Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Morris Traded With No Cash!

Amazingly, the Giants have traded away Matt Morris to the Pittsburgh Pirates for OF Rajai Davis, straight up:

The Giants were looking for a team to take some of their high-salaried players, and the Pirates will pick up the remainder of Morris' $10,037,283 contract for this season. He is due $9.5 million for next season, plus a $2 million payment at the end of the season.

"Almost at the 11th hour we were talking to two other teams I would consider competitors in the playoff situation. Pittsburgh stepped up, not only to take on the player as is -- meaning the contract -- but the potential return," in Davis, Sabean said.

Apparently the Pirates liked how Morris mentored Cain and other young pitchers on the Giants staff and I guess he decided that it would help take pressure off their good young starters.

Rajai Davis

He's 26 years old, hasn't done much in the majors. In Baseball America's 2007 Prospect book, he was the Pirates' 27th best prospect. For perspective, David Quinowski is the Giants 27th best prospect.

He is the prototypical Sabean acquisition of the past few years: tons o' speed. He's a CF who has stolen 224 bases in six minor league seasons. He had good bat control when he started, almost a 1:1 ratio for BB/K, but he started hitting the wall in AA and AAA, as his ratio dropped to about 50-60%. So he has hit for a pretty good batting average, about .280 the past two seasons in AA and AAA, and walks enough to get his OBP up to the .340-.350 level, which is OK if he can do it at the majors (but probably not). His minors career line of .303/.374/.402/.776 would be pretty good in the majors, but of course, it is the rare hitter who can hit as well in the majors as the minors, there is a leap in talent level they face in the pitchers they hit against in the majors that represents the higher level of difficulty that is the majors.

BP notes that he "is beginning to look like Chris Duffy Lite." That's not a great comparison and they also noted the Pirates penchant to develop 4th OF types and YET still didn't mention his name, they mentioned three other OFs. That's pretty sad. Minor League Baseball Analyst views Davis as a reserve LF/CF: "incredibly quick athlete does solid job as leadoff hitter, making contact and drawing walks. Lacks poower and can be overpowered by good pitching. Shows solid range in CF..." and notes his above-average speed. They rated him 15th best prospect. BA notes that "His average and plate discipline have suffered against more experienced pitchers since reaching Double-A. Davis spent the final six weeks of last season with the Pirates and didn't start a game, an indication the organization views him as a reserve outfielder long-term." They didn't really have much else to say other than chronicle his path up the system and to note his great speed. As noted above, they rated him 27th in the Pirates system.

So there is the hope that he will translate his good bat control - he's still around 85% contact rate even with his reduced BB/K ratio and that's good - into a good batting average, but at 26 years old, he's done as a prospect. He seems to be a Jason Ellison type who is much better at stealing bases. He's batting .321/.390/.459/.849 (but with .352 BABIP) in AAA this year, with 27 stolen bases (and 9 CS for only a 75% success rate; very much like Ellison; he was a little better in 2006, 45 of 58, or 78%).

Giants Thoughts

I (and other fans) were hoping that the Giants would be able to trade Morris for a nice shiny prospect somewhere, but apparently Morris killed his market value with that flop of a July that he had. He also had some unkind comments about the Giants once he learned of the trade, which added to his recent negative comments about the team.

He seems like a nice guy but he did us no favor pitching with a broken rib last year and he was like a rookie starting out his first season with us too, leading to a poor first season with us. Then those unprofessional complaints, he should be pointing his finger at himself: if he was even average during July, we might be under 10 games behind right now (11 games right now) but here's the EARNED runs he gave up starting with his June 17 start: 8 runs, 4, 1, 6, 6, 6, 4, 6. If he would have just given up 3 runs in those starts instead (4.50 ERA for 6 IP), we would have had 3 more wins right now, 8 games back, plus two other games would have been tied; assuming one is a win, that's 7 games back now.

Now I guess we will see Russ Ortiz get to start for us and hopefully, if he can pitch well over the rest of the month, we might be able to flip him too for another prospect, since he really wants to start and not relieve, which is where I think he can help us most. So he won't be here next season most likely and we won't get anything in terms of pick compensation, so hopefully he does well and can be traded. Then we could have Misch start in September and see how he does.

I like the way Misch had been pitching the past two seasons, I wouldn't mind seeing him start for us next year, in competition with Sanchez for the #5 spot behind Cain, Lincecum, Lowry, and Zito. If he loses, he can take a spot in the bullpen, he's been excellent there the past two seasons; if he wins, I think he could possibly outdo Noah Lowry, his rise through the system mimicked Lowry except that he outdid Lowry at every level until AAA, if I remember right, but I think he righted himself the next season and has done very well for us since.

This trade was nothing like what people were hoping for. But the good news is that the Giants now save around $4M this year that can be used next year, plus take $9.5M off the books for next year, which frees up more money to bid for free agents as needed. Given the talk about going young and accepting less competitive results in 2008, we might be able to save some money for free agents in the 2009-2010 timeframe instead, or do a similar pickup of a veteran where we take on salary and give up a non-prospect like Davis.

Plus, judging from the comments, Morris's time with the Giants was just about up, I wish him the best of luck in Pittsburg, except if he faces the Giants, in which case I hope he pitches like he has lately.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Closer Du Jour

The Chronicle today had some interesting news from Brian Sabean about our future closer. To wit, he said that he hopes to pluck his 2008 closer from the current staff and not purse one via free agency or trade: "We would hope so, whether it's Brad Hennessey or someone else as the rest of this season unfolds. It could be the best way to go because we all know how fallible you can be in acquiring a closer.

Towards that end, the Giants will use the rest of 2007 to evaluate Hennessey and Randy Messenger as candidates. This is because "they're both durable and they're both strike throwers." That's always a good characteristic of a pitcher, durable and strike thrower: probably won't last very long if you aren't either. :^)

BPV is the metric Ron Shandler uses to evaluate a pitcher's overall performance. Closers ideally should have BPV greater than 100. Brad Hennessey currently has a 72 BPV and Randy Messenger has 48. Kevin Correia is 46. Vinnie Chulk is 43. Jack Taschner is 51. Hello, Jonathan Sanchez has a BPV of 91. Sanchez appears to be the most qualified to be a closer in this bunch.

The article also mentions a scary item in there: Matt Cain, future closer? There are some (koff - idiots - koff) on the Giants who believe he has the stuff and bulldog attitude to become another Jonathan Papelbon. Hello, he has the stuff and bulldog attitude to be an ace pitcher on the staff, a nice duo with Lincecum, to knock other team's sox off in the playoffs, as I will show soon in a post.

Of course, if we can't find a good closer, perhaps that won't be so crazy an idea in the future, as long as we have a strong rotation overall already. But right now, we only have Cain and Lincecum as ace starters. I love Lowry, but he's a #2 starter in production, though he can dominate in August - if he could do that every month, he could be an ace, heck, he would lead the league.

Plus, why not go with Sanchez instead? He's even more of a fireballer, striking out many more than Cain and he doesn't have the repertoire for a starter yet. Plus his BPV is 91, very near the magic 100 that you want to see in a closer. Just a thought...

Cain Returns!

Speaking of Cain, many have been worried about his drop in strikeouts this year (and rightfully so; I was wondering what was up too, I was worried he was injured or tired from too many pitches last season) and I heard something very interesting during the game. One of the announcers (Kruk I think) noted that Cain has been frustrated with his recent outings so he decided to go back to the way he pitched successfully last year: going for the strikeout, damn the pitch count.

Apparently he has been trying (unsuccessfully) to go longer in games by trying to reduce his pitch count by reducing his strikeouts. That would explain, obviously, his reduction in strikeouts, but also explains his rise in walks (not that he wasn't too much of a walker before) because he was probably nibbling and trying to get the hitters to hit grounders early in the count, but ended up just giving free balls to too many batters, putting him behind in the count.

Well, he was successful today. 7.0 IP, 6 hits, 3 runs/ER, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts, 1 HR, 121 pitches, 74 of them for strikes. That is a 5 PQS game, a dominating start again for him. It was around now that he went on that dominating run of starts last year, so here's hoping he just loves August pitching, much like Lowry and his dominating runs in August.
Cain last year in August: 6 starts, 2.65 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, .234 BAA, 47 K/15 BB (over 3.0 ratio, which is stupendous), 11.3 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 (not great - you want it under 3.0 - but much improved for him).

Lowry for his career in August: 16 starts, 2.33 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, .197 BAA, his only 2 career shutouts, 94 K/33 BB (nearly 3.0 ratio, which, as noted, is stupendous), 7.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9.

Why anyone would convert someone who can start like that into a closer is beyond me. Sure, a dominating closer can be just as valuable as an ace starter sometimes, but look at the Braves, they let Smoltz start again when he was totally dominating as a closer, and they have been going through a closer conga line since then trying to find an adequate replacement.

We have plenty of pitchers with closer potential in the minors: Brian Wilson, Billy Sadler, Brian Anderson, Merkin Valdez, to name the most prominent ones. Plus Foppert, Griffin, Joaquin are high strikeout pitchers in our farm system. Not every closer material pitcher can start, why waste a pitcher who can be very dominating like Cain as a starter, when we should try all these other candidates (plus others on the rise, Henry Sosa is getting a name for himself) first before considering that.

Plus as long as we are developing and not fighting for a championship, as we appear to be in 2008, just keep him where he is comfortable and, more importantly, wants to be doing. If the team is competitive in the 2009-2012 range and in need of a closer and have plenty of starters, then maybe, but I would still lean towards using someone else as closer instead of Cain. Ridiculous.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Should We Lose or Should We Win Now?

With apologies to the Clash:

"Should we lose or should we win now?
If we lose it could be trouble; if we win it could be double.
Come on and let me know, should we lose or should we win?"

