Monday, July 31, 2006

Walk Away From the Edge, It's Not Really That Bad

Seven (looking like eight right now; OK, pretty much done now, Wilson and Kline made certain of that, darn Moises, why he go and get himself thrown out, we could have used him hitting in the 7th instead of Finley and darn, Bonds up to tie and he flies out to deep center, in past years it would have been tied game...) losing streak aside and 4 games back (4.5 if, or rather, after, this loss), the Giants are not much worse than they were before when they were starting their win streak and 3.5 games back. The baseball gods giveth, the baseball gods taketh away. And again the Giants end up about .500, about 3-4 games out of first place and the wild card.

That's part of the beauty of the baseball season, it's a long-distance stroll, sometimes languid, sometimes very dynamic, sometimes a sprint, always interesting in its own way, kind of like how every snowflake is different, every season is different, and yet very much the same. I enjoy the pace, its lack of hurridness, the unfolding of each game, a mini-drama each of its own, one of the original reality games. But in the background you hear the beat-beat-beat, faint at first, pretty faint most of the year, but then, if you are lucky, you hear the beat loud and clear and you are in a pennant chase, and you live and die on each pitch until you either make the playoffs or is shut out again, with the refrain of "wait until next year."

And to use another analogy, it is very much like the 6 blind men and their description of an elephant. I can understand the frustration with playing .500 ball when we have a good offense and good pitching staff, it seems like it should get better but it doesn't. Then there are those who have seen the season as half empty from the beginning, bemoaning Sabean and/or Alou, depending on the situation, but always bemoaning. Others live and die with every game, flying when we win, down in the dumps when we lose.

Me, I am like the Watcher from Marvel Comics (except that this Watcher is a Giants fan, not an impassioned observer :^). Sure, I don't like losing and I get a good feeling when the Giants win and sometimes I fly or go down. But I mainly like to watch each game, each its own entity, and enjoy the ephemeral joy of a win or the sting of a loss, and then move on. But getting too caught up in the ups and downs, it is a little like investing in the stock market, to use another analogy. If you followed a stock from high to low and back again, living and dying on every little blip up and down, that's a sure way to an ulcer and other health problems.

Same with baseball. Just look at the past two weeks as a great example of what I'm talking about. The Giants stormed from 3.5 games to take the lead, lead!, of the NL West, with a nifty 5 game winning streak. Now they are on the verge of an 8 game losing streak and the team is in freefall, amazing because the Giants picked up some good pieces in the Hillenbrand/Chulk for Accardo deal, it wasn't like Accardo was setting the world on fire - in fact, he WAS setting our games on fire, with an ERA of 7 or 8 the past two months - so their play should have been a positive for the team, but you get Alou out with another injury, then Bonds getting hurt and missing a game, and suddently we have lost a whole bunch of games.

And STILL we are only 4 to 4.5 games away from 1st place. It's kind of like a dog chasing its tail, after all that running and panting, you find yourself exactly where you were before, only very tired. And not so necessary to do, we were 3.5 games back before, we're now 4-4.5 games back, nothing has really happened between then and now, other than another 2 weeks of baseball is gone.

And that is the kicker, another two weeks are gone. The time for me to get worried is when the Dusty rule is at hand: as long as you are not more games back than weeks left to play, all you have to do is gain one game per week in the standings to make your way back to the top of the division. I find that helpful because it breaks a gigantic task - winning the NL West - and reducing it to individual tasks that are now broken up to a simple rule and doesn't seem so onerous as needing to win a zillion in a row or ELSE!

So I watch and get frustrated but I know from the ups and downs of life, let alone baseball, that things tend to even out over time and, if not, then good if we are winning, bad if we are losing, but not until we are looking like we are out of it for good. And the way things are going this season, this probably will not be settled until late September again, the way it has been under Sabean's reign as Giants GM, something I enjoy because after living through the 70's, I'll take competitive anytime over abject mediocrity and the feeling that the pennant race is over before it began.

Go Giants!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Lowry is Back, Jack! Numero Deux

It is actually a couple of games now (been busy with last couple of posts) since his last start but Lowry had another encouraging game. He struck out 4 in 6 IP, but had those 4 in the first 4 IP, if I remember right. In addition, from the radio broadcast on KNBR, the announcers noted that he broke three bats (if not more but I remember 3) in either the 5th or 6th inning. That is a sure sign that his fast ball is working again: if I remember right, breaking bats is a good sign for a pitcher's fast ball, and good signs are what we need for Lowry because his stats, particularly in regards to strikeouts, have looked anemic all season long since his oblique strain. The loss in velocity made his changeup less devastating and hence the loss of strikeouts earlier in the season. Hope this continues...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Giants Trade Martis for Mike Stanton of the Nats

Many Giants fans are outraged over this trade. Martis had his no-hitter, is 19 years old (like Liriano was), and a world of potential that whets fans lips. Stanton is old and his stats don't look so hot the past two seasons. So I can understand some of the outrage.

But just because we lost Liriano does not make every 19 year old prospect we have the equivalent of him, particularly since he was not even good enough to make the team's top 15 prospect list. Whereas Liriano was good enough to rank in the Top 10 (for BA) when he was traded.

Martis' numbers scream average at low-A ball:

Martis:
Overall: .257/.313/.351/.664 2.5 W/9 6.5 K/9 0.4 HR/9, 2.6 k/bb
On road: .298/.355/.381/.736 2.8 W/9 8.8 K/9 0.2 HR/9, 3.1 k/bb

League:
Overall: .255/.332/.377/.708 3.5 W/9 7.7 K/9 0.7 HR/9, 2.2 k/bb
On road: .262/.340/.387/.727 3.6 W/9 7.6 K/9 0.7 HR/9, 2.1 k/bb

The only numbers that stick out is his W/9 and HR/9 rate is much lower than average and his k/bb is pretty good. But his K/9 rate is not that far off from average, either way, and the batter's hitting line against him is not far off from the league despite his very low HR/9 rate. This suggests that he's been giving up a lot of 2B's to make up for that low HR/9 rate, which could mean his SLG could explode if the hitters figure out how to make those 2B into HR's, which, if they are good prospects, they should do eventually.

Martis' numbers above does not inspire confidence. As young as he is, he is at the level he should be, Ron Shandler's book says that ideally top prospects of his age should be at low A-ball. And he is rated as, at best, a middle of the rotation starter by Shandler's companion prospect book. He is averarge or slightly above average compared to the league across a number of key stats, it is not like he is a top pitcher in the Sally League at the moment and yet all this angst over losing him?

As much as people want to denigrate Stanton, he has been an OK reliever during his career. 3.82 lifetime ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 3.4 W/9, 2.1 K/BB, 0.7 HR/9. His 3 year (2003-5) stats are not that far off: 3.93 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 3.6 W/9, 1.8 K/BB, 0.8 HR/9. And one can make the argument that his recent stats have been very depressed by pitching at RFK, though obviously small samples: in 39.1 IP at RFK, 5.49 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 5.0 K/9, 2.7 W/9, 1.8 K/BB, 0.7 HR/9.

Stanton is the old relief war horse, the one that Worrell was suppose to be but then had his injury. The classic veteran ballplayer that Sabean covets for his playoff battling teams. While I will miss the enjoyment that a prospect like Martis might become, there have been other prospects at higher levels who have been more exciting this season.

Don't know who gets dropped off 40 man, perhaps another trade is in the works (Wright? With Hennessey or Correia taking over?). If it is someone off the 25 man roster, then Sanchez does not necessarily go down with Stanton coming on. We will see what else unfolds, Sabean said the 72 hour window is when teams stop asking for the world and you can bargain better with them in designing a trade.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Interesting Question: Sabean's Trade Record - Getting Worse?

In the many years Sabean has been GM, the only really bad trade, and it was a doozy, was the A.J. trade. Most have been laughably one-sided or neutral at worse but some wonder if he has lost his touch since the Giants lost the World Series in 2002 because of that trade and the Edgardo Alfonzo and Ray Durham problem contracts. The San Jose Mercury, in an article, discussed his record and listed his moves since that fateful series in a side-column.

Lefty Malo also beat me to the punch and posted something similar. He has better explanations than I had come up with for why some trades were better than fans thought. But since I had about 90% of this post done already, I ain't throwing it out! :^) And I had been wanting to do this for a while anyway, only over his full tenure, but this would be a good start. So here it is, forthwith:

I thought it would be interesting to review each move one by one. However, I'm skipping over some of the moves where there was nothing worth noting (like the Damon Minor trade). And I will go over all the moves, not just trades, so I'm actually covering more than the trades below but will discuss mainly his trades at the end.

I will rate each move based on how the move rated at the time of the trade and how it rated when all was said and done. Because some moves might have made sense at the time but then turned out to be not so great afterward, and other moves look stupid going in and worked out well. The five ratings are: 1) Good move; 2) Good then Bad; 3) Bad then Good; 4) Bad!.

