Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Housecleaning: I'm Hibernating This Winter

I've decided to take a break.  Perhaps not a huge break, depending on what Zaidi does, but if he does what I think he will do, which is basically do what Sabean would have done, for the most part, making smaller impact deals, like last winter, in order to make the team competitive for 2019, I'm not going to wade into the smaller stuff like I usually do.  If a big signing happens, or anything I think significant for the long term, I'll, of course, will wade in.  Plus, I'll probably re-purpose my business plan and address it to Zaidi instead, but will retroactively date it for the date of his press conference. 

But the plan is to be relatively quiet this off-season, in spite of the excitement I feel about Zaidi.

ogc thoughts

I'm doing this because I'm disappointed with myself.  I spent a lot of time working on this blog, doing my analysis, but if a long term reader can reduce what I've done the past four seasons into simply "rosy forecasts", I'm doing something seriously wrong and need to reconsider what I've been doing and whether I should still be doing this.

And it was not like that was the one and only thing bothering me, but a culmination of things.  I've been getting into my battles again, online, and as Shankbone liked to say, I loved to tilt at the windminds, particularly as they concern Sabean and the draft.  People are explosively angry with the Giants right now, but I see no difference between the anger expressed now versus the complaints back in 2007-8, nor the logic used, and nobody has been able to explain to me why Sabaen is bad now but was okay then (even though they didn't know it then).   They can't see the parallels between the situation today vs. roughly 10 years ago.  In other words, if they were wrong then, why are they correct now?

For example, many are unhappy about the draft during this decade, and understandably so.  However, while the 2010's currently look like a wasteland, there are still prospects from that period that might be good players.  For example, if Suarez and Stratton can do the great stuff that they did over a short stretch, consistently, over a full season, that would be two good pitchers developed.  Plus, Duggar showed a lot of potential too in his short stint, and I was very encouraged by how much Shaw improved just in a few weeks with professional MLB coaching, and Panik has been up and down, and what if he figures it out?  In addition, Aramis Garcia looked interesting as well, and Okert looks ready to break out too.  Plus, players traded away counts as production (though obviously not good for the Giants to have traded them, and hence why Evans was pushed out), Duvall, Castillo, Duffy, Arroyo, and others, might still qualify as good players drafted at some point.  It don't look great, but some seedlings are still alive and potentially good.

If it works out that way, that's a lot of good players developed, that suddenly makes the decade's drafts not look so bad, and actually look good.  Much like ten years ago when it looked like Cain and Lincecum were the meager production from the draft, and Bumgarner was this wild stallion that had bouts of being totally lost, and nobody else in the pipeline looking good until Buster Posey was drafted.  And the parallels to today are similar, but now we only got Ramos (Cain) and Bart (Posey) in the farm system who look like sure things.  So the story is not over yet, it could still turn out to look pretty good if these players step it up, Mac too.  Or not, but the main point is that for all the complaints, it could turn out to be wrong still, there is nothing proven yet, just like it was back in 2007 when a columnist questioned what the Giants are doing.

So sadness pervades me, as I see the fanbase lose faith in the team, in the front office, after only two season, albeit pretty bad seasons, but only two, after a pretty good period from 2009 to 2016, clearly the best period since the 1960's run, beating out the Will Clark era from 1987 to 1993, and probably the best period the franchise has seen, including their New York years.  As I've been trying to teach, each competitive period is followed by pretty bad teams, as the difficulties of finding good players in the draft makes it hard to keep dynasties going.  I can't yet discern exactly where the dividing line is between bad and good, but that doesn't mean that things are necessarily bad right now.

And here I thought I was teaching in my posts about taking a long term perspective and viewing the  whole picture.  While the current view is not so great, and I thought I was teaching that the draft is just so hard, that it is hard to lay blame or assign success until many years later. But I've clearly been failing, and I am not sure what I'm going to do next.  Hence the break to reconsider what I'm going to do with my blog or if I even want to blog.

