SweetSpot: Madison Bumgarner

Jack Morris big fan of Madison Bumgarner

October, 29, 2014
Jack Morris was standing by the backstop two hours before Game 7 when someone asked him what he thought of San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. "I want to hug him," he said.

In one of the most memorable games in World Series history, Morris pitched a 10-inning, 1-0 shutout against the Atlanta Braves just miles from where he grew up as the Minnesota Twins won Game 7 in 1991. Bumgarner, whose Game 5 shutout Sunday was his second of this postseason, reminded Morris of the days when starting pitchers still did that sort of thing.

[+] EnlargeMadison Bumgarner
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesMadison Bumgarner is 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA in two starts in this World Series.
"I was so proud of him to throw a complete game shutout in the World Series after the innings he threw this year," Morris said. "He gives me all the ammunition I need to keep talking all the crap I talk all year round. That somebody can do it, somebody will do it, and he's the living proof."

Morris said he believes Bumgarner could start Game 7, even on two days' rest, and if he did, "He could go 12 innings."

"He's a man's man," Morris went on. "He's big, he's strong. He's mentally strong, he has great mechanics and he knows how to pitch. He's the one who shines, the one who steps above everybody else in this postseason.

"He loves the big moment. He knows and trusts in what he is and who he is, what he has and he relishes it. You don't shine in those big moments unless you relish them. If you're afraid of it, it will be failure. If you can't wait for it, you've got a chance.

"He's got a big furnace burning right now."

Morris pitched when starters throwing complete games wasn't a rarity, before stat geeks contended that pitchers should not go through a lineup three times. It was such a different era that there was absolutely no question in 1991 that Morris would start three times if the World Series went the distance. It did and he did, saving the best for last with his Game 7 shutout at age 36 against John Smoltz, who was 24 at the time.

"I don't know when it changed but baseball was always played that way," he said. "The ace pitched Games 1, 4 and 7. It was always that way. Now it's different."

Well, it's not impossible to see someone start three games in a World Series. But the way things are going, he would probably throw only a few innings in each start.

"That's where it's all headed," Morris said. "The starter goes three innings. One time through the lineup. Then you'll have everyone else throwing righty, then a lefty, then righty, lefty, right, lefty -- and everyone throwing 100 miles an hour. And it will be six-hour games and they'll sell a lot of hot dogs and make a lot of money."

In winning the World Series in 2010 and 2012, the San Francisco Giants became known as a team that plays mistake-free baseball and does the little things well. I'm not sure if that's actually true or not, but Madison Bumgarner didn't do a little thing well in the seventh inning of Game 3.

With two runners on and no outs in a 0-0 duel between Bumgarner and Doug Fister, Wilson Ramos put down a perfect two-strike bunt along the first-base line. For some reason, Bumgarner (either on his own or via catcher Buster Posey making the call) attempted to get speedy Ian Desmond at third base and threw it away into the left-field bullpen, with Bryce Harper coming around to score as well. Ramos then scored on a base hit to make it 3-0.

With no outs, the Giants simply have to take the free out and give Bumgarner a chance to work out of the jam with No. 8 hitter Asdrubal Cabrera and Fister due up. Or they could have walked Cabrera to set up a double play and force manager Matt Williams to hit for Fister.

Either way, bad decision by Bumgarner/Posey.

Five things we learned Tuesday

September, 24, 2014

The main thing we learned was clarity: With Kansas City winning and Seattle losing, we basically know the 10 playoff teams now, barring some sort of miracle as the Royals (and Athletics) are three up on the Mariners with five games remaining. The Dodgers beat the Giants to clinch a tie for the NL West. The Pirates officially are in after beating the Braves.

On the other hand, the AL Central remains close and the Pirates are breathing some hot September breath on the necks of the Cardinals in the NL Central.

1. The Pirates clinched a playoff spot. If momentum means anything heading into the postseason, the Pirates are the team to watch as they've won 15 of 18, blowing past the Brewers and the other wild-card contenders to clinch their second straight playoff berth. Gerrit Cole allowed runs in the first and second innings to the Braves and then settled down and dominated, retiring the final 17 batters he faced. Cole was still humming late in the game: His final fastball was 97 mph. OK, it was the Braves and the Braves are horrible, but this was the Cole that Pirates fans hope to see in the playoffs. That may be in the wild-card game -- him or Francisco Liriano. Or maybe it's in the Division Series, because the Cardinals lost in extra innings to the Cubs, so now Pittsburgh is just 1.5 games behind St. Louis. The Cardinals have one more game against the Cubs before finishing with three in Arizona, with Adam Wainwright scheduled to go Sunday, if needed. The Pirates have two more in Atlanta, then three in Cincinnati.

2. Yordano Ventura is not tired. The rookie right-hander made his 29th start of the season and threw 117 pitches over seven shutout innings in Kansas City's 7-1 victory over Cleveland. His 104th pitch was clocked at 100 mph. The final batter he faced was Jose Ramirez with the bases loaded. He threw fastballs of 98, 97, 97 and 99 before pulling the string with an 88 mph changeup that Ramirez swung at and missed. How are you supposed to hit that pitch after fighting off high-octane gas in the upper 90s? Over his past 10 starts, Ventura is 7-2 with a 2.08 ERA. The control hasn't always been there -- he's averaged 4.4 walks per nine innings over that stretch -- but that fastball/changeup/curve combo has been tough to hit, with opponents hitting just .195 in those 10 games. He hasn't allowed a home run since July. (Ventura threw 79 percent fastballs Tuesday, his highest single-game percentage all season.)

OK, that's the good news, a huge win for the Royals, a huge performance from Ventura. They haven't clinched anything yet, but things are looking good. The questionable news: Why was he allowed to throw 117 pitches when the Royals were up 7-0? He was pitching on five days' rest, and I know we can overreact to pitch counts that aren't necessarily that extreme (we've become so conservative, thinking 100 pitches is some magical number when it's probably not). Still, with a young pitcher in his first season -- having thrown 30 more innings than last year and a guy you're going to possibly need in the playoffs -- why leave him for his season-high in pitches in late September? This didn't seem like the game, or the moment, for manager Ned Yost to do this, even if Ventura was throwing 100 in the seventh.

3. Felix Hernandez looked very tired. This was the saddest of possible scenes for Mariners fans: Hernandez, trying to get into the playoffs for the first time in his wonderful career, essentially pitching the Mariners out of the playoffs by throwing 43 painful, heart-wrenching pitches in the fifth inning against the Blue Jays, leaving when he was unable to even get that third out. It was the first time all season he hadn't gone five innings and just the second time in two seasons. The inning began with Dalton Pompey, a kid barely out of A-ball, homering on a flat 92 mph fastball over the middle of the plate and ended with Felix walking Pompey on a 3-2 curveball in the dirt.

A few days ago the Mariners had a 3.01 staff ERA and a chance to become the first team since the 1989 Dodgers to post an ERA under 3.00. Now the Nationals may do that with a 3.01 ERA, while Seattle's has jumped to 3.23 after allowing 42 runs their past four games. The Mariners have gone 5-11 over their past 16 games. If they'd simply gone 8-8, they'd be tied with the Royals and A's.

4. The Orioles named Chris Tillman their Game 1 starter. No surprise there, as Tillman owns a 2.21 ERA since June 10. He hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his 10 previous starts and has held opponents to a .197/.240/.303 slash line over those 10 games. In other words, Tillman has been pitching like the ace everyone says the Orioles don't have. The Orioles beat the Yankees 5-4 as Nelson Cruz hit his 40th home run. But they remain three games behind the Angels for the best record, meaning the Orioles likely will face the AL Central winner while the Angels will face the wild-card game winner.

5. The Dodgers are going to win the NL West. The late game on the West Coast featured plenty of fireworks, including a benches-clearing meet-and-greet in the first inning after Madison Bumgarner hit Yasiel Puig in the foot. Puig had been hit on the elbow Monday, but he may have been thinking back to May 9, when he homered off Bumgarner, flipped his bat and Bumgarner greeted him at home plate with some choice words that didn't include inviting Puig to dinner. Anyway, score this one for Puig, because two batters later Matt Kemp hit a two-run homer to center for a 3-0 lead. Bumgarner would hit a two-run homer himself, but that was all Zack Greinke gave up as the Dodgers held on 4-2.

The Dodgers have clinched a tie for the division, and Clayton Kershaw goes Wednesday. I'm thinking there may be some champagne popped at Dodger Stadium then.

Five things we learned Tuesday

August, 27, 2014
1. Madison Bumgarner says, "Don't you forget about the Giants."

Strange question from my chat session on Tuesday: "Time to blow up the Giants? Keep Posey, Bumgarner and start over?" I mean ... the Giants are holding one of the wild cards and at five games behind the Dodgers remain in shouting distance of the division title.

Anyway, while Clayton Kershaw has owned all the publicity allowed for left-handers on the West Coast, Bumgarner has quietly put together another Bumgarner season. It seems like he must be 30 years old already, but he just turned 25 earlier this month. He's young enough that if you were to bet on one active pitcher to win 300 games, you'd probably bet on Bumgarner; him or Felix Hernandez, I guess.

