Bruce Bochy, Brian Sabean, Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Alex Smith, Tim Tebow, Andrew Luck
DURING THE regular season, Giants manager Bruce Bochy did quite a bit of lineup juggling but in the World Series, he went with his best defensive lineup all the way.
There was none of this nonsense that Hector Sanchez would catch Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito. Buster Posey was the catcher, period, and Brandon Belt the first baseman. Posey is the likely MVP for the season and may well be on his way to a Hall of Fame career. He is an excellent defensive catcher – his quick swipe tag of Prince Fielder in game 1 was probably the most significant play of the Series – and a strong middle-or-the-order hitter. Those who argue that he should shift to first are off base. He’s much more valuable as a catcher. Belt is also a superior defensive player, second only to J. T. Snow, who may have been the best of all time. He’s developing as a hitter but he’s young and a converted pitcher. I’m convinced he’ll hit for average and power in the near future.
Bochy also stuck with Brandon Crawford at shortstop instead of putting Joaquin Arias there because Crawford is a superior defensive shortstop. Catcher, shortstop and center field are the three most important defensive positions on a team and the Giants are set now at those three positions, assuming they re-sign Pagan, which is a no-brainer. The Giants had the best center fielder ever in Willie Mays, of course, but Pagan is an excellent one. Shortstop has been a difficult position for the Giants. Omar Vizquel was excellent when he was here and Rich Aurilia was solid but before that, you have to go back to Chris Speier for a shortstop who was both solid defensively and a credible offensive threat. Crawford is as good as or better than any of these shortstops in the field, and he’s shown signs that he can be a stronger hitter. Frankly, if he hit no more than .220, I’d keep him in the lineup.
Bochy also stuck with Gregor Blanco in left field, though he’s not a consistent hitter, because he’s great defensively. With Pagan in center and Hunter Pence in right, the Giants had a very strong defensive outfield. The only expensive member of that outfield is Pence, who will probably get $12-13 million next season. But the Aaron Rowand contract is off the books now and the Giants revenue will certainly be up this season so they can probably afford to re-sign him.
I have always felt that Bochy’s strongest point was his handling of pitchers, probably because of his playing background as a catcher, and that certainly showed in the postseason. He monitored Barry Zito closely, taking him out in the third inning of one game when it was obvious he didn’t have it, letting him go in the pivotal fifth game of the NLCS when he had his A game. He used Tim Lincecum in relief and Lincecum was brilliant in that role. Lincecum struggled as a starter, but Bochy said he’d be back in that role next season. Madison Bumgarner was terrible in two starts, so his turn was skipped the next time so pitching coach Dave Righetti could work with him in the bullpen. The next game, Bumgarner was coming over the top again with his pitches and he was brilliant.
The cheerleaders among the San Francisco writers virtually canonized all the Giants decision-makers, which was no surprise.
When I first came to San Francisco, the writers covering the Giants were a much different group. They were older – though not as old as I am now – and had been covering the Seals in the Pacific Coast League. They were also not very good. They didn’t work very hard, seldom talking to players and usually taking their cue from the manager of the day. One of them sometimes fell asleep in the press box. Another one wrote on one Opening Day, “One down, 161 to go,” which gives you a clue about his enthusiasm.
But, they were not homers, as too many writers today are, led by the chief cheerleader at The Chronicle. Those of you who read the paper know who he is. He doesn’t jump on the bandwagon; he’s out leading the parade early. Of course, many fans like that style. One Examiner reader, who doesn’t appreciate my style, wrote a comment saying, “Writers should root, root, root for the home team.” Well, many do.
So, we’ve seen some overenthusiastic acclaim for both Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean. Bochy, we’re told, is a Hall of Fame manager. Well, maybe he’ll make it, but it’s always important to realize that players usually make the manager, not vice versa. Bochy didn’t look like a Hall of Fame manager when he was with San Diego – because he didn’t have the players. The best example, of course, is Joe Torre, who was just another sub .500 manager until he came to the Yankee and started winning championships. I don’t believe a light suddenly went on in Torre’s head. He just had much better players.
As for Sabean, he did an excellent job this season, trading for Pagan before the season, for Pence during the season, but he’s also the guy who burdened the club with the Zito contract and Rowand’s five-year, $60 million mistake, not to mention going for two over-the-hill shortstops, Edgar Renteria and Miguel Tejada. What has saved Sabean has been his assistants, John Barr and Bobby Evans, who have built up the Giants farm system, which is now producing position players like Pablo Sandoval, Posey, Belt and Crawford as well as pitchers.
Perhaps the most ridiculous statement of all was that by a writer who said Zito’s game against the Cardinals, staving off a St. Louis triumph in the NCLS, was the best by a Giants pitcher ever in a pressure game. I think I prefer Billy Pierce pitching a two-hit, complete shutout in the sixth game of the 1962 World Series, with the Giants down, 3-2, against a lineup which had five hitters with at least 20 home runs, including Roger Maris (33, after 61 the previous season) and Mickey Mantle, who hit 30 despite missing almost 40 games because he was injured.
Media bias or not, it was a glorious triumph for the Giants and in its way, even more significant than the 2010 win. The earlier win was fashioned on great pitching and opportunistic hitting by players who were not that good and are gone now – except for Aubrey Huff, who was still here this season because Sabean signed him to a two-year contract after 2010. Huff was a nonfactor all year and in the postseason. Significantly, Bochy used Ryan Thieriot, a righthanded hitter without much power, as his DH against a righthanded starter in the fourth game of the Series.
