2012 Bill James Projections

It’s the offseason. That means hot stove rumors. That means prospect rankings. And that means projections. Bill James’ projections, which he publishes in his yearly handbook, were added to Fangraphs player pages about a week ago. As far as I know, they’re not all published in one place (besides, of course, the handbook, which I highly recommend you purchase), so it’s hard to just look at all the Giants’ projections unless you want to dig through all the individual player pages.

Anyway, do note that they are widely considered to be overly optimistic, but I think that’s overstated.

Here are the Giants hitting projections.

A few thoughts:

– The best thing on here is the Brandon Belt projection. A .363 wOBA would do wonders for this offense, and it’s right up there with Buster Posey (.363) and Carlos Beltran (.367). Belt is one of the huge keys to making next year’s offense better than it was this year.

Andres Torres (.327) is projected for a higher wOBA than Melky Cabrera (.325). This is precisely why I wasn’t a big fan of the Cabrera trade. The Giants gave up rotation depth for a worse (arguably, and I’d make that argument) centerfielder.

Nate Schierholtz is projected to hit .328 — roughly as well as he did in 2011 — confirming that there’s good reason to believe he can be a quality everyday right fielder. Fangraphs had him at 1.4 WAR in 362 plate appearances last year (.327 wOBA), and that was with negative fielding value. I’m fairly certain that he’s capable of being a 2-3 WAR player in 2012.

– There’s not much to be hopeful about with Brandon Crawford. I’ve gradually become less enthused about the prospect of him as the Giants’ starting shortstop, and this doesn’t help. He’d have to carry a lot of value with his glove to be a viable everyday option, and I just don’t know that his fielding is good enough to stomach a .282 wOBA.

Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval, and Buster Posey form a pretty respectable heart of the order, and if the rest of the lineup carries their weight (granted, a big “if”), this offense could just be good enough.

And here’s the pitching.

Thoughts:

– I’m a little disappointed by the Madison Bumgarner/Sergio Romo projections, but that’s only because I have such high expectations when it comes to those two. I’d bet they beat their projected FIPs.

– These projections only make me dislike the Javier Lopez/Jeremy Affeldt moves even more. It seems like that’s where most of the Giants’ offseason spending will have gone, when all is said and done. That doesn’t look too good.

– At first glance, the Barry Zito projection (sub-4.00 ERA!) looks quite nice, but it’s a) mostly pitching out of relief, and b) a small sample size.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks to everyone for reading, commenting, and following along. Thanks to Zack and Josh for their excellent contributions, which have made this site so much better. Thanks to Willie Bloomquist for rejecting the Giants’ two-year offer. And thanks to the great community of online baseball analysts and writers for constantly advancing knowledge and passion of the game (in particular, all the fantastic Giants blogs out there, who are a big influence).

Hopefully we’re in for another good year of Giants baseball.

The Freddy Sanchez Extension – Eight Months Later

About eight months ago — April 1st — the Giants extended Freddy Sanchez through 2012 for $6MM. The timing of the move was a bit peculiar, but it ultimately seemed like a prudent deal. The 2B free agent market would be somewhat thin in the upcoming offseason, and the Giants were looking ahead to ensure that second base would not be a void for them entering 2012. Sanchez had proven to be a bit injury-prone (appearing in 111 games in each of 2009 and 2010), but when he was on the field, he was producing at a rate of roughly 2 WAR/600 PAs. 2012 would be his age 34-season, but it wasn’t much of a stretch at all to think he could be put up $6MM-worth of production.

2011 wasn’t exactly Freddy’s year, as he appeared in just 60 games before incurring a season-ending injury (that would eventually require surgery). Nevertheless, when he was playing, he was the player anybody would’ve reasonably expected him to be. He hit .289/.332/.397 (99 wRC+), almost perfectly in line with his career numbers, and he was okay with the glove as well (though his skills in the field do appear to be gradually fading).