Contemplative Break

So I'm taking a rest, and thinking through what I want to be doing with this blog in 2019.  I admit I've been a bit adrift after the 3 in 5.  Part of the drive to do this was because I felt that the Giants were going to do great things in the 2010's and they exceeded and underperformed what I thought they would do.   Nobody could predict 3 in 5, but I thought that they would be doing more like what the Dodgers have been doing, winning the NL West year after year, while eventually breaking through for at least one (can't predict championships).  Cain, and particularly Lincecum, did not last as long as I was hoping for.  So perhaps that's why my work as been so subpar that readers don't even understand what I'm trying to get through.

Also, I feel like I am repeating the same nightmare I went through in the late 2000's, where I'm the only one who see the coming good times, but being called a bunch of unflattering things.  As a movie character once said, and I'll sanitize here, The Good Place style, I'm too old for this shirt.  I don't have a need to be right, I thought I would be saving people from missing out (and largely failed, it seems) on the greatness the Giants were showing to me back then, and as it turns out, was a shooting star.

And it's not like we are still waiting for THAT FIRST ONE, which also drove me.  I don't feel the need to try to get everyone on board, just tired of all the negativity when there is some positive there as well, which is, to me, totally ignored.  I feel I'm seeing the situation right, and that's enough for me, no need to get through to anybody.  And I could be wrong too, I could have been wrong long ago too, I didn't KNOW this, but that's what I felt was happening.  So we'll all see.

Review of My 2018 Thoughts

Honestly, I've been thinking of doing this for a few months already.  Story in consulting is that they don't eat their own dog food, so I was going to review what I had thought going into the season.  So the complaint about my forecast wasn't what got me to write this section, but it certainly was extra motivation.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a single post that captured everything, so I'm going by memory here.  I recall saying that the WAR projections of the Giants being in the mid-80's seemed to be on target, and with a few returns to prior goodness, could get us into the upper 80's.  That, I felt, would get us to be playoff competitive, because a big factor in why the other three rose so much in 2017 vs. 2016 was because they beat up on the Giants in 2017, whereas the Giants beat up on them in 2017.  With a more competitive team, the Giants rise means the other teams' fall.  And the three did not do as well as expected, and had the Giants been in the high 80's, they would have been competitive until the final weeks, perhaps up to the last week, depending.

That was blown up before we even reached Opening Day, when Samardzija and then BUmgarner went down with injuries.  Between the two, that ultimately costed the Giants around 3 wins, basically pushing them to slightly above .500. 

And where were the Giants at the end of August, before they traded away the only remaining good hitter in the lineup (after injuries took out or hurt Posey, Duggar, Belt, Crawford)?  .500, so it was not so far off, so if you want to count missing by a couple of games to be rosy, you have that right, but poor analytical processes.

Poor Giants Management Decision Making

Their 2018 record was also hurt greatly by a number of poor Giants management decisions.

As I outlined in this post, poor lineup construction, as well as bad luck with run production cost the Giants up to 4 wins at that time.  For whatever reason, Bochy was placing the hitter who should be the 7th place hitter at leadoff (starting with Jackson, whom I would note, I was totally against signing), and shifting everyone else down.  Rearranging the lineup and inputting into the lineup calculator, the offense should have been much better.  In addition, with the actual production batting lines, the offense still under performed expected production, so the offense suffered in two ways.

In addition, Samardzija and Cueto starting in July also costed the Giants as well.  Samardzija got 4 starts and Cueto got 2 starts, at 5.00 ERA and 6.86 ERA, respectively.  And looking at each game individually, here are the runs allowed in those six games:  3 runs in 5 IP, 2 runs in 4 IP, 5 runs in 5 IP, 3 runs in 5 IP, 4 runs in 7 IP, 4 runs in 4 IP.  In other words, they put the team into a big hole early on in each of the six starts.  And, predictably, the Giants went 1-5 in those starts, scoring 18 runs and giving up 35 runs in total.  In their other 19 games, they scored 75 runs and gave up 71 runs, basically playing .500, and thus, forcing Cueto and Samardzija to pitch in July, to see what they got, likely cost the Giants 2 wins.

And, really, Samardzija probably should not have been pitching at all in 2018.  He had 8 prior starts, and the reports back then was that the Giants forced him to pitch, when he wasn't feeling 100%, and he had maybe one good start in the bunch, and Giants went 2-6 in those starts.  And, in a recurring theme, had the Giants been .500 in those starts, that would have added 2 wins here as well.

