Friday, October 26, 2007

What Makes a Great Baseball Player (Plus Villalona News)

There was an interesting article on baseball players, written by scientists, that I wanted to share: Mind Games. It talks about some of the personality traits that mark the good players vs. the bad players. It even mentions Billy Beane, though not as a GM, but as a failed top prospect. I thought it was a good read.

My Apologies, Tambien

Also, sorry I haven't posted much lately, but I've been busy with outplacement classes and since I got only that one month (not that I'm not appreciative, at least I got that much, I know others who don't even get that), I had to maximize the use of that service. I think it has been time well spent. In fact, I've had a Lowry post written since I had that long discussion with others on him, but haven't had time to post it. But my service just ended, so I'll be having more time to post, at least until I start submitting resumes and getting interviews.

Also, I joined a new fantasy baseball league that is starting up and I've been knee deep in drafting players as well. I think I'm doing OK: Santana, Lincecum, and Dice-K leading the rotation; A-Rod, Brandon Phillips, Eric Byrnes, plus Khalil Greene, Corey Hart, and Shane Victorino. I've been focusing on the top power-speed players, after being "forced" to select Santana with my first pick and Lincecum with my second. Not sure who to get next, maybe a catcher, maybe a closer, maybe just the best player available, though I've spent big thus far (we are using Cot's contract salary info) and now will have to be conservative in my spending going forward after adding A-Rod's big contract.

Hiatt Retires, Stanley Takes Over: What About V?

Long-time Giant Jack Hiatt, who has overseen the Giants farm system for years now, has retired and Fred Stanley is taking over. I listened to the press conference on and while it was suppose to be about Hiatt retiring and Stanley taking over, there was an extended chat about Angel Villalona in there due to the Chronicle's John Shea's persistence (thanks John!).

First, Hiatt was asked by Shea about V's weight problem. He noted that while it's true that V came in heavier than the Giants would have liked, it was all explainable and rectified with maturity.

Let's put it this way, he was 16 years old, so when he went back home after some instructional league after his signing, he was left alone and didn't work out at all, because he didn't know how to take care of himself. And so the Giants spent much of the spring teaching him how to take care of himself while he got himself into shape. He gained maturity and got slimmer in the process.

He learned that it's OK to fail sometimes, and Hiatt took his hat off to him, as V learned from all this and was playing better. The money, prestige and attention he got after signing kind of made him think that it will all be easier, and he has learned from that too. So he's learning to take care of himself better now, getting in to shape plus eatting more properly, plus getting over his homesickness - he was still only 16 much of the season, after all.

All in all, Hiatt thinks V's going to be a strong impact type player.

Then Hiatt mysteriously dropped out of the conference call, cell phone problem of some sort, and Stanley handled John Shea's oft-repeated question: so when's he coming up? Stanley said that V is just now understanding how to play baseball in the states. Growing up playing in the Dominican is nothing like playing in CA and growing up there. So there is a lot of "on the job" training that V is going to need to get, a lot of things he need to learn, because they want him to have learned all that he needs to learn so that when he finally comes up, he will be up to stay, instead of bouncing up and down.

Stanley thinks that 3 years would be conservative in saying when he'll be up. He also noted that the Giants are only playing him at 1B as well as 3B this season so that he will have flexibility coming up, not because of any other reason.

Giant Thoughts

All I can say is that if I made a $2M investment in a teenage, I would have hired someone to come in and teach him all the things he needs to learn to become a professional ballplayer. We must have some Dominicans on the payroll somewhere, give them bonus pay to live with Angel for a while and teach him all those things, taking care of himself, keeping in shape, etc. Then bring Angel to Arizona early - or is there some rule on that? - and set him up to live in AZ and again have someone there to watch over him and to guide him. Just get some of those things out of the way so that he doesn't start out slowly and help accelerate his learning curve. How hard is that?!?!?

Looking over Villalona's season, obviously it is impressive that he was rated the top prospect in the Arizona Rookie League when he was just 16 years old for much of the season. One note of caution is that he had an extreme home/road stats, so it is possible that his good stats (.279/.338/.441/.779) were home park driven and not talent driven.

Home: .304/.357/.490/.847, 3 HR in 102 AB (34 AB/HR), 34% XBH
Road: .255/.319/.392/.711, 2 HR in 102 AB (51 AB/HR), 27% XBH

In addition, he started out hot (in a short month), then cooled off greatly the rest of the season:

June: .333/.375/.667/1.042 (only 21 AB)
July: .247/.347/.412/.759 (85 AB)
Aug: .296/.321/.418/.739 (98 AB)

In addition, his plate discipline dropped a lot as well.