That's the dilemma facing Giants fans today. The Giants are flirting with a top 5 draft pick in next year's amateur draft, a region that historically is much better than from 6-10 overall, and is "only" 4 games away from the first pick overall. With their current start of a stretch of 38 games in 38 days, that's going to be quite a gaunlet of games played, tiring out all our regulars, perhaps tiring out our starting pitchers then our bullpen.

I think that is part of what is motivating the Giants to get Ortiz and Misch ready to start. They will need a spot starter for the double-header against Pittsburgh, plus they conceivably could go to a 6-man rotation for a while to keep the starters fresher, during this period, by keeping the starters in their regular starting spot, every 6 days when there is an open spot in the schedule that week.

Should We Win?

In any case, August is about the time when Cain suddenly was untouchable last year and when Lowry is nearly untouchable the past three seasons. Add to that Lincecum seemingly over the hump in terms of adjusting, and the pitching rotation looks pretty good right now, with Zito and Morris our #4/#5 starters essentially (and unfortunately pitching like them too).

Plus position players are starting to heat up. Roberts now on fire after fixing his elbow and getting back into hitting shape, Winn catching on fire too again, Feliz on fire in July (is he finally learning to hit better, as he said he was working on during the off-season? He has 7 walks and only 3 strikeouts in July - when I checked last, he got a walk today against Atlanta. The closest he was to equaling them before this season was August 2005, when he had 10 walks and 14 strikeouts until 7 walks and 9 K's in May this year. And since becoming a regular in 2004, he has never had a month with under 10 strikeouts until May of this year and he is on pace to end up with around 5 strikeouts this month plus perhaps pass 10 walks in a month for the first time), and Bonds being Bonds. As the offense has shown in the past weekedn, they can score a bunch of runs even without Bonds contributing (Of course, part of that was due to the Brewers lousy pitching staff, other than Gallardo, who we luckily missed).

So we should not be El Stinko possibly in August and that would move our records upward, beyond the Top 5 picks, back towards the #10 pick we have gotten the past two years. And if Zito can finally pitch like he can, we might even get back within shooting distance of the division leaders. And if Morris is fine, just going through his first bad stretch of the season, then we could conceivably catch up with the leaders, much like the Chicago Cubs have over the past three weeks or so.

Should We Lose?

But now that we are in range for a top 5 draft pick in next year's amateur draft, I would like to get one, as next year is suppose to be full of college hitters, from what I recall someone noting. And the closer we are to #1, presumably the better the hitter we get. Who knows, maybe he'll be good enough to make the majors by 2010.

With the Giants looking to compete next season but with the intention to develop younger players who could contribute to the future, I'm hoping to trade a few of the veteran players we have to get some prospects, some who are close to the majors, within a year or two, some who are just low level but promising prospects. That should help counteract the positives I noted above and keep the Giants uncompetitive and still losing. I don't want them to lose, but now that we are here, getting the fourth pick, we may as well work towards keeping it.

Who Goes and What Happens

Morris is probably the main one I'm looking to move, both for salary and because he would probably bring the most in prospect talent. A good starter like him is hard to find in this market, he's not a difference maker but he is a good veteran pitcher and a lot of teams could use another starter. He's had a bad stretch but he is still better than most team's #4 (or worse) starter and could be a good #3 for a number of teams as well. Russ Ortiz would take his place in the rotation and Misch would be the spot starter/DH starter.

Durham is another one because that would save salary for next season too, like Morris, plus it would open up 2B for Frandsen, which is probably where he will need to play in the majors, if he should ever start. Give it to him now, he can start next year, and if he isn't the long-term answer, we have a number of players who can play 2B coming up the system and should be ready for a look-see by 2009 or 2010. I had toyed with the idea of him playing 3B, but I think we should just play Aurilia there, mainly because he is probably not tradeable.

As much as I like Klesko, I think he should be traded as there are teams that can use a 800+ OPS hitter at 1B like him and would be willing to give up something for him. Heck, if we can get a Kelvin Pichardo for Michael Tucker, as bad as he was hitting that year, Klesko should fetch an even better prospect. Not too bad for a cheap free agent pickup.

To replace him, we could promote Scott McClain, who is hitting a ton in AAA right now. He is 35 years old, so that would explain his dominance, but Niekro hasn't been doing anything since he was injured (again, sigh...). I would just promote Ishikawa, he has been raking in Advanced A San Jose since being sent there, showing the skills that he showed there two seasons ago and on the road in AA, plus he did well in his short stint in the majors last season and purportedly already is a good major league defensive 1B. Just let him hack up here but with our batting coach working closely with him.

If we can get anything for Vizquel, I will be torn, mainly depending on how many picks we would get for him if we let him go free agent and sign elsewhere. If we get two picks, a first rounder and a supplemental first, then I think I would let him go. If it is lower, then I would look to trade him for what we can get, and then promote Ivan Ochoa to play SS. He was playing nicely for us in AAA until his injury but unfortunately he isn't back yet so perhaps trading Vizquel will have to wait.

I think there should be teams looking for someone like Mark Sweeney, he is a professional hitter and we should be able to get a prospect for him. Again, if Tucker could fetch a good low level prospect, we should be able to get something good for Sweeney too. That would open up a spot on the roster for Ortmeier to be our 4th OF, which is the role I see for him going forward.

Steve Kline is a sweet reliever and I read one of the rumor headlines that relievers are hard to find: BINGO! He's doing well, he's signed for 2008, he should be able to fetch a good enough prospect. We have a lot of relievers in the minors who we could bring up, though none of them are doing particularly great, except for Misch, who is now a starter.

I think I would have rather they started Begg instead and put Misch into our bullpen. With his high K-rate in AAA, it would have been interesting to see what he could do with extended time in the bullpen with us. Then again, with his high K-rate, perhaps the Giants see him taking the 5th starter spot next year - assuming Morris will be traded away sometime between now and opening day 2008 - over Sanchez.

Now, if any of the free agent players can fetch us good draft picks in next year's draft, I think I would rather keep them and get the picks, but since I don't know where they rank or anything, I cannot say who would or wouldn't, so hence my thoughts above. Just nevermind them if we can get a first round pick for anyone.

Lastly, I doubt that we can trade Feliz for much, he has been so bad for so long. But he is having an amazing July, walks galore, he cut down on his K's drastically, he's hitting still hitting for power, he's hitting like we've been asking him to for over 5 years now. If he can continue to hit like this for the rest of the year, plus continue to play his great defense, I would actually be OK with re-signing him, that is, if there isn't a better 3B on the market.

A-Rod now seems likely to re-sign with the Yanks - reports have him buying a $25M mansion in Connecticut or somewhere near NY - so that dream is dead and I'm not sure I would want to sign Mike Lowell to a big long contract either. Another one year with Feliz so that we have a 3B would not be so bad, though many Giants fans would have a fit. But look at it this way: we have no 3B in the minors ready to play 3B, Leone has been pretty bad most months, he just had a great May (I think, or was it June). He would probably be just as bad offensively as Feliz and without the defense, but he would be cheap.

And if we are going to stink in 2008, the least the Giants need to do is field a good defensive team, particularly in the infield, so that the pitchers don't get too frustrated. Molina catching, Ishikawa and/or Niekro can provide that at 1B, Frandsen at 2B, Feliz at 3B, Vizquel perhaps at SS (re-sign if unable to trade), Roberts in CF and Winn in RF, plus mixing in Lewis and Schierholtz in there too as starters, not great defense from those two but you can't have them all good. And as I will write on in a future post, defense is a key element of successful teams in the playoffs (along with good, dominant pitching).

2007 Draft Signings: Latest Report

The Giants announced the signing of nine more players from their 2007 draft Monday at their website. As I was alerted to by allfrank last week, Tim Alderson signed, along with a number of other draftees. The Giants also signed LHP Joseph Patterson; RHP Chance Corgan, Kyle Nicholson, and Daniel Turpen; infielders Ramon Corona, Andrew D'Alessio, Josh Lopez and Evan McArthur.

In total, the Giants have signed 22 of their first 24 draft picks (obviously, Bumgarner and Fairley are the last two not to sign) and a total of 40 draftees. They had drafted a total of 50 players, so that is an almost complete haul of their draft picks. If I recall right, they typically sign 40-45 each year, so that's right on target, but this is the first time I recall them signing all of the players in the first 19 rounds or so. There is usually someone between 5 and 15 who doesn't sign, if I recall right.

As I had noted in a previous post before, the signings are much slower this year as the slots were down 10% over last year. And both Bumgarner and Fairley either have a lot of neighboring picks who have not signed yet or who signed for a below slot amount, and they appear to be waiting out the process, probably to see if they can get an amount closer to last year's slot, much like Lincecum last year, who was one of the later to sign but got more money from the Giants than the picks around him, on a relative basis. I've also heard the rumor that Selig asked teams to delay announcement of signings for players who signed above slot. I think they will sign by the end of the month, as that leaves them about a month to play professionally, enough to give them a good taste of being a professional.

Which brings me to Andrew D'Alessio. His signing was just announced. But according to the stats for the Arizona Rookie League, he has been in 21 games already, almost as much as Nick Noonan, who signed long ago and has played 24 games. And he is doing very well, thank you. The firstbaseman is hitting .274/.344/.548/.892 with 6 homers in 84 AB, with 9 BB/18K, which is OK, but not great. I had read somewhere that D'Alessio was a steal as he is a good hitter. Thus far, he has done very well but, still, it is rookie league, so it will be interesting to see if he gets to see some action at Salem-Keizer soon.

Among these named signings, there were a few other who have played and have stats. Josh Lopez has already gotten into 9 games himself and Daniel Turpen has pitched in 3 games. There is also a Joseph Paterson on the team; assuming it is the same guy, he's doing well in 3 games, 4 IP, nothing but 6 K's.

