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October 2, 2009

Kiss'Em Goodbye

San Francisco Giants

by Baseball Prospectus

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Baseball Prospectus' Pre-season Projection: 76-86, third place
Current record: 86-73, third place

It was fun while it lasted.

Buster Olney of ESPN.com's Take

What went wrong: The whole baseball world knew two incontrovertible truths about the Giants as spring training began. First, they figured to have great pitching, and second, they had a chance to have the worst offense in the majors. San Francisco proved all the pundits right on both counts. Their lack of pop really took them down: the Giants ranked 27th in runs scored, next to last in homers (they can thank the baseball gods for the Mets), and next to last in slugging percentage. General manager Brian Sabean had hoped that the addition of Freddy Sanchez before the trade deadline would augment the lineup, but instead, Sanchez got hurt and really wasn't a factor.

Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: So, how do they get a frontline hitter, something they've needed since ol' No. 25 walked away from San Francisco? Well, in time young Buster Posey is expected to be an excellent offensive catcher, someone who combines power with an ability to draw walks and get on base. But the Giants need a big-time thumper right away, which is why GMs with other teams are wondering if they'll be aggressive in throwing money at the two best free-agent outfielders, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, or if they'll seriously entertain the possibility of dealing pitchers Matt Cain (whose trade value is off the charts and might be good enough to fetch a slugger in return) or Jonathan Sanchez (who has much less trade value than Cain). It's hard to imagine the Giants will settle for another year of a toothless attack.

The Baseball Prospectus Take

The Giants hung in longer than we expected, primarily because of excellent defense and pitching. The Giants went from 13th in Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency last season to leading the majors this season, due in large part to an excellent outfield defense that recorded a ton of outs and held scoring down by preventing extra-base hits. The Giants' defense was particularly beneficial to Cain, who owns a 2.88 ERA despite a 4.37 QERA. Tim Lincecum managed to exceed even his lofty projection, and could be on his way to his second straight Cy Young at just 25 years of age.

Combine those two with a solid staff and the Giants managed to allow only 3.8 runs per game, far less than the 4.4 figure we projected. On the other hand, the hitting remained anemic: their 92.0 total VORP from their hitters is even more disappointing when you realize that Pablo Sandoval provided 59.0 of that. We projected the Giants to score 4.2 runs per game, but they have only scored 4.0.

Overall, the Giants' third-order Pythagenport record is 5.1 games behind their actual record, meaning that with normal luck and average opponents, they would have merely been an average baseball team. They simply happened to allocate their hits and runs in such a way that they stayed competitive for a little longer than we predicted. Even though their pitching and defense were extraordinary, they simply did not have the offense to be a true playoff contender.-Matt Swartz, Baseball Prospectus

Key stat: 50

That's the Giants' tally in Fielding Runs Above Average this year, and it's the second-best mark in the league. The Giants have allowed only a .286 batting average on balls in play, despite playing in a park where recording outs is a challenge. They also have allowed only a .366 slugging average on balls in play, which is also particularly difficult in their park and among the best in the league. To change gears, their team-wide Ultimate Zone Rating is 41.9, but they have a UZR among their outfielders of 47.5. This explains their particular gift as a team for preventing runs despite having a mediocre defensive infield. Randy Winn was very good according to any source you check: he saved 15 runs above average according to the Fielding Bible, 17.9 runs according to UZR and was worth 5 FRAA. Although Aaron Rowand has only been average, nearly all of the rotating cast of outfielders that the Giants have played beside him have been superb. Andres Torres, Nate Schierholtz, Fred Lewis and Eugenio Velez all played in at least 58 games in the outfield, and each of them put up above-average defensive statistics. As a result, the Giants have allowed only 1.76 extra-base hits per game, down 14 percent from last year's 2.06. This large change in defensive performance is the biggest surprise about the Giants this year, and a big factor in their reemergence as a competitive team.-Matt Swartz, Baseball Prospectus

ESPN.com Rumor Central

Depth Chart: When Posey was called up in early September, it was assumed that a little seasoning for the heir to the catching crown was at hand. Instead, he'll likely finish this first tour with fewer than 15 at-bats. So, is he the favorite to start the spring? Most think so. Their are few who really believe Bengie Molina will be back; the Giants wouldn't give him more than a one-year pact with Posey around. What's more, Posey could actually be an upgrade on offense, as Keith Law tells Rumor Central: "Posey is ready to step in as the Opening Day starter for San Francisco next year. He could easily turn out to be the third or fourth-best hitter in their lineup, and would allow the team to save close to $6 million relative to what they paid Molina while gaining on offense and defense."

