Sunday, December 10, 2017

Your 2018 Giants: Post-Setback Post

With the embers of being rejected by both Ohtani and Stanton wafting down around us like the major fires that has been damaging California homes over the past month (hope you and your's are safe), the Giants head into the Winter Meetings bent but unbroken, with the goals of the off-season still to be addressed, basically in this order:
  1. Improve CF defense
  2. Find a 3B starter
  3. Improve the bullpen
Some have worried that these two setbacks had affected their efforts to address the three objectives, but as the Giants are wont to do, they like to multi-task, as nothing is ever guaranteed until someone signs the dotted line.  So while they were meeting and greeting Stanton and then Ohtani, they were also burning the phone lines talking with clubs and agents about their defensive CF, 3B, or bullpen upgrade.  If Stanton and Ohtani were Plans A and B, they were also working on Plan L, M, N, O, P, as well.

As one person noted on the Internet, the Giants signed Samardzija within 24 hours of losing out onPit Greinke, and from what I remember, Cueto was not that far behind, maybe a week after.  Let's see how they do this time.  (unfortunately, it was the Marlins who started first, having the Yankees jump in and work out a deal in a matter of days, a deal structured much like the rumored Panik for Stanton deal, which as been reported by Hank Schulman as nothing but rumors; he's digging around to see who was in the deal, but most of the well-known names appears to not have been part of the deal)

I had thought I'll be writing something new, but it turns out I'll be referencing my post on 2017's Post-Mortem.  And my business plan as well, though that's a given with most things I post.

ogc thoughts

Pitching wins.   I've been trying to show this with my business plan, I've been trying to show this with my studies of PQS, and especially with my studies of PQS in the playoffs.

The formula and explanation is pretty simple:  good pitching controls games, but there is not enough good pitching around the league, so everyone view is obscured by the BABIP randomness that the vast majority of pitchers are unable to command and control.  Having good pitching don't mean you win every game, just means you have a much greater chance than an average pitcher.  It's a formula that worked for the Giants from 2009-2012, until both Lincecum and Cain hit their declines.  But as the Phillies learned in 2011, when they built their own good rotation, it is no guarantee.

But there is no guarantees in sports, just improved probabilities.  Having the best player in baseball, football, basketball don't mean that you win the championship.  That's why they are team sports.   But you still want the Babe Ruth's, the Jerry Rice's and Ronnie Lott's, the Wilt the Stilt and be like Mike or Shaq.

Also, sports seems to invert importance.  Offense is valued a lot more than defense, but it is defense that wins championships, the way I see it.  In basketball, as much as you wanted to be like Mike the scorer, it was his tenacious defense that helped him win championships, unlike the run and gun offenses the Warriors had for so many years that could never defend.  Or in football, Air Coryell never came close to sniffing championships, scoring a bunch of points, but his disciple used his concepts along with stifling defense to win championships for the 49ers, led by Dwight Hicks and his Hot Licks.  That was when I knew the Niners were special again.

And that seems especially so in baseball.  People like to point out the hitters, but those are generally hot streaks that don't repeat, you can't rely on any particular hitter to lead the way, even the best hitters can be kept quiet in the playoffs.   The only thing I've seen that can reliably happen is pitcher's dominance.

Clutch

But even there, humans fail.  Peavy has been a very dominating pitcher all through his career, during the regular season.  However, in the playoffs, he's been ordinary.  Same thing, but to a lesser degree, Hudson.  This is not to fault them or to denigrate them, but to point out that sometimes the best can't deliver when the pressure is really on.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this in an article on the Art of Failure, where he wrote about how athletes "choke".  It's a mental mindset, where the brain is in "learning" mode vs. "muscle memory" mode, and in times of stress, the athlete's mind switches from "muscle memory" to "learning" mode.  In baseball, we often call it a "case of the yips" when the catcher can't throw the ball back to the pitcher, or the secondbaseman throws the ball way over the firstbaseman's out-reached glove.

