Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fantasy Impact: The Hidden Stat

Many fantasy baseball leagues use 5 offensive statistics in their scoring: Runs, HR's, RBI's, SB's and Batting Average. Notice that 4 of those 5 stats are counting stats rather than averages or percentages. While many fantasy baseball commentators spend column after column and page after page expounding and debating the relative merits of OPS, BABIP and other percentage based stats to prognosticate fantasy success, there is another stat that often is completely overlooked that may have a far greater impact, TPA or Total Plate Appearances.

When a player misses a game, his percentage stats are unaffected, because the denominator does not change. A player can miss 3 games in a week, but if he goes 6 for 12 in the other 3, he may help your Batting Average. Counting stats are a whole different story. Each game that a player misses is a lost opportunity to add to his total of Runs, RBI's, HR's, and SB's. A player may have a stellar Batting Average, OBP, SLG%, OPS. His BABIP may have been low suggesting a bounceback next season. None of that matters much if the player is on a team where the manager likes to give his bench players a start here and there, or if the manager likes to juggle lineups a lot for favorable matchups or else plays a straight platoon, or if an older player has to rest once a week.

Let's look at two players, Chipper Jones and Nick Markakis. Chipper had an OPS of .818, but had some nagging injuries and required frequent rests. He accumulated just 596 TPA's, not an exceptionally low number, but nowhere near the league leaders. Nick Markakis had an OPS of .801, but played 161 games and accumulated 711 TPA's, well in the top 20 in baseball. Let's take a look at these player's fantasy lines:

Chipper Jones: Runs: 80, HR's: 18, RBI's: 71, SB: 4, BA: .264.

Nick Markakis: Runs: 94, HR's 18, RBI's: 101, SB: 6, BA: .293

Markakis bests Jones in Runs by a healthy margin, and obliterates him in RBI's largely because he simply had more opportunities to accumulate these numbers

One situation where TPA comes into play and may be difficult to detect is when a team has great OF depth. I remember in 2008, I had Rick Ankiel on my fantasy team for awhile. He provided pretty good power numbers and appeared to be a starting OF for the Cardinals. What I didn't know when I added him to my team was that Tony LaRussa had what he considered 4 good OF's and insisted on rotating them approximately equally to "keep them fresh" for the full season. So yeah, Rick Ankiel gave me decent production when he played, but he was sitting every 4'th game in which he gave me zip, nada, nothing in the 4 counting stats.

Let's take a look at 3 teams where OF depth may become a problem for fantasy baseball owners in 2010:

Colorado Rockies: The Rockies have some OF's who may seem mighty appealing on the surface. Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler look like potential "breakout" candidates. Brad Hawpe has provided steady production for several seasons. Seth Smith had a great looking OPS last season and Ryan Spilborghs was a breakout candidate last year. The problem is that all 5 of these players will be vying for playing time at just 3 positions. To make matters worse, the R-L distribution makes several of them tempting for platoon play. Carlos Gonzalez may be a great breakout candidate, but his production will be severely limited if he has to share playing time with Dexter Fowler in CF or Seth Smith in LF. The Rockies OF situation should be monitored closely and approached with caution until roles are clearly defined.

Oakland A's: The recent signing of Coco Crisp gives the A's 4 OF's of similar skills and approximately equal ability: Crisp, Rajai Davis, Ryan Sweeney and Scott Hairston. The acquisition of Michael Taylor, a power hitting OF prospect on the verge of being MLB ready only complicates the situation further. At this point, the only thing that seems certain is that Crisp has 5 million reasons why he will be starting.....if he's healthy. You may look at Rajai Davis' 41 SB's from last year and be thinking he might give you a nice source of SB's, but how much is he going to play after the addition of Coco Crisp? You may be looking at Ryan Sweeney as a breakout candidate, but the same question applies. Again, the Oakland OF situation should be monitored closely and approached with caution until roles are more clearly defined.

Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles have at least 4 OF's who can make a case for playing time: Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie. Adam Jones certainly looks like a player on the rise, but what happens if he goes into a slump? Does Pie get a foot in the door and start taking significant playing time? What about Reimold's power vs Pie's speed and defense? Not quite as unsettled as Colorado and Oakland, but worth watching with some caution.

Interestingly enough, the Cardinals may have just 3 full time OF's and thus be a good situation for fantasy owners. Rick Ankiel and Chris Duncan are FA's this year so probably won't be on the team. Assuming Matt Holliday signs, that would give the Cards a starting OF of Holliday, Colby Rasmus and Ryan Ludwick with little incentive for LaRussa to go to one of his 4 man rotations.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hot Stove Update: Uribe, Runzler, Calero

The Giants have reportedly reached an agreement to re-sign Juan Uribe to a 1 year contract with an option pending a physical. If Uribe plays like he did last year(OPS .824), he will, once again, be one of the better bargains on the free agent market and will definitely help the Giants. If the Giants offseason activity were to end with the Uribe signing, it would seem the best lineup would have Uribe starting at 3B with Panda sliding over to 1B and Mark DeRosa manning LF. That would give the Giants 3 potential .800+ OPS bats in the middle of the lineup, a significant upgrade from last season. No telling how many games Timmy and Cainer would win with that kind of run support! It might also give the team enough cushion to take a chance on starting Buster Posey at catcher. Posey might have an adjustment period, but if he is as advertised, he should quickly add another .800+ OPS bat to the lineup and we're on our way!

Dan Runzler was named Minor League Reliever of the Year. Runzler was a hard throwing LHP out of UC Riverside with major control issues until he came under the tutelage of former MLB reliever Steve Kline, now a coach for the Giants low A affiliate in Augusta, GA. A few adjustments improved Runzler's control and his overpowering stuff took over. He rocketed up through 4 levels all the way to a September callup with the Giants. His 1.04 ERA with 11 K's in 8.2 IP, made him a strong candidate to stick with the MLB team in 2010. It's great to see ol' Pigpen Steve Kline coaching in the Giants organization and making a difference for their young pitchers.

Speaking of the bullpen, there's a rumor that the Giants are toying with signing Kiko Calero for a bullpen role. Calero has had all kinds of problems fulfilling the promise he showed with the Oakland A's several years ago, but he was lights out for Florida last year. So where would that leave the bullpen? The Giants will almost certainly carry 7 relievers. Players already under contract and likely to make the team:

Brian Wilson
Jeremy Affeldt
Sergio Romo
Brandon Medders(offered arbitration)
Dan Runzler
Waldis Joaquin
Merkin Valdez

The top 4 are absolute locks with Runzler close. Joaquin appears to be ready to pitch in the majors, but could be optioned to AAA for insurance. Valdez would have to pass through waivers to be sent down, and would almost certainly be picked up by another team. He didn't pitch well last year, but do you give up on an arm like his? I guess I would favor signing Calero and sending Joaquin to AAA where he could get some more seasoning. I would even like to see Joaquin try starting again for Fresno!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Should the Padres Trade Adrian Gonzalez?

