Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fan(tasy) vs. Realist(ic)

I see a lot of moaning about the offense, and the fan in me get it, I would love to have a great offense too.  Why waste this beautiful, wonderful, great pitching?  We could be way ahead of the NL right now!  Lets get - insert great hitter - now!

But the realist in me understands that in baseball, as in most parts of life, you have to make choices.  Hard choices because we live in a resource constricted universe.  What people forget is that we would not have this beautiful, wonderful, great pitching right now, if the Giants had built up a beautiful, wonderful, great lineup.

Instead of Matt Cain, maybe they picked Sergio Santos instead.  Instead of Tim Lincecum, maybe they went ahead and trade him for Alexis Rios, as many Giants fans wanted.  Instead of Madison Bumgarner, they pick Jason Heyward (or worse, Beau Mills, or even Matt Dominguez), as many Giants fans wanted.  Instead of Jonathan Sanchez, they went ahead and traded him for Cory Hart.  Heck, instead of Buster Posey, who is out injured, they picked Justin Smoak, as many Giants fans wanted (and in fact argued the Giants made a mistake selecting Posey over Smoak).

But can anyone imagine the Giants winning the World Series with any (or all) of these replacements?  And are these fans, who think they know better, the right people to listen to for what the Giants should or should not do, when they don't even acknowledge that their alternative decisions would have been disastrous for the Giants 2010 World Championship?

I find it delusional that many of these fans think that Sabean was lucky, when I see it as that WE Giants fans are lucky these delusional fans were not in charge as GM.  Maybe Sabean was lucky, but it was his moves that put the Giants in position to take advantage of that luck.  Every World Championship team is built on some luck, no team is going to go all the way without a good modicum of luck.  But it is the teams that put themselves into position to take advantage of the situation that can win it all.  These fans would have traded away essential pieces of the championship team without knowing it at that time.  Sabean keep them all, that is not luck, that is prescience.

Meanwhile, these fans ultimately would have ended up managing the Giants into the non-playoff participating role in 2010, still hoping to win it all in their alternative universe.

The realist in me appreciates what Sabean has done for the Giants.  It is good for the soul to at least take that step and not attribute it all to luck, one, because it was NOT all luck (again, he KEPT all those players that people wanted to trade), and two, to diminish his accomplishment as luck is to diminish the accomplishment of all the Giants who contributed to that championship (again, I dare any of them to say that to a Giants player's face and see what happens) and to basically dismiss all past and future championships as shams because it is based on luck.

That is the logic that these people appear incapable of comprehending, instead, they would rather hurl invectives at me.  To say that 2010 was just luck means that all prior and future championships are luck, as every team in baseball history have elements of what these fans call luck.  And if you really, truly, feel that way, then why bother following baseball?  Roll the dice, draw a card, it is all luck, right?

Rebuilding Takes Time

What these fans also don't realize is that rebuilding takes time, a much longer time than, seemingly, they are willing to accept.  A team cannot rebuild so that one moment it is a loser, then the next moment, it is a winner.  Just like a baby is not a full grown man, one moment to next, there is all that messy in-between development time, where there is a lot of two steps forward and one step back.

And some parts will advance faster than other parts.   Sabean's apparent strategy is to build a strong pitching staff and keep it going, then add on to the offense as available.  With the pitching staff pretty much set a few years ago, the team's draft philosophy shifted and focused more on position players (while still drafting more pitchers than hitters, even though rosters built the other way).

And what people don't realize is that the lineup is coming along great.  Posey at catcher ( or Hector Sanchez or Andrew Susac as eventually replacement).  Brandon Belt at 1B (or Tommy Joseph), Joe Panik at 2B (or Charlie Culberson), Sandoval at 3B, Brandon Crawford at SS (or Nick Noonan or Ehire Adrianza), Thomas Neal in LF (or Francisco Peguero), Gary Brown in CF, Schierholtz in RF (or Rafael Rodriguez or Charlie Jones or Jarrett Parker).  We got a leadoff hitter in Brown, nice #2 hitter in Panik, middle of order presence from Posey, Belt, Sandoval, and maybe even good to great hitting from bottom of order.  And it will be here in a couple of years.  Except in the alternative universe where the fans trade away everyone to win this season.

Big Picture Needed

Fans need to take a good look at the big picture.  With Bill Neukom's wealth (Baggarly reports in his great book, Band of MiSFits, that he has $600M+; must buy book for any Giants fan, FYI) helping to keep most of our pitchers into their free agent years, and great looking arms coming up in Zach Wheeler and Eric Surkamp, the Giants should be set at pitching for the rest of this decade.  And not just set, but set to be one of the top teams in run prevention (they have been #1 or #2 two years in a row in MLB now, and look good for third time this year).

But trading just to get a boost this season, reduces the production we get from that unit going forward (unlike my suggestion that we trade Dirty to get a big bundle of prospects, which would seed our future seasons and make those teams much more winnable).  As I noted in a post before, winning the World Series, even in the best of circumstances, depends on a lot of baseball luck involved to win everything, betting on this season at the cost of future seasons makes sense if you don't think you will be able to win in future seasons.

However, it does not make sense when the Giants are set up like we are to have great pitching for the rest of this decade.   Why cost us a chance to win it all in multiple years in the future on the off chance we win it this season?

Particularly since research, and not just regular research, but from two of our top sabers out there, Baseball Prospectus and The Hardball Times, found that additional offense does not improve your chances of winning in the playoffs.  Thus, what most fans do not realize, which this realist does, is that by trading pitching for hitting, you in essence reduced your chance of winning in the playoffs and winning the World Series, as counter-intuitive as that may seem.  And that is the big picture.

