Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Another BP Hit Piece on Sabean

[NOTE:  wrote this back in November when the BP article came out, but never got back to finishing it until now, when looking at prior drafts that were unpublished]

It never ends with BP and their hit pieces on Sabean.  Here is their latest (hat tip to Shankbone).  I have not forgiven BP for their 2010 Annual chapter on the Giants advocating that Brian Sabean be fired as GM for the Giants.  I'm sure you will never see that emblazoned on the cover of their book, "We recommended that the GM who put together two World Championships in three years - the first NL team to do it since the Reds in the 70's and only the third NL team in the last 90 years - should have been fired."  I've looked at their 2011 and 2012 annuals to see if they apologized for that but so far no.  Maybe in 2013?  Finally?  Probably not, given this article.

This column is named "Punk Hits" and really, it is aptly named.  This is the perfect example of why I say that it is best to have analysts following one team writing articles because when you get a generalist in, or worse, someone who just don't care (see the column name), because they don't have the full story, and yet they will influence a wide swatch of also unknowing people, essentially, the blind leading the blind.  That's why I feel the burden to defend Sabean vociferously on the Internet, because people insists on writing on something that they either do not know or do not care about or both.  For this author, it seems to be both.

I'll start with "The Good".  How anyone can write anything that is meant to be taken seriously (and since it is BP, a lot of people take their word seriously) and not mention getting Jeff Kent, Robb Nen, and Jason Schmidt in trade for the good, is beyond me.  And then in discussing people who played huge roles in winning the 2012 World Series, he leaves out Ryan Vogelsong and Brandon Belt, as both were drafted/signed by the Giants too.

In "The Bad", he acknowledges that he don't know about Zito's situation, spending a whole big paragraph on it, when he don't even believe it is Sabean's fault.   That's where having an analyst who actually follows the team is invaluable, because Andy Baggarly broke the news a year or two ago that it was Magowan who was the one pushing to sign Zito to that contract, not Sabean.  End of story.  Would have saved half that paragraph, I think.

It would also help to know that every team has a lifecycle and that the lean year in the mid-2000's was due to the good years from 1997 to 2004, which made the mid-2000's a lean period.  It also didn't help that pitchers who looked like they would be good contributors in some way - Ainsworth, Williams, and Foppert - all failed to reach their potential.  Just like it helped that the ones who were rising in the late 2000's - Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo - did reach their potential (though not all went well, Lowry and Alderson didn't).

And then he gets into "The Psychology", and so he gets that noted psychologist, Grant Brisbee, head cheese over at MCC.  Grant grants that "He's a good GM.  I wouldn't have said that four years ago, but either he's changed or his luck has."

Lucky They Are Still Ignorant

And there you have it, the "luck" term again.  Really?  Is BP really going to go with the "Luck" angle on the Giants championships?  Don't they realize what a slippery slope that is?  Because every championship team has some element of luck involved, and if you make a big deal about the Giants luck, then you need to do the same for each and every one of championships that has happened in the past.  And if each championship has "luck" as a key component, then why are we bothering with following a sport that is so depended on luck?  What meaning is there when a team wins?  "We're the lucky ones!"  I really do not understand why people don't realize this.

Sure, talk about luck from a sabermetric perspective.  Yes, the Giants were above their Pythagorean, so there was some luck there by current analytical tools, as they were 6 games above their Pythagorean.  However, I can explain that one easily, Bochy had the team out performing the saber rule that teams regress to a .500 mean in one-run games, they were 10 games over .500 in that, and if you turn half of them to losses, the Giants are now only 1 game above Pythagorean.  Looks like all the luck is in that one stat.

However, as I've shown in my analysis of one-run game record for managers, Bochy is that unique manager who is capable of finishing any particular season at least 8 games above .500 in one-run games.  He has over 40% of his managerial seasons among the leaders in the NL in games above .500 and most of them were 8 games or better.  He has averaged roughly 4+ wins above .500 in one-run games during his career, making average seasons good and good seasons great for the teams he has managed.  So there was no real luck involved with the Giants in terms of Pythagorean, it was all pure Bochy managerial skills.

And I've posted this many times in Fangraphs or THT, hoping to interest any of their writers to follow up on the bread crumb that I laid out there, and do the analysis, so that it's not just the crackpot joke who ogc's people saying this, so that they do their own analysis and show the genius that is Bochy to the general baseball world.  And it is genius when you can average over 4 games over .500 in one-run games during your career, and has been among the leaders in games over .500 in nearly half of your seasons as manager, when most managers struggle to stay above .500 in one-run games.   That makes him a 4 WAR manager.

More On Naysayers

The Sabean (and Bochy) Naysayers just don't get it and apparently don't care to get it, they rather stick their head in the sand.  And that is why I wash my hands on them now, and don't really bother engaging any of their ignorant and stupid headed comments regarding Sabean or Bochy. 

It is not like I'm not open to criticism of their decisions and actions.  I do question them when I think they did something wrong (like Zito and Rowand signings), and I've questioned some of their moves here at my blog.  But the way I see it, there have been so many people questioning their moves, especially at the major Giants watering holes, but very few who seem to support their moves, at least pre-2010, that I don't bother with many of the smaller things (like game decisions or bench positions) since I assume there are already people discussing that. 

Plus, I acknowledge that I don't necessarily know everything, so I try to see it from the Giants perspective.  For example, with Zito, his contract works if inflation stayed high in baseball and brought the average salary to the $18-20M range by the end of the contract.  But the Great Recession blew that out of the water and he's still way over paid.  Also, they expected him to pitch pretty well, below 4 ERA in his early portions of the contract, and that didn't happen either.  For Rowand, he had shown good OPS for good stretches of time prior to free agency, and basically the Giants bet that with good hitting and good fielding, he'll be OK as a contract.  They bet wrong, his hitting and fielding were never that good for them, and, for him, again, it was injuries that derailed him.  That and thinking that riding a mountain bike is good fitness for a professional baseball player.

