2019, and the State of Complaining About Baseball on the Internet

ripatt

It’s been quite some time since I got in front of a keyboard and ranted about the Giants, or baseball in general, even. More than two years, in fact. As I scan the back catalog of this long-forgotten and little read blog, I notice that the last time I said anything about the Giants, it was in response to their devastating bullpen meltdown and loss to the Cubs in the 2016 playoffs. In the process of angrily bitching about the horrible end to that season, I also found the time to take a giant verbal dump on the entire Cubs fan base. I regret nothing.

In the weeks that followed, and after I had pretty much blamed Cubs fans for every atrocity in the history of the world, the Cubs won the World Series. I didn’t like that much. Oh, and Donald Trump got elected. I didn’t really like that much, either.

In the two years since I threw my hands up and seemingly closed the book…er, laptop on my baseball writing life, the Giants have sucked out loud. In 2017, the Giants fielded a team that was somehow more terrible than the 2007 team that I remember so vividly. In 2018, the Giants fielded a team that was somehow more boring than the 2006 team that I remember sleeping through so vividly.

If the Paulie of 2006 or 2007 had to witness the atrocities of the 2017 team, or the snoozefest that was the 2018 team, he’d have been online in the flash of a desktop switching on, spewing the kind of invective that only a beer-drunk college age armchair GM in his underwear can. I would have called for blood, demanded playing time be given to quad-A high-OBP types, and almost certainly would have been one of the most vocal supporters of a Bobby Evans firing squad.

But this is 2019, and the primal need to voice my frustrations at bad baseball all over the webs has waned. Perhaps I’m just old, have no energy, and want to be left alone to my TV stories (true). Or maybe I’ve become so wise and intellectually superior to the average baseball fan over the years, that to blog my thoughts would simply lower myself to the level of the unwashed plebs (not true). I don’t think I’m the only one, either. Frankly, I can’t remember the last time anyone told me they’d regularly read, or created, a blog, baseball or otherwise.

The reasons for the blog fading as the Internet whining outlet of choice are twofold. 1) Everybody’s now complaining on the Internet, about everything, all the time. The advent of smartphones and the subsequent easier access to social media platforms has turned bitching online from a geeky niche thing generally frowned upon into a bodily function. The ability to tell the world what sucks and what doesn’t is now just a click of a button away. Why sit down and write a (semi-)nuanced and (semi-)well-written 1500 word piece when I can go on my phone and tell a bunch of people I haven’t talked to in 20 years that last night’s double order of Taco Bell gave me the shits? It’s less time-consuming, that’s for sure. If your team sucks, why take time blogging about it? Just plaster the first vulgar thing that comes to mind, in 140 characters or less.

The even larger element I’d point to for my general writing malaise is 2) Every person in a baseball front office is now smarter than me. I mean, they were before, but the guys running the show now don’t even allow the average fan the perception that he knows more than the GM.

Baseball teams now are smart. Just about every team now has a baseball ops head with Ivy League pedigree, and almost every single team now has a strong analytic focus, with quantitatively-focused departments that are only getting larger. Teams are doing the kind of data crunching that would have made our heads spin back in the angry sabermetric Internet era, circa 2005. Teams are using analytics now to an extent I never would have dreamed of back then. Much of the data they’re producing is unavailable for the public to ingest, whereas it was freely accessible when the BPs of the world were the only ones doing the work.

Therein lies the issue. It’s hard to criticize a front office from the outside when the ideology of said front office basically aligns with yours, and when said front office is already three steps ahead with reams more information. Now expand that ideological alignment industry-wide. Back when baseball ops were run by old school salty types, it was easy to yell about OBP when your team was signing a guy who had a career year boosted by an unsustainable batting average. It’s way, way more difficult to find nits to pick in this day and age.

Take Farhan Zaidi, the new Giants President of Baseball Operations. Zaidi was brought in after Bobby Evans took the blame for two years of some of the worst baseball we’ve seen by the Bay in quite a while. Zaidi’s credentials are impeccable. An MIT grad and a UC Berkeley PhD, Zaidi got his start in the front office of the A’s, who of course were doing all this sabermetric stuff before it was cool. Zaidi then was hired as General Manager of the Dodgers, and saw the team win division titles in each year under his watch (yeah, yeah…eat shit, Dodger fans).

Zaidi could maybe be characterized, if we’re still going to do that, as a solidly devoted sabermetric guy (though he has voiced a favorable opinion of the mixed stats-scouts approach). He is the type of baseball mind who, if the Giants had signed him when I was blogging back in 2005, would have made me do a back flip. He gets it. OBP is life! Walks forever! The save stat blows!

Okay, so the save stat does still blow, but otherwise it’s safe to say that the sabermetric community has evolved from the time when it was a pack of pale-faced outsiders getting bent out of shape that Graham Koonce couldn’t get major league play. Sabermetrics aren’t just welcomed in baseball; they’re essential, and every franchise has finally realized this. Those 2005-era dreams of a saber-friendly Giants front office have become reality, as the saber movement has fully enveloped (or invaded, depending on who you ask) the game.

All that makes it harder to bitch about stuff that my team does or doesn’t do, and isn’t that what the blogosphere is for, anyway? It doesn’t feel right to smugly suggest that the Giants should focus on building a strong defensive outfield when it should be obvious that Zaidi and company are well aware of the issue and are armed with advanced defensive metrics that would make my brain melt.

