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.

25 comments:

  1. Panik went 2 for 3 with a walk and a HR last night. Stated he had time off and took him a bit to adjust to live pitching again. I liked his interview, he is 20 years old, so some of his (lack of) syntax is understandable. Very humble guy, earnest as well.

    Good points about walks and the moneyball fixation. Gary Brown saying he goes up to hit is great. I loved the serious face until he brings up HBP, then he cracks a pretty big smile. You need some cocky guys, and I have no problem with the way he phrased his statement - he's not allergic to walks, its just not what he is trying to do first. That is completely correct. 1/3 of a Ricky Henderson is a very sweet player.

    Agree with your points about Crawford. These 3 guys are staggered, most likely arriving in 2012-14 one at a time, if things go well. I think you meant to say 700 OPS, if Crawford manages 800 ops I think everybody is doing cartwheels. Shortstop is a wasteland except for gambles on Reyes/Rollins and their hammies for too many years and way too much money. We need to take the defense and the savings and look elsewhere for hitting production.

    I think Belt could take a page out of Gary Brown's book actually. That might be the missing link with him, its definitely what Bochy has hinted at. While I disagree with the handling of Belt, the fact is he needs to get those hits and make walks the 2nd part of his game, not the other way around. Nice post OGC

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  2. Wow, talk about timing!

    Last night, Panik went 2 for 3, with a homer and a walk. With that one great game, showing how things can change quickly when SSS, he is now hitting .244/.340/.317/.657

    Plus he now has 5 walks vs. 3 strikeouts in 41 AB, both even better ratios now (5/3 and 3/41), which was great to start with.

    This article has info on Panik and his struggles until last night: http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20111024&content_id=25777028&vkey=news_sf&c_id=sf&partnerId=rss_sf

    He said that he was out of sync because he had not played in weeks plus was adjusting to the AFL.

    "Before the first week of the AFL, I hadn't seen live pitching since the first week of September," said Panik, a shortstop who has been playing second to make him more versatile. "It was just a matter of time getting into the swing of things. I'm right where I want to be now, and things are going the way I want.

    "Playing with guys like Mike Trout who have big league experience teaches you about how you should be going about your business."

    This article also noted that he had gone hitless in five of his first six games, but now has hit safely in each of his last six appearances, hitting .348 (8-for-23) in that stretch.

    And, as I noted in my post, he had no extrabase hits up to Monday, so his homer is a great sign that he might be figuring things out against pitchers.

    This article also provided a link to his game by game stats. In his 8-for-23, he has 3 walks and 2 strikeouts, leading to a batting line of roughly .348/.423/.478/.901 (don't have access to sacs and sac flies, nor HBP).

    Also, has nice splits, showing that Panik's poor hitting so far is a result of poor performance vs. LHP, but he's actually doing well there in terms of batting discipline (3 BB vs. 1 K, in 11 AB but only 2 hits), suggesting that his poor hitting so far is a result of fluke bad luck against LHP so far (he's a lefty hitter) but with only 11 ABs, perhaps the 3 walks and 1 strikeout is the fluke in that normally it would be reversed.

    v.LHP: .182/.357/.182/.539 (11 AB)
    v.RHP: .267/.333/.367/.700 (30 AB)

    http://mlb.mlb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?pos=2B&sid=l119&t=p_pbp&pid=605412

    As the saying goes, better that he's going good than he's doing bad, even if AFL will ultimately be a SSS and require reading the tea leaves.

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  3. Oops, sorry Shankbone, was multi-plexing work and this and finished without realizing that you had responded. Thanks for your thoughts.

    Yeah, I meant .800 but yeah, you are absolutely correct, if he's hitting that, people are cartwheeling, that is great for SS today. I should have went with .700.

    Good point about Belt. I personally think that his main problem is that he's thinking too much at the plate when in the majors, and taking a "see ball, hit ball" mentality might take his mind off things and allow his talent to come to fruition.

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  4. Rude spambots!

    Since I found Panik's player card, I thought I would check out Brown's and he's still trying to figure things out, and has mostly been struggling, unlike Panik.

    In his last 9 games, while he has hits in 7 of them, he only went 10-for-43, hitting roughly .232/.283/.279/.562, which is worse than his overall batting line, and with 1 BB and 8 K's. He has really been on and off, mostly off, with a bad 7 game stretch from Oct 11 to 21, sandwiched by a nice 3 hit game before (with double) and 2 hit game after.

