Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Your 2013 Giants: Bochy Talk

Alex Pavlovic kindly transcribed most of a press conference that Bochy held the other day to open up spring training.  Lots of good info there, though a lot of it is just standard manager speak in response.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Your 2013 Giants: Pre-Fanfest News

News from Chron and Merc.

Posey Extension Openness

Biggest news for me is that the Giants and Posey stated publicly that they are open to discussing a long-term contract this spring.  Of course, that don't mean that they will come to an agreement, but it is good that it is at least out in public, the Giants generally don't talk about such stuff unless they are serious about getting it done (like with all of Cain's extensions, Lowry's, Sandoval's, Bumgarner's).

Posey Handling Affects Belt

Meanwhile, the Giants plan to keep on keeping on:  their 2012 handling of Posey will continue into 2013.  He will continue to see a lot of time at 1B, and given how well Belt played last season, the Giants plan on moving him to LF a lot of those times if he continues to earn it.  So Blanco should not get too comfortable starting out there in LF.

I still think the Giants should just make Belt the LF, so that he gets acclimated to playing there full-time, and sign someone who can play 1B well and hit well enough to play there most games.  I always thought Ishikawa would be perfect for that, but there must be other lefties who play defense well at 1B while hitting OK.  Besides, we know that either Sandoval or Posey will end up starting at 1B some day, so Belt's hold on the position is tentative at best, anyway, in the long run.

No Extension for Lincecum

I was hoping maybe for something, but this made the most sense.  Sabean does not envision a contract extension for The Kid (see his new look? check this link) before the season ends.  Lincecum is in poor negotiating position due to his poor 2012 and thus his side will not be as interested in talking unless you are ignoring his 2012 and acting like it never happened.  The Giants, meanwhile, don't want to give him a big contract if 2012 is a precursor to Tim's future performances, as his seasonal performances have been in a downtrend.  But if he has a good season, and he needed to get into great shape this off-season to do that, I think, the Giants probably would kick the tires with him at the end of the season, in order to try to sign him during the period they have exclusivity to talk with him.

Given how he was about money before, though, I expect him to test the free agent waters and get $25M+ per season from some team for 4-5 years, I can't see any team giving him that big a contract to his age 35 (which a 6 year contract would do).  I don't see the Giants doing that.  But I hope they offer him a big short term deal, he claims to like short term deals more, around $27M for 2 years plus an option (let's say $26M for 2014 and $27M for 2015), see if we can entice him to stay that way.

Unfortunately Pablo Needs to Slim Down

This is such an old story.  Sounds like they are playing nice in the press and saying that they think that he can slim down in time for the regular season.  I'm just glad he has no more hamate bones to break, though I'm no Doctor, is there another bone in the hand that can break from swinging a bat?

Romo IS the Closer... Unless He's Not

Bochy made it clear that Romo will be the closer in name and function during the 2013 season, this is his position as he earned it with his performance down the stretch and in the playoffs.  There will be no closer by committee, which his new contract paid him like.

That said, the Giants will handle him with care because he has had physical issues previously in his career, plus the extra throwing he did in the playoffs.  On top of that, he's going to throw in the WBC as well, away from the Giants coaches and thus could be handled in a way the Giants would not appreciate.  So if you have an extra spot on your fantasy pitching staff in 2013, you might want to grab Affeldt or Casilla to get the occasional extra save, particularly if you have Romo on your team.

Bumgarner Figures It Out

Madison had late season struggles (much like Lincecum) but whereas Tim's problem was with his conditioning (I really hope he fixed that this off-season, why didn't the writers ask him that?), Bumgarner said his was due to fatigue that was due to poor mechanics.  He worked on his mechanics over the winter and feels that he did all he could to fix things.

He talked about how much he learned about his mechanics over the past few years early last season.  He noted that he just threw when he first became a pro, and had very little idea on why and when he was successful.  He has learned since turning pro when he is throwing right and when he is not, and this interview suggests that he knows himself very well now, and thus he pronounced himself fixed for 2013.  We will see.

Zito Wants to End his Career With Giants

Wow, given how poorly he's been treated here by fans, that's a shocker.  But he does love working in the Bay Area, it seems, and I think he recently moved up here, with his new wife, if I recall right.  If he gives us a great deal to make up for his current contract, I would be open to it (say $3-5M per season for 5 years?).   Otherwise, I think our young guys coming up should be ready enough by 2015 to take over for Zito in the rotation, unless he wants to turn to relieving in the bullpen.

Theriot Turns the Turnstile

Looks like he won't be back.  He wants more playing time than he can expect to get here in SF.  The Giants spoke to him at the Winter Meeting and never heard back from him.  Honestly, I would not mind this as it leaves an opening for Nick Noonan to maybe make the team sometime during the season and probably places an Asian on the team again (Japan League vet Tanaka is in camp battling for MI position; he said he wants to start eventually, but did he know about Scutaro's contract?).  Probably Arias and Tanaka are the two MI to begin the season, but Scutaro is old and Holliday is still playing for the Cards, so you never know what happens to the 2B.

