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.