Tuesday, October 02, 2007

2007 Giants Post-Mortem: Sabean-Bochy Conference

Forgot that there would be a Sabean-Bochy conference call with the media yesterday to discuss what the Giants management is thinking for the 2008 season, after the 2007 season ended. They used to post the call on-line and I would transcribe it, but I guess the media got mad that the Giants took away one of their differentiators from bloggers, and they stopped that practice.

The sfgiants.com interpretation is here: what I've found from previous years is that each sportswriter usually emphasizes a different point than any other writer, sometimes get a whole different meaning from a phrase than another writer, and each will include sometime a bit of information that no other writer included in their interpretation. I've found it best to cull all the information together and found the Merc's version and the Chron's version, so I'll be referring to these three sources.

"Warriors" Wanted

First thing I would note is that Bochy wants more of an aggressive "warrior" attitude (and I'm sure he's not aware of how ironic that is given how poorly the Golden State Warriors have played for such a long time) and is looking for a change in the clubhouse culture, while avoiding criticism of Bonds sometimes lacksidaisical play. He noted, "I don't know for sure if we quite had the warrior spirit at times that I would like. That's a mentality I'd like to change, make sure that we're all going out there playing to win. It's not that the guys aren't trying, but there is a difference between going out there playing to win versus trying to survive or not make a mistake."

This echoes the public comments by Matt Morris and Bengie Molina made earlier in the season about whether winning was the focus or not. I still don't think that's totally fair comment on the team, I think it's only natural to focus on Bonds' career achievement when you are so close to it, it is up to the vets, coaches, and manager to keep the team focused on winning and not on "Wow, it's Barry Bonds setting another record!" If you want to complain publicly about something like this, then I think every vet on the team has to look hard in the mirror.

Back to the Future Competively

Again, Sabean was selling that the Giants can be competitive in 2008. He noted the same things he did in the Bonds conference and his on-line chat, that parity will boost their chances because there's not as much of a gap between the haves and the have nots, that other teams have turned things around in one season (not quite true, they suffered many losing seasons before returning to over .500), that the Giants weren't as bad as their record showed in 2007 (very true based on Pythagorean W/L), and that the bullpen is an area of big bang for the bucks improvement because of the Giants poor record in close games (most in the league).

The Giants felt that it was the bullpen and not poor offense that led to a lot of those losses, and he will be pursuing a veteran reliever on the free agent market (Bochy's buddy from SD, Scott Linebrink will be available, but would cost us a draft pick AND a huge contract, probably more than Justin Speier got from Angels, who outbid us for him). The bullpen is clearly a major area of improvement the Giants are targeting for 2008. But it is also clearly an area that has important pieces on hand already in Brian Wilson, Tyler Walker, and Brad Hennessey.

Trading Places

He likened the Giants current situation to how they were in 1997 when he took over the GM seat. But, unlike that time, he has no Matt Williams to trade, and when asked if he would trade Cain or Lincecum, he said essentially that that Cain and Lincecum are off-limits (which is not quite what he said just a little earlier in his on-line chat when he said "probably"; he's usually much more careful about his words and wording). Basically, he is hoping to trade from his surplus of starting pitching to get the players he needs/wants, and expects to be more active trading than in signing free agents. That means the rest of the starters are available for trade, though Zito's contract makes him essentially untradeable, unless we find another team like Pittsburgh willing to take that on.

However, with the weak free agent market supply of starting pitchers, led by the not even mediocre Carlos Silva, he has something that other teams would want. Still, he noted that "Everybody's young players are so much more valuable today, especially positional. In '96, Cleveland wanted Matty as a piece and they went to the World Series with him. I don't know what people's appetite will be to trade young players or marquee players, but it'll probably take multiple players on our end." So it is not a slamdunk that the Giants will get what they need via a trade, it is only an option they will pursue.

The Giants have identified six teams who they believe are pitching hungry and have position player depth. He expects to start having conversations with them in a few weeks, which implies that some of them are playoff teams. I would think the Mets would be interested in more pitching, and they have some great position prospects, though they are OF and we have a lot already. However, they are still head and shoulders above our OF prospects in terms of potential and are highly ranked overall. Seattle should be looking since they were desperate enough to take on Jeff Weaver. St. Louis too. Angels have a lot of position prospects all over the place, maybe we can pick off a few for Lowry, he's from that area too.

