Monday, August 02, 2010

The 2010 Trade Deadline

The NL West is basically a two horse race right now after the beatdown in the standings the Giants gave LA in sweeping them, and SD before us.  The D-gers are now 6.5 games behind the Giants, who currently lead the wild card race by 2.0 games over the Reds (who flip-flops with the Cards, seemingly, every other day), and 3.5 games over the Phillies.  Still, the big trades the D-gers managed before the deadline brings them back closer to being the third horse, while the D-Rox limps along, waiting to decide whether they want to sell or to buy, but still is closer than the D-gers at 5.5 games behind the Giants.

I really like DrB's take on the trades at his site.  Basically, he liked both Giants trades, didn't think we overpaid with Bowker, and was glad that none of our better prospects were lost, noting sagely the ol' bromide, "sometimes the best trades are those not done."  I also added my comment:

I'm in the middle of the pack, who view the Giants as getting too little for Bowker but am OK with the trade because he probably is what he is. He has done very well in AAA and thus has a potential that could be tapped, and thus we should have gotten more. I think Belt's emergence has made Bowker expendable.
I like the trades, just thought we could get more for Bowker than as a throw-in in a trade to get a LOOGY. A very nice LOOGY but not one with pedigree, so I thought we would not have to give as much, say, Copeland maybe. 
But overall, I like the Giants moves, particularly, as DrB noted, that sometimes the best moves are those not made.
People bemoan how the Giants didn't "do" anything, but they have done a lot already: call up Posey, trade Molina, acquired Ray, called up Bumgarner, oh, and signed Burrell at a no-risk contract. The other teams were just finally reacting to our prior moves. Just keepin' it real.
More importantly, SD did not pick up any starting pitching, which they really needed (they were kicking the tires on Westbrook), as their young pitching is pitching on borrowed time soon, they would be pitching extended innings beyond their prior experiences and proven endurance.

Mediot Alert

Just wanted to add that close to the deadline, someone in the media urged the Giants to trade Madison Bumgarner to get a big bat.  This is on par with another media's urging to trade Lincecum to get Rios, in my opinion.  Anyone wanting to trade Bumgarner just don't get the long-term vision of the Giants:  pitching that overwhelms the other teams.  Sure, we could have put Wellemeyer in as the 5th starter, but you saw what that got us in the first half.  And as inspiring and educational as it was to have Randy Johnson on our team last season, you saw from what Penny did down the stretch what having a good 5th starter could do.

In addition, trading Bumgarner away would reduce our pitching staff's K/9 rate, which Baseball Prospectus found to be a significant factor in a team going deeper into the playoffs.  Whereas they found offense to have little to no effect (at least, no statistically significant effect, other than stolen base attempts, which appears to be a sign of overall team speed).

Lastly, we would have been trading away 6 years of excellent pitching for maybe 1.5 or 2.5 seasons of offense.  I don't think that is worth it.  People (particularly sabers) only think that pitchers contribute once every fifth start, but if you look at most offensive players, contributions don't come every game, as people suggest, they forget about the oh-fers and the fielding errors that happen along the way.

Plus, while that is true when you only have one or two good pitchers, when you have a rotation full of great starters, they combine to create a rolling tank that other teams have to face in each and every series, there is no letup in terms of pitching quality.  Plus, this helps to keep losing streaks shorter in length, so that you never fall behind that far, as you have quality almost every other start, if not more.

John Sickel's Take on Trades

John Sickel, well known prospect expert (worked with Bill James, then at ESPN, now on his own), provided his takes on the deals here and here:
The Giants traded Joe Martinez and John Bowker to the Pirates for Javier Lopez. Lopez is a decent short guy and worth more to the Giants than the Pirates at this point. Both Martinez and Bowker may be Quadruple-A players, but both are more likely to help the Pirates next year than Lopez would have been, at least as complementary players. I like this for the Pirates.
The Red Sox also shipped reliever Ramon Ramirez to the Giants in exchange for prospect Dan Turpen. Ramirez is a useful relief reinforcement for San Francisco, while Turpen has posted so-so numbers this year in Double-A. He has a good sinker but looks like an 11th man on a major league staff, not an irreplaceable asset. He's five years younger than Ramirez, so this is simply a youth exchange for the Red Sox.
He focused on the prospect side, but reading it from the Giants perspective, it looks like the Giants did not give up much in his opinion.

