Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Giants 2008: Work In Progress

Sorry it's been a while everyone, but my kids' great-grandmother passed away and we needed to go to the funeral and take care of other things.

Giants 2008: DOA?

Speaking of funerals, most Giants fans have been writing the Giants 2008 epithet already - "DOA" - and I would be personally happy with that. My underlying objective, which I don't think I've made explicitly clear up to now, is to earn another Top 5 draft pick with a pretty lousy 2008. In other words, a rebuilding year. This philosophy has driven much of my thoughts on what the Giants should be doing at each position and how they should approach any trade proposals. So I've been wanting to post my collective thoughts on my master plan for the 2008 Giants.

Starting Lineup

There are some clear starters. Molina at C. Vizquel at SS. Roberts/Davis platoon in LF. Rowand in CF. Winn in RF.

I was initially not happy about Rowand's addition, when I first heard the news, because I wanted Schierholtz to start in RF, but after thinking through everything and looking over Rowand's career stats, I'm pretty happy with his acquisition. His contract size is that for an average OF, but if he can hit like 2004/2007, we have an above average OF for an average salary. And even if he is average, with the 10%+ salary inflation of the past number of years, he'll be cheap at the end of the contract, salary-wise, so he could decline in performance and still be reasonably priced. More importantly, the Giants management HAD to HAVE a better hitter in the lineup, and better signing one than trading Lincecum or Cain for one.

I think Durham should start at 2B initially with Frandsen starting at 3B. If Durham returns to normal, he should be tradeable for a nice prospect mid-season, and Frandsen then starts at 2B and Aurilia at 3B. If Durham sucks, then bench him and Frandsen then starts at 2B and Aurilia at 3B. I would be OK with signing Morgan Ensberg, he has a nice history as a hitter and fielder, but prefer giving Frandsen playing time, however it happens. Also, we might be able to flip Ensberg for a nice prospect mid-season if he returns to his former levels of production.

I think Ortmeier should start at 1B. I like him and think he can do well if given the chance, but realize that his career numbers suggest otherwise. If he plays well enough - something in the high 700 OPS range - plus provide power like last season (about 25 AB/HR) and get to steal some bases, great. If he flops as most seem to expect, that's OK, Aurilia could start playing more.

What people are forgeting is that flopping can be good too, in that our offense doesn't do well and we lose games and get better draft position. I think Ortmeier and Frandsen can do OK for us at 1B and 3B, and that Durham can return to some performance level at 2B, but even if they don't we don't lose much money or prospects in trying to obtain players who would be better than they are in performance AND we get better draft position.

I would like to see Randy Winn traded to a contender. People seem to prefer trading Roberts and keeping Winn, but I don't see why. First, Winn is the better player, has a very reasonable contract, and would return more in a trade. Second, he plays a lot of games, but we have a lot of OF prospects who needs playing time; keeping Roberts gives these other players more playing time because he's a platoon player and is prone to injuries. Third, people seem to be forgetting that we don't have any player other than Roberts who makes sense as a leadoff hitter. Winn was never a leadoff hitter and the next most obvious hitter would be Rowand but we need him hitting in the middle of the order. Most importantly, trading Winn opens a position for Schierholtz in RF, whereas trading Roberts would probably push Davis out of playing time, as Schierholtz should start full-time, was would Rowand and Winn.

Starting Pitching

As I've been advocating for a long time now, the Giants centerpiece going forward should be their starting rotation, with Cain and Lincecum as the core, key top of rotation pitchers for the time being. If we are lucky enough to have more aces come up, then we can think about trading one of them for a hitter, but for now, we should keep Cain and Lincecum for their full six years, minimum.

Obviously, Zito's going nowhere with his monster contract, but I'm not worried about him. Sure, his peripherals stink, but he's capable of pitching well without great peripherals, as he showed in Oakland his last two years there, and as he showed at the end of the 2007 season once he settled down and stopped trying to be an ace and just be himself (something like a 4.11 ERA in the second half). People need to get past his salary and look at his position in the rotation: he's probably the one of the best #3 starter in the majors.

And while I've been pushing to trade Lowry, I'm more than happy to keep him as I think he's shown that he's capable of pitching well even with bad peripherals too. He has been able to keep his ERA in the sub-4 region for much of his career - except for when he tried to pitch with an injury in September 2006, ruining his sub-4 ERA he had prior to that month - and only top of rotation pitchers are able to keep their ERA in that range. I won't argue with anyone (that means you Boof! :^) about whether Lowry is one or not, but if he can deliver another sub-4 ERA season in 2008, he should be the best #4 starter in the majors by a wide margin.

That leaves #5. Correia was outstanding in his 2007 starts and should have the inside track to taking that position. Sanchez and Misch will also contend, plus if Lowry does get traded, both would get a shot at replacing him. I love both Sanchez's and Misch's high K/9 in AAA and above, so I think the Giants should definitely keep the two of them starting in 2008, even if in the minors, but given management's history, they probably will end up in the MLB bullpen in 2008. I think people should keep an eye out for Misch, he's just waiting for an opportunity I think.

Bench

Given that I view 2008 as a rebuilding year where we should try to get a Top 5 draft pick for 2009, I just want to fill it with farmhands, no new vets. Alfonso or Rodriguez as backup catcher. Aurilia as backup for the entire infield, plus ready to start at 1B or 3B. Probably Eugenio Velez to backup 2B and OF, maybe SS. Then Schierholtz and Rajai Davis in the OF.

However, the Giants will probably keep Lewis as backup and start Schierholtz in AAA, give him more seasoning plus keep him in a starting role. Unless Winn or Roberts is traded, then Nate's in the majors.

Bullpen

I like the bulllpen overall. Brian Wilson closing, with Tyler Walker and Brad Hennessey set-up. Steve Kline and Jose Capellan as loogies (sorry Taschner). Vinnie Chulk should also make it. Then Messenger, Taschner, Threets, Sanchez, Misch, Sadler, Anderson battle for the last spot.

2008 Giants

People are clearly right that losing Bonds is huge, but we had a bad luck of the draw year in 2007. Looking at the stats, I realized that when Durham hit 5th, he had a really horrible OPS, but in other lineup positions, he hit better. So when Bonds was in the lineup, he often had Durham hitting 5th behind him, leading to the anomaly where the Giants only scored 4.0 runs per game with him in the lineup and 4.7 runs without him, resulting in a 4.2 runs per game average overall. Using the lineup calculator, I estimate that Durham's poor hitting costed the Bonds lineup 0.4-0.5 runs per game.

Plus there were a couple of lucky double-digit blowouts without Bonds. Without those, the Bonds-less lineup dropped to 4.4-4.5 runs per game. I think with Rowand's addition and either Durham's return or Frandsen's ascendency, the current lineup can keep scoring in the 4.2-4.3 runs range, which combined with our stellar starting rotation and improving bullpen (runs allowed around 4.4 in 2007, development and improvement should drop that to 4.2-4.3 in 2008) , should return us to the .500 level, a level, I would add, that we would have been near anyhow in 2007, had the team performed to Pythagorean levels - they should have won 77 games in 2007, and switching 4 of those losses would return us to .500. As Bill James noted before, teams who underperform one year tend to move in the other direction (i.e. get lucky) in the subsequent year.