SABEAN'S NOTABLE MOVES SINCE 2002 SERIES

2002
Oct. 31: Declined mutual options on David Bell and Reggie Sanders, who elected free agency.
First, the Giants did not decline David Bell's mutual option, he declined his option and took off for free agency, but mainly because he wanted to be with Larry Bowa in Philadelphia and the new ballpark, even though the Giants were in the ballpark for his services (one article I recall reading said he was offered more by the Giants but chose the Phillies but I recall another person posting that Bowa was offered less by the Giants). Either way, his leaving the Giants forced Sabean to pursue and sign Edgardo Alfonzo. It is debatable which deal was worse, Bell's or Alfonzo's, both did horribly after signing their contracts; I'll leave that to other people (with more time on their hands). I will call this one not re-signing Bell and that was a good move, looking at what he did in Philly.

Sanders' contract was for $5M, if I remember right. He was not a clutch guy and not an RBI guy, he really should have been leading off but hit too many homers so that confused Dusty. He and Shinjo should have been batting in each other places and the Giants would have done a whole lot better, Sanders hit well leading off, Shinjo hit well 5-6-7 in majors, plus did well hitting there in Japan as well. This affected the future because Shinjo then wanted out when he could have been our CF on the cheap (probably $1-2M per year) for the next 3 years instead of Grissom, who while he did well, Shinjo would have been just about as good offensively but a lot better defensively, plus Grissom didn't hit RHP particularly well except for 2003. But just looking at how things ended in 2002, this was a good move, we got Cruz to replace him and he did about as well. Good moves.

Nov. 21: Awarded Neifi Perez on waiver claim from Kansas City. Good move, a typical Sabean move to cover himself, in this case, if the Giants don't sign 2B, but then after signing Durham, they first released Neifi (good move) but then signed him to a 2 year contract for something like $4.5M (bad move; the list did not include this atrocity). It kind of worked out OK the first year because Durham was injured so much and Neifi was adequate as his replacement, but then he was released the following year, upon which he joined the Cubs and started mashing the ball around, which would have been great for us, but made the sting that much more worse. Bad move all around.

Dec. 8: Signed free agent Ray Durham to a three-year, $20.1 million deal, plus $7 million player option for 2006 season. Great move at the time. He was a leadoff hitter that we needed, one of the premier ones at that. Long history of no injuries, it was the perfect signing, it fit in so many ways, it was the right move. Unfortunately, he suddenly became a poster boy for the DL after he joined us. I would still count this as a good move, because things never really got bad and he boosted our leadoff position to be tops in the NL, but I wouldn't call this a great deal either because he was gone so much. The main thing is that he probably was still better than any other 2B we would have picked up (don't remember who else was available though). Good move but it's time to move on unless he's signing for $2-3M for 2007 with $2-3M option for 2008.

Dec. 8: Signed free agent Marquis Grissom to a two-year, $4.25 million contract with a club option for 2005. I was one of the few who thought this was a good move at the time at the board I was going to then, before I started blogging. If I couldn't have Shinjo, this was an OK move. As I noted in that post, Grissom's decline was strictly related to playing in that hellish stadium called Dodger Stadium. His road numbers while with LA basically matched his career numbers and his PBP stats were good, so I thought he would do well with us. He had two good seasons before crapping out in 2005, so we essentially paid him $3.2M per year for 2003 and 2004, but he delivered 20 HR power, OK defense, and was a good clubhouse influence. Good move.

Dec. 16: Signed free agent Edgardo Alfonzo to a four-year, $26 million contract. It was a good move at the time, I thought, but obviously the end result was that it was a bad move. He, Grissom, and Durham together was suppose to replace Kent, Bell, and Shinjo/Lofton, and in theory and on paper it did, but Alfonzo never really held up his end of the bargain, except for the last half of 2003 plus the playoffs. It is an all-time bad signing. But going in, despite worries about his age and injuries, he was coming off a good year offensively so it didn't seem to be that bad a risk. The only saving grace is that Sabean was able to squeeze a little lemonade out by trading Alfonzo to the Angels for Steve Finley, who has done OK for us and certainly much better than what Alfonzo has done this year, but even at that, Finley's not worth $7M right now either, thought it is much better than Edgardo Alfonoso would have. Good move then BAD, in capitals.

Dec. 17: Traded Russ Ortiz to Atlanta for Damian Moss and Merkin Valdez. I was OK with the trade, whereas most people blasted the trade. And ultimately, they were right, so far. I thought it was a risky but smart move because Moss had done well for the Braves that year and Valdez was dazzling, so Moss would cover Ortiz' production close enough, particularly with Ainsworth joining the rotation, which would be a boost over Ryan Jensen, so Moss/Ainsworth would equal Ortiz/Jensen approximately. Ortiz would not have been the 20-game winner he was with Atlanta for us, but he would have been good for another two years before we lose him to free agency, whereas Moss had a nice half year with us then disappeared off the MLB radar. However, the unknown factors here are that if Ortiz wasn't traded, then where else would Sabean have had to chop out the $4-5M we were paying Ortiz, and could we have possibly signed Ortiz to that huge contract instead of the D-backs? But those are imponderables and what we can see is that it was a bad move overall. And Valdez is still a silver lining in the trade (thought very thin silver lining, as poorly as he has been pitching) and still only 24 years old with closer potential, so this move is not done yet. However, for now, I would say bad all around unless Valdez becomes our closer.

2003
Jan. 29: Signed free agent Jose Cruz to a one-year, $2.8 million contract with a $4 million mutual option or $300,000 buyout for 2004.
It was a good move all around, he replace Sanders at half the price and did about as well as Sanders would have done plus probably played better defense. Good move.

March 24: Acquired Jim Brower and a player to be determined (Matt Blank) from Montreal Expos for Livan Hernandez, Edwards Guzman and cash considerations.
As well as Livan did for the Expos, it is again one of those imponderables because there's no way in hell he would have done that for us, he was a slacker the time he was with us and he was a slacker with the Expos until late in the season when he finally realized that he was going to be a free agent and suddenly decided to start pitching like he could, instead of like he felt like doing. Livan was a good trade because you knew that if he stayed he would have dogged it again, he needed the kick in the pants of being traded again to get him moving his fat behind. Plus Brower was a nice addition to the bullpen for 2003 and 2004. However, Livan did do very well plus we paid almost his entire salary to the Expos, so this has to be rated Good then Bad, despite zero likelihood that he would ever have done that for us.

July 13: Acquired Matt Herges from San Diego for Clay Hensley and future considerations. Herges was great for us for the rest of 2003 and I thought he would be a key component of the bullpen for the near future. But he suddenly imploded and hasn't looked good since then, really, until the past month or two. Meanwhile, Hensley is starting for the Padres right now, though not doing that great. While Herges was a great addition for the rest of 2003, he was not really that necessary, we had the title since the beginning of the season essentially. Given that Hensley is starting in the majors, this rates as good then bad.

July 31: Acquired Sidney Ponson from Baltimore for Kurt Ainsworth, Damian Moss and Ryan Hannaman. This was a good move, the Mercury columnist rated this as one of the worse trades but I don't think it was, it is probably as good as they come. Ainsworth, Moss, and Hannaman haven't done anything since the trade and we got a couple of good months out of Ponson and insurance in case Rueter didn't return back in time (he did) and in case Schmidt's balky arm gave out (it didn't). So Ponson was a good trade IMO, people (including BP, hence the problem with non-fans writing the analysis that I found with buying the Street and Smith mags when I was younger) forget the full circumstance of when he was acquired - Schmidt's arm ready to fall off, Rueter just went on the DL, leaving Williams, Brower, and Correia (I believe) as the starting rotation of the playoffs had it started that day and Schmidt went down as feared. Then to make it all good, we didn't sign Ponson, the Orioles did.

The only bad thing, and it is an imponderable, is if we didn't make this trade, would the Twins have accepted any of these players instead in the trade? But we can't know that, what we do know is that we got two good months of pitching from Ponson plus insurance in case one of our main starters were out, and that is more than anyone has gotten out of the the other three since then.

And for those who thought we should have kept Ortiz if we were going to get Ponson (let alone the fortune telling aspect of how they would have known that Ainsworth would break his bone and Foppert would need Tommy John work, and necessitate such as move), Ponson did no worse than Ortiz did in his first start of the 2003 playoffs. And these people forget that Ortiz was all over the place in the playoffs in 2002, while he did win us the first series, and without that, there would be no World Series, his ERA during the playoffs that year was 5.76! And that includes the stellar pitching he did in the Atlanta series, which shows how bad he was in the subsequent series. As I have said often, if Ortiz had pitched his 6th game instead in the 2nd game, there would have been no 6th game, there would have been a Giants victory parade going down Market Street.

Nov. 14: Acquired A.J. Pierzynski and cash for Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano. One of the worse trades ever in the history of the Giants and that takes some doing with trades as bad as Orlando Cepeda, George Foster, Jack Clark, Gaylord Perry, Dave Kingman. And it was made worse to see him go off and get the World Series win we all have ached for so many year. Enuff said, all I can hope for is that there is some karma involved and Pierzitski gets his eventually. BAD MOVE!!!

