Thursday, December 06, 2012

Risk Mitigation: Giants Style

There is a good quote of Bobby Evans by Chris Haft on mlb.com/sfgiants.com:
 "The work's never done. There are too many ways to try to find ways to protect your team over a long season." -- Evans
ogc thoughts

That has been one of the things I've been harping on the past few years about Sabean and the Giants, about how they practice risk mitigation.  In Sabean's interviews, you would hear the terms "flexibility" or "versatility" but Evans' quote comes closest to what I've been saying, about finding "ways to protect your team over a long season."  That is risk mitigation.

The signings of Uribe and DeRosa and, heck, back to the trade for Winn, represents the first strong signs of doing that, during that period.  After all the issues with Alfonzo, Durham, Benitez, the Giants have focused more of their free agent signings on the lower tiers on risk mitigation, that is, the flexibility to not have a season go to pot from a starter going down.

Of course, there is really nothing you can do if one of your star hitters like Posey or Sandoval, go down.  But for the rest of the team, if you have a good infield utility player and one good outfield utility player, your team can stay afloat in the pennant race should somebody either go down or just is not performing on the field, like most teams run into with prospects.

DeRosa was the ultimate version of that, but I'll start with Winn first since he was one of those first flexible players.  He was and is a tweener, not really good enough defensively in CF but not really good enough offensively on the corners, but basically an average player no matter which OF position you put him at.  So, depending on who is hitting and who is not hitting or not available, Winn was able to play all three OF positions adequately to good, as well as hit adequately.  Roberts was a little like that too, only he was never healthy long enough to do that job for us.

DeRosa was never healthy enough, but he was the ultimate in utility when we got him.  He was really a platoon hitter, killed LHP, but did OK vs. RHP, good enough to play almost regularly, nearly 150 games per season.  However, he was great defensively at many positions, 2B, 3B, LF, RF, and could play SS in a pinch (started out as a pro there) and could play 1B probably OK as well.  He would have been great for us if he had only gone to the expert to get his wrist fixed instead of being lazy and going to the local doctor, who screwed it up.

Last season, Theriot and Arias helped keep things on an even keel while Franchez was out and Sandoval was DLed, while Blanco did likewise in the OF, doing OK enough while starting.  On the previous World Champion team, Uribe and Torres did it for the Giants, even Renteria too, though he was originally hired to be the starting SS but was just injured all the time.

They did the same in the bullpen too.  Many Giants fans groaned over the signing of both Lopez and Affedlt to large (for bullpen) contracts prior to the 2012 season.  But they proved to be good backup once Wilson came up lame.  I didn't see any of these Naysayers apologizing when Affeldt flew through the 2012 playoffs with 10.1 IP, giving only 5 hits and 3 walks, striking out 10 and allowing zero runs.  Lopez wasn't used as much, but he was helpful too, 3.0 IP, giving up 0 hits and 2 walks, striking out 4 and allowing no runs too.  Given that he only pitched in the two key series against Cincinnati and St. Louis (wasn't used in World Series), where a run could have tipped the series to the other side, that was critical pitching.  He helped win two of the games in the Reds series, and three of the games in the St. Louis series.

And both served as closers during the regular season as well.  In fact, who didn't serve?  Six different players recorded saves in 2012:  Casilla (25), Romo (14), Lopez (7), Affeldt (3), even Hensley (3), plus Wilson (1).    Pitchers were swapping in and out, pitching setup, pitching closer.  Also the middle relievers got to pitch setup as well.

And who is the ace of the rotation?  The season started out with Lincecum taking the pole position.  Cain got the home opener.  Bumgarner ended up opening the second half of the season after the All-Star game.   Cain got the first game of the NLDS.  Bumgarner got the first game of the NLCS.  And Zito got the World Series first start.  And while Vogelsong didn't get one of these ace first starts, he pitched like the ace of the playoffs, coming in and shutting down the opposition when the Giants were at the brink of losing.  He had only a 1.09 ERA in 4 starts, 24.2 IP, with 16 hits and 10 walks, striking out 21 and allowing only 3 runs.

And don't forget, Vogelsong was the guy who came up in 2011 and not only held the fort in Zito's absence, but proved to be ace-like in performance.  They also had Petit in 2012 and Hacker in 2010 and 2011 did well for us in AAA.  He just resigned with us, at age 30.  The Giants add these guys to hang around in the minors, just in case they were needed.