The Giants won because their group of pitchers were mostly good and mostly able to deliver when the pressure was on, or even over-deliver.  We remember that Cody Ross delivered home runs and Renteria hit that homer, but forget that it was our gloriously good pitchers who kept the other team from scoring that much, so that our offense could eventually deliver the goods, whoever happened to be going good at that moment, or the defensive error that scored us a run. 

For example, we remember Dusty Baker taking the ball out of Ortiz's hand when he was pitching really well in game 6, with the lead, but don't remember that had Baker took the ball out of Ortiz's hands sooner in Game 2, say after the first inning (or even after 3 runs), the Giants would have won the World Series 4-1, because we lost Game 2 by the score of 11-10.   Game 6 would have never happened.

High DOM Pitchers Advantage

So, given all this, teams should focus more of their resources towards finding and developing good starting pitchers who can deliver over 50% of their starts as DOM starts.  Drafting more of them, using most of your best (early round) bullets on them, even signing them as free agents.   And then take your chances in the playoffs.

The Giants have mostly kept to this script.  Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Hudson, Peavy, Cueto, Samardzija, and Moore looks like he is one as well.  Even Zito delivered over 40% in some seasons, which is still good.  And that is what we have in our rotation for 2018:  Bumgarner, Cueto, Moore, Samardzija, and either Stratton or Blach, with the other probably the long reliever since Albert Suarez was DFAed recently.

As I tried to show to my other post, if these pitchers pitch to their norms, we should have a pretty good RA/ERA, top 3-5 range, and that was what won for us back in 2009-2012. 

Big Six Giants Good 2018 Projection Assumptions

Thinking about that projection that I think the Giants can be playoff competitive with the personnel we have now, assuming reversion to career means, made me realize that I have some major assumptions that has to come true if the Giants are to be competitive in 2018, as I see that they should.  So I thought I would list them, Big Six style.

1.  Cueto:  Return of the Shimmy Good Times

First  and most of all, Cueto has to return to prior goodness.  That is a big assumption, but don't seem that risky to me as an assumption.  He said he lost some pinpoint control of his pitches that resulted in more walks, bigger hits.  His BABIP was sky-high as well, another piece of evidence that he lost some control.  In addition, the number of homers were way up as well, as his HR/FB% went to 9.2% during 2017 vs. 5.7% in 2016 and 7.4% during his career.  His strikeout rate was basically career norms, but his walks and hits given up were way above career and recent norms as well.    Presumably whatever was happening with the blisters in 2017 is being taken care of for 2018, and he'll be back to normal, for the most part, as velocity is not his main advantage, keeping the hitter off balanced is.  That's part of the reason why I was happy about signing him to the big contract, that velocity is part of his gifts, not his entire differentiator.

2.  Samardzija:  Learning Time Over, Time to be The Shark

Second, assume that Samardzija can consolidate all his learning and deliver a season that is more his good side than his bad side. I'm assuming a 3.72 ERA for him in 2018, which is not far off from what he did in his last 28 starts of 2017:
  • 4 starts:  7.40 ERA with .371 BABIP
  • 28 starts:  4.03 ERA with .297 BABIP
He was on the wild side early on, then settled down for the rest of the season.  There also seems to be different segments with that 28, as he was amazingly dominant (one stretch of 48.1 IP had 59 K's and only 1 BB!), but I thought this was good enough.

My expectation when he signed was that he would be an innings eater who the Giants would be teaching how to be top of rotation good so that when Cueto opts out, the Shark will be ready to swim.  Cueto ended up staying, due to his poor season, but it would still be great if he has the repeat of his breakout season.  But I'm not relying on that for a good 2018 season for the Giants, we just need him to be close to what he produced for us in 2017.  Mainly, we need him to be consistently good throughout the season, instead of wide ups and downs, as he had in 2017 and 2018.  If he can be an ace, all the better.

