Thursday, July 02, 2009

Renteria vs. Cabrera: You Get What You Pay For, and Sometimes Less

I have no love lost with the A's. Frankly, it won't matter much to me either way if the A's stayed in the SF Bay Area or if they left. My quality of life would not be affected either way. However, the thought of the nasty A's fans who have given me grief over the years would do my heart good.

While I do love my Giants, I have never worn rose-colored glasses regarding them vs. the A's. I know that the A's have been better than the Giants for the most part during the time I have followed the Giants. But, for me, that's OK, I can accept that, just like I accepted long ago that there were geniuses who were graduating from college when they were 12 years old and thinking about graduate school, while I was happy playing, and following baseball, like any other kid. Plus, I understand that the team is not me, I can separate that.

What I don't like is when people praise Billy Beane to high heavens while Brian Sabean gets the sharp end of the stick. Billy had been arguably better for a number of years now, but then again, it is a bit comparing apples with oranges, because the Giants have been re-building for a couple of years now and the A's were trying hard to win, or at least said that they were.

And that bring me to the topic today: Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera. Sabean is tarred and feathered for that one while Beane is put on an even higher pedestal. So I thought I would examine the issue and see what the situation is.

Fangraphs Says Renteria the Better Buy

OK, they don't say that, but I'm interpreting from their data. Renteria is making $9.5M this season, while Cabrera is getting $3M. Based on his stats so far, Fangraphs has Renteria at around $1.9M value so far this season, about half way in, because he has contributed about half a win thus far. That means that at this rate, he would have contributed about $4M in value and about one win in a full season.

Meanwhile, Fangraphs has Cabrera at around -$3.9M value so far this season, and that he has costed the A's about one win thus far this season, based on his very poor play at bat and on the field, defensively. At this rate, he would have costed the A's about $8M in value and about 2 wins in a full season.

Now, either way, both players are not worth the money the teams are paying them. But many fans have been crediting the A's for getting Cabrera while deriding the Giants for signing Renteria. But while Renteria has at least been contributing some value to the Giants, Cabrera has been costing the A's big time. And relatively, the Giants got a big bargain in Renteria over Cabrera because while the Giants are paying about $6.5M more for Renteria, they have already gotten, in a half a season of play, almost that whole $6.5M in value from Renteria. And by the end of the season, assuming that the players play at about the same rate, Renteria would have contributed about $12M more in value than Cabrera would have while only paying $6.5M more.

Thus, Renteria was the better acquisition than Cabrera, by a mile, based on Fangraph's stats. And thus it should be Beane who should be derided for waiting for Cabrera instead of pursuing Renteria.

While I'm at it, Furcal thus far has contributed about 0.7 wins above replacement, or $3.2M worth of value, which works out to about 1.5 wins for the season and $7M in value; he is getting about $12M this season, which is about $3M more than Renteria, both in value and by salary, so the two are relatively even, though both are still being paid more than what Fangraphs think they should be.

However, last year we paid $5M to Vizquel and got a -$1.9M/-0.4 win season out of him. Thus, for $4.5M more for Renteria, we are getting $6M more in value from Renteria, plus he is contributing positive value. And, extrapolating Bocock's value out (very iffy, I know, but still), he was worth -$10-12M or -2.0 to -2.5 wins above replacement. Relative to Bocock, Renteria is a much better deal, paid about $9M more than Bocock, but providing $14-16M in value. Again, using Fangraphs Value calculations.

Sabean Better than Beane

What is even more amazing to me is that there is almost no talk about how Beane has failed this season, badly. He signed on a number of old players - Cabrera, Giambi, Garciaparra - plus picked up Holliday, put all his young studs in the starting rotation, and Voila, they have one of the worse records in the majors, as only 3 teams in the majors have a worse record. And imagine how bad it would be if they didn't go on that 7 game win streak.

Meanwhile, Sabean has put together the second best record in the NL and what I hear about is how dumb he was to sign Renteria and not wait until Cabrera was available on the cheap. I think the key phrase there is that "you get what you pay for," generally.

