Saturday, February 27, 2010

2010 Giants Prospects: The Experts View

OK, the various Giants top prospects lists have been trickling in and with BP's Future Shock coming in yesterday, I'm going to go over the lists.

Baseball Prospectus Top 11

Five-Star Prospects
1. Buster Posey, C
2. Madison Bumgarner, LHP

Four-Star Prospects
3. Zach Wheeler, RHP

Three-Star Prospects
4. Dan Runzler, LHP
5. Ehire Adrianza, SS
6. Rafael Rodriguez, RF
7. Thomas Neal, OF
8. Roger Kieschnick, OF
9. Tommy Joseph, C
10. Francisco Peguero, OF

Two-Star Prospects

11. Chris Dominguez, 3B

He also listed these other prospects:

12. Jason Stoffel, RHP: "stuff ... misses bats"; "could prove to be a steal"
13. Nick Noonan, 2B: "love the tools" but slow to develop
14. Darren Ford, OF: "too little, too late"?
15. Brandon Crawford, SS: "plus glove" "questions about the bat"

Giants Thoughts

Can't really argue with the first three. And I respect Kevin Goldstein's work, I have liked what I have seen before from him. But I'm not sure why Thomas Neal is down so low (unfortunately, I don't subscribe, so I don't know why he was placed down so low). He really had a breakout type of year. I suppose a large part of it is his strikeout rate not being as good as you want to see from a hitter. But it was not that bad either and he walks a lot to compensate for it, as well as hit for HR power.

Perhaps he didn't want to jump on the bandwagon after just one good year, particularly since his BABIP was so high (oops, didn't catch that before, my bad). However, as I noted, his strikeout rate was greatly affected by his home park, Municipal Stadium in San Jose. His strikeout rate was good on the road and he walked more times than he struck out too. So while the BABIP is high there as well, the fact is that he has had a high BABIP his whole minor league career (.353) and hitters tend to regress to his own level of BABIP, not to the overall .300 that pitchers regress to (which is the general talent level of hitters).

Still, the MLE for his road numbers are not the best either, so that is a sign that he still have some development to do still, and he benefited from hitting more homers at home than on the road, which is a bad sign regarding his power. Richmond will be a great test to see which Neal is the real Neal.

And maybe he thinks that Runzler is great closer material, that could justify putting him above Neal. And if Adrianza can hit as well as his plate discipline while facing much older competition suggests while paired with his great defense, he would be a very valuable SS. And Rafael Rodriguez is another prospect I'll write about soon, so perhaps it is just a sign that the Giants farm system is a bit loaded now.

However, none of this is accurate because Goldstein rates all of them as only a Three-Star prospect. He's the expert, so what do I know, but it seems to me that they are at least Four-Star prospects. Runzler with the way he pitched could be a great closer, that is certainly Four-Star potential. Adrianza, I can understand, he dropped in performance in 2009 but still I thought he did well enough to not negate what was thought before. RafRod, too, I thought did well enough to suggest more of a potential, but I can see being on the fence with him since he is still young (but he wasn't so hesistant with Villalona). And Neal, I went over.

And the one prospect they do provide free, Buster Posey, he feeds into the hysteria that broke out when the Giants talked about playing Posey some at 1B. Still, he did note that Posey is staying at catcher, but the Giants were only talking about playing him at 1B when he is being rested from playing catcher, as a long-term plan to keep him in the lineup most of the season.

That would suggest that he could basically platoon with a left-handed 1B, like Travis Ishikawa or John Bowker, gettting rests at C when a LHP is the starter, allowing the Giants to benefit from a platoon style hitter (which Ishikawa is more like, Bowker not as much but still not that great either).

I think Nick Noonan is going to surprise people this season. He'll be one year more experienced and he was showing good/great plate discipline in his last two months of the 2009 season. He should also benefit from hitting in a neutral park like Richmond's vs. San Jose's poor park for hitters, which also hurt him. He also showed more power on the road, so he should be in double digits in 2010. He should be ready to take over when Sanchez's contract is over.

I would end with some comments he made in BP's Top 100 prospect list:
  • #9 - Posey: "natural ability to hit .300 with 15-20 home runs a year."
  • #20 - Bumgarner: "His ability to succeed with average velocity is a tribute to everything else he brings to the table. If the velocity comes back, and it should, he'll make this ranking look conservative" (FYI, probably the lowest I have seen anywhere).
  • #88 - Wheeler: "He's a 6-foot-4 pure athlete who already touches 95 mph with command and tons of movement, so it will be the development of his secondary pitches that dictates his future."

Baseball America

They covered the Giants prospect a while ago and maybe I wrote on it back then, but here it is:

1. Buster Posey, c
2. Madison Bumgarner, lhp
3. Zack Wheeler, rhp
4. Thomas Neal, of
5. Dan Runzler, lhp
6. Tommy Joseph, c
7. Roger Kieschnick, of
8. Ehire Adrianza, ss
9. Brandon Crawford, ss
10. Francisco Peguero, of

Giants Thoughts

I'm OK with the ranking overall, which our local scribe, Andy Baggarly put together. I got their 2010 book (I highly recommend it for any Giants or baseball fan wanting to learn more about the minors) and I will add their next 5 as a bonus:

11. Nick Noonan, 2b
12. Rafael Rodriguez, of
13. Darren Ford, of
14. Waldis Joaquine, rhp
15. Jason Stoffel, rhp

And I would note that Angel Villalona was placed 30th with the comment that if he can resume his career - iffy at the moment given the murder trial and his visa being taken away by the U.S. - he would be one of the top five prospects in the system.

One comment that I found really interesting was this one about Conor Gillaspie: "Gillaspie's advanced knowledge of the strike zone actually might have worked against him. 'Unfortunately for him, it was a lot better than the umpires, ' San Jose manager Andy Skeels said. 'The bat was literally taken out of his hands. He easily cold've walked 30 more times.' " And he walked 58 times and struck out 68 times, both good. Still 100 ISO is nothing good, not enough for a 3B, but he could be OK at 2B, which I've seen some say he might end up at.

In BA's Top 100 Prospect list, these Giants were ranked:
  • #7 - Posey: Lots of great commentary, too much too put here, but here are some snippets to whet your appetite: "draws legitimate comparisons to Joe Mauer"; "tremendous baseball athleticism"; "mental acuity is off the charts and he's a leader on the field"; "should be a perennial all-star"
  • #14 - Bumgarner: "No. 1 starter potential, and his stuff would paly against big leaguers now."
  • #49 - Wheeler: "projects as a front-line starter in the big leagues"; "is more advanced than Madison Bumgarner was coming out of high school"
  • #96 - Neal: "became a more complete hitter in 2009"; "bat speed to turn on quality fastballs and shows extra-base power from pole to pole"
Minor League Baseball Analysts

1. Buster Posey
2. Madison Bumgarner
3. Zach Wheeler
4. Tommy Joseph
5. Henry Sosa
6. Conor Gillaspie
7. Thomas Neal
8. Rafael Rodriguez
9. Angel Villalona
10. Nick Noonan
11. Brandon Crawford
12. Roger Kieschnick
13. Francisco Peguero
14. Ehire Adrianza
15. Wendell Fairley

Giants Thoughts

Deric MacKamey joined the Cardinals, so two Baseball HQ writers took over for him. I still recommend getting this book, cheap on Amazon, and if you buy it from them, they give you some extra goodies, excel datasets.

I'm surprised by how high Henry Sosa and Conor Gillaspie is, but I suppose if that comment about his zone awareness is 100% correct, then Gillaspie should get better as he rises and the umpires are better, and the pitchers would be forced to give him better pitches to hit as he will have more hitters counts with more balls being called. Plus, he also did a lot better on the road in terms of striking out and walking relative to that, almost 1:1. Given how hard it is to not strikeout in San Jose, that is usually where the hitter does worse, but he actually hit better on the road in 2009, because his BABIP was so high at home. Given his poor speed, his road BABIP is probably closer to his true talent level. Plus, according to them, he has been moved to the OF, due to his poor defense. He could be another EME redux.

For Sosa, they still believe in his plus fastball. Otherwise, I'm OK with their Top 15, though I would note that Wendell Fairley did not even make BA's Top 30, let alone Top 15. They love his speed, which is one of the best around (5 pluses in their rating system), though he did not make their Top Speed list of prospects. They think his good bat speed and average power will make him a good CF.

I really like Rafael Rodriguez and so do they. They rate him as a future starting CF! And with plus plus power, plus speed and plus defense, with "true 5-tool potential". His power should develop as he develops (he's only 17 now)

With two authors, they have two Top 100 Prospect lists:

Rob Gordon:
  • #4 - Posey
  • #13 - Bumgarner
  • #80 - Wheeler
Jeremy Deloney:
  • #4 - Bumgarner: one of the few to rate him over Posey
  • #10 - Posey
  • #70 - Wheeler
Some key comments:
  • Posey: "better than advertised"; "Pure hitter"; "good pop and bat speed"; "at times tries to pull everything"
  • Bumgarner: "#1 starter"; "good movement and easy velocity"
  • Wheeler: "#1 starter"; "plus fastball and slider"; "Good mechanics and generates easy heat"; "tremendous long-term upside".

