Monday, December 11, 2006

Giants New Centerpiece: Starting Rotation

I see people getting mad about the Giants right now. They point to the Giants management's statements at the start of the off-season and say that they were lying to us fans. We didn't get younger. We still have Bonds as the centerpiece. None of the young players get to start. Therefore Sabean, Magowan, and the Giants are liars.

Youth is in the Eye of the Beholder: Just Win Baby!

See, that's the crux of the matter. People see the one statement and hold the Giants's feet to the fire but missed the main statement of the offseason: the Giants's goal is to be competitive in 2008, and they want to get younger and healthier while doing it. They stressed this over and over again, particularly in context regarding whether Bonds comes back or not. But really, people didn't see that when push comes to shove, winning (in the Giants thinking) comes before younger and healthier?

Frandsen, Linden, Lewis, I would would have been OK with starting them but it would not be a winning season, which some seem to accept, they want to rebuild. However, that's an untenable position regarding the Giants management's statements to the public to put together a winning team, there is no re-building with that objective, there is only spot improvements, a work-in-progress, that, ideally, get younger and healthier over time. First and foremost, the team must strive to win, and, meanwhile, if we can, we try to get younger and healthier.

Good Enough To Compete

Now some may argue that the team as constituted is not a winning team - and I would not argue against that stance, the team has a chance to stink it up again like 2005 and 2006, perhaps in a whole new different way.

But I think that the Giants also have a good chance for a good, competitive (again, a relative term, in the NL West for the title) team, and it is all based on their young pitching. If they deliver as they had when healthy, we have a really good starting trio of Cain, Lowry, and Morris. Add in a legit leadoff guy starting off the offense, and a nice middle of lineup in Bonds and Durham, and it is a nice lineup, not earthshaking, but nice.

A New Centerpiece

Some also feel that the team lied about who the centerpiece of the team going forward is. Bonds, while still the centerpiece of the Giants offense, is no longer the centerpiece of the team. He's not going to hit like he did in 2001-2003, but he'll still be damn good. However, as high priced as he may be, he is no longer the centerpiece of the team.

The centerpiece of the team is now the starting rotation, and led by Cain and Lowry. Hopefully Lincecum will join them soon and maybe Sanchez. Teams are going crazy signing middle of rotation guys to $10-11M contracts, which means that a "good" rotation has $35-45M of performance (not necessarily salary) devoted to the starting 3 of their rotation. How good would it be if we can trot out Cain, Lowry and Lincecum for the next 4-5 seasons for less than $10M total per season? And maybe Sanchez too boot?

And how valuable will pitchers like that be? I've written about this long ago before, but the Giants focus on pitching is a true blessing with the free agent market going crazy like this. Pitchers are very fungible commodities, a team can trade one for almost any position in the field, but if you have a hitter, then you need to find a team that 1) has the player you need, and 2) need the hitter you have. Pitching is always in need and they can be used in a large variety of ways, they can literally fill one of 5-10 positions on your pitching staff, depending on what you need, so that once you locate a team with the hitting you need, then you just have to find a right combo of pitchers to get that hitter.

So the Giants are looking good in the near and intermediate term based on their focus on pitching and more pitching in their farm system. No team can ever fill all the needs of the team via the farm system, there is not enough easily identifiable major leaguers beyond the first 5-10 picks, to do something like that. Even the A's, for their vaunted farm system, needs to rely on selected free agents to fill needs. By concentrating on a low supply, high demand product like pitching, they will help insure that we have a continuously improving pitching staff, with ready replacements coming up, and, eventually (hopefully), enough spare arms to trade for what we need in terms of hitters.

1 comment:

  1. Martin, this is great. It is one of the cleverest, most original, most insightful analysis I've ever seen. I can see its genesis in some of the things you have pointed out earlier, but, still, the link to younger and healthier is very insightful.
    I would say, and its not necessarily a stong opinion, but a preference, that I would prefer to see Linececum start in AA and about the end of June go to Fresno - and if everything goes well, look for him in '08. I would prefer to see Sanchez be the 'baby' of 07 - and I would prefer to see only one baby a year. so, Sanchez in '07, Linececum in '08. I am OK w/ H or C, but I think Sabean will bring in a FA or another starter and keep H & C in the pen.
    I've made this statement over and over, without it getting much notice: I think it would be really stupid, and quite contrary to Sabean's 'style,' to give starters slots to Frandsen, Linden, Lewis. Why not include Edgardo and Niekro? The fact is rookies have an extremely high rate of failure (see, Niekro, Ellison, Ransom, Minor, et al). The biggest, most recent example is Niekro, circa 2006 (not a vintage year). He was handed a starting slot and sailed directly into the Bermuda Triangle. Then, since the playoffs were a disctinct possiblity, we have to give away a valueable piece, Accardo, to get a replacement.
    I would agree with the calls for "start the rookie" if there were some strong likelihood the guy would be ready to contirbute next year. More likely, especially for Lewis, Notgardo, etc, is they just fail, a la Frandsen last year (206 BA). People can scream "start the rookie" all they want, but, just like Niekro last year, when the guy goes in the tank, EVERYONE blames Sabean, no one says, boy I was wrong on that one.
    Which is why I think Sabean's approach is exactly right. Have a qualified major leaguer on the roster. Audition the rookie, give him the chance to beat out the vet. If by Memorial day, the rookie is hitting 280 and the vet is hitting Feliz like, bang promote the rookie. But if he is hitting 206 on Memorial day, he is, at best, a utility guy, could even be sent down, but at least you have a bona fide player in the lineup.
    IMO this is the way to get better. Maybe younger, too. But better is more important than younger. And this is a proven, safe recipe to RTY to get both.

    ReplyDelete

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