Huff mentally retired this season, staying around only because he had a contract for $11 million – and who can blame him? He should make it official now but, even if he doesn’t, his time with the Giants is over.
QUARTERBACKS ARE the most important players in football but some of the evaluations of them are ridiculous. Some recent examples:
--A Sports Illustrated writer decided last week that 49ers quarterback Alex Smith had lost his confidence because he’d had two bad games. Even Jon Gruden, who should know better, ran videos of Smith’s four interceptions in those games and said, “Those are bad decisions, not bad throws.”
First, Smith wouldn’t have lasted under Jim Harbaugh if he made bad decisions. All coaches talk about winning the turnover battle but Harbaugh really believes in that. His system is designed to prevent turnovers, and Smith had done that. He threw only five interceptions all last season and had a streak which carried over into this season of consecutive passes without an interception that was a club record.
Then, he injured the middle finger of his throwing hand by hitting it on the helmet of a Buffalo defender in the romp over the Bills. He never used that as an excuse but it was clearly bothering him in the next two games.
Then, he had a 10-day break between games, so he had a chance for the finger to heal. Against the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night, he was 18-for-19, which would be an NFL record for accuracy in a game, except that there’s a 20-pass minimum for that record. I guess he was making better decisions.
Smith has won over most 49ers fans but not all, and he hasn’t convinced the national media, either, most of whom decided long ago he wasn’t a quality quarterback and won’t change their minds. He’s regarded as a product of the Harbaugh/Greg Roman system, and even his great night this week was explained by his receivers doing great work by running after the catch.
Of course, the same could be said about Joe Montana. At the time Montana came out of college, NFL teams were enthralled with the long passing game, and Montana did not have that kind of arm. But Bill Walsh’s system emphasized accuracy on shorter passes and receivers running after the catch. John Taylor had a game against the Rams when he scored twice on 90-plus yards plays which started with short passes.
No, I’m not suggesting that Alex Smith is another Joe Montana. There was only one of those. But Alex is much better than his detractors insist.
--Tim Tebow. Two NFL.com columnists this week wrote that the Jets should switch to Tebow as their quarterback because Sanchez is ineffective.
I’m no admirer of Sanchez but I don’t think Tebow is an NFL quarterback. He had success last year because his style was so different, but teams were beginning to catch on toward the end.
In the early ‘70s, when John Brodie was injured, Steve Spurrier took over for him and had some early success, throwing five touchdown passes against the Dallas Cowboys. Nevertheless, noting that he had a weak arm and couldn’t throw the outlet pass to the sidelines, I predicted that defenses would cheat toward the middle of the field and shut off his passing lanes. That’s exactly what happened.
Toward the end of last season, teams were beginning to catch on to the Tebow style, looking more to defend against his running and daring him to throw, which he can’t do with any consistency. That’s what will happen if the Jets trying him as their starting quarterback. Tebow is a great athlete and competitor, but he’d be much better as a running back, throwing an occasional option pass, much as Paul Hornung did in his Hall of Fame career.
--Rookies Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin were drafted 1-2 this year, and the media has been dazzled by Griffin’s great athletic ability. But, they’ve overlooked the most important statistic: Luck’s Indianapolis Colts are 4-3. Though Griffin came to a better team, the Washington Redskins are 3-5.
Luck is also a good athlete, though not as spectacular as Griffin, and he’s a winner. The Colts have already won one more game with Luck than they did with Peyton Manning in his rookie season.
THE WARRORS open their season tonight and it should be a good one, though an asterisk has to be placed on that because two key players, center Andrew Bogut and point guard Stephen Curry, are injury-prone.
I’m impressed with the job new general manager Bob Myers has done with the roster, using a combination of the draft, the Bogut trade last season and free agent signings, to build a team that is three-deep at every position.
Still, it’s essential that Bogut stay healthy because he gives the Warriors both an offensive and defensive strength in the middle that they have not had for many years, which is one of the reasons they have had only one playoff appearance in 16 years.
Curry is also a special talent, but Jarrett Jack, obtained as a free agent, is very good, so the falloff if Curry can’t play isn’t overwhelming, but the backups for Bogut are rookie Festus Ezili, who set records for blocked shots in college but is not much of an offensive player, and Andris Biedrins, who seems to have completely lost his confidence.
Coach Mark Jackson bravely predicted a playoff berth for the Warriors last season, which was absurd. He says now that he was trying to “change the culture” after all the losing seasons. The only thing that will change that is winning. Talk doesn’t do it.
CAL ACADEMICS: Though I’d heard an unofficial report about this in May, and wrote about it then, it was still a shock to see Cal at the bottom of the Pac-12 in football players graduation rates. That’s not true of Cal athletes in general who are graduating at a rate of 89 per cent, only slightly lower than Stanford athletes. As we all know, it’s even harder to flunk out of Stanford than it is to get in, so that’s remarkable. As usual, Cal women athletes graduated at a higher level than men, probably because there are far fewer professional sports opportunities for women, so they don’t get distracted.
I don’t know how to explain the lack of football graduates because I know Jeff Tedford has always put a high priority on his players’ academics. Perhaps he got distracted by the stadium project and building of the Simpson High Performance Center, for which he had campaigned. At any rate, there’s now a large room in that center where athletes can study after practice, which Tedford proudly pointed out to me last May. I’m confident that this distressing turn will soon be reversed.
MY WEBSITE was off line briefly this week because, with everything I was dealing with, I had forgotten to renew. I did that, for three years, as soon as I discovered my error. I’m beginning to think there really is a God in the universe and I have done something to royally piss Her off.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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