Friday, February 27, 2009

Analyst's View of Ishikawa

Baseball HQ has been offering people limited free content for a limited time, and one of them regarded Ishikawa, after his two homer day, and it pretty much captures what I've been saying, he has potential, but potential blocks as well:

Ishikawa puts on power display in SF opener

Travis Ishikawa (1B, SF) put on a power display in San Francisco's spring opener, as he hit two homers in a 3-3 performance. Ishikawa opened some eyes in the second half last season as he blasted 13 home runs, including three in 95 AB after being called up to San Francisco, and posted a 189 2nd half PX. If he plays well this spring, he could begin the season as the left-handed hitting half of a 1B platoon for the Giants.

Period/Level == AB BA xBA bb% ct% eye PX G/ L/ F
=========== === ==== ==== === === ==== === ========
2008 AA/AAA 405 .260 NA 9% 82% 0.54 142 38/20/41*
2008 SF === 95 .274 .259 9% 72% 0.33 119 56/18/26
*MLE's

Ishikawa's indicators show potential but also reveal some problem areas. His contact rate dropped in the majors, and he needs to prevent any further deterioration or his BA could be at risk. And while he hit for above average power, major league pitchers had him beating a lot of balls into the ground. His fly ball rate in the minors shows promise, but he'll have to get back to that level to continue hitting with power.

One other problem stands in the way of full-time play for Ishikawa. Last season he hit only .206 against left-handers between AA Connecticut and AAA Fresno. That represented only 107 AB, but it obviously made an impression on Giants' management, as Ishikawa was given only two AB against southpaws in the majors. He's done better against lefties in the past, hitting .288 against them at AA Connecticut in 2007. It's a problem he'll need to solve in order to get a full-time job.
There are lots of ifs and maybes here, as Ishikawa has a lot to prove. His power potential makes him worth watching as the spring progresses.

Giants Thoughts

The more I think about it, the more I think people are over worrying about his hitting against LHP, as I wrote about in a prior post. Yes, he has had some bad years against LHP. He's also had good years too, it is not like he's consistently bad against LHP, at least relative to his hitting against RHP. In the minors, since 2005, he has hit this:

v.LHP: .256/.341/.435/.776 with 58 AB/HR
v.RHP: .269/.356/.512/.868 with 26 AB/HR

So basically, his hits and walks are about the same, the main difference is that he has a lot more power against RHP.

Of course, that's versus minor league pitchers, so the MLE would be horrible against LHP, so perhaps that is what they mean. But if you look at the leading lefty 1B, many of them were pretty bad against LHP in 2008: Adrian Gonzalez .213/.287/.387/.675; Carlos Pena .190/.302/.352/.654; Prince Fielder .239/.313/420/.733. The key is having an awesome batting line against RHP, which he would have with more homers.

Regarding his high GB% in the majors last year, I'm surprised this analyst didn't take this from their Baseball Forecaster book, but in Ishikawa's description for the 2009 season, they noted this: "Monster 2nd half, but he'll need to hit a lot more FB to sustain the power (41% FB in minors last year suggests he can)." In addition, it was 44% FB in the minors from 2005-2008. If he had hit as many flyballs in the majors, and at the same HR/FB rate, he would have hit 5 HR in 95AB, instead of 3 HR (which is still pretty good, 32 AB/HR is about 20 HR per year rate), but 5 HR in 95 AB is elite, 19 AB/HR, 30+ HR in a season.

So Travis could be a pretty good power hitter if given the chance to show what he got. All this focus by some fans on winning in 2009 is misplaced, I believe we should be focused more on seeing what our young guys can do, while cognizant that unless they improve materially, the paying customers could start leaving in droves. Trying to win in 2009 would set us back in evaluating our young prospects and seeing who are going to be contributors from 2010-2015 and where we need either new prospects or additional free agents. A team can only advance so far in its evolution as it rebuilds, short-circuiting that process by getting free agents that blocks prospects could make the rebuilding period longer.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

NL West Projections

CHONE is the projection system du jour today for baseball stats and the creator of that system (Sean Smith) also put up a baseball 2009 standings projection based on his projections for the players. This is covered in a post on Fangraphs and the projection standings are here.

Here is the projected standings for the NL West:

Team W-L
D-gers 82-80
'Dres 80-82
D-backs 79-83
D-Rox 78-84
Giants 77-85

So there is only a 5 game spread between the top team and the bottom, which is projected to be the Giants.

Giants Thoughts

As anyone experienced with projections know, there is a huge variance in what is projected and what actually happens, often through no fault of the projection system. Injuries happen. One player gets annointed, getting loads of playing time, and another gets benched and does nothing much. Some have a Sophomore slump, some finally hit the old age barrier and then some, others can't figure out how to bring their AAA goodness to the majors.

So 5 games is nothing, Furcal and Kemp could go out with injuries, Kershaw could flop in a full season, Jason Schmidt or Shawn Estes could both prove that the past few years were prologue to the end of their careers, Billingsley could recover slowly from his injury or suffer a setback in his recovery, Loney could show that 2008 is the real him, not 2007, Kuroda could continue the poor showing most Japanese pitchers show after their first good season (he is 34 this season after all, prime real estate location for career declines), Broxton's weight could finally work against him.

Using a Giants example, in 2008, Dave Roberts probably costed us 3 wins by playing with an injury that was so bad that he got in 6 starts and then was DLed and operated on (since the team was .500 for the next two months after that, they most probably would have won 3 of those 6 starts instead of losing them all because of his putrid .118/.167/.118/.284 hitting, leading off for us. So if he would have been professional and DLed himself immediately or even in spring training, we could have been 75-87 instead last season, in third place ahead of Colorado (though ultimately that works out great for us because now we get the 6th pick instead of the 11th, 12th, 13th pick in the 2009 draft, much better position).

So this is another indication that the Giants team, as is today, is capable of playing basically .500 ball and thus should be in contention much of the season, though if the D-gers do sign Manny (seems to me to be the most likely scenario), we would probably be battling more for 2nd place after the All-Star break, while staying close for much of the first half.

However, while Manny can be a huge difference maker, I doubt he's going to bat .396/.489/.743/1.232 for a whole season and hit 50+ homers (which is about the rate he was hitting them in his short time with D-gers). Still, his career numbers of .314/.411/.593/.904 with 30-40 HR is still pretty good (and much better than what they can hope to get from Juan Pierre in LF or Blake DeWitt, if he gets pushed to LF now that they signed Orlando Hudson).

As I've been saying, the Giants should be around .500 this season - and I would be disappointed if they finished below .500 - and with the poor NL West, we should also be in contention for the NL West title for much of the season, though probably will fall short. This is another piece in the puzzle of trying to figure out what is likely and what is possible for the 2009 season. Contention is probable, playoffs are possible but unlikely unless the players can perform as well as their history suggests they could (Sandoval, Ishikawa, Renteria, Rowand, Frandsen, Zito, Johnson, Sanchez, Howry, Romo) and not what is projected for them. It should be a fun season!

