The Giants lost to the A's in their first spring training game on Tuesday, falling by a score of ... well, I don't remember and I'm not going to look it up. There was baseball, and that's all that matters for now. Madison Bumgarner was lit up, but you're not worried about him. Tim Lincecum said he felt great, but you're still worried about him. Nothing changed, other than there was a baseball-less void and now there's not.
And yet ...
This is the part of the year where we remind each other that nothing means anything and everything means nothing. It's like a greeting as we pass in the hall.
"Morning, Sam. Spring training doesn't mean anything, how's your wife?"
"Morning, Ralph, spring training doesn't mean anything, she's good, thanks."
But there's always one player who gets scrutinized beyond the point of reason. Usually it's Lincecum, and for the last three years his Cactus League starts were events. Do you remember when I went pitch-by-pitch on a Lincecum/Mark Kotsay match-up? Of course not. Why would you? That was a dark time in my life. It still made sense back then. It made sense to scrutinize Lincecum in the spring.
There's always one player. This time, though, it's not Lincecum. The microscope player is Hunter Strickland. The Giants still believe in him, with Bruce Bochy mentioning him as a viable bullpen candidate. The prospect hounds still believe in him, with both Baseballs America and Prospectus putting him in their top-10 list of Giants prospects and writing something like, "Don't pay attention to his postseason." The part of your brain that controls your common sense gland still believes in him, as you mumble "Wait, am I really going to write off a guy who throws 100 mph and dominated the minors last year because of eight postseason innings?"
Then he gave up a dinger. He was a trending topic in San Francisco on Twitter. Let's see what people were saying!
hunter strickland is batting practice. Hope to goodness he does not make team
all I know is that I hate hunter Strickland on the Giants. All he do is give up HRs.
Hunter Strickland's still garbage, no surprise there.
It goes on and on. My favorite are the people who include his Twitter account in their tweets, because it's very important that he realizes a random person on the Internet is displeased with him. He never would have guessed, good work.
We're still talking about nine innings.
Strickland has been bad in nine innings as a major league reliever.
Historically bad, as it turns out! Still, nine innings. He was great before that. Heck, he's the only player in baseball history to have more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, more than five innings pitched, and an ERA of 0.00. If you lower the innings-pitched requirement, Matty Alou joins him, which lets you know that's a meaningless cherry-picked search, but that's not the point. Even if you ignore the ludicrously small sample, Strickland was a revelation in September. Then he was awful for nine innings, and now he's the guy everyone is going to watch in March.
Strickland can't give up any home runs in spring training without it meaning something. Vogelsong gives up a dinger? He's working on a pitch. Bumgarner gives up a dinger? It's March. Romo gives up a dinger? Just stretching his arm out. Strickland gives up a dinger? HOW CAN HE ZIP HIS PANTS UP WHEN HIS THUMBS ARE MADE OUT OF DINGERS he's the worst cut him. Unless he's spotless for the rest of spring training, it's going to be obnoxious.
Imagine that he does make the team. How many homer-free innings will he have to throw before he's not known as the supervillain who shows up every other game and ruins your night with his dinger ray? If he throws 10 spotless innings, then gives up an eighth-inning bomb, he'll be the worst pitcher in history again. Then 10 more spotless innings and a dinger will lead to more gnashing of teeth. After 10 more innings and another dinger, garments will get rended. After 10 more clean innings ... maybe people will stop side-eying him quite as much, but only then will the healing begin.
That's what it will take, and Bonds help him if any of those 10 innings between dingers aren't spotless. It starts this spring. Meet Hunter Strickland, the only pitcher on the team who can't give up home runs in March.
Now, he might be awful after all. It makes no sense that a pitcher with Strickland's stuff couldn't at least succeed in middle relief -- don't give me "major leaguers can hit a fastball" because when it comes to 97, 98, 99, and 100 with half-decent command and control, they really can't, not enough to make a pitcher incapable of being one of the 210 pitchers in the majors with a relief job somewhere -- but maybe I'm wrong about that. There is a noticeable difference between his breaking ball and fastball delivery, and maybe that's his fatal flaw, never to be corrected.
I'm not going to forget everything else I know, all of the statistical evidence and scouty goodness, because of nine freaking innings, though.
And I'm not going to pay attention to how many dingers he gives up in spring unless I pay attention to how many dingers everyone else gives up in spring.
And if I start caring about how many dingers everyone else gives up in spring, I will bury myself in my backyard after I eat the treasure map leading to my corpse.
Maybe Strickland's good, maybe he's bad. People are going to pay far too much attention to him when he does something wrong in spring, though, and it's going to be annoying. You've been warned. Here's your microscope player for the 2015 Giants in the Cactus League, even if that's a label that no one deserves.