3.  Moore:  Need 2017 Matty Mo' Back

Third, Moore needs to get back to 2016's level of performance, where he generated 2.1 bWAR with a 4.08 ERA.  He reportedly lost his mechanics by incorporating the cutter into his repertoire, so we are not certain for sure he is back.  That was reported around the ASB, so looking at his stats for the first half, that's a 6.04 ERA with .350 BABIP.  He then reportedly worked on his mechanics and had a 4.10 ERA and .278 BABIP over his next 13 appearances (12 starts) before getting blown up in AZ in his last start.   So, was he back and just had a really bad random start or was that part of the overall poorness of 2017 (4.86 ERA in the second half, including AZ)?   Luckily we don't need this that badly, just need him to be better than he was in 2017 if the above happens.

4.  Belt:  Be Healthy!  And Hitting

Fourth, Belt needs to be healthy most of the 2018 season, as he is probably the key hitter for the team now that Pence had his poor season and Posey another poor power season.  He has been injured and on the DL for significant segments of his career:  2011, 2014, 2017 (oh, every 3 years).  He's been one of our best hitters since 2013, best power hitter as well, which somehow a large segment of the Giants fans don't get.  Yeah, he's hot and cold, but when you sum up everything, he's one of our better hitters, and provides pretty good defense too.  But injuries, particularly concussions, have been a bane of his.  Nothing one can predict, though.

5.  Melancon and Smith:  Recover From Surgery Back to Normal

Fifth, Melancon and Smith returns from their surgeries back to usual.  Melancon had a 4.50 ERA and Smith was out all season (have to wonder if Brewers knew, but then again, have to think Giants knew about Bickford; which brings up the broader question:  how did our scouting miss that he was such a pot-head?).  Melancon had a sub-2 ERA as the Pirates closer (and Nats briefly).  Smith had a 3.24 ERA in full time usage, 2.95 ERA with Giants.  Getting 60-70 IP from each at those levels of performances would be a huge improvement over what we got in 2017 (Smith's innings were filled by Osich and Okert, neither very well).  Smith is most likely to return to normal, TJS has been pretty successful over the years, but not everyone returns back to normal (and some better).  Who knows about Melancon, but at least we have not heard about any setbacks in his recovery.  One step at a time.

6.  Acquire Defensive CF

Sixth, probably key to this off-season is the acquisition of a good to great fielding CF.  The Giants CF had -32 Rdrs, which at 10 runs per win, roughly cost the team 3 wins.   As badly as the complaints were about Pence, he was only -3 Rdrs which he did in 120 starts (1,047.1 Innings) in RF.  Gorkys alone had -3 Rdrs in CF, in only 39 starts (331.1 Innings), Span cost the team -27 Rdrs in CF, hence why the Giants are so focused on improving CF defense.

Probably to the extent of replacing Gorkys too, now that I saw his numbers.  Maybe via Rule 5?  Rangers had someone a Fangraph KATOH article noted was an excellent defensive CF, Jose Cardona, and Steamer forecasts .254/.300/.371/.672, great contact ability with some power and speed, and had high OBP in lower minors, just 24 YO in 2018.

Just getting an average CF would be a huge boon to the defense, and I've read that free agent Jarrod Dyson is good defensively in CF (UZR/150 is 17.9, or almost 2 wins above average; Rdrs basically as good), and he is a nice contact hitter as well, low K%, steals a bunch of bases, but his major problem is that he can't hit LHP worth a lick.  Perhaps he can platoon in CF with Slater, a right-handed hitter?  Dyson is relatively cheap, probably 2 years at $6M each, but even playing part-time platoon, produced 2-3 WAR for a number of seasons now.   Why the Giants haven't signed him yet, I'm not sure, unless they think they have a potential deal for a better CF via trade (say, Jackie Bradley of Boston, Kevin Kiermeier of Tampa Bay, Christiann Yelich of Marlins, plus there was the Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates rumors as well; some have noted that McCutchen is not that good defensively anymore, but compared to Span, almost any CF is better).