Dec. 2: Re-signed free agent Dustin Hermanson to a one-year, $800,000 contract. Good move all around, he did well for us the season before, then did well for us again, I wish we could have kept him another year, though he's been out all this year so that doubled his 2005 salary had we signed him to the same 2 year contract.

Dec. 3: Re-signed free agent Jeffrey Hammonds to a one-year, $1 million contract. It seemed like the right thing to do then for a cheap price. He did OK for us, had done pretty well previously in his career. However, his injury bugaboo came up again and he was dropped before he did much of anything for us. And I would hesitate to call it good first because the risk of his getting another injury was strong in my mind (anybody's mind) but it wasn't BAD, like Alfonzo Albatross. But bad move it is, should not have taken the risk on him, if we needed a right-handed hitter, they could probably have gone with Linden and he would have been OK, or even Ellison, who finally made the big show in 2005 and did very well against LHP, he probably would have been just as good in 2004.

Dec. 7: Re-signed free agent J.T. Snow to a one-year $1.5 million contract with a $2 million team option or $250,000 buyout. The list forgot to note that the Giants declined Snow's option, allowing them to re-sign JT for much less than his $6.5M option. Somebody on the board I went to back then said, and I quote (pretty much accurately), "JT Snow is like a one-eyed man among the blind, there are few quality 1B out on the free agent market so we should pick up his $6.5M option". Amazingly, I was the only person willing to point out that the Emperor had no clothes on (and was brutalized by him later in other discussions). In addition, not only that, but he also thought picking up the option was better than signing Vlad - he and I had battles over whether to sign Vlad or not - I think time has proven who was correct here. But I will admit that he was right that Snow was the best option around, which I never disagreed with. But here is where my economics/business background paid off and his film school major didn't, I only thought that we could still re-sign Snow for much less because the market was not going to value what Snow had done for you very highly.

Dec. 7: Signed free agent Michael Tucker for two years, $3.5 million and a compensatory draft pick to the Royals. The signing that was the tipping point for the anti-Sabean movement among Giants fans that was started with the Nathan trade. Over a draft pick that most likely would have turned out to never have made the majors, very likely would never be a good major leaguer, and almost certainly will never be a star - but many Giants fans apparently are SuperLotto players because they want to win the baseball prospect jackpot with those missing draft picks. But as my research suggests, losing the pick is like losing your lottery ticket: yes, maybe you just lost the big jackpot, but most likely you lost the money you spent.

Also, people failed to remember that Tucker only got an average $1.75M per season. He is what he is, a journeyman OF, who actually had a pretty good OBP. He had poor stats on the road while with KC, but that was all skewed by all the pitchers' parks in his division. He basically reverted back to his career road numbers once he move here. So it was a good move, he replaced Carlos Beltran and KC had that great run at the start without Beltran, and the thought was that he and Hammonds would platoon and share 1B duties. And he was great the first season but his second season, for some reason, being the 4th OF did not suit him even though that was what he was all the other seasons (or maybe age finally caught up with him; he couldn't earn a position with a team this year to start the year), so we basically paid $3.5M for his 2004.

For that I would label this a bad move. Plus the fact that Dustan Mohr played well for us that season, perhaps he would have done more if he started the whole year (though he didn't do that well playing for the Rockies the year after or for the Red Sox this year). So I go back and forth on that one, but I think after all is said and done, Tucker saved our OF situation in 2004, so inspite of his decline in 2005, he was a good move, overall.

2004
Jan. 9: Signed free agent Brett Tomko to a one-year, $1.5 million contract with $2.5 million team option or $300,000 buyout for 2005.
This was a good move because we needed a starter and he was coming off a good second half, giving the hope that he finally turned the corner in regards to his career. He didn't, he found another excuse for why he didn't deliver and another "solution" that solved everything for him and allow him to do well, each year. But despite our problems with him, at his price, he was a relative bargain and did adequately for us. Good move to sign him, good move to let him go into free agency at the end of the contract.

July 30: Traded Felix Rodriguez to Philadelphia for Rickey Ledee and Alfredo Simon.
I did not like this move because I thought it would cost us the playoffs that season, but he was declining, we saved some salary, and we got a prospect (Simon) for him (plus Ledee but he was useless, he did a lot better for the D-gers; he must have grew up a D-gers fan). Simon has not shown anything since he joined the Giants, they immediately changed his pitching motion and everything plus made him a reliever, and he has stunk ever since. If Simon ever become a useful player, my opinion might change. But it was a bad move and stays bad.

Nov. 14: Signed free agent Omar Vizquel to a three-year, $12.25 million contract. People questioned the signing because of his age and then recent surgery plus the length of the contract, but he was not only been a great defensive upgrade, he has also delivered good offense from the position as well, though obviously not to the new era, homer hitting SS standard. Looking at his stats, it was clear he was an OBP machine, no power, but gets on base like nothing - near .400 - and can steal bases at a good pace too, what we had been expecting Durham to do. So while I understood why people didn't want to sign him, I was cautiously optimistic that he would serve our purposes - to win the World Series - the first year or two and possibly be a sinkhole his last year or so. And he has been wonderfully better than all that. My one problem is that he probably should be the leadoff hitter because of his lack of power, then Durham's and now Winn's power would be better utilized in the 2-spot by driving in Vizquel with their homers but that's a quibble. Good move.

Nov. 29: Signed free agent Armando Benitez to a three-year, $21.5 million contract. Lots of people didn't like the move because of his choke label. But I did not see any choice but to pony up to the bar and pay the tab for a top reliever like Benitez. He was the elite reliever of that free agency class, there was no choice among the free agents if you are serious about making the playoffs, because the alternative was to use one of our unproven pitching prospects or to rely on Dustin Hermanson, and is that who you would have wanted to tie your World Series hopes to (ironic since the ChiSox did). But obviously, it has been a total bust for the most part, he has not been the Benitez that he was before we got him, he has been either injured or still recovering from his surgery. Good then BAD...

Dec. 13: Signed free agent Mike Matheny to a three-year, $10.5 million deal, plus $4 million club option for 2008. The anti-A.J., many fans were upset over his lack of plus offensive talents but, really, most starting catchers are not that good offensively, fans seem to think a catcher is a failure if they don't hit like I-Rod, Piazza, or A.J. Matheny is actually not that bad offensively for a catcher and is a plus defender plus probably could teach all our young pitchers something that they will carry with them for the rest of their career. It was a good move and stays a good move, as long as he recovers from this concussion injury.

Dec. 14: Waived A.J. Pierzynski. The players he was traded for was a sunk cost, and thus did not alter the equation of getting rid of him: they did not like him, he did not like them, he, to steal from Hillenbrand, has a "unique sense of humor" that other people did not get and he rubbed people the wrong way. Because Colletti screwed up the previous arbitration hearing - A.J. should only have been making $2.75-3.0M, not the $3.5M he got, not the $2.25M that Colletti low-balled him with - A.J. was probably looking to make $4-5M for 2005, his side probably would have submitted $4.75-5.0M and Colletti would have been forced to bid at least $4.0M. Without that screwup, we probably would have been looking at $3.5M instead, a whole $1M, maybe $1.5M less than expected. So he was waived, both for personality conflicts as well as costs, with the plus that Matheny would improve the defense as well. Good move.

Dec. 27: Signed free agent Moises Alou to a one-year, $7.25 million contract plus $6 million player option for 2006. For his production but lessened by his fragility, which he has had all his career, the salary is fair. The problem is that with Bonds out most of 2005 too, when Alou is out, the offense really suffered greatly. This year has been better with Bonds back and Finley chipping in when Alou was out. Not a great move, but gotta love the father-son connection, it has been a good move overall, he has been great when he was healthy and in the lineup. Good move.

2005

Jan. 18: Pedro Feliz re-signs for two years, $6.1 million. As maligned as he has been, he has been a better than average 3B, both offensively and defensively, this season, and he was very useful in his utility role last season. Good move.

May 28: Acquired LaTroy Hawkins and cash considerations from Chicago (N.L.) for David Aardsma and Jerome Williams.Hawkins I know people don't like but I liked the trade. In addition, I am OK with the trade based on what had been whispered about the two before the trade. Williams talked a good game of maturity but he could not control his weight very well and his K/9 rate had been declining for a long time as well. Aardsma just seemed to have so much problems adjusting after his initial mastery of A-ball, nothing seemed to work. It was obvious that the Giants were trading two problem childs for Hawkins, who was a high quality reliever for the Cubs, despite his boo-birds problem there.

June 3: Traded Matt Herges and cash considerations to Arizona for Doug DeVore. Just to dump Herges with someone willing to give him a chance. Doubt DeVore will ever make the majors. Good addition by subtraction move. Good move.

July 30: Acquired Randy Winn from Seattle for Jesse Foppert and Yorvit Torrealba. After initial reservations, mainly about losing Foppert, I thought that this was a good trade. Lefty covered most of what I was thinking, about how people overrated Torrealba's potential as a starting catcher and Foppert is at best a project now. I still don't see why people are still so enamored with Yorvit, he had that one good year hitting RHP but clearly that was a fluke, though he did mash LHP with us before. And not to cast aspersions but this is the era for it, he was pretty tight with Santiago and we all know that Benito was called into the BALCO grand jury to testify.

