More Melky Cabrera Ramblings

It’s been said before. Melky Cabrera, unlike these guys, is young. Relatively young, at least. Age 27 is a magic age — an age when players typically enter their peaks. That he’s coming off his best season — .305/.339/.470, 121 OPS+ — at age 27 makes a world of difference. It’s quite possibly more than just a player performing above his true talent level — it could be an indication of a player that’s breaking out. Of course, more likely than not, that isn’t entirely the case. Cabrera was a mediocre (85 OPS+) hitter for the first 2700 plate appearances of his career, so why would the most recent 700 PAs discount that fact?

If you want proof that a breakout season at age 26 doesn’t necessarily hold over for the following year, check this out:

Year Age OPS+
1981 21 91
1982 22 97
1983 23 94
1984 24 72
1985 25 92
1986 26 137
1987 27 87
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/9/2011.

That’s Steve Sax. He entered 1986 at age 26, without a particularly impressive career record — through his first 2691 career plate appearances, he had posted an 89 OPS+. Then he put it all together: .332/.390/.441 — good for a 137 OPS+ — in 704 plate appearances.

In 1987, at age 27, instead of building on his previous season — or even matching it, Sax regressed. In 600+ PAs, he posted an OPS+ of 87 — remarkably similar to the mark he’d posted in his first 2691 career PAs. Sax is not the rule, but he does serve as a testament to the importance of those first 2700 plate appearances.

With Cabrera, regression is almost an inevitability. It’s good that he’s coming off a great season, and that he’s doing so at the right age. But he’s been a mediocre hitter for the greater part of his career, and a single season doesn’t erase that. Dan Szymborski estimates the odds at 7 to 1 that 2011 Cabrera is the new and improved Cabrera. But even with a healthy dose of regression — ZiPS projects a 40-point drop in OPS — Cabrera can be a useful player. I expect he’ll be good for 2-3 WAR if he stays healthy, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of 2011′s Giants.

I think the big issue I have with Cabrera is what Dave Cameron (who actually liked the Giants’ end of the deal) noted about him. He’s a classic ‘tweener: his defense doesn’t profile in center, but his bat doesn’t profile at the corner outfield positions. If he can play passable defense in center, he’ll be a pretty useful player. I just don’t think he’s much better — if at all — than Andres Torres. It’s not a bad trade, though. I just don’t know that it’s worth entering 2012 with Barry Zito as the fifth starter, and Eric Surkamp as the only real insurance.

Potential FA Target: Andrew Brackman

I was going to analyze the Melky Cabrera/Jonathan Sanchez + Ryan Verdugo trade, but to be honest I feel like that’s been done by a lot of people and it’s all pretty much been said. Quick take: Cabrera doesn’t seem to be a great fit in San Francisco because his defensive liabilities could really be exposed in a ballpark with that large of an OF and a primarily flyball oriented staff. However, Cabrera is entering his prime and is a decent bet to be a 2-3 win player in 2012. Losing Sanchez is a bit of a risk-while he’ll never be Randy Johnson, trusting a repeat performance from Ryan Vogelsong and some combination of Barry Zito and Eric Surkamp is a pretty big risk. On the other hand there is the possibility that Sanchez could turn into Oliver Perez or Scott Kazmir this year. All in all, I don’t like this deal, but I don’t hate it.

Now onto the topic of this post. The Giants currently have six members of their bullpen signed and with their budget constraints they likely won’t be able to bring back veteran reliever Guillermo Mota. So right now the battle for the 7th member of the bullpen would likely be between Steve Edlefsen (who struggled mightily in his big league debut), Waldis Joaquin (DFA candidate) or an outside candidate. Enter Andrew Brackman who was released by the Yankees per his draft contract.

Brackman has had an interesting career. He went to High School and College with the aforementioned Eric Surkamp and was drafted 30th overall in the 2010 draft and got a very lucrative draft deal. In 2009, in his first year back from Tommy John Surgery, he struggled with his control as he walked 6.4 batters per nine in Low A as a 23 year old. He had a very good year in 2010 splitting time between A+ and AA ball as he walked nearly 4 batters less per 9. Last year though, his strong campaign fell apart as he had a K:BB of 7:7 as well as posting his highest career HR rate. Also, for the first time in his career he made more relief appearances than starts.

