Thursday, November 28, 2013

2013 Hot Stove: Sabean Presser After Hudson Signing

This is pretty late, but wanted to get it out, now that I'm free to do it.  The below is the transcript of sections of the Sabean press conference after the Hudson signing (courtesy of Tim K), with my thoughts included, and if you want to cut to the chase, I have a summary at the end:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Your 2014 Giants: Javier Lopez Re-signed to three-year $13M Contract

As reported by all the usual suspects (here is the Haft analysis, for example), Javier Lopez signed a three-year $13M contract with the Giants and it just became official yesterday, after he had his physical.  To get him onto the 40-man roster, which was filled up by the recent promotion of minor leaguers ahead of the Rule 5 Draft, the Giants outrighted Jose Mijares to AAA, who, after clearing waivers (i.e. no team wanted to take him onto their 40 man roster, most likely because they would have to go into arbitration with him), elected for free agency instead of AAA, probably in hopes of finding a major league roster at a lower (but still higher than minor league pay) price point.  He was already being rumored to be a non-tender candidate (MLBTR had him pegged at $2.1M via arbitration)

Lopez was swayed by Sabean stating that the Giants wanted him back last season, apparently on more than one occasion.  It was "a big deal" to Lopez, as he had never had a GM do that before.  However, not swayed enough to sign before becoming a free agent, and it was reported that he had interest from up to 10 teams.  The biggest competition for his services had been reported to be the Nationals, because he grew up in the DC area and still have family and friend there who were hoping he would sign there.  However, he noted that he wants "to finish up as a Giant and that was ultimately a better place for me at this time."

ogc thoughts

About time, I was getting a little worried that the Nats might sway him, even though reporters noted that he would probably bring any deal to the Giants before moving on.  That is a great contract, it covers his 36, 37, and 38 YO seasons and as a LOOGY, he don't get used much, so his arm is still relatively unused, plus, in general, LHP seem to have longer careers.  It is also great as it worked out to $4.3M per season, and I and many others thought that he would end up with $6M per season.  And he just had his best season ever, so even if he declined some, he would still be great.  I'm very happy with this signing.

Looking at his stats, I noticed a very interesting anomaly, which speaks to the Giants magic with pitchers.  At the time he was acquired, his K/9 was 5.5 K/9 and BB/9 was 4.2, for a 1.33 K/BB and while he was pitching OK for Pittsburgh before he was traded to us, it was around his career numbers, 5.1 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9, 1.22 K/BB, though lower, as he had his worse season ever in 2009, where he was totally lost (6.9 BB/9!).  Here is his Giants career numbers:  7.4 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 2.24 K/BB, all very good numbers and a stark contrast with his career numbers before.  Before, 25% of inherited runners scored under his watch, with the Giants 12%.  And he had his best season ever in this too, with only 11% scoring, low before Giants was in 2004 with 13% and he had 19% in 2003, but from 2005 to 2010, before we got him, he had a 30% inherited runners scoring on him (for comparison, in 2013, the Giants overall had 29% - and that is including his amazing numbers, and the league average was 27%).  Now you see why the Giants had to get him back.

Relievers are not Fungible

And, of course, the sabers are probably laughing at this deal right now.  Many believe that relievers are fungible and easily replaceable and thus money should be spent elsewhere.   The A's epitomizes this concept with Beane getting rid of his closers like a fantasy baseball team, picking up good assets in return.  There is an article out there pointing out how easily teams could replace their closer, that having an experienced closer is not that valuable, since these teams could replace their prior, failing, closer so easily.

The problem, for me, is that this is not true.  If it was, we would not have gone through the Benitez Experience and the aftermath of that.  If Nen's production was easy to replace, then why wasn't the transition smoother, it took years before we got Wilson as a true valid replacement of Nen.  And for all you Sabean Naysayers, it is not just the Giants having this problem, other teams do too, plus the Giants history with the bullpen is pretty good overall, we have usually had a strong bullpen throughout the Sabean era, as well as picking up good relievers that others discarded, like Casilla and Eyre.

And just because you have a closer does not mean that he will come through for you when the chips are down in the playoffs.  You may be able to easily replace a closer, but none of the analysis I've ever seen on this subject takes into account the quality of the replacement.  Saves are always going to go to someone, and even the worse teams in the league will have a guy saving 30 games, just because someone has to get that opportunity.