June: 2 BB/2 K (1.00 BB/K; 9.5% K%)
July: 10 BB/ 18 K (0.56 BB/K; 21% K%)
Aug: 2 BB/ 24 K (0.08 BB/K; 24% K%)

The main good news that counteracts (hopefully) all these bad news is that he actually hit very well against RHP, but sucked big time against LHP, and he is a right-handed batter, so he should improve greatly against LHP both because it was limited AB against LHP (i.e. small sampling) and if he's the hitter he's made out to be, righties should mash LHP and he should get much better.

vs.LHP: .200/.229/.444/.674, 0 BB vs. 16 K, 67% XBH, .259 BABIP (45 AB)
vs.RHP: .302/.367/.440/.807, 15 BB vs. 28 K, 29% XBH, .352 BABIP (159 AB)

When viewed this way, he was hitting at least as well as he did vs. RHP (807 OPS) and probably closer to 900 OPS if he had hit LHP as well as he should have. And the average batter in the league only hit .264/.350/.377/.727, where the average age was 20 years of age. Thus, at 16 years old, hitting against mainly 20 year old pitchers, he hit much above average against them.

In addition, oOut of the 52 players with the 150 AB to qualify, Villalona was 19th with his 779 OPS and was 12th in SLG with 450. And most of the top hitters were 21 and 22 years old. Only 4 of the 11 hitters ahead of him in SLG were under 20 (FYI Nick Noonan was one of those under 20's and Andrew D'alessio was one of the 20+, and with a huge OPS, 2nd highest in the league, only one of two with OPS over 1.000).

Patience Needed

It is hard to be patient but we need to remember that he just turned 17 in August. So if the Giants conservative estimate is that it would take him 3 years to reach the majors for good, that means he would be coming up late season in 2010 WHEN HE'S JUST TURNED 20 YEARS OLD.

With Cain and Lincecum succeeding at such a young age themselves, some might get jaded and think that's no big deal, but most ballplayers figure things out in their mid-20's, many latter, and it is the truly rare players who can come up in their early 20's and dominate. We could have three of them by 2010 with Cain, Lincecum, and Villalona. And from what I've been reading about Bumgarner and Alderson, our first two draft picks in the 2007 amateur draft, they might join them.

That Goes for Sabean Too

That's why I've been urging patience with Sabean. Yeah, the past farm system sucked, but the recent past actually has been pretty good but overshadowed by our major league club's lousy seasons. Baseball is not a sport of instant gratification like it is for the NFL or NBA, where young players are drafted and thrust onto the starting lineup from day 1 often. It takes time, you have to be a farmer and not get too upset with poor performances in the way past, AS LONG AS THINGS ARE APPEARING TO GET A LOT BETTER.

With Lowry, Cain, Lincecum, plus Hennessey, Correia, Sanchez, Accardo, and apparently Wilson, coming up in quick succession, and others (Lewis, Schierholtz, Frandsen, Ortmeier) looking like they can be decent contributors at the major league level, the farm system has taken great strides the past few years. I think things are getting a lot better.

To throw out Sabean now would be like getting mad at the farmer because the seedings haven't broke through the ground, you need to let things play out and see where they lead, because the seedlings he has cultivated thus far - Cain, Lincecum, Lowry, Sanchez - are excellent enough that we have to have the patience to see it through, rather than ruminate on past slights (farm system from 1997 to 2002) or current problems that can be fixed with young players (MLB club from 2003 to 2007).

Two years is not a long time in baseball. It is not like basketball where you get a Lew Alcinder (Kareem) or Shaq and become a winner just like that, or pick up a whole new defensive backfield like Walsh did with the 49ers (or draft 6-7 new starters one year), or draft Wayne Gretzky and become a legit contender.

Put another way, when teams go bad, they tend to go bad for a long time. Witness the Giants from the 70's to late 80's. Braves before Cox took over. Tigers before Dombrowski. Brewers before Melvin. Also still rolling the stone up the hill, only to watch it roll back, are the Pirates, Rangers, and Royals. Plus the Rockies and Devil Rays had stunk since joining the league until the Rockies had their miracle run at the right time of the season (and cooled off at the wrong time). And that's off the top of my head.