[+] EnlargeBumgarner
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesMadison Bumgarner mowed down the Rockies with his characteristic pitch efficiency.
All that is a way of getting to Tuesday's game. It may not have been Bumgarner's most impressive performance of his career -- he did, after all, pitch eight shutout innings of three-hit baseball in Game 4 of the 2010 World Series as a 21-year-old rookie -- but it was certainly was the most dominant from a pure statistical point of view. Bumgarner took a perfect game against the Rockies into the eighth inning (with help from a great catch in left field by Gregor Blanco and a close call at first base that the Rockies didn't challenge), ruined when Justin Morneau lined a leadoff double into the right-field corner on a 1-2 curveball. It was actually a pretty good pitch, down below the knees, but Morneau managed to hook it just fair with sort of a half swing.

Bumgarner's final line: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 13 K's. Similar to Kershaw's no-hitter against the Rockies in which he struck out 15 with just the one runner reaching via error. Bumgarner's Game Score of 98 is second-best in the majors behind Kershaw's 102; unfortunately for Bumgarner, that's kind of par for the course for him -- just behind Kershaw. Although I'm sure Kershaw wouldn't mind owning Bumgarner's two World Series rings.

Bumgarner threw just 103 pitches against the Rockies, never more than 15 in one inning; that's his trademark, efficiency. He's usually able to pitch to deep into games without running up big pitch counts, although Bruce Bochy has taken the reins off a little this season and Bumgarner should sail past his career high of 208.1 innings in 2012. He was able to dominate the Rockies primarily with his fastball -- 30 two-seamers and 42 four-seamers, 57 of those 72 pitches for strikes. Nothing fancy going on here. It was really pitching at its most basic: Move your fastball around all quadrants of the zone, throwing nothing down the middle, mixing in a few offspeed pitches (although eight of his 13 K's came on fastballs).

While the Dodgers remain the heavy favorite to win the West, the Giants do have six games remaining against their rivals from Southern California. Certainly, the Giants' rotation is in scramble mode with Matt Cain out for the season and Tim Lincecum demoted to the bullpen -- at least for one start -- but one hot stretch by the Giants will make late September very interesting.

2. Alex Gordon: Sleeper MVP candidate.

Gordon had the biggest hit of the night in a night of big hits -- a two-run walk-off home run to give the Royals the 2-1 win over the Twins. Our pal Mark Simon writes that Gordon has the combination of offensive and defensive numbers to warrant MVP consideration.

Realistically, of course, Gordon has no shot. As good as he is in left field, the voters aren't going to give that a lot of emphasis. He ranks 18th in the AL in OBP, 21st in slugging, 19th in runs and 29th in RBIs. As we saw the past two years with Miguel Cabrera, the MVP Award is an offensive award ... although if the Royals make the playoffs, that will certainly help him finish in the top five.

3. Pennant fever slow to catch on in Kansas City and Baltimore.

The Royals and Orioles are in first place and played at home on Tuesday. The Astros outdrew both teams.

4. Javier Baez has a lot of growing to do.

In non-pennant race news, the heralded Cubs rookie went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in the Cubs' 3-0 win over Johnny Cueto (Anthony Rizzo with his 30th home run). Baez has seven home runs in 21 games, but has also struck out an astounding 40 times in 90 plate appearances and already has four four-strikeout games. He's hitting .198 with just four walks. The talent is enormous and he's very young, but there's a chance he's more Dave Kingman in the long run or, as a reader compared on Twitter, a second-base version of the Astros' Chris Carter (which would be a valuable player, just not a huge star).

5. Put the fork in the Blue Jays.

Seven runs in the 11th inning? Ouch. The Jays lost 11-7 to Red Sox (they made it interesting with four runs of their own) to fall to .500. They're now 6.5 out of the second wild card with four teams ahead of them. Too many games, too many teams. The promise of early June -- they led the division by six games on June 6 -- is long gone.
Last week, after Corey Kluber dominated the Mariners with an 85-pitch shutout, I rashly tweeted that Kluber is one of the best 10 starting pitchers in the game. That seemed to stir things up a bit on Twitter, and Giants fans were especially angered when I suggested Kluber is better than Madison Bumgarner. Kluber came back on Monday with another solid effort, allowing one run while striking out seven in 7.1 innings, improving his record to 12-6 with a 2.55 ERA.

But is he one of baseball's top 10 starters right now?

[+] EnlargeCorey Kluber
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesHe's been very, very good. But is Corey Kluber one of the 10 best starters in baseball right now?
How do you even measure such a thing? We can take the easy way out and just look at wins above replacement for the season.

1. Felix Hernandez: 5.8
2. Corey Kluber: 5.0
3. Jon Lester: 4.7
4. Clayton Kershaw: 4.5
5. Chris Sale: 4.2

1. Felix Hernandez: 5.5
2. Clayton Kershaw: 5.2
3. Corey Kluber: 4.7
4. Johnny Cueto: 4.6
5. Chris Sale/Max Scherzer: 4.5

By WAR, Kluber isn't just a top-10 starter, but a top-five starter. Even ignoring how much you believe in WAR, the question is: Do you buy into Kluber's four-month streak as a true breakout performance? How much emphasis do we place on history? Zack Greinke won a Cy Young Award in 2009. Should that matter as to how we evaluate him now? Scherzer won the Cy Young Award last year when he was arguably the best pitcher in the American League. How much should that matter as to how we evaluate him in August 2014?

Bill James actually devised a method to answer this question a couple of years ago. He wrote:
Everybody starts out with a ranking of 300.0, and you can’t go lower than 300, even if you pitch badly. If you’re at 300, you’re unranked; you’re only actually on the list if you have a current score higher than 300. There would typically be 150 to 180 pitchers who are, at the moment, ranked. Pitchers never actually pitch badly enough that they would rank below 300 (if it were possible to do so) for more than two or three starts, because if you pitch that badly, you lose your position in the rotation.

When a pitcher makes a start, we:

a) Mark down his previous ranking by 3%, and

b) Add 30% of his Game Score for the start.

We base the rankings on Game Scores, which means that we ignore wins and losses, but give weight to innings pitched, runs allowed, earned runs allowed, walks and strikeouts.

James also adjusted for park effects, inactivity (if a pitcher doesn't pitch, his overall rating goes down) and postseason play, which he factored in. Anyway, his site unfortunately doesn't update the rankings, so I don't know how Kluber would rank. So I'll just wing my own top 10.

1. Clayton Kershaw

The best pitcher in baseball, and I don't think anybody is really arguing this. Hernandez ranks higher on the WAR lists because Kershaw missed April, so he doesn't have as many innings.

2. Felix Hernandez

3. Adam Wainwright

Similar in many ways -- veteran right-handers (it seems weird to call Felix a "veteran," but he has been around a long time) having their best seasons.

4. Chris Sale

He's 10-1 with a 2.09 ERA with 129 strikeouts and 20 walks in 116 innings. Incredible numbers. He has cut his home run rate from last year, even though he pitches in a good home run park. I'm not knocking Wainwright when I say this: Sale is better. But he did miss time earlier this year and I think we have to give Wainwright extra credit for his durability.

5. Yu Darvish

6. David Price


Is Corey Kluber one of the 10 best starters in the game?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,346)

I'm not completely comfortable ranking Price this high -- he's ninth in FanGraphs WAR and 25th in B-R WAR. He has 189 strikeouts and just 23 walks but has allowed 20 home runs, and he goes from a good pitcher's park with a good Rays defense behind him to a better hitter's park with a below-average Tigers defense behind him. It's possible that change will reveal that he did benefit from pitching in Tampa. Or it may not reveal anything. But Price has been good a pitcher for five years, and his new approach of pounding the strike zone has basically turned him into a harder-throwing version of Cliff Lee.

OK, now things get a little murky. Let's start with Kluber versus Bumgarner, because that got a lot of feedback on Twitter.

I know Bumgarner has been a solid pitcher for several years. He has come up big in the postseason. But in comparing 2014: Kluber has the better ERA, the better FIP, the better strikeout rate, a lower walk rate, a lower home run rate, a higher ground ball rate, the lower batting average and OPS allowed, has pitched more innings and has done it in a DH league while pitching in a tougher park with a lousy defense behind him. I can't rate Bumgarner ahead of Kluber.

(By the way, Bumgarner's career high bWAR is 3.8, achieved last year. A lot of that is park effects. Giants fans will point out that Bumgarner has a better ERA on the road in his career than at home, but that's not the way park effects work. Bumgarner still has the advantage of pitching half his games in a pitcher's park.)

Jon Lester? Hmm. Lester is a No. 2 starter having a No. 1-level season. But he had a 3.75 ERA last year and 4.82 the year before. FanGraphs and B-R differ on his value -- FanGraphs ranks him third overall while B-R ranks him 22nd. Kluber, by the way, had a 3.85 ERA last year with excellent peripherals. If you give Lester a little extra credit for his postseason last year, I'll reluctantly give him the nod, although I think his track record works against him just as much as Kluber's lack of track record works against him.