While those numbers were not good, Brackman has the size and power arm the Giants love. And given that he’s spent time starting and relieving in the minors the Giants could use him in low leverage situations to eat some innings and get him acclimated to the majors and if he can control his walk rate, the Giants could have a sleeper relief prospect. As far as a potential contract, I think the best comparison would be 2006 1st round pick Andrew Miller, who also spent time battling control problems and threw 65 innings in the majors with the Red Sox last year. Miller received a split contract worth $1.3 million in the majors and a team option for $3 million. Now the main difference between Brackman and Miller is their service time, as Miller had more time in the majors than Brackman, though that likely means that Brackman would receive less guaranteed money, but would have a mutual option because if he was good the team could simply decline their option and sign him to a pre-arb contract.

Given Brackman’s draft status, strong arm, and relative youth I think he is definitely worth the Giants taking a flier on and using as a low leverage reliever.

Melky Cabrera/Jonathan Sanchez Trade Reaction

What follows is a series of facts — in no particular order — that as a whole illustrate how I feel about this trade:

I. Jonathan Sanchez is a good pitcher. A frustrating pitcher, sure. He’s certainly more Oliver Perez than Randy Johnson, but he’s quite a nice guy to have at the back of a rotation. Over the last four years, he’s averaged roughly 2 WAR/season. Not bad for a guy that would have been the Giants’ fifth starter. 

II. Jonathan Sanchez is expensive, but not that expensive. Through arbitration, he projects to make a little more money than Melky Cabrera. The difference is negligible though. 

III. Melky Cabrera is a below-average defensive centerfielder. There, he’s posted a -7.3 UZR/150 and -16 DRS in ~4500 innings.

IV. Andres Torres, on the other hand, is an above-average defensive centerfielder. There, he’s posted a 12.8 UZR/150 and +5 DRS in ~2000 innings.

V. Melky Cabrera has hit .282/.332/.420 (101 OPS+) over the past three seasons.

VI. Andres Torres has hit .252/.332/.436 (109 OPS+) over the past three seasons.

VII. Torres will be less expensive than Cabrera this offseason.

VIII. Barry Zito is not as good a starter as Jonathan Sanchez.

IX. Neither is Eric Surkamp, particularly if his first six major-league starts are any indication.

So in sum, the Giants just:

  • Downgraded their rotation, maybe by as much as one or two wins.
  • Barely — if at all — improved their outlook in centerfield.
  • Saved about a million dollars.  
I just can’t get behind this deal, especially if this means Cabrera is the starting centerfielder (which I presume is the case?). I don’t really mind losing Verdugo, but that’s not really important anyway. 
Bleh. 

2011 Season in Review: Aaron Rowand

Few players in franchise history have put together a greater showing of futility than Aaron Rowand in 2011 — and during his tenure as a whole, for that matter. In 2010, Rowand had hit .230/.281/.378, effectively losing his starting job — and setting an extremely low bar of performance standards. Yet somehow Rowand managed to put up even worse numbers this season: .233/.274/.347, a .270 weighted on-base average, and a BB/K ratio (0.12) of historically bad proportions.

Despite his constant struggles at the plate, Rowand had the sixth-most plate appearances on the team (351). And despite his utter inability to reach base (the man drew nine(!) unintentional walks this season), he led off for the Giants 46 times. I kid you not: fourty-six times.

As sort of an exercise for this player review, I decided to search through the archives for old mentions of Rowand. What I came upon were two one-sentence excerpts (within a one-week span) that almost entirely illustrate Rowand’s season as a whole:

Aug 23: The Giants drew three consecutive walks to load the bases in the fourth inning, and Aaron Rowand promptly took two strikes then grounded out.

Aug 19: Aaron Rowand, who hasn’t drawn a walk in six weeks, was hitless in the leadoff spot, striking out twice.

When he was finally designated for assignment, it came out that Rowand had been complaining endlessly:

But according to sources, Rowand’s complaining reached a critical level this season. “He’s doing everything possible to get out of here,” one player said earlier this week.

I’m both thrilled and relieved to never have to see Rowand don a San Francisco Giants uniform ever again. His tenure as a Giant was increasingly disastrous, and he’s without doubt one of the worst free agent signings in franchise history.

He’ll be making $12MM next year to not play for the Giants.

