Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 Giants: September PQS and Final Stats

Sorry for the delay, but this slipped my mind.  Then I wrote it and didn't find time to post it until now.  Happy Holidays!

This post has the Giants Pure Quality Start scores for the month of September 2011, PQS as defined in Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster annual book and they published the details here. I wrote on this first in 2006 and have compiled their stats on a regular basis, so I'm continuing it this season for continuity and historical comparison (there is the "PQS" label that you can click to see the old posts on this, which I've provided a link to). Plus, I think it has a lot to offer for understanding our pitching and how that translate into competitive advantage for the Giants.  Regular readers can skip to the next orange titled section.

This is the Quality Start with a sabermetric DIPS twist, and it gets really easy to calculate once you get used to it. I don't think it's the end all or be all, but then nothing really is that. It is, as I like to say, another piece of the puzzle. A dominating start is scored a 4 or 5 and a disaster start is scored a 0 or 1. DOM% is the percentage of starts that are dominating, DIS% is the percentage of starts that are disasters (any start under 5.0 IP is automatically a 0, or disaster).

Click on title to get full post







Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bill James Handbook: 2011 Giants Baserunning

I should note that I wholeheartedly recommend getting Bill James Handbook.  I get it every year, lots of good data, and usually some new data each year.  Like one year:  baserunning.

I wrote about the Giants defense the other day, and now today I'm covering baserunning. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Happy Holidays: Catching up

Happy Holidays to everyone!

I've been busy (which is good for me, but not for a blog) so I wanted to point out some good posts for those looking for good Giants stuff to read:
Giants Thoughts

The prospect list, I think DrB has a great description of it.  2-8 can be in a different order depending on what values the ranker assigns to certain factors, between talent, potential, performance, and the intangibles.  I mentioned there that I think Joseph and Hembree are above Panik solely for potential, but Panik is probably close to being a regular in the majors, and I think that is where some disagreement over the rankings is probably occurring.  I don't see why Ehire Adrianza is above Hector Sanchez.  While I love BA, I find that they tend to underestimate prospects who knows how to avoid the strikeout, like when they whiffed totally on Pablo Sandoval.  But it is a nice Top 10.

Just remember the old rubric about Top 10 prospect lists, out of any farm system, only around 2 will ever become regulars in the majors, 2 be significant bench/relievers, and that extends far beyond the Top 10, often.  Top 10 lists are not infallible, neither is BA.  But I will say that when I used BA's Top 10 list a few years back to guide my keeper league draft, more often than not, I was directed to good prospects.

From Crabbers kind sharing of the discussion, here are my thoughts.  I am not really too surprised by the Villalona 40 man rostering.  A guy who sues a team to get them to take him back usually is not a guy willing to rest on his laurels (or $2.2M).  That to me meant that he did his best to stay in baseball shape while he was not in professional baseball.  That's not ideal, but it also means that he has a lot of time (like a prisoner) to work on getting into shape while he's "locked up", that is locked out of major league baseball in the U.S.  I would also think such an experience will either toughen up the guy or he would just take his money and go cry in his drink at his"chair/table" at his favorite bar.  The lawsuit, to me, suggested that he got toughened up.

Of course, just my speculation, take it or leave it.  But remember, he was a Top 40 prospect in ALL of baseball before he got shut down.  Unless he ate himself out of baseball, like Jerome did, that talent is still there.  He's still young, I think 22, plenty of time for him to still figure things out, though obviously the 8 ball is against him in terms of experience.  But that talent and potential has got to be still there if he's in any semblance of a good shape.  We will see.

I disagree about Belt.  You give him a shot and see where he was at.  Letting him get shown up at the major league level will do nothing for his development, confidence or ego.  If he's like Heyward, then that's a nice problem to have, but it is not like when Pedroia was doing horribly, Pedroia was just having bad BABIP problems, he was actually taking walks and avoiding strikeouts.  Belt was clearly being shown up by major league pitching.  Don't take a scout or someone seeing him swing the bat, the numbers shouted that out clearly.

Lastly, Barry Bonds.  If you want to convict him of not speaking clearly or rambling, then you may as well convict me too, and millions of other people.  Grand Juries are intimidating, I would have been terribly nervous, talk about other things as well as the question at hand.  

I'm still not convinced beyond a doubt that Bonds did anything illegally on his own.  Ted Robinson thinks that there is no way Bonds would take anything, that he is careful, but I disagree, people let their guard down when it comes to their buddies.  What do you know about what people put in the food you eat when you go to a potluck?  You trust them not to screw you by putting hashish or any other illegal substances in there that might affect you.   

Maybe Bonds put a lot of trust in his buddy.  Maybe his buddy, being poor because Bonds is a skinflint, saw a way to make money by using his connection to sell steroids to those not as gifted as his buddy, suggesting that he was helping Barry do it.  Nobody is going to talk to Bonds to verify that this was so.  Maybe he didn't want to testify because it would make him look like the biggest traitor in the world, selling out his buddy (or worse, poisoning him with illegals drugs) to make money.

I don't doubt that Bonds probably took.  I just have a doubt that he knew about it.

Plus, according to research by Boskage House, steroids might not even have any positive effects on performance, so all this could be much ado about nothing.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Giants trade for CF Angel Pagan for Torres and Ramirez

The Giants have traded Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez to the Mets for CF Angel Pagan.  Reports from Baggerly and Shea.  The deal is not officially announced yet, there are physicals to do, and so it probably won't become official until later this week.

The Giants appear to be close to another deal with an AL club, possibly involving Jeff Keppinger, which makes sense since his value is really as a hitter, not a defensive fielder.

Giants Thoughts

First off, thank you to Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez for their roles in helping us win our 2010 World Championship.

That said, Torres wasn't much use to us last season after May, he was pretty messed up because of he needed an adjustment of his medicine and they couldn't apparently get it right.  Meanwhile, Ramirez was of pretty good use to us, and is the value in this trade from the Mets perspective, because Pagan had a down year as well.

Thinking of this from a statistical standpoint, each team traded one type of risk for another, in order to lessen the risk of another kind.  Basically the standard deviation of what one can expect offensively is better for Pagan, I think, while for defense, Torres is better.

The Mets wanted a better defensive player, which Torres is, much better than Pagan, who was -1 Defensive Runs Saved in 2011 (Torres was +4 overall, +3 in CF in about 30% less innings than Pagan), plus there is the potential that Torres might return to his 2010 form, getting them a double boost, as then he would be a similar offensive player as Pagan plus provides good defense.  Plus they add a great reliever to boot.  Risk but reward too.

The Giants did not get that great a defensive player (but I think their defensive schemes that they do apparently help players at least a bit as Burrell somehow was a valuable defensive LF for the Giants in 2010) in Pagan, and offensively he is not as good as Torres was in 2010, but he is more likely to be a better hitter, having a better history plus his one down year, last year, was plagued by injuries from beginning to end, starting with oblique problems in the first month of the season, to back spasms mid-season, to a head injury that kept him out at the end of the season.  Plus he is two years younger than Torres.  And he is also a switch-hitter like Torres, and hits better against RHP and only OK against LHP.

Looks like they got another mix and match player in Pagan, who has played a lot of games at all three OF positions, and is especially valuable batting against RHP, and is about average defensively in CF (at least he was in 2011, and he was injured during parts of the season).  They save money in the deal, it is believed, plus can expect a certain level of offense from Pagan, whereas Torres, who knows when he'll be OK with his ADHD medicine dosage.

Pagan's main problem in 2011 appears to be two fold.  First his BABIP fell 50 points from the prior 3 seasons and was 30 points below his career average.  Second was his drop in ISO, about 30 points below average.  Together that took about 60-90 points off his OPS, which would have put him in the mid-to-high 700 OPS range.  Presuming that it was the injuries that caused a lot of that, plus I read a note somewhere that he's working hard on his conditioning during this off-season because he don't want a repeat of 2011, he looks like a good bet to rebound, especially since his contact rate is pretty good and his walk rate is OK, suggesting that 2011 was just a case of the BABIP ball bouncing into mitts more often than usual for Pagan.

It certainly solidifies our OF, now Bochy can mix and match Melky and Angel in CF, plus they will probably see time in the corner sometimes too, depending on who is hot or not, giving us insurance if Schierholtz does not perform as hoped in RF or if Belt or Huff does not perform as hoped in LF.  Speaking of Belt, this still keeps the door open for him to take LF or 1B starting if he comes out blazing, as then Melky, Angel, and Nate would probably be mixing and matching CF and RF, plus Belt will probably sit some games against LHP anyway, both to avoid since he has not figured them out plus to get other guys into games too.

