Tuesday, November 30, 2010

For San Francisco Giants fans...

While we wait for a shortstop to appear under the Christmas tree, here’s 10 reasons why it’s completely awesome the Giants won the World *Flippin’* Series:
 
1)      Every once in a while, when you’re washing your car, driving, deciding what to make for dinner, petting a dog, brushing your teeth, watching a movie, or doing one (or two) of any number of ordinary, mundane, or spectacular things, you remember. You remember that not only did they win the World Series, but that right then in that moment, they are the champs. It still hasn’t hit you. Will it ever? Then you smile, and then you just can’t even believe it. You’re suddenly overwhelmed with uncontrollable, unbridled joy. And often, you’ll text a friend, brother or relative to remind them. And should this friend, brother or relative not be a Giants fan – I do admit to being friends with a Padres fan or two – you just go head and text them anyway, because that’s what friends are for.
 
2)      The next time you go to a game at AT&T versus the A’s, a subhuman, impossibly intoxicated by the first inning Oakland A’s fan – I’m not suggesting they all are gassed top one or subhuman – cannot say: “The Giants have never won a World Series.” Why? Well, for one, this wasn’t the case before the Giants took home the ring in 2010; they were quite successful while in New York. This fact, however, didn’t used to stop them unfortunately. Had they then said the “San Francisco Giants have never won a World Series,” they would have been absolutely correct. Until November 1, 2010, that is. Perhaps now they’ll also be less inclined to spit tobacco all over your bleacher seats at the last pitch of a shutout Tim Lincecum was throwing against their Athletics (and hurriedly scurry to the gates); but I won’t guarantee such behavior will stop. (This DID happen to me.) But I digressed; never again can they say it.
 
3)      The next time the Dodgers come to town, or should you ever encounter a Dodgers fan in public (or in private), you absolutely can say: “The last time the Dodgers were even in the World Series was 1988 – correct, when Ronald Reagan was President. The Giants have since been to the World Series three times – to the Dodgers’ zero – winning most recently in 2010.”
 
4)      You can also say: “your catcher is NOT Buster Posey,” to almost anyone*. While this isn’t exactly directly tied to the World Series, it’s still fantastically fun to do.
 
*Good rebuttals for Joe Mauer and Brian McCann are: younger, better catcher, and cheaper.
 
5)      You can wear your Giants cap in any bar, any city, any park, and any sporting venue in the United States, and you are invincible. It’s like a child-imagined force field, capable of deflecting the most (and least) clever razzings, name calling, and fan vitriol, even if it’s coming by the buckets. Come backs aren’t even necessary. And if you’re in San Francisco, it’s still quite good for a high five.
 
6)      When the World Series Championship commemorative DVD’s (and Blu-Ray’s) come out, it won’t be annoying. Not in the least bit. It’ll only stand to remind you, yet again, closely followed by a wide smile.
 
7)      No person, ever again, can say that the Giants’ stellar pitching – I’m talking elite Tim Lincecum, in his prime Matt Cain, and shutdown, Looney Tunes closer Brian Wilson, emerging Madison and Dirty Sanchez – was “wasted.”
 
8)      You FEEL like if they never won a World Series again, it would be OK. (It wouldn’t be.) But you also know their pitching is locked up for the next several seasons, that they have a fighting chance. And for this reason, and others, you want more. You’re now as greedy as a Yankees fan.
 
9)      You bask in the fact that the 10 of 10 ESPN “experts” chose the Phillies in the NLCS, and 9 of 10 “experts” chose the Rangers in the World Series. And across the country, few gave them a chance to even lose in six or seven games, let alone win in five.
 
10)   The cloud of Bonds has lifted, the Croix de Candlestick pins mean so much more, the Garlic Fries taste so much better, the Jersey Shore Fist Pump is now somehow alright, the mere sound of the Taio Cruz song “Dynamite” brings you back to the park, the lyrics for Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” are forever changed, the city is now and forever will be a Baseball Town, the rally thong is immortalized, Cody Ross is boss, Renteria’s contract was somehow splendid, baseballs sometimes hit the top of the fence and bounce back, neither Cliff Lee nor Roy Halladay are indomitable, Javier Lopez is a lefty slayer, Mike Murphy got his ring, Juan Uribe WAS clutch before he was painted blue and littered in green, beards are extremely cool, run support is for the faint of heart, and finally, whatever else  you can recall and is in your heart, that too. Because while this was similar for many of us, in some way it was different for all of us too. And no one can take that away.

Monday, November 29, 2010

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PRODUCTIONS AND SHOUT! FACTORY RELEASE OFFICIAL BLU-RAY AND DVD CHRONICLING SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS 2010 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP

PaapFly readers: The 2010 World Series DVD and Blu-ray disc commemorating the Giants' triumph is coming out, and I may get a chance to check it out before it's released on December 7th. Also, I may get a few free copies that I'll be able to give away to a lucky reader or two. Stay tuned. The details regarding the DVD and Blu-ray are below:

Official “2010 World Series Film: Texas Rangers vs. San Francisco Giants” With Narration by Actor Rob Schneider

2-Disc Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack and Single Disc DVD
Available Nationwide on December 7, 2010

The 2010 Fall Classic proved the “Year of the Pitcher” to be true when the San Francisco Giants rode their power staff and timely hitting to vanquish the Texas Rangers. Fifty-two years after moving to San Francisco from New York in 1958, the Giants won their first World Series title in San Francisco and sixth overall in franchise history, the team’s first since 1954 when the then New York Giants bested the Cleveland Indians in a series best known for Willie Mays classic over-the-shoulder catch.

Celebrating the excitement of this year’s Fall Classic, Major League Baseball Productions and Shout! Factory are offering baseball fans the ultimate insider’s look at the Giants’ quest to win this year’s World Series title with a four-games-to-one series victory over the Rangers. The official 2010 World Series Film: Texas Rangers vs. San Francisco Giants Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack and single disc DVD, debuting in-stores nationwide on December 7, 2010, grants fans the opportunity to relive the long-awaited Giants triumph, putting an end to a World Series title drought that had lasted more than half a century .

Narrated by actor Rob Schneider, the collectible 2010 World Series Film provides extensive coverage of this year’s Fall Classic and will be sold at the San Francisco Giants Clubhouse Shops, the official team stores of the San Francisco Giants; online at MLB.com, the official Web site of Major League Baseball, as well as Giants.com; and at retailers in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationwide. The official Blu-ray and DVD editions are available now to preorder at MLB.com, Giants.com, Amazon.com and various online retailers. The 2-Disc Blu-ray + DVD combo pack is priced to own at $29.93 and the single disc DVD is available at $19.93.

The 2010 World Series Film Blu-ray and DVD editions feature more than 80 minutes of main program presentation and nearly 30 minutes of bonus footage, including highlights from the National League Championship Series, the National League Division Series, the World Series, clubhouse celebrations and the championship parade. Using elements captured through the unparalleled access of Major League Baseball Productions, the official World Series Film provides unique, adrenaline-filled game-by-game coverage of the 2010 World Series as well as interviews with players, coaches and team personnel, allowing fans an exclusive passport to the clubhouse during the Giants’ postseason run.

Both the Giants and Rangers teams featured game-changing players, elite pitching performances and a knack for the dramatic home run. The Giants became only the second team to clinch all three playoff series on the road. Of all the teams in the post season, the Giants had spent the shortest amount of time in first place, 37 days. Each team cut its way through the Division Series and League Championship Series with the same goal in mind. But when the final out of the Fall Classic was recorded, it was the San Francisco Giants that prevailed.

The official 2010 World Series Film provides a comprehensive look at the amazing journey the San Francisco Giants made toward winning this year’s World Series. The Giants silenced the powerful Texas Rangers in five games to capture their sixth World Series title and first since moving to the city by the bay in 1958. Languishing in fourth place the first week of July – just a game better than .500 – the Giants staged a great second-half run, winning the National League West Division on the final day of the season before blowing past both the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies to reach the Fall Classic. Key in-season additions Cody Ross and Pat Burrell fueled the offense and nicely complemented seasoned vets like Juan Uribe, Aubrey Huff and World Series MVP Edgar Renteria. But there’s no doubt that it was the Giants pitching staff – guided by the deft hand of talented rookie catcher Buster Posey – that stole the show. Matt Cain did not allow a run in 21.1 brilliant innings of postseason play. Twenty-one-year-old Madison Bumgarner defied his age with a cold-as-ice performance to win Game 4 on the road. And two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum twice bested Rangers ace Cliff Lee, including a stellar performance in the clinching game Game 5 showdown. With the unflappable Brian Wilson always there to close things out, the Giants pitching staff held the powerful Texas offense to a meager .190 batting average.

The Giants are World Champions – San Francisco fans can say it loud and proud. And they are the proof in the pudding that good pitching and timely hitting will bring you a ring.