Friday, February 26, 2010

UNBELIEVABLE: Sandoval Can Do Better with Better Eyesight

I was listening to KNBR this morning, to the early parts of the Pablo Sandoval interview with Brian Murphy when the big news bomb came out: Pablo Sandoval was diagnosed to need glasses and he will be wearing them all the time this coming season. Murph asked him what the difference is with the glasses, and Kung Fu Panda (I love baseball nicknames!) said that he can now see the pitches better!

Giants Thoughts

Obvioulsy, if he can see the pitches better, he should be able to hit better. That also might help explain why he was swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, he just couldn't see them well enough. But he hit .330/.387/.556/.943 with poor eyesight, can you imagine what he could do now that he can see the pitches more clearly?!?

This should also help him with his fielding as well. Now that he can see the ball better coming off the hitter's bat, he should be better able to react sooner to the batted ball, and get to them better. This would allow him to get to more balls and be a better fielder overall. Plus, he should see 1B better too and maybe his throws will be that much better (though this is probably only marginal improvement compared to being able to see the batted balls better).

Overall, we could see a new and improved Pablo in 2010, as scary as that may be for the opposing team. He can now see the pitched ball better, helping him see rotation and all that better as the pitch is coming in. He has also worked this off-season on laying off the pitches that are harder to handle, while waiting for the pitches that he can do something with and maybe hit a homer. He can now see batted balls better, which should improve his fielding at the hot corner, which is called that for a good reason, and why improved eyesight should help his fielding. He could have a monster season and that improvement would come from not just because he is young, as I'm sure a lot of non-Giants analysts would call it after the 2010 season, pontificating about how youth improves (hasn't worked for Francoeur or Loney or Russell Martin) with age, but more likely from his improved eyesight.

More importantly, why is it so hard for a team's training staff to figure out when hitters cannot see well? When it is one of the most important things that affect their overall performance, as it affects how they see the pitched ball as well as the batted ball (can you imagine if an outfielder had this vision problem?)

This is not the first Homer "Doh!" moment with the Giants regarding a medical issue. There were other players who needed glasses (though their names escape me now) and I recall Scott Eyre needing help with his ADD, which helped with his concentration and he was a much better pitcher after that. Maybe this is not unusual for baseball teams or even pro sports teams, but I don't really follow any team like I do the Giants, so I don't know.

And I understand that the player is culpable in this case as well. He should have mentioned his problem with his sight (or back or shoulder or elbow) beforehand. But the procedures should be put in place to check for conditions that could hinder a ballplayer, a checklist to go through, so that you don't just rely on the ballplayer, who ultimately just wants to play, damn the consequences sometimes (like with Jesse Foppert, sniff...).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

2010 Giants Prospect of Note: Thomas Neal

I normally do a Big 6 listing around the start of the season of our top prospects, but there is one guy who I think Giants fans need to hear more about, so I'm covering him now: Thomas Neal. The top prospects most Giants fans know, and probably some of the more in-tune fans are aware of Neal, so I'm doing this for the more casual Giants fans who rely on bloggers to bring guys like these to your attention.

As regular readers from past seasons know, I love the book Minor League Baseball Analyst and get it every year. They rate Neal the Giants 7th best prospect and see him becoming a starting LF if he can continue to develop, which is not a great ranking, showing a lot of doubt about either his potential or likelihood of amounting to anything in the majors. His main skill is his plus power, though he is OK with the average and with defense. They note that he possesses excellent bat speed and power, showing improved power and plate discipline, walking a lot while keeping his strikeouts OK.

Now, fans will look at his 22 HR and 90 RBI and think that is something good, but there are many players who do that in Advanced A and never do anything in the majors. Those are not the key stats to be aware of. Data that you should be are that he walks over 50% of the time he strikes outs, which is good, though he still needs to cut out some strikeouts.

But one thing I like to account for is age and relative accomplishments because that sets a standard that anyone can understand. If other ballplayers his age in that league can perform that well, that gives a standard of how good his skills are for the league he is in and you can see how others like him eventually did in advancing up the minors and maybe making the majors.

Neal in the California League

He was in the California League with San Jose in 2009. The average age for hitters was 22.8 YO and for pitchers was 23.0 YO. Thomas Neal was officially 21 years old for his league in 2009, so the pitchers have 2 more years of experience on him plus he missed the 2007 season with injuries, so that is more like 3 years, which makes his accomplishments that much more significant.

In 2009, the average batting line was .270/.341/.417/.758. Neal hit .337/.431/.579/1.010, 4th best in the league, which is already good in an overall context, but out of hitters younger than the average age, he was second in the league to Koby Clemens, who was 22, who hit .345/.419/.636/1.055. Of note, he hit better than Buster Posey in the league, and he hit the best of hitters 21 and younger, though just beating out Alex Liddi, who was 20. The next one that old is Tyson Gillies, 20, 19th best OPS with .916 OPS.

OK, "so what" about all that? Well, if we look at similar leaders in seasons past, we can see the players who have made it up to the majors with that type of accomplishment from the California League.
  • In 2008, the leader of hitters 21 and younger was Pablo Sandoval, 21, who hit .359/.412/.597/1.009 with 12 HR, and BOS Josh Reddick, 21, was close. Others include the A's Sean Doolittle and Chris Carter, then Lars Anderson, all hitters considered much better prospects than Neal in previous seasons, but he hit better than they did.
  • In 2007, the leader was SD's Kyle Blanks, 20, followed closely by Texas's Chris Davis. Blanks "only" hit .301/.380/.540/.920 with 24 HR.
  • In 2006, the leader was TB's Reid Brignac who hit .326/.382/.557/.939 with 21 HR, LAA's Sean Rodriguez was 2nd and COL (ARI back then) Carlos Gonzalez hit .300/.356/.563/.919. And, for context, the league average was not all that different: .275/.350/.414/.763.
  • In 2005, the leader was LAA's Howie Kendrick, 21, who hit .384/.421/.638/1.059 with 12 HR. There were a lot of good hitters that year, KC's Billy Butler, 19, was a close second, tied with LAA's Brandon Wood, and just ahead of ARI's Miguel Montero
Showing how a high OPS in the low minors don't always mean much, in 2005, our prospect, Eddy Martinez-Esteve, 21, considered one of the better pure hitters in the minors back then, hit .313/.427/.524/.951 with 17 HR. That was only good for 13th overall in the league and 5th among those 21 and younger. It don't have to go down far for the numbers to still look good but not necessary mean anything about them making the majors. 13th in 2006 was Luke Appert; 5th was Casey Craig. 13th in 2007 was Kyle Blanks; 5th was Travis Denker, but that was a very poor year for 21 and younger to hit well in the league, Denker only had a .300/.378/.455/.833 batting line. 13th in 2008 was Yamaico Navarro; 5th was Lars Anderson, who was just ahead of Navarro, lots of young guys among the leaders that year.

As now you hopefully see, though Neal was not a highly considered prospect going into the 2009 season, his accomplishment at his age for that league is similar to or better than those for prospects whose prospect star were very high, like Kendrick, Brignac, Rodriguez, Gonzalez, Blanks, Davis, Doolittle, Carter, Anderson, and similar to someone near and dear to our hearts, Pablo Sandoval. Of course, not all of them have panned out yet, Brignac is still finding his way, Davis got to the majors then lost his way, but Gonzalez and Blanks are battling for starting positions and Kendrick is still projected to be a league batting champion some day.

A key difference, however, about Neal is that while he walks a fair bit, he also strikes out too much, something that Pablo never did in the minors, he was good at avoiding the strikeouts, which is a sign of a good hitter. But Neal is not all that bad overall, about 80% contact rate (or 20% strikeout rate) and thus we should keep a close eye on him as he progresses up the farm system.

One good sign, though, is that his road strikeout rate in 2009 was in the good area, roughly the 85% contact rate or 15% strikeout rate that we want to see out of hitters (he was at 84%). And just as importantly, he walked more times than he struck out.

Why that is important to note is because San Jose's home park, Municipal Stadium, was shown by MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo to be a pitcher's park with environs that causes batters to strike out a lot more. Hitters are handicapped there, and in an interview for that article, John Bowker noted that the background there is horrible for hitters. Also, if you check out Baseball Prospectus's park factors table, San Jose is one of the most extreme pitchers parks around, so even though the California League is considered a hitter's league, San Jose hitters are severely handicapped by playing half their games there, and thus anytime younger players are able to hit well enough there to rank among the Top 3 in the league is a significant accomplishment.

Still, I don't know how much to factor that into the equation, so I only note this as a positive sign going forward that Neal will continue on his upward track in 2010 when he goes to the Richmond Flying Squirrels and their historically neutral ballpark. I am hoping that the Giants can work out a long-term affiliation with Richmond because their park is so neutral, but their new owners who moved the team out of Norwich, Connecticut, is seriously rumored to be wanting to be a Washington Nationals affiliate, and would be willing to go down a level or two, to A-ball, in order to secure that. I have not heard any hard news either way on how that is going other than the usual "we're happy to be working them" corp-speak that both sides have been spouting.

Neal is a Prospect of Note

Overall, Neal had a really nice year, but in the context of how other's with his age and relative experience did, it was clearly a great season for any ballplayer who hit that well in that league and a good sign of his talent level. He is another bat to look forward to coming up the farm system, and with some excitement as he is clearly a power bat and looking ready to contribute in 1-2 seasons.