    He's really sucking against RHP (he's righty) and he really does poorly at his homepark (Panik too), and they have played almost double the games on the road than home, so if they don't figure it out soon how to hit at home, their numbers will suffer even more when the home games even out.

    http://mlb.mlb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?pos=CF&sid=l119&t=p_pbp&pid=518502

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  5. Nice blog post by Shulman on Crawford in the Splash: http://blog.sfgate.com/giants/2011/10/25/s-f-giants-shortstop-brandon-crawford-is-having-a-heck-of-a-fall-league-except-for-the-at-bat-in-which-his-future-brother-in-law-got-him-out/

    "Down in the Fall League, Crawford might be facing the upper echelon of minor-league prospects in baseball, but they are still not as good or polished as the Major Leaguers who schooled him in 2011 and would face in 2012.

    Nevertheless, Giants people tell me the 24-year-old has made an adjustment that should translate into more success at the majors. He has simplified his stance and swing and figured out how to see the ball longer in the strike zone.

    That not only allows him to catch up to fastballs and pull them, but also not lunge at breaking balls and pop them up to the second baseman and shortstop, which he did over and over and over in San Francisco this season.

    I reached Crawford yesterday, and he told me he likes where his hitting is right now.

    “I’ve been getting base hits to left-center and right field,” he said. “I’ve been pulling the ball a lot better than I have in the past couple of years.”

    Actually, Crawford said, he has the same stance and setup at the plate now that he used the final two weeks of the regular season, when he played every day with the Giants. From Sept. 14-27, the left-handed hitter hit .313 in 36 plate appearances. Four of his 10 hits went for extra bases. Just as important, a kid who has been much to prone to the strikeout had only five in 32 at-bats."

    Nice corroborating information that things are different in his batting discipline and stance that contributed to his nice performance hitting in September.

    If he can do that over a full season (it was a good OPS from what I recall), plus provide plus defense, the Giants would be very happy and feel no need to try to sign a SS as a stop gap for 2012.

    Not only would that free them to concentrate on obtaining outfielders, but if he can hit well, it would improve our lineup at the bottom greatly. For a offense challenged lineup, every little bit counts.

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  6. OGC,

    Along similar lines of thought, there's been a couple of fascinating articles in Beyond the Boxscore looking at Passiveness and Aggressiveness in hitters. They define passiveness as taking pitches in the strike zone and Aggressiveness as swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. The other two categories, obviously, would be swinging at pitches in the zone and laying off pitches out of the zone.

    The results were somewhat surprising, especially for a Sabermetrically oriented site. Bottom line, taking pitches and taking walks is not necessarily a good thing. What I got out of it was that there is more than one way to be a good hitter and the classic "Moneyball" gospel that OBP is the end-all, be-all of hitting is simply not true.

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  7. Any talk of Moneyball trends towards the A's. They haven't produced a good hitter since... Nick Swisher. That OBP first philosophy, so aptly called "Lawyerball" by CJ Wilson, has not brought them success. I really think you need a mix of different hitters and trying to have a team first philosophy doesn't make sense.

    One thing I noticed last year, when Burrell was in the lineup, the opposing pitcher's pitch count usually went way up. The more hitters you have who can control the strike zone, the better off you will be. How? The threat of hitting the ball out is the #1 factor I think. A good eye obviously helps as well. I also think the 3 true outcomes aren't the worst thing in the world. You don't want a whole lineup of K's, like Arizona in 2010, but a couple of players who have high K, high BB and HR numbers to go along with contact hitters and hackers seems like a good balance.

    The problem is the Giants have had too many hackers. You don't have much of a chance of getting to the bullpen when you're constantly delivering low pitch counts to the opposing pitcher. Losing Burrell and Posey definitely made the Gints lineup a cakewalk this past year.

    Quick rant on Crawford - while I don't think he is going to be a star hitter by any means, the Giants blogosphere is generally very hard on him. I have a pet theory that the folks at McCove take their cue from Keith Law's twitter feed, and as he is completely dismissive of Crawford, they've picked up on that and hammer it along. I say the jury is still out, he put up great numbers in SJ before getting thrown into the eastern for 2 rough seasons. We'll obviously see how it goes this year.