2011 Season in Review: Nate Schierholtz

One of the only bright spots of this year’s offense was Nate Schierholtz, who had somewhat of a breakout. It wasn’t a spectacular season, but he managed to post a pretty respectable .278/.326/.430 before his season was cut short due to injuries. Around late June, Schierholtz altered his batting stance, and shortly thereafter, he got red-hot: from June 25 to July 10, he hit .421/.469/.667, bringing his season line to .293/.343/.464. In fact, from June 25 through the rest of the season, he hit pretty well — albeit in a small sample (.306/.353/.465 in 184 PAs).

More than anything, it was probably a short-lived hot streak. He’s a career .273/.318/.409 hitter, and he’ll probably (more or less) hit like that in 2012. There’s also, however, the chance that — given his age (27) — he’s entering the beginning of his peak. It’s conceivable that Nate could be a league-average hitter again next season, which, combined with his above-average defense and baserunning, would make him a pretty useful player. Schierholtz enters next season as the starting right fielder, and if all goes well, he’ll be good for solid-average production.

Schierholtz is under team control through 2014 (his three arbitration-eligible years), so 2012 could be an important season for him. If he does happen to thrive in a starting role, perhaps he’ll solidify a place as the Giants’ starting right-fielder for the next few years. I’ll be particularly interested to see what ZiPS projects for Nate, as it’s always been sort of high on him.

A Sudden Realization | Getting Blanked

Drop what you’re doing, and go read this article:

You see, a certain former member of the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants will become eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2013, and when he’s not voted in by the archaic, moral grandstanding and self aggrandized gatekeepers for Cooperstown, I will be unable to ever acknowledge the existence of what will become far too great of an embarrassment to the game of baseball.

Let the Offseason Begin

And with that, the Giants are no longer reigning world champions. The Giants failed to defend their title, failed even to make the playoffs, and didn’t even come close to winning their division. But 2011 was quite a ride nonetheless, and one of the best baseball seasons ever, culminating in a particularly exciting World Series.

Now, focus turns to the future. The Giants have an immensely flawed offense, and it’s not going to be easy to fix. That said, the NL West does appear to be somewhat wide-open, and with the right moves, the Giants can put themselves in good position to do what they failed to do this year: make the playoffs.

Over at the Chronicle’s Giants blog, Henry Schulman has some interesting information (and speculation) on the offseason to come:

Oh yeah, and the Indians are expected to decline Grady Sizemore‘s option.

Anyway, the free agency period doesn’t begin until 12:01 AM ET on October 30th, as it has been delayed 24 hours. Via Troy Renck, the MLBPA will release the list of Free Agents and potential Free Agents on Sunday, October 30,” and “Players can sign with new teams on Nov. 3.”

This should prove to be a much more interesting offseason than the last one (remember when Miguel Tejada was the Giants’ biggest new addition?). Until then, congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans on a fine season, and well-deserved championship.

2011 Season in Review: Andres Torres

Andres Torres is 33 years old; he entered this season with only 1025 career major-league PAs to his name. It wasn’t until 2009, when he hit .270/.343/.533 in 170 PAs (75 games), that he burst onto the scene and really displayed a capacity to contribute in the majors. He followed that up with a strong 2010 season (.268/.343/.479, 126 wRC+), and had it not been for him, the Giants certainly would have missed out on the playoffs (and, consequently, their championship). His combination of excellent hitting and strong defense at a premium defensive position enabled him to post a remarkable 6.8 wins above replacement (fWAR) last year, the ninth best mark in the majors. So while his path to success was atypical — to say the least — he had set the bar rather high, and looked to be an important contributor for San Francisco this year as well.

Things didn’t work out so well in 2011, though. Over two DL stints, he missed a total of 40 games, and when he was playing, he struggled seeing a major drop-off in his AVG, OBP, and — in particular, his SLG.

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2011 33 SFG NL 112 398 348 50 77 24 1 4 19 19 6 42 95 .221 .312 .330 .643 82
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/26/2011.

After collecting 16 homers and eight triples last year, he managed just four and one respectively. To call this season anything but a disappointment would be, well, wrong. There were high expectations for him, and he failed to meet them. That said, he was anything but useless this year. Though he made a few notable baserunning gaffes this season, he was a strong baserunner (very adept at advancing on balls in play, and he did manage to steal 19 bases). His defense, too, remained an asset — one which would, at the least, make him an ideal fourth outfielder going forward.

