Thursday, February 28, 2008

Strategy vs. Tactics, Baseball Style

I just have to vent, again, about media types who think they can offer their "expert" opinion on strategy and tactics when they just don't get it. I can understand when fans post this illogic emotional statement, but to do it publicly, you got to have higher standards.

I won't point my finger this time, since this is something I've seen fans say, but this columnist wrote something that many fans have been saying but not understanding. A couple of off-seasons ago, the Giants stated that they will try to get younger in the future, as their strategy. Because they then signed Barry Bonds, Dave Roberts, and Benjie Molina, these people say that the Giants were lying or at least not truthful with themselves. Baloney.

Strategy vs. Tactics

This type of stuff happens all the time in business. A company may have a strategy, say, focused on signing higher margin contracts in order to boost your overall gross margins. That is the general corporate goal, and the signing of higher margin contracts is their strategy to achieve the higher margins.

But companies don't always have one goal guiding their strategy. Another unspoken goal is to maintain your revenue level, if not tack on a healthy bit of growth, to please the shareholders. If a huge contract comes up for bid that you determine that you need to win in order to maintain or grow your revenues, then you try to win that contract, even if the margins on that contract is not supporting the overall strategy of focusing on higher margin contracts. Sometimes other priorities overrule one of your strategies.

Youth vs. Winning

This is what happened with the Giants. I don't agree with it for 2008, but the Giants, while they had Barry Bonds on the payroll, was going all in to try to win. That has been the overall goal of the Giants organization as long as Barry Bonds was on contract. And if you were paying a player $20M per season, you better try as hard as you can to win, else why pay him $20M? Out of the goodness of your heart?

So each year, they spent what they could to get the players they needed - and generally they signed the best player available on the free agent market - and try to win it all. Obviously, that has failed the past few years, though that includes a season where Bonds was out all season but not many fans seem to accept the fact that any team losing a $20M ballplayer is going to have a hard time winning, it is still Sabean's "fault" that Bonds banged up his knee and couldn't play. Not many realize that taking such a position implies that they are saying that Bonds either should not have been signed to his $90M contract or that he should have been traded.

I wouldn't have gone their route, I would have tried to sign Vlad or another marquee player instead of bringing in these journeyman players, but I could accept that they Giants were at least trying to win, as my route would have involved significant risk of losing because some positions would be in the hands of youngsters or bottom of the barrel free agents.

So for 2007, if you are trying to win, you don't bring in prospects who are not that highly rated to start, you get major league professionals. They lambaste the Giants for signing Bonds because he's old, but the truth was that he was still the best available free agent out there, young or old. And they did try hard to sign some younger players like Carlos Lee, but were rebuffed. If they won't sign with you because, say, they have a huge ranch near the team they signed with plus the state has no income taxes, what can you do? They were willing to go higher, but Lee basically told the Giants that he got what he wanted from Houston, so don't bother.

You don't sign Bonds and then don't fill the other open positions with better players. People whine about why didn't Fred Lewis get the chance instead of signing Roberts, but frankly, none of the well-known prospect publications listed Fred Lewis on their Top 100 list - heck, he wasn't even near the top of the Giants Top 10 list - which shows that he's not really as good as some Giants fans think he is. The experts can be and have been wrong, but usually they are pretty much on the mark.

So while they tried to execute the youth strategy, they failed at it, but how can you succeed when one of your main targets basically tell you that no matter how much more money you want to offer, he's going with Houston? I think that was a key factor in why the Giants finally signed Barry Zito, because their statement about getting younger would seem hollow if they didn't get someone younger, and Zito qualified.

For 2008, again, people lambasted Sabean for signing Vizquel, but, again, who was a better option out there? Royce Clayton? David Eckstein? Cesar Izturiz? Heck, Neifi Perez or Cody Ransom? Vizquel is the best fielder of the free agent class, hands down. If they knew that Adam Everett was going to be released and available, maybe they wait, but if Vizquel signs with someone else, you are screwed defensively and forced to sign one of the other guys. And why not Vizquel? He is loved by the fans, he still plays good defense, and his offense isn't bad if he was batting 8th, which he was by the end of the season.

You don't go with youth just to go with youth if you are trying to be competitive. I would have preferred that the Giants just blow off 2008 and try out young guys, but if they are going to be competitive, they had to sign Vizquel, there was no better option, let alone younger option.

And people forget that they Giants signed Rowand, who has a good bat, potentially great bat, and who is young at 30. People can say that he is not "young" but there are no players who are good and young available on the free agent market. There are players like that available in trade, but you saw what the cost there would have been, a Lincecum or Cain. And his salary is the fair market price for a player who is a bit above average offensively and good defensively. If Rowand is more like 2004 and 2007 than 2005 and 2006, we just got a huge bargain.

People also don't give credit to Sabean that the Giants didn't sign any of the retreads they could have signed for 1B and 3B, no Sean Casey, Tony Clark, Shea Hillenbrand, or Eric Hinske, no Aaron Boone or Jeff Cirillo or Hinske again. Basically, they have left 1B and 3B open, with Ortmeier clearly getting the chance to start at 1B, and I think they have been keeping 3B open in case Durham returns to being a good hitter and push Frandsen to 3B. I think that's why they haven't pulled the trigger on Crede.

But wait, these fans are not satisfied with Ortmeier or Frandsen at 1B or 3B, they aren't good enough. But they are young. Those are the hard choices that have to be made in following your strategy, some tactics will fulfill one strategy, but negate another, life is not perfectly black and white. Sometimes you have to accept that one strategy takes a hit while you fulfill another strategy.

Your Opinion About Sabean is Showing

That's why I think that issues like this is related more to the writer's viewpoint on Sabean. If they don't like Sabean, they find fault with any discrepancy in his public statements. That's why politics is so nasty today, people mudsling like this and the media just eggs them with stuff like this. Like I said, strategy and tactics are not black and white, there are often valid reasons why you don't toe the line with a stated strategy, because another goal overrides that one. But that don't matter when you clearly don't like what a person has done and think they should lose their job.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

GiDar: Henry Sosa

The prospect on today's Giants Radar (GiDar) is 22 year old starting pitcher Henry Sosa. Henry Sosa is one of the Giants top prospects for 2008: he was ranked second in the Giants farm system by both Deric McKamey of Minor League Baseball Analyst and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus recently, plus was ranked 5th by Baseball America.

He broke into the limelight by "accident" last season: he was scheduled for a lower level when an injury led the Giants to place him at Augusta instead, where he was lights out pitching well, which earned him a promotion to San Jose. However, he cooled off there and should start the 2008 season in San Jose. However, he still represented the Giants in 2007's All-Star Future Game, so that showed how highly the organization thinks of him.

He was in the San Jose Mercury news recently - reported by the able Andrew Baggarly - because a surgery to repair a torn patella tendon in his left knee (could this have caused his problems in San Jose?) after last season slowed his preparations for this season. Thus, while he is at least throwing right now, he won't be in the minor league mini-camp during spring training. If he continues to improve, he could be ready to pitch by mid-April.

McKamey thinks that Sosa can potentially become a #2 starter and is an elite prospect. He notes that Sosa has a "terrifying" plus fast ball and "hard" average curveball that he uses to ring up strikeouts against right-handed hitters. Sosa's major problem is a propensity to walk a lot of batters, but that is compensated against all the strikeouts he gets, he has averaged more than 10 K/9 during his short career.

Baseball America makes similar observations and adds that "he's among the more durable high-profile arms in the system." They think that he is still more thrower than pitcher, and as a result is very inconsistent in finding the strike-zone, particularly in keeping his fastball down. Also, he still needs to develop a third pitch - he is trying to learn a changeup - if he want to remain a starter. But if he can figure all this out, BA thinks "his upside is huge..."

Good Problem to Have

Our rotation could get very crowded with top of the rotation throwers in a couple of years. We have Zito, Cain, Lincecum, Lowry, and Correia currently plus Sanchez and Misch in the wings, but Sosa, Bumgarner, and Alderson could be ready in the 2010-2011 timeframe to come up and start in the majors, though I would say that there is an outside chance that both Sosa and Alderson could make the majors in 2009 - as Sabean said Alderson could on draft day - if the Giants advance them aggressively, much like they did with Sanchez, bringing them up to relieve initially.