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  8. Belt is moving his Dominican #s steadily upward, 313/436/936 now. 6 walks, a HR and 2 doubles.

    Also of note, Keith Law thinks Panik is a future utility guy, but I imagine the McCove will wait at least a year before emulating that opinion.

    I'm a little leery of the Giants using the AFL performances to really evaluate the hitters - Conor G crushed the AFL last year for example.

    Its really nice to have good prospects though, instead of the Todd Lindens and Lance Neikros of the world.

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  9. Thanks DrB, I had seen that post, but could not discern what the AHA was, really. I had planned on reading again to try to get it, thanks for passing your thoughts on it.

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  10. Shankbone, thanks for your comments and info.

    Yeah, totally agree that Moneyball hasn't really done anything for A's except star them in a movie. Their strategic, if anything, has mimicked the Giants but a couple of years later, like picking up vets, competing for same free agents, building good young rotation.

    I agree that there were too many hackers, but I think things will change with Posey and Belt, plus Sandoval will get walks due to respect eventually, and Brown and Panik will help too.

    About Crawford, he's been hit hard since he flopped a bit in his last season of UCLA then up and down in Giants system. Would not surprise me if Law is leading the charge, he was against Brown pick too, focusing too much on his lack of walks in his junior year.

    I don't think he'll be an elite player, but we don't need elite, right now, we really just need cheap good-enough players to fill the roster so that we can afford to keep our really good players. If he can hit around typical 8th hitter while providing good defense, that's perfect for us.

    I would be leery of Giants using only AFL to evaluate - had they, they might have done more with Conor G in 2011, no? I hope they are scouting the hell out of them while they are playing and evaluating that way. Since I can only use stats to evaluate, I do that, but hopefully they are doing a lot more.

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  11. I did an analysis of Crawford's potential value. Given his excellent D, and his offensive projection by MARCEL, admittedly a very primitive system, yet a very reasonable projection(it had him hitting .234), he could be reasonably expected to put up a WAR in the mid 2's over the course of a full season. Shortstops who can do that during their minimum salary years are about as hard to find as hen's teeth.

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  12. OGC - great point about Conor G and the Giants evaluations. I think we are making marginal baby steps towards better players while crushing it with the pitchers.

    If Jose Reyes wasn't on the market, maybe expectations would be a little lower for shortstop. The fact there are only 8-12 players who put up decent stats at the position should tell everybody something, but the Giants' hitting woes magnify the issue. I've seen both you and DrB quote Marcel now, I should go check that out.

    As I've said a bunch now, I really don't think SS or CF are the real issue, a great hitter in LF to complement Posey and Sandoval is the primary issue. And then sorting out Huff/Belt/Pill.

    The Giants are getting stronger in the farm system up the middle - Catchers, CFs, Shortstops and 2B. That is an awesome approach. It is much easier to fill in the corners, as we are seeing with these stopgap options we've looked at in CF/SS - they all have huge flaws and expense. Best way to deal with this is develop your own talent.

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  13. Tis True, DrB, tis true. I don't know all the nuances of how WAR is calculated, but if that is what he projects out to be with that low a BA (and usually they do that based on a full batting line), then he should be starting.

    Shankbone, FYI, MARCEL is just a simple projection system devised by TangoTiger. You can probably read more about it on his website, The Book, which is the name of the book he and two others wrote as their take on baseball from a sabermetric view. Well respected guy on the web for his knowledge on sabermetrics and baseball.

    It is simply a weighted projection system where most recent production is weighted more than past seasons, and I think it only covers past three seasons production. I don't recall how he handles minor league stats, but MLE is the way to go, but I don't know his methodology so I can't speak to it specifically, but it has been my experience that most are very simple systems that does not take the age of the prospect relative to the age of the league into account. Only Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster explicitly notes that they do that in their methodology, so I would definitely recommend that.

    Also, Marcel is not meant to be a competing projection system, TangoTiger designed it to be THE simple projection system that all other projection systems need to beat to be considered a "good" projection system. He considers it to be a baseline and I don't think he has any illusions that it is a particularly good system, especially since it was not designed to be that particularly good, it is only meant to be a baseline projection to compare against.

    I hate Spambots! How are they now getting into Blogspot again!!!

