Sunday, March 31, 2019

Your 2018 Giants: You Say You Want a Rebuild

Good morning, ah!  There are a lot of unhappy Giants fans today, who would rather cry instead, singing, "I'm down, I'm really down, how can I laugh, when I know I'm down?" Don't cry baby cry, or twist and shout, you can't do that, because I got a feeling.  My thoughts.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Your 2019 Giants: Opening Day Roster

Wow, time flies, especially when work gets heavy, sorry for the delay.

The Giants have settled on their 25-man roster for Opening Day (OD):
  • SP:  Bumgarner, Holland, D-Rod, Samardzija, Pomeranz
  • RP: Smith (closer), Melancon, Watson, Dyson, Moronta, Vincent, Bergen, Gott
  • C:  Posey; Kratz
  • IF:  Belt, Panik, Longoria, Crawford; Solarte (backup MI/SS), Joe, Sandoval
  • OF:  Parra, Duggar, Reed (Joe, Solarte, Belt are expected to play LF at times; Reed backup CF)
To clear 40-man roster spots for Vincent, Solarte, and Parra, the Giants DFAed Hanson, Williamson, and Tom Murphy, the C they recently picked up from the Rockies in the continuing series of Zaidi Waiver Roulette.

With the mad dash of other teams waiving players, presumably the Giants are hoping that these players will slide through unclaimed. I see that with Hanson, but expect Williamson to be claimed by somebody, he was just too good last season not for someone to want to see if they can find that in him; Murphy could go either way, but I like him, hope we can keep him.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Hey Zaidi! My Giants Business Plan: Waiver Roulette

One of the tactics that Zaidi has been executing well in his first off-season running the Giants, is his extreme version of what I call, Waiver Roulette.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Hey Zaidi! My Giants Business Plan: Great Starting Rotation

As shown in a prior chapter, preventing runs are very important (and espoused by Zaidi in an interview, about low-scoring games given that the Giants play in ATT Park; though we might be getting a new name by 2020, as ATT's contract is up, and the going price has gone significantly up from the approximate $2M per year paid by PacBell, to the $20M+ range; and it has happened already, Welcome to Oracle Park!) and who has the biggest influence on that? The starting pitchers, who pitch around 70% of the innings of games. That is another pillar in the strategy of creating the best team for success in the playoffs, and ultimately in the World Series.

Hey Zaidi! My Giants Business Plan: Good Bullpen

One of the biggest change in the history of baseball, besides digging the long ball, and particularly over the past 30 or 40 years, is the change in how the bullpen is used. When baseball first started, men were men, and men threw complete games. For the most part. Just in case he was tired (or just had too much to drink the night before), there would be a reliever sitting around who would finish up the game for him. It was macho y mano a mano.

And over the long history of baseball, until very recently, that has been the code of baseball, starters finish a lot of games. As late as the 80's, probably the last one famously being Billy Martin and his Billy Ball with the A's, where he had his young starters throw the most complete games to today, that was how games were managed. The main change was the rise in prominence of the closer as a role in the bullpen.

Then, not sure if he was the first or just the first to popularize it for managers, Tony LaRussa then had the bullpen structured to have setup men each pitch the 7th and 8th then have the closer come in to save in the 9th. That was a world change in a number of ways.

One was the closer didn't pitch more than one inning anymore and could expect to get ready if the team is leading heading to the 9th. Similarly for the setup men, when the 7th and 8th rolled up and the team was in the lead, they could expect to get ready if the team had the lead and the starter got into trouble. Meanwhile, the rest of the bullpen had to be ready in the middle of the game for long relief plus maybe see work later in setup should the setup men falter. I'm not sure why having set roles is better for relievers, but there have been many relievers who have stated that this is a good thing.

With this change, the closer became the superstar of the bullpen, instead of just a complementary accessory to the starting rotation. This elevated the closer's role in the game greatly and all teams today have an assigned closer - instead of pitchers the manager happened to go to when closing the game plus there were no co-closers, like the Giants had with Moffitt and Lavelle in the 70's. And the bullpen became that much more important as well, starting the save situation much earlier in the game now that the Hold is the save metric for the rest of the bullpen.

