Friday, February 26, 2016

Your 2016 Giants: Infield Bench Player Competition, Tomlinson Not Sure Thing

Recent news revealed that the Giants were very interested in signing either Juan Uribe (former Giants) or Jimmy Rollins (former Bay Area resident, grew up in Alameda, recall he was a Giants fan, but memory has been fuzzy lately...) to be a backup middle infielder/3B, but lost them to other teams offering more (money and/or opportunity).

ogc thoughts

Throughout the off-season, it seemed like it was pretty set, Tomlinson and Arianza were going to be the bench infielders, with a handful of former MLB middle infielders, like Grant Green and Ramiro Pena, who had middling success, or former top prospects, like Hak-Ju Lee, coming in and battling for one of the two spots available, but it looked like the two of them were expected to make the team as the bench players.

My assumption has been that there will be one backup catcher, two MI, and two OF.  But, according to the beat writers, apparently they are open to a variety of possibilities, including two backup catchers, where C Trevor Brown has played 2B before, or another pitcher, like Cory Guerrin, who is out of options I believe, and they like the way he pitches.  It is unclear yet who loses out in either case, MI or OF.

Then these news came out in the last week or so, that Uribe was tire kicked (too expensive) and Rollins was interested (due to growing up here) but ultimately wanted a chance to start again so he took a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox (might have been different decision had he not won WS with Phillies before; plus he has opt-out by end of spring training to try to hook on with another team, like the Giants).  Obtaining either would have meant that one of the bench spots would be taken and that the rest of the MI contenders would be fighting over the one open MI bench spot.  And today, Ryan Raburn was mentioned as well as a possibility.

Most discussions I have seen just assume that Tomlinson has the position for sure and that Adrianza is the one on the hot seat and on the way out.  I disagree.

For one thing, one of the things that recent articles have made clear is that the Giants are still not sure that Tomlinson can handle SS defensively at the major league level.  That is not something that they have to worry about with Adrianza.  Had Uribe or Rollins been signed, then having a capable SS on the bench would not have been as much of a worry, and Tomlinson's lack of proof of his SS defensive abilities would not be as much of a deal.

Another thing is that people look at Tomlinson and think that he's a good hitter based on his .303/.358/.404/.762.  What they don't realize is that is boosted by his very high BABIP of .382 last season.  The top hitters in the majors average in the .350-.360 BABIP range, so that would drop his OPS to the low .700 OPS range if he happens to be that good.  If he's a pretty good hitter, .330's is not out of the question, but then that drops his OPS into the mid-to-high 600 OPS range, which is OK but not that good either.  If he's only about average .300 BABIP, then we're talking under .600 and not all that good.  I like Tomlinson, but we don't know yet how good he really is as a hitter.

And that's roughly where most of the projection systems have him.  ZiPS has him at .601 OPS.  Steamer .619.  Baseball Forecaster .643 (I like their system more because they use MLEs from players AA and AAA performances as well).  Bill James .721 (his system is always way above every one else's; I treat his projections as best case scenarios, generally).  Davenport has .612.

Not that Adrianza is all that much better:  low of .605 and high of .644.  Per projections, they are about equal offensively, but Adrianza is much better defensively plus he has no options left and the only MLB defensive level at SS among the prospects.

Plus, the Giants would not be pursuing so many established hitters for the bench if they believed in Tomlinson as much as, say, they did Duffy last off-season.

So the way I view the competition, Tomlinson is competing with Adrianza for one spot on the bench, with Green and Pena in the mix as well.  The Giants are clearly not satisfied with the middle infield bench situation, else they would not have been so seriously negotiating with Uribe and Rollins, and kicked the tires with Raburn as well.   I expect them to get that resolved in some way by mid-season.  And if Rollins do not win an MLB starting role with the ChiSox, he might still end up on the Giants bench by the end of spring training.


