Monday, January 21, 2008

Giants Offense: 2007 vs. 2008 (first in occassional series)

Many Giants fans have been discussing how the Giants offense would do in 2008 without Bonds. Many don't see how the offense could possibly be equal to that without Bonds. I tackled that myself in another post, though that was probably not that great a take. And I won't say I have the answer here, but here's another take, another angle, on viewing this question.

The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 Datapoint

I liked the 2007 version but the 2008 book is even better. They even give you files to download, which I find great. One chapter is on a Markov Model (statistical method) for baseball and it gave some data there that I think would be useful in explaining the conundrum of how the 2008 offense could possibly perform similar to the 2007 offense with Bonds.

I don't think I explained it well enough before, but it is not that the offense will be the equal to what it was with Bonds but that the offense underperformed greatly in 2007 with Bonds. And with regression to the mean, the team in 2008 should perform as well without Bonds as with.

Pythagorean Stinks

The Giants horribly underperformed their Pythagorean Wins in 2007. With their offense and defense/pitching, they should have won 78 games in 2007. However, they only won 71 games (pg. 126, 2008 Annual). That's 7 games of underperformance.

They weren't the only ones to do poorly. Boston (-5 wins), KC (-6), Texas (-5), and Atlanta (-5) also did poorly. However, the Giants were the worse of the bunch in 2007 with a -7 wins. 19 of the 30 teams were at -3 wins to +3 wins in 2007.

But Bonds Didn't

In the Markov Model chapter, the author of that chapter examined what the effect of a Barry Bonds would be on a lineup. He calculated that Bonds's offense was good enough to count for +5 wins by himself. That is a huge hit for any team to take to their offense.

Easy Go, Easy Come

However, while the Giants will lose 5 wins from the loss of Bonds, they should gain anywhere from 4 to 10 wins from the regression to the mean relative to Pythagorean Wins (i.e. the Pythagorean differential for the Giants will return to the more standard range of -3 to +3). Thus, the loss of Bonds should be covered by the team being less unlucky and winning what their scoring should be providing, putting the Giants at anywhere from 70 wins to 76 wins as the net of the loss of Bonds and the regression to the mean.

However, there are other factors that should help the 2008 team improve over that range of wins. One is that we essentially replace Bonds with Rowand in the lineup. That should add something to make up for the loss of Bonds, and that should counteract whatever loss we experience at 1B with Ortmeier and whomever playing there in 2008.

And all the other positions are about the same, or possibly better. At 2B, Durham 2007 was a huge hole in the offense and either he returns somewhat to normal as many predicts or Frandsen would take 2B and should be able to outdo 2007's horrible .226/.304/.337/.641 that 2007's 2Bmen hit. Frandsen's MLE in 2006 was above that, and he hit above that in the majors in 2007. At 3B, either Frandsen or Aurilia should be able to easily match or exceed Feliz's pathetic output there, though obviously the defense won't be similar.

Winn, Vizquel and Molina should be able to match what they did in 2007, perhaps do a little better. Roberts should be much better, and hit what he hit in the second half (which matches what he hit in 2005-2006), plus his platoon buddy would be Rajai Davis, who can't hit RHP but nails LHP. They should steal 50-75 bases together.

Add that all up, and the offense, while obviously not as good as it was with Bonds in the lineup, in any fashion, should be able to produce enough to keep the team's offense good enough, with their improving pitching staff, to keep their win total at or most probably above the 71 wins they achieved in 2007.

To sum up, regression to the mean alone should make up most if not all of the loss due to no Bonds. Add to that Rowand's addition, improvement to key areas like leadoff, plus improvements to our young pitchers in our starting rotation and key bullpen spots like closer (Wilson), and the Giants look like they should easily match 2007's 71 win total and with growth on the part of Lincecum, Cain, Frandsen, Ortmeier, and Wilson, and adequate production along the lines of career production from Molina, Durham, Vizquel, Roberts, and Winn, we could even see .500 in 2008.