Prior to the 2006 baseball season, the Padres made one of the most lopsided trades in recent baseball history by sending veteran starting pitcher Adam Eaton and relief pitcher Akinori Otsuka to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Chris Young, a young OF named Termel Sledge, and a young first baseman named Adrian Gonzalez, who was viewed by some as an underachiever after being a #1 overall draft pick by the Florida Marlins a few years before.

A native of San Diego, "AGone" quickly established himself as a young star on the team, and has made steady improvement since. The local kid made good is a player local fans can easily identify with. He is not only the statistical leader of the team, but the focus of fan interest in the team during tough economic times, which have forced the team to dump most of it's star veterans. Playing in the toughest park for hitters in all of baseball, Gonzalez has steadily increased his HR total from 24 in 2006 to 30 in 2007 to 36 in 2008 to 40 in 2009, all from a hitter who's rap before the trade was that he would never hit for enough power to be an impact first baseman.

At this point, the Padres are clearly in a rebuilding mode. They are under new ownership who may have more capital than the previous owner, but is working hard to dump any large contracts for veteran players. The only thing seemingly keeping AGone around is that he is signed to a very inexpensive contract for two more seasons. So why have the Adrian Gonzalez trade rumors been flying this offseason? The most specific one had Gonzalez going to Boston for Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury and a prospect or two. Many baseball commentators have opined that the Pads should trade Gonzalez either this winter or at the trade deadline next season.

The rationale for trading Adrian Gonzalez is as follows:

1. The Padres will not be a good team until after Gonzalez becomes a free agent in two years.
2. Gonzalez' value in free agency will be far more than the Padres will be willing or able to spend.
3. Gonzalez will have more value to another team now than closer to free agency, because the team that trades for him will get two inexpensive years of service from him.
4. It is better to leverage Gonzalez' value into multiple talented players who will be affordable for longer thus speeding up the day when the Padres will be competitive again.

Models for this type of move would include the haul Texas got for Mark Teixeira a couple of years ago. The additions of Jarrod Saltalamachia, Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz to an already strong farm system put Texas into a position where many analysts think they will be a powerhouse in 2-3 years. In Oakland, Billy Beane has made a whole series of trades to try to get as many young, affordable stars on the team at the same time for a critical mass that he hopes will win a championship or two. Not many teams who try to build through their farm system have won championships in the last decade or two. The last team to make an extended run like that was the Yankees of the late 1990's, and they were generously supplemented via the free agent market. The closest a team has come to building a team exclusively from the farm system is the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 who fell just short in the World Series.

A big part of the problem for teams that want to win by developing prospects, is that players remain inexpensive for only a short period of time. By the time the last pieces are in place, the first wave of prospects is ready to hit free agency and goes off to sign with a big market team. Tampa Bay is finding this out. They slipped back a bit in 2009. Now Carl Crawford and BJ Upton are nearing free agency. Do they try to sign those guys long term and risk losing the ability to sign and keep other players, or do they try to leverage Crawford and Upton into an even bigger wave that crests a couple of years later? What if some of the young players don't work out, and the wave never crests?

The problem with trading Adrian Gonzalez is the stupendous enormity of his production. It is highly unlikely that, no matter how many highly ranked prospects the Padres get in return, their combined production will match, let alone exceed, AGone's. You see, Petco Park is the most fearsome ballpark for hitters in all of baseball, and it's really not very close. Even Barry Bonds couldn't hit there with any consistency! Last year, Adrian Gonzalez hit 40 HR's while playing half of his games in Petco, and another 9 games in Dodger Stadium, no shrinking violet of a pitcher's park itself. How much of a factor is Petco? Well, if 1000 HR's were hit in a average baseball stadium, only 721 would be hit in Petco, while approximately 1261 would be hit in Yankee Stadium. Last year, AGone hit 12 HR's in Petco Park and 28 on the road, pretty much in line with those park factors. Had he played in an average ballpark, he likely would have hit at least 50 HR's! Playing for the Yankees, who knows?

If the Padres are ever going to have a winning team, at some point they are going to have to increase their payroll. If they can't do that, then they need to find a richer owner to sell the team to. Assuming that the new Padre ownership can and will eventually increase payroll, then Adrian Gonzalez is a player well worth investing a large percentage of the payroll in, a true Franchise Player. It will be costly, most likely upwards of 6 years at $20 M/year, but worth it in terms of production and fan identification with the player and team.

In summary, rather than trading Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres should make every effort to sign him to a long term contract extension and then build the team around him. If at some point, they become convinced that they cannot sign him long term, and are destined to lose him to free agency, then of course they must try to trade him to a team that can give multiple top talent young players in return, but don't expect that those players will ever make up for the loss of Gonzalez' production. The sooner the Padres make this decision the better off they will be. They can likely get a better contract from Gonzalez if they extend the current deal than if they wait until free agency is looming. Likewise, a team looking to acquire him in trade will likely give up more if they can get in on the last two years of his team friendly contract. The Padres should make every effort to keep him!

Hot Stove Update: Bay Signs With Mets

This one doesn't seem exactly like a match made in heaven. For the Mets, Bay was the only signable impact free agent available, so of course they had to sign him, right? For Bay, the Mets were the highest bidder, so he had to sign with them, right? This is like the couple who realizes the week before the wedding that they aren't right for each other, but it's too late to back out because the invitations have already been sent out, and the church has already been rented.

Once again, the Mets are the poor man's version of the Yankees, signing the second best free agent available a year after much better free agents were signed by the Yankees. It's really tough to see how this turns out to be a happy ending for either the player or the team. Sure, Bay can hit HR's, but what else can he do? If all the Met's players who were injured last year are healthy, they probably don't need Bay. If they aren't healthy, Bay isn't going to make a difference anyway. Then there's FMart. What becomes of him? I guess he's trade bait now?

We'll see how this one turns out, but I don't like it for either the Mets or for Jason Bay.

Fantasy Impact: Uncertain. Dynasty leaguers who own Fernando Martinez can't be happy. Citi Field has a reputation as a pitchers park, but actually is a slight positive for HR's. It's a little tough to imagine Bay hitting as many HR's there as in Boston though.

Monday, December 28, 2009

DeRosa Agrees to Terms

I like the signing. At age 35 and moving to AT&T, it's not reasonable to expect him to rebound to the level of his Cubs years, but I do expect a positive regression from last season. DeRosa will be an upgrade at any one of several positions, and his versatility is a big plus. I would personally like to see him be the starting left fielder. The one thing I want the Giants to stay away from is long term commitments. The Giants have a top 5 ranked farm system. They need to maintain the flexibility to move these prospects onto the MLB club over the next 2-3 years. This signing keeps intact their newfound determination to avoid any more crippling long term contracts.

Jonathan Sanchez: Breakout Candidate?

Nice article today on Fangraphs about Jonathan Sanchez:

I have some additional thoughts:

1. Sanchez' fastball was 94 mph with regularity last season(at least by the radar readings on TV), and it wasn't unusual to see a 96 or 97 unleashed.

2. Fangraphs is using full season data. Sanchez was a much different pitcher from the no-hitter on, and is shows in his second half splits: ERA= 4.46 while raising his K/9 and lowering his BB/9 slightly.