I also don't really deal with the smaller things because I've been more worried about the big picture.  I didn't view discussions about the 25th man to be very productive towards winning a World Championship, which was the concern back then.  If a mistake with the 25th man results in the Giants not making the playoffs or World Series, then I don't think that we really belong there anyway and even had we had got in, probably would have lost.  The 25th man should not be a key success factor towards winning a World Championship.

And give me counter-data.  I laid out exactly why I thought about the Giants, but instead of addressing the issue at hand, and maybe pointing out studies that are the opposite of what I was referring to, they bring up the AJ trade, or Zito signing, or Rowand signing, or Ruben Riviera being our 25th guy.  Which is not much different from the Giants in recent years, giving Uribe, Torres, Stewart, Casilla, Blanco, Arias, Vogelsong a try, or the ones who didn't make it, Velez, Guzman, Downs, Wellemeyer, Keppinger, Hall, Theriot, Loux, Hacker, Kroon.  Some make it and some don't, but the Giants were trying to find that keeper and they cut their losses quickly, which is all you can ask for.  But the Naysayers just clung to the mistakes that they saw and had no latitude for change in direction or improved success, for in their minds, once a failure, always a failure.

So I get it now, the Naysayers are never going to change their minds.  If they are so blinded by their irrational hatred for Sabean/Bochy that they are going to attribute two World Series championships in three years - something that hasn't been done in the NL since the Big Red Machine did that in the 70's, nearly 40 years of teams trying and failing - to luck, and feel entitled to make sophomore jokes at Sabean's expense - calling him a moron, essentially - then I don't know what else I can say that will change their minds. 

I've tried for over 5 seasons now, and gotten nowhere, so I truly get it.  If they don't "get" two World Series Championships, and I hate to use names or labels in such a way, but I think it is finally clear to me who the morons are.  And it isn't Sabean or Bochy. 


  1. I wrote for the Prospectus in their early years, and spent a lot of time on the Giants during my stint. If "knowing the full story" requires being a fan of the team, which you imply, then it's worth noting that I have been a Giants fan since 1958. It goes without saying that 50+ years of waiting meant I cared very much about the team, which doesn't make me different from other Giants fans, but, at the very least, there have been plenty of times when the people writing about the Giants for BP both knew as much of the full story as is possible, and probably cared too much. I may have been wrong in my assessments of the team, but that didn't come because I was distanced or uncaring. (I don't really understand why writers should "care" about the team in the ways you suggest, to be seen as knowledgeable.)

    To the extent that you are directing your ire not just to BP but to all "Naysayers", you're making assumptions that aren't necessarily true. Henry Schulman interviewed me in 2006 for an article on Sabean beginning his tenth year as GM. I represented the opposition, as it were. ( Last year, after another World Series win, I wrote "Thank You, Brian Sabean" ( And I am not the only "Naysayer" I know who has become more positive about Sabean over the last few years.

    Old dogs can learn new tricks. There are parts of Brian Sabean that will not change, as is true for all of us. But there are areas where he has improved as a GM, and there are "Naysayers", myself among them, who have learned to appreciate the positives that Sabean brings to the game.

    You offer an interesting perspective here, and as a lifelong Giants fan, I can appreciate the feeling that the rest of the baseball world just doesn't "get" what the team has accomplished. But I admit to being equally thin-skinned about blanket condemnations of people like me because our take on Brian Sabean hasn't always been rose-colored. It is possible to get a lump in our throats just thinking about 2010 and 2012, to be glad for what Sabean has brought to the team, and still think that his reign has had more than a few low points.

    1. I assume you are Steven Rubio. Thanks for the link, its always interesting to go back in time. This stands out: "Now, Sabean views the circumstances of the second baseman's departure as his greatest regret" - I always maintain that is one of the big mistakes of the last decade, letting Kent go, but admit there are a lot of personalities at play - Kent, Bonds, Peter the Pink, Sabean. One of my big criticisms has always been that Alfonso signing - without a physical - everybody in NY knew he had a back problem and the Mets completely lowballed and didn't offer arbitration, that should have told us something.

      I am not sure your quote on Sabean not understanding on base percentage holds up well though. Durham and Alfonso were both high OBP guys when they signed. I assume you gave the quote around the time the article was written, so after two years of Alfonso not being up to par, but I'd say at the signing he looked good from a stat view (.385, .425, .322 and .391 OBP with the Mets in 4 years, the outlier being the injury year). Ironically, the scouting side, what they're supposed to pride themselves on, that's the failure with Alfonso, signing a broken player.

      I think its fair to ask OGC to not lump all criticism into the naysayer side of the wing. But I also know he's been "through the wars" on message boards, and been attacked quite frequently for his positive views on Sabean. If you could address your "MORE than a few low points" by item (emphasis mine) I would find that interesting. Cheers.

    2. Yes, sorry, I'm Steven Rubio.

      I'll start with what is usually considered one of Sabes' high points, getting Jeff Kent. If you look at the quotes at the time, it is clear that Sabean did not know what he was getting. OK, that's an exaggeration, but there is no indication that he saw Kent as anything more than 1/3 of a deal that included equal parts in Vizcaino and Tavarez. None of us predicted that Jeff Kent would become JEFF KENT ... I'm not blaming Sabean. But, to use a term that seems to piss some people off, he got "lucky" when Kent blossomed. I do give Sabean credit for dealing Matt Williams; I just thought at the time that he didn't get enough in return.

      A lot of the team's success in Sabean's early years came from the presence of Barry Bonds. I don't see how Sabean can take credit for Bonds, or rather, he didn't do anything more than recognize the best player in the game (and there has always been the feeling that ownership had much to do with Bonds sticking around). While Sabean deserves high praise for 2 Series titles in 3 years, some of us wonder why there were 0 titles in the Bonds era.

