Two Weeks Into Spring, Giants Look Mediocre. But…

Time to check in on the SF Giants and their Spring Training adventures. After breaking an 8-game losing streak on Monday, March 6, the orange-and-black stand at 6-8 on the season (I’m not counting their win over Puerto Rico in the WBC). Repeat mantra: spring training won-loss records don’t matter until the last 10-14 days. Neither do stats.

Still, the Giants aren’t showing a lot of spring in their step yet. It’s too early to be concerned but serious fans need to take notice.

As a team, the Giants are hitting .238, which places them 26th among the 32 MLB teams. Their OBP of .314 is 25th “best” and the team’s SLG is a fairly anemic .387, good for 22 on the list.

From the mound, the picture is only slightly better. Team ERA is 4.65, 22nd in the league, while opponents hit .265 against our staff, which has a mediocre WHIP of 1.46. Those last two numbers place them 19th and 19th, respectively, among MLB teams.

Not exactly reasons to have a lot of optimism. But…. <insert meaningless spring training mantra here>.

On the individual player side of things, I’m watching the battle for the fifth starter role as well as the fight for third base and left field.

SF Giants Starting Prospect Ty Blach

Veteran Matt Cain and Ty Blach are contending for the #5 spot in the starting rotation. Right now, Blach is blowing Cain away. Both pitchers have appeared in three games, both have thrown about 7 innings. So the stats are comparable. But Blach bests Cain in every meaningful category: ERA (Blach at 1.35, Cain at 7.36), Hits allowed (7, 10 [tied for most on the team]), and WHIP (1.05, 1.50). So while neither of them is setting anything on fire in the Cactus League, it seems obvious that if Bruce Bochy had to make the call today, Blach would get the nod.

The battle at third is between Eduardo Nunez and Conor Gillaspie. So far, Gillaspie is giving Nunez fits. At the plate, Gillaspie leads the team with a .444 BA over four games and 9 ABs. His slash line is .444/.548/.778. He has one homer in those nine at-bats and has driven in three. Nunez, OTOH, ranks 25th among those in camp with a .154 BA with no homers and a single RBI.

Meanwhile, left field is up for grabs and the two prime contenders appear to be Jarrett Parker and Matt Williamson. This has proven so far to be the hottest competition. Williamson is slightly ahead of Parker with a .304 batting average (.304/.385/.565), two homers, two RBIs, and five runs scored in 23 at bats over eight games. Parker has been at bat 21 times over eight games. His anemic .190 BA is offset by the extra base hits he’s piled up including two homers. That gives him a power-laden slash line of .190/.370/.524.He has 7 RBIs and has scored four runs. At this point, you’d have to say Parker hits well for average, but Williamson is the power hitter. Which do you go with? This one needs more data before even a guess can be made.

That’s it, Giants fans. Today, the G-Men are playing a split-squad combo against the Reds and the D-Backs.

Go, Giants!

Re-Infected by Smalltalk

I seem to be afflicted with a chronic, recurring condition, a sort of living nightmare in which I imagine myself a programmer. I’ve experienced this numerous times over the past several decades, but it appeared to be finally cured in my retirement as I focused my life more on spiritual matters.

But recently, I decided that I wanted to develop a couple of Web and mobile applications in support of my spiritual teaching as well as for the nonprofit Job One for Humanity volunteer work that I’m doing. Without much of a commitment to actually doing something, I started poking around in the world of mobile application and web development.

By a chain of circumstances I can only be described as being dragged down a dark rabbit hole, I encountered a language which I had explored previously as a possible development language and environment. I’m referring to the Smalltalk-inspired Amber language. In the three or so years I have been away from Amber, it appears to have undergone considerable growth and gained in popularity. More importantly, it appeared to have overcome most if not all of the packaging, delivery, and performance issues inherent in traditional Smalltalk.

Ever since I first discovered it something like 15 or 20 years ago, I have loved Smalltalk. It is my favorite, widely-used programming language by a lot. (If I omit the qualifier, “widely-used”, then that honor goes to LiveCode.)

So I was excited to encounter a vastly improved Amber product which is a tool that generates high-quality JavaScript code from working Amber applications. Even though I’m not a systems-level guy, I set out in an effort to install Amber on my Mac with complete confidence it would be a positive experience.

Man, was I wrong!

As it now stands, Amber does not apparently have any easy way to install on any platform. It involves so many dependencies and requires so much command console typing (which for me is far more painful than programming) that I was tempted several times to give up. But I persevered. However, I kept encountering roadblocks I could not decipher or understand, and when I sought help in the Amber community — or in one of the communities supporting one of the dependency modules — I got very little response and nothing definitive that actually worked.