  1. I have to say, Martin, the Sabean strategy, if there is one, is very interesting. And it seems to be just what you are talking about - regression to the mean, whether Pythagoran mean or career stats mean. But it seems like a very risky strategy for Sabean to take, as he is on a 2 yr contract.
    I have opined a number of times over the Winter that I think the Giants are a 78-84 win team (for '08). I don't see how that helps Sabean. And if he trots out basically the same team as '07, counting on regressions from Durahm, Roberts, Aurilia, Omar, and, assumedly, Feliz and he is right, even if the pitching is improved, we are still not in the same league as Az, LA, or SD. ie, we are likely fighting for 4th place. Worse, and, again, looking at the fact he is on a 2 yr deal, what has he done to help himself in '09?
    It seems to me we are an 80 win team no matter what. So, isn't it better to play guys who might benefit from playing in '08 and be better in '09? I mean, assuming Aurilia, Durham, et al rebound, but the team still wins 80 or even 84 games, so what? What wil or will not save his job, I would think, is how the team will do in '09.
    And while I approve of the fact he has not hurt the team or gone all out with risky deals to "win now," he also hasn't done anything to improve our chances for '09.
    To review, the only guy possibly getting a chance to prove himself appears to be Ortmeier at 1b. I know it is a ways from April 1, but not that far. Do you think there will be more than 1 or 2 moves before opening day? DSoesn't it appear like the guys who will not be around in '09, or certainly '10, Aurilia, Durham, Roberts, Omar, maybe Molina are going to be getting 400-600 ABs? And the host of 'prospects' will be fighting to get 275 ABs?
    I guess what is hard or frustrating is that, on the one hand, you have the Sabean haters who trash his every move. To their credit, the one consistent thing they say that makes sense is that he should not be giving playing time to guys who are not going to be here for the future. And, I've heard no reasonable theory, explanation, strategy that would support what Sabean is doing this off season. As I said a month and a half ago, I worry that there is no evident strategy - other than get a little better (80 wins).

  2. Thanks for your comments allfrank, much appreciated. Good thoughts, my reply follows...

    The problem is that it is Giants ownership driving a lot of Sabean's decisions today, like the decision to be competitive in 2008, while also looking forward. We don't know exactly what he would do unencumbered right now, but do know that he was much more dynamic (and correct) early in his tenure when he was allowed the luxury to rebuild the team. Lucky for him, he rebuilt immediately, and never had to truly re-build over a number of years.

    I think it is clear that Giants management is very behind Sabean. The only time I've heard them say anything bad about his management was about the Nathan/Liriano trade. They were mostly laudatory when they announced his new contract. So, I feel that they are giving him two years to improve things. I don't recall them saying that the Giants have to return to winning by the end of his two year contract, though, so perhaps you are focused too much on winning as a factor.

    You mention his strategy again, and I guess the oldest saying on that is that doing nothing is a strategy. Compare what he has done the past 4-5 years to what is happening this off-season and how he likes to do things.

    1) no filling out the entire roster with veteran help to ensure a lineup of reliable (relatively) offensive contributors.

    If this was last offseason (or any previous offseason), we would have had a starting 1B, starting 3B, a reliever and probably a closer, all signed to some big contract by the time New Years arrived, in addition to Rowand. They would have been ready for bear.

    Thus far, only Vizquel and Rowand were signed. Hopefully Lincecum will be signed soon as well, to a long term contract like Cain's. I hear rumors about Tony Clark, but it has only really been Clark's agent who agitated for that in the press, so I assume that rumor is mainly driven by the agent, particularly since Sabean don't leak such rumors.

    2) Sabean always says that the roster is a work-in-progress, often into the real season games.

    So if no one is offering anything good for Lowry, Sanchez, Durham, Winn, Roberts, Aurilia, Molina, they wait and see if the market changes when a team really needs help, say, they lose a bunch of starters to injury and need someone like Lowry, or their starting OF is injuried in April and now need someone like Winn, or need a good MI utility guy like Aurilia, or a contender loses their starting catcher to injury and Molina would look nice as a replacement.

    However, most of these moves are not big moves for the other team, they are complementary moves often done in reaction to a bad situation like an injury or poor performance, so you don't often see a lot of that type of trades being made in the off-season, they have no reason to get off their ass and pull the trigger on the trade until the need arrives. And sometimes, that need never arrives and you are left with those players.

    3) Willingness to play young players.

    People act like giving young players a chance is anathema to Sabean, but they forget that Sabean gave Niekro the starting job in 2006 and he failed miserably. In addition, he gave Ellison the starting job in mid-2005 but when he failed, the Giants were forced to trade for Randy Winn.

    The problem is not that Sabean isn't willing, the problem is that there were few position prospects good enough to be given the chance.

    And right now, Ortmeier is the starter at 1B, Frandsen is the starter at 3B, and Davis is the platoon buddy with Roberts in LF. So that is 2.33 positions given to young players out of 8. That is significant even if the Giants end up signing someone, they rarely say that a young player is going to be a starter, they would ignore the young player and say that they are hunting for XYZ position.