I think I had noted before that Noonan has been doing well in rookie league but Culberson has not, thus far, but I don't think I mentioned that Jackson Williams, our 5th pick, has been playing at Salem-Keizer and hitting .217/.345/.406/.751 with 4 HR in 69 AB, with 10 BB and 13K's. Those are pretty good and bode well that the .217 BA is a fluke, as that works out to a BABIP of .212 and most hitters have around .300, though that is not a given, as most hitters have a personal level of BABIP that they regress to a mean of. So there is the chance that the .212 is his career level. However, 10 BB is a lot and 13 K's is a pretty good amount to have with 69 AB, that puts his contact rate in the low 80's, which is good.

Monday, July 23, 2007

HOF Jim Palmer "Overwhelmed" By Lincecum

Had to point out a great article on the Chronicle about Jim Palmer's reaction to Tim Lincecum, written by Scott Ostler. Apparently, Jim Palmer had similar mechanics to Lincecum:

The exaggerated lean-back, the sling-like throwing motion, the high-90s heater, the lean frame, the ice-free postgame cool-down -- long before Tim Lincecum, that package belonged to Jim Palmer.

A major-league pitching coach once told Palmer, "I always show pitchers your windup and tell 'em that's the way not to throw."

Strange mechanics and all, Palmer pitched 19 years and wound up in the Hall of Fame.

Palmer also didn't ice his arm nor did he ever worry about pitch counts.

Palmer had these observations on Lincecum:

"The first time I saw him pitch, he was not particularly good. Yesterday, he was brilliant. I watched two or three innings; that was enough. I saw the great changeup he threw to (Prince) Fielder, which Fielder just kind of waved at. It looks like he's got real good mound presence. He's got great stuff."

"He's got overwhelming ability," Palmer said. "Jim Kaat was saying back in '90, 'If a guy's got great velocity, great movement, great location and deception, that guy's going to the Hall of Fame. This kid looks like he has those four things. Now, he's just gonna have to figure out how to stay healthy enough to pitch."

There was also an observation by Palmer about changeups, the pitch that Lincecum said recently was key to his adjustments and doing well again:

Another lesson Lincecum could learn from Palmer: Trust your changeup. Giants manager Bruce Bochy has been encouraging Lincecum to use his change more often.

Palmer agrees. He said he was talking to a group of the Cardinals' minor-league
pitchers recently and asked them to name the NL's two best pitchers, lefty and
righty, over the last 15 years. "They go, '(Randy) Johnson and (Curt) Schilling,' " Palmer said. "I said, 'No, the last 15 years.' 'Ah! (Greg) Maddux and (Tom) Glavine.' What do they do? Throw the changeup in any count. ... It's like (Baltimore pitching coach) Leo Mazzone says, a hitter can time a jet plane if it comes across home plate often enough. Hitting is timing, and pitching is trying to disturb that timing. The changeup just slows the bat down."

Ostler lastly noted (hopefully Tim read this article):
And if Lincecum ever wants to pick a brain that won 268 games, Mr. Palmer
will be glad to take the kid's call.

Pretty cool column by Ostler, I never realized that Palmer had a similar windup to Lincecum (or rather vice-versa), I guess I don't remember his much, as his career was hitting its peak around when I started following baseball. I guess I didn't get to see many east coast teams. Plus, I was always more into the hitters than pitchers.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Selig Will Watch Bonds in Milwaukee

A report notes that Commissioner Bud Selig will be in attendance for the Brewers-Giants series in Milwaukee. And that only makes sense since the game is in the town that the Commissioner is in. If anyone should go see a local game when it is available, it is he. There is almost no excuse not to attend.

So now he can say that he attended, and get the Bonds backers off his back, but he still didn't commit to attending every game of the chase, which would get the Bonds haters off his back as well, for the most part. It would be hard to fault Selig for attending the games of the team he used to own. But if he happen to be there when Bonds sets the record, then it happens and he would be there.

But I expect Barry to get walked a lot and not get a chance to hit even one homerun. Milwaukee is Aaron's town and I presume they protect their own, just like we do. So I don't see him getting any strikes, even if the bases were loaded. Then again, the Brewers have been sinking back to the pack (or rather the Cubs have been charging up the division), so they can't be too stupid about things or find themselves just a game or two above the Cubs.

If he does not do it in Milwaukee, then Barry will have to do it at home; starting Monday is a series with the Braves. How appropriate would it be if he did it against the Braves?. And I am pretty sure he likes doing it at home, so I have to assume that he will sit out Saturday's game (day game after night), then he could just complain about his legs again on Sunday and skip that game too, if he wanted. But it's happening soon.

Tim Alderson Signed

Allfrank kindly commented that Alderson signed. Here is an article I found in East Valley Tribune. He signed for slot money, about $1.3M, since all the picks around him signed already and that's about where he would fit in. He is headed to the Arizona Giants rookie league on Monday, then would head for Salem-Keizer short season A-ball if he does well in the rookie league. I don't see how he doesn't with his remarkable control but you never know.

He hasn't been pitching, just working out, while waiting/negotiating, so he is eager to start pitching again. I guess he stopped pitching so as not to endanger his arm before signing. That would be smart.

As I had noted in a post or comment when asked whether he or Bumgarner was going to sign, he stated his conflicting feelings once Oregon (he signed with them) won the World Series, "It just looked so cool. (But) I wasn't going to turn the money down." Would take some balls to turn down over $1M, which seems to end up being Boras clients.

I would understand holding out for more money once you establish your major league value, but if you are young, 18, 21, and you can get $1M or more to play baseball, I cannot understand why any first round draftee is ever unsigned, as he risks injuring himself before signing a contract plus you are delaying your chances of becoming a major leaguer. I know some have done that, I just don't understand it. But, se la vie, that's their life, their choices, if that money is more important than starting their professional baseball career, they have that right and responsibility to not sign until he gets what he wants.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Rebuilding: Truth and Consequences - Brewers

The previous post has content on rebuilding that was going to go into this series I was going to do, but hadn't gotten around to. Since Boof is egging me on, I'm going to organize my thoughts in the comment plus take some stuff I added when I copied that into a comment at El Lefty Malo, then, as usual, tweaked even more.

Plus there was a few continuity errors in my comment, I had orginally started the year of Bill Hall being picked since that was the first year of the draft where their young starters were picked, but decided that some might question my leaving out Sabean disastrous 1997 draft, so I bumped it to 10 years so that we can compare fully with Sabean's record. But then forgot to change the text to reflect that change, so I fixed what I could.

Rebuilds Are Not a Panacea

People think rebuilds are quick, easy, and/or youth only but they aren't. One example people like to point at as a great rebuild is the Brewers. What people don't realize is that they have been rebuilding now for a long while: this is their 15 year of rebuilding. Yes, they had lost for 14 straight years now, from 1993-2006.

First, they struggled with staying around .500 for about 8 years before doing what I advocate for a quick rebuild: sink to the bottom. From 2001-2004, they lost 94 games 3 years, 106 one year. That gets you a lot of high draft picks: one #2, two #5, and one #7. This netted them Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, Mark Rogers, and Ryan Braun, three key offensive pieces this season and a top 5 pitching prospect in Rogers.

Brewers Drafts 1997-2006

Let's go over their draft results, from 1997 as that is the year Sabean took over the Giants, plus I'll throw in Baseball America's top 10 prospects:

1997: No current member of Brewers drafted, nor any good player drafted period (0 out of 50).

1998: Bill Hall, he's a round 6. Everyone else pretty much sucked (1 out of 50).

1999: Ben Sheets, #1, 10th overall (1 out of 49).

2000: Corey Hart, 11th round (1 out of 50).

2001: J.J. Hardy, 2nd round, 56 overall (1 out of 50 and prospects)

2002: Prince Fielder, 1st round, 7th overall; Dana Eveland 16th round, has MLB experience (1 out of 50 plus prospects)

2003: Rickie Weeks, 1st round, 2nd overall; Tony Gwynn, 2nd round, 39th overall, #17 BA but made MLB; (1 out of 50 plus prospects)

2004: Mark Rogers, 1st round, 5th overall, #5 BA; Yovani Gallardo, 2nd round, 46th overall, #1 BA; Lorenzo Cain, DFA 17th round, #6 BA; (1 out of 50 plus prospects)

2005: Ryan Braun, 1st round, 5th overall, #2 BA; Will Inman, 3rd round, 85th overall, #3 BA; Mat Gamel, 4th Round, #10 BA; Steve Hammond, 6th round, #7 BA (1 out of 50 plus prospects)
2006: Jeremy Jeffress, 1st round, 16th overall, #4 BA; Cole Gillespie, 3rd Round, 92nd overall #8 BA (0 out of 50 plus prospects)

Thus, over a 10 year period, the Brewers found 8 players who are currently on their roster. The Giants have 9 players. Clearly, they have much better players on the whole, but 2 of them were Top 5 overall picks (Giants had one), 2 more of them are top 10 picks overall (Giants had one during that time) and 2 were from the 2nd Round.

The Brewers were 67% on their Top 5 picks (Rogers still developing so could be 100%), 100% on their 6-10th picks overall, 0% (out of 6) on picks in the 11-19 overall range. They are 4 out of 10 for their first round draft picks, but if you use more comparable picks with the Giants (10th to 30th), they are 1 out of 6 or 17%. The Giants have selected Cain, Lowry, and Lincecum with their 10-30 picks during that period, as well as Kurt Ainsworth, Boof Bonser, Brad Hennessey, and David Aardsma. Only counting Cain, Lowry, and Lincecum as good, we were 3 out of 11, or 27%.

