Thursday, January 14, 2010

Huff Aftermath: Batting Cleanup, Merkin DFAed

In the aftermath of the news that Huff was signed, in his press conference after he was offically signed (as reported by many, but here's a link to Baggarly's version which was more comprehensive) a number of things were announced. Plus, today, it as reported by the Chronicle's John Shea that Merkin Valdez was DFAed to open up a spot for Huff. In the conference call:
  • Big news: Huff is batting cleanup. I guess they don't want to pressure Sandoval and according to the lineup analyzer, that switch won't cost the offense much, if any. Huff is also viewed as a legit cleanup hitter, based on what he has done in his career.
  • As expected, he'll be the starting 1B which sets the starting defense with Sandoval at 3B, DeRosa in LF, and Uribe, as expected, in his super-utility but really super-backup in case anybody is injured or performing badly.
  • Also big news: Huff is playing everyday. I'll bet it's a concession to him to get him to sign plus they don't really have a platoon partner to go with him, and even if they did, then they would have to explain why they are keeping Ishikawa on the roster. And as Bochy noted, he doesn't envision it being a platoon, but I would note that things will change in the regular season based on circumstances.
  • Top five hitters: Rowand, Sanchez, Sandoval, Huff, DeRosa. Bochy prefers his best all-around hitter batting third (the lineup analyzer would disagree about putting Sandoval third, as that leads to less runs being batted in - probably because a large percentage of the time he will come to bat with two outs already and nobody on or man on 1B - though more runs scored, because of the hitters behind).
  • Baggerly hit the nail on the head that Valdez was the player designated (he's not gone until another team claims him) since Sabean said that he is next working on a free-agent reliever.
  • The savings on Huff relative to the 2 year, $17M reported offer for LaRoche opens up payroll to get other free agents. Sabean noted, "It was a good twist of fate as things turned out where other avenues ended up not being pursued. This ended up being our best option and we’re glad it turned out this way.” From what I read somewhere, the Giants did not consider Huff until after LaRoche turned down their offer, and was pleasantly surprised when they investigated Huff. More Sabean: "The more we examined what he has done and what we need, we thought this would be a good fit. He’s a fourth hitter who’s been a run producer and quite frankly he’s got the track record we were looking for. Even in a down year he drove in 85 runs which is something we needed. I just saw him in Arizona. He looks in good shape, ready to go.”
  • Sabean said the Giants are still looking for a catcher and a reliever, but doesn't "anticipate" signing another starting pitcher to allow Bumgarner to begin in AAA. "I don't know that the fifth starter will fit the bill as much as there might be some interesting relief choices to give us more presence." Bumgarner looks ready and by TINSTAAPP, once a pitcher is ready, it is a waste of his arm to have him throw in the minors. Still, there was talk of him being a reliever, so I would say that there is some odds that the Giants might change course and sign a starter and have Bumgarner pitch in relief.
  • Sabean is convinced a catcher will fall to the Giants: "The catcher's market is remarkably still evolving. There will probably be somebody left without a place to go that we can turn to. We are willing to go to (rookie Buster) Posey but we are keeping an open mind. We’ll revisit as we go along."
  • Bochy noted that RF is an open competition and Schierholtz and Bowker were mentioned while Lewis was not. Makes sense, Lewis was not very good looking defensively in LF (if statistically good because he's competing against a lot of stiffs in LF) and RF is even tougher.
Giants Thoughts

As I noted, I like the deal, though I would have gone with Ishikawa, but Huff is more of a sure bet to produce at 1B and is a proven cleanup hitter and that is what we need. And he has been OK defensively at 1B, and playing everyday there should help him improve there as well. He seems like a nice guy, a jokester, from the snippet of the interview he gave on the Razor and Mr. T show on KNBR yesterday, so he should add to the clubhouse I think.

Valdez, as much as I would like to give him another chance, he had a horrible 2009 season and he was already off the team possibly anyhow with Waldis Joaquin's emergence. The bullpen was already set with Wilson, Affeldt, Romo, Runzler, Medders, and a longman, either Martinez or Pucetas. Valdez would have been competing with Joaquin for that last spot. And if we could get another good reliever, that would make the bullpen unit pretty bullet-proof.

The lineup, as I noted, with Sandoval 3rd and Huff 4th does not suffer much if any from the switch, depending on the forecaster used. Bill James forecast results in a 4.6 RS lineup while the CHONE forecast results in a 4.5 RS lineup. The former with last year's defense results in 95 wins, the latter in 93 wins.

El Lefty Malo feels that the defense overall cannot be the same but I don't agree entirely or rather that I think that is missing the Big Picture. Fielding is worse, but I think the pitching staff overall can improve or at least mitigate the loss in fielding. And the bigger picture is that the offense, at even 4.50 runs vs. the 4.06 of last season, would score an additional 71 runs. I don't think the defense would be that much worse, last year they gave up 377 runs, that would be almost 20% increase in runs allowed to negate the gains in offense. I can see losing 1 win for DeRosa, 2 wins for Huff, and 1 win for the rest defensively for 4 wins lost or 40 runs, roughly 10% increase.