As a result, after three days of mucking about with it, I gave up.

But that is not the end of the story. In the course of investigating Amber, I discovered that a newer dialect of Squeak Smalltalk — which, over recent years, has become the Gold Standard of free Smalltalk environments — was also capable of spitting out web applications using generated HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. This relative newcomer is called Pharo.

Not only does Pharo have a single-button install, its documentation is really outstanding. There are a number of free e-books available, several of them authored or co-authored by the original developers of the language, and they have a wonderful tutorial as well as an online video course spread over several weeks of in-depth training.

So now I’m off, once again infected by Smalltalk, learning this new dialect and the robust environment in which development takes place, for the moment at least happy as a clam. I truly hope the Amber team gets its act together on the installation side, because I’d love to explore it as well, but for now I’m sitting sale to master Pharo and make these new application ideas a reality.

P.S. to Laurence. You knew this would happen, didn’t you?

 

Catching Up With the Faltering Giants

Hmmmm. Let’s see now. Last time we talked about the San Francisco Giants in Spring Training, it was Feb. 27 and they had started the season in high style, scoring two come-from-behind wins over Cincinnati and the Cubs.

Nine days later, the team has just broken an eight-game losing streak by nipping the Cleveland Indians 3-2, bringing their Spring mark to 4-8.

Remember when I said Spring Training won-loss records are meaningless? Now you understand?

But stats, which are still largely meaningless, are still interesting little tidbits to occupy our minds while we wait for the real thing to begin in early April. So here are a few highlights I thought you might find interesting.

The G-Men have 10 players hitting .300 or better, led by young second baseman Joe Panik with a .500 average in six games and 14 ABs. Panik, of course, is set in the lineup but not so Trevor Brown, who’s in a dogfight for the No. 2 catcher spot behind Buster Posey. But Brown is helping his cause so far, hitting an even .400 over six games and 10 ABs. Veteran Nick Hundley, picked up during the off-season as a possible backup to Buster, is hitting a bleak .214 but he’s drawn three walks so his OBP is a respectable .389. Posey, meanwhile, is a bit slow getting started, with a .273/.385 line. None of the catchers in camp has a homer yet but Brown did leg out one triple.

I’m a little concerned about the outfield (but remember…it’s early!). Of the 10 contenders for those three roles, only newbie Steven Duggar (.333 in 7 games and 9 at-bats) and Mac Williamson (.294 in 17) have respectable averages. Hunter Pence, who will get the day-to-day start in right, is mired at .133 with 15 ABs. Right now, Manager Bruce Bochy has Jarrett Parker (.222 in 18 ABs, but two homers) penciled in starting in left, Denard Span (14 appearances, .071 BA!) in center and, of course, Pence in right.

As a team, the Giants are 26th in batting average, 16th in scoring, 26th in OPS (On-Base + Slugging) and tied for 21st in home runs.

Pitching isn’t faring well either. The Giants are 21st in team ERA (4.93) and 16th in WHIP (1.43). With 31 candidates in camp for what will probably be a 12-man staff, Bochy and Pitching Coach Dave Righetti have been spreading the ball around so much it’s hard for any individual to emerge from the statistical pile.

Tomorrow it’s the Dodgers, then the American Baseball Classic followed by the first day off of the spring training schedule.

 

 

Maybe Niners Punt on QB, Wait in the Weeds for 2018

One of the more interesting suggestions for the 49ers dealing with their quarterback vacuum for 2017 comes from Akash Anavarathan at NinerNoise.  He suggests that the Niners pick up a veteran as a short-term placeholder, get the best available QB in the second round of the draft, and wait for next year to look for a franchise quarterback.

As a strategy, it doesn’t sound too bad. If you go into a deal with someone like, say, Brian Hoyer, Matt Schaub or Josh McCown,  with both parties clear that it’s a short term deal with managed expectations, that might be a tenable solution. With all of the talent gaps the team faces in 2017, the likelihood of anything resembling a break-even season is really remote. This clearly is a longer rebuilding project.

Ravens QB Matt Schaub

Out of that crop of three veteran QBs, my vote goes to Schaub. Hoyer has the best stats of all three (QB rating last year of 91.4, career 84.8) and he’s the youngest, at 31, but I have a feeling he wouldn’t be interested in a deal with the Niners that didn’t give him long-term potential. McCown is just a mediocre QB with a career QB rating of just 78.2 (anything below mid-80s is pretty poor). He’s only had one good season, in 2013, and since then he’s rattled around and performed poorly.

