Monday, December 18, 2017

Last Refuge for Naysayers: OF Development

The impetus for this post was the ravings of a relatively well-known (notoriously infamous to some) sports media "expert" that the Giants have not produced a starting OF in 30 years and therefore the front office is not doing its job.  Hank Schulman fought the good fight, bringing up basically what I'm writing below, but that's the beauty of having your own blog, I get to rage when I want to on a topic near and dear to me.

I say "expert" because he certainly presents himself that way.  Also, he is smart and seems to be nice, on-air, so I don't know how he can keep on spouting all these "facts" about the Giants and not have one co-worker push back on him, there must be other Giants fans there.  He apparently don't like people who don't agree with him publicly, as he blocked me on Twitter when I made a factual statement to one of his comments, he attacked me, then I calmly explained to him where he got my statement wrong and what exactly I was pointing out.  I was surprised to find out soon afterward that he blocked me, but that's OK, he spouts mis-information about the Giants so much that I can't bear to listen to him talk about the Giants. 

ogc thoughts

The evolution of the Sabean Naysayers over the years have been pretty clear, and I know because I was a Naysayer long ago, until I did my draft study and realized how difficult it is to find good players through the draft.

I have a link to it on the side, but basically, once you get past the first ten to twenty picks overall, it is a crapshoot, the odds were only 11% of finding a good player (and by that, not just finding someone who is good, but someone who produces long enough, so it is quality and quantity) for the last third of the first round of the draft, and it was just dropping exponentially the deeper you go into the draft, and I only looked at the first 100 picks, basically 3 rounds (less when there were a lot of awarded picks).

There were a number of stages for Naysayers over the years:
  • First, they just didn't think much of Sabean.  I was with them at this stage, long ago, when I did my draft study and realized that his lack of success with the farm system and draftees had a lot more to do with the Giants being successful and getting poor draft position.  I decided to trust what I was seeing with how his trades work out, he rarely gave up good players, but generally got more back than he traded away.  He has been very good with the evaluations of players he had first hand knowledge of their abilities.  His "Do Not Trade" list has been very successful.
  • Second, once he started having success with pitchers - Cain, Lowry, then Lincecum, Sanchez, and Bumgarner stopped all that talk - it morphed into, "oh, he can't draft position players."
  • Third, after Posey, it became that he couldn't draft infielders or outfielders.
  • Fourth, after Belt and Crawford (then Duffy), it became that he could not draft outfielders, the last refuge for Sabean Naysayers.
Walls May Come Crumbling Down

Now, even that might be starting to crumble.  Shaw, while mostly a 1B with the Giants so far, was an OF when drafted and is playing mostly LF now.  Slater had a very nice debut season with the Giants, unfortunately cut short by injury, but if he can keep up what he did in 2017, he will break that last barrier for Sabean.  Obviously, Ramos has been a great draft pick so far, but way too early to say for certain yet, other than every other team in the majors would probably love to have him now.  Reynolds had a nice first full season in the Giants farm system, not outstanding but nice.  And, of course, the guy the Giants have actually been extolling to the media this off-season, Steven Duggar, could be our starting CF by 2019, if not sooner, depending on who they end up playing out in CF.

Plus, Adam Duvall has actually been a pretty good LF for the Reds since we traded him.  And even an asset defensively, total of 1.0 dWAR per  He has already produced 5.2 bWAR so far, and is maybe 2 seasons away from 9.0 bWAR, which is useful to get out of a prospect.  But I'm assuming that the Naysayers are not counting him since he's not with the Giants anymore, and did all that away from the team. 

Why No OF? Four Drafted Out of 24 First Round Picks vs. 15 Pitchers

But it's pretty clear why the Giants have not had much success with drafting and developing outfielders:  they have not really emphasized them in their drafts.  In fact, their emphasis over much of Sabean's reign has been on pitching, pitching, and more pitching.