Just Pick a Hitter With the #5

Hopefully all these riches in pitching will convince the Giants that they just have to select a position prospect with the #5 overall pick that they have in the 2008 amateur draft. A recent Minor League Ball post went over the top amateurs available currently, and, like most draft scenarios that I have seen thus far, someone there had the Giants selecting Justin Smoak, 1B, of South Carolina.

Given that Villalona appears headed for 1B, I am hoping that 3B Pedro Alvarez's injury drops his stock and he falls to us at #5. But he has been the concensus #1 prospect in all the lists I have seen so right now it's a pipe dream unless he plays poorly - or the others really play well, much like how Evan Longoria rose from #10 before the season began to being in mix for the top after the season.

Ah, who am I kidding, I'd be happy with either of them or the other top hitter, currently, Yonder Alonso. Apparently there is also a high school shortstop, Tim Beckham, who is highly regarded right now and could fall to us at #5. And another top hitter is high school 1B Eric Hosmer, who some consider the best high school bat in the draft, though others could draft ahead of him because of the position being a premium one.

It's the Wind, So Run Like the Wind

I had submitted a request to MiLB writer, Jon Mayo, to study Dodd Stadium's situations in a way similar to how he looked at other parks, including San Jose Municipal Stadium (article here) and he posted his response in a mailbag article here. He basically said that the winds there kill any hits to the outfield and there's nothing you can do about that.

Municipal Madness

Speaking of Municipal Stadium, that article noted that the sun, sky, and background keeps the hitters guessing and thus striking out a lot, as well as reducing their batting average as well as their on-base percentage. There are extended quotes from John Bowker, one of the new darlings of the Giants prospect hounds for his great 2007 season, though he did us a disservice by saying that Dodd Stadium was no big deal because he could see the ball there, whereas in San Jose he couldn't see them as well. Here is Bowker's home/road split for 2007 when he was at Connecticut:

Home: .271/.330/.422/.742, 6 HR in 251 AB (42 AB/HR)
Road: .345/.397/.629/1.027, 16 HR in 267 AB (17 AB/HR)

So he was like Michael Tucker at home (Dodd) but Barry Bonds on the road. That's a huge difference.

Ben Copeland was also quoted. He had a big split home/road while at San Jose in 2007, as shown in the article. The odd thing is that Copeland's hit-type split shows significantly less line-drives at home vs. the road, which explains the drop in batting average but not the drop in homers, as he had about the same percentage of flyballs hit. However, Bowker saw a significant drop in flyballs, which led to a drop in HR hit, but they all basically became line drives batted balls, which normally result in an increase in batting average, but as seen above, his BA took a big hit.

All in all, Giants position prospects have been suffering big time trying to hit first in San Jose then in Connecticut. In addition, Mayo noted that "Augusta ... is also a challenging park..." And if the service that provides MLEs on these parks don't account for the park factor correctly, then all the Giants position prospects look worse than they really are while the pitchers look better than they really are.

In any case, our hitters have been getting short shrift while rising through Augusta, San Jose, and Connecticut, because their overall stats don't truly reflect what they are capable of doing. And obviously, some of our pitchers are overrated as their stats are pumped up by these parks. As long as these conditions are not improved in some way, whether by re-configuring Dodd Stadium, as the Giants had been pushing the Defenders to do, or improving the "batter's eye" that Bowker talked about at Municipal Stadium, it will be hard to judge exactly how well our players are doing except when they are extraordinarily good, which is rare for any team, anyhow.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy: Vizquel Injury

It has been revealed today - here is the sfgiants.com version - that Omar Vizquel injured his knee last week and when he had an MRI, they discovered that he needs surgery to fix the damage now and get him back on the field quickly for most of 2008, instead of risking that the surgery happens sometime during the season and losing a large chunk of the season. He will be out 4-6 weeks and most probably will miss some of the start of the season.

The immediate solution noted right now is for Frandsen to man Shortstop in Omar's absense, which means Aurilia at 3B and Durham at 2B, though once Omar is back, Durham might have a battle for playing time at 2B, depending on how well Aurilia hits as well, because the Giants could field Aurilia at 3B and Frandsen at 2B.

Frandsen is jazzed by the opportunity, though he took pains to note that the position is Omar's and he regrets it is an injury that gave him the opportunity. He knows that he still has to win a starting position once Omar is back. But he appreciates the Giants confidence in him and hopes to earn a starting position somewhere for 2008.

This also opens up an opportunity for Eugenio Velez to win the utility middle infielder role at the start of the season. He is still prepping for an uber-utility role - he is playing every position except for pitcher, catcher, and 1B, and I'll bet he'd be willing to catch if it got him into the majors. But he's only keeping the seat warm until Omar comes back and forces one of the starters at 2B, 3B, or SS to the bench, depending on how well Durham, Frandsen, and Aurilia hits.

Clearly, the Giants have been leaning towards Durham at 2B and Frandsen at 3B, given the little public comment on Aurilia's role. I have to assume that the only reason the Giants haven't pulled the trigger on a trade for a 3B is because they want to see how Durham and Frandsen does. If both can hit well enough, the man 2B and 3B, respectively, with Durham providing some power, and there is no need for a trade. If either struggles, then they will probably trade for Crede as oft-rumored to play 3B with the better hiter starting at 2B.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

New Baserunning Coach Preaching and Teaching

Roberto Kelly is the Giants new first base coach, after having great successful managing in the minors, leading Augusta the past three years. He is also in charge of outfield and baserunning instruction. At Augusta, the teams overachieved with pitchers without overpowering stuff and speedsters like Marcus Sanders, Eugenio Velez, Antoan Richardson, and Emmanuel Burriss, stealing a ton of buses.

Having fast players, it is usually hard to see what effect Kelly has on them, but Velez is a stark example of how well Kelly taught the players to be run-happy. When Eugenio was in the Blue Jay's system, he never stole more than 10 bases in any full season (he stole 28 bases in short season rookie DSL), his high was when he stole 7 (and was caught 5 times) in his last season in their system. He was a horrible base stealer. First season we got him, Kelly had Velez stealing 64 (!) bases with 81% success rate, which is above average and above the break-even rate for success rate (I've seen some state anywhere from 70-80% as the break-even point). He won the league's MVP award with that performance the season after his team gave up on him and we picked him up.

That is a huge transformation, all due to Kelly according to Velez. Velez swears by Kelly: "Everything I know right now, I learned from Roberto Kelly. He said, 'If a pitcher has a quick move, he'll give you something. Pay attention and you'll see it.' " Emmanuel Burris also had a positive comment as well, "There's a difference between a hard-working team and a team that wants to work hard. His teams want to work hard."

Those are clearly the attitudes the Giants are trying to instill for 2008 and beyond, for the players to work hard, to take the extra base. And it goes beyond just stealing bases, it affects all areas of baserunning in general which puts pressure on the opposing defenses, hopefully forcing errors. Taking extra bases, whether by stealing bases on stretching singles into doubles and doubles into triples, will be the goal this season.

In addition, there is a bonus in that Kelly is a Spanish speaker and the first on the coaching staff since Alou was the manager and Luis Pujols was on the staff. This is important because the Giants have been making a concerted push in Latin America for talent and expects that talent to reach the majors soon. For example, Kelly has already been assisting Angel Villalona with both baseball issues and life in general.

Velez Playing Various Positions

Speaking of Eugenio Velez, Chris Haft of sfgiants.com just wrote on him in an interesting article. The Giants are moving ahead with trying to make him into a Chone Figgins uber-utility type of player who can essentially start but can start at a wide variety of different positions each day. They have been playing him at 2B, 3B, SS, and the OF. The 25 year old said - unsurprisingly - that he's willing to play anywhere in order to make the majors.

Velez's transformation was pretty stark, as noted above, and he credited his development to Roberto Kelly, his former Augusta manager and current Giants first base coach. "I try to put into play everything that I've learned from him," Velez said. Looks like he has done a great job of learning from Kelly, Velez was a nothing prospect when the Giants picked him up, and now he is on most Giants' Top 10 prospect lists and on the cusp of making the 25 man roster in the 2008 season with another good season, where he will probably play at AAA Fresno.