Still, does Sabean get credit for a good team? No, he gets raked over the coals for the lack of a power hitter, but these people don't realize the irony that the Giants are doing just fine without a "true" power hitter up to now, though in June, Sandoval, Schierholtz, and Ishikawa have been hitting like true power hitters. Meanwhile, Beane had his fans expectations set for going to the playoffs and doing something with Holliday as their marquee player, and yet I don't see any columnist raking Beane over the coals.

Sabean Better Than Thought

I think that a lot of Sabean-haters just like to focus on the negatives. And their memories extend as far as "what have you done for me lately". Sabean did a lot of good stuff to create a pennant winner in 1997 from a badly losing team in 1996 and then keeping it winning until 2005, when Bonds was out the whole season. I would like to see most teams recover from losing their Hall of Fame level production player for a full season; most don't.

They also pile on about the free agents. They don't realize that Sabean was executing the strategy that centered around winning with Barry Bonds that Magowan set in place. In spite of all the complaints, Sabean generally went out and got the best free agent out on the market. It was either that or accepting defeat by playing a scrub or unproven player at that position.

What people like to focus on as well are the Pierzitski trade and the Hillenbrand trades. The former was bad all around, but you can't expect perfection in trading, and if A.J. wasn't such an ass, he would have provided us good value as a catcher instead of costing us even more by forcing us to sign Matheny. I think that getting Kent and Schmidt in trades more than makes up for that mistake.

I still like the Hillenbrand trade. It was a calculated risk that was hedged nicedly. He was a league average hitter and such a hitter at 1B would have made a huge difference; however, he flatlined in our lineup and shrink under the pressure, it appears. Chulk, meanwhile, was a very useful pitcher for us that season (better than Accardo) and next, a good hedge against the losss of Accardo. And while Accardo went on to close in 2007, he was injured most of the 2008 season and been out for most of this season until recently. Since the trade, Accardo has thrown 114.1 innings, 3.62 ERA, and Chulk threw 107 innings for us (he's with Cleveland now), 4.29 ERA.

Now, Accardo will most likely surpass whatever we got from Chulk, but there is the huge time value issue. We needed a better 1B. We traded a pitcher with potential (but who wasn't doing it yet) for a similar performing pitcher (or close enough) plus get a league average hitting 1B, which was way better than what we had at that time. It just didn't work out, it happens. It was a calcuated risk that was hedged so that we got some value.

And while Accardo is nice, I don't know where he would fit in our bullpen right now. People see his shiny 2007 season, but don't realize that there was a lot of luck involved, his FIP that year was almost a full run and a half higher than the 2.14 ERA he had that season, at 3.48. And guess what Chulk's FIP was in 2007? 3.33 FIP. Yes, Chulk outpitched Accardo in 2007.

Plus, while the Giants would never admit that they think a player is headed for the injury bin, I have to wonder if they were thinking that Accardo was headed for a big injury like he had in 2008.

Lastly, the end result is this: for the vast majority, and more importantly, in terms of top players, Sabean has kept all the prospects that he deemed worth keeping. Even Liriano, as nicely as he started, is still struggling to stay healthy (and I think the Twins are killing any chance of a long career by trotting him out there as a starter, he should have become a reliever after his first big injury as a major leaguer because he's had so many in the minors), so what loss was he, really, ultimately? Lincecum, Cain, Wilson, Sandoval, Romo, all the young players on this 25-man roster, all the prospects we have in the farm system, he hasn't really traded or released many worth crying over, he has keep the keepers.

As my daughter's favorite singer sings, "Everybody makes mistakes." The true mistake is to keep all the past trespasses and to hold it against that person when circumstances have changed. How anyone can look at this team and farm system and not be excited about the team's future, I don't know. I feel sorry for them.

People have complained about the past few years, but it's like all the bad dates and significant others you went through before you found the one: it is a process you have to go through sometimes to learn what you need to learn to get where you are today.

I enjoyed the past few season. I knew that it was building up to this, just not this soon. Getting Randy Johnson, I think, helped accelerate the process a bit. I know that there might be some setbacks from where we are now, but that's OK, it's part of the learning process. As I've been saying since 2003, a team needs to put in some losing seasons to accelerate the re-building process, and we have picked up Posey and Wheeler, two potential top line players. So I was OK with losing.