Go Giants!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

2009 Cactus League Opener: Giants vs. Indians

Interesting notes from the game:
  • It appears that Ishikawa wants the 1B job badly: he is 3 for 3 in the spring training opener, homered twice, and drove in 4 runs, 3 on homers. OK power for you DProfessor? :^)Sure, just first game of spring training, but good for a start.
  • Schierholtz also homered and had two RBI.
  • Sandoval had a walk! And a hit.
  • Lincecum went one inning, one strikeout, one hit, no runs/ER.
  • Yabu and Pichardo knocked around for 3 runs each
  • Luis Perdomo, our Rule 5 Draft pick, went one inning, one walk, one strikeout. He's going to have to do really well to make the team, not that many spots open, basically 4 are taken - Wilson, Affeldt, Howry, Romo - and Hinshaw and Taschner have a strong hold on two other spots, leaving one spot among Perdomo, Yabu, Sadler, Matos, Pichardo to fight over, unless Taschner and/or Hinshaw falters and give up their spots.
  • BTW: Giants win spring training opener, 10-7
  • Fun factoid: Velez catches last out of the game in deep left-centerfield. No, he wasn't playing 2B. :^)

Another 2009 MLB Draft Projection

Project Prospect has their pre-season 2009 MLB Draft Board up on their site.
  1. Steven Strasburg RHP
  2. Dustin Ackley OF
  3. Grant Green SS
  4. Andrew Oliver LHP
  5. Donavan Tate CF
  6. Tyler Matzek LHP
  7. Josh Phegley C
  8. Matt Davidson 3B
  9. Alex White RHP
  10. Matt Purke LHP

The top position prospects are Dustin Ackley, Grant Green, Donavan Tate, Josh Phegley, and Matt Davidson. The author says that the second tier goes from the 2nd pick to the 11th pick. "There are as many as 10 guys vying for the second overall selection in this draft."

I've gone over this before, so readers should be aware of Ackley, Green and Tate. Phegley and Davidson are new names added to the mix. Phegley, being a C, most probably would not be selected given that Matt Davidson is a 3B and we already have Posey. Here is the description for Matt Davidson: "David Wright starter kit, beautiful right handed stroke should hit for power and AVG". Sounds like a great description to me. The only problem, if this is a problem, is that he's a high school student and would probably take longer to make the majors, when we could use him in 2-3 years, if not immediately.

Here is a report on him from Perfect Games, plus other info:

Matt Davidson is a 2009 3B/RHP with a 6'3'', 205 lb. frame from Yucaipa, CA who attends Yucaipa. Tall strong build, highest-level prospect, extremely strong, very good bat speed, stays inside the ball, patient hitting approach, stays back, goes to the oppposite field very well, deep opposite field HR during game, huge raw power potential, relaxed, short clean arm action on the mound, feel for change-up, low effort, works quick, strong student, potential early-round draft pick.

Through Google, I got a glimpse of what Baseball America said about through the paid Prospects Plus service:

"... strong, pro-ready body fuels his raw power..."

I'm begining to like him a lot as a choice for our pick, though still behind Grant Green, because we probably need a SS prospect more than a 3B one and Green should be ready soon, since he's in college and Davidson is in high school. Still, Green most probably will not be available when we select, and I think Like Davidson more than Ackley or Tate now, though the author notes on Tate: "... upside rivals Strasburg...".

Of course, all of this is way too early, prospects rise, prospects fall, but still, it's good to know who we should be keeping an eye out for this season.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Giants in the Top 100's

Recently, Baseball America published their Top 100 list, and Baseball Prospectus did that earlier in a post as well. Also, I picked up Deric McKamey's book as well.

BA Top 100

The Giants prospects were ranked there:
  • 9th: Madison Bumgarner
  • 14th: Buster Posey
  • 44th: Angel Villalona
  • 45th: Tim Alderson

BP Top 100

The Giants prospects were ranked there:

  • 3rd: Madison Bumgarner
  • 9th: Buster Posey
  • 47th: Angel Villalona
  • 60th: Tim Alderson

McKamey Top 100

The Giants prospects were ranked there:

  • 5th: Madison Bumgarner
  • 21st: Buster Posey
  • 43rd: Tim Alderson
  • 61st: Angel Villalona

Overall Average Ranking

  • 6th: Madison Bumgarner
  • 15th: Buster Posey
  • 49th: Tim Alderson
  • 51st: Angel Villalona

The Giants farm system has come a long way in a short period, first with Villalona, then Bumgarner and Alderson, then Posey. One commenter in the BA Chat on the Top 100 noted that it looks possible that the Giants could have 4 players in the Top 20 for the 2010 Top 100 list because none of them should graduate to majors this season. BA agreed.

However, BA says the ETA for the top 3 is 2010 (2012 for Villalona), so the Giants dominance of the Top 50 will only last a couple of seasons unless Rafael Rodriguez is as good as the money we paid him, the #6 pick for 2009 rises fast too (possible, many picked that high ranks that high at least initially), and someone else rises high too (Henry Sosa? Ehire Adrianza?) to join Villalona on the list in 2011 and 2012. The future of the Giants is looking good.

Giants Pitching Riches

At Project Prospect, in a recent Top 50 pitchers under 25 list, the Giants had 4 of the top 46 pitchers: Tim Lincecum (#1), Matt Cain (#9), Madison Bumgarner (#23) and Tim Alderson (#46). Bumgarner was also 2nd among the Top 30 Pitching Prospects and Alderson was 12th.

Unfortunately, this dominance of the list will end in 8 months or so, when Lincecum will turn 25, and further drop when Matt Cain joins him in a year. Still, with 30 teams, on average each team has 1.67 top pitchers under 25 years of age, so two is right in there.

Position Players

There were also prospects top among position players:

C: Buster Posey was 4th behind Brian McCann, Matt Weiters, and Dioner Navarro, and McCann and Navarro will turn 25 soon. Pablo Sandoval was 8th. Posey was 2nd overall among catching prospects.

1B: Nobody ranked in the Top 10 under 25 category. Angel Villalona was ranked 14th among Top 15 Firstbase prospects, but was put down for his overall seasonal stats by the site's analysts. Travis Ishikawa was listed among honorable mentions.

2B: Nick Noonan got honorable mention and was 7th among top 2B prospects for 2009.

3B: Conor Gillaspie got honorable mention for both Top under 25 and Top 15 Third Base Prospects. Not sure how he pulled off both of them, but he did.

SS: Nobody ranked in the Top 10 under 25 category or Top 15 SS Prospects.

CF: Dustin Ackley got honorable mention and he's one of the names popping up as a possible pick for the Giants #6 pick for the 2009 amateur draft. Nobody currently in the Giants farm got a ranking in the Top 10 under 25 category or Top 15 CF Prospects.

OF: Nobody ranked in the Top 10 under 25 category or Top 15 OF Prospects.

Giants Thoughts

Giants have a great crop of starting pitchers and look to have at least two for the next four to eight years. That will lead to a dominating rotation that will make it that much easier for the lineup to score just enough runs to win the division and get into the playoffs.

The most shocking ranking was Angel Villalona, who have made a number of top 50-100 rankings (McKamey 61st out of 100; Baseball Prospectus 47th out of 100; Baseball America has also been high on him before, he was in all of their writers' Top 50 list for 2008) but was only 14th among 1B prospects here. This shows the dichotomy between saber-driven sources, like Project Prospect, and sources that incorporate scouting reports and projections, like McKamey and BP.

I am not sure where Villalona ranks for Baseball America for 2009 (don't have their book yet) but in a chat during the year, one of their writers noted during mid-2008: "Villalona has shown he's not overmatched as a 17-year-old in a full-season league, which is impressive on its own. He just struggles with righthanded pitching right now (whereas he's slugging .594 against lefties). He may wear down as the season goes on, but he'll probably end up with around 15 home runs and I wouldn't fret too much about wherever his final numbers end up." As I've noted, he had his best month of the season in his last month.

They also noted in the Sally League Top 20: "Yes, some people question Villalona's maturity, but he was 17 for most of the year, so he gets a pass. He looked much better, both physically and at the plate, during the second half of the season, which should bode well for the future. He's still learning how to be a professional."

