Friday, December 12, 2008

I Need to Scream!!! Part Dos

As any reader of my blog knows, I occassional rail against the media, like I did earlier this week regarding the sports talk hosts comments.  Today, I'll pick on the newspaper media.  My source of ire, I won't source, because that company takes their content off-line into their vault anyway within 7 days (which I totally understand, it's a business and I know business), and I hate providing links that lead to nothing but a warning message, as I hate getting them myself.   But that's a big enough hint, as well as my first point.

People in Glass Houses

First, Mr. Sensitive, who not so long ago took on the blogsphere because someone (MCC Grant for another hint) dared to backlink his column when he had the brilliant idea that trading Lincecum for Rios was the best thing to do, and was upset that someone would do that, decides that Sabean should have recent contracts be the sole determinant of whether he should be retained after the 2009 season.  

As I've noted all along, you don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water.   Sure, Sabean has made some bad deals, but it's the overall big picture you have to focus on:  look at that rotation, nobody's perfect so there will be mistakes, but isn't the team in pretty good shape for long term domination?  I can smell it, I can taste it, but all these teenage boys here can't wait, they shoot their wad and expect everyone else to be so hot and heavy over 2009 when we should be looking at 2010-2015.

Sidetrack #1:  And the funny thing is, Grant didn't even name him or make fun of him, he was just discussing the whole Rios/Lincecum drama from last year.  But I'm not so lenient of the media.  Here's two scenarios, which GM deserves firing more:  1)  Sabean with the current situation, which is, we have Lincecum and a pretty good pitching staff, and a lineup that, based on ZIP projections, will be competitive and perhaps division winners in the NL Worst in 2009; or 2) this writer, who by hindsight and the ability to not be held accountable for any other bad moves he could have made, but suppose he didn't do the things he blames Sabean for - overpaying Zito by at least $50M (remember, his words), Rowand by $20M, and Roberts by $10M - but did do the one thing we have him on record for, which is trading the 2008 Cy Young Award winner, the Blue Jays Tim Lincecum, for Alex Rios.

Here is the glory that is Rios's 2008 season.  The power hitter that people were clamoring for only hit 15 homers (that's power?), drove in only 79 (in an offense that is about 0.5 runs better per game; that's 81 runs over a whole season), and he spent the whole season batting in a RBI situation, 3rd, and his batting line was .291/.336/.461/.797, which is a very average OBP, something that writers rail at Sabean for not understanding, and Rios's OPS isn't even league average, RF in AL hit .281/.351/.459/.810 and had a 29 AB/HR ratio (about 21 HR season), which is much better than Rios's 42 AB/HR ratio (15 HR).   And remember, he probably would have suffered some power drop coming to SF.  

I think anyone who would have pulled off that bonehead trade (and this guy was not alone, there were a bunch of KNBR knuckleheads who were all for it too) would be tarred and feathered by the fan base and would have no chance of getting an extension beyond 2009.  .

Roberts $10M Overpaid

Now let's tackle some of his assertions.  Roberts, well, can't argue with that other than you could probably raise it to the full amount and not be far off.  His signing was horrible.  But not as horrible as trading off a Cy Young winner at age 24.

Rowand $20M Overpaid

Rowand is also easy, as he's clearly not $20M overpaid.  An average player today with a few flaws gets $10M per year, if not $11M per year, both starting pitchers and starting position players.  And remember, an average player in the majors is actually a good player, that is why the concept of "replacement level" resonates well.  Last year, despite all his problems with offense and defense, Rowand was about average, though on the low side because his offense was a little lower in OPS (but higher in the more important OBP and his OPS+ was 94 with park adjustments).  Still, we were hoping for more, so that was disappointing.  

For the 5 year, $60M contract, over that same period an average player should earn, assuming we start with $10M in 2008 as average and 10% growth, $61M.  So basically we are paying Rowand to be an average player for the life of his contract, and he was basically average in 2008, and if he's average for the life of the contract, we come out ahead by $1M.  Since he was below average this year, there goes the $1-2M.  If he does that over the life of the contract, that's $5-10M below, at worse, but as we all (OK, those of you out there who thought he was done) learned with Randy Winn, a season marred by injury could be followed by a return to career norms when healthy.

People forget, but Winn was the pariah for his contract a couple of years ago and now he's almost sainted by some of the Giants fans. Rowand could easily do the same by keeping healthy and hitting like he did in early 2008. But we will see if he can be healthy or our new Durham. Still, $20M is totally overstating the situation and way too soon to be declaring yourself a  genius for opposing the signing.

Zito $60M Overpaid

Zito, well, can't say anything more about the first two years than what I've said before, he was about average in 2007, which was exactly what we paid for, $10M, but he got $14.5M in 2008 and he probably only earned about $4.5M of that, so he definitely was about $10M overpaid in 2008, if not a little more.  That leaves about $100M over the next 5 seasons, a daunting sum.  Using his numbers, $60M overpaid means that, given the $10M overpay in 2008, he is being overpaid by $50M for the rest of the contract.  Roughly, that's saying that Zito will earn $10M per season and be overpaid $10M per season.   That's implying that Zito will be a below average pitcher in 2009 and decline from there, a reasonable assumption.

However, 5 years is a long time and things can change. I was extremely encouraged by Zito's end of season spurt of strikeout-ability. This could be Randy Winn's situation writ large if Zito can turn it around in 2009.  Obviously, 2009 is the tipping point, the situation is clearly not good, but there is still time for Zito to make good on the rest of the contract, assuming he can return to what he did for the A's in his last seasons with them, he don't even have to be like his Cy Young season to make this contract work over the next five seasons.

Using old Giants-speak, our dauber is down, but he has time to become a Humm-Baby if he just returns to recent goodness (from 2005-6) in 2009, not even his Cy Young goodness back in 2002.  