Out of all the proper first round picks (I don't count the Supplemental First Rounders because they are generally further back, to far back to compare the odds; for example, the odds of a 5th overall pick like Posey succeeding was around 45%, from my draft study, but Supplemental First Rounders odds were around 4-5%, really just getting lucky there; even in the first round, exponential differences - double the odds - as you move back in the draft:  1-5 around 45%, 6-20 around 20-22%, 21-30 around 11%), Sabean has selected a lot more pitchers with his 24 picks (italics has at least 4.5 bWAR, bolded has at least 9 bWAR, which is my threshold for useful players, orange bolded are at least 18 bWAR, which is my threshold for good players; I would estimate that 36 bWAR is the minimum threshold for very good, but generally need a lot more for HoF consideration, 54 bWAR, and even then even more to get in) :
  • Pitchers (15):
    • Jason Grilli
    • Nate Bump
    • Boof Bonser
    • Kurt Ainsworth
    • Brad Hennessey
    • Noah Lowry
    • Matt Cain
    • David Aardsma
    • Tim Lincecum
    • Madison Bumgarner
    • Tim Alderson
    • Zack Wheeler
    • Chris Stratton (on pace to pass 4 WAR if can continue close to 2017 performance)
    • Tyler Beede
    • Phil Bickford
  • Catcher (1):
    • Buster Posey
  • 1B (1):
    • Chris Shaw (though was and now is OF)
  • 3B (1):
    • Tony Torcato
  • SS (2):
    • Joe Panik (on pace to surpass 9 WAR easily)
    • Christian Arroyo
  • OF (2):
    • Arturo McDowell
    • Wendell Fairley
  • CF (2):
    • Gary Brown
    • Heliot Ramos  
That's 144.5 bWAR among those marked (the rest adds up to -0.1 bWAR).  Plus, Beede, Shaw, Arroyo, and Ramos look promising to contribute to the total.  Plus the continuing additions from Posey, Bumgarner, Panik.  Plus maybe Wheeler and Stratton.

However, Gary Brown looked very promising too before stumbling in the upper minors.  So we'll see.

Still, the Giants still have Posey, Bumgarner, Panik, plus Stratton adding something perhaps.  And developed four good players, with Panik perhaps there if he can continue to have a long enough career.

Other Comparable Teams Have Not Done As Well

Our main competitors, in the market, have not been as successful as the Giants in terms of production.  The Dodgers, our main competitor overall, had 108.9 bWAR since 1997 with only their first round pick.  Kershaw and Seager are the only ones left who contributed in 2017; they are also the only good players, Seager likely to reach in a year or two.  The A's, our local competitor, had 122.4 bWAR.  Russell and Gray looks like only ones still adding, and for other teams, oh, Chapman too;  good ones are Mulder, Zito, Swisher, and likely Gray and Russell, but they still have a ways to go to reach 18 bWAR.

Other large teams with a long history of success have not been as good either.  The Yankees only had 34.9 bWAR.  Although Judge looks to add a lot in his career, he really only has one year under his belt, he's likely the one and only good player, assuming he plays a few more seasons, as some sluggers fizzle out after a year.  There was no other good player since 1997 though.  And I didn't include Gerrit Cole, who they drafted but ended up not signing.

The Cards has 120.9 bWAR, and still has Weaver, Wacha, Wong, maybe Miller, contributing.  Only good ones are Kennedy, Drew, and Rasmus).  Cubs had 86.1 bWAR with Happ, Schwarber, Bryant the only good one still playing, Almora, Baez, Cashner.  And with Garland as the only other good player.  The Red Sox only had 57.5 bWAR themselves, at least beating their rival, the Yankees.  Ellsbury was the only good player over the years, though Benintendi looks well on his way to get there.

So the Giants did pretty well against the team that they get compared with a lot, local or big money, or just good.   The Giants developed a lot more WAR from their first round picks, and still looks to separate even more with Posey, Bumgarner, and Panik adding during theircoming peak and prime years.

They have four good players and all four were on pace for great levels of bWAR until injuries tripped up Lincecum and Cain.  Posey is there, Bumgarner soon there.  LA has Kershaw, who is likely HoF.  A's have no one, and in spite of their Moneyball reputation, hasn't developed great player (as noted, 36 bWAR seems to be the threshold) since McGwire, though Eric Chavez actually over 36 bWAR.  Yankees haven't had one since Jeter in 1992.  The Cards had their only one with Drew in 1998, and they really lucked out because he shunned the Phillies the year before, else he would not have been available.  Without him, instead of being one good player away from the Giants, they would be far behind.  The Cubs had not had a lot of success until they tanked (overall picks 6th, 2nd, 4th, 9th), no great player levels, but Bryant looks like he'll get there at some point with health.  Red Sox hasn't had a great player from the first round draft since Nomar in 1984.

