Thank you, Andres Torres

Let me preface this by saying that if you have not yet read Grant’s love letter to Andres Torres over at McCovey Chronicles, go ahead and do so. And while you’re at it, watch these Torres videos.

Anyway, I’d be remiss if I didn’t pay my own tribute to Torres, as he’s a personal favorite of mine. So here goes…

Torres, at his best, could do just about everything. He could hit the ball with astounding authority; he could cover exceptional range in the outfield; he could put up patient, quality at-bats; and he was a force on the basepaths. He was not only capable of impacting the game in many different ways, but he was great at it.

In 2010, he was one of the best players in the National League. Out of nowhere. He had overcome a hell of a lot to get to where he was (surely you’ve heard his story by now), and somehow managed to realize his potential. He was, in essence, the manifestation of that beautiful aspect of unpredictability in baseball.

Without Torres, the Giants don’t win the World Series in 2010. They don’t make the playoffs, either. And they don’t even come close. In addition, without Torres, we’re all subjected to much more of Aaron Rowand’s insufferable bat-wagging than we can take.

Incredible story, incredible perseverance, and incredible talent. He was Ryan Vogelsong before Ryan Vogelsong, but times 100. He’ll always have a special place in my heart, and in the history of this great franchise.

A Question

Why did the Giants trade for Melky Cabrera?

Originally, the trade made sense. The organization wasn’t content with the in-house options, and I can definitely understand that. I wasn’t personally a fan of the trade, mostly because the plan was supposedly to install Melky in centerfield — where his defense negates a lot of his value. I argued, in fact, that Andres Torres wasn’t a much worse option (if at all) for that role than Cabrera. In the context of when it was made, it wasn’t a bad trade — just uninspired.

But with San Francisco acquiring Angel Pagan, the Giants’ offseason plans become somewhat of a mess. Pagan slides into center, presumably moving Melky over to left. Aubrey Huff, who will inevitably assume a starting role, would then presumably become the first baseman. I like the Pagan trade. But it took me a while to realize — or for it to really sink in — that the Giants don’t plan on putting Brandon Belt in their starting lineup.

So it begs the question: Why did the Giants feel the need to acquire Cabrera? What was the rush? It seems pretty clear to me that the Giants are better off just starting Belt.

Angel Pagan Trade Reaction

Well, hello there Angel Pagan, 30 years old, and not exactly coming off a good season. In 532 plate appearances, he hit .262/.322/.372 (99 wRC+), which is pretty respectable, but he seemed to have a bad year in the outfield: -14.3 UZR, -1 DRS, -19 TZ. Take it at face value, with all the usual small sample size defensive metric caveats, but the general consensus seems to be that he wasn’t good. That said, based on how great he rated in 2010 (+15 UZR, +7 DRS, +21 TZ), I’d expect that he’s capable of doing better than his 2011 metrics show. It’s not as simple as just averaging his two most recent seasons and assuming he’s a neutral defender, but I think he’s at least generally considered to be better defensively than Melky Cabrera.

It’s easy to look at the sub-.700 OPS from this season and be unsatisfied, but that’s the state of offense in major-league baseball at this point. That was average production in 2011. Assuming he does a decent-enough job with the glove, I could easily see him being an above-average player (Bill James, for the record, projects a .325 wOBA for Mr. Pagan).

What do the Giants lose? Well, for one, they lose a solid bullpen arm. Ramirez has never been anything flashy, but in his time with the Giants he put up good numbers: 95.2 IP, 178 ERA+, 2.07 ERA/3.14 FIP/3.90 xFIP. On one hand, I don’t think I’ll ever forget this. I mean, that pitch was right down the freakin’ middle. But Ramirez is a quality arm, even though the Giants’ bullpen can surely take the hit (hey there, Heath Hembree).

Andres Torres has left more of a mark in San Francisco. I’m sure I’ll expand on this later, but I’m going to miss Torres. A lot. From a statistical standpoint, he had quite a large impact on the Giants: take his seven wins away from the 2010 Giants, and there’s no championship. There’s no denying the steep dropoff in his performance, as his wOBA dipped below .300 in 2011. But he was valuable nonetheless, certainly enough so that he was worth tendering a contract. I’ve explained this repeatedly, but his value as an elite defensive outfielder with plus speed made him, at worst, a fourth outfielder going into next season. He’s getting a little old (in baseball terms, at least), and given his not-so-lengthy track record, I could understand the sentiment that he doesn’t warrant a starting job. And for the record, scouts hate his swing. But he’s raked to the tune of .269/.343/.492 since 2009, and I think he’s ultimately still a league-average player. And hey, for what it’s worth, Bill James still thinks Torres has something left in that bat.

In any event, was becoming increasingly clear that he had no place in the Giants’ 2012 plans. If the option was non-tender him or trade him, I’d obviously prefer the latter.

As a whole, I like the move. So long as it doesn’t push Brandon Belt out of a starting role (seriously, Bruce Bochy, please don’t do that). Angel Pagan is a better centerfielder than Melky Cabrera, and this move clearly improves the Giants’ lineup.

