Friday, April 2, 2010

Letter to Henry Schulman

This is a rebuttal to Henry's blog blast of sabermetrics.

Dear Henry:

SI’s “modest proposal” for the Giants is nowhere near as outlandish as you claim. I have no doubt many people email you saying Fred Lewis’ OBP should result in he being selected to start in LF every day, in addition to the similar comments on internet boards. But, I assure you, this isn’t the only reason Joe Sheehan would make such a (shrewd-ish) proposal.

First off, Lewis’ D is nowhere near as bad as it looks. It looks bad. There’s no doubt about it. He sometimes looks like a lost dog out there trying to track down fly balls. Luckily, he’s a greyhound. Lewis is athletic enough that his lack of outfield instincts allow him to somewhat make up for his poor routes and frustrating errors. Am I saying LF is equivalent to RF at AT&T? No. Am I saying that Lewis is as good as Schierholtz defensively? No. But, it’s not as bad as it seems. Furthermore, Mark DeRosa’s career UZR numbers suggest that his best position (of the many he plays capably) is right field. So, you have to at least consider this: DeRosa in right, Lewis in left.

Let’s now tackle the OBP matter, which you attempted to dismantle, halfheartedly. Lewis has always walked a lot and struck out a lot. He has in the minors, he has in the majors. In fact, despite the fact that he “backed off the plate” in 2009, his K% only went up from 26.5% to 28.5% from 2008-2009.  Yes, about 2 per 100 PA's or about 10 over the course of a season. Also, moving off the plate didn’t impact his walks (or OBP) much because he went from 9.7% to 10.8%, a difference of less than 1%. OBP and avoiding outs is important, this fact couldn’t possibly be said enough. And, Schierholtz hasn’t shown an ability to consistently get on base other than to hit his way on in either the minor leagues or the major leagues, and unfortunately – because I like Schierholtz a lot – he hasn’t shown near the power at the plate to slug away the problem his on-base skills create. The highest OBP Schierholtz was able to post in either the minors or majors at an adequate sample size was just .365 as a Fresno Grizzly in 2007. To make matters worse, the OBP he did have was due largely to his high BABIP (batting average on balls in play), which was .355. And his walk rate? Not quite even 4%.

Another factor that could lend to SI advocating placing players in the lineup with higher on-base skills, and specifically with Lewis, is the lead off spot. The Giants are going with Aaron Rowand. Rowand is not a leadoff hitter. The fact that Rowand thrived in that spot for a span of roughly 2 months in 2009 means next to nothing. Rowand doesn’t see enough pitches to bat leadoff, doesn’t get on base nearly enough and his no speed. He simply doesn’t move particularly well on the base paths. Lewis, on the other hand, is a more ideal leadoff hitter. He has the ability to knock the ball out of the park and the speed to make singles into doubles. He sees many more pitches and understands how to take a walk and make his way on base. He’s a threat to steal and can flat out move.

Ishikawa starting over Aubrey Huff isn’t so outlandish, either, though the real problem is that neither player is very good. Ishikawa doesn’t hit enough (but plays brilliant defense). Aubrey Huff has hit well enough in the past – key word – but has spatula’s for hands. Also, you seem to have forgotten that Huff had the worst hitting season of his career last year – and in a better hitters park. In fact, Ishikawa had a better offensive season than did Huff. I agree that Ishikawa is having a terrible spring. So is Tim Lincecum. Do you think his ERA will be in the 6.00’s all said and done? Oh, and Ishikawa was in a boot at the beginning of spring, which would obviously put him behind all of the other players. And finally, Huff is older and pretty apparently declining. Ishikawa, on the other hand, should be hitting his prime years as he’s not yet seen his 30th year.  Until Huff starts hitting home runs over the daunting right field bricks and proving to be a solid offensive contributor - I won't be sold either player is the right choice. Huff's janky glove makes his stick all the more important.

I myself am not advocating this logic - Iskikawa, Lewis, Posey - anymore. I’m not quite sure if it’s that I don’t think it will work, or that my knowing it will never happen because of Bochy and Sabean and thus don’t want to waste an ounce of energy entertaining such ideas in my head. What I do know – with certainty – is that you were the one coming off looking “so foolish,” and not SI.  The real problem isn't that Ishikawa is better than Huff (or vice versa), or that Lewis is better than Schierholtz (or vice versa).  It's that Sabean's forced us to choose from a decrepit car lot - this rusty station wagon or that clunky mini van - instead of from a squeaky clean show room floor.  Hell, I'd even take a new Toyota at this point.

In your defense, at least you recognize the value – or at least can understand the argument – in replacing Molina with Posey. Unfortunately, this is a moot point as the Giants already wasted the cash by resigning the big fella. Everyone outside the organization believes Posey is ready to catch 135 games. Furthermore, Bochy has praised Posey’s catching skills this spring, saying: "He's really quieted down back there. I like the way he's receiving the ball and he has more confidence with the staff. Last spring he didn't know these guys, their tendencies, how the ball moves. He's blocked well and he's thrown well. He's made huge strides behind the plate." Let’s hope the Giants’ motivation of sending him to Fresno is purely financially motivated – as in delaying his arbitration clock – and not based on their reluctance to believe he can catch 135 games in the big leagues.

Changing gears, here’s what the roster is (likely) going to look like … until Freddy Sanchez gets healthy which will undoubtedly complicate things. If multiple players listed, they go in order of likelihood.  And I'm crossing my fingers on Sanchez's health.  His acquisition last season won't be near the disaster - because Tim Alderson is no longer the prospect he once was - as the 2 year guaranteed $12 MM Sabean forked over to keep him if he doesn't' get on the field in short order and start producing with his glove and bat.  The Cardinals landed Felipe Lopez just before the spring for far less, and his recent numbers suggest he's the better player than Sanchez.  So much for Sabean letting the market develop this offseason.






I think this is the likely opening day roster. It’s going to get interesting when Sanchez gets back though. When Freddy Sanchez gets back it makes Velez expendable. I like Torres better than Velez, specifically for his better speed and defense. He’s a better center fielder than Rowand, Velez is not. I think when Sanchez arrives, that may be the time they dump Ishikawa (assuming Huff is hitting) and promote Posey if they truly want to keep Velez and Torres. Also, Posey can’t catch every day with Molina and they’ll probably find they want – no need – his bat in the lineup. They won’t want to keep Huff, Ishikawa and Posey on the roster.

Lewis appears likely to open the season on the DL to buy management time to trade him. They might even have some offers on the table right now. I don’t necessarily think he’s actually hurt. I also think Bowker probably won the RF job – or, that DeRosa will now play right and Bowker play left.

1 comment:

  1. Good job. Like everything you said, agree w/ most of your statements. Lewis is a more pure leadoff choice over Rowand, however, i can do w/ out him. A change of scenery might do him well! I personally would like to see Torres leadoff and have Rowand batting behind Panda, or even batting second. But that in itself is tricky, what do you do w/ DeRosa? DeRosa at third, Panda at first, Rowand in left, Torres in center and bowker in Right?

    Again, its just like you said:
    It's that Sabean's forced us to choose from a decrepit car lot - this rusty station wagon or that clunky mini van - instead of from a squeaky clean show room floor.

    Plus, Posey needs to be up in the league on the team! Backing up Bengie, and have Whiteside down in Fresno polishing his skills.

    Love the use of "janky"..