So, the winning Brewers of today have been slowly rebuilt via the draft (and trades) over a 10 year period. Thus, people, who view the Brewers as an example of a good rebuild, are advocating that the Giants suck for 10+ years, get a lot of draft picks high, so that you can be happy with a team rebuilt the right way. I would not be happy with a 10+ year rebuild. That is why I want to stay the course with Sabean.

Free Agents Part of the Package

And even then, they still needed free agents to get to where they are today, a successful example for people of a rebuild. They overpaid a 32 year old Jeff Suppan to be a starter on their team. That is because they could not develop enough young starting pitchers to fill their rotation. They are also forced to use mediocrities (this year) like Dave Bush (4.84 ERA), Capuano (5.16 ERA), and Claudio Vargas (4.47 ERA) as starters, plus Sheets is no good to them on the DL. Their pitching is so bad that they were forced to resort to using Elmer Dessens on their staff.

And, of course, in the ideal rebuilds that the rose-colored idealist sees, you don't sign pitchers who are old and past their primes, you have to use young prospects only, vets are verboten! So the Brewers have violated what many Sabean naysayers have been criticizing Sabean for, signing a older pitcher who is in the decline phase of his career. And for 4 years at $10.5M per season.

Vets Are Still Necessary For Brewers

Also, they kept and even re-acquired veterans. Geoff Jenkins they had under contract, and Tony Graffanino they kept but he was only eligible for arbitration, plus they re-signed Craig Counsell, who was a free agent. These are all players who, under the rebuild theory that many have been mad at Sabean for keeping or acquiring, complaining that they should have been traded away already for prospects, or better, not re-signed in the first place with Counsell. Damian Miller too was kept around. They need their veterans too.

Again, this violates the tenets that Sabean naysayers have been espousing, not only keeping veteran players who they could have gotten prospects for, particularly Jenkins, but also re-signing such a player, like Counsell. Counsell would especially be an example of the typical Sabean signing, as criticized by the naysayers.

In fact, they are spending a lot of money on these veterans (Cots and baseball-reference):

Player - OPS+/ERA+ - Salary
Jenkins - 107 - $7M
Suppan - 88 - $6M (but contract to 2010, average $10.5M per year)
Estrada - 82 - $3.4M
Mench - 102 - $3.2M (but backup OF)
Graffanino - 88 - $3.25M (backup)
Counsell - 80 - $2.8M (backup plus owed $2.8M in 2008 plus buyout)
Miller - 102 - $2.25M (backup catcher)
Dessens - 65 - $2.1M
Koskie - DL - $2.0M (no stats but contract, so probably DLed)

That's $32M for an OK outfielder, and subpar starting pitcher, a subpar starting catcher (and he is known for his offense), and a bunch of bench players. Sabean would be screwed into the ground by the Sabean naysayers.

Giant Thoughts

So, over 10 years, almost 500 draft picks by the Brewers, they have developed 8 players who are on their roster (nobody has been traded who is on another MLB roster). That is 1.6% success rate, and that is with the great picks they got early in the first round four times. And this is from a team that many people like to point at as an example of how the Giants should do their rebuilding.

True, their entire starting lineup is full of prospects they selected, but their pitching rotation is not that good, particularly after Sheets went on the DL once again. They have Yovani Gallardo but the rest of their rotation are not particularly good, heck, they aren't even middle rotation good, they are pretty bad. Good thing they have a great offense.

Drafting is not the holy grail of rebuilding, it can be nasty, slow, frustrating, much like adding rings on a tree or watching grass grow. The Brewers didn't add more than one player a year, to their roster, based on results thus far. If they are rebuilding at that rate, they will fill out the starting lineup and rotation plus closer in 14 years, by which time the first ones will be close to retirement already and they would probably have had to trade for young prospects to try to keep the talent level going. Of course, some of the players they have selected in 2004 through 2006 are probably still valid prospects, but obviously that is yet to be seen.

Rebuilding is not the easy turnaround that people think they are, it normally take many years of losses, particularly with out and out stinkers, they are always done with some vets on the roster, some (a lot in some cases, like Atlanta, as we will soon see) free agent signings, and the rebuild will have mistakes made (none of their 11-20 overall picks are major leaguers). The Brewers have taken 9 years since drafting Bill Hall, 12 years since drafting Geoff Jenkins, are you willing to put up with that?

If you are satisfied with taking so long to rebuild, you have more patience than I do. I don't want to tolerate a lot of losing. I haven't been happy with the losing these past three seasons, but instead of just reacting to the bad situation, I took what I thought to be an objective assessment of where the Giants are right now and where we might go from here. Else you risk throwing out the baby with the dirty bath water.

Given how fast Sabean has rebuilt the team already, I would rather see what he can do in another seaon or two or three than to go with another GM and see how he does. This is because if the new GM is a former GM, he would have as much baggage as Sabean with probably less overall success, and if he is a new GM, he most probably will be learning on the job, learning on our dime, and I don't see that as a quick turnaround.

And in either case, we will probably have to endure a rebuilding period. As I will show in this series, most teams take at least 3 seasons to go from winning to losing/mediocre to winning again. If we are going to suffer through a losing period anyway, with a strategy that we don't know about (what if, for you anti-Sabeans, the new GM is even more anti-saber than you think Sabean is?), I would rather go with Sabean and his pitching focused strategy.

Trying out shiny new GMs with sabermetric leanings appeals to me too (I liked that sabermetric oriented manager that the Nationals picked up from the Mets, Manny Acta; he was a candidate for the Giants manager position won by Bochy) but there is a potential cost to that as I noted just above, whereas given Sabean's success thus far, I think the turnaround could be quick under him. That's why I was for 2 years and I'm OK with the option. As I noted, it is not for 2 years, it is a year to year contract, and he needs to show each year that we are progressing and moving closer to contention again.

And I like the focus on getting pitching as an organizational strategy. If he had focused on position players instead, maybe we have a nice outfield (assuming Cain, Lincecum, and Lowry are now equivalent OF position players), but now you have the infield to fill plus catcher and the pitching staff. Following his pitching-focused strategy, we have a pitching rotation that should be great for another 5 seasons or so together. He then filled in the bullpen with pitchers who were not as good but are good enough to hold a position. Only Taschner among the relievers who have made up the core of our bullpen this season, has not done OK or well, in terms of ERA.

With the rotation we have and budding bullpen, I think this is the tipping point for the strategy of focusing on pitching, now is when the rubber meets the road. Any future pitchers our farm system can generate will open up another trading chip instead of being plugged into the roster out of necessity. That will open up options for trading, that will open up opportunities to improve our pitching staff while simultaneously providing us with another player that we can trade away. And we should see some signs of this in action next year.

In addition, if we can keep the team ERA around 4.00, it should not take much offense to get us back on the winning track. With most large salaries coming off the books after the 2007 and 2008 season, there is the opportunity to totally recast the lineup, depending on what is available on the free agent market, on the trade market, and percolating up the minors. Between the three, we should be able to construct a steady enough offense that doesn't blow hot and cold.

Generally, I think firing Sabean would have been a knee-jerk reaction to a bad situation while ignoring the positives of our newly reconstructed pitching staff. What harm is there for another year or two of Sabean? At worse, we add a year or two of rebuilding, but that would have happened anyhow with any new GM we would have gotten in place. We need to see if he is headed in the right direction, just like we had to keep Ainsworth and Williams to see what direction they were headed, that's the same principle governing why Sabean has kept Cain, Lowry, and Lincecum. With such potential to the strategy, we need to see it through.

Interesting New Batting Tool

There was an article on MLB.com a few days ago about the "I trac Vision Training System" and I thought I would point it out, though I doubt any of us will ever get to see one, let alone use one. I just thought it was very interesting, especially the debate in the article about its efficacy.

As Usual, I Have A Story

I believe that it can work for hitters whose eyes have the ability to handle the higher speeds. I remember growing up and scoffing when hitters would talk about seeing the rotation of the ball as the pitch came in, of seeing the stitches and everything. From riding in cars, everything would go by in a blur, so how can they see a 100 MPH fastball rotating?

Then one summer I lucked out into one of funnest classes I ever took in college: summer quarter baseball at Chabot College. I signed up thinking I would get to play baseball games but there weren't enough players for a game, heck, there wasn't even enough for the infield most times (little did I know, but had they played games, it would have been a hardball; I only had experience with tennis balls and softballs). So we did the next best thing: we hit against the pitching machine.

Man, what fun that was! With so few people and so many pitching machines, you and a buddy could swap off and hit a whole bucket of balls (those yellow dimpled ones) over and over and over again. For a whole hour. That was the life!

And, though most balls got by me initially, I was soon lining hits up the middle pretty consistently (I impressed my friends at the hitting cages at the old Malibu Speedway in Oakland). And then it happened: I could see the dimples on the balls rotating towards me. Now, I had no idea how that is suppose to help me as a batter (I'm sure there is, but I didn't have any buddies who played little league or friend there who I could ask about that; I have to assume it gives a clue as to type of pitch, fast ball, curveball, slider, etc.), but that was so exciting: so that's what the hitters mean!

Then, going off on a tangent here, as most college guys do, we got cocky and moved from the 60-70 MPH machine to the 90 MPH machine and cranked it up. After doing no better than fouling off a pitch or two - most thumped the padding in back with a loud "Thwack!", we went back to the other machine and happily sprayed balls all over the "field" and watching the balls rotate as the pitch came in.

Everybody's Different

I think the criticism of the tool is mainly because not everyone can benefit from seeing pitches come in at such high speeds. It is kind of like Barry Bonds explanation when reporters ask him the stupid question of how he does what he do: "I'm gifted, man, I'm just better than you." I think some people are able to see the balls come in at high speeds like this tool and would, like I eventually did with the pitching machine, see the balls rotating in as their eyes adjust to the higher speeds. Which should make the slower pitches in a real game seem like they are standing still, because it is all relative.

