Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hey Neukom! My Giants Business Plan: Great Starting Rotation

As shown in my last post, preventing runs are very important and who has the biggest influence on that? The starting pitchers. That is another pillar in the strategy of creating the best team for success in the playoffs, and ultimately in the World Series.

That is the magic sauce that fans have been missing in baseball, the starting pitchers. In other sports, you can have a player dominate the game and take it other. In football, you got the right quarterback, the right running back, the team will be boosted over other teams. In basketball, you got the Jordans, the Abdul-Jabbars, the Magic Johnsons, the Shaq, who can take over a game and lead the team to victory. In hockey, you got the Gretzky's, the Lemieux's, who transcends the game.

In baseball, it is the pitcher's who has such control over a game. He pitches the most pitches in a game. He sets the tone for the game, both defensively and offensively. The former is obvious but the latter is clear from the games where the starter gives up a crooked number to start, in the first inning. A kick in the gut, when you are suddenly behind 2, 3, 4, 5 runs to start, no?

However, unlike other sports, the starting pitcher only pitches one game in five during the regular season, one game in three or four in the playoffs, and thus most people, including experts, downplay the importance of starting pitching relative to the hitters. That is partly why the hitters have been given more importance to the success of a team (another part is the home run is an offensive weapon that turns on the fans; a great pitching performance hasn't). But even the best offensive teams can face a mediocre starter and be shut down totally (see Met's Jones start against Giants in 2000's playoffs).

However, the best starting pitchers around ARE able to regularly shut down the other team. And if a team is able to put together a great pitching rotation overall, particularly on a 3-4 man basis, then the importance of the starting rotation is that much more important to the success of the team IN SHORT SERIES. They may not be relying on one particular pitcher but on one group of pitchers who altogether, if the talent level is high enough, can pitch as if they were one great pitcher, pitching every game. The key, obviously, is putting together such talent.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hey Neukom! My Giants Business Plan: Great Defense Up the Middle

Most teams want good fielding defense. This is easily understood. Nobody wants to give up unearned runs. It's bad enough to give up a run but to give up one unnecessarily? Madness!

As commonsense as this is, it has been shown in a study that good team defense in the regular season is related to playoff success. Baseball Prospectus, it its book, "Baseball Between the Numbers", Chapter 9.3, "Why Billy Beane's S**t Doesn't Work In The Playoffs," studied the issue of success in the playoffs, and found that good fielding defense, using their proprietary measure, is significantly associated with team success in the playoffs, from 1972 to 1995. Thus, if any team wants to maximize their chances in the playoffs, you have to have good team defense.

Up The Middle

Furthermore, there is the old truism in baseball that you want to have strong defense up the middle: catcher, secondbaseman, shortstop, and centerfielder. This is also commonsense as well.

Let's examine the Giants defense in 2007. Obviously the catcher is key defensively because he handles each and every pitch. Cannot have passed balls or a lot of wild pitches that get away. Plus they handle the pitchers and the pitch selection as well. And has to be able to throw out base stealers on a regular basis. Thus defense is key there.

Both 2B and SS have a lot more assists and putouts than the 3B, over 50% more balls handled each. Obviously, 1B has a lot more than the other infielders, but the vast majority of them are throws from the other infielders straight (for the most part) to him, not fast grounders hit to him, particularly since most hitters are right-handers and most hitters pull the ball to their side of the field.

In the outfield, the centerfielder got over 100 more balls to handle than either of the corner outfielders, over 30% more balls to handle. In addition, the centerfielder is usually the quarterback of the outfielder, directing the other outfielders to certain positions, depending on the tendencies of the hitter and how the pitcher plans on attacking that hitter. Furthermore, in AT&T, with that huge right-center "Death Valley" gap, that gives the CF more real estate to cover in the outfield, requiring more defensively out of the centerfielder in AT&T Mays Field (it also demands more out of the rightfielder as well).

Thus, if it is important to have great fielding defense, then it is that much more important to have strong defense up the middle because they handle the most batted balls among the fielders. Obviously, this is more important for pitchers who put more balls into play, but people need to remember that even the pitchers with a lot of strikeouts and walks, who put less balls into play, still have the majority of plays (and outs) happening out on the field via a batted ball. Good defense is paramount, great defense up the middle is what you shoot for in putting together a successful baseball playoff team.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Hey Neukom! My Giants Business Plan: Great Team Defense

A key component to the strategy is preventing runs from scoring, both via pitching and fielding. Baseball is tough enough to win without giving away runs via errors or unforced leadoff walks that eventually score. The Hardball Times showed in a past article that each run given up results in an exponential rise in the number of runs scored to maintain the same winning percentage.

For example, to contend for a division regularly, you need to win at around a .556 percentage, or 90 wins per season. If a team can keep their runs allowed at 4.00, they need to socre 4.5 runs per game to regularly contend. Here is a table of what happens as runs allowed rises from 4.00 to 5.00:

RA RS NL 2007 Rank
4.0 4.47 13-14
4.1 4.58 9
4.2 4.70 8
4.3 4.81 8
4.4 4.92 6
4.5 5.03 3
4.6 5.14 3
4.7 5.25 3
4.8 5.37 2
4.9 5.48 2
5.0 5.59 1

As one can see, for every extra 0.1 runs allowed, the team needs to score slightly more than 0.11 runs in order to win 90 games in a season.

I also provided where that offense would have ranked in 2007 in the NL on a runs scored basis. Clearly, 4.5 runs allowed is the tipping point, once a team goes below that, their offense no longer has to be in the top 3. From 4.1 to 4.4 the team still has to be in the middle of the pack, about average offensively, from 4.58 to 4.92 runs scored per game. However, if you can get your team's overall runs allowed to the 4.0 runs allowed range, then your team can win with a poor, bottom of the league offense.

And the Giants are not far from either. The Giants when I calculated this about a week ago, were averaging 4.6 runs allowed per game and 4.1 runs scored per game. However, according to the Merc, they averaged 4.5 runs in May and 4.9 runs scored in June, once Bocock was gone, essentially, plus Roberts' nearly zilch start. While the runs allowed numbers clearly are bad, if you remove the starts Misch has had, the team average is only 4.24. The team averaged 4.5 runs allowed in Correia's first four starts, and he did very well last season, so the team should be better with Correia instead of Misch in the rotation and the offense is better as well, so the Giants could play around .500 for the rest of the season if the offense and pitching can continue to do as well.

Thus, having the best defense around is one key to winning, each run given up has exponential consequences on the need for runs scored, each run you keep from scoring means that you need to have as good an offense in order to be competitive. A good defense is better than a good offense.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hey Neukom! My Giants Business Plan: Mission Statement, Executive Summary, and Strategy Outline

Since the Giants will be changing managing partners this season, I thought I would take the opportunity to make my pitch to Neukom on what to do with the Giants and present my business plan. However, this plan will take forever to enter in, so for once I'm spliting it into parts.

Mission Statement

Lead the San Francisco Giants to win their first World Series championship during William Neukom's tenure as managing partner.

Executive Summary

To win the World Series, the Giants need to maximize their chances by filling their rotation with top of the rotation type of starters, have a great closer, field a strong overall defensive team, particularly up the middle, and have a good enough offense that is running oriented.

Sabean is almost done with his rebuilding that started a few years back, so we should stay the course for now, letting him complete his two year contract, and perhaps look into an extension in the off-season, depending on how the team and farm system looks like when the managing partner changes.

To accelerate the rebuilding, additional investment funds should be sought out from either existing investors or new investors. Now is the time to be bold and seize the day and reach for the brass ring.

Strategy

In baseball history, there are certain strategies towards building the team that wins in the playoffs that appear to stand the test of time, and the following are key competitive advantages every team serious about winning it all needs:
  1. Good team defense
  2. Great defense up the middle
  3. Great starting rotation
  4. At least 2 ace starters, if not more
  5. Good bullpen
  6. Great closer
  7. High strikeout pitching staff
  8. Good enough offense
  9. Team built with speed

Next, I will cover each competitive advantage in the strategy above, one post per bullet point. After that, I will get into a gap analysis, discuss some tactics to bridge that gap, then go over what the Giants will probably look like in 2-4 years, with a review of their current minor league system prospect depth.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Truez Giantz Fanz Zupport Zito

There are some who believe that you never boo your own players.

I am not one of them.

I will boo if I think the player was deserving in some way. But, ultimately, I try to think about what is best for my team, my Giants, and where the player fits within the team and his criticalness to the Giants success. Yeah, I will let a player get away with things if I think he is crucial to the team's success.


So a player's shelflife with the Giants will affect my behavior as well. I try to think beyond the moment and try to see the big picture regarding how my behavior affects the team. Because as much as people tend to forget, athletes are people too (though some don't act like it).


To Zito or Not to Zito


Which brings me to the Giants' fans new favorite punching bag, Barry Zito. People at AT&T Mays Field have taken to booing Zito after poor performances. Which unfortunately have been frequent lately. Which brings me to my post today.

Big Picture: True Giants Fans Don't Boo Zito

The big picture is that the Giants need Zito to do well. Yes, the contract is huge and we haven't gotten much good performances out of him yet. But it is not like Zito isn't trying or blaming others: unfortunately, this is the best he can do. For the moment. He is working hard to change. There are encouraging signs from his bullpen sessions but he needs to start doing it in a game that counts.

So as a true Giant's fan, what are your options here? The big picture is that you can boo and make Zito more uncomfortable, less likely to succeed, and give the Giants an $18M albatross that will make it harder for the Giants to be competitive for the next 5 seasons. Or you can cheer his successes and keep your boos to yourself when he is struggling, keeping your fingers crossed while wishing for the best.

The big picture is I see nothing to be gained from booing Zito, except making yourself (somehow) feel better. So you need to get over yourself. This is not about you. This is bigger than you, this is about the Giants and how they do in the future.

Many Reasons Why Not to Boo

If he were paid less or for less years or is a giant ass, then letting your frustrations out won't hurt the Giants as much long term. But his contract is barely over a season old and we have another 5 plus seasons to go, at around $20M per year after this season. That will hurt the team's competitiveness if the Giants were to do what some fans have suggested, which is release Zito or trade him away with a load of money, or if he continues to pitch even worse than a #5 starter. Look at how screwed up the Rockies have been with Hampton's contract, D-gers with Dreifort, or other teams stuck with a really huge contract.