He's Also Wrong About Anger

He also noted that Sabean was angry about getting attention for buying players in 2008, when he bought attention in 2006 and 2007.  That's far from what I got from Sabean's tirade.  Sabean's problem is not the attention from pursuing big ticket free agents, but rather that he thought he had made it pretty clear that the Giants were not really pursuing Sabathia, other than to, using the Sabean-ism, kick the tires since CC expressed interest in the Giants.    Meanwhile the media blared it all over that the Giants were doing this, that and the other in pursuit of Sabathia.

And I sympathize with Sabean on that, at minimum, given what he had told local media, even if the national media wants to chase its tail about unsubstantiated rumors, the local media should have been instead talking about, despite the rumors, how the Giants are not very far along with their talks with Sabathia, that there was not much to the rumors.   Instead, Mr. Sensitive, on THE DAY SABATHIA signed, wrote on his newspaper sports front page, wondering if Neukom was pursuing Sabathia like Magowan got Bonds, he's the one who got it wrong.

Not Mad About People Talking About the Giants

Wrong again:  he wrote that Sabean is mad that fans are talking, arguing, and trying to fix the Giants, but Sabean was not mad about that.  Rather, he was mad because the media (including him) gave the impression to these fans that the Giants were going to be big players in the free agent market and perhaps sign a Sabathia, when they were not even close to pursuing Sabathia, let alone sign him.  Now Sabean has to deal with these expectations that the media fanned with their headlines of Neukom's Magowan wannabe moment.

Vote of No Confidence

I guess this shows that he either doesn't read blogs or don't really know the Giants or baseball or both.  He notes that he doesn't think much of the Giants moves this off-season, saying it didn't "engender tremendous confidence".   He noted that Renteria got too much money, Affeldt will face two batters per appearance, and Howry would get to mop up after Zito in the middle innings.  This statement is so wrong on so many dimensions, I don't know where to start, but go at them one by one.

Renteria got too much money?  Not really

Regarding Renteria's $18.5M contract for two years, he hit .270/.317/.382/.699, which was a down year for him, but as I and other bloggers noted, he had a lot of bad luck involved with that, plus it was acknowledged that he came into the season physically unprepared, then played into shape, which makes sense as he only hit .254/.301/.326/.627 in the first half of the season, then .296/.343/.469/.812 the rest of the season.   In any case, the average SS in the AL hit .266/.319/.375/.694, so he was actually an average hitter, with subpar defense.

As I noted above, average players get around $10-11M today in free agency;  however, he got $9.25M, so he's being paid as a below average SS, which he is if he hits and fields like 2008.  However, he is a lifetime .290/.347/.405/.753 hitter, so which is closer to the real Renteria, his first half stats or his second half?  And that's a plus hitter at SS, so if he can return to previous goodness - and all indications are that his batting skills did not slip at all last season, just had a spell of bad luck (or bad conditioning) - we just picked up a bargain for two years.  If 2008 is his new norm, then we just paid for what we get.  We only lose if he's on the downside, as some fears, but the odds are against that because his batting peripherals were good, it was just the results were bad.

Affeldt will face two batters

If that were true, then Affeldt should have only pitched roughly 0.5 innings per appearance (because he won't get both batter out always, some will get on base).  In 2008, in 74 games, he pitched 78.3 innings, or roughly 1 IP per appearance.  That's roughly 4.5 batters per appearance if anyone bothered to look at the facts.  He had 24 appearances where he went more than one inning and a total of 51 appearances (out of 74) where he went one inning or more.  So he is no regular LOOGY, he can handle the setup position, which is the reason why the Giants got him, if a certain Mr. Sensitive would have kept up with the news and actually read what the Giants said they were going to use him for.

Howry as Mop Up

Again, if he would bother to read up, Howry is not here to mop up, he is here to shore up the set-up roles.  As explained here and elsewhere, Howry had some bad luck in 2008, but previously was one of the best setup men for the previous 10 or so years.  In addition, with his long experience of success, he will be able to impart some of that knowledge to the other relievers who aspire to being set-up guys, particularly all our young guys.

In any case, even if he were washed up, the amount of money is very minimal, certainly nothing to complain about.  Most of the Giants bloggers understood that, in today's baseball you have to take some risks, but calculated risks like Howry is what you have to do, to put together a ball team economically.

In addition, if Mr. Sensitive were more aware of the Giants circumstances, he would have known that the Giants bullpen blew a lot of wins that starting pitchers had handed off to them.  Fixing the setup spots would save a number of games that the starters was leading, bringing the 2008 Giants to around .500, just from these two signings (with Howry).

He throws out Sabean's phrase of a few years ago, Lunatic Fringe as a badge of honor for himself, but he's more like "Uninformed" or "Unintelligent" Fringe:  I am not sure if it is one or the other or both, but definitely one of them.  

He should just go back and bother the Raiders some more, he fits in with that crowd more, I think.  He and Al seem to be very similar these past few years:  wrong, sensitive when it's pointed out, likes to point fingers elsewhere, likes to make grand statements that go nowhere (or is completely out there;  remember, he thought Neukom was having a moment when there was nothing to that rumor...).  


  1. Let's not mix metrics. Renteria was a far below average player last season (OPS+ 84) and he was already playing on the last year of his deal. To narrow the field, you first compare him to the average AL SS but then argue "average players" get 10MM per year in FA. Let's be consistent. What do average SS get?

    Here is what some FA SS got last season (data courtesy of ESPN FA tracker):

    Eckstein 1 year 4.5M
    A. Everett 1 / 2.8M
    C. Izturis 1 / 2.85M
    C. Gomez 1 / 1M

    the remainder were minor league deals.