2010 WORLD SERIES FILM: TEXAS RANGERS vs. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS bonus features include:

· This Week in Baseball: Buster Posey
· Giants Clinch NL West: Final Out
· NLDS Game 5: Last Out
· NLCS Game 1: Cody Ross HRs
· NLCS Game 6: Juan Uribe HR
· NLCS Game 6: Last Out
· World Series Game 1: Juan Uribe HR
· World Series Game 2: Edgar Renteria HR
· World Series Game 4: Freddie Sanchez Defensive Plays
· World Series Game 5: Lincecum Strike Outs
· World Series Game 5: Edgar Renteria HR
· World Series Game 5: Final Out and Celebration
· World Series Parade

2-DISC Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack

2010 WORLD SERIES FILM: TEXAS RANGERS vs. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Suggested Retail Price: $29.93
1080i High Definition / 16x9 Widescreen
Audio: DTS Master Audio / 2.0 Stereo
Release Date: December 7, 2010

Single Disc DVD

2010 WORLD SERIES FILM: TEXAS RANGERS vs. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
16x9 Widescreen
Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital
Release Date: December 7, 2010

About MLB Productions
Major League Baseball Productions is the Emmy® award-winning television and video production division of Major League Baseball and the official video archivists of the game. With unparalleled access to the Clubs and their players, Major League Baseball Productions produces original programming for growing audiences worldwide through its network specials, exclusive home videos, commercials and other specialty programming. For more information on Major League Baseball Productions, log on to http://www.mlbproductions.com/.










About Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory is a diversified entertainment company devoted to producing, uncovering and revitalizing the very best of pop culture. Founders Richard Foos, Bob Emmer and Garson Foos have spent their careers sharing their music, television and film faves with discerning consumers the world over. Shout! Factory’s DVD offerings serve up classic, contemporary and cult TV series, riveting sports programs, live music, animation and documentaries in lavish packages crammed with extras. The company’s audio catalog boasts GRAMMY®-nominated boxed sets, new releases from storied artists, lovingly assembled album reissues and indispensable “best of” compilations. These riches are the result of a creative acquisitions mandate that has established the company as a hotbed of cultural preservation and commercial reinvention. Shout! Factory is based in Santa Monica, Calif. Its fine products are distributed by Vivendi Entertainment. For more on Shout! Factory, visit shoutfactory.com.











 Contact:
Jeff Heckelman, Major League Baseball (212) 931-7824/ jeff.heckelman@mlb.com
Tom Chen, Shout! Factory (310) 979-5602/ tchen@shoutfactory.com
Jeff Freedman, Shout! Factory (310) 277-2042/ FSPRJEFF@aol.com

Juan Uribe signs with Dodgers

Juan Uribe has officially signed with the hated Dodgers, pending a physical, and yet I harbor no ill feelings toward him. Prior to the 2009 season, Juan Uribe couldn’t find a job and the Giants signed him to a minor league contract. Despite the slight salary, he gathered 2.8 wins above replacement (Fangraphs version of WAR) in just 122 games while playing several infield positions. Uribe hoped his season would earn him a multi-year deal following that campaign, but it just didn’t in a down economy that impacted even professional sports. The Giants re-signed him for $3.25M in 2010 and he helped them significantly with a 3.2 WAR and some late game heroics. He was a huge reason the Giants won the World Series.
 
Jeff Kent went to the Dodgers and it was terribly fun to boo him. Jason Schmidt signed with them too, and immediately turned into Mike Hampton. That wasn’t necessarily FUN to watch, though if it were enjoyable to watch ANYONE rot on the DL, he’d have to be playing for the Dodgers. I’d like to say I wish Uribe well, but I’m just not sure I do. Not yet, anyway. No, rather I’m mostly happy that he finally earned some money that was well deserved. This was his third crack at free agency, and the first two shots yielded him A) a minor league deal and B) a one year deal of $3.25M. This 3/$21M pact will set him and his family up for life, and for that I am happy for him.
 
And when HE is flashing that World Series ring to his teammates in L.A. – Isn’t that a wonderful thought? –this is how I will be remembering him.
 
Juan Uribe THE LEGEND
 
It grows and grows…
 
May 15, 2010
 
Juan Uribe, in the fourth inning, took Roy Oswalt deep with one on to give the Giants the narrow lead, 2-1. Lincecum would go eight and Wilson would save it. Uribe’s blast was all the offense the Giants needed, and he and Oswalt would meet again.
 
June 7, 2010
 
Uribe would finish this ballgame with 4 RBI, the last two coming off of a single in the seventh that scored two and put the Giants up 6-5, and secured the win against the Reds.
 
August 14, 2010
 
In August the Giants needed a series win against the Padres, but more than that, they desperately needed to avoid a sweep and one at home no less. They trailed by two in this game into the seventh against the hated Latos – he who perplexingly called the Giants a bunch of mercenaries, meanwhile his shortstop and left fielder were of the same ilk, and who also destroyed the sun roof on our beloved Dave Fleming’s new car; seriously, who fires a baseball into the players parking lot? In the seventh, Panda chased him by clobbering an eye-high fastball into the water. Burrell provided an RBI ground out in the eighth. And finally in the eleventh, Posey doubled, Pablo was intentionally walked, and “Jazz Hands” Uribe singled home Buster in walk off fashion. Mayhem ensued.
 
September 4, 2010
 
On a warm, clear night in Los Angeles, the Dodgers were leading against San Francisco by 4 runs from the bottom of the fourth and into the seventh at Chavez Ravine. Then Posey hit a solo shot in the seventh, and Renteria – one of just 3 HR in the regular season – led off with one in the eighth. Dotel relieved Lilly, and was rudely greeted when Burrell went Yahtzee next – this was, of course, a little over a month after Burrell burned Broxton for a game winning two-run blast on July 31. And finally in the ninth, Uribe delivered the crippling blow to the Dodgers with a two-run job off of their fallen closer, Jonathan Broxton, after a Cody Ross hustle, infield single. All was quiet, and the crowd of 48,220 (paid) emptied the bleachers, retired from their orange bucket seats and hurried to their crowded freeways.
 
October 20, 2010
 
The Giants went up 2-0 early with Bumgarner on the hill. Then, in the fifth, the Phillies put up a crooked number and it was 4-2 Phillies. But Huff singled home a run in the fifth to bring the Giants within one, and Pablo Sandoval hit a left-center gap double that scored two in the sixth – this was the biggest hit of his young career and his second double of the at bat – and the Giants led again. Lopez’s only blemish of the entire postseason – seriously – came in the eighth when Howard doubled off of him and Romo relented a Werth double that tied it in relieving him. But in the ninth, Manuel went with his starter Oswalt because it was his throw day, and because Roy talked him into it. Huff singled and Posey sent him first to third with an opposite field single following an epic battle, and also after going down 0 and 2. Uribe came up and Oswalt did everything to light Uribe’s hands on fire with fastballs in, because Uribe had a sore wrist. Except, he tried to get tricky and Uribe lofted his low changeup deep enough to left for Huff to score on a sacrifice fly. The home crowd went ballistic, and watching at home, so did I. The Giants were within a win of the Fall Classic.
 
October 23, 2010
 
The Giants went down early in game six of the NLCS. It was 2-0 after one, and Jonathan Sanchez was anything but sharp. But Sanchez singled in the top of the third and started a rally that tied the game 2-2. But then, he walked Polanco and hit Utley. Utley and he had history, and Utley somewhat politely tossed the ball towards the mound, which Sanchez took exception to. The benches cleared completely, except for a mild tempered fellow named Jeremy Affeldt, known for tweeting inspiration quotes, and his bullpen coach Mark Gardner. When the dust settled, Affeldt pitched two spectacular innings of no run ball, the first of which got them out of a two on, no out disaster. Then Bumgarner pitched two innings of no run relief. Then Lopez pitched an inning of no run relief. And in Ryan Madson’s second inning of relief, Juan Uribe did something he rarely does. He hit an opposite field, 346 foot home run that barely cleared the wall. I lost my mind. Soon after, Tim Lincecum struck out Jayson Werth before being relieved by Wilson, Ryan Howard looked disgusted while eyeing strike three, and the Giants won the pennant. Uribe was instantly enshrined in Giants lore.
 
Juan Uribe THE MAN
 
Now that I’ve covered the legend, I’ll try to throw in my two cents on whether the Dodgers did well on this contract, and therefore if the Giants missed out by not matching the deal.
 
Over the past two seasons, Juan Uribe has played third, second and shortstop for the Giants, and clubbed 40 combined home runs (16, 24). In those seasons, Fangraphs’ ultimate zone rating (UZR) has liked him at third (2.2, 2.6) and second (3.7, 2.1) in particular, and hasn’t hated him at short (-2.8, 2.1). His .351 weighted on base average (wOBA) was above average at .351 in 2009, and 10 to 20 points below average in 2010 (.322), though plenty good for a shortstop where he largely played. The Dodgers, however, have him slated for second in 2011. To be fair though, it seems likely he’ll spend time at short too when Furcal inevitably goes down to one physical malady or another.
 