This speaks moreso to the Giants’ collective struggles this season than it does of Torres’ value, but his fWAR (2.1) was second-highest on the team among position players.

As far as Giants players go, there might not be anyone more likable than Torres. He’s someone to admire: in the way he carries himself, his work ethic, his dedication, his character, and what he’s overcome to get to where he is. This little passage from one of Extra Baggs’ end-of-season posts perfectly exemplifies that:

Scene: Giants training room, 10 minutes after the final out of the 2011 season.

Action: Andres Torres, working out like a madman.

The Giants aren’t planning for Torres to be their starting center fielder again. How could they, after the way he struggled? But he’s still a very good defensive outfielder and a switch-hitter with pop. I’m not sure he could channel his energy into a bench role, or if he would agree to a contract before arbitration at a palatable salary for the club. But I do see a way he could contribute in 2012, if the team so desires. He certainly won’t let himself get fat between now and spring training.

I hope this team finds a way to retain Torres, whether or not that entails tendering him a contract. Maybe I’m being a bit optimistic here, but I think he’s capable of some form of resurgence next season. Even if 2011 is an accurate indicator of his current talent level, it’s very much in the Giants’ best interest to bring him back next season — as I’ve stated before, at the very least, his skill-set is ideal for a fourth outfielder. Furthermore, he’s still got some solid patience at the plate, and the power upside’s there as well.

A disappointing season indeed, but not one to scoff at. Torres was a solid performer when healthy.

Grady Sizemore: Free Agent Target?

Over at the Chronicle, John Shea brings up the idea of signing Grady Sizemore, suggesting that “it could be worthwhile for a team to take a one-year flier on Sizemore.” Sizemore, 29, is a few years removed from being an elite player — from 2005-2008, he hit .281/.372/.496 with 115 stolen bases and quality defense in centerfield. Since then, he’s hit .234/.314/.413 with 17 stolen bases, appearing in just 210 games over a three-year span. The Indians have a tight payroll, so there’s a good chance they don’t exercise Sizemore’s $9MM club option — meaning he could very well hit the free agent market. We’ll find out in about a week or so.

As of now, the Giants’ top centerfield FA target is probably Coco Crisp; he’s a guy who makes sense for a number of reasons, all of which I’ve outlined in the past: he’s still a quality defender, he’s still a legitimate stolen-base threat, and he’s put up a pretty solid performance over the last two seasons. For these same reasons, however, he might very well be overvalued by teams (stolen bases in particular are a statistical phenomenon that tends to be overvalued). The one thing that’s easy to forget is that Crisp is not terribly durable himself, having appeared in just 260 games over the last three seasons. That, combined with the fact that he’s a few years older than Sizemore, suggests that he’s not much less of an injury liability than Grady. Note that Baseball Prospectus considers both Crisp and Sizemore to be serious risks in that respect.

There are players that constantly incur injuries, and simply can never stay healthy. Guys like Nick Johnson and Rich Harden are eternally doomed by this. It’s possible that this is the path down which Sizemore’s career is headed, but at age 29, there’s also reasonable hope that he is in fact capable of a comeback. Because of this, it would make sense for the Giants to ponder grabbing Sizemore on a one-year deal — the classic low-risk potentially-high-reward contract. He’s probably not worth a whole lot less than Crisp, but I imagine he’ll be valued quite differently this offseason. If that does turn out to be the case, San Francisco should by all means pursue Sizemore in lieu of Crisp.

Either way, the Giants will need reasonable backup plan. They can’t rely on either of them to remain healthy all year, so they could use some insurance. Justin Christian‘s obviously not the answer here, and Gary Brown isn’t, either. I’m all in favor of retaining Andres Torres (which I don’t imagine is a popular opinion). 2011 was a disappointing season for Andres, but he still provides elite defense in centerfield, as well as speed on the basepaths and the ability to draw walks. I think he ultimately would constitute a reasonable backup plan, but there are other options out there as well.

In any event, the Giants should definitely consider targeting Sizemore on a reasonably-priced one-year deal. They could capitalize on the recent injury-warped portion of his career, taking a gamble on his ability to stay healthy. This is exactly the kind of move that could pay huge dividends for the Giants (if all goes well), while keeping within payroll restrictions. More often than not, these deals don’t reap big rewards. But it’s certainly worth a shot in this case.