Giants Thoughts

Overall, I know that to get the big bat that we would all love would have cost us someone in our rotation.  That's a price I'm not willing to pay.  And I'm glad the Giants bolstered the bullpen, for as nicely as Bautista and Casilla has been in there for us out of the blue, we could do better.  I like both additions to the team, both are controlled beyond this season, and while I would like to see what both Bautista and Casilla could do with further work with our coaching staff, I would be OK if we lost either when first Rodriguez and then Wellemeyer, joins the team.

Of course, this assumes they are the ones gone.  Bautista basically wrote his ticket out with the walking of the relief pitcher so I assume he's gone once Rodriguez joins the team.  I don't know who else goes down other than Casilla when Wellemeyer re-joins the team, though, now looking through the roster, I guess there is a good chance that Rohlinger might be the one to go down, especially with few days off in August, as the Giants probably will want another bullpen arm to help keep arms fresher.  OK, so one of them will get a reprieve, and I would think that Casilla would be the one, though Bautista at least don't give up big extra-base hits as often as Casilla, his SLG is much lower.  But those walks got to cost him his job and a spot with the team.

Also, I think the interest of most fans in another big bat is borne of the classic fan syndrome of "more is better, don't you get that?"  Again, going back to my demonstration of this in my business plan series, when you have great defense - pitching and fielding - you don't need a good offense to win with that, you can win with just an average offense.  And that is the whole point, winning, not clubbing the opposition over the head with a sledgehammer when a regular one would do.

I don't know why fans are so upset over a lot of tight games where we sometimes lose 2-1, 3-2, as to me, it is just as bad when a team loses 8-7, 11-10.  For example, most Giants fans think of Game 6 (yes, I'm going there :^) as the key game in the series for us losing, but I think of Game 2, when the putrid pitching gave up a lot of runs early (yes, that Russ Ortiz), but then the offense roared back and actually took a good sized lead, but then the pitching pissed away the lead and finally the game, 11-10.  Had they simply held the lead at 9-7, we would have become the World Series champions after game five, there would have never been a Game 6.

Bowker is a Loss But Not Second Coming

Fans were upset over Bowker, and while I share a higher opinion of him as a player and thus can sympathize, the fact is that he has had chances and never could deliver consistently.  He complained about getting platooned and not seeing many at-bats, but Ishikawa didn't have any problem with that, he hit whether he was sitting on the bench for games on end without even a PH, let alone a start, then once he started getting regular starts, though in a platoon mode, he still hit.

And as nice as his stats in AAA look, he's doing it as a 27 YO (basically, he was born on 7/2; two days before and he'll be counted as a 27 YO, close enough for me) and the MLE isn't even that great, .266/.327/.473/.800, which is only about average for a MLB corner OF.

And I prefer to downgrade performances the older the player is, as it is more significant if a, say, 23 YO was hitting that MLE in AAA than a 27 YO who is experienced and seen a lot.  Other 25-26-27 YO who hit .987 OPS or better in AAA in recent years, so that doubters can see my point:  Jake Fox (1.336 OPS; 26 YO), Tony Everidge (1.060, 26), Paul McAnulty (1.086; 27), Joe Mather (1.041; 25), Jaime D'Antona (1.009; 26), Dallas McPherson (.998; 27), Josh Whitesell (.993; 26), Joe Koshanshy (.980; 26).  And this is just 2008 and 2009!  Sure there is Nelson Cruz and Mike Aviles, but as you can see the odds do not favor a good result in the majors when a player of Bowker's age hit .987 OPS.  Heck, here are the ones for 2005, 6, 7 too:  Nathan Haynes (1.040; 27), Nick Green (.985; 28), Lance Niekro (1.016; 27), Jason Ellison (.989; 28), Scott Hairston (.997; 26), Jason Botts (.980; 25), Todd Linden (1.120; 25), Matt Diaz (1.057; 27), Andy Green (1.009; 27), Marshall McDougald (.994; 26), Ryan Shealy (.994; 25), Dan Johnson (.973; 25).