Just Enough

So your first step is to build up a great pitching staff and then keep it humming for as long as you can.  Your second step is to rebuild the offense, piece by piece.  Yes, mistakes have been made, but which team hasn't?  A great pitching staff mitigates mistakes because they are much more efficient in winning games than the average team.

Let's try an example.  A league average team would have a 4.19 RA/G right now.  To be at a .500 record, the would need to score 4.19 runs/game.  The Giants, with a 3.53 RA/G right now, only needs to score 4.03 runs/game to win at a 90-72 winning percentage.  If they can achieve that, they will end up with an 89-73 record this season.

The Giants in 2009 had an overall 4.06 RS/G.  It was achieved with this batting order performance:

Batting 1st:  .258/.312/.404/.717
Batting 2nd: .251/.299/.333/.632
Batting 3rd:  .283/.337/.460/.797
Batting 4th:  .288/.316/.472/.788
Batting 5th:  .252/.321/.377/.697
Batting 6th:  .251/.303/.361/.665
Batting 7th:  .282/.336/.457/.793
Batting 8th:  .254/.307/.373/.680

As we can see, it did not take a lot to score over 4 runs per game.

And even if they continue their low scoring now, they should still end up around 84-78, which in this NL West, would still be competitive for the title and perhaps still win it.

Not More of the Same

And that is where fan veers away from realist:  assuming that what has happened up to now represents what will happen going forward.  That is not realistic given that there are a lot of players who were either missing during large parts of that period (Sandoval, Ross) or will be missing going forward (Posey, Franchez).

A big problem with the offense right now is that most players aren't hitting.  Only guys regularly hitting in June has been Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff, out of the regulars, and Pat Burrell and Bill Hall, among guys who are not regulars.  Really hurting our offense is the catcher, Emmanuel Burriss, Brandon Crawford, and Pablo Sandoval, who has not been hitting that well since coming off the DL, though he had a nice start.  All of them are killing the offense right now.  Even Schierholtz has been holding back the offense a bit, though he's been OK enough to stick in there.

And given Bochy's tone, I expect things to change sooner than later.  There is something up with Andres Torres right now, he is just not hitting right, though taking a lot of walks, which is good.  I think we see more platooning with Cody Ross in CF.  Cody, however, will play in a corner spot when not in CF.  And Burrell and Schierholtz will battle over the rest.

As much as I love Brandon Crawford's defense, hitting .169/.222/.220/.443 so far in June just doesn't make up for that.  I can see Bochy going with Tejada more and more often as Crawford continues to struggle.  And I think Bill Hall is the regular 2B going forward, unless there is a trade (Baggarly reported a rumor that Giants spoke to A's about Mark Ellis; he just came back from injury but they brought up Jemile Weeks, and he has sparked them with great hitting).  I think Burriss saw the writing on the wall and that is why he has been sleepwalking on the field.  Plus, he has got to realize that hitting .216/.256/.216/.473 in June doesn't cut it either.

Lastly, I still believe in Kung Fu Panda.  Sandoval will snap of out his slump in a big way soon, but until he does, the offense will suffer with one of their main guys not hitting, don't matter which team it is, if your middle guy isn't hitting, you will suffer.

Losing the Battle, Winning the War

So I understand the angst about getting swept by the A's.  Hey, I wanted the Giants to do the sweeping.  But you lick your wounds, tip your cap, and understand that baseball works like that, particularly against a poor offense like the Giants have.

But people forget that even our best offense, the 2000 Giants, got shut out by a Mets journeyman pitcher who by rights the Giants offense should have pounded.  It happens.

The realist in me sees that the team is still in great position, leading the NL West still, despite the sweep.  Yes, it will be tough beating the hot Twins, but they have been horrible on the road this season.  And they built their win streak off a long homestand, against some weak teams, plus beat some weak teams before that as well on the road.

Also, their hot streak has been built a lot on the back of one hot player, Michael Cuddyer.  Nobody else has been doing that great, though there are lot of good contributions from Drew Butera, Alexi Casilla, Luke Hughes, Delmon Young.  He will eventually cool, and the Giants got three pitchers who can cool bats in Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, and Tim Lincecum.

Looking beyond, the Giants are still 10 home games behind road games.  Once that balances out, that will improve the Giants record while bringing others down (as most other teams lose more on the road than the Giants do).  They will play 13 of the next 20 at home too, which brings us up to the All-Star break, and even things out (though they go on road for four right afterward and are on the road for 10 of 16).  And while they are ahead of their Pythagorean, they were behind by 2 games last season: some seasons it giveth, others it taketh away.

More importantly, as long as they lead the division or are within spitting distance (5 games), the Giants don't need to do anything more than tweak the team to stay in contention, as long as they have and keep this beautiful, wonderful, great pitching.  Sabean just needs to keep some trade irons hot in the fire, in case they need to make a change to shake things up (like at catcher right now).  And once Torres and Sandoval start hitting more like normal, the offense should perk up.  And betting against Tim Lincecum turning things around is usually a poor bet.

That is what the realist does, assess the current situation, balance the future and present needs, and realize that a baseball team will have hot streaks and cold streaks and that there is no need to cry that the sky is falling every time your team loses a few games.  Because that great pitching is still there and will return, and the hitters will return enough at some point to make that pitching pay off and win.

Though I don't blame it all on the fans.  The media is partly to blame for instilling in the public the tendency for short attention and focusing on the bad.  It is not that interesting to write that the team is doing fine, just hitting a bad patch, or that it is winning it all.  Nor is it as lucrative, either, for if you cater to the crowd, you sell more newspapers, website views, etc.  And drama sells.  Also, it don't take much analysis to say that the Giants are losing games and hammer on the offense, another to say that the team is in good position for doing well this season and making the playoffs and that the offense is still good enough to win the division title this season and make the playoffs.

