Tuesday, February 27, 2007

LinceComing Down the Fast Lane

I was surfing, as I am wont to do, and ran across a very interesting article examing Daisuke Matsuzaka's mechanics on The Hardball Times. There were videos there clicking off frame by frame his pitching motion and I was struck by how similar Dice-K's pitching motion was to Lincecum's. So I e-mailed the author, Carlos Gomez, to, ahem, suggest perhaps he should take a similar look at Lincecum in an article.

Carlos, a very nice, down to earth guy, replied back to me and pointed me to a post he did at Baseball Think Factory where he evaluated the 2006 Draft, and here is his comments on Tim Lincecum:


#10 - San Francisco Giants - P Tim Lincecum

Really goes after it. Check out how his front leg, just before landing, seems to step over an imaginary object and then land? This helps the hips turn faster. He couples it with a late hand break and a very quick arm. At 10, he’s a steal. THIS is how you use your body to throw. Straight over the top release point in which he is forced to yank his head out of the way. Might scare some, doesn’t scare me.....certainly not when you’re this efficient with your body.

This is my #1 pick, hands down.

Grade: A+

The bolded italics are mine. "This is my #1 pick, hands down." Wow, one of the best evaluations I have read about Lincecum.

Anyway, he noted that he had to laugh because the next two pitchers he was planning on writing about were Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. He will do a Matt Cain article for The Hardball Times and then a Tim Lincecum article for Baseball Think Factory (he writes there for a blog, Bullpen Mechanics). I will be sure to link to those two articles when they come out (probably within a week), but you all can check there if you can't wait.

Give Sabean More Time

Not to beat the drum too hard, but to all the Sabean haters out there: Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, the future of the Giants. There have been a number of articles recently in the newspapers talking about how Sabean's contract is up this season and how Magowan noted that everyone is accountable, implying that Sabean's job could be in trouble with another bad season. Most of the articles were negatively oriented towards Sabean, from what I gathered from the articles. I think that it would be premature to let him go without allowing him to see this transition through, he should get at least 2 more years and perhaps 3-4.

I would say that he has been successful thus far with his mini-rebuilding, staying relatively competitive while remaking the entire pitching staff. Some scoffers note that he was forced to do that, use younger players, because of injuries and lack of performance, but the main point to me is that when he needed to reach into the minors, those pitchers were there. Now he needs a few years to see how his postion players work out, because building from within takes time, normally.

Rebuilding takes time, especially if you want to it successfully. If you look at Detroit (2001-2005), Atlanta (1985-1990), Twins (1993-2000), even the A's (1993-1998), these teams who are considered successful today took about 5-8 years of re-building and dealing with crappy teams - with some particularly bad teams along the way, Detroit 2002-3, Atlanta 1988-1990, Twins 1993, 1995, 1997-2000, A's 1993 and 1997 - before becoming successful again. I think the Giants should be competitive this year and, if they are, Sabean would have duplicated his 1997 successful rebuilding that followed one really bad year and two bad years.

The amazing thing is that Sabean has done most of it without getting the advantages of the above teams. Most of them greatly benefited from woeful records that earned them a Top 5 pick multiple times, which is as close to a sure thing as there is in baseball for prospects - Sabean had a 10th pick last season and will have a 10th pick this season, else he has had to deal with picks in the 20-something range for every year except for his first, when he made the mistake of picking Jason Grilli #4 in 1997 (missing out on Vernon Wells #5, but it's not all roses there, only 5 of the Top 10 that year turned out to be very good, and one shouldn't count since JD Drew didn't sign with the Phillies, and perhaps another, as Jon Garland never did much for his drafting team, the Cubs, plus Cuddyer would be considered not that good until last season, almost 10 years after he was picked). Even then, in 2005 and 2006, the Giants were only 5-6 games away from the .500 mark and contention in the West, and thus it should not take much to switch the fortunes of the past two years around and I think the Giants can do that this season.

Here are various early 1st round picks by the above teams during their re-building periods:
  • Tigers: Justin Verlander, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller
  • Braves: Chipper Jones, Steve Avery, Kent Mercker
  • Twins: Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Mark Redman, Todd Walker
  • A's: Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, Eric Chavez, Ariel Prieto, Ben Grieve
Atlanta benefited from being able to sign international players like Andruw Jones, while the Giants in the late 90's or so had that unfortunate problem with their director being involved in some sordid scandal which I assumed critically injured most of their efforts in the Carribean, or seemingly so, until the Villalona signing, which they did with their new director. Not that they didn't have any signings in that region, but certainly no big money prospect like Villalona, as there was no money for that for most of those years.

A First Round Draft Pick Is Not The Same For a Winning Team

Speaking of Villalona, on the BTF comments after a separate article that was on the signing of Villalona, someone noted that this was odd for someone (Sabean) who essentially traded away a first round draft pick to sign Michael Tucker. Again, people seem to think a first round draft pick is the same as any other first round draft pick. As I have researched and wrote on, this is wildly untrue.

That might have been closer to being true when there were only 16 teams in the majors, but with nearly double the teams today, it is clearly not. As I had showed previously, there is a chasm in the likelihood of finding a good player between the first 10 picks versus the last 10 picks of the first round. When you are a winning team, particularly a division winner, or as they used to advertise Sabean, only had 5-10 days (now much more I assume) where his team was eliminated from playoff contention, you are going to draft in the 21-30 range, and mainly in the 26-30 range for the top teams, and the odds are bad there, about 9% chance of drafting a good player.

I will take another stab at presenting this data in a way that's understandable to the masses, but I feel like Don Quixote sometimes regarding this data. Of course, it didn't help that one of the well-known baseball gathering holes took my report and shreded it without 1) inviting me over to explain my research or my work, or 2) even presenting anything that directly refute my findings. They just mainly posted snarky comments and basked in the glow of their amassed intelligence.

I think someone pointed out the Baseball Prospectus study, at some point, but BP also missed the point too, which is that while there might be a high average player value for those picks, when the odds are greatly against finding a good player (as I noted above, roughly 11 to 1 against you or 9% odds of drafting a good player in the late 1st round), it will not cost you much in expected value to pass on a late first round draft pick once, twice, maybe even three times, which I think is the point where it starts to hurt you.

This risk of missing out on the next hot young prospect is pretty low when picking from that range, in general, about 1 in 11 as I noted. And if, as I had read somewhere, the Giants reportedly felt that the depth of prospective draftees was not that deep that season, it would make it all the more sense to pass on the pick and sign a major leaguer for the same price. It is not like each year has the same depth of talent, so maybe, in their opinion, that was a low tide year, not worth getting.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Lesson About the Net

I just saw this prospect website - and I'm not linking to it, one, so as not to embarrass them, two, so as not to provide them help in their google ranking by linking to them - and I was aghast at who they list for the Giants Top 10 for 2007:
  1. Tim Lincecum
  2. Nate Schierholtz
  3. Jonathan Sanchez
  4. Kevin Frandsen
  5. Dan Ortmeier
  6. Emmanuel Burriss
  7. Benj (SIC) Copeland
  8. Fred Lewis
  9. John Bowker
  10. Eddy Martinez-Esteve
Where do I begin to rip this list? I don't have as good a feel for the farm system like past years because I was busy dealing with my mom's passing, but I think I know it enough to see that this list is lousy. I like Frandsen, but where's Villalona? I also like Ortmeier but his star has fallen and even I wouldn't put him on the Top 10 list, though in an ideal world I would give him a chance to make the roster, competing for the 5th spot in the outfield (unless Linden totally stinks, he's got that, plus Lewis is in the mix too). "Benj" Copeland is also nice but his offense isn't enough to put him on the Top 10 period, particularly since he was old to play in low-A ball last season, let alone above, say, Brian Wilson, Billy Sadler or Brian Anderson, and certainly not above Villalona or EME or even Fred Lewis.

Then there's Bowker. Boy.... First, he hasn't done much of anything in the minors, he has been a disappointment since his promising first season. But then to put him above EME and Villalona? I am not even sure Bowker would even make most Giants knowledgeable Top 30 lists It boggles my mind!!!

For example, I'm looking through my copy of Baseball America's 2007 Prospect Handbook and Ortmeier is near the bottom of their Top 30 list, Copeland is only 3 spots above Ortmeier, he is not even close to making the teens, and Bowker is not even on the list. I don't have their list from 2006, but I would bet that he wasn't on that Top 30 list either. In my copy of Minor League Baseball Analyst, none of them makes the Top 15 list of that book, and Bowker does not even get a mention in the player section, where there is about 25-30 Giants prospects listed.

Even a Giants fan who knows nothing about the team's minor league system, but who looked through all their minor league teams and picked out players with outstanding performances could have picked a better Top 10 list, so I have no idea how this guy created his top 10.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Giants Middle of the Pack in BP Top 100 Prospects

Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein released their Top 100 prospects list yesterday and the Dan Agonistes website was kind enough to not only present the list but sort it by team. The Giants have 3 players on the list:
  • 6) Tim Lincecum
  • 64) Angel Villalona
  • 73) Jonathan Sanchez
Now with 30 MLB teams, the average team has 3.3 prospects on the list, so the Giants are about average. There are a number of teams with more than the average amount, so that puts the Giants a little above the median. He lists the Devil Rays and the Rockies as tied for first with 7 prospects each on the Top 100 list. The Yankees are tied for third with the Angels and the Diamondbacks with 5 each. The Brewers are tied with Braves, D-gers, Marlins, Mets, and Twins for 6th with 4 each. That means the Giants are tied with 10 other teams for 12th with 3 each. That leaves 9 teams with 2 or less prospects on the list.

Why I'm Not Worried About the D-gers: Reason #1

The D-gers have announced a couple of things the past couple of days that warms my Giants loving heart.

Lowe is the Opening Day Staring Pitcher

First, Grady Little has already announced - before one pitch has been thrown in a Spring Training game - that Derek Lowe is their starting pitcher. I wonder how their new $16M per season acquisition, Jason Schmidt, feels about that? Schmidt has had a 3.59 and much lower ERA in 4 of the past 5 seasons (he was dominating in 3 of those seasons), whereas Lowe had his first good season with the BoSox, then two horrible years, then two good, but still ERA higher than 3.60 ERAs (though it was only barely over, that surprised me, he's been pretty good for the D-gers).