.500 is Death

But as Billy Beane recently said, it's better to be either contending or doing poorly, because it is death to be in the middle. That fits in with what my research showed about the probability of selecting good players via the draft and my study of how teams have returned to winning ways after losing for a number of years. It is basically what my Phoenix Theory of Rebuilding entails: in order to rebuild efficiently and effectively, you need to shift quickly from contending to sucking, pick up some Top 5 draft picks for at least 2 seasons, then start trying to contend again by signing premiere free agents to fill positions of need. That means jettisoning useful major leaguers, like Barry Bonds, and playing more of your prospects in important starting roles.

And that means not signing middling talent via free agency, only signing above average talent at a reasonable price. Acquiring middling talent via free agency doesn't do anything for you other than use up your payroll. We've seen this with the Giants since they passed up on trying to sign top players like Vlad or Carlos Beltran. As I wrote the season they could have pursued Vlad, with limited payroll, the Giants could either spend a little here and there on mediocrity to fill out the roster, or they could swing for the fences and sign a Vlad. Or fill in the appropriate name after that, like Beltran, Ordonez, etc.

There's no way the Giants can compete effectively in 2008 and win it all unless the players all reach their potentials together in one year, very unlikely. Thus give Ortmeier and Frandsen a chance to start, plus hopefully Schierholtz. Give Wilson a chance to close. Don't sign any expensive free agents (anything over $2-3M per season) and pour money into the international market, look into Japan, China, Taiwan, look deeper in the Carribean. Try to outbid other teams for international prospects even if they think the player isn't worth that much, just focus more on getting good prospects to sign with us. I see other teams getting good prospects for under $1M, we should be getting those prospects instead if money is all they are looking for, we can overpay a little, we must overpay, to add talent to the system.

All the worries I've seen on other sites and other fans are really just alternate forms of "shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic" type of moves. They pooh-pooh Ortmeier at 1B, Frandsen at 3B, etc. Unless some team gives us some great prospects for Lowry and/or Sanchez (which is possible in his case, the Mets reportedly offered Carlos Gomez for him once), our offense will not be good enough to be strongly competitive, to be World Series caliber, unless we get lucky on the level that the D-backs got lucky in 2007, which is very lucky.

In addition, .500 teams get a draft pick in the middle of the draft round, where the odds are still greatly against you finding a good player there, unless Boras has scared teams away again from a prospect (like Porcello last season, Hochvear previously, etc.), in which case the Giants should sign him and pay him what he wants. Getting draft picks in the middle of the round dooms you to a long and unproductive draft replenishment of talent.

You need to get Top 5 picks to really speed up the rebuilding process, it increases the odds of finding a good player multi-fold over the middle of the draft, and especially over the end of the first round, where winners pick. We lucked out with Lincecum (who really should have been a top 5 pick), hopefully we will luck out with our #5 pick in 2008, and I am hoping we can get another top 5 pick for 2009 by losing in 2008. Those picks will go a long way to making the Giants team strong in the 2010-2012 time frame, particularly with Villalona coming up around then.

And the cheapest and best way to do that is to play all of our prospects who show some potential in 2008 and jettison all the veteran players who are blocking a viable prospect, first Bonds, but also Winn, Durham, and Kline. Unfortunately, Durham is not tradeable, so the odds are we will be stuck with him, so we may as well start him and hope he returns to career form and thus be tradeable for a nice prospect, which again builds for the future. At least Frandsen will be able to start at 3B, else I would be for dumping Durham immediately, Frandsen should be starting somewhere.

Roberts might be blocking a viable prospect like Fred Lewis, but I think one of the problems the 1970's and 1980's Giants had was that they did not have a lot of vets there long enough to teach the youngsters how to play the game, and given the speed we have in our system, I think Roberts should be kept to help our young players adjust to the majors and more importantly teach them something about stealing as well. Having him for multiple seasons will allow him to influence our speedburners.

All in all, 2008 should be a rebuilding year. If the youngsters can perform well and we have a .500 season, that's great, because that means we have additional talent as building blocks for 2009, and perhaps are one good player away from competing again. If the youngsters don't perform well, as many Giants fans suspect, we'll have a crappy season from a winning viewpoint but a great year from a drafting viewpoint. Either way, the Giants would be advancing in 2008, either via a great draft pick or by identifying additional viable major league hitters and pitchers who could contribute in 2009 and beyond.

That, to me, would be a successful 2008 season. Hoping and manuevering for more, for a competitive season, is unrealistic, and worse, it would stall the rebuilding process that we need to go through in 2008 in order to hopefully return to competitiveness quickly so that we don't waste too many seasons of Cain and Lincecum to rebuilding efforts. Acquiring veteran players who hold back prospects only slows down the rebuilding, which ends up wasting another season of Cain and Lincecum together. We must rebuild as quickly as possible.

16 comments:

  1. Well stated. If Sabean can make Winn, Durham and/or Roberts go away and open up playing time for the younger players, that would be huge. I don't know if Sabean can execute that, though. But if he was able to get rid of Morris (amazing still), then maybe (hopefully) he'll be able to work similar voodoo magic again. And if he can do all that and simply avoid signing Shea Hillenbrand, maybe he'll stick around.

    I agree that the key will be the draft. The Giants would be best served if they load up on hitting and use money saved from the payroll dumps on overslot signing bonuses for players that slip in the draft (ala Detroit and New York).

    Sincerely,

    David James
    (a/k/a Lincecum Cain Then Pray For Rain)

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  2. Fess up, Martin - you've been shadowing me on other boards, seeing what I've posted (and the scorn it generated, fairly universally) and decided to make this strategy your own. (I hope that reads as hilariously as it sounded in my head.)

    But seriously - of COURSE the Giants should be following such a strategy (and not just because I thought it was the right thing to do since Sep 2006). The Giants have 2 years with close to $25M in deferred payments to pay out. They are money-constrained in 08 and 09, and have NO local (cheap) star talent (except the twins - Cain and Lincecum). They have to find some players who can hold down a position fir cheap while putting up at least "OK" numbers, so that the Giants can go out in later years and will have the money to spend on a couple "difference makers". It's the Tuckers and Neifis, the Aurilias and Felizes that were given too much money and were the reason the Giants couldn't sign a Vlad (or comparable) to complement Bonds after Burke and later Kent left. Throwing "just" a few million at several scrap-heap vets to fill out the roster mean that you don't have the extra $10M to sign a real difference maker.

    So the Giants HAVE to just suck it up and view 2008 as the year to see which young player(s) can cut it on a major-league team, and will be the cheap filler for the next 3-4 years so the Giants can go out and throw $15M+ at some really good player(s).

