Monday, December 17, 2012

Your 2010 Decade Giants: Choices


In baseball, there are a multitude of choices being made every season and off-season, choices as to how the team will proceed into the future.  From reading, I get the sense that there is a portion of the Giants fanbase who view the 2012 off-season much like the 2010 off-season:  full of mistakes and treading water.   I disagree.

Giants 2012 Offseason and  2010 Offseason

The Giants, while having a rabid fanbase that's been setting attendance records regularly at our gorgeous park, is still limited in what they can spend on player payroll.   They cannot keep up with the Jones (or Guggleheim's or Steinbrenner's).  So while it might have been nice to add a Josh Hamilton or other high priced player to the payroll, there is the opportunity cost involved with such a move, which is that there is less money for the Giants to sign up our young players into the future.

That was not understood in off-season's past, it was not understood this off-season.  Getting a Hamilton or similarly salaried player would have meant that the Giants payroll would have went much above where they were targeting, which means lowering spending in future seasons to balance things out (because ultimately it is still a business and need to make money).

That would impact the Giants ability to sign up Lincecum, Posey, or Sandoval, further into the future, forcing them to let go of some their core homegrown players at some point, and would affect their ability to sign up Pence long-term as well.  It also puts the team at risk too, for if Hamilton goes off the wagon or be like most 31 YO players, start declining in production at a great rate, and we'll be out the money and still have to replace his production (think of it as having 2 to 3 Benitez type contracts on the roster).

It was not the Giants choices, ultimately, that decided their fate in the 2011 season, in any case, it was the silly, unthoughtful, unethical, uncalled for choice by a Marlin's borderline roster player, who knew he didn't have a good chance of scoring on that flyball, but decided that his best choice was to become a human missile and heat seek Buster Posey and blast him to kingdom come.  That he was surprised that a human being would crumple from such an impact, was the biggest surprise, what did he think was the worse case scenario?  A hangnail?  I have no doubt that had Posey been around, we would have made the playoffs and there would have been no reason for fans to think that status quo was bad for the 2011 season and therefore bad for the 2013 season.

I think the two offseasons cannot simply be dismissed as status quo.   Not when you have a number of young players who can and should improve in the following seasons.  Not when the lineups are set up to be good enough to win over 90 games with the pitching and fielding that we have, leading to great defense.  For that is the goal, to win at least 90 games, which historically gets you into the playoffs and should win you a division title, and if that is status quo, then give me status quo.  And as good as the chemistry is and was, it was the performances that won them the title.

KC and the Giants, and how Choices Connect Them

A recent column by a Yahoo columnist surmised that the Royals were trying to be like the Giants, and find winners who will create a clubhouse full of harmony and camaraderie, which leads gold and riches and championships.  Ignoring, of course, that it was pitching, pitching, and more pitching that won the championship for the Giants.

That got me thinking about the Royals choices.  I realized that the Royals could have been in the Giants shoes (or at least close to the same fit), had they had made different choices.

In 2006, the Royals had the first pick of the draft.  FIRST PICK.  Can pick anybody and nobody could stop them.  They selected Luke Hochevar.  He has barely been a back of rotation starter in the majors.  They obviously was sold a bill of goods by Scott Boras there.  There were numerous better picks just immediately afterward.  Longoria.  Kershaow.  Of course, Big Time Jimmy Tim.  Max Scherzer.  Ian Kennedy.  Even Brandon Morrow or Joba Chamberlain would have been much better picks.

Imagine how different things would have been had they chosen Lincecum.  Who knows who the Giants would have selected instead.  Most had them picking up Daniel Bard, ironically, who is making a name for himself as a reliever, when most teams were worried enough about Lincecum that he would just be a reliever.  I had been hoping for Kyle Drybeck because I didn't think anyone better would make it to us, but then one mock draft had Lincecum falling to us, and lo and behold, we got him.

In 2007, the Royals had the second pick of the draft.  Moustakas has not been bad but he hasn't been good either.  Matt Weiters went a few picks later (maybe the Hochevar signing didn't impress them enough).  Of course, our Madison Bumgarner.  Jason Heyward, but he don't count because the Braves already had him in their hip pocket because he played all the teams, telling them that he's going to college, where his college professor parents want him to be.  Meanwhile, the Braves scout who has been a buddy of the family for 5-6 years win the kudos of the front office organization for that coup.