Blanco, Arias, Loux, Machi, Petit and Vogelsong started the season off in AAA, waiting for the call to the major leagues, insurance players that the Giants stashed in AAA, just in case a starter goes down.  That is risk mitigation.  And where would we have been if we did not have Theriot, who hit very well after returning from the DL, around .340 OBP, in the two spot, until Scutaro came over, capable of playing 2B and SS, and manning 3B until Sandoval returned, then took over the starting 2B spot and never let go.

Risk mitigation, as the Giants and Sabean has done it, is by having versatile utility players who were comfortable serving many different roles on the team, as the need arose.  Need a starting 2B?  Bam!  Theriot slotted in, and did well there until Scutaro was acquired and held the job.  Need a starting 3B?  Bam!  Arias started there, then Scutaro later.  Need a closer?  Bam!  Casilla, then closer by committee (Romo, Lopez, Affeldt), then Romo in the playoffs.  The Giants have been playing the risk mitigation game well over the past four seasons.

2013 Giants Risk Mitigation

Bringing back the whole team, also, the same players look to fill the risk mitigation roles.  Blanco looks like the LF right now, but should a Huff-like deal open up in LF just before spring training starts, don't be surprised if the Giants jump on a nice RH bat to platoon with Blanco or even start in LF.  And Torres is currently on the market.  Francisco Peguero also looks like he could fill the Blanco role in 2013, he plays all three OF positions, looks like he can hit anywhere (like Pablo), has great speed and defense, and even has a RH bat.

The scuttlebutt is that Ryan Theriot is interested in returning and the Giants are interested in him returning as well.  Meanwhile, we still have Joaquin Arias sitting around, ready to fill in, and Nick Noonan has been prepared the last few years for such a role, having started at both 2B and SS in his climb up the farm system.  He also played some 3B as well and probably could handle 1B in a pinch if necessary.

Of course, the bullpen is pretty set, with Romo, Affeldt, Lopez, Casilla, Kontos, and Mijares.  We have the same closer by committee set up for 2013, as the Giants are said to be looking to manage Romo's arm to survive the season and be ready for the playoffs.  The key here was the signing of Affeldt to another contract.

The Giants generally likes to let one position be open for competition, so that 7th spot could be where the compete is in 2013, though rumors has it that they were in on Grilli until he chose to return to the Pirates for two years, since nobody would go three years on him.  He has had a Vogelsong-like resurrection, though he was never as buried or unused as Vogie.  Still, if they were looking hard at Grilli, they might still pick up someone along the way and make Mijares' position the competition spot.  Heath Hembree looks like he will be competing for a spot in the bullpen, and as our future closer du jour, if he should make the team, he could be seeing duty from the middle to set-up to closing, depending on how well he does.

And AAA will be full of potential starter replacements.  Hacker has signed to return.  In addition, Eric Surkamp should be healthy and starting in AAA.  In addition, both Chris Heston and Mike Kickham look like they earned a promotion to AAA with their great pitching in AA in 2012.  So there is a whole rotation full of starters who could get the call.  And I'm not even sure whether Petit might return, he was good last season too.  And don't forget, they could also come up as relievers too.

9 comments:

  1. This was very detailed I really enjoyed it. It's not the flashiest way to put together a team, but clearly it works. I like Noonan's potential, but with Crawford and Scutaro blocking him I'm not sure if he will be playing as anything more than a bench utility guy at the major leagues. It would be interesting to see if he gets traded for a bullpen guy or an outfield bat, or even swapped for another prospect if he does well or develops a little more power. He could also potentially be packaged with Gillaspie, considering that he's blocked and getting older as well. It would be great for a team with a weak infield. This was an awesome post and I love reading your blog!

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    1. Thanks for your comment.

      That is my point about Noonan, he has been groomed for a utility bench role, capable of playing 2B, SS, as well as 3B. Whether he will hit is another matter, as we learned with Burriss, but I'm more optimistic about him because he had a nice season in 2012 in AAA, and remember, he was still only 23 last season and thus at a disadvantage against the more experienced players there, and yet he still hit .296/.347/.416/.763 there, which is not great, but at his age, if he can develop a little more, I think he can break out enough to hit well enough to hold a bench job, and if he could hit for a bit more power, he could push for a starting job at some point.