Replacing Barry

But for those expecting to "replace" Barry Bonds, Sabean is quite blunt: "I don't want to say it's a black hole, and we've got to explore every avenue, but to say we're automatically going to get a marquee player that will quote-unquote replace Barry . . . I don't know that we're prepared to say that." That's not to be unexpected. For one, until players are declared free agents, their current team can negotiate with them until the free agency filing deadline, so Sabean don't know which players will be available for the Giants to sign. It would be kind of stupid to say we are going to replace Barry and then, say, only sign minor free agents. It would put you in the situation where you have to put up to match your rhetoric, and just overpay for the nearest best player available on the market.

Also, to trade for someone like that, you can expect to lose at least one of Cain or Lincecum, in a package deal. Promising to come up with someone would give the other team leverage to use against Sabean in trying to extract more and/or better players from us in any deal. Again, it would be stupid to do that publicly then, to promise to "replace" Barry Bonds. Sabean has been practicing and preaching this for many years now, so this is no surprise.

Besides which, amazingly the Giants have done better in games without Barry than with, and by a very large margin. With Barry in the lineup, the Giants averaged a horrid 4.03 runs per game. But without Barry, the Giants averaged a robust 4.67 runs per game (in 46 games). Obviously there is a small sample effect, but still, if the Giants can do it again in 2008, that would bring the Giants up to the 85 win level by that increase in scoring.

Coaching Changes

There was also a discussion about possible coaching changes. Sabean and Bochy noted that it is under review, Bochy having told his coaches last Saturday that a decision would be made soon. Sabean said, "Change is possible, like it is every year." He also commented that the late hire of Bochy didn't allow much time for Bruce to make the recommendations he would have liked to have made to Sabean. Then again, he had enough time to hire Tim Flannery, his old buddy.

The Chron noted that a coach on the bubble is Joe Levebrve, our long-time hitting instructor. Though he and Sabean are buddies from high school, a source told Henry Schulman that their friendship will not play into the decision on whether to retain Lefebvre. After the Giants offense limped into next to last place in runs scored, beating out the last place team (Nationals) on the last day, it would appear that a hitting coach would be one thing they are looking for. As I noted yesterday, Willie Upshaw, the 1B coach, is also a hitting instructor, so he could be gone as well, to make room for another of Bochy's pals, perhaps from the 'Dres coaching staff, I think he was prohibited from stealing anyone last season, but they should be fair game this off-season.

Future Roles

There was a lot of good info on players' roles in 2008, as a few of the Giants' young players were impressive enough to merit strong consideration for everyday jobs next season, Sabean said.
  • Rajai Davis will get first crack at CF with Dave Roberts moving over to LF, where he is excellent defensively and where Sabean thinks is his proper position. That is presuming the Giants don't sign a premeiere CF like Andruw Jones or Torii Hunter.
  • Kevin Frandsen will get a shot at starting at 2B next season, said Bochy. He noted also, "I think he showed he can play up here. It's pretty impressive what he did the last three, four weeks. He was swinging the bat as well as anybody. Not just his bat, but his [defense] -- you could see it getting better and better." That's a pretty good endorsement.
  • Kevin Correia and Jonathan Sanchez will report to spring training as candidates for the starting rotation, that is, if they aren't traded first.
  • They believe that Brian Wilson, Tyler Walker, and Brad Hennessey will be able to handle the end of the games, but will, as noted above, still be seeking an experienced reliever or two.
  • About Durham and Aurilia, "They're going to be given a chance to see if they can rebound, because it's not like we're going to eat those salaries," Sabean said. That's typical of most any team, as much as fans complain about the Giants doing that.
  • It sounds like the Giants are amenable to Vizquel and Feliz coming back, because of their defensive prowess, but will explore all options - trades, free agents - before inviting them back. As I've been advocating, Vizquel if he comes cheap, Feliz not at all. According to the Merc, Vizquel is a good bet to return while Feliz's defense is "alluring."
  • Dan Ortmeier looks like he might make the 2008 roster, but they didn't mention anything about starting at 1B. Bochy liked his switch-hitting, power, and ability to play 1B and OF, and Sabean thought he was a "quick study" at 1B.
  • Nate Schierholtz, Fred Lewis, and Eugenio Velez are in the mix for next season as well. They, along with Dan Ortmeier, will be evaluated further in the upcoming Arizona Fall League.

Giant Thoughts

Some interesting news came out of the conference, but as usual, more of the fluff that Sabean hands out at these media interviews. But, as usual, that's to be expected out of any good manager/leader, you give out only enough information to satisfy the audience but never anything that anyone can use against you later (much).

The biggest news appears to be that the starting OF appears to be Roberts, Davis, Winn - I would have thought Davis would platoon with Roberts with maybe Schierholtz starting in RF. But I guess they want to see how Davis does in a starting role over more of a season before designating him a platoon player.