Surkamp on Track

LHP Eric Surkamp had TJS last July and hopes to return this July.  He's throwing at 90 feet, so I assume that is good since the mound is 60 feet 6 inches from home plate (did you know that the reason for this distance is that in the original schematics, 0 inches was written in, but I guess he curled it and the guy laying out the field read it as 6 inches.  FACT!).

TJS today is so routine and many players return to not only throw as well as before, but some could throw even harder.  But it is no sure thing so I'll keep my fingers crossed for Eric, he seems like a nice guy from the interviews I've read.  Some are OK after a year, but some require two years to fully recover.  Since he did not rely on his velocity before, I would guess that he can return sooner than later in terms of matching prior performance.

Brett's Earned It

Sabean on right-hander Brett Bochy, who will be in camp: “He’s earned it. He had a real nice season going last year until fatigue set in. We’ll have to watch him in the beginning. All these relievers, whether a prospect or somebody trying to make the team, half the bullpen is pitching in the WBC so they’re going to get a chance to be out there.”  Nice of Sabes to praise his buddy Bruce's little boy!  :^)

Spring Training Next Week

Go Giants!!!  Defend your World Championship!!!

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Angel in the Infield: Visa Approved

According to a Baseball America article (saw the link on DrB's in the comments), Angel Villalona gets his work visa approved and will be in camp with the Giants during spring training.  He'll be joining the team next week.

ogc thoughts

Most reports were that Villalona would be stuck in his native DR.  Or rather, most speculation.  BA in their Giants prospect Q&A recently, noted that they had not heard anything new and doubt that "he will ever be allowed back in the U.S." (got that from DrB's report on the Q&A).  His getting the visa makes more sense to me, the State Department can only put up so many legal road blocks when Angel was not convicted of anything.

Not that he was necessarily innocent either, we'll never know exactly what happened that terrible night, but the victim's family has moved on with their settlement, the district attorney decided that there was not enough evidence to hold him any longer, and now the State Department has granted him his visa.  Nobody can prove otherwise and for all we know, the victim's family squeezed Villalona because he was the only rich person in the fracas.  It definitely will be a shadow on the rest of his career and something brought up anytime he is in the news.

That said, it made perfect sense that the State Department would make it hard for him to return, and they threw the best and apparently only pitch that they had:  whether he was an elite player which would make him eligible to come into the U.S. on a work visa.  And he had no proof and after sitting around in jail for so long and/or without competitive play, he had to be rusty and some players never come back from that, particularly players who had problems keeping his weight off as Angel did.

So he played in the Dominican Summer League last season - hard to remember, but he's still only 22 YO for this season - and he hit .303/.430/.497/.927, knocking 7 homers in 44 games.  Admittedly, the competition there was not minor league caliber, but he could at least say that he was among the elite there, making it harder for anyone to make further objections to him returning to the U.S.  He was 8th in OPS, though as a 21 YO last season, he was clearly among the oldest guys playing there plus he had two years of US minor league ball under his belt, so he should have been expected to dominate there.  He was only 15th in OBP and 10th in SLG, but there were few who were good in both, leading to 8th in OPS.  It helped that he was 7th in homers, and that was also because he played about 30% less games than other players.  Had he played at that rate for the 66 or so games that the top players played, he would have been first or second instead.  This dominance made sense because most reports were that he worked out while sidelined with his legal problems and got himself into better shape.

And that is why he was such a prized prospect and highly rated:  he could hit the long ball.   At 17 YO, in the Sally, where pitchers had 5 more years of age and experience on average over him, and in his first full season U.S. league, he hit 17 homers and that was good for a tie for 12th in the league.  One more homer and he would have been tied for 8th, two more tied for 5th.  Others near his age, 18 YO:  Jesus Montero, 17 homers; Freddie Freeman, 18 homers; Matt Dominguez, 18 homers; Michael Burgess (19 YO), 18 homers.

He was also tied for 12th in doubles with 29.  That is usually a precursor for more homers as he got older and more developed.  Montero had 34 and Freeman 33, but they both had roughly 10% more AB, so basically at the same rate of production as Montero and Freeman.   Where he lacked relative to them was his poor batting average, he just struck out a lot more than they did, hence why they are better.  Still, he was close to them.  And the projections back then were talking about him having 30-40 homerun power.

He did not hit that well in SJ, but his 9 homers tied him for 42nd in the Cal League, impressive since he only played 74 games and most of the top prospects there played around 130 games, almost double.  If he had a similar number of ABs as the leaders did, he would have had 15 homers, which would have been good for tie at 14th, and that is great because he was only 18 YO and there was not even one teenager in the leader list other than him.  All the other hitters were mostly 4 years older than him, like a certain Buster Posey, who had 13 homers in similar AB.   He has hit for power everywhere he has gone for significant amount of playing time.

