Saturday, March 27, 2010

Prospects: Hitters vs. Pitchers

People have been complaining about the Giants prospects, but for some reason, despite winning two Cy Youngs and doing what he has done, Lincecum doesn't seem to do it enough for fans. The thing is, we have a great crop of young players on our team or soon on our team: Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo, Runzler, Sandoval, Posey, Schierholtz.

Look over most teams, they would be lucky to have such a good ten from their farm system and they are only on the cusp of what they can do, they probably have at least another 3-4 seasons together, assuming Neukom does as he says he would and we extend our top pitchers.

And we have other prospects who look like they could do something for us in Hinshaw, Joaquin, Sosa, Noonan (keep an eye on him in 2010), Kieschnick, Neal, Crawford, plus a number of other good prospects down lower in Peguero, RafRod, maybe Villalona, Adrianza, Sanchez.

And people note that we haven't had hitters like Will Clark and Matt Williams, though now Sandoval and Posey looks posed to match or pass up that pair, but don't seem to realize what a renaissance we are having in terms of pitching. Really, the best pitchers the Giants have had before Cain came along in the past 40 years was probably John "the Count" Montefusco, Scott Garrelts, John Burkett, and Trevor Wilson. Ron Bryant would have made the list if not for his swimming pool accident, and so would have Bob Knepper if he wasn't traded away so early. And what type of pitching staff did we have during the Clark/Williams era? It was mainly cobbled together with veterans and castoffs, yet there was no crying over how the Giants couldn't develop a starting pitcher.

And within the San Francisco Giants era, the only comparables are Juan Marichal and Mike McCormick. And as great Marichal was and good McCormick was, neither one was a strikeout artist. And as I've been noting (plus posted in my business plan link), Baseball Prospectus did a study of success in the playoffs and found that it was having pitchers who struck out a lot of batters that was a key success factor in going deeper in the playoffs.

Just think about that, then think about how it worked in the 60's, how the Giants probably had one of the best offensive teams ever plus Marichal and McCormick and others, and yet the dominant names in the playoffs of that era were Koufax and Gibson, the two premier strikeout artists of that era.

Nobody Rebuilds All At Once, Something Always Sucks

So maybe the Giants don't have a lineup yet. No team is suddenly good in their lineup, pitching, and defense. No other teams that rebuilt themselves had everything working from the get-go, they fixed up one thing at a time, each season. If you think so, find me examples, if this is true, it should be easy to find, they should not be hard to find nor should they be rare occurrences. People don't appreciate how hard it is to rebuild a baseball team nor do they understand the process that a team undergoes.

So the Giants lineup sucks. Other team's pitching sucks. And yet others, defense. Rebuilding teams always have things that suck. The successful ones add on pieces each year and make the playoffs eventually. Prospects don't all blossom all at once, they take time and not all take the same time. Lincecum took less than a couple of months to figure it all out. Sanchez took a number of years (so did Koufax and Randy Johnson, FYI).

And the way to rebuild, assuming that your goal is to go deep in the playoffs and that you believe the study results of Baseball Prospectus and The Hardball Times, two of the most respected baseball research resources around, is to build up your pitching staff and build a good defense. BP specifically found that a fire-balling pitching staff, a great closer, and great defense are key elements to have on your team if you want to maximize your chances in the playoffs of going deep.

Business Core Competencies

It is like any other business. You focus on the core competencies that are necessary for success in your business. According to BP and THT, it is your pitching staff and your defense. BP's guidelines is that you need a high strikeout pitching staff, both starters and relievers, you need an effective closer, and you need a good defense. And that is what the Giants have mostly focused on with their drafts, pitching and defense.

And they did not always hewed to this philosophy in the draft, but that is OK, you always have to pick the best player available when drafting. But where it is close, with the low odds of actually finding a good player anyway in the draft, the Giants have mostly focused on getting pitchers and on players who can play good defense, plus have some speed. And they have a nice collection of high-speed arms in their system, Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Wilson, Joaquin, Hinshaw, Sosa, Wheeler.