Given all that, I think 90 wins is a good target for the Giants to shoot for and reach and be competitive for the division title:
  • The D-gers lost Wolf, a major cog of their rotation and they should not be able to replace him easily. Pineiro is the best remaining and at his career numbers, the D-gers give up 28 more runs or 0.17 per game, which will cost them about 4 wins, putting them around 91. If they don't get him, then they lose even more and Manny isn't getting any younger either and Pierre, as horrible as he can be, was a good replacement for Manny in 2009 but now he's gone.
  • Colorado lost Jason Marquis, second best starter on their rotation, but bring back Jeff Francis, who missed all of 2009, and wasn't as good as Marquis before that and he'll be 29 in 2010. That should cost them a couple of games, which would put them at 90 wins.
  • Arizona made a whole bunch of changes (including reportedly signing LaRoche for $5.5M) plus will be adding back two players out in 2009 in Webb and Jackson. Still, they only won 70 games in 2009, I don't really see them adding 20 games even with their additions (and losses, they traded away two good young pitchers as well as got two older but still young starters in Jackson and Kennedy).
  • The 'Dres could surprise in 2010, I like their young players coming up, they are waiting for them to firm up and produce, they could be competitive and they won 75 games last season, not far from a .500 season. But I don't see them competing either without much better pitching, which is not a forte of their farm system.

Our main competitors lost major cogs in their pitching rotations while adding no one of consequence yet while the Giants lost no major cogs (Molina might have been our cleanup hitter, but he was a drag on our offense) plus might gain one or two (Huff, DeRosa, Posey, Bumgarner, Sanchez), but many don't think the Giants can compete?

If you can't be satisfied with an 88 win season with possibilities for better after a number of losing seasons, just because we ended up in 3rd, I can't help you. I am going to enjoy the 2010 season, I am going to enjoy the next decade, as the Giants have the ingredients to be competing during this decade, the 10's. In baseball today, that is the best you can ask for, to be competitive year in, year out, and if you can't realize that and enjoy the team, oh well, too bad for you.

9 comments:

  1. I don't think the Huff acquisition is a bad one, especially at only $3 mil and 1 yr. I don't think it was neccesary and I think it, potentially, weakens us for next year. That is because of Ishi.
    Last year, I shi was, essentially, a rookie. I thought he had a damned fine rookie season. As everybody knows, he is excellent defensively. He hit extremely well at Pac Bell and extremely poorly on the road. I would expect his home numbers to fall, to regress to the mean next year, but I would also expect the year of getting used to MLB pitching, MLB ball parks, and the MLB routine would all lead to significant improvement for '10. So sitting him down, basically, makes no sense. If they were going to sit him and let him learn by observing, they should have done it last year, not this year. This year seems really important to me as a development year, with considerable development to be expected because of his fairly successful rookie year.
    So, I woulod expect Ishi to give much better D, better OBP, but poorer SLG, and 8 or so fewer HRs. I don't see how 8 HRs is worth $3 mil, especially since Huff is here for just '10 and this time next year we still won't know what we have in Ishi.

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  2. Good to hear from you allfrank, thanks for your comment.

    I like Ishikawa but I don't know that he's the long-term answer either. I think there is enough there to intrigue a team - hence why the Giants have made a point about keeping him on the roster - but not enough to give him the starting position.

    I have noted numerous times on my blog and elsewhere that after his May 9th "demotion" - so called because Bochy openly said he wasn't getting all the starts but then Ishikawa started hitting and didn't sit until Sandoval needed to play at 1B because of his foot problem - he hit very well for the most part, though he tailed off at the end. Whether that was pitchers adjusting back, him tiring, him playing more road games, him getting rusty during the Garko experiment, I don't know.

    I agree that there is an adjustment period to getting used to the majors - Earl Weaver noted it and handled rookies differently because of it - but if that was all there was to it, then why don't other players improve with more experience? Differences in talent levels matter and with Ishikawa's up and down minors stats, one can't be sure what is talent and what is luck. Still, his 2008 stats tantalizes with the hint of OK-ness.

    So I don't know what he is, only that I would like to give him more time so that we can figure it out (or rather see if he can figure it out).

    But when your goal is the division title, you can't really be giving question marks the starting position, particularly to multiple positions, hence why DeRosa and Huff were signed, to reduce the risk of poor performance from those positions.

    So time will tell on how much Ishikawa will be played. I won't say now that he will definitely sit all year. The Giants made a point about him playing the OF, which to all of us means LF. There was talk from one of the reporters about having Huff play LF while Ishikawa plays 1B, so that it is DeRosa and Ishikawa who are platooning and not Huff and whoever. That makes some sense, DeRosa is not that great against certain RHP, so why not sit him periodically - like every other team before us - and let Ishikawa start. They made a point about Huff starting full-time and not platooning, but I don't recall the same point being made about DeRosa.