      As for OBP, I truly hope he's learned. But his apparent fondness for hitters like (working backwards) Theriot, H.Sanchez, Pill, Bengie, J. Guillen, Velez, Vizquel, P. Feliz, Matheny, Grissom, Neifi, Benito, Shinjo, Dunston ... some of these guys found other ways to contribute, some didn't get much more than a cup of coffee, but the trend seemed clear: Sabean didn't worry too much about OBP in his evaluations.

      Look at the mid-2000s, when the team had four straight losing seasons. They were at or near the bottom of the league in OBP in those seasons. In 2007, Bonds' OBP was .480. The team's OBP was .322, 15th out of 16 teams. That's quite an accomplishment.

      I'd say he's definitely improved re: long-term contracts. He still seems to over-react to one good season, but at least he's no longer signing the Rowands of the world to five-year deals.

      He has always been good at putting together the pieces for a bullpen and letting the manager and Righetti take it from there. His willingness, in general, to make moves in mid-season has usually paid off well.

      Still, it's nice to argue about this stuff with two WS trophies on the wall. Sure beats all those decades before that.

    3. Thanks for your reply. JEFF KENT! That can be an all-night discussion right there. I had a different take on that trade, possibly because I lived in NYC and followed the Mets pretty closely. I thought they made a mistake letting him go, of course I didn't have an idea he would blossom like that though. To get your entire MI filled, and bolster the pen with an 8th inning guy (we had Shooter closing), I thought that was a pretty decent haul. Now I've always heard he was targeting Tavarez as the headliner, but I'm not totally sold on that as gospel, it seems to be brought up by gleeful Sabean bashers mostly. He definitely took the balance out the team approach, and from the start, he's a tinkerer with the pen for sure.

      One thing I have to point out about that early success with Barry Bonds argument - the Giants were terrible in the 1994-6 years. You have the last great pennant race in 93, then bye bye Will Clark, the strike in 94, and then 2 4th place finishes. And here's the part that makes me think Kent was more than luck - the JT Snow trade. Sabean aggressively went out and got a whole new infield to go compete.

      I've always had a slightly different view on Sabean because I was in New York, and the Yankees are such a big deal there, he never got bad mouthed the way he did in the bay. I remember when he came over to the Giants (nobody paid attention to the Front Offices the way they do now) it actually registered. I remember saying, "sweet, we got a Yankee guy, that bodes well". From further reading, I've found out that King George was furious about getting Sabean poached.

      Then I was back in the bay for 02-05, in the seats for a lot of that heartbreak first hand. So numb about 02 I think 03 was the playoffs that stung the most. 04 peter'd out with the Finley game and then Bonds was hurt. I don't think you can criticize Sabean for not having a backup plan for Bonds. Its his mission to win around the guy, and how do you replace a superstar when all your eggs are in that basket?

      On the OBP, I'd note you have 3-4 catchers listed. I'm not sure what he's supposed to do about them, they were usually around league average. Benito put up 279/329/424 and the NL avg for 2003 was 260/330/404. AJ Double play put up 272/319/410 and the NL avg for 2004 was 258/323/392. Metheny was definitely weak, put up 242/295/406 and the 2005 avg was 250/316/388.

      Bengie was definitely under-par at OBP, but he was also being asked to hit clean up which is pretty unfair as well. In 2007 he put up 276/298/433 to the NL avg of 257/318/394; in 2008 he put up 292/322/445 to the NL avg of 255/328/387; and 2009 he put up 265/285/442 to the NL avg of 255/325/385. I'm not looking at 2010 because Bengie got himself a ring and that's that!

      I'd note that for every catcher Sabean employed they beat the SLG, even if Bengie floundered on the OBP side he crushed the SLG. I look at Bengie as an undervalued guy who had his flaws but turned out to be a pretty good signing... if he had a better surrounding cast with him and wasn't one of the big tickets.

      I did an analysis of the offense in the grim years, in response to some of the "why can't he build a league average offense" complaints. In 2007 for example, when you have Randy Winn as the only guy with above 100 OPS+ (104 to be exact), you're going to be in trouble.

    4. One thing about the FA vets, they seemed to get weaker and weaker as he kept doing it. But one thing I try to keep in mind, was there somebody better on the market to go grab? In 2004, in RF, there sure was. But that might have been a budget limitation imposed by ownership, not Sabean's tinkering around.

      (That last paragraph in my comment should have read "only guy with BONDS above 100 OPS+, oops).

      One of the big offensive holes in the dark years was everybody's favorite Giants Omar Visquel. Sure, he had the sweet D, but he wasn't good at the plate. In 2007 he put up 246/305/316 while the NL avg was 279/337/420. But he put up pretty decent #s in 2005-6: 271/341/350 and 295/361/389. NL avg in 2005 was 265/317/379 and 2006 was 272/331/406, so he didn't hold up the crew. 2008 got rough.

      The way I see it, its not really the OBP, its the lack of quality hitters to fuel the engine starting in 2005 with Bonds injury. One angle I looked at was PAs, who is getting them. In 2005 the only guys with over 500 PAs are Visquel, Feliz and Durham. In 2006 its Visquel, Feliz, Winn and Durham. (Bonds and Finley got close, Alou did not - the oldest OF in the history of baseball came at a cost). In 2007 its Winn, Feliz, Visquel, Durham and Molina (with Bonds getting close in his swan song). In 2008 its Winn, Rowand, Molina and Lewis. And it was a disaster.

      Randy Winn is a guy you should never pay big bucks to sign. You have to have that guy in your farm system. Visquel was a nice glove but shouldn't be getting all those at bats every year. Molina shouldn't be asked to hit clean up. But a lot of this is because the Giants were just playing out the cycle they built with Bonds, and that ship really sailed the moment Finley hit that grand slam. Did we really think they were going to be good in 07-08?