Baseball America is similarly impressed, including him on their Top 100 list, just released, though just barely, he was 96th (Wheeler was 49th, Bumgarner 14th, and Posey 7th; wow, if he were 98th, all the prospects would have been multiples of 7 :^). They actually rated his hitting as his best tool, rated a 60 (out of 80), not power. Still, in his profile from last year's book, they note that his power grades out better in the Giants system than anyone except Villalona, who was projected to be a 30-40 HR hitter. (though with Tommy Joseph drafted after the book's publication, he could now be third in the system, behind Villalona and Joseph).

They also noted that his power was to the opposite field or CF prior to 2009, and that once he learns to pull the ball consistently, his HR numbers could explode. According to his spray chart on minor league splits (unfortunately, you have to enter his name and click on the spray chart), almost all of his homers were to left or center, so it appears that he learned that technique in 2009. In fact, most of his outs were when he hit them to the opposite field. When he can loft the ball and pull it, he had hits more often than not, it was when he was late on balls that he hit catchable flies to CF and RF.

He played mainly LF in 2009 but has played 1B and RF in previous years. He has been OK overall, but pretty good last season, though that was a home anomaly, his play in the OF in 2010 will give more info on how good he really is. Given that Villalona, should he even be able to return, would probably return to San Jose for more seasoning anyway due to both his injury and his murder trial screwing up his off-season conditioning, Neal could find himself playing 1B a lot for Richmond (Villalona not getting the promotion and Brett Pill probably moving to Fresno for 2010), so that he would be prepared to play either LF or 1B if he makes it up to the majors.

If he has another great season in AA, the Giants could move him up to the majors if anyone is struggling to be productive (like they did with Sandoval), almost anywhere on the field, as he could play LF while DeRosa could play a lot of different positions and take over for someone struggling there, including possibly SS, as he came up as a SS and says he can still be OK there (I would have to see it to believe it, but that is what he said). As a right-handed batter, his power would not be affected as much by AT&T, but there will be some effect. Still, good balance to all the lefty power hitters we have in Ishikawa, Schierholtz, and Bowker, plus Lewis if he ever learns to hit for the power he says he has.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2010 Spring Training: Brings Fresh News

Here are some good articles by Baggarly, Schulman, Ostler, and Haft. And Baggarly again. Here are the news and thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Wellemeyer, as I and others suspected, will be battling Bumgarner for the #5 starting spot, as well as Pucetas and Martinez. I don't know how fair that will be, as Bumgarner should be able to pitch circles around them, but hopefully the Giants will not be judging by who is better, but whether Bumgarner is ready or not for the starting rotation. No use bringing him up until he's ready. I'm hoping that Bumgarner gets to pitch in AAA most of the 2010 season, only coming up in August or September to give the rotation a boost.
  • Posey is only getting reps at 1B, and only to get starts when he is not catching. And that is long-term, not just for 2010. He is the future starting catcher, make no mistake about that, they are not trying to convert him to another position. They just want the option of starting him at 1B and keeping his bat in the lineup when he gets a rest from catching. That would make a good platoon situation with Ishikawa at 1B.
  • Travis Ishikawa fell down some stairs and gave himself an extreme turf toe, damaging ligaments. He should be well soon, but if no healing since, he'll need surgery and be out 3 months. Too bad, he really needs the time in the majors and that would cost him big time. That could be as costly as Clint Barmes infamous fall down the stairs carrying up the deer meat that Todd Helton shot.
  • Rowand worked out this off-season to get himself in better shape for 2010. Now why couldn't he have done that when we signed him to a $60M contract, I don't know. What a gamer... NOT! Damn straight he should be doing cardio. Hopefully, though, this is the key to him hitting well all season and not petering out, maybe he'll finally be worth the money paid him.
  • DeRosa is the new hot-head, replacing Carney Lansford. He's going into players' faces if they don't do well executing as a hitter, which will have more impact than a coach like Carney doing it. Unfortunately, none of our other vets were that type last season.
  • Freddy Sanchez is a week ahead of his rehab schedule but hesistant to say that he will be ready to start the season. He is probably being cautious because he thought he was ready in December but his first swing told him he still had more problems.
  • Frandsen is getting a new uniform number in hopes of getting a fresh start as he battles for a utility position. I am rooting for him and still believe in his bat, but with Noonan, Burriss, and Crawford coming up relatively soon, I see very little chance of him winning a starting spot ever with us.
  • I've been encouraged by all the news about Bam Bam Meulens work with our players, and the news regarding Pablo Sandoval and Nate Schierholtz. They are two key hitters for our long-term prospects, and if both can deliver (or continue to deliver in Panda's case), then our future is looking good.
Jonathan Sanchez Breakout

Also, here is something I wrote regarding Sanchez breaking out as a comment elsewhere:

Here is why I think Sanchez is due for a breakout in 2010: he was due for it in 2009 but then the WBC happened, then the no-hitter happened.

He had a great first half of 2008 (ERA below 4) but then tired in the second half. He prepared over the winter and was ready (as shown by his great second half). However, in the WBC, he decided to copy Johan Santana's mechanics, because he admires Johan.

However, Johan is not as tall as Sanchez and thus while the mechanics work for a shorter man, it did not work for Sanchez. And it screwed him up during the season until he finally gave up on it and throw the way he did before, at which point he threw the no-hitter, which I think is the other reason why he will break out in 2010.

His problem has never been with the physical, he has been a bit of a headcase for his career, exemplified by his Johan-move last season. But I think the no-hitter for him is equivalent to the Wizard giving the diploma to Scarecrow, he always had it in him, but he just needed something to convince his head that he's really that good.

And any pitcher who can strike out over a batter an inning in the majors is that good, hence why Sabean kept him while many fans were clamoring for him to trade Sanchez for offense. I think he made the right move, which I doubt any of the people who called to trade Sanchez would ever admit that they got wrong.

That he worked again this off-season shows his maturity as well as his realization that he still tired out in September (his ERA rose a lot that month), and so he worked again at becoming stronger and more capable of going strong deeper into the season. I would say that this would pay off not only in September but also October, should the Giants make it to the playoffs (I think they have put themselves in good position for that).

I also think that being the 4th starter will help him win more too. With a sub-4 ERA, as he appears ready to do, he should mop up in the 4th spot, much like Zito did last season, and get a lot of wins. Despite having a poor September, Zito got a bunch of wins, while Lincecum and Cain, while pitching well, did not pick up as many wins. I think Sanchez can greatly prop up the back end of the rotation and pick up a lot of wins, I would not be surprised to see him get 15 or more wins.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lincecum Signs: Two Years, $23M

I discussed much of this at my other blog post regarding his arbitration hearing. He signs for two years, $23M. $8M in 2010, $13M in 2011, $2M signing bonus, $1M per year, plus performance and award bonuses (just in case he wins another Cy Young). There is a good overview on the deal on San Jose Mercury and Andy Baggarly comes through again with great intell on his blog, including the figures on what he'll get for which awards he wins.

Great deal for both sides, lets each side breathe for the next two years without contract rancor, both sides wins a little, gives a little, and Lincecum is set for life. And there is nothing to prevent the Giants from working out another deal in the next two years to tie him up his last two arbitration years and into his free agency years. I think deals approximating King Feliz and Verlander's recent deal, but about $10-15M more, would be amenable to the Giants in the next two off-seasons.

This just goes to show how unreasonably worried fans were about the whole situation, and particularly all the bashing the Giants got (and I did some too) from many fans for "dissing" our star, do they know what they got? The Giants know what they got, but they also have a business to run and there were historical precedents that suggest that the Giants had a good chance of winning the arbitration hearing, which I pointed out in my other blog post and comments.

So instead of having one winner and one loser in the hearing, the two sides worked it out, with basically the Giants getting what they wanted - an $8M salary in 2010 - and Lincecum getting his $13M request in 2011. They both win.

Sabean Naysayers Exposing Their Bias

As I've been saying for a while now, fans show what their true feelings are when they react to any potential news for the Giants. Sabean-Naysayers will bash him to pieces for the alleged mis-action, and the Sabean-Supporters will praise him no matter what (though they are a much much rarer breed).

I would label myself in the middle. I not only bring my experience as a Giants fan since 1971, but my interests and experience in business, and my experience in math and statistics, which I applied daily as an analyst for the past 25 years. You cannot be blinded by your feelings one way or another, you have to look at the situation as clear-eyed as you can. And I have been like that as a fan since I first became one, telling my few fellow Giants supporters on the East Bay that there was no way the Giants were contending during those mediocre 70's while they were talking big about the season.

As I've been saying for a while now, Sabean is not the be-all and end-all, he has made many mistakes, the latest of which was the acquisition of Ryan Garko. But you have to view the big picture and not throw the baby out with the bath water. You have to see if you like the team as it is and where it is headed. That is why I supported giving him the prior two-year contract and again when he got his latest two year contract. He has done a good job overall.

The big picture is that the team is in great shape right now. Our pitching is among the best in the majors. It could be the best once Bumgarner joins the rotation. We have a strong bullpen anchored by Wilson and Affeldt (but he's going to want a lot to stay beyond 2010 now). Our offense, while not good by any means, it does not have to be good, it only has to be average in order for our team to win 90+ games and compete to get into the playoffs. And if we have another good year, free agents will suddenly find our ballpark to not be that bad for the money and be more willing to sign on in hopes of being that last cog to bring us a World Series championship.

