Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Hey Zaidi! My Giants Business Plan

This provides easy access to my Giants business plan and captures what I've been discovering and saying are the best ways to run a baseball team for competitive advantage and, in particular, to be more successful in the playoffs, and particularly, ways that has made winning the World Series more likely.  The Giants have followed a good portion of this plan, though not all.  I'm hopeful that Zaidi will not only stay the course, but also will do more to enhance the team's opportunities, just like how the addition of John Barr improved the Giants.

As Zaidi has said in interviews, one needs to be aware of 51%/49% decisions and to understand that just because the results don't go your way, you want to stay the course of what your evidence and findings lead you, which is much like I've been trying to emphasize in my blog over the years, taking the big picture view (or as some like to call it, "trusting the process") and with this business plan. 

As much as the Giants have been losing in the past few years (yes, two and a HALF years), they have mostly stayed the course with their process of building up pitching and defense (not as much on the latter, to be frank, though, else they would have brought up Duggar sooner).  And Zaidi, with his comment about that quality elite defense is the key to low-scoring games (which implies having a great rotation and bullpen combination on the Giants going forward), appears to be on board with this process, only with his new twists that he will bring to the team.

[Note:  I've re-written the original starting post to be addressed to Farhan Zaidi, new President of Baseball Operations of the San Francisco Giants, but the original series of links were to Bill Neukom, soon after he was hired. I think that's my main thing I'll be working on during my break, is to re-examine all my prior posts, start with them as a base, re-write them giving my admittedly cursory knowledge of what Zaidi has said in his Giants interviews so far.  Like Maria Kondo advocates, it "sparks joy" for me to think about doing this.  I might do a few draft articles as well.  

I'm getting this out now, since I had started it before my decision to take a break, but probably won't start updating the rest until next year, as I research what else I can update for each chapter of my business plan.  I backdated it to the day of his press conference, hence it's calendar placement, but the rest will be published in real time.  I'll update the links below to the new chapters, as each gets published, so this post will change links over time, and perhaps other content, as noted below.]


Farhan, welcome to the Giants!   I'm sure every Giants fan is excited to see what you will do with the Giants in the next five years and hopefully beyond.   I thought you would be interested in my Giants business plan, to have an idea of what one fan (since 1971) has seen and analyzed over the past 15 years or so.

Mission Statement

Lead the San Francisco Giants to become the Team of the 2020's decade, much like the Giants became the Team of the 2010's, winning 3 championships in the decade, which no team will beat.

Executive Summary

To win the World Series again, the Giants need to maximize their chances by filling their rotation with top of the rotation type of starters, have a great closer, field a strong overall defensive team, particularly up the middle, and have a good enough offense that is running oriented.  This is the plan that Sabean and gang has executed on in his tenure here as the leader of baseball operations.  And, Zaidi, I know you agree particularly with this, as you noted in an interview that you want quality elite defense as that is the key to winning low scoring games (and for those who are not sure what Zaidi meant by that, low scoring games only come when a team has a great pitching staff, from starters to relievers to closer).

Sabean's Front Office, while struggling with injuries in 2017-2018, has stocked the pitching staff with a nice mix of young and old, good enough for the team to compete for a playoff spot in 2018 deep into September, had management been better (better lineup construction, better use of Cueto and Samardzija).  Thus, we should stay the course, Farhan, and be competitive in 2019 (which you implied you were going to do with your statement of improving, one move at a time) and beyond with the developing youth that would be boosted by the arrivals of Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos, and, hopefully, Marco Luciano, in the early 2020's.

To accelerate the rebuilding that has been going on the past season, we need the results you delivered to LA.  Trading for young players who need key training to unlock their potential.  Finding cheap gems, whether via waivers, minor league free agents, or Rule 5 draft (or any other cheap means).  Finding and signing International Free Agents who can add to the core. Now is the time to be bold and seize the day, not to retrench and rebuild, and reach for the fourth brass ring and more.

The Strategic Business Plan

In baseball history, there are certain strategies towards building the team that wins in the playoffs that appear to stand the test of time, and the following are key competitive advantages every team serious about winning it all needs:
  1. Mission Statement, Executive Summary, and Strategy Outline (old one, replaced by this post)
  2. Great Team Defense
  3. Great Defense Up the Middle
  4. Great Starting Rotation
  5. At Least 2 Aces, If Not More
  6. Core Rotation
  7. Good Bullpen
  8. Great Closer
  9. High K/9 Pitching Staff
  10. Good Enough Offense
  11. Good Enough Offense Example
  12. Team Built With Speed
  13. Draft Philosophy and Strategy
  14. The Phoenix Strategy of Rebuilding (tm)
Positional Flexibility

Another chapter that should be added and inserted above (as the new #13, pushing down the others) is regarding positional flexibility.  Zaidi called it selfless players in his press conference, about how they need to move beyond the focus on individual stats and be willing to do the little things teams need to do to win, from taking pitches to moving runners up, and so forth.  And this is a particularly necessary ingredient of any 25-man roster, any player development really, for success as a baseball team today.