A good bullpen is thus obviously important to today's game, but how important are they to winning in the playoffs and especially winning it all?

Hey Zaidi! My Giants Business Plan: At Least 2 Aces, If Not More

As discussed in the last chapter, an MLB team need a great starting rotation to have a competitive advantage over the other team. However, how does a team achieve that? By having at least two Aces in their rotation, if not more.

Hey Zaidi! My Giants Business Plan: Great Defense Up the Middle

Most teams want good fielding defense. This is easily understood. Nobody wants to give up unearned runs. It's bad enough to give up a run but to give up one unnecessarily? Madness!

As commonsense as this is, it has been shown in a study that good team fielding defense in the regular season is related to playoff success. As noted previously, Baseball Prospectus, in its book, "Baseball Between the Numbers", Chapter 9.3, "Why Billy Beane's S**t Doesn't Work In The Playoffs," studied the issue of success in the playoffs, and found that good fielding defense, using their proprietary measure, is significantly associated with team success in the playoffs, from 1972 to 1995.  Thus, if any team wants to maximize their chances in the playoffs, you have to have good team fielding defense.

Up The Middle

Furthermore, there is the old truism in baseball that you want to have strong defense up the middle: catcher, secondbaseman, shortstop, and centerfielder. This is also commonsense as well.

Let's examine the Giants defense in 2018, and looking forward to 2019. Obviously the catcher is key defensively because he handles each and every pitch. Cannot have passed balls or a lot of wild pitches that get away. Plus they handle the pitchers and the pitch selection as well. And has to be able to throw out base stealers on a regular basis.

Thus defense is key at catching, and hence why Posey has been kept there, and why the Giants selected Joey Bart, an excellent college defender, who hopefully can take over for Posey in 2020-21.  Also probably why Zaidi has not re-signed Hundley, his defense is pretty poor, and Aramis Garcia was pretty good in limited play last season, as well as showing flexibility by playing well at 1B.  And he has acquired a couple of good defensive catchers in Erik Kratz and Steven Vogt (passed to minors to start season). 

Both 2B and SS have a lot more assists and putouts than the 3B, over 50% more balls handled each.  Hence why Panik and Crawford has been steady starters, and why Panik is suddenly not, when his defense took a dip (as well as his hitting, to be fair).  But his off-season program appears to have worked to return him to prior spryness.  Solarte is the new MI bench player.

Obviously, 1B handles a lot more balls than the other infielders, but the vast majority of them are throws from the other infielders straight (for the most part) to him, not fast grounders hit to him, particularly since most hitters are right-handers and most hitters pull the ball to their side of the field. Still, more important than 3B, plus the Giants under Sabean has focused on elite 1B defenders in Snow and Belt.  1B might be the exception to the up the middle rule, for the Giants.

In the outfield, the centerfielder gets over 100 more balls to handle than either of the corner outfielders, over 30% more balls to handle. In addition, the centerfielder is usually the quarterback of the outfielder, directing the other outfielders to certain positions, depending on the tendencies of the hitter and how the pitcher plans on attacking that hitter. Furthermore, in ATT, with that huge right-center "Death Valley" gap, that gives the CF more real estate to cover in the outfield, requiring more defensively out of the centerfielder in ATT.  It also demands more out of the rightfielder as well, which is why there is talk sometimes this off-season of the Giants under Zaidi getting a CF-level defender in RF.  Duggar, who showed elite fielding in 2018 per StatCast should man CF well, and Zaidi recently acquired Michael Reed, a superb defensive CF-capable outfielder, who got an out at 3B the other day. 

Thus, if it is important to have great fielding defense, then it is that much more important to have strong defense up the middle because they handle the most batted balls among the fielders. Obviously, this is more important for pitchers who put more balls into play, but people need to remember that even the pitchers with a lot of strikeouts and walks, who put less balls into play, still have the majority of plays (and outs) happening out on the field via a batted ball.

