Thursday, March 15, 2012

Your 2012 Giants: Big 6 Questions

In honor of the Big 6 himself, Christy Mathewson, I present my Big 6 Questions of 2012:

  1. The biggest is obviously how much they can get out of Buster Posey in terms of playing time.
  2. Also, if Matt Cain does not sign an extension, would that take his concentration down?
  3. Tim Lincecum has had declines over the past two seasons in certain key metrics, can he stem those declines?
  4. Can Pagan rebound to 2010 performance or will he repeat 2011?
  5. Can Vogelsong do well enough in the #4 spot, as expecting him to repeat would be asking too much?
  6. Can Zito be back of rotation good enough?
Giants Thoughts

First, I thought I should note that I don't have Huff in there because I feel that should he falter, the Giants will have a lot of options who can hit reasonably well enough to match the projections that ZIPS, Bill James, and others have for Huff. Most likely that would be Brandon Belt (or Nate Schierholtz, should Belt beat out Nate for a starting position), but also perhaps a platoon between Belt/Posey at 1B and a platoon of Posey/Hanchez at C. Then there is also Brett Pill in the mix. And if we really push it, Posey at 1B full-time with one of our young catching prospects starting. Or possibly Tommy Joseph at 1B, he has been pegged as a future 1B when he was drafted, and he did well offensively last season in Advanced A, if he can continue that in AA, they might jump him to the majors if they need a 1B by mid-season.

Overall, for these questions, I think the odds are likely that any particular issue is not a problem, but it is also likely that at least one of them will be a problem. Pitching rotation problems are not ones that can really be mitigated with regards to risk because that is a key area for the team, just like a team can't mitigate the risk of losing Albert Pujols or Chase Utley, you just have to do the best you can and hope for the best.  So any problems with Lincecum or Cain will be handled similarly.

I think that Surkamp will be able to bandaid the back of the rotation if necessary, should Vogelsong or Zito not do well. I'm more confident about Zito doing well than I am Vogelsong, mainly because Zito has a track record and Vogelsong does not.  But I'm still confident about Vogelsong doing well enough because of how well he did in September, as I had shown in my analysis before.

Just like the Giants also can't mitigate much of the risk should Posey not play as often as hoped. Stewart is great defensively but only barely adequate offensively against LHP. The hope is that should the Giants need another catcher in the second half of 2012, Hector Sanchez would be ready enough offensively and defensively to come up and be part of a platoon with Stewart, and in the mix with Posey, as much as he is available and/or productive.

Pagan is a key offensive cog for the 2012 offense because of his role as offensive starter at leadoff. If he does not ignite the offense as hoped, then the Giants would probably have to go with Cabrera at leadoff/CF, which would probably open a spot up for Brandon Belt to start at 1B, moving Huff to LF, assuming he does not win a starting spot from opening day over Schierholtz. If he did win a starting spot, then Schierholtz is the beneficiary of any Pagan implosion. Similar scenarios should Melky not produce.  Still, if Pagan is not producing at leadoff, Melky is not going to be that speedster that we would like to see atop the lineup and creating scoring opportunities.

Still, overall, I feel good about the Giants. I still believe that they will make the playoffs under most scenarios, and that it would take another doomsday scenario, like in 2011, to hurt their chances of making the playoffs in 2012.   For the most part, they are covered offensively and while not covered regarding our pitching, I think that there are enough potential positives in our pitching that helps mitigate poor performances (though not outright implosions).

Potential Positives That Prop Up Our Chances in 2012

Overall, I think that there are a lot of potential positives that could help boost the Giants chances in 2012. For one, Sandoval should be playing a full season, not missing a month or two. I think Melky will be closer to 2011 than 2010. I think Pagan will be closer to 2010 than 2011. Same for Huff. I think that Belt, with some more time in the minors can transition to the majors more like Posey in 2010 and Will Clark in 1986, than Matt Williams over a number of seasons (which could push Schierholtz or Huff out of the starting lineup by mid-season).  So I think that the offense has a lot of potential to mitigate most potential risks to the lineup.