This list also shows the weak areas of the Giants farm system, SS and OF. Brandon Crawford may still do something at SS, plus Ehire Adrianza might push his way on the list there too, and Roger Kieschnick, Wendell Fairley, and Rafael Rodriguez could make their way onto OF lists next season, but for now the talent is not that obvious nor is it high in the system. Those would be areas that we should look to pick up in the next draft, as we got the #6 pick overall and #52 pick overall (for now, depends if any more supplemental picks are awarded), and as noted in just recent posts, there is three currently high ranked amateurs who play those positions: Grant Green SS, Dustin Ackley CF/1B, Donovan Tate CF.

Of course, we still have Emmanuel Burriss at SS (possibly) and Nate Schierholtz in RF, so we are not totally barren of young talent at SS and OF, but Burriss is not a sure thing to be a shortstop, either short-term or long-term, and Schierholtz's value comes from HR power that he has not shown thus far in the majors, but has given some hints with the doubles he's been getting. Plus, he actually hit very well at home, it was all his games in Dodger Stadium and PetCo Park that hurt his road and overall numbers immensely (he slugged in Coors Field, naturally).

The Giants have turned around their moribund farm system in terms of position players in just three seasons, making good progress first in 2006, drafting Emmanuel Burriss, Michael McBryde, Ryan Rohlinger, Brian Bocock, and Matthew Downs, all of whom has some prospect status in our farm system, just not overall relative to all MLB prospects. Prospects like that are long-shots, though Burriss, Downs, and Rohlinger has shown some good offensive abilities that could translate to the majors. Plus, they made a significant signing, signing Angel Villalona, who has a lot of baseball talent.

Then in 2007, the Giants picked up Wendell Fairley, Nick Noonan, and Charlie Culberson. And they picked up their abundance of riches in 2008, with Posey, Gillaspie, Kieschnick, and Crawford, plus signing Rafael Rodriguez. In addition, somewhere in 2006-2007, they signed Ehire Adrianza. Hopefully the Giants can pick up another two good position players with their first two picks overall, plus pick up another position prospect or two from the Carribean again, and they should set us up very well for the early to mid-2010's.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ishikawa Fantasy Ranking

Fantasy Baseball 365 has a post on 1B Rankings. Ishikawa made the rankings.

The good news is that he is ranked ahead of known players such as Lyle Overbay, Todd Helton, and Chad Tracy, and young prospects such as Deric Barton, Ryan Garko, Kila Ka'aihue, Ryan Shealy, Jeff Baker.

The bad news is that he was 31st on the list. Since the Yankees have Teixeira, I guess you can remove Swisher off the list in terms of our purposes - this is a fantasy list, and thus Swisher could play 1B in fantasy baseball, but not in real baseball. Also, Billy Butler won't be playing 1B either, Mike Jacobs now has that job in KC. Lastly, Nick Johnson probably isn't going to make it through the season without an injury. That would still leave Ishikawa 28th, but just behind Casey Kotchman, Mike Jacobs, and Jason Giambi, which is not that bad a place to be.

Giants Thoughts

Clearly, fantasy ranking don't really reflect how well Ishikawa will do. However, while playing time is part of that equation, so is actual counting production. And most projections of Giambi, for example, has him getting into roughly 125-140 games, 400-450 AB, hitting in the high 800 OPS, and for fantasy purposes, slugging 25-30 HR, scoring 60-70 runs, driving in around 80 RBI, with a low BA of roughly .240 and 1-2 SB. Overbay roughly 15 HR, scoring 65-70 runs, driving in 65 RBI, 2 SB, and .265-.270 BA.

I think most of us would be happy with a season roughly like those from Ishikawa. Ishikawa should have a higher BA and more SB, but lower HR than Giambi. RBI will depend on who gets on before him batting in the 7th position, though Runs could be hurting by being in the bottom of the lineup. Still, I think that he can deliver a season similar to those projected for Giambi and Overbay if given the chance to start at 1B for the Giants against at least RHP. And that chance greatly improved with Crede being signed by the Twins, as I had expected, as they were living with our reject, Brian Buscher, at 3B and he has been sub-par thus far.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Giants News: San Jose Topped Out and Lineup Change

Could the San Francisco Giants of 2012 be in San Jose in 2009? As reported in the San Jose Mercury today by the intrepid Andy Baggarly, the Giants top prospects will all be in San Jose to start the 2009 season. Check out this roster studded with top prospects:

  • Tim Alderson
  • Madison Bumgarner
  • Brandon Crawford
  • Conor Gillaspie
  • Roger Kieschnick
  • Nick Noonan
  • Buster Posey
  • Angel Villalona

In addition, Darren Ford and Thomas Neal would fill out the rest of the lineup.

I was wrong in thinking they would put Alderson, Bumgarner, and Posey in AA to start in 2009. I had heard rumblings that they might hold back Bumgarner and Posey because of the cold in Connecticut, and should have heeded them. Alderson was the biggest surprise because he did so well in San Jose last season (led league in ERA if I remember right), but as Baggarley reported:

They won't be together for long, though. Alderson, who won the ERA title in the California League last year, is returning because Giants officials want to shield their elite prospects from the cold at Double-A Connecticut.

Once the weather warms up in New England, Alderson will be on his way. And others could join him.

Sabean noted that times have changed:

"Years ago it was standard that a kid had to master his level, and most of
the time, spend the whole year at one spot," Giants General Manager Brian Sabean
said. "Now, if you think he's ahead of schedule, it's really incumbent to move
him. With the Yankees, we had Bernie Williams (stalled for years) at Double-A.
That's not going to happen anymore."

Lineup Changes, For Now

It was also noted that Bochy is now thinking Lewis and Sandoval could swap spots with Lewis batting third, where his speed can be utilized, and Sandoval batting fifth.

Giants Thoughts

In the end, it wasn't that surprising that all the top prospects ended up in San Jose. I think it is a sign of the dissatisfaction that the Giants have had with the AA franchise, and particularly their park, Dodd Stadium, which I've written extensively about the problems with that ballpark. I can't recall if it was rumored or true, but the AA team could be sold soon and moved to Richmond, in the South, where the Braves left that city (I wonder if the Giants engineered all that), and where it should be much warmer (BP has the park effects there as neutral).

And this is a dream team of epic proportions for the Giants, we have never had so many top prospects on just one team, plus we have not had so many prospects considered top prospects period, so this could be the best minor league team the Giants have ever gathered together in the past 40 years or so. I will have to make sure I make one of the games before any get shipped out to AA.

I was also surprised that Crawford ended up on San Jose too. Given how far back he was drafted and how disappointing he was in college, I thought he might get put at Augusta in A-ball. But the allure of having all the prospects playing together for at least a month or two was probably too appealing to the Giants. I had thought about that but thought it was a pipe dream because Alderson was ready to move up, and Bumgarner and Posey looked ready.

Too bad Wendell Fairley did not do much better last year, otherwise they might have put him in San Jose too. That would have been really loaded, then, with our top prospects. I think only Henry Sosa and Ehire Adrianza are the only other top prospects that come to mind immediately who are not there (besides Ishikawa and Romo, who both should be in the majors this season).

The lineup switch makes some sense. Lewis would be easier to drive in than Sandoval at that lineup position. However, lineup valuation study showed that getting on base in the 3rd spot of the lineup does not yield as many runs as other top lineup spots. This is probably related to the fact that a large percentage of the time, the third hitter will come up with two outs, nobody on base. That is why I was OK with Sandoval batting third, should he falter in batting average, it won't hurt the offense as much there as batting fifth.

However, right now, he profiles to hit for more power than Lewis (though Lewis reportedly has muscled up for 2009 and is aiming for 20 HR), and that makes 5th ideal then for him too, as that is a position where there is often runners on base for him to drive in.

But most lineup analyses have found that swapping around hitters usually don't amount to much change in the scoring, I've seen some that said the best hitter should hit 2nd in the lineup, I've seen others that best power 4th and best OBP 1st, then there are those that say that swapping the 8th hitter with the pitcher is better as well, and then there were others that said no matter what you do, it won't matter much.