As any Giants fans know, Schmidt's ego is a bit fragile sometimes so I wonder how he is taking that news without getting to show his stuff off in spring training. With his contract and superior stats, he must have been expecting to at least get a chance to win the opening day assignment. And while he missed a number of them with the Giants because he was on the DL to start the season, he normally would have been the opening day starter for the Giants. Maybe it's all good, now that he is with the team his family rooted for when he was growing up, but you got to think that it rankles him a bit that this has already been decided before he got to pitch one pitch in a spring training game for his new team.

Pierre is Batting 2nd

Now, today, Little has announced that Furcal will still lead-off, putting Juan Pierre in the 2 spot. That actually makes some sense because Pierre rarely strikes out, putting the ball into play a lot, even more so because he walks just about as infrequently. And Pierre can't feel too put out since Furcal is being paid more than he is per-season. But, I'm just giddy over knowing Pierre is in a prominent spot in their lineup, whether leading off (where his low OBP would kill their offense) or batting 2nd.

Some theorists on lineup construction says that the best batter should bat 2nd in the lineup, and while Furcal could make some claims on that, Pierre is not even close. He has no power and can't walk if his life depended on it (or close enough in baseball circles). The only good thing is that he does not strike out often, which means that he puts the ball into play more often than other batters.

But that works against Pierre because, while he may be fast, he is not fast enough to avoid the DP as often as Furcal. Furcal in his career, when there is a runner on 1B, has hit into double-plays 7% of his ABs where there is a runner on 1B. However, Pierre in his career, when there is a runner on 1B, has hit into a DP 10% of his ABs, or nearly 50% more often than Furcal.

Of course, the caveat there is that both were leadoff hitters for the vast majority of their careers, and thus they normally didn't have a speedy runner on base ahead of them, typically it would be the 7th or 8th hitter, often slow guys, or sometimes even the pitcher, who is not a good baserunner typically. But at 50% more DPs, whether it is because he hits into a lot of grounders or whatever, it should wipe out Furcal more often than if they had somebody who is good at getting on base batting 2nd and this increase in DPs would help stall their offense.

The other giddy thing about Pierre being in their lineup - and this is music to my ears - Pierre has not hit very well in LA. His career line is .281/.333/.331/.664 with 0 HR in 139 AB. Yes, even with the meager walks he garners, he could not even hit for enough power to have his SLG higher than his OBP. Part of that is that the D-gers have typically had good pitchers, particularly at home (Chan Ho Park and Kazuhisa Ishii in particular, but also others, LA is a true pitchers park), but mainly it is because Pierre has very little offensive value: no ability to take a walk, no ability to hit for power, even his base-stealing is not valuable, he is only successful 73% of the time, which is about the break-even point for when basestealing costs you more than it gains.

Plus, he has been in a two year slump now: his average OPS was .699 over those two years, whereas his career OPS is .728. Most of the prediction systems (as shown in Fangraphs) expect him to be under his career OPS - they range from .707 to .721 - while only one system predicts .733 (and that is the famous Marcel system, created by TangoTiger, which is a relatively simple prediction system, nothing fancy). Basically, the systems expect Pierre to be around where he was last season, when he had a .717 OPS for the Cubs.

Part of that was his drop in OBP. He has a career OBP of .350, but slumped to an an average of .328 for the past two seasons. All the prediction systems expect better from him, more in line with his career figure - they range from .335 to .346 and average about .341 - but when 3 of the past 5 seasons (and his last two) his OBP was .332 or lower plus he's going to a pitcher's park of a home, versus a known hitters park like Wrigley that he hit in 2006, plus he could only manage a .332 OBP when playing for the Rockies in 2002, when the field was a true hitter's paradise, and lastly, he's going to the NL West, where the SD park is a severe pitchers park, Colorado he couldn't hit well there before the humidor toned things down, and SF, while not a severe pitcher's park anymore, still slightly favors pitching, you have to think that his OBP will be closer to .328 than to .341.

But any way you cut it, he weakens the #2 spot for the D-gers. Last season, they ranked in the middle, 9th with a .755 OPS and was tied for 4th with a .353 OBP. Whether you take his .728 career OPS or .717 OPS from 2006 (both good for 13th in 2006) or his average for the past two seasons of .699 (good for last, 16th of 16 in 2006), that is a comedown for the D-gers offense in 2007 vs. 2006 in a key batting position in terms of OPS. It is about as bad looking at OBP, which is more important for a #2 hitter: .341 would rank the D-gers 8th in 2006 (down from 4th) and his .330 in 2006 would rank them 13th in 2006.

Luis Gonzalez Batting 5th

The whip cream on this sundae is that their other big name acquisition, Luis Gonzalez, is taking up a spot in the OF, leaving their two stud OF prospects, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, to battle for RF, plus there's still Jason Repko and there's Delwyn Young in the wings. Plus Marlon Anderson is around and wanting some playing time in he OF as well. Luis is going from a park where he had a lifetime .904 OPS to park where he had a lifetime .770 OPS. And he had already fallen to a .819 OPS at home in 2006, so he could be staring at .700 OPS in LA for 2007.

Even if he is able to maintain the .772 OPS he had on the road in 2006, that would rank him 11th in 2006 as the #5 hitter, whereas last season the D-gers ranked 1st (I assume that was JD Drew - thanks for screwing the D-gers!). So they are going from a situation where they were the leader to one where they are closer to 15th place (.752) than they are to 9th place (.792). He and Pierre are key changes that will cost their offense.

Add to that the fact that Kent is now 39 and off an injury plagued seasons (only 115 games) and Garciappara only played 122 games in 2006 and that was still 60 more games than he played in 2005 and 41 more games than he played in 2004, and add in Wilson Betemit, an unproven entity starting at 3B in 2007 (he only had a .743 OPS for LA, Feliz territory for a 3B), there should be all sorts of good (for us) stuff happening to their offense in 2007.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Matt "The Hurry" Cain: How's That for a Nickname?

I have seen a number of people (including myself) who have tried a variety of bad pun nicknames or rhymes with his last name. But I just thought of this one and I like it: Matt "The Hurry" Cain. Because his pitches "hurry" up to the plate and batters can't hit it well, if they can even hit it at all.

Anyway, I'm getting more and more excited about the 2007 season, even though no game has been played yet. The more I think about our rotation, the more it makes sense that it not only will be a strength but it will be superior to other teams in general, which when coupled with an average but relatively consistent offense (no big spots other than Bonds, but no dead spots either like a Neifi), should lead to a lot of wins.

Eastern League Black Hole for Power: Dodd Stadium

As I tried to show in my post about Ishikawa, Connecticut's home park, Dodd Stadium, really kills HR hitting, enough that to properly assess any of the Giants prospects playing in Connecticut, you need to ignore their home performance in terms of HR and power, and concentrate solely on their road performance. A truer picture would be to take his home stats, reduce it to the same influence as any of the road teams (for example, one could scale down the home stats so that it equals one-eleventh of the AB or PA of his road stats and add that and examine that). However, that would be a pain to have to go and convert all the stats for the players in the league in that fashion. Besides, I'm only interested in the Giants prospects.

In this post, I'm just going to examine league-wide stats, team vs. team comparison against the league average. I think this will further make my case that Dodd Stadium kills power and distorts our Giant prospects hitting performance greatly.

SLG is Down Greatly

As one can see in this table, the SLG for Connecticut batters is much lower at home and yet is basically league average on the road:



As you can see, by scrolling down, despite being about league average on the road at 98%, their home SLG is the worse by far, at only 83% of the league average. The next lowest team is at 95% and 10 of the 12 teams range from 95% to 106%.

HR Power is Down Drastically

As I showed in my previous post, homers were down but this table will show how that worked team by team:



As I noted, homers drastically down, at 56% of the league average at home for the Connecticut Defenders. The next lowest was at 79% and 6 of 11 ranged from 86% to 102%. Again, on the road, the Defenders were slightly below average at 97%.

ISO Down Drastically Too

Same old story for ISO (which is SLG minus BA):




At home, Connecticut's power as measured by ISO was 69% of the league average. The next lowest was at 93%. The range for 8 of 11 was 95% to 106%, at home. They were actually above average on the road, at 104%.

XBH% is Below Too

Same story, just not as extreme:



At home, the percentage of extrabase hits for the Defenders was 85% of the league average. The next lowest was at 92%. 8 of 11 of the teams ranged from 94% to 104%.

Dodd is a Power Black Hole

So if there are still any non-believers after my Ishikawa post, hopefully after this post, they will see that Dodd Stadium horribly skews Giants hitting prospects stats and you cannot base any evaluation of their power hitting skills on their home stats. Basically, you need to go stat by stat, player by player, to see what makes sense to consider, their total stats or just their road stats.

That is why the Giants should just bite the bullet and pay to fix up the stadium (they might have been better off telling ESPN to blow off and go ahead and resod the field into the new configuration, instead of letting ESPN film whatever they were filming there. The lawsuit might have been cheaper to resolve with a settlement than paying to resod the field today). One, it makes it harder to evaluate not only your hitters but also your pitchers, who don't have to worry as much about getting hit upon at home. Two, this skewing might get our position players into bad habits, both hitting and pitching, as they deal with how this park hurts or helps them, statistically. Three, most importantly, it could negatively affect the confidence of the players, particularly the hitters, but even the pitchers, as they might be overconfident about their skills and then go and get killed when they go to AAA.

Dodd Stadium, as it is currently configured, must die!!!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy New Zito Delivery!

Where everything old is new again! Or is it the other way around? In any case, after the furor raised over Zito's "new" delivery, with Zito ticked over the media coverage on Friday morning, he went back to essentially his old delivery motion on Saturday! He stated that he needed to first go to one extreme but then it would subtlely change his old delivery motion. I guess we need a lefty to interpret Zito.

Interestingly, he noted that one of his goals is to make his stride longer. So he plans to watch Tim Lincecum pitch on Sunday: "He strides out 85 or 90 inches. He's got to do that because he doesn't have the height. He pitches with his body and that's the ideal."

Friday, February 16, 2007

Lincecum in the California League: Versus Everyone

As I noted in my first post, I finally remembered to download the data in Baseball Cube for all the leagues the Giants have affiliates at and thought, since I just went all in on Lincecum, how exactly did he do in A+ ball, the highest level he pitched at. For this post, I compare him against everyone, instead of just, first, 22 YOs, then 22 and younger.