Also, in spite of team talk, 2008 is all about rebuilding. So we are going to be losing anyway, the only question is whether it will be epic as many thought or moderate as I've thought. So why focus on negatives, if we were trying to win then I can at least understand why you would boo and take your frustrations out on Zito. I might be inclined to join on occassion too.

But we are not going to be battling for the division title, we are going to lose and, in fact, the more we lose, the better the draft pick in next year's draft. Not that we root for losses, but there is a silver lining if things don't turn out the way we would like them to be. Winn-Winn, as Randy Winn might say.

And I know some of the boos are actually for management. Then take your frustrations out on management, not Zito. He only signed the contract, it was management (ownership in my mind) that offered him that contract. Maybe derisively yell, "Saaa-beee-annn" or "Maaa-gowww-annn" at the start of every Zito start. But once the game starts, button your lip and let Zito pitch.

All I am Saying, Is Give Zito a Break

Because we, as Giants fans, need to give Zito a break this season and hope that Zito can break out of his funk and pitch like he can. People like to point to Zito's peripherals but he's been pitching like this for years now and been productive enough that we would be getting good value if he could just duplicate what he did his final years with the A's. It is the contract, it is the fans, who are messing with his mind.

Yes, ideally, Zito wouldn't let all this affect him. But he's human and it does. So the big picture is we need to back off of Zito and let him get his bearings this season. You've had your say enough this season with the boos. If you continue to boo, you will just guarantee that the contract is the big sinkhole that you think it is. Just give him a break for the rest of the season and see what he can do at home without negative comments. The Giants of the next five seasons need you to suck it up. Today.

Friday, June 20, 2008

2009 Draft Pick

Jonathan Mayo of MiLB.com is an analyst I like to read for draft information, particularly leading up to the draft, because it was he who turned me on to Tim Lincecum in that draft. He actually had the first 8 picks pegged - the week before - but then swapped in Crow for Matusz for the Orioles, which dominoed to other picks, obviously. Still, he publishes profiles on each of the top prospects and that is of good value as well.

The other day he posted information on high school players to keep an eye on for the 2009 draft (and one for the 2011 draft; darn!). He spoke to a scout at the underclassmen showcase at the Urban Youth Academy, which is a baseball academy for (duh!) urban youths. This is probably to counter the trend of there being few African American players in the game today (this concern was brought up last season, if I remember right, because Fred Lewis was one of the few and about how shameful that is given Jackie Robinson).

The A List

These were the top players there, all pitchers:
  • Tyler Matzek, LHP: Polished, fastball 89-91 mph, plus curve and changeup
  • Beau Wright, LHP: Fastball 89-91 with a hammer. He struck out all five batters he faced and made them look bad in the process.
  • Matt Hobgood, RHP: Big-bodies at 6-4, 240, with a power sinker at 91-94 mph to go along with a curve, slider and changeup
The Giants, if they were go for a pitcher, would like Wright with his hammer and Hobgood with a power sinker at 91-94 mph.

The B List

There are some position players here:
  • Cameron Garfield, C
  • James Needy, RHP: Didn't pitch well, but has been seen better and has a live arm and a 6-foot-6 frame
  • Tanner Rust, C: A switch-hitting catcher. Is something.
  • Jacob Marisnick, OF: Compared to Hunter Pence. A little raw, but with plenty of tools.
If we wanted to be cute, it would be neat to have a battery of Clayton Tanner and Tanner Rust, but with the selection and presumed signing of Buster Posey (it would be a huge upset if he doesn't sign), that cuts out half of these prospects, leaving Jacob Marisnick OF. We could use a Hunter Pence type hitter.

The A+ List

Unfortunately, this guy is not eligible until 2011 for the draft, and unless all our pitchers' arms fall off, we should be doing better in 2010 and thus not be drafting so high, but I thought I would throw out his name for your future drafting pleasure: Bryce Harper. The scout he spoke with said that Bryce would have been the best high school player in the 2008 draft. WOW! I wonder if he is related to a former major leaguer, I'm aware of a few Harper's.

Giants Thoughts

The Giants are currently tied with two other teams (Rockies and Royals) for 4th worse record in the majors: only the Mariners, Nats, and 'Dres are worse, and really, the 'Dres are just half a game "ahead" of us for the 3rd spot, the Reds are only a game and a half back, and the Indians and Astros are only half game back of the Reds. Heck, even the top two worse teams are only a couple of games "ahead" of the Giants, so there are really 10 teams "battling" for the first five picks overall currently.

My draft study suggested that the population of talent is at its peak in the top five picks overall and drops rapidly from there (and really, it drops rapidly from the 1st to 5th pick as well). Inexplicable drafting and signability issues make some obvious talents available past the top 5, like when Stephen Drew fell to the D-backs and Rick Porcello fell to the Tigers, but it would be foolhardy to expect that one will fall to you in a middle to back of the first round pick.

For the moment, at least at this showcase, there was not any really interesting prospects from the perspective of a Top 5 pick. Too bad Harper wasn't older, sounds like a perfect type of player the Giants should pick in 2009, grabbing someone with high potential. Then again, if the rumors are correct that the Giants have or will sign that Carribean prospect who reminds scouts of Vlad Guererro for $2.5M, he's basically the same - for our purposes - as Harper being available in 2009.

I think the team is shaping up nicely, as I'll cover in an upcoming post, and could be competing for a division by 2010, so adding high potential players who might bust but could be really good is the right thing to do going forward. These players will supplement and hopefully add to the core going forward. And the pitching looks better and better every season, even with a disappointment like Lowry going down.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Let the Negotiations Begin!

It has been reported that Tim Beckham, the first pick overall received $6.15M bonus from the Rays. I don't know why Rosenthal says that Top Picks that are High School players typically get less than college players, it has always been the rule of thumb that they get more because they have the leverage of going to college instead of signing with the drafting team. I have not heard this exception for top picks, but the example he gave certainly holds, David Price got $8.5M last year and Beckham "only" got $6.15M. Perhaps it has to do with college prospects being that much more developed and ready for the majors atop the draft.

Note: the $8.5M figure must be the total value including the fact that he signed a major league contract. According to my handy dandy Baseball America book, his bonus was "only" $5.6M, which was backloaded, and that would mean that the major league contract included $2.9M in salary. And that technically means that Beckham got more bonus than Price received, though obviously a lesser contract in total dollars overall.

Now, how this applies to the Giants:

1) This is like the first domino falling, Alvarez and Hosmer might still take to the deadline, but Matusz and Buster Posey are not Boras clients and will base their demands relative to what Beckham got as the 1st pick. Matusz signing would give us another data point to calibrate against Posey. A lot of the waiting is often just waiting for the guy before you signing so that you don't leave any dollars on the table.

2) In addition, Posey was considered strongly for the #1 pick and thus this signing gives an indication of Posey's worth. Then again, Lincecum was also considered for the #1 pick but "settled" for something around what the #8 pick got.

Giants Thoughts

Many commenters seem to think that Posey would use Weiter's contract as a starting point but most comments I've seen comparing the two says that Weiter is clearly the better prospect. Many also based their analysis on the rumored $12M demand but, again, I think that was just a red herring that Posey's advisors did to push Posey to a team more ready to compete than the teams typically up top.

That said, I think Posey's advisors do want more than the $2.7M bonus or so slotted for the #5 pick. I am still comfortable with what I wrote before, that they will start negotiations in the $5-6M range and would be happy with something between $3.0M and $4.9M. That would put them comfortably around what the #2-#3 picks got last year, plus the Giants indicated that a major league contract would not be out of the question, so if you tack that on top, like Rosenthal did with Price, that would push the deal up to the $6-8M range, or similar to what the #1 pick got between this year and last year.

As I had linked in a previous post, Posey comes from very humble beginnings and I don't think that he is looking to get every dollar he can get, he just wants something fair, much like what Lincecum wanted.

Sidenote: Wouldn't it be cool if Posey wins the Golden Spike? That would give us two of the last three winners, as Lincecum won in 2006 (Price in 2007).

I Like Bowker and His Approach to Hitting

A tool that Bill James introduced long ago was Major League Equivalency, or MLEs, but for ordinary fans like us, we had to rely on the experts to provide us with that information. No longer.

Jeff Sackmann, wearer of many hats, innovator extraordinaire within the saber-statistics community, has made public his MLE calculator here. He is the founder and creator of both the minor league splits data-site and now the college baseball splits data-site, which has the splits of most of the top draft picks from college. With this calculator, you can adjust for the league and team in the minors and the league and team in the majors. My hats off to Jeff for making this available!

I was planning on comparing Bowker's overall, home, and road numbers from Connecticut last season. Unfortunately, Bowker's 2007 splits are not available right now via Jeff's site; he's in the process of updating and improving everything but, for now, access to 2007 data is not possible (if you check around, you can still get pre-2007 data)..

However, using the data I had published on his hitting line previously, I backed into an approximate batting line to use to calculate his MLE based on his road numbers. It is basically what I had estimated in my post on Bowker in April, about .830 OPS, which I estimated by finding hitters approximately his age, with about the same batting line, and at the same level (AA), and seeing what their MLE was.

I guess that validates my method for backing into an approximate MLE for minor leaguers, but more importantly shows that Bowker should have been taken more seriously as a prospect by most experts. However, his horrible home at Dodd Stadium while playing for Connecticut masked how good he was and his overall MLE looked horrible. Thus, while his performance was good enough to get him on the radar for a number of prospect publications, he probably should have been higher rated/ranked than he was had he not played at Dodd Stadium.

Adjustments

Ultimately, it is all about adjustments, which I wrote recently about on Bowker. There was also a nice article about Bowker and adjusting recently on sfgiants.com. Here are some good bits.

After hitting three home runs in his first seven Major League games, John Bowker found out what countless batters have already learned: Pitchers make adjustments.

They jam you on the inside if they think you can clobber an outside pitch. They throw changeups if they think you're sitting on heat. The trick to staying in the big leagues is adjusting to those adjustments.

It took Bowker more than a month to figure that out. He had just one dinger in May. He had 16- and 20-game homerless streaks in a seven-week span. But lately, he's been getting back in a groove. Before Tuesday night's game, he was batting .350 with three home runs and a .409 on-base percentage in June. He's got seven home runs this year.

I would actually say that May was his month of adjustment because he was able to maintain a good batting average during May, just with no power. In other words, he was first learning how to hit in May, then used what he learned to learn to hit with power in June. That is exactly the pattern that Schierholtz has shown at almost every level, he would first get the lay of the land, figuring out how to hit pitchers initially, compiling a good batting average but with no power, then he applies those lessons so that he can then pound the ball for power.