    2006 had a few more signings:
    Cora 2 years, 2M per
    Counsell 2 / 3M per
    Nomar 2 / 9.25M per
    A. Gonzalez 3 /4.667M per
    J. Lugo 4 / 9M per

    And Renteria's as well. I would buy that average players (ones I would define as having around 100 OPS+ consistently) get the amounts that the Giants are throwing around. But, Renteria was not such a player last season. In a contract year.

  2. I think you are the one mixing metrics, and understandably so, as I didn't learn this myself until recently: OPS+ is not position dependent. Thus a SS with OPS+ of 100 is way better than a 1B with an OPS+ of 100, because most SS are below and most 1B are way above 100 OPS+.

    Do you really think those players are average players? Let's just run this down for the folks playing at home:

    Eckstein: BP had this to say about him after his signing, "Eckstein's real shortcomings have been durability and range...A marginal physical talent at his best, he's not good enough to play if he's hurt. He signed a one-year deal with the Blue Jays, who would be best served by making him the fifth infielder..." Doesn't sound average to me.

    Everett: You are kidding me here, right, he's a great defensive SS, but his offense is sooo woeful that he's only had two full seasons as a starter, even though he's been in the majors as a semi-regular since 2003. He was so good for his $2.8M that the Twins only played him 48 games, after he played only 66 games in 2007, so either he's injury prone or just bad luck. Either way, nobody considers a .600 OPS (his combined OPS for 2007-8) as anywhere near average, even for a good glove.

    Izturis: Again, another low 600 OPS hitter who hasn't played a full season as a starting SS since 2004. How is that average?

    Gomez: Again, are you kidding me? Last time as a regular starting SS was in 1998!!!

    Now, Lugo and Nomar, now you are getting closer to what an average starting SS in the majors. Nomar took a discount because of all his injuries, no surprise there. Lugo got about what an average player got back in 2006, $9M. And he was average offensively, maybe a little above, but he's below average defensively (-12 in 2007, 0 for SS in 2006, according to BP).

    I'm not even going to bother with the other guys, really, you need to immerse yourself in the numbers and players if you expect your arguments to hold up, I knew from looking at the names that they were not average, I just had to find the numbers and comments to prove it.

    In addition, you need to learn more about what metrics shows what a hitter's skills are, as you need to know them to be able to converse about whether a hitter in his contract walk year was a victim of bad luck or on the down side of his career.

    The following link was a good post of all the factors, I don't think I ever put everything in one post, but wrote pieces all over the place, but this covered it well:

    I also added my comments there about his hitting skills, his BABIP being horrible in May to July, but how his strikeouts and walks were still good while he was going bad, showing his batting skills didn't diminish, but that he was just unlucky during that stretch.

    He is truly an average SS, lose a little on defense, but gain a little on offense, plus when going good, he's plus on offense for a SS. Good deal all around for the Giants, with upside if things work out, fairness if has the same OPS+ in 2009.

  3. Its so strange, the impatience the media is showing right now. How do they not see that the Giants are on the verge of starting an Atlanta Braves of the 90's style run right now? Even without giving CC the huge contract we could not afford, our pitching staff is about a year away from becoming the best in the game. I can't even imagine how exciting its going to be having Bumgarner and Alderson ready to fight for the 4 and 5 spots. Possey should be a go and Vilallona will make his first serious attempt at making the major league team next year. With all the depth in pitching, we can probably afford to use yet another high first round pick on a bat, hopefully keeping our streak alive of the most major league ready star falling in our laps. And with other talents like Fairley, Noonan, Gillaspie, Crawford, and Rodriguez lining the minors, there is hope of 1 or 2 promising rookies fighting for PT each season for the next 3-4 years. To me, this is all almost too good to be true. Yet everywhere I go (radio, web, papers) I hear complaints. I just don't get it.
    To put it another way. If we had signed CC or Texiera, or what the hell, even both of them, would that make us a 2009 equal of the Cubs? The Phils? The Mets? Let alone compete with AL teams like the Rays, Red Sox, Yanks or Angels if all people care about is winning a championship? Hell no, we are a year or two away from competing with those teams. But with patience and growth, all signs point to us being in the elite very shortly.

  4. I can't say I appreciate the accusations of ignorance, especially ones being made after mischaracterizing what I wrote. My point was simple and not nearly as accusatory as your response.

    My point was that average players and average shortstops are not the same thing. You wrote above your Renteria discussion that "average players" were/are getting 10M without respect to position. Let's say that's actually somehow provably true, it doesn't help me figure out what an average SS should be getting FA this off-season or whether the Giants paid too much for Renteria. Which was the point you were supposed to be addressing.

    I never said that my list was composed of average players by the way, it's the complete list, average, above average, whatever according to ESPN's FA tracker for 2006 and 2007 when you sort by SS (I actually qualified the list with "some" because I had little faith in ESPN as being a complete and accurate source).

    But let's get to the point. Renteria, 2007, and the future. What metric should I be looking at to help me see that last year was the ever-so-quantifiable "bad luck"? Please. (Bonus points - was Theo Epstein aware of this same metric when he cut bait on Renteria after a not-quite-as-lousy season in 2005?) I'm supposed to feel better because his peripherals looked the same in 2008 but he just didn't hit the ball as well? Or that he didn't hit well in the NL West parks? Uh, OK.

    In fact, you (and the Giants) are basing the price paid to Renteria on what seem like awfully non-statistical grounds. Anecdotal evidence that he reported to camp out of shape last season. Thus the lousy 1st half he had? Doesn't really count. Very 21st Century; very Moneyball.

    I like the site. But when you can't take what was mild criticism (of a post that was chiding others in the media for being sensitive!) without getting into condescending remarks about the presumed knowledge of the commenter, I think I'm going to have to point my RSS reader somewhere else. Can we actually have a debate over the wisdom of Renteria without you basically assuming I'm stupid?

  5. Sorry I came down hard on you, but I've had a stressful day(s) at work and only got about 2 hours sleep today.

    OK, what am I suppose to assume, here is how I read your comment:

    What do average SS get?