      You contrast this with the 97-04, and you have real hitters putting up real OPS+ scores. But Sabean did have some bad luck, Alou got hurt a lot. Durham was constantly hurt. I think you need 3 above average hitters, and 3 average hitters and then you can punt 1 or 2 spots. The 05-08 versions were punting more than that, but I'm not sold it was Bengie Molina's OBP that did the damage. I think it was the old vets dead weight catching up, ownership salary imposed and not many options on the FA market as the years progressed past Vladdy.

      One thing I've noticed about Sabean, he definitely likes to fill in his OF last. A criticism could be leveled at his not getting a shortstop for a long time, but often times there aren't easy alternatives. I hated the Miggy Tejada signing, which I viewed as a panic after Uribe bolted (less than 24 hours between them), with a lot of trade options on the board. But I don't know what was being offered.

      Mucking around in the splash blog, I found an interesting nugget from Hank: after the Giants got blasted by bloggers and media for overpaying for Renteria the scouting staff actually reached out to him and angrily declared they had advanced metrics to back up the signing. (Jeremy Shelley to be exact). It made me think back, and consider the alternatives. Often times there aren't many, and you pick your poison, the decision is going to be a compromise. With Rowand, stinging after getting shunned by everybody from Soriano to Lee to Gary Matthews Jr, Sabean went over the top to win the bid. And has complained bitterly ever since that he won't be used as a stalking horse for agents. So it goes.

    5. Gotta wrap up my rambling, but Grissom! That was a sweet little signing. In 2003 he put up 300/322/468 to the NL avg of 277/341/437. In 2004 he did 279/323/450 to the NL avg of 265/334/437. The Giants definitely take the OBP knock for the BA bump, and usually it comes up good for the SLG. I think there is some method to their madness. The Giants offense didn't really miss Kent in 2003. In 2004 the cracks started to show, but Bonds held em up. Eventually though, there just wasn't enough of a framework to support the engine. Still, I can only think of a couple times where I have a list of better candidates for the job then what Sabean came up with. Remember, he had to punt the farm in 03-05 and also had to draft from bad pole position, and nobody would trade with him anymore except for his top guys during the decade. He held them, and look how that turned out!

      Winning everything changes the discussion hugely, I'll give that up quickly. But I remember 97-02 as a helluva run with that core he slapped together in the winter of 96 and then supplemented by using the farm as a trading post.

      (Got cut off by word limiting blogger)

    6. My final point: go look at the OBP for the 97-02 teams. Some of them are comically good. The result of having very good hitters as a core. That 2000 team was insane with Bonds, Kent and Burks. Its the same guys making the evaluations all the way down the line, them Greybeards. If they get bashed for the Rowands, Feliz's and Molina's of the world, they need to get credit for the Burks, the Snows, the Hamiltons of the world. I just don't see a disregard for OBP as a pattern, what I see is grabbing who they could grab to plug in around Bonds (on a bad beat budget at that). And that is why I'm so optimistic for the future: Sabean is building the core, and then he gets to his strength - supplementing the team as needed on an ad-hoc basis. Only this time the RDF crew aren't cutting the draft and development budget on him. They learn from their mistakes as well.

    7. Thanks for the reply. I'll need time to work up a proper reply.

      But first off, I'm more referencing the BP years in the late 2000's to today. I don't think you are the one who wrote to fire Sabean in 2010.

      Also, it bugged the hell out of me that BP continually mocked the Giants for punting picks by saying "well you got Cain", when their major draft analysis study said that teams should not be drafting high school players in the first round, and especially not pitchers.

      It also bothered me that BP stood on the sidelines regarding the AJ trade when if you piece together all their comments in the annual that year, BP applauded the Giants for that trade. Sometimes the process is right, but the results is so so so horribly wrong.

      And generally, I found the annual's Giants writing to be understandable negative, where I can agree to disagree (until 2010, at which point I stopped buying their annuals) but that when other general BP writers take on the Giants, that's where I had a lot of problems, like the one linked above.

      What I mean by care is that it is those who care who will know the vast majority of publicly available information regarding the Giants. I find that BP, THT, Fangraphs, and most generalist baseball sites out there that try to write on the Giants usually are missing some key Giants facts, as reported by our beat writers, which diligent Giants fans would have picked up, but is just impossible for a generalist to catch all that. Sometimes it is not a big deal, but oftentimes, it puts a huge hole in their article and I feel forced to comment on it.

    8. OK, Naysayers, to me, are those are are still unwilling to acknowledge that Sabean has been a good GM for us and that he should be thanked for our two lovely world championships. You are not a Naysayer, to my definition.

      For example, I was basically a Naysayer until I studied the draft, ostensibly to show how bad Sabean was and how he should be fired, but instead came to the conclusion that he was not fully responsible for the poor farm system, as drafting for top talent while winning is near impossible. That started my journey to see if I got other things wrong too. My business plan is a culmination of that journey.

      FYI, I believe I was the first to get a large scale study of the draft out, not BP, which brought out its own study soon afterward, but BP's writer focused too much on the average value when the focus should have been on the distribution of talent, the odds of finding a good player, because averages don't work when the data is skewed or lumpy, as it is for the draft. All good teams eventually succumb to poor farm systems because it is so terribly difficult to draft top talent when you are in the back third of the first round. And the probability of success is so low, and the time to develop is so long, you can't really tell by the success rate whether your GM is terrible or not for probably at least a dozen years, since the odds are that low. You need to see it (feel it) sooner than the numbers can communicate insight.

