Thursday, January 07, 2016

Your 2016 Giants: Current Thoughts (Plus Denard Span!)

Trying to forget recent events, so I'm focusing on how I think the current Giants rotation can do, compared to the Dodgers, and possible moves left to make.

Sidenote:  I've been working on this for the past week or so, before the news of the Giants signing Denard Span to a contract, just moments ago.  I'm leaving in my notes about the OF, just for the record.  I'll add an addendum as well on Span.

ogc thoughts

If I ran through the litany of injuries that befell the Giants in 2015, and detailed all the time missed by key players like Pence, Peavy, Aoki, Belt, Panik, Crawford, plus noted the big trade for Leake that fizzled out with his stay on the DL and mediocre pitching even when healthy, one would think that 2015 was a disaster of a season. The Giants still finished a solid 84-78 and per Pythagorean, played well enough to have gone 89-73, only 3 games behind where the Dodgers ended, and, incredibly so, per Pythagorean, should have ended the season tied with the Dodgers for the NL West title at 89-73.  Tied!

Many Naysayers like to say that these Giants are not a Dynasty because they did not repeat as winners in the odd years, and, worse, didn't even make the playoffs.  Yet, in 2011 and 2015, the Giants were battling for the NL West title until late in the season, in spite of devastating losses of Posey and Pence, respectively, in those two campaigns, losses that, had they not happened, would have most likely resulted in the Giants getting into the playoffs.  Both losses were on stupid MLB plays that are relatively rare, yet few of these Naysayers probably even know these facts.

And yet the Giants should have tied for the NL West Division Title in 2015.

Dodgers Better Than Giants in 2016?

Now the Giants have added Cueto and Samardzija, plus should have Pence for the whole season (Giants were 34-17 in his starts in 2015), with the major loss being Aoki, but with Parker looking like a close enough replacement, while the Dodgers meanwhile regressed, with Greinke leaving for much greener pastures, replaced by lesser pitchers, Kazmir and Maeda, who not only have to make up for what Greinke could do, but also what Greinke did in 2015, way out performing his peripherals, plus Howie Kendrick.   And yet most forecasts have the Dodgers easily beating the Giants in 2016.

I guess part of it is that their young hitting prospects are busting out, and they are relying on them to do well again, while playing a full season.  But they are also relying on some players to repeat their good performances, like Brett Anderson, who had 30+ starts for the first time in 6 seasons.  But they seem to work in this way in recent seasons, piling on the number of available starting pitchers in hopes that they have enough to make it through the season.

And they have a lot again for 2016.  They already have the five lefties - Kershaw, Wood, Anderson, Ryu, and now Kazmir - plus they just signed Maeda, a RHP, and they have Bolsinger and Frias in reserve, plus Urias should be ready by mid-season, if not sooner, I believe he's the guy they expect to replace Greinke's production eventually, though not likely in 2016, as Steamer projects him for 3.74 ERA (in two starts).  Plus, last year, Brandon McCarthy fell under the knife for TJS, so he should be back roughly mid-season, in case he's needed.

I Am Not a Number:  Number Two Starter

The odd thing to me was that Fangraphs notes that Kazmir is a potential #2 in a rotation full of #2 candidates, so I thought I would examine that.  First, let's start with a definition of what a #2 starter is.  I like to use the pitcher's ranking to define that.  From 1-30 are the aces, from 31-60 are the #2 starters.  In 2015, that was 3.49 to 4.11.

Wow, that's a wider and higher range than I had expected.  I mean, Zito for a number of years was delivering a low 4 ERA, and nobody would call him a #2 starter or even a near #2 starter.  But the analysis I've read is that 2015 had a strong uptick in offense, and I guess that this is the result of this, for in 2014, the 31-60 covered ERA range of 3.33 to 3.73.   In 2013, 3.35 to 4.00.  In 2012, 3.54 to 4.12, or roughly same as in 2015.

So while it seemed odd to me, the increase in offense in 2015 has pushed the range for #2 enough that their statement appears to be true.

Qualifying Pitchers

Side note, but I also noticed the number of qualifying pitchers.  The standard is 1 IP per game played by your team, or 162 IP.  That's roughly 5 IP per start for a starter who made 32 starts (plus 2 IP), hardly a horse of a starter.   In 2014, there were 88 of them, but in 2015, only 78.  Checking further back, 81 in 2013, 88 in 2012, 94 in 2011, 92 in 2010, heck, here's the list:

  • 2000:  87 pitchers
  • 2001:  84 pitchers
  • 2002:  85 pitchers
  • 2003:  91 pitchers
  • 2004:  89 pitchers
  • 2005:  93 pitchers
  • 2006:  84 pitchers
  • 2007:  80 pitchers
  • 2008:  88 pitchers
  • 2009:  77 pitchers
  • 2010:  92 pitchers
  • 2011:  94 pitchers
  • 2012:  88 pitchers
  • 2013:  81 pitchers
  • 2014:  88 pitchers
  • 2015:  78 pitchers

The mean over that time is 86.2 pitchers.  So, on average, the average team has up to 3 starters who actually qualify with 162+ IP.   The implication of this is that the vast majority of teams have a revolving door in the #4 starting rotation spots, which I don't think most people realize, as well as the #5 starting spot.   And some are having issues with their #3 starter as well, a good number in 2015, as there were only 18 qualifiers in that third tier.  As we'll see, the Giants were among those, for once.