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  3. Hello Martin - Sorry about your loss. Glad to see you back and writing.
    I agree, in fact I think virtually the entire fan base would agree if they saw that this was the strategy and saw that the Giants would follow it with some dedication. Maybe Sabean feels he gives up a competitive advantage if he lets the competition know his strategy. Regardless, while you, me, and thousands of other fans espouse this strategy, I am not convinced it is Sabean's strategy. If it were, don't you think he would have moved - even dumped - one of Roberts or Winn AND Durham this Winter? What possible benefit is there to playing these 2/3 guys in '08?
    Considering just the IF, wouldn't it be better to get rid of Durham, no matter how much he is expected to rebound in '08, and put Frandsen at his best spot, 2b? Then play Ort and Aurilia or some other platoon partner that may be brought in at 1b, and a young prospect (traded for or signed a la McPherson). If not, then go with Aurilia at 3b, w/ McClain as backup.
    I see confusion as far as strategy, or, at least, too much of a commitment to '08. Mind you, I don't advocate throwing out 8 25 year old AA guys, but that is far from our situation. I do think we have more than an adequate supply of vets (C, SS, CF, RF). If there is no real commitment to playing Ort, Schierholtz and Frandsen for 120-140 games, then what is the strategy? How do you learn much of anything if you're only going to give them 300 ABs? - while playing Roberts, Durham and Winn. The argument that these 3 are not going to provide much in '09 or '10 and therefore are taking up development time from the younger players is a good one. And, frankly, I cannot figure out what Sabean's strategy is, as it obviously does not include making a commitment to these younger players - at least to evaluate them. That seems to be a fall back position, from the main steategy, which is the same as every other year - which is to put together the best team you can from the available players on the market. Failing that, well, OK, we'll play the younger guys.
    In other words, those who criticize Sabean for filling the OF with older vets who will not be contributing in '10, and taking playing/developmental time away from Lewis, Schierholtz, and Davis, appear to have a very valuable argument. And the apparent strategy seems to fly in the face of your strategy of playing young guys, compiling a poor record then having premium draft picks. The strategy seems to be to be as good as we can (ie, be a 500 team) and accept the consequent # 15 draft slot.

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  4. Yes, Marco, I've been cyber stalking you! :^D

    Yes, that works for me, I don't mind giving you credit. Mainly, I felt the need to post my thoughts in a collected form because for much of off-season, I've seen Giants fans: 1) espouse trading Cain or Lincecum; 2) fight against starting Ortmeier at 1B; 3) fight against starting Frandsen at 3B; 4) fight against keeping Roberts; 5) be generally down on the Giants.

    Your start date of the rebuild makes sense in a general sense but in the context of signing Barry Bonds to a $20M contract, how do you commit to a rebuild and still do that, even if it was mainly to see Barry beat the HR record in a Giants uni? Particularly since he's still a very good hitter?

    Thanks allfrank, I appreciate your sympathy. 2006-2007 has been a really bad period, hopefully 2008 will be an uptrend.

    The problem with my "plan" is that the Giants don't intend to rebuild, they want to reload and be competitive in 2008. That usually means you don't give young players much of a chance to start or put up significant time as a reserve.

    But at least they have stated a commitment to do so. Yeah, people like to harp on Linden's 2007, but really, how do you continue to play him when he's hitting like that? They then dumped him and gave significant time to Lewis, Schierholtz, Davis, and Ortmeier (though, really, Lewis would have gotten all that time had he not injured himself, plus would have gotten time while Roberts rehabbed; instead Roberts was brought back too fast). Which is the most important thing, to me, that they did give prospects some time in the field.

    As far as strategies go, I try to walk the narrow line between what I advocate and what I see the Giants doing. They don't always match, and, of course, I'm obviously just reacting after the fact when they do a move because I'm not an insider. And if I don't make it clear enough, I'll do so here, I don't know if my strategies are the best, but it's the best I can think of given what I know, so I try to lay out all my thoughts and theories and info bits so that someone reading it can see what my thinking process is and whether my logic holds water for them or not, then they can come to their own opinion.

    I'm stubborn in that I will hold my position until someone can refute it better than "you're wrong" or give me a flimsy reasoning. I come to my positions because I think it's best, until I see a better position.

    I can sort of see the logic about dumping Durham, as there are those who think he's done. I do believe he's on the decline phase of his career now, but think that he just had a really bad second half of 2007. There is value in him if he can return to how he did in the first half of 2007 (.253/.325/.408/.733, 7 HR in 245 AB; I had a nice LOOONG post on this for MCC yesterday when the power went out, and stayed out, for about 10 hours). Trading him today would net us a pretty nothing prospect, but between now and mid-season, some team will suffer a lost 2B and need help, and I believe we can pick up a nice prospect down in the low minors for him, much like when we traded Tucker, except he should return more than Tucker.

    I think Frandsen appears to be a very mature young man who can handle playing 3B for a while until we can either 1) trade Durham or 2) Durham sucks and we DFA him. What's the harm of a few months of playing 3B, as long as he's getting regular ABs with the knowledge that he'll be at 2B soon enough. Players play off position all the time and still hit, look at Ryan Braun, he really shouldn't be playing 3B, he was probably the worse in 2007 by almost any measure. Not that Frandsen is Braun's ability level, just that playing at a position where you are not at your best doesn't always harm a prospect's hitting.

    I wouldn't be happy with Hillenbrand, but if we get him for $1-2M to play 1B and 3B for us as backup for Ortmeier and Frandsen, I'm OK with that. As long as the young guys get regular play, I see no problem with signing a vet as backup. More importantly, I'd rather sign Hillenbrand for $1-2M than sign Feliz for 2 years at $12M.

    The way I see it, if either can hit .750-.800 OPS, the Giants will keep on playing them, contrary to some fans' opinion, they are not that stupid (for the most part :^). Hence why Frandsen and Ortmeier got significant - and more importantly continued to get significant playing time - in August/September, when they hit well getting regularly starts, while Davis saw less and less time as his hitting regressed. It's pretty simple, if the prospect hits (Niekro, Ellison, Davis), he gets to play, if they scuffle, the Giants look at other options. If they hit, they play and Hillenbrand will cool his heels, he should know that with a contract under $5M, he's not a starter and will not get full-time play. As long as he understands that, things should be fine.

    I still like keeping Roberts around for his full contract term. Read how he was helped by Maury Wills to learn the craft of basestealing. He didn't learn that in one year. It took time to pick up AND learn everything. But he is a marvelous basestealer, with a high success rate. Imagine if our speedsters can learn to actually steal bases instead of letting their natural speed steal it for them? Keeping him around would give our youngsters time to learn from him and perhaps pass it on to the next gen prospects at a later time. Heck, at his age, when his contract ends he could move into a coaching position and be our farm systems base stealer instructor.

    I like Randy Winn as a player and person, but he's the one who should go, not Roberts. He's a better hitter, better defensively, plays all 3 OF positions at least adequately, providing flexibility in usage, and his contract is OK, so he should return a lot more to us in terms of prospects plus is more tradeable/in demand than Roberts. In addition, Roberts is a leadoff guy, whereas Winn never was. We could put Lewis (or maybe even Davis too) there, but if they flop (and Davis was horribe in September), then what do we do if Roberts is gone? It's the fine line between being competitive and being lousy that we're trying to traverse here. I want a high pick, but there has to be some good elements to the lineup - Roberts is a plus at leadoff, Winn has no natural lineup position where he is plus, unless he's batting in the bottom of the lineup.