So if things were totally horrible, yeah, dump Sabean. But with potentially great players like Cain and Lincecum, and maybe Villalona, coming to maturity and productivity soon, and a number of other good players doing the same, I think two years is not too much to ask so that we can further evaluate where the Sabean Ship is going.

It is almost like politics to me. Voting for Sabean, to me, means that you like Cain and Lincecum, plus Sanchez and Villalona, and the rest of the gang. Voting to dump Sabean means that you don't like all that. The Nathan trade is over and done with, and so is the Accardo trade, they are sunk costs that don't matter in the financials going forward. What matters are the young players coming up and I like what has come up and what is coming up, and hence I vote for him to stay on the island. Either you like Cain and Lincecum, or you don't, I think it is as simple as that. And I LOVE Cain and Lincecum.


  1. So glad you are back, Martin. This is such a depressing time - waiting for February. And McCovey Chron's has become pretty unbearable, so I rely on your blog.
    As you know, I am pro Sabean. Not that I think he is the greatest GM in MLB, but I do think he is in the top 25%. And I do fear who/what would replace him. Statistically, the chances are that you do worse. Even if you do better, there is that out with the old in with the new period that is pretty disruptive - and waste's at least - at least - 2 years.
    I also think you sell the current roster short. I am not saying they can or will get into the thick of the race next year, but I do think they are only 3 or 4 players away. Unfortunately, those players are not no's 22-25, they are 1b, 2b, and SS, possibly C, by the time we become competitive.
    Sabean has talked about his plan, ptiching, defense, speed. It seems to me that he can fashion an effective OF out of the pieces on hand. Sure, it would also be easy to increase offensive production, particularly SLG, by bringing in another OF. Personally, I hope they run Davis, Lewis, Schierholtz, and Winn or Bowker out there - and I expect them to be an above average OF,when you factor in defense, range, and offense.
    Assuming we are unable to get a significant upgrade over Ort, I am not opposed to playing him and seeing if he continues his development. Even a Niekro/Ort platoon, at least for 1/2 a year would be OK. I hope Frandsen gets the 2b job.
    That leaves SS and 3b. I happen to think if they could bring in 2 top of the line players they could compete for the NL west. I just don't think those guys are realistically available. The two guys we had were significant contributors to the teams being nearly the worst scoring team in the league. So, it is clear, significant production is needed from those 2 spots if we want to have any chance of 90 wins.
    BTW, I do think the pythagorean theory is a valid one - and it says the Giants were fairly unlucky in '07 (they should have been much nearer a 500 team). No question it is the infield that killed us last year. And I think the IF, no matter how configured, will be better in '08 than it was in '07. I just don't see an upgrade to the degree that we need available at 3b and SS.
    Finally, I think you were a little too negative on Villalona. There is only 1 HR difference between his home and road HR numbers. I also think his August numbers (296/321/418) are pretty promising, tho I agree not spectacular (unless you facotr in his age).

  2. Thanks allfrank. And nice comments.

    First, basically agree on the Sabean bit, I do fear who would replace him, but mainly fear the disruption that changing GM would cause.

    I don't think I sell it short, I basically agree with all you wrote here (and I wrote a similar comment on MCC recently when Grant asked for comments on the 2008 Giants). The problem, and you perhaps you are selling that short, is that without the 2 top of line hitters, we don't have an average lineup, and we will need at least an average lineup - with our great pitching - to compete.

    I think that the upside on our young hitters is enough to get us over the hump, but I don't view that as a likely scenario, it would take Ortmeier continuing to hit like he did in limited play in 2007 (which I think is likely), Raj playing like he did when he first joined us (unlikely, he stunk badly at the end), Frandsen continuing his late-season hitting in 2008 AND starting at 3B (with Durham returning to normal; Frandsen I think is likely, Durham not likely).

    Lastly, and hopefully, Winn (and I like Winn, just I want to rebuild fast) is traded for a nice prospect or two with Schierholtz putting on a Jeff Francoeur doppelganger act (which I see as a coin-flip at the moment; all up the system, he has struggled for power initially then suddenly figures it out and is blasting the ball while hitting for a high average, so the question is whether 2008 is the initial struggle or the bust-out after his poor - for power - MLB debut, but still nice MLB debut, which I found very encouraging and why I want Winn traded and Nate getting the RF starting job and just get the ball rolling on his MLB career, I think he has shown enough to just go for it).

    I think Bowker needs to see a year in AAA to be absolutely sure that 2007 was not an aberration and truly is a breakout. He's young enough that we can wait a year to find that out, plus we have plenty of guys - Lewis, Davis, Schierholtz, even Ort maybe - who we need to figure out who can do it and who can't.