26 comments:

  1. As usual, very nice article OGC. In the blogosphere, we call it "pantshatting" and it's what a LOT of fans do. "DFA [insert name of player having a bad week]!!" "Eat [insert name of highly paid player]'s contract and get rid of him!!" and "[insert name of player going through a rough patch] is DONE!!"

    It's frustrating, but we live in a short attention span society (witness the popularity of football vs. baseball). One thing I find interesting is the tendency to say that good pitching is "wasted" if the team doesn't win. You never hear anyone say, after a 11-10 loss, that the hitting was "wasted." Only pitching can be "wasted."

    I think this is part and parcel of our short attention span culture. Hitting is immediate gratification, pitching takes patience to appreciate.

    As you write, drama sells. And many (most?) fans are drama queens.

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  2. It's refreshing to read this article. You and I are of the same mindset in not wasting our future to make a run this season. Frankly, there is no one out there that can make this team a perennial power RIGHT NOW... not that we could realistically trade for, anyway.

    Here is the one area of concern that I do have about our future. While this Giants organization has built a wonderful pitching staff highlighted by homegrown talent, to me they have always seemed much more relunctant to give young position players a chance. Granted, we haven't had the depth of talented hitters in our system that we have now, so maybe Buster Posey's arrival will signify a change in the offensive outlook of this organization.

    One other thing that I try to remind myself, no matter how hard it may be at times, is that these minor league talents are by no means locks for solid big league careers. I was so excited about Brandon Belt when the season started, and look how it has turned out for him so far. Obviously, he will get his chance eventually, and hopefully shine. That aside, I just have a feeling we will won't ever see half of the young prospects mentioned above in the lineup in San Francisco. Sabean just has a way of giving money to overpiced, past their prime hitters. If that mindset changes, maybe we will get to see this young, homegrown dynasty that seems so promising.

    Great Read... and thanks for a refreshing take.

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  3. One other thing I must add. For as much as I used to think Brian Sabean was running us into the ground, we never would have won a title if Sabean would have started the influx of young hitters two years ago when I wanted him to.

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  4. You totally misunderstand the Baseball Prospectus findings on offense in the post-season. Most BP writers misunderstand them too. Noses too close to the grindstone.

    You especially misunderstand it with respect to the Giants. Who makes the post season? Teams with average or above offenses. Always. So when the contest is between a team with really good offense and average offense, but the latter has super pitching, yeah: short series, pitching likely to dominate.

    Now think really hard. Take off your Sabean-colored glasses. What did the Giants team that made the playoffs last year have? After a miserable early season (not nearly as bad as this season) in the second half they had an average offense and were among league leaders in HRs. In fact, they won with HRs.

    Going into the playoffs they were an average offense with above average power. They also had great starting pitching and an above average bullpen.

    Now: No offense. No power. Great but fading starters. Marvelous bullpen but you know what? everything set to implode due to the fade.

    In other words, not a champion.

    Dismissing offense is both stupid and ignorant. Teams with below average offenses do not get to the World Series. They. Just. Don't. Yeah, trot out your Cardinals exception. They prove the rule.

    So basically teams in the post season have average but mostly above-average offense to really good offense. In other words, there is not much difference between them at bat -- not as much, at least, as there is between good and bad teams in season.

    That leaves pitching and defense. And, yeah. Once you're in the post-season, if you have three starting pitchers who are vastly superior to the other three, and three relievers vastly superior to their opponents, you are IN.

    But you aren't even in the World Series if you are today's Giants. And you aren't even likely to make the post-season at status quo, and if you do, you'll lose to any team with ok pitching and average offense. Which is any team in the playoffs.

    Scorning offense is stupid and ignorant. It's scorning and ignoring context.

    It's scorning and ignoring reality.

    Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal, and Warren Span could not get this team into the playoffs, much less through them to a world championship.

    You are a well-meaning dreamy person with terrible ego problems. You have hitched your wagon to a similar.

    But Sabean has money, clout, and a well-entrenched career in an industry that frankly is happy to tolerate ignorance and stupidity.

    You? You have faith in Sabean. You don't think he was lucky. You think it was a far-seeing plan. But he was lucky. He has tried the same thing every season. They say he shifted gears after Bonds but he did not. He kept going to the aged vets and got lucky on five roulette bets, finally. Once. One year.

    And then he signed the lucky strikes to ultra-rich multi-year contracts.

    His method will continue to produce predictable results. Look at his record. Look at his actions throughout. They produced those results.

    It is insane to think his actions will produce a result that is different from what he has wrought every year but one.

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  5. Thanks for the comments.

    Hilarie, you clearly did not read the book at all, yet feel that you know exactly what was in that chapter. There is no way you can say what you say if you actually READ the chapter. There is also the study by THT that showed that offense has no effect in the playoffs either, you are saying that they got it wrong too?

    Now I will add here that BP did not want to imply that offense has no bearing in the playoffs, obviously you still need enough of one to win, but once a playoff caliber team makes the playoffs, how good an offense a team has had no statistically significant connection with going deep into the playoffs.

    And I don't know how to make my point any clearer: here are the three factors that BP said a team needs to be among the best in, in order to maximize your chances of going deep:

    1) high K/9 pitching staff (not just rotation, pitching staff)

    2) high WRXL closer

    3) great defense by their defensive metric.

    That's it, no offensive measure, in their professional opinion, provided any advantage in the playoffs.

    Of course, you would have known this had you actually READ the chapter on how Billy Beane's Sh*t Doesn't Work in the Playoffs.

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  6. Hilarie, if you would read carefully all the words I've written this season :^), I've never said ONCE that the Giants are going to win the World Series.

    Not once.

    In fact, I wrote that the Giants even in the best of circumstances will probably not repeat. Grant even deigned to link to it. It becomes a dice game in the playoffs, once you made it in, as most of the teams are roughly equal overall.