Giants Thought

Giants fans have been wondering how the Giants can run in 2008 when the roster is basically the same, slow, non-stealing crew from last season. Roberto Kelly's Augusta teams provides a template for what they could be like. Obviously players like Molina, Alfonzo, Aurilia, and Frandsen are not going to suddenly sprout wings and start stealing 10 bases a season. However, Roberts and Davis will set the tone up at the top of the order, and players like Winn, Lewis, Rowand, Ortmeier (he stole double-digits bases the past 5 seasons, all his full-season years), and Vizquel are capable of providing double-digit steal totals. Teams that force the issue like this on the base paths can pressure the defense into errors, mental or otherwise, that can lead to rallies.

Now, it won't transform the team into a serious contender, but that's not the point. The point is changing the attitudes of the players who are on the team and want to remain on the team (that is, remain in the majors and/or Giants). That is to show any future player the Giants seek to get that they are the right team to join (or so the Giants management's thinking goes).

As I and others have noted, the Giants as they are today isn't that far away from .500, they could even be there today if the pitchers can develop and progress as hoped while the offense hits as well as projections suggest, as I have shown with my Pythagorean calculations, Bill James projections, and lineup analysis. We can be one good trade, one good signing, or one good development away from being competitive (85+ wins) again.

Bill James Projections

I thought I would check out what Bill James projects for the Giants pitching staff. Using his numbers for Cain, Lowry, Correia, Zito, Wilson, Walker, Hennessey, Chulk, Kline, Sanchez, and Misch (I used CHONE for Lincecum since there was no projection for him), who are expected to comprise the pitching staff in 2008, I got an aggregate ERA of 3.82. Now, that could get worse as there is still another 120+ IP to account for, so either lesser pitchers will pitch those innings or the pitching staff above could be pushed hard and do more poorly.

Adding Randy Messenger, who would be the next logical pitcher to add, should the Giants expand to 12 pitchers, would raise the ERA to 3.88. Adding Jack Taschner, assuming pitchers will move up and down, would keep the ERA at 3.88, and bring the IP to about that of 2007.

That results in a runs allowed scenario of 4.20 runs per game. That is what the offense is expected to produce, based on Bill James projections for the offense and the lineup analyzer, resulting in an expected .500 team for the Giants in 2008.

Wilson "warming" to Role of Closer

That's the title the Merc headline writer used for Baggarly's article, but the writer either didn't read the article or didn't understand it. Clearly, from what Andy wrote in the article, Brian Wilson has the mental attitude for the closer role. He wants to go with his best pitch and challenge the batter. He doesn't want to just fool the hitter. Mano-a-mano with his best heat.

The big bit of info in the article was that Bochy awarded the closer role to Wilson before one pitch was thrown this spring. He noted, "We're not going to go back and forth on this. We want Brian to be relaxed."

There was also interesting info on Wilson's pitches. His repertoire includes a slider but his best stuff is a four-seam fastball (99 MPH) and a cut fastball that he started throwing in 2006. "It can drop, go sideways, tilt up... It's devastating on the inside corner to a righty because it's coming right at them, then at the last second it hovers back in the strike zone. Or it looks like a fat fastball down the middle, then it moves off the plate and breaks a bat. It's just an awesome weapon."

He learned how to throw the cutter through TV and the right circumstances. He remembered the grip for the cutter from watching a Yankee's game on TV where someone demonstrated how Mariano Rivera throws it. Later, in 2006, he grilled Mike Stanton about it after the Giants acquired Stanton since Stanton was teammates with Rivera. He likes it so much that he wants to throw the cutter all the time, just like Rivera.

Giants Thoughts

I'm glad the Giants just named him the closer and moved on. There is really no one else who could seriously compete, as nicely as Hennessey did in 2007 and Walker previously. So take some of the pressure off him and let him prepare and get ready for the season.

In addition, if he can pitch well, that will go a long way towards improving the bullpen in 2008 versus 2007. And I think he can pitch very well in 2008. He, Walker and Hennessey are the core of the bullpen and if they do well it will go a long way towards the pitching staff reducing their overall ERA from what it was in 2007.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Out of Options

Andy Baggarley of the Merc reported that the following players have less than 3 years of service time and are out of options:
  • Erick Threets
  • Merkin Valdez
  • Dan Ortmeier
  • Fred Lewis
  • Rajai Davis

In addition to Threets, Merkin could be out of the organization by the time the season starts. Neither are likely to pitch so well to push out an incumbent but that's why they play the game, maybe they finally figure things out. Bochy noted that Merkin's delivery looked more compact and controlled, so who knows?

If they are waived, I expect both of them to be picked up by another team. If lesser prospects like Coutlangus (Reds) and Burres (Orioles) get picked up, then most prospects with a pulse are most probably goners.

That's too bad in Merkin's case. We all had such a buildup over the year and to see him leave the organization and then do well elsewhere would hurt. But that's life.

The position players are probably going to make the team this season unless one of them are traded. Today's Merc talked about how Rowand is making a big push for his buddy Crede, and Baggarly wrote that it might take only a Fred Lewis to get Crede, instead of the rumored Jonathan Sanchez.

I would be greatly saddened by that as, while I don't think Lewis will ever be as good as many Giants fans currently think he can be, I still would like to see what he could do as a Giant, because he has shown some flashes of good stuff that I would like to see. Also, we would lose him either for a short-term rental for 2008 or, worse, sign him to a multi-year contract when he's no better than Feliz only younger and a bit worse defensively, though still very good overall.

Even worse, if Durham does do well, then we have no spot for Frandsen to play as 3B would then be occupied. I would be severely disappointed with Sabean if he does this oft-rumored trade, it would not fit in with what he's been saying. And while I understand that not every move/tactic is in line with the overall strategy, given the need for the Giants to find out what Frandsen can do in the majors, they must leave 3B open as an option for Frandsen in case Durham is back.

We need to look to the future and while Crede would help the present, I think it would be better for our future to find out what Lewis can do, rather than verify that Crede is just another Feliz-like hitter.

Stirring Things Up

The starting pitchers are already showing cohesion by announcing that they will all wear old-school black stirrups. Most pitchers today use socks. It started with Zito and Cain last season, talking about doing that, then Lowry and Lincecum jumped on board, followed soon by Sanchez. Correia recently made it all for one and one for all. Zito noted, "We're all pitching for each other."

I like stuff like this that help band players together. Sometimes its hokey, but this one feels like a good one. Things like this can help keep things loose and fun, while also building a sense of brotherhood. It's all good.

This reminds me of a few years back when Livan Hernandez goaded all the pitchers to become better hitters, by taking bets on who would end up with a better average. While it not as bonding as this act, it still got all the starters working and pushing each other to become better. Lord knows that we need the starters to do really well if we are to salvage anything from this 2008 season.

"The Kid" Gloves

It was reported that Tim "The Kid" Lincecum (I'm trying out a new nickname...) was shut down totally during the off-season. He didn't throw off the mound once, which explains his moptop Beatlesque (or Moe Howard) hairdo at the recent FanFest, else the hair might have gotten in his eyes while he pitched. Bochy noted research that showed that pitchers who jump to 200 IP too early in their career were susceptible to injury, so the Giants are handling "The Kid" with kid gloves so as not to take any risks with that arm. The article also noted that The Kid is "generously listed as 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds," and I had seen somewhere this off-season that he's closer to 5-foot-7.

Bravo! No need to take extra risks while losing. I am surprised but glad that they shut him down totally. Putting him out there would not have really taught him much, but could have damaged his arm. Save his arm for down the line a year or two beyond, when he is hopefully pitching in more meaningful games.

Lefty Relievers May Be Left Out

I will be catching up with the news of the weekend, nugget by nugget, starting with this one. I am using the Merc's Andy Baggarly for my source, but I won't bother linking as they expire soon anyway.

Lefty Relievers

Got a lot of contenders here. In addition to the incumbents Steve Kline and Jack Taschner (who still has an option and thus probably will start the year in Fresno no matter how good he does), there are perennial prospect Erick Threets (who has no options left) and newcomer Rule 5 Draftee Jose Capellan from Boston.

Kline finally realizes that his baseball life is starting to go down so he did something about it. Kline dropped 40 pounds in order to improve upon his performance in 2008. Both he and Taschner were horrible against left-handed hitters in 2007, and that's why the Giants are bringing in other candidates.