Money: Yeah, we know the Giants will pursue bats, but what about locking up the cause of their return to prominence? The good news is that Lincecum says he'd like to consider whatever long-term deal the Giants will offer, and the team controls Cain through next year, the final year of a massively cheap four-year, $9 million deal they inked with him in 2007, but they also have an option on him for 2011. They should consider getting Lincecum signed now, and save a few shekels to keep Cain around after 2011. Expect the Lincecum talks to take place.

Who 2 Watch 4: Buster Posey, C

Posey's lack of appearances is puzzling, because he would certainly have been more valuable to the Giants down the stretch than Bengie Molina and his sub-.300 on-base percentage. Still, this is a forward-looking section, and Posey will get his chance in 2010. Splitting the season between High- and Triple-A, the fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft hit .325/.416/.531, showing the ability to hit for average, draw walks and drive balls with authority while gunning down more than 45 percent of opposing basestealers. He's the rare impact player at catcher who can win games both at the plate, and behind it.-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

Draft recap
Signed: 35 of 50
Spent: Just under $6 million.
Hit: Zack Wheeler, RHP (Sixth overall): Not only did the Giants take Wheeler instead of going the safer, cheaper route, they got him for $600,000 less than what the Rockies gave southpaw Tyler Matzek, and they did not have to hand him a big-league contract.
Miss: Chris Dominguez, 3B (86th overall): Dominguez was ranked somewhere outside of Keith Law's Top 100, and more than one scout opined during the spring that he was more of an early second-day talent.-Jason A. Churchill, ESPN.com

The Bottom Line

A mistake that people make when deciding what they think teams should do in the offseason is to consider the previous season's win total as a baseline and go from there. The Giants' overall batting line indicates that they probably should have not scored as many runs as they did, and players like Cain and Sandoval are unlikely to repeat their performances. If the Giants hold pat, they're likely to fall below .500 in 2010. Someone like Holliday is not going to come cheap, but a bat of his caliber might be the kind that turns the Giants into a true contender in the NL West, rather than a middling one wasting the prime of one of the best pitchers in a generation.-Matt Swartz, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

20 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

rweiler

I don't know why Sandoval shouldn't repeat his performance. He made incredible strides in plate discipline this year over his rookie year drawing 50 BB in 500PA as opposed to 4 BB in 150 PA last year. Having seen absolutely crush some balls, there is reason to believe that the power increase is for real as well. The only question mark with Sandoval is whether or not he can keep his weight down to a level that will allow him to stay at 3rd.

Oct 02, 2009 11:10 AM
rating: 4
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

I appreciate that he's going to stay very good, but not this good. He has a .351 BABIP. A guy with his speed, a modest groundball rate, and medium power simply doesn't hit .351 on balls in play. He's going to regress somewhat.

Oct 02, 2009 15:56 PM
 
sharksrog

The one thing I will say about Pablo is that he has fooled me about as bad as any hitter.

That might mean he will slow down -- or it might mean I will continue to be fooled by him.

Oct 03, 2009 04:46 AM
rating: 1
 
rweiler

whhops, should have been 600PA, not 500PA. Still, it is a huge improvement.

Oct 02, 2009 11:11 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Actually, it's just 38 unintentional walks (ie, ones he had something to do with, not an elective decision by the opposing manager) in 620 PA, or a walk rate just over six percent in his non-IBB plate appearances.

Oct 02, 2009 11:17 AM
 
rweiler

The point is that 6.1% is a heck of a lot better than 2.5%, and he is only 23 so you figure he has some some for improvement. Watching him over the course of the season, he was much more selective by the end of the season than he was at the beginning.

Oct 02, 2009 11:25 AM
rating: 3
 
eighteen

"It's hard to imagine the Giants will settle for another year of a toothless attack."

No, it isn't.

Oct 02, 2009 11:46 AM
rating: 9
 
Jay Taylor

I'll never understand why they didn't go for Adam Dunn last offseason. I wonder if they could get him for Jonathan Sanchez? If they could pull that off, and start Posey next year, I think their offensive attack would be so much better then it was this year. It was just painful to watch sometimes.
As a Cubs fan, I'd hate to see it happen, but if they really could get the Cubs to swap Bradley straight up for Rowand, I'd do that in a heartbeat. I went to about 1/3 of the Giants' home games this year, and I don't think Rowand hit the ball hard once. It reminded me a lot ofOmar Visquel last year.