And it won't take much to improve on our production in CF, for in 2017, it only produced .718 OPS, a low bar, and we only got .666 from LF and .671 from RF, so I would think that Span/Slater in LF would be enough to reach .718, so the bar for CF could be as low as .666, which Dyson easily beat with .730 OPS vs. RHP, and thus a .600 OPS vs. LHP by another player would be enough to match the offensive production for LF and CF last season.  And any offensive improvement would, of course, be great, but the point here is that with great pitching, there is a low offensive bar, one met by the team last season, especially during the middle part when Panik was hitting and Belt was healthy and playing.

Also, it looks like Pence will be starting in RF (and I still have hope for him, his peripherals were career normal for the most part), and is below average defensively there, and so the Giants could be looking to platoon Parker with Pence in RF now that Stanton is in NY. 

Other Roster Issues Giants Working On

The Giants have also stated a desire to find a regular starting 3B and upgrading the bullpen.

Given that we currently have Melancon, Dyson, Smith, Strickland, Gearrin, and Crick as probable bullpen relievers, plus either Stratton or Blach as long relief, the only upgrade that looks probable would be a good loogy.  Jake McGee and Tony Watson are two of the top available LHP, would cost roughly $6M per season.  Unfortunately, that is about all they have to spend before entering the CBT Penalty region of payroll penalty, from my calculations of the CBT salary procedure.  It could be a matter of choosing between a CF upgrade vs. a bullpen loogy upgrade.

However, given that payroll situation, I can see the Giants looking to upgrade via picking up a cheap LHP veteran who has been good in the past but had a bad 2017, and sign him for league vet minimum or a minor league contract (even better) and have him compete with Crick for the last spot in the bullpen.  Almost anyone would be an upgrade over what Osich and Okert did last season, unfortunately (been rooting for both of them). 

Thus, I think 3B cannot be a real concern for the Giants.  They want to keep the payroll under, and I assume that they will do that if they cannot pick up someone big for the OF.  Stanton would have been worth going over.  McCutchen probably would be worth it.  Maybe some other big name vet that they can acquire.

But if they acquire a big name, there's still not much space before the next penalty level, and they hope to improve their bullpen as well.  And the thing is, while Pablo is not a good 3B anymore, he can beat the sub-.600 OPS that 3B produced last season with Arroyo and Ryder, plus play average defense there (in fact, was good defensively there, played at +4 Rdrs seasonal rate), especially if he gets into playing shape this off-season. 

However, being as the Giants try to cover all their bases, I assume that 3B is one area that they might pivot on in acquiring another power hitter, should they fail to obtain one for the OF.  I think the Giants will be mostly focused on improving the outfield first, CF defensively in particularly.   I see the mention of 3B as being driven by two factors, one in case OF fails, and two, to push Sandoval to work hard in off-season to win a spot. 

Other Considerations

The Giants need a backup catcher who can do what Hundley did for us last season.  I'm hoping the Giants told him they will sign him later, once they get the roster situation clear (or cleared, if trades happen), but if not, someone like him.  Also, Posey's framing was down in 2017, perhaps there is a good framer available via the Rule 5 draft?  He could be our backup catcher then. 

As noted above, Gorkys was not good defensively in CF, so it might be time to find his replacement.  Perhaps Rule 5 will bring us his replacement. 

Don't really have any other issues that I can think of, please mention if I missed anything.

5 comments:

  1. I agree, I do not think that third base is a real concern at this time. They have Pablo as a place holder, who if healthy is a lot better than the last two years while playing or not playing but being mostly injured. If Pablo does not work out, we have another cheap option who could be the next Duffy (Plus) higher prospect than Duffy, in ARROYO. We should probably re-sign Hundley as back up catcher, or even better. We need two good outfielders, one a center fielder who can field but still be a decent hitter, and a power hitting outfielder who can hit over 30 homers as a giant and hit over 300. If we can upgrade our pitching staff, that would be fine also.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment.