Schaub, on the other hand, is not quite over the hill at 36 (though he’s approaching it fast), he has a decent career QB rating of 89.1 and although he’s fallen off the last season or two, he still has the tools and stamina to put together one more decent season.

So, the reasoning goes, why rush it? Why trade high draft picks this year for a replacement quarterback who is not likely to be a long-term solution?

Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes

But you can’t go into the season with one quarterback. We need at least two. Which is where the second-round draft choice option comes into play. Anavarathan suggests that in the second round, the  team pickup Patrick Mahomes out of  Texas Tech. That’s a bit of a risk, on at least two levels. First, there are no guarantees he’ll be around in the second round — his college stats are astounding and although he’s not in the top 10 quarterback options in the minds of most scouts, on paper at least he looks quite good, particularly in comparison with those who rank higher but seem less ready. Second, he’s difficult to forecast as an NFL quarterback because of the system he plays under at Texas Tech.

If they go with the veteran interim solution as the starter and nurture Mahomes as his backup, and assuming good coaching to support the rookie, that might get us through 2017. Frankly, I’d feel a lot better with a third quarterback but that may be a luxury the Niners can’t afford this year.

What, then, about the need for a franchise quarterback sometime in the near future? Anavarathan points out that there are a number of really sterling candidates in the class of 2018. Two of them are practicing their art right now in the state of California. Specifically, he recommends keeping a close eye on Sam Darnold, a redshirt sophomore at USC, who’s heading into his second season as the regular starter, and UCLA Quarterback Josh Rosen.  Overall, the 2018 draft looks far more promising than this year’s crop of slightly above average quarterbacks.

There is one flaw in this overall strategy. For it to work, the Niners almost have to try to have a losing season so they can get a high enough first round draft pick to have a shot at one of these hot new quarterbacks in that draft. But “trying to lose” is never a good strategy and often results in clear injuries. To say nothing of how it makes the fans feel.

What none of us wants to see is for newly minted GM John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan to blow any high draft picks on a mediocre pickup. As I’ve said many times, the Niners’ talent needs this year are so extensive that they should just be looking to pick up the best athletes they can because finding a place for them on the field won’t be difficult.

This is a real challenge for Lynch, who’s never held a front office position in his career. It will be very telling in terms of his viability as a long-term solution at the GM spot.

 

Bills’ QB Taylor Could Be a Decent Niners’ Choice…If He’s Released

There is some speculation today that the 49ers are interested in pursuing a possible deal with Buffalo Bills’ QB Tyrod Taylor, assuming the Bills decide to release him. His release is hardly a foregone conclusion and some of the speculation is probably being fueled by Taylor’s agent in an effort to put him in a better bargaining position for this, his final option year with Buffalo.

Taylor is 29 and has seven seasons of NFL experience. He was a full-time starter the last two years. While his numbers showed a slight dropoff in 2016 compared to 2015, they were still respectable (61.7 completion percentage for 3,023 yards with 17 touchdowns and just six interceptions). His career passer rating is 92,3.

The Bills are on the hook for $30.5 million for Taylor this year as part of the six-year contract extension he signed before the 2016 campaign.

Other teams will undoubtedly perk up their ears at his availability if it happens, which NBC Sports reports is somewhat likely.

Bye-Bye, Colin

The ink was hardly dry on last night’s post in which I agonized over the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback vacuum before the option I suggested went up in smoke. Several unconfirmed reports this morning indicate that veteran QB Colin Kaepernick has decided to opt out of the final year of his current deal with the Niners and give free agency a try. With several teams looking for a QB solution, I don’t see Kaep lasting very long on the market.

For the record, you can count this as the second quarterback 49ers’ owner Jed York has all but ruined with his ego producing constant coaching changes.

Anyway, this may call for a change in the strategy I recommended yesterday for the new front office team of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan. In the absence of any quarterback on the roster who is clearly a capable NFL quality player (sorry, Blaine Gabbert), the Niners are going to be forced to trade for an available player or pick up a free agent. (Of course, they could still land Kaepernick if free agency is a bust for him; I just don’t think that’s likely.)

As expected, the Redskins named Kirk Cousins their franchise guy. This means, according to Wikipedia, “[The] player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of a date in April of the current year in which the tag will apply, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. Exclusive franchise players cannot negotiate with other teams. The player’s team has all the negotiating rights to the exclusive player.” According to preliminary figures released by the NFL, a quarterback with the exclusive franchise tag would command a salary of not less than $19,953,000. In essence, then, the Niners would have to offer Cousins a better deal after getting the Redskins’ approval to talk to him.

I’m not Cousins’ biggest fan and I’m not sure he’s the best QB available by trade or free agency. Take a look at this table that tracks all NFL free agents.