Put another way, if finding good relievers is so easy and cheap, then why do so many clubs have problems with their bullpen?  Teams know their talent, studies have shown this, so then it would be an easy matter of dumping the pitchers who are not good and inserting in the good relievers that you can find so easily and cheaply.  By this logic then, every team should be able to have a bullpen group that is incredibly good.  The whole house of cards that sabers have built on their relievers are fungible concept falls apart given how hard it is to find good relievers, let alone good closers.

The Giants have had a great luxury over the past few years.  They have had at least three guys capable of closing for them:  Romo, Casilla, and Affeldt, plus Wilson previously.  If Hembree makes the team, we could be back up to four again, depending on Affeldt coming back from his injury marred season (I do expect that).   If you want that mass of talent in the back of your bullpen, you need to pay for them eventually.

Mijares Era is Over

We hardly knew ye!  He had an OK season, 4.22 ERA, but great 9.9 K/9 and 2.70 K/BB, which are all very good pitching peripherals, plus Bill James reported him at 63% strikes thrown and 16% swinging strikes, both good numbers, and he'll be only 29 YO next season, so why the DFA?  He could even be a pretty good LOOGY if given the chance, LHB only hit .276/.343/.367/.710 against him, very low OPS (though, wow, very high batting average and OBP), great 4.38 K/BB, and excellent 35 K's out of 109 PA.  I think it was a combination of things.

First of all, he's a reliever, but he wasn't good with runners inherited.  He allowed 41% of his runners to score, one of the highest on the team (second highest for relievers with 25 or more inherited runners; FYI, Dunning was first with 44%).  As noted above, the league average is 27%, so he was pretty bad.  And he had the second most inherited runners, with 46, only Lopez was higher (making his 11% even more impressive).

Secondly, on top of that, his leverage index was only 0.732, where 1.0 is average pressure, so it was not like he was used in high pressure situations a lot.  It should have been easy peasy to keep those runners from scoring.  And in his 16 high leverage situations, though he only gave up 4 runs out of 16 runners, an OK 25% scoring rate, emblematic of his struggles in such situations, his first one of the 2013 season, he came in with no runners and left with the bases loaded, and that was not the only time that happened in the season.

Finally, as nice as it is to have three lefty relievers in the bullpen, saving Lopez and Affeldt for set-up duties, the Giants probably are going to have a roster crunch there.  There are 7 bullpen spots for the Giants.  We already have Romo, Affeldt, Casilla, and now Lopez signed for the 2014 season and taking the key roles in the bullpen, leaving three.  Petit is out of options so he most likely will be our long reliever (as signified by the Giants releasing Moscoso recently), leaving two spots.

For those two spots, just from the expected relievers we had last season, these guys will be battling for spots:  Jake Dunning, Heath Hembree, George Kontos, Jean Machi, and Sandy Rosario.   I noted Dunning's problems with inherited runners above (his leverage was low too).  Rosario only had a 61% strike thrown and 13% swinging strikes, both very low, with a very low 5.2 K/9 while a very high 4.3 BB/9 for a lousy 1.20 K/BB ratio, all belying his 3.02 ERA (probably earned by his fellow relievers saving him from a much worse ERA).  Rosario's hold on a roster spot is probably as tenuous as Mijares if the Giants need another 40-man spot.

That leaves Hembree, Kontos and Machi as the most likely ones to win the two spots.  And after his sterling debut in 2013, I would think the Giants is hoping that Hembree is ready to take a spot in the bullpen (he had a great 66% strike thrown rate and 26% swinging strike).  Also, Kontos had a great 2012 for us, and admitted that he came into 2013 not in the best of shapes, so he's probably dedicated to returning to his 2012 form.  And Machi had a great season for us, and one of our fastest fastballs on the staff, 92.8 MPH average (though also high inherited runners scoring, 34%, but same as Kontos; Kontos ).  Plus, Derek Law really shined this season and continued it into the AFL, so he could be the dark horse for a spot.

If I had to guess, I think Hembree is being penciled in for a spot, similar to Wilson in his first try for a roster spot (he blew it with a poor spring), and that Kontos and Machi will be battling for that last reliever spot, with Law having an outside chance of earning it over them.  FYI, Kontos had a good 65% strike thrown rate and 17% swinging strike, and Machi had a good 64%, but excellent 18% swinging strike rate.

So it is already a pretty crowded and competitive situation in the bullpen, even without considering Mijares as an option.  And as much as Mijares could be a LOOGY, we already have one of the best in the game in Lopez, so it would be a luxury to have two.  So the writing has been on the wall, for a while now, as there has been talk since the season ended that he was one likely to be non-tendered.