Demographics

There were 157 pitchers who pitched at least 25 IP. The average age was 23.1 but when weighted by IP, it was 22.9. So most pitchers were at least one year older and therefore probably had at least one more year of experience than he did. Hitters, as I noted before, averaged 23.7 years, 23.3 years when weighted by ABs.

Lincecum only pitched 27.2 innings, so obviously there is the small sample effect, but he has clearly been a dominating pitcher everywhere he has gone, so I don't think that many batters would have learned enough to bring that performance down. Plus he clearly is a learner, having added a pitch last season to help his repertoire, so who is to say that he won't learn fast enough to counteract that. Just look at how he has improved from his freshman year to his junior year in college.

Lincecum Versus The California League with 25+ IP
  • ERA: He was tied for 10th out of 157 with an ERA of 1.95, and the group's mean ERA was 4.60. His ERA was 1.56 standard deviations below the mean.
  • H/9: He was second with a very low 4.23 H/9. The group's mean H/9 was 9.69 and his ERA was 2.52 standard deviations below the mean.
  • HR/9: He was under the middle again, tied for 106th of 157, with a 0.98 HR/9, so he did not do so well here. But the group's mean HR/9 was 0.81, and his HR/9 is only 0.37 standard deviations higher than the mean.
  • BB/9: Again, he didn't do so well here, though slightly better, tied for 99th of 157 with 3.90 BB/9. The group mean BB/9 was 3.56, and his BB/9 is only 0.19 standard deviations higher than the mean.
  • K/9: Here is where Lincecum shines brightly, leading with a 15.6 K/9, far outdistancing his second place finisher, who had "only" a 14.4 K/9. Admittedly, small sampling because he only pitched 27.2 innings, but still pretty good nonetheless in that he was so extreme relative to the group. The group mean was 7.60 K/9 and thus his K/9 was 3.83 standard deviations higher than the mean.
  • WHIP: With his very low H/9 helping greatly, he was tied for 4th here, with 0.90 WHIP and the group mean was 1.47 WHIP. His WHIP was 1.78 standard deviations lower than the mean.
  • K/BB: His stellar K/9 made up for his average BB/9, resulting in the 22nd best K/BB among the 157 pitchers with over 25 IP. His K/BB was 4.00 and the mean K/BB for the group was 2.13. His K/BB was 1.33 standard deviations higher than the mean.

Comparing Lincecum to the league didn't do much to change any of the results of the ranking, in terms of where he ranked in the group, proportionally. His rank relative to the group appeared to hold steady with this greatly enlarged comparison group, as did his standard deviations away from the mean. Nothing greatly changed.

Admittedly, small sampling because he only had 27 IP, but, as someone commented earlier, his stats were not that far away from what he was doing in college in 2006, plus, when you are so many standard deviations away and no one else could do something similarly in a small number of IP, it suggests that what he did was pretty special, was out of the ordinary.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Back to the Future: Zito's Got a Brand New Old Delivery

As widely reported, Zito has a new delivery motion: Chron, Giants. He says that he is just returning to the style he used when he was in college - he didn't really get into what got him out of that style and no reporter was astute enough to ask such a question. And the reporters and Righetti are a bit leery about changing a motion that has been success for Zito during his career.

Or has it? According to saber-rules, Zito is a bit of an anomaly, because he walks too many and gives up too many homers and don't strike out nearly enough to make up for that. What he does do excellently, which in DIPS theory is the equivalent of the bumblebee, impossible to exist, is keep the hitter from getting good wood on the ball and thus not give up as many hits as regular pitchers do. And if anyone hasn't noticed, he hasn't been exactly Cy Young material after he won the trophy.

Smells Like Fastball Spirit

According to Zito, this motion will generate more power from his lower body and legs, and put less strain on his arm. The fear by Rags is that he will lose his hammer curve by making this change. The change in angle and how he positions his body and release point could make his curve less effective. Plus it is natural to fear leaving what was successful for something new, watching his new delivery make some other injury more likely and push him to the DL.

But to me, this sounds like he is switching his delivery to be more like pitchers who have experienced great longevity in not only their careers, but in performance at their highest levels: Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens. From what I understand about their pitching style, they are all "leg" men, deriving their power from their powerful legs. Both Ryan and Clemens pitched into their late 40's, still top pitchers, using this delivery style. Perhaps Boras, Zito's new agent, did some research and suggested this to Zito after seeing that he used to use that style in college.

The Teacher Learns From the Pupil-to-be

Or perhaps Zito started some research of the Giants wunderkinds, Cain and Lincecum, after he signed on with the Giants, to see where he can help them out, with tips and such. To be the leader, because he feels he should after signing the biggest contract ever given a pitcher. But then he looked at Lincecum's delivery and remembered that this was the type of delivery he used to use in college. Then he read about the benefits that Lincecum got from using such a delivery and how his arm doesn't need to be iced after games while being able to long throw the next day without apparent harm or tiring.

That's the first thought I had when I read about his new delivery, it sounds exactly like Lincecum's "unorthodox" delivery. So maybe he's going back to it, now that he's a better, more mature pitcher, able to utilize his breaking pitches better, but with this new delivery resulting in less wear on his arm while gaining velocity. That would help him fulfill his contract when all are saying that the Giants are crazy for giving him such a long contract and still allow him to pitch effectively.

In Any Case: More Better Gooder

Either way, imagine how much more effectively Zito can be if he can still throw his breaking pitches effectively while adding a few MPH to his fast ball? He used to be a strikeout pitcher when he was younger and, I suppose, his young arm could throw for more velocity to go with his curve ball, allowing him to strike out a lot more batters when he was younger. But as he has aged, he has lost velocity, resulting in less strikeouts. This could help him be that much more effective as a pitcher while gaining more longevity in the process.

At least, this is what I'm hoping. The scared fan in me fears that this will cause him to have some injury and be out. I have to say, though, that I admit the guts of someone who has been pretty successful to switch everything in order to improve himself, particularly after signing such a huge contract. Even if I weren't a Giants fan, I wish him the best in trying something 99.9999% of people would not dare try.

Much Ado About Nothing: Bonds Signs (again) and MLB Approves (and yet probably not so much)

For all you Chicken Littles out there worrying about Barry signing and about his being dropped off the 40 man roster on-line, sfgiants.com just announced that Barry is signed, sealed, delivered with the MLB's blessing (as far as contract language goes).

Of course, the MLB management probably wished that it didn't work out and they wouldn't have to worry about the maelstorm of negative publicity that Barry's chase of Aaron will create, but, heh heh, now they will. Officially, Selig has said that obliquely, that when and if Bonds hits 756, it will be handled like any other record that is broken. But there is no unamity in how broken records are treated, other than it appears to be different each time. I would bet on Selig not being around, but wouldn't totally blame him either.

Aaron vs. Da Commish

I read in the Merc (also discussed how other records were treated by the then current commissioner) about how Aaron was bummed that Bowie Kuhn dissed him by not showing up for his 715 HR feat, but my take is that he at least tried to be there but it was taking too long. He started attending every game starting at 710, though that perhaps was the problem, starting that soon, plus also he personally stopped that game for a ceremony for tying Ruth with 714 (which the Reds protested but then Kuhn threatened to suspend the Reds official on the spot, they relented; really, how could they protest, it was history!).

But the problem is that it is not like a hitting streak or a consecutive game streak, where you know where it may or may not happen. Aaron could have went on a horrible slump and not hit another homer for a month or something, what did he want Bowie to do, follow him religiously all around, like a lap dog, until he finally hits the history breaker? I don't know exactly what a baseball commissioner does, but I assume he must have some duties he has to attend to at some point, he just can't drop everything and follow one player across the country until he hits a homer.

I think Aaron was mainly mad because Kuhn didn't congratulate him for hitting 700 the season before, with a note or a call or anything, and that just fed the bad blood over 715. Again, it was history, so Kuhn had no excuse on that one, but for 715, he was there for a long while, from 710 to 714, but then he felt he had to attend another event.

Now, it was just a booster event, so that was a questionable decision to not attend the game that Aaron hit 715 (again history), when he was that close to the record, but at some point he should be allowed to do Commissioner type of duties, like meeting boosters, if it was planned ahead of time (which I don't know if it was or not, just saying).

Mainly, I see I'm sort of arguing against myself here, but I don't see why Aaron should be that put out. Kuhn was there from 710 to 714, he threatened suspension to the Reds for protesting against a ceremony commemorating the achievement, and finally decided to stop following Aaron because he thought he should start doing some Commissioner type of duties. I personally would not have blown off a chance to see 715 just to see some boosters (I would have blown off the boosters and rescheduled), but maybe the Indians needed all the help they could get to get paying fans, I don't know, so I am willing to give Kuhn a pass on this because he was there for a number of the homers (in case Aaron happened to achieve a multi-HR game) and finally decided he was playing groupie long enough and decided to skip a game (but it was at home in the Launching Pad, what was he thinking?!?). So I question the decision to skip, but respect that he had that right also. If Aaron didn't hit 715 in that game but did the next and Kuhn made the next game, we wouldn't even be having this discussion after 33 years, it would have been a non-issue.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Interesting Question: Ishikawa - Failed Prospect or Dodd Sucks?

What prompted me to write this post, besides the fact that Travis Ishikawa (and other Giants power hitters going to Connecticut) are, in my opinion, unfairly getting their potential downgraded due to poor performance there, is that I was recently looking at who was recently visiting my old blog, and every other search that brought the visitor to that blog was a search on "Travis Ishikawa". Not that there were that many, maybe 10 out of 20 over the weekend, and not all of them were from the State of Washington, Travis' home state, but it seemed like there is a great interest in him. It is not like there were many visitors looking for Matt Cain, EME, Valdez, Schierholtz, etc. info on that old site.

Ishikawa is not the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread or Will Clark

First off, some people seem to think that I think that Ishikawa is the best prospect around and that I really believe in him to be the second coming or something. This is an incorrect impression, to say the least. What it is, is that I believe he can be a good player for the Giants but people mistake my insistence that he is still a valid prospect for belief that he is a great prospect. But I do think that he is a good position prospect.