Hopefully I've disabused the notion that hitting this great in the minors is a sign of greatness to come, when the player's a bit too old for top-prospect status.  I like Bowker and I wish he would have gotten a chance next season, but I know the odds do not favor him doing it with us or for us.  I appreciate that he thanked the Giants (great article on it here) for the opportunity, unlike other ingrates like Freddy Lewis or Kevin Frandsen  (read recently that Lewis made some homo-phobic rants against Giants fan during the Toronto series and that Frandsen supported him, see Lewis's sponsor link on baseball-reference.com).

The NL West and Their Trades

Oh yeah, those.  :^)

Overall, people are upset that the other teams did so much at the deadline but forget that during the season the Giants made these significant moves:

  • Acquired Pat Burrell
  • Made Andres Torres the starting lead-off hitter
  • Brought up Buster Posey
  • Traded Molina and added Chris Ray to the bullpen set-up rotation
  • Brought up Madison Bumgarner

If people didn't realize this, these moves are the reason why the D-gers and 'Dres had to make the moves that they did, they were playing catch-up because they realized that with momentum on the Giants side right now, they will pass everyone up and stay there.

For SD, again, I'm just glad they didn't add any pitching, not that they still couldn't in a waiver wire deal in August.  From what I've read, Tejada isn't even going to be starting full-time, and he's in his decline of his career.  Plus, John Sickel likes the prospect they gave up, Wynn Pelzer (great name for a pitcher).  Ludwick is a better addition, but he has hit better at home than on the road, but he is horrible in the outfield defensively, costing about one win, which will hurt their pitching, which I still view as ripe for regression to the mean, because they are not all ace quality starters, many are back of rotation guys, based on what they did in previous seasons.  Taking away defense (they have jackrabbits out there most of the time) would only accelerate that plus their IP totals should take them out before the season ends.

A columnist for one of the newspaper I read noted that our pitching staff is not as strong as that of the league-leading 'Dres.  He must not be looking at the same pitching staffs that I'm seeing.  We could start with their 5th best starter having a 5.05 ERA and that our 5th starter is Madison Bumgarner.  Or that Lincecum is our ace and Matt Latos is their ace, but he is one start away from matching his IP total from last year, meaning that he has maybe 4 starts before San Diego needs to think seriously about shutting him down for arm or body fatigue.  Same for Clayton Richards and Wade LeBlanc.

For LA, they have certainly added a lot.  However, Podsednik is just seat-warmer until Manny returns and in any case, is of questionable value as a major leaguer, particularly when LA's home sinks the only value he has this season, his OBP.  He can do a lot of damage to their offense while he is in there, if things go right.  Dotel was in danger at points this season of losing his closer job for the Pirates, I think that's all you need to know to say that as a set-up guy for LA, he might be what Giants fans could hope for, plus the D-gers gave up a player with high potential in Lambo, he could be the Carlos Santana traded away for playoff help Casey Blake.  Theriot for DeWitt I call about even, except that Theriot has very good speed,

Lily is definitely a good addition, but he has been a middle rotation starter much of his career, with a 4.45 ERA on the road, for his career.  He has done better in recent years on a seasonal basis, but while his ERA is good this season, his peripherals took a big dip on K/9, which is never a good sign.  A 34 YO starting pitcher whose K/9 dips a lot is a sign that his end should be coming, and perhaps soon.  And he has a horrible 5.34 ERA in July, though he has pitched better lately.  Pitching in LA and the pitching parks NL West should help him, but I don't see him as a great talent, though he fits in nicely with Kershaw and Billingsley up top, making him the third starter in their rotation.  For comparison, we have Matt Cain as our third starter.