Since 2009, the Giants had these qualifying pitchers in their rotation:

  • 2009:  Lincecum, Cain, Zito, Sanchez (just made it at 163.1 IP)
  • 2010:  Cain, Lincecum, Zito, Sanchez
  • 2011:  Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong
  • 2012:  Cain, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Lincecum, Zito
  • 2013:  Bumgarner, Lincecum, Cain
  • 2014:  Bumgarner, Hudson, Vogelsong (Lincecum just short by less than 7 IP)
  • 2015:  Bumgarner, Heston (at 177 IP)

So as much as Zito was hated by some, he provided a steady IP eating performance that was roughly average most of the time.  He was a good asset for us in the #4 slot.  Just overpaid.  With him, we regularly had four qualifying starters in a season, which allowed the Giants to not have to carry as much pitching depth, as well as didn't have to suffer a lot of #4 starts where the starter was very iffy

And clearly, heading into 2016, we did not have that steadiness anymore, but now Cueto and Samardzija provide that in spades with Bumgarner, as all three have been horses, Bumgarner has averaged roughly 210 IP since 2011, Cueto 227 IP the past two years, Samardzija 216 IP over the past three seasons.   They should comprise three qualifiers in 2016 and 2017.

Cain should be another qualifying horse, I think.  Again, he didn't have any real damage to any of his body parts related to his throwing motion (shoulder, elbow, hips, legs) repaired, only had bone chips removed, and his extended injury last season seemed related more to him not being used to being so free to swing his arm that he strained something, then after that, he was still not used to being so free with his elbow and felt weird all season until his last start.  I think this relates to him using "learning mode" rather than "muscle memory mode" in his mechanics until his last start, where he did well enough.  I think with spring training to get back into playing shape, he should be good to go in 2016-2017.

Peavy is no horse, he's a wild card, and an unlikely one at that to go all season long, but with Heston and Blackburn in reserve, we should be easily covered there.   Plus, Blach, Beede, and Stratton are all getting closer to the show, and could be ready by mid-season.  So we have a lot of good coverage here, though one more veteran in reserve would be useful, which I'll get into my theory down at the bottom.

Dodgers Rotation in 2016

Next, let's go through LA's candidates, starting with Kazmir.  Steamer projects him at 3.59 ERA for 2016, and that is in line with his ERA and FIP over the past three seasons.   Anderson is projected at 3.58 ERA himself, but while that is in line with his career numbers, his FIPs were much higher in the high 3's.  Still, those qualify for #2 status, just on the back end.  Still, however, what are the odds he survive another full season without going on the DL for an extended period.

Among the other starters, Wood is projected at 3.84, so that's also a #2 starter potentially.  And he was in ace level territory in 2013-14, so there is that as well, though first he was at 3.54 ERA with Braves to start 2015, then 4.35 ERA with Dodgers to end 2015, as his K/9 fell drastically (kind of a similar story like Samardzija, except that it happened with his same team, and can't be blamed on a new coach or new circumstances).

Then we get to their bigger question marks in the rotation.  Ryu, also a fragile pitcher, with 30 starts in 2013, 26 starts in 2014, and missing all of 2015, is projected at 3.41 ERA, but only 16 starts.  I doubt he's going to qualify in 2016, he was out all of 2015 and even when first in the majors, regularly missed 2-6 starts in a season.  The Dodgers has to consider any good production from him to be a bonus.  Bolsinger is projected at 3.78 ERA and Frias at 4.09 ERA.  McCarthy is projected to a 3.20 ERA, but with his TJS, he'll return late in the second half, as he'll need time to rehab too.  Maeda has no projections yet.
  • Kazmir:  3.59 ERA projection
  • Anderson:  3.58 ERA
  • Wood:  3.84 ERA
  • Ryu:  3.41 ERA, but he's returning from missing all of 2015 due to injury
  • Bolsinger:  3.78 ERA
  • Frias:  4.09 ERA
  • McCarthy:  3.20 ERA, but he's returning from surgery and missing most of 2015 (5 starts projected)
So then, what about the Giants?

Giants Rotation in 2016

Here is the Giants rotation's projections (again, ERA from 3.49 and 4.11 was the standard for a #2 starter in 2015):
  1. Bumgarner:  2.81 ERA (4.3 fWAR, 32 starts)
  2. Cueto:  3.18 ERA (3.1 fWAR, 32 starts)
  3. Samardzija:  3.48 ERA (2.7 fWAR, 31 starts)
  4. Peavy:  3.82 ERA (1.0 fWAR, 26 starts)
  5. Cain:  3.97 ERA (0.7 fWAR, 23 starts)
  6. Heston:  3.44 ERA (0.7 fWAR, 8 starts/43 appearances)
  7. Blackburn:  3.73 ERA (2 starts)
So the same could be said about the Giants rotation as well, for the most part, except that with Cueto, we have a co-ace rotation, though Bumgarner is clearly better per the projections.   Furthermore, Samardzija is borderline ace quality too, based on projections.   Even Heston is projected to be borderline ace quality as well.   And Blackburn is not that far away either, considering he's only 21 YO next season.

Plus, while each non-Kershaw Dodger starter has some sort of question mark regarding their projection in 2016, whether due to poor health history or lack of performance history, the Giants have three starters who has shown strong capabilities of delivering 200+ IP every season while performing well (Bumgarnter and Cueto) or well enough (Samardzija has the good peripherals but not the good performances, except for 2014).   And Cueto is projected to be worse than he's been for a long time, if he reverts to what he had done from 2011 to Cincy in 2015, he would easily match Bumgarner's ERA projection, giving the Giants a true co-ace rotation, with both under 3 ERA, something that can't be said about LA right now.

Dodger's Big "Huh?"