      I don't really see Sabean as learning new tricks, I see a long standing strategy that has been paying off once he was allowed to implement it. He's been talking about pitching and defense and speed since at least the early 2000's, about getting ready for the shift from power to speed. That ownership has not enabled that sooner is on their collective, money-grubbing hands.

      I never said that there hasn't been low points or bad decisions. But there are still many Giants fans, particularly at MCC and their fearless leader, who still don't think much of Sabean, who still call it luck, who still think he's a moron, who won't thank him for the championships. This article is directed to them.

      And I find that many sabers are like this, and as my blog has tried to show, sabermetrics actually shows that the Giants has followed time-tested strategies (in fact, strategies that BP discovered in their study of success in the playoffs) that enabled them to do this. I've tried to explain this to others in my comments, but I don't sense any change, any movement in their feelings towards Sabean or to Bochy (who I've shown to be a genius at one-run games). I feel that they are as intransigient as the old-time baseball men who they deride for holding onto long-time beliefs, they are just as clingy to their long held beliefs as the old-timers, unwilling to change.

      My business plan is mostly what the Giants have done, as new saber studies, my others or by myself, show that such a tactic is good for winning. I would do some things differently, for example, I would have purposefully (internally) chosen to lose more games during the down years, as all teams have a rebuilding/death lifecycle that eventually plays out for most teams, and rebuilding is very hard unless you chose to be one of the 5 worse teams in the majors.

    9. I see examples of this in history.

      Cox and the Braves appear to have chosen that when he was GM, until he got this golden child, Chipper Jones, and his other picks started paying off. His six years as GM was probably among the worse in history for a stretch, yet he was allowed to make himself manager of the team and got to appoint his successor, suggesting that Braves ownership and management signed off on the strategy to lose horribly until the team is rebuilt.

      GM Dave Dombrowski has done this at three different teams already, Expos, Marlins, and now Tigers. I think that the Nationals, being formerly the Expos, learned that lesson in earning the right to select Strasburg and Harper.

      The blueprints that I think history has given us, that you need to tear down in order to rebuild efficiently and effectively, was given to us by two former A's owners, Connie Mack and Charlie O. Finley and Hass. All took great World Series teams and torn them down, trading them away, before rebuilding the team again. The rebuilds were not always successful, it is not a sure thing to do, else everyone would do it, but I think it speaks to Bill Walsh's insistence to get rid of good players one year too early instead of one year too late, and that there is some skill necessary when drafting, you can't just be picking high every time and have that ensure success.

      And the more recent examples of Cox, Dombrowski, Nationals, Beane (with his predecessor doing the dirty work the first time), shows the efficacy of selling off all that is good, run out a terrible team for a while to earn good Top 5 draft picks, and get those key star players you can build around.

  2. Hey OGC - the author of the BP piece is actually an MCC'er. I can't remember his user handle and am not going to bother researching it. But he is definitely a Gints fan.

    The Good: I thought two premises of the article were very interesting - first, the accent. I have always comped Sabean's accent to a tough guy Patricia Family consigliere. He has certain phrases that come out, usually on Tolbert's radio show - such as "I'm not going to even mention his name" (discussing Buster Olney avoiding him on field after 2010 clinch of world series) or "If we don't hear from him again..." (the Cousins interview that landed him in hot water). The accent part of the article was a new angle, and was thought provoking - do "elitist" bay area folks look down on Sabey Sabes? I don't, but the accent does register for sure.

    The 2nd thing I liked was attempting to look at people's perception of Sabean. I don't think it was done very even-handedly but it was an attempt to look at why he gets dumped on by the Saber crowd.

    The Bad: like you mentioned, the meat of "good and bad" was pretty slim pickings, and not a very deep analysis. Ross/Huff and the Zito silliness. It always comes down to AJ/Nathan and Zito/Rowand, and that is pretty weak sauce if you ask me. There isn't much beyond that though, Jose Guillen? Neifi Perez? Getting mad about trading John Bowker? Alderson? The guy who's pitching against our AA guys 4 years later?

    The Ugly: we had 4 winning seasons with Aaron Rowand on the payroll, and 2 championships. If that's the big evidence against Sabean, its crap. What is missed with Sabean is this: he remembers his mistakes more than any of his bitter critics, he is among the best in baseball at ad-hoc plug ins (the summer fill in trade) and he has an absolutely one-sided trading record if people get past AJ-Nathan. Finally, he has carried the water for all the ownership hijinx, and is still standing.

    He's a shrewd evaluator of talent, and that gets hidden by the plain spoken back-of-the-baseball-card quoting old school guy. My complaint with saber nerds is they always leave out his trade record from 97-02, except for a quick "lucky trade" with regards to Kent/Williams. Ellis Burks, Big Cat, Kenny Lofton, the list is long and completely one-sided. My favorite irrational blogger was the guy who thought all credit for building an offense should go to Dusty Baker.

    I have seen something completely different since 2009, short contracts to place hold for developing players; trusting the drafting and development; and then the plain spoken truth that Sabean says again and again: its all about the pitching. He has been in on the change to pitching and defense big time. Its likely what he always wanted to build, but he had an assignment to build around a superstar for a number of years. I'm not blind to some of the moves, but he was not given the budget (nor the draft position) to build a farm at the same time. Since 2006, the farm has been going great guns. So while he's not perfect, he's very, very good. And that shows up in the time spent in contention for the NL West during his entire tenure.

    1. Thanks for all the comments above. I couldn't have done it much better myself, though I'm still going to provide my comments...

  3. One more thing, I always mean to put this down and forget: If Sabean is as big a jerk as people always say he is, then how is it he has the longest tenured and most loyal staff in the business? That is one thing that always kept me in check, even as I got mad about Tucker, Alfonso, Benitez... I know Brian isn't the most socially gregarious dude out there, but there has to be something to it. Everybody loves to give TIdrow all the credit, but those two are as joined at the hip as any FO people in baseball. I really think it comes down to the fact some fans want a Theo Epstein, Billie Beane or as I call em the MBA GMs (Hoyer is the best example and antithesis of what Sabean is - good looking, slicker then oil, and can talk a mean game)... I'll take the guy with warts and the bad accent myself, I find all those other guys horribly overrated and not nearly as nitpicked as Sabean.