    Tell me which BP article you are referring to. I've discussed my source many times, BP's book Baseball Between the Numbers, Billy Beane chapter, particularly in my Baseball Business Plan.

    When I got time, I'll answer your other points about Sabean, which I agree with some, disagree with most.

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  7. You call me a dreamer, yet I was the only one in MCC the past 5 years telling people that good times were around the corner, then told them that 2009 and 2010 would be good seasons for the Giants. And they were.

    I never said I was perfect, but I was at least closer to the mark, heck, close to the mark period, than anybody else on MCC regarding the direction and success of the Giants the past 4-5 seasons.

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  8. I think you didn't read anything I said. Much shorter. Much righter.

    Only average and above offense goes to playoffs. That, and that alone, is why pitching dominates post-season: Teams in the post-season are (loosely) evenly matched on offense.

    See? The regular season weeds them out. Did you notice that the Giants worked themselves back up from abysmal to average on offense last year? Yeah. And that is the key. Because without it they don't get there.

    You love Sabean and believe many dumb things. You ignore the obvious. Ignore this: A team that scores fewwe than four runa per game will not win anything.

    You have some abilities. Unfortunately you attribute to yourself the ability to see the big picture. You are totally wrong about that.

    You are nose to the grindstone guy. Whenever you proclaim something about Sabean you embarrass yourself. Honestly, you have no perspective. You have beliefs.

    Sabean has succeeded once since 1996, after inheriting Bonds.

    Please rethink.

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  9. Wow. This is ridiculous. Hilarie, you are just like all of the other pessimistic Giants fans in the blogworld. The difference is, you spice your words up to boost your own ego. This whole rant is getting pretty tiring. The Giants suffer a season's worth of injuries in one month and you think that gives you the right to come out and bash everything that Sabean and the organization have done? Get over it.

    I just have one question for you, and for all of the other negative Giants fans out there for that matter. Did you even cheer when we won the World Series last year, or were you too busy criticizing the organization for getting lucky? For your sake, I hope you enjoyed it.

    Give me a break. This is baseball, where only 8 teams make the playoffs. Not 16, like the watered-down NBA and NHL. You have to sustain success for 162 games! In no other sport is it like this. In no other sport are roster spots so competetive. Yet everyone thinks they could manage this organization SO MUCH better! Get real! We are the defending World Series champions, which happens to mean a lot to me, as well as many other optimistic fans. The rest of you, including you Hilarie, can continue to waste your time wallowing in your own miserie. If you can't enjoy a title, you'll never enjoy anything. Do everyone else a favor and take your criticism somewhere else.

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  10. Hilarie, I said I didn't have time to go over all your comments, I don't know how to make that plainer.

    And your statements, while shorter, is not right much at all.

    I did read your initial blurb (LIE!) about offense and such, and I ask you again to point out the BP article you claim to have read on offense and that I misinterpreted.

    Unfortunately for your statement (LIE!) is that I recall and comprehend what I read pretty well.

    I've given my BP reference, if you want to have a decent discussion about this, please provide your reference or I'll continue to be convinced you just lie to make your statements.

    With this, I can agree with you: if the Giants offense does not improve significantly and hit the way they should, the way they are projected, then I can agree with you that they won't make the playoffs.

    But once they are in the playoffs, it does not matter at all what their offense is, it has not had a significant effect on the results of the playoffs per BP's study. Which, you again, ignored.

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  11. And thank you for your condescension and inaccurate labels, Hilarie. I have seen the big picture, I've seen it for years.

    The complaining of you and others have not convinced me otherwise, it would take more than your spewings, labels, and accusations here to change my mind.

    You talk exactly like someone I used to "discuss" things with on the boards. He would lie too (made up a ridiculous lie about the draft which I easily proved wrong because of a player on the Giants team) and kept on talking like he knew me or something. Must be some common defect or something.

    I stand by my record of statements. I've made mistakes, sure, but it is people like you who embarrass yourself with your public lies, thinking that nobody would check up on your lies.

    I feel sorry for you that you think Sabean has only succeeded only once since 1996. You must have been miserable all those years, living like that. I look forward to you being miserable for many more years as I don't see Sabean going anywhere for the rest of his career as GM.

    For me success in baseball has little to do with winning it all, though that obviously is nice and life changing. Most of it has to do with understanding: my team, its circumstances, my expectations. I feel that as long as I manage my expectations regarding my team, I can enjoy a season successfully. So I enjoyed following the Giants during the losing years, they met my expectations.

    Part of it has to do with winning, which Sabean has had plenty of over the years. Part of it is understanding the life-cycle of a team, which I've learned from my research. Part of it is understanding how while the draft helps teams, it also hurts teams in predictable ways, which almost nobody except for me understand. Part of it is understanding how a team becomes successful in the playoffs, which I've learned from the research of others.

    And if I say dumb things, point them out specifically or shut up. I have no problem with specific things being pointed out, but broad generalizations like that is useless unless we have had a long running discussion of my dumb sayings. That makes YOU the one saying dumb things.

    Like this supposed BP findings on offense in the post-season (which I did notice you changed the subject from playoffs to regular season). Please feel free to reference the title and author, and if it is freely available, I'll read it.

    But I'll end again with an agreement with you: if the Giants offense don't improve, they are not going to win the division title. I just think that it is probable that they will improve their offense, once Sandoval gets his hitting going.

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  12. And Hilarie, I do not love Sabean. I started like you Sabean Naysayers thinking he's dumb on the draft, but I now see the beauty of it and of his construction of the team. What he has done with the Giants are a thing of beauty to behold, this team is going to be great for years if Neukom would finance it and we don't get many disastrous career-ending injuries.

    Still, if I see him screwing up this situation, I want Neukom to move swiftly to keep this going and remove Sabean. I don't love Sabean, I love his results. For every GM is hired to be fired.