In addition, our farm system is looking good. Posey, Bumgarner, Wheeler, Neal, Kieschnick, Noonan, Crawford, RRod, Adrianza, and Joseph, are all good prospects, and if Villalona ever gets over his legal problems, he would join the list too. I would also add Bowker, Schierholtz, Burriss, and Frandsen, as they are not prospects anymore, but could become contributors. All we need is one or two other position players to pay off, besides Posey, and we have a nice looking lineup within 1-2 years led by Sandoval and Posey plus those other pay offs. I would keep an eye on Neal and Noonan near-term, RRod and Adrianza long-term, among the prospects, and I really like Bowker's and Schierholtz's chances.

Change Does Not Equal Improvement

Plus, switching does not mean that things will improve. That is a fallacy that those who demand that Sabean be replaced are getting wrong. Neukom could decide to bring in a retread loser, like that guy who ruined the Mets, don't remember his name, among others. And even if they hire a young stud, just because the guy is young does not mean that he knows how to do the job, as he is most probably inexperienced and could just flub the job.

What people forget is that not only was selecting the players a decision he made, keeping them is also another decision. And in terms of prospects, he has not been wrong in giving up on them many times. And he has kept the prospects that has mattered thus far: Cain, Lincecum, Wilson, Sanchez, Sandoval. I think other prospects will be added to this list in a year or two.

Sabean has not done a perfect job, but he has done a good job overall. Yes, if free agent signings had been done better, we would have more money, but as we saw this off-season, just because you have money does not mean that good players will come here. And I shudder to think what if we had not signed most of the players we did, we would have Lewis in CF (where his defense would be exposed), Burriss at 2B or SS, and who know who we would have at C, Edgardo Alfonzo? When a team has holes and needs to get someone off the free agency to fill a position, you sometimes just have to hold your nose and sign the best you can for what was available. With his trades (and decisions to not trade good prospects), he has shown that he knows talent when he sees it, most of the time.

The more important thing is that the team is looking good now, in the near future, and longer-term. The team has one of the best defenses, lead by their pitching rotation. It looks to get better shortly once Bumgarner gets put in the rotation, and longer term when Wheeler makes it up here. The offense is led by Sandoval and he'll be supported by Posey in 2011 and beyond, and I think at least two among Bowker, Schierholtz, Neal, Kieschnick, and Noonan will rise soon and be significant cogs as well. We also have RRod, Adrianza, maybe Villalona, and perhaps others longer-term.

And with their renewed emphasis on getting good Latin talent signed, they could have more in the pipeline. Plus, once they start winning regularly again, with their poor back of the first round draft pick, hopefully they can start devoting money towards those who fall because of signability concerns, like how the Yankees, Red Sox, and Tigers, among others, have been doing in the back of the first round. Both would help our farm system going forward, in addition to starting to be more active in the Asian prospecting arena, which they said they were going to do, but of which there is no evidence yet, unlike their signings on the Latin side with Villalona, RRod, and other big money signings.

Go Giants!

Timmy in ArbitrationLand: Long-Term Contract Soon?

Great news yesterday from the Chronicle's John Shea: the Giants and Lincecum are negotiating towards a long-term contract that gives him big money and the Giants cost certainty. Reportedly, the Giants have offered a three-year, $37M contract that would pay Lincecum $9.5M in 2010, $12.5M in 2011, and $15M in 2012, which Lincecum's agents countered with one north of $40M.

Giants Thoughts

Typical, just like for the draft bonuses, it often takes the pressure of the deadline - in this case, the hearing - to get both sides moving.

That is not a huge difference between them. The article said that it is believed that the agent asked for a first year salary of $13M, but if that is true, then the counter-offer from the agent could only be a almost flat salary structure, say, $13M, $14M, $15.5M for $42.5M total.

I chose that figure because when they say "north of $40M", that to me implies that it is in the low $40M, roughly $40-45M but more than less. Else they could have chosen "close to $50M" instead if it was over $45M. Thus, the difference to me is between $3M and $7M.

That is roughly only $1-2M difference on a annual basis because it is a three year contract. A difference like that can be negotiated relatively quickly I believe, and thus I think that the arbitration hearing will not be held and instead there will be an announcement of a long-term deal signed.

Looking at the amounts the Giants offered, given the 40%/60%/80% rule that sabers use to approximate what a player might get in their three years of arbitration, and assuming a Super-2 is around 30%, their offer roughly values Lincecum around $25-30M per season, which seems around right. Tack on a few more millions, and that would put Lincecum right around $30M, which seems fair to me.

That makes a lot of sense. Neither side wants to do the arbitration hearing and Lincecum appears to love being a Giant. And putting the team under the arbitration thumb would make planning hard, which means the Giants would have to hold back each year on acquiring players for fear that Lincecum might break the bank. That would make it harder for Lincecum to get wins, and for the Giants to get wins, which neither side wants.

Lastly, I wonder if there is a vesting option for his final arbitration year, much like how Lowry and Cain had those on their contracts, and for what amount. If the valuation is around $30M, that option would have to be around $24M then (at 80%).

A shorter deal like this makes more sense for both sides. The Giants do not want to be saddled with a contract that could cripple the team if Lincecum goes down for whatever reason. Lincecum's agent is salivating for Tim's free agent years. And presumably, the Giants would be open to signing Tim to an extension deal in a couple of years to try to keep him into his free agent years, and that works for both sides too, as Tim is so young that even with another extension, he would still be around 30 when he free agents after that. And remember, Zito's contract ends when Lincecum becomes a free agent, so a lot of money would be freed up at that time and the Giants could even go even longer than a year or two in that extension, depending on how much Tim loves being a Giant.

Other News

Also noted was that Todd Wellemeyer received a minor league contract and an invitation to spring training, with the view that he would be competing for the long relief role. But he had last been a starter, so he would probably be providing depth to the starting rotation in case anybody needs to be replaced. It is one of those split deals where if he makes the majors, he would get $1M with performance bonuses that could add another $500K.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Schierholtz Almost Lock for RF

As reported first on sfigants.com, then Chronicle, Brian Sabean at the weekend's FanFest, while acknowledging that Bochy is the skipper, noted that Bowker is not in competition for RF (he is viewed strictly as a LF), that he believes that we need the best defense there and therefore Nate Schierholtz is the odds on favorite for the starting position to take the place (but not fully replace) Randy Winn's awesome defensive goodness there in previous seasons.

The master plan, as I've been saying for a while, is as Sabean commented:
"Realistically, you're going to have to do some things with this ballclub," Sabean said. "... But in a lot of ways, that gets everybody more involved from day one. You get everybody into the action and they're staying ready, and if somebody falters or gets injured, they're more likely to step up."

Flexibility to play multiple positions, so that players can be more easily replaced late in the game, helps to keep players on the bench ready to perform should the need to replace the starter, for whatever reason, is necessary.

Other FanFest Newsbits, rumored and otherwise:
  • The Giants are pursuing two free agents, and two names that have been popping up are Todd Wellemeyer and Hisanori Takahashi. Wellemeyer, just two years ago was 13-9 with a 3.71 ERA for the Cards, but slumped to a 7-10, 5.89 ERA last year. And while his FIP was better than his ERA, it was about what he has produced lately in the majors: 5.20, 4.91, 4.37, 5.15 for the past four seasons. Which season is not like the others? But he would be an acceptable 5th starter while Bumgarner gets more AAA seasoning to make sure he's OK physically (i.e. his velocity is back up) and to give him less pressure to start the season. He can then come in mid-season and replace Wellemeyer (or whoever). Plus, this would give us another season of control over him.
  • Giants are worried about Romo's long-term health and thus are concerned about over working him. Sergio noted that last season he was overused in the off-season by his Mexican team, leading to his health issues in 2009, and thus why he didn't participate this offseason and rested his arm.
  • Sabean expressed excitement over two prospects that Giants fans probably are not aware of (both of whom I've written a little about in the past) Thomas Neal and Ehire Adrianza. The Giants likes Neal's athleticism and power potential. His star was stalled by an injury but he had a great season in Advanced A San Jose last year. They like Adrianza's defense, rated highly by some, but he's like a stick (6' 1", 155 lbs) and thus projects not to hit for much power, making his offense not that good, though he appears to understand the strikezone a little so he could become a good hitter, particularly if he can leverage his speed into more hits and stolen bases.
  • The speculation, recently highlighted by Ray Ratto of the Chronicle, that the Giants should be over $100M in payroll was pooh-poohed by Bill Neukom himself this weekend, noting that he is not sure that the payroll would reach that high, "Payroll has crept up a bit, but I think it's manageable for us," Neukom said. Last year was around low to mid-80's according to the Chronicle. I would think that revenues were not as bad as feared when the season started, and thus the Giants probably made more money than they had planned for (or perhaps lost less than expected) and thus that extra margin could be used in 2010 for any overspends.
More About Neal

Thought I would talk a bit more about Neal and how his performance in 2009 shined brightly for him. Significantly, in a league of 22-24 YO, he was able to post the fourth best OPS among all hitters, and had the second best OPS for hitters under the average age of the league for pitchers (23.0 YO; 22 YO Kolby Clemons led) and the best OPS for hitters 21 YO and younger (though 20 YO Alex Liddi was right behind him).