Meanwhile, lets look at the Dodger's replacement plan.  Their moves have drawn a big "huh?" so far.  While Greinke had great peripherals, yielding a 5.9 fWAR, he performed even better than that with a 9.3 bWAR, and it is that performance that they need to replace.  Here are the Steamer WAR projections for the pitchers I listed for the Dodgers above (plus I'll kick in Kershaw, since he's part of the equation at some point):
  • Kershaw (his 2015 production was 7.5 WAR):  7.4 WAR (32 starts)
  • Kazmir (Greinke's logical replacement):  2.7 WAR (29 starts)
  • Anderson (his 2015 production was 1.5 bWAR/1.7 fWAR):  2.5 WAR  (28 starts)
  • Wood:  1.7 WAR (24 starts)
  • Ryu:  1.9 WAR (19 starts)
  • Bolsinger:  0.5 WAR (6 starts)
  • Frias:  0.3 WAR (6 starts)
  • McCarthy:  0.6 WAR (5 starts)
The non-Kershaw category total 10.2 WAR for total production, which just barely covers just Greinke's production by himself last season.  He averaged nearly 0.3 WAR per start, whereas all these starters, at best, roughly 0.1 WAR per start.

In total, Kershaw and Greinke together produced 16.8 WAR.  The rest of the starters (including their relief appearances) totaled 1.4 WAR (but didn't include the guys who had one start, which would probably bring this lower).  And they did not have one other starter with a WAR above 1.5.

So the Dodger's plan appears to be that, given how poor a production they got out of the rest beyond the top two of Kershaw and Greinke in 2015, they will make up for the loss of Greinke by spreading production among the rest of the starters they have now.   In 2015, they got 18.2 WAR from their starting rotation per the above (subtracting for the random one starts, probably under 18.0 WAR).  The total of their 2016 projected productions add up to 17.7 WAR (149 starts).  Make up the last 13 starts with one of the 6 start guys (Bolsinger or Frias) and that gets them to their production in 2015, if not more.  So that seems to be their plan, to spread production across the whole rotation to make up for the loss of Greinke.

Risk However

This is similar to the Giants strategy in 2015, as they had Vogelsong, Petit, and Heston in reserve as replacements.  It mostly worked, with Vogelsong and Heston absorbing a lot of the innings missed by those injured or needing some down time.  Then they picked up Leake to help absorb some more.   Things were not great in the rotation but they still won with it.

Though the starting rotation is pointed at as a major issue in 2015, it was the injuries to the lineup that they could not overcome.  When you lose 3-4 of your top hitters (Pence, Aoki, Belt, Panik) over an extended period, there usually is no overcoming that, this is a key point people miss about the 2015 Giants.  And there is no way any front office can plan to cover that.  But even with the starting pitching we got, when we had Pence in the lineup, the team went 34-17, so we have the offense to win with, even if the pitching was not up to the standards set previously.

The Dodgers seem to hope to do the same in 2016.  They are waiting for their crop of starting pitching to develop (Bolsinger, Frias, Wood in the majors, Urias, Wieland, Lee, Montas, De Leon, Holmes in the minors), and so they have been throwing short-term money to help with the transition.  Meanwhile, they have a lot of young good hitters coming up and making some noise.  Kershaw is a horse, but the rest of them all have question marks, and that seems to be their strategy:
  • Kazmir:  history of physical problems, but perhaps he's over them, since he's averaged roughly 30 starts per season in the past three seasons.   Still, with only four seasons of 30 or more starts, two early in his career and two late, out of 11 seasons, plus him missing basically all of 2011-2012, it is hard not to think that he's a ticking time bomb of a pitcher, waiting to explode at some point, particularly since he'll be 32 YO for the 2016 season, and 33 is when things start to go bad for pitchers, generally.
  • Anderson:  2015 was his first season in the past six seasons to reach 30+ starts.   And first ever to reach 31 starts.  Assuming a regular season is 32 starts, from 2010 to 2014, he missed 109 out of 160 possible starts, and mostly on a steep decline in starts year to year until 2014.  Maybe at age 27 he and his doctors finally figured out what he needs to do to stay healthy.  The Dodgers are betting the QO of $15.8M  that he did. 
  • Wood:  He is only 25 YO in 2016, so got some development still.  After two great seasons in 2013 and 2014, he had a down season in 2015, very down, in that his K/9 went from 8.9 during those two seasons, to only 6.6 in 2015 (and 6.3 with LA).  That's very similar to the drop that Samardzija had in 2015, except that the Shark 1) changed leagues, as AL yields less K's due to no pitchers hitting, 2) had problems agreeing with his pitching coach on what he needed to do, with the coach publicly stating that he screwed up, not the Shark, 3) had some issues pitching for his boyhood team, 4) had some issues when the team did not trade him to a playoff team, and 5) noted at his press conference that he was tipping off pitches near the end of the season, only fixing it in the last two starts, where he threw 16.0 IP, struck out 9 while walking zero, for an ERA of 1.13.   Wood, on the other hand, was pitching for the same team where he did very well for in 2013-14, same everything except that he was striking out a lot less.  And the Braves dumped him to get Henry Olivera, an unproven IFA from Cuba who was 30 YO in 2015.  Olivera is projected by Steamer to produce roughly 1.0 WAR in a full season.  Wood produced 2.4 bWAR in 2015, and Steamer projects 1.7 WAR in 2016 in 24 starts, or roughly 2.3 WAR in 32 starts, so he's projected to do the same in 2016 as he did in 2015.   
  • Ryu:  Missed all of 2015 due to a shoulder injury, plus only started 30 in 2013, 26 in 2014, so it's not like he's been that much of a horse.  Plus, his labrum surgery happened in May, and according to the linked article, there is an 80% chance that he returns to what he was before, but that still means 20% do not.  Plus, I would think recovery from something serious like this would be at least a year, and if so, he won't be ready on Opening Day.  
  • Bolsinger:  Nice overall results, but has never pitched a full season, though still young and entering physical prime at 28 YO in 2016.  But after a great start to his season, 1.15 ERA in first five starts, he was figured out and had a 4.62 ERA over the rest of the season, covering 16 starts.  That's back of rotation material, though better than a question mark. 
  • Frias:  4.42 ERA as a starter in 2015, has never pitched a full MLB season yet.  Don't seem ready for a full MLB season yet.
  • Maeda:  IFA signing from Japan this off-season.  He likely will need some seasoning in AAA before they are ready to bring him up to the majors mid-season.   Even if he's ready by Opening Day, he's only projected, at best, to be an inning-eating middle rotation guy.
  • McCarthy:  Had TJS mid-2015, so he should not be ready to pitch until mid-2016, plus will need some rehab starts as well,, so he should not be much of a factor until late in the season.  
So it looks like right now that the Dodgers should be looking to sign one more free agent SP.  They currently can count on Kershaw, Kazmir, Anderson, and Wood to start the season for them.  Ryu should get the last spot assuming he's healthy and ready.  Bolsinger will probably get the spot if not, right now, but given how little is being said about him being in the rotation, I have to think that they will try to sign someone to a one year deal once one of them gets desperate enough as spring training closes in on the calendar.  Maeda could be ready, but that's taking a big risk with your rotation if they rely on him coming through, hence why I think they are still looking for starting pitching, maybe a guy they can use in long relief first, if necessary.

