Giants

Bumgarner's rehab includes use of new pitch tracking technology

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Alex Pavlovic

Bumgarner's rehab includes use of new pitch tracking technology

SAN FRANCISCO — Madison Bumgarner’s bullpen session on Saturday looked normal in almost every respect. Manager Bruce Bochy, pitching coach Curt Young and bullpen coach Matt Herges stood a few feet behind the pitcher, watching his mechanics and the movement of his pitches. Andrew Suarez, who would follow with his between-starts bullpen, sat on the grass as a spectator. Eli Whiteside caught Bumgarner, and special assistant Will Clark stood in the box to mimic a hitter. At Bumgarner’s feet was a bag of baseballs to help him get through his work. 

There was a new element, though, one that wasn’t present for Bumgarner’s rehab work last season but will likely be standard for the Giants moving forward. 

Behind Bumgarner’s left shoulder was a mounted camera shooting super slow motion images of his pitch grips, hand movement and release point. Behind the plate, the Giants set up a Rapsodo device to track everything from velocity and spin rate to horizontal and vertical break. Both devices had cords running directly to laptops held by members of the baseball operations staff. In real time, they were able to provide Bumgarner with any sort of data or image he might want. 

Some team officials were surprised that Bumgarner, known for an old-school approach to reading a hitter’s swing during an at-bat, would want the machines set up. But he did look at the results after his bullpen session. 

“I was trying it out. I was just curious about it, really,” Bumgarner said. “It tracks everything. Where the ball goes through the zone, release point, it gets your hand coming through in super slow motion. You can adjust if you need to. You’re not going to get a better look at (your pitches). It’s info to have, and that’s what I was curious about.”

Bumgarner didn’t need Rapsodo to know that he’s ready for a minor league rehab assignment Saturday in Sacramento. He could feel that his arm strength had returned but that his off-speed pitches needed work. Giants coaches are wary, too, about putting too much stock into the spin rate and velocity numbers for a rehab bullpen session, knowing that everything ticks up with the adrenaline of a game situation. 

But just as Bumgarner was curious, the team is, too. Trainer Dave Groeschner envisions a day in the near future when the data helps determine how a pitcher’s rehab is going. 

“In theory, down the road, you should know how the ball is spinning right away, and — especially with a guy like Bum, who is coming off a hand injury — you could see if he’s getting back to normal.” Groeschner said. “We haven’t used it to determine where he’s at because we haven’t had a baseline, but it’s nice to see the info.”

The baseline is key for practical use. The Giants acquired the technology in the offseason and started using it at their Arizona facility in January. During spring training, about 15 pitchers had their data logged while throwing off a mound on a back field at Scottsdale Stadium. That sets a baseline going forward and they can always check back and compare themselves to those healthy numbers, but because this is relatively new to the Giants, most of their established pitchers have not gone through that process. Bumgarner did not, and thus did not have baseline data to compare Saturday’s data to, but the staff still found the slow motion images of his hand placement and release point to be useful. 

Mark Melancon also used Rapsodo during some of his rehab bullpen sessions and the Giants expect it to be the norm going forward. It tracks eight pitch metrics and can show a 3D version of the ball’s path through the strike zone. It’s already used by other teams, including the Astros, Indians and Phillies, organizations known to be on the front lines of baseball’s data revolution. The Giants generally try to be quiet about their use of advanced metrics and emerging technology, but there was no way to hide a couple of cameras mounted around their franchise pitcher. 

“We’re just trying to use it with as many guys as we can,” Groeschner said. “I think eventually, when we get more baseline results, it’ll help us with guys returning from injury. There are a lot of things you can take out of the numbers.”

Five weird Giants stats that stand out after 20 games of odd MLB season

Five weird Giants stats that stand out after 20 games of odd MLB season

The Giants' 2020 MLB season officially is one-third of the way done. That feels extremely weird to write after a 20-game sample size, yet here we are. Blink and the 60-game season will be over.

After their 5-1 loss Wednesday night against the Houston Astros, the Giants are 8-12 on the year. They just finished a grueling road trip where they went 3-7, and finally have a day off after 16 games in 16 days. With their latest defeat, the Giants now are tied for the second-most losses in baseball. 

Despite that fact, they're far from out of the playoff picture as the postseason has been expanded to eight teams for each league. Here are five stats -- good and bad -- that have defined the first third of the Giants' season. 

.458

I mean, who didn't expect Donovan Solano to be hitting .458 right now? It was pretty obvious this would happen. Right? .... right? 

OK, back to reality. Nobody, and I mean nobody, saw this coming. Solano, 32, did hit .330 last season and proved he's a major league hitter. Now, he's one of the best stories in baseball. 

Solano has the third-highest batting average through 16 games in San Francisco Giants history. Only Barry Bonds (.525) in 2004 and Willie Mays (.470) in 1964 have been better. That's a pretty, pretty good group to be a part of. 

Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon (.472) is the only player with a higher batting average than Solano right now. They're joined by New York Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu as the three players hitting over .400 this season. The only downside is Solano has been shelved recently with an abdominal injury.

.219 

For as great as Solano has been at the plate, the Giants' catchers have not. Chadwick Tromp (.226) and Tyler Heineman (.212) are batting a combined .219 right now. 