Fun Fact:  Cheap Giants Owners Cost Us Greatly Early On

In addition, I've heard that the Giants only selected Torcato because the ownership was unwilling to meet the bonus demands of the player that Tidrow wanted, CC Sabathia, which would have added 60.7 bWAR.  Woulda, coulda, shoulda, I know.

I guess we got some of that back later:  reportedly Lincecum wanted a cool million when the Indians drafted him in 2005, but would onlygo up to $400K, which he refused, went back to school, and got $2.0M from the Giants, and that was about $200K over what the slot for that pick was at that time (back then, slot was suggested, not set in stone as the max).  Imagine if they had CC, Lincecum, and Cliff Lee on the same staff.  Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

In any case, it was pretty clear that the Giants under Magowan were cheap.  I would not necessarily lay this down on his feet.  He was the one who drove the team to sign Barry Bonds to that huge contract even though he technically did not own or control the Giants at that moment (Lurie had a conniption and was apoplectic!).  He was also the one who drove the team to sign Zito and most probably Rowand.  You win some, you lose some, but either way, he was not cheap in those regards.

Unfortunately, the Giants during much of his reign had a ton of minor investors and it appears that the vast majority of them did not understand that in baseball, you might need to inject some money into the team, to get the baseball asset that the team needs.  So he spent as much as he could, but then when they needed more, the minority investors would fight back against the spending.  That led to the disastrous (more PR than operational, because the odds of that draft pick becoming a good player was so slim, as I've shown umpteen times over the years;  just imagine if you didn't invest that $1 for a lottery ticket, and instead bought something else you need;  but the only problem for an MLB team is that the odds are not similarly bad, and such decisions will come to bite the organization in the rear at some point, the piper WILL be paid) decision to punt draft picks by signing Tucker and Durham before the deadline, so that they would give their draft pick to their original team.

Why fans thought Sabean was behind this is beyond me or any logic I could ever bring to bear on the subject.  Sabean started out as a scout, and moved up the ladder.  He bleeds scouting and loved observing, evaluating, and appreciating prospects.  Why would he decide to punt a draft pick?  That makes none-sense, as Krukow would say.

He was forced to by ownership, and thus he had to decide whether to field a team (unfortunately, Nen's career ending injury severely injured the Giants chances of winning during the three seasons after 2002, taking up a very significant part of the team's payroll, and so the Giants had to skimp to field a team, since the owners wouldn't contribute).  Thank goodness Magowan was removed (as I had advocated for years) and replaced by a new owner who had bought up a lot of those cheap minority owners (Bill Neukom came from early Microsoft money) and who now gave

Outfield Production is Strawman by Naysayers, Ignores Greatness In Other Areas

Overall, OF production via the draft has been hampered greatly by the Giants strategy of focusing on pitching with their first round picks.  Even with the greater emphasis on position players since Barr joined the Giants, starting with the first player drafted after he was hired, Posey, the Giants predilection to draft pitchers, pitchers, and more pitchers before him has resulted in 15 pitchers drafted out of 24 first round picks.  And 6 of those 9 non-pitchers drafted has happened in the last 10 first round draft picks.

And the OF got the dregs of the picks for the most part:  19th (Heliot), 24th (Brown), 29th (Fairley), 29th (McDowell).  Adding up the odds, that is roughly 55% odds of finding an OF.   Plus, ultimately, whatever odds for the much lower picks they had used to draft outfielders before, including Linden, Reynolds, Slater, Parker, Williamson, Lewis, Schierholtz.   Though if you add in Shaw, that would boost it up another 5% probably.

The draft odds were greatly against the Giants drafting and developing a good OF, similarly for the other infield positions, where the Giants drafted 4 (3 if you count Shaw as OF) prospects.  And really against C, 45% odds, but they hit on Posey.  And then they hit on Belt and Crawford later in the draft, plus Sandoval through the international market.

So it is easy for the Sabean Naysayers to point at OF production and be outraged, outraged I say, since the Giants under Sabean hasn't produced one.  They complain about the long proud history of outfield production with the Giants, Mays, Cepeda, Bobby Bonds, George Foster, Jack Clark, Chili Davis, and how it is a shame that Sabean hasn't produced one.