Then again, who would it help? Probably the best hitters like Bonds, they might get even better than they are. And there are probably those on the edge between good and great, who if they got help like this tool, could push them over the edge to great. I would have to assume that Scott Boras will get one of these machines for his training center that he runs for all his clients, and get them working on that machine to see if it could help them. I think it is a tool that most teams will eventually get, especially given all the money being paid players today, investing this will be a drop in the bucket comparatively, I would think, eventually (I'm assuming the price is a bit high right now but would fall as volume rise).

Monday, July 16, 2007

Giants Signs Sabean

I started this post when it was announced that the Giants were opening negotiations with Sabean but before I could finish, they had already signed him to a two year extension with option for 2010. A lot of the info there is so similar to what I've been saying, it was almost as if I had wrote it. What stuck out in particular, was the mention of the pitching staff being almost produced internally and the list of players Sabean was involved in obtaining for the Yankees.

What follows is my post about why we should keep Sabean:

After saying that Sabean's role as Giants GM was not secure, that it depended upon the results of this season, Magowan apparently has seen enough and the Giants are negotiating with Sabean on an extension. I assume that it would be for at least 2 years - and that's what I would advocate for (AP leak says "multi-year"). I like what Sabean has done in rebuilding the pitching staff over the past three seasons and would like to see what he can do with the lineup once Bonds's salary is no longer on the payroll, especially now that most of the roles in the pitching staff has been filled, except for closer (Hennessey has the title but no real hold on it yet).

Some people accuse me of being Pollyannish and viewing the world with rose colored glasses. On the contrary, I've seen a lot of bad seasons go by in my 37 years of Giants fanaticism that I feel that I'm being cautious when I support Sabean. Believe me, I don't want to return to the 70's and 80's where mediocrity ruled, for the most part, until we found our thrill (Will the Thrill, that is)

So why do I conditionally support Sabean? First people blame him for the farm system when they should be supporting him. I have studied the draft and it is not easy finding good players through the draft, even when you are drafting high, in the top 5, even if you have the top pick, teams have only been successful 39% of the time finding a good player. It is exponentially worse when picking late in the first round, with the 21-30 pick, which is where you pick when you are a consistent winner, as Sabean had the Giants from 1997 to 2004. People don't realize what a big difference it is between picking 5th vs. 30th.

Second, this is the guy who presided over player personnel for the Yankees when they put together a number of their World Series winning teams' key players, like Posada, Mariano, Pettitte and Jeter, and the guy who led the Giants to winning - IMMEDIATELY after one of the worse losing seasons ever in Giants franchise history and kept them winning for 8 seasons. That should speak to his talent evaluation abilities. Add to that his masterful rebuilding of the pitching staff over the past 3 seasons and I think that he hasn't lost anything.

Third, circumstances have dictated the acquisition of many players. If a position is open and every other team is asking only for your best prospects, it's easy to trade off Grilli, Fontano, or Vogelsong, but not so easy to when the names are Lowry, Cain, and Lincecum. It's not everyday that a team will give you Fred McGriff for a bunch of second tier prospects, like the Padres did with the Braves.

So, if free agency is your main avenue of player acquisition, and given how hard it is to draft good players in the first 100 picks when you are competing hard for the division title, you have to accept lesser players like Feliz or face the fans's anger if you don't field someone there. And often, like when we signed Alfonzo, Durham, Benitez, and Vizquel, the Giants acquired the best available free agent; unfortunately, they didn't turn out the way we wanted in many cases.

But sometimes that is fate or luck. Who knew, for example, that I-Rod, who was continuously injured in his late 20's when he should be healthiest, would be a better free agent acquisition than Alfonzo or Durham or Benitez, who came into their contracts with the Giant with a pretty good health record or had performed well the year before. I-Rod should have gotten worse physically, not better, with age.

I Once Doubted Sabean Like Others

The odd thing is that I was once like some of the Sabean Naysayers. Back a few years, I was wondering why Sabean couldn't produce in the farm system, particularly since he was good at identifying position players to trade for. It didn't make sense. And I was complaining with everyone else about this.

Unlike others, I decided to investigate how badly the Giants are compared to others. That required gathering data on how well teams draft so that I could compare the Giants against other teams who were better. I started first by compiling the draft picks and comparing who was good and otherwise.

I looked at the stats and was totally surprised: good players are not that easy to identify, even in the first round, and as a result, there are really not that many of them available via the draft every year.

That blew my mind, most experts would rave about this prospect or another, but after the 10th pick, you have better odds of rolling a 7 with a pair of dice than you do of selecting a good player, when the best teams picked around the 21-30th picks overall. And the odds fell like a rock: by the 100th pick overall, which neared the end of the 3rd round, less than 2% of the picks for picks 91-100 overall, were good players. So then I compared the Giants against other teams who were winning divisions and picking in the same range overall, and the Giants were arguably as good at picking as the A's, Yankees, and Braves for the time period examined, if not better in some cases.

I did the same thing with free agents. Yes, a lot of them went bad. Same with trades. Focused on the Giants, we don't notice that other teams make bad trades, bad free agent signings. Yeah, we could fire them all, but then the next GMs will probably do just as well. No one will ever steal other GMs blind forever. And if you take small risks, you get small gains; you take bigger risks, you get bigger gains, but also bigger lossess when the bigger risks go bad.

Also, when you think back, a lot of the free agent signings were considered the best available player at the time we signed them, with a lot of teams competing to sign them over us. Alfonzo, Durham, Benitez, Alou, Vizquel, Molina, Durham again, Zito. Sabean signed the best available free agent on the market but most did not work out as expected or hoped.

But who knew Durham would be so fragile after so many years without ever going on the DL? Alfonzo would still be very valuable if he could get on base like he did all through his career, but suddenly he couldn't do even that, let alone hit for some power, so his OBP and SLG was much depressed. Benitez was injured, it seemed, within moments of signing. He isn't the best pitcher but even if he imploded, if he pitched anything like he did the previous five seasons, he would have been a good sign. Alou had injuries, but who could have seen him tripping on the warning track in foul territory. Matheny's concussion was the first I'm aware of to force a MLB player to retire. It was like the pendulum swung back after all his great moves from 1997 to 2002.

Stealth Rebuild

I've gotten a lot of flack (or to put it closer but nicely, manure) over calling this a "stealth rebuild".

Q: But what is a rebuild?
A: Changing the composition of a team from older to younger. The Giants have rebuilt their pitching staff already with young players, most of them from our farm system.

Q: Is every player called up going to be great and successful?
A: No, players will fail, see Lance Niekro and Jason Ellison, who had the starting job but could not hold them, or Todd Linden, who could not hold the key 4th OF starter role this season, or Brian Wilson, annointed closer of today if Benitez failed, but couldn't even keep his spot on the 25 man roster.

Q: Is a rebuild solely done with young prospects and no free agents?
A: No, for example, Detroit signed key free agents in I-Rod, Magglio Ordonez, Troy Perceival, and Todd Jones, during the depths of their latest rebuild, undertook by their new GM, Dave Dombrowski, architect of the Expos and Marlins division/pennant titles.

Atlanta, as a significant contributor to returning to winning, signed Charlie Leibrandt, all of 34 years old the season he joined them. They also signed Juan Berenguer, 36 years old, to be their closer. They also kept older players, like Dale Murphy and Lonnie Smith, during the losing seasons, before finally trading them when they were ready to start winning again. And signed 32 year old Otis Nixon, 29 year old Rafael Belliard, and 30 year old Sid Bream as contributors to their first winning year after 6 abject losing seasons, and they are grizzled vet signings similar to the Giants M.O. of recent years, none of them were top players. They also signed Terry Pendleton, who was a huge contributor, and 30 years old. Their only home grown prospects playing in their first year of winning, was Mark Lemke, no big shakes, Ron Gant, who was very good, and David Justice, who was even better. Gant took 5 years to contribute, 7 to break out. Justice took 5 years to do both. Their pitching staff was pretty much home grown, with Smoltz, Avery, Glavine, Stanton, and Mercker leading the way.

Q: Do teams normally win during rebuilding?
A: No. Look over the history of every team who are leading or competing for division leads today, almost all went through at least a 3 year period of losing - many much longer than 3 and not just losing but abject losing, where team is the suckiest team around. All except the D-gers, who, while not losing consecutively, clearly was in a malaise of barely .500 ball.

DO me a favor if you don't believe me. Take whatever favorite team you like to use as an example that the Giants should follow in rebuilding and see what pain they have gone through, what they did to turn things around. Look at their history in baseball-reference.com, as I've done many times. I know the D-gers are the only team to return to title competing status without a long or gut wrenching period of losing and rebuilding. If they are not still rebuilding, like the Royals, Devil Rays, and Pirates, for example.

Even the Yankees had a bad period, which, coincidentally for our story, has a link to us: Brian Sabean was in charge of player development and scouting at that time. From 1988 to 1992, the Yankees were either losing or near the cellar, and Sabean was director of scouting from 1986-1990 and VP of player development/scouting from 1990-92. As the above link notes, he had a "vital role in developing the Yankee's farm system into one of baseball's finest, having drafted or signed as amateurs the likes of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, J.T. Snow, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte."

Giants Are Rebuilding Already

So the Giants losing over the past 2.5 seasons, with veterans on the team but also younger players, plus signing free agents along the way, are no different from other teams who rebuilt and eventually became successful division winners again. They have been doing it while trying to win at the same time. Yes, it stinks to lose good young players like Accardo, but we were close and Hillenbrand, if he would have hit his career numbers, would have been a huge boost to our offense. As it is, we still have Chulk, who, while not as good thus far as Accardo, has still been a very good reliever for us.

