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.

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.

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.

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. 

The Giants are willing to trade Jonathan Sanchez

According to Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com, the Giants are willing to trade Jonathan Sanchez “in an effort to free up money so they can pursue offensive upgrade.” Sanchez, 28, projects to make around $6MM in arbitration; with Barry Zito under contract through 2013 and Eric Surkamp under team control, Sanchez is somewhat expendable — that is, if the Giants are content with putting Zito or Surkamp at the back end of the rotation.

2011 was a down year for Sanchez, and he only managed to make 19 starts (due to injuries); In 101.1 innings, he posted a 4.26 ERA/4.30 FIP/4.36 xFIP. Few starters in baseball can strike out hitters at the rate that Sanchez has maintained over his career — his 9.36 K/9 is tied with Clayton Kershaw for second-highest among active starters (min. 500 IP). Though he incurred a couple injuries and lost complete control of the strikezone this season (14.9% BB%), his trade value is helped by the fact that this year’s free agent market for starting pitchers is pretty thin.

Back in September, it seemed as though the Giants were all but prepared to slide Sanchez into the fifth slot of the rotation:

Zito will be in camp this spring to compete for the No.5 starter job. It’s looking like Sanchez will be the guy, though.

Zito, then, would presumably become the fifth starter. In his nine starts this year, the results were not pretty: 5.87 ERA/5.60 FIP/4.65 xFIP. He lost a couple MPH off of his fastball, and his strikeout rate dipped accordingly (5.37 per nine innings, the lowest of his career). He’s more-or-less been a league-average pitcher during his time in San Francisco, but it’s hard to believe he’ll continue to pitch like that in 2012 and beyond, as he continues to age.

Eric Surkamp, too, had an underwhelming 2011 (in the majors, that is), and is an even more unattractive option than Zito at the back of the rotation.

Anyway, for the right return, this could be a good move for the Giants. But only if they trust that they won’t trouble finding a replacement for Sanchez in the rotation.

End-of-season prospect roundup

It’s been a while since I took a look at the Giants’ farm system, so I figured I’d do an end-of-season roundup. These aren’t rankings per se, but rather, a rundown of a few of the Giants’ top prospects, with notes on other guys to watch for.

Back in late July, I posted a midseason top 25 list; since then, the system’s undergone quite a few changes. Zack Wheeler and Thomas Neal departed in trades soon after, the signing deadline for 2011 MLB draft picks has passed, and — of course — minor-league seasons (including the postseason) have been completed.

Pitching

Eric Surkamp: I had him at #4 on the midseason list, and he’s since made his major-league debut (six starts in total). He’s been quite underwhelming, to say the least. Though his performance is certainly a very small sample we’re talking about — roughly 27 innings in total, he has failed to a) induce whiffs, and b) throw with the command he consistently displayed at various levels in the minors. His future remains to be seen, although he’s most likely not going to begin 2012 in the Giants’ rotation:

Sabean all but said Jonathan Sanchez will be tendered a contract. Eric Surkamp clearly isn’t ready and Barry Zito has had his “trials and tribulations.” Zito will be in camp this spring to compete for the No.5 starter job. It’s looking like Sanchez will be the guy, though.

I have not been the least impressed with what he’s done in the majors thus far, but I’m still holding out hope that he can stick at the back-end of the rotation as a useful starter.

Heath Hembree: While the Giants’ organizational depth is fairly thin in terms of starting pitching, they have a few intriguing relief arms. Hembree is the cream of the crop. He spent half of his first full season in the minors down in San Jose, where he posted a 0.73 ERA over 24.2 innings pitched, and struck out nearly half the hitters he faced (43.6% K/PA). After receiving the call-up to Double-A Richmond, he continued to dominate: 2.83 ERA/2.86 FIP spanning 28 appearances. The average pitcher in the Eastern League this year was 24 and a half years old, so Hembree’s fairly advanced for his age (22). As of now, he’s looking like the future closer for the San Francisco Giants.

Kyle Crick: The Giants’ 2011 supplemental-round pick — a right-hander out of high school, he’s probably got the highest ceiling of the Giants’ starting pitching prospects (now that Wheeler is out of the picture). Keith Law actually liked Crick better than the Giants’ first-round pick, Joe Panik. He made seven appearances this year with the AZL Giants, but hasn’t done anything to really affect his prospect status.