That's why I want him up sooner than later, because he was able to hit in the majors last season, and therefore hopefully he just needs experience to seal the deal and then start hitting for power. However, I don't want to trade Winn just to open a spot up for Schierholtz, it is more important to get a good prospect out of another team for Winn than to bring up Schierholtz in the middle of a re-building season.

Here is something more from Bowker that is pretty good, shows a lot of hitting IQ on his part:

"It's constantly a back-and-forth, cat-and-mouse game," Bowker said. "Pitchers
are trying to see what you can handle. You still want to go to your strengths,
but you have to consider what the pitcher is going to be able to throw at you."

Rowand had something good to say too:


When Bowker hit his home run again Detroit's Fernando Rodney on Monday, seasoned hitter Aaron Rowand was in the dugout marveling at how well he adjusted mid-at-bat. Bowker had been fooled on consecutive changeups before regrouping and launching another changeup into the right-field seats.

Rowand said most young hitters learn to adjust to different pitches while they're in the Minors. But Bowker, along with fellow Giants rookies Brian Horwitz, Emmanuel Burriss and Travis Denker, have all been forced to learn on the fly in the Majors.

"The guys all go through a time where they're figuring out that it's up to them to adjust to the pitchers," Rowand said. "It's about maturing mentally as a batter. All these guys have the physical tools, but there's a lot more that goes into success than just that."

Maturity is something I've talked about for prospects. It also harkens back to what I quoted from BP's Gary Huckabaly from his discussion of TINSTAAPP, he noted hitters just need some time and experience to figure things out, to - and I don' t think he used this word but what he says is as much about maturity - mature. Back to Bowker:

Every at-bat is a new lesson. In any given plate appearance, it's important to know what the team needs, Bowker said. It's not about padding stats. No need to aim for the bleachers if a sacrifice fly can bring in the winning run.

If a pitcher has a 95 mph fastball and an 80 mph changeup, the batter has to put himself in a position to hit both -- keep the hands back and don't try to pull everything. It's better to get jammed and foul off a pitch than to whiff at it and strike out.

What a team player! What a gamer! Only the best hitters can adjust to a pitcher within an AB, some hitters never figure that one out. So that speaks well of his future if he can continue to do that. Lastly from Rowand:

"The way the young guys are starting to hit more is a perfect example of all of the hard work that's put into being a big league hitter," Rowand said. "You can't just adjust game to game; it has to be pitch to pitch."
Giants Thoughts

I've been impressed by Bowker because of his stats before and his knowledge of why he had trouble hitting in San Jose and Connecticut, but this article really illuminates how good a student of hitting he is. Because I think a player is more able to have a long and successful career when he is a student of the game of hitting - whether it be Ted Williams or Pete Rose - than if he just relies on natural ability.

At some point (or perhaps you didn't start with much in the first place) you will no longer have that natural ability, and you will have to learn how to hit. Better to learn that upfront than to either learn it over a long career as experience takes over for abilities or be forced to learn it all when your physical gifts are fading or gone. Bowker is looking better and better to me all the time.

How he is doing contrasts, in my mind, with how Brian Buscher has done. When the Twins took Brian Buscher via the Rule 5 Draft, I wasn't bothered much. But when Buscher started hitting well for the Twins in the minors, I was bothered, and then he was promoted to the majors last season, and I was wondering what went wrong, why did the Giants give him up so easily. But then he faded and for this season, the books I buy said that Buscher won't amount for much for the Twins in 2008 or the future, most probably.

Then again, the books didn't think much of Bowker either.

Giants and Hitting Prospects

Perhaps the Giants management knows more about hitting prospects than some - including the experts - suspect because, if you went solely by stats, there was no reason to bring up Bowker this season. He wasn't doing anything at AAA, though small samples, and yet they felt good enough to bring him up instead of, say, Scott McMain, who, to me, inexplicably was brought up last season for some September call-up ABs and got some love from the upper brass in public comments, while Bowker wasn't brought up, and, more to the point, McClain plays 1B regularly whereas Bowker had not played much if any 1B in the minors. Yet Bowker was brought up and, for the most part, has been good and getting better.

In addition, the experts weren't impressed that much. BP noted for 2008, "He's an inferior version of Schierholtz, and unlikely to build on his progress," and didn't include him with the regular player section where the best prospects are. BA was impressed enough to boost him up to 9th in the Giants farm system. But still, and obviously, they noted that with the glut of outfielders, he would have to "continue putting up strong numbers to earn a permanent role in San Francisco." Which technically he didn't in AAA but got promoted anyway.

But it is still too early to say whether Bowker is a success or not, the season is long and the nice Lance Niekro's starts devolve into Rick Lancellotti's or JR Phillips's or Damon Minor's career just like that sometime. Still, given his initial success, that speaks to the team's knowledge of their own hitters to bring him up when he didn't have the numbers in AAA to support that and for him to succeed over a two month period now, after a poor start in April.

Giants Focused on Pitching Over Hitting

Perhaps the lack of hitting talent is also more a matter of what I've been writing about the draft, that it is very hard to find MLB players period, using the draft, particularly when you are drafting in the back of the first round when you are winning. The Giants, by focusing on pitching, increased the odds of finding a good pitcher, but that likewise decreased the odds of finding a good hitter, as it is a zero-sum game. So the lack of hitting prospects is more a function of the Giants devoting most of their picks, particularly their higher percentage draft picks, on pitching - Grilli, Ainsworth, Bonser, Hennessey, Lowry, Cain, Aardsma, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Alderson - than on hitters - Torcato, McDowell, Fairley, and now Posey.

Because once you get outside the first round and the supplementary, the second round success is around 4% in finding a good player, about 13% in finding even a useful player. Once you get to the 100th pick, there is about a 1.5% chance of finding a good player, about 4-5% chance in finding a useful player. And who knows how much these figures are boosted by the fact that some players fall in the draft due to signability concerns.

Still, at those success rates (and really, I just realized, it is not success rate but rather population rates), and assuming you are the average team, it would take about 25 years of drafts for a team to find a good player from the second round, 60 years of drafts for a team with the 100th pick overall, which varies somewhere around the 3rd round, depending on the number of supplemental picks are awarded. To find a useful player, Michael Tucker being a good example of one, it would take 8 years of drafts to find one with your second round pick, 20-25 years of drafts to find one with the 100th pick.

So are the Giants bad at drafting hitters or have they been bad because they have focused on pitching? Before, I would have to say that it didn't look like the Giants knew what they were doing because there were no successes to compare to. However, now with Lewis doing well over two seasons, and Bowker showing initial success and successful adjustments after a horrible start, and Horwitz and Denker really small samples success, heck, I guess one could throw Holm and Burriss in there too, plus Frandsen from last year, it at least introduces the notion that perhaps they weren't bad, as much as they were focused on pitching as a drafting philosophy, previously, as a reason for why there haven't been much position player success.

Maybe Sabean Not So Bad Afterall

And that makes sense because, after all, Sabean was the scouting director in charge of the draft when the Yankees drafted Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Carl Everett. He also got Shane Spenser for them as well, plus picked up nice pitchers like Andy Pettitte and Mariano Riviera on his watch. And that was over just a three year period when he was director of player development and of scouting for the Yankees. He was also the GM who turned the Giants around his first year here as GM, after two horribly bad seasons, three straight losing seasons, and losing seasons in five of the previous six seasons.

And irregardless of how well or poorly one may think he has done in the past, as for present day, I think he is doing it for us. He has already re-built the pitching staff, to one that other teams are very envious of - and remember, of the vast majority of pitching to come out of our system, he has kept the vast majority of the best and useful ones. In addition, the future starting lineup is starting to look pretty good in a few years, and perhaps might be good enough as early as next year to return to consistent .500 play. Maybe Sabean isn't as bad as so many Giants fans think he is.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pitching, Pitching, Pitching (Defense)

Thinking about Zito and Peterson got me to thinking: I am totally sold on pitching as the key to long-term baseball success. Once a good base is built, you just have to stoke the fire with key additions afterward. A good pitching staff also takes the pressure off the offense so that they don't have to be good, but just good enough, and you can build off of that base as well. And a good defense helps saves the team from unnecessary mistakes when the ball is in play.

I've written before about the Baseball Prospectus study that found that K-rate, great closer, and great defense are strong characteristics of winning playoff teams but it was only now that I made the connection to the three true outcomes: homers, walks, and strikeouts. And the Giants are actually being built on these pillars.

The Giants showed their knowledge and focus on walks and strikeouts with their draft last years of Bumgarner and then Alderson. Both had beyond excellent K/BB ratios and both struck out a lot as well.

That's one thing people forget when they complain about the Giants selection process: that you can only select from what is available, not what you would ideally want. There are compromises made with every decision, every player they select.

So you need to look beyond the trees and see the forest that is growing on the team. The pitching staff has been totally, and I mean totally, re-built on power, stuff, and strikeouts. Cain, Lincecum, Sanchez, Wilson, Sadler, Hinshaw, Valdez. In addition, a study in The Hardball Times found that high walks is OK for a pitcher as long as his strikeouts are high enough, in fact, that's better than any other combination given a K/BB ratio above 2.0 being the limiting selection factor. That, combined with a park that depresses HR hitting, particularly for left-handed hitters, gives the Giants a staff high on strikeouts, relatively low on walks (or low enough), and low on home runs given up. That will result in a lot of home wins once our hitting catches up with our pitching.

Ay, but that's the rub, eh? Positionally, people have been rightfully complaining prior to this year. But with the emergence of Lewis and Bowker, and potential ascendency of Schierholtz and Frandsen, plus Villalona and Posey in the outer wings, the lineup could be totally rebuilt, and nicely so, in a couple of years as well.

Rebuild

There has been a lot of harping over the Giants not rebuilding soon enough. But that's the hand dealt you when you pay Barry Bonds $20M+ per season: you have to play to win each season and you can only chose from the dreck in the free agent market that other teams decided that they didn't want, at least at those prices. When you are not dealing with premium free agents, you are going to get burned frequently, and even when you do, you can get burned.

There has also been some saying that a re-build is not impossible while winning, pointing to the A's and Braves as examples. There are also 5 year olds who write symphonies (Mozart), pre-teens who go to college and become doctors before they reach high school, and people who can speak a zillion languages while earning a doctorate. Good for them.