This is a good move offensively, plus opens a spot in the bullpen to either acquire someone, as perhaps the Giants see another reclamation project out there (oh, this opens up a 40 man spot), like they did Santiago Casilla a couple of years ago, or maybe there is some prospects they want to look at in spring, not sure how guys did in AFL, or even one of the other winter leagues.  And there is the savings of probably $1-2M, and getting a younger player to boot.  All in all a nice move, which becomes great if Pagan is like he was in 2009-2010, and given that he's healthy and getting himself into shape, that's a good bet.

Media Bias Warps Fans Views

I love reporters - I read the newspaper almost every day - and the Giants are blessed to have good reporters covering them in Andy Baggarly, Hank Schulman, and Chris Haft (plus John Shea Hey often fills in for Hank).  They add immeasurably to our enjoyment of our favorite team by bringing us the news regularly and also busting scoops, like Neukom getting replaced.  But their bias against the Giants (and if it is just misunderstanding on their part, well, the result is still bias) has colored the fan base against Sabean and Bochy.

The latest writings to get my dander up are by Baggarly and Haft (Shea has often gotten be riled up as well, and I assume Schulman has at some point, but not that I can recall at the moment).  And Haft got me riled up with another post he had.

Baggarly

I love Baggs and he brings the most and best news about the Giants to us fans.  So I feel a tinge of guilt to pointing him out, but somebody needs to point out the Emperor's new clothes.

First is a minor quibble, but still, his is a widely known, well-respected source of Giants information.  He noted that "Sandoval batted .379 from his (natural) right side".  Only, his natural side is his left side, as he was born left-handed, but learned (and pretty well) how to throw right-handed.  The story is that Sandoval's hero at some point was Omar Vizquel, so he wanted to play SS to emulate his hero, but, obviously, left-handers can't play SS, so he learned to throw right-handed in order to play SS, and from then on he was right-handed, for all intents and purposes.  (that's actually a common thing, my mom was left-handed but did a lot of things right-handed)

The other I was more perturbed by, which is when he said that Bochy "preferred Orlando Cabrera to Crawford later in the summer."  Because he has inside information, the way it is written, he makes it looks like Bochy preferred Cabrera.  What I want to make clear is that any manager should know that having a younger player is better than having an older player, if they are equal in performance. 

So that is the conundrum, was Crawford better than Cabrera.  At that point, Crawford hadn't played much above the A-level, so all we really had to judge him was his results at the major league level.  At the time of the trade, he was batting .190/.275/.261/.536, but if you took away his first two good weeks of hitting, over the next seven weeks (June 9-July 30, when trade for Cabrera), he hit .161/.242/.196/.438 in 29 games started and 37 games played. 

So sure, Cabrera was not doing that well, but Crawford at the time of the trade had been hitting poorly over the prior 7 weeks (almost 2 full months of starting, putting the lie to people complaining that Giants management don't play young players), but his hitting was plummeting, as his last three weeks he was hitting .100/.l62/.100/.282, which does not take a sabermetric degree to figure out isn't really good.  Really, do people need to make it personal that Bochy and Sabean hates young players or prefer Cabrera over Crawford?

The point was not that Cabrera wasn't any good anymore, nor that the Giants preferred Cabrera over Crawford, but that Crawford had cratered offensively and the Giants felt that he needed to back off, take some time in the minors to fix some things they saw, plus hopefully Cabrera could put in a finishing kick (unfortunately he didn't).  Ultimately, the Giants prefer production and Crawford wasn't giving it to them, so they rolled the dice with Cabrera.  I have no problem with that, particularly if they thought that Crawford could use the lesser pressure and learn some new batting techniques.

And you know what, the Giants did figure out something.  Crawford when he came back was an improved hitter, he hit .225/.295/.325/.620, 12 starts in September plus some other games he got into.  If he can hit that over a full season, it would be great to go with his stellar defense at SS.   I preferred Cabrera over Crawford given how poorly Crawford was doing for a long time (almost 2 months) plus was doing nothing offensively for almost a month.  And it had nothing to do with "preferring Cabrera over Crawford", at least from the numbers perspective.  And now I hope the Giants give Crawford the chance to start, but with someone backing up who could keep the seat warm if Crawford still needs some tweaking down in the minors.

That short stretch and his nice showing in the AFL (though he tailed off at the end, but that could have been because he was distracted by his upcoming nuptials) plus, more importantly, his OK contact rate in the majors, he had a 84% contract rate overall (good hitters are at 85% and higher), plus improved by month, 80.5% in June, 84.4% in July, 86.0% in September.  I understand small samples and all, but I think that the 84% overall bodes well for the future, plus he improved over time. 

In another recent post, (I had intended this to go out on Saturday but somehow screwed that up) he also opined that "you could argue that Sabean should have a larger budget than $130M, after the Giants sold out every game last season.  You might be right."  Then again, maybe you won't.

OK, I wrote something I wanted to bring over here at Extra Baggs but apparently my comment got removed by his moderator (his ears must have been burning with this sitting waiting to post :^). There are a lot of factors involved with the revenues that prevents them from spending more. Sure, selling out makes a lot of revenues but it also means that you pay a lot more in revenue sharing. The Giants are basically paying into that what the A's get, and the A's have just been pocketing that money instead of making the team good enough to compete and draw bigger crowds in Oakland, they are the team fans should be badgering about increasing their payroll.

In addition, their revenue sharing went up because they accounted for the stadium cost over a 10 year period, per the revenue sharing rules, and thus they started paying even more into revenue sharing starting in 2011.

Plus, they have a host of stadium related expenses which the Giants fans were unwilling to vote to give to the team so they had to build their own park. First and most of all is the $20M mortgage payment, which is mostly principal by now, so they have less interest to write off, taking away more income that they could add to payroll. There is also the stadium upkeep that they have to do because they do own the park.  The events they hold there when baseball is not playing helps offset that, but I doubt it covers the entire bill for a full year worth.

I would also point out that a sell-out at SF is not a huge park, it can only hold 42,000 fans, which about average among the top teams.  And they averaged $26 per ticket in 2010, the lowest among the top seven teams in valuation.  The Red Sox, for example, averaged $53 per ticket in 2010, the Yankees $63.  The other were at or just above $30 per ticket.  So while they are selling out, apparently that has more to do with their fancy dynamic ticket pricing to ensure sell-outs.

Their payroll in 2010 was in line with their revenues.  Player expenses was $114M in 2010 vs. gate receipts of $107M.  The Yankees had $236M vs. $300M in gate.  Red Sox, $187M vs. $176M in gate.  D-gers, $118M vs. $107M in gate.  Cubs, $157M vs. $146M in gate.  Mets, $139M vs. $123M in gate.  And Phillies with $150M in revenues and $124M in gate.  And they bumped up their payroll for 2011 to the $120M range.

So, no, I don't think an argument could be made for the Giants spending much more than $130M on payroll in 2012, not unless Larry Ellison bought the team and put all his billions into the team.  Until that happens, or until the prices catches up with the top teams and top $30 per ticket, which would add around $15M to the gate (and maybe that happened in 2011, but still that only bumps player expenses to around $122M per the Forbes numbers).

Haft

Now, he wasn't as bad as I had initially thought.  Still, he makes the case that adding Melky Cabrera is not "enough to correct the vast imbalance between their skilled pitching and somnolent hitting." Well, as I showed in the Posey post, yeah, it does, because he is forgetting that Posey is part of the new mix in the offense in 2012. Why do people not get that losing one of your best hitters, particularly your clean-up batter, does not cripple the offense?

Then in the article about the extensions for Sabean and Bochy, he noted some other things.   In response to Baer, he retorts:
"I strongly believe that Brian and Bruce are the best at their crafts in the game," Baer said.

Other current GMs have assembled more winning teams than Sabean, who has built five postseason qualifiers (1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2010). A handful of active managers have tasted triumph more consistently than Bochy, whose teams have finished 1,360-1,376, including 409-401 by the Giants since 2007.
That just totally ignores the fact that there was a rebuilding in the middle of all that, a rebuilding and losing that was necessary to restoring competitiveness.  Plus, he didn't really name anyone with more winning teams, probably because there are FEW who have, as Sabean is the longest tenured GM, some GMs out there have not even GMed as many seasons as Sabean has had winning seasons (11 winning teams, by the way).

And Bochy was hampered first by the tight-fisted Padres' owners, who dismantled his World Series team right after they made it in, causing him to suffer through 5 losing seasons before the team was rebuilt to win again, plus he took over the Giants during their rebuilding phase, but if you are keeping track, he has three winning seasons with the Giants versus two losing, and does not look like he'll be losing any in the coming seasons either.