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  14. Shankbone, I do see and agree with your point that getting a good hitter in LF is the ultimately the real issue, but the thing is that if the Giants see the other two positions as issues, that could result in LF as less of an issue.

    And frankly, those two positions are the ones that Sabean pointed out as positions of potential need.

    And to speculate on what the Giants might do this off-season, as we admittedly rosterbate, both SS and CF will be discussed, because what happens there will affect what they do in LF, I think,

    Yes, the Giants are getting stronger up the middle. They have actually been trying to build that up previously, just wasn't as successful previously (Sanders, Frandsen, Maroul, bunch of good glove no hit CF). Sabean has actually been focused on, first, pitching, second, defense overall, and 2A, up the middle, particularly CF.

    Yes, that is an awesome strategy, particularly since you can pick up cheap corner hitters on the free agent market, or if needed, good hitters if you are willing to pay for them.

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  15. Hey OGC - whats with this spambot commentary? Are you deleting comment posts or something?

    Bigger fish to fry - go listen to Urban on CSN interview Sabes - there is a key line about trading starting pitching to spread the budget around. DrB has picked up on it.

    No argument from me that CF and SS need to resolve as well, I'm just commenting from the position scarcity standpoint that CF/SS will be definite compromises and LF could be a big move. LF could also be a compromise as well, obviously. I've given up even thinking about Reyes/Rollins at short, but I do think we are coming to a mini-Vlad situation with all the budget talk and Beltran being out there, but maybe things get blown up this year in a big way.

    For me, I'd rather have Cain/Timmy both and limp along with compromises then blowing up the starting pitching to go along with some budget or rainy day fund nonsense. Maybe I'm overreacting though.

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  16. Sorry Shankbone, a spambot is placing their ads in my comment box. Blogger had been great in stopping them previously, but apparently the evil ones have figured out how to break through that now. I have been trying to avoid having commenters register, but I might have to do that if this gets worse (just irritating so far...).

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  17. Thanks for the tip on Urban, I will have to check it out.

    SOrry if I haven't made myself clear on the CF/SS issue. I agree with you that LF is probably a bigger issue. My point is strictly that the Giants think otherwise, based on public statements.

    About trading pitcher to spread the budget around, that gets to what I've speculated before: if Lincecum is reluctant to sign a long-term deal with us, heck, even a two year deal, it might be better to trade him for a huge bundle of prospects, while we still can sell two years of control.

    Vogelsong's emergence makes this strategy more viable.

    We should be able to get at least two nearly ready prospects, one pitcher and one position, plus another good pitching prospect but not as far along, and a bundle of prospects. I'm thinking like the Dan Haren deal.

    That would leave Cain, Bumgarner, Sanchez, Vogelsong, Zito for our rotation, which is still pretty good, plus another good young arm or two, and someone to compete for a position.

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  18. It is worth considering exactly how hard it is to, essentially, hit your way to a good OBP though. In the 140 or so year history of MLB a grand total of 32 players have career BA of .330 or better (and that's only if you round up Heinie Manusch), while the 1000th lowest career OBP (which is as far as BRef would take me) is .335. .335 by the way, was the league average OBP last year in a severely depressed offensive environment.

    So in general, about 30 guys in the game's history have been able to hit well enough to be acceptable OBP players with their hitting alone. A couple of the greatest "hitters" in history, Wee Willie Keeler and Bill Terry, for instance, who both retired with .341 career BA, were actually pretty pedestrian offensive performers from an OBP standpoint, with Keeler's .388 career mark only 116th best (just behind Gene Tenace and tied with Matt Holliday) while Terry does slightly better at .393 (90th best all time).

    Even the great Tony Gwynn, whose .338 career BA mark is 18th best in history, could have done with some more walking, as his .388 career OBP is much less impressive (112th all time). Another thing about Gwynn -- he's the only guy on the list of players with career .330+ BA who's entire career was played after WWII. In fact, the next youngest player on that list is Stan Musial. (the great Albert Pujols does sit just below the cutoff, although his decline years still await, and Rod Carew, Wade Boggs, and Ichiro are all in the .320s.

    But by and large the list of players who averaged even .310 of better is mostly dominated by guys who's careers ended 100 years or more ago. And again, this is a tiny tiny paltry few compared to the numbers of guys who managed to put themselves on base at similar or much better rates (many of whom are hardly roming the halls of Cooperstown, like say Eric Soderholm, career OBP of .336).