Giants Final Moves

I see two more possible moves by the Giants before spring training.  First off, the Giants have backloaded the contracts signed, enough that the cash payroll still has about $14M before reaching $180M (per Baer and the recent report on the exact amount the Giants paid in tax for the 2015 season, the Giants are already over the threshold and paying the tax for 2016 as well).   So they could still do a bit of spending this off-season.

OF Options

That could get us a nice LF, as long as the contract is backloaded some, but probably not one of the high end OF free agents like Cespedes or Gordon unless they severely defer and/or backload their 2016 salary. Some mid-range targets could be Fowler, Span, Jackson, or Parra, and each has their warts, though the only one clearly OK defensively in recent seasons is Jackson, though Span's issue could have been his injury that needed surgery last season, and might return to prior goodness, though at 32 YO, could just be age.   These guys will probably need to backload some as well.

It could simply mean a return of Byrd, as he is probably hoping to get a contract in the same range as the one that we declined originally (roughly 8-9M), and he would be a good complement to Blanco.  And in a lesser price range, the Giants noted that they liked De Aza.  It could happen, much like how we let go of Vogelsong last off-season then brought him back once the dust had settled.   And much like the addition of Morse a couple of years ago, while Blanco would be fine in LF, the addition of another LF is more about depth and the possibility of losing Pagan at some point in the season.

The Giants historically have not devoted a lot of player development towards the outfield.  They have focused on other areas more than the OF (and really, the corner positions), particularly up the middle positions (C, SS, CF), not that they have not drafted guys for the corners (like Ishikawa, Schierholtz, Belt, Williamson).  Historically, the Giants have traded for and then kept OF, like Winn, Ross, Pagan, Pence (Melky probably would have been too had he not been so stupid), but have signed free agents like Grissom, Tucker, Cruz, Rowand, Morse, Aoki, as well as picking up cheap free agent like Torres, Burrell, Huff, Blanco.  Player development has mostly been a bust, with Schierholtz as our best developed OF, plus guys like Ortmeier, Bowker, Perez, Brown, and top prospects now of Williamson and Parker.  Is the last one really Chili Davis?  And I had really high hopes for Brown too, but he fizzled out.

My best guess speculation is that they are hoping to get someone better on the cheap, like the Cards did with Beltran after the 2011 season, when he ran out of suitors and took the Cards deal.  An article by Haft quoting Evans notes and contrasts how the Giants moved relatively fast for the pitchers, but in this article, Evans clearly shows that they are waiting for some deals to be made first, among the top tier of OFs, before moving on the tier that they want to move in.

But a signing is not the only option.  Evans have been talking about trades as well, keep a hand on the pulse of that market.  Should the cheaper but higher quality OF not be available to sign, a trade is possible.  

Some interesting players could be available.  I've seen discussions regarding Jay Bruce and Carlos Gonzalez, among others.  The problem is what would be the cost of the trade?  The Giants have a lot of interesting prospects, but not many that the industry consensus (like Baseball America or views as a top prospect, so the Giants might have to give up quantity in order to trade for these players.  Frankly, I don't see that happening, the Giants rarely trade off prospects that go on to do well in the majors, they hold them close to their vest and never let go until they prove otherwise, so I don't expect the Giants to have enough prospect capital to trade for a significant upgrade in LF.  

Thus, I think a signing is the most likely scenario, unless a team gets desperate for salary relief and would take lower tier prospects to make a deal, which falls into the "buy cheap" scenario I noted for free agency (like when we picked up Livan and Nen).   I just think the odds of a free agent getting antsy enough to take a lower contract, like Beltran did after 2011, is greater than the odds of a team getting antsy enough during the off-season to trade just to lower their payroll.  Prior cheap deals that worked out for the Giants in the recent past are such January signings as Huff, Morse, and Aoki.  

And if such a deal does not materialize, I think the Giants are OK with going into 2016 with Blanco as the starting LF, with probably Blanks and Parker as the backup OF (barring an OF being DFAed who looks interesting), with the possibility of a mid-season trade upgrade as necessary.  If they don't spend the money left in the payroll budget, they could take on a lot of salary mid-season, plus not have to pay as much in prospects.

Addendum:  Denard Span Signed

I guess I shouldn't have been tweaking this post so much, I had much of this written by Monday.  In any case, left the above in, for laughs :^), and for the record.  Thought it fits better here given I just discussed OF options above.