The pitching too.  I think as well as Bumgarner has done, he might bust out with a greater season in 2012.  That is why I want the Giants to sign him to a long-term deal now.  I think while Vogelsong won't repeat 2011, he'll at least be close to repeating the last two months of 2011: 3.53 ERA in his last 13 starts, 7.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 2.29 K/BB, .307 BABIP. I don't think an ERA under 4.00 is too far-fetched though most projections have him around 4.10-4.20. I think that is around where Zito will end up as well, low 4 ERA.  If he can throw from the same slot for all his pitches, he should be under 4 ERA easily.  These can help balance the risks that any particular starting pitcher does poorly, though not if any pitcher is lost for the season.   But that is true for any team losing their star players for the season, so this is like for any other team.

Other wildcard positive possibilities include: Hector Sanchez, Tommy Joseph, Gary Brown and/or Joe Panik continuing hitting a storm in the upper levels of the minor and pushing their way onto the major league roster; one of our fireballing relievers rise up and take a spot in the majors (like Hembree); Francisco Peguero breaking out finally with his power (which would help his walk problem); Brett Pill continuing to hit like he did in AAA in 2011; Runzler breaking out finally with his pitching (which would help with his walk problem).

18 comments:

  1. I generally agree with everything that you said. I hope that the pitching does indeed hold up! I do believe that the offense is going to be league-average this year with the potential to surprise some. I don't see much power however and that is what scares me the most with the offense. That's where the speed comes in.
    If the top of the rotation falter then we are BIG trouble because we don't have any young stud SP coming up, nor many trade chips to acquire one. True of every team tho.
    As for some breakout I really hope Runzler puts it together as that would allow us to trade one of Lopez Affledt for a little power in the corner if Huff/Belt falters

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Andre.

      I generally agree with what you said as well, particularly about the offense surprising.

      Power could come, but yes, very much a big question mark. Obviously Pablo will hammer some. Remember, he missed a quarter of the season with his hamate bone break, at the rate he hit, he could have been in the low 30's. Plus, most hitters lose power until the hamate heals. I did analysis somewhere else regarding DrB's comment that he could be a 40 HR guy, and, with a smidge of luck, I think he can do that, and easily be a 30-35 HR guy in 2012.

      Then you got the question marks. Posey? Looking good so far, but he'll need to play a lot to hit a lot. Huff I think will have a nice year, but will he even reach 20? Crawford I think will surprise with double digits. Cabrera will reach double as well, and Pagan might too if he can hit a few inside the park homers.

      Schierholtz is one big question mark. If he does win the starting position, he might be ready to break out, he set a high last season playing half a season, if he can stay healthy, 20+ is possible I think. However, if Belt wins the starting position (I view the two of them to be competing for a starting position, the way the Giants have run the camps previously, battling the young guys together), then we should easily get 20+ homers and maybe upward of 30, because I don't think the Giants will automatically give the starting position to Belt if he has a good spring, they have to be happy with his approach and everything. I think it will come down to getting his finishing touches on his development so that he's not striking out so much in the majors, while also blasting out homers.

      Speed is finally here, Sabean has been trying and failing to bring in speedsters, Melky and Pagan helps, and Brown will eventually help, a lot.

      And remember, using projected production, which assumes that Cabrera, Pagan, Huff, Sandoval will show some elements of their recently poor seasons (i.e. understated), the offense is more than enough to win 90-95 games with a pitching/fielding similar to the past three years. The surprises will boost that up even more, giving us an even greater buffer for bad things like injuries and poor performances.

      I hope Runzler does break out, I assume Affeldt is gone in that case, as I think he has more trade value, but I think that would only be for a prospect, I would not expect to get a starting player, and especially with power, for a LOOGY.