Past young leaders include Pablo Sandoval and Josh Reddick in 2008, Kyle Blanks and Chris Davis in 2007, Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez, and Carlos Gonzalez in 2006, and lastly, Howie Kendrick, Brandon Wood, and Miguel Montrero in 2005. Good set of players who has had some (or a lot of success) in the majors, sprinkled with those still trying to figure things out, but highly considered still. And as a caution of much to be learned, Neal's MLE works out to only .240/.300/.384/.684.

Still, he did excellently in Advanced A, up there with past players who have rose to the majors and made a good impression. He's like typical sluggers in that his strikeout rate is high (or viewed from the other way around, contact rate is low) but I would note that both Augusta and San Jose are both in pitchers parks, San Jose particularly so for their bad hitting background, which led to San Jose having the highest strikeout rate of any park in the minors a few years ago (when Bowker was there).

The good news (great news really) is that Neal's contact rate on the road while playing for San Jose was a nearly good 84% (ideally you want hitters with a contact rate of 85% or higher, where average is around 80%) and his BB/K ratio was even better with 45 walks vs. only 43 strikeouts. Both very good signs for a hitter, and if he can continue hitting like that in AA for the newly renamed Richmond Flying Squirrels in their neutral park (unlike Dodd Stadium, where power goes to die), he could find himself a mid-August call-up like Sandoval a couple of years ago, if a spot can open up in LF, which is the position he most played last season (and very well defensively).

As a RHH, he would balance off Nate Schierholtz in RF, who is a LHH. And both could hit for average as well as power. And both appear to be good defensively as well.

Put in Rafael Rodriguez, our Latin bonus baby who is a 5 Tool god apparently who can play CF (he hasn't done it as a pro, but the Minor League Baseball Analyst book projects him as a future CF), and we could have an outfield that can hit for average, hit for power, not strikeout that much, plus play good defense. Of course, Rafael hasn't even played above rookie ball, so this is just wishful thinking right now, but he's another prospect to be excited about who could be joining the team in 3-4 seasons.

More About Adrianza

Ehire's only just turned 20 YO, so he has time to gain some more weight. This is where the Giants should work on providing fitness assistance in the minors to help Adrianza put on weight as well as work on his fitness so that he can become stronger and more power. Or maybe teach him some martial arts, there were guys in my high school who were skinny like that but could lift the soccer poles (made of metal) like they were balsa wood swords.

While he didn't do that well in his first year in full-season ball in Augusta, as noted, that park is a pitchers park, so that did depress his stats a bit. Unfortunately for him, if he did get a promotion to San Jose, that park is another tough park to hit in. It really is a shame that the park is such a dump that it affects our hitter's performance. They should really fix that background so that it is more fair to our hitters plus not pump up our pitchers' performances and make some think that they are better than they really are.

Also, he was 19 years old in a league of pitchers who averaged around 22 YO and most of whom were 21 and older, so one must remember that when looking at how poorly he did. They did not release the 2009 league results, but his BA would have ranked 100th in the league in 2008 and 85th in OBP. Not great by any means, but it wasn't like the pitchers overpowered him, his contact rate was 83%, not the 85% we are looking for, but when the pitching got 2-4 years of experience on you, that's not bad at all. And he walked 42 times vs. the 66 strikeouts, again, not great but plenty of hitters have made the majors with a ratio like that.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Baggarly FanFest Fountain of InFormation and Glossary

I'll start out with the glossary. People have asked for a glossary but I just haven't made time to put one together. However, lucky for me and you all, the group that created the terminology and methhodologies that I base a lot of my analysis on put out a page of definitions and stuff and the link is here. I'll put the link on the side until I can create a more comprehensive one for all the terms I use here.

Unfortunately, they didn't cover BABIP: Batting Average on Balls In Play is also called by Hit rate by some. This is the percent of balls hit into the field of play that fall for hits, which means that you subtract out all homeruns and strikeouts, as neither ends up as a ball hit into the field of play. Pitchers then to regress to the league average of roughly .300 while hitters tend to regress to their own historical three-year mean.

FanFest Fun Facts

Andy Baggarly hits a homerun again with his reporting, I love reading his blog.
  • Biggest news: Giants are not against Buster Posey starting the season in the majors. They are talking about giving Buster opportunities to play other infield positions, mostly first base, in order to give them more opportunity to start Posey when Molina is starting at catcher. But for those wanting to start Posey elsewhere, Bochy made it clear that the Giants sees Posey as a catcher long-term. As Baggarly notes, the odds still favor Posey in AAA to start, and I would agree, as that would give him more experience starting at catcher plus allow the team to gain another year of control. Assuming he kills AAA pitching, mid-year, maybe in July, they bring him up to be the backup, starting at catcher 1-2 games a week to give Molina a rest, then in other games, he could start at 1B or other positions to get more starts (and to get his bat into the lineup).
  • Also big news: the Giants are not in a position to have to cut any salary should Lincecum win the arbitration hearing, which would be $13M, $5M more than the $8M offered by the Giants.
  • Lincecum noted also that he would not have any hard feelings from the arbitration hearing, as he will be attended, which is not required of players. I doubt the Giants are going to try to bring up negatives, he won 2 Cy Youngs after all and is "The Franchise", so I would expect more that the hearing will be a dry dissertation on the history of salaries in the MLB in arbitration, covering pitchers vs. hitters and Ryan Howard's biggest award. If the Giants were to bring up any negatives, then I would think that they are being pretty stupid, but I don't expect them to, because, unless many others, I don't think Sabean is that stupid.
  • Unsurprisingly, Bochy noted that RF would be the biggest battle of the spring, which makes sense because it's the only position without a starter, and Bumgarner seems to remain on the fast track to the #5 starter spot. It is not clear if Bochy said this or if Baggarly is noting this, but Bowker, Schierholtz, and Velez were mentioned as the leading candidates.
  • Bochy also confirmed that he's leaning towards batting Rowand lead-off and making Bumgarner the 5th starter. I am OK with Rowand starting, but I hope the Giants would re-think Bumgarner being the 5th starter. We can get another year of control by letting him prove himself in AAA for a couple of months, then if the 5th starter isn't doing the job in June/July, then bring him up. But without even semi-OK starters in camp, it looks like Bumgarner got the job unless he stinks it up or if someone really shines. I'm also worried about his late season drop in velocity and would rather he start in AAA, where they can play around with his spot in the rotation if necessary.
  • Schierholtz reportedly made some adjustments while tearing up the Puerto Rican winter league. In particular, he reported that he has made strides with his pitch recognition skils, working on a lot of different approaches, and can't wait to go against big league pitching to see how much he improved. I am still rooting for Nate to win the job, he has done consistently well in the minors as he rose, and been patient in waiting for a shot at the RF starting job. Since Bowker still has another option, we can give Nate 2-3 months to show what he got, and if he doesn't perform, then we could bring up Bowker and give him 2-3 months in RF.
  • Also, Baggerly tweeted that Jesus Guzman cleared waivers and the Giants outrighted him to Fresno plus gave him an invite to the big league camp.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Hey Neukom! My Business Plan: Draft Philosophy and Strategy

This is the latest in the series that I've been publishing (but it's been a looong while since I added one), here is a link to the Table of Contents, which I just put together recently and will updated as necessary when I add to this series or update any of the chapters.

The MLB Amateur Draft Is Worse Than Most Think

As I have posted before, the draft is a crapshoot (I wrote this under a previous handle). When you are winning, you have lousy draft position, the most you can hope for is around a 10-15% chance with your first round pick in the last third of the round of locating and selecting a amateur who will have the necessities to become a good to great player. Even when you are losing hand over fist, the first pick overall is not even a coin flip on whether he would be a good player or not, though close. Thus, you need a strategy that maximizes your draft picks for finding players for your 25-man roster, no matter where you pick in the first round.

Draft Picks, Like Any Rare Resource, Must be Maximized

With a scarce and rare resource, like a draft pick, you need to maximize it by focusing them on something and you need a strategy that will do that. Focusing on pitching, like the Giants have since almost when Sabean took over (and basically after Dick Tidrow became his VP of Player Personnel) is probably the best way to do it. With the success rate falling exponentially, even when you select the 50 total overall picks most teams select, you are not going to find a good player after the first round very consistently at those odds. It is even worse than a crapshoot, it is finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Given such a poor success rate with the first round pick when you are winning, you can only hope to find one good player with your first round pick every decade that you are winning consecutively. That is not a very good replacement rate.

The fact is that the historical performance is even worse after the first round. Just making the majors is a pretty low success rate, somewhere in the 10-15% range. Even at a 1% success rate for finding a good player after the first round, at 50 picks per year, that is a good player every 2 years, only 5 in a decade. Plus the one a winning team would pick on average, that is 6 good players in a decade.

However, there are 13 starting positions on a team plus a closer, and not all good players last for a whole decade. With maybe 6 good players drafted in a decade, that means that less than half of a starting team can be replaced in a decade, assuming you started out with good players at each position. Thus, no team is going to fill in all their starting positions with good players via the draft alone when winning. There is not enough talent in the prospect pool each year to fill up all the spots with good players. Thus, each pick needs to be maximized.