And in the second round, there was also Jordan Zimmerman and the player to be renamed later, Giancarlo "Mike" Stanton (I guess he hated being mistaken for that relief pitcher who once was a Giant), though by that point, picks are more like lottery tickets than picks make with great foresight, so can't really blame KC for missing out on them, but at the same time, they were available.

The Giants were pretty much out of luck if they did not have Bumgarner around to select, among the players similarly available to them.

In 2008, they had the third pick and selected Eric Hosmer.  There is still hope out for him, and who knows what he could do, but so far, not so much.  Of course, the Giants picked Buster Posey a couple of picks later.  Brett Lawrie, Ike Davis, and Wade Miley were other good picks later who look to have good careers, plus Aaron Crow and Gordon Beckham, both of whom have had up and downs, Crow is a reliever (though good) and Beckham after a great start, has appeared to have lost it.

The Giants in that draft was associated most with Justin Smoak, that I can recall.  Many Giants fans were so enamored with him that they were angry about Posey being selected and openly said that Sabean made a mistake.  Clearly, history has shown that Posey indeed was the correct choice.

Alternative Universe Scenario

All in all, life could have been much different for KC and SF.  By 2010, the Royals could have had Lincecum, Bumgarner and Posey on their major league club.  In 2011, Posey, Gordon, and Butler would have been a nice trio hitting in the middle of the lineup, plus Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francoeur, and Eric Hosmer.   That would have been a pretty stout offense with Posey in the clean-up spot.    Meanwhile, with a rotation of Lincecum, Greinke, Bumgarner, Chen, Paulino, they would have been pretty good, assuming that with this configuration, the cheapskate ownership would have ponied up to sign Greinke longer term at that point.

Of course, that is assuming KC would have gotten the same out of them as the Giants did.  Remember, Bumgarner was struggling to figure things out when Tidrow stepped in and helped correct his mechanics.  And Lincecum, who knows if KC might have tried to muck with his mechanics and try to change him.  Or believed the hype and made him a reliever.   Crow was a starter and they made him a reliever and he was the #9 draft pick overall (I wonder if he regrets not signing with the Nationals in 2008?).  I can't imagine Posey being any different, however.

For SF, things would probably be the exact opposite, almost.  Without the trio of Lincecum, Bumgarner, Posey, the Giants of 2010 to 2012 would probably be best known for putting "Cained" into the lexicon, as Matt continued to lose despite pitching well, and perhaps would have left already via free agency or trade, another "if only" figure in the SF Giants history, up there with Jack Clark.   The team would have been struggling because the prospects they probably would have ended up with instead would not have collective produce what any of these three produced individually.  And Sabean would have been rightfully fired during this period.

Luck, Schmuck

That is why many Giants fans still view the Giants and Sabean as lucky.  Other teams could have and should have drafted them before Sabean did.  Therefore, Sabean was lucky and is so terrible that he should have been fired years ago.

These people seem to never follow the logic of their assumptions out in full, to my view.  If having a player fall to you is luck, then the Yankees were lucky that Jeter fell to them when Sabean (yes, our GM in his former job) jumped on him when the opportunity to draft him came up.  Heck, the Angels were lucky that Trout fell to them late in the first round, as 20 other teams passed on him (and a couple of teams twice!).  In fact, you can then make the case that any team in history who selected after the first overall pick was lucky, because that first overall pick could have chosen that particular player instead and your GM would not have been so lucky to get him.  That is what the logical extension of that assumption made by people thinking that Sabean was lucky.

The funny thing, as the KC example showed, it was not just Sabean who was "lucky".   The Royal's GM could have been as "lucky" as I covered above.   In fact, the Ray's, Oriole's, and Pirate's GMs could have been as lucky too, as they also picked in front of the Giants in those three key pivotal drafts.  Yet, none of them were "lucky", it was Sabean who was "lucky" (though the Rays obviously love Longoria still).

