2018 San Francisco Giants: Growing older never hurts

Ron Herbel

Ron Herbel pitched capably for nine years but is best remembered for what he couldn’t do — hit. In his career, Herbel batted 206 times and had six hits for an .029 average — the lowest for any player with 100 at-bats — and a .104 OPS. He was 0-for-47 as a rookie in 1964 and 0-for-his-first-55 big-league at-bats until he singled and knocked in a run off Don Nottebart on May 21, 1965. He went hitless in his next 40 at-bats in 1965, making him 1-for-96 in his first two seasons. That’s an  .010 average. After that, he improved, getting another hit in 1966 and three in 1967, before finishing his career with a 1-for-44 stretch. On Sept. 4, 1965 against the Cubs, Herbel was thrown out at first on a would-be hit by right fielder Billy Williams. In the retrosheet.org play by play, it says “Herbel grounded out (right to first).” According to nypress.com, “On their bench, the Giants whooped. Earlier that year Gaylord Perry had bet Willie Mays a steak dinner that, following Herbel’s first-ever hit in May, he wouldn’t get another the entire season. So when Herbel stroked what looked to be a clean single to right, ‘Mays was jumping up and down in the dugout,’ Perry told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1991. But Herbel spun wheels leaving the batter’s box, allowing Williams to throw him out. Perry won the bet: ‘Mays had a heart attack.'” As a pitcher, Herbel was much better, without the benefit of getting to pitch to Ron Herbel. He won nine games with a 3.07 ERA as a rookie in 1964, won 12 games in 1965 for a Giants team which won 95 games but finished two games back of the Dodgers, started and relieved in 1967 when he had a 3.08 ERA and led the NL in appearances (76) in 1970. It was Herbel who took over on Aug. 22, 1965 when Juan Marichal was ejected for hitting Johnny Roseboro with his bat. Herbel entered and outpitched Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, throwing five shutout innings before the Dodgers scored a run in the ninth. Against Koufax, he was 0-for-2, but only fanned once. Herbel from nypress.com: “I even tried hitting left-handed. But I didn’t do a whole lot better than I did right-handed. You know you’re bad when you’re at the plate with men on first and second and nobody out, and you look at the third-base box with a 2-and-2 count, and the coach gives you a take sign. That happened to me.” Career numbers: 42-37, 3.82 ERA, 331 games, 894.1 innings, 945 hits, 285 walks, 447 strikeouts, 3 shutouts, 16 saves, 94 ERA+, 3.75 FIP, 81 home runs allowed (six to Billy Williams, who threw him out at first from right field), 3.7 WAR.


Next man up: The Giants traded for Andrew McCutchen and signed Austin Jackson, but could start 2018 with rookie Steven Duggar in center field. The Giants probably want Duggar to make the team, if only because it means Gorkys Hernandez, who got 348 plate appearances last year and produced a .652 OPS, won’t. Duggar can hit (lifetime .292 average), walk (.384 on-base) and play center field, which qualifies him over Gorkys. He’d also give an elderly team a slice of youth.

What he said: Giants second baseman Joe Panik: “There’s a lot of history in this organization. The second basemen, the players of the past, they’re the ones who set the high standard. I’m the one who has to keep that standard high.  What he meant: “There’s a lot of pressure trying to be the next Duane Kuiper.”

Three reasons it will be a good year: 1. Evan Longoria may not hit 36 home runs, as he did in 2016, and at 32 years old may not be the player who accumulated 50.0 WAR in 10 seasons as a Ray, but even at his worst — a .253/320/404 2014 — he’s better than what the Giants played at third base last year. Giants third basemen in 2017 were last in MLB with a .568 OPS — 380 points worse than the MLB-best Rockies and 210 points worse than the NL average. It was so bad they brought back Pablo Sandoval after three years of gloating at his poor performance for the Red Sox. Sandoval was bad for the Giants (.638 OPS), which was an improvement. 2. Madison Bumgarner won’t go dirt-bike riding this year. Presumably. Last year he hurt his shoulder doing so and only made 17 starts, little more than half a season. In his place the Giants started Matt Cain 23 times; Cain put up a 5.43 ERA and retired. An additional 15 Bumgarner starts is sure to be worth 2-3 more wins, more vs. a Cain type of replacement. 3. It’s an even year again. The 2017 Giants finished 40 games out of first place, or almost as many as the rest of the decade combined. But the 2013 Giants won only 76 games, finished 16 back and won the World Series in 2014. These Giants added Longoria and McCutchen, who are 32 and 31 respectively, and haven’t played deep into the playoffs for a decade, if at all.

Three reasons it won’t: 1. They’re old. And they’re old almost everywhere. If Jackson starts in center field, seven of their eight position players will be 30 or older. They’re not ancient — most of the Giants are between 30 and 35 — but older players get hurt more frequently and improve rarely. 2. Jeff Samardzijia said he weighed baseball vs. football a decade or more ago, and “it really wasn’t even close.” He’s right. Where else can you lead a league in losses and make $20 million? Samardzijia did, and he’s got three years and $60 million coming. In truth, he wasn’t that bad. He also led the NL in innings pitched (207.2) and walks per nine innings (1.4) and had a 3.61 FIP, much better than his 4.42 ERA. But he also wasn’t that good — he had a .734 OPS against and threw 30 home runs. The Giants have $57 million invested in Samardzijia, Johnny Cueto and Mark Melancon, all of whom are 30 or older and all of whom were ineffective or injured in 2017. The Giants don’t have a lot of negotiating space if they perform like that again. 3. Hunter Pence says playing left field after 11 seasons in right is “like a fresh new perspective.” That’s great, but he needs one at the plate, because the old one didn’t work last year. Pence hit just .260 last year and had career-lows in slugging percentage (.385), OPS (.701) and OPS+ (86). Pence will be 35 shortly after Opening Day and his hellbent style may not age well.

Team song: Bruce Springsteen: Glory Days

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