Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bochy and Sabean Extended Through 2013

The Giants have announced that Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean have been signed through 2013, with options for 2014. This, of course, is no surprise. We've always figured that Bochy and Sabean were staying put, all part of the plan, just like locking up Cain and Lincecum for the next few years, or like filling out the roster with veterans.

Which means two more years, at least, of the debate between the pro-Bochy camp, who point out his skills with handling pitching and the whole World Series thing, and the anti-Bochy camp, who begrudge his ever present veteran-philia, which is aided and abetted by Sabean.

Before we fire this up (whenever I get around to pondering the merits of Belt, Pill, and Huff), it struck me that Bochy's love of veterans might be ever so slightly overstated. 

True, it's easy to get fired up when Belt or Crawford were sitting on the bench while Rowand, O. Cabrera, and Huff were all out on the field (see how these things blur together? I don't even think those five were together on the 25 man squad at any point in the season)--there are eight position players in the lineup at any given time. Yet he doesn't hesitate with the rookie (or younger) pitchers. Sure we could think of Dan Runzler starting against Houston, but he stuck with Bumgarner through the 0-6 start--and he's also benched the veteran Zito numerous times (including, of course, the 2010 playoffs). I think I've just argued myself into the 'pro' camp, but if the plan is "pitching, pitching, and more pitching," then I can't argue (just yet?) with another two years of Bruce Bochy.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Lockout

Dave Zirin's books, such as What's My Name, Fool?, have brought me around to the idea that despite the perennial fan habit of complaining about mediocre overpaid players, we ought to always place these salaries within the context of how much money the owners of professional sports rake in. This is crucial when understanding collective bargaining agreements in professional sports--the most prominent players are often excoriated for greed, when sometimes the sticking point is the minimum salary for, in baseball terms, the minor leaguers and replacement players.

This issue has resurfaced with the NBA lockout. Here's Zirin: 
The 21st century athlete—particularly the twenty-first-century African-American athlete—gets regularly blasted for being a weak, watered-down shadow of their more principled forebears and only caring about the money. Entire books (see Shaun Powell’s Souled Out) have been written examining their ego-driven materialism and absence of social conscience. Yet here are today’s players rejecting a deal from David Stern that would have guaranteed them their entire current contracts if they were only willing to sell out the ballers of the future.[...]
But after the players had given back $300 million in revenues, the owners wanted more. They wanted the freedom to limit the future compensation for the sport’s “middle class” role players and to be able to send anyone on their roster to the National Basketball Developmental League for up to five years while dropping their salaries to $75,000 a year. The players, without dissent, said no.
Perhaps it's a bit much to consider the highest paid professional athletes as part of the 99%. But the managements of all sorts of industries (including universities dealing with part-time professors) often try to negotiate a current raise while taking away the abilities to bargain in the future. And if the union in question can stand up to this tendency, it's commendable in any industry.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What Can the Winter Leagues Tell Us?

I spent Friday evening having a few drinks and talking baseball with Tao of Stieb, whose blog is responsible lately for most of the traffic to this site. When the conversation turned toward the fall leagues, I mentioned that I had discussed Hector Sanchez's offseason in Venezuela not so long ago. I had written:
They could rush Sanchez because he projects potential at the plate (with that .381/.458/1.030 line in Venezuela--in 21 at bats). However, Sanchez could use more time behind the plate in Fresno (I know, it does sound like a total bummer when you say Fresno) than he would get in San Francisco.
I feared that a more sabermetrically inclined reader would figure that, despite those bold numbers, I should know that it's a small enough sample to be virtually meaningless. Now, I did say projects potential as a signal that I knew better than to draw too much of a lesson from those 21 ABs. And I won't try to draw a lesson from his current sixty ABs and the .400/.446/.600 AVG/OBP/SLG line, especially because this doesn't speak to his needing regular work behind the plate (on a different note about the previous post: I admit that I can't figure out why I thought he might be used as a trade chip...but that was the pre-Melky era).