Will Juan live up to the $21 million he’ll make over the next three seasons? Maybe. Offensively, his on base percentage (OBP) in 2009 was just fine at .329 when coupled with his .495 slugging percentage (SLG).  But if his OBP continues to erode like it did in 2010 (.310), and should his slugging too (.440 in ‘10), the contract will soon be looked upon suspiciously. His career OBP is just .300 after all, and his slugging just .431. And, his .322 wOBA is far less palatable if he’s playing second base, and it’s not far-fetched to hypothesize it’ll be around there where his career wOBA is just .312.
 
Defensivley, Uribe has posted positive UZR ratings in 6 of the past 7 seasons, and his only negative mark was just -0.1 in 2008. Though it’s fair to say he’s never been an elite defender, it’s also fair to say he’ll probably be a quality defender at either third or second for the next couple of years. But, he’ll be 32, 33, and 34 over the life of this contract, which is to say that his peak years are likely behind him.
 
If he is able to maintain his status as a 3 win player over the next three seasons, the contract will be well worth it. The value of a win on the market will probably fall between $4 and $5 million – let’s say it’s $4.5 – and so if he was able to continue his recent success he could be worth as much as $40.5 million ($13.5 times three years). But he probably won’t play as much shortstop in L.A., so I’d say that’s a huge stretch. But even if he loses half a win per season starting in ’11 and through ’13, he’d still be worth around $27 million* total. But he’ll have to continue to be healthy for a full season or near it, and he’ll have to maintain his current abilities both offensively and defensively. But if he doesn’t, which isn’t a completely remote possibility, Colletti will have swung and missed.
 
*(2.5 Wins*$4.5M) + (2.0 Wins*$4.5M) + (1.5 Wins*$4.5M) = $27 million
 
The contract is not without risk, but which contract truly is? It appears the Dodgers probably got fair value for now, especially considering how thin the shortstop position is this offseason in terms of acquirable talent and that many clubs probably saw him as an option. Perhaps the Giants didn’t want to go too long, i.e. three years, or too rich, i.e. $21 million,  but then I guess who can blame them when they were getting 3 wins above replacement for two years for roughly $2 million a year? More than anything, I think that this contract could be particularly interesting to look back on in a couple of years.
 
Regardless of how well or poorly he does, I can’t help but be happy for him. He’ll look awfully strange in the Dodger blue. And I’ll always love Uribe for the past two seasons and 2010 especially, but won’t blame anyone for giving him a Booooo-Ribe chant when he visits China Basin.

Also worth noting, the Giants will pick up a sandwich pick (between the first and second rounds) because of Uribe's status as a Type B free agent.

Stats provided by Fangraphs
 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Are the Giants primed for a repeat?

Giants beat reporter Chris Haft fields questions from the fans about once a week on SFGiants.com and provides responses based on his own thoughts, as well as the sentiment of the Giants, from his conversations with the front office. He did so this week, and addressed this question:

"What is your opinion of keeping the champs intact? Having Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner for full season will help. Javier Lopez, Cody Ross and a healthy Freddy Sanchez will help. Andres Torres and Mark DeRosa for a full season will help. And a motivated Pablo Sandoval and a much more confident pitching staff will help. I say they win 100 games, as is."

Though I don’t always (or maybe even often) agree with Haft, I agreed with his response in this case completely. He said, “Though the players…mentioned should indeed bolster the Giants’ performance in 2011, I couldn’t disagree more.” He went on to say he understands the fans’ “…affinity for this club…but as they say in the business world, if you stand still, you’re falling behind” And finally, he said, “remaining constant can lead to becoming stagnant.”

There is almost no possibility the Giants win 100 games next season if they do nothing but reacquire Huff and Uribe. There’s far too many “IF’s & And’s” to count on here.

And on my Brandon Belt blog, someone commented saying: “The Giants beset course of action is to re-sign both Huff and Uribe [for around $20M] and Renteria at about $3M for 1 year to be the backup SS.”

I have to be honest. This is exactly the type of inside-the-box thinking I’m hoping the Giants avoid. My short answer (and comment back) was: Not trying to improve (and unwillingness to change) is exactly the sort of thing that will instill complacency in the players and result in mediocrity over the long haul. The Giants need to be able look beyond the champagne blurred vision, and make quality decisions that will improve the club rather than stand pat.

Anyway, I started writing this yesterday evening. Since then, the Giants have resigned Huff for 2 years and $11 million annually, with a club option ($2 million buyout) for a third. 

This isn't the sort of contract that's going to sink the battleship, but then it's certainly not something I'm going to pretend to be thrilled about either. It does appear that the market value of a win (above replacement) is going to be between $4.5 and $5 million this offseason. If that holds true, Huff will need to be worth around 2.2 - 2.5 wins per season. I think he can - he did post a 5.7 WAR in 2010 - but then he posted a 1.4 wins BELOW replacement in 2009. 

Most concerning of all, though, is this: Sabean said he may now have to "move some money around" following the Huff signing. What that means to me, quite possibly, is that they spent more on Huff than expected and don't have much to play with beyond that. They still have no shortstop and Uribe has far more leverage in this market than Huff. And their only left field candidate is a 35 year old coming off back to back wrist surgeries, the first of which was completely unsuccessful. 

The Giants have not scored 700 runs since 2006, when Barry Bonds was still in uniform. To assume the Giants' pitching staff will continue to hold opposing teams to 600 runs or fewer every season is foolish given the various land mines that emerge in a season (injuries, down years, et al). And, finally, we have a recent example of a team that made it to the NLCS in back to back seasons, followed by doing nothing to improve itself in the offseason, only to fall below .500 and finish fourth in 2010. That's right, the Dodgers. 

I don't know how much money they have left to spend. I don't know what other plans they have. I just know that to return the Champs and do nothing else is a mistake, because that's not going to get them to 700 runs and beyond. And if that's what they do, and if you do enjoy the torture, you'll be in for another San Francisco treat in 2011.  What's the answer to the post title question? Probably not as currently constructed, and some creative thinking and tough decisions are needed now more than ever.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Who’s on First? Hopefully, Brandon Belt

Let’s first off hope that Brandon Belt is not the next Brandon Wood. Let’s also hope, however reluctantly and painfully, it’s also not Aubrey Huff on first. *Dodges thrown sharp objects*
 
The 2010 Giants season was the single greatest sporting experience of my life. I grew a beard, and for each game wore the same gray t-shirt, Giants pullover and a pair of Washington State University sweats – Thank you for those, my lovely fiancĂ© Caley! That was once I’d discovered they were OBVIOUSLY the source of all the Brooks Conrad errors, Cody Ross home runs, one run wins, and of Javier Lopez’s lefty destroying magic. I lost my sanity several dozen times and scared the daylights out of my 11 LB dog in the process. It was wonderful. And without Aubrey Huff, the 2010 Giants almost certainly wouldn’t have won the division, eliminated the Braves, won the pennant and taken home the first World Series championship in San Francisco history. With that being said, let’s please set aside the nostalgia for the time being, and determine what is the best course for the now restored to glory franchise.
 
Allow me to state some facts, using the sandwich technique. Aubrey Huff is a fantastic baseball player, who has had his two best statistical years in two of the past three seasons. He is a wonderful clubhouse presence to boot. So was Ken Griffey Jr. in 2009 and 2010. Aubrey Huff will be 34 years in old 32 days. Players, on average, peak at ages 27 to 32. Despite his lauded defense in 2010 and +9.7 UZR at first base, his career first base UZR is -3.0, his career outfield UZR -29.0. Experts agree it takes two to three seasons to get a representative and therefore ultimately accurate sample of fielding to derive a players true defensive ability.
 
In the first half, Aubrey Huff hit 17 home runs, walked 43 times and struck out 40 times, hit .295, and posted an on-base percentage (OBP), slugging percentage (SLG), and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of .384/.544/.929. He did this with a .287 batting average on balls in play (BABiP). In the second half, he hit 9 home runs, walked 40 times and struck out 51, hit .284 and had a respectable OBP/SLG/OPS – This is his “slash” line – of .385/.462/.847. He did this with a somewhat inflated BABiP of .317, when his career mark is .293.
 
Aubrey Huff will likely be seeking a two to three year offer of around $8 to $10 million annually. Given his brilliant 2010 season, he 1) deserves it and 2) will likely get it. Moreover, this is not LIKELY, but rather IS, the final time in his career he will have a chance to cash in on a decent contract. I like Huff quite a lot; I will always have a special place in my heart for his 2010 production, leadership, and unforgettable red rally thong, all of which propelled the Giants to achieve something that I never dreamed of, certainly not so soon. I’m on par with the biggest and most loyal Giants fan you’re likely to ever run into, and now that I’ve tasted victory I want more. Would another championship feel THIS good? I can’t say; I’ll posit probably not. However, I want to find out.
 