I'm just looking forward to 2009, it will be an exciting season both in the majors, and now, especially so in the minors.

Go Giants!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mock 2009 Draft

Ran across this mock draft at this site called "The Baseball Draft Report".

He has the Giants selecting CF Donovan Tate, who some consider the best prep position player. The other two position players to keep an eye out for are SS Grant Green and CF/1B Dustin Ackley, both college players. He says that Steven Strasburg is clearly the #1 prospect, then there is the next tier of six players: Grant Green, Dustin Ackley, Alex White, Tyler Matzek, Donovan Tate, and Matthew Purke.

Also, MCC has a post on Keith Law's top six draft prospects as well:

1. Stephen Strasburg, rhp, San Diego State
2. Alex White, rhp, North Carolina
3. Grant Green, ss, Southern California
4. Aaron Crow, rhp, Fort Worth Cats
5. Dustin Ackley, cf/1b, North Carolina
6. Kyle Gibson, rhp, Missouri

Giants Thoughts

Obviously, a position player is what we fans want, but the draft is heavy with pitchers. I don't see how Strasburg can fall to us, so don't even think that, unless he has a horrible season or he's seriously injured in some way, he's the consensus #1 everywhere right now.

Assuming the premise that the next group of prospects are interchangeable, I don't see Seattle picking Green with the 2nd pick. They have Carlos Triunfel as their top prospect and he's a SS, in fact a top 2 SS overall, according to McKamey. They got Bedard because they need pitching, and he'll probably be gone (or ineffective) soon, so I would think they would go for a pitcher, so let's say they draft Alex White.

The Padres are up next, and they have a number of outfielders high in their system, but no SS. With only Luis Rodriguez as the SS on their depth chart, I would think they select Green right now.

The Pirates are now strong in position prospects, with McCutchen, Alvarez, Tabata, and Walker, plus have young players like McLouth, Doumit, and the LaRoches, I think they would go for a pitcher, a pitcher like Crow, because they will need the pitching sooner than later, as their young position players should be ready in a couple of years.

With one more to go before the Giants, the Orioles have a lot of young position talent, Markakis, Jones, Pie, Wieters, Reimold, Rowell, plus Roberts, but the majors are barren of major league starters, just a lot of question marks for the most part. Luckily they have a number of top pitching prospects, but as BP says, TINSTAAPP, so I would think they would go for another pitcher and select Gibson, a college arm that should be ready to join the young position talent sooner than high school arms, plus be insurance in that quantity will balance the risk of pitchers and deliver some good arms to the young position players within a year or two.

That leaves the Giants with the chance to draft Dustin Ackley or Donovan Tate, and I think they have to go with Ackley because he's closer to the show and shows some position flexibility being able to play CF and 1B (both positions we could potentially need in a few years, depending on how things work out), plus he sounds like he's got some power, which we need.

Of course, things can and will change wildly between now and the draft, players rise, players fall, who knows. But these are the names to keep an eye out for at the moment.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pablo Projections

Grant at McCovey Chronicles is running a Pablo Sandoval projection thread, and below is what I wrote, with new stuff, as I am wont to do:

Projections: Ceiling and Floor

Here is what Baseball Forecaster currently projects for Kung Fu Panda:

AB: 415
BA: .294
OBP: .319
SLG: .482
OPS: .801

HR: 14
Runs: 73
RBI: 85

If Pablo ended up with, say, 625 AB instead (playing a full season), his counting stats would be the following, at the same rate per AB:

HR: 21
Runs: 110
RBI: 128

CHONE's projection, I think, would make a nice floor for what Pablo can achieve in 2009. The authors of The Book determined that CHONE had the best projection system in 2008, and CHONE projects:

AB: 477
BA: .283
OBP: .315
SLG: .426
OPS: .741

HR: 11
Runs: 64
RBI: 68

In 625 AB, roughly 15 HR, 85 Runs, 90 RBI.

I would say that these numbers are pretty good floors and ceilings for what Sandoval could do in 2009, both part-time and full-time. Given his youth, great strikeout rate (it's real, he's been doing it like that in the minors, so the league won't catch up with him as some suggests; a low walk rate does not mean that he has a hole waiting to be exploited, it could mean he's hyper aggressive in swinging the bat), and his breakout in 2008, which was due to his power kicking in, he is about as sure a prospect as any player, and I would lean more towards the high end of the projections, in terms of power.

Power is Key Indicator Here

Because his power actually kicked in in 2007, looking at his spray chart, it is not like 2008 was a fluke power year, he was already displaying it in 2007, only under different circumstances. He had 23 batted balls that traveled over 350 feet in 2007, but 9 of them were to straight-away center for outs and hits (mostly outs) but no homers. In 2008, looking at his Connecticut spray, all his long hits were pulled for homers, and in SJ, he either pulled them or hit them out further into center, making them no doubts, many of them were over 400 ft, some approaching 450 ft.

Thus, his power definitely kicked in during the 2007 season, and he then adjusted to pull them more to make them pay off in homers in 2008. So, each season was a year of growth and development, first in learning to hit for more power, second in learning how to take advantage of that power by pulling the balls more. He grew and adjusted, whereas the league was unable to counter him.

In addition, his 2008 MLB stats were skewed because he didn't hit very many flyballs while in the majors. He had a much higher flyball rate in the minors than he had in the majors in 2008, and thus, if he is able to hit more flyballs in 2009, more of them should go out for homeruns. Lastly, his HR/FB rate was only 8% when the average major leaguer is around 10% (the 10% mean pitchers are suppose to regress to; hitters have their own HR/FB rate), and given his bodyshape and weight, one would think that he would have a higher HR/FB rate than the average hitter.

Defensively OK at 3B, Not So Much at C

CHONE projects -3 runs for his defense at 3B, which seems right to me. Despite his girth, most reports I've seen on his defense is that with experience there, he will be OK there defensively.

Whereas I have not seen any scouting reports that were optimistic enough to think that Sandoval can play catcher decently as a regular. So any plus offense he might do there, he could be negating a lot of it via his play behind the plate. And that is in spite of his strong arm that caught a lot of base stealers, so that means the other parts of his defense there has to be much worse.

People who think he can be a catcher is dreaming. The thing is, people point out that he hasn't played 3B since 2006, but the fact is that he was a 3B when we signed him, he only converted to be a catcher while with us, and clearly he not only has a lot more to learn as a catcher, there are scouts who think that he won't ever learn it enough (unlike Posey, who is projected by some to win a Gold Glove eventually).

BA thought he can be average at 3B with experience in 2006, but noted this last season: Though he has arm strength and threw out 46 percent of basestealers with San Jose, his hands and lack of agility work against him at catcher. They also quoted scouts who had seen him catch and they said that they didn't believe Sandoval could play at catcher regularly in the majors. Plus, two managers said Sandoval had problems just physically squatting behind the plate. McKamey wrote in his 2007 book that as a catcher, poor agility prompted his move to the corner infield where Pablo can be average defensively with his soft hands and arm strength. So stop thinking that he can be a decent catcher if only the Giants would trade Molina and play him instead.

And it is not like 3B is a sure thing for Sandoval either. I've read a lot of complaints about him playing 3B. But I think there is at least a chance he can figure things out there defensively, based on what I've read from scouts, and we can take 2009 to have him figure that out since that is a position of need for us.

At least he would have had a year in the majors and we would have a much better idea what type of MLB hitter he is. If he is a good hitter but poor defensively anywhere he goes, then maybe he can be a super-utility player who can be our backup catcher, 1B, and 3B, while still seeing a lot of games, plus be our DH when the time comes for that. That could give him up to 75-100 starts plus a good bat off the bench. That would be an advantage for us, assuming he's the hitter he appears to be, because then he could be the DH for us in the World Series, should we be lucky enough to get that far.