    But in any case, there is a bunch of free agent players who are about the skill level of Winn and Roberts who are out in the market, like Shannon Stewart, Luis Gonzalez, Mike Cameron, so why would any team give up any prospects when you can sign someone similar for similar money? You assume Sabean isn't trying, but perhaps teams are still "kicking tires" with free agents and won't deal with Sabean until the music stops and all the free agents are off the market.

    The roster I consider to be a work in progress until opening day. Sure, I wish things moved faster and more decisively, but with all the fire sales going on, and top players available in trade, I would have to assume teams are more interested in those deals first, then look into more minor deals like trading for Winn or Roberts or even Durham.

    You bring up committing to playing Ort, Nate, and Frandsen. The talk I've seen is that Ortmeier will be given the bulk of playing time and the Giants are looking for a vet as backup/mentor. If Ortmeier can hit .800 like he did last season, he's going to play a lot. If he hits .700 OPS as many predicts, he won't and shouldn't.

    Nate, I've seen a lot of comments about his poor plate discipline, but so does Jeff Francoeur and he's been able to be league average. I think the key thing for him is he's done it at every level so I would prefer him playing in the majors in 2008. But, really, even if he doesn't, he should in 2009 when he's 25. It's not like he was all that great in AAA in 2007 that he's a no-brainer.

    Frandsen, they already said he's battling Durham for 2B, which I consider significant, when's the last time they've said that for a high priced vet? Plus 3B is an option.

    There's strategy and there's tactics, often you have to make due with your tactics when you can't fulfill your strategy, that happens.

    I'll answer your last questions later, thanks for the post.

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  5. About the OF, again, I'll criticize once I see the 25 man roster on opening day. If someone isn't traded out of Roberts/Winn, I'll be disappointed because I want to see Schierholtz play. However, I will understand such a move because many experts say that Schierholtz has holes that says he needs another year in AAA.

    As much as it overflows the OF, I really like the Rowand signing. He's about average pay for what he has produced in his career, but has produced at an elite level for a good 2.3 seasons worth. So he's a good low risk signing, he gives us an adequate bat for the middle of the lineup most probably, but if he can be consistent at the top of his game, his skills is that of a Carlos Lee, who has been getting $18M per season. And we have him signed for his 30-34 year seasons, and 35 is when hitters start declining seriously.

    As Sabean stated early in the off-season, he's going to get a bat first, then worry about positions later, meaning he would try to deal players later. Unfortunately, the firesales have stalled - and perhaps deadened - demand for players in trade, so I think fans will have to be patient and see what happens between now and when opening day comes.

    Frankly, Lewis and Davis have not done enough to say that they MUST get playing/development time, particularly Davis. It would be nice to give them time, particularly Lewis, but I would prefer seeing Schierholtz get time over him.

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  6. Yes, I would agree that there is overcommitment to 2008. But that's what's going to happen, whether we like it or not.

    I'm hoping they do give a number of our young players a chance to play, and right now, it looks like they are. I'm not going to get mad if there is not 100% commitment to youth, as long as there are some young players getting a chance to play and show what they can do. And we win either way that way, if they stink, we get a good draft pick, if they play well, we have a good player.

    While I agree that the strategy has been put together the best team for the payroll we have, again, that's because you had Bonds in your payroll, $20M is a lot to commit to and rebuild at the same time. Plus, he's never been a team player enough to not complain in public if something bothers him, so he could be a PR nightmare if the Giants had rebuilt even with him on board.

    So I don't feel that it is realistic when people say a rebuild should have happened in the past 5 years. With Bonds around and productive, you don't rebuild. With any player getting $20M per year on your payroll, you don't rebuild, you get the best team available for the money and roll the dice. Unfortunately, they have rolled losers the past few years.

    And really, the only real moves this year have been the re-sign of Vizquel and the signing of Rowand, and the releases of all the other free agents.

    Vizquel had a good year defensively last season, according to the Fielding Bible, among the top around, and if he can hit like he did from May to Sept, he would be a valuable cog in our offense batting in the 8th position and providing good defense at SS. Plus, there's no one available on the free agent market worth pursuing, and, more importantly, no one on the market worth losing a draft pick for.

    I think the option that vests if he plays enough games is a good way to protect ourselves if he further declines, and to procure a good SS if he is able to play adequately again.

    Rowand, as I said, is a nice addition, a relatively low risk -all free agents are a significant risk, but relative to the big contracts given out in recent years, he is priced like an average CF (Pierre, Matthews), and that's what he has delivered during his career. However, in 2.3 out of the past 4 years, he has been an above average OF - let alone CF - offensively, which makes up for Roberts lack of SLG, so he has the skill to hit well, he just needs to do it consistently. And if you write off the time he came back after his horrendous injury in 2006, he has been very good 2.3 out of the past 3.3 years.

    So we are paying for average production, and odds are, based on his career numbers, he will deliver average, but if he can harness the skills he has exhibited in recent seasons, we will get an above average - high 800 OPS - hitter for a number of years. By the end of his contract, based on 10% salary inflation, he'll be making about half what the average CF makes, so if he declines, he'll be paid like he declined and be tradeable to a team who needs a body as long as we pay some money out, and if he's still good, we have even more of a bargain.

    Hopefully Sabean will back up his statement that adjustments to the roster will be made after obtaining the middle of lineup bat, which they said they did by signing Rowand and then saying Lincecum and Cain are off limits.

    But, as noted above, I find it hard to get worked up over Lewis and Davis losing playing time. Neither has really produced in the minors. Both profiles as 4th OF, as neither's equivalent MLE production is that high, Lewis reached a career high of mid 700's last season (about as good as Tucker), and Davis reached a high of about 700 last season. And people want to dump Roberts for them, he has been a consistent mid-700 OPS the past few years, good leadoff guy, good defense in LF. Neither Lewis or Davis are known for their defense, other than their speed makes up for their mistakes on routes.

    Schierholtz I want to see in the majors, as he has taken a half season to a season to adjust to each level, and I want to accelerate that process and hopefully he'll be good soon. But there's a risk he regress if he comes up and is overmatched, and his high K-rate shows that he can be taken advantage of by certain pitchers.

    I'm no expert on that, so I would defer to the Giants on that (insert joke here on Giants being experts on hitters :^), but as a fan, I would like to see Schierholtz up in 2008.

    So I don't agree, I don't think that those who criticize Sabean about not providing playing time for the young OF have a valid argument. They have an opinion and a preference, but so do I.

    Hey, we could fill the offense with all the young players and the offense sucks, but then the pitching dominates and we get to .500 and a mid-round pick anyway.

    As you had been positing for a while, the Giants offense is not really that far away from matching our pitching/defense. I happen to agree, but want to play the young players in 2008 to assess what we got and be ready to move ahead on competing again in 2009, as I don't want to waste too many seasons of Cain/Lincecum on rebuilding. As I noted, if they play well, we win, if they play lousy, we win.

    We could buy a 1B/3B hitter, as a lot of people have been clamoring for, or maybe luck out and trade Durham for such a player, but why bother being competitive enough to be .500? I'd be OK with trying out any number of speculative prospects, as long as it wouldn't cost us much money.