More facts: The Giants have a first baseman in their minor league system that they drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 draft. His name is Brandon Belt. He is 6’5” and around 200 pounds. He was a high profile pitcher for most of his college career, but the Giants signed him as a hitter, saying: “…he’s just learning to hit…” and  “…all the upside is in front of this guy (Doug Mapson to Baseball Beginnings, 8/31/2009).” He would also say that the Giants have “…instructors we pay a lot of money in order to help these young hitters…” Instruct him, they did.
 
Belt confirmed to Project Prospect on Nov 7, 2010, that “…the [Giants] organization, they opened me up, they raised my hands, and they got me up out of the crouch just a little bit just so I could stay stacked in my upper body. And so far it’s worked out pretty well for me.” I’d say so. He also confirmed the changes helped him improve his bat speed and “…getting’ [his] hips through the ball.” It’s also clearly helped him shorten his swing and cover up the hole on the inside of his swing. He will still have a hole, every hitter does – Yes, even Pujols – but the idea is to shrink the hole and make it such that most if not all pitchers cannot consistently make pitches to that hole.
 
With his freshly redesigned swing, Belt went ballistic. He had 333 plate appearances in A-Advanced San Jose and hit 10 home runs, stole 18 bases – Proving his athleticism and baseball acumen – hit .383 and had a slash-line of .455/.620/1.121 for an impossible weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .489. He then graduated to AA Richmond, a league in which hitters routinely struggle, including Giants prospects, and in 201 plate appearances hit 9 home runs, hit .337, and had a slash line of .413/.623/1.036 for a spectacular .447 wOBA. Finally, he moved on to AAA Fresno for just 61 plate appearances. He managed 4 home runs but only hit .229 – He was battered with an unlucky .241 BABiP – in a very small sample. Luckily, he walked 13 times and had a triple slash line of .393/.563/.956 for a still quite great wOBA of .419. His final tally in his first professional season, while playing excellent defense and discovering a new swing: 23 home runs, 10 triples, 43 doubles, 22 stolen bases, 93 walks to just 99 strikeouts, a .352 average and a slash line of .455/.620/1.075. Not bad in a years work. But wait…
 
The Giants sent Belt to the Arizona Fall League (AFL) for further seasoning – Also, likely to see if he might be ready for opening day. The league is typically composed of some of the very best prospects in baseball, and this year is no exception, including Dustin Ackley and Bryce Harper. Belt jumped right in and through the end of the regular season and 84 at bats has hit .372 with 1 home run, 8 doubles, and 5 triples for a slash line of .427/.616/1.043, slashing line drives through the warm air in the fall desert. He will be playing in the AFL championship game this coming Saturday.
 
The consensus among scouts is that his season was no fluke at all:
 
A scout told Jayson Stark, on Belt: “You can have [Bryce] Harper. Give me that kid. He’s got a chance to be Larry Walker. Athletic. Powerful, Good defender. And he hits the ball line-to-line with thunder.”
 
Jason Grey is a scout for ESPN, and said this about Belt: “Having… [seen Belt] for the first couple of weeks of the AFL. There’s no doubt in my mind Belt is legit and a potential middle–of-the-order threat in a big league lineup capable of hitting for average and power.” He went on to say “I’ve liked Belt’s Approach, the quality of his at-bats, his ability to generate power without over swinging and his ability to go to the opposite field with some juice. He’s played good defense at first base and has showed good athleticism, enough that I’ve changed my mind to think he might not look out of place should the Giants choose to play him in left field, where he dabbled a little bit in the minors this year.”
 
Keith Law – ESPN.com and lead analyst for Scouts Inc. – has repeatedly said: “Belt is a potential star.”
 
All of the praise for Belt has him currently pegged as the number two first base prospect in the minors, behind only Eric Hosmer*.
 
*Hosmer comes from the farm system of the Kansas City Royals, a franchise that is the American League’s version of the Pirates, but also a franchise that’s farm system is busting at the seams with tremendous prospects. Hosmer was taken third overall in 2008, two ahead of Posey. Kevin Goldstein – Scout and Player Development expert for Baseball Prospectus – said: “The more I write up these Royals prospects, the harder a time I have figuring out a way they can screw this up.” In 2010 as a 20 year old in A Advanced and AA – He was young in BOTH leagues – he hit 20 home runs, 43 doubles, 9 triples, walked 59 times to just 66 strikeouts, hit .338 and put up a triple slash line of .406/.571/.977. It may be needless to say, but given his age, where he was drafted and the numbers he’s put up, it’s not an insult Belt is penciled in behind him.
 
My gut tells me that the Giants ought to install Belt at first base, his natural position, and use the money they saved on not signing Huff to a multi-year deal on a solid, two-way corner outfielder. I’ve looked at the Giants’ roster, and by resigning Huff and Uribe they won’t be getting any younger. Also, having looked at the roster, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that the Giants’ payroll is going to near or exceed $100 million with contract commitments and arbitration raises – Which was their approximate payroll in 2010 – before they sign a single free agent and fill their corner outfield, first base and shortstop vacancies.
 
Given their need for a shortstop – There’s nothing ready on the farm – as well as the scarcity of a decent shortstop option in this years crop of free agents, I think Uribe is the obvious of the two to resign. Otherwise, the Giants should engineer a trade for a shortstop, which actually might be their best option. If they take this route, they can spend some what little money they have on a left fielder and install Belt at first for league minimum. This is the most cost-effective way for the Giants to maximize their production within the constraints of their payroll, and I just don’t see any scenario in which signing Huff to a multi-year deal helps them in the long run. Again, as painful as that is to say and for any Giants fan to hear (or read).

Stats provided by Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Neyer: A.L. C.Y. pits Wins against ERA

This is super interesting. Regarding the AL Cy Young, Neyer says: “The funny thing is, this really isn’t about what people think it’s about. It’s not about Bill James or Moneyball or new-fangled statistics, really.” Neyer is actually piggy-backing off of the brilliant Tom Tango, and ultimately, they are both absolutely correct.

Neyer also mentions that 17 of 19 votes in the Sweetspot Network awards for the AL Cy Young went to Felix Hernandez, though the “new-fangled” statistics might lead you to a few other candidates to top the ballot, each of which who also has as many (Jared Weaver) or many MORE wins than King Felix – Though, not as many as Sabathia. So it seems clear, then, that the Sweetspotter’s – Who, by the way, largely lean to the statistical and sabermetric side – are giving a great deal of weight to ERA. And ERA, or earned run average, is by no means a new-fangled statistic. It’s a very old statistic that’s a third of the Triple-Crown for pitchers, and one that’s been used to determine Cy Young awards since the very award was created as a sort of MVP for pitchers.

Looking closer at a few candidates and the pitchers the “new-fangled” statistics might favor, we’ll see each of them indeed exceeded Felix by those measures.

Felix Hernandez:
13 W ERA 2.27 WHIP 1.06 WAR 6.2, FIP 3.04, K/BB 3.31

C.C. Sabathia:
21 W, ERA 3.18, WHIP 1.19, WAR 5.1, FIP 3.54, K/BB 2.66

David Price:
19 W, ERA 2.72, WHIP 1.19, WAR 4.3, FIP 3.42, K/BB 2.38

Francisco Liriano:
14 W, ERA 3.62, WHIP 1.26, WAR 6.0, FIP 2.66, K/BB 3.47

(Notable is that Liriano – Yes, ex-Giants prospect – had an unruly and unlikely to repeat next year .340 BABiP)

Cliff Lee:
12 W, ERA 3.18, WHIP 1.00, WAR 7.1, FIP 2.58, K/BB 10.28

JARED WEAVER:
13 W, ERA 3.01, WHIP 1.07, WAR 5.9, FIP 3.06, K/BB 4.31

Justin Verlander:
18 W ERA 3.37 WHIP 1.16 WAR 6.3, FIP 2.97, K/BB 3.08

The only two that are garnering any discussion, it seems, are Sabathia and Hernandez. Really, though, if it were a stats versus wins kind of debate, it should be a FIELD versus Sabathia. Felix is the Sweetspotter’s favorite despite a lower WAR than Justin Verlander, and a sizably lower WAR than Cliff Lee, lower K/BB ratio than Lee by eons (10.28* versus 3.31) and higher FIP of 3.04 to Lee’s 2.58, and higher WHIP 1.06 to 1.00. I guess, maybe, Cliff Lee drops out for them because he “only” pitched 212 (brilliant) innings, when Felix threw 249. Though, I’ll submit, that his very nearly 1 win above replacement over Felix Hernandez in 37 fewer innings is incredibly impressive. So Lee drops out because of the 37 fewer innings, the 1 fewer win – This would be ironic, to me, if 13 wins is good enough for the stat heads but 12 isn’t – or most likely the pedestrian ERA of 3.18. Who knows?

*The second best single season K/BB ratio of all time

So my conclusion is that while the stat heads are willing to throw out the wins they are not yet ready to turn a blind eye to ERA. This is interesting. They seem willing to not give credit to a pitcher who’s run support was enormous and thus whose wins were far more easily acquired, and not willing to penalize a pitcher whose offense was dreadful, and who had to claw and fight for each win.