Aug. 4: Exercised $18 million club option on Barry Bonds for 2006 season. Looked like a good move at the time but then he missed most of the 2005 season, meaning the Giants probably could have signed him for peanuts (relatively) for 2006. Good then bad.

Aug. 8: Released Marquis Grissom. He did well for us his first two seasons but was just useless his last season, it was a mercy killing, plus we picked up Winn. Good move.

Aug. 19: Released Kirk Rueter. He had a good career with us but was just useless his last couple of seasons, it was a mercy killing. Good move.

Aug. 27: Traded Michael Tucker to Philadelphia for Kelvin Pichardo. We didn't need Tucker, so we saved money and got a young promising prospect, it was a good move and could get better if Pichardo can advance.

Aug. 30: Traded Deivi Cruz to Washington for Benjamin Cox. Didn't need Deivi either, so we saved money but don't know much about Cox. Good move no matter what Cox does.

Oct. 7: Exercised $10.5 million club option on Jason Schmidt for 2006 season. Great move all around. We owed him $3M anyway as the buyout, so we in essence paid only $7.5M in addition for Schmidt this year. That's the price of getting a mediocre starter today. Schmidt was not up to his standards last season but pitched well from mid-May on, certainly better than Loaiza, Byrd, Weaver, pitchers who got around $7M to pitch this year (on average). And if Schmidt returned to form, which he appears to have done, he is a true bargain plus hopefully he will still consider re-signing with us after the season, whereas if we had let him go, he would probably not have considered doing that. Good move.

Dec. 1: Signed free agent Tim Worrell to a two-year, $4 million contract. It was a good move at the time and for the first four weeks of this season. He had a very low ERA for 6 years, except for his meltdown with the Phillies in 2005 when he went through personal problems and even afterward, he returned to form with a sub-3 ERA. He looked like he never left the first part of this season, taking over the closer's spot and doing well in April but then had his neck problem, which appears to have affected him for the rest of this season. Good move initially, but now it looks bad, very bad.

Dec. 6: Traded LaTroy Hawkins with cash considerations to Baltimore for Steve Kline. Saved money with the trade and got a reliever whose stats would appear to be a mirror image of Worrell's stats over the past 6 years, he has been very good except for his year with the Orioles in 2005. He has been great so far, low 3 ERA (high 2 ERA until recent blips) and been our dependable LOOGY, particularly since Taschner was unable to continue his good season from last season, so good move.

Dec. 7: Declined to offer J.T. Snow and Brett Tomko salary arbitration. Good moves, it was time to move on for both.

Dec. 8: Signed free agent Mark Sweeney to a two-year, $1.8 million contract. Good move, even if he never set up the Giants Idol competition that gave us indelible memories of Bonds dressed up as Paula Abdul and Travis Ishikawa looking too sexy in his undies. He has been a good stopgap given all Niekro's injuries plus he has helped out in the OF with all the injuries and rest going on. Hopefully with Hillenbrand here, he will get to do what he was hired to do, be a deadly LH bat coming off the bench. Good move.

Dec. 12: Signed free agent Matt Morris to a three-year, $27 million contract plus $9 million club option for 2009. Despite his poor start and recent struggles, I still think it was a good move though obviously there is still a lot of years left on his contract. He brings a competitive fire that I like to the Giants. He brings a lot of knowledge about pitching that he is willing to share with the young pitchers on the staff, so that is an added plus. I was hoping he would be more consistent but I still have hopes for a good second half, but if he repeats 2005's pattern and do poorly in the second half, this move would definitely move into the bad. So good but incomplete for now, too soon to tell.

Dec. 21: Traded Edgardo Alfonzo to the Los Angeles Angels for Steve Finley. Great move, no extra cost, got a useable player in Finley, who has been a god-send with Alou injured so much this season and Bonds taking so many games off, even if it is more than people thought we would get from Bonds. And no matter what Finley does the rest of the season, good move.

Dec. 23: Signed free agent Jose Vizcaino to a one-year, $1.25 million contract.
2006.
We needed a backup middle infielder and Frandsen wasn't ready yet. And as much as I would like to see Frandsen do well and start - he grew up a Giants fan in the area - most prospect books I have seen only see Frandsen as a backup infielder, so perhaps hence the one year deal for Vizcaino. Hopefully Frandsen will, once again, show the pundits that you cannot measure yet what's in his heart and man second base for us for a long time a la Robby Thompson.

My only quibble is that $1.25M just seems like too much for Vizcaino, I would have expected to pay under $1M for him, maybe in the $750-800K range, plus bonuses if he ended up playing more games than expected. But good move overall because you can not really go bad with a backup middle infielder unless you overpay him too much (like he did with Neifi), you just need a body to do the job. Minimally good move.

Feb. 28: Signed Randy Winn to a three-year (2007-09), $23.25 contract extension. I think this will prove to be a good deal, even though he has not performed as hoped for by fans, including this one, this season. Good move.

Other Moves That Come to Mind: Obtaining Scott Eyre off the waiver wire is one that wasn't captured above. That was a great move, he was invaluable the time he was here. Dustan Mohr was an OK move, though I don't know what happened to the minor leaguer we sent for him. Eric Young was a bad move, even though the prospect probably didn't do much, because we lost a prospect and didn't even use him much. Wayne Franklin and Leo Estrella was a bad move, and one of the prospects did well in AA this year (then again, the other prospects we sent them for Eric Young and Dave Burba never did anything, so I guess that evens things out...).

Sabean Trade Record: About the Same as Always

If anything, I would say that Sabean's trade record is about the same as before. If he could regularly find idiots to give him something for nothing, that would be great but not realistic: GM's are mostly competent and not idiots, to steal his line. Great deals like he found early on really depends on circumstances, having that one team who just wants to be rid of some player for whatever reasons and take a chance on your players. Trades rarely look great at the time of the trade because both sides got what they thought was fair for the deal to be made. It is afterward, when one player becomes a Hall of Famer while the other side's players all flounder and fail, that a trade suddenly looks like a steal, look like blind robbery (the Nat's/Red's deal is the exception that makes the rule :^).

As before, most of Sabean's moves were good moves to start with and good so far. As the saying goes about risk, if you aren't making any mistakes in your trades, you are not taking enough risks. High risks, if done right, carries high rewards. Being too conservative in your moves, in fear of making a mistake, will lead you to mediocrity. Hence some deals that look good going into it, like signing Worrell, turn out horribly bad.

And despite mistakes like the Nathan/Liriano/Boof trade and F-Rod, he has been chugging along, mainly making the good trades that make the Giants stronger and stronger over time, like Hawkins/Kline, Winn and now Hillenbrand. Sure, there hasn't been the Kent, Burk, Schmidt deals in a while, but, again, has there been that many of those deals happening all around the place? I feel that those types of deals are not very common, you should just be thankful if you get one and hopeful you only get one when you're on the wrong side of the deal. Sabean has rarely been on the wrong side of trades - signings yes, trades no - and despite the Nathan/Liriano deal, he has been doing the incremental improvements of the Giants over time with his trades.

Now if only he can do better with free agents signings! Maybe now that Colletti is gone....

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Trade Analysis: Hillenbrand/Chulk for Accardo

{Addendum added 2:46PM}
Like most Giants fans, I choked on my Wheaties when I heard about this trade. Accardo? Our closer for the future? Our fireballing overachieving non-drafted free agent former SS, now golden chosen closer of the future?

After thinking about it more deeply, I realized that I overreacted the way fans do when you think everything you have is gold and everything the other team has is trash. This is similar to the Reds/Nats trade that was lambasted everywhere: trading a position player for a reliever? Madness! Also, this trade did not deplete our bullpen greatly while vastly improving 1B and the bench at the same time.

Why I Hate the Trade

There are a number of reasons why I don't like the trade. Accardo's only 23, he has closer potential, high heat, and we control him for probably another 5 years. Meanwhile, we get a 1B who walks as frequently as Feliz, don't hit 20 HR per season regularly, let alone the 30 HR standard that most Giants fans clamor for in their next 1B (the anti-Snow), plus to top it off, he's a free agent AND DFAed. Plus the reliever we got was so good that the 54-43 Blue Jays, batting to win the AL East division, barely saw any reason to use him much the past 3 months.

Why I LIke the Trade

Sabean did a masterful job of addition without making another area much weaker. In fact, he might have improved things in three areas while trading away Accardo's potential. Here's how I see all this.

First, as much as I like Accardo, he hasn't really done it the past two months or so. ERA of 7.94 in June, 5.63 in July, his stats line is a putrid 7.07 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, .285 BAA the past two months, versus 3.10 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .204 BAA his first two months. Although his FIP is a low 2.75 plus his BABIP overly high at .328 (.300 is the overall average but that could be his average, too short career stats so far), a result of high K/9, low BB/9, high K/BB, and low HR/9, research from Ron Shandler hows that second half performance is key for a player to have success going forward and Accardo failed on two fronts. First , 2006 is worse than 2005, second, June/July is worse than April/May, showing that the league figured him out after his first go around and he was unable to adjust so far, and terribly at that so far. So while this may be a case of small sampling for a short reliever is at work here, it is not a good sign either, and the best we can say is that bad luck has been plaguing him horribly this year.