Barring a total meltdown, I don't see how Capellan don't make the team. The Giants PR machine has been talking about what a steal he is and Felipe Alou has been crowing about how mad Boston was over losing him. It would be bad PR and a black eye to admit they were wrong and return him to the Red Sox, he would take him back if returned.

And I don't see Kline getting the heave-ho too, as far as getting released as some fans posit. As poorly as he did against LHH, he was among the top 5 in the NL in lowest percentage of inherited runners scoring, which is the most important thing a reliever can do. That plus his vet savvy makes it more likely he stays. However, it is possible the Giants may decide to go with the young players and trade Kline to a team who could better use his talents. Like the Giants a few years back when they got Wayne Franklin, there could be a team at the end of spring training who needs a nice lefty reliever and would give us a nice prospect for him (as he's way better than Franklin ever was).

If Kline is kept, though, that would mean that Giants would have to waive Threets, particularly in light of the Giants talk about keeping only 6 relievers (so that they could keep another position prospect up), with Wilson, Walker, and Hennessey as locks there, barring trade of Hennessey (though I would expect the Giants to keep him around since he can long relieve). And Chulk probably has the 4th spot sewn up as long as he is healthy, leaving only two spots, which in this scenario is Capellan and Kline. Too bad, I've been waiting for Threets to show what he got, particularly since he's local, but it does not appear that it will work out unless Kline is traded away and Threets does great in spring.

This small 6 man bullpen also would probably mean that Randy Messenger is sent down as well. However, I don't know whether he has another option left or not, so he might be lost via waiver as well, unless they trade him. I expect the Giants to try to trade away any player they would have to waive so as to get someone for him.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Zito Named 2008 Opening Day Starter

As reported in all Giants media outlets, Barry Zito was named the opening day starter for the 2008 Giants. Many fans showed a lot of outrage over this decision, made before the pitchers had really pitched to show what they could do. The vast majority thought that Matt Cain should have been the starter.

Giants Thoughts

I don't know why Giants fans are getting so outraged over this. Other than they don't like the Giants direction and/or Brian Sabean, and just want to complain about something, anything.

Who cares if Zito starts the D'gers home opener? The key thing to me is that Cain is therefore starting the Giants home opener and that Lincecum will pitch in that series too. It will be Cain, Lowry, Lincecum, our three young, good starters, starting in our first home series of the season. End of story as far as I am concerned.

Plus people aren't even thinking about the ramifications of moves like this, they aren't thinking like a manager or like an owner, which I think any fan should act like because when you really think about it, their salaries are paid by us fans. You are dealing with people's egos and pride here, even for someone as zen as Zito claims to be. He got the biggest contract in history and now is the highest paid player on the team, as well as have another six years on his contract.

To not make the statement now that he is the starter would be a huge blow to anybody's ego and we would still have six more seasons to pay to him. If you can throw 20% of your paycheck into the gutter like that every year and not think about it - lucky you - but in the real world you have to protect your investment and do your best to make sure it is productive. In this case, it means making a definitive statement before any real pitching that Zito's the man.

And as Bochy said, Cain is young - people forget that he's only 23 - and will get this honor in the future, though he will probably have to share it somehow with Lincecum soon. Plus, as I had noted in my post the other day and up above, more importantly, Cain's the opening day starter for the Giants home opener.

Cain and Lincecum are the centerpiece of the Giants future, as I've been harping on since last season, and our starting rotation with them and Zito is what we are going to have to rely on for any future success, playoff or otherwise. And they won't get there any faster by giving Cain the opening day assignment. The Giants had to give Zito that assignment, for the long term health of the Giants franchise. It was the right move to do.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Merc's Top 5 Question for 2008

The Merc ran their version of the Top 5 question article - a newspaper staple the past few years - the other day (remember there's only 7 days from publication to view). I liked the questions that Baggarly addressed - I think most readers should know by now I like Baggarly the most among the various Giants columnists and this article just helps to confirm that.

1. Who will take command of the clubhouse?

This is a good question now that the aura of Bonds will no longer be in the clubhouse. From what I've read this off-season, Bonds had given Zito one of his locker stalls when Zito signed with the Giants and recently it was noted that Matt Cain was asked by Zito to take over one of the stalls that Bonds had - though not THE locker stall, whatever that means - so it looks like the next generation is starting to gel, with Zito and his long contract, and Cain and his excellent performance.

The signs are encouraging that some of the players are excited about the opportunity to put their stamp on the new Giants, to make a statement. There is a nice article today by Ann Killion about Matt Cain, though I should note "welcome to the bandwagon" to Ann, I was writing about the pitching as our new centerpiece last off-season. There have been other articles with players where they are working hard to compete for a job.

While the veteran position players will obviously take a bigger role in things, I think the contracts that Zito and Rowand have will automatically make them focal points going forward, particularly for Rowand since he's clearly the best position player. Zito, at least, is cognizant of his limitations and of the need to pitch within his abilities and is willing to mentor the young pitchers like Cain and, I assume, Lincecum eventually.

I don't think anyone should discount that type of help, being a major leaguer is a big adjustment as it is, and Zito has gone through experiences that will be helpful to our young pitchers, I believe. Mentors are important, whether in baseball or life in general, mentors can help accelerate the process of getting over all that and contributing fully to the organization. A mentor can help you get the most of your talents and reaching your potential sooner.

In addition, it seems like things are changing the way Bochy wants, to get the Giants to become warriors who are going to battle, starting with the signing of Aaron Rowand. But even before then, I think Cain definitely had this "warrrior" attitude and from what I can tell, Lincecum should also have this attitude, you don't overcome all the negatives coming your way and achieving what he has done in his career in college and the majors thus far.

The Giants columnists overall have been doing a good job noting the changes in the attitude of Giants. There have been a lot of articles about this change and I will be disappointed if the pitchers do not take command of the clubhouse. Both Cain and Lincecum should be the focal point going forward and, with Zito's help, the starting rotation should be on the road to becoming the leaders in the clubhouse.

As a sidenote, KNBR posts interviews on their site and Bochy noted the other day that the Giants are leaning towards a Right/Lefty rotation of Cain, Zito, Lincecum, Lowry, Correia, where Correia is the front-runner for the #5 position right now. This would be fine for me, though I would still prefer Zito, Cain, Lowry, Lincecum, Correia, as that would put less pressure on Cain plus then Cain would be the starter for our home opener (Zito would be in the above configuration; Zito in my configuration would pitch in the home opener for the D-gers).

2. Will the young guys seize their chance, and will the veterans begrudge them?

A good, though obvious question. Given all the talk about the Giants possibly trading for a 3B (seems like from recent comments that Ortmeier will be given a huge opportunity to start at 1B), I have to think there's something to that, the old "where there's smoke, there's fire" rubric. But I think we need to remember that part of the duties of management is to put a fire under the players they have now, so I think that is part of the talk too.

Frandsen is basically being thrown the challenge to do well coming out of the gate in spring training. If he can hit like he did in September last season - 20 starts in 21 games, 83PA/73AB, .370/.427/.479/.906, 1 HR - I think that the impetus to trade would be totally squelched. Even if he hit like he did in Aug/Sept - 42 games, 131 AB, .290/.342/.435/.777, 4 HR, 33 AB/HR - I think that the Giants would be hard pressed to trade, mainly because of the recent statement by Sabean about finding someone who would be "dramatically" better than the players we currently have, and there are few players dramatically better than .777 OPS, 33 AB/HR, who would not cost the Giants Cain and/or Lincecum to obtain.

Despite all the banter in the community boards about Sabean and the Giants, the fact is that the Giants did well this off-season of transitioning to youth. Rowand obviously is much younger than Bonds, and even if the young OFs don't get to start, just because you are young don't mean you deserve to start over a vet. People give it short-shrift, but the reason vets are wanted is because we know how they are going to produce relatively consistently. And some scoff at re-signing Vizquel, but frankly, there was not any better options at SS in the free agent market, in terms of ability and age.