On the other hand, they don't seem very willing to discredit a pitcher whose fielders and luck helped them. They seem to be leaning more towards pitching outcome, and less so towards how well a pitcher pitched. Perhaps they will evolve. Keith Law, for example, didn’t include Carpenter on his NL Cy Young ballot last year and merely had Wainwright third – Which (likely) resulted in a fundamental changing of the way the Cy Young is voted for (5 votes now instead of just 3) – despite the fact that they each had pretty sparkling win and loss records AND ERA’s. I guess for the time being, many of the stat heads are using the “new-fangled” stats as predictive measures for how a pitcher may perform in the future, but they are not yet ready to assign the hardware with them. It’s somewhat curious, and will be an excellent thing to keep an eye on in the future.

 All stats came from Fangraphs.com

Update to Justin Upton Perusing  

After taking a look at the potential value and cost of Justin Upton yesterday – I threw together a package of Jonathan Sanchez, Dan Runzler and Nate Schierholtz to get started, then compared the value of those three players versus the value of Upton – I’ve decided my hypothetical haul is nowhere near what Towers would command. I did come to the conclusion that they alone wouldn’t be enough, but that a top prospect on top of those three players would get them in the conversation, if not close. I’m backing off of that for three reasons.

My first reason is that I probably understated what Kevin Towers is looking for in return for Upton. He told Joel Sherman of the New York Post: “[Upton] would be a tough guy to move. But you always seek out the information on what teams will do because you never know if, to get one player, a team will grossly overpay.” The key here being, grossly overpay. Towers isn’t talking about an in-division team, mind you, he’s talking about any team looking to acquire Upton. And if you’re the Dodgers, Padres, Rockies or Giants, that price goes from being a black hole to a supermassive black hole.

My second clarification – Or revision, if you’d like to call it that – is that Jonathan Sanchez simply could not be the centerpiece for a deal between the Giants and Diamondbacks. There’s one specific reason for this, which you may have gathered from reading my previous post, but I didn’t mention. Jonathan Sanchez is only under control for two more seasons (2011 and 2012), and thus there’s likely no possibility Towers would accept such a deal. Especially, because Giants have another left-hander to offer with more upside, much more obvious room for development; he is also much younger, much cheaper, and under control for much longer: Madison Bumgarner. If the Diamondbacks are willing to move Upton, they are willing rebuild or at least reconstruct their roster. If Sabean called and started with Sanchez, Towers hangs up. Moreover, Towers would likely be after not only Bumgarner, but also Brandon Belt and possibly Pablo Sandoval. That’s the reality of acquiring Justin Upton at this point in time – Towers is not desperate in any shape or form, he’s simply shooting for the moon and hoping someone builds him a space shuttle. And he’s likely not very interested in a pitcher with only two more seasons of team control, even as talented as Sanchez may be.

And to put this rumor to bed, the last reason is Upton’s projected future value. I wrote yesterday that he’s likely worth around $90 million through 2015. What I did not say, or perhaps didn’t make clear enough, is that his value could range anywhere from probably a floor of $80 million to a ceiling of $125 million. That’s how limitless his talent is, as a 23 year old outfielder with tools falling out of his pockets.  This, even more so than Towers’ lack of real motivation to move Upton, fuels the very fact that a massive return would not only be expected, but demanded.

So, I apologize if I deluded you into thinking a Justin Upton deal for Sanchez, Runzler and Schierholtz was remotely possible. It’s not. A deal for Upton is possible for the Giants – they do have the pieces – but will never happen. When Madison Bumgarner was pitching eight shutout innings in game four of the World Series, he was also making himself as untouchable as a young pitcher can be in parallel.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How far-fetched is Justin Upton to Giants?

So the Arizona Diamondbacks appear semi-serious about moving Justin Upton. Someone threw out that they heard it would take at least two major league ready starting pitchers and a replacement outfielder. They didn’t specify if that meant someone to replace Upton or a replacement level outfielder, but then maybe the two aren’t so dissimilar. The Diamondbacks would have to put someone out there.

I quickly came up with a minimum package that goes along with the “two MLB ready starters and an outfielder.” My initial thoughts were Jonathan Sanchez, Dan Runzler – whom the Giants are attempting to groom for the rotation – and Nate Schierholtz. At first glance, I think most would agree that this wouldn’t get it done*. I think, ultimately, that’s absolutely correct. But anyway, I haven’t really taken a look at a value to value trade in some time (if ever), so here’s my crack at this very hypothetical proposal. Let’s see if it’s even in the ballpark.

*It’s important to note two things: 1) The DBacks and Giants are in the same division, and thus you’d expect Kevin Towers to demand a somewhat lopsided deal, or at least more value than say an American League team that won’t face Arizona 18 times a year. 2) You have to expect that Towers isn’t necessarily motivated to move Upton unless it’s an overpay, because Upton has superstar potential, is under control five more seasons, and at a reasonable price ($50.5 million to take him through 2015).

Justin Upton had 4.6 WAR in 2009 and a 3.1 WAR in 2010, a down year. That’s an average of 3.85 Wins above replacement per season in his young career. I think it’s reasonable to say he’ll be a 4.5 WAR player through 2015, with a decent chance he could go well over that. He’ll make $50.5 million over the next five seasons and I have written it out below:

2011: 4.5 WAR $4.25 M
2012: 4.5 WAR $6.75 M
2013: 4.5 WAR $9.75 M
2014: 4.5 WAR $14.25 M
2015: 4.5 WAR $15.5 M

So Upton might be expected to produce 22.5 WAR over his contract for $50.5 million. If you multiply his 22.5 WAR times $4 million – which is about the cost of one win on the open market – you’ll see that he could reasonably be worth $90 million through 2015 while being paid just $50.5 million.

Jonathan Sanchez has been worth 2.8, 2.1 and 2.6 WAR over the past three seasons, or 2.5 wins above replacement on average. Let’s say Towers sees Sanchez as a 3 win player the next two seasons, the length of time for which Sanchez will still be under control before free agency. In general, a player gets about 40% of his actual value in his first arbitration year, 60% in his second and 80% in his third. Assuming a 3 WAR value for Sanchez, he would get $7.2 million ((3 WAR x $4 million) x .60) in 2011 – and I think this is a bit high, because he was worth 2.1 WAR in 2010 ($8.4 million value) but only got $2.1 million via arbitration when 40% would actually be $3.36 million. Then we could project him to make $9.6 million ((3 WAR x $4 million) x .80) in 2012 before he hits free agency.

2011: 3 WAR Arb 2 $7.2 MIL
2012: 3 WAR Arb 3 $9.6 MIL

So he could be expected to produce 6 WAR over the next two seasons for $16.8 million. If you multiply his 6 WAR times $4 million – again, the cost of one win on the open market – you’ll see that he could reasonably be worth $24 million while making $16.8 million.

Dan Runzler was worth 0.4 WAR in 2010 even though he pitched limited innings because of a freak (non-arm related) injury. The Giants are currently trying to convert him into a starter, and he is throwing in the Arizona Fall League for that reason. If we take his 0.4 WAR in just 32 innings, we can hypothesize that IF he became a starter and IF he could pitch with similar success in that role, that he would have a WAR of 2.18 in a season of 175 innings (175/32 = 5.46; 0.4 WAR x 5.46 = 2.18 WAR in 175 innings). Let’s assume he’s worth a modest 1.5 wins above replacement per season through the time he’s no longer under control, i.e. 2015. He’ll make league minimum (around $450K) in 2011 and 2012 before hitting arbitration in ’13, ’14 and ’15. Using the same logic I submitted in the Sanchez explanation – i.e. 40% of value in arbitration year one, 60% for two and 80% for year three – we can surmise Runzler would cost $11.7 million through 2015; see the years below:

2011: 1.5 WAR $450K
2012: 1.5 WAR $450K
2013: 1.5 WAR Arb 1 $2.4 MIL
2014: 1.5 WAR Arb 2 $3.6 MIL
2015: 1.5 WAR Arb 3 $4.8 MIL

So he could be expected to produce 7.5 WAR over the next five seasons for a price of $11.7 million. What’s more, if you multiple his 7.5 wins above replacement by their $4 million value per, you’ll find he might be worth $30 million while being paid “just” $11.7 million.

Finally, Nate Schierholtz could be tasked with taking over for Upton – sorry Arizona fans. He was worth 0.6 WAR in 2009 and 0.5 WAR in 2010 with limited playing time. With more playing time for Arizona – which is likely given the necessary departure of Upton to make all of this madness happen – I’ll project him out with a very reasonable 0.75 WAR per season, when 1 WAR per season wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect at all given the value he has with his defense. He’ll make league minimum roughly again in 2011 before going to arbitration in 2012. He’ll get three cracks at arbitration and be under control for four total more seasons. At 1 WAR per season value – using 40/60/80% again – we can gather he might cost around $5.85 million over the next four seasons. Here it is below:

2011: .75 WAR $450K
2012: .75 WAR Arb 1 $1.2 MIL
2013: .75 WAR Arb 2 $1.8 MIL
2014: .75 WAR Arb 3 $2.4 MIL

Nate might then produce 3 WAR over that period of four seasons for a decent price of $5.85 million. If you take his 3 WAR and multiply it a $4 million per win value, we see that he’s worth $12 million while taking less than half of that ($5.85 million).