Giants Thoughts

These inaccuracies are what are coloring many of the Giants fans thoughts regarding the team.  They are teaching this fan base, which are not obsessive enough to dig deeper and thus rely on the beat writers to guide them, to spout the same inaccuracies when they go on-line or talk with their Giants fan friends.

I also just realized that beat writers have a vested interest in having a riled up fan base.  I'm not accusing any of them of doing this on purpose or knowingly, but it would make logical sense for them to mislead the fan base in order to keep them disgruntled. 

That is something I realized about KNBR night-time hosts, they must have realized at some intellectual level that they need to push the buttons and be controversial and hard on the Giants to keep the callers coming in and goading the callers to call in to complain about the Giants, mainly because a contented fan base do not have much interest in calling in and complimenting the Giants.  In fact, all that would be necessary is one call praising the Giants and that would be it.  Crickets chirping the rest of the 3-4 hours of the show.  So it behooves them to get the fan base riled up and calling in, by pointing out everything and anything, paticularly by biasing the audience towards a touchy-feely position (he loves vets, he signed bad contracts) that really doesn't hold up when the facts are piled on top of each other, but when talking off the cuff, can be easily defended for people who are not really that into the Giants and where facts are not as readily discovered and presented.

Basically, if the fanbase were happy, there probably would not be as much people talking about the Giants and complaining about them in particular.  It is just human nature not to have the impetus to say or do anything when things are going well.  Less people talking equals less people buying newspapers to see what is happening, less people visiting their websites to see what is happening, less people following his twitters to see what is happening. less people calling into shows, less people listening to shows.  This makes economic (survival) sense to keep the fans at least a little hungry and angry, as that stirs up interest in your product, which is news.

It is like the story about the guy who started eBay because his girlfriend at the time wanted to sell her collection of Pez dispensers.  Which wasn't true, but the eBay publicist gave that out on a lark, apparently, and that story got legs like you wouldn't know it, as one columnist after another, assuming that the original story was true (it was told by an eBay employee afterall), passed it along.  I thought it was true until I read an article exposing that lie.

It is also similar to the Barry Bonds "I'm better than Babe Ruth" comment a few (OK, many) years back.  He clearly (to the reporters who knew him) was joking about that, but one reporter who was there didn't know him, so he just reported that verbatim without the context that Bonds was clearly joking, and that blew into a media storm, as one writer after another assumed that the story was true, which culminated with the head of the Babe Ruth Museum taking a pot shot at Bonds.

Another Bonds incident that got blown up and passed around like a joint was when he angrily addressed the throng of writers crowding up to speak to him after the Giants lost the 2002 World Series.  Most of them presented him as a surly angry person in their articles regarding that interview, but the ones up front made it clear that when he told everyone to back off in a loud voice, it was because the idiots in the back were pushing forward and the reporters up front threatened to crush Bonds' son, who was with him.

In neither Bonds case, once the truth was known, none of the writers would write a follow-up article noting, "Ooops, I got that one wrong, sorry".  But it sure generated a lot of columns and a lot of interest (lots of comments bashing Bonds).

But while I understand that this is the nature of the beast, it does not mean I have to be happy about it either.  I hate inaccuracies in the news with a passion, because that will color people's imprressions for a long time, whether true or false.  And particularly in the case of the Giants, as I am afraid that the ownership might decide to appease the angry willagers with their pitchforks and torches asking for the heads of Sabean and Bochy.

I will join them and lead the way with my pitchfork when I think Sabean and Bochy are doing anything to endanger the Giants present and future.  But as I've been writing for over 4 years now, Sabean has the Giants on the right track and in a good situation.  We can be the team of the 2010's decade if the ownership is willing to make it so with their payroll, dipping into the rainy day fund as necessary, freeing Sabean to make baseball moves.  I was more encouraged when Neukom was in charge, but will allow Baer time to show his true colors.  And as I've written and research on Bochy as well, I've realized that he's a special one too.  I am happy for their extensions, they were well deserved.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Posey Power Activated!

Clearly I have to write this post first.  People still think that the offense is not good enough to win with.  Notice the difference in my language, "good enough to win" versus "good offense".  It is a natural fan inclination to think "more, better, best" for anything regarding their favorite team, that is why it is helpful to fight that inclination and think through some obvious changes to the offense, even as it exists now, and realize that your internal panic alarm going off is going off for naught.

One of the clearly big differences is that Buster Posey is returning to the lineup.  Sure, people are glad about that but they don't really understand the magnitude of that change from Posey as starter versus Chris Stewart and Eli Whiteside as co-starters (with a sprinkling of Hector Sanchez).  I will try to make that clearer with some analysis.

In 2011, the four catchers, by Bill James Runs Created methodology, created a total of 49 Runs Created (RC).  Also, collectively, by Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), they saved a total of 7 runs.  However, in 2012, it should just be Posey and, for now, probably Stewart, at the catching position.

Bill James projections has Posey creating 91 RC in 2012.  Unfortunately, there is no Stewart forecast there, but they have projected Whiteside at .609 OPS and 16 RC.  ZiPS projections just came out, and while there is no Whiteside projection, there is a Stewart projection for .640 OPS.  Assuming Stewart produces at least as much as Whiteside projects, that's 107 RC from the catching position in 2012 per Bill James projections.  That is a +58 RC improvement over 2011.

Defensively, assuming Posey plays as well as he did in 2011 and projecting out the innings he caught, he had 2 DRS in 361.0 innings in 2011, and triple that is roughly what the top catchers caught in 2011, so let's call that 6 DRS.  That leaves about 396.0 innings for the backup.  Stewart in 2011 had 9 DRS in 460.1 innings.  Assuming some drop, as that is high, I think +6 is reasonable, but even if he did only 1 DRS, the defense would still be the same as in 2011.  But going with the more realistic scenario, that works out to +12 DRS which is 5 runs better than the +7 DRS the Giants catchers had in 2011 (Whiteside was -3 DRS and Sanchez -1 DRS).

Looking at their baserunning, it appears that they were roughly equal, though there should be some improvement there because Posey and Stewart added bases via their baserunning whereas Whiteside subtracted.  But as there is no run equivalency provided, it is hard to estimate the effect on run production, other than it would add to it.  Still even at 4 bases to a run, the numbers involved is so small that there is a negligible increase in run production.  Call it even.

Assuming a base RA of 580 or 3.58 RA/game (basically the average of the past two seasons), that +58 RC results in an additional 6.55 wins and that +5 DRS results in an additional 0.60 wins.  Together, that adds up to 7.15 wins.

Thus, losing Posey cost the Giants approximately 7 wins in 2011, roughly 6.5 wins on offense and 0.5 wins on defense.  They won 86 games in 2011, so had Posey not been taken out by a rogue runner with no conscience (or at least was acting like one, which is the same effect), the Giants probably would have won somewhere in the 93 game range.  With the Cards at 90 wins, even if this is off a little, most probably the Giants would have won the Wild Card slot, and not the Cards, who eventually won the World Championships (so they probably should send a full share of the championship money to Cousins, because they might not have made the playoffs had he not took Posey out).

Looking to 2012, the Giants 2011 offense was roughly even with the defense, which works out to  a roughly .500 record per Pythagorean.  Adding 7 wins to that puts the Giants at 88 wins for 2012 currently.

The addition of Melky Cabrera, according to Bill James added 70 RC to 2012, by his projections.  Torres, Rowand, and Ross collectively had around 60 RC.  By DRS, Melky was -3 DRS but collectively the Giants CF were 0 DRS (while Torres is good, Ross and Rowand were not).  So that is a roughly 7 run improvement, which is roughly a one win improvement.  That puts us at 89 wins.  And ZiPS projects him to hit .284/.330/.435/.765, which is higher than the .745 OPS that Bill James has him hitting.

However, I would note that any projections assume that Cabrera did not break out in 2011.  Projection methodologies are not savvy enough yet to figure out when a batter or pitcher broke out, for sure.  If he repeats his 2011 season - and that is possible, as the Bill James park factors for LHB and RHB is almost the same between KC and SF, and the given reason for his improvement was a dedication to conditioning and getting into shape - that would add 22 RC, or about 2.5 wins.

Now that assumes that there is no improvement anywhere else.  But there was a lot of underperformance in 2011 across the whole team.

Giants 1B only hit .258/.318/.414/.732.  Between Huff and Belt, there has to be an improvement there in 2012 offensively.  Pablo's replacements at 3B didn't quite match him (obviously), and Giants 3B "only" hit .294/.339/.478/.817.  Sandoval is projected by Bill James to hit .311/.363/.525/.888, by ZiPS to hit .299/.347/.497/.844, and he hit .315/.357/.552/.909 in 2011 (again, hard for systems to judge whether 2010 was an aberration, so that damps down forecasts, though James is pretty close).