      But, we won't need to get one, I don't see how Belt won't provide power. the question is more if he will provide any BA and OBP, and not too many K's. We also could bring up Hector Sanchez mid-season and move Posey to 1B, if we need power and offense.

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  2. Nice post. I'm distracted by the Cain contract, I think it would be a huge issue and distraction during the season. Having the agents talking to bay area journos in addition to the national puppets stinks of pressure tactics. On the other hand, apparently the giants have stalled at 5/90 for Cain. I'm checking on that source. Lots of turbulence coming. If true, that offer is neither realistic nor keeping with their stated desire to afford all pitching. We don't know the back and forth and I really hate negotiations in the press. However, given mutual interest, it's getting far along in the game here, and I'm pretty nervous about the issue.

    Defense and speed will pick up steam in the next few years. I like this Blanco guy a lot but fans need to realize it is spring training. I am seeing some "why did we bother with Pagan" statements around the gints interwebz - that cracks me up. Blanco is nice depth to have. The giants have some coverage, and as much as fans see huff as an impediment I guess I would look to the of and say it's better than last year, there is enough ab's to spread for 5 guys. Schierholtz hasn't looked good and Belt has, but again it's only spring training. Crawford looks good as well. I enjoyed his hr off of kuo the other night.

    I think Runzlers injury might seal his fate as a loogy. When he comes back they will only have so much time to get him ready. He has a lot of potential but the control and injury probelms plague him.

    With Cain in full circus it's nice to see some optimism for the season - thanks ogc!

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    1. Fair is fair and 5/90, if correct, is fair. I think Verlander's $20M per FA year is his ceiling. Anything above, the agents are getting greedy. I think the agents might want the honor of handling a 9-figure contract and dragging this out, or really think they can get it.

      Ultimately, I think there will be a signing, as before, just before the season starts. It'll be between the 5/90 and 5/100 bandied about. Cain's personality and behavior before suggests that he will sign if it is in that range, as that is fair per the market so far. If he doesn't sign, his agents are failing their fiduciary duties, because a pitcher's livelihood can go with the snap of a tendon. It's a ticking timebomb and doctors can't even tell you when it will happen. To pass up close to $100M just to test the FA market is not prudent for pitchers, especially one like Cain who now has had at least two instances of elbow issues when he was younger.

      Defense and speed indeed. Sabean has been trying for years now, hopefully he will have the pieces going forward. I agree about Blanco, totally. It's Randy Elliott all over again.

      Lastly, I'm only optimistic because I think there are things to be optimistic about. Just like in the 2007-9 period, people called me overly optimistic but my vision for what the team is and will be has been closer to the truth than almost any Giants blogger out there.

      And it's all relative, while I was more optimistic, I still thought the Giants were a below .500 team in 2007-8, it was just that most people thought they were a 100 loss team.

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    2. The only problem with the Verlander comparison is the Tigers were buying out arb years. They settled on a nice round 20MM for three years. He'll still be young enough at the end to go test the waters again. Also, it was signed more than 2 years ago.

      I disagree, respectfully. Cain is worth a 100MM plus contract. He's earned it. I wouldn't think twice about shaking on a 6/120MM. Hopefully they can nudge up to a 5/100MM with an option year as a compromise. There should be some middle ground here, but Cain holds more cards than the Giants on this one, and don't underestimate the powder keg the Giants are sitting on having made so much noise about securing their pitching, Cain being the longest tenured Giant and their most consistent pitcher.

      Yes, you need to drag out negotiations as a franchise. To me, it isn't unreasonable for Cain to ask for 6/120. He is underrated by statistics and wins/losses, but he is a top 10 MLB pitcher. And young. Sure pitchers can fail at any time. They can also horse up into their late 30s. I'd take the risk if I were the Giants, and obviously its a very important point. This offseason is a complete failure if they don't lock him up.

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    3. Yes, the Verlander contract included arb years: for his free agent years, he was paid $20M per season.