Farewell, Torres. Always underappreciated.

Giants Rumors: Hiroyuki Nakajima, Cody Ross, Carlos Beltran

Very busy day for rumors. Here’s the latest on Hiroyuki Nakajima, Cody Ross, Carlos Beltran, and more:

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.

Arbitration Eligible: Andres Torres

There’s no doubt that Andres Torres‘ 2011 was disappointing. It’s something I’ve reviewed in detail, and I seem to have become somewhat of a Torres apologist. In essence, he fits the mold for the prototypical underrated player: stellar defense, an above-average walk rate, elite baserunning skills, and up-the-middle positional value. Torres enters his second year of arbitration this offseason, and the Giants, faced with their set payroll restrictions, will have to decide whether he’s worth retaining. Though he’s 33, and posted an underwhelming slash line of .221/.312/.330, I believe (quite adamantly) that the Giants should tender him a contract — or find some other way to bring him back for next season.

First and foremost, Torres will not be expensive. He made $2.2MM last offseason, and because of the substantial dropoff in performance, he’s not exactly due for much of a raise. MLB Trade Rumors projects him for a bump of ~$300K in salary, which sounds about right. Considering that he’s been worth an estimated ~$35MM+ over the past two seasons, that’s not such a steep price to pay, eh?

I’m sure the Giants would be hesitant to place Torres in a regular role at the beginning of next season, and that’s perfectly understandable. But as a bench player, Torres has a lot of value. In fact, at worst, he represents the ideal fourth outfielder. He can play every outfield position — and quite well. He’s got plus speed on the basepaths, and — though he does make his fair share of ridiculous baserunning gaffes — he’s a skilled baserunner (particularly when it comes to advancing on batted balls). Lastly, he’s a switch-hitting bat off the bench; he was quite mediocre at the plate this year, but he has hit .252/.332/.436 over the last three seasons as a whole.

In my mind, it’s a no-brainer. Though he looks like a non-tender candidate, the Giants would be foolish not to bring him back next year.

Splash Hits: 11/11/11 Edition

For your Friday night reading pleasure, links…

Top 15 Prospects: San Francisco Giants | FanGraphs Baseball
Fangraphs’ Giants prospect rankings.

Alex Rodriguez, other talents didn’t boost legacies with PEDs – SI.com – Fantasy
“Few, if any, steroid users who would garner enough votes to get in would have failed to do so had they never used PEDs.”

A Thank You to Pat Burrell – McCovey Chronicles
Pat Burrell is probably going to retire from the San Francisco Giants. Here’s a note of thanks.

MLB Free Agency: Willie Bloomquist Signs Meaningful Two-Year Deal – Baseball Nation
You asked for wall-to-wall Willie Bloomquist, and now you have it. Here’s what his two-year deal means.

Do you need a great closer to win it all? – SweetSpot Blog – ESPN
Are closers really worth big contracts?

A post in which I make a meat analogy « Bay City Ball – A Giants Blog
Should the Giants sign Clint Barmes?

Lefty Malo – Buster, Freddy, And The Noble Quest For League Average Offense
Buster, Freddy, And The Noble Quest For League Average Offense

Angel Pagan And Andres Torres: Undervalued Then And Now – Baseball Nation
Andres Torres and Angel Pagan were both undervalued commodities who turned into highly valued assets. Looks like they’re right back where they started.

Will Melky Bring His Bat to San Francisco? – Baseball Analytics Blog – MLB Baseball Analytics
Cabrera needs to outperform his projections by proving that he can maintain his increased power/contact.

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.

News and Notes: Gold Glove Awards, Elias Rankings

Splash Hits: NLCS Edition

I’ve got nothing for you this morning but links…

An argument for Andres Torres – McCovey Chronicles
An argument for Andres Torres

Giants Catcher Hector Sanchez Forces His Way Into San Francisco’s Plans : Scouting the Sally
A nice profile on Hector Sanchez, who has rapidly become one of the Giants’ best prospects.

10th anniversary: No. 71 | The Hardball Times
The anniversary of Barry Bonds‘ 71st home run of the 2001 season.

Kevin Towers and the Bullpen Redemption | FanGraphs Baseball
The DBacks’ bullpen saw an improvement of 5.5 WAR from 2010 to 2011.

The Platoon Advantage: How Much Is a GM Worth?
Over at TPA, with all the speculation about Red Sox GM Theo Epstein and a possible trade to the Cubs, Mark Smith offers up some thoughts on the value of a GM.

OHHHHH WRITTEN IN THE CARDS | You Can’t Predict Baseball
A fantastic lengthy write-up on the Cardinals’ unpredictable season.

Washington Nationals 2012: Hope – Beyond the Box Score
An article I wrote for BtB on the Nationals, who look to be contenders in the near future after years of rebuilding.

The Theoretical Grade A+ Prospect – Minor League Ball
The Theoretical Grade A+ Prospect