    The Giants are going to be great for years if Sabean don't blow it somehow. But I don't believe that he will. But I have been wrong before.

    Too bad you people can't get over yourselves and enjoy it and him. Too bad for you, I've been enjoying the Giants for years now and plan on many more. And I'm going to gloat about his next extension too.

    While you rot in your hell watching Sabean run the Giants. Get some more Rolaids, I don't see the light of the tunnel yet on his career as Giants GM.

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  13. OCG, Hilarie is a PERFECT example of the pantshatter. He's got a preconceived notion (Sabean sucks) and then will move any conversation around to restate his position. Usually over and over again. When disagreed with, the pantshatter has a couple of options: 1) Lie to support his suppositions, 2) Name call to divert attention, 3) Demonize opposing viewpoints as "pollyanna." In short, the Pantshatter is a master of the formal fallacy: Tu quoque, shifting grounds, false dichotomy, straw men, etc.

    Or, he'll outright lie. Don't let the shatter get you down; you do good work and your blog is very enjoyable.

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  14. Oh, and one more thing: I've spent way too much time trying to figure out the motivation/psyche of the Chicken Little crowd. Who really knows if these folks are miserable in their lives? I don't try to figure them out -- I'm not trained to psychoanalyze. It is humorous that the garden-variety Pantshatter DOES believe himself to be a master of psychoanalysis ("you see everything through Sabean colored glasses," "Sanchez is mentally weak," "Sabean hates rookies," etc...) Pure speculation without any of the information that Bochy, Sabean and the rest of the front office have access to on a daily basis. But, that's the Dao of the Shatter -- when you don't have data available, make it up.

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  15. sigh... Hilary, OGC is right. And you miss a very essential component, that winning percentage is based on both hitting AND pitching. It's the ratio (so to speak) between the two, not just one or the other. You may be missing the point of how wins are recorded - by scoring one more run than the opposition. If you do that 55% percent of the time, you win 90 games. "Only average and above average offenses go to the playoffs" is absurd - baseball history shows it to be absurd, sabermetrics aside.

    And BP's book goes into this (the post-season) in excruciating detail. Not only are the top correlations that OGC mentioned listed, but they get into individual "unbalanced" teams as well. It's very hard to miss.

    And if you want to beat us over the head with your BP knowledge, their website, as of this second, has the Giants the fourth most likely team to make the playoffs in all of baseball, behind only the Red Sox, Yanks, & Phillies. And before the recent losing streak, they were ahead of the Phillies as well.

    And anyway, if I remember correctly, even a 100 win team has only a 30% chance of winning the series. It's just probability and math, something Bill James covered god knows, 15-20 years ago. I believe OGC's point here is that while the Giants may win 92 games, in the playoffs, because of the pitching, they will perform more like a 100 win team. Geez... this is basic stuff. Been true since the dawn of baseball.

    First post in the comments said all that needed to be said. Get a grip.

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  16. Thanks for the backup everyone!

    I just noticed that hilarie did not say that he/she was one of those who did not demand the Giants trade one of their pitchers for some hitter. Makes hilarie's words all that more shallow, blasting Sabean while not admitting that their mistakes would have costed us the championship in 2010. Sabean may have done it by luck in their estimation, but I can say with certainty that had they been GM, the 2010 Giants certain would not have won the championship because these people would have traded away one of the key pitchers that paved out way to the playoff and eventually World Championship.

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  17. Dear OGC,

    I just wish to say how much I enjoy your blog and respect your opinion and analysis. I've been teaching myself sabermetrics and whatnot over the past few months or so, and have taken great joy in your writing.

    Also, I have to give you enormous credit for being so consistent, and consistently correct to boot. Your business plan is fantastic; I wish I wrote it myself so that I could shop it around to MLB front offices in the hopes of landing any type of job. While I am not sure if your business plan was written before it could be said that it was clearly akin to the Giants and Sabean/Baer/Neukom's strategy, it has matched the continued make-up of the Giants team and predicted their success.

    I am with you that the Giants have the pieces to build a true, dominant dynasty. More WS rings could be in their future if they play their cards right. If the FO can keep Lincecum and Cain long-term, then there is no need to go all-out this year. I would like to see the Giants make some low-risk moves this year to jumpstart the offense like they did last year. I would hate to see Zack Wheeler, or any of the promising prospects I follow daily, to be traded for a good bat, even if it is for Jose Reyes (or somebody as good).

    However, the Giants are lucky to have an abundance of a very precious asset in today's game: quality starting pitching. With four runs of support, Zito will win 90% of the time. That sort of assurance would mean much to most teams. With the no-trade clause and the contract, moving Zito would be next to impossible. Nonetheless, he is still a league-average or better pitcher, and, if not for Vogelsong, would be hands-down the best 5th starter in baseball. Leaving him to languish on the bench or in the bullpen is to waste a productive asset.

    If he cannot be moved--and I assume he can't--I would like him to re-enter the rotation. Great pitchers have developed beneath him and he has shown himself to be a fantastic teammate. Having a six-man rotation would help keep our arms fresh, but I agree with you that we should shop Sanchez to see what he could fetch.

    He is relatively cheap as it is--only $5mil/year, and if he is put on the trade market, he will be the best left-hander and probably the best overall starting pitcher available. The Yankees are in Win-Now mode, as they are every year, and are desperate for pitching, particularly left-handed starting pitching. Supply and demand could make trading Sanchez this year more profitable than we ever thought possible. With no other ace, or near-ace on the market (and I would say that Sanchez, despite his walks, has the stuff of an ace, and can perform at an ace's level more often than not; ie, you can pitch him against and ace and have a good chance of winning), Sanchez might fetch exactly the sort of piece to ensure the longevity of our dynasty.