And in this era of Giants baseball, that is nothing to sneeze about, we probably haven't had a good one (that we drafted, so no Aurilia) since the days of Will the Thrill and Matty Williams. Not to say that I think Travis is in their company, not at all. He is more like Pedro Feliz except that he can take a walk, from what I can see thus far. And that has value, if Feliz could walk at Ishikawa's walk rate, he would be considered a good 3B, with OBP in the mid-300 to go with his high SLG and HR hitting, and OPS in the 800's.

The thing is, people have been writing him off as a prospect almost since his first season and I don't see any reason to, yet. For example, one so-called expert on the web wanted to release Ishikawa in early 2004, and still thinks he's a waste of time and money on the part of the Giants (ignoring, of course, that the amount of money and time spent on Ishikawa is a pittance compared to the Giants revenue stream and that there are no star 1B prospect being held back by Ishikawa being in our system). And this year Ishikawa's name is not among the Giants Top 10 list on all the lists I have seen, because of his poor 2006 season (or so people think, looking at the surface), though most still have him somewhere in the 11-20 spots. And given the Giants dearth of position prospects, I don't think we should write off someone who still has a lot of potential.

But He Can Still Be Valuable

Let me set the record straight now: I think Ishikawa is, at best, a low BA, high OBP, high HR, high K, type of hitter. He could be similar to another former Giants who made his name elsewhere, Rob Deer, except that he is a very good (maybe great) defensive 1B, whereas Deer was made for the DH era. He is not a sure thing. Ishikawa has severe flaws in his batting approach that causes him to strike out a heck of a lot, though it has also been developed and refined enough to walk a heck of a lot as well.

However, I still think that there is still a lot of value to a 1B who can play good to great defense at 1B and can hit homers and get walks by the bushelful. I said above that he's not like Matt Williams, but looking at Matty's career stat line - .268/.317/.489/.806 with 18.5 AB/HR - I now realize that this is not that far from what Ishikawa can do - career since power kicked in for Ishikawa is .259/.350/.466/.816 with 23.8 AB/HR (Matt Williams hit .282/.336/.513/.849 with 19.8 AB/HR in the minors).

From minors to majors, Matty's BA went down 14 points, OBP down 19 points, ISO down 10 points but HR improved 1.4 points. If Ishikawa performs similarly, .246/.330/.444/.774 with 22.2 AB/HR. Plus, here are their minors stats up to age 22:

Ishikawa: .255/.357/.430/.787 with 31.1 AB/HR
Williams: .265/.314/.444/.758 with 30.2 AB/HR

Williams busted out when 23 years old, in the minors, but didn't have a full good year in the majors until he was 24 years old. That would be Ishikawa's 2008 season, if he developed like Williams.

In addition, up to this age, the highest HR rate that Williams registered in a significant time with a minor league team in a season was 25.5 AB/HR, when he was 22 (he did hit well in the majors that season, in terms of AB/HR, in a short season but still a lot of ABs). Ishikawa already has 2 seasons better than that and, as I will soon show, 2006 should have been the third. Clearly, Ishikawa has better HR power than what Williams showed, up to age 22, plus took walks more as well. His main problem has been that he strikes out way too often, which Williams did not do as badly, his strikeout rate was OK.

Comparisons

I've written a lot on this elsewhere but others have not believed me when I say that Dodd Stadium kills HR hitting, so here are some facts to back me up. Before I used Ishikawa's data first and perhaps that blinded people to the team and league stats I also showed. So this time I'm only showing group, team, and league data to prove my point.

The data is compiled from the great site, minorleaguesplits.com. Unfortunately, the Defenders' team pitching splits was not available (page was missing) so I had to painstakingly copy each Defender pitcher's stats into a spreadsheet and calculate the team's pitching splits. And why not, it is paid subscribers like you all who keep this site going. Also unfortunately, there were a few pitchers whose data was not available, so the team splits are missing the data for: Quincy Foster, Derin McMains, Aaron Sisk, and Randy Walter (they are all position players anyway, so their stats would probably skew the dataset).

Comparison: Top Connecticut HR Hitters

First, the Defenders hitters who had 10 or more HR, had wildly different AB/HR rates, road vs. home. The foursome are Ishikawa, Schierholtz, Sisk, and Von Schell. On the road, the four of them had a great 25.6 AB/HR rate. Over a 500 AB campaign in the minors, that's a 20 HR season, which is pretty good for a prospect. However, put them at home and its a 41.6 AB/HR rate, or 12 HR in a 500 AB season. Quite a difference, nearly double. As we'll soon see, that's the pattern.

Comparison: Connecticut Hitters vs. Eastern League Hitters

Next, lets compare Connecticut hitters vs. the Eastern League in general. On the road, Connecticut hitters hit homers at a 47.5 AB/HR pace, which is right about the Eastern League average of 45.9 AB/HR. Both also were at about the same HR/FB rate: 8.4% for Connecticut, 8.8% for Eastern League hitters. But once you get to home, the Eastern League is still about the same but the Connecticut home hitting suffers greatly for HR: Eastern League averaged 43.6 AB/HR and 9.0% HR/FB (HR per Fly Ball), but Connecticut hitters only averaged 78.2 AB/HR and 5.9% HR/FB! So as you can see, on the road, Connecticut hitters were about the same as the Eastern League in general, but at home, they were horribly worse, at almost double the AB/HR rate and half the HR/FB rate.

Comparison: Connecticut Pitchers vs. Eastern League Pitchers

Looking at the pitching stats shows the same pattern again. On the road, Connecticut pitchers allowed homers at a 59.8 AB/HR pace or 0.6 HR/9, which is better than Eastern League pitchers who allowed homers at a 43.5 AB/HR pace or 0.8 HR/9. The HR/FB rate showed this slightly superior performance: 7.2% for Connecticut, 9.0% for Eastern League. However, at home, the Eastern League shows about the same rates but Connecticut is much better: Eastern League allowed homers at a 45.8 AB/HR pace or 0.7 HR/9 at home (8.8% HR/FB) whereas Connecticut allowed homers at a 83.8 AB/HR pace or 0.4 HR/9 at home (6.4% HR/FB).

Clearly, pitching at Dodd Stadium helps the pitchers greatly in terms of not allowing homers. At a 83.8 AB/HR pace, in 500 AB, a hitter would only get about 6 HR in a full season. At 45.8 AB/HR, that would be 11 HR. That would be almost double the number of homers in a season that would be given up by a pitcher pitching in the average Eastern League park instead of pitching in Dodd Stadium.

And that is the pattern we see with the hitters, the hitters would hit double the homers given the same number of ABs if they hit on the road versus hitting with Dodd as your home. So hopefully you can see why I believe that Dodd Stadium is horribly skewing the stats of most position players playing at Dodd (some actually do better at home, but clearly the vast majority of hitters suffer greatly hitting at Dodd). And hence why I believe that to proper assess the performance of any of our key hitters in Connecticut, you need to look solely at their road stats.

Closer to Travis Ishikawa's True 2006 Performance: Is It Real or Is It Dodd?

Of course, Ishikawa did not play a full season in Norwich either, so that brings into play the possibility that small samples skewed this road stats. But it is the only available performance data we have, so we have to use them. Plus, as you'll see, his road stats look a lot like his past seasons, so that makes it easier for me to accept that his road stats are representative of his skill level.

Here is a table showing his full season results for his career once he started hitting for power (I left out his 2004 brief stint in San Jose):



As one can plainly see, his road stats for 2006 matches quite well with his 2004 and 2005 seasonal stats. And his home stats show a great drop in both homerun frequency and walk frequency, most probably because pitchers were not afraid of him hitting a homer at home, so they grooved in more pitches into the strike zone, which resulted in less walks, more contact (and less strikeouts), but also much less homers.

Examining each metric, his BABIP is clearly very high for his career when he is not striking out(his BABIP was high prior to 2004). His Road BABIP for 2006 is clearly within the range for his career, while his Home BABIP is clearly not within his career stats, which is pretty much set after 3-4 seasons and most players BABIP stays near their career BABIP. At minimum, sabermetric theory says that his Home BABIP should regress higher towards his mean since it was so far off in 2006.

For BB%, he has always been very good at getting walks. His 11.8% Road BB% is right in range of his career stats (he walked a lot prior to 2004 as well). However, again, his Home BB% is outside the range he established thus far in his career.

For Contact%, which is the time when he makes contact and not strikeout, his Home and Road basically is equally on both side of his career norm for this metric. His overall percentage is basically the same as seasons before, so it does not appear that home or road (or at least not clearly appear) affects his strikeout rate, for better or worse.

BB/K is a ratio that some sabers say is a sign of whether a hitter will be good or bad hitter. With great hitters getting a ratio over 100%, and 50% as the minimum threshold, Travis hasn't been able to even meet the minimum, except for one season. He has clearly been bad from this aspect.

Lastly, and most importantly to me, his Road AB/HR is not that far away from his previous two seasons at 23.4 AB/HR. However, if you only saw Travis in Norwich, then yeah, you might not think much of him as a prospect, going from 19.6 AB/HR (about 25 HR in 500 AB) in 2005 all the way down to 45.7 AB/HR (about 11 HR in 500 AB) in 2006.

Giants Thoughts

The Giants should promote Travis to Fresno's AAA team so that he does not have to deal with Dodd anymore, particularly since ESPN screwed the team by filming in Dodd, preventing the team from resodding the field in a smaller configuration, which means that the Giants could not change the field to minimize any negative offensive aspects. Screw that ESPN!!!

It is clear to me that on the road, Ishikawa was still hitting the way he had in previous years and thus considered to have done a good job, whereas his home numbers clearly stunk and would be a flag of caution if this effect did not affect the whole team, both batters and pitchers, and by a very large margin (basically a doubling).

And it is not like he has any age advantage over the hitters or pitchers in AA. The average age there is 24.8 years for hitters with at least 295 AB (Ishikawa had 297 AB). Of these 79 hitters, only 10 of them were 22 years or younger - Ishikawa was one of those ten (FYI: Schierholtz was another of those ten and hit better than Ishikawa). And the average age for a pitcher there is 25.2 years, so he is much younger and less experienced than the pitchers in the Eastern League, as well, by a good three years on average.