3. Sanchez got in a bad groove in May and June with ERA's of 6.00 and 7.08. He went to the bullpen for a couple of turns. He worked out some mechanical issues and came back with the no-no. If you take out the months of May and June, his line for the year was 7-5, 3.26, 107.2 IP, 50 BB, 124 K's.

While there is no guarantee that Sanchez will avoid a bad two months in 2010, the fact that he worked out his problems and came back a lot stronger, combined with the normal arc of his career trajectory points to the possibility of a huge breakout in 2010.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Hot Stove Update: D'Backs Sign Howry

The signing of Bobby Howry by the D'Backs today is probably of little interest to anybody but Giants and D'Back fans. Ordinarily, Giants fans would not be happy seeing a division rival sign a leaving player, but that may not be the case with Howry. It's not that Howry didn't pitch pretty well for the Giants last year, he did, as a 3.38 ERA would attest. A BAA of .214 would tend to back that assessment up. His K/9 and BB/9, while not terribly exciting, were not terrible either. Part of the answer as to why Giants fans might not be heartbroken to see Howry sign with the D'Backs can be found in his 2-6 record and 3 blown saves in 3 opportunities. Lot's of relievers have records like that, though, and no one thinks much of it. The thing about Howry's losses and Blown Saves was how much they hurt:

2 losses early in the season to the Dodgers.

A loss on 6/1 to Washington after giving up 3 runs in the 7'th inning of a game the Giants were leading 6-4.

3 losses on 7/1, 7/16 and 8/20 all on walk off HR's!

Those were all games the Giants could have won. Had they won 4 of the 6, they would have tied Colorado for a Wild Card playoff birth. That's how much it hurt! It just seemed like Howry pitched fine in low leverage situations, but blew every single high leverage situation he was put in. That's not what you need from a guy you pay $3 M to be your 7'th inning guy. So, despite his 3.38 ERA, Giants fans were definitely not clamoring to keep him on for another year. Pitchers who can keep your team in a game, or eat innings in low-leverage situations, can be fairly easily found for the MLB minimum salary, and the Giants farm system is loaded with potential bullpen arms.

Howry put up one more number of significance that does not bode well for his tenure in Arizona, a GO/AO of 0.55! Now, that is extreme flyball pitching rarely found! I think there are probably situations where Howry could contribute to a winning baseball team. Arizona is probably not that situation. Combine Howry's penchant for giving up walk-off HR's, and extreme flyball ratio, and one of the more hitter-friendly parks in baseball, and it's likely that Howry's signing is not just addition by subtraction for the Giants, but subtraction by addition for the D'Backs! That it may happen to a division rival makes Giants fans happy.

Fantasy Impact: None. Howry is not a guy you wanted on your roster last season and he won't be this season either.

Hot Stove Update: Fernando Rodney Signs With Angels

The LA Angels announced the signing of righthanded RP Fernando Rodney to a 2 year contract for a total of $11 M. What makes this signing somewhat curious is the fact that Rodney saved 37 of 38 games for Detroit last year, and the Angels already have a closer, Brian Fuentes, who had the most Saves in baseball last year, 48. Fuentes is signed to a multiyear contract which pays him $9 M in 2010 with a vesting option for another $9 M in 2011.

While Rodney and Fuentes both saved a lot of games last year, neither was what you would exactly call a "shut down" closer. Fuentes blew 7 saves, and Rodney's secondary stats were just not very good:

Fuentes: 1-5, 3.93, 48 Saves, 55 Save Opps, 55 IP, 24 BB, 46 K's. His splits were dominant against lefthanded hitters, but not good at all against righthanded hitters with an OBPa of >.350 and a SLG % against of >.450.

Rodney: 2-5, 4.40, 37 Saves, 38 Save Opps, 75.2 IP, 41 BB, 61 K's. Note the relatively high ERA and the downright terrible walk rate!

It would appear that the Angels are paying closer prices for not just one, but two closers! Possibilities:

1. The Angels just found out that Jose Arredondo will be out for the season. With a lot of closers looking for work this offseason, they grabbed the opportunity to put a closer talent into the setup role.

2. The Angels don't trust Fuentes and wanted to have a pitcher with closing experience as a backup.

3. The Angels looked at Fuentes numbers against righthanded batters and are planning to run a closer platoon, if you will, with Rodney closing against some teams with righthanded heavy lineups. Variations on this theme could have Rodney pitching the 8'th and then extending into the 9'th for a tough RH batter to two, or vice versa.

4. Maybe the Angels are eyeing Fuentes' vesting option and thinking of using Rodney to keep Fuentes from reaching the threshold?

It all may work out marvelously for the Angels, but it also has the makings of a disaster. Fuentes is a risk to go Brad Lidge on the Angels at any time. Rodney's secondary stats don't support sustainability as a setup man, let alone a closer!

Fantasy Impact: Big. No matter how bad a closer's secondary stats are, the overwhelmingly important stat from a fantasy standpoint is Saves. The most important factor in maintaining saves for most closers is the lack of competition for the position. Last year, Brad Lidge was about as bad as a closer can get, but Charlie Manuel stuck with him and he kept on getting Saves, and kept right on having fantasy value. My fantasy team advanced in the playoffs because Brad Lidge got a couple of Saves that won the Saves category for me that week! Nobody wants to draft a closer only to have him replaced midseason and you weren't quick enough to drop your closer and grab the replacement off the FA list. The Chicago Cubs with Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol are a classic example. Up until yesterday, Brian Fuentes was looking like a sure bet for at least 35-40 saves, probably more with the way Mike Scioscia manages. Now, who knows? Fantasy options now include: 1. Stay away from the situation completely. 2. Draft Fuentes and keep your fingers crossed. 3. Try to draft both Fuentes and Rodney. The only saving factor in this situation is that Mike Scioscia tends to be a stickler for defined roles, so if he names a closer early, he will likely stick with it.

Fantasy Impact: Park Effects

One factor that I try to keep in mind when constructing a fantasy baseball roster is park effects. What impact, if any, does playing home games in a certain ballpark have on a player's statistics, and therefore his fantasy value? To start the discussion, here is a site listing Park Factors for 2009 from ESPN:

A few surprises here:

AT&T Park is the 10'th best park for scoring runs? Now THAT is a surprise, but not so much so if you were aware that AT&T has played close to neutral for the last several years. This fact makes Aaron Rowand's constant kvetching about how many HR's the park has cost him all the more galling, especially since Rowand's complaining may be scaring off potential free agent hitters.

After all the hoopla about the new Yankee Stadium being a bandbox in a wind tunnel, it turned out to be fairly close to neutral: A bit easier to hit HR's, but overall a bit more difficult to score runs.

There is a significant year-to-year variation. For instance, Mall of America Field in Minneapolis jumped from one of the 3 toughest parks for hitters in 2008 to the 6'th easiest. This makes you wonder about the statistic in the first place.