    But why not give Ortmeier a chance then? At least Ortmeier hit well in 2007 for a 1B, yet a lot of people pooh-pooh that as small sampling.

    When do you give him that chance then? That's basically what Sabean has been doing - and many of these same fans have been complaining about - going with the vets with a proven track record.

    The fact is that Ortmeier has been up and down, so he has that good skill set somewhere, he has demonstrated it before, but he needs to do it consistently. That's why minor league analysts listed Ortmeier as a possible starter in years past. So why not give him that chance?

    Others would prefer to give prospects who did well in the minors but then failed in the majors a chance. Like Carlos Pena, who after, what, 5 years of failure finally succeeded? People remember his 2007 success but forget that it took so many years of poor playing to reach that. Poor playing that would have costed his team in the meanwhile while they waited for him to figure things out.

    I can live with the Giants not following my strategy. It's unprovable (other than me being named Giants GM) but I can list many examples where seemingly such a strategy worked.

    I don't really care to see the Giants win in 2008, as I don't think they are capable of winning it all. I'm just hoping for further development by Cain and Lincecum, Brian Wilson and Jon Sanchez to fulfill their potential, and I hope that Pat Misch, Kevin Frandsen, Dan Ortmeier, and Nate Schierholtz get an extended chance to show what they can do in the majors. Oh, and Villalona hitting like a god in the minors. :^) Plus some additional pitchers putting themselves on the map for the top of the rotation.

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  7. "As you had been positing for a while, the Giants offense is not really that far away from matching our pitching/defense."

    Do you really think the Giants are even close to having a league-average offense? The Giants were second to last in runs scored and last in OPS -- and that was with Barry Bonds. Even if you adjust for park effects, I still don't see this team as it's currently configured having a league average offense next year. I'd like to be pleasantly surprised but I'm honestly not seeing it.

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  8. David, the key point in my statement is our offense matching our pitching/defense but I was not clear in what I meant, sorry about that.

    I guess I should explain more, in sabermetrics, Bill James Pythagorean equation calculates the winning percentage of the team based on their runs allowed and their runs scored. Our pitching/defense looks to be much above average, pushing our runs allowed down further into the low 4's (I think it was 4.4 in 2007).

    So when I say the offense matches our pitching, I meant that our runs scored will match our runs allowed, making us a .500 team.

    Using the lineup calculation methodology by Cyril Morong (and implemented at Baseball Musing), last year's lineup worked out to 4.2 runs - which is exactly what they averaged. We had bottom of the NL OPS at most lineup positions, which is not a surprise to any of us.

    Substituting in Bill James projections for our current lineup - Roberts/Davis, Frandsen, Winn, Molina, Rowand, Durham, Ortmeier, Vizquel, Pitcher-2007 - I also get 4.2 runs scored per game. Or basically the same.

    I think the things missed when trying to project 2008's lineup without Bonds is that Bonds didn't play 162 games, which meant a lot of lower performances in the #4 spot by other #4 hitters, and subpar performance by Durham. As I noted before, his poor hitting costed us 0.4-0.5 runs per game when Bonds was in the lineup.

    So, our lineup should have been producing at around 4.5-4.6 runs per game. With a Durham bounce back to .747 OPS in 2008, per Bill James, we make up some of the loss of Bonds with his recovery.

    Also, Molina/Rowand in the 4/5 spot, while not ideal, is only 0.1 runs worse than the 4/5 spot in 2007, due to the boost to the #5 spot from Rowand (.820 OPS per Bill James), countering the horribleness that will be Molina at #4 (really, even Randy Winn would be better at #4 than Molina).

    So, a 4.2 run scored in 2008, while equaling the actual performance of 2007 by the lineup, is probably around 0.3-0.4 runs drop from what it should have produced. It is the comparison of what might be against what was that people is seeing, when they should be comparing what might be against what should have been, to see the full drop in offense without Bonds. Hence the anomaly that messes up Giants fans minds that the offense might be as good without Bonds as with Bonds.

    At least that's my take on it.

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  9. I'm familiar with James' Pythagorean theory and realize that the Giant's true record last year should have been around 78-84, when you take into account their Pythagenport expected wins and losses, and make further adjustments based their equivalent runs scored/allowed (679/723) and strength of schedule. So while we can take solace in the fact that they should have won 78 games, they still only won 71.

    I'll put aside for now the operating assumption that the Giants' pitching will remain the same and focus on the hitting side.

    Yes, Bonds did not play 162 games, but he did manage to post a WARP of 5.8 in 126 games. Rowand's WARP was 7.8 in 2007, which I think was an aberration given his prior WARP numbers 3.0 (2006), 4.1 (2005) and 5.3 (2004). Given his past performance and move to pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, I think he would be lucky to post a WARP as high as Bonds even if Rowand played in 162 games. I think somewhere between 5.0 and 5.5 is reasonable (assuming he plays full time). And I don't think you can say it's a push between the two because the Giants also got 40+ games of backup OF production, which presumably adds to the LF WARP total. I don't have those numbers handy, but if it turns out that the replacement WARP number is negative, then the Giants are in deep trouble because the Giants are going to give significant playing time to those folks this year.

    Sure, Durham was terrible and yes he can (and should) bounce back. But that's an if. There's also the chance that other key players may get injured, decline or simply not pan out. And we've also not factored in the departure of Feliz (3.6, assuming he's gone) or Klesko (2.5), although hopefully the youngsters will at least match their contributions.

    If (*if*) the youngsters progress from last year -and- key players such as Durham and Vizquel bounce back -and- Winn and Rowand have big years, then the hitting might equal the Giant's runs scored might match their runs allowed. But that's an awful lot of ifs.

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  10. My assumption is that the pitching overall will improve. If one is going to assume that the vets decline and/or get injured, you have to assume that the young pitchers will improve.

    My point about Pythagorean is not about 2007, but about 2008. But since you brought that up, Bill James says that teams tend to regress to the mean, i.e. zero, thus us being -7 last season, we should be closer to 0 in 2008.

    About 2008, my point is that even with a diminished offense, if our pitching improves - mainly Cain and Lincecum become more consistently good, Zito is more like the second half, and Wilson should be better than the closers we had last season - even a diminished offense could be enough for .500.

    My point about replacing Bonds with Rowand was more on the dynamics of the 4/5 position using the lineup calculator. No matter how good Bonds was in 2007, the #5 spot diminished his contributions to the lineup, period. Particularly in light that he often got an IBB in order to face the #5 hitter. WARP is in theory what Bonds would deliver with an average offense, but in 2007, the reality is that the #5 hitter didn't deliver the hits that would make Bonds theoretic runs score. And all I am comparing is 2008's expected offense against our actual offense, not what Bonds should have delivered in WARP or whatever measurement. Obviously, there is no replacement for Bonds, but baseball is a team game and if his teammates fail him, he could hit homers in every AB and we could still lose every game 5-4 or 4-3.

    If you have a problem with Bill James projections, that's fine. I used a public source of projections for all the players so that I don't have to answer questions on projections.