It will be interesting where the Giants eventually place him in the farm system.  He was last in San Jose, and he hit OK there for an 18 YO, hitting .267/.306/.397/.704 with 9 HR in an injury marred season, limiting him to 74 games.  But since he's been rusty and out of competitive play, they might let him go to Augusta, to get acclimated again to full-season minor league baseball, then let his bat decide whether he needs to move up or not. In any case, he was once a Top 100 ranked prospect, even though he was so young and inexperienced, so if he can return with any resemblance to the prospect he was before, that would be a huge boost to our farm system.

In addition, despite his weight issues, reports were that he worked hard at continuing to take fielding at 3B even while the Giants played him at 1B, and that he worked off a lot of that "baby-fat" that he carried when he was in San Jose, while he was incarcerated.  If he really can play 3B, that would give us another home run hitting 3B in the farm system and with Duvall around, between the two of them would make the future of 3B look pretty good for us, as we could go with Posey once Sandoval needs to move to 1B, or if either makes it all the way up, they could take over at that point at 3B.  And even if he stays at 1B, Belt could always move to LF, where he played previously in high school and did OK there in the majors in very limited play.

Options are always good, especially when they are blue chip prospects, as Angel once was and might be again for the Giants.  It will be a catch-up season for him, a make good season, as while he is still young, 22 YO is getting old for an elite prospect, and he will need to prove that he's back from his injury and his long layoff, before he will get ranked high again, if ever.  I think that he has the skills, but does he have the will?  Can he keep the weight off (enough)?

He also has a huge negative that has ruined the prospect ranking of other prodigious homerun hitters:  he strikes out a heck of a lot.  He has also walked a lot too, but his strikeout rates need to go down a lot.  While it was partially explainable by the fact that he was facing pitchers with 4-5 years or more experience and age over him, that was no longer true last summer, in fact, he was the old guy in the league, and he still struck out 40 times in only 155 AB (only 74% contact rate; 85%+ for good hitters).  But he also walked a lot too, boosting his OK .303 average to a great .430 OBP.  This is something he will need to solved, not fully but enough, before he ever wears a major league uniform.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Your 2013 Giants: Romo Signs for Two Years

Chron and CSNBA reports that Sergio Romo signed for two years, but no financials given (yet).  He asked for $4.5M and the Giants offered $2.675M.  The deal covers his last two arbitration years.

ogc thoughts

Romo's ask is equivalent to $7.5M free market salary, which is roughly League money.  Giants offer was equivalent to $4.458M, which is roughly what they gave him last year ($1.575M = $3.94M plus 10% raise).    I would guess that the Giants might have signed him for $3.3M (or $5.5M) for 2013 and $4.5M for 2014 ($5.625M).  That's roughly what the Giants are paying Affeldt and Casilla, plus a 10% bump up because he does close some, like Affeldt and Casilla.  Bochy's language so far is clearly about the bullpen as a committee again in 2013.

And that makes sense.  Romo's a fragile guy, he's been very open about pitching with pain and getting the job done, plus he's been shut down in prior years for tender elbow.  His key pitch is the slider, which is hard on the elbow.  So Bochy splits the load during the regular season among the gang, then go to Romo in the playoffs, when it's time to put the pedal to the metal, and floor it.

They could go as high at $6M free market (or $3.6M and $4.8M) but I don't see them going higher.  But you never know...

Also, Ramon Ramirez has been signed to a minor league contract and will compete for a bullpen spot.  That's after negotiations with Brandon Lyon went south, he wanted more clarity about the late innings opportunities.

Monday, February 04, 2013

My Business Plan: Good Pitching is Hard to Find, Harder to Acquire

This is the latest in the business plan series that I've been publishing over time.  Though additions have been fewer in recent years, that is more dependent on new research studies coming to my attention that augments what I have captured in the plan so far (here is a link to the Table of Contents).

Pitching is something that is pretty clearly a key component of this business plan, of building a championship team.  From the studies on success in the playoffs, we find that offense has not influence on the results, on winning World Championships, that it is pitching and fielding that wins World Championships.  From the roster structure, we find that building with pitchers reduces the risk of developing good players, only to find that you need to trade to complete your team, because for pitching, the cream rise to the top.   If you have 3 good pitchers, you have a great rotation, but if you have 3 good 1B (and only 1B), the team has to trade at least one of them (two for an NL team), which introduces a trade risk.

