Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Your 2015 Giants: Reviewing Schulman's Pre-Season Questions

Hank Schulman had a nice rundown review of the key questions he had regarding the Giants in the pre-season.   I wrote some comments down and thought I should post them here as well, with tweaks.
ogc thoughts

The Pagan Effect

The problem with the Pagan "great effect on winning" theory was that the reason the Giants lost so many games with him out was not just about him, but also about all the players either injured and still playing (Crawford in 2013 for example, and his finger injury affected him most of the season) or DLed soon after (Scutaro and Sandoval were DLed within a few weeks of Pagan DLing).  Thus, soon after he went on the DL, roughly half our top hitters were injured and not contributing, so of course the team tanked "without him".

And conveniently enough for that theory, he returned from his DL around the time when many of those players had also returned and playing better as well.   The Giants won with him back in the lineup because they were fielding mostly their full healthy lineup when he was healthy.  And they lost because he and other key hitters were missing.

For Pence, however, while there have been some injuries, notably to pitchers, except for Pagan, our top hitters have done well while he was gone, plus Aoki replaced Pagan, Duffy added to the lineup (better than Sandoval in recent seasons), Panik continued to hit well, and Crawford continued to hit well instead of starting off well and then declining, he's putting together the season he has been hinting at for a couple of seasons already.   The winning streak with Pence coincided with a long period of good pitching (as I showed in a post about how our winning and losing were related to how our starters were pitching, yesterday I believe, and Pence has been in the lineup during this poor road trip).

Though I would note that the addition of Pence did boost up our offense, so it was partly him too:

Apr 6 to May 15th:   Giants averaged 3.5 runs scored (Pence out for broken bone)
May 15 to June 2nd:  Giants averaged 5.3 runs scored (Pence's first stint back)
June 3 to July 6th:      Giants averaged 4.2 runs scored (Pence out for tendinitis)
July 7 to Aug 11th:    Giants averaged 5.1 runs scored (Pence back)

The Giants averaged 3.8 runs scored when he was DLed, while with Pence back (included games he didn't start) the Giants has averaged 5.2 runs scored.

Why the Giants are a Good Offense this Season

I love Posey but the reason for the Giants becoming one of the league's best-hitting teams is that in addition to Posey stepping up, Crawford, Duffy, Panik, and Aoki were also hitting well, where not all fans expected them to, plus Belt and Pence once healthy, hit as expected. As the Giants have shown, off and on the past few seasons, when everyone in the lineup is hitting pretty well, it generates a lot of runs and is a top offense.

Bullpen Overuse Theory

The bullpen is been used more, but the Giants bulllpen is still 4th in the NL in ERA, after being 3rd last season. And as much as the Giants have been using the bullpen more, the Giants are still only 10th in the NL in bullpen IP, which is where they were last season.

The problem more seems to be the collective decline in the Core Four (ironically, right after this term was used for the group this off-season, never heard that before), Casilla, Affeldt, Romo have all been struggling in one area or another. Ironically, the oldest member of the Core Four, Lopez, has been nails all season.

But it is true that much of the bullpen is going to be used more than they were last season, and we don't know what the effect that will have on them, so for that they should be monitored, but so far, collectively, the Giants have managed their bullpen to still be one of the best in the NL.   And the additions of Kontos (all season), Strickland, and Osich have really helped there, along with the DFA of Machi.

Depth, Schmepth

I think people make too much about depth. The problem is that you can never always have a replacement as good as the player you lose, so the team will lose something with each player replaced, no matter what your depth is. You only have so many fingers to plug the leaking holes in the dam wall. And if a team loses their Posey or Bumgarner, don't really matter what depth you have, you just got an uppercut shot to the jaw on your chances to win that season.

So by that, I think the Giants have great depth in the OF because they have Blanco, who, while not as good as any of the starters (arguably with Aoki), probably could be a starter for another team. Any team losing more than one starting OF usually will struggle because you can't carry two starters on your bench (and I'm including the minors as part of any team's bench).