Thanks and good luck to Mijares, he did great for us in 2012 (had a great 11% inherited runners scoring and 2.55 ERA), and helped us in the playoffs, especially in the NLCS with 3 strong appearances, 2.0 IP, one hit and one walk, with 3 strikeouts.   He will always be able to show off his World Series ring wherever he goes.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

2014 40-Man Roster Changes to Avoid Rule 5 Draft Losses

The following players have been reported by Baggarly and Pavlovic to have been added to the 40-man roster to avoid being made available via the Rule 5 draft happening soon:
  • Gary Brown, CF
  • Kendry Flores, RHP
  • Adam Duvall, 3B
  • Hunter Strickland, RHP
That put us over.  To get us back to 40, pitcher Guillermo Moscoso was DFAed.

It was also noted that more players may have to be DFAed to accommodate the reportedly soon to be signed Javier Lopez deal (reported to be 3 year, $13M by BA Sports Guy), and when the Giants sign another player to fill the last SP position (whether Vogelsong or another free agent; sounds like if Vogelsong is signed, he will be made the last starting pitcher, he won't have to battle anyone for that role - though like any player, he could lose it if he plays poorly in spring).

ogc thoughts

The first three were no-brainers.  Brown, while disappointing many, is still very good defensively, and as Juan Perez showed this year, even in limited play, you can make a huge contribution via great defensive plays.  And he's working on his mechanics to become a better hitter.  Flores, rose to the occasion and did very well, putting his name into the conversation among top Giants prospects.  Great K/BB of 8.06, as his command improved even better than before - and he was very good before - while maintaining a high K/9.   Plus, he was only 21 for the season.  Duvall has been hitting homers and playing a decent 3B, and hit OK there.

Strickland was a surprise.  He had already been DFAed during the 2013 season and went unclaimed.  I liked his numbers before he was injured, so I was surprised he was dropped, as the DFA suggests that they did not think much of his chances.  But by protecting him from the Rule 5 draft, that means the Giants front office thinks enough of his potential that instead of risking losing him, they put him on the 40-man roster.

I was a little surprised that Moscoso was released, and yet not.  Surprised because he pitched well for us.  Not surprised because he made the point early on that he wants to be a starting pitcher, and apparently the Giants do not agree, and are letting him go, much like they did with Correia, who also wanted to start, for someone, anyone.  Apparently Petit, who is out of options, is now first in line to be the long reliever.

Baggarly points out Mijares as the most likely to go first, when Lopez is signed, he was already being eyed for non-tender anyway.  Next one expected to go after Mijares is Tony Abreu.

Both Moscoso and Mijares have good stats, and should not have a hard time finding another team, if/when the time comes.  Abreu I'm not sure of.  His frequent injuries will hurt his chances of finding a place for him.

I also wonder which players were not protected and thus are draftable in the Rule 5 draft.  We have not lost many players via this rule, but you never know.

And the 40-man is going to get crowded soon, as the prospects keep doing well and moving up.   I went through an exercise to see who would get assigned to each level and came up with the following:

  • Mike Kickham, Eric Surkamp, Chris Heston, Edwin Escobar plus one (probably someone signed to minor league deal) in AAA; 
  • Kyle Crick, Clayton Blackburn, Ty Blach, Adalberto Mejia, Kendry Flores in AA; 
  • Chris Stratton, Martin Agosta, Joan Gregorio, Chris Johnson, Joe Kurrasch in Advanced A; and 
  • Nick Vander Tuig, Chase Johnson, Luis Ysla, Carlos Diaz, Andrew Leenhouts, Keury Mella in A-ball in Augusta. 

Wow, they all seem good, in one way or another, the system is full up! All of the above pitchers have some nice qualities that could work in the majors.  Escobar looks near certain to perform well enough to break in the majors in 2014 at some point, whether through need or September call-up.  That should provide a lot of trading chips should the Giants need to trade by mid-season.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Your 2014 Giants: Tim Hudson signed for 2 years, $23M

As reported by MLB Trade Rumors, the Giants have signed Tim Hudson (pending physical) to a two year, $23M contract, with possibly no-trade clause.   He only got $9M for last season, as well, appearing to have finished off a four year deal he had signed after the 2009 season, and coming off an injury as well, getting TJS in 2008 and only returning to pitching late in the 2009 season, for 7 starts (but good numbers overall).  Reportedly, we got him even though the A's were reportedly interested in his services as well.


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