From just these three mistakes, the Giants at the end of August, instead of being 68-68, they could have been 76-60, which would have put the Giants at 1.5 games ahead of the D-backs.  So perhaps I wasn't rosy enough, management mistakes clearly costed the Giants in 2018, both Bochy lineup issues, and forcing injured pitchers to pitch in the majors when they were not physically ready, as well as the usual bad BABIP luck that hits all teams.  Perhaps with Zaidi in charge, the Giants would have seen the issue long before Bochy finally put McCutchen in the leadoff spot at the start of August (soon after I wrote about doing exactly that). 

Separating the Baby from the Bath Water

As Zaidi said in his introductory press conference, he doesn't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater (I just discovered that he said the same phrase when he became LA's GM (2:04), and covered the same major themes in that interview as he did with his Giants introduction; the only difference was he was much more lively, humorous, happier even, in his Giants press conference).  As I showed above, with a few key changes, the Giants could have, should have, been battling for the division title at the end of August, not deeply buried in the standings, at which point the white flag trade of McCutchen was executed.  Still, even if they had kept McCutchen, they were not likely to have ended up in the playoffs, not only did the hitting go down due to the lack of healthy and productive hitters, but also because the pitchers were wearing out, and doing poorly.

So if you want to blame me for the poor Giants record with my "rosy" forecast, that's your choice, but as I showed above and previously, would be incomplete thinking on your part.  As I showed in the section above, the Giants had the talent, they just lacked the management, and I can't do anything about that factor.

My analysis was mostly on target, that they were playoff caliber, but ultimately management failed us, and instead we ended up with a pretty good draft pick.  Which I see as making lemonade when life hands you lemons, as the Giants have traditionally gone down fighting (like in 2017, when they worked to win games when losing would have yielded the #1 pick overall, not that I minded ending up with Bart) to the bitter end (like when one of the seasons Pagan was injured, he came back to lead the team - well, plus the other hitters returned too - to a pretty good winning record at the end of the season).

Teams need to do that more often, once you know the season is done, you need to tank it and get as good a pick as you can.  Like the White Sox White Flag trade with the Giants.  The Giants in 2018 probably should have started tanking once it was clear that Posey needed surgery, whenever that was, which was sooner than they actually stopped him, which was in late August, probably another reason Evans was relieved of his duties.

Some Final Thoughts

I thought I would leave my readers with these final thoughts.

First, pitching is competitive advantage that others cannot duplicate.  Each pitcher is different, as PQS shows.  Some are very good, some not so good.  Once you got that advantage, you should not let them go until you think that they lost that.  I think my studies of PQS shows how powerful the advantage of a great starting pitcher is, particularly in the playoffs, teams should strive to have a rotation of aces.  Name me one baseball skill that results in his team winning 80%+ of those games, this is the only gimme skill that I've seen in baseball.

Second, any moves that trades off good pitching for hitting is the wrong move.  It's the fingers in the dam analogy, using your finger to plug another hole, just releases that hole the finger just left.  Only, pitching is what you need to improve your chances in the playoffs.  I think Bumgarner showed the power of having a pitcher in the playoffs who can dominate.  People point out his declining numbers, but neglect to note that his numbers were never all that great when he was younger, and yet he rose to the occasion in the playoffs.  You maximize your pitching, hope for your best with hitting.  If Bumgarner wasn't pitching well, that's another story, but he's still been good. That's the story for some older pitchers, they trade off the velocity they lose as they get older, with the experience they gain to take advantage of hitters in another way.  If Bumgarner gets traded, I would only support that if he ends up not doing well in 2019, if the Giants felt that he's going downhill, or if they somehow get a starting pitcher who is even better.  Chances to compete in baseball don't come often enough, but with Bumgarner and the current roster, they could compete with some extra talent.

I think the best illustration of this is the playoffs.  Most point to guys who hit a lot of homers in the playoffs and/or drive in a lot of runs, winning the MVP award.  Who were those heroes?  Scutaro, Ishikawa, Ross, Renteria, or for my first experience with that, Gene Tenace.  In other words, usually random guys.  Barry Bonds, the most lethal hitting machine in the history of baseball playoffs in 2002, and the Giants still lost the playoffs because they didn't have the pitching to shut down the Angels.

