2011 Season in Review: Catchers

Buster Posey: When we look back on Posey’s 2011 season, this will inevitably be what we remember. Posey only played in 45 games before the collision, but it’s worth noting that he had quite the impact (considering how few games he played in). Despite not even tallying 200 plate appearances, he finished third on the team in wins above replacement at 1.6; we can’t take too much from his overall numbers (.284/.368/.389), but he showed an improved walk rate (and much less power) when he was healthy. Ideally, the power will come back next season, and Posey will continue to draw more walks. In any event, 2011 for Posey will always ultimately be defined by the Cousins collision.

Hector Sanchez: There’s not much to be said for Sanchez’s time in the majors because it didn’t last all that long. He appeared in a total of 13 games this year, posting a .258/.324/.323 line in 34 plate appearances. Obviously those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, but as a prospect, Sanchez certainly boosted his status. I ranked him sixth in my prospect rankings (an admittedly aggressive placement).

Eli Whiteside: After taking a regular role in the wake of Posey’s injury, Whiteside was everything the Giants could have expected — which is to say that he was awful. In 236 plate appearances, he hit .197/.264/.310, posting a wRC+ of 55. His defense, too, was pretty awful. Fangraphs had him at slightly above replacement level on the season, while Baseball-Reference had him at -0.5 wins.

This was pretty awesome though. As was his hopping.

Chris Stewart: Stewart proved to be the better of the two (Whiteside/Stewart) as he was actually an asset on defense. Defensive runs saved is an oversimplified evaluation of catcher defense, but it had Stewart at +9 runs above average in ~500 innings of work behind the plate. Matt Klaasen’s more all-encompassing catcher defense ratings had Stewart at +3.2 runs (also quite good). In any event, he — like Whiteside — failed to be productive on offense, putting up a .204/.283/.309 line. For what it’s worth though, he had pretty solid plate discipline (0.89 BB/K) and good contact skills (89%); unfortunately, it just didn’t translate into success for him.

2012 Giants ZiPS Projections

Well, they’re here.

Highlights:

On the Sabean Extension

It’s relatively easy to objectively evaluate players. That’s not the case with managers or GMs, however — though I gave my best shot at it earlier with respect to the Bochy extension. Now, I’ll tackle the Sabean extension. The fact of the matter is, the process of an organization’s decision-making extends beyond the GM. Always. He often gets all the credit or blame for a specific move, but many decision-makers in the front office play a significant role in team moves — whether it be signings, contracts, et al.

With that in mind, let’s discuss Sabean. It’s easy to be lazy in criticizing him. Mention the Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand albatrosses, throw in a comment about his love of veteran players, and voila. In reality though, Sabean is a lot more complicated than the veteran-loving moron that some portray him as (I’ve probably done so many times in the past, admittedly). This is just an oversimplified hyperbolic image of him, and isn’t an entirely fair/accurate assessment.

As an exercise, let’s just assume Sabean was not at all responsible for signing Zito or Rowand. He has, after all, been somewhat cleared of those deals in the past. Obviously it’s quite a stretch to say he played no role (or even a minimal role) in dishing out those contracts, but that’s not the point here. If we clear him of these, imagine a Sabean sans Rowand/Zito — how does his record as Giants GM look?

On a very basic level, he seems to be incapable of putting together a good offense, which ultimately stems from a flawed approach when it comes to evaluating hitters. A look back at the hitters he’s acquired in recent years, and this becomes evident. Sabean guaranteed Miguel Tejada, a 37-year-old shortstop, for $6.5 MM in November. The original Aubrey Huff signing worked out well, but that was quite obviously just as much luck as it was Sabean, and it’s not like Huff was Sabean’s first (or even second) option. Oh yeah, and Huff 2.0 is a disaster so far. The Edgar Renteria deal was too lucrative, and though the Juan Uribe contracts were both quite successful, it (again) seems like luck played a large role. Consider that Uribe was an 80 OPS+ hitter in eight seasons prior to coming to San Francisco, but in his two seasons here, he was north of 100 (107 OPS+). It’s obviously not all blemishes here, but there seems to be a pattern. I think the two best examples of recent Sabean screw-ups in player evaluation are Orlando Cabrera and Willie Bloomquist. Cabrera was so clearly a useless player when he was acquired, and yet the Giants gave up a decent prospect in exchange for him. To nobody’s surprise, Cabrera was awful in his brief time here. And then there’s Willie Bloomquist, career 1.3 WAR — all of which came in his first two seasons, who the Giants offered a two-year $4.6MM deal. These kinds of moves/offers only reinforce that Sabean stereotype.