That said, the Giants kept their young pitching intact and did not acquire any middling talent - Rowand is clearly better than any of the young OF prospects - that could take significant ABs away from young players. Frandsen and Ortmeier look to be given the chance to show what they can do in spring training and I believe that if they do well enough, the Giants will give them a starting position. And as Sabean always say, the roster is always fluid, so while some focus on the Giants trading FOR somebody, it also means that the Giants might be trading AWAY someone, particularly in the outfield given all the young prospects we have in the OF.

As I've noted before, I hope it is Winn traded and not Roberts, both for more ABs for the young prospects as well as getting more in prospects from the trade itself and particularly because RF is Nate Schierholtz's natural position. But I am not vehement about this, unlike others, I just believe that the Giants need to trade one of Winn and Roberts to free up ABs for our prospects, we need to see what they can do so that we can plan better for 2009.

I also think that Durham will be traded away if he does not at least hit better than Aurilia. His main value is as a hitter - he doesn't steal much anymore, he's never been a defensive whiz, he doesn't play other positions, at least not without "preparing" for it during spring training (much like he didn't listen to the Giants about how to prepare his body after he started getting injured regularly, I don't expect his to happen either) - so if he doesn't hit, he don't have much value.

And the more I think about it, unless he can hit like he had previously, above 800 OPS, he is probably gone. If he's still worse than he was before, I think the Giants will either trade him away, assuming he's hitting OK but not like before some team will want him with the Giants contributing $3-4M, or release him, if he hits as poorly as he did in 2007. Only if he is hitting great, meaning that he could bat in the middle of the lineup with Rowand and Winn, can I see the Giants keeping him, if he is middling, we have a lot of middling hitters, we may as well move him in a trade and see what others can do.

3. How do they form a competitive lineup?

I know that most don't agree but the Giants lineup should be good enough to help the team get to .500. Using the lineup calculator and using the Giants projections available on Fangraphs, the Giants lineup - which most scuttlebutt says is probably Roberts/Davis, Frandsen, Winn, Molina, Rowand, Durham, Ortmeier, Vizquel - looks to produce around 4.20 runs per game. With the pitchers allowing runs at 4.44 runs per game in 2007 and looking to get better given more Lincecum starts, better Zito starts, a ready Wilson, and no Morris, Ortiz, Benitez, that puts the Giants at a Pythagorean of roughly .500.

Of course, .500 is nowhere near competitive with the NL West as it is currently constructed. However, they are not all bullet-proof either. Colorado and Arizona have a lot of young players who now needs to prove that they can do it again. Arizona, in particular, over achieved their Pythagorean and should have been under .500 themselves; adding Haren helps but not to the tune of getting them easily up to 90 wins again. I think the D-gers will suffer from the addition of Andruw Jones, both in that he's not going to be like he used to be as a hitter and for the chaos that throws their outfield in, Kemp and Ethier should be starting but this uncertainty should affect the overall team chemistry and production. The Padres look most likely to repeat what they did, but Peavy is only one year removed from a thoroughly average season and Maddux has to start declining at some point and Hoffman has been looking more ordinary every year, plus they have Scott Hairston penciled in for LF.

So, it is not inconceivable to me that the rest of the NL West have a regression year in 2008 and return to the .500 level, so the Giants could be competitive for parts of the 2008 season. And if Frandsen and Ortmeier can repeat their success in hitting late in 2007, that would boost our offense and our winning. Still, expecting the Giants to be competitive all season long would be a pipe dream, I think we should just focus on how well the young players do and hope that the Giants can give the young players a lot of experience and see what they can do. Anything else would be a bonus, much like it was in the 1997 season.

And a very interesting bit of info here is that the Giants are leaning towards an 11-man pitching staff, which means a number of things. One is that the Giants could have a bigger bench, allowing them to carry an extra OF (Schierholtz), extra utility (Velez), or three catchers. It would also mean that with one less reliever, the other relievers will get to pitch more when in there, instead of being yanked in and out. Thus specialists won't really fit in, the relievers will have to be able pitch to both LH and RH.

Third, and most importantly, I think that would force the Giants to put Sanchez in AAA and be a starter. I know Baggarly has Sanchez projected to be on the roster but I think the Giants, by having a smaller pitching staff, would want to have a pitcher who they project to be a reliever up in the majors, like Messenger or Taschner, or to keep a prospect like Jose Capellan, and finally devote development time to Sanchez as a starter. Particularly since Sanchez has only one more option year, starting in 2009, they will have to keep him up, no more futzing around with whether he is a starter or reliever.

However, I don't think the big questions are on Vizquel and Molina, who were mentioned in the article. Durham, Frandsen, and Ortmeier are the question marks in the lineup, with Rowand secondarily because of his position as the only true middle-of-lineup threat - I believe he's good enough to be one, but until he does, there is that question of whether 2005-2006 is the true Rowand or not. As the cliche goes, that's why they play the games.

Anyway, Durham, if he can return to a semblance of normalcy, would be a boon to the lineup, plus a better trading chip. And Frandsen and Ortmeier, if they can hit like they did late in the season, would be much better than projections say and would boost the lineup accordingly, the runs scored per game would rise from 4.2 to around 4.4, which could push us over .500, in terms of Pythagorean Wins.

4. What does Sabean have up his sleeve?

Another good question. As Baggarly noted, and this was widely circulated in October and November, Sabean thought that there would be a lot of trades happening this off-season. I think that having top young players like Miguel Cabrera, Johan Santana, Dan Haren, Nick Swisher, Delmon Young, Eric Bedard, being available and then traded, made it hard for teams to focus on the secondary and tertiary trades that the discussions might have led to, and once spring training was near, then teams probably felt that they may as well wait until then to see what they got before making a trade. A number of these trades lingered on until now, and there's still rumors of a Brian Roberts trade coming down the pike, as well as talk about Joe Blanton as well.

As Baggarly had scooped other columnists recently, he noted that Lowry is on the radar of some GMs. He also stated in this article that if Lowry has a strong spring, he could be a great trading chip for a middle-of-lineup hitting prospect, which would be nice, I'm not sure Lowry is worth that unless it's prospect with huge question marks but nice power. Again, it speaks to what Sabean has been saying this off-season: the Giants are in transition, they will make player moves that benefits today as well as the future, and they will only make a move when there is a significant improvement over what we have internally.

5. Will the bullpen inspire confidence?

Well, they can't all be gems, particularly at the end, still, the bullpen is a question mark that needs to be answered for the Giants. Baggarly brings a different take that I have not seen often, thankfully so, which is that there are still people internal to the Giants who think that the Giants should make Lincecum the closer and have a great troika of Lincecum, Wilson, Walker taking over the final three innings.

If I could slap the head of each and every one of these Giants employees who are suggesting this (mainly because Boston did the same thing first with Papelbon) and scream at them, "what are you thinking!", I would. Besides the obvious value of an ace-type starter over even a great closer, there is the competitive advantage of having a 1-2 punch of Cain and Lincecum in the rotation, both during the regular season and in a short playoff series. On top of that, Brian Wilson has a lot of good skills that will serve him well as a closer, their argument would have a better leg to stand on if we didn't have Wilson, but we do. Lastly, the Giants are not in the position to seriously compete in 2008, so why move Lincecum into a closer role, whereas we know that he is a great starting pitcher - his PQS DOM% was 67% in 2007, among the elite in all of the majors (!) let alone great for the Giants. Just say "NO" to Lincecum in the bullpen.

Giants Thoughts

Good article overall. Good questions, good bits of information. Such as the Giants probably going with an 11-man pitching staff, there might be 3 catchers on the roster or Nate Schierholtz would make a 6 man OF, and that there is still internal discussion over Lincecum being in the bullpen.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chron's Top 5 Questions of 2008

Henry Schulman wrote an article about the Top 5 questions for 2008 over the weekend. I plan on writing a similar article later sometime this spring, but wanted to tackle his answers.

1. Is This a 100-loss Team?

I don't think so, here is my thinking. The pitching overall should be better but let's assume they equal what they did last season (defense probably is about the same: countering the huge loss of Feliz, we add Roberts in LF and Rowand in CF, both strong defensively at those position and relative to who the Giants had there in 2007) and have an average runs allowed of 4.44 per game. To lose 100 games with that RA, the team has to be bad enough offensively to score only 3.5 runs per game.