    Yeah, Durham might not bounce back. In fact, Bill James projects only a .747 OPS for 2008, much below what he had done before, but better than last season. That's barely average for a 2B, but still 10 points above the projection for Frandsen (stats are currently on Fan Graphs).

    People like to harp on the negative side, but not all players get injured, decline, or simply pan out. There are those each year who out-perform their expectations and that evens out the ones who do poorly for whatever reason. For every vet who stumbles, there's a young player who outperforms; for every young player who don't meet expectations, there's a vet who have a career year. There's a balance that happens across the league, unfortunately sometimes your team gets all the declines, other times the team gets all the career years.

    Look at the lineup above in Fan Graphs and you will see that most of the projections are not that outlandish, even for Frandsen and Ortmeier.

    Rowand is probably a bit on the high side at .820, but he still had a .843 OPS outside of his homepark and if you look at his hit chart on MLB.com for his home park in Philly and compare it to AT&T's dimensions, you can see that most of his power is to left field and for the few homers he loses in right CF and becomes doubles, he has many more doubles - gap power - that can turn into triples. The power he delivered at his homer park in Philly will probably hold up in SF, with a minor decline since he did have some RF homers.

    But other than him, all the projections appear reasonable and possible. And based on the lineup calculations, the lineup above, even with Frandsen and Ortmeier in the low 700 OPS range, averaged as much as SF's offense last season.

    You mention Durham and I noted his diminished expectations of .747 (he was a regular 800+ OPS hitter before). That's hardly a big year, that's a bounce back, and even if he doesn't hit, then Frandsen takes over 2B, hits about the same, and Aurilia mans 3B and is projected to hit .742 OPS, about what Durham is projected to hit, so little loss of offense there.

    Vizquel is projected at .671, which is approximately what he hit from May to Sept; he just had a horrible April. Frandsen's stats are about what his MLE's for recent seasons was and Ortmeier's isn't that high.

    Winn didn't have a big year, he had his regular year that he has done, on average, for his career (average his 2005-2006 and it basically works out to about what his career numbers are; he's consistently around the high 700 OPS range). And a projected .769 is hardly a "big" year. That's actually on the low side for him, I think.

    Rowand, as I had dissected before and above, has basically been a high 800 OPS hitter for 2.3 out of the past 4 seasons, 2.3 out of 3.3 if you excuse his playing without fully recovering from his injury. Baseball Forecaster says that if a player exhibits a skill, he owns it and it becomes a matter of his repeating it consistently. Rowand clearly has the skill, he's done it for 2.3 years, but he's been inconsistent, partly because of his injury in 2006. But a .820 OPS is hardly an out there projection, that's basically a mid-point between his good and bad years.

    Roberts/Davis I have combined at .702 OPS but I think it should be higher, Roberts have been a mid-700 OPS hitter in recent years, even second half 2007, and Davis is a much better hitter vs. LHP. Still, I took a conservative route and used the lower numbers projected, again, so that I don't have to answer questions on the numbers, I took the numbers from an expert.

    Molina is projected .722, hardly a big year there either; it's lower than his .731 with the Giants in 2007 and basically in line with his career line of .719 OPS.

    Ortmeier is projected at .708, and Baseball Forecaster has him lower at .680. We could quibble over his stats I guess, his MLEs have never been even that good, but he could even hit mid .600 OPS and the team would still average 4.2 runs with him in the 7th spot.

    And that's the lineup. Basically, the team suffered from 1-8 in 2007 except for Bonds #4 (though they were 4th for #7), it was just a bad year all around for the lineup, though there were individual hitters who did well or OK.

    So the expectations for the lineup are conservative, there are various areas where we can get higher performances, but I will grant that it balances off Rowand's OPS.

    The pitching should get better, barring any injuries. The whole staff is young, except for Zito and Kline. The top 3 should be better in 2008. Wilson should be better than the closers of 2007. So we should see some improvement on our 4.4 runs allowed in 2007.

    That puts us very close to .500 with our 4.2 runs scored. Which is all my point was, that we are close, give or take, given conservative expectations.

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  11. You know Martin, it's interesting that even when I agree with you (and in large I do agree with this, little things like the liklihood of Dan Ortmeier ever surpassing his minor league numbers enough to be a serviceable major league player), there's still something about your tone that I have to say just grates on me. While the things you say are generally true, and I've been predicting the situation for a couple of years now, it does seem strange that 1) you seem to be concretely putting yourself in the position of rooting for the Giants to lose close games this year -- coming down the stretch when a few losses mean the difference between a #5 pick and a #14 pick, what other conclusion can be drawn; 2) while predicting far and away the most abysmal era in Giants history (it seems your predicting at least 5 or 6 losing years at best with probably at least 3 or 4 being last place?), you still maintain that the architects of this predicament are the perfect people to bring us out of it and should be maintained; 3) you absolutely underestimate in my opinion the dangers that a culture of losing will develop that takes on a life of its own. While there are certainly a hanful of teams in the last 30 years that have quickly gone from 1st to worst and back again (Arizona's 3 year run as a bottom dweller between division championships is a good recent example), there are also the worst case scenario sof Pittsburg's 13+ year run, Montreal/Washington 13+ year run, the Brewers recent 14 year run, Colorado's 12 years) KC's mostly brutal 16 year stretch. Once you become a loser it's very easy to stay a loser. And that can continue to be true even if we hit the lottery with last year's draft and get a group of these guys successfully to the major leagues. Perennial losers frequently develop excellent players who aren't able to turn them into winners. It wasn't so long ago that KC had Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, and Mike Sweeney all hitting their peak (and putting up 120-150 OPS+ seasons) at the same that the team had a young Carlos Beltran and a very serviceable and often above average Joe Randa. That's a pretty good job of player development. But the result was a club that kept losing (true, losing a little less than they had been, but still losing). Losing takes on a life of its own and wishing for it is playing with fire. and of course there's 4) even when describing an upcoming disaster of a season, you just seem so damn chipper about it. Man that drives me crazy. Here's to 2008.

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  12. Thanks for the comments Roger. I'll answer all your points.

    1) yes, I've been trying to walk the fine line between rooting for the Giants and rooting for them to lose, and apparently I've been failing.

    I clearly don't want them to lose, let me make that perfectly clear first.

    What I'm willing, however, is to see the Giants try out all their young players out, and if they lose, then that's the breaks, but if they play well and win, that's great too.

    What I've been trying to say, but poorly doing, is that we win organizationally with a poor record playing with young players, we win with a good record playing with young players. If I really wanted a worse 5 record and to rebuild, I would advocate the Giants trade away Cain, Lincecum, heck, every good player on the team and get prospects who won't be ready for the majors for 1-2+ years (like the A's have been doing).

    I think we are close enough to winning that we should be able to accept some losing in 2008 - potentially, by playing young players - in order to build up to actively competing in 2009. It's like losing the battle in order to win the war. Particularly with the rest of the division appearing to be very strong, with better young players and, heck, better vets, we don't get brownie points by signing up a bunch of vets and trying to win as many games as we possibly can in 2008. Doing that will only affect how many games we end up behind the division winner, I don't think that there's any chance that the Giants in 2008 can win the division without a bunch of unexpected performances (like our position prospects hitting above their MLEs by a mile and bullpen suddenly becoming "like wall"). So play our young guys and accept that there will be some losing along the way most probably.