Second, as bad as Chulk's numbers look now, about as bad as Accardo's, he has really had two different seasons like Accardo, only in reverse, i.e. the better way. It was bad up front, but he has been good the last two months. In April/May, 7.61 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 0.425 BAA vs. June/July, 1.98 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 0.261 BAA. Looking deeper in his numbers, he is suffering from bad luck in two ways in 2006. One is that batters are hitting him at abnormally high rate this season (.335 BABIP) than his past two seasons (about .280 BABIP). The other is that his HR/FB is way up, at 14.8%, when the mean everyone should fall to is 10%, which is also approximately his average the previous two seasons. That's the result of small samples and a really, really bad April that he hasn't been able to dig out of because he's basically haven't been used much the past two months, about once a week. And his peripherals are nice overall, his K/9 is 6.8 (want over 6.0), his BB/9 is 1.9 (want under 3.0), his K/BB is 3.6 (want over 2.0), only his HR/9 is bad at 1.5 but as I noted, his HR/FB is way up, falling back to the mean would drop that to a tolerable HR/9 rate of 1.0 approximately (which is about his career average). In addition, he as two years of proven good experience as a reliever under his belt plus improved his second go-around in the league, achieving better stats in 2005 versus 2004. So he could potentially strengthen the bullpen for 2006 over Accardo, who had not had good results the past two months, and we still control Chulk for the next three years plus he's only 27 so it should be his prime performance years as well.

Third, Hillenbrand is a great addition the lineup. Sure, he's not 30 HR hitter but we don't need one for our lineup to produce more, we mainly need an uptick over the Niekro, Sweeney, Ishikawa trio that we had been getting at 1B. People look at his career stats but that's skewed by his poorer early seasons. He has basically been a .300 hitter during his career, with an OBP in the .340's, which is actually good, and a SLG in the .460's, which is also actually good. And while he doesn't pound the homers, his ISO is in the .160's, which is good as well. While he doesn't walk much, his high average makes up for that plus his K-rate is very good. All this from perusing his Fan Graphs charts.

In addition, he has had a sort of breakout pair of years, at age 30-31, in terms of power, his doubles are finally translating into homers, he has basically averaged 35 AB per homer previously, but this season he has boosted it up to 25 AB per homer, moving from a high teen homer average to a mid-20's homer average. That is partly a glitch because his HR/FB is high this year, but he has also boosted his FB% rate the past two seasons, so the extra power is not an illusion. Plus as a RHH, he should not lose much of this power in AT&T May Field, though his career numbers there is low on the power: .333/.403/.400/.803. In any case, during his career, his ISO has been around the league average and this year it is above average, very close to the good range.

He really improves our hitting in the 6th and 7th slot as well. Unfortunately, ESPN's stats don't provide 6th place hitting at the moment (though it can be selected), I have 2005's stats and Hillenbrand's .822 of this year would have ranked 6th last season, whereas the Giants were next to last in 2005, in 15th. With Feliz getting a lot of ABs there this year, the Giants position is probably improved anyway, but adding Hillenbrand moves Feliz to 7th, where Niekro was mainly hitting, and probably improves that a lot. Feliz has an OPS of .781, which would have ranked 5th in 2005, whereas the Giants were 13th last season, and we know that Feliz is way outhitting Niekro.

He also improves the bench at the same time. Sweeney was suppose to be our major LH bat off the bench this season but he has been starting a lot because of Niekro's various injuries and lack of performance. That plus Alou's various injuries took Finley and Sweeney off the bench, leaving Vizcaino as our major LH bat off the bench, which obviously is a big drop off from Sweeney. Now Sweeney will be on the bench as intended.

In addition, Shea Hillenbrand is a very consistent hitter. .296/.338/.466/.804 vs. LHP while .287/.325/.446/.771 vs. RHP, one of the banes of the Giants lineup over the past few years have been hitters who look good overall but cannot hit pitchers of the same hand, players like Grissom and Snow, among various others. And since he's played in Boston and Arizona as homes, his home number is skewed, so I look at his road numbers and he has .291/.334/.455/.789 as his career numbers, which is good (but not great). His monthly numbers are pretty consistent too. The main knock is that his numbers go down a lot after the All-Star break, .299/.339/.468/.807 pre, .276/.313/.427/.740 post. With Sweeney giving him rest, probably against the better RHP of the league, that should help his numbers while with the Giants.

This also helps with the need to rest the older players frequently, like Bonds and Alou. There is a drop when either is out, no knock against Finley, but there is. And it was bad when the offense then had to contend with Niekro's lack of performance as well in the lineup. Adding Hillenbrand is a major addition because before it would be, say, Winn, Vizquel, Bonds/Alou, Durham and maybe Feliz (because of his streakiness) and now Hillenbrand would be a consistent 5th source of offense, and perhaps 6th if Feliz is going OK.

In addition, Sabean said in an interview after the trade that he plans on trying to re-sign Hillenbrand for 2007. I assume that he is insurance in case Feliz does not resign. He will pursue both and if he gets at least one, then 3B is covered, and if he happen to get both, the both is covered, it is not like Ishikawa or anyone else, is ready to take 1B yet for the Giants in 2007, and either Feliz or Hillenbrand could be traded away during or after 2007 if Ishikawa or anyone else is ready to take 1B (or even 3B, though I cannot imagine whom).

In addition, Sabean noted in his interview that he is not necessarily done. This now allows Sabean to focus on pitching help after helping the offense. As much as people think that we might have overpaid for Hillenbrand, who was DFAed, both Sabean and Toronto noted that there were 5-7 teams asking for him. He could play 1B, 3B, and DH, so that makes sense that there were multiple teams asking for him, a consistent .800 OPS hitter is, while not the hottest thing to desire, a very nice part to add when you are not getting production from a part of the lineup. Chulk was the lever that got the deal done, he is a serviceable RHP reliever to help replace Accardo in the bullpen, I assume Sanchez moves up in importance as well, to setup, which he already had been lately. I assume this means that Munter and no one else is ready to move up from the minors as RHP. Sabean also noted that the pressure is not off but allows him to be creative when market loosens up, which is probably around the last week to 72 hours before the deadline, when teams give up hope, opening the possibility for a blockbuster move.

Addendum: I also like the trade for what we didn't lose. I have liked Brian Wilson more than Accardo for relief in the long run. Wilson has about as much heat as Accardo plus he has a starting pitcher's repertoise, plus he hasn't even used his curve ball yet that he was considered plus on when he was drafted. Sanchez too plus I'm still hoping he gets put back into starting in the next two years. And, for me, Valdez is more the closer of the future than Accardo, Accardo was just too built up in fans mind, to me. Plus Valdez is considered in a prospect book as a potential closer but Accardo was not, his potential was as setup man.

In addition, the old TINSTAAPP holds as well for Accardo, he has not really proven anything yet in the majors, other than he still have a lot to learn but has a plus fastball. People are too worried about another Nathan trade situation happening, when it is two different situation, Nathan actually had a superb year whereas Accardo is clearly still working out his problems. And as much as we think he might, we don't know whether he will ever reach his closer potential that we all saw, he might end up a bust, as he is severely overachieving as a non-drafted free agent.

Addendum 2: I don't think I made enough emphasis but Hillenbrand is the type of hitter we need for the 5/6/7 spot of the lineup, someone who hits for higher average to get a decent OBP plus some power, because these spots are for guys who drive in runs, and a walk at the bottom of the lineup just don't cut it for driving in guys. That is, for an average .340 OBP, I prefer there to be more hits than walks to get to .340 for a 5/6/7 hitter that Hillenbrand will probably get to bat in while with the Giants this season. And as I noted, his ISO is not that bad, it is not great and it is not quite good, but it is still better than average. And that much more than we could say we had been getting from the 1B spot for over a year now, on a regular basis. My main worry is about his late season fade, but hopefully Sweeney taking key ABs versus tough RHP will help cut that down for this season.

Friday, July 21, 2006

I Like Flem (and Other Observations)

I don't know if anyone else has noticed but Dave Fleming of the Giants announcing team has had a breakthrough type of season. I have noticed that Flem (as his broadcast buddies have called him) has been making the effort to provide analysis and observations about players that would be interesting to fans who are unable to see the games and players themselves. Like tonight's game, where he discussed Cain's preference for high strikes and how the umpire was calling it tonight, so it was good for Cain. He also noted Cain's success since his one start mental break, his ERA being around mid-3's. He is growing into his job very nicely.

I like Dave Fleming from the start. I remember him announcing the major league debut of Jerome Williams that was obscured by Millwood's no-hitter of the Giants. He was obviously auditioning for Joe Angel's job (not from his attitude or anything, just the circumstances) but Joe was very professional and didn't let any discomfort show, unlike, say, Ralph Barbieri when Tom Tolbert was first paired with him (ironically, they seem to be like best buds now).