      I see Cain as less worth on the market than Verlander, hence why I have been going with under $20M per season as his ceiling for a contract. Salary inflation, in my mind, boost Cain to $20M-ish. I can accept 5 years plus option at $20M per.

      Both sides hold power and leverage. You note accurately why Cain has power and leverage. The Giants hold leverage in that they are offering $90-100M contract to him now. Is he really going to gamble that away by pitching 2012 and going into free agency?

      Cain has a history of elbow issues, first in his first season as a pro, where they shut him down, second when he had those elbow chips that caused the Giants to pull an additional year on his last extension, and in Spring Training 2011, when he had some elbow inflammation that was serious enough that the Giants took an MRI of it and skipped a spring start. Cain have been a hoss for the most part, but he has a steady history of elbow issues, which only captures what has been released to the public (we weren't even aware of his elbow chips issues until last season when Baggarly reported it).

      His elbow is the real power keg here, not the Giants declaration that their pitching is their key to success: anybody watching the team over the past few years would have already divined that.

      As a business person, one can only take on so much risk, and as we all know, pitching is the riskiest asset in baseball. It would be fiduciarily irresponsible for the Giants to take on so much risk that the contract could sink the team's chances at winning too far into the future.

      I can understand as a fan wanting to give our players anything they ask for.

      Unfortunately, this is reality, where if Cain's elbow blows out during the contract, the Giants are saddled with a huge $20M hole in their budget for every year after that. It would be easier to take if players are only paid, say, half their salary if injuries end their career. Or if the conditions were more like the NFL where the players take most of the risks. That, ideally, is where baseball should have been.

      True, some pitchers fail and others get even better in their 30's. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we got Matt Cain, and we don't know what will happen with him physically. We do know that he has a history of elbow issues that stretches from his early days as a pro to just as recently as last season.

      Frankly, based on risk, I would prefer DrB's suggestion of a shorter but larger contract, like a 3 year at $23-25M per. The reality that I concede is that the market forces has made 5+ year contracts a norm for pitchers of Cain's caliber. 5 years at $100M is a compromise for me, I'm crossing my fingers that we are not stuck with a huge albatross of a contract, same as I crossed my fingers when Bonds' last contract was signed.

      I wouldn't call the off-season a complete failure if they don't lock him up. A disappointing off-season, sure, but we can still negotiate with him next off-season, and his elbow problems will put question marks in other GM's minds: is that all there is or just the tip of the iceberg? I would not call signing Lincecum to a two year contract and just as importantly, Pablo to a three year contract, a complete failure.

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    4. Well, I'd say we don't know what Cain is asking for - 7 years? Zito deal? 150MM? That would be outlandish. That extra year is the limit, and its a one time exception due to him taking team friendly deals twice, and yes, being my favorite Giants player. I hear you about the elbow, and its a very good point that we don't know what the Giants have on their med records in addition to what was revealed.

      As we've discussed at length, Sabean has become much more disciplined about the years on contracts, which is a good thing. Unfortunately the market dictates whats on the table in this case. And it sets up a domino effect. The Giants miss out on Cain, they panic sign Timmy and/or Wilson for way too much money and years. Cain is the rock, you sign him and hopefully extend MadBum, you have leverage against Timmy leaving. If you don't, there is a giant gap, both in the clubhouse and in the rotation.

      I defined Cain as the linchpin of the offseason, and I'm going to stick to that. I don't want to join in the greek chorus of rage, but the Giants need to put their money where their mouth is. They said they are committed to keeping their starting pitching, and I'm willing to sit through dead ball era offense to watch it happily. If they don't follow through on that, there should be repercussions. I think they made wise laydowns with Beltran, not getting involved with injured shortstops, not bothering with Fielder/Pujols. But there is plenty of money, and they need to step up. I'll understand if Cain is asking for the moon, but if they are one year and 28MM apart, I will not, and its lunatic fringe time for me.