According to Baggarly blog post, he gets 3 years, $31M, pending a physical.  There are performance bonuses, probably related to games played, probably due to him recovering from surgery (oh, just tweeted out:  $1M in 2016, $2M in 2017 and 2018, maxing out at 525 plate appearances).   Depending on the structure of the payments, a $10.3M salary would leave roughly $4M in the cash payroll and added roughly $3.1M to their luxury tax bill (though if the Giants are including the tax in the cash payroll, they are pretty much tapped out).  I wonder if they affects their interest in Lincecum in any way.

This contract covers his 32 to 34 YO seasons, so there is some risk that he could hit his age-related decline during the contract.  But Baseball Forecaster research showed that hitters generally are relatively steady (if declining minorly) up to age 34, and age 35 is when the stuff starts hitting the fan in force for hitters.  Then again, he has missed most of two seasons so far in his career, 2011 (concussion) and 2015 (abdomen and hip labrum), so he has had some serious injuries before.

This is close to the contract that Dave Cameron projected for him, 3 years, $30M ($10M AAV), and significantly less than the one MLBTR projected, 3 years, $39M ($13M AAV).   With him getting the low end AAV, there is little need for the Giants to backload, maybe some to allow an addition mid-season, but they are pretty much going for it this season and next.  My assumption would be that a healthy Span with no surgery probably could have gotten $13M but since he was operated on, he got the low end, with incentives to help make up the difference, if he turns out to be healthy.  Based on the reported incentives, which appears easy to reach given that he has easily reached 525 PA as a starter in 5 of the past 7 seasons (when healthy in other words), that would make this a $36M/$12M AAV deal, 

To prove his health, apparently he posted a video 3 days ago showing him working out and springing over a series of hurdles, showing that he has recovered nicely from the surgery he had last season for his hip and on his abdominal.   He had declined into a poor defensive CF the past two seasons, hopefully because of his health issues, but was a stellar defensive CF previously, for most of his career.   The video helps me feel much better about signing him, as it is his defensive that is probably most attractive to the Giants, given how poorly Pagan has played there defensively in recent seasons.  

In addition, he owns a .287/.352/.395/.747 batting line in the past eight seasons, which is slightly better than the average NL CF (.265/.332/.405/.737) but excellent for a leadoff hitter (average NL leadoff hitter had .330 OBP).  Add in 11 SB last season in about 40% of a season (no CS) and you have a heck of a leadoff hitter.  And he has been good in his career stealing bases, 79% success rate in his career, 82% after his first full season (71% in his first two seasons; 17 CS in his first two seasons, only 24 CS in his next six seasons, though two seasons in there with 70 or less games played).   So he looks like the new leadoff hitter, I guess everyone who were complaining about losing Aoki has changed their tune now.  

No word from the Giants yet regarding his role on the team.  More should be said on Friday when they formally announce the deal and introduce him to the press.   Beats are assuming that he's taking over CF and that Pagan and Blanco will share LF now.  Will be interesting what the Giants say, as they have been very supportive of Pagan up to now.  But Span has played CF for much of his career, and especially once he was established as a starter.  So I agree that he probably is the starting CF now, but assume Pagan is the starting LF unless he stumbles at some point (or get injured again), at which point Blanco would be the starter.  Will be competition for remaining OF bench spot (assuming the Giants don't carry an extra pitcher again), but I expect Blanks to beat out Parker and Williamson. 

To quote Bochy in the Baggarly article:  "I like it."   But I would add the caveat "if he's healthy and his defensive skills returned to prior goodness."  However, based on that video, he looks very healthy, and that's what I think the Giants are looking for help with, and his abilities as a leadoff hitter is just a big bonus.  So I love this deal, looks like we got a good leadoff CF with a slight discount (larger if you look at his stats in recent years, he could have gotten bigger/longer deal had his defense not gone down and the hip issue that probably caused it).   

Giants New Lineup:  AWESOME!

The lineup is now probably Span, Panik, Pagan, Posey, Belt/Pence, Pence/Belt, Crawford, Duffy.  I know it's weird putting Duffy 8th after he hit 3rd for most of last season, but Bochy seems to like hitting Pagan in the 3 hole, and given who we have in the rest of the lineup, it's either Crawford or Duffy, and since they just gave Crawford that nice big contract, they are going to defer to his needs first, and he's been wanting out of the 8th spot for a while now.  That leaves Duffy to hit 8th, as low man on seniority pole.  

I suppose that they could bat Pagan 8th instead and put Duffy back in the 3rd spot, in an effort to have a second leadoff man in the lineup.  That is rationale that might work for Pagan.  But yowza!  What a great looking lineup, no weaknesses anywhere other than pitcher, and when we got a good hitting pitcher up, like Bumgarner, no weak spots in the lineup, they might fear Bumgarner more than Span and walk him to get to Span, pick your poison.  

With this lineup and the very good rotation we got (and great if Cain comes back) and the good bullpen we have as well, the Giants are loaded and ready to try to win two championships in a row, they have moved all in to try to accomplish that, and at minimum, win one more in the next two seasons.  Not sure what else that they could have done to better ensure their return to the World Series.  

Lince-cumming Home?

