Monday, July 19, 2010

Welcome to the Bandwagon, Tim, It Is About Time

Tim Kawakami has declared that the Giants "can realistically expect to get better every day, for a whole lot of days."  That's something I've been saying for years now, especially since his colleague Ann Killion, rhetorically asked what the future of the Giants will be going forward without Bonds, and I wrote that it has been clear for a number of years already that it was pitching.  It was clear then, it's even clearer now that Sabean's patience is being rewarded.

Welcome to the bandwagon, Tim, it's about time.  The names that hit him harder are the same names it has been for a couple of years now, they have been either on the team or highly regarded in the farm system.  They were clearly the future but the future does not happen immediately, particularly in baseball, where prospects typically take 2-4-6 years to finally figure things out and start contributing to the major league team.  You need to be able to understand the business processes related to a baseball team to see that potential.

The names are the same - Lincecum, Cain, Posey, Bumgarner, Sandoval, Ishikawa, Schierholtz, Runzler, (and I would add Bowker and now Belt), Wilson, Sanchez, Romo - but you need to have patience for them to develop and, admittedly, a bit of luck, but you need to keep that core together, which Sabean has done.

Master Talent Evaluator

Blame Sabean for a multitude of sins, but he has shown that he is the master of determining who to keep and who not to keep - or are too risky - and thus tradeable or releasable, among his prospects.  If he had listened to any of the brainiacs over the years, Lincecum and Cain and Sanchez would have been traded at one time or another, depending on the trade partner du jour, and none of the prospects were untouchables for some, there were people willing to trade them away for that elusive bat or released just because they thought the prospect was not worthy, starting long ago, when someone claiming to know prospects said that Ishikawa should have been released for nothing more than a bag of balls, that Jason Columbus and Brad Vericker were much more worthy 1B prospects.

I understand doubt regarding Sabean was on order, because there has been mistakes made in free agent signings, but people have to understand that that's life sometimes, you have to sign someone because you have a hole, it does not mean that Sabean does not know what talent is.   Sometimes you have to take the best available and hope it works.  Similar things happens with trades, but to a lesser degree than for the free agents  the Giants have signed.

The main problem, I think, has not been that the players we have obtained did not have talent, but that their talents were being subsumed or greatly diminished by injuries.  Many of them performed as expected - once they recovered from the injury that seemingly usually pops up when the Giants get their hands on the guy.  That's the area that I think needs to be improved greatly within the Giants, figuring out whether a player is going to be injured within the next year or two (or already hampered by that injury) and unable to perform.

The Future Looks So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

But yes, look at the names of the young players on this team, the Giants are on the rise.  They clearly have been for the past few years, particularly once Lincecum hit the scene and showed what he could do and how well.  They have took another step forward with Posey's and Bumgarner's outstanding performance this season.

But to see that you had to have a vision for where the team was going and whether they have been progressing or not.  The team has clearly had a vision for the longest while:  pitching, defense, and speed is the future.  That has been clear since Dick Tidrow took over as player personnel director under Sabean, as our first draft picks were invariably pitchers and over half of our draft picks were pitchers most of the time, and the Giants MLB 25-man roster has been very strong defensive teams.

Unfortunately, when you focus your resources in this way, you give short shrift to the position player procurement side but maximizes and improves greatly the pitching side.  But that is OK because no team can reliably supply their whole 25 man roster internally.  That has been true forever, else teams would never have been trading for players nor signing free agents much.  The key thing to do in any resource limited situation is to maximize the potential value of the draft picks your team does have.

Pitching Prospects Provide Great Flexibility for the Roster

Focusing on pitching provides that.  Pitching can theoretically fill any of your 12 spots on the 25 man roster devoted to pitchers.  That provides huge flexibility in creating your roster.  And once you get a better pitcher, you drop the worse comparable pitcher off the roster, allowing the cream to rise to the top.  You can't do that with position players.

If your best hitter happens to be the same position best as your second best hitter, then you will either be forced to play that player out of position (like the A's starting Mark McGwire at 3B to start his career, or the Giants playing both Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda at positions other than 1B during their careers) or be forced to trade one away (like the Giants traded Orlando Cepeda away, or Texas trading away Travis Hafner and Adrian Gonzalez when they had Mark Teixeira).  And trades, clearly, introduces another layer of risk into the player acquisition process.

In particular, this is clearly a greater risk when you are trading away one of your best hitters rather than trading away the worse (or one of the worse) pitcher on your staff.

Hitting Prospects You Just Have to See What Sticks to the Wall

Unfortunately, the draft is not going to supply all of your roster needs.  Just look at baseball-reference.com's draft data, click on the list for the history of any particular draft pick overall, and you can see for yourself that:

  1. The number of players who are good is vastly outnumbered by the number of players who either never made the majors or didn't even play enough, whether through lack of talent or injury, to reach free agency;  
  2. That this is true starting with the first pick overall; and
  3. That the odds of finding a good player exponentially gets worse as you progress into the draft;
Just look at the 100th pick of the draft overall.  That is now in the third round mainly now, depending on the number of supplemental pick awarded.  Ron Gant and Shane Mack are the only players who even - over their ENTIRE career - had accumulated enough WAR to have a total that is greater than 2, which is the point at which baseball-reference.com defines as the WAR that a starter would provide in ONE season.   

If we excuse the draftees from the last 7 drafts (which by coincidence includes the Giants John Bowker) for not producing in the majors in a significant way yet, that is still 39 drafts in total.  Which means only 2 of 39, or 5%, of the 100 picks overall ever produce enough.  