There is luck, and there is preparation enabling you to jump on it when the opportunity and the fates decides.   Nine teams passed on Lincecum and Bumgarner, obviously thinking that their pick was the better pick.  Posey was considered strongly for the first pick, but none of the teams between the Rays and Giants considered him, according to the sources passing notes under the table to expert draft analysts, they had their minds made up.

The Giants could have gone with the status quo.  Oh, Lincecum's body won't hold up, and that wacky mechanics!  Oy!  Bumgarner was viewed to go later in the round due to his cross-body throwing that indicates future injury problems.  And Heyward, who looks like McCovey hitting, was a natural or any one of the hitters who were available then and deemed worthy of a 10th pick.  What!?!  Another pitcher?  Posey?  No, we need a HITTER like Smoak, Posey was only expected to be a gold glove catcher who hit OK, for a catcher, not OK for any position on the field.  He'll never reach 20 homers in a season, even at his peak, he was only expected to reach the mid-teens in terms of potential.

The fact of the matter is that after all the hemming and hawing, and all the rationalizations against him, it was Sabean who OKed the selection of all of these players.  Tidrow, Barr and the scouts did make great contributions in finding these players, but really, that's true of any organization, the manager does not do everything.  It is the manager who finds the talented people, hire them, and put them into position to make himself look good, ultimately.  It is the sum of the decisions he makes along the way, whether he actually made them himself or determined that his lieutenants were good enough to make the calls themselves, that adds up to what the end product is.

The end product is two World Championships in three seasons.  He was so "lucky" that his Giants were the first NL team to do that since the 1975-76 Reds won them in two consecutive seasons and only three NL teams have done that since the Giants moved to SF:  the Dodgers also won two in three, in 1963 and 1965.  Including AL teams, that adds five more teams in the 54 years since the Giants move to SF:  Yankees 1961-62, Oakland 1972-74 (three in a row), Yankees 1977-78, Blue Jays 1992-93, Yankees 1996-2000 (four in five).

So were all those teams lucky too?  If so, why are we bothering to even follow baseball, since championships are determined by mostly luck?

I prefer to give credit to the people who make the decisions.  The GM who selected the players.  The manager who put them in place to succeed.  The hitters who decided to swing at the pitch and got the big hit, the pitchers who decided to throw the strike that got the outs, the fielders who made the great play to get the out.  In the moment, real time.

No DIPS random luck to muck up the analysis, sure, there is luck in everything if you really want to push it, but I prefer to honor the good work made by the people who make the decisions, the ones who when given the opportunity, made the best of their chances, of their choices.


  1. Luck is the residue of design. Had a great argument with tomtango about "luck" - he's a bonehead IMHO. I gave up.

    Anyway, as far as treading water, you've got Posey back, Belt & Crawford established, Pence on the roster, Pagan/Scutaro worked out and were re-signed, Wilson's arm fell off and all seems to be well anyway, Blanco came out of left field (haha, sorry) and seems acceptable if not just fine with or without a platoon partner, HSanchez looks like a more than adequate backup - look back a year, or even to last year's all-star break, and tell me that nothing's changed.

    Pretty lucky, eh?


    1. Yeah, I have to agree, I once asked him about analysis using the hit spray pattern and overlaying the printouts, and he pooh-poohed it, but now I see sites like either Fangraphs or THT doing exactly that!

      Good one on Blanco, boss!

      Very good points, yes, much has changed, and we are lucky to your point that luck is the residue of design. Which is exactly my point regarding the draft, thanks!

  2. It seems like the Royals have't emphasized pitching as much as the Giants do over the past few drafts. The Royals have good young position players but I was surprised to find that they have drafted only 2 starting pitchers in the 1st round over the past 7 drafts, Hocheiver (2006) and Zimmer (2012). They drafted Christian Colon in 2010, who might turn out to be good, but they passed on Matt Harvey who went to the Mets. The Royals drafted Aaron Crow in the 1st round in 2009 and he's turned out to be a good reliever.

    The Royals GM is accountable for their organizations lack of MLB ready pitching. That might explain why they acquired James Shields from Tampa. Any teams success or failure has more to do with the choices they've made not luck.




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