But such complaints ignores the triumvirate of Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner that was the heart of our 3 in 5 championships, Posey who was the soul of those teams, the development of Belt, our best hitter not named Buster, Crawford "the Professor", Panik, Sandoval, plus other guys like Lowry, Sanchez, Wilson, Romo, Duffy, who have contributed something over the years, pre, during, and post.

The point is not to produce outfielders nor is it the point to produce a player for every position on the field.  These Naysayers have no idea how hard it actually is to find and develop a player, let alone one for a specific position.   When I see this, I challenge them to find a team that has filled out a team with players across the spectrum of a team.  I know from looking at the drafting of other teams that they will be fruitless in their search (if they even have the intellectual honesty to investigate, they tend to be proud of what "they know" without the need to back it up with facts).   Plus, ultimately, the point is to win championships and this management team has done that in spades, to the point of being the only team in NL history to win 3 in 5 years without the help of WW II decimating teams.

Illustration of Why Pitching:  Roster Flexibility

An illustration of the efficacy of the Giants drafting strategy would be to look at something I've mentioned before regarding the flexibility of pitching talent.  It is not acknowledged how interchangeable pitching is in the MLB roster.  There is luck involved with development, but there is a way to manage your strategy so that the randomness in development, which is mostly a numbers game, does not get in the way of developing a winning team.

First, the counter example is the Texas Rangers.  They drafted Mark Teixiera with their first round pick in 2001, and he was a great player, generating 51.8 bWAR.  Then via trade, they ended up with Adrian Gonzalez, another 1B, in 2003, who is still playing and has generated 42.7 bWAR.  Meanwhile, they drafted Travis Hafner, another 1B/DH type previously in 1996, and he wasdevloping well, and got traded away in 2003, since they got Teixiera, to the Indians, netting them two players worth 7.0 bWAR in total career production, which Hafner readily beat with 24.8 bWAR.  Then A-Gon was traded in 2006 to San Diego (also threw in Chris Young a 16.9 bWAR player himself), netting them three players (that produced 3.7 bWAR for the Rangers).

With the focus on pitching, the Giants cup runneth over.  First Cain, then Lowry, then unfortunately injury to Lowry, but then, in succession, Lincecum, Sanchez, Bumgarner.  Cain would have been an ace on many other teams but took second seat behind Lincecum.  But there was no need to trade Cain, it just made the rotation stronger.  Sanchez developed, and could have been kept in the bullpen as a great reliever, but the Giants saw his potential as a starting pitching, and since there was plenty of space in the rotation, moved him in, no need to trade him or to use him in a lesser capacity as a reliever.  Then Bumgarner came along, and he probably would have been an ace for most other teams, even in his first season, but he took the last spot in the rotation when he came up in 2010 (Zito and his contract was still there).

Of course, one could blame the Rangers for not making better trades.  That's a valid criticism.  But the point here is more that trades introduce an element of risk and randomness.  And as the randomness enabled the Rangers to end up with three good to great firstbasemen at roughly the same time (I don't think A-Gon and Hafner ever overlapped, but they were both part of the Rangers organization in 2003), that randomness took it away with the players that they got back.

With the Giants over emphasis on pitching in their drafting (the overall draft, as well as the first round, are tilted towards drafting pitching), they have been able to absorb the great first round picks, as well as the random happy surprises that happen further back in the draft, without skipping a beat, incorporating them into the MLB team, and building strength in the starting rotation.

Some of the development was just great scouting by the Giants (both Lincecum and Bumgarner were shadowed by Tidrow, never wanting to tip their hand by having Sabean show up;  Tidrow and Sabean were interviewed right after Bumgarner was drafted and stated that they expect him to rise to the majors in two seasons, a tall order for any high school player, but Bumgarner did it, and was in the majors for good in three).

But for anyone drafted in the later rounds, there is a huge amount of luck involved, though one can also say the rule of large numbers took over and eventually you will find someone.   You don't want to introduce any element of risk to your building of a championship team by looking your gift horse in the mouth and having to trade him because you were lucky enough to have developed one of that position already.  You want to be able to slide him into the MLB roster with no problem.

That is also why the Giants have drafted so many shortstops with their picks.  If you find a shortstop, great, but if you find another one, then the lesser one gets moved to secondbase, or perhaps thirdbase if he can handle the long throws.  And if you get a third, you have three positions filled, and potentially CF if you happen to find a fourth.  Guys like Crawford, Panik, Arroyo, Ryder, Tomlinson, Hinojosa, Howard, among others.