Or he could be traded to an AL team and get us another good position prospect, perhaps for SS since that is a place we are lacking.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Swinging and Missing: Giants Power

Most of this winter, I have seen articles much like this one from the Sporting news here, where the author notes, in one way or another, "San Francisco failed to acquire a power bat."

Sure, we don't have the prototypical cleanup hitter's power bat - no one would ever confuse Bengie Molina for that - but we have a number of players who can put up around 15-20 HRs in 2009 that we did not have for the whole season of 2008, when the Giants only hit 94 homers, good for last in the NL by 23 homers: Lewis, Sandoval and Ishikawa. In addition, Molina is usually capable of doing that plus Rowand was hampered by injuries (as inside reported by Bruce Jenkins here and which was acknowledged on another website as I posted on recently).

That will lead to improvements in HR hit in the following positions:
  • 1B: only 14 hit last season, most projections have Ishikawa hitting between 15-20 homers plus being platooned with probably either Uribe or Aurilia, who could add another 5 homers playing 1B. That would add around 10 homers.
  • 2B: only 5 hit last season, Frandsen, who should win the battle, hit 5 in just 264 AB in 2007, and even if he don't win the 2B battle, he should see enough AB to add 5 homers to the Giants 2009 total.
  • 3B: only 12 hit last season, only 8 by Castillo, most projections have Sandoval hitting between 15-20 homers plus Uribe or Aurilia will probably see time there and add another 5 homers playing 3B. That would add at least 5 homers.
  • SS: only 1 hit last season, Renteria has hit at least 10 homers every season except for one over the past 10 seasons, has at least 11 homers in 6 of those 10 seasons. That would add around 10 homers.
  • LF: only 12 hit last season, Lewis accounted for only 9 of those but he will be hitting 5th for us in 2009 and has prepared this off-season to beef up and be able to hit 20 homers. Let's count 5 additional homers there.
  • Bench: Not entiredly sure how many were hit by whom, other than 6 were hit as a substitute (88 as starter), but given that Schierholtz and Uribe/Aurilia look to get significant ABs in the lineup, as well as off the bench, I would say that there would be at least an additional 5 homers here not accounted for above, both from Schierholtz starting as well as Uribe/Aurilia PHing (3 homers in 2008).
In total, that would be another 40 homers, pushing last year's 94 total to roughly 135 homers, at least, in 2009, which would not move us up much in last year's rankings, from 16th to maybe 14th or even 13th. But that should move the Giants up roughly to 4.3 runs scored per game. And that along with the projected improvements in the pitching staff should put us squarely at .500 for 2009, which would be competitive for the NL West division title in 2009.

Sure, a power bat would be nice and is probably required in order for us to move up in the rankings for contention for the NL Championship that gets us into the World Series (hopefully Villalona could be that bat in a couple of years). Still, the additions the Giants have made, both during the offseason and late in the 2008 season, should add an additional layer of power to the team that will help them, hopefully, break the string of losing seasons that we have gone through in the rebuilding of the Giants, post-Bonds.

Power is not the be-all and end-all of putting together a team. As Baseball Prospectus showed in their analysis of successful teams in the playoffs, once a team makes the playoffs, their offense, while useful in helping them getting there, the offense is effectively neutralized by the better pitching encountered in the playoffs (perhaps because teams often jettison their 5th and sometimes even 4th starter from the rotation) and results in the offense not providing any additional help towards being successful in the playoffs.

What BP found was that in the playoffs, it is a strong pitching staff as shown by a high K/9 rate, a successful closer as measured by BP's proprietary relief metric WRXL, and a good defense as measure by BP's defense metric, that contributes, at a statistically significant level, to a team's chances in the playoffs. And this was preceded by The Hardball Time's similar study that found that it was pitching and defense that counts in the playoffs, not offense and certainly not power.

Thus, all this worry about the Giants power additions is misleading on two dimensions. One, the team has made some significant additions to their power both during the offseason as well as late in the 2008 season. The homerun total should increase by 50% in 2009, even more if you take away the contributions of the players who contributed at the end of 2008. Sandoval and Ishikawa both hit 3 homers each; if Pablo hit at his rate for Castillo's AB, he would have hit 16 homers to the 6 Castillo hit and if Ishikawa hit likewise for Bowker and Aurilia, he would have hit 15 to their combined 10.

Secondly, power is overrated by the fanboys, which I understand because I love the long-ball too and fans have loved the long ball since Babe Ruth hit more homers by himself in a season than most teams did as a whole. However, power is not the factor most important in the playoffs, it is not even significant to success in the playoffs, so focusing so much on it is detrimental to winning in the playoffs.

We just need enough offense to win nicely with the great pitching and OK defense that we have, we do not need to have a great offense to win a lot of games. For example, we only need to score runs at a 4.47 runs per game rate in order to win 90 games with a 4.00 runs allowed per game average, which we should be close to in 2009. That would only be good enough for 10th place in offense, just barely over Arizona's 4.44 in 11th place.

And to win the NL West, it probably won't take more than 85 wins to win the division as LA had 84 wins in 2008 and even if they resign Manny, they have lost Lowe and other free agents, so they are probably breaking even there. To win 85 games with a 4.00 RA, the Giants only have to score 4.20 RS per game, which most of the projections, using the lineup calculator, says our offense is capable of doing.

This is why I've been saying that the Giants should win at least 81 games in 2009, they were 4 games above Pythagorean in 2008, so if they are 4 under (the theory is that this regresses to the mean and zero over time) in 2009, then 81 would be the likely win total. But there are a number of positives that I think makes that conservative:
  • Bullpen is greatly improved with Affeldt, Howry, and Romo in place now setting up, as that is a leveraged situation beyond their numbers;
  • Rowand should improve over 2008 if healthy and I would think after 2008's poor second half showing, he's going to do his utmost to stay uninjured;
  • Sanchez should be much more improved over 2008 than most projections say he will;
  • Renteria should do better than most projections, which have him in the mid-700 OPS, I think he'll be closer to 800 OPS;
  • Zito has a good chance of improving his ERA over the high 4 ERA that many project for him, I think he'll be closer to 4 than 5;
  • Frandsen should do better than most projections, which put him around 700 OPS;
  • Lewis should do better than most projections, which put him around mid-700 OPS, I think he'll be closer to 800.
Of course, any significant injury will throw that projection out of whack, particularly Rowand or anyone in the pitching rotation. Still, I think given all these positives, the Giants have a good chance of attaining .500 in 2009 even if someone is unexpectedly not as productive as expected because then other positives would help counteract that negative to the overall production.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Johnson Mentoring

Speaking of mentoring young players, which I wrote about Roberts in my last post, Randy Johnson has come to the Giants looking to mentor our young pitchers, as reported in the Sacramento Bee the other day, after Johnson's first appearance in front of Giants fans at the FanFest last weekend.

"I'm not going to preach to these guys," Johnson said, "but I'm willing to help anybody that wants help."

Here is some other interesting information from his press conference:
And it was the formerly tight-lipped Johnson who mesmerized reporters with his illuminating thoughts during a fascinating 26-minute news conference that needed only three questions and a follow-up.

The Big Unit pulled back the curtain to reveal the Big Talker. He spoke about the intangibles he'd bring to the Giants. He got choked up, and his eyes welled when he spoke of missing his father, who passed away in 1992. And the 6-foot-10 Livermore product talked about coming full circle, both in life and his career, which will culminate in Cooperstown.

"My ability and my skills may have diminished," Johnson said, "but my edge and my will to win have not."