    ReplyDelete
  18. (continued)

    Of course, I would imagine the Yankees to top the list of buyers, and especially after missing out on cliff lee last year, would make the strongest offer for Sanchez. While snagging Brett Gardner might be unrealistic, I think Jesus Montero might very well be. He's having a down year offensively, but defensively he's doing much better: he has only one error in nearly 50 games and only 3 passed balls--more than twice as good as last year. He's still awful and throwing runners out, but so is Eli Whiteside. He's 21 years old and has one of the most promising bats in the minors. He is very close to major league ready.

    If we could get Montero, even if we have to throw in a good bullpen arm or two (anybody except Romo, Wilson, Lopez), he could join the team immediately and step up behind the plate and play 1b. When Buster comes back, they can split time at catcher and 1b, especially if Belt is an average or better defensive outfielder.

    Anyway, off-topic there. I love your blog, and don't even bother arguing with these people who spew vitriol and irrational thoughts. They're not worth your time. Just write up another fantastic post instead. You're doing great work, and when I get my own blog up and running, one of my first posts will no doubt be a thank-you and shout out to you (as well as DrBGiantsFan and Fla-Giant who posts at MCC. But each of you deserve your own thanks.)

    Best,
    Matthew Stoltz

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thank you Matthew for your kind words. Feel free to take your own spin on the business plan I put together and see if you can get a job. Just throw me a bone if you get in! :^)

    The plan is a combination of my observations of the Giants plus a lot of reading of baseball sabermetrics and a bit of my research that I've done over the years. It is a culmination of all that.

    The inspiration for that was when Neukom came in and said that there would now be a Giants Way document. I love business plans, so I thought I would put one together tying together all the various thoughts I had gathered over the years.

    Clearly, Sabean and the Giants have been pitching focused for a long time. I wrote about this long ago under my old moniker, Biased Giants Fanatic, about Sabean's MO.

    Thus, some of the plan came together because I would read about some sabermetric finding and seeing how that applies to the Giants.

    Others, I came to my conclusions. Like the one about how pitching allows offense to be more efficient at winning. That was a finding, if I recall right, by THT. Playing around with that, in light of the Giants great pitching, I realized that a great pitching (or really defensive in terms of pitching and fielding) team could win 90 games with a pretty lousy offense.

    Hence partly why all the haters at MCC thinks that I don't care about offense, when I really don't care to trade any of our luscious and great pitching for offense unless we get a really good deal, which is a nuanced view that, I grant, is not always communicated in each and every comment I make, so perhaps they missed that, but that I do make pretty clear if they would read everything I write.

    Or like my draft study, which was my own work and still, really, the only one to make my points and I did that many years ago now.

    In any case, what I discovered is that the Giants seem to have either known or lucked into, what a lot of sabermetrics have discovered over the years (or perhaps they have their own sabermetric expert passing this info along when they find it) and follow it.

    But certainly Sabean's motto, seemingly from the very beginning, has been great pitching, great fielding, and a great closer, which hews nicely to BP's finding almost to the T.

    But if I may pat myself on the back, I was writing about how the Giants were changing back when Bonds was let go, and how that will lead to a new era of success. Grant said I was just lucky to get it right last season when he was attacking me, but really, I've been right for a number of seasons already, I was almost the only one (probably besides DrB), who was writing about how the Giants should be competing and winning high 80's in the 2009 season, then about how the Giants should be making the playoffs in 2010 and perhaps winning it all, if not then, then certainly this decade, the 2010's, which I've proclaimed to be the Giants decade.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Oh Matthew, let me know when you have your blog up, I'll be happy to include it in my Giants blog list.

    Also, in case you have not read my recommendation yet, I heartily recommend that you read through and digest Baseball Forecaster, particularly their toolkit section at the start of the book. As it is mostly geared towards Fantasy baseball, you might rather save some money and check their website to see if they might have an older copy available at half off (or better). The 2003 version has their first discussion of the PQS method that I write about, FYI, and they have new research every year so if you can get the most recently published book at a big discount (and even the current book is discounted nicely by Amazon anyway), that would get you their latest research.

    I have always been sabermetrically bent, having read Bill James when he first came out, but I never really understood the latest findings and how to apply it to baseball (like all the jargon that BP spews on about) until I read Baseball Forecaster.

    There has also been a number of books out that are interesting. I'm sure a lot of the more recent ones are good, but I don't know most of the author's names, so I would not know who to recommend. BP's book would be good, but it seems to be out of print, amazingly, so you would have to buy it used. The Book, by Tango et al is very good to read. I also like the ones by a stat professor, I think his name is Bennett and he wrote one book called Curve or Curveball, has a much different feel and look in terms of sabermetric analysis, highly recommend that, plus if you are learning about stats in general, he also wrote a book about learning about statistics using baseball examples. I can dig up the exact name and title if you can't find it.

    And that's good for a start. THT has nice annuals that I still get. BP I have stopped getting because they recommended that the Giants fire Sabean in their 2010 edition (yes, right before the Giants won the World Series) and they were too meek to admit their mistake in the 2011 edition (I read it in a book store; I will miss that when the internet takes over and everything is e-books).

    I get the Bill James annual Handbook partly because I feel a debt to him, but there is also a lot of good stats in there that you could not find anywhere else, at least until they caught up with him and added their own flavor. Frankly, I can do without 80% of it because if you want players career stats, I go to Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs for that now. But there is a lot of other good stuff.

    He also has a subscription website, probably where he keeps up to date versions of those stats plus other goodies, but I don't have enough time to make that worthwhile.

    And another book called Goldmine, which I also don't get, but maybe someday.

    I like the Fielding Bible as well (their annual Top 5 and Worse 5 stats are in Bill James Handbook every year) but it only comes out every few years. Good stuff to read though, about fielding that you can't find elsewhere.