I think we can agree that the top 3 and at least 2 of the bottom 3 parks here are not big surprises: Coors Field(Colorado), Chase Field(Phoenix), and Wrigley Field(Chicago) are all generally accepted to be friendly to hitters, while Petco Park(San Diego) and Dodger Stadium are well known to be pitcher friendly.

So, how much stock to I put into park effects when constructing a fantasy baseball team? For the most part, I ignore it, except for the parks at the extremes. If a player has established a peformance level in a certain park, like Adrian Gonzalez in San Diego, I don't worry too much about the park. If, however, a player is moving to or away from one of the extreme parks, I pay a lot of attention!

I will not roster any pitcher from the Colorado Rockies without a 2-3 year track record of success there. Of course, no pitcher in history has ever been able to sustain success there, so I don't roster Colorado pitchers! On the other hand, hitters who are acquired by the Rockies from other teams, or hitting prospects coming up from the minors are a fairly good bet to put up better numbers than in their previous home, or from what you would ordinarily project for a hitting prospect.

I stay away from San Diego Padre hitters. The big exception, of course, is AGone, who has established a track record of fantastic numbers in Petco Park. On the other hand, if I am looking to pick up an overlooked starting pitcher who will put up Quality Starts, a few K's and W's and help keep the ERA and WHIP down, I will take a long look at 4'th and 5'th starters in San Diego's rotation even in a 10 team league. Kevin Correia rewarded this strategy for me last year. One pitcher who I expect to be a big beneficiary of park factors is Clayton Richard acquired from the White Sox in the Jake Peavy trade last year. That's not to say I will draft Richard in the early rounds, or even draft him at all, but I will be closely watching him. If he starts getting in a groove of quality starts, and I need a pitcher at the back end of the rotation, I will be quick to pull the trigger on picking him up. BTW, I would stay away from Jake Peavy! Aside from the obvious age and injury issues, he is moving from the most pitcher friendly park and division to one of the more pitcher unfriendly environments. Add at least 0.6 to as much as 1.00 to his ERA!

There are other factors within the larger concept of Park Factors to consider. The Green Monster in Boston is obviously a factor as is the short RF porch in Yankee Stadium(I am cautious about LHP's in Boston and RHP's in New York. For those of us who watch a lot of Giants games, it appears that AT&T park is a lot harder on LH hitters than RH(Barry Bonds was the one big exception).

Friday, December 25, 2009

Hot Stove Update: Giants

The Giants have been quiet so far in the "Hot Stove League." They moved early to parlay their 1 year option on Freddy Sanchez into a 2 year/$12 M extension. Since then, nada! There were some stirrings yesterday with two items on, one of them also posted on the Giants website,

1. Juan Uribe is "close" to re-signing with the Giants. The rumored deal would be for 1 year at approximately $4 M with a team option and buyout for 2011.

2. Mark DeRosa is "leaning" toward accepting a 2 year/$12 M offer from the Giants.

If both signings actually come to pass, it would be somewhat of a puzzle in that both play multiple positions and could be seen as utility players. One would make sense, but both might be going overboard with the flexibility thing. On the other hand, such a deal could make a lot of sense, especially for a team with a lot of young players and prospects who might break out and demand more playing time. The flexibility would enable the team to both play the veterans and make room for the young players.

Juan Uribe: Last year at this time Uribe was coming off 3 terrible seasons in a row for the White Sox. He was signed by the Giants to a longshot minor league deal. He produced a .289/.329/.495 line with 16 HR's in 398 AB's. He was consistent all year, but really turned on the power in September with a .614 SLG%. Uribe can play all 4 IF positions. If he an keep his 2009 production going, he should be a starter somewhere. The most likely position being 3B with Pablo Sandoval sliding over to 1B, and Travis Ishikawa the odd man out. Another possibility is shortstop if Renteria continues to struggle. One has to wonder if last year was a fluke for Uribe coming off those 3 terrible seasons in a row, and if a major regression is more likely. With the commitment limited to 1 season, I think that is a risk worth taking. At age 31, he should still be in the prime of his career.

Mark DeRosa: DeRosa had a down year in 2009, batting just .250, but still hit 23 HR's, something the power-starved Giants could certainly use. In the 3 years prior, DeRosa produced OPS's of .812, .792 and .857 while playing a variety of positions, mostly 2B. DeRosa can also play all IF positions except maybe SS, and can also play LF. If both he and Uribe sign with the Giants, it would be logical to pencil him in as the starting LF. His versatility would still enable other scenarios if, for instance, Uribe tanked again, or if Uribe had to move over to SS for Renteria. At 35, DeRosa could still bounce back to an OPS of around .800, or he could be at the beginning of the downward part of his career trajectory. A 2 year commitment is probably a reasonable risk.

With arbitration still awaiting Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez Brandon Medders and Brian Wilson, it would seem that these two signings would preclude any further major moves barring a significant upgrade in payroll. This would mean that Buster Posey could be the opening day catcher and Madison Bumgarner could be the #5 starter, unless those positions are filled by low-cost "dumpster dives" like Uribe was last year. Here is one possible projected lineup:

CF Aaron Rowand
2B Freddy Sanchez
LF Mark DeRosa
1B Pablo Sandoval
3B Juan Uribe
RF Nate Schierholtz
C Buster Posey
SS Edgar Renteria

Bench: Eli Whiteside, Travis Ishikawa, Eugenio Velez, Andres Torres, Fred Lewis? John Bowker? Kevin Frandsen?

Rotation: Lincecum, Cain, Zito, Sanchez, Bumgarner(would probably split up the two RHP's even though they are #1 and #2 on talent.

Bullpen: Wilson, Affeldt, Medders, Runzler, Joaquin, Valdez, Johnson(rule 5 pickup who has to be on the 25 man roster for the Giants to keep him).

Fantasy Impact: 1. If Uribe wins a starting job, he should be followed closely. If he produces like last year, he's definitely worth rostering in most league, particularly if he carries over SS and 2B eligibility. 2. DeRosa will likely start somewhere, so his fantasy value should not be affected, especially if his multiple position eligibility carries over from last season. 3. If this means the Giants are done for the offseason, it moves the timetable up for Bumgarner and Posey who are both future stars, but might have an adjustment period. Again, the situations would require close monitoring. 3. Travis Ishikawa, Nate Schierholtz and Eugenio Velez could all be negatively impacted by these signings.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Moneyball: The Sequel?

The A's announced yesterday that they had signed Coco Crisp to a 1 year contract for $4.5 M with an option for more in 2011 with a $500 K buyout, so he's guaranteed $5 M in the deal. Coco Crisp? Has Billy Beane lost his mind? This deal certainly has a lot of people scratching their heads, especially since the A's already had 3 OF's and had just acquired Michael Taylor, who appears close to being MLB ready. I don't think Billy Beane has lost it, but to understand this move, we have to understand the evolution of Sabermetrics, the study of baseball statistics.