In any case, as some have noted, the offense in July averaged 5.3 runs per game, but I would note that since the All-Star break, they have averaged only 4.3 runs per game.  It is their superlative pitching, along with great defense, keeping runs allowed to only 3.0 runs per game, that has allowed them to go 14-4 since the All-Star break.  And the starting pitching has all been consistently good and I think that having an offense helps them pitch more confidently and thus more consistently good.  Plus, Zito and Cain typically raise things a notch in the second half, and Sanchez did the same last season.

Of course, we can't expect superlative hitting and pitching to go on forever.  The Giants will need Sandoval to step up in August offensively in order for the expected falls in Posey and Huff's production to be countered.  As I noted, the team has already dropped to 4.3 since the All-Star break, but still, at the seasonal runs allowed rate of 3.63, which is a slight improvement over last year's 3.77, and thus probably sustainable - particularly if Bumgarner is able to pitch most of the rest of season for us, as his IP total will also be stretched like those in the SD rotation, which he will reach in 2 starts, then has another 4 starts to reach the 25 IP beyond that Krukow keeps saying pitchers should do (but which the Giants did not do for Cain or Lincecum and they have been OK so far) - for the Giants to reach 90 wins, the offense needs to average only 3.79 runs per game, which they easily did even last season.  Even if they averaged the 4.06 from last season, they get to 91-92 wins.  At the 4.33 that they averaged since the All-Star break, that gets them up to 93 wins.

At 91-93 wins this season, they should either win the NL West or at worse be the Wild Card team.  Very few teams have won that many games and not made the playoffs, though of course, the Giants have ended on the bad side of history in that regards in the past, like in 1993.   The good thing is that the other teams behind them have been scuffling so badly that they had to make moves to try to catch up.  Obviously, not every trade will work out but some will, so we will have a bit of a battle at hand to get into the playoffs this season.

Still, the pitching is not doing anything that it is not capable of doing and now we have better relievers in place that should help hold the leads that we had been losing previously.  The offense, while not as high powered as many would wish, look in pretty good shape with Torres leading off, Huff batting third, and Posey batting cleanup.  As long as Uribe, Sandoval, and Burrell can tag team the 5th spot and hit OK there, I think the offense is more than capable enough to get us into the playoffs.  And remember, the Giants could also put off a waiver deal this month as well as any other club could, once other clubs realize that their seasons are over and the Giants aren't giving them someone out of their rotation.

9 comments:

  1. Exactly - just look at any box score to see how many moves the team has made on offense. Panda needs to get better, while I (am I the only one?) thinks Rowand will, at least a little.

    As far as those pesky "other teams", I think the Giants will win the division. The Padres' starters just aren't very good. Then again, I've been thinking that for 4 months and here we still are. Wild-card, the teams to watch I think are really the Phillies and the Braves - that's going to be a good race, and the Giants don't want to end up with the third best record. I think in the central, probably the Cards will win by a couple of games, and I have serious doubts that the Dodgers are going anywhere.

    Massive kudos to Sabean in getting Huff - haven't looked in a few days, but by one measure anyway (runs created?), Huff is the NL MVP. Talk about a pick off the scrap heap.