  1. I admire the logic of the analysis; an alternative would be that the Giants want to keep Tomlinson up, for his speed, athleticism, rapid learning curve defensively (evident at 2B last season), likelihood of an offensive breakthrough (high BABIPs at AA, AAA, and MLB, all three, in 2015), and recognition of how much they owe him for the way he filled in for Panik. But their pursuit of Rollins/Uribe indicates that they want both insurance if Tomlinson stumbles and a versatile vet to mentor him, roles that those aging players can fill on short-term contracts. In support of this alternative is that they made the novice Tomlinson a post-Panik regular in 2015, leaving the seasoned Adrianza as a wandering fill-in. But of course in ST Tomlinson may look like a BABIP illusion at bat and a journeyman at SS and 3B, while the newly bulked-up Adrianza overtakes him on the depth chart.

    Raburn, I think, isn't directly relevant except as a PH. As a fifth OF he's inept defensively and ludicrously uneven offensively, not to be counted on in either half-inning, and being considered because the competition is on the one hand Blanks or Parker, with their horrendous K-rates, and on the other hand Mac Williamson, whom injuries have kept from sufficient pro playing time. A lot is riding on a strong final year from Pagan, or conversely, such a weak, injury-riddled season for Pagan that the Giants have to address LF more decisively.

    1. I agree that they see something in Tomlinson that they want to develop, and hopefully is real, like Duffy last season. And for all the reasons you listed.

      But a .382 BABIP is not sustainable by anyone, even HOF players (Ted Williams in his .407 season only had a .353 BABIP, career .328 BABIP; Tony Gwynn .341 career BABIP, peaks of .380's in career; Ichiro .340 career BABIP, peaks of .380's). Early career was higher, but not that far off from overall career BABIP. Matt Duffy had .336 BABIP last season. Breakouts for the three are in the .330-.360 range. That's the odds facing Tomlinson.

      But Adrianza is just as much on the hotseat, as much as I like him. He hasn't gotten much of a chance to start like Panik, Duffy, or Tomlinson, and when he did, he started showing better consistency as a hitter. But the Giants need someone who can deliver off the bench as much as he could if he were starting, and Ehire has not given them that.

      And the way I see it, the Giants don't believe in either of them enough that they can fill that role, hence their pursuit of the vets. I think both need to play as if they are competing with a vet for a spot, because I think that the winner between the two will win a spot on opening day, while the Giants will acquire some vet at the end of spring training.

      I figured Raburn was more offensive than defensive. They have gone for conundrums like that before (Jeff Keppinger) and they clearly want some sort of offense on the bench, and getting him probably takes Tomlinson's place, since then Adrianza would be paired with him, though to your point, Raburn could be the 5th OF, with Blanco as the defensive OF. That's a good point.

      Blanks has actually been a good hitter so far in short play, I think he's got the spot with a good spring barring Parker continuing to hit like he did in September (much like Tomlinson, not a normally sustainable stretch of hitting). Mac will also have to hit like Parker to get a spot, mostly because they should want him to play everyday and not sit on the bench.

  2. I don't think Tomlinson is a sure thing because it MIGHT be better for long-term club health to have him playing full-time across multiple positions (but primarily 2B) in AAA this year to increase his utility-player value to the club and, of course, to himself.

    While I also don't' think his BABIP is sustainable at .382, I think he's probably more of a .330-.340 BABIP kind of guy.

    Not much power, but he doesn't have a weak-stick like Adrianza. He's also got a very good hit-mix in that he hits a lot of grounders and line-drives which are more favorable to sustaining a high BABIP than fly balls which just kill it.

    I don't think the 'tire kicking' is as significant to Tomlinson's potential roster place. I think the Giants kicked the tires because they need 3B help, too. Matt Duffy who didn't get a day off once McGehee was out of the picture just wore out and faded fairly hard late September. After 4 straight months of hitting over .300, hit .269 from September till the end of the season including a paltry 2/16 (SSS) in October.

  3. No, .382 BABIP isn't sustainable, but at .344--the level to which the Fans on Fangraphs regressed him in projecting 2016 performance, a level that as MosesZD says isn't a giddy pipe dream, he still is hitting .290 with a 110 wRC+. I doubt that he will hit anywhere near that well if the Giants treat him as a traditional bench player, however. If instead of shunting him to AAA to move around the field, the team were willing to have him sub one or two games a week at second, short, and first, so as to give Panik, Crawford, and Duffy regular, scheduled rest, they might get the full measure of whatever Tomlinson can offer and the full measure, too, of what their now wearying infielders can offer.