And yes, a team could, but where this theory falls apart, is that then you need two starters on the bench for the infield, a starter on the bench for your catcher, a couple of starting pitchers in the bullpen or farm system, same for your closer and set-up men. Most teams don't have a DeRosa or Zobrist who can play 5 or 6 starting positions well offensively and defensively. Basically, the concept of "depth", as used by all people I've seen on the internet, implies that a team who has enough depth basically has another starting team waiting on the bench for their chance. Most teams have problems filling their first starting team, let alone carry a whole other starting team on the bench.

But back to my issue with depth, any Free Agent who thinks he can start will not join the Giants, so it is something that has to be either developed or by picking up a fringe player, like we did with Blanco and Arias for 2011, and seeing how they do with more ABs. So there is no great way to improve the bench that much, unless a professional bench player is available, and they are not plentiful.

And especially with Duffy and Adrianza showing glimpses of possibility of being a good enough bench player, and perhaps a starter if he can develop further (I wanted Duffman to start in AAA and do well enough to start by mid-season).  Duffy turned out to be great depth, replacing McGehee and then just out-hitting Sandoval, who saw that coming?  I thought he could eventually start, but this has been way beyond anything anyone could have seen, him batting third.  Just like Blanco was great depth for the OF.  And now we are seeing if Adrianza can be good depth as well.

But you can't have depth everywhere, that's a fallacy many people have, and seems to be an easy way to question any team's decision making. Just like you can't find homegrown starters everywhere, a team needs to bring in free agents and guys via trades, in order to build a good team. Though the Giants are doing a pretty good job of it with Posey, Susac, Belt, Panik, Duffy, Crawford (look around, contending teams don't field a starting team with over half homegrown players).

Naysayers used to hammer the Giants for not developing this or not developing that (currently it's OF they are hammering), but the fact is that if you look at any contending team in recent amateur draft history, the vast majority are not built with homegrown players, it is always a blended family of homegrowns, trades, and free agents. It is extremely easy to blast any team for not developing a certain position because no team can do that given how the draft works, limiting the spread of talent.

Better Bench

But I see the point about having a better position bench.  However, roster considerations affected that for the Giants. One, the need to carry an extra pitcher took away one spot. Of course, you need the back-up catcher, so instead of two infielders and two OF, the Giants had to carry only one for one field. Arias and Blanco were the incumbent utility players, leaving only one spot, which Duffy won. And that resulted in Adrianza being DFAed.  Then, because of the Pence injury, the Giants could carry Maxwell, and he and Blanco shared starting duties there, leaving them short on OF.

So there was no real good spot to pick up a better bench player, as the Giants were already slotted for Blanco and Arias, and Ishikawa, Duffy and Adrianza were competing for the last spot.  Only Pence's injury allowed Maxwell to make the team.

Now with that, one could argue whether Arias could be upgraded. I would have agreed (been writing about this for a while, look at my Arias mentions), he has not been all that good as a bench player for two seasons now, he was only really good as a bench player that first season the Giants had him, he has declined a lot each following season, plus he could only field 3B well, but they had signed him to that two year deal and the belief in him was still there.  For whatever reasons, the Giants did not feel he was done until the middle of this season.   And that's fine, nobody can be right all the time, but as three shiny trophies in five seasons shows, they were right enough of the time to accomplish that.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks, ogc--I hadn't realized that the pen was doing so comparatively well. Two minor emendations: Duffy has turned out better than Sandoval ever has been, save only for 2013, or at least he will be, by fWAR, if he goes on at his rate so far. Sandoval's spectacular 2009 season? Duffy's rate of fWAR per PA in 2015 tops Sandoval's of 2009. And Blanco is arguably better than Pagan by that measure, since we have had from him season after season of about 3.0 fWAR per 600 PA, a rate of production greater than that from Pagan except for his first year as a Giant, 2012. If one values consistency, as I do, one gets that from Blanco, not fragile Pagan.