    Oh, a companion book I get with Baseball Forecaster is Minor League Baseball Analyst, published by same company. Uses BF's techniques to analyze prospects, I really love their work for their sabermetric bent.

    I love Baseball America's Prospect Handbook annual for their scouting look, though they are not perfect, for example, totally missed on Pablo Sandoval, and I think they will miss again with Hector Sanchez. But I used their Top 20 rankings by team and by league for a baseball league draft and got a lot of great prospects using that, so I heartily recommend their annual for knowing more about prospects in general.

    I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but feel free to ask me any questions as you read and learn things.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Now, Matt, about the Giants...

    First, I don't really worry much about the Giants trading away a good prospect. Any objective observation can look through all of Sabean's trades and realize that he have never really traded away a prospect who has become a huge superstar, while he has picked up Jeff Kent and Jason Schmidt.

    Sure, Nathan and Liriano were traded. But there is a strong suggestion that he didn't pull off that trade, that it was done by one of his lieutenants (specifically, I think it was Sheriff Ned). Even then, Nathan was not a prospect, he was a proven reliever with closer abilities when he was traded and you don't get an All-Star catcher for nothing.

    Also, as nicely as Liriano has done for the Twins, his constant physical problems has created havoc with their pitching rotation for years now, with his ups and downs, much, I would say, like what Bonds was doing to the Giants lineup with his reduced play at the end, and usual need to take him out late in games.

    And beside them, Keith Foulke, Bob Howry, Carlos Villaneuva, and if you include guys he just let go, there were a number of relievers who went on to good career afterward, Alan Embree had some success afterward, not really a prospect, but thought I would mention. Russ Ortiz too, but again, not prospect. Jeremy Accardo also had some success, but mostly has been a disappointment, I would say.

    So looking over his entire reign as Giants GM, he has not really missed on any prospect in a trade, not in a huge way, and if you count any of the above as big, I think Jeff Kent and Jason Schmidt outweighs all that by a lot.

    Their methodology is to have a keeper list, where their scouts say that this prospect is not to be traded, he's a keeper.

    For all the complaints I've seen about trades he may have done, none of those people seem to realize that he kept the cream of the crop, by far, Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo, Sandoval, Posey. Which, I think, is the more important trait to have. That shows that the Giants have real talent in evaluating baseball talent, not all the trades they like to blast.

    Sure, a lot of them didn't work out. Neither did the prospect they gave up for the traded player. When you are giving up what others know to be your non-keepers, frankly, you are not going to get a lot in return all the time. And sometimes they know you are desperate and thus ask for more.

    So the question to me becomes this: would you rather the Giants try something, anything, in hopes it might work, like the Hillenbrand trade, or would you rather the Giants do nothing? And I'm sure the idiots wanted to trade Matt Cain back then, but I think anyone can see now that keeping Matt Cain was the right move (or non-move if you will).

    So I don't worry much about who the Giants trade, their success in avoiding trading their best prospects is actually excellent.

    Certainly better than Billy Beane, whom a lot of the Sabean Naysayers love, who has trade away both Ethier and Car-Gon for nothing much in return: think the A's couldn't use either (or both!) in their lineup.

    And if Sabean had pulled off a trade like Beane did for Tim Hudson, I think Sabean would have been burned in effigy at the park at some point, whereas somehow Beane is teflon-like and that's now forgotten by most of his followers.

    ReplyDelete
  22. And Matt, speaking of Beane, people seem to think he had a magic touch regarding prospects, but that's where my research provided insights that others did not.

    My research found that the odds of finding a good prospect, a future starter, was greatly improved if you were losing as badly as the A's were when Beane took over. Those losing years got them great draft picks that were 2-4 times more likely to become a good player than the picks Sabean got during his early years when you are winning and competing for a playoff spot.

    If you look at his record while he was winning, it was not that good. I think it is idiotic to pick up players just in order to get supplemental draft picks. If you can get a good prospect instead in trade, that is much better than whatever you can get in the draft. I like the bird in the hand vs. two in the bush. For example, he converted Car-Gon and Huston Street into a semi-good prospect by trading for Holliday, part of the logic, according to the press, was that he might yield good draft picks. Not really.

    That is why he had to trade off Hudson and Mulder, his farm system was barren due to years of winning and poor odds of finding a good player.

    He didn't get bad at picking in the draft, necessarily, it was just that he was now shooting with a shotgun instead of with a higher caliber bullet, like when you are losing a lot.

    That was a huge insight, in my opinion, from my draft research, which nobody seemed to understand. In fact, I got mocked for it at some sites. But I stand by my results and hope to re-do my study with new stats and hopefully make my point more pointedly this time.

    ReplyDelete
  23. You say the Giants had luck with putting together the pitching staff that they had, and I suppose they had some, because the young guys are healthy for the most part.

    I would say that this was the strategy and plan. As DrB astutely observed on his great website the other day, the Giants actually had this plan in place early in the 2000's with Ainsworth, Williams, and Foppert. They were the Lincecum, Cain, Dirty of that day. I would also add in Lowry, as another case of bad luck, so the Giants luck with Lincecum, Cain, et al so far, to me, is just balancing the bad luck we had previously.

    And they continued that even in light of the great pitching, still drafting Bumgarner and Wheeler when they clearly needed offensive help at some point. I was upset about that when the drafts happened, but put my faith in the the Giants decision because of Sabean's eye for talent.

    And, again, that's what a lot of the Naysayers miss, that trades and free agency signings don't always have to do with talent evaluation, but with other matters, like boss overrides (Magowan really wanted Zito) or the fact that the Giants needed somebody to start at that position, so you either sign somebody or kiss off the season and just go with whatever lame prospect you have. I credit the Giants for at least trying, even if they missed (and often unfortunately), as they often signed the best player available and at least gave it a good shot. I would have been OK with kissing off those seasons, but unfortunately, a lot of the audience would not buy tickets if the Giants were not at least trying to win, and that meant signing people to be starters and hoping for the best.