Think Tim Lincecum, who grew up in Seattle watching Johnson pull the national pastime off life support, couldn't use a fireside chat or five (one for each of Johnson's Cy Youngs) on how to handle the trappings of such success?

"It's going to be awesome," said Lincecum, the reigning National League Cy Young king.

What's truly awesome is Johnson paying it forward.

As a wild, young flame-thrower, he bent the ears of some of the game's greatest power pitchers, from Warren Spahn to Nolan Ryan to Bob Gibson to Tom Seaver.

Giants Thoughts

This is something like what the Giants were hoping from Matt Morris, and Matt Cain did learn some things from him. But he was never a fireballing pitcher like Johnson. And Johnson also spoke with some of the greats of the past, Spahn, Ryan, Gibson, Seaver. You rarely hear Bob Gibson's name anymore, he disappeared off the radar after he retired, so Johnson must have seeked him out.

In addition, he's a lefty and thus would have some appropriate hand-sided tips to pass on to fellow fireballing lefties Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner. He could pay off on his salary without throwing a pitch if he can impart any lessons to Sanchez and Bumgarner that they can take and be more productive going forward.

Furthermore, since Johnson has changed from a fireballer to more of a pitcher in recent years, he might also have some words of advice that Cain, Lincecum, and Zito can learn from. Particularly Zito since we still have him for another 5 years, $100M+. But Cain is also a tip or two away from improving from a good starter to an elite starter, which Lincecum was last season. He made a leap in 2008 by pitching as well on the road as he did at home previously. Hopefully he can take another leap in 2009.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Why I Like Dave Roberts on the Giants

Many fans have been clamoring for the Giants to trade Dave Roberts. One reason I have been supporting keeping Roberts around, as long as we are on the hook for all that money, is for him to pass on his base-stealing tips that he picked up from Maury Wills to the Giants stable of young roadrunners. If he can do that, and the knowledge lives on in our farm system, it would be worth all those millions he received. Recently, there is news that he has been passing on his knowledge to a Giants player, though not one of the young guys.

In Joan Ryan's "Inside the Giants Clubhouse" blog, she noted some of the information that was imparted at a recent Comcast baseball luncheon on Treasure Island:
Randy Winn on his success on the bases last season: "I'm trying to get a little smarter as I get older. I'm talking a lot to Dave Roberts.''

And learn Randy Winn did. He learned some tips on stealing from Roberts in 2007 and 2008 and went from being horrible stealing bases, a career 67% percentage success, 60% the two previous seasons, to having a success rate of 83% in 2007, a career high (previous highs were 82% in 2003, then 77% in 2002 in a 11 year career, 8 as a starter; best basestealers are 80% and above), then 92% in 2008, which only the elite does.

I hope Roberts and Winn can teach Lewis, Velez, and any of our other rabbits in our system (Ford , McBryde, Richardson, Izturis, Noonan, etc.) so that this knowledge will get passed along in our system. I had been hoping Roberts will become our base stealing coach after he retires, but he seems to be mad that Lewis is starting over him, so I don’t know if that will happen now. Hopefully Winn and the other speedsters can pick up things that will get stored in the Giants Way manual for future training…

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sabean Like Sanchez, Really He Does

One of the big debate among fans has been about how good Sanchez is and whether Sabean knows what he has in the lefty. There is good news for Sanchez fans like me from Hank Schulman, from his The Splash blog.

He reports that at the Comcast Lunch, I suppose just today, Sabean said that he can't imagine trading a bigger, stronger Jonathan Sanchez for a bat, adding further that Noah Lowry will have to wrest the fifth spot in the rotation from the incumbent Sanchez.

What happened is that Greg Papa asked about trading Sanchez for a corner infielder and Sabean, noting he saw Sanchez throw Tuesday in Arizona, said, "He's bigger and stronger. He's ready to pitch. I have a hard time thinking we could trade this player for value. Plus, he's the incumbent. Lowry is going to have to unseat him."

Vote of Confidence for Sabean and Bochy

Meanwhile, Neukom said at the lunch, "We think we have the best general manager and field manager in baseball,"adding they all decided it would be best to concentrate now on putting a good team on the field and worry about those messy contract issues in October.

Giants Thoughts

What this means is that Sabean doesn't think he will get equivalent value for Sanchez in trade. And I totally agree. If Sanchez can pitch for a whole season like he did - and dominantly so - in the first half of the 2008 season, he would put together a sub-4 ERA season, which would make him easily a #2 type starter. That is easily worth a middle-of-lineup hitter but he won't fetch anyone like that right now. On the other hand, I think he's capable of showing it in 2009.

However, an idea I've been luxuriating in has been this: what if we just kept Sanchez and create a truly monster rotation? Sanchez strikes out a LOT of batters, which as I have reported, is key to a successful playoff run in the post-season. With Lincecum, Cain and a #2 caliber Sanchez, we would have not only a young rotation but one with three pitchers who could arguably be the #1 or #2 starter for any team in the league, with Bumgarner and Alderson looking to join them in 2010 or 2011.

The only way that works is if the Giants position prospects continue to show the skills they showed in the minors and develop further.
  • That would mean Ishikawa at 1B, who as I showed in a recent post, isn't that platoon oriented, no more so than other young players who are top lefty firstbasemen. Plus he plays great defense there.
  • That would mean Villalona continues to develop and be capable of playing 1B or 3B in the future.
  • That would mean Frandsen and Noonan become the clear choices at 2B now and in the future, respectively.
  • That would mean Burriss continues to develop and can handle SS
  • That would mean Sandoval proves to be adept enough to field 3B adequately and continue to hit well.
  • That would mean Lewis continues to develop and can hit 20 HR as he thinks he can.
  • That would mean Schierholtz translate what he did in the minors to the majors.
  • That would mean Posey continues to amaze with his hitting.

Those are a lot of ifs, driven by the fact that the Giants don't have any truly plus hitters except potentially Posey and hopefully Villalona and Rafael Rodriquez. Still, the above is not totally out of the question either:

  • Ishikawa and Frandsen have had success hitting in the majors, as well as the minors, and just need to continue it.
  • Burriss, despite his defensive lapses, shows good hitting skills that should continue to develop.
  • Sandoval was actually above average defensively in his short stint at 3B in the majors last year, and both Baseball America and Deric McKamey thought that he could become adequate defensively at 3B with experience and practice, and reportedly he took thousands of grounders over the off-season to prepare for 3B. And he showed good hitting skills with his peripherals throughout most of his minor league career and just continued to show it in the majors, with the added plus of adding power to his mix in 2008.
  • Schierholtz hasn't had a disappointing season yet and has continued to hit over .300 when given the chance in the majors.
  • And Villalona, Noonan, and Posey did well in the minors in 2008 and showed enough that I think they will continue to do so in 2009.
So there is a lot of ifs, but there is a lot of positives to take as well. The question to me is, will the positives be enough to boost the offense enough to win a lot of games with the pitching we got?

I think so. Most of the projections I've seen places the Giants at around .500 for the season, or 81 wins. And personally, I think some of the projections are conservative, I think it is very possible that some of the players could beat their projections. I think that is a decent expectation to have for this season and not that hard a hurdle to jump over and do better without a lot of over-performances. I think if we can just get two out of the three (Sandoval, Ishikawa, and Frandsen) to meet their projections, the Giants can make 81 wins, and I think they can.

To get over 81 wins in 2009, it would take a few of the below:
  • Sanchez pitching like Cain or better with a mid-3-ish ERA
  • Johnson pitching like he did in 2007 and 2008
  • Zito pitching like he did with the A's, with an ERA below 4.00
  • Wilson moving to the upper echelon of closers with a low 3 (or better) ERA
  • Rowand hitting the way he was the first two months of 2008 for a whole season
  • Lewis being able to hit 20 HR while still hitting like he has hit in the majors so far
  • Renteria having another of his career peak seasons
  • Frandsen matching training buddy Dustin Pedroia's breakout season in 2008
These are not what I would call likely or probable occurences but wouldn't surprise me if they happen either. Well, except for the last one about Frandsen.