    Here is what some FA SS got last season...

    See where I'm coming from? Why bother listing the salaries of players unless you think they are average? It does nothing to further your point about averageness by listing a lot of players who are clearly not average. So I assumed you thought they were average players, because it would not make any sense to do otherwise.

    And it's a waste of my time to answer something that seems obvious so I got a bit testy.

    But I see that you are more intelligent than that, so please forgive me.

    OK, I guess I'll have to go with a long explanation. I've been following free agent signings for a number of years now. And roughly the numbers have been going up by about $1M or 10% each year the past few years. First there was, like Loaiza getting roughly $7-8M per year, then later on the down the line, you had Meche, Padilla, Lilly, getting $10M or so per year, or on the position player side, Matthews, Pierre, etc., getting roughly $10M per year. Go to
    Cotts Contracts, go team by team, write down year by year (or rather off-season by off-season), and you will see salaries progress roughly 10% per year for the players I viewed as average-type players.

    Even if you don't believe what I'm saying about average salaries and so forth, read the link I provided to Fangraphs, if you would have just looked there, you wouldn't have given me the rest of your comment. They make an excellent sabermetric analysis regarding his salary which, as Sabean likes to say, at the end of the day says the same thing as I do: he's about average overall, he's getting what average players earn (average player, if I recall right generates 2 wins above replacement).

    Yes, average players and average players are not the same thing, but in an economic market, you have to differentiate between the goods you are purchasing, they are not substitute goods for the most part, your good 1B could never play SS, or hardly ever. What I've observed, and yes, it's not "provable" or "quantifiable" the way I've done it, is that the average player for a position, seems to get around the same amount that off-season, roughly. If you don't believe that, fine.

    But I did get your point, your point was incorrect, you said any player hitting 100 OPS+ is the same as any other player with 100 OPS+. It is not and I explained that one, clearly and nicely, in fact, noting that I had the same misperception, exhibiting that it's no big deal, I didn't know it either until recently.

    And it was not mild criticism I was reacting to, it was having to deal with explaining why those players are not average. I've taken a lot of criticism here in my blog, which I've done without attacking back, but the inability to understand that those players were not average just enraged me.

    You know what, I don't have time for this. If you want a sabermetric explanation, then you should have used the link I provided to Dave Cameron's nice analysis, plus my comments below it. If you don't understand any of that, then Baseball Forecaster is a great book for helping you (it helped me) or when I have more time to deal with this, I'll write it up later.

    An average player is not an average shortstop, but in an economic market where teams are bidding for scarce resources, I just think it makes total sense that the average SS gets as much as the average 1B, and so on across the field. If you don't get that, then maybe someone else can explain it to you.

  6. Apology accepted.

    I read your post over on Dave Cameron's site, thus my comments about Renteria's peripherals and Renteria not hitting well in NL West parks. Again, they don't make me feel much better. What his peripherals mean to me is that we're just as likely to get the Renteria of 2005 or 2007 as we are to get the Renteria of 2006. I also don't really like his hitting in the parks he's going to be spending a lot of time in this season.

    You now know why I listed the guys I listed - because that was the whole list; I think the whole concept of an "average player" makes no sense when we're buying a SS, not an average player. What I produced was the market for SS as expressed through the most recent transactions. Not much data. Sorry, when it comes to markets, sometimes there aren't enough transactions to enable one to precisely define where an equilibrium lies. And maybe that's the best answer to the point I originally raised.

    But, if we're left with just judging what "average players" get without regard to position to help us verify that we paid a good price, then I think it is completely fair of me or anyone in the media to ask Brian Sabean whether paying Edgar Renteria roughly the same as what Raul Ibanez got from the Phillies today (albeit with an extra year) means that one of the clubs got a bargain?

    I have no idea what you are talking about when you refer to my OPS comments. I mentioned in one sentence that Renteria was an 84+ OPS hitter in 2008. 84 is less than 100. That is all I meant. The whole 100=100 discussion is somebody else's straw man, not mine. I'm the one saying all along we should be comparing shortstops to shortstops remember? And for SS, of the 18 guys who qualified hitting-wise last season, Renteria's OPS (sorry, I didn't go to the trouble of writing down the park-adjusted #s but this favors Renteria given that Comerica was 6th most hitter favorable park in 2008) was 15th of the 18. Only worse were Marco Scutaro, Betancourt, and Bobby Crosby.

    Dave Cameron's numbers are a post-hoc attempt to rationalize why we maybe shouldn't slit our wrists by paying Renteria more than Crosby would get on the market. I would have felt much better had we been wheeling them out to justify a one year deal at a lower price.

    Finally, we stipulate that Renteria is a below-average defender at SS. Think about your final point and tell me if you really believe that the average shortstop is really equivalent to the average corner infielder (or OF) and should make as much as that average corner infielder as a result? By one measure, the average 1B in 2008 was Carlos Pena - 13th out of 25 qualifying 1B OPS-wise. His OPS+ was 127. Assuming that Dave Cameron is right and Renteria truly is average among SS, Renteria should get the same as Carlos Pena if they're both on the market at the same time? I'd love to discuss this at greater length actually. A very interesting topic.

    Like you, I subscribe to bp and have checked out the forecast. I think I'm just looking at this from a different perspective. The Giants have pled that they have scarce resources. I happen to believe that the best clubs (non NYY and Boston division) are not those who seek out average players and drop 10MM per year on them. The best clubs are the ones who find average performers and pay them a fraction of that amount while spending the big bucks to retain proven superstars.