Scherzer is similar to Lester, except his No. 1 season came last year. He's been nearly as good this year, even though his BABIP has once again bounced up:

2011: .314
2012: .333
2013: .259
2014: .316

One reason Scherzer's BABIP is usually high is that he does pitch up in the strike zone, unlike a lot of pitchers who pound the zone at the knees. Of course, the other reason is the lousy Tigers defense. (Take note, Mr. Price.)

Johnny Cueto? I'm not quite sure what to do with Cueto, giving his history of injuries. But we're talking best starters right now, and Cueto has been healthy and effective all season and he has always been effective even when he has missed time.

Garrett Richards is another young starter having a breakout season. While Kluber relies on command and a wipeout curve, Richards has upper 90s heat and a deadly slider. Their numbers:

Kluber: 2.55 ERA, .233/.277/.341, 26.7 percent K rate
Richards: 2.58 ERA, .195/.267/.259, 24.7 percent K rate

Kluber rates a little higher in WAR because he has pitched 12 more innings and Richards benefits from a pitcher's park. Tough call here. Like Kluber, Richards doesn't have much of a track record before this season. There's no denying his stuff. Richards has the fourth-lowest BABIP allowed among starters at .258 (Kluber's is .309) and a low rate of home runs per fly ball (third-lowest among starters). I think those numbers indicate Richards has pitched in more good luck than Kluber this season. But I could be wrong; his stuff is nasty.

OK, where does that leave us? With apologies to Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Hisashi Iwakuma, the injured Masahiro Tanaka and maybe a couple of others, the top 10 starters in the majors RIGHT NOW:

1. Kershaw
2. Hernandez
3. Wainwright
4. Sale
5. Darvish
6. Price
7. Cueto
8. Lester
9. Kluber
10. Scherzer

Including Richards, you could rank the final four guys in any order, really. If you want a longer track record, go with Lester and Scherzer. If you like raw, unhittable stuff, go with Richards. If you think postseason history matters, go with Lester. If you like 28-year-olds out of nowhere with curveballs that make major league hitters weep in frustration, go with our man Corey Kluber -- one of the 10 best starters in the game.

I know some of you may not believe this considering the recent history of the San Francisco Giants and what they just did to the Atlanta Braves, but the first thing to know about the 2014 Giants is that this is a team built around its offense, not its starting rotation.

The second thing to know is related to the first: Some of the Giants’ statistics are skewed by playing in a park that heavily helps pitchers, leading to a somewhat popular misconception that this is still a team built around its rotation.

The third thing to know is that this a team of stars and big names -- Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval -- but also a team with two of the more underrated players in the game in Angel Pagan and Brandon Crawford.

The fourth thing to know is the offense hasn’t necessarily kicked it into high gear.

The fifth thing to know is the Giants are 20-11, have won five in a row and nine of 10, suddenly have the second-best record in the majors, and that rotation that I just said is perhaps a bit overrated just helped the Giants sweep the Braves in Atlanta by allowing one run in each of the three games.

Madison Bumgarner helped complete the impressive road sweep on Sunday with maybe his best outing of the season, allowing three hits and an unearned run in six innings while recording nine strikeouts and one walk. Bumgarner had been giving hits at a high rate -- he’d allowed more hits than innings in each of his previous six starts -- so this game was a refreshing return to dominance. Eighty of the 95 pitches he threw were fastballs and sliders.

"I still felt like I got behind a lot of times when I wanted to get ahead, but it’s a big step forward," Bumgarner said.

He was able to put away the strikeout-prone Braves with high fastballs -- six of his nine strikeouts came on fastballs in the upper third of the strike zone or out of the zone. His average fastball velocity in 2014 has been 91.5 mph, but those high fastballs were 93, 94, 93, 93, 92 and 92. The final one was use to to strike out Evan Gattis swinging in the sixth inning with a runner on third and the Giants up 2-1.

Sunday’s other big hero was shortstop Brandon Crawford, who homered twice -- one off lefty Alex Wood (a rarity for Crawford) and then a two-run shot of off Jordan Walden in the eighth. That home run came off a 2-1 fastball after Crawford’s checked-swing on a 2-0 pitch was ruled a swing. When things are going well, a checked-swing strike can even turn into a good thing.

"I guess I’m kind of glad I went around though,” Crawford told MLB.com. “It would have been a 3-0 count and I probably would have had the take sign."

Crawford is sort of the unsung glue to the Giants. He’s a plus defender -- you saw him at his best in the 2012 postseason when he made several spectacular plays -- with just enough pop at the plate to go beyond automatic out status. He hit .248/.311/.363 last season, but in this new era of impaired offense that made him nearly a league average hitter once you adjust for AT&T Park.

In 2014, he’s off to a .264/.361/.473 start, including a .438 average against left-handers in 39 plate appearances with seven of his 11 extra-base hits coming against southpwas. He hit just .199 against lefties in 2013, so if real improvement is happening here, Crawford is going to be better than the 2.1 WAR he provided last year.

The other unheralded guy on the Giants is center fielder Angel Pagan, off to a .327/.364/.469 start with 15 RBIs from the leadoff spot. While the Giants were relatively healthy in 2013, Pagan’s hamstring injury was the one major injury the team suffered as he played just 71 games. While he’s not a big home run hitter, he does provide extra-base power from the leadoff spot -- he had 38 doubles and 15 triples in 2012 -- and seems to be the energizer guy. When he’s going well, it seems the Giants follow suit.

OK, about those home runs from the rest of the lineup: The Giants haven’t been known for their home run hitting since Barry Bonds was cranking long balls into McCovey Cove -- they were sixth in the NL in 2010, but 11th in 2011, last in 2012 and next-to-last in 2013.

This year? They’re second in the majors behind only the Coors-inflated Rockies. With 41 home runs, the Giants have as many as NL rest rivals Arizona and San Diego combined. The team is hitting only .238, but that’s maybe why the rest of the NL West should be worried about this 20-11 start. Yes, Crawford and Pagan are playing well, Michael Morse has been in full beast mode and Tim Hudson has been doing his best Greg Maddux impersonation (4-1, 2.17, two walks in 45 2/3 innings) but Sandoval is hitting .170, Brandon Belt has a .279 OBP, Hunter Pence is slugging just .400 and Posey was hitting .224 a week ago. There is room for this offense improve, given good health.

I didn’t know what to make of the Giants heading into the season. They were pretty bad in 2013, winning 76 games and getting outscored by 62 runs, a total significant enough to suggest you couldn’t write the season of to some bad breaks here and there. Yes, they were World Series champs in 2012, but that was a team of marginal quality for a World Series winner, a team that got hot at the right time and faced adversity with poise and confidence.

I saw a team that had brought back Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong to the rotation and while Barry Zito was punted to the curb, Hudson was coming off a broken ankle and was 38 years old. The addition of Hudson and the minor addition of the injury-prone Morse, coming off a horrible 2013, didn’t seem like enough. The rotation was 24th in the majors in rotation ERA in 2013 and 27th in FanGraphs WAR; would it really be much better in 2014? Were there reasons to expect a big comeback season from Lincecum or Vogelsong to pitch like he did in October of 2013?

Maybe the rotation doesn't have to be the dominant force it once was. The rotation entered Sunday’s games once again ranked 27th in FanGraphs WAR, and while the bullpen has been lights out (1.86 ERA), the Giants have jumped out to a great start for reasons other than those named Cain or Lincecum.

The Giants are the best team in the NL West. Just maybe not for the reasons you think.
Albert Pujols was placed on the disabled list on Sunday, sort of the exclamation point to the Los Angeles Angels' debacle of a season. Sunday was Hall of Fame induction day -- you may have missed it, considering the lone player elected played his final game in 1890 -- and Pujols' injury and the ceremony in Cooperstown got me wondering: Which of today's players will be future Hall of Famers?

There are probably more than you realize. Pujols, of course, is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, even factoring in the somewhat disappointing results of his first two seasons with the Angels. With three MVP Awards, 492 home runs, 1,491 RBIs, a .321 average and a career WAR of 92.9 (27th all time among position players) his legacy is ensured, even if his Angels career never lives up to the expectations of his contract.

Based on historical trends, I estimate about 40 current players are future Hall of Famers -- possibly more, although Hall of Fame standards have been growing tougher in recent years, both by the Baseball Writers Association, which pitched a shutout this year, and the Veterans Committee, which has voted in just one post-1950 player since 2001. The steroids era fallout is also affecting voting results.

Anyway, if we look back at 10-year increments we can see how many Hall of Famers were active that season:

1953: 28 players
1963: 36 players
1973: 37 players
1983: 34 players
1993: 19 players

There are fewer players in 1953 because there were fewer teams, just 16 compared to 30 now. Compared to 1983, when there were 26 teams, 1953 still has a higher percentage of players inducted (1.75 per team versus 1.30). Still, 1983 already has 34 players who active that season already in the Hall of Fame, plus potential enshrinees like Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Dale Murphy, Lou Whitaker, Keith Hernandez, Ted Simmons and others (some of whom are off the BBWAA ballot but could be Veterans Committee selections).