I like where the Giants are right now in terms of their development. I think Sabean has done a good job so far and is deserving of the vote of confidence Neukom gave him. It is also as I had suspected, that Neukom does like Sabean but couldn't be too open about his support early in his term as owner, though I think this is still kind of early as well, I would have waited until after spring training and passed it on as part of the opening day celebration.

Still, I wouldn't give Sabean an extension now. I think we need to see generally good progress by the Giants young players and prospects for him to get an extension. Big question marks that need to be answered positively, besides those above, include:
  • Posey showing he has what it takes to do well in the majors
  • Villalona showing he has progressed
  • Rodriguez showing he is worth the money given him
  • Bumgarner and Alderson continue to do well at a higher level
  • Some good performances among the other prospects, like Gillaspie, Kieschnick, Crawford, Adrianza, Fairley, Noonan, Culberson, Downs, Rohlinger, Jesus Guzman, Thomas Neal, Hector Sanchez, Julios Izturis, Henry Sosa, for examples
I think in particular Posey, Villalona, and Rodriguez. At least one of them and Sandoval must continue to show that he is a plus hitter, that there is a good hitter for the Giants in the future. Still, if the rotation continues to perform great, that could be enough for me to say yes to an extension as well.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A New Low in the Steroid Era: A-Rod Admits He Juiced

You would have to be a pretty casual baseball fan to not know that A-Rod has come out and admitted to juicing when he was young and impressionable, though technically he was already a 6 year grizzled veteran and 25 years old, plus was being advised by Scott Boras, who is aware of many things and, one would think, given his athletic performance center, was doing all sorts of blood tests on what is in his athletes' body. I would find it hard to believe that he didn't know when his guys are using.

Immaculate Juicing

It was an immaculate juicing: he suddenly felt pressure to do well when he signed his big free agent contract and started using (with no mention how he knew how to easily get such illegal substances) and just as suddenly, he stopped using, reportedly because he was injured and decided he didn't need to use it anymore.

Which is pretty odd, injury is often a key point in the life of a PEDS using athlete. He's injured, finds it hard to recover or want to boost his recovery rate, and thus he starts using so that he comes back faster. Of course, not to be a cynic, but 2003 was when the BALCO mess hit the fan. In fact, he played in 485 out of 486 games while juicing for 3 seasons, but has missed 43 games in the 5 seasons since.

If It's Not One Thing Juiced, It's Another Thing Juiced

The funny thing is that this might be simply be a tempest in a teapot. We got hitters juicing but we also got pitchers juicing as well. People from the best, like A-Rod and Roger Clemens to the barely there, like Bobby Estalella and Jason Grimsley, to those who greatly benefited, like Marvin Benard and Jose Canseco.

And yet, baseball's major offensive explosion might only be tangentially affected by steroids, HGH (which college professors say does not give any physical superiority to baseball players and thus is another tempest in a teapot), and any other PEDS. According to Eric Walker, he of "The Sinister Firstbaseman And Other Observations" and A's Statistical Consultant fame, at his website, High Boskage House, the offensive explosion was due to a much more pervasive reason: the ball is juiced, producing the era he named "The Silly Ball Era".

Friday, February 06, 2009

Scouting Buster Posey and Angel Villalona


B3: Big, Bald and Beautiful has been posting scouting reports on Jonathan Mayo's Top 50 prospect list that I had posted on before and has covered Madison Bumgarner (#6), Buster Posey (#19) and Angel Villalona (#47).

Here is what a scout had to say about Madison:

Fastball: 89-94 mph; Slider: 77-82 mph; Changeup: 77-78 mph
Fastball consistently 91-93 mph with tail. Can cut it as additional weapon. Good location, not afraid to go upstairs with it. Smooth delivery, fastball gets on hitter in a hurry. Slider is hard and down, almost a power curve action to it. Didn't need changeup much, it's a work in progress. Some small mechanical flaws, but nothing major to worry about. [This was in May, early when he started doing well; would have been better if at end of season, to see if he had developed anything extra]

Here is what a scout had to say about Buster:

Great instincts and makeup. Natural leader. A little mechanical, but does everything right. Outstanding hitting approach, makes good adjustments. Can go other way when needed. Power will come. Moves well behind plate, will catch strikes. Arm works, fringe plus. Combination of bat and defense should make him solid-average to plus Major League backstop. [seen in October in Hawaiian Winter League]

Here is what a scout had to say about Angel:

Seen over five-game stretch. ... Extremely strong, can hit ball out without difficulty. Easy, pull stroke through zone. Kills mistakes. Plus, plus raw power. Little hitch in swing with hole on inside. Some trouble with offspeed stuff away, but showed improvement. Good arm at 1B, soft hands. Must watch weight. [seen in late May, before he started getting it in August]

Giants Thoughts

Much of the talk above has already been said about each prospect, so I'll focus on what I see as key points.
  • Angel: "Kills mistakes". While that is good, as he rises, he will see less and less mistakes, so he still has a lot to learn. Still, Bonds only got to see one mistake per game himself and he did pretty well in spite of that. "Plus, plus raw power" Has been said before, but want to emphasize this because some reports have doubted his power potential. This confirms the 40 HR power potential noted when he first was signed.

  • Buster: "Natural leader." I think every team will need a leader, so if Buster can make it, he could be our team leader for the next decade probably. On top of that, he would be leading our great rotations of the future. "Outstanding hitting approach, makes good adjustments." He is advertised as a plus hitter, good to see how good this scout thinks, plus a player who can make adjustments is one of the key ingredients of a MLB starting regular. "Power will come." Most commentary has denigrated his power, so this is a key point, I think, between him being plus offensively versus average. "Combination of bat and defense should make him solid-average to plus Major League backstop." Another good commentary. It is not impossibe that he could be a major disappoint if he doesn't develop into at least a solid-average catcher. This scout confirms the other's impressions that he is pretty good.

  • Madison: "Fastball consistently 91-93 mph with tail. Can cut it as additional weapon." That is a good weapon to have. "Good location, not afraid to go upstairs with it." Many pitchers are afraid, it is good when a pitcher is confident of his stuff and using it to good effect. "Smooth delivery, fastball gets on hitter in a hurry." That is shown by how many batters he struck out, but not every pitcher have a fastball that gets on a hitter in a hurry, those are the special ones. "Didn't need changeup much, it's a work in progress." Most pitchers need at least three good pitches to succeed in the majors and he basically has two, his fastball and his slider, which is like a power curve. He needs to work on the changeup, maybe he should speak with Lincecum since Tim figured it out pretty fast. "Some small mechanical flaws, but nothing major to worry about." That's good to hear.

I'm getting excited for the 2009 season!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Rowand's 2008 Performance and Implications for 2009

I've been searching for an explanation of Rowand's steep dropoff in production mid-season and was not ever able to locate one until now. At Baseball Analysts, Greg Rybarczyk of Hit Tracker has devised a rather complicated and sophisticated system for projecting how a player should hit in the next season, using his Hit Tracker data, and wrote about it there.

As luck would have it, he projected Aaron Rowand's 2008 projection based on his 2007 data and came to the conclusion that he was hitting what he should have been hitting until mid-season, when he had a right quadriceps injury on June 6th (an injury I've been looking for but didn't find until now).

Lo and behold, that does appear to be the tipping point of the season for him. After going 2 for 5 in the next game, with a double, that was the high point for his OPS. In his next 3 games including that 2 for 5, he hit .250/.308/.417/.725, and for the rest of June after June 6th, he hit .217/.261/.313/.574. He slowly recovered in July and August before apparently suffering another injury (relapse?) in September, hitting a sad .217/.286/.253/.539.