But look over the history of baseball. Rebuilds are not pretty, they are normally very messy and requires many years, sometimes dozens of years, before they return to playoff competitiveness. That is part and parcel with how the MLB draft works relative to the other major sports: you can't regularly pick up a new starter in the draft who can help you the next season. Lincecum was just that unique. It normally takes even the best prospects 2-4 years to reach the majors, perhaps a few more to actually be good at it, and the majority of prospects take 4-6 years to reach the majors to "stay".

Rebuilds normally take 5-7 years to do properly. Even the Braves and A's had to do the same. The Braves, to set themselves up for this long line of success, went through 7 years of agony with Bobby Cox as GM, before he righted them. Prior to that, they had gone through 18 years of mainly mediocre play, though there was pockets of goodness.

The A's went through 6 years of hell to get where they are today. Their "re-build" of the past few seasons was more of a reload because they were not brought down by a team of veteran players and cannot be compared to a veteran Giants team that had few young assets to trade away like the A's did. They are in a different part of the lifecycle of an MLB team, so it is incorrect to compare what they have done the past few years with where the Giants are.

And to give an example closer to our hearts, Sabean was able to rebuild the Giants quickly after he was made GM because he had a young, valuable player he could trade away for key parts and a young, valuable player he could build around. Still, prior to that was 6 years of mostly below .500 play, except for the year they signed Bonds.

Rebuilds from an aged core takes longer than rebuilding once you have a young team. As a result, Giants fans need to give Sabean time to do the rebuild before they toss him out, because firing him would automatically push us back to point zero, back to Go, and there is no guarantee that the new GM would not take that as a mandate to tear things down. Which would be galling to me because we are so close to being done.

Giants Rebuild Almost Done

Unnoticed by many, the Giants have been re-building since 2005 when they started the changes by adding Noah Lowry and Brad Hennessey. It started rolling good when Matt Cain was added, and the dam burst open when Tim Lincecum was added. I've been writing about this sea change for a while now in the pitching staff and hopefully more people believe me now.

The pitching staff rebuild is pretty much done. There are really only tweaks necessary, and we have re-inforcements coming up in Henry Sosa, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Alderson, Joe Martinez, as well the all the young Augusta pitchers who did well last season who moved up this season, and the return from injuries by Waldis Joaquin and Dan Griffin, two nice fireballers, as well as relievers like Sergio Romo (led minors with 14.4 K/9), Brian Anderson, Kelvin Pichardo, and Daniel Otero. We should be set for the future, and the Giants continue to troll for pitching in the draft, even this year, after the first four picks were of position players, the next 8 picks were spent on getting pitchers.

This was re-confirmed for me by the statement by Gary Huckabay of Baseball Prospectus that I recently wrote about. Hitters don't normally come out hitting. They follow a steady progression that works like clockwork, and you cannot speed up the clock. Still, there is no guarantee that after sitting on that egg for 4-6 years, even for the best hitting prospects, that anything will happen.

Pitchers are very similar to that but different in a key way. Just like the hitters, there is no guarantee that after nursing that pitcher through the minors, even for the best of the pitchers, that they will figure things out. In addition, there is the hidden, ticking time-bomb that is their body, that might suddenly "Foppert" your top prospect. However, as Huckabay noted, once you are a pitcher, and not a thrower, you are done developing, move to the major leagues now or you are just wasting a precious resource, a pitcher's arm. And that can happen quickly, look at Lincecum, Sanchez, Accardo, even Foppert, they all ascended quickly to the majors.

The upshot of this is if you have an organization focused on pitching and can either find and develop pitchers quickly, rebuilding would be on a faster time table than it would be if you either focused on hitters or split your focus. To rebuild quickly, you need to focus on pitching.

Sponsored by the Committee to Keep Sabean

This is why I've been advocating for Sabean and why I wanted him to get a two year extension. He has been re-building while trying to win with Bonds. And you can only do so much when the free agency selection is lackluster and poor draft position (which happens when you win) leaves you struggling to find legitimate prospects.

Hence why their decision to focus on pitching, pitching , and more pitching was genius. That focused their scarce and very low-odds resources (draft picks) on a position where even if they fail, they might still get a good reliever out of it, whereas position player failures are pretty much a failure, bench players don't play the key role that relievers do today. And pitchers can fill any number of positions on a roster, whereas position players are very limited. And as noted above, once they become pitchers, development is done, and that can happen at any time, and not take 1,000+ plate appearances, or whatever number it is that it takes hitters to learn to hit in the majors.

And now the starting lineup is starting to look good and rebuilt: Molina at the plate with Posey in the wings, Bowker at 1B with Villalona in the wings, Frandsen at 2B with Noonan in the wings, Gillaspie in the wings at 3B (some thought him the best hitter in college), Burriss at SS with hopefully Crawford in the wings, Lewis in LF, Rowand in CF, and Schierholtz in RF, and Horwitz looks pretty good so far as a 4th OF plus now Fairley and hopefully Kieschnick waiting in the wings, maybe Antoan Richardson, EME, and Bowker if/when Villalona comes up at 1B (and that's not written in stone yet, he apparently is still taking balls at 3B). In addition, I haven't writen about him yet, but the Giants are apparently close to signing a young OF who has been compared to a young Vlad Guererro; I'll write more when he's signed on the dotted line.

Winning is Closer Than It Seems In the Mirror

Even this season, things are not as bad as they seem. Without Roberts stupidly trying to play when he was not physically up for it, the Giants might have won a few of the games he started in. As it is, after he finally went on the DL, the Giants are 30-35 since then.

Correia's injury and replacement by Misch, also costed us a few games there as well. Teams rarely have one starter ready to take over when there is an injury, let alone two (Sanchez had already taken over Lowry's spot in the rotation). That is why re-treads like Sidney Ponson and Jeff Weaver constantly get another chance to start for a major league club, starting pitching is a premium in the majors today. Correia's return should boost the Giants going forward.

In addition, Vizquel's injury and replacement by Bocock probably also costed us a couple games as well. Bocock was absolutely horrid as a hitter, then he got worse, as he at least was able to take walks initially and had a decent OBP, in the mid .300's, for a month of April if I recall right. He would have been justification for Bochy to bat the pitcher 8th, he was just that overmatched. And he did the best he could, so I don't blame him, he had not seen one pitch above Advanced A ball when it counts prior to this season.

The only silver lining there was that Emmanuel Burriss did get his chance to play just before Vizquel returned. More importantly, he has gotten better since then, which is good because Vizquel is starting to give Bocock a run for his money, and not in a good way. I can see Vizquel getting more rest in the coming weeks.

Add that all up, and the Giants look capable of playing .500 for the rest of the season. Not a great rallying cheer, but it is still worlds better than the "sky is falling" chant that many fans were screaming prior to the start of this season.

And with some key additions - hopefully by subtraction, nothing against Winn but we need to see Schierholtz sooner than later, and hopefully a team will be desperate enough to not only take his salary but give us a good prospect in return as well, and Vizquel will probably be DLed soon to allow Burriss to start, better than humiliating him by DFAing him or benching him - plus the return of Correia, and hopefully Valdez soon, the team might be able to get above .500 from that point on.

As I've been saying through the off-season, expect to lose. The most you should hope for and demand to see is progress and development as the season unfolds. They can only crawl before they can walk, and walk before they score a run. But it has been exciting to see Lewis, Bowker, Wilson, and Sanchez develop like they have, and to see successes here and there from Correia, Burriss, Horwitz, Denker, Taschner, Valdez, Hinshaw, Sadler, even Yabu, though he's not one to count on in the future.

Go Giants!

Hire Rick Peterson: Zito's Guru

Recently, the Mets fired their manager and their pitching coach, among others, just after midnight, just after a nice win. The import of this to Giants fans is that their former pitching coach, Rick Peterson, was Barry Zito's pitching guru when they were together at Oakland. That was my first thought when I heard the news: we got to hire him.

Apparently I was not the only one. Henry Schulman has a great article on that here that discusses this idea. The Giants internally are already thinking this way. And Henry has a good explanation of how this would work internally for them.

However, some don't agree. Some bring up the Zambrano trade as a caveat on Peterson coaching skills, but I think Zambrano had some sort of physical problem that prevented him from pitching; perhaps if he was healthy (i.e. the GM did the proper due diligence on Zambrano's history) Peterson might have been able to do his magic with Zambrano. Plus, one mistake should not negate his history of success with the A's.

Some, like Gary Radnich on KNBR earlier today, think hiring Peterson is a stupid idea. Gary, in particular, says that it's assinine to hire a "baby-sitter" for Zito, that this makes Zito "small". He says that perhaps he's being old-school with such thoughts but that's how he feels.

Biggest No-Brainer in the History of Giant-kind

I think he's just being wrong.

It's a no-brainer to me: Peterson was the coach when Zito was very successful. Yes, some of Zito's troubles are due to him being older but one thing people forget is that Zito is supposedly in the prime of his physical health, so that has never flyed with me as an excuse. He is doing something wrong mechanically relative to what he was doing before and he didn't know how to fix himself.

Unlike Barry Bonds, his mechanics guru wasn't his dad, available whenever he wanted him. And Peterson is Zito's guru. Mychal Urban, who wrote a book about the A's Ace Trio, is a good friend with Zito, and is a KNBR weekend anchor, said this morning that Peterson would just know when Zito is falling into bad habits or not properly following his mechanics and would tell him exactly where to go and what to do. And now he's available.

In fact, according to Schulman's article, Peterson was Zito's guru even before they both joined the A's, it was just a historical coincidence that they met up there, as Peterson had coached Zito when Zito was in college. So they have a long history together that started before the A's.

Thus, Peterson would not be a baby-sitter, a baby-sitter implies that all he would do is watch Zito and collect a check. He would be working actively with Zito to get him back to where he was before. He also knows how Zito "clicks", both physically and mentally.

How to Avoid Distraction

I do agree with Gary that bringing Peterson on as a coach would probably be a big distraction, so I would just hire Peterson as a Special Assistant, which is the title and job that they gave to JT Snow and Robb Nen, where they both go and instruct in the minors and majors. And as Schulman noted in his article, other special assistants, like Ron Perranoski (must kill long-time D-ger fans that he helped the Giants become a pitching power; I was very excited when Perranoski was hired to assist the Giants; probably as much as it killed me to see Jack Clark in D-ger blue...).