OK, to our little list. Here are 40 active players who will be Hall of Famers -- listed in order of most likely to make it. We're at a moment when there are very few sure-thing Hall of Famers -- I count only five -- so the list thus involves a lot speculation. I considered only players who have played in the majors this year, so no Andruw Jones, Manny Ramirez or Scott Rolen.

1. Derek Jeter: Would anyone find reason not to vote for Jeter? Well, he did date Mariah Carey. Jeter may seem like a lock as a unanimous selection, but keep in mind that eight voters somehow found reason not to vote for Cal Ripken Jr.

2. Mariano Rivera: No matter what you think of closers, Rivera will be a slam-dunk selection, with his "greatest closer ever" label, World Series rings, universal respect among opponents and writers, and 0.70 postseason ERA in 141 innings. While writers have generally become very generous to relievers -- Dennis Eckersley made it in his first year on the ballot -- I suspect a few won't vote for Rivera out of an anti-reliever stand.

3. Albert Pujols: If his career continues to peter out, that more recent perception may cast a shadow over his dominant run from 2001 to 2010, when he averaged 8.1 WAR per season. Many Hall of Famers never achieved that in one season.

4. Miguel Cabrera: Cabrera is now in his age-30 season, with 53.2 WAR. Through age 30, Pujols had 81.1 WAR. That's how good Pujols was -- nearly 30 wins better than a sure Hall of Famer who arrived in the majors at a younger age. Much of that advantage comes on defense and the basepaths, but Baseball-Reference estimates Pujols created 590 runs more than the average batter through 30, with Cabrera at 447 (and counting).

5. Ichiro Suzuki: He may not get to 3,000 hits in the majors -- he's at 2,706 after Sunday's four-hit game -- but with 1,278 hits in Japan, voters should factor that he didn't arrive in Seattle until he was 27. With his all-around brilliance, he should sail in on the first ballot.

6. Robinson Cano: He has done a lot of things MVP voters like -- hit for average, drive in runs, win a World Series -- and done it with exceptional durability. He's already at 42.4 WAR and needs three to four more peak seasons to ensure lock status, but he's just 30 and still at the top of his game. Considering his durability and age, 3,000 hits isn't out of the question either.

7. Clayton Kershaw: Obviously, he could get hurt, and a lot of pitchers who were dominant through age 25 couldn't carry that success into their 30s. But Kershaw has been handled carefully, is on his way to a third straight ERA title and second Cy Young Award. He's the Koufax of this decade … minus the World Series heroics. But maybe he'll get that shot this year.

8. Felix Hernandez: He's 27 and has won 109 games, despite playing for some of the worst offenses in the history of the game. He has earned 38.8 WAR, which puts him about halfway to Hall of Fame lock status. As with Kershaw, barring injury he'll get there.

9. Roy Halladay: He leads all active pitchers with 65.6 WAR, a total higher than Hall of Famers Bob Feller (65.2), Eckersley (62.5), Juan Marichal (61.9), Don Drysdale (61.2) and Whitey Ford (53.2), to name a few. But what if he never pitches again? Is he in? He has 201 wins and voters still fixate on wins for pitchers. To Halladay's advantage is the general consensus that he was the best pitcher in baseball at his peak, his two Cy Young Awards and two runner-up finishes, three 20-win seasons and the second no-hitter in postseason history.

10. Adrian Beltre: Voters have never been kind to the good-glove third basemen -- excepting Brooks Robinson -- so I may be overrating Beltre's chances. But he also has the chance to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. If he gets to those milestones, that combined with his defensive reputation should get him in.

11. CC Sabathia: He has 200 wins and looked like a possible 300-game winner entering this season, but that 4.65 ERA has everyone wondering how much he has left in the tank at age 33.

12. David Wright: Similar in a lot of ways to Cano -- same age, similar career WAR (Wright is actually a little higher at 45.9) -- so if he plays well into his 30s like Beltre has, he'll get in. But a lot of players have looked like Hall of Famers at 30.

13. Justin Verlander: He still has a lot of work to do, with 134 career wins and just two seasons with an ERA under 3.00.

14. Carlos Beltran: I suspect he'll have a long, slow trek to Hall of Fame status, as his all-around game may be difficult for voters to properly assess. His having just two top-10 MVP finishes will work against him, but he has eight 100-RBI seasons, should reach 400 home runs, is one of the great percentage basestealers of all time and should reach 1,500 runs and 1,500 RBIs.

15. Mike Trout: Well, of course this is premature; he's only 21. He could be Willie Mays, he could be Cesar Cedeno. I'm betting on Mays.

16. Evan Longoria" Beloved in sabermetric circles, he could use that one monster MVP season to create more of a Hall of Fame aura around him.

17. Joey Votto: Will voters appreciate the on-base percentage in 20 years?

18. Joe Mauer: Like Votto, Mauer has an MVP award that helps his case; any time you can argue "he was the best player in the game" about a guy, his candidacy shoots up in the minds of voters. He's not going to end up with the big home run and RBI totals but his .323 career average, .405 OBP and solid defense (three Gold Gloves) will garner support. He has to stay healthy and probably needs to stay behind the plate a few more years.

19. Andy Pettitte: See Jack Morris. Probably a slow crawl on the BBWAA ballot, perhaps hurt by admitting he tried PEDs (although he seems to have escaped the stain), with eventual election by the Veterans Committee. With 252 wins, five World Series rings and 19 postseason wins, it's difficult to ignore his fame and constant presence in October.

20. Bryce Harper: Most home runs before turning 21: Mel Ott 61, Tony Conigliaro 56, Ken Griffey Jr. 38, Harper 37, Mickey Mantle 36, Frank Robinson 34.

21. Buster Posey: Yadier Molina may be the most valuable catcher right now, but Posey is the better Hall of Fame candidate.

22. David Price: Pitchers become Hall of Famers in their 30s, not their 20s, but Price is already 66-36 with a Cy Young award.

23. Dustin Pedroia: I'm a little skeptical how he'll age into 30s, but Pedroia seems like the kind of player voters would love to put in if he becomes a borderline candidate. He does have an MVP award and recognition for his all-around play, but since he's not a big home run or RBI guy, he'll have to remain durability and approach 3,000 career hits.

24. Manny Machado: He's in a big slump right now but we have to remember he's still just 20 years old. But few players have shown this kind of ability at his age and his defense -- Jim Palmer said recently he makes plays at third base that Brooks Robinson could not have made -- is already Hall-of-Fame caliber.

25. Todd Helton: We can just about close the book on him. The .318/.417/.541 career line is impressive, although voters will have to adjust for Coors Field. The 361 home runs and 1,378 RBIs are short of Hall of Fame standards for recent first base inductees. Considering Larry Walker's poor support so far, Helton will probably have to get in through the back door.

26. Andrew McCutchen: How about an MVP Award for 2013?

27. Giancarlo Stanton: Injuries are an issue, but I'm still betting on him (or Harper) to be the premier power hitter of his generation.

28. Troy Tulowitzki: He has to stay healthy, of course, but he has 30.5 WAR so far, in his age-28 season. Jeter had 36.8 and Ripken 50.1 through age 28, but you don't have to be Derek Jeter or Cal Ripken to make the Hall of Fame. Recent inductee Barry Larkin had 30.9 WAR through age 28 and only played 140 games three seasons after that (although did play until he was 40).

29. Miguel Tejada: Tough one here. He has the PED rumors, but he also has six 100-RBI seasons as a shortstop, an MVP award, more than 300 home runs and he will top 2,400 hits. Perhaps a Veterans Committee choice?

30. Prince Fielder: He hasn't hit 40 home runs since 2009 and is going through the worst season of his career. Still, he's just 29 and has 277 home runs and 838 RBIs. He has been the most durable player in the game since his rookie season, but his body type certainly raises questions about how he'll do as he gets into his mid-30s. If he does remain healthy and reaches some of the big milestones he's going to be a Morris-like controversial candidate, because his career WAR (currently 22.4) isn't going to reach Hall of Fame standards.

31. Madison Bumgarner: He turns 24 on Aug. 1 and already has 46 career wins, two World Series rings and is in the midst of his best season. Check back in 10 years.

32. Yasiel Puig: Is he not in already?

33. Andrelton Simmons: We're starting to get into the area of crazy projections. Hey, a lot of Hall of Famers didn't look like Hall of Famers their first few seasons in the league. Anyway, the Braves have four young players you could reasonably project long-shot HOF status onto -- Simmons, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel. I like Simmons; he'll have to have an Omar Vizquel-type career with most of his value coming from his glove, but what a glove it is.

34. Chase Utley: He basically has no chance to get in via the BBWAA because his career counting totals will be well short of Hall standards. His five-year peak from 2005 to 2009 was among the best ever for a second baseman -- in fact, since 1950, from ages 26 to 30, the only players with a higher WAR were seven guys named Mays, Pujols, Yastrzemski, Aaron, Bonds, Boggs and Schmidt. If he can stay healthy for a few more years -- a bit of a dubious proposition -- he enters Veterans Committee territory.