Good defense is paramount, and great defense up the middle is what you shoot for in putting together a successful baseball playoff team, which allows the team to roster better hitters who are poor defenders, at the corner positions..

Hey Zaidi! My Giants Business Plan: Great Team Overall Defense for Playoff Success

A key component of competitive advantage in MLB baseball is preventing runs from scoring, via both pitching and fielding. Baseball is tough enough to win without giving away runs via errors or unforced leadoff walks that eventually score.  Defense is both playoff win effective and win efficient.

Defense is Playoff Win Effective

As commonsense as this is, it has been shown in a study that good team  defense in the regular season is related to playoff success. Baseball Prospectus, it its book, "Baseball Between the Numbers", Chapter 9.3, "Why Billy Beane's S**t Doesn't Work In The Playoffs," studied the issue of success in going deep into the playoffs, and found that good defense, covering pitching and fielding, using their proprietary measure, is significantly associated with team success in the playoffs, from 1972 to 1995.  When ranked by an index of the three measures they determined to be key metrics, the Top 10 teams almost all not only made the World Series, but also won (and unfortunately for one of the teams, they lose because they faced off against another Top 10 team).

In addition, it found no correlation with going deep in the playoffs with any aspect of a playoff teams' offense.  The only metric that showed any promise of being connected with deep playoff runs was stolen base attempts, which suggests that speed is also connected with deep playoff runs.  And, obviously, speed is generally tied to good team fielding defense, as well.

Fangraphs/THT also had a playoff success study (published in 2004) and that too confirmed what Baseball Prospectus found, that offense was not tied with winning in the playoffs, and that defense was tied.  And, as the article noted:  "the most striking thing about this list is that it supports the old adages: you win in the post-season with pitching, fielding, and speed. Eleven of the 12 most important categories (by this crude measure) demonstrate skill on the mound, in the field and on the bases."

Overall, if any team wants to maximize their chances in the playoffs, you have to have good team defense, both pitching and defense.

Defense is Playoff Win Efficient

The Hardball Times showed in a past article that each run given up results in an exponential rise in the number of runs scored to maintain the same winning percentage.  This has implications regarding running a team efficiently as well as effectively.

And this is what Zaidi espoused in his interview with Ray Woodson in Ray's  Triple Alley podcast (episode 10), that your goal is quality if not elite defense, in order to support a low run environment that playing at ATT results in.  And as seen below, keeping scoring down means that you don't have to score as many runs in order to win 90 games.

To contend for a division regularly, you need to win at around a .556 percentage, or 90 wins per season, or higher. If a team can keep their runs allowed at 4.00, they need to score 4.53 runs per game to regularly contend, for example. Here is a table of what happens as runs allowed rises from 3.50 to 4.50 (average RS is 4.37, and average RA is 4.34):

RARSNL 2018 RA RankNL 2018 RS Rank

As one can see, for every extra 0.1 runs allowed, the team needs to score slightly more than 0.11 runs in order to win 90 games in a season.  Which means that winning becomes more efficient in terms of winning 90 games, as your overall defense - pitching and fielding - becomes better, as reducing RA by 0.1 means you can score -0.11 runs less to win the same 90 games.

I also provided where that offense (RS) and pitching (RA) would have ranked in 2018 in the NL on a runs scored and runs allowed basis. In this run environment, 4.2 runs allowed is the tipping point, once a team goes below that, their offense no longer has to be in the top 3.  From 3.8 to 4.1 the team can be in the middle of the pack offensively, in order to win 90 games.  This shows that an elite team in terms of defense can win with a middling offense.

And the reduction in need for runs scored as runs allowed becomes good and then elite, means that dollar for dollar, if a team lead (GM or President) is looking at either buying a 2 WAR pitcher or 2 WAR hitter who provides zero value defensively, they ultimately buy more wins by getting the pitcher (since adding him would reduce RA, assuming he's replacing a 0 WAR pitcher, a team ends up with more wins per Pythagorean, than adding the hitter who would increase RS, assuming he replaces a 0 WAR hitter).  This is never accounted for whenever there is analysis of the number of wins a player adds when acquired.