With today's expanded bullpen expanding beyond 50% of the 25-man roster, to 13 pitchers sometimes (5 starters, 1 long reliever, 7 relievers), the bench at those moments is squeezed to only 4 players, with one reserved for backup catcher, one reserved for backup SS, and one reserved for backup CF.   With the likelihood of replacement level players when any starting position player is injured and/or ineffective (offensively or defensively), and the likelihood at any moment of time that your team does not have a young prospect waiting in the minors who is ready to start at the position of need, teams need to focus today on developing positional flexibility in the minors, and use that flexibility at the major league level, to rest starting players more and as needed.  They need what Gregor Blanco delivered to us for many seasons: multi-positional good defense, plus good enough hitting.

Some argue that teams should develop these players themselves and have them waiting in the minors.  That's an impossibility because of the low success rate of finding good players in the draft and IFA, which many deny or don't understand, but as my draft study showed, the success rate is too low, particularly when your team is not among the worse in baseball.  It is an impossibility because a team can only keep a player in the minors for 3 seasons through options before needing to expose them via Rule 5 draft or trading them away.  That requires developing 8 prospects ready to start every 3 seasons (replacement rate) when teams are lucky to develop just a single player every few seasons.

All anyone needs to do to see this is look at the success rate for any team (other than, perhaps Cardinals, but even they have a problem finding one per draft, and you need 3 to match the replacement rate) who have been winning, or at least, not a worse in the majors, in finding a good player in the draft, to see how difficult it is to find a good player via the draft.  One must supplement via trades and MLB free agent signings, as well as finding change in the cushions by picking up players others have given up on. 

Positional flexibility provides the depth to survive the loss of a player's production (whether by injury or ineffectiveness).  Sabean and gang had been moving in this direction for a number of years now, drafting a lot of up the middle types, where SS can play anywhere in the infield, where C can play 1B and/or 3B, and where CF can play any OF position.  He also signed players that fit that mode, like DeRosa and Blanco.  But he never reached the Dodgers level of flexibility, like they derived from Taylor, who was a middle infielder when they traded for him, got his chance to start playing CF, then took over for Seager at SS the following season. 

This would result in a bench of 4 players that could have 2-3 of them covering for most of the positions on the field, and the need for less than a handful of developing prospects in the minors to help provide the necessary depth to survive a bad season.

This type of flexibility is also necessary in the pitching staff as well, but more from the state of mind, than in usage, as flexibility has been there as long as there have been relievers (as I noted in the chapter  about the Draft, and how pitching provides options).  Derek Holland was a good example of that last season, with him switching from starting to long relief, to relief, back to starting.  Andrew Miller showed this flexibility as well, eschewing the traditional closer role in favor of being used when his team most needed him, which has been the saber mantra for a while, of not saving your best reliever for closing, when the leverage situation is not that high, generally.  Bochy has long espoused this mentality of being the closer for whatever inning you happen to be pitching in.

The word has been that pitchers are most happy when they know their role and when they will be used, so that they can mentally prepare, but teams need pitchers who can be flexible with their usage, who answers the call when the manager and the team needs him.  Zaidi said that he will be prioritizing this for the Giants, going forward, and so pitchers, going forward, will need to prepare themselves to be versatile and ready when called upon.

Post Script

Part of the impetus for this post is that I realized that anybody coming in new to my blog won't know about this business plan or to search for it. It is critical to understanding my commentary on this blog to know what my vision for a great baseball team is.  Plus, this emphasizes what I've been advocating:  take the big picture view, don't let any setbacks color your view of the big picture.

Another impetus is that there are commentators out there acting like they know how to run a baseball team, particularly with their comments about Sabean, but really, it is all hot air unless you have a plan and a vision for how a team should be built. And the plan and visions should be more than just "get the best lineup and pitching staff in the majors" because that is not realistic, even the Yankees haven't been able to buy the best lineup and pitching staff in the majors (though they sometimes come close to it; but they've only won a championship once in the past 18 seasons, so they clearly don't know because that's their objective every season).  The vast majority have no process, no methodology, no analytical evidence of how to win games, other than their "expert" advice as armchair GM's.

This will be a living document, as I will be updating the chapters to change the focus to addressing Zaidi, based on what he has stated in press conferences so far, and then eventually, once all updated, probably post again to this series when the muse (and insight) hits me, I will probably just post an update in real time but add a link to the updated post. [latest update was to add Core Rotation; I'll probably move the Flexibility section into the links at some point in my update process].

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