      But for now, I think super utility MI is where he'll add the most value for now, at his current achievement level, and he'll still need to develop some to reach even that at the MLB level.

      Yes, he could be trade bait, but it's a two edged sword in that he has not accomplished much in the minors so far, and thus would not yield too much in trade most probably, unless, say, San Diego still likes him (he came from the SD area) and want to give it a shot, but then again, that's intra-division, so they might not want to give us much.

      Personally, I would not trade him, I liked what he showed in San Jose a few years back, and I think that he is just a slow developer and just need time to figure things out. He and Panik can duke it out for 2B in 2014-15 with Scutaro. Meanwhile, he can be a super utility MI with a nice bat for us in that time frame as well (I think he'll get another year in AAA before the Giants just bring him up and see what he can do; though should anything happen to Scutaro or Crawford, I can see him being brought up to fill the MI bench spot vacated by Theriot in order to start).

      I think Gillaspie would yield more in a trade because he has DH written all over him, and he has developed a little power as well. His contract rate, already good, got better too, and he walks at a high rate. I've been waiting for an AL team to take a flyer on him and give us an interesting vet in return.

      And thanks for the compliment, I try my best.

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  2. Wise post, OGC. I'd add that it has been a great recent strength of the Giants FO that they have, and have earned, enough faith in themselves to distinguish risk mitigation from its expensive cousin, risk aversion. They have, to the displeasure of many of their fans this year, refused to shut down the roster by filling it far in advance of the season--their cover for this is the limits of their budget. But had they acquired a bat for LF and a RH reliever, they would have incurred an opportunity cost in terms of not being able to act on a chance for a Torres, a Blanco, an Arias, et al., all the players who have emerged from their varied nowheres to contribute greatly. The internal flexibility that you have rightly praised in your post allows them added value in permitting an exterrnal flexibility, to keep maneuvering, keep responding (think Kontos, Mijares, Pence, Scutaro in 2012). To your presentation of risk mitigation looking forward to possible situations, I'd add risk mitigation by having the freedom to respond to, and cultivate, opportunities.

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    1. As Shankbone noted, good point about the balance between risk mitigation and risk adversion. Risk adversion is the strategy that caretaker managers use, any good business 1) need to take risks if they are to survive in their industry for a long time and 2) know which risks are best to take.

      I especially liked the Kontos and Mijares moves, both looked good, I was actually unhappy to see Stewart leave, but when I saw Kontos stats, I thought, wow, how do the the Giants find these guys?

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  3. Great post OGC. Like campanari, I keep looking to the Giants finding the balance between mitigation/aversion. If you fill in your spot with a 5 year FA, then its done. You sink or swim on that, and it costs. The Giants have shown a best in the majors strength in the dumpster dive/reclamation project. Uribe, Torres, Burrell, Blanco, Vogelsong. As frustrating as it is for fans who want really good players at the big positions, I think at this juncture it pays to be patient.

    First off, the Giants are really young. 3 of the 4 infield positions are 24, 25 and 26. So getting some wiley vet for one position makes sense. And that fits Scutaro to a t. Worried about him losing a step? Depend on superior scouting to position him correctly, then put a Brandon on either side - superior range and smooth gloves both with the high baseball IQ to get the ball to the right base with strong arms.

    Second off, the hidden gem of the Scutaro contract - as soon as he showed up, everybody stopped hacking so much, and started looking for their pitch. Usually the Giants as hacking is put into hysteria on a well known Giants blog, and its somehow the fault of the front office. Well, Scutaro anchored the joint, much as Pat Burrell did once he caught fire in 2010. Sometimes a lead by example vet is huge.

    Third and a bit out there - Scutaro has the potential to push Sandoval to a further level. Showing him how to be professional, working on his hittings, all of it. What is the value in Sandoval breaking through to his true potential? Its gigantic. That might be a bit out there, but I think its worth watching.

    Nuff about Scutaro, and onto LF and RP. The Giants have guys in the minors, a proven ability to go get something for spring training and again mid-season. I would be very careful about wanting to lock in a Swisher type, it has the ability to be a big lodestone on everything. Keep developing, fill the holes slowly, patch em up on the fly. Good strategy. One of these days, and it may not be soon, we will have a 5-tool shiny OF who kills it. But in the meantime, they're doing great. Who knows when the next Jose Bautista is around the corner, but our guys are looking for him. I prefer that immensely to the middle market. Which is Swisher. Blah I say.