Giants SS only hit .210/.265/.299/.564 in 2011.  For Crawford, Bill James projects .232/.297/.340/.637, ZiPS .225/.291/.336/.627.  Giants LF only hit .222/.310/.374/.684, while Bill James projects .266/.358/.482/.840 for Brandon Belt, ZiPS .268/.365/.452/.817 (right now I think Belt is the starting LF, given the personnel we have now).

So basically, the Giants look like a 89 win team, or thereabouts.  90 wins was necessary to get into the playoffs in 2011. They should already have it via Sandoval at 3B, as he should hit much better than what 3B hit collectively, as long as he is healthy, heck, together the 3B had roughly 90 RC (and that is ignoring the great defense Pablo played) and Bill James projects Sandoval at 102 RC for 2012, which is roughly a 1.5 win improvement.  

The Giants should also get improvement at 1B, SS, LF, or CF, as it is unlikely whoever plays there in 2012 could be any worse.  The possible improvements at the other four positions are buffers against declines at RF (since Beltran is not around and Schierholtz is the starter there) and in the pitching staff.  Shoot, Huff could add around 5 wins by returning anywhere close to what he did in 2010, by himself.  And if Belt could actually reach his projections, that would probably add another 5 wins in LF.

Thus, that is why I see the Giants offense being no worse than a 90 win team in 2012.  And there are a lot of areas of improvement where we could push that up, potentially a lot, depending on who delivers and who don't.  But conservatively, I don't see why the Giants are not competitive in 2012, as is, and could be another blockbuster team, like 2003, if the cards fall right for them, particularly Huff and Belt, though Vogelsong repeating would also greatly improve things as well.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sabean and Bochy get contracts extended thru 2013

As reported (Baggarly, Shea, Haft), the Giants extended Sabean's and Bochy's contracts in lock-step again.  Their contracts were due to expire in 2012, but got extended to 2013 plus there is a team option year for 2014, like there was for their prior contract, which was picked up for the 2012 season last year by Neukom.  Basically, the Giants upper management had to wait for Baer to be annointed "person of control" by the MLB, before he could finalize negotiations with Sabean and Bochy, else this deal might have been finished earlier.

In the press conference that announced the deal, they made a number of comments about the Giants future course (Baggarly, Shea, Haft):
  • The plan is to earmark most of their money for their pitching staff, then use the remainder to improve the offense.  People rag on the offense, but as I'll show soon, a large part of that decline was the loss of Posey, but people conveniently forget about abnormal, unlikely to repeat events like that.  "There won't be any big splash.  Our pitching is our gold standard.  We have to make sure we take care of that commodity first," said Sabean.
  • Evans noted in the meeting that he has just started talking with Lincecum's and Cain's agents, exchanging ideas and some numbers, mostly talking broadly, so they are not very far into the process yet (due to "so many other things").
  • They also have a large number of arbitration-eligible players:  Ryan Vogelsong, Ramon Ramirez, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Nate Schierholtz, Pablo Sandoval.
  • Once they take care of the pitching, then they will see how much money is left in the payroll and see which free agents will fit in that.  But they don't anticipate a household name, per se, no sticker shock type of play.
  • The payroll has been bumped up to $130M (I believe it was around $125M last season, plus there is always the mythical rainy day fund).
  • What they are looking for is better balance and flexibility.  Depth is important and thus flexibility with the roster is important.  (ogc note:  rumors are that the Giants are kicking the tires on Jerry Hairston, Jr., who can play MI as well as COF.  I view him as the successor to the role envisioned for Mark DeRosa, though I'm not sure how good he is defensively; DeRosa was great defensively and good offensively).
  • Appears that re-signing Carlos Beltran is a longshot.  He was asked and agreed that an AL club (with the ability to DH regularly) could probably offer Beltran a longer-term contract than the Giants were comfortable with offering to a player with bad knees in his mid-30's.  Still, Sabean noted, "He is a consideration but term will be an issue with anybody we pursue, whether it's him or anybody else.  We have a game plan with what we consider a reasonable length."  (ogc note:  I would note here that they were comfortable with giving Franchez a 3-year contract, which, fortunately for us, he turned down for a two-year, and he's been even more injured prone than Beltran.  People need to remember that as business-people, you don't want to negotiate publicly nor give away your hand.  The Giants might be willing to give 3 years, but you don't give that away, particulalry in public, it is better if you play poor, act like it is possible that you will pass on signing, show some reticience in re-signing, as negotiations will always be one where each side has to give on something. You can't make a fair offer publicly and not have it bite you in the ass later in private negotiations).
  • Baggarly:  "Sabean made it clear that the extensions will not be his focus when he arrives at the winter meetings in Dallas on Sunday. He is looking to improve the offense via trade or free agency, with the outfield being the area most in need."
  • About SS, Sabean was impressed with the strides Brandon Crawford made in the AFL.  He could possibly be annointed the starter, though it was noted that they could carry his questionable bat if the offense improves elsewhere, and it was noted that he did what was asked to do in AFL, getting high marks regarding the strides he has made (ogc:  everyone has a questionable bat, that is why in the NL the 8th place hitter don't hit for much, so he has a low bar to make.  Plus the pitching makes the bar lower.  I think the offense is good enough as is to handle his bat, particularly because he was actually pretty good at avoiding strikeouts last season, so I think it is just a matter of adjustments and experience before he starts hitting.  May as well start in 2012 as the starter).
  • About Belt, Sabean praised his work in the Dominican Winter League, noting Belt's adjustments and his willingness to go there, accept their challenge (he was not intending to go to Winter League, Giants asked him to, partly to make up for development he missed in 2011 because of injury and sitting on the bench).  Moises Alou (GM of the team Belt played on) gave positive reports on Belt.   They noted that he was playable in the OF, though they realize that 1B is his best position. 
  • About Ross, he is still up in the air, Sabean noted, "not sure" when asked about him.  (ogc:  that is consistent with before, Sabean noted that Ross could come back to the team later, if available.)
  • Sabean, according to  Baggarly, left the general impression that he might not make another move to help the offense.  Sabean:  “I think we have developed enough choices including our young players in the mix and our arbitration eligible players as far as the price point that’s suitable.  I think we’ve created enough food for thought and flexibility... Health is always an issue. We hope the guys who were banged up last year come back to form and do their part and pull their weight.”  (ogc:  I agree that another move is not necessary to help the offense, it should be good enough to win right now, but obviously any additional buffer to risk mitigate another hitter failing to perform would be great.)
And that is roughly it for the press conference, though there were a few other items that came up (read the accounts for that).  

Giants Thoughts

This is what I thought should happen, though I am sure that there are legions of Giants fans crying into their garlic fries right now.  I am very happy right now that Sabean and Bochy got extended another season plus a team option for another season. 

Sabean deserves to continue being the GM, both for putting together the team that we have today and for guiding the team well in the rebuilding phase during the losing.  Bochy, as I noted in prior research, is a unique manager, capable of bringing up his team by anywhere from 6 to 10 wins, every other season, that is a WAR of about 3-4 a season, which some sabers price at $4M (and higher) per win, or $12-l6M per season.  That's a bargain, as I assume Bochy probably don't make anywhere near that per season.

I was disappointed by Haft's dig at both Sabean and Bochy when he noted that others have done more than either over their tenure than they have.  First, sure, there are those who have done more, but that ignores the cycles that Baer talked about in the press conference when praising the two of them.  You have to accept that there will be times when a team is losing and rebuilding.  It also ignores that Bochy was handicapped by the Padres poor payroll problems that regularly rolled around and decimate the good team he had, then was hurt by the Giants rebuilding period at the tail end of the Barry Bonds era, where the teams weren't good enough to win yet.  Every team has a life-cycle of rebuild/compete/repeat that has to play out, nobody is going to be a winner all the time, that is rarely done in the majors, if ever.

Second, and more importantly, Sabean has the team set to win throughout the 2010's and be the team of the decade that I've been predicting for the past 3 years.  The pitching is all pretty set up, they only have to lock up Lincecum and Cain right now to set the team up nicely to do well over the next 4-5 years or so.  The middle of the lineup looks to be great with Sandoval, Posey, and Belt, and the top of the lineup will hopefully be great with Brown and Panik up top in a year or two. 

And with our great pitching and defense (just got the latest THT annual and it has the Giants team defensive runs saved figures there for the past few years and they have been one of the best defensive teams in the majors), what a lot of people don't realize is that it creates a low run environment in almost every game the Giants play in, thus making even a poor offense a good enough offense to win a lot of games with.  But people are stuck in the mindset that you can't win with a poor offense and thus think that Sabean is lame for not doing more.