    Sabean has a history of bypassing cheap and homegrown guys like Burriss in favor of proven names who are going to give you more reliable numbers even if those numbers are merely average ones. Bypassing Torrealba for AJP being one example. Or the signing of Russ Davis as opposed to handing 3B to Pedro Feliz. A one year deal would have given me far less heartburn. What also bugs me is that I know we have a below average 1B already (unless Sandoval plays there in which case we have a below average 3B). And a below average 2B. I really am not enthused at the prospect that our new SS might be below average too.

    Get some sleep. Don't take this personally. If you don't like defending your ideas, close comments. But as long as they're open, I'm going to post when I think you've written something provocative. You don't seem to have a problem defending yourself.

  7. Small post-script to this. Is the market still progressing upward and meeting the average player gets $10m per year argument?

    Most recent data point? Pat Burrell gets 16M over 2 years.

  8. Thanks for the comment on Burrell.

    I think that the market conditions changes after New Year's for any remaining free agents. The leverage power that players have over teams is lessened and that leads to bargain deals being struck with the remaining free agents. I think Burrell is the first of the bargains being struck.

    Since they have been a touchpoint in the discussion above, Fangraphs posted on the Burrell signing here: They rated him here as an average player as a DH. They noted there that he took a discount in order to be with a winner. Obviously, Renteria took no such discount since the Giants haven't been a winner in a while.

    Back to our original discussion, regarding your comment about Renteria's OPS in 2008, beyond all the discussion we had, I think the most important point is what he is expected to do in 2009, not what he did in what most major analysts and projections see as a down year for Renteria in 2008. Most expect him to regress back to his career mean in 2009:

    Bill James: .751 OPS
    Marcel: .762 OPS
    CHONE: .753 OPS

    So maybe he was low-man in 2008 compared to others in the market, but he's not expected to be such going forward.

    You note Sabean chosing AJ Pierzynski over Torrealba as an example of how he goes for average over homegrown. For one thing, at the time of the trade, there is no way Pierzynski could be considered an average catcher: he was an all-star .300 hitting catcher, who was among the best in throwing out runners, according to a study back then by BP.

    And looking at what actually happened to Torrealba since then, Colorado had plenty of chances to play Yorvit full-time and declined to do so, despite their great need to find a starting catcher who could play regularly. And, for the last two years, despite playing half his games at hitter happy Coors Field, his OPS was about 15-25 points under the MLB average for catchers, which was around .714 OPS, which includes all the lousy backup catchers. So history backs up the Giants decision to not give Torrealba the starting job, he just wasn't that good.

    Renteria's signing don't really have much to do with Burriss, but more that our two main candidates for starting up the middle were Burriss and Frandsen with Velez then Bocock as the main backup should either flounder. As we all know, Sabean's job is on the line this season and Neukom has drawn the line for 2009: he expects a competitive team. The odds are great that either Burriss or Frandsen fail in some way, whether performance or injury. With Renteria, we now have Frandsen or Burriss as backup for 2B and SS.

    Sabean's history also includes trading for young players like Kent and Snow and giving them starting jobs (Snow had a down year before we got him so he was not a guaranteed starter). It also includes inserting Foppert, Williams, Lowry, Cain, and Lincecum into the rotation instead of acquiring additional veteran starters as the backup plan, or not acquiring any veteran relievers last off-season and giving our farm system a chance to show what they got in 2008. I think the subsequent history of Giants prospects, both position and pitchers show that the Giants have made the right decision in most cases, with Aurilia as the most egregious wrong decision. Russ Davis, BTW, had nothing to do with Pedro Feliz, joining before Feliz showed anything in the minors, and he also was just a backup player, he didn't even reach 200 AB with us.

  9. Burrell's signing prompted Rob Neyer to remark today "And I believe we're seeing more proper valuations this winter than we've seen at any point in the past 30 years." Just one more opinion for the hopper. Let me be clear, I'm not advocating the signing of Burrell by SF. His glove wouldn't work for us.

    On Renteria, the projections Pecota, Marcel, whatever, would not necessarily differentiate trendwise between a guy who is projected to put up his numbers based on some far higher numbers in the past combined with say Renteria's 2008 and someone who has been remarkably consistent at lower levels closer to the actual projection. But the market may take this trend into account. At least it seemed to with Renteria. And I think the Giants would be silly to not try and exploit this. I am not convinced that they even tried to do so. This by the way, is arguably irrational behavior by clubs, but again, why not exploit it.

    These are all hindsight decisions, I understand, but AJP, given the costs of his acquisition turned out to be a disaster. Torrealba even discounted as against his Coors performance would have been a far better option given the opportunity costs. (And I will confess that the costs are likely skewing my analysis) And retaining Yorvit was an option for a club that had an awful lot of holes to fill during that particular offseason to try and remain on a winning footing. Mike Woolverton wrote a great piece on it on baseballprospectus at the time when Sabes basically said that they preferred deals like that to making a run at Guerrero and going with Yorvit.

    Feliz had had 2 full years in AA before they signed Davis. The best response probably is that the Giants, at the time, thought Feliz was 2 or 3 years (I forget precisely which) younger than he turned out to be at that time. So fair point.

    Kent was a great deal, although one small quibble, I hesitate to call either of those guys "young". They both were acquired before their age 29 seasons, which isn't exactly young in Jamesean terms. Let's call them "relatively young." Still, Kent, great deal. 11 years ago. Even better deals for his resume would be several of the signings of Bonds.

    But, with this point on youth, you hit on my big pet peeve. Given the four successive under-.500 performances in a relatively weak division, I think Sabean has been given every fair chance already. The signing of Zito has turned out to be the worst free agent signing of the last decade. If any one transaction could constitute a terminable offense, this would be it. It didn't turn out to be a firing offense in the club's judgment, fair enough. That notwithstanding, this club has some serious structural deficiencies when it comes to field player prospects. We have some infield prospects who need time to develop. To his credit, I think even Sabean understands this, but putting short term "succeed or else" pressure on him has the potential to force decision-making that runs contrary to the "we know we need to get younger" theme I thought everyone at 24 Willie Mays had come to accept as reality.