In addition, a consequence of this dearth of talent is that any strategy for building a winning team has to assume that you will be using free agency to fill in the gaps in your roster. And as long as you sign good players to free agent contracts, the picks you give up is a small price to pay for a good player because the odds of getting a good player is much greater when you sign one than when you pick one, even a pick in the last half of the first round.

Pitching, Pitching, Pitching

As shown in the plan so far in the other chapters, pitching is key to building a more successful team in the playoffs. So it would make sense that one might then focus on pitching in the draft. This way, you control the supply of the critical skills necessary for building a team that maximizes their possibilities of success in the playoffs. However, there is another good reason: roster makeup and flexibility.

Pitching Provides More Options

Let's say you are drafting and have a choice between two guys you think will be equally great, but one is a 1B and one is a starting pitcher. However, what you see is not what you get: sometimes (actually, almost all the time) the prospect fails. Getting a starting pitcher gives you options.

Many a failed pitcher can go to the bullpen. Not only can he go to the bullpen, he can be your long man, middle-innings, set-up, or sometimes even closer. So even when a pitching prospect fails to become a starter, he could fill in up to four other spots on the MLB roster.

Now lets say that both were a success, you now have a great player. If you have the 1B, and another great player is playing 1B, you now have a dilemma (see Giants McCovey/Cepeda and Rangers Teixiera/Gonzalez/Hafner) that does not always resolve itself nicely. If you have a starting pitcher, however, depending on how good he is, he can fill one of up to five spots in the rotation.

A pitcher could fill one of up to 12 positions on the MLB roster, a position player can fill maybe 2 positions relatively evenly, and at best 3, maybe 4, and that usually means you take a hit on defense if he is playing out of position.

Thus, focusing the draft on starting pitching gives you much more flexibility in filling spots in your 25-man roster, helping you fill up more spots and in a faster timeframe. Any pitcher should theoretically fill at minimum the last two spots in the rotation (or more if better) and somewhere in the bullpen outside of the closer and two set-up men, another 4 spots (or more if better). The majority of position players can fill at best 3 spots in the field (the three OF spots or 2B/3B/SS) and most really only can play 2 spots generally at the most. That will help fill your MLB roster with home-grown prospects faster and to a great extent than if you focused on position players or evenly between the two.

Focus, Not Exclusively

Now this is very obvious, but I am not advocating that a team should draft only starting pitchers, that would be suicide. You should never draft based on filling a spot in your lineup, you must always respect the talent that is available to you with any draft pick. Thus, if there is a hitter available who is clearly the best player, then you should pick him, even if you are focusing on pitching.

However, there will be cases where the prospect is just one of many who appear to be equally talented, or closely so. And in those cases, you should go for the starting pitching. Given equally talented prospects, the flexibility in filling the pitching staff is an advantage that tips the scales towards selecting the pitcher.

And by the time you get to anywhere around the 3-5 round (I would guess-timate), when the odds of finding a good player falls to roughly 1% or less, the odds of finding a good player is so low that there should be some competitive advantage gained by a team that focuses on one particular skill particularly well, such as pitching.

Pitching Is the Key

Focusing on pitching works in so many ways. As Baseball Prospectus and The Hardball Times showed, success in the playoffs can be positively influenced by good pitching and fielding whereas offense plays no significant part. But pitching also works in building up a team in a faster and more efficient manner.

Another thing I would posit is that this strategy is even more effective for NL teams to follow. AL teams have a position that NL teams don't worry about: DH. A good hitter who cannot field any position acceptably is useless and thus of little value to an NL team, but he would have value, potentially good value, for an AL team. Thus, over time, AL teams will have a subtle preference for hitters who might not be good fielders, and when they are selecting this player, that will sometimes leave a more valuable pitcher (from the NL team viewpoint) still on the board for the NL team to select. That would give NL teams an overall talent boost in terms of available pitching talent when it is their turn to select and a AL team ahead of it selects a hitter that is of lesser value to the NL team over a pitcher that would have been otherwise selected and of greater value to the NL team.

Overall, finding good players is such a crapshoot that you cannot effectively plan for building a team. When you find one, you can only shout "Eureka!" If a team focuses on position players or split it evenly between position and pitching, there will be the times when you find out that you developed multiple players who can only play one or two positions. That forces you to play someone out of position, which weakens one of the key qualities of a successful team in the playoffs - fielding - or forces you to trade for what you need, and as the history of baseball shows, trading is not a science, a lot of mistakes are often made.

By focusing on pitching generally in your overall draft, you can mainly improve your team over time. No matter how good your future ace looks like (for example, Matt Cain), if you find another future ace (for example, Tim Lincecum), you can easily slot him into the rotation and move everyone else down. And if your awesome starter can't handle starting, then you throw him into the bullpen, where maybe he can be a closer (for example, Brian Wilson). And as you build the pitching staff over time (Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner), you could reach the point where you have so many good pitchers that you can start trading off starters to boost up your lineup and/or your farm system greatly without missing a beat in the pitching staff.

The Giants are reaching such a point in their rebuilding cycle, as Jonathan Sanchez is looking more and more like a potential ace in the making, and with another good season under his wing in 2010, and with Bumgarner basically ready to take Sanchez's place, he could be traded, like Dan Haren was, for a bushelful of good and nearly ready prospects who would restock our farm system for the next 3-4 years plus supply one or two prospects about ready to start in the majors. And with Wheeler hopefully coming down the pike in 2-4 years, that could open up another trade possibility within the rotation, and we have another delightful dilemma coming up in the future.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Giants Sign Moto, Invite to Spring Training

Baggarly reported that the "Giants signed RHP Guillermo Mota to a minor league deal and invited him to big league camp." He's 36 YO but had a great season last year for the D-gers, with a 3.44 ERA in 61 games, averaging more than one inning per outing, and even did well against LHH.

Unlike Kim or Ramirez, he's being invited to the big league camp, so he's a more significant addition than either of them, particularly since he was actually successfully performing last season. As Baggarly noted, if he can duplicate his performance, he would essentially replace Bob Howry, who signed with the D-backs (good luck in a hitter's park!).

Baseball Forecaster (just got it, hot off the presses!) is a bit down on him, though. They project a 4.03 ERA and 1.31 WHIP vs. his 3.45 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 2009. And that makes sense, his numbers the previous four seasons are not that good, making 2009 an anomaly, though perhaps he was learning and changing as he improved in 2008 and improved further in 2009, on an overall basis. In addition, as they note, his declining strikeout rate "is a bad sign for a pitcher who has always lived and died by the K." Downside: 5+ ERA, 1.50+ WHIP.

A drop in performance makes sense in general because LA has an extreme pitcher's park, so Mota moving anywhere else would be expected to not do as well as he did in LA. And that is shown by his splits: he had a 2.21 ERA at home, but 5.02 ERA on the road. And his strikeout rate was horrible on the road. Another bad note is that he has been horrible when pitching in AT&T. He has also been bad in AZ and SD as well, plus of course COL.

Giants Thoughts

I would not put a lot of hope into Mota being the final piece of the 2010 Giants' bullpen but it does not cost much to sign him and have him around in case he can deliver.

It would be nice if one of these minor league signings work out but the fact that they are signed to minor league contracts show how unlikely they are to produce, else they would have gotten a major league contract. Like throwing spaghetti to the wall and seeing what sticks. That is how we got Yabu a couple of years ago, Medders and Miller last year, Jeff Fassero and Tyler Walker previously.

We also have internal candidates battling for a bullpen spot: Alex Hinshaw, Waldis Joaquin, Geno Espinelli, and Steve Edlefson, and perhaps someone among Dan Otero, Joe Paterson, and Henry Sosa.

In addition, Henry Schulman reported that:
The Giants also signed several six-year free agents to minor-league contracts and invited them to camp, which is how they got the successful duo of Medders and Justin Miller last year. They include Denny Bautista, Santiago Casilla, Osiris Matos (who came up through the Giants' system), Tony Peña Jr. and Felix Romero
Them, plus Kim and Ramirez, makes for a pretty big group of players battling for a bullpen spot. I'm still hopeful about Matos - I'm still not sure why he was DFA'ed last season nor why no team took a flyer on him - but he has done very well in the minors and in AAA, and I'm glad he decided to come back to the Giants and give it another shot. One of my prospect books thought that he had the stuff to be a closer at some point, so maybe he can harness that in 2010 for us.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Giants Weekend News: Wilson Agrees; Kim Comeback

As could have been easily predicted, the Giants signed closer Brian Wilson to a contract for the mid-point between the Giants' $4.0M offer and Wilson's $4.875 request, or $4,437,500, as reported by a number of sources, including sfgiants.com. The difference was so little between the two that this compromise was the obvious thing to do.

That represents over a 9-fold increase in salary for Wilson, who earned $480,000 last season. As a super two (due to two long stretches in the majors in his first two seasons, then the last two full seasons), he reached arbitration sooner than he normally would have and gained about $4M in pay due to this designation. Wilson will now easily be able to afford the gourmet pre-cooked foods pre-prepared for him to eat that Zito had introduced him to when they trained together last off-season.