He is doing what he should be doing, securing our future dominance by getting Lincecum and Cain signed longer term.  The whole team structure for winning falls apart without Lincecum and Cain up top (and with Bumgarner).  I have no doubt that we can get Cain signed to a 5 year contract that might even have a slight home discount.  I expect Lincecum to want fair value (i.e. no discount) but given the talk about liking shorter deals, I would be OK with a two year deal with an option year, then focus on getting him signed to a longer term deal next off-season.

There has been no mention about Bumgarner, but given the animosity that probably was engendered when the Giants summarily renewed his contract at their price for the 2011 season, I would hope the Giants look into making Bumgarner happy, it don't have to be a contract to buy out the rest of his pre-free agent years, though I would like something like that, but I think they should show him a little love in the contract negotiations this off-season.  And I've mentioned Posey and Sandoval getting signed up long-term as well.

All in all, a well deserved extension for both Sabean and Bochy.  Bochy in particular for bringing up the team and making it competitive for the playoffs, when by Pythagorean, by all rights they should have been scuffling around .500 during the 2011 season.  But Sabean too, deserves credit for trying to keep the team together in 2011 for another run, but when things got bad, made the big move to trade for Beltran, plus jettisoned both Tejada and Rowand, when they proved to be detrimental to winning.  Plus, by keeping the pitching staff together, that enabled the team to survive poor hitting and numerous injuries, and still be competitive enough for .500, by Pythagorean, when most teams losing a key player like Posey for the season would be sunk the moment he went down.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Money Paves the Way to San Jose

Sorry, no links, but the news is that Selig is suddenly moving forward with the A's desire to move to San Jose, and will meet with the Giants about this.

I guess the other news is that San Jose has sold an option to Wolff to purchase the parcel of land that they are hoping to build the stadium on. Sold for $50,000, the city spent something over $25M to buy those pieces but has agreed to sell it to Wolff for just under $7M. Hope that is contingent on a stadium deal, else he just made a lot of money off the backs of San Jose citizens.

The catch there is that the city has not finished buying all the parcels of land, that is why they are selling him those parcels, in hopes that he can finish up that process, as the city is tapped dry apparently by the fiscal crisis that has hit most state and local governments since the Great Recession.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

2011 Giants 40-Man Moves Ahead of Rule 5

Hank Schulman scooped everyone with his report on Villalona, the 40-man changes, and Pablo Sandoval's lasix eye surgery.  Andy Baggarly had an extensive blog on the whole matter.

The News:  Added to the Giants 40-man roster were 1B Angel Villalona, outfielders Tyler Graham and Roger Kieschnick, infielder Charlie Culberson, and pitchers Dan Otero and Hector Correa, whom the Giants got as part of a series of trades that sent now-retired Jack Taschner to the Phillies.

However, the Giants were at 36 at that time, so they had to DFA Waldis Joaquin again and Darren Ford.   If they are not traded in 10 days, any team may pick them up, but the Giants are interested in picking them both back up afterward. Last time they DFAed Joaquin, he was claimed but the White Sox, he refused and became a free agent, upon which he resigned with the Giants.

The surprising news was that Villalona was added.  It was speculated that perhaps this was related to getting Angel's visa reinstated so that he can return to the U.S.  There are other logical reasons I could think of.  One is that this was part of the legal settlement of the $5M lawsuit that Villalona filed against the Giants.  I have to think that a 40-man player is paid a lot more than a minor leaguer.  Another is that perhaps the Giants would just like to move forward on this, and by putting him on the 40-man, there is now a timeclock on when he can be jettisoned from the organization without there being really hard feelings.  For example, if he were not put on the 40-man but was just released after he becomes a 6 year minor leaguer, he could decide that the Giants didn't give him enough of a chance and decide to sue again.  Lastly, I believe that Rule 5 also has drafting of lower level prospects ( never understood that), and since his highest level is single-A, perhaps he could have been grabbed for someone's AA team.

Hopefully, and more likely, is that Villalona is still a viable prospect.  The reports are that his swing is still good, that he has good bat speed.  The original reports noted that he had slimmed down.  I would have liked to have heard more about that, because he was a Big Boi, and slimming is not much when you are that big to begin with.  But he sounds very serious about doing something in baseball, so with all that free time I was hoping that maybe he did something like Sandoval and really slimmed down.  Maybe Sandoval can introduce him to his trainers during spring training and get him on the program.

I saw some worries out there about there being so many 1B now in the Giants system.   I would note that he's always wanted to play 3B, was rated a plus prospect at defense at 3B when he first was signed, and continued to take fielding practice at 3B even while he was playing 1B. He was only playing first because the Giants wanted him to focus more on his offense than his defense. So I think 3B is viable for him going forward, if not already part of his legal settlement.

Among other news, Panda got his eyes Lasiked. He was having problems with his contacts -remember, he hit 2009 without good eye sight - and this procedure would allow him good vision without the equipment, as I recall goggles being involved too. He reported that it went fine, or maybe it was his brother who tweeted that, do not recall. So, in other words, he was hampered by his vision again in 2011 but should be able to see the ball clearly all the time in 2012. It was also noted that his shoulder was healed too, and should not hamper him in 2012 either. Hopefully, look out baseball world!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Vogelsong's Song: Will He Sing or the Fat Lady?

A couple of the reasons I used to hit just about every Giants blog way back when are that 1) I like to find solutions to questions, and 2) it's a waste if I find something interesting, good or bad, and don't share it with other Giants fans (that's probably why I've made a career in research).  Back then, the idiot quotient was still relatively low and I didn't have to go through 999 columns of dreck before I get to some interesting and serious Giants discussion, where interesting questions get asked and I would answer.  That's why I used to come in second in polls on MCC when asked who was the most informative poster there (I always came in second to Steve Shelby, which is no shame, he's really good).  So I kind of miss that, but I don't miss getting totally aggravated by all the nonsense I see out there.

Long time reader Allfrank just recently made my day by asking me a question on my blog (Thanks! BTW) about Vogelsong's chances of repeating in 2012.  Or more specifically, he noted that his performance was great then seemed to come back to Earth after the All-Star game, and is worried about whether he can repeat or if the league has caught up with him.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bill James Handbook: 2011 Giants Defensive Leaders and Laggards

Just got the 2012 Bill James Handbook, which has a TON of 2011 statistics that you can't get anywhere else, or hardly anywhere else.

The first thing I wanted to get into was the Fielding Bible stats in the front of the book, using their Plus/Minus system which they then translate into Runs Saved.  And generally, 10 runs saved is the equivalent of one extra win.

OK, going with my train of thought, to show the power that the Giants have with their great pitching staff, I plugged in the NL average RA (4.16) in 2011 and that is actually true, when I add 10 runs to the RS, that is pretty close to 1 extra win, 1.014 wins to be exact.  I think plugged in the Giants RA (3.57) and that works out to 16% more effectiveness in winning, 1.181 wins.  Or looking at it another way, the Giants only has to score 8.457 more runs in order to win one game, where the average NL team has to score roughly 10 runs.  In contrast, Houston had the worse pitching staff in the NL, and each additional 10 runs they score only gets them 0.861 wins, meaning they have to score 11.6 runs in order to win one additional game.

And one thing that is neglected to be said when it is noted that it results in one extra win, and that has always bothered me, is that this is a zero-sum game, so adding one win from 81 to 82 in a season, is actually a 2 game bump in games above .500, pushing you from 81-81 to 82-80, as it also takes away a loss.  Thus, adding 5 wins via player acquisitions pushes a team from 81-81 to 86-76.

Now onto the data.

Monday, November 07, 2011

It's Begun: Giants Trade Dirty for Melky Cabrera

Just read the news, oh boy:  Hank Schulman blogged that the KC writer tweeted that Jonathan Sanchez has been traded for CF Melky Cabrera.  He was able to confirm it.  There is also an article on Yahoo on it as well, which reported that Ryan Verdugo was also included in the trade.

Giants Thoughts

Not too surprising because Sabean in recent interviews noted that the Giants might have to trade a starting pitcher.  That leaves the rotation at Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, and Barry Zito, with Eric Surkamp as the first guy up in case of need.  I also didn't think that Zito would end up in the bullpen as some had suggested, no way that would happen.  His greatest value is as a starter, particularly if he can return to his 2009-10 form, which was pretty good.

This also made sense because Sanchez was the most obvious to trade, in terms of value in return as well as lack of future value, because of his agent, Scott Boras.  Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner look like keepers, if at all possible, while Vogelsong and Zito would not yield much in trade, if anything in Zito's case.