Ultimately if, and there are quite a few if’s in this scenario – Runzler becomes a starter and produces the expected value, Sanchez continues to pitch about as well as he has the next two seasons and Schierholtz’s holds down right field as he should be able to – the Giants would be putting in about $66 million of future value, and taking on a contract of $50.5 million. The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, would be putting in about $90 million of future value but taking on just $34.35 million. That means the Diamondbacks lose $24 million in value but also dump $16.15 million in future salary, something they are probably looking to do when they even consider dealing Upton.

So, it seems pretty clear that Sanchez – the centerpiece – with Runzler and Schierholtz wouldn’t get this deal done. This deal seems to be about $8 million dollars light. And, as I mentioned earlier, the Diamondbacks would probably expect to be overpaid by any team, and slightly more so by an in-division team. That being said, if the Giants were willing to dangle a Top-10 prospect with this package – let’s say 2009 number one pick Zack Wheeler – this would get a lot more interesting and fast. I think Sanchez, Runzler and Schierholtz would actually be a pretty decent base and starting point for a real deal.

WAR stats provided by FANGRAPHS and Contract info by COTS Baseball Contracts

Update/ follow up to this blog can be found HERE!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Giants' 'pen the difference in '10

One of my best readers – who just happens to be my brother – asked my to take a look at why the 2010 Giants were better than the 2009 team, when they had a somewhat similar jigsaw puzzle lineup to go with a stellar pitching staff. He submitted that the bullpen had a lot to do with it and I was pleasantly surprised to discover he was absolutely right.

So how exactly did the Giants go from 88-74 in 2009 to 92-70 in 2010? A lot has been written about Bochy’s 2010 “Band of Misfits,” but few words have been written explaining what the main catalyst was, helping to boost the Giants to a few more wins and propelling them to their first San Francisco World Series Championship. Here goes my crack at it.

On a macro level, the 2010 Giants not only scored more runs than the 2009 team, but gave up fewer too. They scored 657 and relented 611 for a run differential of +46 in 2009, good for sixth in the league and resulting in them finishing 7 back in the division and 4 back in the Wild Card. In 2010, they scored 40 more runs (697) – by no means a tremendous sum – and gave up 28 fewer (583) for a run differential of +114. Obviously, this netted them a few more wins and was good for second best in the league along with a NL West division crown. Up next: the micro level explanation.

First off, for the purpose of explaining the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat I’ll cite below – and which I use pretty often – here is a simplistic definition of “replacement” from Tom Tango: “Replacement is the talent level for which you would pay the minimum salary on the open market [~400K], or which you can obtain at minimal cost in a trade.” NOTE: Replacement does NOT equal league average. A replacement player is actually about negative (-) 2.0 wins from a league average player.

The main reason the offense scored more runs in 2010 is because they simply hit more balls over the fence. They did improve on reaching base, too (.309 to .321 on-base percentage), as well as on hitting for more power in general (.389 to .408 slugging percentage). But mostly they hit 162 home runs in 2010 – that’s 1 per game on average – when they only hit 122 in 2009, an increase of 33%. You’d probably have to believe they would score more than 40 extra runs with the higher on-base percentage and power boost, but the increase in double plays from 115 all the way to 158 (37% increase), as well as a general drop in speed from slow to slower, does a lot to explain the moderate climb in runs. It is also interesting they were able to improve despite the struggles of really their only solid contributor in 2009, Pablo Sandoval, but then bargain Huff and former 4-A outfielder Andres Torres had career years, and from the time Burrell and Posey arrived they had a much more formidable lineup. The final tally was that their offensive (position players, including defense) WAR went from 11.6 to 19.6, a sizable increase.

The starting pitching was again brilliant in 2010, and they performed remarkably similar in both years.

In 2009, the starters had a 3.58 ERA. In 2010, they had a 3.54. They struck out 8.2/ 9 innings (K/BB ratio of 2.38) in 2009 and 8.0 (K/BB ratio or 2.36) in 2010. They had a 1.251 WHIP in 2009 and 1.253 in 2010. And finally, they gave up .93 HR/9 in 2009 and .95 in 2010. The starting staff’s numbers were eerily similar.

But one of the most significant differences between the 2009 and 2010 team was without a doubt the bullpen. I suppose the beards must have helped. They improved in almost every category that matters most. In 2009, their ERA was 3.49 and just 2.99 in 2010. They struck out more batters going from 8.0/9 to 8.6 K/9 – that’s almost a batter per inning. They also improved on their strikeout to walk ratio, going from 1.96 to 2.20. They reduced their walks plus hits per 9 innings (WHIP) from 1.345 to 1.310. And finally, and perhaps most notably, they did a fantastic job of keeping the ball in the park. They gave up .74 HR/9 innings in 2009 but just .57/9 in 2010. That pushed the pitching WAR from an already fantastic 20.1 to 21.4, and I’ll surmise the impact was greater than the +1.3 WAR would suggest. In my mind I have an image of Santiago Casilla coming into the game in the 6th and 7th innings throwing 97 MPH sinkers in 2010 – as opposed to Bob Howry coming in and giving up gopher balls – and I can literally SEE the difference. Let us not soon (or ever) forget how the ‘pen performed in the game six clincher of the NLCS in Philly.

Looking to 2011, they should have mostly every bullpen arm returning – or at least the ones that matter most. Brian Wilson will be closing. Sergio Romo will be setting up. Santiago Casilla will be getting late and important innings, and Javier Lopez will facing some lefties in those situations, too. They’ll still have Affeldt to give them another lefty out of the pen – and Dan Runzler if he isn’t converted to a starter*. And then they’ll likely have Guillermo Mota or someone that can likely repeat his contribution from 2010. Relievers are highly volatile, partly because of the few innings and thus small sample. But the peripheral stats for a lot of the Giants relievers suggest they can still dominate hitters, and if not, at least perform adequately. The bullpen is more or less set for another marathon in ’11.

*Why ARE the Giants attempting to convert Runzler into a starter, anyway?  This is an excellent question. Without all of the information that the Giants have, I can’t definitively answer it. What’s my take? I guess maybe the Giants think he could be a starter, and that he’d offer more value if he was groomed as one. This is true. If the transformation is successful, the Giants will have 6 starters. That’s interesting. It seems likely that if Runzler can handle starting duties: 1) The Giants perhaps want him as insurance in case one of their Fab Five goes down or 2) The Giants are going to actively shop a starter – Runzler or other – to get a position player in return and thus will have a need for a sixth starter. It’s entirely plausible (read likely) that opposing GM’s have already made calls about Runzler, and proving Runzler is a viable starter can only improve the haul the Giants get in return.

To reiterate what I’ve just alluded to, the Giants’ starting pitching, much like the bullpen, is set for 2011.  Lincecum should be one of the best number one starters in the league. Cain should be one of the best number two starters in the league. Sanchez should be one of the best number three starters in the league. Bumgarner should be one of the best number four starters in the league. Zito will almost certainly be THE best fifth starter in the league – and it’s not too tall a task, considering most teams pick theirs from a hat. With Runzler, they have options. You can never have too much pitching, and the Giants are the envy of baseball in this category.

Finally, Sabean has a lot of work to do with the lineup, but I’ve already covered that in a previous writing. If Uribe bolts, I’ve no idea how the Giants will have a decent everyday shortstop on opening day. Let’s see what tricks Sabean has up his sleeve this offseason.

Wins above Replacement (WAR) statistics grabbed from Baseball-Reference.com

Monday, November 15, 2010

Buster Posey Wins NL Rookie of the Year award

The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) has spoken, and Buster Posey is National League Rookie of the Year. Posey is the first Giant to win the award since John “The Count” Montefusco took the honors in 1975.

I would first off like to say that Jason Heyward was as deserving as Buster for the NL Rookie of the Year award. He had an absolutely phenomenal season at age 21, and had he not injured himself midseason which 1) made him lose time and thus reduced his overall counting stats and 2) pulled down his peripherals such as slugging percentage and on-base percentage when he was playing hurt, he likely would have won the award.

I’d also like to congratulate Yasushki Kikuchi of Kyodo News in Los Angeles for leaving Posey off of the ballot completely – he voted 1) Gaby Sanchez, 2) Jason Heyward and 3) Jaime Garcia. I’m not sure if it was a Dodgers bias or pure lack of imagination, but either way this is pretty ludicrous, Of course, the fact that Posey missed a lot of time due to “seasoning” in the minors is defensible. It won’t win you the case, but the jury might at least order lunch while deliberating.