    Depth counts most, I suspect, with starting pitchers, who as you always point out are the most essential to a team's success. Here I think of the Giants as lagging behind the Cardinals, who have done well despite losing aces such as Carpenter and Wainwright. But of course we have done okay despite the loss, for different reasons, of our aces Cain and Lincecum, so my sense of our lagging may be faulty.

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    1. No problem, frankly, I didn't think the bullpen would show up well in rankings either, with Affeldt, Machi, Romo, Petit, Vogelsong, even Casilla, having down years in relief. Shows how good Lopez, Kontos, Strickland, and Osich have been, I guess.

      Wow, thanks for pointing that out about Duffy. Would not have thought that (and that didn't include what he did today!). I guess I'll always remember Sandoval for what he could have been, he was also a fresh voice and personality when the team was down some, and he helped bring us back into the light. Kind of like this generation's Chris Brown.

      About Blanco vs. Pagan, that's actually not too surprising once you think about it, because other than 2012, he's been injured one way or another since.

      And that's his problem, he only plays at one speed. He reminds me of Pete Reiser, a Brooklyn Dodger's almost-star who could only play all out, all the time, like Pagan, and was constantly injured, so he had a short career. I value players like Bonds who realize their importance to the team and thus I had no problems with him not running out every grounder or not diving for all OF balls, because those plays bring chances of injury, he wasn't being lazy, he was doing it for the team because if he hurts himself, he hurts the team. Pagan in interviews this year talk over and over about giving his all, and nothing less, but because he's injured all the time, all he can give is less.

      But I like having Blanco as the backup OF. He literally started at all three OF positions this year. Flexibility like that is very valuable in my view. If he were starting, I don't see Pagan jumping happily into each role.

      We got him under contract for one more season, 2016. He says that he wants to be a Giant for life, but with the way he has been starting and doing well for us, he's probably going to get a starter's level contract for 2017 and beyond, even though he'll be 33 YO, somewhere around $8-10M per season for a couple of seasons. That would be too pricey for a 4th OF, plus by that point, he might slow enough that he won't be that good fielding CF any more.

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    2. I think of it more as the Cards are magicians in losing aces but then somehow replacing them. They often trade with other teams and pick up great starters, seems like a lot of them they picked up via trades, Wainwright, Carpenter. But yeah, we don't look good compared to them.

      What helped is that we had a trio of aces, Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner. As Lincecum wound down, we were OK with two-headed aces (I probably beat this to a dead horse, but that's the model I refer to a lot, the duo ace model the Dodgers had with Koufax and Drysdale), plus Vogelsong stepped in and did well enough. When Cain went down, Peavy helped bridge the regular season, and Hudson handled the playoffs until the World Series.

      So it's not you, we probably are lagging, but because we had an over abundance, then some good support from additions, we managed the loss of the two aces.

      Even with today's bad start, I'm still hopeful that Cain can be back to normal at some point next season, and be the co-ace again.

      With Beede, Bickford, and Blackburn, I'm hopeful one of them will give us the next ace to pair up with Bumgarner. I can't wait.

      But yeah, pitching is the key. I'm just totally amazed when I look at the PQS analysis and see how powerful it is to outpitch the other team. It's so obvious, and yet I don't feel that any team has really gone for the jugular in that fashion except for the Giants in this era and the Phillies in 2011. I guess LAD too, with Kershaw and Greinke, but so far Kershaw has underwhelmed in the playoffs so that he don't really count as a ace in the playoffs.

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  2. Pete Reiser! I'm impressed by that range of reference, ogc, because you can't be old enough, can you, to have seen him play? I did, once, in the lair of the archenemy, Ebbetts Field, in 1946 or '47, and recall him making a stupendous catch in CF, much to my horror, since it was an out for the Giants that sent the Brooklynites into delirium. I also remember the many injuries--Wikipedia says he was carried off the field on a stretcher eleven times. I wonder, idly, with little chance of knowing, if something beyond mere recklessness goes into a career of recurrent injuries; and I say this because there are players who seem as determined and daring as Pagan, and maybe even as Reiser, who play all out and don't end up forever on the DL. Hunter Pence seems to play as hard as anyone I can recall, but without getting badly hurt on defense. Ditto Willie Mays.

