Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Ghosts of Giants Drafts: 1984 Draft

I'm looking to update my draft study with the draft data that now provides at their excellent website. I get AB and OPS data for all players plus ERA and WHIP for all pitchers, which I just realized is not that good for judging pitchers easily as there is no way to easily assess how long a career they have had, other than by how many games they have won or loss or saved, or tangentially by how many ABs they get. So I will have to re-think whether I will try to update my study now.

If I did update it, it will take a while to compile everything, plus then time to analyze the data, and I thought while I'm collecting the data, I can stroll through memory lane and list some names of past Giants draftees, and give some commentary on what I remember plus what could have been.

1984 Draft

Today, I look at the Giants 1984 draft. This is the first draft where I can remember thinking the Giants blew it. They selected Alan Cockrell when I looked at the next player selected and wonder why they didn't select Mark McGwire. McGwire did so many things at USC and Cockrell, well, he was known more for being a QB, at least, that's what it seemed like to me.

Just think how different things could be had the Giants selected Mark McGwire. For one thing, would the Giants have selected Will Clark, another 1B, the following year? And risked another Willie McCovey/Orlando Cepeda situation? Or more possibly, would they would have corrected a mistake made a few years before when they were unable to sign him and draft/sign Barry Bonds? There were other names right around there, Bobby Witt, Barry Larkin, Pete Incaviglia, but Bonds could have been their choice if we had McGwire already. The main question is would Tom Haller, who didn't sign him the first time (he says its a myth, but reports/rumors back then were that the Giants were $5,000 apart from Bonds, offering $50,000 when Bonds wanted $55,000, and thus Bonds didn't sign and went to school instead).

What if we had Bonds and McGwire in the lineup from 1986 to 1992? Could we have won throughout most of that period? Could we have won it all then? Impossible to know for certain, but think about the possibilities.

Fantasy Baseball

While both started playing in the majors in 1986, Clark played most of the season in the majors, while McGwire was mostly in the minors. However, from 1987 on, they were both regular starters. I won't argue the relative merits of either here, but assume that their impact offensively would have been very similar.

And think how that might have affected the A's. Without McGwire available, their next best choices after him were Shane Mack, Oddibe McDowell, and maybe Scott Bankhead. Would have been quite a drop in value, no? And the Bash Brothers could have been Bonds and McGwire in the Orange and Black.

Then the Giants OF could have been much different for their playoff run. They might not have traded for Candy Maldonado, though at that point, who knows if the Giants were ready to bring Bonds up; however, he did well enough for the Pirates to bring him up in 1986. And he played CF his first season plus part of the next, before settling in LF. That would fit in well with Giants history, Leonard was traded away in 1988, opening LF for Bonds. Meanwhile, he would have played CF with Chili Davis in RF, Gladden was traded to the Twins in 1987. Thus, instead of just having 1993, we could have had something like 1993 from 1987 to 1993.

Believe it or not, Bonds would have been a downgrade from Candy, who had a 127 OPS+ in 1987 vs. Bonds 114 OPS+. But after that, Bonds was on an uptrend while Candy went down, which could have kept the Giants in contention in the period from 1990 and 1992. Who knows, if the team was successful enough, Lurie might have never sold, we might not even have AT&T Park.

Bonds in LF would have ramifications for the 1989 World Series team. Would the Kevin Mitchell trade still have been done? Possible so, because he was a starting 3B when we got him and played mostly 3B for us for the first couple of years. And his range factor and fielding percentage wasn't all that bad there, so it could have worked long-term except then where would Matt Williams play, if not at 3B?

Ah, that's the fantasy I've had since Williams became a regular, what if they kept him at SS? Can you imagine a lineup with Matt Williams, Kevin Mitchell, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds? The only question would be, with Bonds around, would Candy been around? The OF would have been Leonard, Bonds, Davis, with no space for Candy, so would he been traded or even not trade for in the first place?