Then there’s the positive, of course. Under Sabean, just one year ago, the Giants won the World Series. He’s assembled a pitching staff that’s consistently great; he had plenty of opportunities to trade Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, or Madison Bumgarner for a bat, but he kept them around long enough to win a championship. He has an extensive scouting background, so it doesn’t seem too far off to give him some credit for the homegrown pitching, as well as the solid core of young hitting talent the Giants have formed in Pablo Sandoval/Buster Posey/Brandon Belt.

Unfortunately, it’ll be his task in the next few years to complement this talent with solid regulars. He’s not nearly as bad as some might say, but I can’t get around the fact that I’m just not excited about the prospect of having him around for the next few years. If history tells us anything, it’s that shopping for position players isn’t his forte.

On the Bochy Extension

So the Giants have extended Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean. The extensions will keep them in San Francisco through 2013, with team options for 2014. This doesn’t really come as a surprise…it was said just about a month ago that extending Bochy and Sabean was one of the top priorities offseason, and it’s clear that the organization likes the job they’ve done. But this is obviously huge news nonetheless.

Let’s start with Bochy. He’s managed the Giants for five years now, and at this point, we have a good idea of his tendencies — both his strengths and weaknesses.

– For one, he likes to play veterans. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can obviously be bad; the classic example here is the Aubrey Huff/Brandon Belt situation, one I think he didn’t handle very well. His leash for Huff throughout this season was too long, especially considering that he supposedly knew Huff was out of shape. In exercising such patience with Huff, he seems to have delayed the development of a quality hitter in Brandon Belt. And it’s hard to excuse the number of at-bats he gave to Aaron Rowand and Orlando Cabrera got this year

– He likes to play the hot hand; in other words, his day-to-day lineup construction seems to be largely dependent upon who is performing well on a day-to-day basis. Not a huge deal, though it isn’t exactly brilliant lineup optimization.

– He’s pretty good at managing pitchers, and specifically, utilizing his bullpen. This is underscored by that 2010 NLCS Game Six, when he seemed to have the magic touch with his bullpen. Granted, he’s at an advantage because he has such good pitchers to work with. And hey, he’s made several notable mistakes in recent years. The one that sticks out to me in particular is when he let Javier Lopez face Mike Stanton with the bases loaded in the Scott Cousins game. Oh yeah, and on a broader level, I wish he’d use Sergio Romo more — though I’m not nearly as informed as Bochy when it comes to injury concerns regarding Romo. But as a whole, he’s solid when it comes to bullpen usage.

– And he’s generally a solid in-game manager — in addition to his bullpen usage, I like that he’s not prone to calling too many bunts/intentional walks. He’ll make the occasional ridiculous move, but that comes with every manager.

As a whole, I don’t think managers are terribly important. In other words, the difference between Bruce Bochy and the average manager — positive or negative — is minimal at most. I imagine the Giants feel the same way — after all, I don’t think they’re paying Bochy a whole lot of money.

In any event, he’s a solid manager. I’ll criticize him on occasion, as I would every other manager in baseball. But I’m grateful that he’s no Fredi Gonzalez. And he seems to command the respect of his players, which is pretty important. It’s intangible — we can’t measure that quality, nor can we compute its significance. But it’s a valuable attribute, and one I think all managers need in order to be effective.

So overall, I’m content with the Bochy extension, if only because things could be a lot worse. But please, Bochy — just give Belt some more playing time next season.

Baseball Digest Report Card

This offseason, I’m doing a few guest pieces (Giants-related) for Baseball Digest. The first one is a report card in which I break down the 2011 season (rotation/bullpen/catchers/infield/outfield). Check it out. The next one, an offseason outlook, should be up within a week or so.

A Closer Look at Jayson Werth’s Contract (Or Why the Giants Could’ve Signed Jose Reyes Without Raising Payroll)

Last year the Washington Nationals surprised everybody by signing Free Agent OF Jayson Werth to a 7 year $126 Million contract. While Werth had a disappointing debut in Washington, the Nationals front office did do a good job of structuring his contract in a unique way that could have benefitted the Giants with Reyes.

