Off-Season – But Not Time Off
Giants batting coach Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens is wasting no time diving into his new job. He has gathered John Bowker, Travis Ishikawa, Nate Schierholtz and minor-league first baseman Brett Pill for a six-day hitting clinic at AT&T starting on Monday. Then he’ll fly down to Venezuela with Bowker, who will play winter ball in that country’s extremely competitive league. Schierholtz is going to Puerto Rico. (I’m not sure yet what the other two are doing.)
I’ll try to grab some time with Meulens during a break in the action on Monday and share what I learn.
I’m going down to Arizona on Tuesday with some of the video guys from the Giants. We’ll be checking in with Pablo Sandoval, who is in the midst of his own personal conditioning camp with team trainers.
Pablo ended his spectacular season with the second-best batting average in the National League (.330), 3rd in doubles (44), 4th in hits (189), 6th in total bases (318) and slugging percentage (.556), 7th in extra base hits (74). But he wants to get better, so he has committed himself not only to developing a new regimen of physical exercise but also to learning how to eat healthy. He also wants to work on improving his English pronunciations and educate himself about Facebook and blogging – all for the purpose of communicating and connecting more with the fans.
Got a text-message from Tim Lincecum earlier this week. He’s in Seattle right now visiting family but will be back in SF next week and will stay through the winter. He, too, is developing a workout regimen to get even stronger. He seems to be all-muscle already – his percentage of body fat has got to be almost zero. So I’m not sure what exactly he wants to improve. I hope to chat with him when he’s back in town and will let you know.
The Giants held a three-hour meeting Wednesday of the entire staff. They went over highlights of the 2009 season and laid out plans and goals for 2010. (Orange Fridays are coming back!) There was particular focus, as you might imagine, on improving offensive production, including a better on-base percentage and a more consistent one-through-five batting lineup. Brian Sabean’s staff talked of identifying possible trades or free-agent signings. Any trade, managing general partner Bill Neukom explained, would have to meeting the following criteria:
· Does this player significantly improve the team’s win-loss record?
· How much money will he cost?
· How much talent do the Giants give up for him?
· Does this player’s arrival thwart the progress of a top homegrown prospect?
· Does this player fit in with the team chemistry?
What struck me most, though, in the meeting was how much was accomplished in 2009 – and what a great foundation it provides for next season and beyond.
Some 2009 facts that stand out:
· Best home record in the NL and improved overall record by 16 wins over 2008.
· Best starting rotation in baseball (fewest runs allowed, most shutouts and most strikeouts). Lincecum led the league in strikeouts for the second consecutive year, was the 2009 All-Star Game starting pitcher and again was named NL Sporting News Pitcher of the Year.
· Bullpen strength: Jeremy Affeldt led the NL in holds (33) and Brian Wilson tied for third in the NL in saves (38).
· Great team chemistry: This team – in particular, the relatively unknown group of young players — won the hearts of the fans. And they did so by working hard day in and day out and playing with excitement and energy. As a result, Giants’ attendance stayed nearly the same this year from last year – even in a down economy — and the team set record television ratings (up 37 percent on Comcast over 2008). The veterans were fantastic with the young guys – everyone from Randy Johnson to Edgar Renteria to Juan Uribe stepped up as unofficial mentors and teachers.
· The deepening pool of emergent talent: Five of the Giants’ seven minor-league teams reached the championship game in their respective leagues (three teams won championships). The Giants’ affiliates combined for the best record among all major-league organizations. Catcher Buster Posey was named Topps/Minor League Player of the Year. Others, such as Madison Bumgarner, Roger Kieschnick and Brandon Crawford, established themselves as exceptional prospects. This is a great sign that the Giants’ investment in the farm system is paying off.
· Valuable late-season experience: Playing meaningful baseball in September gave younger players a foundation on which they can build in the seasons to come.
Here’s something else from the meeting that I loved, though it has nothing to do with baseball. The Giants made a real commitment to making AT&T the greenest ballpark in the country. In 2008, it managed to recycle 40 percent of all the garbage and other waste. In 2009, it recycled 67 percent. Pretty amazing.
More next week.