Another route is that Barry's making $14.5M this year and over $18M for the next 5 seasons, so he could take some of that and hire his old guru to help him out with private lessons or whatever, he could be part of Barry's "posse", much like how Bonds had his group of "instructors" following him around in the clubhouse.

Or even better, Peterson went to NY to be closer to his family, Zito could hire him to work from home, pay for a Giants video feed to Peterson's home and send him a million hours of tape showing Zito's pitching form over the years, thus allowing him to spend mega-time with his family while spending a few hours per week advising Zito and other hours studying the old tapes. And on a Zen note, wouldn't that be karmic justice that he repays the person arguably responsible for him being able to earn such a huge contract by giving him a livelihood while allowing him a lot of free time to spend with his family?

And this don't have to be permanent, he can rest and recharge for a while with his family doing this before he finds another job in the MLB. Meanwhile, he can help straighten out his old buddy, perhaps impart some of that knowledge to the Giants coaching staff, and get out of the pressure cooker that the MLB can be, if only for a little while, particularly since the Mets are paying for his time off to next season. A season and a half of Peterson helping Zito could only help.

Giants Pitching Philosophy

Thinking further, I would hire Peterson to create a pitching bible that will guide player development of pitchers for the Giants farm system, while also instructing players (with, of course, his main pupil being Zito). I think that the Giants already has a philosophy, which Peterson would capture in creating such a guidance document and add to it, but I suspect that there isn't anything written down yet.

Given the future of the Giants are tied to their pitching, I think it's time for such a document to exist if it doesn't already, and if it does, Peterson could only add to that document's knowledge base, given his experience and reputation in baseball. And such a document would inform future generations of Giants, management and players, much like how Alderson's work with Eric Walker still is being used by the A's today.

Prospects and Confidence

I've been talking for over two years now about how playing at Dodd Stadium could prey on the confidence of prospects who are forced to play at a home park where their SLG and ISO is reduced 30-40% by the park. Many disagreed, few (if any, don't recall any) supported me. But I ran into an industry opinion that supports my assertion.

Depodesta And the A's

As I noted before, Paul Depodesta has started up a blog called "It Might be Dangerous... You Go First" and yesterday he wrote about his thoughts and experiences regarding the decision of bringing up a prospect. Here is what a baseball industry expert and insider (and former GM) wrote about how even the most confident prospect need to get his confidence stroked:

There are examples at nearly every level. During spring training of 2003, Nick
Swisher was having a monster camp. After being drafted in 2002 he had finished
the season in High-A ball, and the plan all winter was to start him back there.
Due to his great spring, some people starting pushing for Nick to go to AA even
though he didn't even have a year's worth of minor league at-bats yet (I'm sure
I was one of them). I specifically remember Keith Lieppman, the Farm Director of
the A's, saying, "If he goes to AA and struggles to the point where we have to
send him back to A ball, I won't even know where to begin to pick up the
pieces." Nick Swisher was not a guy who lacked for confidence, by the way. So,
Nick started back in A ball, killed it, moved to AA, and so on.

I'll never forget Keith making that stand, especially considering his experience in player development is second to none. We all want to get our players to the big leagues as quickly as possible, but we also need to be as prudent as possible (and Keith needed to remind us in that situation), because when the players get there we
want to succeed. Not survive. Succeed.


This is basically what I've been writing about sending prospects to Dodd. The Giants apparently agree with me now, as their best prospects has been leapfrogging AA to AAA this season, in order to avoid that park. Now I've found this example.

End the horrors for our hitting prospects NOW!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More on Giants Draft