Giants Handling Arbitration Like Usual: Get'em Signed

The Giants have handled each of their arbitration cases from low to high. First Medders for $820K, almost doubling his $475K salary fro 2009. Then Jonathan Sanchez for $2.1M, nearly quintupling his $455K salary in 2009, plus performance bonuses. Now Wilson for $4.4375M, over 9 times his $480K salary in 2009.

It is now down to Lincecum, who should get at minimum the highest salary for a player in his experience status (super-two), either the $10.5M mid-point between the Giants $8M and Lincecum's requested $13M, up to their figure if they decide to go to arbitration and win the case. The Giants have rarely had to go to arbitration, prefering to settle with the player before the unpleasantries that attend these arbitration hearings.

One of the few they had to go to was with A.J. Pierzynski, where it was obvious that they were going to lose, they way under offered. As I and a number of people discussed and debated on a previous post, the general feeling is that the Giants underbid by at least $1-2M, and that if the case were to go to a hearing, Lincecum would win the case and get $13M. I would expect the Giants to try to negotiate something in the $11-12M range plus performance bonuses that could push Lincecum above the $13M as an incentive to get him to settle beforehand.

I think the Giants did about as well as they could have done with Lincecum. Too low a bid, and you risk losing the case easily to the player. Too high a bid, and you have to pay that much more in salary to the player, whether through settling or going to arbitration.

$8M is in the range where it had to be given that Ryan Howard got $10M, which is the current record salary, but as we opined, on the low end. Arguments could be made that traditionally pitchers are not valued as greatly as position players, plus there is the salary deflation that appears to be happening for players due to the bad recession of 2009, but to me the arbitrators have been biased towards the players in general, and thus, as much as it might hurt to raise their offer, I think you just have to err on the high side rather than the low side.

Kim Comeback

Former All-Star and D-back closer, Byung-Hyun Kim, signed a minor league contract with the Giants and will join them in spring training. He last pitched (poorly) in the majors in 2007, the last of 9 seasons spent in the majors. He took a breather for a couple of years in Korea and is now 31 years old, re-energized and refreshed.

He had a 3.53 career ERA as a reliever, so he would be quite an addition to the bullpen if he is anywhere near as good now. He wanted desperately to be a starter and that probably is what helped caused him to do so poorly in his later years as he desperately held on to trying to win a starting rotation spot instead of focusing on actually pitching well. And with his experience as a closer, if he is anywhere near as good as he was as a closer, he would be a great right-handed complement to Affeldt in the set-up role, with Romo and Runzler providing very good backup there should either have a bad outing.

And if he doesn't do well, it would not have costed the Giants much, probably just for room and board during spring training, I don't think any of the players are paid anything for attending spring training, just per diem and getting housing. It is the type of low risk and potentially high reward situations that the Giants should be seeking at this point.

In addition, Horacio Ramirez was signed to a minor league contract as well. He pitched well enough when he was with Atlanta, but was never one to strike out many batters and thus ended up walking way too many to be effective in the long run, thus far. Also he had an injury in 2004 that took away half his season, plus injuries in 2006 and 2007 that took significant chunks of the season away as well. His last effective partial season as a starter was in 2006, and he hasn't really been that good as a reliever in the three seasons since. He is, at best, going to be a backup starter/reliever in AAA who would only come up if our #5 starter is unable to perform well enough (whether injury or poorly performing) or if one of our relievers are injured or performing horribly and I would not bet on him reaching 40 wins in his career (he's at 39 right now).

Given that the Giants are looking for someone to fill a bullpen spot (plus you never know if Runzler might have a set-back, much like Wilson did previously, in spring training, and they would need to fill another spot in the bullpen), the Giants should be inviting at least another 2-3 of these types of signings. Santiago Casilla and Horacio Ramirez are two of the better known names, but they haven't had any success at the major league level for years now, so I just see them as filler unless they see something they can fix in their mechanics or repertoire that would boost their performance.

Kim at least was very successful at one point and thus could come back and do it again, given that he should have more experience now and is not distracted by his obsession with winning a starting position in the rotation (he is content to be competing for a bullpen spot apparently). He has also not pitched in any organized baseball league for two years now, so hopefully any of the injuries he has had in the past 5 years are fully healed.

The odds are long against him, but the Giants have pulled a rabbit out of the hat before with Yabu doing well for us, so it is not entirely improbable. And, again, it does not cost much to give him a shot and presumably our scouts have checked him out and OKed him.