In any case, I still believe that the Giants are still open to Lincecum returning as our long relief/spot starter, with the ultimate goal of making him a super-utility reliever, like the way he was employed in the 2012 playoffs.  They have not publicly wrote him off yet, unlike how they said Vogelsong would not be returning after the two big signings.  And they said that they will be attending Timmy's showcase.  And they noted this near the end of the season (reported by Baggarly):
There wasn’t an opportunity for Tim Lincecum to acknowledge the fans, as he had hoped. But there’s still a chance he’ll be back this weekend. 
In any event, a goodbye might not be necessary. The interest is mutual and strong to re-sign Lincecum, from what I’m told. It’s more a matter of when, how much and in what form, rather than if.
Lincecum wants to start but I just don't see any team offering him more than a minor league invite with the chance to win a role in spring training, much like Kazmir had to do with Cleveland to get back into the majors after missing years due to injury, after years of poor performances.  Lincecum has had four seasons of poor overall results, which seems to be all that fans are focused on.  And I suspect teams are likewise focused on that as well.

However, if you look at his seasonal progression, basically he's been one of our better pitchers over extended periods of time, until his body could not hold up anymore, at which point he puts in his bad performances and ruin his seasonal numbers.  This is why I think a now physically healthy Lincecum could excel in a super-utility role with a team, as the lessened work load would help to keep the wear and tear down, and the team could rest him until he's ready again.  Had he been OK with a relief role, I think there would be a line of teams hoping to sign him, but if he holds to the starting role stipulation, he's not going to get any offers beyond a minor league deal, except from the Giants for long relief/spot starter on the 25-man, probably at the same contract that Vogelsong got last off-season.

Will he return?  I think his preference for a starting role will limit his opportunities, that would drive most teams away, and even those who think that he's healthy now will look at his numbers and not offer much.  Given this and the Giants not yet writing off him returning to the Giants, I have to think that there is an 80% chance of him returning to the team, with the odd chance that perhaps a team out there really still believes in him and will give him that chance to start.   Apparently the Marlins have mentioned interest in Lincecum as a starter, so who knows, they grabbed Bonds already, maybe they want another Giants icon?

But will that team also give him an MLB contract at the same time?  Assuming his showcase goes well, I expect the Giants to offer the Vogie-deal to Lincecum to take on Vogie's role, with no need to fight for that role, a guaranteed MLB roster spot.  Will Lincecum forsake that and take a minor league deal with another team to battle for a spot, with no guarantees of anything?  (most probably he will want an out if the team does not place him on the 25-man roster)  I'm not sure which he would chose, but it's hard to turn down $3-5M vs. potentially getting DFAed for nothing, but, who knows, maybe he really wants to start, and is willing to take that chance in order to be a starter again.

If we are able to get him, and he can do what I think he can, our bullpen would be that much more shutdown than if we had Heston in there as the long reliever, since Lincecum could handle multiple bullpen roles due to his ability to recover fast with his arm.  That would further improve our chances of winning another one.  Hopefully he will see the light with this move to get Span and want to come back in hopes of enjoying another championship.


  1. Additional news that Baggarly got was that there was a mutual option for a 4th season, for $12M (which is basically what he's getting per year AAV if you include the incentives as baked into the contract as long as he's healthy). But if he picks up the option and the Giants decline, there is a $4M buy out, suggesting that the contract is backloaded, though I've not see anyone explicitly say this yet. If so, it would look like this:

    2016: $7M plus $1M incentives to 525 PA
    2017: $10M plus $2M incentives to 525 PA
    2018: $10M plus $2M incentives to 525 PA
    2019: Mutual option at $12M, with buyout of $4M

    If this is the actual structure, that backloads $4M, giving the Giants that much payroll space for a mid-season acquisition (or my hope to still pick up Lincecum as super-reliever).

    I forgot to include both CBS Heyman's projection as well as the FG crowdsourced projection, and both actually hit it on the nail in terms of the overall contract structure at 3 years and $36M, but apparently to recognize that Span might not be out there for a full season, a portion of that was moved into relatively easily achieved incentives, as long as he's healthy. Even if he's as injured as Durham was, he probably will get most of the incentives, I would bet.

    I started digging into his projections and Steamer has him as the 5th highest WAR among the hitters at 2.6 fWAR, just ahead of Crawford at 2.4 fWAR (FYI, not sure why so low, he had 3.1 fWAR and 4.7 fWAR in the last two seasons, this basically projects him to be around 2013's 2.3 fWAR; in fact, it projects him to actually be below his career numbers! Anyway, I generally use Steamer as a floor because their projections generally are on the low end).

    Before 2015, Span averaged 3.2 fWAR production over his career, including three partial seasons (one first, other two injured with concussion). And over the prior three seasons, 3.6 fWAR, and that includes a partial season. The current projection has him basically average defensively, so it is conservative in that way, which is OK as long as we acknowledge it.

    It also projects a partial season, only 126 games. If you extrapolate the projection to one of his full seasons, then he would be around 3.0 fWAR, which would make him 4th, just 0.1 behind Belt and Duffy's projected fWAR.

    In any case, the acquisition of Span is a significant one for our lineup. It adds to our capabilities in the lineup, and is a huge upgrade over Aoki due to his probably good defense he can provide in CF, as he's basically as good a hitter as Aoki, as well as basestealer. Costs more, but if they can get him healthy again, he moves from average defensively to +1 WAR defensively, and that would push him to be one of the top position players on the team.

    As I noted very exciting move for the Giants, I'm very happy about the signing, and while it's always too soon to be crowning anyone as champions, this 25-man roster is the most potent in terms of attaining championship than any we have had in recent years, as we have the lineup now to go with good starting pitching and good bullpens. That's something we have never had before.

    1. Also reported is that head trainer Dave Groeschner actually went to visit Span in December and check him out, and the report back was that he was healthy.

      Evans was on KNBR briefly before lunch with Gary and noted that they did all sorts of tests and exams and Span is fine, done with rehab, and now working on his normal off-season routine.

      A tweet from the press conference held today (tried to listen but the darn thing would not start up for me, for the most part, got to hear maybe 2 minutes worth out of the total 20, 1 of which was the final moments of the presser) noted that Span said that if there was a game today, he would have been playing in it.