Along the same twisted lines, Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette left off Jason Heyward when he voted 1) Buster Posey, 2) Neil Walker and 3) Jose Tabata – the latter two both Pirates. It’s not a terrible thing, in theory, to show the players you cover a little bit of love by giving them some votes in the award balloting. For example, Andy Baggarly gave a tenth place vote to Jeremy Affeldt in 2009 in the MVP balloting after his ERA, holds and the like seemed to indicate Affeldt had had an excellent season. As it turns out, Affeldt was exceedingly lucky but you can see why Baggs threw him a bone. But, in the RoY balloting you can only vote three times, and so the second and third place votes definitely count and do add up to the point that they can impact the result of the voting. I think Dejan was a little overzealous here, to put it mildly. There’s nothing defensible here.

And as long as the writers are making the call on the awards, we’ll continue to see perplexing votes such as abovementioned examples. Luckily, the end result was sound in this case.

What most likely brought Posey the hardware over Heyward were the usual subjects (read statistics). Voters tend to focus on batting average, home runs and runs batted in. Posey tied Heyward with 18 home runs, his RBI total of 67 trailed Heyward by just 5 and he handedly bested Heyward’s average by hitting .305 while Heyward finished at .277. What’s more, Posey certainly got some extra points for being a catcher*. This is the “traditional” statistics argument for Posey.

*Buster only caught about 75% of the games he played, because he was splitting time with Molina (at best) until Bengie was traded away to Texas on July 1st.

A lot of the sabermetric community preferred Heyward over Posey, but ultimately agreed neither would be a bad choice. My personal opinion was pretty much split. I wouldn’t have been bothered so long as either Heyward or Posey won, though I was certainly pulling for Posey.

Jason Heyward had an outstanding season. Most impressive was his walk rate of 14.6% and .393 OBP, which are truly great for any player let alone a rookie. His .456 slugging percentage wasn’t terrific but was plenty good enough when coupled with his on-base percentage, making his OPS .849 and propelling his weighted on-base average to a stellar .376. But as is often the case with a very high walk rate – not including freaks like Bonds, Pujols and Mauer – along with it came a lot of punch outs. Heyward struck out nearly 25% of the time, but I fully expect him to improve in this category as he learns each pitcher’s out pitch and specifically how they are trying to put him away.

On top of his top-notch offensive debut, Heyward played quality defense in right field as measured by most advanced statistics. Fangraphs had his UZR decently above average at 4.8, bringing his total Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to 5.0. That’s enough to make him a great choice for RoY as one of the better all around players in the league, already, but in 2010’s crowded voting it wasn’t enough to earn him the award.

Buster Posey showed up on May 29th, started hitting immediately and never really stopped. In July, he completed a 21-game hitting streak and won Player of the Month honors. This explosion came on the heels of Giants’ GM, Brian Sabean, unloading the San Francisco’s catcher of the past few years, Bengie Molina, and paving the way for the Giants’ run for the postseason – and how can we forget, an eventual World Series Championship – with Buster as the fulltime backstop.

When all was said and done, Posey hit .305 with a .357 OBP and .505 SLG (.862 OPS). He trailed Heyward in on-base percentage pretty considerably, so his wOBA – which attempts to properly weight each hitting outcome and weights on-base percentage higher than slugging – was lower at .368. Posey played the much more difficult position of catcher and gets credit for that too. He threw out 37% of would-be base stealers, a very solid percentage and light years better than Molina. Overall, Fangraphs considered Posey to be 3.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a very strong number considering his almost June promotion.

Though the writers couldn’t have known what Posey or the Giants would do in October – and one unforgettable, glorious day in November – it seems a fitting end to the Giants’ (and Posey’s) season.

On May 29, 2010, the Giants finally brought up Gerald “Buster” Dempsey Posey. Bay Area fans believed (and hoped) Posey would be the savior for an offense that wasn’t doing much, and he wouldn’t disappoint – though he’d have some help along the way. Thanks Pat “the Bat” Burrell. Posey was drafted fifth overall in the 2008 draft coming out as a Golden Spikes award winner from Florida State. He was also given a huge $6.2 mil bonus. Since his professional debut, he’d been steeping in the minors – with the exception of a regrettable 2009 call-up that included rotting on the bench – to the tune of: .333 AVG, .427 OBP, .542 SLG and .995 OPS. He’d walked 98 times to just 102 strikeouts and thrown out 45% of would-be base stealers.

In his 2010 debut, he went 3 for 4 and drove in 3 runs. He played a pretty good first base – making more than one great play with his arm – and a little catcher until, on July 1, the Giants shipped Molina to Texas. Posey responded by ripping off a hard 21-game hit streak, blistering balls all over the diamond and hitting .417 with a .466 OBP, .699 SLG, .1.165 OPS, and 7 home runs. He suddenly wasn’t just a compliment to the lineup; he was literally the heart of it and batting cleanup

In September, Posey caught the hottest staff in baseball. In fact, the Giants’ pitchers weren’t just hot, they were historic. In 232.1 innings, they had a 1.78 ERA, a 4.03 strikeout to walk ratio, and held opponents to a minute .524 OPS. Remarkably, they went just 18-8. Also in September, they went 23 straight games giving up 4 runs or fewer, tying the second longest streak since 1920. Posey also hit 8 home runs between September and the 3 games in October. The eighth was a solo shot in the eighth inning of the final game of the season, extending the Giants lead to three runs and all but finishing off the Padres with Wilson warming. Soon after, he caught the final strike as Will Venable couldn’t connect and charged the mound to jump into Wilson’s arms. I believe that moment was a lasting image for Rookie of the Year voters.

Eight days later, October 11th, he ran towards Wilson as they beat the Braves to move on to the NLCS. Twelve days later he ran towards Wilson once more as Ryan Howard stood looking – pun very much intended – and the Giants won the pennant. In that series, he had an epic 4-hit, 2 double night capped by an opposite-field double off of Roy Oswalt after going down 0 and 2. And finally on November 1st, Posey ran towards Wilson one last time in the 2010 season as the Giants clinched their first World Series title in San Francisco history by taking down the AL favorites, the Rangers, an image that was beautifully captured for the cover of Sports Illustrated. One night earlier, he back-spun an outside pitch off of O’Day that, like Giants fans had witnessed a few times before, went and went until it cleared the center field fence.

The Giants have taken home a lot of hardware in San Francisco but never a ring. This year they grabbed a ring and now Posey winning Rookie of the Year honors is simply the cherry on top.

All stats grabbed from Fangraphs.com

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

2011 Will Humble Trevor Cahill (says FIP)

The lowest career batting average on balls in play (BABiP) for a pitcher with 2,000 innings since WWII is Andy Messersmith with .249. So, pursuant to the purpose of this post, I have one question: Is Trevor Cahill the next Andy Messersmith?

To answer this question, let’s first define batting average on balls in play, BABiP. According to The Hardball Times, BABiP is “a measure of the number of batted balls that safely fall in for a hit (not including home runs). The exact formula we use is (H-HR)/(AB-K-HR+SF)*…”

*H = Hits, HR = Home runs, AB = At bats, K = Strikeouts, SF = Sacrifice flies

In a nutshell, pitchers typically will have a BABiP that hovers around .300, which is league average. A few, a very select few, will continually post BABiP below .300 but they are a rare breed. The pitchers that continually do are typically blessed 1) a very good defense supporting them and 2) a profound ability to produce soft contact, or at least balls put into play that become outs more than their average (non) peers. Tom Glavine (.286 career) was one of these folks – specifically when he was in his prime and getting strikes called six inches off the plate – and Matt Cain has emerged as a possible candidate for such magic as well – his career BABiP is .274 in over 1,000 innings.

When a pitcher has an unusually low BABiP in a season, you can bet that his ERA will be untypically low and his fielding independent pitching (FIP) appreciably higher than his ERA.

Let us also define fielding independent pitching (or FIP), a statistic I somewhat frequently use on my site. FIP (as defined by The Hardball Times (THT) is “a measure of all those things for which a pitcher is specifically – [or in my opinion, mostly] – responsible. The formula is (HR*13+(BB+HBP-IBB)*3-K*2)/IP**, plus a league-specific factor (usually around 3.2) to round out the number to an equivalent ERA number. FIP helps you understand how well a pitcher pitched, regardless of how well [or poorly] his fielders fielded. FIP was invented by Tom Tango.

**BB = Walks, HBP = Hit Batters, IBB = Inentional Walks, HR = Home runs, K = Stikeouts, IP = Innings Pitched

In Layman’s terms: a pitcher is mostly responsible for striking out as many batters as possible, walking as few as possible, and not giving up home runs. When a batter puts the ball in play, the pitcher can do nothing to determine if an out will be recorded, because he may have a bunch of crummy fielders, or he may have a bunch of brilliant fielders. FIP eliminates the element of chance, and is an excellent predictor of what a pitchers future ERA will be, which brings us back to Trevor Cahill.