    Blanks strikes out 30% of the time. I don't think that is or should be the kind of player that the Giants depend upon, regardless of how decently he can hit when he does make contact. But he may be the best that they now can conveniently have on the roster.

    1. What is the accuracy of Fans on Fangraphs with their projections? Particularly with Giants players? The stats you listed would imply that he greatly improves his K% (the numbers I provided above are based on him basically doing what he did last season), as per his 2015 numbers, should be in the 260's BA range.

      I agree if they would play Tomlinson more often they will get the full measure of what he can do. That holds true with Adrianza too. Only Adrianza has no options left but Tomlinson does. And we do know that Adrianza plays good defense at SS, and I don't know why people don't mention Adrianza for 3B defense either, most good defensive SS can shift to 3B and be fine defensively.

      If the Giants want power off the bench, Blanks is probably the guy. They put up with Maxwell's 30% strikeout rate too.

      Sure, if you gave them the choice of who to use, they want low strikeout rate, but given the limited choices they have, I think Blanks will get a lot of consideration because he's been not only adequate offensively in the majors when he has played (much like Blanco was) but he's been OK defensively too, I think about average or slightly above.

      The thing about strikeouts is that while they are not productive at all, if the hitter hits enough long balls, he can still be very productive for the team. History is filled with homerun hitters who strikeout a lot while providing a lot of power (and sometimes a lot of walks, which Blanks does not appear to do, from what I recall).

      If strikeouts scared the Giants off from players, Parker would have been gone long ago and we would never have had last September from him.

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  4. Tomlinson had a 27.5% ld%, huge numbers of grounders and great speed so lots of infield hits, and very few infield flies, so he's showing signs of being someone who could have a very high babip, not 382 but very high. The place he can improve is strikeouts, he had a lot last year and that could well go down witj more experience.

    1. The problem with LD% is that you need at least three full seasons worth to start to get a good idea of what the hitter's LD% rate is, and even then, there is often a lot of noise in that stat. Tomlinson did his in just a very small portion of a full MLB season, meaning his LD% is filled with noise.

      Oddly, the NL average LD% was 27% in 2015, but it was only 19% not that long ago in 2012, then 2013-14, it was 24-25%, then 27% in 2015.

      Looks like something weird is happening in baseball again, even during the "steroids" era (more like juiced ball era), the LD% was not that high.

      So I guess we'll see what happens, if the LD % stays high for the NL again, yeah, maybe Tomlinson will benefit from that and keep up his high BABIP and high batting line.

      Thanks for pointing it out, oddities like this is interesting and worth watching to see what happens.

      Guys with huge speed like Tomlinson can sustain high BABIPs. But I've shown the history of what the top HOFs have done (I would note that Sandoval was able to sustain a .340-.350 BABIP early in his career) and that's what Tomlinson would have to do to keep up his performance in 2015. Not a bet I would be willing to take, but I would not bet against either, to be clear. Just don't know, but the odds appear to be against it.

      Or not regarding strikeout rates, each player is different, we have no idea what type of hitter he'll be, other than based on what he has done before.

    2. Alex Pavlovich today says that the Giants' staff hopes that Tomlinson will be the main backup at SS, and I assume at 2B this year; they seem not to be concerned about his defense. As to his K-rate, it was about average, just under 21%, as a rookie who was learning a relatively new position for a contending team in MLB, and facing top-notch pitching for the first time. I would have thought that such a K-rate under such circumstances was extremely promising, and in keeping with Bochy's principle of keeping the line moving.

      One other matter: our discussion here has to be limited to trying to divine likelihoods from stats. Especially for a young player where the stats aren't very full and can't adequately represent the often uneven course of player development, by far the best predictors are the members of the Giants' expert staff, who know the man, see the player in practice as well as in games, and can gauge a trajectory for him. They seem to me here to be hugely preferable to the formulae of Steamer, ZIPS, BP, and the rest.