    The numbers tell a pretty powerful story to me: guys who think they are going to be able to hit their way to offensive impact (and particularly guys with below average power, like Brown profiles to be at the major league level) are most likely to be kidding themselves, in no small part because major league pitchers are really really good, and consistently swinging at their pitches is an awfully good way to fail. (after all, as much as we love our Panda, his OBP was only 21 in the NL last year, or would have been had he qualified).

    Sure, a player like Brown could have the skills that will lead him to be one of the say 15-20 greatest hitters of the last 60 years, but even if he does, he'll be limiting his offensive impact if a decent walk rate doesn't accompany the hits. All in all, such a player will make things a lot easier on themselves and better for their teammates if they learn to discipline their free swinging impulses.

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  19. Thank you for your comment, Roger. You make a lot of very strong points, all of which I agree.

    First of all, there is nothing wrong with 21st in the league, unless your goal is to be 20th or better. That is a great place to be in the league, any league.

    Second of all, I don't expect Brown or any of our players to be Hall of Fame caliber players. I think Posey has the potential, but I'll wait another 10 or 12 years before I go there seriously. But that, to me is what you appear to be arguing about in your comment, else you would not have denigrated Sandoval's position nor even take on Tony Gwynn. In any case, I don't think Brown needs to be one of the best hitters around to get on base enough.

    I agree, if you want to be one of the best hitters ever, you better know how to take a walk really well, as well as avoid strikeouts pretty well too.

    I think Brown is the perfect example for my problems with sabermetric overhyping of taking walks. Almost everybody jumped on his back for not being able to take a walk in his junior year. Nobody, except for me that I have found, bothered to look at his entire body of work, which included his freshman and sophomore years, both in college and Cape Cod.

    The data is clear: Brown will adjust his hitting style to get on base, but when he can dominate and hit for power, he does that too. In his early seasons, he could not really get many hits, so his batting average was very below average. So his walk rate went up, and as he noted in his interview, he will take his HBPs. He has led the league or near the top in just about every league he has been in. When he could hit really well, that is what he did more than walks because a good hitter is way more valuable than one who just sits around and take his walks.

    That is what is more important, not a slavish insistence that walks are the be-all and end-all of determining whether a HITTER is any good. You adjust your style to how your abilities play in the league. The final evaluation at the end of the day of how good or bad you did is whether you can produce - from hits as well as walks and HBP - an OBP that is above average, not that you know how to take a walk.

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  20. Sure, a walk is much better than making an out. Ideally, you want a hitter who can take walks at a high rate than one who can't, keeping hitting equal. But you are not going to get such a hitter in every lineup spot of your team. And not every player on our team is going to be that good.

    My point with Brown is that one should look at his overall results. Sure, walks are great, but hits are always better, else you just tell everyone to foul off everything and work a walk. He knows the value of a walk, he knows the value of getting on base, that is what you want your lead-off guy to do, to adjust to his situation and whatever it may be, he gets on base more than most other guys.

    But as Ted Williams taught, which Brown appears to understand, is that a hitter is that much more effective offensive contributor if he both gets on base as well as hit for power, i.e. drive in runs. Those are two ways of contributing, but everyone seems to focus on his walks without at least acknowledging that his OBP was good everywhere he went, even if he wasn't a particularly good hitter in the league, and he tries to hit for power.

    Nobody knows what the effect of ratcheting down a hitter's aggressiveness at the plate in order to take a walk. Maybe he just isn't that good enough to do that, but he is good enough to hit. So yes, he's not as good as a better player who can take the walk, but he is better than the player who can't hit well but can take a walk.

    Not every player is going to be the best hitter. But we don't need that to win. We need good enough hitters up and down the lineup to win with our pitching. I think Brown can be more than good enough, I think he can be good, through a combination of hitting, walking, and HBP, he's like Ron Hunt of today, just take one for the team, just so he can get on base and use his god-given speed to make something happen. And when there are runners on base, he will try to hit for some power, so that he can drive them in. That, to me, is an all-around hitter who gets it, yet all I ever hear or see is that he can't take a walk.

    There is just something wrong with that, it just makes me sick to see it over and over and over again.