Just ran across this site I had forgotten about - Perfect Game Crosschecker - that had posted information about our draft picks:
  • Buster Posey (R.1; 5th overall):
    SCOUTING REPORT (3/1): Originally recruited to Florida State as a pitcher, Posey spent his freshman year with the Seminoles as a shortstop only to move behind the plate as a sophomore. He added closer responsibilities to his repertoire this spring as a junior. His ability to adapt easily to such diverse positions speaks volumes about his athletic ability, makeup and feel for the game, though he still is working on some of the finer points of catching. Scouts said Posey was easily the best in the Cape Cod League last summer at catching, blocking and throwing, and the one catcher with above-average arm strength. He has on-line carry on his throws and unloads the ball quickly. His throws are a consistent 1.85 to 1.87 to second base. The most significant area he needed to improve from last summer was his footwork and he largely accomplished that in the fall at Florida State. He also became more accomplished receiving balls better down in the zone. Though he has limited raw power, Posey has a contact-oriented approach and hits to all fields with wood. He made significant strides at the plate in the second half of the Cape Cod League season as he used his hands more efficiently while eliminating his shoulders from his swing. He batted .281-3-19 last summer after hitting .382-3-65 with 21 doubles in the spring at Florida State.—ALLAN SIMPSON
    UPDATE (5/1): Posey enjoyed a breakout season, ranking among NCAA Division I leaders in many hitting categories while batting .469-16-66 with 43 walks and only 17 strikeouts (through May 15). He has also continued to polish his defensive skills behind the plate. There has been plenty of discussion about the home-state Tampa Bay Rays selecting Posey with the first pick in the draft. If you want a solid comparison for Posey, think of North Carolina’s B.J. Surhoff, a catcher/shortstop who was the first pick in the 1985 draft.—DAVID RAWNSLEY
  • Conor Gillaspie (R.1s):
    SCOUTING REPORT (3/1): Gillaspie had a solid sophomore season at Wichita State, hitting .325-6-53, but nothing to suggest he would have the breakout summer like he had in the Cape Cod League, where he topped the league in batting (.345), slugging (.673) and extra-base hits (21) on his way to earning league MVP honors. He showed a serious ability to square up balls, gave away few at-bats and took what pitchers gave him, pulling inside pitches and going the other way with pitches on the outer half of the plate. He drove numerous balls to the gaps with developing power. Almost overnight, he moved near the head of the class among the top college hitters in the 2008 class. He was steady defensively at third with good hands and arm strength, but scouts question his range, especially going to his left. Gillaspie has a tireless work ethic and unusually high expectations for himself. He is always taking extra hitting and looking for ways to improve his game, but he can be unusually hard on himself when he falters.—ALLAN SIMPSON
    UPDATE (5/15): Gillaspie furthered his reputation as one of the top hitters in college baseball this spring, hitting .421-10-77 and throwing in eight triples, 16 steals and 36 walks for added measure. He was at his best as the season wore on and hit two home runs and drove in five in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship game. Scouts question how much over-the-fence power Gillaspie projects, but there seems to be no question that he has the bat speed and hitting skills to hit line drives at all levels. Gillaspie did struggle defensively at third base, making 16 errors and fielding less than .900. Scouts said that no one area was at fault, that he was inconsistent both throwing and catching the ball.—DAVID RAWNSLEY
  • Roger Kieschnick (R.3):
    SCOUTING REPORT (3/1): Kieschnick has the makings of becoming a five-tool talent, but hasn’t put everything together yet. He spent two summers with Team USA and his most obvious improvement from 2006 to 2007 came at the plate. The raw power he routinely displayed in batting practice in his first season manifested into in-game power last summer, enabling him to improve his home run total from one to a team-leading seven. He also improved his total at Texas Tech from nine as a freshman to 13 as a sophomore. He showed more pull power and stayed inside balls well, enabling him to drive pitches from right-center to left-center, but his swing is still a little stiff and he remains prone to striking out. He lacks looseness and rhythm at the plate, but he makes hard contact and the ball jumps off his bat. His speed, arm strength and defensive skills are all average to plus tools, though he still needs work on getting better angles on balls in the outfield. Kieschnick has the intangibles to succeed as well. He’s a mature, level-headed player who plays the game aggressively. He should continue to grow into his game.—ALLAN SIMPSON
    UPDATE (5/15): Kieschnick’s 2008 season was a duplicate of his sophomore campaign as he hit with power, commanded the strike zone well, ran the bases well and played an excellent right field. He still didn’t show the ability to hit for average (.305-17-65, 35 walks) as much as scouts expected, given his tools. College outfielders with a strong, athletic tool package are rare in this draft and that should guarantee Kieschnick a slot in the top two rounds.—DAVID RAWNSLEY
  • Brandon Crawford (R.4):
    SCOUTING REPORT (3/1): Crawford had a poor 2007 summer season in the Cape Cod League for Orleans, hitting just .189-4-14 with 45 strikeouts while committing 13 errors—high among league shortstops. He showed flashes of his considerable ability, particularly with his speed, range and above-average arm strength, but his raw lefthanded power and overall hitting ability didn’t translate well from BP into game situations. All could be forgotten by this spring, however, if he plays to his potential—or even returns to his sophomore form at UCLA, when he batted .335-7-55. With the possible exception of his bat, Crawford has legitimate five-tool ability and could be the first college shortstop drafted in 2008. He is normally a sound defender with excellent hands and footwork. He needs to be more consistent in the field, however, as he is capable of making the spectacular play but often botches the routine ones. His arm is both strong and accurate, and is a significant weapon but he tends to rely on it too much. He is prone to sitting back on balls hit to him and letting his arm do most of the work. He needs to be more aggressive coming in on balls and getting rid of them quicker. Crawford has good poise for his age, but just needs to figure it out with the bat.—ALLAN SIMPSON
    UPDATE (5/15): Crawford continued to tease scouts with his first-round tools, but didn’t perform like a first-rounder most of the 2008 season. He hit a modest .288-5-39 for an underachieving UCLA team and struck out at a high rate (54 times in 198 at-bats). His bat remains his biggest question mark. He swings and misses too often, particularly when he chases off-speed pitches. He has poor pitch recognition and is prone to being too pull-conscious. His greatest strength continues to be his defense. He’s a sure-handed shortstop with range and arm strength. He has playable speed.—AS
  • Edwin Quirate (R.5): SCOUTING REPORT: Quirarte hasn’t received the exposure that a number of other college closers have in this year’s draft, but he has quietly improved his stock to where he may be picked as early as the fifth round. He was used as a starter in his first two seasons with the Matadors, with unimpressive results, but found his niche in a role where his competitive nature worked best and he could unleash his fastball in short bursts. It was clocked at a steady 90-93 mph and enabled him to post a 3-3, 1.86 record with eight saves. He continued to use his slider and split-finger as secondary pitches, but his command of those pitches is just average.—ALLAN SIMPSON
  • Eric Surkamp (R.6):
    SCOUTING REPORT (3/1): Surkamp worked in tandem with his former Moeller High pitching mate Andrew Brackman at the front of the N.C. State rotation last season before Brackman, who was drafted in the first round by the New York Yankees, was sidelined with a sore arm that led to Tommy John surgery. Surkamp struggled to win games when Brackman went down and ended up with a 4-5, 3.47 record with 84 strikeouts and 27 walks in 96 innings. Despite his big, strong frame—and, in stark contrast to Brackman, who topped out at 99 mph—Surkamp does not throw particularly hard and his stuff is considered marginal by pro standards. His fastball is just in the 86-89 mph range though will touch 90, but he has an advanced feel for pitching and can keep hitters off balance with a three-pitch mix. He rarely throws consecutive pitches at the same speed or to the same location. He went 2-0, 1.85 with 26 strikeouts in 24 innings for Orleans of the Cape Cod League last summer, before being added to Team USA’s roster for the latter part of its international schedule. If Surkamp can somehow increase the velocity on his fastball even 2-3 mph, it would help his stock considerably in the draft, but most scouts believe he is what he is and project he’ll be a 5th-10th round pick in 2008. He has a good changeup and an average breaking ball but needs to spot those pitches, along with his fastball, consistently to be effective.—ALLAN SIMPSON
    UPDATE (5/15): Surkamp was pretty much what he was a year ago—a big lefthander with a good feel for pitching but ordinary stuff. He went 5-2, 4.39 with 82 strikeouts in 70 innings as one of N.C. State’s two primary starters. He pitched better late in the season, raising hopes he’ll be drafted closer to the fifth round than the 10th.—AS
  • Aaron King (R.7):
    SCOUTING REPORT (3/1): Pitt CC sophomore third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall has garnered most of the attention from scouts this spring among top prospects in the North Carolina junior college ranks, but King has also garnered his share of intrigue. Though he wasn’t unknown to scouts as a high school senior at North Carolina’s Fred T. Foard High, where he pitched on the same staff as Clemson-recruit Trent Rothlin, Ford’s fastball was mostly 88-89 mph and he didn’t have a breaking ball. His command was below average. He’s obviously made enormous strides over the last year. The big lefthander has a live arm with a fastball in the 90-93 mph range. A downhill plane provides good life on the pitch low in the zone, with sink at the knees and arm-side tailing action. His secondary pitches—a long, sweeping slurve at 70-74 mph that lacks crispness and an adequate 81-84 mph changeup—also rely on location to be effective. King is very aggressive and holds nothing back on each pitch. But he is more thrower than pitcher at this stage of his development. His size and arm strength, though, are significant attributes that will keep scouts coming back.—ALLAN SIMPSON
    UPDATE (5/15): King was everything he promised to be this spring with a fastball up to 94 mph, though it was more commonly in the 90-92 range. Physically, he fits the profile of the big, powerful, loose lefthander. He still has a way to go in streamlining his delivery, but he has made significant strides in adding movement to his fastball and developing a curveball that now grades as average. He has a changeup, but rarely uses it. The command of all his pitches is significantly better. King was dominant as a junior college freshman, posting a 5-4, 1.91 record with 98 strikeouts in 66 innings. He walked 34, but was touched up for only 38 hits. He has the whole package for a team that might willing to take a run at him in the first couple of rounds, but most clubs don’t feel comfortable enough taking a junior college pitcher with a limited history that early.—AS
  • Scott Barnes (R.8):
    SCOUTING REPORT (3/1): Barnes has made a lot of strides in his evolution as a pitcher since he was offered $200,000 to sign out of a Massachusetts high school in 2005. He went 7-2, 2.93 with 99 strikeouts in 95 innings as a sophomore at St. John’s. He sought to continue his development during the summer in the Cape Cod League but left in the middle of his second start with tendonitis and was shut down for the season. Tall and lanky with a loose, quick, power arm, Barnes’ fastball explodes at 90-93 mph with slight tailing action to the first base side. He also has a slurve-like breaking ball but still needs to refine his circle changeup. He maintains a good arm slot and speed on the pitch, but it lacks fade or sinking action. Barnes’ three-quarters delivery also needs cleaning up as he throws with a slinger-like arm action. He has a focused, confident, high-energy approach to pitching with good pitchability and projects as a starter in pro ball—providing his changeup continues to develop.—ALLAN SIMPSON
    UPDATE (5/15): Barnes’ velocity was up and down most of this spring, ranging from 87-91 mph, but he started throwing his fastball by hitters more consistently later in the year when it reached 92-93 mph. His command of the pitch was better, too, and he mixed in a near-average slider and a fair change, which he didn’t throw very often. As the leader of St. John’s deep pitching staff, he went 7-3, 3.69 with 45 walks and a team-high 90 strikeouts in 90 innings. Long-time area scouts compared his frame, stuff and approach to pitching to former St. John’s lefthander and ex-big leaguer C.J. Nitkowski, the ninth overall pick in the 1994 draft. While there were questions early in the season whether Barnes justified his status as the state’s top prospect, he solidified himself late in the season as a solid second- or third rounder—possibly even a sandwich pick of his home-state Boston Red Sox, if that club makes drafting a player with local ties a priority.—AS
  • Ryan Verdugo (R.9):
    SCOUTING REPORT (3/1): Verdugo was one of the key recruits LSU’s second-year coaching staff pinned its hopes on to jumpstart the once-mighty Tigers program, which has been a Southeastern Conference also-ran the last two years. The Skagit Valley (Wash.) JC transfer was installed as the No. 2 starter in the rotation this spring after impressing in the fall with a fastball in the 88-91 mph range, topping at 92. His changeup and 12-to-6 curveball were also effective pitches. Verdugo, a fourth-year junior, has traveled a varied path since being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies out of a Washington high school in 2004. He attended Oregon’s Division III George Fox College as a freshman but almost immediately blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery. Shortly thereafter, he transferred to Skagit Valley and spent the 2006 season there exclusively as a DH. He was finally healthy enough to resume pitching in 2007 and impressed Northwest scouts with his strong, athletic body, quick left arm and compact arm action from an abbreviated windup. He has difficulty throwing all his pitches consistently for strikes as he struggles with his delivery, but he is still able to compete with fringe stuff and command. Verdugo might have gone much sooner in the 2007 draft than the 47th round but his high price tag and near-binding commitment to LSU scared teams off.—ALLAN SIMPSON
    UPDATE (5/15): Verdugo thrived this spring in his first chance at Division I baseball and helped carry the resurgent LSU team with him, going 8-2, 3.61 with 75 K’s in 82 innings. He throws a variety of different fastballs between the low 80s and low 90’s, some with cut, some with sink and some straight and hard. He is very effective pitching off his fastball. His other offerings, a curveball and a changeup, are solid but not out-pitches. Verdugo is very young for a fourth-year junior, having just turned 21, so it won’t be a given for him to go out this year as it might be for many players in that situation.—DAVID RAWNSLEY
  • Ryan O'Sullivan (R.10): SCOUTING REPORT: O’Sullivan and his brother Sean, now a highly-successful pitcher in the Los Angeles Angels organization, are the first brother combination ever to be named Aflac All-Americans (Sean was a 2004 selection). The younger O’Sullivan, much like his brother before him, has been a fixture in SoCal baseball circles since he was the MVP of the San Diego Stars’ national AAU championship team as a 9-year-old. O’Sullivan has always excelled as a two-way player at shortstop and on the mound, although (like his multi-talented brother) his upper-level baseball future is likely on the mound. Despite his part-time status on the hill, O’Sullivan throws 89-91 mph with hard, heavy sinking action on his fastball. His breaking ball is a 77-mph slurve that can be tightened into a slider. O’Sullivan is a polished pitcher and a ground-ball machine, and should continue to improve when he gets on the mound full-time. If he goes the college route, O’Sullivan could excel as one of the country’s top two-way players, just as he has done his entire baseball career thus far.—DAVID RAWNSLEY
  • Justin Fitzgerald (R.11): SCOUTING REPORT: Fitzgerald went just 1-4, 4.96 with three saves as a draft-eligible sophomore in 2007, but made a huge statement on the opening weekend of the 2008 season when he came out firing a fastball that topped out at 94-95 mph. Almost overnight, he became a legitimate prospect. Fitzgerald continued to flash velocity in the 91-93 mph range with late life the rest of the season, and mixed in a solid 79-81 mph slider. He also tinkered with a curve and changeup. The upshot was a dominating season as the closer for UC Davis. He went 3-1, 2.90 with 13 saves. In 31 innings, he walked five and struck out 34. Fitzgerald, who took a medical red-shirt in 2006, looks the part in a uniform at a strapping 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds.—ALLAN SIMPSON
  • Ari Ronick (R.12): SCOUTING REPORT: Ronick was drafted by the Reds a year ago, despite going 2-4, 3.05 with 22 strikeouts in 41 innings, missing several starts with a sore arm and subsequently undergoing surgery to address a stress fracture in his elbow. His first outing this season was his first in 10 months. He had no ill effects from his surgery at all in 2008 and showed scouts a short, quick, smooth arm action with a good feel for pitching. His fastball was consistently in the 87-91 mph range—solid for a tall, athletic lefthander. He has three other pitches—a slider with short, late tilt, a big-breaking three-quarters curve and a circle change—that are generally effective. His changeup is his best pitch. Ronick pitches to contact and went 4-7, 5.03 with 17 walks and 46 strikeouts in 63 innings this season—representative of the way he pitched as a four-year starter at Portland. Northwest scouts see him as a solid senior lefty with decent stuff.—ALLAN SIMPSON

Pre-Draft Top 50

In addition, they had a pre-draft Top 50 listing as well that they published on May 12th:

  • Buster Posey (#1; pick #5 overall): It's been the Spring of Dreams for the Seminoles catcher, as he's been arguably college baseball's top hitter, furthered his defensive abilities behind the plate and put himself in position to be the No. 1 overall pick.
  • Roger Kieschnick (#46; pick #82 overall): Kieschnick is a four-tool outfielder with his pro level power, speed, throwing and defense; the question will be how his hitting ability develops.
  • Brandon Crawford (#48; pick #117 overall): Crawford's slow start and contact issues have taken him out of the first round, but his athleticism, defensive skills and potential will still get him drafted high.

Oddly enough, Conor Gillaspie was not ranked among the top 50.