Even if you go to the 50th pick, which is generally in the second round now, 8 of the 39 (21%) have greater than 2 WAR and if you were a starter for 6 seasons, then 12 WAR is the next hurdle, and only 4 of the 39 draftees (10%) meets that level of performance.  Clearly, the odds of finding a hitting prospect who becomes a marginal starter, even if you use your best picks after the first round (remember, most of the Giants first round picks have gone towards pitchers), meaning 2nd or 3rd round picks, is very low.  It would take 10 years of drafting, on average, to find one via your 2nd round draft pick (approximately, as this is for the 50th pick overall), and 20 years of drafting, on average, to find one via your 3rd round draft pick (again, approximately, to make my point, as this is represented by the 100th pick).


Thus, for hitting prospects, the Giants have just been throwing the jell-o to the wall and seeing who sticks.  That is not a very effective way of obtaining hitting prospects, but, in baseball, probably the most efficient when you are focusing on pitching most of the time.  This means that you therefore need to focus on other means of obtaining such talent, which leaves free agent market, trades, and the international free agent market, which they have done.

Logical Way to Build a Team

And, as I feel I've shown in my business plan for the Giants, this is a logical way to build a team.  Concentrate the scarce (yet inefficient) resources of the draft on pitching, which provides exponentially greater flexibility in building up your roster with young prospects faster and stronger.  Pitching has been shown by two major analyst services (Baseball Prospectus in their book, The Hardball Times at their website) to be the major key to doing better in the playoffs, as well as showing furthermore that offense provides no such competitive advantage.  Fill out your offense with other resources, as the draft is focused on finding the best pitchers around.  Focus on getting balancing offense with good fielding overall for your team, because of fielding's importance to the defense overall, because the vast majority of all plate appearances result in a ball in play.  And add speed to your lineup because speed improves hitting and fielding, as well as base running.

The Giants have been trying to do all that for a while now if you follow the team closely enough.  Because prospects fail, it is not a manufacturing production-like process, there will be fits and starts, there will be failures as that is inherent to the whole system.  In fact, the best analogy in sports to this difficulty in developing prospects is that of hitting, where if you get 3 hits out of 10 at-bats, you are a very successful hitter.

Big Picture:  Giants on Upward Trajectory

In any case, the team has been on this upward trajectory for a long while now.  The signs were there to be seen.  The big picture is that the Giants has a great core of pitching - in the rotation and in the closer, plus good set-up men.

In addition, they have a good to great core of young hitters - Sandoval and Posey - with some good complementary players who play strong defense - Schierholtz, Ishikawa, and, I think Bowker too.  They also have prospects like Brandon Belt, Thomas Neal, Brandon Crawford, Emmanuel Burriss, Nick Noonan, Charlie Culberson, and Rafael Rodrigeuz coming up the system plus hopefully Gary Brown, Jarrett Parker, and Charlie Jones.  And they all should all be Giants for the next 4-6 seasons, barring injury, if not longer per Neukom's promise to find additional funds to make baseball decisions.

Fill in some vets along the way, and with the team on an uptrend, eventually a good position player will agree to join the Giants and Neukom will find the money to acquire that player.  Much like Greg Maddux joining the Braves after it had turned itself around and been winning a bit but needed a boost to reach the next stage.  Maybe Carl Crawford will be that player, maybe somebody else.

Maybe they won't make it to the World Series this season.  That's not the point at this juncture of the rebuild.  The point is that we are moving into position to compete for the World Series every season.   And right now it looks good for the Giants pursuing that for the next 5-6 seasons, at least.

5 comments:

  1. I like the way this team has been going. I have kept my hopes reasonable and do not mind waiting. Pitching really is the way to go. Look at the Brewers, I don't recall anyone having high hopes for them this season, and look what's been happening, they've been playing how everyone thought they would. They have plenty of hitting, but, the pitching and fielding has been atrocious. Everyday for them is a struggle. They give up too many runs and have to hope that the other team does too. It's not like that with us. Usually we think like we have to give some run support to our pitchers. For the Brewers, their hitting tries to hide their pitching. On the contrary, our hitting tries to compliment our pitching. Speed, fielding, and pitching are all needed for preventing runs.

    If there was a way to get DeJesus without giving up a starter or Belt, I'd be all for it. He would strengthen the defense greatly in RF and he would be an even better #2 hitter than Sanchez. This team seems to look more and more real as the season progresses. Go Giants!

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  2. A point I didn't see... the number of ex-Giants farmhands floating around the majors is not large, while at the same time I believe the Giants have been ranked 2nd or 3rd in the effectiveness of their drafting. This, to me, is a strong indicator of good drafts.

    The other (and I hope to god I'm right), that for all the people complaining about a Rowand, Sabean has kept away from the rent-a-player. Sanchez for Fielder might be doable, and might get the team to the playoffs this year, but in the long run is an incredibly idiotic move. For all their money, what has sustained the Yankees and Red Sox has really been making choices for the long run - or at least not giving away the farm for the short run. You look at Sabathia, Granderson, JD Drew for that matter, and you see trades/signings that were intended to provide benefits for a good period of years - and have, or will.

    The trade rumors give me the willies, and I think Sabean deserves some credit for not actually giving us the willies.

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  3. The Giants have a whole cadre of great looking, young, athletic hitting prospects in the lower minors. Starting with Thomas Neal and Brandon Belt, I think you are going to see a gradual shift toward much better hitters coming up. I just hope it doesn't take too much away from the pitching, although we are pretty much set there for the next few years.

    Love what I'm seeing from kids like Tommy Joseph, Charlie Jones, Jose De La Rosa. Don't count our RafRod, who just turned 18 years old either.

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  4. Didn't the opposing catcher say Ishikawa was safe (despite slowing down to see where the ball was)? (2nd paragraph)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for pointing that out, I meant to say that, we all know what happened, so I guess that is why none of us noticed it until now. That has been corrected.

    ReplyDelete

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