      Exactly, Pablo is a satisfactory place holder. We got .538 OPS out of 3B, and Pablo last season hit .638 OPS for us, plus provided almost half a win of defense at third (at seasonal rate of 4 Rdrs), with 1 Rdrs, whereas the rest of the players produced -3 Rdrs (and Hwang produced +3 Rdrs himself, so the rest of the players produced -6 Rdrs. All the negative guys are gone except for Calixte (Nunez, Gillaspie, Hill, all -2 Rdrs each). If he starts and plays most games, that's a 4 Rdrs production vs -2 Rdrs last season, or half a win improvement right there, and that 's assuming he does not improve himself physically enough to be better. Same for his hitting, while low 600 is nothing to be happy about, it will still be an improvement and hopefully him working out will result in better results as well.

      For as bad as hitting was at times last season, they were averaging 4.4 runs for a good portion of the year, from 5/22 to 8/4, when we lost Belt for the rest of the season. During that period, Nunez was hitting but his replacements weren't, and 3B generated a nice .753 OPS, but Crawford only hit .591. If they switch off, with Crawford hitting .753 and Sandoval hitting .591, that lineup still scores 4.4 (4.36 to be exact) RS during that stretch of games, 66 games.

      Pence did not hit well during that period, .674 OPS, and his replacements did worse, but that was when he was injured and coming back from the DL needing to get back into playing shape. Once he started hitting again, he was back to his usual standards, .275/.337/.421/.758, 10 HR in 335 AB, roughly 20 HR pace. So he should be back to normal in 2018, barring sudden decline, but, of course, that's the rub, injury seems to bring his numbers down, and he hasn't had a fully healthy year since 2014 season.

      But his numbers in 2017 suffer from two things, he was in a bad slump for 3 weeks before being DLed. Can't remember, was his injury lingering during that period? I think it was a hamstring, which lingers if I remember right. Oh yeah, his twisted his knee April 21st. He gutted it out, playing well for a few more games, then went into a 3 week decline.

      That has been a Giants problem in past, not putting down the player once he's semi-injured - see Durham - they need to just sit him, and with the 10 day DL, they should just use that with their older players, especially with Slater available, they will be more likely to do that.

      Slater hit .290/.343/.430/.773 during that stretch, and while that's SSS, it suggests that there will be minimal decline in production if they just shut Pence down immediately, and start Slater.

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  2. Shame on me for forgetting, but a Chronicle article reminded me that the Giants have been saying in the off-season that with Duggar's nice showing in the AFL, they are mainly looking for a short-term solution for CF, with the idea that Duggar is not that far away from taking over CF starting duties.

    For the 2017 season, ZIPS had Duggar projected at .229/.299/.331/.630 with +2 DEF. In 2017, he basically repeated that performance in Adv A ball, then went to AAA and hit .261/.370/.413/.783, albeit, all SSS since he missed almost the whole season with an injury. But then he went to AFL, basically between AA and AAA in terms of talent, and hit .263/.367/.421/.788, which is basically what he did in AAA.

    His contact rate has not been that good, nothing above 80%, which is where hitters are in a good range. The only silver lining there is that he's been younger than the league he has played in for the most part, and still has been able to hit well in spite of his low-ish contact rate. And his BABIP in AA, AAA, and AFL, has been above average, roughly .320 in AAA/AFL, so his poor contact rate is ameliorated by, I assume, his good speed allowing him to gain more hits. Plus, he gets a lot of walks, generally, which allows his OBP to be outstanding for the most part during his career, along with a good BA. So he may swing and miss a lot, when he makes contact, he's delivering.

    During the period where the Giants averaged 4.36 runs scored, basically LF (and utility OF) hit .717 OPS, Span hit .772 OPS, and Pence .674 (but Ruggiano and Williamson probably dropped that below .650 for RF).