Some people have complained that the Giants didn't rebuild sooner. Fair complaint but really, if you are paying Barry Bonds $20M to play baseball, you have to go all in and buy the best team you can get, so that Barry is satisfied that the Giants are doing their best to win with him. They owed him that much.

These same people talk about how the Giants went to a youth movement finally this season, while noting that the rebuild should have been sooner. Where have they been the past three seasons? The entire pitching staff went young while they were complaining about the old team. Where we weren't young, we got vets so that we didn't have a AAA-team playing the field. Because our young position prospects didn't really deserve many chances in the recent past. Still, the Giants were patient enough to allow starting opportunities for those who showed something in the minors and then the majors.

Tim Kawakami is one of those. He lambasted the Giants today for playing Jose Castillo last season, lumping him with the old vets that he hates so much. What he don't realize is that he advocated for the Giants to trade for Alexis Rios (by trading Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum - thank goodness that didn't happen! That would be 1,000 times worse than anything Sabean has done.) who is the same age of Castillo.

But what would he have the Giants do? It's easy to criticize but when you look at the full circumstances, the Giants did as best as they could do. They had saved 3B as a position that Frandsen could play at, while planning on playing Durham at 2B. (Kawakami also complained about Durham, but Durham hit .293/.385/.414/.799 for us, and I don't see what there is to complain about that number.) It would not have been fair to another player if the Giants signed someone who could play 3B, but would sit on the bench behind Frandsen, as backup. They tried to sign McPherson, but as it turned out, he wanted to play for Florida.

Then Frandsen fell to a season ending injury near the end of spring training leaving us no alternative other than to play Castillo because a trade to get a 3B then or even into the season would have been costly. Would he rather we traded away Sandoval then to get a middling 3B, just so that we don't have to play the "old" 27 year old Castillo? People sometimes don't think through all the circumstances involved and just gloss over the surface facts: ineffective veteran, must be old, ergo blast Sabean.

Castillo was a body, plain and simple to anyone who has watched baseball for a while. The Giants knew that he wasn't much but we needed a 3B, there is no rule that allows us to not field a position, and we were already starting Brian Bocock at SS, another player who should not have been up there. But Vizquel was injured, we needed a body there too. So Castillo got a chance to add to his major league pension while filling a position, and once we had someone ready to take over in Sandoval, they moved him out, took at look at him at 2B, then let him go. What is so wrong with that?

And by that logic, the Giants don't sign Jeremy Affeldt, who is 29 years old. Or Justin Miller or Brandon Medders. Where would our bullpen, where would out team, be right now without them? We'd be stuck near the cellar again. And don't forget Randy Johnson. Under that logic, he would rather we be starting Pat Misch, who was our 6th starter the past few years, as he's young.

He talks about how the youth movement should have started in the 2007 season, but again, we had Bonds, if he has a problem with hitters who hit .276/.480/.565/1.045 with 28 HR (and I'm tired about all the media piling on about steroids - had they been doing their job back when McGwire was caught with Andro, maybe much of this would have been over already) then I don't know what to say. There is no full-on youth movement happening with Bonds unless those youth deserved it, like Matt Cain and Noah Lowry. Unless he was advocating that we should have been playing Lance Niekro or Dan Ortmeier at 1B that season, just because they were young.

And who says that a youth movement has to be 100% youth or you're lying? That is something a child might think, but we're all adults here. Nothing is 100%. And he states that as if that is something that must be done to re-build. Well, the Braves never did that while re-building in the late 1980's, they always had vets in the lineup, they signed some older players too, but they had a pretty nice run from the early 1990's to mid-2000's. Detroit did the same too in the mid-2000's, signing vets to fill holes on their team until they got good again. The Rockies didn't get rid of Helton but somehow made the World Series the other year.

Youth is not good. Talent is good. Young talent is better. But if you don't have young talent, you get what you can get off the free agent market.