35. Jose Fernandez: This could be Chris Sale or Stephen Strasburg or some other hotshot young pitcher.

36. Tim Hudson: I believe pitching standards will have to change, as the idea that you need 300 wins eventually subsides in this day where starters just don't as many decisions as they once did. Hudson is out for the year after breaking his ankle and, at the age of 38, you have to worry about his future. But he does have 205 wins and one of the best winning percentages of all time at .649. He sounds like a Veterans Committee choice in 2044.

37. Nick Franklin: The point isn't that I think Franklin is a Hall of Fame player, but that somebody like Franklin will turn into a Hall of Famer. It could BE Franklin, it could be Wil Myers, it could be Marcell Ozuna, it could be Jurickson Profar. As for Franklin, he has reached the majors at 22, has flashed power (10 home runs and 12 doubles in 52 games) and shown a good approach at the plate. You never know.

38. September call-up to be named: Xander Bogaerts? Oscar Taveras? Miguel Sano?

39. David Ortiz: There's no denying the fame and the peak value -- he finished in the top five in MVP voting five consecutive seasons -- but he has several strikes against him, notably the PED allegations (Ortiz was mentioned in the Mitchell report) and the fact that he may not be the best DH eligible (that would be Edgar Martinez, with a career WAR of 68.3 to Ortiz's 42.7). Papi is at 420 home runs; if he gets to 500 (round number!), his chances go up, but like all the guys tied to steroids, he'll be a controversial candidate.

40. Alex Rodriguez: He hasn't actually suited up in the majors yet this season, but let's assume he does to be eligible for this list. I also assume, at some point in the future -- 20 years? 25 years? 75 years? -- the moral outrage against the steroids users eventually subsides. Maybe, like Deacon White, A-Rod makes it some 130 years after he plays his final game.
NEW YORK -- Media day at the All-Star Game isn't quite media day at the Super Bowl, but on a hot, steamy day in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda at Citi Field, sweaty media members met with sweaty ballplayers. There was a vibe of happiness from the players because everyone enjoys being an All-Star, but special praise to Justin Verlander and Brandon Phillips for gutting out the hot weather and wearing jackets to their media sessions -- Verlander in a baby blue coat complete with pocket square, something you might see your grandfather wearing at his condo in Florida -- when most players smartly donned short-sleeved shirts.

(Poor Felix Hernandez kept needing a towel to mop off the sweat dripping down his forehead. Hey, he's not used to 100-degree weather pitching in Seattle.)

Players praised Mariano Rivera and talked about childhood dreams coming true, although Brett Cecil admitted he never dreamed of becoming an All-Star. Matt Carpenter was asked to translate "I love baseball" in Chinese for a promotional video. Joey Votto said he thought Ichiro Suzuki would be a good contestant for the Home Run Derby.

Speaking of home runs, on Sunday, I wrote about Chris Davis now being on pace to hit 62 -- short of Barry Bonds' record of 73, but giving him a chance to beat Roger Maris' total of 61.

I asked readers who they think the "real" home run champion is and the poll results, with more than 38,000 votes, have Maris ahead of Bonds, 73 percent to 27 percent. That's a landslide for Maris.

What do the All-Stars think? All leaned toward 73 -- as in homers, not percent -- at least the ones we asked. Some of the more interesting responses:
  • Votto, the Cincinnati Reds first baseman: "I think 61 came with its own little asterisk, since they had extended the schedule to play more games. At the time, if you asked players of the previous era, they probably would have said 60 is the record, with Babe Ruth. If you ask players of Maris' generation, they'll say 61 is the record. If you ask the recent generation, they'll probably say 73 [with Barry Bonds]. My gut says to keep 73, but it's something we'll have better perspective on in 20 or 30 years."
  • Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, teammate of Davis: "I think that year all those home runs were happening was really exciting for the fans, really exciting for us, fun to watch. I don't know where the record should stand. If Chris hits 61 home runs this year, that would be pretty cool though." By the way, Hardy on playing with Davis this year: "It's awesome. Just like the fans and how interested they are in watching, I think everyone on his team is the same way. Everyone in the dugout watches every one of his at-bats in case something special happens. He put up numbers like this in the minors and it was just a question of whether he'd do it in the big leagues, so it's not like he hasn't done it before. It's something that's been in there."
  • Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis: "That's a record I'll never have to worry about. It's a topic you're going to have a lot of debate over if Davis gets close. I guess the old-school guys will say 61. The purists will probably say 61. But didn't the pitchers use back then as well? They did from what I know. I think [Bonds] is just a product of his era. The fact is he hit 73 home runs."
  • San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, giving a little bit of a Of course Bonds holds the record, he's a Giant look: "Bonds holds the record, but if Davis can come close to 61 or 73, that will be fun to watch."
  • Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman: "That's a tough question. I grew up with Bonds and I choke up on the bat because of him. It was amazing what he did when he would often only get one pitch to hit in a game. That answer your question? Probably not."
  • Washington Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann: "Bonds holds the record. I grew watching him and it was incredible what he did."
  • Braves reliever Craig Kimbrel: "I'd like to see Davis hit 62 because that's fun baseball. [But would that make him the home run king?] If he hits 62, he hits 62."

One interesting side note: Many of players seemed reluctant to actually mention Bonds by name, which is interesting, although they still tacitly acknowledged he's the record holder.

As for Davis himself suggesting 61 is the record, Votto had the best quip: "Maybe he's just being selfish, saying that if he beats the record he'll get to wear a crown or something."

Giants' Bumgarner tripping up Dodgers

July, 7, 2013

Madison Bumgarner took the bump Saturday already knowing he’d be an All-Star. I’m sure he’s pleased, since it’s a career first for him. The honor put him among 29 other deserving first-time All-Stars headed for the Big Apple in a week instead of for an in-season staycation.

But first things first: A game that counts, really counts, in the way that players and teams count on themselves to deliver their own results. A game between the defending world champs and their mortal enemies. A game featuring baseball’s most remarkable new flavor yet -- Yasiel Puig -- no less. And for the third time this season, Bumgarner simply mowed down the Dodgers, even whiffing Puig three times on swinging third strikes to single-handedly hand the game’s latest most-exciting phenom his very own sombrero.

Folks might pay more attention to Tim Lincecum versus Clayton Kershaw matchups because of who Lincecum was and who Kershaw is, but you’d be better off getting worked up over Bumgarner against anybody, because the time has come when you wouldn’t want to bet against the Giants’ towering lefty, not if he was facing Kershaw, or the ’61 Yankees, or any team you’d toss together.

Having already overpowered the Dodgers on April 2 and June 24, whoever they have in the lineup, Bumgarner has been owning them. In 22 combined innings, he’s allowed just 11 Los Angeles baserunners and five runs while striking out 20. And because it’s Dodgers versus Giants in a parity-addled division in which all five teams are simultaneously fighting for first or last place, that has to be fairly sweet for Giants fans who’ve had to endure their share of frustrations this season. And to do it while showing up Puig in Saturday's 4-2 victory? Sweeter still, no doubt. With a whole lot of baseball to look forward to, this won't be the last chance Bumgarner has to put a dent in the Dodgers' future while creating his own.

[+] EnlargeMadison Bumgarner
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesMadison Bumgarner has seized the spotlight in the Giants' rotation -- particularly versus the Dodgers.
That's because Bumgarner only seems to be getting better with age, and he's still ludicrously young. He's setting a career-best strikeout rate, whiffing almost a quarter of all hitters, and generating more swinging strikes than ever before. As quickly as folks both inside the media and out might seem to want to dive into the latest flavor in the Cult of the New, to skip ahead and get excited about the next big thing, Bumgarner is who you should be excited about if you want to be on board with the Cult of the Now. He deserves the excitement as much as any newly minted kid. Shelby Miller and Gerrit Cole just got here, and they’re just a year younger than Bumgarner, who’s 23 years old and already has wins in two different World Series. And for as long as it might seem that Bumgarner has been around already, this is just his third full season in the major leagues. As career beginnings go, that’s epic.

These days, Bumgarner is the Giants starter who doesn’t have to fret about turning back the clock to when San Francisco boasted the game’s best rotation, otherwise known as last season. While Lincecum is breaking down, Ryan Vogelsong is fully broken, Barry Zito is still the second-biggest bazillion-dollar boondoggle of the Naughty Aughties behind the mortgage crisis, and Matt Cain is proving able only sporadically, Bumgarner has been the one Giants starter who looks exactly like the guy who might make things right -- now.

As fans, you probably find yourself asking of any player on your team: What have you done for me lately? But as the honors and achievements keep piling up, what has Madison Bumgarner not done? Now that he’s an All-Star, you don’t have to ask for more. Instead, you should just settle in and enjoy what’s coming: postseason wins and hardware, because none of it should be out of his reach. And if it comes while he also builds up a Dodger-slayer rep, it shouldn’t just be Giants fans who enjoy the ride.