    As regular readers might remember, I use pivots to show to see how a team might evolve season to season. In 2018, Pence should be able to take care of the .774 OPS. Span should be able to take care of the .714 in LF, and that would require the CF to take care of the .650 OPS. And per ZIPS, Duggar was capable of .630 OPS in 2017, and he did nothing in 2017 (besides injury) that suggests that has gone down any.

    So it looks like the Giants could, if nothing plays out during the off-season, just start Duggar in CF, with Span in LF and Pence in RF, to get that defensive boost, and the offense, assuming the rest of the lineup can align with similar production, be a good producing lineup for us. And Gorkys can be take ABs with tough LHP with Duggar, who is lefty hitter, or if Duggar struggles, Parker could take over starting in CF, his DRS and UZR are actually very good in his very limited (4 full games worth of innings) time there, and his hitting would definitely play there (obviously, he's probably not able to sustain great defensive play in CF for extended periods, he's probably a bit below average defensively in CF, but has speed that helps him there), which is probably untenable, hence why the Giants are looking for a place holder starter for CF. Dyson actually looks like a great addition, as long as he realizes that he's probably a utility OF for the Giants and placeholder starter in CF until Duggar is ready.

    My preference is for the Giants not to trade off any good prospects for a CF unless they feel that he is not a keeper (hence my curiosity about whom they were actually willing to trade for Stanton, clearly the names we have seen in the press were driven more by what the Marlins were asking for, and less about who the Giants were actually offering. Given that Cards with the #9 prospect offered was considered a better offer, I doubt Beede, Ramos, Arroyo, or Shaw were being offered, Garcia would be around the right level, Suarez and Gregorio too (but probably not Gregorio given his drug suspension). The other guys in that range (per MLB Pipeline) are too far away from the majors, they seem to be looking for guys who are 1-2 years away.

    I'm still wondering if they will draft a good fielding CF via the Rule 5 draft, to replace Gorkys and to give opportunity to him to win starting CF.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Plus, the Giants were also hedging early on, Bochy noted that Span's CF defense improved (but at -30 runs for a full season, that's not saying much; does anyone know of a good site with defensive data split by either time (months/halves) or games?) so they are using that as a fallback position should nothing develop via trades or free agency.

      Are there any Gregor Blanco type of free agents out there? Defensive CF type who just needs the opportunity?

      Delete
    2. Forgot to mention here my interest in Jose Cardona (bare mention above), CF for the Rangers in the minors.

      BA notes his "best attribute is his defense, which grades as above-average in CF...At the plate, Cardona is short to the ball and he makes frequent contact with a line-drive approach and the ability to use the whole field. He tracks pitches well, puts together quality at-bats and has power to hit 10-15 home runs, though he's more of a doubles threat..." (2017).

      KATHO rates him as 2.3 WAR potential, noting "Jose Cardona (previously know as Jose Gonzalez) slashed .277/.316/.385 at Double-A while playing excellent center-field defense. Cardona’s contact and defense alone should make him a useful big leaguer."

      And that's a Giants type of player, line-drive, use the whole field, contact hitter, plays great defense, also has a bit of speed as well.

      Did not hit for much .277/.316/.385/.701 in AA, at age 23, but good contact rate again (48 K in 429 AB, 22 BB too). Risky to bring up for full year in majors, but his batting line reminds me of Brandon Crawford's AA at 23 YO season, .241/.337/.375/.712, but BCraw had more contact issues, with 77 K in 291 AB, but 39 BB.

      Maybe they can develop him into a nice utility OF like they had with Blanco.

      Given that they have #2 pick in the Rule 5 Draft, it would be a shame to not use it on somebody (unless they are working out trade with another team for player, for which they get more, say, international FA money, or even supplemental draft picks from teams that get them and can trade them).

      Should try to get some value out of this pick, and I expect the Giants to try, they have picked up players before using the Rule 5 draft, and while I don't think any have ever panned out, they were worth a try to get a useful asset for nothing.

      Delete

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