    And I think Ortmeier can play well enough for us at 1B to outdo the crap we've gotten since Snow had his last season with us, which was his first overall poor one (previously he still killed on the road; AT&T really hurt his numbers).

    Well, pythagorean I think will have caveats much like DIPS has its caveats, as I've noted about signficant researchers making those findings. I've dug into the numbers by manager and found that the best managers generally don't have a total pythag of zero, and for some it was statistically significant at the 70-80% level - not the 90-95% that our stat books says we should look for, but fairly significant still. But there appears to be a bias towards winning and losing in that the winners generally are positive and losers are negative.

    Now one could say that's why they are winners and losers, but the biggest discrepancy there was that Joe Torre had a pretty negative numbers previous to taking the Yankee's job but, obviously, pretty good numbers while with them. So is he the bad losing manager before or the good winning manager after?

    But then there is the oddity that Tommy Lasorda, who had a very strong history of winning, but very strongly negative total. Meanwhile, Felipe Alou, stuck with crappy teams for much of his managerial career, was significantly positive for his career up to 2003.

    Well, the IF has no where to go but up, Vizquel and Durham hit lows they hadn't ever seen (either long time or career), and Feliz appears to be hitting his career norm of low 700 OPS, and Aurilia/Klesko was wholely disappointing in 2007.

    Durham I can only hope will rebound, I'm hoping it was all caused by that groin problem he had in early 2007. In any case, he's not tradeable except for more crap (see Finley/Alfonzo), and at least there's some hope that he might recover.

    I don't think Vizquel could hit any worse, and while I like him a lot, I think the Giants should just go with Ivan Ochoa and see what happens, or if Vizquel is willing to sign for $1-1.5M, then make Ochoa the MI bench player with the mandate to learn from the master and have Vizquel transition over to Ochoa.

    I think Frandsen should man 3B and Ort at 1B, with Aurilia as utility across the baseball infield. He would be the backup starter if either youngster falter or fail. I think Frandsen can outhit Feliz, though not outfield, but if you view 2008 as I do, as a rebuild/transition year, you don't worry about that as much as you do figuring how who can play and who can't. And if Durham is still terrible, bench/DFA him, move Frandsen to 2B and start Aurilia at 3B.

    Again, I really like what Ortmeier did for us last season. Not only did he hit for us early on with sporadic play, he hit basically the same for us late in the season when he got to play much more regularly, which was low 800 OPS. That's basically what an average 1B hits, and he can make up for some of his lack of awesomeness in hitting there by stealing a lot of bases with a high success rate, as he had done coming up the system.

    How am I too negative on Villalona? The point about home vs. road is that his OPS at home was .847, while his road OPS was .711, a huge drop. However, I ended my whole discussion with a lot of positive points, mainly that here is a 16 year old kid, taking on basically college aged kids - and the experience difference between a 16 year old and 20 year old is very large, both in terms of total experience, quality of competition experience, and maturity experience, and he still hit the snot out of the ball.

    Plus, his overall numbers were significantly dampened down by his very poor hitting against LHP. And unless he turns out to be that extremely rare RH hitter unable to handle LHP, you have to upgrade his numbers to at least his stats against RHP, and probably raise it over that to show the dominance he should have over LHP eventually.

    Thinking about that right now, typically LHP survives by having trickier stuff and repertoire to fool RH hitters, so all that stuff above about experience comes in spades here for Villalona, and hence LHP dominance over Angel.

    Still, the negatives are the negatives, and I still need to point them out, they aren't going away. But I thought I had made it pretty clear by the end that there were signficant reasons why his numbers might be actually better than they might appear on the surface, and thus appear to be on schedule with his development.

    I don't see hitting .741 OPS as promising, no matter what level of the minors you are in, unless maybe you are a catcher. It is certainly not a number you want to see in your 3B and absolutely not what you want to see in your 1B.

    That said, that's where you have to factor in his age and inexperience relative to the players he is competing with, and how he is progressing. Hence why the Met's two young hitters, Fernando Martinez and Carlos Gomez, though they hit similar to Villalona coming up, is considered two of the top prospects in all of baseball despite the lack of awesome hitting, because they were so much younger than the competition, you had to project things.

    In any case, I think we both agree that he's a pretty strong prospect for us, and did well in the rookie league, despite his youth and relative inexperience.



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