      No word on where he'll play yet (he jokingly said that he would play anywhere, even if Posey needed a day off catching), Evans danced around it saying that it depends on how things are at the time, but they did speak with Pagan before making the signing and discussed him playing LF and Span CF.

      I assume this dance will play out much like last season when we signed Aoki and it was obvious that he should be the leadoff, but at first the Giants said it was Pagan, then slowly the verbiage changed during spring training until it was Aoki leading off and Pagan batting third.

      But Bochy in the presser noted that Span is one of the best CF and leadoff hitters in the game, so I don't see how it don't play out that Span is the starting CF and Pagan the starting LF.

    2. OH yeah, also Bochy noted that he would like to touch base with Pagan, out of respect, before he answer any questions about where Span would play, another obvious hint that Span will play CF most likely.

    3. Finally, contract details! From twitter: Span gets $3M salary in 2016 (plus $1M in incentives) plus $6M signing bonus (always wonder how this affects MLB accounting, must be good reason for it), $9M for each of 2017 and 2018 (plus $2M in incentives), then his 2019 mutual option for $12M with a $4M buyout, for a total of $31M, plus $5M of easy to make incentives IF he is healthy (caps at 525 PA, which he has easily made when healthy). Basically $9M per year plus incentives, then $4M buyout.

      Also, Pavlovic reported that he explained more about his injury plagued 2015 (and which also explains 2014 defensive decline too, I think). He had a sports hernia, which really started bothering at the end of the season, and he finally got it operated on in December when it wasn't getting better. While recovering, he pushed it hard and then started having the same problems but now on the other side of his abdominal, resulting in the second surgery in March.

      But then he returned too early from the second surgery and that led to his hip problems, as one problem led to another.

      Apparently Boras delayed talking with teams because he wanted Span to show how healthy he was (kind of like Lincecum), and even noted how good a fit SF was to his client. Boras advised Span to sign a one year deal, which apparently is what 11 other teams wanted to do too, but Span vetoed Boras, stating that he wanted to go to one place and stay there for a while (though, it has been noted, no no-trade clause, so I think it was more that he wanted the security of a $31M contract, the bird in the hand, than wait another year and get a bigger contract then, perhaps, or not if an injury derails him and teams offer even less money).

      Pavlovic also reported more details about the performance bonuses: starts at 400 PA, goes up at 25 PA increments to 525 PA, plus he gets bonuses at 90 and 100 games. As I said before, easy things for him to hit as long as he is healthy. A bet on himself.

    4. Let's look at the risk another way. Basically the Giants are paying him $12M per season or roughly 1.5 WAR per season production or a total of 4.5 WAR being paid for.

      Last season, while playing so little, he produced at a 1.9 WAR pace, while producing at a 4.0 WAR pace the prior three seasons. Even if age has hit him some, given that he's now healthy, assume the floor is that he repeats his 2015 production over a full season plus a bit more. If he can produce at 2.0 WAR his first season, the suffer the usual 0.5 WAR decline that FG likes to use, that's a total of 4.5 WAR produced. And that is the downside of the deal, assuming that while now healthy and capable of playing a full season, he has some sort of decline headed his way.

      But even Steamer, which is a very conservative projection system (and usually on the low end of the ones I observe), has him producing 2.6 WAR in 2016. Using the FG method, that results in 6.3 WAR produced.

      On the high end, he has produced 3.7 bWAR from 2012-2014 on average, 4.3 bWAR per 650 PA, so if he produces at 4.0 WAR in 2016 and declines from there FG style, that's 10.5 WAR production.

      So the way I see it, the floor is that he just produces enough to repay the contract, and the ceiling is that he produces almost 2.5 times that. Barring another big injury, and really we don't know when or where. But if he produces 4 WAR his first season, the contract is basically paid for.

      However, I would note that Scutaro almost paid for his contract in his first season, then was injured and played poorly after his injury, and regressed some, never reaching that payment point.

      Risks like that, though, is higher for an MI like Scutaro than a CF like Span. But it does happen, he got injured in 2011 from an OF collision, which resulted in a concussion then migraine headaches.

      But those are relatively rare (and yet again, Belt has had concussion issues two years in a row), so we will see how it works out.

      But that's really more glass half empty thinking. Bad things can happen. Good things can happen.

      What most likely will happen is that he'll be healthy and raring to go. How good he'll be, I would lean towards the good of 2012-2014 than the bad of 2015 when he admittedly came back too fast from his surgeries, trying to be the good teammate. Even when bad in 2015, if he just starts from that level and falls, the contract is paid for over the three years. If he returns to prior levels, the contract could be paid for in one year.

      Pluses is that when healthy, his defense is very good and will cover a large portion of his contract production (roughly 1 win per season), and when compared with Pagan's defense in CF the past few seasons, is a swing of 1.5-2.5 wins just on defense (that's a part of the equation that people don't always look at).

  2. It's a Happy New Year for Giants fans, eh? Good work by the FO to fill the team's needs and shore up the roster. Bring on LA, AZ, and the rest!!

    1. Yes indeed! I'm still not afraid of AZ yet, and as I noted above about LA, I feel good about our chances, already before but after Span, I really feel good.

  3. Craig Edwards, writing almost a month ago (Dec 16, 2015) in Fangraphs, said that were the Giants to sign Span, he might help them as much as either Cueto or Samardzija, at a fraction the cost. He preferred Span to Austin Jackson and Dexter Fowler--I'm baffled as to why some bloggers preferred Fowler. This looks like a very smart deal, as well as one that flouts the myth that the Giants can't attract FA hitters to AT&T.

