Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Long-Term Tale, Not Over Yet: Say Hey, Bum

Seeing complaints about a variety of Giants players like Belt, Pence, Morse, when they, not that long before the complaints, were doing well, reminded me of how in baseball, you need to look beyond the current, look beyond the overall, look beyond the year.   And I know I've been guilty of not taking a long enough look at a situation, though at some point you have to point out the bad stuff.  I thought I would look at such a situation:   Madison Bumgarner vs. Jason Heyward.



ogc thoughts

Back in the first round of the 2007 draft, when the Giants pick came up, there were a lot of Giants fans clamoring for the Giants to select a hitter.  I was among them, and prospects like Beau Mills, Matt Dominguez, and Jason Heyward (I saw him described as "McCovey-esque") were glittering in our minds.  But when the 10th pick selection was announced as Madison Bumgarner, many of us were dumbstruck, and one famously had threatened to throw himself down the stairs if Bumgarner were selected (I don't believe that ever happened, so that was an empty threat :^).

I was soon calmed down some when Sabean and Tidrow spoke on one of the MLB interview shows soon after the pick, and Sabean said that they expected Bumgarner to reach the majors in two years.  I duly noted that in the back recesses of my memory as something they will need to deliver on for fans to accept this pick.  Challenge accepted!

As we all know, Bumgarner not only reached the majors in two years, getting a September Call-up in the 2009 season, then was in the majors for good after he was called up in mid-2010, helping to lead the Giants to two World Championships, while keeping his ERA way low, with his 3.37 ERA in 2012 being the highest ERA in his career so far, roughly 4 full seasons worth of games now.   He is now the ace of our accomplished rotation, at age 24.  And barring injuries or a severe decline, the Giants control him all the way to the 2019 season, he can be a free agent in 2020.

Sounds great, no?  Yet, not that long ago, despite all his good minor stats and good start to his career, some could point to Jason Heyward as a missed opportunity, that as good as Bumgarner was, Heyward was better.  In 2010, Heyward made the 25-man roster on Opening Day, and batted .277/.393/.456/.849, a 131 OPS+ with plus defense, adding roughly a win via his defense.

Of course, this ignores the fact that Heyward deked all the MLB teams drafting before the Braves that season.  Apparently a Braves scout hit the jackpot when his son and Heyward were on the same Little League team (or some youth league, not sure), and he developed a strong relationship with Heyward and his family.  I would bet anything that he advised Heyward that if he tells everyone that he's going to school because of his two professor parents, that he would be ignored by the other teams, enabling him to be selected by his boyhood team, the Braves, with their #15 pick.  And it worked like a charm.  And he had a dream first season with them.

However, since then, he has only hit .248/.332/.426/.758, 105 OPS+, good but not great and close to average.   He generated 4.8 WAR in his first season via his offense, only 5.9 WAR in his next THREE seasons.  That's still good, roughly the 2.0 WAR average that average players generate.  Moreover, he has produced roughly 1.5 WAR via his defense, making him a very valuable player to the saber-set, but not to the average fan looking at his current .205/.304/.315/.619 batting line (which is what prompted this post).

So whereas Bumgarner is the acknowledged ace of the Giants pitching rotation, Heyward is viewed as a below average scrub (he was mentioned in the same breath as Uggla, it has sunk that low), not worthy of a starting spot.

Still, one could argue that Heyward has still been the better player value overall.  In his four plus seasons, he has compiled 19.8 WAR.  Meanwhile, Bumgarner, in a little less MLB playing time, has only compiled 11.6 WAR as a pitcher and 1.0 WAR as a hitter, for a total of 12.6 WAR.  It does not look like defense is included, and it is around 3-5 runs saved, so that should put him at roughly 13 WAR, which is roughly 7 wins less.