Oct 02, 2009 14:08 PM
rating: 0
 
rweiler

The Giants didn't go after Dunn because they had $20m committed to Barry Zito, $10m for Rowand, $8m for Renteria, $9m for Randy Winn, $6m for Molina, $8m for Randy Johnson, and $6m for Dave Roberts, and $5m in deferred compensation for Barry Bonds. That's about $70m right there, and the Giants management has determined that they maximize profit with a payroll right around $90m. 2.8m showed up at the ball park this year to watch a marginal team, so it is hard to argue they were wrong from a purely business point of view, although it is easy to argue about how they went about spending $90m.

Oct 02, 2009 15:16 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Well, $90MM was not the way to maximize profit. Had they spent about $20MM more, they would have made the playoffs and made a lot more money; had they spent $20MM less, they would have been only marginally less competitive and probably had similar revenue. Remember Nate Silver's marginal value of wins graph, because it's very important. Back in the day of World Series only playoffs, it was most profitable to just stay competitive. Nowadays, you make money from making the playoffs or from scaling back and resting on the value of your pre-arb players.

Oct 02, 2009 15:58 PM
 
oldjacket

I don't think any rational human being pegged the Giants at anything more than an 82 win team this offseason.

Oct 03, 2009 09:37 AM
rating: 1
 
sharksrog

Think of the possible chain reaction:

The Giants sign Barry Zito for $126 million.

Because the Zito signing cost so much and is being heavily criticized, the Giants fail to come to a long-term agreement with Tim Lincecum when Tim first comes up, costing them many tens of millions down the road.

Because the Zito signing cost so much, it is possible that for financial reasons the Giants didn't draft Rick Porcello when the $8 million man fell beyond the Giants' #22 pick in the 2007 draft. Drafting Porcello would likely have saved them tens of millions compared to, say, signing Randy Johnson this season and then re-signing Brad Penny.

It also would have beefed up the Giants' pitching so that they would have more ammo with which to try to trade for their much-needed power.

The Giants sign Edgar Renteria for $18 million, taking up dollars that later might have been used to sign Adam Dunn for around $20 million.

The Giants do luck out when they sign Juan Uribe -- the guy they should have signed all along instead of Renteria -- to a minor league contract for $1 million.

Oct 03, 2009 04:54 AM
rating: -1
 
EricJ

Sabes loves good D in the outfield. I doubt he'll ever go after a Dunn.

Oct 02, 2009 15:50 PM
rating: -1
 
sharksrog

The Giants should have signed Adam this past winter to play first base.

Oct 03, 2009 04:56 AM
rating: -1
 
FlynnSox

The only thing Sabes loves more than outfield D is first base D. Sad but true.

Oct 03, 2009 05:15 AM
rating: 4
 
sayward

Sanchez got hurt? Sanchez was hurt when they traded Tim Alderson (a prime pitching prospect) for him and we were all assured that he was really ok. Sabean traded two young pitchers for Sanchez and Garko, just slightly less than what the Red Sox gave up for Victor Martinez, more examples of Sabean's tendency to give up young talent for middling (at best) veteran talent. He doesn't seem to have the guts to put together the top-flight deal this team needs.

Sadly, the Giant's management has already leaked that they will re-sign Sabean and Bochy for next year, slapping themselves on the back for a fortunate, barely over-500 year and indicating that mediocrity is just fine with them. It was exciting and a credit to a scrappy team, but the analysis here points out what many Giant's fans realize: this year was an over-achievement and not to be expected next year. It's a shame, because they have some amazing pitching talent and some real promising young players, but it will likely be squandered without some strong action.

Trading Matt Cain would take a lot of guts indeed, but with Bumgarner in the wings and other depth of pitching it is the deal to make. Without a management change though, any such deal is unlikely and we should expect the team to return to a 75-80 win level next year.

Oct 02, 2009 21:31 PM
rating: 2
 
sharksrog

Trading Matt Cain would indeed be a very big gamble. But it might pay big dividends for two reasons:

First, Matt's trade value may never be higher than it is today.

Second, it might take Matt to get the type of power hitter the Giants desperately need.

Oct 03, 2009 04:57 AM
rating: 2
 
FlynnSox

Count me as against a Cain deal. I don't see why you would take a big hit on pitching to get a bat when slotting in Kirk Reu..I mean Madison Bumgarner and his 85 mph fastball is by no means guaranteed to hold down the fort.

They'd be better off getting out the checkbook and buying a hitter.

Oct 03, 2009 05:13 AM
rating: -1
 
R.A.Wagman

In theory, a deal of Cain for a slugger seems great, but you have to suspect that the "slugger" brought back would be someone along the lines of a Lyle Overbay or Magglio Ordonez nature. You know, a Sabean type

Oct 03, 2009 08:19 AM
rating: 1
 
oldjacket

sharksrog! We miss you at MCC.

Oct 03, 2009 09:39 AM
rating: 0
 
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