People point out the loss of Bonds and Feliz, but forget that Rowand was added, countering much of the loss of Bonds for the most part because Rowand plays a full season whereas Bonds had rookies and fill-ins taking his day offs, players who didn't really add much value, and that Feliz was a total offensive sinkhole, Frandsen and/or Aurilia should be able to hit better for OPS than Feliz, and while his defense will be missed, we get good defensive improvements in LF and CF, which will help counter some of that defensive loss, as the number of plays involved are similar.

I don't see the offense/defense dropping by a full run (from 4.44 to 3.50) just from the changes we have made to the team, and, if anything, the pitching should be better in 2008 than 2007 because we don't have Morris, Ortiz, or Benitez on the pitching staff, replaced with more Lincecum, a "over his contract" Zito, and, frankly, again, no Benitez.

Of course, "No 100 losses!" don't really work as a rallying cry, and the team does look destined for 90+ losses unless the young hitters, particularly Frandsen and Ortmeier, hit per their highest potential ever, and the pitchers pitch to their potential, particularly the starting rotation of Zito, Cain, Lowry, Lincecum, Correia, plus Brian Wilson closing musical note. I wouldn't say that it's out of the realm for them to get over .500, but it's not bloody likely either.

As I've been advocating, the best way to enjoy the 2008 season is to ignore the losses, enjoy the wins, enjoy the small accomplishments during the season that our young guys achieve, much like last year following Lincecum's wonderful starts, Wilson's sizzling close to the season, Lewis's grand slam and cycle, Frandsen and Ortmeier's nice Septembers, etc.

2. How Good Is That Rotation?

As Sabean recently noted, keeping the rotation intact was one of the major goals of the off-season: mission accomplished. Per the question marks noted by Schulman, first, if you look at Zito's monthly splits, it was clear that Zito was weighted down by the heft of his contract early in the season and then once he loosened up, he pitched very well. I don't expect the low 3 ERA he had in his last starts of the season, but the low 4 ERA he achieved in the second half is more than adequate for our rotation and would be good production for the $14.5M we are paying him.

And, really, "how quickly can Lincecum hone his raw talent?" He already honed it in 2007, if you look at his PQS scores, he was consistently dominant in 2007 except for a four start segment early in the season when he started overthrowing and late in the season when his arm apparently was tiring out. Plus he's adding a new pitch that he thinks is already a strikeout pitch, to go with the other strikeout pitches he already has. How's that for honing?

Regarding Lowry's health, while that is a concern, there are a number of reasons we fans shouldn't worry. First, and most importantly, he is our most redundant asset. Pat Misch exhibits the same skills, except probably better, and could step in if needed I feel, either through injury or trade. As well, I think (OK, hope :^) the Giants will finally bite the bullet and place Sanchez in AAA to start full-time, assuming Correia wins the last starting spot, so that's another good starter who could step in for Lowry should the injury bug hits. Secondly, because he's a redundant asset, but asset nonetheless, there is value to that, value that a competing team should tap sometime this season, allowing the Giants to then bring Misch or Sanchez into the rotation mid-season. Since Lowry tends to run out of juice at the end of the season, he might be traded before we have to worry about it.

Correia is not "for real" if you are expecting him to repeat a 2.54 ERA for a whole season. But he has been angling for a chance to start for the past couple of years and I don't think he's going to let the opportunity get out of his grasp. He will do his utmost and, as he has shown the past few years, he can be pretty good when given the chance. Plus, he'll be the 5th starter, and if he can just keep his ERA in the 4's, he should easily win double digits and keep us in games.

3. Who Is The Third Baseman?

This is not an aching question, at least to me. We are rebuilding, in transition as Sabean said in a recent interview. Transitioning teams don't rent a player like Crede unless the prospect they are giving up is a prospect they have already given up on. Still, I would be quite disappointed in Sabean if he does this, it would bring him down a notch in my estimation, and I'm part of a seemingly small group of fans who still support him.

Schulman brings up the good question about the Giants habit of going for experience, but again, given all the talk about transition, it would not make sense for the long-term - and that's something Sabean has been emphasizing for a while now, the need to look long-term and short-term. Dallas McPherson is one who would have made sense for short-term and long-term, and the contract he signed with Florida was not very expensive, so it suggests two things to me: 1) the Giants would not commit to McPherson as the starter, instead saying it was a competition with Aurilia and Frandsen, and 2) perhaps they went even further, saying that Frandsen is going to see extended play, whether at 2B or 3B.

4. Does Ray Durham Have One Contract Drive Left?

Now this is a good question. Schulman brings up Durham's salary drive two seasons ago, which is good but not a trend. He should also have brought up Durham's first salary drive in 2002, his first time in free agency, when he bumped up his OPS+ to a career high up to then of 118, which was higher than any year he was with the Giants until the last year in his contract. Still not a significant trend, but at least it is true that both times he was free agent, he bumped up his OPS+ to peak career highs.

However, his OPS+ in 2007 was only 65, worse than even his rookie year when he had a 83, which was his career low until 2007. That's not a good thing. I'm hopeful that he can return to a semblance of decency, meaning an OPS+ around 80-90, OPS around low to mid-700's OPS. Then Frandsen would start at 3B with Aurilia filling in, plus Durham inevitably tweaks a hammie or hurt some part of his leg, meaning Frandsen would start full-time at 2B and Aurilia full-time at 3B. I think the production among these three players will be virutally indistinguishable in 2008, so while this is a good question, it is not too important unless the Giants can trade him mid-season for a good prospect or two, much like when we traded Sweeney for Denker.

And who knows, if Durham can really hit for a career high in OPS, we should be even be able to get even more for him in trade, or at least compete in more games, a top-notch hitting Durham would be a great addition to our lineup, he could probably hit cleanup between Winn and Rowand and push Molina to 6th or 7th, which is really where he should be hitting.

5. Can They Close The Deal?

This one tackles the bullpen. However, this suffers from the "one overarching view with blinders" problem that many fans have, in that the analysis is not deep enough. It is mentioned about Kline and Taschner's problems getting LHP out, for example, but forgot to note that reliever's seasonal stats are always hard to interpret because of the lack of sample size, making any cut data that much more harder to interpret. So their problems vs. LHP is possibly random luck when compared against their success against LHP during their careers.

Of course, in Kline's case, as Schulman noted, he's at the point in his career that perhaps he is getting worse vs. LHH. The more scarier stat is that his K/9 was so low, not that his pitching against LHH was bad. But, more importantly, Kline was 5th in the NL in lowest Inherited Runners Scored% with 18.8%, which is what relievers should be doing most of all.

A bigger issue, to me, is that the bullpen in 2008 will be significantly different because of one glaring subtraction - Armando Benitez - and two additions - Brian Wilson and Tyler Walker. Benitez had 3 losses and 2 blown saves and a 4.67 ERA in 2007 for the Giants (he led led in relief losses and 3rd for blown saves in total). Wilson and Walker should be an improvement over that.
Giants bullpen 2007: Benitez, Hennessey, Kline, Taschner, Chulk, Correia, Sanchez
Giants bullpen 2008: Wilson, Walker, Hennessey, Kline, Chulk, Correia/Sanchez, Messenger/Misch

Giants Thoughts

OK questions overall, could have been better, but it was a nice set. Seems to feed into fans' angst over the 2008 season (imagine that, the media feeding the public's fears). Fans have got to stop worrying about winning and just focus on the development of the younger players, particularly Cain, Lincecum, Wilson, and Frandsen, hopefully Correia, Ortmeier, Sanchez, Misch, and Lewis too. I still have hope that a team will be desperate for a handy OF like Winn and we can trade him for a pair of good prospects, I would take Pichardo and Denker type prospects for him, as that would open up playing time for Schierholtz hopefully and Lewis probably. I still have hope that we could have a nice .500 season.

Go Giants, pitchers and catchers report in a couple of days!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tim Lincecum: Please Stay Long Time!!!

The Giants made Tim Lincecum available to the press prior to the KNBR/Giants FanFest event that was held yesterday (Saturday) at AT&T. Press views were available via the Chronicle, Mercury, and sfgiants.com. Each gave their take on what was said and heard.