Others: There are quite a few other interesting arms in the Giants’ system…Ryan Verdugo made the switch to starter this year, and while he had a solid season, nothing about his performance really stood out — especially considering that he was in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League (pitching in pitcher-friendly Richmond). Mike Kickham and Seth Rosin, a pair of Augusta arms, each did well this year (Kickham starting, and Rosin pitching out of the bullpen for the majority of the season). Lastly, Adalberto Mejia had a hell of a season in the Dominican Summer League, and the Giants selected some quality pitching in this year’s draft — Joshua Osich, Chris Marlowe, and Bryce Bandilla, in addition to the aforementioned Crick.

Hitting

Gary Brown: He’s the best prospect the Giants have, and after an excellent season in San Jose, he’s one of the top 50 prospects in all of baseball. One of the major concerns about Brown entering this season was walks: he didn’t draw very many walks in college, which is (for obvious reasons) alarming for a prospect whose game is speed. No longer much of an issue though: he posted a 7.2% walk rate this season, which is perfectly acceptable for a hitter with above-average contact skills. And considering that he has a penchant for getting hit by pitches (which, I’d assume is a somewhat repeatable skill), all the better.

There was a story on Brown in the Mercury News the other day, and one quote stood out to me:

“People keep saying I’m a singles hitter,” said Brown, who is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. “Maybe they think that because I’m a leadoff man, but that’s not me. I’ve been a gap hitter my whole life. So that gets me a little riled up.”

He’s got a point, really. His numbers: 33 doubles, 13 triples, 14 home runs (.181 ISO). Juan Pierre comps (I’ve heard him compared to Pierre on several occasions) don’t do him justice — his power’s a lot better.

Joe Panik: There were a lot of people that weren’t happy with the Panik pick — having hoped that the Giants would go for a player with a higher ceiling. I was pretty content with the pick though, and I feel somewhat validated by Panik’s performance in Salem-Keizer. .341/.401/.467 in 304 plate appearances with 13 SB/5 CS, and a BB/K ratio of 28/25. Even if he doesn’t stick at short, he projects as an above-average defender at second-base. I expect that he’ll continue to move up through the system quickly.

Tommy Joseph: The biggest snub on my midseason rankings, Joseph was all the way down at #16. The reasoning behind this was: 1) defensive limitations at catcher, which is of paramount importance. 2) poor plate discipline.

Joseph got off to a cold start this year, but really started to pick things up as the season progressed. Here’s his wOBA by month (note: September includes only ~20 plate appearances) –

Tommy Joseph wOBA by month

Joseph finished the year with a line of .270/.317/.471, nearly a +.100 improvement in OPS from 2010. In mid-August, he was ranked the best defensive catcher in the Cal League, and Joe Ritzo, San Jose Giants director of broadcasting, raved about Joseph’s progress:

I’ve noticed a tremendous improvement with Tommy Joseph behind the plate this year, just going from April to August he really has become one of the better defensive catchers in the league. His receiving skills I think have improved the most, and his ability to block pitches in the dirt. He definitely has made tremendous improvement in that regard. I asked Andy Skeels recently which player has improved the most and Tommy Joseph was at the top of that list for what he’s done defensively and offensively.

Joseph’s still only 20 years old, and a catcher that can excel at both defense and offense is inherently valuable. He’s rocketed this year to become — in my mind — one of the Giants’ top five prospects, and maybe even one of the top 100 prospects in baseball (he was listed on THT’s top 100).

Others: Ehire Adrianza hit well in San Jose this time around (.845 OPS in 56 games), which is an encouraging sign. Not a big fan of Francisco Peguero, who’s widely considered to be one of the Giants’ top prospects, and here’s why: .309/.318/.446 at Double-A Richmond. He only drew five walks in 71 games, and posted a miserable BB/K of 5/45. Hector Sanchez and Andrew Susac round out the Giants’ organizational depth at catcher. Lastly, there are others to look out for: Jarrett Parker, Chris Dominguez, Charlie Culberson, and Ricky Oropeza to name a few. As a whole, I think the Giants’ organizational depth in terms of hitting — particularly at the catching position — is markedly better than the pitching.

The Week That Was: Bill Neukom retires

They do something similar to this over at MLB Daily Dish, and since it was a busy week at the blog (and with the Giants, for that matter), I figured I’d take a brief look back at what happened this week (well, a little more than a week, to be exact):

Thanks for reading!