Giant Thoughts

Lots of speculation over whether we can sign a number of our draftees. Below are my comments.

Gerald "Buster" Posey

Obviously, #1 is Buster Posey (the Giants loves these B-nickname players, like Boof :^). He is definitely signing, because he has nothing to prove nor improve by staying in college another year, he could only hurt his draft status with an injury or sub-par season. Thus the main question is when he will sign, soon or at the deadline like most did last year.

It is a distinct possibility that Posey could sit out until then, but I have to assume the Giants realize that time is the essence for Posey, the sooner he’s in the system, the sooner he’s moving up the system, particularly if they hope for him to have any chance of taking over in 2010, though they might do it anyway, as it wouldn’t be the first time that a player with a major league glove but developing bat gets thrown out there to start.

From his end, he’s better off signing this year, as it should cut a year off his development time to reach the majors, and make up some of the money that way. And the sooner he makes the majors and make all the teams who passed him up pay for not selecting him.

Thus far, there have been a number of signings already in the first round, so things seem to be moving faster. That's probably because last year was the first one where the August 15th deadline was put in place plus the recommended slot bonus was reduced 10%. This year, it's the second year of the system plus the slots have been raised by 20% over last year, which was a reversal of last year's 10% decrease plus a 10% increase. So I'm hopeful that Buster will sign sooner than later, he seemed pretty jazzed about getting selected by the Giants. In addition, I came across a rather heart-warming story about him and given that humble background, I doubt that he'll be going for every dollar he can get but rather probably has a figure he thinks is fair that he will want.

So that brings the question: what is fair? It would be what the top talent got from last year's draft. Weiters did get $6M when the slot was $2.25M for the #5 pick and Price got $5.6M last year as the #1 pick ($3.6M slot). In addition, Porcello got $3.58M, which is almost what the #2 pick got, Moustakas got $4M (and was slotted for $3.15M).

So I think that $4-5M is about what a top pick could expect to get in the draft without Boras as your agent, and if I were Posey’s agent I think that arguing for $5-6M would be where I would start and be happy with $3-4M and a major league contract when the deal is done. And Sabean said in a post-draft interview that the Giants would be open to a major league contract, which would fast track Posey.

About the rumored demand for $12M, I think the $12M was a red herring they threw out to get Tampa Bay not to draft Posey, and probably Pittsburgh too. Most also knew that Alvarez would be the Pirates pick if available and most knew that it was down to T.Beckam and Posey for TB, so the dominos would fall T.Beckham and Alvarez with the $12M request, then probably Hosmer to KC as per all the rumors, and the Orioles would be unlikely to draft Posey because of Weiters, leaving the Giants or at worse the Marlins to select Posey, both teams needing catchers desperately, but SF willing and able to pay for a top pick.

I doubt the Giants tipped off their hand in terms of selecting Posey, but I can see Posey’s agent letting the Giants know what they were looking for if the Giants selected him, in order to influence them to draft him with their pick.

Out of the top teams picking, if I were Posey, I would want the Giants or Marlins to select me. They both need a future catcher and fast, as both teams are nearly rebuilt and nearly ready to compete, meaning that Posey could rise quickly. Orioles has Wieters in the way and the Royals and Pirates have a history of incompetence in the way and no track record that things will necesarily get better, though the Royals are nicely stacked right now. The Rays are improving, have a great set of young players, but again, no track record of success.

As much as people like to ride on Sabean, he does have a history of success behind him, as do the Marlins. In addition, Sabean values defense and versatility, which Posey have in spades, and therefore we might pay more for Posey than another team. Also, Posey, not expected to be a huge HR hitter, would not be affected much by playing at AT&T, so he’s not scared away by our park’s image as a pitcher’s park (which has not held up in recent years but the media still hasn’t learned yet so others probably haven’t either) that kills HR power.

Conor Gillaspie

According to one account of the draft, Conor Gillaspie was clearly disgusted when he fell out of the first round. So the thinking goes that he won't sign because he will want to go higher in the draft. Let's say he does do that and get selected at the end of round 1 next year.

Last year’s end of first round got roughly $100-200K more than what the 37th pick of 2007 draft. So if he signs quickly and rise fast, he would make that money up quickly, particularly since the Giants only have Castillo penciled in for 2009-2010 right now, and Rohlinger is the only prospect ahead of him right now.

In addition, the best revenge is making the majors ASAP and starting and hitting well. :^)

I was more impressed with Gillaspie after reading this description, not that previous ones were lacking, but rather this one makes his accomplishments more significant for me. I like the fact that he has a tireless work ethic, those are the kind of players who continually improve themselves. I also didn't know about his ability to steal or take a walk. He was a good pick before, but I really like him after this one, he looks like a good #2 hitter. The only problem was his defensive problems at 3B but I haven't see anything that says that he'll have to change positions at some point in the future..

Roger Krieschnick

What's not to love about a player who has 4-5 tools? Unfortunately, the one tool missing is hitting, so he's probably going to strike out a lot but he has loads of power. I don't expect any problem signing, he should be slotted to get around $500,000, based on what his overall pick number got last year plus the increase in slot money, so unless he thinks he can improve a lot next season, it would be hard for him to turn that type of bonus down. Again, as noted for others, signing now means he start in the majors a year sooner probably, so any delay of that timetable will cost him more than his improvement in bonus unless he can get himself into the first round, either regular or supplemental.

Brandon Crawford

He could be the steal of the draft for us, even more than Posey, Gillaspie or Krieschnick. Though a fourth round draft pick, the commentary above has him having first round tools and 5 tool-ability as well. He also looks like he can stick at SS, and that is an area where our farm system could use more talent. Defense is his most developed tool so far; his hitting is probably the least. But, the comment above states that he was good enough to be thought the first SS drafted, so that is pretty good to get here back in the fourth round.

He's probably the most likely of the top picks to not sign and go back for next year's draft. He fell far from where he could have been, and given the question marks on him, making the majors is not a sure thing for him; whereas the others above him clearly will probably make the majors, the main question is will they stick. Since the majors is not a given for him, signing would not necessarily mean that he will make more money sooner by signing with the Giants.

However, I still think he signs. He's from the Bay Area, so he'll be nearby during his journey up the farm system, allowing family and friends to watch him play. His bonus is still substantial, $300,000 range, and if he has another subpar year, he's going to fall enough further back in the draft. Take the money and see if he can resusistate his career in the minors, if he's looking for money, the majors will bring him more than what the bonus he would get in the first round plus he would get to play in front of his family and friends at AT&T, instead of, say, Pittsburgh or KC.

Edwin Quirate

Signed already! Some wonder if we paid too much.

Last year, early 5th rounders got about $150K and the 147th pick last year was slotted with $162,000. According to the reports, the slots were raised this season about 7% for the 2nd to 5th rounds, which would put the 147th pick slot bonus to $173K approximately. Plus there is the reversal of the decrease of last year, so that makes the slot approximately $190K.

$193K is roughly equal to my estimated slot, so he was not paid too much.

Early Signings

And he is not the only one to sign already, there are a lot of players signed already. My guess would be that they realized that fighting over slot or slightly above slot is not worth the lost time of evaluation and acclimation and education that occurs when the player signs early and starts playing in short-season A-ball or rookie league.

In addition, I think that signings are quicker this season because the slot was increased to where it should have been relative to 2006, plus they now have one draft under their belt regarding the new August 15 deadline, there was a lot of stalling last season probably because of the new system. Plus, I’ll bet a lot of players realized that they lost all that time fighting over not a lot of money. For example, Fairley fought to the end and got $10K over slot. If that delays his getting to the majors by one week, there goes his $10K extra, plus more for every week after that.

Other Giants Picks

The other picks are all diamonds in the rough, with something good as a reason to draft him, and something bad that led to him falling that far back. However, Ryan O'Sullivan looks like he fell because of signability concerns, as he looks like he has a pretty clean history, he has accomplished a lot of things as he rose from Little League to high school.

He's from the San Diego area, so hopefully he's pals with Nick Noonan and decides to sign with us. I assume we will be going over slot if we do sign him, but you never know, as his brother is already in the Angel's farm system, so he could be aching to become a pro.

Bowker Adjusting Back

Or maybe he's just figured out how to hit pitchers not hired by the Cardinals.

After his initially hot hitting, mainly against the Cardinals who happened to play the Giants twice during that time period, Bowker could not hit well at all, as pitchers adjusted to his hitting. Thus, even with that hot start, he ended April with the following batting line: .193/.217/.404/.620 but with 3 HR in 57 AB. However, he also had only 2 walks versus 13 strikeouts, or 23% of his AB. Ideally, you want hitters that strike out 15% or less of his AB and you would like to see his walks be at least half of his strikeouts.

However, he adjusted in May to the point where he could make contact but not for power yet, hitting .297/.343/.375/.718, with 1 HR in 64 AB. Again, poor strike zone discipline, only 3 walks versus 16 strikeouts, or 25% of his AB.

Done Adjusting

Now look at his June stats, after his stellar 3 for 4 outing with a 3-run homer yesterday, one triple away from the cycle: .350/.422/.675/1.097 with 3 HR in 40 AB and already 4 walks versus only 7 strikeouts, or 17.5% of his AB, which is much improved and nearly at the ideal rate of 15% or better. And his walk rate is very good as well, just over half his strikeouts and nearly at a 10% rate.

And his overall numbers look good again, after his initial burst of success, with all his adjusting. His overall batting line is now .273/.320/.460/.780, good for a 103 OPS+ for 1B mainly since he's played mainly there. And with 7 HR in 161 AB, he is now averaging 23 AB/HR, or about a 20-25 HR pace over a full season.

Legit Giants Position Player Prospect

That would be decent production at 1B, if he can continue this, as he is only 24 years old and his numbers are similar to what Conor Jackson did in a better offensive environment in Arizona when he was 24: .291/.368/.441/.809, 103 OPS+, with 15 HR in 485 AB, or 32 AB/HR.

And a lot of baseball followers like Jackson, I never really got it totally, other than his high walk rate and good strikeout rate, but he is finally blossoming this season at age 26 and, oddly enough, his 2B and HR rate is about the same but suddenly he's getting a lot of triples (basically his 2B rate is basically the same including the triples), which boosted up his SLG. For someone with no speed, that appears flukey, but he also already has 3 steals, one more than he ever got in twice the ABs. And, more importantly, he's always been good at getting walks but he's taking it to a new level by receiving more walks than getting struck out.