Handicapped as the Giants might be with an ill-chosen outfield or an overweight Pablo Sandoval, or even as the other four horsemen in their rotation fade from former glory, they still have Bumgarner to build around -- all the better to beat the former Bums of Brooklyn with. And with Giants right fielder Hunter Pence lined up against both Puig and Adrian Gonzalez in MLB’s Final Vote for the last slot on the National League’s All-Star team, Giants fans have at least one way to quickly avenge their disappointment with a ballclub bobbing around the NL West basement. Not that I wouldn’t rather see Puig, but even in easygoing California, some rivalries remain potent, perhaps even in something as minor as the right to make an All-Star Game cameo.

So this is a rivalry that will be fought out on many fields, not just on diamonds but also on your desktop, at least as far as the Final Vote is concerned. Whether they win or lose, the Dodgers are a story by the very fact of the expense it takes to employ them. But there’s no mere rooting for the club spending the most money; however craven, the Dodgers are understandably throwing money at a goal: to get where the Giants have already been after winning two titles in three seasons, to be what the Giants are, defending champs. To get there, they might well find Madison Bumgarner standing in the way.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

The big questions for this season’s All-Star selections as we headed into Saturday’s selection show: Would Yasiel Puig make it? Who backs up Miguel Cabrera at third base in the American League from a strong field of candidates? Who represents the Astros?

But I’m left with this one: Could the American League have chosen a worse, more boring squad?

Remember, the All-Star squads are chosen by a four-tiered system: The fans vote in the starters, the players vote for the reserves at each position, plus the top five starting pitchers and top three relievers, the managers choose the rest of the squad (with their choices limited due to having to name a representative for each team) and then the fans vote again for the final man.

Got all that?

The player vote is the one that usually causes the biggest mistakes. Last season, for example, the players voted in Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair as the backup first baseman even though he was a platoon player with 28 RBIs at the time of selection. Similarly, Lance Lynn, who had a big April, was voted in as one of the top five starters even though he ranked 28th in the National League in ERA. The ripple effect for selections like those end up causing more worthy All-Stars to not make it. This season, a similar thing happened, most notably with Torii Hunter named as an outfield reserve in the AL.

My quick reaction to this season's American League and National League squads:

Best fan selection: Chris Davis, Orioles. Hardly a household name before the season, his offensive numbers are just too good to ignore, and he’s a deserving starter over Prince Fielder.

Worst fan selection: Bryce Harper, Nationals. The fans generally do a good job -- better than the players -- and while I don’t see Harper as a glaring mistake (I’d put him on my NL roster as a reserve), he did miss significant time with the knee injury. Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates or Carlos Gomez of the Brewers would be a more deserving starter (both should be starting over Carlos Beltran as well).

Most controversial AL selection: Justin Verlander, Tigers. He’s not having a terrific season, with a 9-5 record and lukewarm 3.54 ERA, but I don’t have a huge problem with American League manager Jim Leyland selecting the guy who’s been the best pitcher in baseball the previous two seasons.

Most controversial NL selection: Marco Scutaro, Giants. The NL roster is actually pretty solid, but you can nitpick Scutaro and Allen Craig. With Matt Carpenter being voted in by the players, manager Bruce Bochy didn't have to add a third second baseman, but he did select his guy and take a slot away from a deep pool of outfield candidates -- Puig and Hunter Pence were added to the final-vote group, but Starling Marte, Jay Bruce and Shin-Soo Choo all had All-Star first halves. But, hey, even All-Star teams need professional hitters.

How the Astros screwed the AL: Salvador Perez being voted in by the players as the backup catcher meant Jason Castro was named as a third catcher to represent the Astros. Actually, this is a little unfair, since Castro is having a season equal to or better than Perez’s. But having three catchers on the squad takes a slot away from one of the much more deserving third basemen -- Evan Longoria, Josh Donaldson or Adrian Beltre.

[+] EnlargeMax Scherzer
Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SportsWith the American League's weak pitching staff, Max Scherzer could see a couple innings.
How the players screwed the AL: Hunter rode a .370 April to an All-Star berth, but he’s down to .307 with just five home runs. It’s not a great season for AL outfielders, but Hunter is kind of a joke selection: He ranks 24th among AL outfielders in FanGraphs WAR (0.9). Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury are better options.

Weirdest selection: Brett Cecil, Blue Jays. The Jays already had Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, so there was no need to add Cecil. Don't get me wrong, he is having a nice season -- 1.43 ERA, 50 strikeouts in 44 innings -- but this is also a guy with a 4.79 career ERA entering the season. (Granted, mostly as a starter.) Rangers starter Derek Holland was the better choice here.

Team with a gripe: The A’s have a better record than the Tigers yet ended up with one All-Star to Detroit’s six.

Most-deserving guy who didn't make it, AL: Longoria. Seventy All-Stars were named today, but somehow one of the top 10 players in the game didn't make it.

Most-deserving guy who didn't make it, NL: Not including the players eligible in the final-player vote, I'd go with Pirates outfielder Marte or Braves defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons.

Worst final-player vote ever: American League. Choose from Joaquin Benoit, Steve Delabar, David Robertson, Tanner Scheppers and Koji Uehara. Can I go to a dentist appointment instead? Unless you have a fetish for right-handed relief pitchers, this isn’t exactly the best way to get fans enthused about the All-Star final vote. Why not at least have a final-man vote with Longoria, Beltre and Donaldson?

Most predictable final-player vote ever: National League. Is there any way Puig doesn’t beat out Ian Desmond, Freddie Freeman, Adrian Gonzalez and Pence for the final vote?

In a perfect world, Jim Leyland does this: The AL pitching staff is a little shaky, so he should try to ride his top starting pitchers. Assuming Max Scherzer starts, I’d pitch him two innings and then bring in White Sox lefty Chris Sale for two more innings so he can face the top of the NL lineup that would probably feature Carlos Gonzalez and Joey Votto. Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez take over from there and hand the ball to Mariano Rivera, with Glen Perkins and Cecil used as situational lefties if needed.

Offensively, Cabrera and Davis should play the entire game, as they’ve clearly been the dominant offensive forces in the AL. Frankly, I’m not too thrilled with the AL bench, especially the outfield. Mike Trout and Bautista should also play the entire game. Use Fielder and Encarnacion to pinch hit as needed for J.J. Hardy or Adam Jones. Manny Machado can replace Cabrera in the late innings if the AL is ahead.

In a perfect world, Bruce Bochy does this: The NL squad looks much better on paper. Assuming Matt Harvey starts, he should be followed up with Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee (Adam Wainwright is scheduled to pitch on Sunday and will be unavailable). From there, I’d match up -- Madison Bumgarner or Jordan Zimmermann -- and then turn the game over to three dominant relievers: Jason Grilli, Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel. (Kudos to Bochy for going with all starting pitchers after the mandatory three relievers.)

Offensively, David Wright should play the whole game in front of the home fans, and assuming Paul Goldschmidt gets the nod as the designated hitter, I’d let him and Votto play the entire nine as well. Without a regular center fielder in the starting lineup (although Beltran, Gonzalez and Harper have all played there in the past), I’d get McCutchen in the game as soon as possible, with apologies to Gomez. I’d hit for Brandon Phillips in a key situation with a better bat like Buster Posey or Craig or maybe for Gonzalez against a left-hander (although he’s hit very well against lefties this season).

And Puig? Yes, once he makes the team, I’d like to see him play as well.
The Franchise Player Draft has been completed, so it's time for Eric Karabell and myself to continue our tradition of doing the second round. All picks were made by Eric and myself, not the franchise "owners," so yell at us, not them. Eric made all the odd-numbered picks and I made the even-numbered picks.

And, no, I did not draft Eric Hosmer.

31. Keith Law (David Price): Oscar Taveras. KLaw knows a few things about prospects, and Taveras was his No. 2 guy entering the season, after the already chosen Jurickson Profar.

32. Manny Acta (Jose Bautista): Matt Moore. Bautista is a win-now type of building block, but so is Moore, a 24-year-old with terrific stuff, hasn't been overworked and has as good a chance as anybody to be the best pitcher in baseball over the next five years.

33. Eric Karabell (Andrelton Simmons). Carlos Gonzalez. Defense in Round 1, offense in Round 2. And even if this mythical team doesn't play its home games at Coors Field, note that CarGo is hitting better on the road this season.

34. Jonah Keri (Joe Mauer): Madison Bumgarner. Hard to believe that he doesn't turn 24 until August, but he already has two World Series rings and two 200-inning seasons. He's so efficient that he should be a 200-inning guy for years to come.

35. Scott Spratt (Felix Hernandez): Jean Segura. I'll admit I considered Segura late in Round 1, but instead opted for the elite defense of Simmons. Segura won't hit .350 all year, but he's not a bad pick at this spot.

36. Jim Bowden (Stephen Strasburg): Jordan Zimmermann. Hey, don't blame Strasburg and Zimmermann for the Nationals' problems this year! Jim was the Nationals' GM when the club selected him in the second round of the 2007, so he's happy to snag him again.