  10. About AJP, obviously a disaster in hindsight, but if you read Baseball Prospectus's comments about the deal in their annual, they were actually positive about the trade and the possibility that Nathan would be easily replaced.

    Yorvit may have been an option, but he was not a good option, I said so then and that has been proven by actual performance. The good seasons he had with us were driven by being given plenty of ABs against LHP, who he killed, whereas he was lousy against RHP.

    Prior to the 2000 season, Feliz did in fact have two AA seasons but you neglected two important points. First is that he hit .264/.282/.437/.719 in 1998 and .253/.280/.405/.685 in his SECOND season in AA, when most players should do better in the return to the same league. Second is that these are actual raw stats: with adjustment for major league equivalent, he wouldn't have hit well enough to be a shortstop, let alone a 3B. They probably did think that was OK for a 20 year old player, but still, no matter what age, that was not good hitting in AA.

    4 years is actually short for a rebuild, most teams take at least 5 if not longer to rebuild. The Braves took 6 years of excruciatingly bad play - much worse than what the Giants put up.

    I think most fans acknowledge that the signing of Zito was a marketing ploy more than a player acquisition, and the stepping down of Magowan, who BTW is basically as old as his replacement, gives a clue as to who the owners ultimately thought was at fault for that move and the general team philosophy and strategy.

    Most teams that rebuild do not rebuild solely by young prospects procured by the draft, it is a combination of young prospects and targeted free agent signings and trades that drive the success of the teams that rebuild. Getting younger is a general direction, not an either-or proposition proven wrong by the signing of any free agent over 30. If he felt any strong pressure, he would have signed a whole bunch of vets in the 2007 off-season, and would have signed a 1B by now. Instead, he went for deals that has been generally lauded by the analyst community.

  11. Braves example is interesting but, interestingly and perhaps unfairly, Bobby Cox was relieved of his duties in approx. 1990.

    My problem with Sabean was that he didn't even seem to acknowledge that a rebuild was necessary until the departure of Bonds and the offseason of 2007-2008. The intent of the 2006 and 2007 seasons was, pure and simply, to contend. So, by the 5 year rebuild metric, we still have a long ways to go.

    As I said before, so far, the movement towards youth has been almost neutral, which isn't necessarily bad, on that I think we agree. Youth for youth's sake doesn't necessarily make sense and there haven't been any big trades, but what I fear is a trade which gets the club older and not the other way around. In terms of the mix you discuss, my ideal would be the Colorado of 2007 or Tampa of 2008 model, with the balance of the talent being on the young side.

  12. I think the plan was for Cox to drop his GM duties and take on the manager's reins. Else why would they keep Cox around when the teams he put together from 1985-1990 were so putrid?

    Was it Sabean who didn't acknowledge that a rebuild was necessary or Magowan? Look at Sabean's M.O. when he first started as GM for us in a rebuild, then look at how "his" methods changed after 2002. I (and many other fans) believe that it was Magowan who set the direction of "buy the best free agent player available and try to win with Bonds". And perhaps it was also a bit of having to pay Bonds all that money that drive the management decision making to continue to sign free agent vets.

    To be clear, I don't consider re-builds by when management finally acknowledge their mistake and actually rebuild (that would make research of the past too hard), but by how long they have a losing record. And further, by that I mean generally losing, so attaining .500 one or two seasons don't cut it with me if they fall back to losing again soon afterward.

    So for me the Giants rebuild officially began with 2005 when they started losing and 2009 would be their 5th year of the rebuild, should they end up with a losing record. I think that they have a very good chance of reaching .500 in 2009.

    Of course, my definition means that, like a recession, we cannot really tell if the rebuild is over until long afterward, because brief success could be followed by losses again, much like it did for the Giants from 1972 to 1985.

    But I think Sabean has steered a pretty good path during the rebuild. Many fans have been very critical with Sabean's handling of farm development, but he has done about as good as he could under the circumstances because when you win you get lousy draft picks, and that makes it much harder to find that good player you need to rebuild.

    Am I totally happy with everything he has done? No, I would have liked to have seen more position prospects come to the fore in the rebuild so far.

    However, look at his record, out of all the players he has had in the Giants farm system during the losing, who has he lost that was better than what we have today? Accardo, Carlos Villanueva, Clay Hensley, Brian Buscher, Brian Burres, Jason Ellison, and Coutlangus are the main people we have lost who have earned significant playing time in the majors away from the Giants. Versus keeping Lowry, Cain, Lincecum, Wilson, Romo, Hinshaw, Taschner, Lewis, Burriss, Frandsen, Schierholtz, Bowker, Ishikawa, and I guess we could include Brad Hennessey and Kevin Correia, since they were just released by the Giants. Plus picked up Velez, Villalona, Rodriguez, and drafted Bumgarner, Alderson, Noonan, Fairley, Posey, Gillaspie, Kieschnick, Crawford, and others. I think that's a pretty good record of identifying who to keep and who to let go.

    The thing is, the team has been getting younger by a large margin in the pitching staff, there were a lot of players there who were 26 years old (oldest you can be and still be a prospect) and younger in 2008: Cain, Lincecum, Sanchez, Wilson, Hinsahw, Misch, Sadler, Romo, Matos, Espineli, Valdez, Threets.

    And outside the main hitters on the team, the Giants filled the position ranks with a number of young players there: Bowker, Velez, Burriss, Sandoval, Ochoa, Ishikawa, Schierholtz, were all 26 and younger. Plus Lewis was only 27 and was one of the main hitters on the team, he had the best OPS+ among the players on the team at the end of the season (only Durham, who was traded, had better among regulars; Sandoval had the highest but did not log enough PA for me to include).