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    1. Great points about Scutaro and Sandoval, I totally agree that his influence could lead Sandoval to reach his true potential, people see what he has done before and think there was a bit of a mirage, first strike advantage going, but he's just that good and that's why I've stuck hard to telling all the people who want to trade him, "NO! You keep a guy with that type of potential around, because if lightening strikes, it's going to be a huge blast." As I've analyzed before, 40 HR season is not out of the question for him, as long as he's healthy, and now that he has no more hamate bones to break and probably won't be moved to 1B even for one game, he should be healthy as long as he can get fit.

      As I was pulling the Scutaro quote from Blanco on one of my posts, I'm sure he's doing that with Pablo too and since he's also Venezuelan, I think that's where the Giants had to overpay a little in years to keep him, because he is very respected by the younger Venezuelans, and if he tells Sandoval that he needs to get in shape for the sake of the team, that will have more weight with him than any Giants personnel, management or training staff, telling him the same thing. The only thing better would be hiring Omar Vizquel to be our roving MI instructor and have him yelling in Pablo's ear about his duty to the team, the other players, duty to the game, and the need to get into better shape. Clearly, he needs to get in 2011 shape, when he had great defensive stats, and not be as slim as even 2012, as his defense was below average again.

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    2. Oh, and I don't think that is out there, Sandoval being patient would be huge for his offensive impact, as he should strike out less, put more balls into play, and that can't be anything but good.

      Yeah, I've moved off Swisher back when you told me about his poor defense. At this point, the extra cost for a middle-tier LF over Blanco is wide enough that I don't think that it is worth it, as I think we can win with Blanco and the team we got. Sure, having Swisher would make it easier, but as you note, it can be a weight upon future moves.

      And as you note, these mid-season trades often can get you a player better than Swisher for a middling prospect, as the other team is dumping salary, and Sabean appears to be good at sniffing those types of deals out, like with Nen, Livan, Winn, and now Scutaro.

      And I know the odds are low that Kieschnick and Peguero could be the answer to starting in LF, but I like that the Giants often keep a spot open for the developing youngsters to come up and compete for playing time, as much as a prospect struggling frustrates me, I like that they have been giving young guys a chance without putting the weight of the team on them, even Posey was able to escape a lot of that early on, until Molina was traded.

      Like you, I've come to anticipate and enjoy these people from left field, who come in and we are all wondering, "Who?" and they perform and give us a nice surprise. I think that gives fans and even the team itself, a bit of a good jolt, gives a nice energy to the team.

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    3. Echo OGC's comments on the quality of this post.

      Scutaro was simply amazing during the post-season. Not merely the numbers - which were quite gaudy - but the manner in which he made them.

      This hasn't been talked about anywhere that I've seen, but Scutaro was literally sitting on his heels for every first pitch. It looked like he would use the first pitch to peer straight down the pitching cone, and from that would key off timing.

      He did swing at a very few, but in those cases it really looked like a decision made before the pitch was thrown.

      In other words, Scutaro was either playing a mind game with opposing pitchers, keying onto some internal metric, or perhaps something else (superstition, forcing plate discipline, whatever).

      I'm not so sure this type of ability can be replicated by others - nor should it necessarily. While Scutaro has league leading contact, he has little to no power. I don't think having Pablo become a higher contact but lower power hitter would be a win, though of course this isn't the only outcome.

      c1ue

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  4. Very insightful - thank you.

    Something I didn't see mentioned that is also risk mitigation is that the Giants seem to have taken a more 21st century approach to bench (or replacement) composition. Even not so long ago, you might have had a low BA/Hr threat, a speedster, a great field/no hit - in other words, one dimensional players. Those are great as complements situationally, but when you lose a starter you're losing all the dimensions you can't replace.

    So, a player like Theriot is great because he is plausible as a starter. As is Arias. They may be marginal, but they do not represent a glaring hole if someone goes down. Uribe may have just been good timing, but he was similar. The correct approach may now be that is far better to have 5 balanced players on the bench than 5 extreme plus/minus players, even though on paper your assets may total the same all other things being equal. But they're not - one may (like Arias or Theriot) become your starting X, and for the time being, you get what you got.

    marcos

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