    1. I think I can explain this. Studies have shown that people can act totally different depending on the situation. Thus the old bromide of a gangster who does terrible things to people and yet is a tender and loving husband/father, is a cliche that could be true. So it is possible for Sabean to be, say, a jerk to other GM's, while loyal and buddies with his close circle.

      From listening to Sabean over the years, I view him as a calculating, thin-skinned man. He's very much like a lawyer, parsing his words and phrasing just so in his public interviews, careful not to expose his "secret sauce" as you like to put it, or to "open up his kimono" as he likes to put it.

      And that's who I would want on top. I don't want him sharing his secrets to success with the world, I don't care how PR friendly the owner is, if our GM has a competitive secret that is nullified by exposing it, I would fire him for having a book written on his successful methods (I'm refering, of course, to Moneyball here).

      I don't particular care for him to be sucking up to other GM's either. I'm old school in that way, I liked how the old-time players treated the other team as the enemy, because: they are. I think that any rumors about him not being easy to deal with is hopefully true. That keeps the other GM's on their toes and off-balance when dealing with him. If the other GM is thinking a lot about how much of a prick Sabean is, the less he's thinking "how can I rip off the Giants in a trade?".

    2. I can't say much about the others, but I will take on Beane. BP loves Beane but while they agitated to fire Sabean in their 2010 annual, they never really took on Beane (which makes me wonder if them being hired by certain teams, like the A's, made them less objective).

      I can easily name four deals where Beane got absolutely snookered: Ethier, Hudson, CarGon (and that entire trading lineage), Swisher. I'm sure there has been other bad deals, just those come to mind now. That's where an A's fan would do a better job of this than me. Yet they all still seem to adore and worship him.

      Plus he decided to keep the wrong hitter, signing Eric Chavez to a long deal, while letting Giambi and Tejada go for basically nothing.

      And while Sabean gets castigated for letting the farm system go flat, Beane had the same thing happen and gets applauded for trading away all his good players to rebuild that farm system. Yet Sabean gets zero credit for rebuilding that farm system directly from the draft.

      I was going to use this in resonse to Mon Sewer (love that handle!), but Sabean has never let one great prospect get away in trade and really only one great player, Nathan. Among trades/releases, his biggest losses have been Foulke, Howry, Correia, Carlos Villanueva, Liriano (but his ups and downs have killed the Twins chances, so I view this as a good thing, losing him), and potentially and probably Zack Wheeler.

      Jeff Kent might not have been obvious to people when the trade happen, but he was the reason I was so happy with the trade. You look at his stats and he never got to play a full season, but if you pro-rate them, he looked capable of 25-30 HR per season. He also batted in the high 200's, so I thought that the .284 he compiled in the three years before was pretty good sign that he's a good hitter as well.

      And Matt Williams was one of my favorite players, I was ready to dump Sabean at that point, but once I analyzed the situation, I was happy with the trade.

    3. I forgot to add "well dressed" to the list of things fans seem to want. You've made this point before - Sabean has a baseball background. That is important, a scouting background. Sure he didn't have the talent to get drafted, but he played HS and college ball and coached (age 24-28, including head coach age 27-28) at the University of Tampa before joining the Janks.

      I thought Jeff Kent was a solid player when the Mets had him. I always look for players with that type of profile now. Murphy their current 2B guy might be more of a utility type, but he can hit a bit. There are those guys that just need some time to develop. I think that is actually where the Giants are putting a lot of their scouting efforts right now. Because what is going to sustain this run? Grabbing a guy who is ready to contribute right now.

      And that's what Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence are all about. Melky Cabrera too for that matter. Pence has a nice baseline of performance. What if he adds to it this year? What if Pagan is more of a 290 hitter than a 275 hitter? Those are things that even professional scouts have a hard time predicting, there is a lot of crap shoot, you make educated guesses and some turn out some don't.

      The Williams trade made sense for me, because you had to balance the team. Of course, the irrational side of me was still angry about Will the Thrill walking and Robbie Thompson being terrible...

      I enjoy Sabean being a cut to the chase type as well. I like the scheming and secretive persona way more than your friendly BS CEO MBA type. And I might add that Cashman and Epstein have had massive salaries and blank checks for their farm systems to smooth over their errors, and they've made a lot more errors than Sabean. And the end of those dynasties are every bit as ugly as what the Giants went through with the aging vets.

      Liriano killing chances is a good point. There is nothing more frustrating than a pitcher who is either injured or has massive control problems. We had Johnny Sanchez to deal with, I cannot imagine having 2 of those guys.

  4. This is a good thread, thanks for letting me spout off.

    In fairness, I should note that if you had asked me before the 2010 season, I probably would have wanted to fire Sabean, too.

    I'll finish with my favorite Jeff Kent anecdote. He was with the Mets, off to a great start ... fans were bringing signs saying "Jeff Kent is God". The team came to Candlestick, and we happened to be sitting in the visitors' family section. So I had Tim Bogar's parents right next to me, and Kent's parents right in front of me. I struck up a conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Kent, telling them I taught at Cal and was a student there before that, and that it was nice to see an Old Blue doing so well. The chat was going well, so I got up the nerve to ask what was really on my mind: what is it like to go places where people are saying your son is God?

    Dad just kinda beamed ... you could tell he was proud, even realizing the excess of the fans' sentiments. But Mom? She turned and said, "Well, at home, he's just Jeff."