There are rumors of an upcoming movie based on the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis about how the Oakland A's, led by their GM Billy Beane, approached the 2002 Baseball Free Agent Draft. That book glorified two baseball statistics, OBP and OPS(OBP + SLG%). The gist of it was that it mattered less what "tools", or raw ability, a player possessed than how they performed on the field. It also was about how traditional statistics, such as Batting Average, undervalue certain players, thus creating opportunities for astute GM's, such as Billy Beane, to acquire such players at a relatively lower price, thus enabling low-revenue teams like the A's to compete with richer teams like the LA Angels, for instance. Moneyball proved to be a wildly popular book, in part because it meant a whole bunch of ordinary fans could now use statistics to do their own evaluation of players, and imagine themselves to be superior at player evaluation than their favorite team's GM. It also was a boon to fantasy baseball enthusiasts who believed they now had a leg up on competitors who were less sophisticated about these matters. The book also created a near deification of Billy Beane and the OBP and OPS statistics among a large set of serious baseball fans. BTW, this was not exactly a new concept in baseball. Many years before Moneyball, Earl Weaver, a very smart and successful manager for the Baltimore Orioles said, "baseball games are won by 3 run homers and great pitching", or something to that effect. Well, Michael Lewis might want to get started on Moneyball: The Sequel. Times have changed since 2002!

One major piece missing from Sabermetrics in 2002, and thus from Moneyball, was a good way to measure baseball defense. The practical result was that defense became almost ignored by a new generation of GM's, led by Billy Beane. The corollary was that Beane acquired a whole bunch of big, slow players with big butts who drew a lot of walks, hit the ball hard when they hit it, and who looked more like statues in the field than ballplayers. As time went on, a few keen observers started to realize two things: 1. The A's were getting worse instead of better. 2. Billy Beane was starting to deviate from the script and acquire a more traditional type of player. What few people realized was that rather than abandoning the principles of "Moneyball", Billy Beane had found a new statistic that he quietly started using to evaluate players, UZR or something similar.

Baseball analysts have long known that Errors and Fielding Percentage are terrible ways to evaluate defense. The problem, aside from the inherent subjectivity of judging just what an error is, was that errors are generally only charged on balls the fielder actually touches. A defensive player could stand stock still in the field and let a ball fall on the ground next to him, and it would be counted as a hit rather than an error. But how do you measure what balls a player should be able to make a play on? Modern computers now enable us to track and keep a record of all batted balls hit into the general area that a defensive player is guarding. They can also track which of those batted balls the fielder successfully makes a play on. This data is then processed into a formula that includes errors, successful throws, balls cut off that hold a batter to a single rather than a double or triple, and other factors to produce a defensive statistic called UZR or Ultimate Zone Rating. Raw UZR can then be normalized to 150 games, a typical full season, or UZR/150. UZR purports to be a measure of how many runs a particular fielder saved or cost his team relative to an average fielder. If UZR is to be believed, defense has a far greater impact on the game than was previously believed, at least by "Moneyball" enthusiasts. For instance, Adam Dunn is a Sabermetrician's dream. A great big guy who doesn't look much like a ballplayer, he tends to have low Batting Averages, but draws a lot of walks and hits a lot of HR's producing spectacular OBP's and SLG %'s and thus excellent OPS's. Now, everybody knew that Adam Dunn is a terrible fielder, but nobody really cared because there was no good way to measure it, so nobody knew just how bad he was, and he was a prodigious run producer. Well, according to UZR, Adam Dunn cost his team 47 runs on defense last year, largely negating all those runs he produced on offense!

So, what does this all have to do with the A's signing Coco Crisp? Crisp was injured most of last year, and the A's already had 3 OF's, Scott Hairston, Rajai Davis, and Ryan Sweeney. All 3 are at least as good offensively as Crisp, and possibly better. Hairston hits more HR's, Davis steals a lot more bases and Sweeney projects as a much better hitter overall. What's more, none of these players are perceived as being particularly bad fielders. Lets' look at the data:

Rajai Davis: 2009 UZR +17.9, Career UZR +12.

Ryan Sweeney: 2009 UZR +27.6!, Career UZR +17.1.

Scott Hairston: 2009 UZR +1.8!, Career UZR +6.3, but Hairston plays almost exclusively LF, so his data is based on a comparison with average LF's, which includes a lot of players like Adam Dunn!

Coco Crisp: Career CF UZR + 5.8, Career OF UZR 10.9.

Guess who the odd man out is going to be? The final outcome of all this remains to be seen. It is quite possible that Billy Beane will make more trades before the offseason is over. Most observers are now predicting that if anyone is dealt, it will be Scott Hairston, or else Hairston will become the 4'th OF! It would appear that Billy Beane is going to start the season with 3 CF's playing the 3 OF positions. He will try to win with pitching, speed and defense, the exact opposite of "Moneball"! Instead of basing this approach on an old saw passed down from one generation of baseball managers to another, it will be based on science, Sabermetrics, the study of baseball statistics! Moneyball: The Sequel, if you will!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Grading the Trade: Blue Jays-Mariners

The Trade: Mariners get RP Brandon League + OF Jehormyn Chavez(Prospect). Blue Jays get RP/SP Brandon Morrow.

Mariners: Grade B+. Look at these two pitching lines:

Pitcher A: 26 yo, 3-6, 4.58, 74.2 IP, 21 BB, 76 K's.
Pitcher B: 25 yo, 2-4, 4.39, 69.2 IP, 44 BB's, 63 K's.

Both pitchers have fastball velocities in the high 90's, with decent secondary stuff.

I don't know about you, but I would take Pitcher A based on clearly superior control with essentially equal ages, stuff, and K rates. In this case, Pitcher A is Brandon League and and Pitcher B is Brandon Morrow. That Seattle got an extra prospect in the deal is just icing on the cake. I'm even tempted to go A- or A here, but I'm not sure any of the players involved is enough of a difference maker to justify an A grade for either team.

Chavez is not chopped liver either. He played last season at age 20 in low A Midwest League, a very tough league for hitters:

.283, .386, .474 with 21 HR's. Chavez is a big OF, 6'3", 220 lbs, so weight could become an issue for him in the future. For now, he has enough speed to steal 10 bases, so should be able to at least play LF. He should put up huge numbers in High A, High Desert next season!

Blue Jays: Grade C-. See discussion above. The only factor keeping this grade from an F is that Morrow is still young and has some upside himself. He's a former first round draft choice, taken by Seattle ahead of hometown hero Tim Lincecum(as good as this trade is for Seattle, it still must be galling to Seattle fans to see this outcome to that draft). Morrow has closed with some success, but wants to be a starter. Perhaps Toronto's GM is looking at his last start of 2009, 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K's, and is thinking he's on the verge of a breakout as a starter? That's an awful lot of projection to put on a one game sample! The BB/9 and K/BB would suggest that Morrow has a way's to go before he's a dominant pitcher in any role. Still, if he ever harnesses his stuff, he still has the ceiling of an ace. For a team that just traded away Roy Halladay for 3 prospects, a 2 for 1 going the other way is baffling to say the least.