    2) I've been saying that successful teams rebuild quickly by having a number of horrible seasons, getting great draft picks, and that base will lead to long-term success organizationally if supplemented correctly by free agents and trades. Some have taken as many years as you state. That's my Phoenix Theory of Rebuilding.

    I think the Giants have a great start on that base now, with Cain and Lincecum, and we've already gone through some losing years, what's wrong with another in 2008 (again, not intentionally, but that's a huge possibility when you play young players; else you are saying the A's are essentially intentionally losing in 2008 by trading off their best players. Again, I don't want to lose, but that could happen, most probably will happen, by playing young players). I'll be perfectly happy if the young Giants win too, I just don't expect the young Giants to all do well. I'm hoping that at least a couple of them will work out for 2009.

    I'm not saying that Sabean is the perfect person to bring us out, but that Sabean et al has build up a good base of young players on our team. It all happens to be in our pitching staff right now, but look at other teams, how many of them (besides teams like Florida and Tampa Bay who intentionally go young for the hell of it) are built with young players? There are a number of players who look great, like Cain and Lincecum, who look good, like Sanchez and Wilson, who look like they can be average contributors, like Schierholtz and Correia, and who can be nice cogs in the team, like Lewis, Ortmeier, Alfonso, Hennessey, Chulk, Messenger.

    The Tigers really are the model, Dombrowski was responsible for making the Tigers lose even more games than they were before, but he rebuilt the pitching staff with young pitchers, mostly internally, and signed key free agents over time, ignoring the losing that season and focused on the future. Their lineup has Granderson as their only homegrown position player.

    If you read through my past posts, and I try to repeat the thought for emphasis, my position has been that the two years extension should be long enough for us to see whether Sabean's rebuilding has worked or not. If not, then we can fire him.

    But are you in love with the rotation or not? I am. That's a huge part of the equation right there.

    And the pitching staff - as young and, frankly, not good, as the bullpen is - overall is good enough to drop the overall team runs allowed to the 4.2-4.3 level, which the Giants appear, with Rowand's addition, capable of matching and being .500 in 2008. That's not good enough to win the division, but probably is good enough to get us a mid-teen draft pick, which probably would do us little good ultimately.

    But it should get better, Cain and Lincecum aren't even in their physical prime yet, we have a boatload of young pitching prospects coming up the system, with Sosa, Bumgarner, and Alderson leading the way, Sanchez hopefully will develop, and if Wilson can start delivering, that's a huge part of the bullpen that's been missing since Nen was unable to strap them up anymore. Then there's the guys in the lower minors rising up, Villalona, Noonan, Fairley.

    But if he isn't doing it by then, I think we have a nice enough base of players that the next GM can build off of.

    However, if you bring in a new GM now (or then even), that's usually a mandate for changing things up, and that means that he might decide to dismantle everything and start from scratch, and trade away everyone. THAT could lead to the disaster scenario that you listed - and that I've listed many times before here. I fear that the team might decide to go the A's route and sell off the young talent for 2-3 years off. Because 2-3 years off sometimes never happens.

    We don't know how many of the moves since the World Series are driven solely by the owner's mandate to win now. Sabean could just be the messenger of that message and you would be killing the messenger in that case.

    I don't necessarily like what he's done with the lineup, but I love what he has done with the pitching staff. I saw what he did with the team when he first got the job and still think he's capable of doing that, and so I'm willing to give him two years, Bonds-less, and able to focus more on the future than on winning today.

    I understand why others don't want to keep Sabean, but I just don't agree.

    3) I totally agree about a losing environment becoming endemic and self-defeating. Heck, I followed the Giants during one huge stretch of that from 1972-1987. The problem those years were that the Giants were always in the middle and thus got middle draft picks and thus never got anywhere with their drafts, and thus never got anywhere with their teams, until they started losing big and was able to select Will Clark and Matt Williams.

    I don't think another year of losing is going to damage Cain's psyche. Again, look at Bonderman with Detroit, he went through three years of bad losing. His first season, Detroit won only 43 games. That's probably one of the worse winning percentages ever in the history of baseball (in fact, the 6th worst in history; love that baseball-reference!).

    All your listing of teams gone bad are the examples I have used for a long while now anytime I hear anyone suggest the Giants start rebuilding now and start by dumping Sabean. Entering a full rebuilding can be very bad if it goes bad.

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  13. "I've been saying that successful teams rebuild quickly by having a number of horrible seasons, getting great draft picks, and that base will lead to long-term success organizationally if supplemented correctly by free agents and trades. Some have taken as many years as you state. That's my Phoenix Theory of Rebuilding."

    Oops, let me say that my theory's purpose is to SHORTEN the losing cycle, not have it be as long as any of the teams above.

    Clearly, they have been doing something wrong and then they replace the old GM, but the new GM does just as poorly OR go on a new strategy, which dismantles the previous regime's work and starts all over, and the losing just goes on and on.

    The problem is just continuing to lose but be competitive enough that you don't get a good draft pick. That's usually a living death, but if you are lucky enough, a good player falls to your draft position and you have to pounce on them, like the Tigers did.

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  14. I love Cain and Lincecum, though I understand that young, even very talented pitchers, don't necessarily progress linearly. The Marlins young rotation of Beckett, Burnett, and Penny would be a pretty good example -- lots of two steps forward, three steps back there, and in the end probably all of them will have their best period's elsewhere (that's IF Burnett ever has such a thing).

    But after those two I'm pretty lukewarm on our rotation. Is it -- as you prove many times -- better than average? Yes probably (assuming Zito and Lowry don't have more regressions in them). But is better than average really enough to be the rising tide for this team? I frankly worry greatly that we're going to have to trade Cain away in two years because we're still middling around in last place and he'll have his great years elsewhere. And the bullpen is, as you say.

    Two other things: Dave Dombrowski did not make the Tigers lose more. He was hired, as you may recall, virtually at the start of ST the year they lost 119 games. He had very little to do with putting that team together and most of the elements that made it so disastrous were already in place. That he was able to get them from 119 wins to a World Series so quickly (and improving every year under his command) is another huge feather in the cap of a great career.

    And, though I know he's a god to many, I just frankly don't get how it is that Billy Beane has managed to escape any criticism for the huge barren wasteland that he's let his farm system fall into (possibly necessitating these latest trades, although I disagree even with that, Haren and Swisher are building blocks). I know there's been promotions, I know they've won a lot. But this is a guy who had book written about how he was revolutionizing drafting, who's had 19 1st round and supplemental round picks in teh last 4 years, and who had a boatload of misses in the Moneyball draft itself. Blind alegiance is the only thing that doesn't get him a LOT more criticism in the blog world IMO.