    There was roughly 700 PA from the #5 lineup position in 2009. DeRosa has gotten roughly 575 of that the past 4 seasons, leaving 125 PA for Ishikawa. With 12 inter-league games, that's another roughly 50 PA for Ishikawa. There should be numerous PH opportunities, so that is maybe another 50 PA (there were 231 total PA for PH in 2009 and 5 on the bench). Throw in days of rest of Huff, which he gets some of even though he regularly plays 150+ games, that's another 200 PA. That totals roughly 425 PA that Ishikawa theoretically could get.

    Of course, some of those will be taken away when Uribe plays 3B and Sandoval plays 1B, as Huff will probably mainly get rest against LHP and Ishikawa isn't that great against LHP either. So drop that to 350 PA.

    That is not full time, but that is a healthy chunk of playing time, roughly half a season, and by then we should have a better idea what type of hitter Ishikawa is, whether he can improve on what he did in 2009 with his experience, and whether he should be the starter in 2011 or if Huff should be re-signed.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Again, I would have just started Ishikawa to figure him out this season. We have alternatives like Bowker, Guzman, and potentially Neal by year end if he can have a successful year in AA like Sandoval, Bowker, and Ishikawa did to boost their prospect status a few years back.

    Still, I cannot fault the Giants for trying to improve their chances to win the title in 2010. You never know what might happen in 2010. Sandoval wasn't the picture of perfect health in 2009, if he's out for any reason (notice the recent reports that he gained weight again), Huff could play 1B/3B while Uribe and Ishikawa would platoon to fill the other position. Huff could return to his former goodness, and that's not offensive production I would expect out of Ishikawa, we could hit the jackpot that way and for little pay. Huff could do well enough to be traded away if Ishikawa does well enough in part-time playing to force that, and we could pick up an extra prospect.

    But there are too many questions that need to answered still for Ishikawa. He had a so-so rookie season, I would not define it as "fine". He was horrible the first 6 weeks of the season for the most part. He hit horribly against LHP, but that is randomness there. However, he played much less against LHP than he would as a starter, that would have resulted in a poor season overall had that happened.

    You noted his home/road split. Yes, I would expect both to moderate, but you don't know which will moderate more than the other. He hit .349/400/.535/.935 at home, .162/.250/.221/.471 on the road. The first is unsustainable, but the latter is believable given his poor years in the minors.

    I will give him that he was produced OK on a monthly basis after April, but again a significant portion of that was related to his not playing as much against LHP.

    However, he had done well enough in 2008 that there is hope that he becomes a redux of JT Snow: great defense, so-so batting average, OK to good OBP, but better SLG/ISO because he hits more homers than Snow.

    Frankly, his defense was so good according to UZR that even if he provided only replacement level offense, he would still be an average starter. With his ability to take walks and hit the long-ball but strike out a lot, he could be another three true outcomes hitter like Rob Deer, except that he would provide superlative defense.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I would have stuck with Ishikawa, but, as you say, it's arguable the Huff is a better choice.

    I'm even less optimistic about the competition - Manny is ready to tank (though it is a walk year), and Marquis actually seemed to work in Colorado, for which the Rockies should have paid him zillions. The Dodgers also did luck out enormously with Pierre last year - nobody saw that coming.

    And if MadBum can be plausible in his first year... I'm feeling really good about all this.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Sabean re-signs Molina.......Keep rebuilding, Brian.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Again, Boof, you are under the mistaken belief that teams rebuild only with young players.

    They don't and you haven't found me one example of this, let alone a history of examples that what you are complaining about is the right way to rebuild a team. Give me proof that your way is the right way and that it a practical way for a team to rebuild.

    I've been asking you this for years now and you have been unable to meet the challenge. And you say that I'm stubborn?

    I can at least point to two studies by major baseball analysts sites that pitching and fielding is the way to maximized success in the playoffs, and I can point to any number of teams, like the Braves, Red Sox, or Yankees, who have rebuilt by adding the young while signing free agent vets who fill in the areas where they don't have young players coming up or who are not ready yet.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Other than Sandoval, we don't have a single starting position player under the age of 30 (as soon as they sign Dye to play RF). Where is the rebuild?

    Fact is, it's a Sabean smokescreen. Yeah, go out and sign some more washed up veterans instead of using that money to sign a real impact player.

    ReplyDelete
  8. The rebuild has happened mostly in the pitching staff. Most teams are not so lopsided in where the youth is when rebuilding, but still they fill in with vets where they need them.

    The problem is that you don't see the beauty of Sabean's rebuild. For other teams, they add a key player here, a key player there, but there is no competitive advantage there.

    Two studies by reputable sabermetric groups show that teams that focus on pitching and fielding defense, and then build up their offense enough to get in the playoffs, have a competitive advantage.

    I can't help it if you can't see that, I can't make it any simpler.

    And go ahead and complain about not getting a real impact player, I've already told you that we don't need one, we just need to get better. In any case, one of the only two players who were possibly impact hitters (I'm still leary of both Holliday and Bay, their road numbers are much too low for the money they are getting) said that he was not interested in coming to SF and another good hitter said that he didn't want to come to SF and hit here.

    ReplyDelete
  9. In other words, you can't sign what isn't there, so if you want to be upset over that, so be it.

    ReplyDelete

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