2019 Giants Potential

The 2018 Giants is a misnomer.  The team's offense was vastly different in the final months, than it was earlier, when they had everyone around, and different from the first month, as some players were not producing.  Overall, the 2018 Giants averaged 3.72 runs scored per game.  But in the first half, 4.07 RS.  Cutting out poor bad first week or so (Kershaw etc.), and over the next 93 games, averaged 4.23 RS per game (close to NL average of 4.37).

And there is potential for better.  For May-June, the team averaged 4.40 RS per game (55 games).  And their peak, from late April to July 1st (61 games), they averaged 4.61 RS per game.

The 2018 pitching was different too.  With pitchers going up and down, the pitching settled down by June, and from June to August, covering 80 games, the team had a 3.26 ERA and 3.56 RA average per game.  If they can do that over a full season, given enough rest and better handling, the offense only has to average 4.03 RS per game, which it did over the first half of the 2018 season, before all the injuries caught up with the offense at the end.

And there is potential for more offense, and thus allows for a lot of regression on the part of the pitching For example, at 4.40 RS, which the Giants averaged with much of the lineup healthy, only requires an RA of 3.89 to win 90 games, almost 10% worse than what the team did for three months.  From July to end of season, they had 3.96 RA over 106 games, and subtracting Cueto and Samardzija from July, that's 3.85 RA over the 100 games.

So the pitching staff as currently constituted, now that Holland has been re-signed, was able to maintain a 3.85 RA over a four month period (and now Pomeranz and Samardzija is in the rotation, not Suarez and Stratton), so it does not seem to be a huge stretch to try to reach a full season in 2019, especially if you assume some growth from the overall group of Rodriquez, Suarez, Moronta, and Black, plus young pitchers, which basically is half the pitching staff.

While D-Rod will regress, Suarez's advanced stats suggest a much better performance, Moronta and Black should learn, and a variety of young pitchers on the roster appears ready to take an MLB role.


Thus, having the best defense around is the major key to efficient winning, each run given up has exponential consequences on the need for runs scored, each run you keep from scoring means that you need to have as good an offense in order to be competitive. A good defense is better than a good offense, because you each extra 10 runs you give up, you need to score 11 runs to keep the same winning percentage when you are shooting for 90 wins.  In addition, good defensive teams have historically had deeper runs in the playoffs than good offensive teams. 

Defense, overall, helps teams in a variety of ways, including, mostly importantly, winning a World Series.

Your 2019 Giants: Paralysis by Zaidi-nalysis by Blind Men

Wow, how much action that Zaidi has done in the on-rush of teams needing to finalize 25-man rosters?  All those trades and moves, rapid action, in the closing days of spring training, as the rostering looks clear, then hazy once again, has been dizzying.  First it was Waiver Roulette, picking up guys, then dropping them, to see if they can pass through waivers, and become a trade piece for him, given the depleted farm system that he needs to rebuild.

It has been interesting reading people's comments about Zaidi and what he's doing, and I found that, for the most part, even for myself, the conclusions being made were all biased by what they believe the Giants should be doing.  It is much like the old story of 6 blind men who grasping one part of an elephant, and each telling their impression of the impressive beast (for example, the one holding his nose thinks it is much like a snake).  Analyzing his moves can be paralyzing.

I was not immune to this phenomenon myself, so I thought I would sit down and write about what we can really say about Zaidi based on the moves and decisions made this off-season, and what we can't.

[NOTE:  with all the moves he's making, I felt the need to just get this out before another move happens, had to update everything regarding Stratton, for example, and had to add Kratz earlier; watch, something's happening just as I'm publishing this, after all, Bochy told the media that they'll understand soon why the rotation hasn't been named, and nothing has happened yet...]


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