      To end more positively, I'll step back from complete failure. I liked the sidestep of the FA market with the OF trades, I liked the Pablo signing although 1 year of FA would have been nice, and the Timmy thing was the best short term solution. In addition, I like the dumpster dives and mainly I like the farm systems direction.

      Also, as teams jettison their pitching to the minors, we'll see harder ABs, Burriss and Blanco may start having trouble, and Pagan and Theriot may start getting warmed up. Its spring training. Fans overreaction to performances happen every single year. Sabean has a couple nice pieces to insure against Freddy, hopefully they have a 6 week trigger finger on Huff and some good OF depth. Surkamp looks good, which allays our Zito fears. Now can the season start already?

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    5. Also the Giants gave Joe Panik some kind of team award - 23/23 for getting the runner home from third with less than 2 outs. Getting excited about Joe.

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    6. Hah! I just posted on DrB's about that and referenced you - teams know their own players best. So good point about Cain's medical records, once again.

      OGC, I really like bouncing ideas off of you and even when butting heads I value your opinion. You are very considerate along with your hard headed nature.

      Cheers. And lets hope for some compromise on Cain.

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  3. hate this comment as thing - have to remember who I am. Can't get this to post other than "anonymous".

    What about Franchez? Seems like he's a big question mark, and a potential hole in the lineup. However, top to bottom, the lineup is better. Catch-22 with Huff, if he sucks, how long will Bochy keep him in there, if he's great, no Belt. My point being (as OGC says) there's a lot of potential juggling that needs to be handled correctly.

    By the way, was thinking about Melky, have to wonder if he contracted Yankee-disease and just last year finally got out from under the curse. His being "more aggressive" strikes me as fuck this shit, I'm going to be run out of baseball, so I'm going to do what I know I do well. I have very positive thoughts about him.

    Back of the rotation - I think if you're looking for league-average, that's guaranteed, and probably better than that from one of Surkamp, Zito or Vogelsong. Depends I suppose on if league average is sufficient.

    Don't know what's up with Cain - if he's playing chicken with testing the market as option B, or if the Giants are screwing with him. The media "leaks" as Shankbone mentioned makes me fear the latter - doesn't sound like Cain's style, so things could be acrimonious. If the former (testing the market), I'd guess a great season, if the latter, it could very much be a distraction to Cain. I have no idea which is which.

    Have to say, though, on the scale of risk of signing pitchers long-term, I believe Cain to be about as sure a bet as there is. Shit happens, but I can easily see him being a horse for a good dozen more years.

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    1. Yeah, sorry, have no control, just post your handle at the end for now.

      Franchez is a question mark, but I think between Fontenot and Theriot, 2B is covered, and the better lineup has Pagan and Cabrera 1/2, not Franchez up there. So I didn't think his issues belonged in the Top 6.

      I think the rope with Huff will be short, if necessary, but I expect him to be closer to his career averages and not 2011, so that will be a non-issue, I believe.

      I am very positive about Cabrera as well. I have no proof so I've not waded into that, but I expect at least what he did in 2009 (which is the average of his last 3 seasons roughly) and don't think a season close to 2011 is out of the question. But again, no way of expressing it other than I believe, so I haven't bothered. I like your theory of his letting go, that could exactly be it.

      My worry about the back of the rotation is more that beyond Surkamp, Zito, Vogelsong, we have no depth. I believe any of those three would be very valuable for our team behind Lincecum, Cain, Vogelsong, because league average is actually great in the back of the rotation.

      League average is roughly low 4's, but most teams have mid-4's to mid-5's in the back of their rotation. Huge advantage for us.

      Might not be Cain's style, but he has new agents taking over for him, so it might be their style, he has no control over what they do to serve him. I noted my thoughts above with Shankbone, I think they are reaching for every last bit but will sign when the time comes.

      If not, then I worry that Cain will be distracted. He seems to be a relatively simple person, easy going, and if it was just a matter of pitching, he'll be fine. But with reporters coming up to him every game and asking if no contract is a distraction, bingo, the reporters become part of the story because they are distracting him by grilling him about it every week.