Of the 10 young hitters, only one had an OPS over .800 and just barely at .833 - Travis had .801 OPS on the road. Still, overall, he had the 4th best OPS with a .719 OPS. Looking at homers, even with Dodd, Travis had the best AB/HR at 29.8, with the average AB/HR at 44.9 for the group of 22 year olds and younger. Obviously, without his home stats, he would have been head and shoulders above the other hitters in his age group.

In a hitter's league like the PCL, Ishikawa should be able to return to past performance levels relatively easily. However, the leap from minors to majors is usually fraught with failure, even for AAA hitters who hit pretty well, so even if he did well in Fresno, that does not mean that he'll ever become a major league hitter. As it is for most prospects, it is one step at a time.

And while many, if not most, fans and analysts think that Ishikawa took at step backward in his development in 2006, I believe that he continued showing the skills that he had shown before - patience in taking walks, tempered by his very high (and very poor) strikeout rate, but has 25+ HR power and plays great defense at 1B, according to some (sounds like JT Snow) - and should be promoted to AAA and away from Dodd Stadium, before it plays on his mind and on his confidence, and forces him to change his hitting mechanics to try to do better in that lousy stadium.

However, with Chad Santos still around and maybe even Lance Niekro, though I think we are out of options with him, I'm afraid the Giants might make Ishikawa repeat AA again instead of promoting him to AAA, just because we have other 1B in the system. I still like Lance, and he might in fact be a good platoon partner (one expert rates Travis as a platoon 1B) with Travis at 1B from 2008 on, but I would rather see Ishikawa get a chance to play in Fresno and risk losing Niekro than to see Ishikawa get hampered, or worse, get his confidence shakened, by playing in Norwich again. We don't have enough position prospects that we can screw around with even one with some potential and not hurt the farm system.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Juggling Monkey: BP Says Relievers Inherently Replaceable

Now this might not be news to some people and I had heard this from other places before (I recall someone quoting Bill James, for one), but I wanted to at least source a reference to this in a post. In a column unrelated to relievers (marketing plug for new BP injury report), the author states this about relievers (in relationship to injuries):

In large part, I ignore bench players and relievers because they are
inherently replaceable. If a team loses a middle reliever, studies have shown that there's usually very little bottom line effect; certainly nothing like losing a closer or even a mid-line starter.

Now, I didn't quite always buy that rationale, and thus I was initially against the Nathan trade for the Zitster. Then to my undying shame, I supported the trade when some posters convinced me otherwise, whereupon I switched back to my feeling that relievers are important and are not easily replaced.

But over the past couple of years, as the minor league system has provided a steady stream of pitchers to the majors, I am juggling back to the position that relievers are inherently very replaceable. I guess you just need a good farm system to see that logic and not make mistakes like thinking Nathan was not closer material. Particularly when he was so dominating during the season (apparently his meltdown during the playoffs convinced somebody that Nathan was not closer material, and I guess, Herges was - to be fair, Herges was lights out that playoffs).

So, hence why I'm not so put out about the Giants not having the greatest of bullpens. Closer? Yes, a problem that I'm hoping someone - Wilson, Sadler, Anderson - will step up to the plate and own the position. But the rest of the bullpen, it seems strong enough to me, not the greatest but I don't think they will be the pits, and if they are, I think someone will get promoted from the minors and do well, eventually

Now Playing 3B for the Giants: Miguel Cabrera?

I know it's a pipe dream but what's not a pipe dream is that Cabrera and the Marlins are having a very public hissy-fit over their arbitration hearing - the news is on Ben Maller's rumor website.

According to his sources - and the info was reported in a newspaper - Cabrera is unhappy that the Marlins are taking him to arbitration over $700,000. Doesn't mention if he wants the whole $700,000 or just want the Marlins to meet him half way, but it reminds me of that quote from a senator, which I'll paraphrase here: "$100,00 here, $100,000, there: pretty soon you're talking about a lot of money." (I think the senator used the term $1 trillion). So purportedly he didn't show up for a team function - one that he skipped two years ago but didn't get chastised for it so very publicly except he wasn't the big star then - because of this.

Samson One Haircut Short of a Full Load

David Samson, President of the Marlins (and more importantly, the owner's step-son), has been criticized for not being the sharpest pencil in previous accounts that I have read about him, but I always try to keep an open mind about how people are portrayed in print. However, this newspaper article pretty much sealed the deal with me that he's not that smart and, in fact, is pretty dumb.

Here Miguel Cabrera is one of the premier players in the league (though I've read recent complaints about his conditioning coming into camp) and he's not happy (rightly or wrongly) about the Marlins taking him to arbitration over the $700,000 difference (his $7.4M vs. their $6.7M). So Samson publicly criticizes Cabrera for not showing up and publicly states that he will mention their displeasure in the arbitration hearing.

However, "Samson said he didn't think it will cause hard feelings that could linger into the season. 'We're all adults here and we all have responsibilities...' ". What an idiot! Of course this will cause hard feelings that could linger into the season! Even if he wasn't a great baseball player, and just an average joe like us, he would have hard feelings that could and will linger into the season.

But not the way Samson is thinking. Samson is probably thinking about performance on the field. There, sure, no hard feelings, but Cabrera should know that he has to perform to get his next new payday, he's not that dumb (not even Livan was that dumb). So he will play well most probably.

But if the Marlins are hoping to keep him long term, there will definitely be hard feelings as long as Samson is around, they can forget about getting an extension of any sort now plus they can forget about Cabrera showing up for any future "mandatory" pre-season promotional events. I know that money can talk sometimes, but for a superstar ego to take that type of criticism publicly from the team's ownership/management, he's probably thinking that he can make great money anywhere anyhow, so why bother negotiating with the Marlins? Samson just blew it big time if he wanted to keep Cabrera.

Giants and Cabrera?

Here's where hopefully the Giants come into the picture. They have obviously been talking with the Marlins about trading Benitez for a prospect. So why not expand the trade to include other players in order to try to get Cabrera? I'm not sure what it would take, but it would probably start with either Noah Lowry or Jonathan Sanchez, then I'm not sure where it would go.

I'm sure they wouldn't want Pedro Feliz though, but I also know that the Giants wouldn't trade Angel Villalona either. It would just kill their image with Latin American prospects for them to jettison him like that before he plays one game for them - I'll also add that I don't know the rules, perhaps they can't trade him for a year, much like the Giants cannot trade Lincecum, from what I read, for a year, but even if they could, it would be a serious blow to their reputation in the region. We don't have many other good 3B prospects, Pablo Sandoval was a hot prospect before the 2006 season but his poor season dropped his stock tremedously.

Another possibility would Eddy Martinez-Esteve, who was a big college star in Florida before the Giants drafted him. But he's probably either a LF, more probably a 1B, and best suited for DH, but the Marlins are in the NL, so no DH there. I think Marcus Sanders played for a Floridian community college, who that the Giants could do a draft-and-follow, so he could also be a local attraction as well. And Merkin Valdez is from the Dominican. Those are all players who might be interesting to the Marlins for both potential and local attraction.

In any case, I hope the Giants at least kicks the tires and see if the Marlins might be willing to part with their star player after their public bickering. Lets see: Lowry, EME, Valdez, and another good prospect (or maybe even Hennessey?) plus Benitez for Cabrera?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Lincecum in the California League: Versus 22 Year Olds or Younger

As I noted in my last post, I finally remembered to download the data in Baseball Cube for all the leagues the Giants have affiliates at and thought, since I just went all in on Lincecum, how exactly did he do in A+ ball, the highest level he pitched at. For this post, I compared him against 22 year olds and younger.

Demographics

There were 52 pitchers who are 22 years old and younger (32 were 22 YO) who pitched at least 25 IP. They pitched 36% of the IP in the California League. As noted in the previous post, 22 YOs are young relative to the majority of players in the league, Lincecum was mainly facing hitters who are older and more experienced with pro ball than he was.

Lincecum only pitched 27.2 innings, so obviously there is the small sample effect, but he has clearly been a dominating pitcher everywhere he has gone, so I don't think that many batters would have learned enough to bring that performance down. Plus he clearly is a learner, having added a pitch last season to help his repertoire, so who is to say that he won't learn fast enough to counteract that. Just look at how he has improved from his freshman year to his junior year in college.

Lincecum Versus 22 YOs and Younger
  • ERA: He was tied for 5th out of 52 with an ERA of 1.95, and the group's mean ERA was 4.64. His ERA was 1.59 standard deviations away below the mean.
  • H/9: He led the group with a very low 4.23 H/9, almost a hit less than the second lowest, which was 5.20 H/9. The group's mean H/9 was 9.55 and his ERA was 2.41 standard deviations below the mean.
  • HR/9: He was just under the middle, tied for 35th of 52, with a 0.98 HR/9, so he did not do so well here. But the group's mean HR/9 was 0.80, and his HR/9 is only 0.40 standard deviations higher than the mean.
  • BB/9: Again, he didn't do so well here, though better, 18th with 3.90 BB/9. The group mean BB/9 was 3.58, and his BB/9 is only 0.24 standard deviations higher than the mean.
  • K/9: Here is where Lincecum shines brightly, leading with a 15.6 K/9, far outdistancing his second place finisher, who had only a 12.6 K/9. Admittedly, small sampling because he only pitched 27.2 innings, but still pretty good nonetheless. The group mean was 7.81 K/9 and thus his K/9 was 3.47 standard deviations higher than the mean.
  • WHIP: With his very low H/9 helping greatly, he was 2nd here, with 0.90 WHIP (first was 0.72) and the group mean was 1.46 WHIP. His WHIP was 1.87 standard deviations lower than the mean.
  • K/BB: His stellar K/9 made up for his average BB/9, resulting in the 7th best K/BB among the 22 and younger crowd. His K/BB was 4.00 and the mean K/BB for the group was 2.18. His K/BB was 1.02 standard deviations higher than the mean.

Adding the 20 younger pitchers didn't do much to change any of the results of the ranking. Tim Lincecum led by so much in those areas that there were no younger players who could match up either. His rank relative to the group appeared to hold steady with this enlarged comparison group, as did his standard deviations away from the mean. Nothing greatly changed.

Lastly, I will examine how Tim Lincecum did in the California League against all pitchers, both old and young alike, and again with 25 or more IP. I think you can guess what happens there as well, but I will finish up this series anyhow.