    Counting by usage (PA and IP), the 25 man roster had the following players log significant time: Bowker, Lewis, Velez, Burriss, Sandoval, Ochoa (6 of 13 position); Cain, Lincecum, Sanchez, Correia, Wilson, Hinshaw, Misch, Sadler (8 of 12 pitching).

    The addition of free agents this season has been selective and financially prudent. Renteria was the most in the gray area, I'll admit, but he will be a huge improvement in production at SS for us (collectively .228/.295/.281/.576 in 2008; even Renteria's down year in 2008 was worlds better: having Renteria in 2008 instead of Vizquel would have added 0.13 runs/game to our offense, or about 2.5 wins. And if he does rebound in 2009 to predicted rates, he should add another win or two, depending on how much he rebounds). And most projections I have seen has Renteria hitting better than Burriss, about 2 wins better.

    Affeldt, Howry, and Johnson are clearly improvements as well, and all the analysts I've seen have praised both deals.

  13. About Carlos Pena being average, you are using the wrong statistical concept. What you are referring to is the median when you say that he is the 13th of 25 qualifying 1B in OPS.

    This is also flawed because you included only qualifying 1B, meaning mainly the best of the 1B are included, and not many of the schlubs who get playing time as well.

    And average is still good in the majors, that is the whole concept of all the measurements "above replacement" or "above bench", that the average player is still a pretty good player overall and thus worth a lot of money still, it is the marginal replacement/bench player who are worth basically $0 (or minimum salary in the majors).

    So for me, average is the mean of all the players playing 1B. Carlos Pena had an OPS in 2008 of .871, but the average MLB 1B had an OPS of .817 ( He is not an average 1B, by far.

    By that measure, looking at the 23 1B who qualified (I used ESPN's stats for this), Mike Jacobs and Derrek Lee are more like the average 1B in OPS, among qualifiers. Ironically, Travis Ishikawa is the closest to this average counting only AB as 1B, with .818 OPS.

  14. You make my point for me but I appreciate the increased precision. Average 1B using your numbers had an OPS of .817. Average SS had an OPS of almost 100 points lower =.718. That differential was all I was trying to get across. Given that we all believe Renteria to be a below-average defender at a crucial central infield position, this distinction becomes even more important.

    And if we're talking about dishing out $10M contracts, my view was that using guys who qualified makes more sense when we're comparing players who clubs are signing for starter-level AB's. Or put another way, even if Ishikawa puts up "average" numbers, no one is going to pay him the mythical "average" salary.

    On Sabean and his record on deciding who to keep - the fact that the Giants haven't lost field players who are getting playing time elsewhere logically can support only one conclusion - that until 2008 the Sabean Era Giants haven't developed anyone worthy of getting the time. And that is the crime for which Sabean, not Magowan, is responsible. The Giants over Sabean's tenure have not drafted and developed a single field player of high quality. Period. With the possible exception of Fred Lewis, not one of the field players you mentioned could start for the Dodgers on Opening Day. The 2008 draft, in my view, represents the first such draft where we have the potential to reverse the trend.

  15. I guess you don't understand that there are differing levels of standards for each position. The average 1B should hit a lot better than the average SS. However, this is not a baseball simulation or fantasy game, you cannot just insert the good hitting 1B at SS and play him there in real life.

    So if you need a SS, and there is an average SS, you have to sign a Renteria, it don't matter how well the average 1B hits, it is not germane to this issue, but you don't seem to get that. It is not the same market, it is not even a substitute good, they are two separate markets, with separate characteristics of what constitutes an average player at that position. It is economics.

    Well, you can use qualifying players if you wish, but that don't fit my definition of average players. In other words, you use my words in the wrong context in order to prove me wrong.

    And if Ishikawa hit low .800 OPS for the next 6 seasons, he will definitely get a nice contract when he goes free agent. Hitters like that are valued, you only make your comment now because he doesn't look like an 800 OPS hitter and probably won't reach 6 seasons of that. But IF he were to do that, he definitely would get a big contract, look at Gary Matthews Jr., he didn't even accomplish 6 seasons of good play, he was on and off, and still got a great contract with a great last season before free agency.

    It would be like saying Gilligan wouldn't ever win a weight-lifting contest - obviously would never happen - but the whole premise is whether a person with a plus characteristic - whether hitting .800 OPS as a 1B or strong enough to win such a contest - would attain success. What you are doing is using an apple when what you are looking at is an orange.

    Regarding Sabean, the point for me is that Sabean has been focused on obtaining pitching, you and others conveniently pass over all the great pitching he has amassed, but no team finds a whole team from the draft and trades. The fact is that Sabean had totally redone his pitching staff, mostly internally, and is now working on the position players. Most rebuilds don't include so many internally produced prospects in their pitching staff or even on their team itself.

    And your point about Sabean not developing a position player since he started again emphasizes that point about ignoring the pitching and the fact that he has been working handicapped almost since the start of his tenure as GM by the success of the Giants from Day One, resulting in very poor draft picks from almost Day One (he screwed up with selecting Grilli, but even picks that high fail to become a good player at least 60-75% of the time).

    That has been my major point since I started writing about the Giants on-line, that Sabean instead of spreading his limited draft picks all over the place, has instead focused on pitching, which is a good strategy to do rather than selecting a lot of position players as well.

    A pitcher can fill up to 12 different spots on a roster, depending on how good he is. Because you can always add a good pitcher to the pitching staff. And that improves the pitching staff incrementally over time as you add better talent.

    However, a position player can fill up to 2 or 3 at best, and typically just the one.

    Thus, when you are faced with a limited resource situation in terms of drafting talent, as you are when you are winning consistently, focusing on pitching makes a lot of sense in terms of speeding up the rebuilding process as you can just add talent on top and eventually the cup will be full and the overflow can be traded (easier trading as well because other teams also have 12 positions they can add pitching talent to). The Giants are nearing that full cup situation and soon can start trading off for position players for needed positions, instead of drafting for position and hoping that player develops.

