Dear Mr. Neukom, SOS.
When you take a look at the Giants’ projected 2010 lineup, something is glaringly obvious: they will be incredibly slow. What little speed they had in 2009 is either likely to get far less playing time in 2010 (Burris and Velez) or left via free agency (specifically I’m speaking about the sneaky fast Randy Winn who led the team in thefts). Other players on their roster have fallen out of favor with management or the manager for unknown reasons and look to either be moved or provide depth as a bench player. Of course I am referring to Fred Lewis. Lewis is one of the few Giants on the roster returning from 2009 that possesses speed, a patient approach with on base skills and the ability to play relatively decent defense (according to UZR despite most Giants fans belief he’s terrible). With that said, when the Giants mentioned players fighting for the final outfield spot for the upcoming season, Velez, Bowker and Schierholtz were mentioned. Schierholtz is the odds on favorite because of his ability to play a very quality RF. Unfortunately, Schierholtz has pretty horrid on base skills and at least at the major league level has never shown the power he displays in batting practice and he used to show in the minors. During the conversation of who’s likely to be fighting for the final outfield spot, Lewis’ name never came up. This has been pretty shocking to me because Lewis seems like the one Giant that could and probably should hit leadoff. I personally would be thrilled if the Giants would grab up Johnny Damon at this point but the likelihood of that is about as probable as the Giants suddenly welcoming Beane’s A’s to San Jose with open arms. While Damon’s weenie arm and average to below average defensive skills are likely to cost the Giants a few runs on defense, he’s also been a ridiculously consistent offensive presence who could add some speed, on base skills, and power at the top of the lineup. Again though, not happening.
And why is there no chance the Giants are signing Damon? Well, I have run through the Giants’ 2010 payroll thus far and by my count it’s near $100 mil or even slightly over depending on Lincecum’s arbitration hearing, despite Bill Neukom recently saying something to the effect of, it’s definitely gone up but he doesn’t believe it will be $100 mil. While I don’t want to pretend that I know the Giants’ finances better than their managing general partner, I do know how to add salaries and that payroll is projected to be about that. Maybe they are more confident than I am that they can actually convince an arbiter that Lincecum is worth $2 mil less than Ryan Howard was worth 2 years ago. I’m very curious to hear their logic as taking those two figures to a hearing certainly seems like a fool’s errand to me.
Allow me to get back to the why. While Sabean promised to let the market develop on players this offseason, I don’t believe he followed through. For starters, Sabean declined Freddie Sanchez’s $8 mil 2010 option only to ink the second baseman for 2 years and $12 mil, i.e. more guaranteed money. Sanchez was coming off knee surgery (and now is coming off the more serious labrum surgery). Sanchez won’t even have to earn that $12 mil with performance incentives because it’s all guaranteed. I did like the DeRosa signing which was essentially the same as Freddie Sanchez’s, 2/ $12. The next 3 singings are what have me concerned. Sabean picked up a utility player for $3.25 mil (bringing back Uribe), a first baseman who belongs as a DH for $3 mil and brought back “that ship has sailed” Bengie Molina for $4.5 mil despite having the far cheaper and conceivably more productive rookie Buster Posey. That’s a total of $10.75 mil guaranteed. Furthermore, calling Huff a DH is probably giving him a lot of credit considering his offensive performance in 2009. Huff certainly fits the part of a DH with his lack of defensive prowess, but there are a plethora of players that were available late that would be far more productive as a DH (Thome and the still available Dye come to mind). While I do think it’s likely Huff will out hit Ishikawa, I also think it’s likely he’ll give the surplus of runs he produces with his stick right back with his glove. So instead of upgrading significantly with an everyday player, Sabean continued with the 2009 blueprint of trying to patch together a lineup with scotch tape. The Giants have a ton of players that could be useful utility players and can play pretty much all over (albeit in many cases not well*), but aren’t necessarily suited to play every day.
*Huff has played all over in his career with little success.
I’ve touched on the fact that they aren’t as good defensively in previous posts. When it also seemed apparent to me they were quite slow, I decided to try and examine that assumption – the mother of all F-ups – because an assumption is just that until it can be proven. I took all of the projected starting lineups for the NL West and averaged their top 8 hitters’ (excluding the pitchers spot) projected OBP and speed factor using Bill James’ projections on FanGraphs. This is what I got:
Spd – 3.31
OBP - .331
Spd – 4.04
OBP – .360
Spd – 4.59
OBP - .350
Spd – 4.50
OBP – .360
Spd – 4.38
OBP - .341
What we can clearly see from this is that the Giants still appear to lack the ability to get on base at a league average rate and are by far the worst in the division. Exacerbating that problem is the fact that when they do manage to sneak their way on base, they are going to have to go station to station to score runs. While my method for examining their relative speed and OBP for 2010 isn't exactly bullet proof, it does provide some pretty significant evidence that the Giants won't be terribly swift. After all, Bill James' ( a pretty smart guy) projections are based on past performance. The Dodgers have the second worst average speed factor in the division and still have greater than a 20% advantage in that category. The back breaker of course is the fact that the Giants also have a serious power outage since the departure of Barry Bonds. A team that can’t get on base, runs like a team full of catchers and can’t play for the three run dinger probably isn’t going to score many runs. So if the Giants pitching staff felt they were carrying the load last year, they will probably feel more of the same this year and the defense behind them projects to do them a lot less good, too.
Sabean is out of money for the upcoming season and he’s running out of time. He may have fooled the business man Neukom thus far, but it appears his days are numbered. Frankly, he was very lucky with the timing of Peter McGowan’s departure. Neukom probably didn’t want to make such a big splash, especially coming off of a very successful season with the huge turnaround from ’08 to ’09, but if Sabean’s rosters continue to be less than impressive despite the young infusion of talent provided to him by John Barr and Dick Tidrow, Neukom will show him the door and find a new CEO. If a man who once ran the very successful Microsoft can’t understand the benefit that is the wealth of statistical information currently available to evaluate players and which Sabean ignores, who can?