    3. They also hoped that Schierholtz would be their starting RF and Frandsen their starting 3B.

      Yes, that is a decent K-rate, but if his BABIP falls (and at .382, that's pretty likely to happen), his batting average will be way down. Even if he had a very good .332 BABIP last seaon, he would have had a .253 BA and a .308 OBP, which I think you would agree is not all that good. That does not move the line along.

      I agree that the Giants staff knows more than any of us. Even they are not infallible (just look at all the position prospects who they tried out before Posey was made starter.

      And let me be clear: I like Tomlinson and expect him to make the opening day roster. But the Giants were very eager to find an established MI veteran for the bench by talking and negotiating with Uribe and Rollins And most discussions only talked about how Adrianza was in danger, and that didn't jibe with what I knew about Tomlinson's BABIP, so I looked deeper into the repercussions if his BABIP went down. Hence my post above.

      Maybe Tomlinson improves his K-rate, which would allow him to have a much higher batting line even with a much lower BABIP. What I showed above shows the mountain he must climb in order to hit in the majors, it's not that I'm down on him, these are just the numbers, it's nothing personal.

      And some people seem to be acting like I'm picking Adrianza over Tomlinson. I'm saying that both are not high in the Giants graces right now because of this vet pursuit. But Adrianza does have the edge in that he has no options and Tomlinson does.

      And people seem to not really understand the usages of projections. Projections are based on past performances. And the more performances there are, the better the projections are, but all they really are are attempts to find the average, based on prior skill levels.

      Just because there is a projection does not mean that the player can't still improve and make a mockery of his projections. But what they are is a representation of a weighted view of his past performances. That is still out there, his poor performances and his good, and that is the mountain he must climb over to get onto a MLB roster if he didn't do all that well before. It is a view into the skill set he has shown before. And there is value in that information.

      But if it were the be-all and end-all, I would just post that and be done with it. Instead, I wrote this whole column capturing a lot of different pieces of the puzzle as I see it and given you my interpretation of the tea leaves.

      And clearly the Giants expert staff has determined that they don't really expect one of the two players to pick it up offensively, else they would not have kicked Uribe's and Rollin's tires.

    4. Yes, the Giants' staff is fallible, and yes, we don't know how a guy who has played a half year is going to hit or how far his BABIP is going to regress. But (1) it doesn't follow that neither Tomlinson nor Adrianza is "high in the Giants graces" because of their tire- kicking on Rollins and Uribe. It follows that they think they can do better by replacing one of those two. The general assumption has been that Adrianza is that one, and I suggested in a post above that a way in which the team could do better by getting a vet instead of Adrianza is that the vet could mentor Tomlinson as well as improving the pinch-hitter situation. (2) If the Giants hope Tomlinson will be the backup SS, your initial caveat that they're unsure his defense is up to par carries less weight. They're going to find out, yes, but they're sure sounding as if the backup MI job is his to lose. That tallies with the way they used him and Adrianza in 2015. (3) I think that anyone whose opinion I am likely to pay attention to, knows the use of projections. What they often ignore--and here I am not referring to you, ogc-- is the limits of metrics. The LD rate is our proxy for hundreds of experiences of Bochy and co. as to how hard and how solidly a given player hits the ball, and on what pitches, and with what swing trajectory, in games (which stats can take into account) and in practice (which they can't). Our discussions draw on way less information than theirs; and not to realize this turns one into the kind of cocksure dummy who populates MCC, determined that the public data to which they have access (ipso facto?) is all that one needs. Again I am not accusing you of this folly nor could anyone accuse you of over-simplification--that is one of the great values of this blog, not to oversimplify--but it is to say why I find the projections at best partial and for young, developing players or for those returning from injury/illness such as Cain, close to useless and, in their absolutism, misleading.

  5. Howdy - we are putting together a Giants Prospect Chat over at, we would love to include your opinions and thoughts on the Giants prospects. Shoot me an email at and I will send you all the info. Looking forward to hearing from you! -Jeremy

    1. I tried e-mailing you yesterday, but it got bounced back, I just realized, so I just sent another one.

  6. It isn't just tomlinson's ld%, he also hits very few infield flies, just 2 last year, mainly because he has few fly balls of any kind. Obviously it's really early, but so far he has all four of the criteria for high babip, very high ld%, high gb%, great speed, and a small number of infield flies.



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