The common theme was that Lincecum was not happy about possibly being traded to Toronto. He tried not to think or read about it, but friends would bring it up with him. The bottom line was that he enjoys being here, wants to be here, and is glad to be here.

sfgiants.com/Haft

The sfgiants.com version by Chris Haft added that he said, "I don't want to leave yet, I want to get my feet wet here. I've had such a great time with this organization in such a short time." It also had other news, including signing Kevin Correia to a $1.075M contract, the mid-point between the two, avoiding arbitration, plus that Sabean is not interested in anyone in free agency though a trade is still possible. Sabean noted, "We just don't see anybody out there who's going to change our fortunes dramatically in the present or future, especially the future, on the free agent market.

Haft also repeated the oft-mentioned (and oft-cringed) Crede trade rumor, but this quote and actions thus far suggest quite the opposite to me in a number of ways. One is that Crede is only a one year rental because Boras is his agent and if the Giants were only willing to give Feliz two years and no more, Crede is not getting more than that because his batting line is basically interchangeable with Feliz - and boosted by his home park - and he is worse defensively (though good defensively, Feliz is now that good).

Two is that even if Crede signs for two years - 2008 and 2009 - that hardly satisfies Sabean's statement about emphasizing the future. Some cynical fans like to make fun of Sabean but in his time as GM, he has said what he meant, meant what he said, even if he couldn't execute it during the off-season (like 2003 when he said the A.J. trade wasn't the only thing the Giants were doing - and it was - or last off-season when he said the team was getting younger but nobody young would sign with us, despite even offering more money to Carlos Lee).

Third is that Frandsen appears capable of deliverying offense (better) and defense (worse) at 3B comparable to Crede overall (not equal to but comparable), which violates the objective for "dramatic" change if a trade is to be made. Therefore, I don't see how the Giants can target Crede if they hold to their public statements of the past half year. But all the rumor mongers say that the Giants are extremely interested because of Rowand and/or Schuler, so we will see. I would be greatly disappointed if the Giants trade any good prospect for one year of Crede, even more disappointed if they then sign him to a long-term contract.

Chronicle/Schulman

Henry Schulman gave a bit more in his Chron take. It added some nice funny quotes from Matt Cain and a good discussion of Lincecum's efforts to add a fourth pitch, a "hard" slider that he was working on in the bullpen late in the 2007 season: "The changeup became a go-to pitch for me when I needed it. It wasn't great early on, but it's definitely a pitch I'm more comfortable with. I want to be able to find that with my slider. If it only takes a couple of starts or bullpen (sessions) to get that slider going, that's it. I want to throw four pitches."

Schulman also had some discussion by Sabean about giving Ortmeier and Frandsen significant opportunity to win spots while the outfielders will find little opportunity with Rowand and Winn starting and Roberts the frontrunner for LF, though a trade could change things.

Mercury/Baggarly

Andrew Baggarly, I think, had the most significant news by far of the three accounts, and he had three of them to boot. First is that he quoted Lincecum in reaction to fans had connected with him: "It is very reassuring to have in the back of your mind [the fan's support]. To hear so many fans wanted me to stay, that motivates me. When it comes to free agency or signing somewhere, something like that could make a difference." Hence my title and hopefully other fans will do likewise.

The second bit of significant info was that Lincecum said he expects to sign a one-year contract for this season, with the possibility of negotiating a multi-year deal after that. I was hoping to get him signed to a contract similar to Lowry and Cain, but I like to see his confidence of doing well and getting a better contract. Self-motivation like that is rare.

One of Lincecum's traits I like is that he is driven to improve to make more money but is fair about it, unlike most of Boras's clients who I consider money hungry opportunists - there is enough money for everyone without leveraging the huge advantage that players have in the marketplace currently. Tim had a figure he wanted and didn't sign in 2005 for less, preferring to improve himself in 2006 and earn what he felt he wanted. Even with the Giants, he didn't settle for slot, he wanted what the #10 had got the year before and the Giants eventually gave it to him. Then he went out to show he was more than worth it.

Lastly, Baggarly had additional quote on the slider that was significant: "I plan to be a four-pitch starter. I'd love for it to be a pitch I can throw for strikes, but its looking like a strikeout pitch. The more I throw it, the more comfortable it feels." The top pitchers have at least four pitches they can throw for strikes. And it is even better when it is so good that it is a strikeout pitch.

These were all info Giants fans would want to know, news none of the other accounts included. That is why I wish the Giants would provide video or audio of all of these news conferences so that the fans can hear for themselves what is being said, instead of having it filtered by the writers. Sometimes interesting information is left out by one or another or, for all I know, all of them.

Baggarly had other news. One was that several clubs plan to scout Noah Lowry to see if his elbow is sound. At the moment, Lowry is expected to report healthy. I have to assume that with top arms like Santana, Haren, and Bedard on the market, that probably killed trade interest in second tier pitchers like Lowry until they were all traded. Now the losers in those trades might turn their attention to this second tier, like Lowry and Blanton, pitchers who are good but not great. That's interesting info too!

He also noted that Zito might not be the opening day starter. Bochy said that Zito is not the automatic choice. I think that its only logical to do that, to give Cain and Lincecum something to shoot for, but I have to assume that, barring a total meltdown on Zito's part in spring training (which I don't expect), Zito will be the opening day starter. One, why put additional pressure on your young aces-to-be, when Zito is being paid so well? Two, putting our young guns against lesser pitchers should result in more wins for them overall. Three, being back of the rotation means at least one less start - maybe two if the rotation is shifted after the ASG - for starters 3 to 5, who are probably Lowry, Lincecum, and Correia/Sanchez. All three could use less starts in 2008.

Good News and Bad News

On a side note, the good news is that I've just gotten a job offer. It is exactly as my friends' cliche went when they learned of my job loss: you'll find a better job, better company, better pay. However, the bad news is that I like to devote myself 24/7 to my new job so that the learning curve is as short as possible and I contribute to the team as soon as possible, so I might be a bit slow for a while to react to Giants news and such. Once I get into the routine of things, then my posts here should return to normal.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Perfect Storm: Trade Lowry to Twins

I saw a headline of a rumor that caught my eye: Twins Might Get Fogg? And if you know the players in the league, Josh Fogg isn't even an average pitcher, he is very much a back of the rotation pitcher, at best a #4 starter, but I'm thinking more like a #5. His career ERA is 4.90 where the league ERA was 4.48 and his ERA+ was 91 where 100 is average. And he has never had one season where he was above 97. This is the guy they want to replace Johan Santana in their rotation?

Lowry is the Answer

That got me thinking, what about Lowry? Lowry would be a huge improvement over Fogg as a replacement for Santana in the rotation. His lowest ERA+ was 95; his career ERA is 4.03 where the league average was 4.38, and his career ERA+ is 109. And he is still young - just 27 for 2008 - and under relatively cheap control with a contract that lasts to 2009 and has an option for 2010. And while Lowry's late season injury problems of the past two seasons might scare off other teams, they took on Francisco Liriano's problems and have now took on Deolis Guerra's injury problems, so they must think that they are experts in handling pitchers who are injury prone.

Now who could we get from them. Well, in the Delmon Young trade, they got Brendan Harris, who is normally a SS but is right now slotted for 2B for them. However, they have Alexi Casilla who is their Eugenio Velez-esque speedburner who was originally slated to be their new 2B. We could get Harris in the trade, which would allow the Twins to start Casilla as they had originally intended.

He had a very nice season offensively at SS in 2007 (have no idea how good his fielding is) and has hit well in the minors coming up the ladder - and he could be either our starting 3B or be a Chone Figgins-type utility guy and get starts at 2B, 3B, and SS. And he could probably be our future SS, particularly if Vizquel sucks offensively, which I kind of expect (he couldn't even muster up one month with an OPS above 700, 688 was the highest, 670 next; he had four months at 745 and above, much above, just the year before). He could be starting by mid-season.

Now he alone is not enough for Lowry, in my opinion, Lowry is a more proven major leaguer, more successful major leaguer. He also is under contract and while we can trade him, we don't need to trade him, whereas the Twins just spent big bucks to lock up Morneau and Cuddyer, so they cannot afford to dick around on price and negotiate much, they need pitching, good pitching, and while they have some nice pitching with potential, the rotation is full of question marks up and down, with Scott Baker having the least question marks. Lowry might be a question mark by the end of the season, but at least he is unquestionably good before Sept: career ERA of 3.83 from start of season to end of August.