When Dave joined the Giants announcing team, he was refreshing because he just blended in with the group and was just himself. He didn't try hard to fit in, nor did he not fit in, he was just able to be himself while the rest of the announcers would be riffing all around him and going wild, in the fun way Jon, Kruk, Kuip and whoever else was there, would, particularly after a win. He wasn't just a flunkie, laughing because he felt he had to, nor mimicking Miller in an effort to fit in. I hope he's willing to be Lon Simmons, and pay his dues, to Jon Miller's Russ Hodges, I think he'll be a good one for a long time.

Steve Finley Being Showcased

I don't know how else to interpret it. Why else has Randy Winn been sitting so many games right after the All-Star break? He had played in almost every game of the season before the break, then got all that rest during the break, now he's been sat to let Finley play a number of times already (no count, but noticed it since he had been in the lineup almost every game) after the break. Plus Ellison was sent down, a player who would be "competing" with Finley for playing time, for Linden, who clearly would be relief for a corner OF position.

That could work in a number of ways for the Giants. First, trading Finley could save us his salary, if we just get a prospect back for him. Second, if we save his salary, then we could take on salary in another trade to get a 1B.

However, have no idea who might want a CF, no team comes to mind right now. Wouldn't it be ironic if we trade him back, though, to the Angels for, say, Kendry Morales, who has been playing 1B and been a highly successful minor leaguer, but has struggled in the majors after first doing well.

Shea Hillenbrand is a Giant

The Giants have traded for Shea Hillenbrand. No news on who was traded but one rumor had Accardo going to the Blue Jays for him. I hope not but I'm waiting impatiently for the news....

Addendum from KNBR: Shea Hillenbrand and Vinnie Chulk for Jeremy Accardo. Oy, I will have to digest this before saying something I might take back.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lowry is Back, Jack!

Just had to post after his excellent outing. 8.1 IP, 8 hits, 3 ER, only 3 walks, and most importantly 6 strikeouts! Would have been a dominating start of 5 if Alou would have took him out after 8 IP, but was only 1 K away from a 5 anyway.

That is the most encouraging thing, the 6 strikeouts. This is his first game all year with 6 strikeouts. He has had only one other game this season where he was close to getting a PQS of 5 because he has been generally been unable to throw enough strikes in any game to strike out that many and even that one game he struck out only 4 in 6 IP, which qualified, but was not the dominating Lowry we had seen previous to this season. That, to me, was a sign that his changeup was not working relative to his fastball, plus I recall some comment about a month ago about his decrease velocity of his fastball, so that jibed with my impression as well.

Maybe I'm being a bit premature, but he was striking out guys in his last start, his first start of the second half, after the All-Star Break, but unfortunately was being hit hard and walking a lot, so he didn't last long. So I was hoping for a continuation of that dominance because when his changeup is working relative to his fastball, he strikes out a lot of guys, but when it's not, well, you saw what happened the first half of the season, pre-ASG. One step at a time, but if Lowry is back, then we'll have three starters - Schmidt, Morris, Lowry - regularly throwing dominating games, plus Cain periodically throwing them and Wright doing OK in the #5 slot. We might not win a whole bunch in a row, but we should be able to, with our offense, run off, say 9 wins in 12, 15 wins in 20, and move to the NL West lead.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Core Dump: AAA vs. AA Differences

A frequent commenter, allfrank, (it's all relative, comment once or twice and you're frequent :^) asked a good question of me the other day: what's the difference between AA and AAA, "... AA doesn't seem all that much lower than AAA." (Sorry this is a late response, I've been busy with work and personal issues, plus wanted to give some more thought to this)

To start, I want to make it clear that I'm no expert on the minor leagues but I do read a lot so I will share what I know in the first of what I will call my "Core Dumps".

Obviously, there must be some some sort of difference, else why have the different leagues and advance the players from AA to AAA. But beyond that, what other differences are there?

Why They May Seem Similar As Well As Different

First, one thing I find that is indicative of the difference - and the similarities - between the leagues is the study I read that was done for Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster book (which I recommend to anyone interested in baseball analysis, though it is harder to justify any subsequent ones unless you are into playing baseball fantasy leagues, like I do; much cheaper via Amazon too).

For the similarities (my interpretation, BTW), they found that the success rate (they unfortunately did not define what "success" meant, so we'll have to take their word) for hitters was virtually the same whether or not they played a full season in AAA or not. If they had a full season, 56% performed well, 38% performed poorly, and 7% had a second half drop-off. If they had less than a full season in AAA (amassed at time of call-up), 57% performed well, 21% performed poorly, and 21% had a second half drop-off. Obviously, if they did not amass a full season of AAA, they they most probably have played most of their time in the lower levels, like AA or below, because most prospects never make the jump to AAA, let alone the majors, and most do not make the majors the next season, meaning most prospects spend more time at below AAA than in AAA.

For the difference, it was found that AAA experience was almost critical to a pitcher's success. For pitchers with a full season amassed under his belt in AAA before his call-up to the majors, 56% performed well, 33% performed poorly, and 10% had a 2nd half drop-off. However, for those with less than a full season in AAA, only 16% performed well, 77% performed poorly, and 6% had a 2nd half drop-off. What this means is that one year of amassed AAA experience improved the chances of success by over three and a half times!

Thus there must be something about the competition in AAA that enables pitchers to make the leap from prospects to MLB pitcher. Otherwise, the success rate would not be so much greater after a year of experience in AAA. I guess it could also be because of GM incompetence in judging AA talent but

The book also noted that if you are looking for a player to speculate on for fantasy baseball, which has the same goal as any fan, to find a good player, it notes that you should look for a player with at least two seasons of experience at AAA because career AA players are generally not good picks. Nothing earth shattering but just another piece of info on the difference between AAA and AA.

My Data

Through my work for another website, I got into the habit of collecting the stats for each of our minor league affiliate team's respective leagues: Pacific Coast League (AAA), Eastern League (AA), California League (A+), Southern League (or SAL or Sally; A-), and Northwest League (Short Season-A). So I decided to compile the season ending data (from a great source of minor league information, The Baseball Cube but it was mind-numbing work!) and find out where each of our prospects ranked within the league by a variety of parameters (overall, by age, etc.). I looked over the data for differences between the leagues in terms of the age of players and the following is what I found.

For hitters, the average age in the Eastern League (EL) is 25.1 years, whereas the average age in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) is 27.1 years. Basically, a hot prospect's shelf life is pretty much over at 27; according to the book, a player reaches his peak skill at 26, which means that it is either plateau or downhill after that. So a lot of the players in the PCL are basically what they call a AAAA-level player: not good enough for the majors but nothing much to prove in AAA. The Giants always seemed to get players like that (particularly 1B), with Todd Linden appearing to be the latest, but others included Brian Dallimore, Damon Minor, Rick Lancellotti, J.R. Phillips (was he related to Emo?), Randy Elliott.

And for good prospects, basically it is best if they are only 22 (according to Shandler's book) or younger by the time they reach AAA, only 21 when they reach AA. These are the "ideal ages for prospects at the particular level." Obviously, if he is younger and still is able to hold "his own against older and more experienced players", he is considered better as a prospect, while if he is older, his status as a prospect suffers.

The distribution for the hitters show this a bit more clearly. In the EL, most of the players are from age 23 to 27, while for the PCL, most are from 23 to 31. In the EL, 6% is 21 years (the ideal age for a good prospect in AA) or younger; in the PCL, 6% is 22 years or younger. In the EL, hitters 27 years and older (over the hill skill-wise, though experience could help performance, but it's a downhill fight) make up 24% of the players; in the PCL, hitters 27 years and older make up 51% (about half!) of the players. (To be clear, this is just a straight average of each player, it is not weighted by AB or IP)

For pitchers, the ages are similar to the hitters. In the EL, 25.2 years; in the PCL, 27.2 years. The distribution shows the bulk of the EL pitchers being from age 23 to 27, while for the PCL, the bulk being from 23 to 31. In the EL, 5% is 21 years and younger; in the PCL, 5% is 22 years and younger. In the EL, pitchers 27 years and above make up 27% of the players; in the PCL, pitchers 27 years and above make up 53% (again, about half are past their peak skill age point) of the players. Again, clearly, the same distribution pattern holds.

My Thoughts

Now, what do all this means. At any time, about 5% of the players in either league is considered a pretty good prospect, playing at or below the age appropriate for the league in order to be considered a pretty good prospect. However, only about 25% of the players are past their peak skill age in the EL, whereas over 50% of the players are past their peak skill age in the PCL.

So there's where you might see the difference between the leagues being not so different, allfrank, there are a lot of players past their skill peak playing in the PCL and not so much in the EL, so there could be times where the EL appears to be close to the PCL in terms of skills.