Labels

1984 Draft (1) 2007 Draft (15) 2007 Giants (52) 2008 Draft (22) 2008 Giants (53) 2008 season (6) 2009 Draft (18) 2009 Giants (87) 2009 season (24) 2010 Decade (10) 2010 Draft (11) 2010 Giants (137) 2010 NL ROY award (1) 2010 season (19) 2010's (3) 2011 Draft (9) 2011 Giants (84) 2011 season (8) 2012 Draft (11) 2012 Giants (93) 2012 season (11) 2013 Draft (3) 2013 Giants (39) 2013 season (5) 2014 draft (5) 2014 Giants (43) 2014 season (12) 25 man roster (7) 3B (1) 40 Man Roster (4) 6-man rotation (1) 89 Quake (1) 89 World Series (1) A's (6) A-Ball (1) A-Gon (1) A-Rod (3) AA-Ball (1) Aaron Rowand (25) accomplishments (1) Adalberto Mejia (4) Adam Duvall (2) AFL (4) Alex Hinshaw (3) All-Star Game (1) almost perfect game (1) Amphetamine (2) analysis (5) Andre Torres (14) Andres Torres (2) Andrew Susac (4) Andy Baggerly (2) Andy Sisco (1) Angel Joseph (1) Angel Pagan (10) Angel Villalona (29) Anniversary (1) appendicitis (1) Aramis Garcia (1) Arbitration (12) Armando Benitez (5) Armando Gallaraga (1) art of failure (1) At the Rate They Are Going (1) ATT Park (1) Aubrey Huff (20) Award (4) BABIP (2) Barry Bonds (28) Barry Zito (77) Baseball America (2) Baseball Prospectus (2) Baseball Prospectus Bias Against Giants (3) baseball strategy (5) Baseball Study (13) baserunning (2) batting peripherals (1) batting stance analysis (1) batting title champion (1) Beat LA (6) bench players (1) Bengie Molina (14) Benjamin Snyder (1) Bert Blyleven (1) Beyond the Box Score (1) Bias Against Giants (1) Big 6 (7) Bill Hall (1) Bill James Handbook (2) Bill Neukom (21) Billy Beane (1) Blog Philosophy (2) Bob Howry (2) Bob Mariano (1) Bobby Evans (1) Brad Hennessey (5) Brad Penny (2) Brandon Bednar (1) Brandon Belt (38) Brandon Crawford (17) Brandon Hicks (1) Braves (5) breakout (1) Brett Bochy (2) Brett Pill (9) Brian Anderson (1) Brian Bocock (2) Brian Cooper (1) Brian Horwitz (3) Brian Ragira (2) Brian Sabean (40) Brian Wilson (14) Bridegrooms (2) Bruce Bochy (22) Bucky Showalter (1) bulllpen (1) Bullpen (20) Bumgarner (1) Business Plan (13) Buster Posey (91) Byung-Hyun Kim (1) Cained (4) call-ups (1) Cards (8) Career Prospects (3) Carl Hubbell (1) Carlos Beltran (4) Carlos Gomez (1) Carney Lansford (2) Carter Jurica (1) catcher injury (4) catching (1) CC Sabathia (1) censorship (2) CEO (2) Chad Gaudin (5) Charles Culberson (5) Charlie Culberson (3) Chase Johnson (2) Chillax (1) Chris Brown (1) Chris Gloor (1) Chris Heston (2) Chris Lincecum (1) Chris O'Leary (1) Chris Ray (4) Chris Stewart (4) Chris Stratton (8) Christian Arroyo (3) Christmas (1) Christopher Dominguez (3) Christy Mathewson (1) Chuckie Jones (2) Clay Hensley (3) Clayton Blackburn (5) Clayton Tanner (3) Closer (7) closer by committee (3) Coaches (3) Cody Hall (1) Cody Ross (8) Col (1) Comeback Award (1) Commissioner (1) competitiveness (1) Conor Gillaspie (22) contender (1) contract negotiations (1) contract signing (4) Cory Hart (1) Craig Whitaker (2) cuts (1) Cy Young Award (5) D-backs (14) D-gers (31) D-Rocks (3) D-Rox (16) Dallas McPherson (1) Dan Ortmeier (11) Dan Otero (2) Dan Runzler (6) Daniel Slania (2) Darren Ford (1) Dave Roberts (11) David Aardsma (1) David Huff (2) David Loewenstein (1) Decade of the Giants (10) decline (1) Defense (8) Deferred Money (1) deleted comment (1) Derek Law (4) Detroit Tigers (1) DFA (3) DH (2) Dick Tidrow (1) Dirty (1) DL (1) dodgers (5) Donald Snelten (1) Draft (3) Draft Analysis (8) Draft Bonus (7) draft list (1) draft signing (3) Draft Strategy (11) Draft Study (2) Draft Success (2) drafting (1) Dres (16) DRS (1) Edgar Renteria (13) Edwin Escobar (4) Ehire Adrianza (14) Eli Whiteside (4) Elimination game (1) EME (2) Emmanuel Burriss (18) epic season (6) Eric Byrnes (1) Eric Surkamp (6) Eugenio Velez (12) extension (6) fanfest (1) Fielding (4) Fielding Stats (4) finger injury (1) first post-season press conference (2) Francisco Peguero (4) Fred Lewis (3) Freddie Lewis (17) Freddie Sanchez (4) Freddy Sanchez (7) Free Agency (3) Free agent possibilities (17) Free agent signing (4) Free agent signings (21) gamer-tude (1) Gary Brown (22) Geno Espinelli (1) George Kontos (3) Ghosts of Giants Drafts (1) Giants blogs (2) Giants Chat (3) Giants Draft (7) Giants Drafts (2) Giants Farm System (29) Giants Franchise record (2) Giants Future (62) Giants GM (4) Giants Greats (2) Giants hitting manual (1) Giants No-Hitter (4) Giants Offense (21) Giants Offseason (21) Giants Strategy (34) GiDar (1) Gino Espinelli (1) glossary (1) good will (1) Graphical Player (1) Gregor Blanco (12) Gregor Moscoso (1) Guillermo Moscoso (2) Guillermo Mota (2) Gustavo Cabrera (3) Hall of Fame (7) Hall of Shame (3) Hank Aaron (5) Happy Holidays (2) Hate mail (1) heart-warming (1) Heath Hembree (6) Hector Correa (1) Hector Sanchez (8) Henry Sosa (8) HGH (1) high expectations (1) high school focus in draft (1) Hitting (15) Hitting Coach (1) hitting mechanics (3) hitting pitchers (2) hitting streak (1) Hitting; (1) Home Run Career Record (7) Home Run Hitting Contest (1) Hunter Pence (19) Hunter Strickland (1) Idea (4) improvement (1) Indictment (1) injury (2) instant replay (2) instructor (1) Interesting Question (1) International Free Agent Pursuits (3) International Signings (5) interview (3) Investment (1) Ivan Ochoa (2) Jack Taschner (4) Jackson Williams (2) Jacob Dunnington (1) Jacob McCasland (1) Jake Dunning (1) Japanese Starters (1) Jarrett Parker (5) Jason Heyward (1) Jason Stoffel (1) Javier Lopez (5) JC Gutierrez (2) Jeff Kent (1) Jeff Suppan (1) Jeremy Affeldt (10) Jeremy Shelley (1) Jerome Williams (1) Jesse English (2) Jesse Foppert (1) Jesus Guzman (4) Joaquin Arias (9) Joe Panik (10) Joe Torre (1) Joey Martinez (2) Johan Santana (1) John Bowker (22) Johneshwy Fargas (2) Johnny Bench (1) Johnny Monell (1) Johnny Rucker (1) Jonah Arenado (1) Jonathan Mayo (1) Jonathan Sanchez (48) Jose Canseco (1) Jose Casilla (1) Jose Guillen (3) Jose Mijares (3) Jose Uribe (2) Josh Osich (3) JT Snow (1) Juan Perez (4) Juan Uribe (9) Juggling Monkey (1) Just Say No (1) Kendry Flores (1) Keury Mella (1) Kevin Correia (2) Kevin Frandsen (22) Kevin Pucetas (10) Kung Fu Panda (30) Kyle Crick (10) Larry Baer (2) Larry Ellison (1) Lead-off (2) left-handed (1) Lew Wolff (1) LHP (1) Lineup (17) lineup construction (1) Lineup position (1) Long-Term Contract (21) long-term planning (3) luck (1) Luis Angel Mateo (2) Mac Williamson (5) Madison Bumgarner (121) Mailbox (1) Malcolm Gladwell (1) management change (3) management issues (5) managerial value (2) Manny (1) Marc Kroon (2) Marco Scutaro (11) Mark DeRosa (8) Martin Agosta (6) Marvin Miller (1) Masahiro Tanaka (1) Mason McVay (1) Matsuzaka (1) Matt Cain (122) Matt Downs (2) Matt Graham (1) Matt Holliday (1) Matt Morris (2) Mechanics (4) Media (15) Media Bias (17) Media Trade Idea (3) Medical (1) Mediocy (10) Mediots (4) Melk-Gone (1) Melky Cabrera (14) mental (1) Merkin Valdez (8) Message in a Bottle (1) Michael Main (1) Michael Trout (1) Miguel Cabrera (2) Miguel Tejada (5) Mike Fontenot (3) Mike Ivie (1) Mike Kickham (8) Mike Matheny (1) Mike Morse (6) milestone (1) minor league contract (1) minors (10) mismanagement (1) mistakes (2) MLB (2) MLB stupidity (2) MLB Success (6) MLB Trade Rumors (1) MLBAM (1) MLBTR (1) MLE (1) Mock Draft analysis (4) MVP (1) Natanael Javier (1) Nate Schierholtz (45) Nathanael Javier (1) Naysayers (1) Negotiations (1) Nick Noonan (25) Nick Pereira (1) Nick Vander Tuig (2) NL Champions (2) NL West (21) NL West Division Title (15) NL West Future (1) NLCS (15) NLCS MVP (1) NLDS (7) Noah Lowry (14) non-roster invitees (1) non-tenders (1) NPB (1) Oakland A's (4) OBP (1) oddities (1) Offense (3) offensive era (1) Omar Vizquel (3) one-run games (1) Opening Day (4) opening day pitcher (1) opening day roster (3) Optimism (1) Osiris Matos (2) Outfield (1) Ownership (7) Pablo Sandoval (87) Panda (6) Pandoval (1) passing (1) Pat Burrell (15) Pat Misch (5) Payroll (8) Pedro Feliz (12) PEDS (10) Perfect Game (2) perjury trial (1) Personal Reminiscence (2) Pessimism (1) Pete Rose (3) Peter Magowan (2) Phillies (7) Phoenix Theory of Rebuilding (1) Pitch Count (3) pitch value (1) Pitching (14) Pitching Rotation (54) pitching staff (1) plate discipline (1) Play Ball (1) player budget (2) player development (2) playoff (2) playoff hopes (24) playoff roster (1) playoff rotation (3) Playoff Success (18) Playoffs (26) postmortem (1) PQS (65) press conference (1) pressure (2) priorities (1) Projected Record (4) projection (2) promotion (1) prospect (2) prospect analysis (1) Prospect of Note (3) prospect study (1) Prospects (42) questions (1) Rafael Rodriquez (8) Rajai Davis (2) Ralph Barbieri (1) Ramon Ramirez (3) Randy Johnson (9) Randy Messenger (2) Randy Winn (14) Rangers (5) Ranking (4) raspberry (1) Ray Durham (5) re-sign (2) Rebuilding (4) Rebuilding Myths series (1) rebuttal (1) Reds (5) Relocation Concession (2) Research (2) resource scarcity (1) Retired (3) Retirement (1) return (1) RHP (1) Rich Aurilia (7) Rick Peterson (1) Rickie Weeks (1) Ricky Oropesa (3) right-handed (1) risk mitigation (2) risk profile (1) Rod Beck (1) Roger Kieschnick (13) Roger Metzger (1) Ron Shandler (2) Rookie of the Year (1) Roster (4) ROY (2) Rule 5 Draft Pick (3) rumors (9) runs support (1) Russ Ortiz (11) Ryan Garko (2) Ryan Klesko (4) Ryan Rohlinger (2) Ryan Theriot (3) Ryan Vogelsong (65) Ryder Jones (2) Sabean Naysayers (4) Sabermetric Thoughts (5) sabermetrics (3) Salary speculation (3) SALLY (1) San Jose Giants (1) San Jose Relocation (3) Sandy Rosario (1) Santiago Casilla (8) Scott McClain (2) Scott Shuman (1) Scouting (1) Sergio Romo (13) SF Giants (2) Shilo McCall (1) Shooter (1) shutouts (1) Signature Song (1) signing (12) Silly-Ball (3) South Atlantic League (1) South Bay Rights (1) Spring Training (15) standings (1) starting lineup (14) starting pitching (48) statistics (2) STATS (1) Steroids (5) Steve Edlefsen (4) Steve Johnson (3) Steve Okert (1) Sue Burns (1) sunk costs (1) superstition (1) Team Speed (1) Team Support (1) The Giants Way (1) The Hey Series (15) Thomas Joseph (3) Thomas Neal (9) Tigers (4) Tim Alderson (17) Tim Hudson (17) Tim Lincecum (158) Todd Linden (3) Todd Wellemeyer (6) Tommy Joseph (3) top prospect list (4) Trade (9) Trade Analysis (15) Trade Idea (7) Trade PTBNL (2) Trade Rumors (28) trading (1) training staff (2) Training Tool (1) Travis Blackley (1) Travis Ishikawa (40) turning point (1) Ty Blach (2) Tyler Beede (2) Tyler Horan (1) Tyler Rogers (1) Tyler Walker (2) umpire mistake (3) Umpires (3) USA Today (1) Voros McCracken (1) Waldis Joaquin (5) walks (1) WAR (1) Warrior Spirit (1) Wendell Fairley (10) What-If Scenario (3) wild card (1) wild card race (1) Will Clark (1) Willie Mac Award (1) Willie Mays (1) Winter League (1) World Series (18) World Series Champions (10) WS Ring Bling (1) Yusmeiro Petit (18) Zack Wheeler (9)