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  21. Well, let's hope he's not Ron Hunt (since Hunt belongs on anybody's short list of worst hitters in baseball history). But to your question of why people obsess on walk rates: it's because walk rates (and K rates) in minor league hitters tend to be pretty predictive of future success -- at least much more so than BA. If you were so inclined to wander through the past league leaders of minor leagues, you'll find pretty quickly that the BA leaders are much more filled with guys who didn't make it than the BB% charts are.

    I think the important thing that Williams taught actually, was that Rule #1 of hitting is: get a good pitch to hit. That's really the key to hitting: to swing aggressively at pitches you can do damage on and don't swing at pitches you can't. I don't believe that people are clamoring for batters to be up there trying to walk, though it might seem that way sometimes. It's just that walks are the inevitable residue of good plate discipline; they're evidence left behind after the fact, or trace material as it were.

    Brown made strides this year, but his walk rate was still only 7% and that's pretty iffy for an older prospect who still has yet to face a lot of great pitching. And his consistent comments that "he likes to swing the bat" and anti-walks etc. do suggest that he doesn't quite get it as much as you say he does. I'll admit, I also am always a little leery of guys for whom getting HBP are a clear skill, because that's an excellent way to find yourself on the DL for extended periods.

    Anyway, he's an exciting player, but there's still room for reasonable minds to disagree about his potential, and I think it's pretty obvious that the two major areas around which people can reasonably disagree with him are: what is his power going to be like in the majors, and what is his OBP going to be like if he becomes a .270 or .280 hitter against major league pitching rather than a .310 (which is as I noted above, pretty likely).

    I also meant to note one thing above: a lot of people will say that "if a guy is having success swinging the bat, then why try to work walks" and I think a great illustration of the answer to that question is to look at the respective careers of Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs. I think you can make a pretty decent argument that Gwynn was a more successful hitter than Boggs (for one, his career BA was .013 higher, which is significant, and he also maintained his BA production for a longer peirod of time). But Boggs was by far the more impactful offensive player. In particular his peak was far far above Gwynn's. Boggs had a 7 year stretch where his oWAR was 50.4, while Gwynn only managed 67.6 oWAR in his entire 20 year career. Gwynn's three best seasons by oWAR would have been Boggs 5th, 6th, and 8th best seasons.

    And the difference in all those numbers is Boggs huge walk totals, which allowed him to have a .035 OBP differential above Gwynn despite having a .013 BA differential below him. Walks are a value, don't let anyone fool you. People who harp on the importance of walks and walk rates aren't being wannabees, they aren't agitators or any other pejorative. They are simply believers that OBP is life when it comes to scoring runs. And of course, working counts and letting teammates see a pitcher's reportoire is not an unimportant part of a leadoff hitters value to his team either.

    Gary Brown is a player who is developing. And part of development should be to get him to understand the mental approach to the game to a degree that best enables him to use his physical tools. Asking for him to improve in certain areas (like, hey, base stealing %!) isn't negative or unreasonable -- for the time being, that's actually his job. What he's supposed to be doing right now, is improving his game.

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  22. If everyone would have as reasoned an explanation as you Roger, then I would have no problem with their description of Brown. Most begin and end with that he does not take walks, plus he has a lot of speed and leave it at that.

    Perhaps Ron Hunt was wrong, how about Frank Robinson, he got a lot of HBP, and he was smart about it so he didn't miss a lot of time via injury. :^)

    I am aware of how important walks are in terms of how good a hitter will be. The top hitters walk more than they strike out, and the better ones can also avoid strikeouts to a high degree as well. 10% rate is also very good.

    I don't think we need Brown to be a top hitter, though, in order for him to be very useful and important to our offense.

    It just seems like people are holding him against standards for a top player. I think it is folly to expect a 24th pick of the draft to be such a player. He might become one, but I would not set my expectations that high for him.

    Also, focusing the standards on what a top prospect would do obscures fans from the fact that if Brown is good enough in getting on base and stealing, that is exactly what we need in front of Sandoval, Posey, Belt (that is my preferred order for now, FYI).

    I don't expect a Gwynn, Boggs, Carew, or Rickey out of Brown.

    What I'm hoping for is someone who understands that getting on base is the most important thing he can do, but that hitting for some power is also a very important thing he can do. Burriss gets neither of those. Juan Pierre probably could have been a top player if he could learn to take walks and/or hit for power, but he could also do neither. Brown appears to understand that both are important to be a good hitter.