However, I think a Darwinian effect comes into play here as well. If it is clear that the player is over the hill at 27 (or older), then that player is probably not going to stay very long in the minors, he would be released or would retire on his own. So these older players, though past their skill peak age of 26, if they are to survive and produce at an older age, need to gain through experience the ability to improve their performance more than their peak skill has deteriorated.

In addition, while players who are able to improve stay around, the lesser players are dropped, but are not necessarily replaced with better players, just younger, less experienced players, which works to the experienced players who is improving advantage. They get better but the competition gets less experienced (though not necessarily less skilled, that depends on who is coming up and the circumstances of each MLB team's farm system. For example, the Giants have not had a really good crop of prospects for a long time until the past couple of years, so when they moved their AA players to AAA, there could be a wider gap between our prospects and, say, a Colorado, who has been drafting low for a number of years now and stocking their minors with better prospects, in general).

Thus, in some cases, like Brian Dallimore, the player improve by a lot so that they are suddenly beating up the players who are left because the better players would have moved up to the majors already plus there are a lot more of these players (over 50%) than there are the true prospects (around 5%) and new players are moving up constantly, all less experienced than he is, plus some encounter the Peter Principle, where you eventually get promoted to your level of incompetence, if I remember that right. Thus someone like him or Dave Doster, who couldn't hit over .280 when they are pre-peak, suddenly can knock the ball around to the tune of over .330, and in Dallimore's case, .352, because of all these factors benefiting them at the AAA level.

However, once they rise to the MLB level, these advantages cease, because now you are facing the best of the best ballplayers. And thus a hitter - Dallimore - who hit .352/.427/.448/.875 the year before and .324/.396/.447/.843 the current year, only hit .279/.347/.395/.742, which is actually not that bad, but he's a 30 year old rookie, basically having his last hurrah. The next year he deteriorated to .302/.369/.437/.806, again in AAA, as his skills eroded.

And while they sound good, what analysts have found is that these numbers can be translated into what they call "Major League Equivalents", where analysis found that if you had a certain hitter, then he would hit a certain way in the majors, in terms of performance. Thus his .324/.396/.447/.843 translated into .252/.296/.333/.629 and his .302/.369/.437/.806 translated into .231/.268/.324/.592 (all from Shandler's book), both Neifi-ish levels of hitting incompetence, but without the Gold Glove defense . And one of the tenets in the book is that defense is what gets you to the majors but it is hitting which keeps you there (though obviously EME will test that tenet sorely :^).

So while one can say "of course, AAA is different from AA, don't be rediculous, cousin Larry," as Balki might have said it, there is some data to support that. From Shandler's book, there is clearly a difference for pitchers, but not so much for hitters, so that could have contributed to allfrank asking the question. And from my data, there is clearly a different mix of players between the two leagues, and while there are more post-peak players in AAA, I think natural selection makes them the best of the best who are not major leaguers. And, of course, there are always a number of them who once played regularly in the majors for a season or two, but then lost whatever magic they had to compete in the majors, but can still do well enough in AAA to be an option should fate deal him a good hand by having him called up to replace another player, for whatever reason, injury or poor performance or both.

Lastly, it would not make sense for MLB teams to stock their AAA and AA teams with equal talent, you want your best players playing together and against other teams' better players so that they can learn and grow and advance to the majors and be able to contribute significantly there.

Sudden thought, what could be happening, and I'm not sure if your view is skewed by observing only the Giants AAA and AA, allfrank, or if you did view both leagues in entirety, the Giants AAA and AA teams are skewed in that the best of the Giants prospects are generally on their AA team, the prospects who have been struggling to break through are stuck in AAA, stalled in their march upward. Thus the two teams may not appear to be that different to you because of this factor.

But generally, there should be some difference between in talent between AAA and AA unless the team fortunately (from too many good players) or unfortunately (from too many mediocre players; hello Giants!) have their teams populated that way. You want your best playing your opponent's best, you want to test your prospects so that you can better gauge how close your prospects are to making the majors or not. Else we could keep Cody Ransom (name your failed position prospect here) in AA and he'll look REALLY good.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Your 2006 Giants: Injury List Update, All-Star Break

Update on all the injuries and illnesses Giants players have had or been fighting this season or basically anything that made them unavailable for a game. Updated as of July 11, 2006, All-Star Break:

  • Moises Alou: twinge in left hip caused him to pull up short (4/30 injury; 2 games missed); sprained ankle (DL 5/5-6/5; missed 29 games); bad lower back pain (6/18 injury reported, missed games 6/18-25, DL retroactive on 6/29-7/5; missed 16 games).
  • Armando Benitez: inflamed left knee, bursa sac (3/15 injury reported; DL 4/1-4/19); flu 4/4; elbow tenderness 6/23.
  • Barry Bonds: ongoing problems with left knee and bone chips in left elbow since spring training; pain, lower left side muscle 6/3 and aggravated 6/6, missed games 6/7-10 (4 games). Sore right knee, missed 7/8 game.
  • Ray Durham: plantar fascialitis (2/26-4/2; on-going?); strained left hamstring (4/23 injury; 4/28-5/11 DL, missed two games before DLed and missed a total 14 games); strained neck, bothered him 5/29-6/4, missed 6/8-6/9, 2 games.
  • Noah Lowry: strained right oblique (4/6 injury; DL 4/6-5/7 , missing about 4 starts plus the game he left for a total of 5 starts).
  • Mike Matheny: concussion due to multiple hits from foul balls (5/30 injury; DL 6/1-present).
  • Lance Niekro: (he is close to getting his own wing) soreness in right foot (reported 4/16); bereavement (4/17-4/19); cold and flu (4/30-5/1; 2 games missed); hurt shoulder making tag at first 5/14, bursitis in right shoulder, missed games 5/15-5/20 (DL 5/15-5/29; missed 13 games in total); strained groin 6/8, missed 6/9-10, 2 games, reinjured 6/11, DL 6/11-6/28; missed 15 games).
  • Mark Sweeney: tender right hamstring (reported 4/21).
  • Brian Wilson: strained right oblique (4/24 injury; DL 4/24-5/21; missed 26 games).
  • Tim Worrell: bulging disc in neck (original injury termed pinched nerve, DL 5/23, retroactive to 5/20, DL 5/20-6/6, missed 16 games; DL 7/1, retroactive to June 28, with new diagnosis, missed games 6/28-present).

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Giants PQS: Updated to ASB

This post has the Giants Pure Quality Start scores for the 2006 season as of the All Star Break, as defined in Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster annual book.

Giants Starters' PQS for 2006 Season (as of July 9, 2006)

Matt Cain - (16 starts: 37.5% DOM, 37.5% DIS ): 3, 4, 1, 4, 5, 0, 1, 3, 3, 3, 0, 4, 5, 0, 5, 0
Brad Hennessey - (6 starts: 17% DOM, 17% DIS): 3, 2, 3, 1, 2, 4
Noah Lowry - (12 starts: 17% DOM, 17% DIS): 3, 1, 3, 2, 5, 2, 3, 0, 2, 4, 3, 2
Matt Morris - (17 starts: 47% DOM, 12% DIS): 3, 4, 3, 1, 4, 1, 2, 3, 2, 5, 4, 5, 4, 3, 5, 5, 2
Jason Schmidt - (18 starts: 67% DOM, 0% DIS): 3, 5, 4, 3, 5, 5, 4, 3, 4, 5, 4, 5, 4, 3, 4, 5, 3, 3
Jamey Wright - (17 starts: 29% DOM, 18% DIS): 3, 4, 3, 2, 1, 3, 4, 5, 4, 0, 3, 0, 3, 3, 2, 2, 4

Giants overall - 38% DOM, 16% DIS out of 86 games started

NOTE: I think technically, under the system, Lowry's first start and Morris' start where he promptly got ejected, should count against their totals, but I think under the extenuating circumstances, they should not, basically because this system tries to ferret out how the good performances by a starter and none of those games were zeros because of a poor performance. Lowry got injured early in the game; and Morris got ejected early in the game.