    For an example of what can stall a rebuild, look at the Rangers, they developed a number of top/great 1B prospects, but they could not play them all, so they kept Teixeira and had to trade off Travis Hafner and Adrian Gonzalez, and got middling talent in return, certainly not equal value. Of course, part of that is laid at the feet of the GM but even in the best of trades, things don't work out, like the Kouzmanov trade, the Indians got Josh Barfield, who looked like he was going to break out because his numbers at Petco were horrible but good on the road, but failed miserably with Cleveland, who decided to keep Andy Marte instead of Kouzmanov, and he failed too, hurting the Indians rebuilding. But at the time, that was the better thing to do.

    You have no real control over which position prospect of yours will become good, they could have all the talent in the world, like Sean Burroughs, who looked like a sure thing, and he busted big time, and if you have the bad luck of having all your 1B become good, or LF, what have you, then you have to go out and trade to get better eventually.

    By focusing on pitching, the Giants have developed a very good pitching rotation and bullpen, and still have a number of position prospects - Sandoval, Lewis, Burriss, Ishikawa, Schierholtz, Villalona, Noonan, and now Posey, who can be good, or good enough, players.

    Also, since you mention how long it has been since Sabean has developed a position player, it should be pointed out that the development of players take 4-6 years typically to get them to the point where they are good regular starters for you. And if you have picks in the back of the first round where the odds are about 1 in 10 that you find such a player, then it could take you up to 10 years to find that player, and on average 5 years to find that player. Thus it should take on average around 10 years for any GM winning consistently to find a good player with a first round pick. And the odds go down drastically, exponentially, with each round, so that first round pick is your best bet to draft a good player and the odds are totally against you when you are winning (still not so good losing, even then still below flipping a coin, but still much better).

    It is extremely unlikely that any team which is successful over a long period of time (like the Giants were early in Sabean's tenure) will find a good player with their first round pick and develop him without taking a good 7-10 years to achieve that.

    And that's what I've been trying to teach with my writings, yes, Sabean has not been successful, but if you were handicapped by poor draft position because of your success, you would be too. More importantly, lately, when he has been blessed with good position in the draft, he has made great choices, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Alderson, Posey, even other good picks early, with Burriss, Noonan, Fairley, Gillaspie, Kieschnick, and Crawford. And good later choices like Barnes, Quirate, King this season, Pucetas and Cowart in 2006.

  16. "Handicapped by poor draft position" is a laughable excuse for a guy who supposedly uses metrics to look at these issues. It's a dog-ate-my-homework excuse which is belied by actual events. Sabean hasn't been hamstrung by anything - apart from when they intentionally forfeited their high picks (see the Michael Tucker incident - the analysts still laugh about that one) the Giants have deliberately chosen to use the high draft picks they have for pitching, pitching, and more pitching. This is an admitted fact - when the club was running well Sabean and Colletti would brag about it. Now that the free agent well for field players has run dry, not so much.

    And plenty of other clubs have able to develop such prospects even when they have some success on the major league level. The Braves are a great example. Atlanta finished in roughly equal or worse positions than the Giants consistently for more than a decade! That doesn't seem to have prevented them from developing front line talent like Chipper Jones, Yunel Escobar, or even Jeff Francoeur. Oh, and they've also found time to develop some pitchers over the years.

    Again, I need to remind you that you're the one who has consistently proffered this "average guys regardless of position should get $10 million annually this offseason." I have been the one arguing that there is no such animal. My point is that the average (especially the average defensively-challenged) shortstop should not make as much as the average OF because they contribute less to the club's offense. Win Share data likely backs this up too. So far, I've heard nothing but obfuscation in response to that very basic point.

    Additionally, I tend to believe that other factors influence the market value of a player. How many SS are out there? What are teams paying for comparable players? I was the one arguing that putting a $10M yardstick and saying, yep, Giants didn't get fleeced made no sense. And I stand by that.

    The fact is that this is a little like fantasy baseball when you have as many holes as the Giants do. The Giants need offense. They have a lot of position holes which they could fill with more talented offensive players. They have guys on the 40 man roster whom they could slot in at SS if they so chose. So, if money is scarce, paying $10M annually for Renteria might not make as much sense as paying that same amount or more for Milton Bradley or Burrell or Ibanez or Manny.

    I don't ignore the fact that Sabean focuses on pitching, I trumpet it. But, the Giants also need to score runs. Time is wasting on young cheaper arms like Lowry, Lincecum, and Cain. Lauding our talent in accumulating pitching does not tell me how we're going to score runs. Other GMs have managed to walk and chew gum at the same time. To date, Brian Sabean has not proved that he can assemble a winning team which does not include a transcendental, game-changing talent in the lineup. Barry Bonds was a once-in-a-century presence in the lineup who created distortions which extended a couple of spots above and below him in the lineup. His talent papered over a lot of mistakes. Without it, the results have spoken for themselves.

    Your 10 year figure for development of field players strikes me as completely ad hoc, made up, and absurd. Sabean is 0 for his GM-ship, which stretches over a decade. By even this standard, he's flunked.

    Above all, blaming Magowan while absolving Sabean of this is ludicrous. There is absolutely no evidence to support this. None. Sabean has never said so publicly. Neither has Magowan. Yet you consistently refer to him when all of the available journalism hints that apart from the Zito deal, Magowan was one of the more hands-off owners in MLB. And if Sabean thought this was going to the mistake it turned out to be, he should have opposed it. Or resigned. He is the GM. If he takes credit for the Lincecums, he deserves blame for Zito. Or neither.

  17. Good debate. Go Giants. (I have mixed feelings on a lot of these moves, but appreciate the overall knowledge of Giants fans vis-a-vis many o' clubs.)




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