    I would like to see Brown take more walks, but not at the expense of him changing his overall hitting philosophy. I would rather he learn to adjust his hitting according to what the league will bear him. If he is hitting well, then go with that, but if he is not, then adjust to take more walks, as long as the final result is that he has a high OBP for the league. He appears to have gotten that in college as well as the pros.

    I think such a philosophy would also make him a surer prospect to make the majors, for, as I think you would agree, the ability to adjust is a key trait to making it in the majors.

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  23. And yes, the most important thing Williams taught is to get a good pitch to hit, something in your zone that you can handle. Yet all I see is that Brown needs to walk more, without noting that he is doing what he is suppose to as a hitter, doing damage with the bat. He hit .336 in Advanced A, seems like he was selecting the right pitches to swing at, and he ended up with a .407 OBP, which I don't see anywhere either. Nor that he had a 183 ISO, which is pretty good for a non-HR powered hitter.

    Yes, he did make some good strides this season, he is an exciting prospect. He was 9th in the league in BA (6th among those 22 and younger), 13th in OBP (8th 22-), 20th in SLB (8th 22-), 15th in OPS (7th 22-).

    Yes, he needs to improve at walking, but is he that bad it has to be brought up as a major negative? He walked at a 7.2% rate, and the average was 8.9%, so he certainly could work on that. He had 46 walks so he needs 57 to reach league average. Meanwhile, he hit .336 (league .277) and had .407 OBP (league .349). How badly does he need to improve his walks, at least in this league context?

    My point has been that he has shown the ability to take walks when he is not hitting .336 in the league, when he's one of the poorer hitters in the league.

    I totally understand that Boggs is a better hitter than Gwynn because of his walks. I would be very happy if Brown turned out to be a Gwynn, though. I would be happy enough if he can achieve a .350 OBP leading off for us and steaing 40+ bases every year at 80-90% success rate.

    My point is that walks is not the be-all and end-all of a discussion of a prospect hitter. Sure, important part, but you have to look at the whole picture. I think you do look at that, but I don't get the feeling that others do, when I read their assessment of him.

    And ultimately, avoiding strikeouts is an equally important skill that also translates to the majors to, not just walk. Nobody mentions that his contact rate is a good 86% or that his BB/K ratio is at 0.6, which is OK too. Sure it could be higher, but the league is at 0.44 BB/K and 77% contact rate. In the majors, batters with 0.51-0.75 BB/K ratio hit around .270 in recent seasons. That plus what he did in SJ would result in a .348 OBP and .453 SLG for a .801 OPS. I would love to get that from him batting leadoff for us.

    Yes, totally agree that he should be about development. In his latest interview, he notes both the need to walk more and the need to improve his SB success. I think he actually did do that for SB%, he went crazy the first couple of months, getting caught, then was at 80% success the rest of the season, though stealing less.

    I'm not saying he should not be striving to improve in all facets of the game. I'm saying that people who blows him off as a prospect by saying he needs take more walks are being too narrow-minded and missing the bigger picture with Brown as a prospect.

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  24. Brown's offensive game reminds me a lot of Dan Gladden except with better defense. If the Giants get that out of a 24'th draft pick, that's actually pretty darn good.

    I think we'd all have been quite satisfied to have Dan Gladden with plus defense in CF this last year.

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  25. I had been wondering why Brown is out. AZ_GIANTS kindly tweeted to me that Brown has been out due to illness. This was confirmed for me by an interview with Brown on Giants website: http://sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=19972831&c_id=sf&partnerId=aw-5943932022607803597-1123

    So, good news there, he is not injured. Plus he noted his struggles and how he's trying to get out.

    I REALLY LOVE listening to interviews with him. He's very down to earth, likes to joke around a lot, but very serious when he gets to baseball, I'm really looking forward to him joining the team some day.

    DrB, I would agree with your assessment of Gladden except that I recently took a look at his numbers and he was never really that good offensively. I am hoping for more than that from Brown, he is aiming for line drive hits, extrabase power that Gladden never had, and I'm hoping for plus ability to get on base.

    But yes, if we do end up with Gladden with better defense, we are very lucky, picks in that range only become good starters maybe 10% of the time, even getting a useful MLB player is not that likely, most in that range don't even make the majors, let alone start.

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