For the other player, there are a number of options. One is to get back 3B Brian Buscher. We lost him in the Rule 5 draft to the Twins last season and he had a great year in AA/AAA for them. Of course, that's probably because he got away from the hell-holes that is the stadium homes for the San Jose Giants and Connecticut Defenders. He's a 3B and, what do you know, we have an open spot at 3B in 2008. Buscher bats left, so he and Frandsen could split 3B between them, plus Frandsen could steal a start every week from Durham at 2B.

Another option could be C Wilson Ramos. He played on their A-ball team in 2007 and hit 783 OPS at age 19 (average age of pitchers in that league was 21.7 or 2 years older). He ranked 33rd in the league in OPS and he was not far behind highly hyped C Hank Conger, who was also 19 and hit a little higher with an 808 OPS. Baseball America has him as their #3 prospect. They have Joe Mauer already at C and he looks to be there a long time, so they won't need Ramos.

Lastly, there's SS Trevor Plouffe. Only 21, he was in AA last season and hit .736 OPS with 12 SB. Baseball America ranks him as the Twins #10 prospect, though all that will change with the addition of all the prospects from the Santana trade. Not as interesting as Ramos, but still he could be a good pickup for SS while Harris moves to 3B.

Giants Thoughts

After looking through the prospects lists, there are a lot of interesting prospects that the Giants might get from the Twins. To pair off with Harris, I think Ramos is probably the best deal and best for the Giants going forward, as catcher is always a hard spot to fill and, frankly, we only have Pablo Sandoval as our best looking catching prospect and yet only a season ago, he was a bust prospect. As nice as it would be to get Buscher back to fill our 3B need, I think Ramos would be a better value as well as fill a future position of need.

However, maybe, since the Twins appear to have picked up Mike Lamb for the purpose of being their starting 3B, they might be willing to throw in Buscher into the deal if we give them a pitching prospect in addition. If they can accept a pitcher that the Giants are willing to part with, then we got a deal. If we can do that, we got good prospects for C, 3B, and SS then and the Twins would have a rotation that goes from nice but very suspect, to respectable, as Lowry would fit nicely with Liriano, Baker, Slowey, and Perkins in the rotation (Boof is OK as a #5 starter but he might not even make the rotation in 2008). Lowry would take the #3 spot behind Liriano and Baker, a spot he should do very well in for them.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Giants in Top 100 2008 Prospects Lists

Both Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein and ESPN's Keith Law came out with their Top 100 prospects in baseball for 2008 on the same day and both of them were also available to the general public, of which I am one (no dough-re-mi for the paid services; hence the ads now lining this blog in hopes of affording same someday...).

Two Giants on BP's List

BP's list was solely a list of the players' names. I assume the full report will be in the 2008 edition of Baseball Prospectus (something I have bought every year now since 2003, so I recommend it when it comes out; I find Amazon to be cheapest). The Giants had two players on Goldstein's Top 100 list, one most fans should know, the other not as much: Angel Villalona (#29) and Henry Sosa (#84).

Villalona, our $2M bonus baby, apparently is becoming like Baby Huey and might be forced to move to 1B, but he showed a lot of good skills in rookie ball in 2007. Sosa was a fast riser who took advantage of the opportunity given him - he got assigned to Augusta because another pitcher had an injury - did extremely well, and was promoted mid-season to San Jose, where his performance was not that good.

In 2007, the Giants had 3 names in the Top 100 list: Tim Lincecum (#8), Villalona (#64), Jonathan Sanchez (#73). Villalona moved up the list 35 spots, but 25 of those spots were provided by players who made the majors and no longer were prospects. Still, he did move ahead, and there's always players coming in the last draft that could push him down if they are good enough.

Three Giants on ESPN's List

More Giants players made Keith Law's list, which included commentary on the player. There were three on his list: Angel Villalona (#20), Tim Alderson (#59) and Henry Sosa (#74). Villalona and Sosa were approximately in the same places in both lists, but Alderson not only made Law's list, but ranked higher than Sosa.

About Angel, Law noted:
The Giants of the early 2000s were notorious for skimping on amateur signing bonuses, giving away first-round picks and doing little in Latin America. So when they paid over $2 million to sign Villalona just days after his 16th birthday in August of 2006, not only was it a surprise, it was a signal that the organization was committing to acquiring top-flight amateur talent. Signing Villalona was tantamount to getting an extra top-10 pick in the amateur draft -- perhaps better, since he could be in the organization for what would have been his senior year had he been an American-born prospect. Villalona himself is very physically developed, with an early-20s build even before he turned 16; while this will probably force him over to first base, it does provide for significant power potential. He has a quick bat and a fluid swing, and has shown the ability to use the whole field. He's a long way off and has only played five games above rookie ball, but the physical promise here -- a middle-of-the-order bat with a 40-plus homer ceiling -- is tremendous.

I would like to note that the Giants during the Sabean era have not been skimpy with bonuses paid except in 2003: in my study, I compared their bonus against the bonuses for the picks after their pick and the Giants have always paid more than the going rate for the picks after them, which IS as it should be. Now whether they paid the same percentage over as other teams, I don't know, but from looking at the 10 picks (5 before and 5 after), the Giants looked like they paid their prospects the going rate for that pick.

Also, the Giants showed they were willing to pay for top flight talent by signing Lincecum to a bonus that was $200,000 more than what the going rate was for his pick, based on the picks around him. In fact, his bonus was basically equal to the #8 pick. From looking at their first round picks, they were much more lavish in their bonuses, paying more in terms of percentage above the following bonuses.

This is what Law had to say about Alderson:
Alderson's an odd bird, working from the stretch even with no one on base. His fastball is already solid-average at 90-94 mph, with more velocity to come down the road. He pounds the strike zone and shows good command. His best secondary pitch is a hard curveball with tight rotation and a late two-plane break, while his changeup is a ways off. Alderson comes at hitters from a low three-quarter slot, and his arm is very quick, so the ball pops out of his hand and gets in on hitters quickly. He has some minor mechanical issues that will require work, including a slightly stiff front leg and a tendency to throw across his body to get deep to his glove side, but nothing that would prevent him from becoming a No. 2 or 3 starter in the majors.

This is mainly based on pre-draft information. It is known that the Giants got Alderson to use a windup when he joined the team.

Lastly, this is what Law had to say about Sosa:
Sosa has a live arm in a system that now has more than its share of live arms. He has a promising three-pitch mix, sitting at 92-94 and touching 97 on his fastball and sporting a power curveball in the mid-80s and a solid-average changeup with good arm speed. His control is poor and his feel for pitching is weak. He's too happy to try to overpower guys with heat rather than use his secondary stuff to put guys away. His delivery is odd with a dice-roller arm action and problems rushing his arm through, neither of which is conducive to good fastball command. He shouldn't move up quickly, but if he's given time he has a chance to be a No. 2 or 3 starter.
Giants Thoughts

A lot of people like to denigrate the Giants farm system, but players like Cain and Lincecum are young enough that they could still be on Top prospect lists every year, like 2007 and 2008, but unlike other prospects, they succeeded quickly and thus aren't eligible anymore. Else they could still be on the list and the Giants would have a farm system to be envied with Cain, Lincecum, Villalona, Sanchez, and Sosa atop the system.

And people forget that half the team is made up of homegrown talents. That is still a good accomplishment. However, because the vast majority of that happens to be pitching makes it all seem bad for some people. But players are players, don't matter whether they hit or pitch, as long as you can procure what you need from other means. That's what Sabean needs to be able to show over the two years extension he got.

Exciting stuff about Villalona: Law noted that Villalona has 40 HR power potential. Our team could certainly use someone like that in our lineup. And remember, he was a top hitter in that rookie league despite being only 16 years old playing against players 3-4 years older than he was. The average age for batters there was 19.7 years and for pitchers it was 19.9 years of age.

Exciting stuff about Alderson and Sosa: They are both considered potential #2/#3 starters. That is pretty good and we currently have two such type of starters for us in Zito and Lowry, in addition to our co-aces Cain and Lincecum. That will eventually lead to more trading chips, good and valuable trading chips.

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