Though I would say the most important bit of information is that Cain and Lincecum are off-limits, contradicting what he said in his on-line chat earlier, but confirming the media's info that had been leaked previously. I am quite adamant about keeping the two of them, they can be our Koufax/Drysdale combo for the next 4 years at minimum, and hopefully long term like the Braves had with their great pitchers, into the 2020's.

Good to hear that Frandsen will get a good chance to compete with Durham for the 2B position. Since Sabean noted that Frandsen will get a chance to start somewhere in 2008, I would have to think that 3B will be kept open so that Frandsen could start there if Durham returns to normal, else Aurilia could start there instead (he could move to platoon with Ortmeier at 1B if Frandsen is at 3B).

I'm a pretty competitive person so I like that Bochy wants to infuse that attitude into the 2008 team. I would like to see a team that just hates to lose and that will claw and battle to the end. Losing so many close games would certainly be a sign that they don't have that killer attitude. Cain reportedly has that in him big time, and Lincecum, despite his looks, sounds like he would fit right in with that. They are young, but perhaps they can lead the way on this attitude change, given their obvious importance to the long term success of the team.

Sounds like the Giants will be peddling their young starters to try to get a young hitter. I don't see how Noah Lowry isn't a part of such a trade, none of the others (Sanchez, Correia, Misch) has that type of value on the trading market. I would also note that Brad Hennessey is probably part of any package because Lowry isn't enough alone to net a good middle of the lineup hitter. He has good value because he can start, he can relieve, he can setup, and he can close, and do them reasonably well even when thrown into the role at the last second. Then we would probably also give up some lower level pitcher to round out the trade.

Seems like the Giants can afford to go after good free agent hitters with all that money they have available this off-season. I really don't see them going after Andruw Jones, but they could if (when) they lose out on the A-Rod sweepstakes. They both should be signed very late and thus close to each other. The Giants might keep some pretense of interest in Jones while pursuing A-Rod with a lot of effort. I don't see how they don't pursue A-Rod after freeing up that much money for this off-season. But I just don't see how the Giants can outbid either of the LA teams or Boston or the Cubs for A-Rod. We will only be used to drive up his final contract total.

I see a number of coaching changes happening, solely because Bochy didn't get much of a chance last off-season. Definitely the hitting coach and probably the 1B coach as well. That would give Bochy two more of his buddies, while keeping Righetti, Gardner, and Wotus.

Overall, didn't hear anything I didn't want to hear, other than that Feliz is "alluring". The team sounds like they are focusing on what appears to matter most in winning in the playoffs: pitching, closing, and stolen bases. Hopefully Sabean can return to exciting the fan base with his moves, like he did early in his tenure as GM, when he was freer to do things than he was later in his tenure.


  1. Martin,

    Thanks for doing a great job in keeping up with the Giants. It's a dirty job, but someone needs to do it! I really appreciate your perspectives.

  2. If it really turns out that the Giants are going to go with a Roberts/Davis/Winn OF and an IF with Ortmeier/Frandsen/Vizquel/and maybe Feliz, then there are a couple things that we can count on for sure......(1) the Giants are going to suck so much more than 2007 without one credible power hitter in the lineup.......(2) Sabean will have wasted one of two remaining years.

    If Sabean has any thoughts of holding on to his job long term, he cannot allow this to happen. He will have to make a dramatic move with our pitching and trade it for some prospects.......and......he has to be right about the ones he gets. If he screws this up, he will have cashed in his only real chip. It's definitely a tightwire act for him this coming offseason.

  3. Linebrink is becoming in my mind a true litmus test for Sabean. He's going to be demanding a huge contract (for a middle reliever) which is almost never a good place to spend money, will cost a draft pick as you mention, and most important of all, had a serious decline in performance this year. SD turned his reputation into a pretty nifty little trade when they saw he was no longer getting the job done (something Milwaukee saw a lot of down the stretch). If we turn around and throw a bonanza contract at him based on that same (at this point hollow) reputation, it will only serve to emphasize just how far behind the ball our GM/front office is compared to the divisional competition.

  4. You're welcome, glad to be of service!

    I understand your feelings about Linebrink, I would lean towards your point of view based on my surface knowledge of his season.

    So I'll do what I am wont to do: look at his numbers in depth.

    Frankly, if we can parlay his poor year this past season into a cheaper contract, he could be a great acquisition, but even a market priced contract would be OK.