And Sabean has been in charge of this rebuilding, with Tidrow. Another reason I like Sabean as a GM, besides his success with the Yankees, is because he started out in coaching. He coached in college from 1979 to 1984, and was head coach at the University of Tampa in 1983 and 1984, leading them to their first ever appearance in the NCAA regional tournament. As coach, you have to know to some extent how to tell good hitters from poor ones, good pitchers from poor ones. You also had to recruit high schoolers and be able to distinguish the ones who has the skills and talent that might be able to help you win.

Rebuilds require that sort of knowledge. It helps when the GM is able to pitch in with reviews of players and know when to challenge the scout's opinion on a player, to see the subtle shading that might ID the diamond in the rough. That gives our GM and added dimension that not all GM's have.

Giants Thoughts

I think this is the best compromise. As much as people hate Sabean, I think their emotions are getting in the way of their thinking. The fact is that he has rebuilt the pitching staff. It is young and it is good. Sure, not every part is great, the bullpen in particular: get used to it, when you rebuild, not every prospect will be doing great. The good news is that the bullpen ERA is actually not that bad, it was under 4.00 the other day, though the 5 runs Chulk gave up probably pushed it above that. But that's what you call learning pains as the young pitchers become experienced.

But can he do the rest? I think a two year contract is ideal. We can always can Sabean after a year if things are not working out. And changing GMs during a rebuild can set back the rebuild sometimes. Plus, eatting one year shouldn't hurt the club that much if we do fire him after a year. But if he is still as skilled as he had shown previously, then he should do a great job again and we should return to competitiveness pretty quickly. In any case, we should be able to tell within 2-3 years how successful he is.

Why such a short time frame? Looking at the Giants record by score difference, they are pretty much around .500 for all differences except for two: they are 3-0 when the difference is 13 and they are 6-15 when the difference is 2 runs. They are also 13-16 when the difference is 1 run. Adding a bit of offense would swing those records around quickly to the positive side. They have lost 37 games (out of 48) by either 1, 2, or 3 runs. Adding a bit more offense should swing those games to the win column quickly.

Also, Magowan noted that they were impressed with what Sabean did with the draft picks this year. Sabean said that Bumgarner and Alderson should advance quickly and reach the majors in two years. That's a timetable that we can set our clocks to and see if they are doing what he said. After all, he's also the one who thought Valdez was ready a couple of years ago.

In addition, there is a bunch of position prospects who are nearing the end of their development and should rise up very soon - Lewis, Schierholtz, EME, Ishikawa - plus others who are still developing, including our Carribean Angels, Villalona and Joseph. They in particular will be sign posts of how Sabean is doing, they should be progressing or else, again, it would bring into sharper question his abilities.

2007 Strategy Thoughts

What should Sabean do has been on the minds of Giants fans, both supporters and detractors. I think first and foremost our team's strength is its starting rotation. It should not be weakened unless we are getting a first rate prospect in return, someone who should be starting by next year at the latest, plus a prospect who is good but still developing, and that's for Morris, he should be the only starting pitcher available for trade. If we cannot get such a package for him, then we hold on to him, but for his experience and training abilities, but because our rotation is so strong with him this year.

However, during the offseason, most probably Morris should be moved. I like him but Sanchez needs a spot in the rotation and the rotation should still be strong with Sanchez, just strong with Morris. Basically we wait as long as we can to trade Morris until a team is antsy enough to offer a nice package for him. That also opens a spot for Misch in the bullpen.

Ortiz, I still like and would like to keep him. We don't have many choices for closer right now, unfortunately, Wilson and Sadler have not developed this season as would have been expected based on how well they did last season. They made Accardo available for trade but unfortunately they didn't deliver. Ortiz could spot start if necessary, if Sanchez fails, he should be OK in relief, he should be OK closing. Just because a team is rebuilding doesn't mean that you go ahead and let the team lose in bad fashion. So use Ortiz as backup for a variety of positions.

I like Kline, but Misch was doing great in AAA, so we should trade Kline to a pennant contender who needs a good lefty reliever, and get a nice prospect in return. Then Misch will get a chance and we won't have to rely on Taschner so much, put him in more situations where he can succeed. I still like him, particularly his attitude, but obviously he's been doing poorly. But that's the pains of rebuilding, putting up with prospects's ups and downs.

Durham should be shopped, particularly if he gets hot again in the second half. Frandsen looks ready to play at the major league level. He's not going to be good or great but he's going to be a complementary piece of the lineup, he should get an OPS in the 700's and 2B looks like his eventual position.

However, we have options for him at 3B too. We should not resign Feliz again. We needed to this season because we needed someone OK at 3B but he has been much less than OK. Frandsen could take 3B.

There is also SS. Aurilia could play there, but I'm thinking he can't do it on a regular basis anymore. So we might have to go with Vizquel again, as shortstops are not that great offensively anyway, so he won't be a total burden there, but he could be batting 2nd. However, if some team is willing to give us a good position prospect for him, I would take it and play Aurilia and Frandsen there on a rotating basis, maybe even through Feliz there a few times. If we are selling, it won't matter much anyway.

Speaking of Aurilia, he is too versatile to trade away. He can play 1B, 2B, 3B, and SS. He is protection in case any infield regular is injured (). He can start at any of these positions to start the season, allowing Sabean to sign free agents at any of those free positions and move Aurilia to another spot.

I would also try to keep Klesko, though the price has to be reasonable. He is a high OBP hitter who can hit for power, what more can you ask for as an example for our young hitters to emulate. It is one thing to ask them to learn by watching Bonds, another to watch Klesko; the former is a daunting task, the latter more down to earth in expectations. Plus we could platoon him with Niekro and give Lance one last chance to be productive. If he can hit LHP and Klesko RHP, we can get pretty good production out of the 1B spot. If Klesko is too pricey, I think Ishikawa should be promoted and platoon with Niekro. Sink or swim time, time to fish or cut bait, particularly if we are accepting the possibility of losing in 2008.

I would be OK with keeping Bonds if we aren't paying him much. If he wants more, he can go. And I think there are automatic draft picks now, we don't have to offer arbitration or anything. Otherwise, we bring up Schierholtz, Lewis, and Ortmeier and let them play for playing time. I don't think they have much to learn at AAA anyway.

Winn has a no-trade, but Roberts could be traded. I think we should keep him. I like his speed at the top of the lineup, and I think he will start disrupting the other team in the second half because he's been hot in July. He also has a nice OBP for his recent years, so I think he'll be good up there. I'm not convinced yet about Lewis, and I dont' believe in just giving players all the at-bats at a position, so I rather he fight with the other two for playing time. Roberts is platooned a lot anyway, so that would open up a lot of ABs for the three if needed.

I had been hoping the Giants could sign A-Rod for SS or 3B, but the more I think about it, the less I see it being possible. There is a lot of money opening in the payroll, but I don't think $30M worth and that's what he is asking for. That would mean increasing the payroll and yet not signing any other free agent. I don't see the Giants increasing their payroll to fit A-Rod. But the talk about signing three other free agents don't make too much sense to me because I doubt that there are any good players available for 1B, 3B, and SS who are worth $10M each who we can sign instead of signing A-Rod. Plus, I hear that the Angels billionaire owner has his eyes set on A-Rod, and with Cuban trying to buy the Cubs, they could be in play for A-Rod as well, to make a big splash there. And he's worth over $2 billion. We are not outbidding either owners.

And hopefully we start getting some surprises from the farm system. We have a lot of relievers preparing to move up, so we should be fully stocked there for a while. However, position wise, Horwitz is the only one who appears to be getting ready to join the majors soon. Everyone else (besides Lewis, Schierholtz, and Ortmeier) is having problems of one sort or another (or lack of talent).

Seeing if Fairley (assuming he signs), Noonan, Williams, and Culberson develop and advance will be interesting, particularly Fairley. He loves baseball and appears willing to work hard to reach the majors, plus he was previously busy with other things, like school, football, and other activities. Now, he will be 100% devoted to baseball but even then, he was very good at both the OF and a starting pitcher, so he would gain also from the focus on being solely an OF without worrying about opposing teams' hitters. The two Angels too, will be interesting to follow.

Go Giants!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Carribean Catches: Another Angel

It was reported in the SJ Mercury today that the Giants signed OF Angel Joseph for $350K. He is 16 years old but will turn 17 in October, so he is about the same age as our other Angel, Angel Villalona (who turns 17 in August if I remember right). A switch hitter, he is 6 foot 2, 175 pounds, so he is nothing like Villalona physically. Though his bonus is so small (relatively), he has been compared (by whom, who knows) to Alfonso Soriano.

Giants International Scouting Director Rick Ragazzo said, "Of all the outfielders we saw, he was one of the top three as far as having well-rounded tools." And he was considered (again by whom, who knows) one of the better prospects among this year's group of international free agents.

If Baggarly, the Merc's Giants beat writer put out this info, I would trust the comments more because he also writes and works for Baseball America, the premiere place to go for prospect information, but this was a generic news announcement. Maybe in a couple of days he's comment.

A Lanky Lefthander, is Like a Melody...

The Giants also announced the signing of Meladi Perez, 6 foot 5 left-handed pitcher. "He still throws with good velocity and movement. If he moves fast - which he has to now - he could be a sleeper." So would Todd Linden, but I quibble. :^) The "has to now" refers to the fact that Perez would have been in for big money until it was discovered that he was actually, gasp!, 20 years old!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I Like Nick (Noonan)

Besides all the stuff I have posted on Nick Noonan, the Giants 4th pick and 32nd overall pick in the 2007 draft, I found an article in his local newspaper, San Diego Union Tribune, and it goes in depth on him so I thought I should share that with everyone.

First, it notes that Baseball America named him as the 41st best prospect, so I don't know why some people said that the selection of Noonan was a cheap play, the talent difference is not that great 9 spots ahead in the draft, even this early into the draft. In any case, as I noted in the previous post, he signed for about what the 32nd pick normally gets, maybe slightly higher.

