Orioles, who teed off on him in two separate starts. The O’s were third in the league in home runs, so it’s more likely that Cueto just made a handful of bad pitches to a power-loaded offense than it is that he’s suddenly become homer-prone.

Cueto’s last four regular season starts were excellent, and he was dominant in two of his four postseason starts. So while some wariness is expected, what are you going to hang your hat on: the 80 shaky innings in Kansas City, or the 800 Cy Young-caliber frames that preceded them? It’s not like he had some career-altering injury that led to the ineffectiveness, either. There was even some speculation that Cueto’s struggles were due to not being able to get in-sync with his catcher Salvador Perez at first. It might be a lazy, after-the-fact witch doctor explanation, but sometimes those small sample size anomalies really can be attributed to minute stuff like that.

Quite frankly, I’m bullish on Cueto returning to ace form and I think Cueto is a prime candidate to turn into an immediate fan favorite by the Bay. Giants fans love their quirky players, especially when those players perform, and few pitchers combine quirkiness and quality quite like Cueto.

Plus, there’s a decent chance the Giants come out like bandits in this deal with this opt-out built in after the second year. Opt-outs are a fairly recent phenomenon. They’re clauses that player agents love to insert into long-term deals to help their clients cash in for star performance mid-way through a contract. It’s beneficial to a player if he performs well, certainly, but, in my opinion, I think the opt-outs can potentially benefit a team just as much as the players.

Imagine this scenario: Cueto is awesome for two years with the Giants, then opts out of his deal at age 32, signs with some other team for five years, gets old, injured, and ineffective, as 30-something pitchers tend to do, and the Giants are completely off the hook for his decline phase. It’s very realistic that this is simply a two-year deal masquerading as a long-term pact, and since I despise long-term deals for pitchers, I’m digging this opt-out thing.

All the free agent attention this offseason centered around Zack Greinke and David Price (with good reason), but the Giants snagged an ace-caliber starter of their own in Cueto with a fraction of the fanfare. The Samardzija signing filled a need but the Cueto signing turned the Giants into a team to once again get very excited about.

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