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  2. Giants have a very tough stretch ahead. Lets hope the pitching will get us at least 500 or better vs these teams with very excellent home records coming up. I agree with almost everything in your article except Bowker. He was an asset the team had control over, and he has power. The OPS comparitive numbers to others just do not mean much. The guy has a short quick swing, and once he gets his timing going he can get on a hot streak with power. Majors or minors. He does not have a big looping hole in his swing like Linden. The comparison to Ishikawa is almost meaningless as we have such a small sample size. The next eighty AB's for each of them could have gone in exactly the opposite direction. Furthermore you do not give away a potential asset with multiple years of control, as a throw in for a loogy who may only pitch about 30 innings for the giants. The assets of Bowker, Lewis and Frandsen, who are a lot cheaper than DeRosa, Rowand and F.Sanchez, have put up just as good numbers for one twentieth the cost. Your a business guy. This is just poor asset management, when your major assets are your players and their value. Sabean continues to undervalue his own young players, and often they do not get a chance to develop in the majors during critical periods. I remember watching Aurillia sitting on the bench for a year or so of Shawon Dunston. Then Aurillia plays and hit 20 plus homers for a few years and then over 30 in his prime. We probably lost at least one really good year of Aurillia on the front end but then obtained him late in his career when he was essentially washed up. Martinez for Lopez was reasonable. Throwing in Bowker was removing some kind of pyschological albatross he represented to Sabean and Sabean alone.

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  3. Anonymous,

    Bowker doesn't have a hole in his swing? He has been incapable of recognizing and laying off the breaking ball at his back foot every single time he's been up. Apparently that is a pitch you don't see too much of in the minors because Travis and Nate have had the same problem except they have adjusted a bit better.

    Agree that the lefty is a short term asset, but the Giants are in the middle of a very tight pennant race and both their bullpen lefties(who I agree are better than Lopez) are injured for a minimum of 3 more weeks. They simply had to go out and get one even if they had to overpay. If they overpaid here, it was by such a small amount as to be negligable. Certainly not cause for some of the internet meltdowns we saw.

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  4. OGC,

    I completely agree with your take on the value of #5 starters. I think as get a better understanding of defensive metrics, the stats oriented people will come around too. Just one example: In 2008 the Giants combined #5 starters won a grand total of 3 games. As shaky as RJ was, he won 8. That's a 5 win improvement right there and he only pitched about half a season. Add in Penny's contribution and the difference at #5 starter might have accounted for almost all the improvement in their record from 2008 to 2009.

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  5. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Marc, while I no longer think Rowand should be a starter, as we all saw the last two years, when he's on, he's unstoppable. We just have to tap into that when it happens, sit him when he's stone cold. With Nate around, they can tag team it, I think.

    For example, since he effectively lost his regular starting job, around after June 7th, he has hit .297/.377/.446/.823, with 4 HR in 101 AB, scoring 19 runs, driving in 9. He even threw in 3 SB. That's very good production. Bochy has handled him as well as you can, he basically gave him a month (that seems to be his magic number) of cold hitting, then moved on.

    DrB, yeah, some people still believe what they want to see, but the results have not been pretty at the MLB level. Definition of AAAA player, but his transformation in AAA (people forget that he wasn't really that good a prospect before) gives some hope but it's a steep uphill climb that others don't realize, that still exists from AAA to the majors.

    And exactly about 2008 and 2009, that's a very good breakdown of the difference and improvement. And we'll have another step up this season and next with the integration of Bumgarner into the rotation, I agree.

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  6. Anonymous, you want a business perspective, you got it. In business (as in life) there are assets worth worrying about, and assets not worth worrying about. The phrase, "penny-wise and pound foolish" comes to mind. Bowker is the penny-wise.

    You can't get all twisted up over every asset that you control in business. You have to figure out those that are crucial to your business and those that are not. Clearly, we disagree about Bowker, you think he is crucial and I think he is not.

    I see Bowker as a lottery ticket. I do agree with you that with his power, if he develops, he can be a great addition to any team. But we can't afford to let him do it at the major league level and yet that is where he needs time to do it. Apparently the pitch he can't handle so far is the one that is the dividing line between major league pitcher and AAA pitcher, because, as DrB noted, it appears that no one throws it in the minors. Do you see that conundrum?

    If we knew that Torres, Huff, Posey, and Sandoval were all going to hit as well as they have shown they can, then we could afford to give Bowker a chance in the OF. That was my idea for 2011, but it appears that the Giants chose between Nate and Bowker (and/or maybe Pirates did too).