As I've been saying since 2003, I like that Sabean has been focusing on marshalling his scarce resource, the draft picks, by concentrating on drafting the best pitchers that he could get, then filling in with position players along the way too. I liked it even more once Baseball Prospectus came out with a study that showed that it is pitching that is crucial to winning in the playoffs, and not hitting. Hitting is hygiene, something you have to have, but not a requirement for winning in the playoffs. Even more importantly, he has kept most of that talent and the fruits of that is blooming now.

I accept that Sabean has made mistakes along the way. But to continue to hold on to past mistakes in the face of how well the team is looking right now? Explain the logic of that to me, I don't get it. What is wrong with the team now? And if you are expecting perfection, then say so, then I know that you are not being realistic. Our farm system is stocked. The lineup has been OK - playing .500 for the first two months - and have been better this month. The pitching staff has been outstanding. We have a number of outstanding prospects who should be ready to come up in a year or two in Posey, Bumgarner, Alderson, Crawford, then maybe Villalona, Noonan, Wheeler, Dominguez, Gillaspie, Kieschnick, Neal. Why can't people just enjoy?

I'm loving it! Go Giants!


  1. The data would seem to indicate that the Sabean era has sucked in the draft. Viz

    Worth a thought.

  2. Another point is that in any endeavor, mistakes will be made.

    Sabean had cleaned out other GM's clock for the longest time. Then under the pressure to win with Barry, he made some trades that in retrospect look bad.

    When he traded for A.J. Pierzynski, baseball analysts were praising the trade. A.J. literally talked his sorry act out of SF, as you noted.

    What is gratifying to this fan is that some of the young position players are actually pretty good and have generally held their own. Even the maligned Manny Burrris is vastly superior to the Jason Ellisons, Todd Lindens, and Lance Nierkos.

    I vote that the ONLY way we make a trade is if the other team is dumping salary and takes a PTBL.

    That greedy Ken Williams shouldn't even have Henry Sosa for Dye.

  3. the data are for players drafted thru 2001, hence pretty irrelevant

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Great site my man. If you want to link to mine check it out and let me know.

  6. Flavor, you have a lot of nerve after what you first posted, but since you had enough sense to delete it afterward, sure, once I get a free moment, I'll add you to my list of Giants sites.

    And I'm not really interested in getting a lot of comments, else I would have joined another site that offered me a spot on his popular site.

    And I could be more popular if I fell into bashing the Giants all the time like other sites, but as I've been saying for a few years now, I like what the Giants and Sabean are doing, I would like to stay the course. So far, so good, I'm happy. And I would rather be right than popular.

    And, to recap what I've been saying for a while, I'm not saying that I was going to auto re-hire Sabean all the time, all I've said for a while is that I like what he's been doing, I was OK with a 2 year extension to see how things progressed. If things did not progress, I would have been OK with firing Sabean.

    But at this point, I'm very happy with things, and I hope that Neukom shows his happiness by announcing in August/September that the Giants are rehiring Sabean for another 2 years.

    Bochy, I am OK with him but I won't shed a tear if he were let go either. People complain about his vet-ness, but he's been playing his young guys when they deserved it. The better managers never play a young player all the time unless he's an out and out star (they are no dummies), they give their vets a few starts along the way. That's why he don't give Sandoval any rest.

    But players who are still establishing themselves, like Ishikawa, who are struggling, they "rest" them by having him avoid situations where he can get exposed, which the scouts had determined was LHP. So he played Aurilia at 1B instead. Once Ishikawa started hitting, he started getting most of the starts, with occasional starts so that Aurilia don't get too rusty.

    I also like Bochy's handling of the pitchers.

    But if the Giants let him go and hire, say, LaRussa, who appears to be ready to leave St. Louis, I wouldn't mind that either. The only problem with that is that he would bring along Duncan and I like Righetti as our pitching coach, so maybe not so good a move.

    I wouldn't mind going with our old AAA coach who is now the bench coach (name escaping me right now).

  7. I like Wotus. just based on this year alone Bochy and Sabean deserve 2 year deals. That's usually what happens when teams exceed expectations. Still half the season to go though.