Still, imagine a lineup with Terry Kennedy catching, Mark McGwire at 1B, Robby Thompson at 2B, Kevin Mitchell at 3B, Matt Williams at SS, Bonds in LF, Brett Butler in CF, and somebody acquired to play RF? Wouldn't that been one of the greatest HR hitting lineups in history?

Still doesn't beat the best "What if" scenario for the Giants, though: what if the Giants had outbid the Braves for Hank Aaron? They were both bidding for his services and just got beat (win some lose some; they barely beat out another team for Willie Mays). Chew on that one for a while.

After Cockrell

The Giants actually did OK with their next pick, selecting Terry Mulholland, whose signature play still plays delightfully in my memory: dribbler to the pitcher firstbase side, and as pitcher and hitter race towards 1B, Mulholland realizes that the ball is stuck in his glove, and he's losing the race to the bag, so he did what he had to do, he threw the glove, with the ball in it, to the firstbaseman to get the out.

But they struck out in the rest of the draft, which, by the way, is not that out of the ordinary for most teams, so that's why it's hard to discern when a team is actually just bad at picking or just dealing with the low odds of the situation. With low odds of finding even useful major league players, teams will find some years to be shutouts. The only drafteee besides Mulholland out of the 26 total picks to experience anything beyond a cup of coffee call-up was Tony Perezchica, who got all of 101 AB. There were two who came up for a cup of coffee: Stu Tate and aforementioned Alan Cockrell also got a taste of the majors as well.

Moving Ahead with Study

P.S. I think I will give it the old college try and see what I can do with the data, even if it's not good for pitchers. With this dataset, I can do more analysis on high school vs. college type of analysis, plus, with my old set of data, I still have the designation of whether they are good, useful, or not, as the case may be, so I can use that as a guide and finetune up or down with the baseball-reference data.

I will still expand the years so that my study is comparable with the Baseball Prospectus study that came after my study. My point, which was not refuted by the Baseball Prospectus study, or any study that I've seen since, is that the distribution of talent availability plus the difficulty in identifying those who will make the majors, makes it very unlikely that any team will find a good major league player with even a late 1st round draft pick. My study found that only approximately 10% of draftees become good major league players out of the picks 21-30 overall in the draft between the years of 1986 and 1998.

Thus, a team could skip a pick, like the Giants did with the Tucker signing, and not materially hurt their development of major league players from their farm system. Given that the team has been almost totally rebuilt from the farm system in the years since provides strong evidence that my conclusion was not incorrect.

Sabean Deserves Chance to Finish Job

That we did it while still trying to win with Bonds is testimony to Sabean's vision for the future. As much as fans like to deride Sabean's efforts and results, and recently a Baseball America writer did just that, find me a better pitching rotation than what we have, made up young pitchers? Of all the trades made, as of right now, did he not keep the right ones when it counted?

And despite the cries of fans over our lack of position player development early this sesaon, our lineup actually looks like it's shaping up nicely over the next few years, with Lewis, Sandoval, Posey, and Villalona being the core hitters, and Burriss, Frandsen, Bowker, looking like OK supplemental hitters, plus Noonan, Fairley, maybe Rodriguez, Gillaspie, also contributing at some point in the near future.

That is why I have been preaching patience with seeing how Sabean's efforts are developing and not throwing the baby out with the bath water. I said I was happy he got a two year extension because then we get a chance to see him develop what we got further. After year one, there are a lot of positives and I'm gladder than ever they kept him.

I'm at the point where I would be willing to give him another two years but managerially there is no need to do that now, the Giants can do that in mid-2009, after another half year of seeing how things turn out. Plus, I now vaguely recall someone saying the Giants have an option on Sabean for 2010, so that would make it even easier if true, use the full 2009 season to see how the team develops and pick up his option at the end of the year if things are still developing nicely, don't if not.

1 comment:

  1. That play by Mulholland is one of my favorite all-time Giants plays! If I'm not mistaken, Bob Brenly of all people was the first baseman, and it happened just a few short weeks (if not on the same road trip) as the Kevin Mitchell barehanded catch.



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