From the Pythagorean calculations, we find that when you have a great defense, you can actually win 90 games easily even when your offense is very sub-par.  Thus a rebuild is faster when a team focuses on pitching first - as cream rises to the top - and supplementing the offense - due to Pythagorean - to complete the team.  Now a study shows another positive aspect of developing your own pitching:  that's the only sure way of obtaining good to great pitchers.

Trading Prospects is a Sucker's Bet Most Times, so is Signing Other Team's Free Agents

The Hardball Times publishes a Baseball Annual and the 2012 edition had a very interesting study in it, looking at how much of an advantage it is to know your own personnel. The chapter is "Down with Other People's Players" by Matt Swartz, page 207.   He noted:
But does this extra information matter?  Does another team's extra knowledge about a player affect the market?  Should GMs think twice before signing a free agent from another team?  Should they wonder why the other team is so willing to trade that highly ranked prospect? 
Yes, a thousand times, yes.
He calculated the $ per WAR for all types of free agent deals and he found that while the premium for hitters is only 17% when signing other team's players, it is 93% for starting pitchers and 139% for relief pitchers.  He found that there were some hometown discounts given, but not enough to explain the premium.

Meanwhile, he examined players' performances after signing or resigning, versus Oliver projections.  Re-signed hitters do not beat projections any better than newly signed hitters.  More importantly, re-signed pitchers beat their projections, while newly signed free agent pitchers fell very short of their projections.  That's a double-whammy right there, not only do you pay a lot more for these free agent pitchers, you also end up with less than projected performances as well, as if the former team knew that they were not going to continue to pitch as well as before.

Trades are no better.  He found that "everyday players and starting pitchers both fall short of projections more often after being traded."  Given the evidence above, this is not surprising, "we should expect that players who are traded will underperform projections more than players who stay on the same team."  "Teams probably were able to detect injury risks that would not be observable to an outside projection system and send those players away in advance."

Strong Evidence That Teams Really Do Know Their Own Players Better Than Other Teams Do

He says that it is very strong evidence that teams know their own players - hitters and pitchers - better than even reasonable forecast systems do.  "Caveat emptor."  Trading is fraught with risk because other teams do not willingly give up good prospects to you.  Signing free agents is particularly fraught with risk, and particularly with pitching, because you need to overpay (roughly 100% premium) for expected performance but meanwhile these free agent pitchers tend to underperform, giving you a double whammy.  Again, teams generally know what they got and don't let go of players who they think are worth keeping.

The same goes for prospects.  He examined prospects from Baseball America's Top 20 from each offseason from 1990 to 2007, covering 360 prospects, dividing them into those kept and those traded away.  He found that "highly ranked prospects who are traded are more likely to be busts than the highly ranked prospects that teams retain." That was true by many angles, for while the average ranking was roughly the same, the average WAR for traded prospects was less than half that of the prospects kept, who on average ended up being good players (average WAR of 17.1).  Furthermore, "the biggest difference was the number of elite prospects who managed 15 WAR, which 42 percent of untraded prospects were able to do, but only 18 percent of traded prospects did." "Teams are better able to tell which of their own minor leaguers are going to succeed than other teams' scouts, who see them less frequently."

In conclusion, he noted:
The safest bet is to develop your own players and keep them when they seem likely to maintain or improve their performance.  When teams do need external help, they should fill holes with the reservation and suspicion derived from the knowledge that if a player is available, there is probably a reason.
Duh:  Teams Need to Develop Their Own Good Pitching

Therefore, it behooves teams to develop their own pitching, that is, those who will lead the way to championships, per the latest studies on winning championships.  I know that was really obvious before, but this new study makes the imperative that much more greater to follow this rule.  It is better to have the pitcher in hand than to rely on the trade or free agent market to acquire them, as the pitching you need in order to win championships most probably is not available in any other way, whether in trade or via free agency, and whatever is out there on the free agent market is way overpriced (100% or more).  The exception there, of course, are Boras players, so they might be good, but they most likely will still be overpriced.

On top of that, given that it is so hard to find any prospect in the draft, the most efficient way for a team to rebuild a world championship-caliber contender is to focus first on pitching, for all the reasons outlined in this business plan, the flexibility, the control, the risk mitigation with regards to finding multiples, the ability to win with subpar offenses, all that adds up to a quicker turnaround when a team focuses first on finding and developing good to great pitchers.

Once you get that core group together, it is relatively easier over time to trade for or sign bullpen arms who can round out your group, and once you start winning and start getting back of the first round picks, where it is much harder to find talent (as per my draft research), you can locate useful hitters and pitchers (like the Giants did with Brown, Panik, Stratton), guys who can complement the good players who the team had found and developed previously.  Meanwhile, once you got your great rotation, you still need to prime the pump, in case of injury (Lowry), reduced performance (Lincecum?, Sanchez), or free agency (Lincecum?), and still draft and develop pitchers.  The Giants appear to be doing that, with Crick, Stratton, and Blackburn in hand.

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