In the context of this offseason, given how the market’s shaped up, how does the extension look? Not too good, really. His skills are eroding, quite obviously. He’s 34 years old, and the reasonable expectation is that he’ll see a decline in his numbers at the plate this season. In addition, his defense, as mentioned, is gradually getting worse. He’s probably good for only league-average defense at this point — or perhaps even worse. Taking into account his lack of durability, the deal doesn’t look so solid anymore.

Let’s examine how this extension compares to two of the middle-infield deals this offseason: Jamey Carroll (two years, $6.75MM) and Mark Ellis (two years, $8.75MM).

Carroll, entering his age-38 season, is obviously a bit older than Freddy, but he’s got an edge in terms of health. Despite his age, he’s not nearly as injury-prone as Freddy — in fact, only once in his career has he hit the 15-day DL, and he’s lost just three days to injuries over the past two seasons. In terms of defense, Carroll is quite possibly the better of the two; at the very least, he’s as good as Freddy with the glove. The Minnesota Twins, of course, think enough of Carroll’s range to make him their everyday shortstop in 2012. With the bat, Carroll has not been quite as good as Freddy over his career (90 wRC+ v. 96 wRC+), mainly due to an utter lack of power. Freddy himself doesn’t hit the ball with much authority, but he has four times as many career home runs as Carroll. Anyway, Carroll has — in recent seasons — caught up to Freddy in terms of hitting. He posted respective OBPs of .379 and .359 in 2010 and 2011, enabling him to be a slightly above-average force on offense.

Funny how this all works out: Bill James projects Sanchez and Carroll to have identical wOBAs in 2012: .307.

So Carroll’s better than Freddy Sanchez (though you could argue otherwise), and his contract is more friendly as well. He’s guaranteed $6.75MM (with a $2MM team option for 2014), and he’ll be in a Twins uniform for an extra year (at least). Think of it like this: the Twins are paying $750K more to get an extra year of Carroll. Their plans for Carroll (he’s their everyday shortstop, at age 38) are questionable, but the contract is quite good and in comparison, the Sanchez deal simply isn’t.

Mark Ellis’ deal isn’t quite as friendly as Carroll’s; in fact, Ellis is worse than Carroll, but he’ll make more money (guaranteed $8.75MM). Ellis is even less durable than Sanchez, having spent three separate stints on each of the 15-day DL and 60-day DL throughout his career, and the last time he accrued 500+ plate appearances in a season was 2008. He’s about a year older than Sanchez, but his defense is considerably better (I’d estimate a difference of five to ten runs). Additionally, he’s been the same quality hitter as Freddy over his career: .266/.331/.397 (95 wRC+). His offense has dropped off in recent years, and as such, Bill James projects him for a .299 wOBA. Pretty mediocre, but it’s not much worse than Sanchez’s projection — and the defense certainly makes up for it.

So the Dodgers are paying an extra $2.75MM guaranteed for an extra year of Ellis (who — when he’s healthy — is just as good as Sanchez). It’s a worse contract than the Sanchez extension, especially considering Ellis’ health (or lack thereof), but it’s really not all that much worse.

The middle infield market has been a little odd this offseason, with mediocre players getting decent cuts of money. Freddy most certainly would have gotten 2+ years on the open market, but instead the Giants pay him $6MM through 2012. It may not seem like much, but that’s a higher average annual value than Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Mark Ellis, Aaron Hill, et al. The Freddy deal just doesn’t hold up well to these other signings. Not a terrible extension, but it seems evident that the Giants are paying him more than he’s worth — even in light of how well guys are getting paid this offseason. What looked like a solid deal eight months ago is now just “meh.”

Thoughts on Jerry Hairston

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Giants are one of three teams to have interest in Jerry Hairston. The utility man started the 2011 season with the Nationals before being traded to Milwaukee, where he took over third base duties for Casey McGehee. Hairston’s most valuable asset is his versatility, as UZR sees him as an above-average defender in the middle infield or the outfield. Although he was essentially a league average hitter in 2011, he is the owner of a career .258/.326/.371 slash line, which is why most teams have used him in a super utility role.