37. Paul Swydan (Jurickson Profar): Matt Wieters. Build teams up the middle! Wieters remains a building-block player, despite a slow start to 2013.


Who should be the first pick of the second round?


Discuss (Total votes: 1,661)

38. Curt Schilling (Shelby Miller): Paul Goldschmidt. Too early for a first baseman? Maybe, but Goldschmidt is more than just a slugger. He's an elite defender at first, swipes some bases, and at 25 is entering his prime years.

39. Mark Simon (David Wright): Zack Wheeler. Well, Mark is, after all, a Mets fan. And pretty soon Wheeler will have many fans.

40. Justin Havens (Ryan Braun): Prince Fielder. A relatively safe pick considering Fielder's durability and on-base skills. Plus, Justin can now watch that 2011 Brewers highlight DVD that has been collecting dust.

41. Orel Hershiser (Justin Upton): Adam Wainwright. OK, so maybe the Cardinals right-hander has never tossed 59 consecutive scoreless innings, but he's pretty good.

42. David Schoenfield (Troy Tulowitzki): Miguel Sano. Prospects are overrated! Plus, Sano is only in Class A ball, you say? Sure, but he'll be in Double-A soon, putting him on track for a midseason promotion to the Twins in 2014. And then my future third baseman will start winning home run titles.

43. Mike Greenberg (Matt Kemp): Chris Davis. Well, at least one of these sluggers is healthy and producing. And Davis does look legit.

44. Mike Golic (Dustin Pedroia): Elvis Andrus. With that double-play duo behind them, the pitchers on Golic's team will be very happy pitchers. Well, assuming the outfield doesn't consist of Raul Ibanez, Lucas Duda and Mike Morse.

45. Richard Durrett (Justin Verlander): Adam Jones. This elite center fielder looks even better than his breakout 2012.

46. Christina Kahrl (Jason Heyward): Xander Bogaerts. He probably doesn't stick at shortstop, but he's going to hit at whatever position he plays. Plus, his name starts with an X, and he'll be better than Xavier Nady.

47. Buster Olney (Robinson Cano): Clay Buchholz. Olney got a close-up look at Buchholz on Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, and had to be impressed. Perhaps he can build an entire fake team with all Yankees and Red Sox.

48. Dan Szymborski (Yu Darvish): Carlos Santana. We're not privy to the super secret ZiPS projection system that Dan keeps stored in a bank vault somewhere in Maryland, but we have to think it likes a catcher with power and on-base skills.

49. Jon Sciambi (Giancarlo Stanton): Yasiel Puig. Could be 80 home runs from this duo in 2014. Or, we suppose, fewer.

50. Mike Petriello (Andrew McCutchen): Yadier Molina. Talk about building up the middle. Molina turns 31 in July and caught a lot of games before turning 30, so there's risk that he won't hold up. But he's the kind of guy you take a risk on.

51. C.J. Nitkowski (Joey Votto): Austin Jackson. Terrific center fielder and leadoff hitter could have gone in the first round. It's tougher to find an all-around center fielder than a first baseman.

52. Alex Cora (Miguel Cabrera): Chris Sale. Some believe he's an arm injury waiting to happen, but there's no denying he's one of the best starters in the game.

53. Tim Kurkjian (Matt Harvey): Wil Myers. One future Cy Young winner is set, and here comes the prototypical slugging right fielder to join him. If the Rays would just cooperate and promote him.

54. Jim Caple (Yoenis Cespedes): Matt Cain. We know Caple loves those West Coast guys, so let's give him Cain, who is still just 28. Don't overreact to his current 5+ ERA. He'll be fine.

55. Dave Cameron (Evan Longoria): Mike Zunino. Mariners fan gets the next great Mariner. Thought about giving him Dustin Ackley or Jesus Montero, picks from last season, but that seemed a bit unfair.

56. Molly Knight (Clayton Kershaw): Cole Hamels. What's wrong with Hamels? As with Cain, let's not overreact to two subpar months. A rotation with these two lefties would look pretty sweet.

57. Jayson Stark (Buster Posey): Jose Fernandez. Future ace has certainly impressed as a rushed rookie this season.

58. Aaron Boone (Manny Machado): Starling Marte. He's playing left field for the Pirates, but could easily move to center, giving Aaron two elite young defenders who have some ability at the plate as well.

59. Doug Glanville (Bryce Harper): Starlin Castro. What a fall from grace! A year ago the Chicago Cubs shortstop was the ninth overall selection in Round 1. Now he barely gets chosen at all. I have to admit, he doesn't seem to be growing at the plate or in the field, but Glanville probably has more patience.

60. Jerry Crasnick (Mike Trout): Mark Appel. Jerry loves Dylan Bundy, but he was just recently cleared to start throwing for the first time since late March. So let's go off the board and give him a guy who hasn't even started his professional career yet. Thanks us later, Jerry.

The San Francisco Giants are built around their starting rotation.

That would seem more a statement of fact than an assertion of opinion.

After all, conventional wisdom tells us the rotation carried the Giants to a World Series title in 2010 and then another in 2012.

But if that is a statement of fact, then here's an opinion: The Giants, despite their current half-game lead over Arizona in the National League West, are in trouble. Because this is not a championship-caliber rotation right now.

The past two games in Toronto exposed an issue that has plagued the Giants the past two seasons: The Giants don't pitch nearly as well on the road. Facing a Blue Jays lineup that batted Mark DeRosa, who has a .302 slugging percentage since 2010, cleanup on Tuesday and J.P. Arencibia and his .252 on-base percentage cleanup on Wednesday, Barry Zito and then Ryan Vogelsong got battered around as the Blue Jays put up 21 runs in the two games. Zito allowed 12 hits and eight runs Tuesday; Vogelsong allowed eight runs in just two innings in Wednesday's 11-3 loss.

Vogelsong's bad outing was the latest in a string of bad outings for him. Among 110 qualified starters, Vogelsong's 8.06 ERA ranks 110th. Vogelsong gave up two more home runs to the Blue Jays, running his season total to 11 in just 41.1 innings. Chris Quick looked at Vogelsong's home-run problems before this start and found, not surprisingly, that several of them came on pitches up in the strike zone. This long blast by Arencibia wasn't off a pitch up in the zone, but it was left out over the middle of the plate; Adam Lind's two-run homer in the first also came off a pitch down the middle.

As Chris wrote,
And that, to me, is the biggest knock on Vogelsong so far this season. His command has been un-Vogelsong-like. We're used to seeing Vogelsong surgically dissect hitters like this. Not so much the guy that’s chucking neck-high fastballs above. ... Like most pitchers, Vogelsong needs to locate in order to succeed. And only time will tell if his current dingeritis is a sign of cracks in the facade, or if he’ll eventually find his release point or arm-slot or whatever and start throwing the ball where he wants to.

It's possible Vogelsong's next start is in jeopardy:

But Vogelsong isn't the only culprit in the rotation. Madison Bumgarner has been outstanding but the rotation still ranks just 20th in the majors with a 4.41 ERA. Heck, the Marlins' starters have pitched just 13 fewer innings but allowed 23 fewer runs.

It's when you dig even deeper, however, that the problems become more severe. Giants starters have a 5.01 ERA on the road, 23rd in the majors. Here, a comparison to 2012:

2012: 3.09 ERA, 3rd in majors
2013: 3.98 ERA, 17th in majors

2012: 4.45, 18th in majors
2013: 5.01, 23rd in majors

As you can see, the Giants weren't that great on the road last season, either. But this season, they're not dominating at home. And that's where we get back to that first sentence: The Giants have transformed into an offensive team, a fact obscured somewhat by playing in a park that favors pitchers to a large degree.

San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean loves to add veterans during midseason. Instead of making a big splash in the winter, he evaluates the team's weaknesses and then makes his move. In 2010, he added outfielders Pat Burrell and Cody Ross. In 2011, he traded for Carlos Beltran. Last year, he picked up Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro.

But if he properly assesses things this year, I believe Sabean should be on the search for a starting pitcher. Certainly, I expect Matt Cain to turn things around. Vogelsong will be given a fairly long leash, I suspect, given his track record of the past two seasons, but is certainly the guy on the hot seat right now. The Giants are likely to keep Zito and Tim Lincecum, even given their superficially OK ERAs, but those two are hardly strengths right now.

The Giants can certainly still win the West. But right now it will have to be the hitters and the bullpen that will have to carry the load.
Matt Cain and Madison BumgarnerTony Medina/Getty ImagesMatt Cain and Madison Bumgarner pitched much better at home last year.

One reason some people don't like statistics -- at least those fancy ones -- is they sometimes produce results incongruous with popular belief.