This is a great trade assuming the Melky continues hitting the way he did in 2011, a breakout offensive season for him.  He plays CF, his OBP is decent enough for leadoff, and he has some speed judging by his SB, he just needs to hone his skill down to achieve a higher success stealing rate, which the Giants appear capable of doing, they were able to improve Randy Winn's  percentage in his time here.

His agent is NOT Scott Boras, so we might even be able to sign him long-term, and his hitting is good enough to move to the corners if necessary.  As much as I love Nate Schierholtz and believe in Brandon Belt, they both still need to prove themselves.  As do Melky as well, for that matter.  And his defense could be below average in CF while above average on the corners, according to Baseball-Reference.com, so that fits with him holding CF until Gary Brown is ready.

Another nice thing about him is that 2012 will be his 27 YO season, so he is headed into his prime years, potentially with us, if we end up signing him to a longer term contract, maybe an extension into his first or second year of free agency, which would still leave him at around 30 for his first big free agent contract, two good seasons won't necessarily get him that kind of big money.

Verdugo I think is thrown in because of the injuries that Sanchez had in 2011 that reduced his value a bit, as that leaves a question mark on his 2012 season.  Also, Sanchez is 29 next season, so he is a bit older then Melky, so that also justifies giving up another player.  I can live with that.  Verdugo struck out a lot but also walked a lot, and was a bit old for AA.  And the Giants have been very good in deciding which pitchers to give up in trades so far.

I like this trade a lot.  Clears up the CF situation, he's a pretty good player in exchange for a pretty good pitcher, he's a good hitter, and can play all OF positions, which gives Bochy a lot of flexibility in setting the lineup, depending on who is hitting and who is not (or injured).  Don't really see any need to sign any other OF now, OF appears to be set at Belt/Torres, Cabrera, Schierholtz, unless, of course, they somehow sign Carlos Beltran.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

On Your Mark: 2011 Free Agent Season

With the World Series over, after a inspiring Cards win, showing you should never give up (or an agonizing Rangers loss, coming within a strike, twice, of winning it all), free agency has officially begun in earnest.  The Giants started things out by signing Javier Lopez to a two year, $8.5M contract and picking up Jeremy Affeldt's $5M option (nice DrB discussion and commenting here, including moi).

The Chronicle's John Shea wrote an article on "SF Giants Need to Sign Carlos Beltran".  While I love getting offense, I don't see that the Giants NEED to sign Beltran.  What they need to do this off-season is get Lincecum and Cain signed to long-term deals, buying out their free agent years.  Next level of priority is signing Posey and Sandoval to long-term deals.  And it would be nice to sign Madison Bumgarner to a long-term contract as well.

But if Giants ownership do open up their pursestrings and sign Beltran (which would be ironic since apparently that is part of the reason why Neukom was forced out, his eagerness to spend the windfall money that came out of the World Championship), I would have to think that the Giants become the presumptive team to beat for the 2012 season, assuming that Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez return to the lineup doing what we think they can do for us.

But even if we do not, with our great pitching, returning such good hitters to our lineup will do wonders for our offense, particularly paired up with a slugging Sandoval.  We can win with that.  Any nice hitting by Aubrey Huff would then be the whip cream on top (hate those cheeries...).  We can still win with our offense as is as long as our pitcher is as good as it has been, though, like 2011, it would not be a sure thing (but few things are in life).

Of course, we still need a CF and SS.  I think Brandon Crawford is ready enough for us to go with him as the starter at SS.  His defense, while not UZR friendly (he was only 8.2 UZR/150; most fans think he's at least worth 2 wins or 20 UZR/150), is still pretty good, and batting 8th, he doesn't have to hit for much to be valuable to the Giants in the lineup.  His nice run in September, and now in AFL, suggests that he can get a good streak going sometimes; now he has to do it over a full season.  Because of the tight payroll, and particularly if the Giants do sign Beltran, I think it is a no-brainer to start Crawford at SS, first, because he should be good enough to start, and almost just as important, he's majorly cheap to pay.  Wouldn't mind getting Rollins, but not at the 5 years he wants or the big money he wants (more than Renteria got from us).

For CF, while not ideal, I think either Coco Crisp or David DeJesus would be OK for us atop our lineup.  Crisp is the more classic leadoff hitter except that he can't get on base, DeJesus has a great OBP but not enough speed to steal bases with, though enough to play CF in prior seasons.  1 season, 2 tops, no more than
$5M per, particularly Crisp who is injured so often.

Ideally, if Beltran could still play CF, that would be best for us, at least in 2012.  Unfortunately, his defense was pretty bad there the last two seasons he played there.  However, he was even worse in RF in 2011, so given his great offensive performance is worth even more in CF while he provides "better" (relative to RF) defense in CF, maybe he can play CF for us, with Nate Schierholtz perhaps helping him in the RF alley.

Then we would not need to sign a CF free agent, let Andres Torres and Brandon Belt fight it out for LF.  Whoever wins can be the leadoff hitter, as Belt actually ran well in the minors and typically gets on base a lot too.  His power would be a little wasted there, but that is where we need him in 2012 should he win LF.  Also, I would probably put Belt in AAA should Torres win, better to give him regular starts than sit on the bench, at least in early 2012.

Sabean also hinted at an upgrade at backup C for 2012, with the thought that Posey probably will not be able to play a full season at catcher due to his recovery, so he might sign a vet there.  I lobbied for Jose Molina previously because he's an excellent defensive catcher who knows how to handle pitchers really well (Fielding Bible II metric had him best during study period) but he's not much of a hitter.  Not sure who else is available, not really something to worry about either, though I would lobby for Stewart to keep the backup job, his batting discipline is actually pretty good, he could be one of those late developing catchers who figures out how to hit in his 30's (I think he was 29 last season).

I was also hoping that the Giants could somehow fit Mark DeRosa on the bench and sign him.  He can play so many positions (and well defensively) and he should finally be healthy in 2012.  He hit well for us at the end too.  But he wants to be back near home so if anyone on the east coast and particularly south offers him a job, he will probably take it.

Even if we don't get him, we probably only have two spots open for MI on the bench (backup catcher, probably Brett Pill, and backup OF, Torres if Belt wins).  The Giants probably have to have a reliable vet as backup SS, so Mike Fontenot probably got one position, unless the Giants can pick off a better SS for cheap in January.  That leaves only one spot and we have two players who we will lose if they don't win a spot, Emmanuel Burriss and Conor Gillaspie.  I think Burris has the best chance of winning that spot, since Gillaspie can't really play defense at any position (he's probably going to get traded to an AL team or released) and Burriss can play SS and can play 2B really well.  But if we lose both it won't be a huge loss either, if the Giants can pick up a nice backup SS free agent who got left without a spot on another team.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Now Catching (Up With) Buster Posey

Been meaning to point out this milestone in Posey's recovery, courtesy of Henry Schulman of the Chronicle:  

Good news from Scottsdale, Ariz., if you’re a fan of the Giants and Buster Posey.
Dave Groeschner, the Giants’ head athletic trainer, just told me that Posey has begun catching live bullpen sessions for pitchers in the instructional league. Groeschner watched Buster catch his second one this morning. The session lasted about 8 minutes.
This is a huge benchmark in Posey’s recovery from devastating injuries to his left leg that occurred in a May 25 home plate collision with Florida’s Scott Cousins, which required two surgeries thus far and ended his 2011 season. With that, the Giants’ hopes for a repeat World Series championship went down the tubes, too.
Though the Giants initially set Nov. 1 as a target date for Posey to catch live bullpen sessions, they hoped he might start a bit earlier, and Groeschner said Posey is about a week ahead of schedule.
“He’s been feeling good and progressing well, so there was no reason to wait,” Groeschner said.
We won’t know if Posey is truly recovered until spring training in February,  when he does all the regular activities with the team and plays in a game, but the fact he’s ahead of schedule raises hopes that he will be ready to hit the ground running when pitchers and catchers report.
This is pretty huge, though as noted, in a long recovery like this, and we won't really know until Spring Training.  But as the saying goes, a journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step.  Keep on, stepping on, Buster!