In a best-case scenario, Hairston represents a decent upgrade at shortstop in 2012. Bill James sees him putting up a .254/.323/.369 line next year, which is certainly better than the .232/.297/.340 line he sees for Brandon Crawford. Unfortunately for the Giants, Hairston has demonstrated reverse splits over his career, so it’s hard to envision him in a platoon role. If the front office is truly intent on pursuing him, it is because they see him as a viable starter. Hairston isn’t an ideal candidate, but sadly, he’s one of the better options remaining. In the past two years, he’s put up 3 WAR in 239 games, so it’s reasonable to project him for a respectable 2 WAR over a full season.

As Rosenthal notes, the demand for middle infielders has been remarkably high this offseason. Even marginal players such as John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist have signed two-year contracts, making it extremely hard to justify not giving Hairston a similar deal. The “financially constrained” Giants will have to evaluate if it is worth paying a veteran millions of dollars to be a slight improvement over a player making close to league minimum. In terms of players who have already signed, Hairston probably fits somewhere between the aforementioned Bloomquist, who signed for 2 years, $3.8MM, and Jamey Carroll, who signed for 2 years, $6.75MM.

If it wasn’t already clear, I’m in favor of the Giants signing Hairston for something around 2 years, $5MM. Aside from Reyes, Rollins, and Furcal, there just aren’t that many quality shortstop options out there.  I love Crawford’s glove, but the Giants have no Plan B if his bat wilts, and the last time that happened, Brian Sabean traded for Orlando Cabrera. Even though the last two-year deal to a utility guy (Mark DeRosa) didn’t work out so well, the good thing about Hairston is that his presence won’t prevent the Giants from going after a legitimate shortstop.

Ronny Cedeno or Clint Barmes?

So the Pirates are nearing a two-year $11MM deal with Clint Barmes. That basically pays him to be a league-average shortstop over the next two years, which isn’t so bad. As @JunkStats points out, Barmes has averaged roughly 2 WAR/season since 2008, and it’s not like he’s that old. He’s 32. Had the Giants signed him for this amount, I think I would have been content. Especially considering that a) the John McDonalds and Willie Bloomquists of the world have gotten pretty friendly deals this offseason, and b) the Giants paid Miguel Tejada $6.5MM last offseason.

The Barmes deal has sparked an interesting debate: Ronny Cedeno v. Clint Barmes. Cedeno had a $3MM club option for 2012, but the Pirates chose not to pick it up — and to instead pay the $200K buyout. This is after Cedeno produced roughly 1.5 WAR this season (regardless of your metric of choice). That’s nearly league-average production, and worth about $6-7MM on the open market. In fact, there are those that believe that Cedeno (contract aside) is a better shortstop than Barmes.

Now I’m not one of those people. Cedeno’s a career .246/.286/.353 (63 wRC+) hitter, whereas Barmes is a career .252/.302/.401 (74 wRC+) hitter. Bill James projects the two for nearly a twenty-point difference in weighted on-base average. The defense is a little harder to measure, given how unreliable defensive metrics tend to be, but I’m inclined to believe that Barmes is also the better defender of the two. Go ahead and peruse their defensive ratings if you’d like (Barmes, Cedeno).

In any event, Cedeno’s not a worthless shortstop. He can’t hit, but for an above-average defensive shortstop, he’s not that bad. The Pirates very well may have set the market for Cedeno by declining his option, and if he’s getting a one-year $2MM deal this offseason…that’s pretty enticing. It kills me to say this — it honestly does. This is a guy that has batted ninth (behind the pitcher) many times in his career.

Yet at the same time, the Giants, as a team, didn’t hit much better than Cedeno in 2011. They’re out on Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins, and there are very few acceptable options left. They’re not going to spend big on shortstop, so their best route is to buy low. In this case, Cedeno appears to be a solid stopgap. He’s slightly better than Brandon Crawford, but more importantly, he’d allow Crawford to develop his hitting in Triple-A this season.

Yes, I’m seriously advocating for the Giants to sign Ronny Cedeno.