    1. I am more than happy to entertain dissenting views as long as I'm allowed to respond in kind and that the discussion stays civil. Thanks for sharing your views (I'm still working on a response, though Shankbone's responses capture a lot of what I would have said).

      My issue are with the people who still think Sabean should be fired or think that he's the luckiest moron around. BP is part of that group until they publish a public mea culpa about their stupendously dumb chapter asking for him to be fired. I'm still offended that they did that, it was exactly what I feared for years might happen, and I had no idea how Giants ownership might react to such an article. Fortunately, it appears that it had no effect and Sabean is still here.

      You have already published a "Thank You Sabean" post, so you have seen the light. Others, like many of those at MCC, still have their heads stuck in the sand, talking about "More on Sabean".

      Thank you for your anecdote, that is just great, nothing like Mom to bring someone back to earth.

      Pardon for my lack of knowledge, but who is Tim Bogar?

  5. I'll add 2 or 3 of my cents worth:

    As you mentioned in the body of your post, Sabean did have a plan for the early post-Bonds years. It was called AFW, or Ainsworth, Foppert, Williams. At one point those 3 were all ranked very highly as prospects by BA and other prospect sites. I remember the opening sentence to one BA story about the Giants farm system saying something to the effect of "they don't have much hitting, but no organization in baseball has more pitching!'

    If Sabean was lucky with the Kent trade and lucky with his string of draft picks in the late 2000's, he was monumentally unlucky with AFW. Of course, as you point out, you need high draft picks to really build a championship team. If AFW had succeeded, perhaps the Giants would not have been bad enough to get Timmy, Bummy and Buster. You see, all things to work together for good!

    I also agree that it is a huge mistake to say that Sabean's only success or "luck" in the late 90's was the Kent trade. Was he also lucky to get JT Snow? Ellis Burks? Jason Schmidt? Robb Nen? Sure, the Marlins firesale helped but it was Sabean who found a way to pull the trigger and get those deals done.

    Now for a word of caution:

    If there is a cloud the size if a man's hand on the horizon, it is the long term contracts recently given out to Matt Cain and Buster Posey. Both of those contracts have a significant chance to rival Zito/Rowand for badness by the time they are done. More big-contract decisions lie ahead. There will be enormous pressure to lock up others too, such as Hunter Pence and Timmy. Scooter's 3 year deal is already looking shaky with Noonan and Panik coming along and Tanaka tearing up the PCL.

    How well the farm system continues to produce MLB players without the high draft picks and how that impacts signing long term contracts with aging homegrown players will be the next test of Sabean's stewardship of the Giants personnel decision-making.

    1. Great comment, thanks DrB!

      Yes, I totally agree, I've pointed out myself a number of times that all the bad that did accumulate during the mid-2000's resulted in the good of the past few years, particularly Lincecum, Bumgarner, Posey being selected. Plus, I would note that Sabean and gang jumped at the opportunity when presented. I wrote somewhere else, but if you look over any of those drafts, there were 3-4 teams who also could have selected Lincecum, Bumgarner, Posey ahead of us, but chose not to. People credit that to luck, but really, they should be crediting that to Sabean and gang's astuteness to grab them when the chance availed them. Prospects falling to them they have no control over, yes, but the fact remains that when they did have a decision to make, they made the right decision. That has to count for something, that has to count for a lot, I think.

      I'm OK with us perhaps giving out big contracts to Pence and Lincecum, as well as currently having Cain and Posey. That's the price of trying to hit the grand slam and creating a true Team of the 2010 Decade. I would rather they swing and miss, than to let the pitch go by.

      I would note that I was one of the few to note that Bonds' contract had the potential to explode in our faces, paying him that much into his year 42 season was outrageous, yet I understood that we had to play that game, I didn't want him to leave either. You just had to take that risk, I think.

      Scooter's deal, ultimately, is pocket-change in terms of payroll, roughly $6-7M per year. I think it was also clear that Scutaro is clearly a transitional player, with Panik and Noonan as the clear heir apparents in a season or two, and the expectation was that he'll start this year and probably next, but that one of the two would be pushing for his job in the last 1.5 years of his contract, at which point the Giants could transition Scutaro into a nice bat off the bench and recoup some value there, and ultimately, eatting $6-7M for one season is not that onerous given that we were not sure before the season that Panik or Noonan were anywhere's ready to take over. He was and is an insurance policy, people forget about BABIP randomness, as long as he's not striking out a storm, he's fine for the most part.

      Though personally, I think they should have just DLed him to start the season and let Tanaka and Noonan battle it out at 2B. Players really cannot play with a balky back, this just reminds me of the "will they, won't they" DL Durham when he had his usual bout with his hammies. Just let him rest, get his back good, and then let him play.

      That is what happened last season, though not the Giants fault, it seems, Theriot had some sort of elbow issue that bothered him through spring and early season, before he finally agreed to DL and get well. He hit really well for a while for us after returning, helping us climb upward, until he ran out of steam for about a month, at which point, Scutaro came in when Sandoval returned to 3B.

      Just rest Scoots, let Noonan taste some MLB starts, and then let Scoots start again once he returns. At that point, we'll have a better idea of where Noonan is in his development - I still wouldn't dump Scutaro this season anyway, he was a good hitter in recent years, so I expect a turnaround - but at least we get to see Noonan, and maybe start thinking of transitioning Scutaro in 2014 instead of 2015, by letting the two of them compete for the starting job in spring training 2014.

    2. Great comment, thanks DrB!

      I agree that is the big test going forward, and would add that so far with Crick, Blackburn, Stratton, Agosta, Brown, Panik, Peguero, Kieschnick, Mejia as probable future MLB contributors (and Surkamp, Heston, Kickham, Hembree, Bochy possibly), Sabean and gang has been aceing the transition (with me giving credit to Barr for the finds) so far, though obviously the proof will be in the pudding (or the souffle collapsed) once we learn more about what each of these prospects contribute.

