Continuing from Part I of the discussion…
BP: What’s the number one skill the Giants look for in their players?
Colletti: It’s our view you can never have enough pitching. If you’re short in another area, you can always trade pitching, because it’s the toughest commodity to find. Our drafts have been pitching-heavy. The last couple of years we’ve started drafting more position players, but the percentage is still high on the pitching side. We’ve seen this year how it’s paid off, with (Jerome) Williams, (Jesse) Foppert, (Kevin) Correia, (Kurt) Ainsworth…Joe Nathan is one of our own, we used (Ryan) Hannaman to get (Sidney) Ponson, (Russ) Ortiz for (Damian) Moss.
BP: Which do the Giants favor, high school or college pitchers?
Colletti: We prefer college pitching. College pitchers are further along in terms of maturity and life experience. That doesn’t mean we haven’t taken high school kids. But when you’re 18 years old and you’re going away from home for the first time, it can be tough–there are a lot of different things that occur in a young person’s life. If a pitcher goes through the right college program though, we’ll know that he hasn’t been misused, and that he’s also been taught well. We do as much research as we can to make sure we don’t get a pitcher coming out to the draft who’s misused and might be injured. And that can easily happen at the high school level, sometimes the college level too. A major league club has a different level of investment in a player, to where you wouldn’t have used him the way he might otherwise get used at the high school or college level.
BP: You mentioned the Ponson deal. We’ve heard that there were several teams talking to the Orioles about Ponson, that there was talk of Javier Vazquez and a couple of other pitchers clouding the picture for a while. How were you able to get the deal done in the end? What made you decide to part with Ainsworth especially, and also Moss and Hannaman, while hanging onto other young pitchers like Foppert and Williams?
Colletti: It was one of toughest trades we’ve made. You talk about Kurt, but without any one of those pitchers, Baltimore wouldn’t have done the deal. They weren’t going to move Ponson without acquiring who they wanted. I talked to Kurt five days after the deal, and I told him it wasn’t what he hadn’t done that got him traded, it was what he had done that attracted Baltimore. From our perspective, with him being injured, we weren’t sure if he’d be able to pitch the rest of season in a pennant situation. We’ve been around long enough to know that opportunities to win can be fleeting. So whenever we have an opportunity to win at the time of the trading deadline, we go for it. We’re not afraid–you can’t be afraid to make a mistake. You can’t be afraid to trade a certain player if your scouts are sure about players you’re acquiring.
We saw Ponson in the same vein we saw Jason Schmidt two years ago. Tremendous upside, on the verge of turning the corner from a good pitcher to a potential standout pitcher. That’s proven to be case with Jason, we think it’ll be the same thing with Sidney. It’s a matter of maturing, figuring batters out, becoming completely healthy–they resemble each other a lot in where they were in their careers when we traded for them. Our scouts saw Ponson’s last five starts; they came back with the same type of report that we had on Jason. The deal came down at 2:30 p.m., with a 4 p.m. deadline. We were sitting at the Westin Hotel in Chicago on the 31st, our game against the Cubs wasn’t on, and we got a call at 2:15 East Coast time, where the trainer tells us Kirk Rueter won’t be making his start. So we’re going ‘I guess we’re going to have to give up those three players,’ and that was it.
BP: Robb Nen‘s injury has obviously changed a lot of the way you’ve used your relievers this year, certainly Tim Worrell, but some others too. Do you feel like seeing the bullpen’s roles change creates an opportunity in the future to run a bullpen in different ways, whether that’s going back to the old Goose Gossage style of bringing in your best pitcher in the 7th or 8th or whenever the need is greatest, or changing the way you view the closer role?
Colletti: The mindset of today’s player is different than it was when Goose pitched, in that era. Players are more comfortable for whatever reason with one-inning roles, with the set-up man coming in to pitch the 8th, and the closer to pitch the 9th. There’s an expectation that has evolved since people started pitching one inning.
I’m a firm believer that you don’t know what you have until an emergency situation puts you in a position to search for an answer. Who would have thought that Tim Worrell would have saved 30-plus games this year. It was the same in Chicago–I was with Lee Smith in Chicago, and they converted him from a starting pitcher. It’s so vital in professional sports not only to know where your risks and dollars are, but also to know who your people are–who has the mindset to do the job. Who can handle the toughest three outs of the game: the last three. You need the mindset, talent, and durability, both physical and emotional. You need the warrior type. I’ve been around long enough to know closers, whether it’s Nen, Beck, Lee Smith, Eckersley, Goose. You know what their intestinal fortitude is, what their approach is.
We may have never found that out with Worrell if Nen was healthy. You hate to lose someone like Nen, but we’re fortunate that we had Worrell. He was given an opportunity, he took to it, and he’s done a terrific job with it.
BP: There’s been some talk this year about Bonds moving around in the batting order, where he’s been batting fourth this year compared to in the past, when he’s batted third. Is there a concern on your part that by batting him third you’re giving your best hitter fewer chances to bat over the course of a season? Are you worried about putting some players with low on-base percentages–Marquis Grissom‘s batted ahead of Bonds quite a few times for instance–ahead of Bonds in the order?
Colletti: We always try to have people on base in front of Barry, and we want pitchers to pitch to him. But we’ve been so beset with injuries this year, we’ve had something like 100 different lineups. The original thought was to have Alfonzo bat behind Barry, with Durham leadoff. But Durham could also hit third or fifth. Richie (Aurilia) could hit second, third, and he’s hit sixth a lot too. We try to have people in front of Barry who can run a count, draw a walk, get a base hit. We want to make the other manager think twice about walking him too though. This year we haven’t been able to do a lot of that because we haven’t been healthy. That might change now that we have a lot of the players back healthy.
BP: Pac Bell Park is obviously a unique place to play. Do you try to tailor the team to the ballpark?
Colletti: We haven’t thought about it much, except with pitching. We didn’t think about it much at all initially. Then later we still didn’t really offensively, but pitching-wise, we started thinking about who attacks hitters, and where their strengths might lie, relative to this park. Good power pitchers tend to do well everywhere, but even some of those guys–Schmidt for instance–have learned to use the ballpark to their advantage.
Moss was a pitcher that we thought would flourish due to the design of the park. The way we’d seen him pitch in Atlanta, we thought this was a pitcher who could keep you honest inside, but had enough stuff to get hitters out away. That’s a great skill to have, if as a lefty you can get right-handed hitters out, by having them hit the outside pitch to right-center, the biggest part of the ballpark. This was a pitcher who sat at the feet of Glavine and Maddux, who spent a lot of time with those people, especially Tommy. We thought Damian would learn a lot from him, and that would help him in his career.
BP: What role does statistical research play in the Giants front office?
Colletti: It’s part of what we take into consideration, along with scouting reports, and how someone uses their ability. How a player approaches the game, how he approaches life, far outweighs what the stat line looks like. When you see a minor league pitcher called up, you trust your development people and your scouts. How the pitcher’s numbers were accumulated isn’t as important as talent, makeup, how he pitches in certain situations.
You look at a pitcher like Maddux, in ’87 he had an ugly statistical season, nothing that would tell you this pitcher was going to be one of best you’d see in 30, 40 years. Sometimes the numbers can just be misleading. Even Glavine, he had the same struggles. Just looking at his minor league numbers, especially in Richmond in ’87, they weren’t that good. It’s in that type of evaluation where relying on stats can crush you. But I’m sure Atlanta knew he had the makeup and the ability to pitch, so they stuck with him, and it paid off.