Latest Comments

The Giants starters overall have been pitching well in their games. A DOM near or above the 40% mark is indicative of good pitching; above 50% is great and above 70% is elite. A low DIS is also indicative of good pitching. So, generally, the Giants pitching has been doing OK this season and has been bordering on good overall:
  1. Schmidt has been very dominating for the first half of the season and he has returned to near elite status, nearly joining those with a DOM greater than 70%. And he has not even had one disaster start yet. He's returned to his dominating ways in time to become a free agent. Sabean has said that the Giants are looking to try to re-sign Schmidt in the off-season but I'm not sure if it's to honestly try and re-sign him or to get the draft picks in compensation.
  2. Morris continued to improve, continued to throw dominant starts, in a nice ending to his first half. As a result, he has brought up his DOM% to 47%, which has been his range (40-49%) for the last few years of his career, after he had his arm problems and had to become more of a finesse pitcher. Being a hyper-competitive personality, he probably was too amped up to control his pitches - I noticed that he couldn't really strike out a lot of batters, not even once in a while, like he did in previous seasons, earlier in the season. Then with the June 9th game, he struck out 8, struggled some more, then got 7 and 6, before fizzling against the D-gers. If he can continue this uptrend, he could return to the more elite pitchers who DOM 50% or more of the time.
  3. Lowry, despite apparently doing well so far in the first half, it was just OK as the underlying PQS metrics says he is lacking in quality. Even in the seemingly well pitched games recently, he could not strike out the required number to get a PQS point. Compare that to last season, when he started off poorly, he still had 50%DOM/22%DIS in the first half of the season, which in retrospect was a sign of his dominance coming in the second half of the seasons (67%DOM/0%DIS second half), and now we have reached the half way point for this season. I don't know if he is pressing because of his newly signed big contract or if the injury affected him more than he thought or what, but he has not been himself at any point this season and we need him to straighten things out after the break because we need him to be the dominating pitcher of 2005 in the playoffs, should we make it. Hopefully the rest will do him well, help his body, as well as clear his mind.
  4. Matt Cain was doing well early, with a few dominant starts, but maybe the lack of overt success (i.e. wins and low ER) got to him and he started messing around with his mechanics or something, leading to all the disaster starts. However, after skipping one start to work on his mechanics, along with a relief outing, he has pitched much better since then. His first 1-hitter was particularly good, though it didn't qualify as a dominating start because of the high number of walks and relatively low strikeouts, but that was against an Oakland team built to do exactly that so that probably wasn't all his fault. However, he was outstanding in his second 1-hitter (though "only" 8 IP). Unfortunately, he ended the first half with a fizzle as he sandwiched a nice game on July 1st with two stinkers on June 25 and July 6. Hopefully the time off will rejuvenate his mind more and he can be much more consistent in the 2nd half. Historically, he has improved as he gained experience with the league he was in, the Giants would have some awesome foursome if Schmidt, Morris, Lowry, and Cain can be cooking Dominating starts regularly.
  5. Wright was doing as well as could be expected, but he has fallen back to bad habits or something in June/July. Still, he is as advertised, someone who can deliver about 30-39% dominating starts, an average pitcher who will have his ups and downs - I had been hoping, per pre-season posts, that he could be more than that with San Francisco, pushing himself up to the 40-49% range that marks a good pitcher but so far he has not been able to deliver that yet. Maybe it takes a while for pitchers to get used to AT&T Mays Fields like the way batters have to spend some time there to get used to hitting there: on the road, he has a 3.82 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and .256 BAA, whereas at home he has a 6.61 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, and .307 BAA. Fortunately, he's only the fifth starter and he has done well enough that he or Hennessey can be traded away with little risk to the rotation, in a package to get a good 1B or improve ourselves elsewhere.

The rotation is shaping out OK. Schmidt has been on a tear for a while now, Morris too. Cain has been tossing some incredible games, I can't wait for him to get consistent. However, Lowry and Wright have been struggling seriously, which will keep win streaks short.

But the Giants should be getting good performances overall going forward. With all the key hitters back in the lineup, the Giants could start climbing up the NL Western division towards first place over the next few weeks. Particularly with Winn entering the 2nd half, when he starts to turn things on, historically, during his career, and Bonds and Alou hopefully getting healthier during the ASB. In addition, Durham has been making up for his poor start, burning up the league for a while now. We just need Vizquel and Feliz to continue doing what they had been doing and the offense should start pounding the other teams regularly, boosting the pitcher's confidence in attacking hitters, it is a positive feedback cycle of good begetting good. Being only a few games out is nothing to make up with a good hot streak, though that is easier said than done since they haven't had one yet. But it should be a good 2nd half I think.

Methodology Explanation

Please look at my link to the side for my explanation of Baseball Forecaster's methodology.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Where's Lincecum?

Kent at my fantasy league asked where Lincecum is and that's a good question. The Giants said that he would be joining Salem-Keizer shortly but he isn't even on their official roster on their website yet and with such a high profile local product addition, you would think they would advertise the heck out of it when it does happen.

Given all the pitches he has thrown over the past two years, though, it doesn't surprise me that the Giants don't want to rush anything with him. His Pitcher Abuse Points was in the hundreds of THOUSANDS the past two seasons! They rightfully should be very cautious with him. And they said that they would, by having him only throw 3 inning starts to start out.

However, he claims that his arm does not hurt and can start throwing immediately the day following a start, so I assume the Giants are probably also having doctors prod and examine him closely to see what condition he is in plus give him some additional rest for his arm. Though I assume that he is still continuing his normal conditioning of his arm by throwing a lot.

I think this is different from, say, Foppert who said his arm didn't hurt but pitched poorly until his arm hurt a lot. Lincecum has pitched well despite the abuse on his arm and his father has apparently built up his arm and mechanics such that there is relatively less stress on his arm when pitching. If there wasn't this documented history of his dad teaching him and of him having this reputation of throwing so often, I would be worried a lot about whether we got damaged goods, like other pitchers who threw a lot in college.

As Mariner Dave said, you don't want to bet against history, which you would be doing by picking Lincecum, but I view that as a general rule with exceptions. He's right that you are playing with fire by taking the risk by picking Lincecum, but a lot of Top Picks lists had him at the top and to get a player like that at 10th, you have to pounce on him, much like the Angels' pounced on Jered Weaver and the D-backs pounced on Stephen Drew with mid-teen picks. He also said that mainly in reference to Seattle's #5 pick, where you need to get someone who is more of a sure thing (though he seemed to imply it in a general term) because historically you should be able to find good to great talent at the #5 spot.

But by the 10th pick, my research has shown that the "sure" talent has already been weeded out already and the odds are already much against you picking a good player, let alone a star player. So why not take the risk of getting a pitcher with a blowned out arm given the caveats I wrote above about his known history that suggest that he is the exception.

The odds are already largely against picking a great player at the 10th pick. Lincecum seems to be a good and potentially great player, one of the few Golden Spike winners ever. The risk with him, relatively, is not that he won't be good but that he might have arm problems. A lot of people like his talent and pitches, the main fear is whether his arm will fall off. I would rather risk to get a good to great player at #10, than to get the prototypical draft "failure" (i.e. someone who is not at least useful) you get after the 5th pick overall. Even if he "fails", I think the Giants took a prudent risk which have a huge potential reward if everything works out. It is all about the process.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Felipe Alou Has A Win That Is Grand

Congratulations to Felipe Alou, who won his 1,000th game as a manager. Becoming a major league manager at the late age of 57, he never thought he would ever reach this point, but he has persevered over the horrible ownership that caused him trouble during his career at Montreal, which enabled him to reach this point where he gets to manage for his first MLB team, the team of Mays, Marichial, and McCovey that he was privileged to play with. Hopefully he can end his managerial career with the Giants and with a win.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Showing Lincecum Some Love: signing bonus of $2.025M

The Giants gave Lincecum a $2.025M signing bonus, according to a report from Chron. It is the highest they ever paid out, just passing the $1.875M that they gave Jason Grilli in 1997. It is also higher than the bonus that would be suggested by the $2M that #8 pick got and the $1.6M that the #12 pick got, this would have suggested a $1.8M-ish signing bonus.

However, the $2.025M signing bonus is in line with what #10 picks were getting over the past few years. So the Giants put their money where their mouth is - because Sabean proclaimed what a great pick he was and how they thought he would be long gone before they picked - and gave Lincecum the extra $200,000 plus threw in $25,000, which could be like when Bill Russell asked the Celtics for $1 more than what Wilt Chamberlain was making, Lincecum was looking to get over $2M and he got it. Plus it also matches the bonus paid out in 2004 to the #10 pick (the $2.65M that Cameron Maybin got in 2005 was out of line with what the picks around him got, he should have gotten around $2M as well), so that could have been the driving factor for Lincecum as well.

This also gave him more than the #8 pick got, though not more than the #9, but #9 was a high schooler with more leverage. That was also a factor for Cameron Maybin, who was also a high school player when he signed. High school players have more leverage because they can pass on signing and go to college, whereas players like Lincecum has less leverage as he is near the end of his college eligibility, though, as a junior, he could have passed on the Giants and gone back.

Obviously the money was a big factor in his decision, he probably couldn't improve his position much higher, given all that he acheived this season, in particular the Golden Spike award, and yet still fell to #10, but the opportunity with the Giants probably appealed to him as well. The Giants are usually in the hunt for the playoffs and this year does not appear any different. They always need relievers and he could conceivably contribute in that fashion at the end of this season. There is also the potential that if he did well enough, he could be eligible to play in the playoffs. Then next year, he'll be competing for one, maybe two, spots in the rotation, with Morris, Lowry, and Cain already written in, perhaps Schmidt re-signed but maybe not, then Wright, Hennessey and maybe Sanchez fighting for the final spot. He's got to like that competition.

If he went back into the draft, he would get another year of apparent college abuse on his arm and maybe he does as well as this season, but maybe not. It could also be a stronger draft which might make him fall further than 10th. Lastly, if he did do better and went higher in the draft, chances are he is going to be drafted by a lousy noncompetitive team, whereas Sabean has been able to keep the Giants in contention most of the time. There's not much to gain from going back to college.

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