So now they, and specifically Sabean, have built up the team with strong strikeout pitchers and a good closer, and now are adding on the position players who can help the team win, whether internally or via free agency, mostly. What is wrong with that? The Giants teams that won over the past 20 years were built with players who were not that good and were not raised in our farm system, yet they were no less beloved.

The Clark-Williams era pitching rotation were filled with pitchers who were not developed within our farm system. Garrelts and Grant were the only ones to really contribute anything, but they were not main cogs, the main guys were pitchers we traded for at some point. And in the early Sabean years of few games without the pennant on the line, only Ortiz was developed within. Why is it OK that those teams developed few pitchers, but did develop good hitters, but not OK for today's Giants to develop a lot of good pitchers but did not yet develop good hitters, though Sandoval looks pretty good and Posey looks to be good eventually?


  1. Oh man! I so agree with you, but watch out! I basically go run off the message board for saying exactly the same thing.

    When I look at the young players the Giants have already graduated from the farm system, and what's currently in the system coming along, plus a great scouting staff running the drafts and activity in the international market, I feel like the Giants are as well positioned for the future as any team in baseball.

  2. I agree. The only problem I see is that the window of opportunity with Cain and Lincy may be closing. We've got a couple of years with the best young arms in baseball; after that, it might be hard, financially, to keep both pitchers.

    But I like our chances this year, myself, at least to make the playoffs. If Bum and Posey come up mid-season, this team could have some unexpected mojo--not to mention chips to trade (Molina? Sanchez?) which we haven't had for many a year.

  3. uh.... 'cause chicks dig the home run and too many fair-weather fans are superficial in their understanding of the game?

    People are mad because the team isn't winning 100 games, right now. Eight teams out of 30 make the playoffs, and the Giants were in contention until late last year and probably will be this year.

    The team seemingly has about 20 outfielders who are at least replacement value (which means they are able, at least, to play in the big leagues, and, many with great upside), apparently too many second baseman, catchers, and first basemen. Not to mention three third basemen, and among Pucetas, Wellemeyer and Bumgarner there is one pitching spot. For a few more years.

    People are dopes. They neither appreciate nor understand the game. I thought that's what fans tried to do.

  4. "...despite winning two Cy Youngs and doing what he has done, Lincecum doesn't seem to do it enough for fans."

    Huh? 'splain please.

  5. Thanks for all the comments.

    Seth, despite Lincecum excellence, many fans still focus on what we don't have - the hitting, without realizing how good our pitching is overall.

    Meanwhile, while Bonds was here, there was not as much Sturm und Drang about how poor our pitching was, and why don't we go out and sign all these great pitchers because our pitching wasn't that great.

    And despite winning 88 games last season, with one of the worse offenses in the majors to boot, many don't seem to think that with the same pitching staff plus an improved offense, the team won't be competitive in 2010. Because it is rare today for any team to be "guaranteed" a title, at best really, if you are posed to be competitive, that is all you can ask for.

    And the Giants are posed. And I think ready to push their way deep into the playoffs should they get there.

    Sure, I would love to have seen the Giants get more and better hitting. But that wasn't really available during the off-season and I like the composition of the pitching staff, I don't want a redux of the Cepeda trade where we give up someone good only to get someone not as good. Plus, I think the rotation can be plus-plus the way it is, what people don't seem to realize that that a trade only raises one aspect of your team while lowering another aspect. There is no free lunch, and you basically break even, except that you add on the risk that the new player won't be performing for you.

    Not that trades are not good to ever do, but at this point, unless the other team is overpaying for one of our pitchers, I would rather we keep who we got and see what we can do with them. In addition, as I showed with my analysis of Pythagorean, the better a team's pitching and fielding, the less offense it needs to win games with. Every little bit counts.



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