And if you need an example for the regular season, the Angels have had one of the best hitters in history, and have wasted all of his great seasons, and he's about to get his big payoff contract, so that's a lot of great seasons, gone.  Or look at the Nats with Harper, also failing in the playoffs.

Now, this is when the counterargument is that the 2002 playoffs shows the power of the hitters (the Angels hitters), but that misses the point.  The best hitters rarely impose their will in short series like the playoffs, but it is the best pitchers who are usually the ones who impose their will in short series like the playoffs, as I've shown with PQS.  And even if one hitter imposes, they still need the hitters around them to impose their will and either get on base or drive them in.  It requires rolling the dice twice, three times, to score a run without homers.  And homers are a big roll of the dice.

The best pitchers impose their will on the game.  And the best pitchers can do that in the playoffs just like they do in the regular season.  There are elite pitchers who dominate in the regular season but just can't do it in the playoffs.  I don't blame them, but at the same time, if they can't do it in the playoffs, I don't think they are elite either, just very good perhaps.

So my judgement of the Zaidi reign over the Giants will revolve over how he handles pitching, and whether his strategy with pitching improves the Giants or not.  If he trades Bumgarner, he better be getting a better pitcher in terms of the playoffs, whether in that trade or another player acquired (again, you need to look at the big picture, after all the moves are done).  Same with any other move he makes, whether they are improving the Giants or not, in the 1-3 year range.  The draft should also still focuses on pitching, as well.   I would like to see more IFA successes, whether pitching or hitting, because there has not been very many, Feliz, Sandoval, Moronta, at best.

Yes, we need hitters as well as pitchers, so he needs to balance that need as well, but to restart their competitive cycle, the Giants need to have an elite rotation.  Perhaps Cueto returning in 2020 will provide that kick, we'll see, but as I showed above, had the team been better managed in 2018, they probably would have been battling to the end, and possibly making the playoffs, and looking towards better horizons, instead of being downcast about the near future of the Giants.  And given that Zaidi has said that he's aggressive and looking to be competitive in 2019, I expect his moves to reflect that perspective.

It's been real:  Go Giants!

5 comments:

  1. I read your resolution to hibernate with a good deal of regret, ogc, because I will miss your thoughtful, illuminating, sometimes eye-opening analyses, the detailed work you do that has made me a long-time reader.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, but I haven't decided to stop the blog, only that I'm taking a rest this off-season, and see where my flow is.

      I'm just tired of repeating the same things, and the post above is not much different from my rants over the past dozen years, and I'm sure you all see it too and roll your eyes. And I don't feel like I'm getting anywhere, I just end up repeating the same things. That's what my business plan is for, and I should start using that more often, I've realized, and perhaps things would be less aggravating to me.

      Also, in my brief rest so far, I feel relief after making this decision, so it feels like the right thing to do (I admit I'm wishy-washy at times) and the thought that perhaps it just needs an adjustment on my part to stop tilting at windmills, or something. I just know I need to change.

      My innate curiosity about things will probably dominate my thinking and feelings, as it has for most of my adult life, I'm just not sure what direction I want to go in yet, or on what I want to do.

      Part of me is wondering if I should take the big step and commit to producing long project work that I can publish at Fangraphs. Or maybe just back off and see where 2019 leads us. I'm also wondering if I should limit my prospect posts and leave that to the experts who have the time to follow everything closely, something I haven't been able to in recent years. Things to ruminate on during my break.

      And if anything big breaks, I'll probably can't resist and make a post.

      And it's not like I'm on radio silence, I'm still tweeting, and making comments, mostly on The Athletic, where I feel safer posting on than on other boards (though even there...), though I have also posted on WordPress platforms as well as NBC Sports, but those are just random based on what I see on Twitter first.

      Delete
  2. I'm another long-time reader who will eagerly be looking forward to your return. You always have a fresh take and back up your scenarios with evidence and analysis. Good stuff.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for letting me know what you like about my work, I will keep that in mind as I ponder what I want to do with this blog in 2019 and beyond.

      Delete
    2. Oh, sorry, also meant to thank you for your kind comment as well.

      Delete

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