And yet I think in the case of Brandon Crawford that the Arizona Fall League can tell us something about the Giants' 2012 roster. We can safely put aside the .304/.329/.456 line (in 79 AB), because Crawford is 30 spots behind Jedd Gyorko's league leading .437/.500/.704 (71 AB). We can assume, with those numbers, that the hitting is outclassing the pitching in the AFL. Instead, we should look at any numbers that point toward aspects of Crawford's performance that require more work--or, more succinctly, weaknesses at the plate. Or, more specifically, trouble with left-handed pitching.

v. RHP: .356/.387/.542 (59 AB) 
v. LHP: .150/.150/.200 (20 AB)  

Again, it's a small sample, but the difference throws his 2011 numbers in a new light: against righties he hit .217/.301/.307, and against lefties .133/.212/.233. Which leads me to believe that we can expect the shortstop position to be a Crawford/veteran platoon in 2012. Then the question is: who? I doubt they'll be sewing "Reyes" on a Giants uniform any time soon, but there was talk of Willie Bloomquist (who ended up sticking with the Diamondbacks), speculation about Jimmy Rollins, and then Andrew Baggarly's twittering: "Giants are looking for a SS as a fallback to Brandon Crawford. I can tell you Clint Barmes has some big fans on the Giants coaching staff." I want to say something about Miguel Tejada or Orlando Cabrera, but I just can't do it. And I can't quite bring myself to end it on that 'eighth spot in the lineup' note...

So Tao mentioned that he sometimes wished they would broadcast the Arizona Fall League games, for those of us coming down from watching the Majors all summer. However, he noted then that we'd be left looking for the next league after that, until spring training, until...what? MLB.com has a year round package? Maybe that's not so bad. But maybe it's too soon to cast the harsh light of the camera's eye on the Jedd Gyorko's and the others who are hashing it out in the minor leagues.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Giant Steps

I'll admit it. There is a major gap in yesterday's story. No, there are two. The second, a fuller account of who could play what in the outfield (I'd say Belt, Cabrera, Schierholtz until further notice), I plan on addressing sometime soon. The first, I just couldn't type. I think it's probably why I experienced a broader range of emotions over a trade than I had expected. Like denial, fear, anxiety, denial. Sanchez traded to address offense problems? Makes perfect sense. The consequences beyond Melky Cabrera? Like Barry Zito...fifth....strtr...

See? It's tough to type. So Bruce Bochy decided to clear the air. It's time, he said, to move on to acceptance:
You've got until March to get used to it. Unless [Brian] Sabean can, through some combination of blackmail and/or boozed up sentimentality, convince Brian Cashman or Ben Cherington otherwise.
No. He didn't say that. He said:
I'm not gonna hide from it: Barry Zito is our 5th starter next year.
There. Stop hiding. The denial. The fear and trembling. It's time for acceptance.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Cabrera/Sanchez Trade

At some point in the 2011 season, I started telling a joke about how a player's lackluster performance could land him a trade to Kansas City.

I don't exactly remember why I chose the Royals as the butt of the joke, but their team certainly qualifies over the last few years as a kind of baseball purgatory (not unlike the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Washington Nationals), although I do get the feeling that it had something to do with Jeremy Affeldt's cromulent month of May, which was reinforced by his season-ending incident with those frozen hamburgers.

The Melky Cabrera trade, then, surprised me because I hadn't quite imagined that Jonathan Sanchez would end up there. It always seemed like the destination for somebody else...aside from Affeldt, if you could put aside the payroll factors, the Aaron Rowands and Barry Zitos of the world. Somebody like Sanchez, I thought, could shape up. Sure, that walk ratio is horrendous, but his strikeout rate (9.355 per 9 innings since 2006) surely means something. But as I've mentioned before, who the Giants will put on offer to trade does not take place in a vacuum. They've got four solid starters, and two or three fifth starters, with one who has a contract that means he can't be traded and he can't be kept on the bench. 

That meant Sanchez was going to be moved to address the Giants' weaknesses on offense. Say whatever you want (especially about that 2010 season), but I think that Melky Cabrera's 2011 numbers show that he will be a good addition to the team: the 201 hits, the 18 home runs, the 44 doubles, the .305/.339/.809 AVG/OBP/OPS line, certainly outpace most of the 2011 Giants, and especially whoever happened to be the first guy standing in the batter's box--although his walk/strikeout ratio (35/94) leaves something to be desired.

If I had to forecast the 2012 season, I'd say that Cabrera is not quite Carlos Beltran, but he's not Coco Crisp either (and if you read the McCovey Chronicles, Grant Brisbee seemed to think that Crisp's acquisition was a fait accompli). The trade also makes me wonder how the Giants' perceive the free agent market. If I had to guess, maybe they think Beltran will find that his talents fit with an American League team as a designated hitter, and they weren't ready to make an expensive "lateral move" (in Brisbee's words) for Crisp. In this case, acquiring Cabrera makes a lot of sense--no matter how much I wanted to see, for different reasons, an improved Andres Torres or Cody Ross out in center field.

What about the so-called purgatory? I'd like to think that if the Royals turn things around and become contenders, that Sanchez would have an important part to play there. Then I would have to make jokes at another team's expense.