LA Rams Backup QB Case Keenum

As of right now, Cousins is the only franchise-tagged player (so his name isn’t in that list because, technically, he’s not a free agent.) I studied this table for some time before deciding that I would champion the cause of Case Keenum of the Los Angeles (Again?) Rams. Keenum has proven value as a starter; last season he started nine of the Rams’ games before being benched for rookie draftee Jared Goff and compiled a record of 61% completions for 2,201 yards, nine TDs and 11 INTs. His passer rating was an unimpressive 60.9 but he showed flashes of brilliance at times, like the 2015 loss to Tampa Bay in which he recorded a Rams record near-“perfect game”, racking up a 158.0 passer rating by going 14 for 17 for 234 yards and two touchdowns.

Better yet, his 2016 salary with the Rams was just north of $3 million. This makes him a bargain even if the Niners have to pay him in the neighborhood of $10 million. At 29 and with three years of reasonably solid NFL experience under his belt, I wouldn’t be surprised if, given the regular starting role, Keenum has a breakout 2017 season, living up to the potential he had coming out of college in Houston where he became the NCAA’s all-time leader in total passing yards, touchdowns, and completions.

Of the UFAs (unrestricted free agents) available, he’s easily the best of the crop given age, experience, salary and other conditions.

 

How Should the Niners Fill the QB Vacuum?

Ever since the San Francisco 49ers “solved” their head-coaching and front office problems by hiring Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, respectively, the entire Niner Nation has been focused like a laser on how to solve the “Quarterback Problem.”

But let’s face it, folks, we don’t have a quarterback “problem”, we have a quarterback vacuum.

As of this moment, the team has exactly zero quarterbacks on the likely roster of players to start the 2017 season. And that may be just as well. The only legitimate QB on the roster is Colin Kaepernick, who is widely believed to be looking to cut loose from the team before the season begins.

So how should the team go about filling this vacuum?

There are only three ways to get a quarterback in the National Football League. You can trade with another team, pick up a free agent, or select a college graduate in the annual draft. (The other way, of course, is to keep one you already have, but that seems a little unrealistic at the moment; but don’t close that door just yet.)

As you can imagine, the Niners, who hold a number two pick in the first round and have a significant amount of room under the salary cap, are seen as a team with many options for filling this vacuum. Unfortunately, the stars are aligned against them in all three of those places where they might find a franchise signal-caller.

Let’s start with trade and/or free agency.

Patriots QB Jimmy Garapollo

The Niners have been frequently linked with the fortunes of New England Patriots’ backup quarterback Jimmy Garapollo. The third-year man out of Eastern Illinois was a late second-round pick by the Patriots in 2014. Since then, he has appeared in very few games and has run up a quarterback rating of 106.3, which is nothing to brag about. On top of that, there is an old adage in the NFL: the best way to come out ahead in a deal with Patriots’ head coach Bill Bellichick is never to do a deal with Bill Bellichick. Word on the street is that the Pats want a first-round pick for the guy. If the Pats are ready to release him as a backup to an aging (but apparently ageless) Tom Brady, there may be something more to him than meets the eye. The last thing the Niners need now is a quarterback project.

The other possibly tempting trade bait out there is the Washington Redskins’ Kirk Cousins. The team may have put the kibosh on that deal today when they slapped cousins Cousins with the dreaded “franchise” tag for the second year in a row. That makes it more expensive than need be for a team to pick him up, and for a guy with a career passer rating of 93.6, that would be too high a price.

Redskins QB Kirk Cousins

There are two other possible NFL quarterbacks the Niners could be interested in for the short term: Matt Schaub of the Atlanta Falcons, and Jay Cutler of the Bears. The problem with Schaub is his age (35) and in the recent fall off in his productivity caused by making appearances in very few games. Cutler is at the end of his career as well, playing this year at the age of 33, and is clearly not worth any high draft picks or other good talent, of which the Niners have almost none anyway.

What about the college draft?

So if the current crop of available NFL quarterbacks is that sparse, the Niners need to look to the draft as a possible source. Unfortunately, this is one of the worst years for quarterbacks in the college draft that I can recall seeing. Probably the top-ranked college quarterback is Mitch Trubinsky out of Clemson. His stats look really good, but he’s only played one full season as a starter and that came in a spread offense where he always took snaps from the shotgun. That will give any quarterback great accuracy statistics. Not one single NFL scout that I’m aware of has him as a top 10 prospect, and for the Niners to waste their their number 2 pick would be a bad financial decision. Particularly with some really special defensive talent up for grabs at a time when the Niners need help there as well.

So, what to do?