A Madison Bumgarner Retrospective

Yesterday, Julian wrote a piece on Madison Bumgarner getting a Cy Young vote and talked about how good Bumgarner is at such a young age.  To further drive home that point, he has already thrown 325 innings in the Major Leagues. This is the first year that players from his draft class are eligible for the Rule 5 draft. He is a very good pitcher and we may be watching the development of a future Cy Young award winner right before our eyes. However, his success was not always pre-destined.

Bumgarner was drafted in 2007 out of South Caldwell High School in Hudson, North Carolina. The Giants gave him a $2 Million dollar signing bonus to get him to forego a North Carolina commitment. He was seen as a legitimate first round talent as he threw a mid 90′s fastball from the leftside, but he lacked a consistent secondary pitch, which gave some teams and draft experts pause. He spent the 2008 season in the South Atlantic League, and surprisingly was dominant. He posted a 10.1 K/9, 1.3 BB/9 and a 1.46 ERA, in 140 innings. After that he was rated as the #9 prospect in baseball by Baseball America heading into 2009.

Bumgarner started 2009 in San Jose along with fellow 2007 1st round draft pick Tim Alderson (who the year before had won an ERA title in that same league) and made just 5 starts and they were both promoted to AA once the weather warmed up. Bumgarner posted a 1.93 ERA at AA but his peripheral stats took a turn for the worse as his strikeout rate dropped to just 5.8 per 9, and his walk rate — while still good — went up to 2.5 per 9.  He got a cup of coffee in the majors that year, throwing 10 innings and allowing just 2 runs. He also struck out 10 and walked 3. There was some concern though. Alderson was traded to Pittsburgh for second baseman Freddy Sanchez and there were rumblings that both of them had lost velocity on their fastball. Alderson’s velocity has never returned and he has yet to reach AAA.

He started 2010 in AAA as a legitimate prospect but one with a lot of risk. He struggled out of the gate, and got briefly suspended after getting memorably ejected (including chucking a baseball into CF). He ended up recovering and while his K/9 was still not great (6.4) he was still good at limiting walks and he looked like he could be a back of the rotation starter. He then was called up to the majors for good after 14 starts replacing the injured and ineffective Todd Wellemeyer. He then pitched incredibly well down the strecth, posting a 3.00 ERA, raising his K rate from his time in AAA (to 7.0) and lowering his BB/9 to 2.1. His most memorable start came on Halloween-roughly two months after he was able to legally drink-where he posted 8 shutout innings against the strong Rangers line up in their ballpark, coming off the Giants first loss of the World Series.

Before 2011 there was still concern though. Combined with the postseason he had thrown 70 innings more than the previous season which made a “Verducci effect” candidate. While the Verducci effect has been basically proven to be wrong, that is still a major jump in innings. Bumgarner though, had a fantastic season, once again increasing his K rate and (slightly) decreasing his walk rate.

Bumgarner has been a fantastic pitcher and given his age it’s likely that he’ll just get better. And if I was a betting man, I’d wager that over the next five years Bumgarner will be the best pitcher currently in the Giants rotation.

Madison Bumgarner gets a Cy Young vote

This season was woefully unsatisfying. Not a lost season, or a bad season; some might say, in fact, that it was a great season for the Giants — they did, after all, finish in second place in their division. But it was an unsatisfying season nonetheless. The team set high expectations by winning the World Series in 2010, and they failed to live up to these expectations in 2011. A playoff berth, I figured, was all but guaranteed. I was wrong.

2011 was chock-full of silver linings, though. For one, Ryan Vogelsong‘s story was incredible. He was, in essence, the manifestation of that magnificent element of unpredictability that makes baseball what it is. Pablo Sandoval, at 25, put up a second all-star caliber season after losing a lot of weight in the offseason, and was ultimately the only thing that kept the Giants’ offense from completely collapsing. Matt Cain, who’s widely considered to be a model of consistency, showed exactly why that’s the case. And that’s just to name a few. Among the many silver linings was Madison Bumgarner, and that’s the one silver lining that was most satisfying for me.