Gamblers Love the Giants Odds in 2007 (insert joke here)

Baseball Musing brought my attention to Fishstripe's post on the odds of winning the 2007 World Series. Fishstripe posted the odds listed by Bodog Sportsbook.

Obviously, the Giants are not the odds-on favorite - the MLB's favorite moneybagger, the Yankees is - but are tied for 7th best odds, at 10 to 1, are the Giants, for February (with the Angels and Red Sox). In December, the odds were a lot worse, at 50 to 1, so that is quite an increase, mainly due to the Bonds and Zito signings (that are not yet signings). That's not too shabby with an unproven bullpen (ironic that Sabean don't fill the bullpen with a bunch of vets and now he's getting ripped for having no bullpen) and young starters in the rotation.

Here are the teams above the Giants. Detroit was ranked second at 5 to 1 odds. The Mets, Cubs, White Sox, and World Series Champion Cardinals are tied for third at 8 to 1 odds.

The rest of the NL West:
  • Dodgers: 13 to 1 (up from 15 to 1 in Dec)
  • Padres: 30 to 1 (down from 22 to 1; I guess they don't like getting Kouzmanoff and Giles and Maddux and Wells)
  • D-backs: 50 to 1 (up from 60 to 1; I guess the gamblers are not as impressed with their youthful talent and the addition of the Big Unit)
  • Rockies: 90 to 1 (down from 70 to 1; I guess trading away their best pitcher for hot prospects didn't warm gamblers money clips, but at least they are not last, the Mariners, Pirates, Nationals, and Devil Rays all have worse odds, with the Devil Rays odds listed as 200 to 1, down from 150 to 1)

Winning the NL

Oddly enough, the odds above are not totally reflected in the odds for winning the National League. One would think it would, since winning the NL is a prerequisite for being in the World Series, but who ever said gambling makes sense? :^)

The Giants are 6th with odds of 15 to 2. Unsurprisingly, the Mets, Cubs, and Cardinals have better odds. However, so do the Phillies and Dodgers too. The implication here is that gamblers think these two teams have a better chance of winning the NL than the Giants, but don't think much of their chances if they make it to the World Series. On the other hand, gamblers implicitly are saying that the Giants, should they win the NL title, should be pretty good and more capable of winning the World Series.

And I guess that makes sense. The big wild cards with the Giants are how Barry and Durham do in the middle of the lineup and how the starters pitch. The team basically need a team effort to win, every cyclinder must hit to win the NL. And if they are going that well, then gamblers are implicitly saying that they then have the guns to go all the way.

Odds are just percentages, so 10 to 1 means that gamblers think the Giants, if we simulated 100 seasons, would win the World Series 9% of the time and win the National League title 11.8% of the time. However, I must note that I doubt gambers actually think this, this is just the results of their gambling, and I wonder how many teams have a better chance (based on the odds) of winning the World Series than of winning their respective League's title.

Winning the NL West

For these odds, I had to go to Bodog's website and pull them up - imagine that, the Marlins fan didn't care to post the NL West's odds ;^) - and it gets even odder. The Dodgers are the odds on favorite to win the NL West at 7 to 5. The Padres are next at 2 to 1 and the Giants are third at 3 to 1. D-backs are next at 6 to 1 and the Rockies, of course, brings the rear at 11 to 1.

OK, I thought it would be interesting to examine the odds given, particularly since the Giants were up so high to win the World Series, but as we went down the line, then things got a little weird. I guess it could be tied together thusly: bettors don't think the Giants have what it takes to win the NL West at great odds, but if there were to win the NL West, then they must be so strong that they would have a good chance of going all the way. 3 to 1 odds means 25% chance of winning the NL West, and then 12% of winning the NL title, and then 9% of winning the World Series.

Well, I've come this far, so I'm posting it, they can't all be gems (mea culpa Allfrank, feel free to ask for a refund :^).

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Lincecum in the California League: Versus 22 Year Old

I finally remembered to download the data in Baseball Cube for all the leagues the Giants have affiliates at and thought, since I just went all in on Lincecum, how exactly did he do in A+ ball, the highest level he pitched at. For this post, I compared him against other 22 year olds.

Demographics

The average age for pitchers and hitters in the Cal League were nearly 24 years old (23.7 years for hitters, 23.6 years for pitchers, when all pitchers ages are averaged), and about half a year less when weighted (23.3 years for hitters, 23.0 years for pitchers, when weighted by AB/IP).

Thus, 22 year olds are facing more players who are older than they are and therefore are at a slight disadvantage in maturity and skill advancement. There were 32 pitchers who were 22 year old and pitching in the California League and who pitched at least 25 IP (Lincecum only pitched 27.2 innings). These 32 pitchers accounted for 21.4% of the IP in the Cal League (out of a total of 244 pitchers) and 57.5% of the IP by pitchers age 22 and younger (i.e. the majority of IP by 22 and under were done by 22 year olds).

Lincecum only pitched 27.2 innings, so obviously there is the small sample effect, but he has clearly been a dominating pitcher everywhere he has gone, so I don't think that many batters would have learned enough to bring that performance down. Plus he clearly is a learner, having added a pitch last season to help his repertoire, so who is to say that he won't learn fast enough to counteract that. Just look at how he has improved from his freshman year to his junior year.

Lincecum Versus 22 YOs
  • ERA: He was tied for 4th out of 32 with an ERA of 1.95, and the group's mean ERA was 4.59, and his ERA is 1.59 standard deviations away from the mean.
  • H/9: He led the group with a very low 4.23 H/9, almost a hit less than the second lowest, which was 5.20 H/9. The group's mean H/9 was 9.48, and his H/9 is 2.41 standard deviations away from the mean.
  • HR/9: He was just under the middle, 20th of 32, with a 0.98 HR/9, so he did not do so well here. But the group's mean HR/9 was 0.82, and his HR/9 is only 0.34 standard deviations higher than the mean.
  • BB/9: Again, he didn't do so well here, though better, 18th with 3.90 BB/9. The group mean BB/9 was 3.78, and his BB/9 is only 0.09 standard deviations higher than the mean, so he was pretty much average with the group here.
  • K/9: Here is where Lincecum shines brightly, leading with a 15.6 K/9, far outdistancing his second place finisher, who had only a 12.6 K/9. Admittedly, small sampling because he only pitched 27.2 innings, but still pretty good nonetheless. The group mean was 7.77 K/9 and thus his K/9 was 3.29 standard deviations higher than the mean.
  • WHIP: With his very low H/9 helping greatly, he was 2nd here, with 0.90 WHIP (first was 0.72) and the group mean was 1.47 WHIP. His WHIP was 1.97 standard deviations lower than the mean.
  • K/BB: His stellar K/9 made up for his average BB/9, resulting in the 4th best K/BB among the 22 YOs. His K/BB was 4.00 and the mean K/BB for the group was 2.06, and his K/BB was 0.94 standard deviations higher than the mean.

So this is not surprising to anyone who has been following Lincecum's career closely since the Giants drafted him. His main problems in college was the walks but he has been great at preventing hits and at striking out batters much more than other pitchers, and those all continued in the minors.

However, the good news there is that, despite facing what should be tougher competition in A+ ball (versus the Pac-10), he was able to reduce his H/9, BB/9, and WHIP while increasing his K/9. Based on DIPS theory, that makes a little sense, because with what should be better fielders behind him in the pros, his H/9 should go down. I am not sure exactly what accounts for the lower walks and higher strikesouts other than because he should be facing better batters, they could be swinging more often whereas before the lesser college hitters would just let the ball fly by without trying to swing at it.

The only blip on his performance was the increase in HR/9, double what it was in college, but that, again, would be explained by the batters being more willing to swing at his pitches than batters were in college.

He was dominating relative to other pitchers his age, against competition who are a year or two older than he is (and therefore should have one to two more years of professional baseball experience). I knew he did great in A+ ball, but these numbers are mind-boggling. The dominance reminds me of when Cain was going up the system and basically doing the same thing, low H/9, mediocre BB/9, high HR/9, very high K/9, high K/BB, resulting in low WHIP, low ERA. I hope the Giants are really serious about giving him a real chance to make the roster in spring training, I would not be surprised if he does it.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Tim Lincecum: The Whole Package is Our Ace In The Hole

I was surfing around and saw a link to this article where the author interviewed Tim Lincecum's dad, Chris. The author happened to write a nice article about Tim and someone passed it on to Chris and Chris contacted the author and graciously offered to be interviewed (lucky!). It was very interesting so I thought I would pass it along, in case any of you haven't seen it elsewhere.

Nice Breakdown

It gave a nice breakdown of Tim's repertoire on the mound. As he noted, "Mind you I'm very prejudiced when it comes to my children," but still, he explained things in a very clinical and detailed way. I found it very exciting to read his thoughts on his son, his theories on pitching, and how he compares to pitchers of old.

And that got me thinking about how some people say that players way back when seemed to have longer careers, particularly Satchel Paige, who was still pitching effectively into his late 40's (of course, he probably attributed part of his longevity to his theories on health, like how he avoided fried foods, because they "rile" the blood). Plus, Leo Mazzone learned his theories on pitching from a player from the older days, Johnny Sain, if I recall correctly. And obviously, they appear to work, even Chris was throwing in the mid-to-high 80's when he was in his early 50's.

Our New Roving Pitching Instructor

So then I thought, "Chris Lincecum should be our new roving pitching instructor!" He has his theories and they make sense to me, though I must admit that the really technical parts were over my head, I don't know the theory of pitching that well. But I do understand how you want to pitch to a batter in and out and mainly away, and it is the art of deception where you become a pitcher and not a thrower. And obviously, his son is a great example of his theories at work. As the rover, he would travel around and instruct our farm system in how to throw better and more efficiently.

Of course, it could be all genetics, perhaps the Lincecums come from a long line of rubber armed men. Plus, his father did not throw professionally for a long time, where the wear and tear would build up. But when he noted Marichial, it clicked for me, because when I saw the videos of Lincecum throwing on MLB.com, because all the experts noted his unique pitching motion, I was shocked at how his motion was unusual, not as the "herky-jerky" motion some noted, but by how smooth and graceful it looked. And I thought he looked like someone else throwing but I couldn't figure it out until the Marichial mention. Obviously, Marichial has his high kick that is unique, but the smoothness with which he threw is where I see the similarities to Lincecum.

