Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How Sabean and the Giants go to WAR

Just over a week ago, Chris Quick at Bay City Ball put together a nice post on the Sabean Years. It was pretty interesting, and certainly worth reading through. In a nutshell, Chris was taking a look at how Brian Sabean has constructed his rosters over his tenure, beginning in 1997. The idea was simply to group them in three year intervals -- he used groups of 3 years apiece, starting with 21-23, 24-27, and so forth, going up to 42+ -- and compare each age group by Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

I probably don't have to tell you that it was no great revelation that Sabean's rosters were shaped as such that they were leaning heavily on older players. His best group was those players aged 33-35. If you didn't know the Giants, and you didn't have an idea how Sabean prefers to operate, this maybe would have come as a surprise. But, assuming you're a Giants fan, which many of my readers are, I don't think it's a stretch to say this conclusion was expected. The performances of Stan Javier, Ellis Burks, Ray Durham, Randy Winn, and most recently Aubrey Huff have really paid off for Sabean -- let's hope Andres Torres continues this wonderful trend in 2011, his age 33 season.

To illustrate that this type of roster construction isn't typical, that it is in fact unique to Sabes, I'm going to show you some WAR Grids (created by Joshua Marciel) from Fangraphs. WAR Grids are the latest tool at Fangraphs, officially introduced today by David Appleman.

I've taken Sabean's entire tenure with the Giants (1997-2010) and created a WAR Grid of their top 25 players over that period. The age goes across the top from young to old, and the they are stacked from top (the highest total WAR) to bottom (the 25th best total WAR). No surprise here, Bonds is first, producing 87 WAR from 1997 to 2010 (though he retired after 2007). The darker green the square, the higher the WAR in that individual season.

To see this grid, click HERE.

From the graph you can see that the Giants have had a pretty good amount of quality seasons by WAR from ages 33 on. This is odd because the prime years of a baseball player are typically 26-32, and after that they regress until they are no longer able to play at the big league level.

Let's take a look at the same period for the PADRES. It's more concentrated to the left (younger) of 32.

Let's take a look at the same period for the DODGERS. Again, this franchise is also getting the majority of its wins from younger players.

Let's take a look at the ROCKIES. Same deal, they are getting almost nothing from older players other than Todd Helton and Larry Walker's contributions.

And finally, here's the DIAMONDBACKS. The grid from the Snakes is a bit top heavy, but you'll find that the majority of their players are coming from the age group of 21-32.

Here's the rest of baseball by Division:

NL CENTRAL: Cardinals, Cubs, Reds, Astros, Brewers, Pirates
NL EAST: Phillies, Mets, Braves, Marlins, Nationals

AL WEST: Angels, A's, Mariners, Rangers,
AL CENTRAL: Twins, White Sox, Tigers, Indians, Royals
AL EAST: Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Jays, Orioles

It's obvious that the Giants have an entirely different way of operating. If you're willing to take the time and look at each team, you'll clearly see why it's so often said the Giants prefer veteran players. But after this exercise, I've come to have a certain feeling that I didn't expect: comfort. Here's why.

As recently as the beginning of 2010 I was very concerned about the future of the Giants. I was concerned when, at the end of 2009 and a good season, Sabean was extended for another two years. Sabean had shown a propensity for favoring veterans and, I feared, this was going to hurt the Giants year after year. The use of steroids had been drastically reduced, if not almost completely eradicated, and thus my presumption was that older players just wouldn't be nearly as good anymore.

But after looking at these WAR Grids, I've come to a level of comfort that Sabean has some substantial skill that he's acquired along the way at determining which of those older players can still produce. It likely would have come from his years as a scout in the Yankees organization, or perhaps it's something else. But anyway, I don't see how anyone can deny he has it.

Now I'm not saying I think the Giants should continue to run an old roster out on the field every season. In fact, I think they should not do that. The Giants have made huge strides in this department, philosophically within the organization, in recent years. The Giants now appear a team more apt to hang on to its draft picks. The Giants now seem a team willing to move out an older player at a key position, and replace him with a younger player --they did this with Buster Posey. The Giants' staff of Bobby Evans, Dick Tidrow, and others has recently had excellent drafts in both the first round (Posey, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner) and the later rounds (Brandon Belt, Jonathan Sanchez, Thomas Neal). And they've done much better recently on the international front with Pablo Sandoval and perhaps Francisco Peguero or Ehire Adrianza will pay off too.

Now back to Sabean. Besides the drafting and developing, which is vastly important, a GM must also fill holes and supplement the homegrown talent with trades and free agents. More often than not, that pool consists of players that are older than 32. You cannot simply fill out a roster each season with internal options and expect to win, year in and year out. It won't happen. And so it is with these factors in mind that I am suddenly at ease. If Sabean can continue to trust his advisors with the draft, with player development, and for determining when a young player is ready to step in, as well as mix in a solid veteran here and there when needed as he has shown an aptitude for doing, the Giants should be in good shape. The key, though, will be whether or not the player development continues to flourish, and whether or not Sabean allows the veteran presence to be a supplement, and not the focus.


  1. Great read and very insightful. Thank you.

  2. You're welcome. Thanks for reading.

  3. amazing, thanks for putting it together.