    1. Yes he did. I didn't care much for that at the time, because all I knew was that his defense has gone way down the past two seasons and he missed a large portion of the past season with an injury.

      But now that I know more about the injuries and the recovery rate, plus that video of him jumping was pretty persuasive as well, and looking more deeply in what he can produce when healthy, that really sold me.

      I think part of it regarding Fowler was because Baggarly was beating the drums for him since late last season, noting things about the Giants interest in upgrading, and how Fowler would fit in. But yeah, once I looked at his numbers, I didn't care much for him, I would have preferred passing and going with what we already had than pay to get him.

      I agree that this looks like a very smart deal. In fact, I would say that all three look like very smart deals, I've been very impressed with what the Giants have done under Evans in his first full off-season.

    2. Basically, I view each of the three signings as a buy low strategy of high quality players. Cueto and Span had been 4+ WAR producers for many years before 2015, and Samardzija was one in 2014 and basically has had the capabilities to be one, just that his coaches have not been able to get that out of him previously until 2014.

      I see all three as calculated risks. That's the key in business to getting advantage and finding opportunities: having the information so that you can see opportunity where others see risk. And basically this off-season was a huge bet that our training and medical staff can spot healthy players.

      Cueto is a question mark because he had that elbow thing and then his season basically tanked in the second half. That scared off most of the teams that would have been interested in him, but with those black marks on his resume, it made giving him a long contract an iffy proposition.

      The way the Giants contract is structured, they are making the bet that he's healthy enough and that they can get him back to prior goodness. Over the previous four seasons, he averaged 4.4 WAR and produced at a 6.3 WAR seasonal rate. The Giants only need to get him producing at 4+ WAR and he's likely to leave after two years, opting out to get his big contract like Greinke did at 32 YO.

      In Span's case, he's been producing at a 4+ WAR for a number of years before, even in his injured season in 2014 he produced. He even produced some in 2015, but his hernia and hip issues appears to have affected his defense greatly (which makes sense, he wouldn't be able to sprint well to get to balls he used to get easily), which greatly affected his WAR production, basically changing a positive to a negative. But he appears to be healthy (he said in the presser that he is sprinting almost as well as he had before the hernia) now and if he is healthy, could return to 2-3 WAR production relatively easily, as his bat never suffered, in fact, he's been better the past couple of years than his career. And in any case, his OBP has always been good.

      In Smardzija's case, again, there appears to be nothing physically wrong with him, all his pitch stats look good, including velocity, and he had a logical explanation for his down period, that he was tipping off pitches, and didn't figure it out until his last two starts, where he did very well. He didn't strike out as many, but his Pitch/FX stats looked normal, according to what I've read, so it's probably a matter of sequencing. If he's a 3-4+ WAR pitcher over his contract, he's a huge deal worth a lot.

      In each case, where other teams saw risks, the Giants saw opportunity.

  4. I watched almost every giants game the last couple of years, and last year in April and part of May, Pagan looked good on offense and defense. Then, an injury ensued, and he became a slap hitter, (Juan Pierre off steroids, with less speed). His fielding dropped off the charts, as he would no longer go to the wall to leap and try to hall in some alley shots, or dive to cut off a low liner. He looked terrible on offense and defense. But by September he seemed to improve in his health, and in his defense. A healthy Pagan played better defense, than he did 4 years ago on the Mets, but an injured Pagan, hurt the giants badly on both sides of the plate. On the dugout presence of Pagan, I have heard that he seems to be a great guy to have on the team.

    1. Thanks for sharing your perspective! Yeah, that seems to be my impression too, based on following games on the radio. I like Pagan, he has been good in the clubhouse as well as good on the field. No shame with age and injury declining his effectiveness, hopefully he sees the opportunity to show what he can do in LF for his next team, as I assume he will move on.

      If he insists on continuing in CF, I think that will only hurt his free agent value, hopefully his agent can get him to see that.

      In any case, he was able to curb his bad side of going all out in his last free agent try, so I'm very hopeful of a great season out of him in LF.

  5. First good to have you back OGC.

    Every player is an injury risk. So the question is how much above the average injury risk baseline are Cueto, Shark and Span?

    Without going through every stat, I would say:

    Cueto - average risk. Yes, he had an elbow twitch, but he's been a 200 inning stud for 5+ years. And the Giants are only looking for two good years from him.

    Shark - average risk, I think most of his issues are, as you point out, non-health related. Bumgarner strong athlete.

    Span - high risk. Good news is he seems healthy now and even if he needs time the Giants will have OF coverage for most of 2016 anyway. 2017/18 is when they really need Span with Pagan and maybe Blanco gone.

    1. Thank you Shark. Unfortunately I have experience with shocking deaths, as I lost my father when I was short of 16, and I've been to more funerals than fingers on both hands, so I'm hanging in there. Still, I greatly appreciate the outpouring of my fellow Giants fans, it has helped with the pain.

      Nice rundown of the injury risks. I think that they are fair. And good point about Span being about 2017-18, I totally agree.

      I haven't addressed yet, but most discussions note the loss of Pagan and Blanco after 2016. I think Blanco will resign, he wants to be Giants for life, he is rare athlete to appreciate the team for rescuing his career.

  6. Nice mailbox by Haft discussion Lincecum:

    He makes the good point that the longer it takes Lincecum to recovery, the more likely he ends up staying with the Giants in some capacity, particularly since Peavy's contract is up after 2016 and would open up a rotation spot.

    The date of his showcase has slipped now to end of January or beginning of February, from the original goal of sometime in January.

    Haft also makes the good point that not only is Lincecum rehabbing, but he has also been inactive as a pitcher since June of last year. Haft thinks that Lincecum needs, "Time to build endurance, regain consistency and revise his approach to facing hitters."



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