Tim has a very smooth and economical motion. As he has noted in an interview, he uses his whole body to throw the ball. I didn't know how literal that was until I read the interview with his dad in the link above, where he describes Tim's mechanics:
The mechanics he uses along with maintaining core muscle strength (and most important the small muscle strength) is why he can throw for so long, while still maintaining his velocity late in his games (even after throwing 125+ pitches). The small muscles are the wrists, elbow, shoulder, lower-back, groin, and around the knee and ankles....
That's getting down to the nitty gritty!

He's the Whole Package

And that's according to Tim's coach at San Jose, not his dad. Again, very interesting notes on Tim's demeanor: "He doesn't let things on the field get to him. He just learns, adjusts and moves on. Maybe his best trait is [that] he's always been a team player since he was little." That is a great philosophy, and it sounds very much like how Matt Cain operates, in terms of learning and adjusting.

Chris also noted, "Personally, I believe he could do all. And like the old timers he could start one game and relieve others. Wouldn’t affect his game or performance...Tim's mentality between the lines is as a pitcher (a gun-slinger if you will).He can handle all roles (starter, mid-relief, set-up or closer). His mentality is old school just like his mechanics." I like pitchers who think that way, old school. Krukow was one, he wanted the ball and wanted to win, and Lincecum clearly looks like he is made from a similar mode, except that he has more skills, and Krukow had pretty good skills himself.

Where his Dad Sees Tim in 2007

With a father's pride, he noted that he thought that Tim was better than anyone on the Giants staff right now and could start if asked. He confirms what I've been reporting, that Sabean sees Tim as a starter. Very interestingly, apparently the Giants told Tim to be on call in 2006, as they would call him up as necessary. Unfortunately, that long losing streak probably put a kibosh on that thought - if they were still in contention, with Sanchez struggling so much starting, they clearly would have brought up Lincecum, a la Cain in 2005, to start a few games. His dad thought that if he was called up, it could have given the team a lift.

For the record, Tim's father thinks that Tim will be in a Giants uniform in 2007, perhaps early. How early, he didn't clarify, but clearly, by reading between the lines, if he thinks his son is better than anyone currently in the rotation, he probably thinks Tim should be in the starting rotation in 2007. Since the Giants are letting him compete in spring training, clearly the Giants would be willing to let him come north with the team if he pitches well.

Sabean Lying?

Someone who e-mailed the author questioned Sabean's veracity about why Lincecum was not brought up, since it appears that the pitch count for Lincecum was no where nears where what Matt Cain and they are similar in age and Sabean noted that Lincecum pitched the equivalent of 35 starts. Chris noted that Sabean was perhaps merely embellishing.

I would have noted that the conventional saber-thought on Lincecum, as propounded by Baseball Prospectus and their Pitcher Abuse Points, the point is not merely how many pitches you throw, but also how many pitches you throw during a game. The more you throw, the exponentially worse - or so their theory goes - it is for your arm. So they take the number of pitches over 100 that a pitcher has thrown, they have a multiple to multiply this number by, which increases with the number of pitches above, and sum it for the season. Based on what I saw calculated on one website, Tim had one of the worse by far, with the PAP being in the hundreds of thousands, where most were much lower, in the tens of thousands or less.

Not that Sabean would know what PAP is, but essentially, that fear came from the same root: the high pitch counts Lincecum experienced during the season in individual games and the increased effect that would have on his body and arm. The fear is that despite the low overall pitch count, the wear and tear on his body is magnified exponentially by the high pitch counts in those games. How Sabean got 35 games, I have no idea, but it appears to me that he does a lot of things that people don't really get either.

However, PAP is not a be all or end all. A BP analyst, Will Carroll, who is their medical expert (though not a doctor but has written a book about pitching and injuries), has said that he loves Tim's mechanics and would chose Tim, if he had to pick a pitcher to start a franchise. In addition, according to Rotoauthority, BP's PECOTA prediction system is predicting an ERA of 3.18 for Tim in 2007. So it looks like the people who devised and promote PAP, apparently overlooks this metric when it comes to Tim Lincecum and his future.

Ace in the Hole

I just get more and more excited by Tim Lincecum! I know that this is biased information, because it was his dad, but it is one thing to say that your son is better than anyone else, but it is another to break down your son's pitching repertoire and how it can be used to attack batters, plus describe how pitching the wrong way can negatively affect certain parts of your body. And the multitude of pitches that Lincecum can throw totally reminds me of Juan Marichial, who had a large number of pitches he used to attack batters. I especially like the fact that his off-speed pitches have the same throwing motion as his fastball.

And "attack batters" is the right phrase to use for Lincecum. He has a killer attitude. And I believe his father when he said that if the Giants had brought him up, it would have had a positive impact on the team. I think players like that bring others on the team up a notch. I think Tim could have been our Ace in the hole last season and definitely in regards to the future of our franchise.

Lincecum is Our Next Will Clark

That's why I am now envisioning Lincecum to be our pitching equivalent to Will Clark. Clark had a cocky attitude, but it wasn't smug confidence but a firm belief in his abilities as a ballplayer, with a winning attitude. Lincecum definitely embodies that way of thinking (as does his father). And Lincecum has shown the abilities to "walk the talk", much like Will Clark did.

All of Tim's travails reminds me a little of how Tiger Woods was received when he turned pro. Many of the pros thought that he was overhyped, but ignored the fact that he was doing things that many people in his same position could not do. They disrepected all that he had accomplished as an amateur and wrote him off. But once he played with the big boys, he showed why he did all those things when he was an amateur. I believe Lincecum will do the same when given the chance.

The Future Centerpiece is NOW the Young Pitching Rotation

I've been beating this drum to death, but our post-Barry centerpiece is our young rotation and the future is looking closer than it seems, it looks like it could be now. Lincecum will be the Spahn to Cain's Sain, except that we won't need to pray for rain because we will have Zito and Sanchez in the rotation as well. People like to beat up on Morris, but I think some are forgeting that in today's hyper-offensive period, pitchers with low 4 ERAs are actually good pitchers and mid-4's are average pitchers, and Morris was in both of those ranges for the season, once he settled himself down, until he was pitching injured.

I have been talking about how having a double-ace rotation is probably the surest way towards winning in the post-season. Starters who are that reliably dominant - particularly in terms of DOM% vs. DIS% per the PQS metric I post here - greatly improves the chances of winning in a short series. I've talked about how Cain looks to be an ace in the making, but Lincecum now clearly looks to me to be the double-ace I've been hoping for a playoff winning rotation. Follow that up with Zito, Morris, and Lowry, and, man, what a rotation that would look like in 2007!

Hopefully the future is now, but, even if not, the future is looking good for the Giants, despite all the naysayers who are calling for Sabean's head. He has had a plan, and the plan has been to stock up with pitchers, pitchers, and more pitchers. He lucked out that Lincecum fell to him, but the key point is that when fate gave him the opportunity, he didn't pass like the other 9 teams ahead of him, he picked Lincecum, and that was clearly the right move.

Not only that, but he showed Lincecum some love by giving him a bonus that was representative of the bonus given in the previous year, not the discounted amounts draftees were getting in the 2006 draft - Lincecum, if he had slotted in line with the other draftees, should have gotten a couple hundred thousand dollars less. That show of respect will hopefully earn points with Lincecum when it comes time to sign him to a long term extension. And that could be coming soon, within a year or two, I would bet.

With Lincecum and Cain heading the rotation eventually in the near-term future and Zito and Sanchez manning the middle, the Giants rotation could be a playoff sweeping machine that it wouldn't matter how average the offense was, as long as the Giants will save money with a cheap and young rotation, they will have money to buy offense on the market and absorb the Alfonzo Albatrosses that come our way without suffering a down season.

And I'm serious about making his dad the roving instructor. He clearly have strong ideas about how to get pitchers to throw without hurting themselves. And it is not radical ideas, it sounds like he takes old-time mechanics and infused it with modern knowledge about fitness and exercise. And if anyone has noticed, a number of our top pitching prospects have gone under the knife in recent years - Valdez, Joaquin, Griffin, Foppert. Heck, even throw in Francisco Liriano, who, while never under the knife appears headed there evenutally. What if Chris Lincecum had straightened out his mechanics?!?

Friday, February 02, 2007

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy: Matheny Retires

As announced in a variety of media outlets, like the Merc, Mike Matheny retired today. I had guessed this on Lefty Malo when Bonds signed and Lefty asked who goes off the 40 man, but it does me no pleasure that I was right in my guess. I like Matheny and was glad that he was our catcher, though, again, the free agent bad karma hit us again (Christiansen, Alfonzo, Durham, Alou, Benitez, Rennie Stennett, to name a few big let downs) and the player is way more expensive than the production we got from him.

As Lefty very nicely opined here, on 2/2 in "What's Cooler Than Cool", we need to keep things in perspective about the price players pay as athletes, as their abused bodies betray them in their post-athlete period and they suffer the consequences of pushing their body to the limits.

On the Other Hand

However, I'm sorry, but if certain Dodgers were to bite the dust due to injury, it is not like I wished it upon them, and if it helps the Giants win, well, I'm going to cheer, like mad. I'm crazy competitive like that. And if a player makes a mistake and I think he could have done better, I'm going to cuss him out (see Benitez, Armando, if you question this). Lastly, while I will feel some sympathy for athletes who cannot do normal everyday things with their body when they get older, it is a choice they made, that they gladly made, and they were well paid for what they do.

It's A Lifestyle Choice

Everyone takes risks with their body and mind with their work, some much more than others, and there is some level of responsibility there for some of these choices. For people who have to work in mines and suffer for that, they have my utmost sympathy, as some of them have no or little choice, oftentimes. And I feel similarly sympathetic for any of the heroes who help protect us or who help teach us, they are all woefully underpaid for what they do and they chose to do that for us.

But athletes are doing what they want to do, and they willingly do it, and they are paid well to do it, as they are entertainers. Matheny, I can feel the utmost sympathy for, because his severe injury is not something that regularly occur, at least bad enough to retire a player, particularly in baseball. I have no problem feeling for player like him or Joe Theiseman or Alonzo Mourning (I think he's the one with the kidney problems or something), where unusual injuries or conditions limit their careers.