For example, this:

San Francisco Giants pitching staff 2012: 8.1 WAR (Baseball-Reference)
Kansas City Royals pitching staff 2012: 12.7 WAR (Baseball-Reference)

Giants pitching staff 2012: 13.3 WAR (FanGraphs)
Royals pitching staff 2012: 14.8 WAR (FanGraphs)

Giants pitching staff 2012: 56 runs above replacement (Baseball Prospectus)
Royals pitching staff 2012: 104 runs above replacement (Baseball Prospectus)

The three sites may disagree on the particulars, but they all agree on this: In 2012, the Kansas City Royals had a better pitching staff than the San Francisco Giants. The World Series champion Giants.

The above numbers do include bullpen results, and the Royals did have an outstanding bullpen in 2012. But even in pulling out just the starters, FanGraphs rated the Giants' starters at 11.7 WAR and the Royals' starters -- Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar and Will Smith and Jonathan Sanchez and all the rest -- at 8.0 WAR. Not that much of a difference there.

The Royals had so much confidence in that staff that they traded for three new starters in James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis. The Giants were so discouraged by their results that they brought back the entire rotation.

So what gives? Is this a case of sabermetrics run amok? I don't believe so.

A player's home park can, of course, have a huge impact on his statistics. In the case of AT&T Park, the run-scoring environment is so low that the advanced metrics penalize Giants pitchers for their home-park advantage. In 2012, the Giants and their opponents scored only 580 runs at AT&T Park, but combined to score 787 runs on the road. In the case of the Giants' pitchers, they allowed 3.3 runs per nine innings at home, but 4.8 on the road.

The Royals, meanwhile, play in a more neutral park, but their pitchers allowed 4.7 runs per nine innings on the road (and remember, that's in the American League, where scoring was slightly higher overall -- 4.4 to 4.2 runs per game). When you factor in the advantage of pitching at AT&T, it decreases the value of the Giants' pitchers, and thus their WAR totals aren't as impressive as their ERAs may indicate. It's no different than it's easier to hit .300 at Coors Field.

Let's examine the Giants starters more closely. Below, you'll find their runs allowed per nine innings at home and the road over recent seasons.

Matt Cain
2012: 2.1 home, 3.9 road
2011: 3.1 home, 3.6 road
2010: 2.9 home, 3.8 road

Madison Bumgarner
2012: 2.5 home, 5.0 road
2011: 3.4 home, 3.8 road
2010: 4.8 home, 2.2 road

Tim Lincecum
2012: 4.3 home, 6.6 road
2011: 3.2 home, 2.9 road
2010: 3.9 home, 3.3 road

Ryan Vogelsong
2012: 3.1 home, 4.2 road
2011: 2.2 home, 4.5 road

Barry Zito
2012: 4.2 home, 4.8 road
2010: 3.8 home, 5.1 road

Last year produced more extreme results, but other than Lincecum in 2010 and 2011, the Giants' pitchers generally receive a nice boost at home. And while the Giants do have to play road games in Colorado and Arizona, that's balanced by the more pitcher-friendly parks in San Diego and Los Angeles. It's also worth noting that in broad terms all pitchers (and hitters) have a home-field advantage.

Does this mean that the rotation that has led the Giants to two World Series titles is overrated?

I think it's important to separate the regular season from postseason here. There's no denying the excellence of the Giants' starters in their 2010 and 2012 playoff runs. In 31 postseason games, they've allowed only 59 runs in 187 innings and posted a 2.70 ERA. Reputations are often created -- or sealed -- with October performance and there's no denying what Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum and Vogelsong have done in the playoffs. Even Zito, after being left out of the rotation in 2010, stepped up last year, beating the Cardinals in the NLCS and then Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the World Series.

The tougher question to answer: What would these guys do on a different team, in a different park? Cain, Bumgarner and Lincecum have pitched only for the Giants. While the numbers suggest they would be worse, that may not necessarily be the case. Maybe pitching in an extreme environment -- like hitting in Coors Field -- produces extreme results. Just as Rockies hitters have trouble adjusting to life on the road, maybe Giants pitchers have simply adapted in unique ways to their home park and if they pitched in a more neutral environment, they would adapt differently and their home/road splits would even out.

In general terms, however, I would say the rotation is a little bit overrated (and the Giants' offense, which scored the second-most runs on the road in the majors last year, underrated), although you can't underestimate the value of their durability through the years.

That said, I'm pretty sure the Giants don't win the World Series with Hochevar starting instead of Cain.
Maybe we'll try and do this each morning. Maybe we'll get tired of doing it after two weeks. Anyway, quick thoughts from Tuesday's games.

  • The story of the night obviously was Yu Darvish's bid for a perfect game. He become the fifth pitcher in 25 years to lose a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning, joining the Blue Jays' Dave Stieb, the Mariners' Brian Holman (I'll never forget watching that one; ex-Mariner Ken Phelps hit a pinch-hit home run, the final home run of his career), the Yankees' Mike Mussina and, of course, Armando Galarraga. I'm sure Darvish went to bed thinking of that first-pitch fastball to Marwin Gonzalez. I'll suggest this won't be the first no-hit bid against the Astros this year, and certainly not the only no-hit bid of Darvish's career. If he commands his fastball like he did in this game, watch out American League. Here's more on Darvish's near-perfecto from ESPNDallas' Jean-Jacques Taylor.
  • After that game ended, watched some of Hyun-Jin Ryu's debut for the Dodgers. The Korean free agent looked impressive, working inside to lefties/outside to righties (see heat map below) and working quickly. He did allow 10 hits, all singles, but didn't walk anybody, and a couple of errors led to two unearned runs. My first thought was he reminded me of David Wells -- like Wells, he has a few extra pounds on him as well -- and then I heard Jim Kaat make the same comparison. He's not overpowering, topping out at 92 mph, but seemed to have a good feel out there. Plus, he wears No. 99, so you have to love that.
Hyun-Jin Ryu Heat MapESPN Stats & InformationKorean free agent Hyun-Jin Ryu had an impressive first outing for the Dodgers.

  • Madison Bumgarner was even better, and Kaat pointed out how pitching coach Dave Righetti has worked with Bumgarner to come a little more over the ball with his fastball grip (if I explained that correctly), to allow him to pitch more effectively inside to right-handed batters. He's always had command on the outside corner, but if he can command his fastball inside, maybe he takes a step forward this season. Which would make him a Cy Young contender.
  • Was also watching some of Mariners-A's game. The Mariners threw out their Raul Ibanez-Michael Saunders-Mike Morse stone statue outfield (at least Jason Bay wasn't in center) but it didn't matter as Hisashi Iwaukuma allowed only a Yoenis Cespedes home run in six innings as Seattle won 7-1. Remember, Iwakuma was one of the best pitchers in the AL in the second half (2.50 ERA). Morse slammed two home runs, including an oppposite-field shot off Jarrod Parker in the third. For Mariners, the most important line was this one: eight walks. Kyle Seager, a strong breakout candidate for 2013, went 3-for-3 with two walks. Josh Reddick's beard is now 0-for-8.
  • Yes, I'm already worried about that Brewers bullpen.
  • Justin Masterson was OK for the Indians in their win against R.A. Dickey. J.P. Arencibia (three passed balls) has some work to do in learning to catch the knuckleball.
Over at Bay City Ball, Chris Quick has a post titled, "Is Madison Bumgarner an injury risk?" (Thus, the headline above.)

There are two concerns with Bumgarner: First, he throws a lot of sliders (Chris reports the most in the majors in 2012) and many baseball people think throwing a lot of sliders leads to an increased chance of injury. The other concern is that Bumgarner has thrown a lot of innings at the major-league level at a very young age.

Chris compares Bumgarner to other starters who also throw a lot of sliders. It's hard to draw any conclusions. In summation, Chris writes:
The Giants have built themselves a lot of credit when it comes to the development (and handling) of their pitchers. I don’t always agree with what the team does, but their recent success in the pitching department is undeniable. Bumgarner, the Giants’ No. 2 starter heading into 2013, is a key piece to the team. If the Giants exercise his options, he’ll be on the team until 2019. So there’s a bunch of reasons — both present and future — to keep Bumgarner’s health in check. Ultimately, it’s hard to say how much Bumgarner’s reliance on the slider will affect him long-term. That’s kind of the thing with pitching, to me at least; it’s hard to know when your time might be up. Bumgarner’s health is definitely something to keep an eye on for 2013.

Couldn't agree more. While all eyes will be on Tim Lincecum and his attempt to rebound from a poor 2012, it does seem an equal number of eyes should be watching Bumgarner. Remember that he struggled the final month (5.47) and looked tired in the playoffs, with Bruce Bochy skipping him for a second start in the NLCS. (With the season on the line for the Giants, down 3 games to 1, Barry Zito drew the Game 5 start.) Bumgarner did rebound to throw seven shutout innings against Detroit in the World Series on 10 days of rest.

What's in store for 2013? His 2012 and 2011 numbers are nearly identical, other than allowing slightly fewer hits in 2012 (183 versus 202) but more home runs (23 versus 12). He's pitched 204.2 and 208.1 regular-season innings the past two seasons, but he's still just 23, so I don't anticipate a big increase in workload just yet. A year ago, I thought he was a sleeper Cy Young candidate. If he stays healthy, I think that ability remains.