  8. ogc,

    give beane the money that sabean has had to play with, and he will build you a dynasty

    stop giving sabean a pass

    ok, the farm looks good now, but it has sucked for most of sabean's tenure

    and last season was not a rebuilding season in the full sense of the word...not when you wait till late august to call up and play the kids

  9. Martin--I took my post down because I had just skimmed your Renteria/Cabrera post and I missed the point. I went back and re-read it. Then I read some of you other posts. You are a thoughtful Giants fan, most of your posts are good reads. I just thought you'd want to link to me because I get an awful lot of traffic and I am going to start linking to other blogs. I recognize that not my site doesn't fit everyone's tastes. But, we do get an awful lot of baseball talk mixed in. Sorry for the original post, I took it down in less than 2 mins....
    my email is

  10. Flavor, I figured as much. I did say that I would link to your site, and don't mind the cross link, but just wanted to make it clear that my raison de etre is not to get a lot of readers or comments (At that time, I wasn't sure how many people might have seen your comment). I won't mind it, as I think I have a lot of good things to say and contribute to a Giants fans understanding of their team, but I wouldn't cry if my site fell to just a few readers either. I would just try harder to find something cogent to add. And when I don't think I have much to add to what is out there, I would just stop.

    Of course, if I say something stupid, I would expect a lot of comments. :^)

    In any case, I took a look at your site and I like it, so I'm willing to post your link, once I find some time this week.

  11. Bacci, I never gave Sabean a pass. I've been very clear that Sabean had not earned undying support and stated that two years was a good amount of time to see if his plan was working or if we need to move on.

    What I'm not doing is letting Sabean's past mistakes color my evaluation of his current situation. I've made it very clear that Sabean's problems with the farm system is directly related to the detrimental draft position a winning team earns in the amateur draft. I can't help it if you either don't bother to read my posts on this or don't understand it.

    First, I've explained over and over again why the farm system has sucked for most of his tenure. For one, he inherited a poor farm system and it takes at least 5 seasons to turn one around while losing, more years when you are winning.

    The reason it was bad going in was that the Giants were generally a winning team from 1987 to 1993, which put a big hole in the system in the latter part of the 1990's. He also swung and miss on his first good draft position with Grilli (not his fault totally though, still only about 25% chance with that pick) and they didn't start getting better until Tidrow came along, I believe.

    Second, the farm system is a victim of his turning around the franchise in only one off-season. Once a team starts winning, they won't get a relatively good draft pick. Basically, once the Giants started winning, the odds of finding a good player like Cain became 1 in 10, roughly. Meaning in 10 years of first round picks in the latter third of the round (assuming you win 10 years in a row), the average team should find one single good player in all those drafts. ONE.

    And the odds were exponentially worse for the other 49 picks in the draft.

    If you look at Beane's drafts, once he started winning, his drafts weren't that good either.

    And speaking of giving passes, Beane promised a lot for this season, why is he getting a pass for this season when he was promising a team competing for the division title, with the addition of Holliday and all the older free agent signings? Instead, they have one of the worse record in the majors and his whole plan just flopped all around, Holliday has not been a force, his young pitchers have flopped overall, the free agent additions have been busts overall.

    And if Beane was so good with his farm system, why did he have to trade Haren and Swisher to replenish his depleted farm system? They have money for them, they were signed to good contracts. No, he was winning and that crushed his farm system so much that he had to go out and replenish it.

  12. Hey Martin, have you considered addressing all the recent trade rumors? I like Freddy Sanchez and the Pirates are said to want a lefty and a SS... Maybe they'd take Sanchez and Crawford. Or maybe just Sanchez would be enough. I like Crawford a lot. I think he's our SS of the future. I don't like the idea of getting LaRoche. He can only play 1B and he's more of a platoon player to me. He also has a big mouth. Ishikawa has been fine lately and if anyone takes his ABs it should be Bowker. Get Freddy Sanchez, DFA Aurilia and bring up Frandsen.

  13. I think it's hilarious that the MoneyBall movie got scrapped. "Uh, this system didn't work why are we making a movie out of it?" --good question. And Andrew Bailey is their all star? That is just too absurd. THIS is BEane's team and the all star rep is some guy who's made a handful of appearances? THAT'S you guy? Oh well, it's nice to see the Beane formula exposed to the rest of the world.....



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