It took him two years to reach that, and Bowker appears to be doing in within a season, so perhaps he can surpass Jackson at some point. He definitely does not have the plate discipline that Jackson has shown, though he's much improved this month (small samples), but he just as definitely has a lot more power than Jackson. And that's what most teams look for in a 1B, plus that's what we need from Bowker.

Final Note On Bowker

In the post-game interview, he says that he is doing a better job now of protecting the plate when there is two strikes. He also noted that Carney Lansford prepped him on how Fernando Rodney likes to pitch, so Bowker was standing in there waiting for a changeup when Rodney nicely obliged with another one (Miller said that it was the 3rd changeup that he tried to get by Bowker) and Bowker blasted it out.

Giants Ain't Misching Misch

The Giants sent Pat Misch down to the minors Sunday to bring up Kevin Correia from the DL. In addition, it was noted that Yabu is now in a setup role and the Giants currently have no one in the long relief role. The rest of the bullpen - Chulk, Hinshaw, Taschner, Sadler - will have to pitch in when needed.

He's Starter Material

The Giants emphasized in reporting on his demotion that they wanted him to continue getting experience as a starter, and thus sent him down for that reason. However, Bochy also noted that he will be used primarily as a starter, which means that he could see some relief duty as well. It was also noted that Misch occasionally showed flashes of good pitching, but Bochy said he needed to get "better command of the ball down" to succeed consistently in the Majors.

Player Development

Which brings to mind a question I've been thinking about for a while: what is the best course of action for player development of a pitcher? A number of people on Giants communities have complained about the Giants player development, in particular claiming that they screwed up Jonathan Sanchez the past couple of years by keeping him up and relieving instead of down and starting. I just took that as general Sabean bashing, which I'm getting tired of, so sometimes it goes in one eye and other the other. But, this little voice in my head said, what if they are right, at least in Sanchez's case?

Learning Curve

Now, I'm no expert, but I do know some things. Earl Weaver, for one, believes that the best way to introduce a prospect into the majors is to bring him up first as a reliever and let him get acclimated to the majors slowly, because the majors is hard enough to fathom, let alone to get the pressure that comes with starting in the majors. Bring him up, let him get used to the majors on his own terms, and meanwhile put him into situations in the majors where he can have some success and learn a little.

And that makes sense in terms of how the Giants have handled their young starters, perhaps this is the influence of the late Pat Dobson, who used to be Sabean's arguably most trusted advisor. Cain and Lincecum are mature beyond their years and so they came up as starters and not relievers because they were ready.

Correia, on the other hand, appeared overmatched as a starter, after some early success, and thus got put in the bullpen to learn there until he was ready to return to starting. They gave him that chance last season by trading away Morris then shutting down Lincecum. And kept a rotation spot open for him to compete with Sanchez for this season.

Sanchez Not the Most Mature or Learned Pitcher

In Sanchez's case, he has given me some indication this season that his head was probably not all there yet, and perhaps still isn't quite there yet, but close enough. He has made a number of public comments about himself and the team this season that suggest that he's a bit of a headcase and immature, unlike Cain and Lincecum when they came up.

One egregrious example this season was when he got pulled early from a game and he publicly complained about it. Any pitcher that does not understand that when you walk so many hitters even before you reach the 6th inning, you are going to get sent to the showers early. Somehow, he didn't learn that in STARTING PITCHER 101 that a lot of walks are bad, that a lot of walks get you an early shower.

Another thing you should know better is not to talk to your manager through the media. That's not going to make your road easier and could make it harder. That's life.

Quality Over Quantity

That's one mistake I think people who are complaining are making, overvaluing quantity over quality. Some of these people think that it would have been better for Sanchez to start in the minors rather than relieve in the majors, and justify their thinking by saying that his success as a starter validates their thinking. However, pitchers don't always need to pitch in order to develop.

What is better for player development, pitching in the minors against hitters who are mostly AAA with a few AAAA quality hitters, or facing MLB hitters on a regular basis? Obviously, some pitchers are still figuring things out and need to pitch regularly in order to learn how to throw. But at some point, once you know how to throw, facing minor leaguers who don't really know how to hit at the major league level don't really help you develop, in fact, it could hinder you as you get into bad habits because things you do down there don't always work up in the big leagues because the hitters are better and smarter and more experienced.

Sanchez Has Stuff to Get MLB Hitters Out

The Giants judged that Sanchez would not learn as much starting in the minors as he would relieving in the majors. And his stats as a reliever the past two seasons support that decision. Jonathan Sanchez clearly can get major league hitters out regularly. If he wasn't ready for major league hitters then why was his peripherals so good against them?

For one, his H/9 was 9.4, meaning he held major league hitters to about a hit an inning, which is very good. His HR/9 was 1.0, meaning he was OK at that. His K/9 was 9.3, which was great, and he improved from season to season, with 7.4 in 2006 and 10.7 in 2007. Likewise his K/BB, overall 1.9, which was borderline bad, but in 2007 he had a 2.2 K/BB ratio, which was OK. He was really only bad at walks, with a BB/9 of 5.0 over the two seasons.

Overall, he peripherals were OK to good against MLB hitters as a reliever which means that his pitches were major league ready. In particular, he can strike out major league hitters regularly with his pitches, which showed that he didn't need to learn to throw in the minors. Rather, he needed to learn how to pitch in the majors.

If he had been starting in the minors, he would have been dominating hitters but learning nothing much from each game started. Because it is one thing to throw, as most pitchers do in the minors, but it is another thing to be a pitcher, which what most young pitchers need to learn to do if they have any hopes of having a long term career. You can see this in the difference between Cain and Lincecum, Cain is still learning to pitch, reverting back to bad habits occassionally, whereas Lincecum has continuously learned and improved himself in the short time he has been in the majors, he is learning to become a pitcher.

Sanchez clearly has the stuff to get major league hitters out, but just needed to figure out how to use his pitches to greater effect, something he wasn't going to learn in the minors by dominating them, it would be like a high school kid pitching to little leaguers - he can get most of them out, but he won't really learn anything. However, the Giants rotation was already full of pitchers who could hold their spot in the rotation, so Sanchez was left out of the rotation and placed in the bullpen.

But really, he was still pretty raw after the 2006 season, based on his stats as a reliever, so I don't think he was ready to start at the beginning of the 2007 season. However, if Lincecum wasn't around, it wouldn't have surprised me if Sanchez would have gotten a chance to start, he would have been a fine #5 starter once the season started, but the Giants were still trying to win with Bonds, and thus added a vet with low risk, high reward potential in Ortiz and a high risk, high reward pitcher in Zito.

Misch Still Has Some Learning To Do

Misch, on the other hand, was not that dominating in terms of strikeouts, whether starting or relieving in 2008. In fact, in the last two seasons, while he was able to keep hitters from hitting when he was relieving, it was like batting practice when he started. Something about starting makes Misch a batting practice pitcher so far in the majors.

And, overall, for the past two seasons, he hasn't been striking batters out, he hasn't been dominating them with the regularity that Sanchez showed while he was up as a reliever and now as a starter. Misch has been off and on with his ability to strike out hitters and, again, for some reason, he is extremely hittable as a starter. It happens, but that means he needs to go down to the minors because we have no space in the rotation nor bullpen for him to learn up here, there are still things he needs to learn as a thrower to become an effective pitcher in the majors.

Mr. Big "Stuff"

Some pitchers never learn how to become an effective pitcher in the majors and some pitchers just have that "stuff" that major leaguers talk about in pitchers. Like Cain and Lincecum, Sanchez has that "stuff" while Misch, lacking that "stuff", has to work harder and needs to make up for that by learning another pitch or getting better at locating a pitch in the strike zone. That is something you can practice in the majors or minors.

In an ideal world, he can learn up in the majors but there are only so many beat-downs before you lose your confidence. And he has been totally beat down by major leaguers when he is starting, not so much when he is relieving. And there is nothing wrong with that, he just might be not suited for starting and best suited for relieving. There is no shame in that.

In addition, for now, he's insurance in case we lose any of our starters to injury. Sometimes a team's circumstance requires you to go to a place that you have already done well in and thus you wait your turn. So he goes down to AAA and starts in order to be ready to jump in should the worse happens, because you never know. Particularly when it comes to pitchers, the most delicate of major league baseball players.

Not Everyone Needs to Start to Be a Good Pitcher

But looking at the circumstances, it seems to make sense that for Sanchez, being in the majors as a reliever was better for his development as a pitcher. Just look at Russ Ortiz. He was a reliever coming up, but then the Giants converted him to starting when they brought him up to the majors. Meanwhile, they started Rod Beck all through the minors but then brought him up to be a reliever.

Sanchez already had the pitches for the majors, otherwise he would not be able to strike them out with great regularity. What he needed to learn was to figure out how to pitch to the hitters and get them out without walking them. Ideally, he probably would have learned that quicker as a starter in the majors, but a spot was not open for him.

So the choice became, does he relieve in the majors or start in the minors? I think relieving in the majors was better for his development, because he probably faced more major league hitters as a reliever - and with more regularity - than he would have starting in AAA. To me, starting him in the minors would have just wasted the wear and tear on his body, because what he needed was quality hitters not quantity of pitching. That is something people have forgotten

TINSTAAPP

That got me to thinking and I looked around for a bit of info on TINSTAAP (for those who don't know: There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect). Here is what Gary Huckabay of Baseball Prospectus fame said about TINSTAAPP, which he first wrote about long ago, and which another author of BP quoted from more recently in this linked article when Huckabay wrote on it again:
When I first wrote that “There’s No Such Thing as a Pitching Prospect,” it meant two things, one of which has kind of become lost over time. Yes, it means that pitchers get hurt at approximately the same rate that methheads swipe identities and lose teeth. That’s what all pitchers do, not just prospects. But it also had another meaning—that guys who are totally blowing people away in the minors like they’re so many hot dog pretenders before Kobayashi are absolutely not pitching prospects—they’re already pitchers, and more time in the minors only means time off the living, pulsating clocks that are their labrums, rotator cuffs, and elbows.
That's all I've been saying above about Sanchez, with my attempt to explain why. I would have led off with this had I remembered sooner, but, in any case, I think it is worth noting. Sanchez was ready for the majors, he just didn't have a spot in the major league rotation to learn while the Giants were trying one last time to win with Bonds. Pitching him in the minors would have just wasted his pitching lifespan.

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