    I think that is a change in strategy in terms of dealing with the press and presenting what they are planning on doing.

    The key to rebuilding fast is not to dump everyone who is not going to be here for the future, but dumping everyone who is blocking someone in our farm system who looks like they are going to be here in the future. And that can't be an absolute rule, I don't think many rules work in a strictly "yes/no" world, there will always be exceptions made to account for reality.

    Like the Rowand trade. The reality is that the Giants lineup did not have anyone who looked capable of hitting in the #4/#5 spots. Rowand is capable and so they went out and got him.

    Will he do it? That's the question, he's done if for 2.3 seasons out of the past 3.3 seasons, if you attribute his poor performance in 2006 to his hitting the fence and breaking his nose, but can he do it here, where the park is bigger? Probably, since the LF/CF configration is similar to other teams, not so much if he were left-handed, but we won't know for certain until he plays there regularly.

    Still, he takes up one of the OF spots, not giving one of our prospects a chance to play. So it looks contradictory. But the more important consideration was that we needed a middle of lineup bat in order to improve the competitiveness of the team over the near term, so that the offense isn't totally lame, and we got him, now Sabean will have to adjust the roster accordingly.

    We don't know what trades the Giants are pursuing. Maybe Roberts and Winn aren't getting much interest. Maybe the Giants are not even putting them out there. We don't really know, but people like to speculate one thing or another based on how they feel about Sabean then lambaste Sabean for the "move", even though no such move occurred.

    This is the first season the Giants are fully into rebuilding. Their first move into that new era was launched when Matt Morris was traded for Rajai Davis. People tend to forget about that move, but that was a move as much about the future as for 2008. That opened up a rotation spot, as well as saved a lot of money, plus picked up a player that a lot of fans think a lot of in Davis.

    Things don't get rebuild in a day or an off-season. If it was so easy to rebuild and just jettison everyone left and right, teams would be doing that all the time.

    In addition, it takes two to tango to get a trade done. Lots of fans think it's no big deal to dump a huge contract, but that's easy to do when it's not your money. There's potentially some trade value to the guys signed right now, heck, we got Kelvin Pichardo for Michael Tucker and he was dreck that season. And it is not like many of our position prospects have done that much to deserve to start in the majors.

    Strategy does not mean that every move has to be related to that or else the strategy is invalidated. Sometimes you need to tread water with a move, or even go backward, as long as generally you are moving forward.

    I think the fact that the Giants have not been signing mediocrities left and right in order to be "competitive" is a good move for the future. Signing Vizquel might have held back Ochoa, but 2007 was his first good offensive year, it wouldn't hurt to see him do it again before we commit to him. Rowand is probably not a mediocrity and if he can produce like he had in 2004 and 2007, we have a great bargain leading our offense.

    After that, we still have 1B and 3B open for young players to get, and reportedly 2B is a battle between Durham and Frandsen. Either way, we win. If Durham hits like normal, we should be able to easily trade him before the trade deadline. If Durham hits better than last year but still down as most predict or hits as bad as last year, he should be DFAed and let Frandsen take 2B. Either way, Frandsen ends up at 2B, maybe we get some prospects out of it too. Given that we should be looking forward to 2009, that's a good thing, getting prospects.

  3. It does seem to me that the biggest factor in whether we area 78 win team or an 84/85 win team is the bull pen. I think it is VERY interesting how little Sabean has done this Winter with the pen. I, BTW, support this, especially for this coming year. The result, according to my calculations, is that we are going to spend about $71 mil for '08. That, if I am correct, leaves a lot of cash for the draft and/or the '09 FA market (and Lincecum).
    I like the looks of our pen. 4 spots seem to be locked down: Wilson, Henn, Chulk, Walker (all RHs). And, wow, the battles for the last 3 spots!!
    LH RPs:
    Capellan is a huge question, but they wouldn't have spent the money if they didn't think there was a possibility he would make the 25 man. He will be in competition with Kline, Misch, and Taschner (notice I assume Sanchez will be in Fresno as a starter). That is 4 guys for, probably, 2 spots, maybe 3 since the remaining RHs are not so strong. Look at the flexibility we get if Capellan shows something and makes the team. Kline could be traded, Taschner, too, as he is very unlikely to make the team if Capellan does.
    RH RPs
    One spot, if somebody in this group pitches well. but they will have to pitch well to beat out the 3rd LH RP. Candidates: Messenger, Matos, M Valdez, Pichardo, Sadler (from the 40 man).
    To summarize, I like the first 6 guys, but see we may have some trouble filling the last spot. But, the top 6 seem to me to be a lot stronger than the top 6 from the start of last season. This group isn't top half of the league, yet, but I think they'll be more league average than last year. I think there is a fair amount of exciting potential in the top 4 and the LHs. If one of the remaining guys steps forward and establishes himself, we've got a pretty complete pen.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts allfrank!