This doesn't sit well with the crowd begging for the Giants to call up top prospect Joey Bart

Tromp has hit two home runs and shown some power, but he also has 11 strikeouts to only one walk. Heineman has displayed a better eye at the plate, however, he virtually has no power at the plate. The two have been solid when it comes to framing pitches, they haven't been as great when it comes to actually hitting pitches.

After a three-game series with the A's, the Giants then have four games against the Los Angeles Angels and three vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks. Perhaps then it finally will be Bart time.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

21

That's the number of home runs the Giants have hit as a team this season, with their power being an improvement from last year. A total of 11 Giants have gone deep this season. They're currently tied with the Houston Astros with the 17th-most long balls in baseball. 

But that's not the 21 we're focusing on here. 

The Giants also have made 21 errors, the most in the game by far. The next highest is the Kansas City Royals with 17. San Francisco is committing more than one error per game, which can't happen with a team that isn't full of sluggers at the plate. 

For as great as Solano has been at the plate, he has been atrocious defensively. He leads the team with four errors and his fielding percentage is just .902 right now. These aren't the Yankees, these aren't even the San Diego Padres. If the Giants want to compete, they have to clean it up defensively.

79

Speaking of cleaning it up, the Giants also can't afford how many free bases their pitchers have allowed. They lead the NL with 79 walks, which ranks fourth in the majors. 

Sometimes walks can be deceiving. Trevor Cahill walked four batters in 1 2/3 innings in San Francisco's loss to Houston on Wednesday. Those walks never really came back to hurt him, but there's a bigger picture here. Giants pitchers struck out seven batters and walked six in the loss. Astros pitchers struck out nine and walked one. That's a winning formula, the Giants' is not. 

Giants pitchers also have hit 12 batters, tied for the fourth-most in the big leagues. Their 5.10 ERA is the seventh-worst in baseball, and they rank 22nd in strikeouts with 142. It all starts with the walks, though. 

Once again, this is a team that can't afford sloppiness and free bases.

[RELATED: Slater, Solano's injuries expose Giants' offense in loss]

8

When the Giants signed Billy Hamilton in the offseason, he gave them a speed factor they haven't had in years. Hamilton is one of the fastest players the game has ever seen. He also never played an inning as a Giant. 

San Francisco traded him to the New York Mets for pitching prospect Jordan Humphreys on Aug. 2. Still, the Giants are tied for eighth in stolen bases this season, with eight. 

Known speedster Austin Slater leads the Giants with five stolen bases to go with his three home runs. Slater also has legged out a triple, and Mike Yastrzemski has two three-baggers. 

The Giants finished last season with the third-lowest stolen base totals in baseball. They're a team that needs to take advantage of every extra base they can get, and whether it be a stolen base or hustling for a double or triple, they're doing exactly that this season.

Dereck Rodriguez impressed by Joey Bart, Giants prospects at alternate site

Dereck Rodriguez impressed by Joey Bart, Giants prospects at alternate site

There wasn't a player at the Giants' alternate site in Sacramento who had a better feel for high-upside talent than Dereck Rodriguez. He's the son of a Hall-of-Fame catcher and grew up in big league clubhouses. 

Rodriguez, then, was the perfect person to ask about the top prospects who are spending their summer getting reps against more experienced pitchers like him and Trevor Cahill, both of whom were called up Wednesday. He gave a glowing scouting report, too. 

"(Joey) Bart is unbelievable. Bart, he's a big league player if I could say it. He's awesome to throw to," Rodriguez said. "He's awesome calling games, and he looks like a veteran at the plate

"Heliot Ramos, that dude has some pop like no other, and Luciano, for how young he is, he is really disciplined at the plate. He takes some pitches that are tough. Him and Ramos were tough at-bats down there. I don't think I got Ramos out once, and Luciano, man, Luciano was good. He was battling. He would walk here and there. I would have to throw him pitches and he would sit on them. Usually younger guys -- 2-0, 3-0 counts are usually fastball counts -- but to him you have to treat him pretty much like a veteran. He makes good adjustments, it's pretty cool. He's a big boy, man, he can hit."

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Bart, Ramos and Luciano are the organization's top three prospects, and are among the 30 or so players working out in Sacramento every day.

When the minor league season was canceled, the Giants brought most of their top prospects to Northern California, hopeful that they could accelerate their development with daily reps against guys like Rodriguez, a breakout star in 2018 who has seen an uptick in velocity and is back in the big league mix after a down 2019. 

Luciano hasn't even played Low-A ball yet, so this summer is all about learning. But Bart should debut at some point this year, and Rodriguez said he didn't think Ramos would be overmatched. Like Bart, Ramos reached Double-A last season, and as an outfielder he could have an easier adjustment to the big league level. 

[RELATED: New Giants catchers thrive in this stat]

"He's a great runner, he reads the ball well off the bat, he has a really good arm, and he sees spin really well. He's a good, disciplined hitter up there," Rodriguez said. "In my opinion I think he could be up here at any moment. And Bart, everybody loves Bart. I think a lot of the guys up here (in the big leagues), a lot of the pitchers that threw to Joey in camp were really impressed and are excited honestly. 

"We're really excited to try to get him up here at some point, either by the end of the year or next year.  It's going to be a lot of fun seeing him up here and throwing to him."