I can’t fully explain my fascination with Bumgarner. At least not well. He comes off as calm, cool, and collected, but he also seems to have a lot of personality. Here’s 1000 words on the matter. Bumgarner the player — the on-the-field product — is of course equally (if not more) fascinating, and it’s because of one thing specifically…

Baseball is a game of numbers, and one significant — albeit oft-neglected — number is age. Age is of paramount importance in baseball. It is the rule: it dictates when a player is ready for the majors, how he progresses, when he peaks, and when his skill-set begins to fade. Take the respective cases of Melky Cabrera and Andres Torres. There’s a lot of hope that Cabrera can continue to be 2011 Melky Cabrera — that, given his age, he’s entering his prime. Torres, coming off an extremely disappointing season, has caused many to believe that his career has all but come to an end. He’s on the wrong side of 30, at an age when players typically get worse and worse. A resurgence, while possible, seems unlikely. In these cases, age paints the picture.

Bumgarner, at 22 years old, is way ahead of the curve. He’s an exception to the rule — a rare specimen of refined 22 year old talent. At the age of 21 this season, he finished fourth in the majors in FIP, which speaks volumes about his potential. I’m thus extremely excited about his future — and hopefully understandably so.

Today, Bumgarner received one Cy Young vote. One lone fifth-place vote. He was one of four San Francisco Giants to receive Cy Young consideration, along with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Ryan Vogelsong. Lincecum, Cain, and Vogelsong each had excellent seasons, and I’m quite happy to see them get Cy Young votes; but no vote brings me more joy than that one Bumgarner vote.

When I first sat down to write this article, this is what I came up with:

Madison Bumgarner is awesome!

That one sentence, in its entirety, constituted the previous three drafts of this piece — except I misspelled “is” the first two times. After giving it a lot of thought though, and refining it a bit, I’ve come to what I believe to be the ultimate conclusion regarding Madison Bumgarner:

Madison Bumgarner is REALLY awesome!

So here’s to Bernie Miklasz: for recognizing that fact; for bringing a little more satisfaction to an otherwise (mostly) unsatisfying year; and for pumping a little warmth into this frigid heart of mine. Ya done good, Bernie. Take a week off — you’ve earned it.

Looking at A Potential Platoon SS Option

The Giants have had an interesting offseason, starting with committing $9.25 Million to two relievers despite having pressing needs at SS, back up catcher, and a corner Outfield spot. This likely means that the Giants will have the cut costs at one of these positions and perhaps more. Given that the Giants seem somewhat comfortable with Brandon Crawford at SS, they could look go dumpster diving to look for a cheap insurance/complementary plan. One way they could do that is with Ryan Theriot.

Theriot isn’t great offensively or defensively. Offensively he comes from the Jeff Keppinger school of not striking out but also not walking or hitting for power. Defensively, both DRS and UZR have him at about five runs below average at SS. He is also a non-tender candidate and was replaced by Rafael Furcal after an August trade. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak recently said that he “…would have no problem with [Tyler Greene] and Descalso as our middle infield.” So given that Theriot was replaced on a championship team and could be non tendered why would the Giants want him? Well for one, he’s a veteran and there is a familiarity factor. Is that a good reason? not necessarily but I do think it plays a role, especially with the Giants management. Secondly, he looks like he could be a solid part of a platoon. In 835 PA’s against Left-handed pitching Theriot has hit .301/.373/.401, whereas he has hit just .276/.334/.337 against righthanders.  Given his defensive limitations a platoon with him and Brandon Crawford could be appealing, as Theriot could play the 1st 6 innings against a LHP and Crawford could come in as a defensive sub and either replace Theriot or Theriot could shift to 2nd base where he is better suited.

While Theriot is not a glamorous option, or even an appealing one, he is also not Yuniesky Betancourt, which should count for something. And given that other mid level SS targets, like Clint Barmes are getting a lot of attention and will likely get a 2 or 3 year deal, a Theriot/Crawford platoon could be a cheap, moderately effective way to go.