Meanwhile, his Hit Tracker projection was .373 OBP, .507 SLG, .880 OPS, 25 HR which in comparison with his pro-rated stats thru June 6th of .396 OBP, .526 SLG, .922 OPS, 23 HR, is pretty darn close, probably would have been on target based on his April batting line, which was also pretty darn close too, .366 OBP, .500 SLG, .866 OPS, 15 HR.

His May was elevated and if he had continued hitting like he did in April, his overall numbers would have drifted to around the projection. It was pretty spot on in this case, and is pretty close to what I was expecting from him pre-season, I thought that a low 800 OPS, in the .825-to .850 range was reasonable for him, but even .800 in CF would be good for a CF.

Injury Bugaboo

However, Aaron Rowand has been pretty injury prone his whole career. It is not like Durham, who was never on the DL, EVER, until he started taking a permanent annual spot on the DL with us (we probably should have let him go free agent instead of signing him to a two year deal and gotten the two draft picks for him, in that great 2007 draft; but we needed a hitter behind Bonds and he was economical). Rowand has been significantly injured in at least 3 of the past 5 seasons. The only consolation is that he has alternated healthy years with these injury years and 2009 he is due to be healthy or at least be able to play most games in the season, though Bochy has already said that he's going to rest Rowand more often in order to give Schierholtz more starts, as well as keep Rowand fresher.

If he can hit like the HT projection says he can (it is park adjusted), that would be a huge plus to our offense (and would have been in 2008) for 2009 with the additions of Sandoval and Renteria plus the maturation of Fred Lewis. If he can hit as well as the HT projection, he would boost our offense by around 0.14-0.16 runs per game, or about 24 runs, which adds about 2.5 wins to the team. That could push us from being around .500 to being over .500 in 2009.

Now, if he can only stay injury free...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

In Search Of: Sabean-metrics

The Giants recently promoted Bobby Evans to VP of Baseball Operations and Jeremy Shelley to Senior Director of Baseball Operations/Pro Scouting. Henry Schulman has a good account of this here, and Joan Ryan has a nice personal interest story on Shelley here.

Part of the Plan

Clearly, this is part of Neukom's strategy this off-season, to dispel the notion that the Giants are stuck in the dinosaur age in terms of the use of sabermetrics. He mentioned it in the first Clubhouse meeting with season ticket holders, refering to a "mathematician" who had been doing this for the Giants for 15 years now, and given that Shelley has been with the Giants for 15 years and what Ryan wrote about him, he must have been the guy Neukom was refering to; however, Ryan noted that Shelley was a Finance major at Santa Clara University.

And it is not like the Giants didn't leak some of that usage previously. I recall references to stats from Felipe and Sabean 3-5 years ago that were sabermetric principles, like OBP. The main unknown was how much did they use sabermetrics, were they tyros or very experienced. Based on what I got from Schulman's post, he has some depth.

For instance, Schulman noted that the Giants quoted how Renteria defense was good going to his left. I haven't checked this, but this clearly looks like a reference to Baseball Musing's Probabilistic Model of Range, which is based on the most advanced statistical methodology for studying defense, UZR, which Mitchel Lichtman created and Baseball Musing's David Pinto continued on-line, when Lichtman worked for the Cardinals and couldn't do it publicly anymore.

OK, it does appear to be PMR: http://www.baseballmusings.com/cgi-bin/DisplayCharts.py?PlayerID=1178&fpos=6&year=2008 If you look at his dotted line in the graph, which is the difference between his predicted and actual outs, he is much better going to his left (i.e. towards 2B) than he is going to his right. He is also below average in terms of balls that goes right where the shortstop spot is (look at the peak, the green predicted line is above his red actual). He is also bad with liners. And that jibes with his low 95.24 ratio for 2008.

Here is his historical ratios:

2006: 101.12 (but only 92.01 for turning DP)
2007: 98.87
2008: 95.24

Here are the UZR:

2006: 2.0
2007: -1.7
2008: 0.9

They don't quite match up in 2008, but was pretty good for the previous two years.

So Shelley seems to be relatively knowledgeable, PMR is a bit advanced, you have to seek it out plus then need to understand all that.

Schulman noted that at an early partners meeting, once Neukom had took over the Giants, he had Shelley come to the boardroom and explain all the analysis that he does. He also noted that Neukom is "keen on alternative statistics."

Giants Sabermetrician

I know that some Sabean-Naysayers would say that's an oxymoron, so I thought that would be a good title. Joan Ryan notes that his closeted status up to now have been to keep the Giants secret weapon on the down-low. I've seen his name in the media book for years and all they ever list him as was head of their information systems, though he was named Director of Baseball Operations previously before this promotion.

Ryan describes what he does:

In short, Shelley decodes baseball statistics. He finds meaning in numbers. He excavates databases like an archaeologist at a dig - except Shelley uses his unearthed artifacts to piece together a picture of the future instead of the past.

He projects how players are likely to perform over a season, or over the course of a contract. He and his team figure out before each season, for example, how many runs the Giants are likely to score and how many they are likely to give up. They go through each guy in the lineup. They add and subtract. They move decimal points around. They substitute this player for that one and recalculate everything. They use arcane formulas they have developed over the years and that they share strictly on a need-to-know basis, and, really, almost no one outside baseball operations needs to know.

"I'm a little uncomfortable saying anything more than that,'' Shelley tells me. "What I
can say is that analysis in baseball has gotten so sophisticated and it's changing all the time. I read, read, read - every baseball web site, every publication, everything.

"And every day, it seems, I see some new stat or method of analysis out there. We're always asking ourselves Does this make sense? Does this help us?''


Ryan's account is also nice because he's living the dream, and his start with the Giants shows that he was in the right place at the right time, much like his predecessor, Ralph Nelson, who rose from being the team's statistician to nearly GM (he eventually helped put together the Arizona Diamondbacks; one of my friends in high school, Jim Nelson, wrote him to see if there was a way he could get in, but just got a nice perfunctory letter in return).

Go Giants!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Giants Decades

With Will Clark joining up, and thoughts of Jack Clark dancing in my head, it got me thinking of the Giants player who symbolized a decade. The decade is a very arbitrary unit and each will have their own player or rather players in this day of shifting allegiencies, but here is my Giants Decades:
  • 1960's: I didn't follow the Giants yet, but this had to be the Willies: Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. Juan Marichial was great too, but those two symbolized that decade for me, plus I did get to see them during the 70's though obviously as a shadow of their former greatness.
  • 1970's: Split between Bobby Bonds and John "the Count" Montefusco, though Jack "the Ripper" Clark was also prominent, and I suppose Vida Blue. Both Bonds and Montefusco put their stamp on the fans hearts during that time for this decade.
  • 1980's: Fallow years and short stints make this decade the hardest. Jack Clark led off the decade and Will "The Thrill" Clark ended it, so I suppose they would make good bookends. There was also Jeffrey "Penitary Face" Leonard with his "One Flap Down" to note as well, but he just didn't match either.
  • 1990's: I was torn on this one, and while I could have done it like the 80's with bookends, I have to say it's Barry Bonds alone, Will was a shadow of his early years by the time he left us, experiencing continual injury problems. Matt Williams was very good but always in the shadow of these two players.
  • 2000's: This is pretty clearly Barry Bonds, but with Tim "The Kid" Lincecum winning the Cy Young, I would bookend it with the two of them.
  • 2010's: I would say early betting line has to be Lincecum for now, with the possibility of others making a name for themselves, like Madison Bumgarner, Angel Villalona, Buster Posey, and Rafael Rodriguez.

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