      This is not unlike the 2007-2010 period when we were waiting to see what came out of the drafts and what the impacts were. Like what I wrote then - so far, so good, but let's see what happens - I think it looks good but only time will tell, and thus we should stay the course with Sabean and see what happens, as he has earned that chance to see through what he has built.

  6. Also, a great point that those who claim that Sabean's early success was all due to Barry Bonds being already on the team have to explain why then did the Giants have losing seasons in '94, '95, and '96 all with Bonds on the team?

  7. right, right - glad I read to the end. The AFW situation did skupper what seemed to be the long-term plan at the time. Elsewhere, I'm not going to expound like others, but:

    1) Kent was seen as a horse's ass before SF. The Giants were able to contain that and get an MVP. That's an accomplishment to recognize and utilize his potential.
    2) Matt Williams tanked not too long after the trade. The Giants got quite a bit in return in the long run. The "can't keep Bonds and Williams both" decision was made correctly, in a huge way.
    3) Look, AJ is still playing. He is what he is, but any team would take a catcher with that kind of shelf-life. Things worked out as they did, but he was NOT a bad acquisition. People need to get over that.
    4) What is a good GM? I'd say the definition is the team wins and the ownership makes money. Those things are true. Ergo Sabean is a good GM.


    1. Thanks marcos for your comment. Addendums:

      1) and Kent was seen as a horse's ass during and after SF. :^)
      2) I've always viewed that as a way to justify getting rid of Matty. And I do view it as the correct decision. But given that percentage view, then how can the team justify signing Cain and Posey, likewise, plus consider paying others (Sandoval, Lincecum, Pence) high market value as well? Or giving Bonds such a huge percentage of overall budget when he got his big contract?
      3) Yeah, people need to get over that.
      4) Amen to that, plus I would add that he has the team set up nicely both present day and long-term, barring catastrophic injury, but you can never make decisions based on a worse case scenario, else you can never make any decision in baseball.

  8. I always liked Kent as a player, but I thought Matt Williams was a tough loss, and for some reason I thought he was probably a better club house guy. I guess Sabean made that trade because he needed guys and had some restraints. I was a believer in Kent's talents, but the loss of Clark, and Williams in a few years was tough on the fan base. The Nathan trade to me, was brutal. Not re-signing Beltran I thought was stupid, but of course I do not have any inside info on the negotiations. I think the Cards got a steal, and we lost Wheeler in the process. I was not against the Zito acquisition at the time, I just thought that the price was about double what it should have been. I do not know if that was really totally Sabes doing. Although none perfect, I think Sabes has gathered some decent managers including Dusty, old man Alou, and Bochy. Sabes does some things that are irritating, but overall he finds a way to put a team together. He makes some good, even great moves. He also makes some bad, even terrible moves. But the results of the last few years gives Sabean a bye. He will go down as a top notch GM. Whether there was a certain amount of luck involved or not. So far the lack of signing of Cabrera this off season, does not seem that bad.

    1. Matty was the better clubhouse guy, but people forget that he was the main reason we sucked pre-Sabean, he was injured and not playing full seasons, tough to compete when a main cog is missing (see Twins when Liriano was out, A's when Chavez was out).

      That's what I don't get, Sabean turned around a team that had three bad seasons in one off-season, something that no other GM I've been able to find, been able to do. The losing usually continued for all new GM's, even Dombrowski didn't turn Tigers around on a dime like Sabean did, yet the Giants fanbase never appreciated that for some reason (maybe because they didn't realize how rare that was, but generally it should have registered somewhere, I felt, internally).

      I still think Sabean didn't pull the trigger on the Nathan trade, but I have no proof, so I'll leave it at that.

      I think it is pretty clear that Boras overplayed his hand with Beltran and the music had stopped and he was just lucky that the Cards wasn't sure that Berkman could play, and that they lost Pujols and had the extra cash around. Don't think Angels would have wanted Beltran, their OF was full, I think, last season.

      I'm still of the opinion that Wheeler will never match the hype given him and just biding my time.

      Zito is CLEARLY Magowan driven, Baggerley wrote on that already when he was with Mercury/BANG, said that Magowan was the one driving that signing.

      Dusty was inherited by Sabean, so hard to say on that, but I think he hit a grand slam with Bochy, given his overwhelming superiority in one-run games. Alou was a good transition because I had tired of Dusty after the 2002 season and was ready to move on.

      My view is that many of the bad moves by Sabean is viewed too extremely by the Giants fan base without taking the circumstances that he was handed. Like the punting of picks, he's a former scout for gosh's sakes, of course he loves picks, but ownership pushed him into a Sophies's Choice situation where he gave up on the picks in order to fuel the "win now with Bonds" mantra/strategy without trading away his good prospects, Cain and Lowry.

    2. Exactly right with the music stopping for Don Carlos. When the Cards are in a bidding war with the Cleveland Indians, they don't exactly have to go over the top given his vet preference to play for a contender. I saw very good reasons to NOT bid on Beltran during the year: those ice packs, his lethargic play in RF, his not wanting to return from injury until he was 100%. He's a professional hitter, but there were good reasons to go elsewhere and get the bird in hand quick.

      I'm with you on Wheeler, who is struggling in the offensively supercharged PCL. We'll see how it turns out, but the other thing OGC emphasized is timing and immediacy, and that stands out right now: Wheeler is in AAA and that trade is over a year and a half old. The goal is to win on the field of battle that counts.

      That's where Sabean is hands over all these other Saber friendly GMs. Jack Z? Alex A? Keep stockpiling those prospects, and keep manipulating the draft and the waiver process. The Royals have been at it for years. Sabean turned things around in 4 years while being cramped by the RDF. I have to give him mad props for that.



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