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  15. Well, actually, while Dombrowski was "officially" made GM just after the start of the 2002 season, he took over as CEO of the Tigers in Nov. 2001, so by firing the old GM after just 6 games into the 2002 season, he showed that he didn't really believe the GM could do his job properly, but kept him around to be the scapegoat for the 2002 season. Thus by not replacing a GM he didn't believe in, he basically OKed the decline in 2002 to 55 wins from the 66 wins of 2001, then oversaw the decline of 2003 to only 43 wins. So I think I am correct in saying that Dombrowski oversaw the decline before the rise. It took him 4 losing seasons with him as CEO, then CEO/GM, to turn things around.

    Billy Beane was not as good as he was touted to be, nor to be criticized for his success in winning, which led to poor drafts in recent years. However, I will say that I think he's a good GM and will be able to bring the A's back to its winning ways.

    I think he gets less criticism because it's only one bad year and there are good young players, er, was good young players, they had Haren and Swisher and Blanton, plus Suzuki and Barton ready, and a few OF who looked good, like Buck and another guy in AAA, Javier Herrera, I believe.

    If The Big Hurt didn't have the Big Season with the A's, the team would have collapsed a year earlier and perhaps the sale would have started in earnest last off season.

    And if his trade with the Cards didn't turn out so great for the A's - remember, he basically got no one worth anything (to the A's at least) in the Hudson trade - he would have been hearing criticism back after trading the two of them. Haren basically saved him from criticism, and Beane lucked out with Haren, if you look at his stats, he was not that great in AAA - though good coming up the minors. If you look at his AAA numbers, you would not envision him going from 4.93 ERA to 4.14 ERA in AAA, then 3.73, 4.12, 3.07 in the majors. He looked like a pitcher who dominated the lower levels but then ran into the wall in AAA. After looking at those ERAs, I would have expected him to have an ERA 1 point higher than what he actually achieved.

    Better than average pitching staff should be enough. Zito, while no Cy Young since his Cy Young, his ERA was still pretty good in the AL, and given his 3.8's the two years before joining the Giants, should have been able to at least equal that in the NL. That he didn't was a disappointment, yes.

    But he figured something out in the second half and had a 4.11 ERA once he got over his big contract. If he can deliver that over the life of his contract, his contract will be more than worth it, as salary inflation will make his latter years basically that of an average pitcher or less.

    The NL average ERA was 4.43 and the Giants overall ERA was 4.19, which was good for 5th (but basically in a tie with LA, who had 4.20). The leader was San Diego with a 3.70 and the Cubs were second with a 4.04.

    The Giants need to push that down to that of the Cubs if their offense is to generate enough to reach .500 (based on the current lineup). Given the youth and the abilities shown thus far, I think it is safe to say that the team can get the overall ERA down, though not a given.

    In fact, it has been the bullpen holding back the team ERA a bit. The starters ERA is good enough for 4th in the NL, and is close enough to taste 2nd (4.24 vs. 4.19 for 2nd place Cubs). The bullpen is 11th in the NL with a 4.10 ERA. If the bullpen can get themselves down to 4th, they would be around 3.80 ERA and help the team ERA get to down to the low 4.1's, or about half way to .500.

    I feel that people assume the worse too often about the team (which I probably counteract too much by being positive sometimes :^). But being in a job that had me forecasting, I learned that if you can set your expected levels correctly, the ups and downs of the numbers tend to even out over time and the overall expectation made up of the individual estimates will hold up. Thus, maybe Cain regresses, but then Lincecum advances, or vice-versa, generally and the individual changes cancel out and leave the overall estimate closer to the mark.

    Same for Zito and Lowry, is it that likely that both would regress? Particularly since Zito clearly had a poor year affected by the contract and now appear to be not as affected?

    Plus we don't have Morris and Ortiz in the rotation anymore, together they had an ERA of 4.65.

    Even if they don't advance as much as expected in 2008, again, I'm not expecting much from the Giants in 2008. If they lose, c'est la vie!

    That got me thinking, I see now that I am actually looking more for improvement over a two year period, from 2007 to 2009, both offensively and defensively. I was talking about the potential for .500 in 2008, but per your point, the pitching might not advance as nicely as hoped, though I think there's still a good chance for it.

    So yes, the group might regress in 2008 for all the reasons you give, but I think overall the pitchers are on an uptrend in general because of their youth, and should be better by 2009.

    By then, the offense should be improved by another free agent or two signed in the next off-season, to add to Rowand. Or by trading young pitchers not named Cain or Lincecum to get a good hitter. Or both.

    If the sorry lineup we have today - which includes Roberts/Davis with a .702 OPS, Frandsen with a .737 OPS, Molina with a .721 OPS AND batting 4th (his low OBP kills a lot of potential run scoring there), Ortmeier at .708 OPS, and Vizquel at .671 OPS - can generate around 4.2 runs per game, I have to think that adding a slugger in the next off-season should do wonders for our offense.

    Trying some numbers, adding another hitter with just the modest .820 OPS Rowand is projected to have and batting him in cleanup would push our offense to nearly 4.4 runs per game. Having Roberts return to his hitting of the previous two seasons (and half season of 2007 after he was healthy), would push the runs scored potential to 4.45.

    And those are a modest move and a player returning to his prior level of performance (which he basically did when healthy, suggesting that he's back to normal).

    I think what should have been my main point was that even if things worked out, the best the Giants could hope for, given the current circumstances, is .500, so use 2008 to look at young players and use as a spring board to prepare for 2009 and be as concerned about wins and losses, at least not to the point where you trade off a young player for a vet, like we seemingly did every year now.

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  16. To be honest, I should say that I do believe Zito is on a downward slide that will continue for the life of his career with an upswing year here or there accompanied by all kinds of "he's back" stories. I'm constitutionally unimpressed by "I figured something out" stories that appear when somebody's had a good game and then disappear just as suddenly when they revert to their ways a month later. That's why we look at seasons stats, sample size and all that. I believe Zito's regression to be unavoidable and constant. (Remember, Durham had a small stretch in september where he just laced the ball and he too claimed to have "figured out his hitting woes." Should we thus expect a return to 2006 form from him in '08. I don't. I'm also a believer in Lowry's regression and yet to be convinced by Correia. I do however, agree that bullpen is holding the pitching staff back. Specifically in the NL West where by pretty much any statistical measurement you can use they had by far the worst bullpen in the division last year. In a division where games tend to be decided in late innings that just killed our record last year. Sabean's quite right about that.

    And I'm much more pessimistic about the offense. I'd be quite surprised if it wasn't worst in majors this season. Rowand helps but he's had some very bad seasons in his career and I would expect both fluctuations and injuries (given his defensive play) from him in the future. Barring a very quick upside from Frandsen (and I don't assume he'll be the starter on opening day, unless at third) the infield should be pathetically under replacement. The OF a bit elow average. And unless Schierholtz or Bowker makes huge huge strides there's nobody coming up in the organization to improve things in the next two years. So FA will be needed at C, 1B, SS, 3B, and LF in that time to improve things. I have a hard time seeing it. Over reliance on building the team from an increasingly thin FA market is what's gotten us into this mess in the first place.

    In sum: what I really see happening is a continuation of the failed policy of "surround the best player in baseball with a bunch of average and below average clowns" only now we've replaced Bonds with Cain and Lincecum and it's those two we're surrounding with average and below average clowns. Lord help us.

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