Fantasy Impact: Uncertain. League will probably be Seattle's setup man behind David Aardsma, but watch this situation closely if Aardsma falters at all. Morrow could be a sleeper as either a closer or starter for Toronto, but probably draftable only in deeper leagues unless he is clearly the closer coming out of spring training. Morrow should be watched closely if he starts the season in the rotation.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Grading the Trade: Yankees-Braves

The Trade: Atlanta sends SP Javier Vasquez + RP Boone Logan to the Yankees for OF Melky Cabrera + RP Michael Dunn + SP Arodys Vizcaino(Prospect).

Yankees: Grade A. On the surface, this trade looks lopsided in favor of the Yankees. The Yanks certainly did well in it. They add a veteran starter who is at least as good as John Lackey for a fraction of the salary commitment. All they give up is an average, expendable OF and a young prospect. The Yankees only need prospects for this kind of trade, so it's not like they are mortgaging their future. They can keep on buying the best players indefinitely.

Braves: Grade B. The Braves had 6 starting pitchers, Vasquez, Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami, so one was expendable. They really wanted to trade Derek Lowe, but couldn't find any takers for his contract. As for what they got in return, Cabrera is an upgrade from Garrett Anderson who was only slightly worse with the bat, but a terrible fielder. Cabrera is not a great fielder, but projects as league average on defense whatever position he takes. Dunn is a lefty reliever who had huge strikeout rates but control issues in the minors: 4-3, 3.31, 73 IP, 46 BB, 99 K's. He projects as a valuable bullpen arm if he can keep the walks under control. The key to the trade from the Braves perspective is the prospect, Arodys Vizcaino. He just turned 19 yo after the season, and dominated the short season New York-Penn league: 2-4, 2.13, 42 IP, 15 BB, 52 K's with a 1.34 GO/AO. Vizcaino sports a mid 90's fastball along with a hammer curveball. His changeup is a work in progress. Vizcaino was ranked as the #3 Yankee prospect by Baseball America.

The Yankees continue to add pretty much any player they choose, regardless of salary. The Braves strengthened themselves for the long term and are probably no worse and maybe slightly better in the short term. They probably got as much for Vasquez as they could expect without paying part of his salary or including a pretty good prospect or two of their own in the deal. Good trade for both sides!

Fantasy Impact: Minimal. Cabrera is probably not a guy you want to roster except in deeper leagues. Vasquez will likely have a higher ERA, but more W's in New York.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Savvy Vets

I had never played fantasy baseball until the 2008 season when a friend from work invited me to join his league. The league is Mixed, 10 teams, 5X5, H2H, 6 Keepers, 3 pitchers and 3 position players. I inherited a team that seemed to have been mismanaged and had weak keepers. I named my team the Savvy Vets because that is the type of player that Brian Sabean likes to acquire, and because I am one of the older managers in the league. I did not make the playoffs that first year, but accomplished my primary goal of upgrading my keepers. Then in 2009, I won the Championship after finishing the regular season in 3'rd place in terms of W-L record. I thought it might be fun to post my playoff roster and explain how I acquired the players:

C Brian McCann: Keeper. There are only 2 or 3 top tier catchers in baseball, and not 10 good hitting catchers overall. If you have one of the top tier guys, you better keep him! Despite some time off with eye problems early in the season, McCann more than made up for it with another stellar offensive season.

1B Prince Fielder: Keeper. #2 OPS in baseball in 2009.

2B Brandon Phillips: I started out with Kelly Johnson drafted late. Dumped him for Rickie Weeks early on and Weeks was tremendous before blowing out his wrist. Picked up Iwamura only to lose him to knee surgery within a couple of weeks. Tried Jose Lopez and finally settled on Martin Prado. Prado was great, but lost a few games to injury and I realized I needed his versatility in a utility spot. I picked Carlos Marmol off the FA list the night it was announced that he would be the Cubs closer. I then flipped Marmol for Brandon Phillips who was sitting on another managers bench. Phillips was a great help in the playoffs.

3B Chipper Jones: Keeper. Chipper had a down year. He was still worth hanging onto even as a 5 game a week player. He's not one of my keepers for next year though.

SS Gordon Beckham: Started out with JJ Hardy, who had a disastrous season plagued by injury. Shortstop is a difficult position to fill on the run, so when Beckham came available, I decided I didn't have anything to lose. Beckham was a rookie listed as a shortstop who never played the position in the majors. He would have been a downgrade as a 3B, but as a shortstop, he was great, giving me significant power and run production from a position where those attributes are scarce.

IF Kevin Youkilis: Drafted first round. Youk had a typically solid year. Started out red hot but faded some down the stretch. Still was a marginal positive for the playoffs. Will be looking for him early in next year's draft too.

OF Jermaine Dye: Drafted middle rounds. Overall, Dye was a positive. He faded badly in the second half, but had one 2 homer game during the playoffs that helped a lot. That second half is very worrisome going forward. Will probably be looking elsewhere for OF's next draft.

OF Rajai Davis: FA add. I traded Nick Markakis and Roy Oswalt for Tommy Hanson with about 6 weeks to go. That left an open OF slot. I picked up Davis because he was hitting for a good average and I wanted to upgrade my SB's. Davis got red hot and singlehandedly won several SB categories for me. He helped raise my team BA and didn't hurt me in Runs or RBI's. Will probably regress some in 2010, but should still be a solid SB guy who may help balance a team.

OF Justin Upton: FA add. Upton got off to a slow start and got dumped by another manager who got frustrated. I saw Upton on TV playing against the Giants and looked good at the plate. I thought he was going to heat up so picked him off the FA market. Boy, was I ever right on that one! Upton replaces Chipper Jones as my 3'rd positional keeper for next year. I expect a huge breakout!

UT Martin Prado: FA add. Plays several positions for Atlanta, mostly 2B. Hit well over .300 most of the season and held his own in other categories. Will be looking for him in the middle to late rounds next draft too.

UT Joey Votto: Drafted. I had Votto on my team in 2008 and really liked his solid production. Improved in 2009 despite missing some time with depression and an anxiety disorder. I expect even better things in 2010 and will look for him in the draft. Very close call on whether to keep him or Justin Upton.

SP CC Sabathia: Keeper. No comment necessary. Keeper for next year too!

SP Matt Cain: Drafted. Cain continued to post great K and ERA numbers while getting a bit more run support for a few more W's to boot. Keeper for 2010.

SP Tommy Hanson: Acquired in a midseason trade for Nick Markakis and Roy Oswalt. Hanson remained solid down the stretch while Markakis slumped badly and Oswalt ended up on the DL. I see Hanson, a graduate of Redlands East Valley HS in my hometown, as an ace in the making. Keeper pitcher #3 for 2010.

SP Brett Anderson: FA add. Another rookie who shined in 2009. Very tough to not make him a keeper, but we could only keep 3! Will look for him in the next draft.

SP Kevin Correia: FA Add. Picked him up fairly early when he won a starting job with San Diego. I had followed him closely when he was with the Giants and felt the Giants made a mistake in letting him go. I figured if he was healthy, he was capable of turning in a bunch of quality starts with solid K rates. He just kept getting stronger and stronger as the season went on. By the playoffs, he was one of my most reliable pitchers. Another guy to look for in the next draft.