In 2010, no starting pitcher in the major leagues with a qualifying number of innings finished with a lower BABiP. Cahill’s finished at a remarkable .238. Now Cahill has shown some ability to post below average BABiP’s – his was .276 in 2009 – which makes his career mark .257. That being said, he’s only thrown 375 innings in his career and thus the jury is very much still out. What’s more, Cahill has had the luxury of 1) pitching in a wonderful pitchers park*** as well as 2) having one of the premier infield (and outfield) defenses behind him.

***In addition to having an expansive outfield which limits home runs, Oakland has enormous foul ground real estate which allows the fielders to track down pop ups and foul flies that would otherwise land in the stands in many parks, take AT&T Park for example.

At first base, the A’s have Daric Barton. Barton was considered the best first baseman in baseball this season according to the fielding bible, an award so far more legitimate than the Gold Glove that… well, Jeter won the Gold Glove for AL shortstops yesterday, what’s that tell you?

At second base, the A’s have Mark Ellis. Ellis placed third in the 2010 fielding bible, only behind Chase Utley, making him the American League’s second best second bagger. Ellis is one of the best second baseman’s over the past decade or so, though he much like Utley - who was snubbed again this year - has yet to win the recognized hardware (Gold Glove).

At shortstop, the A’s had Cliff Pennington. Pennington placed seventh in the 2010 fielding bible voting behind a group of stellar candidates including Troy Tulowitzki, Elvis Andrus, and Alexei Ramirez.

At third base, the A’s had Kevin Kouzmanoff. Kouzmanoff is famous for his best ever fielding percentage in 2009, which landed his glove in Cooperstown. Well, he finished ninth in the fielding bible voting for 2010, making him a top ten third baseman, defensively, in all of baseball.

Knowing this information is extremely important, because we know that ground balls ultimately become outs more often than any other batted ball, ahead of fly balls and far ahead of line drives. A ground ball will become an out about 50% of the time. What’s more, we know that Cahill is an extreme ground ball pitcher (56% in 2010). Given all of these factors, i.e. his stellar infield defense and ability to induce ground balls in heaps, we can deduce that Trevor Cahill was put into probably the very best position possible to succeed.

The A’s defense ranked fifth in the major leagues in 2010 with a 4.8 UZR (according to Fangraphs), also good for the very best in the American League. Must be nice, Trevor.

So if say, and god forbid, Mark Ellis or Cliff Pennington or Daric Barton or Kevin Kouzmanoff gets hurt next season – or worse, if more than one is unable to play often – it’s reasonable to surmise that Cahill will have a much more difficult time having balls that are put into play converted into outs. And if you couple that with his very un-stellar 5.4 strikeouts per 9 innings, non-great 2.88 walks per 9 innings and decent .87 home runs per 9 innings; well, Houston, we have a problem.

Because of Cahill’s serendipitous .238 BABiP, he finished the season with 18 wins (on a mediocre team with an anemic offense) and a 2.97 ERA. A buddy of mine named Paul, a fervent (and evidently optimistic) A’s fan, decided it would be wise to bet me $20 that Cahill would finish 2011 with a better ERA. Uh-oh. As it turns out, Cahill’s FIP was 4.19. That means that his FIP – and I remind you, FIP is an excellent indicator of future ERA – was 1.22 runs worse than his ERA. So it seems exceedingly unlikely that he’ll even match his ERA, let alone better it. But that’s just a statement without some evidence, so here goes.

From 2001-2009, 25 pitchers with a qualified number of innings had an ERA lower than their FIP by 1 run or more. Let’s look at them and see how well they performed in terms of ERA in the season following.

In 2001, Jason Johnson finished with an ERA of 4.09 and a FIP of 5.12. The following season his ERA went to 4.59 in 131 innings. Tom Glavine finished with an ERA of 3.57 and a FIP of 4.77. The following season his ERA actually went down to 2.96 in 224 innings. He’s our first exception. Tom Glavine, as I mentioned before, was a career beater of BABiP. In the season following his +1 or more FIP, Glavine reduced his HR per 9 innings rate and essentially repeated his BABiP, which helps to explain his better ERA in 2002.  Joe Mays recorded a 3.16 ERA and a FIP of 4.27. The following season his ERA shot to 4.38 in 95 innings.

In 2002, Tom Glavine recorded a 2.96 ERA and a 4.20 FIP. The following season his ERA shot to 4.52 in 183 innings. It seems the law of averages brought him back to earth, as his BABiP was a very normal .297. Kirk Rueter recorded a 3.23 ERA with a 4.43 FIP. The following season his ERA shot to 4.53 in 147 innings. Elmer Dessens finished with a 3.03 ERA and a 4.61 FIP. The following season his ERA jumped to 5.07 in 175 innings. Barry Zito had a 2.75 ERA and a 3.87 FIP. The next season he finished with a 3.30 ERA in 231 innings.  Also in 2002, Damian Moss had a 3.42 ERA and 4.77 FIP. He finished 2003 with a 5.16 ERA in 165 innings.

In 2003, Kip Wells had a 3.28 ERA and a 4.38 FIP. He pitched 138 innings in 2004 with a 4.45 ERA. Hideo Nomo had a nice ERA of 3.09 but a worse 4.20 FIP. He threw just 84 innings the following season and finished with a disgusting 8.25 ERA. Ryan Franklin pitched to a 3.57 ERA and a 5.17 FIP – a huge delta – and unsurprisingly his ERA rocketed to 4.90 the following season.

In 2004, Jose Lima finished with a medicore 4.07 ERA but a 5.09 FIP. He threw 168 more innings in 2005 but his ERA raced to 6.99. Al Leiter also pitched to a nice 3.21 ERA, but had that pesky FIP at 4.76. He would throw another 142 innings the following season but the ERA would nearly double to 6.13. Ouch.

In 2005, Jarrod Washburn finished with a 3.20 ERA and a 4.35 FIP. His 2006 wouldn’t go nearly as well as he added enough runs to run his 2006 total to the tune of a 4.67 ERA in 187 innings. Bruce Chen miraculously recorded a 3.83 ERA (but 4.94 FIP). He tossed 98 innings the following season and must have delighted with his 6.93 ERA. Roger Clemens, as good as he was, had a 1.87 ERA and 2.87 FIP, but I guess it wasn’t sustainable as his ERA went to a still great 2.30 the following season in just 113 innings.

In 2006, Barry Zito again beat the FIP (4.89) with a 3.83 ERA, but the following season it jumped to 4.53 in 196 glorious innings for his new team the San Francisco Giants, immediately endearing himself to the fans with his $126 million dollar contract and wonderful results. Chris Young had a 3.46 ERA and a 4.60 FIP, but is our second exception as he threw 173 innings in 2007 and bettered his ERA to 3.12. In his case, he was still playing in the wonderful pitchers park of Petco, and furthermore, he somehow cut his home run rate nearly into a third, going from 1.41 in 2006 to just .52 in 2007. His xFIP (a measure that does the same thing as FIP except it pushes a pitchers HR rate more towards league average – which I’ve covered before and will mention again – was a huge 4.60 when compared to his ERA.  And his ERA did indeed rise to 3.96 in 2008 when his HR rate returned to normal levels.

In 2008, Daisuke Matsuzaka had a great 2.90 ERA but a very average 4.03 FIP. In just 59 unsuccessful innings following that campaign, Dice-K ran his ERA to 5.76. Armando Glarraga – Mr. Imperfect Game himself – had a 3.73 ERA and a 4.88 FIP. He too came back to earth with a 5.64 ERA in 143 innings the next season.

In 2009, Kevin Millwood showed some promise with a 3.67 ERA but had a 4.80 FIP. His luck ran out the following season with a 5.10 ERA. Jair Jurrjens pitched well and to a 2.60 ERA and 3.68 FIP, but plummeted to 4.64 ERA in 116 innings this season. J.A. Happ was a Rookie of the Year candidate because of his 2.93 ERA in 166 innings with a 4.33 FIP. But, and most people saw this coming, he finished with a still pretty good 3.40 ERA in 2010 but pitched just 87 innings. Finally, Matt Cain – who, as I mentioned, is a candidate as one of those pitchers that can actually beat FIP continually –  had a 2.89 ERA and a 3.89 FIP, but wasn’t able to match it in 2010 as his ERA moved up to 3.14 in 217 innings.

To summarize, of the just 25 pitchers in the past 9 years to have an ERA 1 run or more better than their FIP in the same season, 23 of 25 came back the following season with a worse (if not far worse) ERA. Of the two exceptions, Young and Glavine, one was able to do it by chopping his HR rate into a third with the help of the unfriendliest HR yard in baseball, and the other was a perennial beater of FIP who also lowered his HR rate and BABiP – though only by a point with the latter. On average – and granted this is not weighted by innings – their ERA was 1.5 runs higher the following season, which is an enormous difference.

Will Trevor Cahill have a 2.96 ERA or better in 2011? Maybe. But the smart money is that he won’t, and it’s more likely he won’t even approach such a brilliant ERA. I think my $20 is safe. I think it’s also pretty safe to say: in terms of Trevor Cahill, Andy Messersmith he is not