      I think he has the profile of a horse, but his elbow issues when he was 18, then those loose bodies from a few years ago that caused the Giants to take out an extra year, are valid reasons for concerns.

      That said, I think fair is roughly 5 years, $90-99M, and I'm OK with that level of risk. Just put it this way: if Cain blows out his elbow in 2012, we could be stuck with a $90M+ sinkhole in our budget for the following 5 years. Worse if they signed him to any of the much longer lengths that media and fans have been throwing out there.

      Lincecum might leave knowing that the Giants would find it hard to compete with that anchor, even if he wanted to stay. So keep that in mind when you think that there is no consequences to signing any old player to any old contract length.

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  4. I know this hasn't been the Giants style, but I'm so leery of long term contracts for pitchers, I'd almost rather overpay, and by quite a bit for a 3 year deal for Cainer than underpay for a 5-6 year deal. What about 3/$75? Yeah, it's a lot of money but they are cost controlled everywhere else for the next 3 years and have a ton of $$$ coming off the books next year and Zito coming partially off in 2014 and fully off in 2015.

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    1. Great point DrB! I like when the D-gers did that with Furcal a few years back. I think 3/$75M is too much, my speed would be more 3/$66M (or $22M per), but good idea nonetheless.

      But with that, it comes with some problems. One is that Lincecum might want that too, but at a higher price ($30M per). And if $90M+ is keeping him thinking of free agency, $75M probably would too, because I think most players think long term security, even if less, because ultimately more money is guaranteed.

      But I would be willing to explore that side of risk for a shorter term, that could work out well in terms of lower risk for the team, but also benefits to the players too.

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  5. I'm intrigued by a potential "speed" lineup:

    RF Blanco
    2B Burriss
    CF Pagan
    3B Sandoval
    C Posey
    LF Cabrera
    1B Belt
    SS Crawford

    Sandoval and Posey are the only slowpokes and Sandoval isn't all that slow! I don't think I'd want to run that out there every day but it sure would be interesting to see that lineup produce a few runs out of nothing.

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    1. Sandoval is very athletic on the bases, I'm still amazed by the TWO slides home, I think end of 2008 season, though maybe 2009.

      First one, he did a perfect slide away from the plate, the catcher swung around to tag him but he slide by the plate and tapped home plate for the run (see Cousins? That's what really good players can do!).

      Second one, I don't remember as exactly anymore but he was running to home plate and I recall him leaping over the tag and scoring the run on home plate.

      Yeah, that would be a very speedly lineup there, Belt is pretty good on the bases and I didn't know that Crawford was speedy too.

      Thanks for sharing.

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    2. Looks like we are getting closer to the possibility of such a lineup.

      Burriss has impressed enough that the Giants are shopping Font and The Riot. Blanco, needless to say, has impressed enough to actually get whispers of a starting role. Plus Joaquin Arias has impressed enough to maybe get a role too, particularly since Franchez looks likely to DL to start.

      I wonder what the Giants will do with extra spot with Vogie looking like a DL too. Could explain why they held back on giving him more innings in latest outing, despite him wanting and feeling ready to pitch more, maybe they want to use the spot to hold onto another position player to see how he does in majors, like Belt, from the bench.

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    3. Arias strikes me as a Deivi Cruz type - in the beginning you can't remember where the Giants signed him. Then he's sort of ho hum, but does a bit here and there. Then he's suddenly playing short decently, and hitting 270/325/375 and staying out of trouble.... So yeah, interesting.

      And here is the beauty of low cost one year contracts (that haven't even vested yet) - they can be discarded painlessly. If Sabean can actually get something for the LSU guys, well, I had a fun month cracking wise, and lets move on.

      I am having a hard time with Burriss turning a corner, lets see what he does against tighter pitching the next 2 weeks. Chop the ball Manny, work on your game, become a pest; I'm rooting for you even if I'm doubtful.

      Delete

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