    He had some problems early on this season with the 'Dres, not striking out as much as usual, plus his HR/9 was way out there because his HR/FB was way out there, it was normally easily under 10% while with the 'Dres before, but this year it was 16.1%. Then with the Brewers, it was 12.5% which is above the 10% mean every pitcher is suppose to regress to, though that could have been a function of Miller Park as well, his HR/9 there was 1.5, his HR/9 with the Brewers was 1.07, thus his HR/9 with the Brewers on the road was 0.68, much more in line with his career.

    While with the Brewers, his K/9 returned to normal, 8.88 K/9, though his BB/9 jumped high, to 3.91 BB/9. It appears to have been early jitters, his BB/9 was a high 5.40 early on, but after August 7th, his BB/9 was closer to his career norm of 3.23, it was 3.54 BB/9. The problem with relievers is that the small sample effect kicks in and you can get wide swings in performance without a big change in talent.

    Also, his LOB% went way down with the Brewers, from about 80-85% with the 'Dres to 71%. He was still in his normal range while with the 'Dres. It could be a function of how poorly Brewers relievers came in after him, or as above, the small sample effect.

    His BABIP was also incredibly high with the Brewers, though that could have been pay back for his good BABIP while with the 'Dres. Either way, that affected his Brewers performance, BABIP of .341, most pitchers regress to mean of .300, but as TangoTiger showed, most pitchers eventually regress to a career mean (his study showed that pitchers, presumably starters, can show the ability to affect BABIP, but only after 7 seasons) and his career mean is .289. That would probably account for his low LOB% with the Brewers, giving up that much more hits per IP.

    Overall, his peripherals appear to be still there, the main problem there appears to be walking more than usual but it could have been a small sample problem or the BABIP problems. His problems this year was a huge explosion in HR, which he's never had a problem with before. His FB% was actually lower than his career, plus he gave up much more GB this season, but his HR/FB went through the roof. That's a problem that should go down, law of averages, in 2008, plus if he played in AT&T, career HR/9 of 0.5, should help too. Particularly since Petco, which kills HR for most players/pitchers, for some reason is a homer haven for him, his HR/9 is over 1.0 there! No wonder his stats have gotten worse his two years there vs. life at Qualcomm.

    I think we have a pretty good bullpen, if things work out, with Wilson, Walker, Hennessey at the back end, but adding a good reliever to the mix would make things that much better, particularly since we don't really have too many good prospects otherwise right now, as I expect Correia to get the #5 rotation spot and Sanchez gets to start in AAA (or perhaps start in majors if Lowry is traded).

    I think Linebrink would be a good acquistion as long as the contract is not out of line with what relievers were getting last season, and hopefully not more than 3 seasons. It could be a tipping point to push our bullpen from potentially good to actually good.

  5. I don't see any problem with keeping Feliz at 3b. He has a good attitude and seems to be more focused in the last 2 years than ever before. He does have a knack for the untimely-error but his defense was outstanding last year and his power numbers are good for a 7th spot(ish) in the order.

  6. I could probably go with Feliz for another one year contract at 3B because of his defense, but he's clearly on the downside of his offense.

    He's, what, 32 now? And 33 next year. He's not going to get better than his 700 OPS going forward, but could get worse as his physical peak is pass now.

    He did improve, amazingly, for the mid-3 months or so, when he was able to contain his hacktastic tendencies and both increase his walks and decrease his strikeouts. He was actually in the very good range you normally want from a batter: contact rate around 90% (you want 85% or higher, best hitters 90%+) and walk nearly equal to strikeouts, but that didn't do ANYTHING for his hitting line, it was just as good/bad as any other month. Then he returned to his strikeout ways at the end, as apparently all that stuff he said about getting himself into condition so as not to tire at the end was just BS.

    The worse thing is he has already started negotiating in the press, which I hate from players, saying that he wants a 2 year contract this time and while last year he stated that he wanted to stay with the Giants because his children could then still go to their same schools, this year he said that there are schools everywhere.

    He's a nice guy, barely acceptable stats (since 700 is OK for a #7 batter and he is very good defensively), but after many years of saying that he's OK for us, I'm done.

    Though if he signs for $1M in 2008 because nobody else wanted him either, I would not be totally adverse to that, though, again, I would rather keep 3B "free" in case Durham beats out Frandsen for 2B. Aurilia would be the announced starter there, but Frandsen would then get regular starts there and at 2B, even if Durham wins the position, and a start at SS every week, probably in conjunction with the off day to give Omar a two day rest each week, to see if that helps him in any way (assuming Omar resigns).



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