That is also why the Giants like to draft athletic players.  A great example, though he wasn't drafted, was Pablo Sandoval.  As fat as he was, he was very athletic, else how did he lead the league in defense at 3B one season, adding nearly 3 wins to the team.  And for a while he played C, as well as 3B and 1B.  If you read over the prospect descriptions for the Giants in Baseball America's Annual, you will often see that word used, "athletic" or "5-tool", as well as others like "mature", "confident", "aggressive", "intelligent", "feel for the game", "toolsy", etc.  Athletic players are also position flexible, as well as roster flexible.

But pitching provides the most roster flexibility.  A SS technically probably could play every position on the field (something former SS Buster Posey did in college), but their bat generally limits them to up the middle positions:  SS, 2B, CF.  Though with some bat, a bench position is possible (and generally there is two), so that's five out of 25 roster positions any position prospect could ultimately address for a team, as starter or bench player. 

If you have a good pitcher, he could be your ace, but if you develop a lot, he could end up a back of rotation guy, as Sanchez did and Bumgarner was initially.  If you have five good starters already, you could just use him in the bullpen, and there are up to seven bullpen spots available, for a total of 12 spots that your good pitching prospect could fill on your team, should you be that good at pitcher development. 

Then you can fill in the bulllpen with guys who were already relievers or pitchers who flamed out as starters but have enough skills to fill a bullpen spot.  For example, the A's and Met's 3-Aces rotations of the early 1990's totally flamed out, with none ever developing into a good starter, but Isringhausen did develop into a top notch closer, ironically for the A's former manager who had moved on to St. Louis.   But even if they can't be a good set-up pitcher, there are always middle relief positions that he could fulfill, or even long relief if he's good enough. 

Thus, with pitching, you have a lot of different ways you can go with your starting pitching and relievers options.  There are the seven relief positions in the bullpen.  Starting pitchers can fulfill some of the rotation, as well as take relief positions.  The cream will rise to the top, and should you get enough assets, then you can trade them off, as the Giants did with Sanchez.  As that showed, it was a success, as Melky was good, but a failure because he used PEDS and the Giants had to let him go.

Trading involves risks that you are not aware of because the other team will not tell you about issues that could affect that player's performance for you.  Gaylord Perry for Sudden Sam McDowell looked OK at the surface, but it turned out that Sam was a raging alchoholic, and had a shortened career, and Perry went on to complete a Hall of Fame career.   But sometimes, actually almost all of the time, you need to trade, there is almost no way you can produce exactly the players you need, so you need to trade.

But if you can minimize the need to trade, that reduces the risks to your operation's success.  And a focus on pitching provides that ability to minimize the need the trade.


  1. I don't really get into discussing sports online but just want to tell you that your blogs are about the best things I ever see anywhere about Giants baseball. I remember your article from (I think) last year when you broke a lot of this draft stuff down - very solid work and I just want you to know it IS appreciated by other hardcore fans, even if we don't come on board and tell you so.

    The only other writer I have ever sent this sort of thank-you note to, BTW, is Schulman.

    Thanks again, and just keep up with the great work, please!

  2. Thanks everyone! I try my best!

    Glad you didn't mind my rant, though, as usual, I kind of went off on a tangent (a good one, it seems, and related, but still a tangent).

    Yeah, these "experts" upset me, as I worry that 1) they influence fans to think their way, then 2) Giants management might listen to them. Another expert just chastised the Giants, reminding them about how bad the team was last season. These are the type of knee-jerk headline writers I've railed against for all these years, and why I feel compelled to write.

    For example, I see the Moore trade, right now, as appeasement to those thinking that the Giants area woeful team. They are woeful in health, but if everyone is healthy, we actually have a pretty good team. We could have been great if Moore just pitched like he has the past couple of seasons, but if he can put it all together, then we could have another ace-level starter. I don't see the Giants lucking out in that way with any of the free agents, in terms of upside.

    If they get Dyson signed soon, then I'll feel better about the move, because getting him would be adding 3-4 wins to the team from improved offense and defense, if he just does what he's done the past 5-6 seasons. But I think they could have signed him even before trading Moore. So I will need to see the Giants do something with this extra space for me to feel good about the trade, right now it smells to me, but a good signing or trade could turn my feelings around.



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