RP Brad Lidge: Drafted. Had a terrible season. I almost dumped him several times, but despite the terrible ERA and all the blown saves, Charlie Manuel stuck with him, and he kept getting Saves throughout the season.

RP Joakim Soria: Drafted. I purposely drafted closers early, and despite down seasons from Lidge and Soria, it paid off. I won the Saves category in all but 3 or 4 weeks.

RP Brian Wilson: Drafted. My best closer all season. Racked up those Saves!

P Leo Nunez: FA add. Picked Nunez up after seeing him pitch against the Giants just blowing them away. I could see that Lindstrom was hanging by a thread and figured Nunez was the guy to take his place. Good guess! I had 4 active closers at the end of the season which enabled me to flip Marmol for Brandon Philips without risking my Saves categories.

P Mike Gonzalez: Drafted. I drafted Gonzalez as a closer, but he got replaced mid-season by Rafael Soriano. As a setup man, Gonzalez was lights out, so I kept him on to help my ERA/WHIP. He still got an occasional Save too!

BN Scott Baker: Drafted. Solid starter all season. Nothing spectacular but gets those quality starts and builds up K's and W's in the process.

BN Ricky Nolasco: FA add. Got off to a terrible start and even got sent down to the minors. Got dumped by another manager. I tracked his progress in the minors, and when I saw his numbers improve, picked him off the FA list and waited for him to get recalled. He was solid the rest of the season.

BN Johnny Cueto: Drafted. Started off red hot, then had a terrible stretch in July and August. Stabilized for the September fantasy playoff. Good source of K's and didn't harm the ERA down the stretch.

BN Rich Harden: Drafted. Solid contributor through August, but got shut down for the playoffs. By that time, I had used all my moves, so I just parked him on the bench. Great pitcher when healthy, but has yet to pitch a complete season.

BN Aaron Harang: Drafted. Unspectacular, but a Quality Start machine. Had an appendectomy which forced him out of the playoffs. Again, I was out of moves so parked him on the bench.

So,that's the story of my successful fantasy baseball season. I will post some thoughts on Fantasy Baseball strategy as well as thoughts on individual players from time to time.

2009 Catcher Block Percentage

Defensive statistics are getting more and more attention, and are sometimes casting light on why some players, who offensively appear to be valuable players, aren't necessarily in great demand come free agent time, or why some prospects who put up great numbers might not ever get a MLB opportunity. Here's a very interesting breakdown of which catchers are good at blocking pitches in the dirt and how many runs they may save or cost their team in the process:

Not much of a surprise that Bengie Molina is in negative territory here. More surprising that Eli Whiteside is apparently even worse! Whiteside aways seemed to do a good job behind the plate whenever I saw him catch. It should be noted that these numbers are for pitch blocking only.

If the Giants are looking to sign a veteran catcher as a bridge to Buster Posey, it looks like Rod Barajas or Yorvit Torrealba might be defensive upgrades on Bengie Molina without sacrificing too much offense.

Halladay-Lee Trades: My Take

The recent series of trades involving Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee as well as several highly ranked prospects will probably be forever viewed as one big event, though, technically, none of the trades were tied to each other. Taken together, they will probably have a bigger impact on the game than any trade in recent memory. Who got the best end of these trades will undoubtedly be hotly debated for years to come. Here's my take:

Toronto Blue Jays: Grade B+. Toronto needed to trade Roy Halladay and get young talent in return. They accomplished that. Perhaps they could have gotten a little more for him, but the 3 prospects they ended up with, Wallace, Drabek and D'Arnaud immediately become their top 3 ranked prospects. Toronto can also use the money saved on Halladay's salary to spend more on the draft and the international market to further strengthen their farm system. Wallace and Drabek are nearly MLB ready. Living up to Halladay's accomplishments is a rare feat, and probably not reasonable to expect of any young pitchers, but Drabek has the potential to be a #1 or #2 starter, and very soon. The Jays should get at least 6 very productive years from both him and Brett Wallace. I'm a bit mystified as to why Toronto flipped Michael Taylor for Wallace, but more on that later.

Philadelphia Phillies: Grade D. Roy Halladay is probably a better pitcher than Cliff Lee, but only marginally so. In order to achieve that marginal upgrade, the Phillies decimated a strong farm system. Yes, they got 3 prospects back from Seattle, but those 3 prospects are in no way comparable to the ones they gave up. It appears that the only reason Amaro Jr. made this trade was that Lee was refusing to sign a contract extension whereas they were able to lock up Halladay for 4 years albeit at $20 M/yr. What if the Phillies had just kept Cliff Lee? They still would have been competitive for another World Championship run in 2010. They would still have had Drabek, who would likely be ready to move into the rotation in 2011, or else could still have been packaged in a trade at that point. They also would have the $20 M/year they will be paying Halladay to compete for Lee, Halladay or other free agent pitchers. Roy Halladay will be 33 to start the 2010 season. He has a ton of mileage on his arm with over 2000 IP in his 11 year MLB career so far. The risk that that the Phils will be grossly overpaying him in the final two years of his contract is huge.

Seattle Mariners: Grade A-. They didn't give up a whole lot, and got an ace in return, but only for one season. It appears that their new GM is trying to make a splash and compete for the AL West right away. With Oakland and Texas rebuilding, and the Angels crumbling, his timing may be perfect. Lee can be traded again at mid-season if things aren't going as planned, or the M's can recoup some of their farm system losses with compensation draft picks if Lee leaves as a free agent after the season, so there is very little long term downside.

Oakland A's: Grade B. I see Michael Taylor as a marginal upgrade on Brett Wallace just because Wallace profiles as a first baseman and/or DH while Taylor is a competent left-fielder. Taylor may not hit for as high a batting average as Wallace, but will probably have significantly more power. Both teams had somewhat of a need to rebalance their systems from a postional standpoint. Toronto already had Wells, Lind, and Travis Snider in the OF while the A's were overloaded with first base/DH types. Toronto's need to rebalance seemed to be less as they could have made use of the DH, or even moved LInd or Snider to first base. A marginal win for Billy Beane here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

State of the Giants: Addendum

Any discussion about the State of the Giants is incomplete without a comment on the Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand signings. As I see it, the Zito/Rowand signings were desperation attempts to keep the Giants competitive while awaiting the maturation of the Rebuild from Within, along with an eye on maintaining attendance. It didn't hurt that both were popular players, in Zito's case already a star in the Bay Area. Both players predictably have failed to live up to the size of their contracts. Both are now widely seen by Giants fans as being impediments to either signing other, possibly more productive, free agents, or to the promotion of worthy prospects.

Up to this point, neither Zito nor Rowand have really blocked anyone. The Giants have had enough openings in the pitching staff to accomodate all their MLB ready prospects so far, and they have not had a legitimate CF prospect as yet. As for FA's, last year's marquee FA's, Sabathia and Teixeira were destined for New York, as the Yankees were not going to allow anyone to outbid them. This year, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay are considerably less talented than Teixeira and Sabathia. It does not look like anyone can or should outbid St. Louis, and no team seems to really want Bay, at least at his preferred price.