So now when I rush toward the keyboard to rant about baseball and how much smarter I am than the pencil pusher running things, I get cock-blocked by the phenomenon known as industry progress. Execs such as Zaidi have turned people like me from smart outsiders to dumb outsiders. Everything I know, they’ve known first. Madison Bumgarner’s velocity has declined and his peripherals have suffered as a result! They know. Dereck Rodriguez can’t possibly sustain that low ERA with a FIP a full run higher! They know. That Evan Longoria trade sucked and we want Matt Duffy back! Sigh, we all know.

The Giants are in a sort of depressing transition phase, as they begin to bridge the gap from the stars of the Championship years (Posey, Bumgarner, Crawford) to the players who will be a part of the next serious playoff team (Joey Bart? Heliot Ramos?). While it’d be nice to think that this core has one last playoff gasp in it, it’s becoming morbidly clear that this is not the core of a contender anymore.

Can the Giants find some smooth way to transition to the new era while still staying somehow competitive? Is 2019 a punt year, as so many fans seem convinced of? Well, Paul Goldschmidt is out of the NL West, the Padres are still bad (and cheap), the Rockies can never sustain success for more than two years, so maybe not? Is Zaidi the kind of heartless executive who would trade a modern Giants legend like Bumgarner for prospects to start the Hinkie-style teardown?

I have mixed feelings about whether or not the Giants can contend in 2019. I have mixed feelings about what they should do with Bumgarner. I have mixed feelings, on a larger scale, about some of the changes to the game that have been brought about by saber-friendly front office types such as Zaidi just in the last three or four years.

What I am confident about though, is that Zaidi is the right guy for the job. His track record speaks for itself and, again, it’s refreshing to have an upfront analytical type in charge. The Giants have been much more analytically versed in the past decade than I think most fans probably realize, but now they have a top guy who wears analytics on his sleeve a little bit more boldly. I think, frankly, that has been a long time coming for this franchise.

The Giants have many more moves to make before the season. They need a left fielder. They need a right fielder. They need a power bat. They need more strikeout guys in their bullpen. Those moves, and more, will be made. Some I’m sure I’ll agree with. Others I’m sure I won’t agree with. In fact, those moves I disagree with might even make me upset. Upset enough to get on here and complain. Maybe not 2005-era upset, but upset.

Quick Stankeye

–The Giants re-signed Derek Holland for a year and a team option for 2020. I didn’t think much of Holland joining the Giants before last season. He was horrid in 2017 with the White Sox and he just looked like a pitcher who is finished. I also didn’t think much of him when he narrowly avoided a PR shitstorm brought on by an unfortunate interview on MLB Network.

Fortunately, Holland turned out pretty darned good, finishing with the highest strikeout rate of his career (possibly brought about by this era of heightened launch angle awareness and home runs). A pitcher who throws 171 innings these days qualifies as an innings eater, and if Holland can do it again that gives the team one less thing to worry about in the back of the starting rotation. He’d have to have a pretty awful spring to not make the starting five.

–The Giants also signed lefty Drew Pomeranz, who was injured and awful last season, but who has otherwise been mostly good, sometimes great, in his eight-year career. It’s unclear immediately how the Giants intend to use Pomeranz, but I’d guess he ends up in a long reliever/spot starter role. The primary weapon of choice against the Dodgers is left-handed pitchers, so I guess the Giants figure you can’t have too many of them. If he’s healthy, Pomeranz will probably find his way to ten or so starts, especially if the Giants start the 10-day DL shenanigans that the Dodgers employed under Zaidi.

–My favorite Giants move of the offseason so far is the inking of switch-pitcher Pat Venditte. For those who don’t know, Venditte is ambidextrous and can switch hands depending on the handedness of the hitter. It’s one of the coolest things in baseball.

Unfortunately, Venditte’s limited major league production has been less than superlative. Right-handed hitters have hit him pretty well, thus making moot the whole switch-pitcher thing. He’s been terrific against lefties, though, and if he keeps that up he’ll always have a job somewhere in baseball. Here’s hoping he has a good spring and makes the team, because he’s just so fun to watch.

–Hunter Strickland is officially an ex-Giant, having signed with Seattle. Strickland was semi-polarizing and he never really turned out as good as he seemingly should have. He threw hard but straight, and didn’t strike many batters out for a guy who could light up the radar gun. He had stretches where he was unhittable, but then would follow that with a month or two where he coughed up every lead he could find. In four full seasons in the Giants bullpen, I don’t think there was ever a stretch where I really trusted him.

He also had multiple moron moments. He screamed at Omar Infante and Salvador Perez in the 2014 World Series after thinking that the former was milking a home run (roughly the 875th home run Strickland gave up that postseason). He started a brawl by drilling Bryce Harper for hitting a home run off of him three years before. Mike Morse sustained a career-ending concussion as the result of that brawl, by the way.

Strickland ended his Giants tenure with another moron moment, breaking his hand punching a door after blowing a save in mid-summer. When he came back from the injury with a month left in the season, he was awful. I’m not sad that he’s gone.

R.I.P. Peter Magowan. I didn’t really pay much attention to sports back when the Giants were on the brink of moving to Tampa Bay in 1992. The gravity of it really didn’t hit until I read up on all of it as an adult. It’s easy to forget now, with the lovely ballpark and the three championships that didn’t exist back then, exactly how close the Giants came to leaving. It almost happened. Magowan spearheaded the formation of the ownership group that kept the team in San Francisco. A lot of people credit Magowan with saving the Giants, and I wouldn’t tell you that that’s hyperbole.

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