    First, about Capellan, it really is a pittance of money that they spent on getting him, it's not even as high as the bonus money you would pay in the amateur draft to get a pitcher like him. Still, it's a waste of time and money if they don't think he's good enough. Unless he totally flames out, I assume he has the skills the Giants like in pitchers and they will keep him in a long-relief role so that they can keep him long-term (else his old team could pay half the money back to get him) and get him accustomed to the majors.

    I think Kline will be kept, you aren't going to get much of a prospect for him, his salary isn't that bad, plus he had a really bad year in BABIP - not unusual for relievers, though that's two years in a row of huge jumps, so that's not good either - and he did a great job in 2007 not allowing inherited runners score. Probably the main reason his ERA was so high was because it was his fellow bullpen mates who had horrible records keeping inherited runners from scoring, thus letting his runners score. Plus, he can help out all the bullpen young guys, as he's the only real vet there, Walker is not quite there yet. So among the LH, I assume Capelland and Kline will hold two spots. That leaves one spot.

    Among RH RP, only Messenger is a real candidate. The others have not done enough in 2007 to jump to the majors with a good spring. I think he competes with Taschner and Misch for the final spot and probably wins the spot.

    This all assumes (as you apparently do too) that Correia wins the last starting spot, leaving Sanchez and Misch probably starting in AAA and being the starters we turn to should there be a need at the MLB level (god forbid). I think it's Sanchez's last option anyway, so may as well get him ready to start, as they had always intended, they have said pretty consistently, if not acted that way. That way, he'll be ready to start in 2009 and be quite a trading chip, if not a replacement if we trade Lowry or Correia at some point.

    Yeah, that's the thing that most people miss when they complain about the bullpen. This reminds me of a few years back, everyone was complaining about the bullpen in April. But when I examined the numbers, it was just a handful of guys who stunk and they were now gone, plus a key reliever was injured and had just returned, so the bullpen had a nice run after that, as I had analyzed. 2007's disaster was really dominated by the horror that was Benitez, he was truly horrible for us, he was at the top of the bad lists for relievers that Bill James Handbook had in the back: third in most blown saves, first in relief losses (BTW, Kline was 5th in the NL in inherited runners scored, only 18.8% scored; and despite only pitching about 2/3rd of the season, Lincecum had the second most pitches 95MPH and higher). Plus, we add Wilson, who now appears ready to pitch in the majors, and Walker, who appears to be recovered successfully from his TJ surgery (not all recover) and perhaps better than ever.

    Plus, though I like Taschner, he didn't pitch that well in 2007, so I think Messenger would be an upgrade over him. And Capellan will not be allowed to pitch in bad situations or let things get out of hand, so even if his ERA is high, he won't see a lot of innings unless he is doing well.

    League average would be great. While the bullpen at least had an ERA lower than the starters, it was just a hair better when bullpens usually have a much lower ERA overall than the starters. Getting the bullpen to average would be a huge gain.

    People prefer to look at all the bad stuff happening, but I think the seeds for the future are all around us but people would rather see the tumbling tumbleweeds and focus on how bad things are now versus how good things could be very soon, depending on how the young players develop in 2008.

  5. I pretty much agree with your last paragraph.
    We are very well set w/ SPs and are on the verge of having a real surplus from which to trade.
    RP is almost as good, particularly if some of the guys on the 40 man, but who will be in AAA, step up.
    I think we are set in the OF for several seasons to come.
    We are OK at C, although I wouldn't be surprised to see moves here.
    Even in the IF it is not all doom and gloom. The reasonable expectation is Frandsen is a bona fide 2b. Ort may develop into a league average 1b. That means, basically, we have 2 major holes to fill. We have plenty of adequate backups, both IF and OF. filling 2 holes is a hell of a lot better than having to fill 5 or 6. And that task will become a whole lot easier if guys such as Lowry, Sanchez, Correia, Misch have ERAs of 4.10 or better.



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