But Burks and Bonds, yes, I'm sorry their knees will be gone, and they might not be able to do what other people do with their children, but that's a choice they made. They know (or should know) the dangers of going into such a profession and having a long career. Same with executives or sales people who need to travel everywhere and leave their families behind. These people have choices in their lives, maybe not ones where they could make as much money as in the profession they chose, but there are still choices made, and they chose to risk some part of their personal life to earn that money.

Meanwhile, there are people like I who chose jobs that don't earn as much money (as I could), that don't require as much travel, so that I can do what I want to do most of all: spend time with my family, to be there for my children. I made this choice because my father died when I was relatively young (15) and, basically, I never saw my dad much once he took a swing-shift job when I was 5, only on weekends. And being the typical stupid teenager, I didn't always want to go out on family outings, though I did make 99% of all family outings (I didn't always go of my own choice :^).

And I make good enough money, so don't cry for me, but there comes a time when a choice is made and maybe you didn't realize all the ramifications when you made the decision when you were young, I think by the time you reach the majors, and been there for a few years, before the wear and tear sets in, you can see that in the vets, in how they are after games, and how they complain about their bodies, like Bonds in every other interview I hear. I don't wish their injuries or body breakdowns upon them, but there are more worthy people in this world to feel sympathy for than highly paid athletes.

Within the world of pro sports, there are some clear areas of sympathy for me besides the ones I noted above. I feel sympathy for the players who played long ago, when the pay was low and now they don't have the money to support the medical care they require today. Some NFL greats are currently rallying to get more money to these vets and I think that's great, these long-ago players helped build the foundation so that the athletes of today can benefit greatly from the sport. I think the others sports should do so too, if they aren't already. And they should gladly contribute to support their predessessors in their time of need.

But the players today are making very good money, and they are being paid for the risks they are taking with their bodies. And if they do not think that the pay is good enough to compensate for future expected aches and pains, then I suggest that they find another job where they don't have to worry about not being able to play with their children, about not being able to get out of a chair without your body creaking. Their children, their wives, and their bodies will thank them.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

As the Barry Turns

When we last left our story, our protagonist, Barry Bonds, had gotten his physical and finally signed his contract with the San Francisco Giants, the financial details of which were agreed upon nearly two months ago, but which legalese, clauses, and codiciles were holding up the signing (as it did with all the other signees). Finally with agreement on both sides, the signing was done and the happy press conferences and media interviews commenced with great huzzah.

Skreeecht! Today, the needle went off the record, as it was disclosed that the powers who be in the MLB management would not allow a particular clause, which the Giants had granted Barry to allow him to capitalize on his march to Aaron by permitting him more freedom to do personal appearances, as it appears to violate a part of the collective bargaining agreement.

In addition, in a snarky rejoiner from Barry's agent, Borris noted that Barry is not only not signing the revised, new documents, but, in fact, all the reports that the Giants could terminate Barry if he is indicted is incorrect because it violates the CBA and thus is unenforceable. The Merc's article on this confirmed this with an interview with a former MLB executive who is a lawyer. The Giants, and league officials, however, think that they "could win if taken to arbitration over the issue."

Someone also speculated that the Giants might have done the clause, full knowing it might not be enforceable, in order to present the image that they are trying to do something about it. That they want to publicly appear to be dealing with Bonds's issues and not giving him free rein, and not just his willing enablers, as, ironically, they are being presented on the Merc. Thus they put in strong language even though they know it might not hold up in court when push comes to shove because they want to show that they are doing all they can to limit Bonds.

Giants Thoughts

And the unspoken word here is that the Giants might also be trying to show the world that "hey, our hands are tied by the CBA. You can say we are enablers and bending over to the superstar, but there are limits to what we can actually do to Bonds because of the CBA. If you have problems with that, bring that up with the commish the next time the CBA is set to expire."

The Giants have clearly been worried about image before, with Magowan's infamous "feud" with Dusty Baker because Baker took all the claim for success of the team when Magowan thought it was a team effort and thus chafed under Baker's self-promotion. It is clear from Sabean's press conference releases of information that the Giants want to shape public opinion and present a certain image of what they are and what they represent. Sabean is always on guard and never says anything that the Giants don't want to release, he is always careful about the phrasing of his statements and about what info he releases. So it would not be surprising to me if the Giants did the contract knowing that it might not be enforceable.

But in the end, despite posturing by both sides, Barry isn't going to get this type of money anywhere else and the Giants need a hitter like him batting 4th, for this season. This contract will get done by spring training and everyone will be all hugs and smiles again. And all will be forgotten once the season starts.

However, if Klesko comes back like Bochy says he will, and can hit 900+ OPS, despite Barry's interest in playing in 2008 (I think he wants 3,000 hits) and interest in remaining with the Giants, they will have a viable option in Klesko for LF (assuming he doesn't sign elsewhere, I assume the Giants will try to sign him to an extension once they think they have the real thing) and Barry won't have the Giants stuck with relying on him. Lots of "ifs" and there's the example of Frank Thomas leaving the A's, but it's something to think about.

Bonds's Deferred Money

I posted most of this (I am an inveterate tweaker, so actually, I've added a bunch of new stuff now... :^) on Lefty's the other day and thought I would post it here as well, since I've never really discussed this issue in great detail here. The issue is where is Bonds's deferred money coming from and what is this mysterious other "bucket" of money the Giants are funding the money from that is not this year's payroll.

Where is the Other Bucket?

The main crux is that the old CBA does not require the team to fund deferred salaries for about 2-2.5 years, then the team must put up the deferred amount, at its present (discounted) value, at that time, then presumably that amount will accrue interest and reach the $5M when it is due. I presume that this clause was not changed materially in the new CBA, a copy of which I have not seen yet.

I think that there's two ways to interpret the "other bucket" issue.

One is that they have been adding the amount paid into this fund from each year's payroll, an amount reduced by the $2M exemption for the first deferment, then each year reduced by the amount of the discounted amount, which I think would roughly be about $1M.

The other is that the Giants, instead of bumping up the budget for the payroll each year, absorbed the payments within the growth of their revenues each year, while keeping everything else static.

Either way, it could be semantics. The money for the deferral due this year is not from this year's budget because contractually, the CBA demands that the Giants fund an account specifically for Bonds deferral a couple of years before it is due. However, they could be funding in this year's budget the deferral from the 2005 season, if I understand the legalese in the CBA correctly, but not the deferral for the 2002 season, which is usually how the question is phrased.

Giants Thoughts

My take would be that the Giants did not want to raise the payroll each year and set the expectation with fans that payroll will rise constantly and with huge leaps, as they were not certain that revenues would continue to be strong, both once Bonds retire and once the original charter contracts ended.

This jibes with my past calculations of the Giants payroll based on player salaries and comparing it to the total publicized budget amount, as I've always left out the deferments (a reported Giants insider said to do this at Fanhome long ago), and the only way I could make the total of salaries be close to the budget was to subtract the full deferments. The actual total was significantly higher and I would adjust salaries based on when trades were made and partial season's worth of play. If the Giants were allocating any of their payroll for deferments, then I was still be off by a fair bit the past few years, as $4M would go each season to fund Bonds deferment plus all the other deferments done for Alou and others.

So therefore I think that they absorbed the deferrals with the increases in revenues. I assume there was some boost from the contractually slight increases in ticket prices to charter seat holders plus the standing room tickets they sold plus the increases in advertising rates. But then they were offset by increasing contributions to the "poor clubs" revenue sharing fund, payments to keep the Expos afloat, and decreasing interest expenses from their ballpark loan, among others. But all together, I think revenues rose, allowing the Giants to dip into this "other bucket", and kept the announced payroll budget relatively low so that should revenues take a hit (Camden's revenues eventually dropped a lot, after opening plus should the team happen to suck too badly and lose attendence), any reductions to the reported payroll will be minimized by these other "buckets" of spending.

In accounting terms, they created separate accounts to handle the deferred salaries for each player, and thus their "payroll budget" never budged much over the past few years while they labeled this new outflow of money, say, "deferred contracts". Of course, when you get to the P&L, the payroll will be the much higher figure with the deferred salaries subtracted as expenses, but then a balancing entry would be made in the liabilities section to account for the new debt they owe. Sorry, I know there's a missing step somewhere to balance everything nicely and foot the entries, but that's the limit of my accounting terms that I can recall, though I think that is basically correct.

Managing Expectations

If I were running the Giants, this would make sense business and public relations-wise. You defer money to future years where you expect more revenues. Meanwhile, you manage the fans' expectations by announcing that the payroll budget isn't changing much or at all for a number of seasons, so that if revenues do dip - for whatever reason - they can keep the budget up at the "same" publicized level, so that fans don't think that the team is cutting back and rattle the bars of the cage louder.

Some fans may and have wondered where all the money is going, but it is publicly known that the Giants have a number of big drains on their revenues - the park's mortgage, the revenue sharing (which rises each year), paying in to run the Expos, plus paying in to buy the Expos - so they can obsfucate what they are doing exactly with their money, which most private companies want to do anyway.

And the Giants do that by publicly keeping the budget about the same each year. Can you imagine what fans would say if the true amount was given each year and it climbed high and then the Giants had to reduce it due to declining revenues? Actually, we don't have to imagine, last season Sabean set off a mild maelstorm of consternation and protest among some Giants fans when he announced that the payroll would be reduced some. Don't know if that caused the Giants to change their minds but they then ended up keeping the budget the same amount after all.

Saving for a Candlestick-like Day

So it would make sense - kind of like how public companies smoothed out their earnings in the past so as not to disappoint investors and, more importantly, the security analysts who say "aye" or "nay" on whether to invest in the company - for the Giants to "smooth" out their publicly released payroll budget, so that the Giants are covered in future years should revenues do fall short and they need to cut back, but they cut back on this "other bucket" instead of the public payroll budget figure, keeping it boosted high in lean years, should they come to pass.

Afterall, it was not all that long ago that the Giants could not draw huge crowds to see their games. It would make sense to save for a rainy day in whatever fashion you can, whether by having larger operating profits, as Forbes has reported during the 2000's, or this "other bucket" so that the budget can seem to be static, when it varies depending on the deferred money. Should the revenue shortfall come, they can reduce the budget while keeping the public figure the same, plus dip into their accumulated profits of the past 5-6 years, should they need to go that far. It is all about managing expectations.

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