And while he is noted in most accounts as bound for 2B eventually, hence the comparison to Utley we've seen, he wants to be a SS. That is where he has spent most of his career. And I think anybody who plays SS will want to play SS, if he doesn't I would have to wonder about his mindset. That's a premium position and you should want to stay there and work hard to keep it. But hopefully he's more understanding once he becomes a pro and, if he should prove to not be a SS, he will accept it and move on.

There is some interesting info in this article, from scouts interviewed. One NL scout had a lot to say about Noonan:
  • "Every time you watch him, you get a better appreciation for him and what he can do. He does everything smooth and easy."
  • He considers Nick one of the top high school hitters in Southern California: "I've seen him hit 95 MPH like it's 75 MPH. He has a quick bat and exceptional knowledge of the strike zone. Nothing fazes him. He's just a cool customer - a true baseball player."
The article notes also that the "scouting community seems willing to let Noonan try his hand at shortstop out of the chute. The knock against Noonan is that some question his arm strength, which could change his defensive focus to that of a second baseman. He has been compared to Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts..."

An AL scout had this to say:
  • "Noonan has the ability to play a premier position. His profile is what the scouting community is looking for. He has a nice, pure left-handed swing. He's a major league base runner with a major league arm."
Some have noted that his stats might be inflated because he plays in a small-school league facing less-skilled pitching. However, he has played well against other top prospects in showcases he has played in: the 2006 Area Code games in Long Beach; last August's Aflac All-American Classic at Tony Gwynn Stadium.

The article also noted his level headed attitude which helps him out as the team leader. He doesn't get caught up in himself like others of his caliber. A teammate and longtime friend, Greg LaBarre noted, "Given his position and the (publicity) he's receiving he could be stuck up if he wanted to, but he's not like that at all. He's just a genuine guy. Playing alongside him you'd never even know that he's going to be drafted. He's just real humble and goes about his business quietly. Before the game the scouts are lined up behind the backstop and we joke around teasing Nick, 'There are a lot of dads here today.' Even with all those scouts watching his every move I don't think it makes him nervous. He's a unique character, a strong well-grounded individual."

Apparently the Giants might have lucked out in selecting Noonan, though part of it was due to players who could have been drafted earlier fell to the Tigers and Yankees. According to Noonan in the article, the teams who were the most serious before the draft was the Padres, Yankees, Tigers, Twins, and Giants. That's basically the list of teams picking late in the first round. And a lot of teams had expressed interest in him beyond that list.

My Thoughts

Overall, as I have noted in previous posts, draft picks are pretty much needles in the haystack unless you are picking in the first few picks overall in the draft. So who knows how good Noonan can be, or whether he will ever make the majors. Despite the seriousness that a lot of people place in analyzing prospects in the draft, for the majority of prospects after, say, the 15th pick overall (5th pick overall? I'll have to check my data) you don't really know what you got until they sign and play professionally. That's where the wheat starts to separate from the chaff. I learned this the hard way when the Giants drafted Royce Clayton and he was this homerun hitting high school SS and I was drooling but, as history has unfolded, not so much.

For me, since I don't know how to break down video (I've been relying on Carlos Gomez's great work on The Hardball Times and his The Bullpen Mechanics column at the Baseball Factory), the best I can do is try to read through the tea leaves regarding the prospects makeup and reporting what other people have written about them. Since there's rarely that much written, it makes reporting my only avenue usually.

But this article has a lot of info in it, so I'm going to try. I didn't write about this above, but the author asked Noonan about Baseball America saying he's the 41st best prospect and he gave a very level headed, detailed, and thoughtful response about how that doesn't mean anything. That aligns with what his friend said about him being level-headed.

Another thing I didn't mention above was his response about scouts crowding to see him at his games, again he gave a great response: "I've played so many games in front of scouts, and I realize I can't really control what they think. Just hustling and being consistent with my abilities is all that I can do. I think having some scouts here to watch us has brought us up to another level of play." Notice how he said the scouts were here to watch "us" when they were really there to see him, and he said that it raised their level of play. That fits in with what his friend said about him being a genuine guy, about how humble he is. This, for me, makes the friend's comments more real and not just fluff a friend might say, about what he said about Noonan being a unique character, a strong well-grounded individual, a genuine guy, a humble guy.

Plus he's already realized that he can't control what they think, so he focuses on what he can control, his hustle and being consistent. How important is that for any ballplayer to realize? Sometimes it is little things like this that makes the difference between a major leaguer and a minor leaguer. That's something that Barry Zito is struggling with as he spirals downward in performance, that seems to affect a lot of players who sign big contracts. This bodes well for Noonan not getting the deer in the headlights syndrome at any point and just playing to his abilities, so he could move up fast.

That also fits what the scout notes about Noonan being a cool customer, a true baseball player. That makes what he said about his quick bat and exceptional knowledge of the strike zone more real to me. He knows Noonan, he has seen Noonan enough to make such an assessment accurately. When you get the anonymous quotes from scouts, you don't know what exactly you are getting from him or her, but if it fits in with other bits of information, that for me validates what the scout says, he wouldn't have a job if he couldn't identify skill sets and he talks about qualities about Noonan that you would only get from knowing him relatively well.

So from a mental and emotional standpoint, Noonan looks like a good prospect to me. He is less likely to be a flakey kind of personality like Todd Linden, where his mind and mental attitude interfered with him performing the way his AAA performance suggests that he would in the majors. Nick sounds like a level-headed leader who can play ball in a complete way. That's a great start for a prospect, now lets hope that his skills translates in the pros. And according to a comment I just read, he has been doing well.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Breaking Down the Draft: Culberson and Noonan

Carlos Gomez just published the latest in a series of articles covering draft picks. In this installment, he covers Giants picks Charlie Culberson and Nick Noonan.

BTW, both have signed already with the Giants, I see their name in the lineup for the Giants' Arizona Rookie League team. Charlie agreed to sign on Monday June 11th, for slot money, $607,500 plus they included an extra college scholarship too (reported in Chattanooga Times Free Press). Charlie noted the Giants will start him at SS but could move him to 2B or 3B and he hopes to make it up in four years and to have a 15 year career. Nick signed on Thursday June 14th according to this article, and the deal is estimated to be worth a hair above $1M (that appears to be about slot). It includes $100K+ for college. They both jumped at their deals once they got their offer.

I also found a blurb on sfgiants.com noting the signings. It also notes that the Giants signed a total of 31 of their selections from the draft, including their other supplemental pick, Jackson Williams (the 43rd pick).

SS Charlie Culberson

Charlie (51st pick overall) got an overall positive evaluation with a few nits to pick. And that's to be expected, with the odds of finding a good player so low by this point in the draft, you are really only picking up players who will have to develop and growth to become major leaguers. If the odds are stacked against even the 10th pick, you can imagine how much worse it is for the 51st pick.

  • "Culberson looks smooth on the field with a good, plus arm."
  • "His swing is pretty good, but a little noisy". It was noted that he has too much movement before the swing, which "will make it difficult for him to succeed at the next level," and he has a tendency to "leak (he doesn't stop his body from moving forward as he starts to rotate." This will cause him to struggle. He is advised to "spread out his stance, reduce the hip/hands load a bit, and let the ball travel." This will cost a little power, but provide more consistent contact.
  • Though Carlos notes that Culberson was drafted too high, he still likes the pick because Charlie will have a little more pop than the average middle infielder.
I have to assume that Charlie looks good for the most part because he had a dad who was a professional ballplayer. Given what he needs to learn and adjust, he probably will advance one level at a time, starting from Salem-Keizer, assuming no set-backs. That would be a six year trip to the majors, and he'll be 24 at that time. Not quite his timetable, but not bad either. After all, making the majors at 22, which is what Charlie is targeting, is pretty rare.

Still, it is good that he has some goals in mind for making the majors and that he has big ambitions. Hopefully he will back that up with tenacity and industriousness. He noted in the article linked above that "... I know I'll have to work hard and get lucky. Hopefully in four years I'll be up there playing [in the majors]. One of my biggest goals is to play 15 years up there." That's a good sign that he knows he doesn't need to just show up and everything will happen, but that he will have to devote his life to baseball (which he noted in the article too, stating "my life now is baseball") and work hard to get what he wants. Again, that's probably something his father passed on, while he was drafted and signed by the Giants, he never made the majors. A Leon Culberson made it during the 1940's, I wonder if he is related; could be, he was born in and passed away in Georgia, where Charlie was born and live in.

SS/2B Nick Noonan

Carlos really like Noonan (32nd pick overall) enough to say that he would "take Noonan in a heartbeat" over Peter Kozma , the 18th pick overall, even though he sees Noonan ending up at 2B and Kozma having more of a chance of sticking at SS.

  • "With a quick-release arm and smooth on the field, Noonan is a ballplayer."
  • "I agree with most: he's likely to end up at second base."
  • Don't really like his stance, with the bat upright.
  • However, Carlos likes how "he loads his hands by bringing them back slightly while also loading his hips to rotate powerfully against his front leg. Noonan has excellent balance, stays behind the ball really well and has good swing balance. He lets the ball travel well and his hands follow a nice, circular hand path.
I dug up some more stuff on Noonan, I liked finding the Culberson stuff. Noonan made the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic, so he had a player profile there. There is stuff lauding how good he is but it doesn't note his shortcomings so I don't know what's real and what's fluff. However, I will note that here he is compared with Derek Jeter "for his tools and feel for the game."

However, I found it interesting that he "works as a coach and umpire in the local Little League and T-Ball organizations." That, for me, speaks to the quality of his character, despite all the demands of high school plus his playing for the high school team, he still makes time to contribute back to younger players via coaching and umpiring, and still get a 3.2 GPA (though I must note that some schools, ah, make it easier for athletes to get a good grade, not that Nick necessarily got a free ride, particularly at a private school).