This is where I think sabermetrics has fallen down in the analysis of players.  It does not take into account the matter that pitchers like Bumgarner who throws a large percentage of quality starts (per PQS, he has been among the elite in the majors in hurling quality starts, in the 80%'s lately and has been above 60% DOM I believe each year of his career) are hard to find.  And I understand the logic about why hitters are worth more than pitchers, because they play so many more games than a pitcher does, but don't know how to fix the methodology to rate pitchers higher, other than for Bill James WinShare methodology, where the split in wins can be adjusted to give more to pitchers.

And maybe that's just the intent of the metrics versus what we care about.  WAR is about a players contribution to winning during the season.  And clearly pitchers can't hardly compete against regular players who can play 150-160 games in the season where most starters are capped at roughly 35 starts now in a season, and most only get 32-33 starts, due to the limits placed on starting pitchers regarding their pitch count.

But in short series like the playoffs, the position player's impacts is less per game:  Bumgarner averages 0.106 wins per game started, Heyward averages 0.035.  In a five game series, Heyward generates 0.174 wins on average, but Bumgarner gives us 0.211 wins, assuming he gets two starts in the series.  And in a seven game series, Heyward generates 0.244 wins, just slightly more than Bumgarner would with two starts, but if he's pushed to a third start, that's 0.317 wins, tipping the balance to Bumgarner again.  So over a season, sure, Heyward is the better bargain, but Bumgarner is the better producer in a short playoff series.

Having a starting pitcher like him (or Cain or Lincecum in his good/great years) greatly tilts the odds in the Giants favor in short 5-7 game series.   So while Heyward might be considered the better selection still, despite his offensive struggles, I wouldn't change the draft pick if I could go back in time and switch it.  Pitchers like Bumgarner is extremely rare.  In fact, I would rather throw MYSELF down the stairs than go back and change the draft pick.

But this is a long-term tale, not over yet.   Pitcher's are notoriously fragile and even if healthy, they can suddenly lose it, as we've seen with Lincecum.  And perhaps Heyward figures it out again and hit like he did in 2010 and 2012.

Still, I would not change a thing.  I would argue that had we had Heyward instead of Bumgarner, we don't necessarily win the 2010 or 2012 World Championships.  Particularly if the Braves ended up with Bumgarner instead, he could have turned a Giants win to a loss in 2010, swinging the series in their favor.  And he won games in 2010 and 2012 without which (we didn't have better alternatives in either year, Wellemeyer?  Martinez?  Hacker?  Pucetas?  Yourkin?  Blackley?  Petit? ), well, we might not have either trophy right now, particularly since we ended up just one game over the Padres for the division title, we might not even have ended up in the playoffs period.  Bumgarner was the right choice, no matter what happens going forward, for without him, neither World Championship would have been likely.  Obviously, that's better than getting long term value from Heyward.

3 comments:

  1. If we had video camera review we would have won the division by an extra day, as the Cuzzi call out of Ishikawa at home plate would have been reversed and the giants would have won that game, instead of losing it in extra innings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reminding me about that: I had mentioned that frequently for that season, regarding the ending of the season happening much earlier if not for that blown call.

      In any case, just three less wins - and the Giants were 11-7 in Bumgarner starts, he had a 3.00 ERA - and the Giants would not have made the playoffs, two less wins and they would have been in a playoffs with the Padres in SD (I believe they won the seasonal series that season). The Giants were 4-7 in Wellemeyer starts, so that would be 7-11 had he pitched in all of Bumgarner's starts (and Martinez or Hacker would have took those starts probably) at the same win-rate. That's 4 less wins, probably more since Martinez and Hacker probably wasn't even as good as Wellemeyer.

      Delete
    2. Oh, and to be precise, they would have already won before the Padres series, as they would have been 92-67 already vs. their 88-71, so they would have won by an extra four days earlier when they beat the D-backs.

      The Cuzzi travesty caused us to sweat it out, which ultimately made winning that division that much sweeter, but it did put us into compete mode for that series, instead of resting guys for the Braves playoffs.

      Thanks again.

      Delete

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