Then this latest update came along from Schulman again, which reminded me I should put up this post:

Those who saw Posey all summer in a cast, then a boot, tooling around the clubhouse on a wheeled contraption that allowed him to walk on his good leg, would be pleasantly stunned to see him look like abaseball player again, four months before he expects to catch the first pitch of the first Cactus League game not far from this park.
For the last six weeks, Posey has been rehabilitating and strengthening his leg in Scottsdale. He is taking batting practice. He has caught bullpen sessions from instructional-league pitchers. He is running 100-foot sprints, at 90 to 100 percent of full speed, he surmises, with no noticeable discomfort.
Nothing the front office accomplishes this winter will overshadow Posey's labors in Arizona. He was the catcher and cleanup hitter for San Francisco's first World Series championship team, among the strongest links in the chain of players. Nobody can deny the Giants will need a healthy, productive Posey to return to the playoffs in 2012.
He is encouraged by his progress.
"It was a pretty traumatic injury," he said as he rested between his outdoor work (batting practice and running) and an hour in the weight room. "To be five months out, I'm pretty happy where I am.
"When I was in San Francisco thinking about what I'd be doing at this time, I was thinking I'd just start to be running, or start to be hitting off a coach throwing. I've been doing that for four or five weeks now."
On Saturday, Posey will reach an important waypoint in his journey back. He will end his daily workouts in Arizona and go home to Georgia, where, in his mind, he no longer will be rehab guy. Rather, he will be another player preparing for the 2012 season just like any of his teammates.
Giants head trainer Dave Groeschner provided the reality check.
"He'll be in rehab until he plays a major-league game," Groeschner said. "Nov. 5 is the day he'll go home so he can have a little offseason and take a little mental break. He still knows he's got to work on his lower leg and ankle all the way to spring training."
Moreover, Posey and the team will have to remain vigilant because one sprained ankle breeds susceptibility to another. Posey will spend more time in the treatment room, before and after games, than he would prefer. He still has pain at times. Team trainers have warned him it will be a persistent companion.
Posey plans to hire a physical therapist in Georgia to stretch him out before his workouts and has a friend in that line of work, a back therapist. ...


... Perhaps Posey simply understands how much work remains before he can resume his life as a major-league catcher and cleanup hitter.
He can hit 1,000 home runs off Tom Trebelhorn, a 63-year-old coach, on an empty diamond in Scottsdale. Facing Ian Kennedy of the Arizona Diamondbacks on Opening Day 2012, 10 days after his 25th birthday, will be an entirely different story.
Groeschner said Posey's thrice-weekly batting practice has less to do with technique than sending him to Georgia confident that he will be able to hit come spring training, when the real preparations begin.
"The good thing is, you ask him how he is, and he's more frustrated at the way he's swinging his bat than the ankle," Groeschner said. "This is October. We're not worried about his swing much, just that he can do it and he feels good."
Posey confessed he is anxious about playing again, more about running than hitting or catching. When he closes his eyes, he visualizes himself in the squat behind the plate, or standing in the box against a pitcher throwing 95 mph.
So there has been continued progress and no setbacks from the last reported good news (as noted up top), again, another positive step forward in his long journey to resuming his major league career.

I also ran into some interviews that Johnny Bench has given about Posey, and I thought I would capture them together here.  Basically, Bench is a long-time Buster fan, and he thinks that Posey has the stuff to be one of those generational Hall of Fame catchers.  See this interview with Johnny Bench at The XLog.  In it, he notes how few catchers are in the Hall of Fame, only 13, basically one per decade.  Meaning to him that there is about one per generation.  He noted that Buster Posey (as well as Matt Weiters and two Reds prospects) could be that catcher for this generation.

Here are some of Bench's thoughts about how good Buster is, interviewed after the Giants won the World Series last season:

“The thing’s that so impressive, everybody saw in every interview, it was a class act,” Bench said. “He handled himself well. It was like a Tuesday game somewhere else, and he just got four hits. It was about being on the level with the game. He knows as a catcher knows, it’s one game. Then you’ve got to start all over.”
Posey knows Bench, having won the Johnny Bench Award as the best college catcher in 2008.
In their conversation, according to Bench, Posey said, “I asked my mom, ‘Should we call you and talk to you?’ I said, ‘Of course you should.’ “
Bench said Posey has what it takes to be a great catcher.
“He was a shortstop that became a catcher (at Florida State), so every game is still a learning experience for him,” Bench said. “He wasn’t beaten down or anything else. He’s a kid who loves the game. You can tell from his coach and family what a great person he is. And then to move up (to the majors) that quickly is really rare. You’ve got to say he’s a rare example of any phenom that stands up and does the job . He throws well. Calls the game. He’s got it all. And he runs well . . . for a catcher.”
Bench was impressed how Posey, at such a young age, handled pitchers. In this case, perhaps the best staff in the majors.
“There are three types of pitchers you have to deal with,” Bench said. “Some you just have to tell what town they’re in, remind them where they are. Some you remind them about mechanics, and some you have to bust their tail. You have to make them your friend and have them trust you.”
According to the Hall of Famer, the kid pulled it off.
Giants Thoughts

After going through this season, I have come to the conclusion that the Giants rode the back of Buster Posey to win the World Series last season.  He was the leader who got the team moving towards that goal, as evidenced by this quotes before and after winning, "Why not us?" "Let's do it again".   So that leads me to a couple of conclusions.

First, the 2012 Giants with Posey leading the way will be that much more competitive than the 2011 version, no matter who we end up signing as free agents.  I think we can win with the group we have, though I would love any offensive upgrades the team can make via free agency or trades.  And Buster would lead the way for us.

Second, the Giants should be looking into signing Buster to one of those mega-long contracts, like what Evan Longoria from the Rays or that Colorado doled out to their position stars.   As much as we need the pitching to continue to get the opportunities to win it all, I think we need Posey's leadership to push us over the top and achieve that.  I love his "Can Do" attitude and that he wasn't bowed by any high expectations nor questioning that they can't achieve the seemingly impossible.

This and signing Lincecum and Cain to long-term contracts are the key things I want to see from the Giants this off-season.  Sandoval too would be nice.

FYI, I've been spending a lot of my off-season time checking out DrB's blog for interesting discussions, check it out for my thoughts on some of the things happening to the Giants this off-season, like his recent post on the signing of Lopez then picking up Affeldt's option.  (Not too surprising, glad they did it; also, I would love it if the Giants go for it on Grady Sizemore for a one year deal)  Unfortunately, I don't usually remember to re-post my thoughts here, as I usually comment all across the internet on the Giants, though I might recap some of it at some point when the mood strikes me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Interviews with top prospects Brown and Panik

The Giants/MLB's video section got two nice interviews with Gary Brown and Joe Panik, where they answer some questions about their background, college experience, their 2011 performance, type of hitter they are, what they are working on in the AFL, and future plans. 

Brown

I've been very impressed so far by the interviews that Gary has given before and he was great in this one too.  This is the first time I've seen him not smile like a Cheshire Cat, he has a great smile usually, like he is just so happy to be in the position he is in (I think I've seen him in 3-5 interviews before).  He was very serious in this interview, barely cracked a smile at all that I can recall, though he did look like he did in prior interivews when he commented about liking to take a HBP. 

I like that he took on the Moneyball concept, which to me reflects perfectly what he has done in his career:  the most important thing is to get on base, walking to do that is one aspect of it, so is taking HBP.  If he can't figure out hitting in any particularly league, he'll adjust and get on-base via other methods.  But if he's hitting the ball well, why take the bat out of his hands by walking?

I find that the Moneyball topic is the key thing that separates the Saber-wannabes and those who know their stuff and are serious about it.  Walking is important but not to the extreme extent that many people make it to be.  There is a nuance to it that a lot of people don't get, it is important but not the only important thing.  Not being able to walk is not necessarily a bad trait if he is good at hitting the ball well.  A hit is much more valuable than a walk, you can advance the runners, you put pressure on the defense to make an error as well.  Also, a walk will never become a homer unless you can easily steal 2B, 3B, and home.  :^) 

Still, there is some importance, as there are those players who are not able to hit and thus need to be able to take walks to be able to add value as a hitter.  And ultimately, someone who can avoid swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone and swing only at strikes will be able to force the pitcher to come in with pitches that the hitter can handle and hit for a line drive or a hit somewhere.  But there are plenty of good hitters who do not take walks.  Sure, they are rarer and harder to find, but they do exist and they do provide a lot of good value as a player.

I guess it just bugs me a lot that people would point his lack of walks as a huge negative.  First of all, they based their analysis on one year's worth of data, his junior year when he was a hitting god.  Looking at his three years in college plus Cape Cod, he clearly was all about getting on base, whatever it takes.  Second, there are plenty of hitters who do well in the majors without walking that much.  Yes, it is better if he could take walks no matter what, but the focus was always on the lack of walks, not on the fact that he was hitting great and didn't need to take walks. 

As an analytical lark, I examined what would have happened if he took away 5 PA from his non-walk PA's and somehow magically changed them into five walks (no one really knows what would happen to a hitter if he suddenly tried to change his hitting style to take more walks, he might get more walks but much less hits plus additional outs as well; it would be like predicting the weather, i.e. right sometimes, but you can't really predict the rarer events, nor the complex sequence of results).  Using the valuations of each component of a non-walk PA, I found that his offensive production was REDUCED by converting his non-walk PA's into five walks.  He had so many hits, and so many of his hits were for extra bases, that the value of all the offense that could generate was higher than the offense generated by taking walks, even though a larger percent of those non-walk PAs were outs.  So he was better off hitting than trying to change and take a walk instead.