The Zito/Rowand signings may become more problematic down the road. They may come to block talented prospects who are MLB ready, or they may take up so much payroll that the Giants will not be able to afford to sign their homegrown stars to long term contracts, or they may prevent them from signing more talented free agents. As it stands, Rowand's contract will be up after the 2012 season, and Zito's after the 2013 season which is right about the time the Giants Rebuild from Within is hitting it's stride. The Zito/Rowand contracts should not prevent the Giants from hanging onto their homegrown players long term.

State of the Giants

Few subjects engender more heated discussion among Giants fans than the current state of the team, and whether their current management is on the right track. One common theme among serious Giants fans, the "Lunatic Fringe" if you will, is that the current ownership group is more interested in profits than winning. The new Managing Partner, Bill Neukom, knows little about baseball, and foolishly retained an incompetent Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy because he and the other owners are happy with fielding a merely competitive team, and don't want to disrupt the status quo, as long as the organization remains profitable. Most members of the "Lunatic Fringe" believe that the team will not win a championship as long as current management is in place. Another, probably smaller, group of Giants fans, while not entirely happy with the way the team has been managed, look at a resurgent scouting department and farm system and see a brighter future for the team. I believe that, despite his well documented shortcomings, Brian Sabean has done a good job of rebuilding the farm system and the Giants are well positioned for the future.

Brian Sabean's tenure as the Giants GM can be divided into 3 sub-eras:

1. The "Golden Touch" Era: 1997-2003. This era started out with the famous Matt Williams trade and the subsequent "I am not an idiot" quote. Williams was actually the only star player Sabean traded. The remainder of his moves involved a strategy of drafting lots of pitchers and then trading most of them for veteran players, usually ones other teams were dumping in "firesales." Throughout this era, virtually every trade he made turned out on the positive side of the ledger for the Giants. Jeff Kent was, by far, the most successful of these acquisitions, but Livan Hernandez, Robb Nen, JT Snow, Jason Schmidt, Kirk Rueter, among others were major contributors too. Unfortunately, although the they had many very good teams during this era, and even got within 5 outs of winning the World Series in 2002, the Giants always seemed to be one player short. Some detractors said that Sabean's success, particularly with the Williams trade and Jeff Kent, was due more to luck than skill, and of course to the tremendous talent of Barry Bonds. Still, Brian Sabean was the man with the Golden Touch and won several Executive of the Year awards.

2. The "Win One For Barry" Era: 2004-2006. This era was characterized by a conscious effort on the part of Giants management to acquire veteran role players who would complement the tremendous talent of Barry Bonds. It started with Sabean making another of his patented multiple pitching prospects for one veteran trades, this time for AJ Pierzynski. The trade backfired badly. AJP and the organization got off on the wrong foot when he preferred to go to arbitration than sign a contract. By most accounts, AJP had a bad attitude from day 1, reportedly kicked the Trainer in the groin during spring training, alienated some of the pitchers, particularly Brett Tomko, and was eventually allowed to leave the team as a free agent with nothing in return for the Giants. Meanwhile, Joe Nathan, one of the pitchers sent to the Twins in the trade, quickly became one of the best closers in baseball, and Francisco Liriano burst onto the scene with explosive stuff before suffering a torn UCL that set him back by at least 3 years. Brian Sabean has not made a major trade since the AJ Pierzynski trade, and some observers wonder if he became gunshy after that spectacular failure. His MO shifted to signing relatively low cost veteran free agents such as Ray Durham, Marquis Grissom, Mike Matheny and others. He shifted from using the draft and farm system to acquire trade fodder, to not using it at all, infamously dumping a first round draft choice on purpose to free up the money to sign Michael Tucker. Unsurprisingly, when Bonds career came to a premature end due to complications from a knee arthroscopy, the team collapsed. With rapidly aging talent at the MLB level, and an empty cupboard in the farm system, a period of sustained losing was almost inevitable. Serious Giants fans reacted by starting to call for a new GM.

3. The "Building From Within" Era: 2006- Present. The collapse of the MLB team gave the Giants something they hadn't had for a long time, a top 10 draft pick. The drafting of Tim Lincecum in the 2006 draft marked a watershed in the history of the team and in Brian Sabean's approach to team building somewhat analagous to the drafting of Will Clark years before. The Giants already had one nice piece in Matt Cain, drafted in 2002 and just getting established as a young star. In subsequent years, the Giants added Madison Bumgarner, another high school pitcher, and then Buster Posey in 2008, and by all accounts had another good draft in 2009 with Zack Wheeler, Tommy Joseph and others. Meanwhile, the Giants revived a moribund international scouting program and signed several high profile players such and Angel Villalona and Rafael Rodriquez as well as a large number of lesser known players. The first big dividend from this effort was Pablo Sandoval, who burst onto the scene in 2008 and built on that with a stellar 2009 campaign.

So, where does that leave the Giants now? Rebuilding from within takes time. The old 5 year plan is widely considered an outdated concept. Teams can rebuild much more quickly through free agency. Free agency, however, has largely dried up after the last contract with the Players Association which allowed more revenue sharing. Even small market teams are able to retain many of their own players. A star college player takes 2-3 years to reach the major leagues and another year or two to establish himself as a productive major leaguer. A top high school draftee takes 3-4 years to reach the majors with a similar adjustment period while a 16 year old international prospect may take up to 5-6 years to fully develop. The unusually rapid development of Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval actually puts the Giants ahead of schedule in a full-scale rebuild from within the organization.

Since 2006, the Giants have brought an impressive core of young, homegrown players to the major league team. Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval, Jonathan Sanchez and Brian Wilson comprise a home grown core that rivals the most successful farm systems in that time period and is better than most. Despite these graduations, as well as the losses of Tim Aldersons and Scott Barnes via trades, and the possible loss of Angel Villalona due to legal troubles, the Giants farm system remains strong as they have continued to draft well and have remained active in the international market. John Manuel of Sports Illustrated and Baseball America recently ranked it #3 overall.

With the current core of young players, and a still excellent farm system, the Giants are as well positioned for the future as any team in baseball. Their upward trajectory might not be completely smooth. They may not do better than last year's 88 wins in 2010. They may end up having to trade one or more of the current group of young players as they reach their arbitration and free agency years, and command salaries commensurate with their talent. The flow of young talent should continue unabated for at least the next 5-6 years even if the Giants stopped drafting and signing prospects tomorrow, which they show no signs of doing. If managed correctly, even the loss of one or more of their young pitchers via trade should result in the acquisition of even more young talent.

Of course, the big question is whether Brian Sabean can manage this transition correctly. He has never made a trade of a veteran for prospects with the prospects coming to the Giants. The closest comp to that projected situation would be the Matt Williams trade. Whether Sabean can pull off another one, or more, like it in the future will probably determine whether the "Building From Within" era results in the long awaited World Championship or yet another era of very good Giants teams that fall just short. It will be interesting, exciting, and possibly frustrating to watch.