 

Potential Trade Target: Chris Volstad

While, I didn’t go too in depth about my feelings on the Cabrera-Sanchez/Verdugo swap last time (basically I think it’s roughly an even deal, though Melky isn’t a great fit with the way the roster is currently constructed) one thing it did do is it made the back end of the Giants rotation vulnerable. Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito are currently slotted in firmly as the team’s 4 and 5 starters, which is fairly risky given that Vogelsong came from nowhere and Zito is coming off a year where he was below replacement level per Fangraphs.

The Giants also lack young pitching as the Giants top pitching prospect is either a guy who has a fastball that rarely jumps over 90 MPH or a guy who didn’t focus on pitching exclusively until his senior year of high school.

Chris Volstad could fill both those problems. There are reports that he could be available, as he is arbitration eligible for the first time and Florida could want to move on from his 4.59 career ERA. But why would the Giants want to take a flier on him?

Well for one, he is still relatively cheap. MLBTR projects him for a $2.6 Million salary after his first time in arbitration. He also has a good pedigree as he was rated as the Marlins top prospect by Baseball America in 2007, and second in their system in 2008.

But most importantly, he is better than he has shown. Volstad has been good at getting ground balls (career 50.4%), however, most of his career Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez have been the Marlins middle infield combination and both of those players are below average defenders. Last year, Volstad posted a 4.89 ERA, with a 52.3 GB%, however he also posted a 3.64 xFIP, which is a solid indicator for his future.

This would help him fit well with the Giants as there is a growing likelyhood that Brandon Crawford could be the Giants starting SS, which regardless of whether or not you believe that is a good idea, would improve the Giants defense. Combine that with the solid Freddy Sanchez and the legitimate gold glove candidate Pablo Sandoval, and you have a very good infield defense. Volstad would also be helped by AT&T park as last year he posted a 15.5 HR/FB rate-just below Barry Zito and Bronson Arroyo.

While he would be a good fit, there is the question of what would be fair to give up. I think given the questions surrounding the back of the Marlins bullpen they would be interested in Santiago Casilla and then an 11-20 rated prospect, like a Chris Dominguez or Charlie Culberson.

2011 Season in Review: Miguel Tejada

Miguel Tejada is one of the greatest shortstops of all time — top 50 easily, and arguably top 25. Simply going by WAR (Baseball-Reference’s implementation), he’s 23rd all time. That’s not too shabby — higher than Omar Vizquel even. I wouldn’t say he’s Hall-of-Fame material, but he’s certainly Hall of Very Good material.

Anyway, 37+ year old shortstops are rare, and good ones are even harder to come by. The departures of Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria left the Giants with a void at shortstop last offseason; they didn’t have many options — particularly on the free agent market — so they chose to sign Miguel Tejada. This was — without doubt — their greatest mistake of the offseason, as Jason Bartlett and J.J. Hardy were both available on the trade market at the time (Hardy would soon be traded to the Baltimore Orioles for next to nothing). Additionally, the contract — $6.5MM over one year — seemed a bit lucrative for a shortstop of his age, coming off a season in which he’d posted an OPS just under .700; it was a classic case of Brian Sabean outbidding himself. In any event, the Giants went with Tejada, and sad as it sounds in retrospect, he was their biggest new addition (with Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell returning after re-signing with the Giants).

Tejada, of course, fell off a cliff with the bat, proving futile at the plate in 343 plate appearances. He was aggressive — only drawing 12 walks on the season — and his power all but disappeared, as he slugged just .326 (the lowest mark of his career, by far). His defense at short, as expected, left a lot to be desired. After averaging 158 games per season from 1999-2010 — proving to be incredibly durable, Tejada missed 25 games in the late summer due to an abdominal strain.

In late August, Tejada was the subject of much scrutiny (kudos to Bay Area Sports guy for calling Tejada out), after refusing to run hard on a bunt. Soon after, Tejada was designated for assignment along with Aaron Rowand.

Fangraphs has Tejada’s season valued at exactly 0.0 wins above replacement, which is just perfect in so many ways. What a forgettable season he had. Quite a sad ending to a fine career, though.