In the offseason, the common refrain was that the Giants couldn’t afford to add a $15 Million plus player into the payroll. Whether that is true or not-and the use of couldn’t versus wouldn’t is certainly debateable-the common theme was that the Giants payroll wasn’t expected to climb that much higher than it was last year. This would seemingly put them out of the market for Reyes-as well as guys like Jimmy Rollins. However, had the Giants staggered the contract like the Nationals did with Werth’s, they could’ve found away to add arguably the most exciting player in the game to the top of their lineup. That is because last year Jayson Werth made just $10 million and next year will make $13 million before increasing to $16 million in 2013 and $20 million or higher through 2017.

If the Giants had done this with Reyes, paying him above average, but not elite money until the albatrosses of Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito are off the books, and then increasing his salary, the Giants could have potentially found a way to substantially improve their team without dipping too far into Larry Baer and Co’s rainy day fund.

2011 Season in Review: The Infielders

I already reviewed Pablo Sandovals season, but here’s a look at the rest of the infielders; most of them didn’t accumulate many plate appearances with the Giants throughout the season, whether because of injury or because they were with a different team for most of the year. None of them, unfortunately, had anything near the kind of success that Pablo had in 2011. So it goes…

Mark DeRosa: Ah, DeRosa. There was a time when we thought his career was over — I certainly did. When DeRosa came back from the disabled list, rendered nearly useless with his paper wrist, the Giants opted to send Brandon Belt down to Triple-A in favor of him. It was one of the most mind-boggling moves in a season that had plenty of them. I was outspoken in my criticism of DeRosa, who I felt had no value at that point. And I was wrong, as it would turn out. From that point forward, DeRosa was used pretty sparingly, but managed to get over 50 plate appearances, and he hit quite well (.367/.439/.388). He didn’t hit the ball with much authority, as 17 of his 18 hits were singles, but he was surprisingly useful. I don’t think he’s got much left at this point, but I would not be the least bit surprised if he signs a minor-league contract with San Francisco this offseason.

Conor Gillaspie: Gillaspie’s contributions at the major-league level this season can mostly be summed up in one photograph. He has one career home run to this point, and it’s an inside-the-parker.

Brett Pill: Pill was exciting to watch in September and frequently put a jolt in the ball; he actually slugged .560 in 15 games, which was the highest mark on the team (if you set an incredibly low minimum for playing time). In any event, he walked just twice in those 53 plate appearances. If the 26-year-old is ever going to be a useful major-league player (and he’s probably not, at this point), he’ll need to show some better plate discipline.

Brandon Belt: The most mishandled prospect in all of baseball in 2011, Belt was yo-yoed around,and never really a got a chance to settle in at the major-league level. In particular, his strikeouts (57 in 209 plate appearances) were a bit concerning. Nevertheless, he was essentially a league-average hitter (98 wRC+) on the year, and even managed nine home runs in 187 at-bats.

Bill Hall: One of the most forgettable midseason acquisitions in recent Giants history, Hall hit .158/.220/.211 in 16 games. I don’t know that there’s much else to add.

Freddy Sanchez: As I noted in the recent Sanchez extension post, 2011 was not Freddy’s year, as he only played in 60 games before his season came to an end. When he did play, however, he provided the decent production at second base that was expected of him.

Jeff Keppinger: Keppinger gets the “2011 Empty Batting Average award” for his special inability to a) draw walks, and b) hit for power. This, in addition to his incredibly bad defensive skills. He played second base like Dan Uggla, except without any redeeming offensive skills. In all fairness, I’m probably a bit too harsh on Keppinger — it was a reasonable acquisition, but he just wasn’t a fit as an everyday second baseman. I’m hoping the Giants don’t bring him back next season.

Emmanuel Burriss: 152 plate appearances. One extra-base hit — a double.

Brandon Crawford: He got things off to a nice start (with a grand slam off Shaun Marcum in May), but ultimately proved futile with the bat (.204/.288/.296, 60 wRC+). His defense, however, somewhat made up for it, and he did show promise in one aspect of his offense: 23 BB/31 K. If he is in fact the Giants’ starting shortstop next year, I’m hoping he can show some more improvement in his hitting.

Orlando Cabrera: Awful batting average. Awful walk rate. Awful power numbers. Mediocre defense. The most inexplicable trade the Giants made all season.

Mike Fontenot: Of all the players listed here, Fontenot probably had the best season (for better or for worse). In 85 games, he played passable defense at short (along with solid defense at second), got on base at a respectable clip, and actually showed some good power. I’m hoping the Giants tender him a contract, because it’s really in their best interest to do so.