    It is kind of like oil drilling, going with the business analogy. You have an asset and you have drilled there a number of times but each time you got a dry hole or very little oil came out. At some point, you make the decision that you have to stop throwing good money after bad. Not all assets work out, and frankly, at Bowker's age and experience, it does not look good.

    That was the whole point of me listing out other prospects who hit well in AAA at that age. You forget that he was not doing that well previously in the minors before he busted out relatively old as a prospect, he struggled before. He has a lot of strikes as a prospect.

    Also, people forget, but the Giants brought up Bowker in mid-2009, after his transformation, and he basically started every game for about 2 weeks (with ASB). In 32 AB, he had 10 strikeouts and 1 walk. 1 HR. True, not a lot of AB's but with 10 strikeouts and 1 walk, I don't think you need to look any further at that point. He basically had one or more strikeouts in every game he got into. He was lost and pitchers were man-handling him.

    He also got into a lot of games when he won the starting job this season. 12 strikeouts in 43 AB, 2 walks, 1 HR.

    Do you see the pattern here?

    Frankly, most prospects never make it to being a productive major leaguer. There are horrible odds when drafting, and it is just as bad once you get into the minors. It's a numbers game of going through a lot of stuff to find that nugget.

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  7. And I just had another thought on Bowker, mainly that he actually had a better chance with the Giants than the Pirates, frankly.

    The Pirates have Lastings Milledge, Andrew McCuthchen, and Jose Tabata, all good prospects and younger than Bowker, plus, more importantly, better performance in the majors than he. And being younger, there is hope for improvement and projection. He's not breaking into that OF, he is at best a backup in case one is injured or really not performing well.

    Plus they have another hitter, much like Bowker, who they called up, Jeff Clement, and he has a much higher prospect pedigree than Bowker, and he's the same age and profile too, and he's playing 1B. Probably after they give him a chance in August, if he fails, maybe they give Bowker a chance in September.

    Though Steven Pearce is yet another prospect with a similar profile to Bowker, waiting for his chance too with the Pirates. And despite little usage, he's hitting very well, though not with the power expected. But production with no power is much better than no production with little HR power.

    At least with the Giants, Bowker could have a spot on the bench, I don't even see that for him with the Pirates.

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  8. Thinking more about the OF situation in SF, I can see things getting more crowded than I originally thought for 2011. We have Torres in CF and Huff in one of the corner OF spots. Rowand, DeRosa, and maybe Schierholtz will be rotating in and out of the lineup, I think, much like Rowand, Burrell, and Schierholtz this season.

    Bowker, with no options left, probably would have been traded in spring anyway, I consider Schierholtz to be the better prospect, he's been good from the get go, plus been a better hitter than Bowker, until his big year. That's probably how the Giants viewed it, he'll be traded anyway at some point, the Pirates really wanted him, and we really needed a LOOGY, though Lopez is lobbying to pitch against RHH too.

    And Huff will probably still play some games at 1B, as well as Posey, with Ishikawa being the main starter, unless the Giants can sign someone to play 1B or even a corner OF, which could push Huff to 1B full-time.

    And I envision DeRosa just rotating through all the corner spots as well as 2B, giving everyone a regular rest and him regular play. Assuming, of course, that he's fully recovered. I don't think the Giants want to gamble a starting spot on him given his health problems.

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  9. Good to read thoughts about the future... I would have liked Bowker to have done better, but he just didn't. One thing about AAAA players that I agree/disagree with is the pitches they see - it's not that Bowker didn't have a hole in his swing in AAA, it's just that he could lay off certain pitches and locations. You can't get away with that at the major league level. Or, at least, you "hit around" so many pitchers that your production just isn't there. Seems to me one of the signs of a good player is being able to scratch out something, anything, against the best, even if that's just putting the ball in play and taking your chances. And, of course, what you flail at is what you're going to see a lot of.

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