Panik

This is my first interview that I can recall seeing of Panik.  He was very poised, very humble, much like Brown, two really nice guys working hard to achieve their dreams.  He discussed the issue of switching to 2B in the AFL, really enjoyed the interview.  He has a nice smile too, a more serious face like Brown, maybe the interviewer asked them to do that?  Sounds like the same guy doing the interview.

There are also nice clips of them playing:  hitting and fielding.  Brown's batting stance is not so jittery anymore, so that was good to see.  Get to see Panik in the field too, that was nice.

Really nice, particulary in-depth interviews given how short, really, they are, allow us fans to get to know these two prospects.  Seeing these makes me root for them even more, they seem to be solid hard-working ballplayers who are not full of themselves.

Here are the links:

Gary Brown on playing in the AFL
Joe Panik on moving to second base in AFL

Giants Thoughts

Neither of them have been doing that well so far, but I understand it is just small samples.  As of the latest available stats, Brown is only hitting .220/.278/.300/.578 and Panik is only hitting .211/.302/.212/.513.  They are third and second worse on their team by OPS among the leaders on this list (not sure how many PA to qualify, but based on rough perusing of AB and BB, 30 is the lowest I could find, lowest AB is 27; also, sort by OPS to get most up to date stats, found lower ABs when sorted by BA for some reason).  At least they are doing better than Angel's Wunderkind Mike Trout (.222/.222/.289/.511) and not much worse than Nat's Wunderkind Bryce Harper (.214/.313/.381/.693).

But Panik does not appear to be totally overmatched.  Panik has done well with his batting discipline, he has only 3 strikeouts in 38 AB with 4 walks, both great ratios.  That is a 92% contact rate, which is great, 1.33 BB/K ratio (anything over 1.0 is great), and 10.5% BB/PA, which is good too.  However, his BABIP is only .229, which leads to the bad overall results and batting line. 

The fact that he isn't hitiing anything for extra bases suggest that while he's not being fooled in terms of striking out, he's also not able to do anything with the strikes he is hitting, he is not hitting them with much authority and either getting only singles or weak outs.  So that is bad, but given that his basic type of hitting is going for gap to gap line drives, this suggests that the pitching has an advantage over him at the moment but as he adjusts to and figures them out, he'll start hitting line drives again. 

Brown, however, appears to be overmatched to an extent but he's also suffering from some bad luck.  In 50 ABs, he only has 1 walk and 10 strikeouts.  That is a 80% contact rate, which is OK (good is 85%) but he needs to bring up his walk rate, that is just too low to sustain if he is to be our leadoff hitter.  Still, he is going with his bread and butter of HBP to boost up his OBP, it appears from the numbers that he already has 3 HBP in the 11 games he has played in so far.   His BABIP is .275, but he has 3 XBH in 11 hits so far, so he is making some hard contact when he is hitting the ball, so his poor hitting so far could be related to a simple case of bad luck with the BABIP gods.  Boosting him up to .325 BABIP would put him at 13 hits, for a batting line of roughly .260/.315/..340/.655 (and .360/.675 if he got an extra double among the extra hits).  At his .369 BABIP for San Jose, he would be at .295/.347/..400/.747 overall, roughly, assuming a slight uptick in XBH.  With some HR power that he normally tries for, that would push him closer to .800 OPS.

The cool thing with him is that while he realizes that as a lead-off hitter, he needs to figure out how to get on-base a lot, he also knows the value of hitting for extra-base power, including homeruns.  There are many speedsters who limit themselves to trying to get on base, ending up with a low OPS overall because their SLB is so low, like Burriss.  With just an uptick in power, the way Carney Lansford was trying to teach him to do, Burriss could be our starting 2B right now, instead of Franchez, because he'll be hitting more linedrives that will fall in for more hits as well as more extra-base hits.  Instead, he's probably going become, at best, a bench utility player, worse, a AAAA player bouncing up and down, as needs dictate.

Brown's philosophy at the plate, which he has espoused in the interviews I've seen him in before, encapsulates both getting on base (the OBP) as well as the driving in runs (SLG) components of the Runs Created formula.  He will always get HBP, it appears.  He will walk when he can't get on base via hitting (typically he did this in college, freshman and sophomore years), but if he's the leading hitter in the league (which he was in junior year, he was among top in BA, OBP, SLG, and thus OPS), he didn't focus so much on the walks as the power he was generating with his bat.  He wants to hit gap to gap and use his speed, but he also wants to get the regular HR as well.  He focuses on being an all-around hitter, which to me is kind of like a Rickey Henderson-lite:  not as much walks, hits, or homers, but that's Rickey's HOF standards, as what Brown has done is still pretty good overall.  He just needs to do it all at the major league level.

Brandon Crawford, meanwhile, has been doing well.  Playing SS while Panik plays 2B, he is hitting .353/.389/.588/.977 in 34 AB.  He has 7 K's for a 79% contact rate (OK, but not good) but only 2 walks, so he could stand to take a few more walks, so that it is closer to his K's, plus he could stand to not strikeout so much.  But neither is a big deal with so few games played so far and few ABs.  He's not going to hit that well forever, though, his BABIP is high at .423, there is no way he can sustain that at any level. 

But his 235 ISO is potentially repeatable, so if he can hit mid .200 BA and walk enough to reach .300 OBP, with that ISO, he will roughly be in the high 700 OPS range, which is more than enough for the Giants to play him at SS with his defense, heck, in that range, he would be a good offensive SS.  And even if he hits in the low .200 BA range, with that ISO, he would still be around 700 OPS (or slightly under), which is doable with his defense for him to be our starter in 2012.  Heck, if he is batting 8th for us, he probably can hit in the .650 OPS range and still be a productive SS for us, given his plus defense and OK (at that range) offense.  Anything above that would probably be gravy.  Still, he has under 50 PA, so it is very much a small sample size issue right now.

And that is a large part of looking at their stats right now, realizing that there are not that many ABs so far.  Still, there are some things that can be pointed out about each hitter that they can work on, whether they are doing well or doing poorly, overall.  There are some good things to point out as well, on a thus far basis, that if they continue, would be good signs.  Obviously, it would be nicer if they were all hitting like BCraw is hitting (though with a .423 BABIP, he's not going to continue that going for very much longer), but there is nothing to panic over yet, and there are some good signs for each, as well as things to work on.

The bad news of their performance so far is that most probably the highest Brown and Panik will probably be promoted to is AA, and thus 2013 is the more likely the earliest season they ascend to the majors permanently, particularly Panik.  Brown definitely will get promoted to AA Richmond, but Panik could end up at San Jose instead, like Brown did in his first full season as a pro, this season.  Brown could push the envelope with a good performance and make the majors by the end of 2012, but right now I don't see that happening with Panik given his difficulties in the AFL.  Still, I think Panik's decision to sign early has paid off, he has made his mark and got the AFL gig, a opportunity which he probably would not have gotten had he waited until the last minute to sign. 

I know the Giants said that they will not rush prospects, but as I noted, Panik is not exactly being dominated by pitchers in the AFL, which experts have said that the talent would be like between AA and AAA.  Personally, while I agree that the talent overall is like that, I think it is tougher than either because you are facing that top level of player every day, whereas when playing in those leagues, you get to play against a lot of organizational players.  Thus the Giants might push him up to AA, partly because his batting discipline is good, with the thought that he will figure it out  but also to pair up Brown and Panik atop the lineup and learn to play together, much like how they had Bumgarner and Posey together in order to give them some time together to work together.  Overall, though, the caution in Sabean's talk suggests that unless Panik heats up soon, he's most probably ending up in San Jose for the 2012 season.

And while Crawford most likely will cool off at some point, if he can keep his batting line in a good range, probably at least .800 OPS, he most probably will be given the chance to win the SS spot and the Giants will not consider signing any SS to a big money, long-term deal (meaning no Rollins).  Instead, they would do as they have been in recent years when keeping a spot open for a top prospect, sign a vet on the cheap who looks capable enough to keep the seat warm until the top prospect is ready, presumably sometime mid-season.  If they do sign Rollins to a long-term deal, then clearly they don't think much of Crawford's future.  But I don't think that is the scenario we will be facing by the end of the AFL season, I think Crawford is making his case, both in the AFL as well as his last month in the majors, that he's ready enough to start at SS for the Giants in 2012.

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