Monday, July 09, 2007

Question on Bowker

Someone commented on one of my old posts, regarding Bowker's nice first half surge this season. The person noted:
Although it is only half way through the season, do you still feel the same
about John Bowker's performance? We all know about Dodd stadium, and with that
in consideration, his numbers so far this season are quite impressive. Do you
still feel the same way as you did in feb, or do you think he could be a
considerable prospect in the upcoming years?

Since that post is almost 5 months old, I thought I would post my answer here - thanks for the comment, Anon.

Wow, Bowker

He is having a great first half for AA Connecticut, batting .303/.347/.523/.870, with 12 homers in 304 AB, or 25 AB/HR. He could even be better right now, at home he's hitting .269/.318/.423/.741 while on the road he's hitting .338/.379/.628/1.007. As I showed in a previous post, power in Dodd Stadium is greatly reduced relative to the overall league. And his power is similarly diminished by Dodd, at home 52.0 AB/HR whereas on the road, 16.4 AB/HR (that is like going from Edgardo Alfonzo power when he was a Giant to Barry Bonds power during the late 1990's); same for ISO, 154 at home, 290 on the road. Plus he has gotten better each month, improving his walks and HRs each month this season. So those are all very encouraging.

His age is a plus and a minus. He just turned 24, so that's still young, he could be in AAA next year at 25 and the majors at 26 in 2009. However, frankly that's a little on the old side for AA, so it could be that is why he's doing so well, because of the age advantage for him over most of the other players.

Why his sudden surge is suspect: his career up to this season has been on a steep dive. He had a really nice professional debut in 2004, but his 2005 and particularly his 2006, where he spent all his time in Advanced A San Jose, really took the bloom off his rose. He struck out too much and walked too little during his time there and his power went down in his second year there and overall his performance there was pretty sad for a hitters league. That's a lot of disappointing results.

So I was surprised that they promoted him to AA; however, looking back at his stats, I suppose he earned it with his nice second half surgette, hitting over .300 with around a .830-.840 OPS and better BB/K ratio. But until this year, he was like a Travis Ishikawa without the homers, walks, or defense; in other words, nothing much to recommend him by.

I will be more encouraged about him when and if he duplicated this (and more) in AAA Fresno. While his overall stats look good, and look even better when viewing his road stats, the negatives are his still low BB/K ratio, you ideally want over 1.0 for that and a minimum of 0.5 but he's at 0.36 for the season and approximately that for both home and away (same as for 2006 as well, which was 0.37). His walk rate is still a bit anemic at 6.3% (7.4% last season) and again basically the same home and away. His strikeout rate is significantly improved, which probably led to his surge, he dropped it from 21.6% to 18.5%. Ideally, you want it under 15%, so he's getting close to the target there, and under 20% is considered good.

But some players are able to play in the majors with poor peripherals like that, and perhaps he can be one of those. However, not only will it be hard for him to make the majors on any team in any regular situation, but with Lewis, Schierholtz, Ortmeier, and EME ahead of him, he has all these similarly young players ahead of him plus Roberts and Winn ahead of him for the next two seasons, 2008 and 2009. If he's making the majors, it is probably not until 2010, though maybe he could be a September call-up in 2009. And by then, there is the possibility that Villalona will have eaten his way off of 3B and into the corner OF (or perhaps 1B), which would be another obstacle for him. And Villalona said that he wants to make the majors in two seasons (which to me means 2009).

The road will be long, and it will be hard, but at least now it seems like it is possible. Before, Bowker didn't have much of a prayer, being stuck in A-ball in San Jose for two years and declining overall. I wish him continued good luck on his performance, particularly since it appears that he will need it, sabermetrically speaking. However, as I noted, not every successful baseball player has to have great peripherals - the odds are just longer when you don't have those qualities.

Are the A's Still Having More Fun?

About a month, month and a half, ago, Ann Killion's column headline blared out "A's are having more fun than the Giants". I thought it would be interesting to revisit that assertion now, using the same opportunistic, knee-jerk reaction that prompted that article.

This is the problem I have with making grand assertions during the season, there are ups and there are downs. And a whole heck of a lot of it. Today, after a frustrating 2-0 loss yesterday, blowing a 5.15 ERA pitcher's most probable best game ever in the majors, the A's are .469, 11.5 games behind the AL West leading Angels, losers in 11 of 13, 13 of 17, 23 of 32. In funner times: they were .525, 3 games above .500, 6 games behind. Ironic that the losing started around after that column came out, when they were on a hot winning streak; so I had to bring this up after their epic 9 game losing streak happened.

Still, where their overall record is, that's admittedly better than the Giants, who are now mired in last place, 14 games under .500, 12.5 games back. Even after winning the series against the NL leading Brewers, they still have the 4th worse record in the majors, putting them in line for a top 5 draft pick next year. And they are facing 38 games in the next 38 days, so things aren't going to get much better.

But the focus here still remains: Are the A's having more fun than the Giants? I guess it is all relative. They have a slightly better record, I suppose they should be having more fun, but their place in the standings is not much better than the Giants, 11.5 games back vs. 12.5 games. And that isn't really anything to crow about, that can reverse in just one day.

I don't feel that anyone should ever be having any fun at .500 nor, particularly when you are more than 5 games behind. I don't find that fun. I can understanding enjoying the good times when a team is going good, or enjoying the moments during a bad season when things are going good, like when Lincecum dominates, but to put it as "the A's are having more fun than the Giants" is just more of the kissing up to the A's that the Mercury has been doing since the A's announced they are moving to Fremont.

The Giants losing is not fun. But I've been able to enjoy how well the pitching staff has been doing. Have they been perfect? No, but that's the growing pains we have to go through when you are rebuilding, the young players aren't consistently good. But on the whole, the young players have delivered and bodes very well for the future, starting next season.

We Are Close

That's what gets my goat about some Giants fans calling for Sabean's head and/or a complete rebuild. We've already rebuilt the pitching staff. It is basically done, though we clearly still need a closer (Wouldn't it be nice if we had a closer then we won't have to worry about our leads...) and the lineup is next. Almost all vet contracts are expiring this season and next, so the lineup can be almost totally different on opening day in 2009.

A rebuild the way some fans have been calling for would trash any chances of winning over the next 2-3 years, killing a large portion of the time we control Cain, Lincecum, Lowry cheaply. By the time the rebuild is done, the three of them will soon be free agents, and perhaps tired of losing.

Getting rid of Sabean as some had called for, the new GM would clearly feel a mandate to shake things up, perhaps he goes for that trade of Cain or Lincecum for some great hitter. But then the undeniable strength of our future is eliminated, we have 3 pitchers capable of being top pitchers in Cain, Lincecum, Lowry, trading one of the two who could be aces would break that up unique strength. And who is to say that the other GM is any good, that would be speculation and wishful thinking on the part of the Sabean naysayers, all they can say is that anyone else would be better and that would by hyperbole.

Imagine once Cain and Lincecum gets things together and consistently dominate. We could go to a 4 man rotation during the playoffs and pretty much guarantee a series win, with Cain and Lincecum pitching 3 of the 5 games in the first round, 4 of 7 in the following rounds. And Lowry and Zito in there should get us a win in one of the other games, at least.

This is what I've been writing about for a while now, the way to win in the playoffs is to get multiple pitchers who can be dominant against any lineups. Like Koufax/Drysdale. Or for a more recent example, like Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling for the D-backs. Clearly Cain and Lincecum could be that for us.

But the clock is now ticking, and we can either seize the moment or squander it. As I've been stating, I think the best chance of doing that is to keep Sabean, keep his strategy going. Obviously, others strongly disagree.

But he has had a long line of success in identifying good players. He was head of scouting and player development with the Yankees, instrumental in helping them sign and develop key players like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Duncan. He made a lot of key trades and player acquisitions that got the Giants winning immediately, after one of the Giants worse losing seasons in franchise history. And kept that going for 9 years, acquiring players like Jeff Kent, JT Snow, Daryl Hamilton, Ellis Burks, Jason Schmidt, and David Bell and keeping Rich Aurilia instead of trading him off, when he was a prospect in our system.

And as much as Giants fans have complained bitterly about his more recent history, I would say that overall, he did the most important things: keep Cain and Lowry, and draft Lincecum when 9 other teams had passed on him. I think people need to keep an overall perspective, he was a coach and a scout before becoming GM, so player evaluation is core to his strengths and advantages. I don't think something like that goes away just like that, particularly in someone still relatively young as he is.

And if you are GM for any good length of time, you are going to have a clunker eventually - for if you don't take some risks, you risk not getting great gains - and not all your trades are going to be home runs, some will be singles as well as outs. But the key point to focus on now is what we do have and that is, we have a rebuilt pitching staff, it is done except for closer. We will have new hitters joining us next season, and hopefully some of our hitters will continue to develop, like Frandsen, Lewis, and Schierholtz.

And if the pitchers are as good as expected, we don't need a great offense to win, we just need one good enough to support Cain and Lincecum. So even if we don't have a lot of good hitters, as many people have derided the Giants for, as long as we have enough OK hitters, we should be fine going forward. People forget that the offense, based on Bill James Pythagorean formula, should be around 47-49, which, while not great, at least would be near .500 and close enough to the leaders to think about making a run at them still. It is just a bad luck year, based on James assertion that such inequities in winning is normally balanced out over time.

So give him a year to show that he still has it, this is now time to recraft the lineup, and if he fails, yeah, then we can get rid of him, we've only lost a year, but if he succeeds, as his past history suggests, then we should be ready to compete relatively soon as long as our pitching continues to do what they have been doing for the most part.


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