    I think that Sabean's overall success in trades, counting Jeff Kent and Jason Schmidt, but also upgrades like Burks, Winn, Franchez, among others, plus jumping while the fire was hot and getting Livan and Nen for nothing much, shows that he does understand talent. When you add on top the prospects he kept instead of traded, I think it is pretty clear he knows baseball talent.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Yankees are nice, but I don't see them trading Montero for Sanchez. I think we would have to give up at least Hector Sanchez in addition to a bullpen arm (could be Casilla is the arm the Giants are willing to let go; his name was in one trade rumor earlier).

    But, hey, if they can pull it off, yeah, I see Montero as 1B, Belt in LF or even RF with his arm, as long as Gary Brown works out and protects his LF and RF with his plus plus speed.

    I've been thinking it would be some team like the Royals or Pirates who might be willing to give up position prospects for Dirty, as they need pitching. And both are used to dealing with Boras as they have both drafted his clients previously.

    Even the Rays, I thought, might be interested in Sanchez (there is always some cachet with getting a pitcher who has pitched in the World Series and pressure situations). They have been struggling to get a 5th starter and Sanchez would really make their rotation strong.

    I read somewhere that they are ready to move B.J. Upton, who should be a free agent soon, and he has played 2B and CF, so they could move it back to 2B for the offense.

    I would prefer, greatly, however, that the Giants pick up some good position prospects, instead. I've heard good word about Hak-Ju Lee, and they can throw in another of their top 10 position players, plus top 20 and I think that would be a pretty good haul (plus a pitcher the Giants like).

    But Upton with Lee would be nice as well, heck, Upton has been good defensively in OF too, so I can see some configuration where he plays CF vs. LHP, with Ross and Torres in corners.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Again, thanks for your nice comments, Matthew.

    I go back and forth on whether to answer these people, but I get back to worrying that their jaundiced view is represented and somebody new comes onto my site and just sees their view, taking my points out of context (or worse, incorrectly) and I feel the need to represent myself at the point of complaint so that the new reader understands my complete position.

    Unlike most of these people, I've thought about the consequences of what would happen if the Giants had actually executed my suggestions.

    It is easy enough to complain about the offense, but taking into context the future and even present costs seem to escape a lot of these people.

    Another is that they conveniently forget about the mistakes that they made in the past that would have costed the Giants now. For example, no way the Giants win the World Series in 2010 without Posey, but Grant of MCC was very adamant that the Giants made a mistake taking Posey over Smoak. He thinks that Sabean was lucky, but what he don't understand is that in his universe, he wouldn't have even gotten into the playoffs had the Giants had Smoak instead of Posey. I would rather be lucky than to lose again.

    And to be clear, I don't think Sabean and the Giants were lucky to win, per se. Any team that wins the World Series benefited from some degree of luck, that is just how the playoffs works.

    However, where Sabean had control over his circumstances, his strategy of pitching, fielding, closer excellence, and particularly his collection of great starting pitching and closer, he has executed excellently. He has set up the Giants to win all through this decade and that was not luck, again per se, but the fruits of his strategy.

    If anything, had he not been unlucky, this would have started sooner, particularly if Foppert had become what we got with Lincecum, maybe Bonds would have won that World Series he desired. Back then, we would have had Foppert, Cain, and Lowry, which, while not as great as what we have now, it would have been pretty good at that time. And, of course, the offense was much better with Bonds around.

    In addition to DrB and FLA-Giants, I would also give a shoutout to Steve S(helby) who does MCC's daily Minor Lines, he's a good follower of the Giants minor league system, I think he is up there with DrB (though I would give DrB the edge). Both have been a commenter on the Giants farm system for over a decade now, at least, from the boards I've been on, best of the best.

    Out of newer bloggers, I've liked the sabermetric work that Scott does at Crazy Crabbers and Rory did at his old Paapfly, and now at the various websites he does work for (I think THT and Bay City Ball). Chris is also good at Bay City Ball.

    And I love El Lefty Malo, cool guy, good man, great Giants blogger. Never met the guy, mind you, but he's been real nice with my questions, writes very interesting posts (up there in humor with Grant, I think, if not better; quality over quantity, imo), and you just get the rest from following him regularly. And he has good insights too.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Dear OGC,

    Thanks again for your kind and thoughtful responses, direction to further resources, and encouragement. I second your shoutouts to Steve S, Rory Paap, et al.

    I didn't mean to say that the Giants/Sabean were lucky per se in assembling the current pitching staff; I only meant to note that come the trade deadline, the Giants are lucky to have an abundance of a resource a number of other teams want and need: an extra good (left-handed) pitcher.

    Of course Montero would be hard to snag, but I think he is available and that due to his down season, the Yankees might be willing to sell low on him. I would not like to Hector Sanchez traded, as he seems to project as a competent MLB catcher, and has been hitting very well this year. He is also only 21, the same age as Montero, but definitely needs more seasoning until he is ready. Nonetheless, if his hitting holds up at the current rate in AAA, I would be surprised if he isn't a top 50 or better (overall) prospect next year. Montero's defense has been pretty good this year in all regards except throwing out baserunners, but trading the two Sanchez's for him (assuming hector's hitting holds up) might be taking two steps backward and one step forward.

    I think that this years trade deadline might be the time to sell high on J. Sanchez if he recovers from his bicep strain.

    Nonetheless, I have great faith in Sabean for scouting talent and assembling a good team, so I will have faith in whatever sort of deals he makes this july.

    Best,
    Matthew

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