Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Offseason Excitement

So far, there hasn't been much.  But at least that means that Sabean hasn't done something stupid, right?

Well, Ryan Garko was non-tendered, so there's that.  Part of the justification was that he did not see eye to eye with Bruce Bochy, an indication that this is not a move which will be followed by a resigning.  I had originally been ambivalent regarding the Garko trade.  At least we were acquiring a proven hitter entering his prime years and it was not going to be a rental.  Now, however, the trade is looking almost as bad as the Sanchez trade.  A rental of a player not much better than the person who is being replaced is not worth anything near a Top-10 prospect in the organization like Scott Barnes.

On the other hand, it is true that there have been no errors on the free agent market, or any significant signings, for that matter.

So far, it is for the best.  I find most of the free agent crop to be rather disagreeable for a team in this position.  The rare exception is Nick Johnson.  Matt Holliday, as expected, would be an excellent signing, but the chances of his being signed are very low; the Cardinals have offered him an 8 year deal, and the Giants have shown no indications that they are willing to part with the money necessary to sign him.

For now, we wait.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Freddy Sanchez Trade

I consider this year to be a rebuilding year, so I think a trade of a prospect for a complementary player goes counter to what the Giants should be trying to do. A trade such as this is detrimental to a team in a rebuilding stage of development, unless the talent exchange involved is demonstrably in favor of the team relinquishing prospects.

What Sanchez knew about his knee is not big news to me; my opinions on the trade don’t factor in injury at all, as I don’t believe that injury will be too big of a factor in the years relevant to the deal.

I argue that the Sanchez trade can be evaluated as a bad trade without knowing what will happen in the future. Yes, it can look different in a few years, but the thought processes occur at that moment in time, judging the relative probabilities of future results. The crux of my argument is that we could have gotten more for Alderson. Simply put, if the trade value (present value in economics) of the asset dealt is less than the trade value of the asset gained, you can determine that the trade was bad. You factor in the probabilities of future events into the formation of an estimate of value, and you make an assessment.

However, Sabean’s analysis of Giants pitching prospects has been superb; one simply has to look at the careers of Lincecum and Cain compared to the careers of all the other players who were traded. If you look at Alderson’s stats with the Pirates, you can see that his SO/9 has really dropped while his BB/9 has doubled. Perhaps his value has been dropping, and when we look back on the trade, we’ll see that Sabean was ‘selling medium’, rather than high (that would’ve been last offseason) or low (after a potential tanking next year).

Still, all things considered, it’s hard to look at the deal as anything but a bad one. Sanchez is valued at around $8 million dollars (look at fangraphs), so he would be an improvement over what we were putting out there this year. But still, in the context of the trade the intent was for us to pick up the option (this is what I would do now) and gain through his performance next year while being paid that amount. That would mean that Sanchez in performance is worth his market value. Net production in terms of cost expenditure is zero: the Giants could’ve gained such a player (one whose pay is commensurate with his production) in free agency without losing a premium prospect.

So the Giants come out behind unless Sanchez experiences an unexpected spike in production in his last ‘prime year’ as a hitter.

In short, I think the Giants could’ve gotten a lot more out of Alderson, so you can say that the trade was bad for that very fact, as trade value considers probability of future possibilities. Again, I’m not inherently opposed to risk-taking such as this by a GM, but having it occur during a rebuilding year is extremely irritating.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The 2009 Giants: Sources of Improvement

The 2008 Giants scored 640 runs and gave up 759 runs. These Giants are on pace to score 652 runs and give up 619. The Giants improved by 12 runs offensively and by 140 runs defensively.

Pitching is a component of defense. ERA is based off of the ineffective system of allocating ‘errors’ to specific fielders: I’ll use FIP (fielding independent pitching) to look at pitching on its own.

Fangraphs has the Giant’s team FIP dropping from 4.24 last year to 3.85 this year, a substantial improvement in performance. Here’s a closer look at individual players.

Name                     FIP(08) Name                    FIP(09)
Tim Lincecum         2.62     Tim Lincecum       2.33
Matt Cain                 3.91     Matt Cain              4
Jonathan Sanchez   3.85    Jonathan Sanchez 3.97
Barry Zito                4.72     Barry Zito             4.27
Kevin Correia          5.1       Brad Penny           4.89
Pat Misch                 5.44    Randy Johnson      4.95
Brian Wilson            3.93     Brian Wilson          2.53
Keiichi Yabu            4.06     Jeremy Affeldt      3.49
Tyler Walker          4.24      Sergio Romo          2.03
Jack Taschner        4.49      Bob Howry             3.84
Alex Hinshaw         4.82      Brandon Medders 4.13
Billy Sadler             5.37       Merkin Valdez       4.6
Vinnie Chulk          5.53       Justin Miller           4.91

Starting pitching does not change as much as one might think. Tim Lincecum is even better than during his Cy Young season, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez are about the same, Barry Zito improves dramatically, and the veteran signings provide a small boost over the young long-relief types. Still, these are substantial improvements that played their part in the success of the Giants this year.

The big difference is in the bullpen. At every spot the Giants experience a large improvement in FIP. As the bullpen pitches far fewer innings than the rotation, each had about the same effect.

Defense

The purely defensive component netted the Giants about 30 runs, as their team UZR improved from 16.2 to 45.8. Let’s see who the primary contributors were.