SF QB Colin Kaepernick

Still, the Niners do need a quarterback. With the slim pickings in both trade bait and free agency, and a poor field of draft choices, I think the Niners only have one choice. They must find a way to convince Kaepernick to stay with the team, even if it’s on some sweetheart deal that only gives them one or two years with the club and sets him up for life. I know that’s not a popular idea. I know that Colin has already indicated strongly that he’s not interested in staying, but I also know his value on the open market is pretty low, not only because of the drop-off in his performance but also because of his unpopular political views. He could destabilize a locker room pretty fast.

Then I think the Niners should look to using their second round pick for a long-term backup solution by finding someone who has the potential to be a top-flight NFL quarterback with some work. The two guys who seem most likely in that capacity are Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech and Reuben Foster of Alabama.

As of this evening, there are rumors that the Niners could go with Foster as their first-round pick, but I think that would be ill-advised unless they know they’ve got Kaepernick locked in as the kid’s mentor.

So there you have my current thinking on the question. The vacuum must be filled, obviously. If Colin is a non-starter, the Niners are pretty well screwed in 2017 because they won’t have a quarterback on whom they can build a long-term franchise, let alone one ready to step in and win this year. That’s probably okay, because none of the fans expect the team to be a winner again for 2 to 4 years.

Can you say “long rebuild”, boys and girls?

 

Of Algebra, Google and the Bible

Futzing around.

I know Google can solve math problems. But I was tinkering with Wolfram Alpha and comparing it with Google Search and I ran across the fact that WA can solve algebraic equations.

So I thought I’d see if Google could as well.

Spoiler alert: as far as I can tell, it can’t.

I typed in a completely arbitrary algebraic equation and Google brought up search results for sites and documents that contained that sequence of characters and similar ones. Not much help there.

So just to refresh my mind on what Google does with calculations, I entered this arbitrary expression:

43+12/9-14

The usual calculator image with the result (30.333333…) appeared as the first result. But I allowed my eye to scan below that expected result and was startled to find as the very next result, a reference to the Bible: “Matthew, chapter 12” from the site of the United States Conference of Bishops.

WTF?

I wondered what portion of the search term generated that result.

So I trimmed the search term to 43+12/9. Now the posts following the calculator result were engineering-like entries dealing with connectivity and other esoterica.

43+12/ led to…ready? No math result, of course, but the first entry was to Isaiah 43:12!

WTF, again?

Same result if I omit the slash, but in that case, I get the calculator result, too.

It turned out that the only way to get the original citation to Matthew without the full original search term was to trim it to 43+12/9-1.

I spent way too much time on this but it was really fascinating. I cannot easily decode the reasons that some of those mathematical formulas produce Biblical citations when entered in the Google Search bar. I’d love to understand it, though.

Giants Open Cactus League With Two Come-from-Behind Wins

Yep, Spring Training games mean nothing. Less than nothing. But, still….  The Giants opened the 2017 Cactus League with two come-from-behind victories over the Cincinnati Reds and the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs (still can’t believe that’s not an #alternativeFact).

Chris Marrero

On opening spring day, they entered the ninth inning trailing the Reds 4-3. Chris Marrero hit a 3-run walk-off  homer to give the G-Men a 6-4 victory. The next day, Saturday, the Cubs were in Scottsdale (Cubs were, however, split-squad). The Cubbies were up 3-0 in the fifth, but the Giants tied it in the bottom of the frame t=and then had a four-run sixth to put the game out of reach. The final: 8-6.

Then on Day 3, the Giants had a much easier day of it. They took the lead for good in the third and won it 9-5 pretty handily.

The good news is that the Giants’ offense has been performing well. Scoring 23 runs on 31 hits, which suggests timely hitting. The (not unexpected) bad news is that pitching has been a bit disappointing.

In Game 1, Madison Bumgarner gave up two runs in his only inning, for an ERA of 18.0. Then NRI Roberto Gomez came in and went one inning, giving up another run. Game 2 saw Matt Cain draw the start and toss two pretty nice innings. Ty Blach came on in the third and gave up another run over two innings but the biggest disappointment was Josh Osich, who yielded two earned runs in a single inning. Matt Moore started Sunday’s game and gave up one run in 1-⅓ innings of work. He gave way to Matt Reynolds, who didn’t help his cause any by giving up three earned runs in the remaining ⅔ of the second for an ERA of 40.50. So far, Manager Bruce Bochy and Pitching Coach Dave Righetti have taken a look at 23 different pitchers.

As I said at the beginning, these things tend to be meaningless until the last week or so of Spring Training, but hardened fans watch and fret over them anyway.