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    1. Never saw him play, no. I think I was born after his career ended (or close enough).

      I love history, reading about history (I believe in that saying about those who forget history are doomed to repeat it), so once I got into baseball, I read every book that looked interesting in my city's main library (which was not a whole lot, as it was a small town). And I read about Pistol Pete Reiser and what he could have been (I was not as stridently anti-Dodgers back then :^).

      I think that a player can play hard without being too reckless. Mays and Pence have had collisions (I recall seeing Mays bash into someone - Bobby? - in the OF before, and Pence famously crashed into the wall to catch that flyball in the playoffs), so it was not like they have totally avoided potential injury. I think being an OF, it is kind of like it is for catchers, you can do your best to avoid such a situation, but you know the potential for it is there in the right circumstances.

      But Reiser (and Pagan) played without, for lack of a better term coming to mind, abandon. You can play hard without putting yourself into situations that could injure you. From what I recall, Reiser ran into walls constantly (you note the 11 times he was carried off on a stretcher), and as I've noted a number times about Barry Bonds, I love that he knew how important he was to the team and thus did not to anything that would endanger the team through his absence.

      Pistol Pete and Pagan would care about winning that play, when baseball is a war made up of a lot of different plays, and the idea is to win the war, not every play. Sometimes you give up on the play because the goal is to win the war (of attrition, that baseball is). Why kill yourself scoring a run in May? Playoff atmosphere in September, maybe (see Reggie Jackson when he missed World Series). Why kill your knees on a catch in June? In a game that was not a must win? And he dropped the ball anyway, so the runs scored anyway.

      I love that Pagan plays all-out - better than someone who just don't care - but there is a way to play hard without putting yourself repeatedly into situations where you can get hurt. It's called playing smart baseball. Blanco makes brilliants plays all the time, you don't see him crashing into walls and injuring himself. Clemente ran with wild abandon on the bases, but you didn't see himself injuring himself running (I did see him play, and unfortunately, read about his untimely demise).

      Now, if it's a play that has playoff implications in Aug/Sept, now you can think about it, but then there is still Oct, will the play get your teammates into Oct or just get you into DL? Few plays are so critical to a team getting into the playoffs, or winning the playoffs, that killing yourself to make the play is not the best thing to do. And Pagan (and Reiser) was not playing smart. He takes a macho pride in this (read his comments recently regarding his way of play), but he doesn't realize that he's just pissing away his team's chances to repeat by doing this, as a healthy and functional Pagan is very valuable, and an injured and limping Pagan is detrimental to the Giants winning. I don't care that he's gutting it out, it is fine to gut it out if you are hitting .800 OPS while doing that, not so good when you are below .600 OPS, which Pagan has been since May 5th, yes, that's nearly four months of sucking big-time. Blanco should have been starting and Pagan should have been the bench player, not in a demotion, but as a way to keep him around for key moments as well as healing, instead of struggling to play each game.

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    2. And if his brain couldn't handle being on the bench (see Hudson for a great way of handling the situation), then just get the Giants to DL you for the good of the team. Fans like to make fun of the way the Giants try out players, rolling their eyes, but this is the way you find the good among the bad, you give them a shot, the error was not in bringing them in, the error would be keeping them once you know that they are still bad, and the Giants mostly have been good about jettisoning them pretty quickly. But it does give the Naysayers a reason to whine.

      A good GM is not one who never makes mistakes. A good GM is one who tries different things and make quick decisions on whether it is working or not, a good GM is one who makes few mistakes in giving away your young prospects, a good GM is one who rarely gives away more than he is getting. Trading for Gyorko or Orlando Cabrera were not mistakes, he gave up nothing for them and got to try them out for a while. People view those moves as mistakes, but I don't. Not every move will move the needle, but you got to try whatever you can, while not giving away anything good. And make quick decisions when things are not working out, and to learn from these mistakes. The problem is rarely about making mistakes, it is generally about not learning from your mistakes (again, why I love reading about history).

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