1B Aurilia/Bowker                     -2.1         ->   Ishikawa             9.7

LF Fred Lewis                            7.3           - >  Velez                   6.6

                                                                             Winn                         6.5

                                                                            Lewis                         4.7

CF Aaron Rowand                      -6.5         ->  Rowand               .8

RF Randy Winn                          16.1         - > Winn                   9.4

                                                                           Schierholtz             5.5

The big improvements are at first base and in the outfield. Travis Ishikawa netted 12 runs with his glove alone. Aaron Rowand recovered from his rib injury to post an average UZR. While Randy Winn was excellent as usual, Velez and Schierholtz took over two thirds of Lewis’s innings for a good improvement.

Conclusions

The Giants went from a bad team to a contender thanks to the efforts of Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, Johnson/Penny, and Wilson/Affeldt/Romo on the mound and the work of Travis Ishikawa, Nate Schierholtz, and Eugenio Velez on the field while the offense of Pablo Sandoval neutralized the deteriorating hitting of our veterans.

Thoughts to keep in mind for the offseason:
When Randy Winn leaves we will lose our best defensive player. There’s a risk that we lose production in the outfield if Velez and Schierholtz regress as hitters.
A platoon between Ishikawa and Garko will hurt our defense, but not by much- we will face more righties than lefties. I would be wary of a free agent acquisition at first base; Ishikawa is the best 1B in baseball this season in UZR, so any player signed must be a very big improvement at the plate. A player such as Adam LaRoche (UZR: -2.4) would not be worth it after taking defense into account.
Freddy Sanchez’s UZR on the season at second base is 5.8. There’s a good chance for improvement there if resigned. However, upcoming knee surgery does not bode well for his range in the field.

The Giants will be experiencing some amount of regression in defense next year. The rotation should be at the same level if not better. Bullpen performance is erratic; we’ll have to see if Affeldt, Romo, and Wilson can build on their breakout performances, or fall back to the norm- unfortunately for the Giants, the latter is far more likely.


Friday, September 18, 2009

A Sabean Synopsis

As Sabean's contract runs down, the time for the Giants to decide if he's still going to be their General Manager is coming closer.  A brief account of Sabean's tenure will help to identify trends in the quality of his work.

Trades

Early Years: Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow, Robb Nen, Ellis Burks, Livan Hernandez

Bonds Pinnacle: Andres Galarraga, Jason Schmidt, Kenny Lofton

Decline: A.J. Pierzynski, Randy Winn, Shea Hillenbrand, Matt Morris- Rajai Davis, Ray Durham- Darren Ford, Scott Barnes- Ryan Garko, Tim Alderson- Freddy Sanchez

Sabean started out brilliantly, adding solid long-term pieces via the trade. Up until Winn, almost none of the prospects dealt (Joe Nathan being the exception) pan out. The period of decline starts with the Pierzynski trade in 2003. After the Winn trade in 2005, trade action came to a halt. Instead, Sabean relied more and more upon free agent signings.

This year, with a competitive team, Sabean started it up again. The Garko trade was more in line with Sabean’s previous deals. Garko is controlled by the club for 3 more years. Scott Barnes, at best, will be a back-end starter. The Freddy Sanchez trade was a big shift in the wrong direction. Alderson was the best prospect dealt at the deadline this year. In terms of talent management, this was a horrible deal. Sanchez’s lack of plate discipline and power means that he has one of the emptiest .300 averages in baseball. He is only slightly better overall at the cornerstone than Eugenio Velez is, and is being paid $8 mil/year.

Sabean has been excellent with his trades. However, over the last 5 years, he has not been able to use them to improve the team, so he is on a downward trend.

Free Agent Signings

Starting in 2003: Durham, Grissom, Alfonzo, Vizquel, Alou, Morris, Roberts, Molina, Zito, Rowand
2009: Affeldt, Renteria, Uribe, Johnson

A troubling trend among the hitters is the extreme prevalence of hitters with low BB rates and low OBP. Of the 10 hitters signed by Sabean, only 2 (Alou and Durham) possess career walk rates above the average of 9%. This is my primary concern with the free agent signings of Sabean. Yes, these hitters are overpaid (Rowand, Renteria). However, the money, in itself, is not the main problem. If the same amount of money had been put toward players with high walk rates and high OBP, I wouldn’t complain, as the offense would be much better.

Sabean seems to disregard OBP while evaluating hitters. This can be seen in the Freddy Sanchez trade. The perceived value of a .300 hitter wreaked havoc on Sabean’s ability to accurately assess Sanchez’s hitting prowess. This tendency will seriously hinder Sabean while he tries to build a major league offense. Over the next two years it is critical that the Giants GM allocate the payroll to hitters with high OBP, as that statistic is the primary determinant of the number of runs a team scores over the course of a season.

Sabean has been very bad with free agent signings.

Player Development

This area encompasses the draft and amateur signings. It is the primary cause of the Giants’ success this year, with Lincecum, Cain, Sandoval, and Wilson being the main contributors. 

The Giants were not particularly successful at drafting and developing up until the a few years ago. They were capable of producing pitching prospects that other teams desired, but before Matt Cain not a single one of them was able to stick in a big league rotation. Recent performance has been much improved. In addition to Lincecum, Cain, and Wilson, the Giants have several promising prospects. Baseball Prospectus has Madison Bumgardner at #3 overall and Buster Posey #9 overall prospect.

Sabean has been mediocre in drafting and player development. A recent upward trend, however, gives reason for hope.

Overall

Sabean has his strengths and weaknesses.  He is neither an obvious non-tender nor an obvious resign.