Splash Hits: Giants hold press conference with Bill Neukom and Larry Baer

I have yet to see the video of the press conference, but here’s what I basically gathered from Twitter:

That’s just a brief overview — there’s more that’s been written up by Tim Kawakami and John Shea (both linked below), but that’s the basic gist of it. There was some speculation from multiple astute fellow bloggers that the Aaron Rowand DFA had something to do with Neukom’s departure (see here and here); if true, that’s beyond absurd.

In the meantime, some links…

Larry Baer on Barry Zito, Bruce Bochy, Brian Sabean — and more of what you didn’t see on the televised news conference : San Francisco Giants: The Splash
John Shea from the ballpark, where a few reporters spoke with new Giants CEO after today’s news conference. . . .

Tim Kawakami: The truth about the San Francisco Giants and Bill Neukom – San Jose Mercury News
No matter how hard the parties tried to spin it Thursday, this organization is not stable.

VIDEO: Understanding ‘The Giants Way’ By Bill Neukom – SB Nation Bay Area
Former San Francisco Giants CEO and Managing Partner Bill Neukom fully understood this, and was in part the reason he decided to create ‘The Giants Way;’ a simple handbook created by Neukom on how “to articulate a successful baseball program and successful business program.”

Tim Lincecum And Another Means Of Defying Baseball Convention – Baseball Nation
Every coach at every level of baseball will talk about the importance of throwing first-pitch strikes. Tim Lincecum doesn’t care. Why would he? He’s Tim Lincecum! He’s weird!

First Pitch Tidbits – Baseball Analytics Blog – MLB Baseball Analytics
Here are some nuggets about what happens on the first pitch of an at-bat:

The Platoon Advantage: Hitter vs. Position Player
During the Common Man’s opening statement, he mentions “hitter” and “position player” interchangeably, and while Bill points out the difference and TCM surely knows the difference (you all know the difference), it’s a common correlation that’s often made.

Narratives From Formulas | FanGraphs Baseball
I won’t repeat the basics, which can be looked up elsewhere. Instead, I want to address the occasional misuse of the formula for building narratives of teams being better or worse.

Maybe it’s time for Barry Zito and the Giants to part ways

According to John Shea, Barry Zito could be activated as early as today. As such, it seems like an appropriate time to re-evaluate his role as a Giant…

The Zito contract was an obvious mistake from day one — no question about it. Multi-year $100MM contracts for pitchers are inherently risky, and that’s exacerbated by the fact that Zito wasn’t even much of an ace when he signed with the Giants. In fact, by 2007, he had declined to the point where he could honestly be considered nothing more than a solid mid-rotation arm.

Barry Zito by fWAR (2001-2006)

In any event, I more-or-less consider myself to be a Barry Zito apologist. Over these past five years, he’s made a lot more money than he deserves, quite obviously, but I think he’s been better than he gets credit for. From 2007-2010, he averaged 1.85 WAR per season, which — contract details aside — is great for a fifth-starter.

In March, Bruce Jenkins wrote that Zito’s position with the Giants was “definitely not safe”:

A source close to the team indicated Tuesday that there is “exasperation” with Zito, that his status as the No. 5 starter is “definitely not safe,” and that the team would even consider buying out his expensive contract before Opening Day if that’s what it takes to say farewell.

That sounded crazy. This was, of course, before the emergence of Ryan Vogelsong and Eric Surkamp — a time when the Giants’ rotation insurance was Jeff Suppan, Clayton Tanner, or Dan Runzler. Zito had proven himself a perfectly decent back-of-the-rotation starter, and the Giants clearly didn’t have any better options at the time.

Now, perhaps that’s changed. Zito’s 33 years old, and his days as an average starter are quite possibly behind him. Never one to throw hard, Zito has seen his fastball velocity drop in 2011 to levels that are pretty much unacceptable (via Fangraphs):

Barry Ztio fastball velocity

His numbers, accordingly, have dropped off. His walk rate — 9.8% — is pretty much in line with his career norms, but his strikeouts have dipped to a new low (he’s striking out hitters at a measly clip of 13.7%). In nine starts, he’s racked up a grand total of -0.2 wins above replacement. We’re talking about a pitcher with the highest qualified walk rate in all of baseball during the last five years, and an 83 MPH fastball. At this point, it’s hard to believe the Giants don’t have five starters better than him.

San Francisco enters the 2012 season with four starters — Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Ryan Vogelsong — that are quite clearly better than Zito. And though he’s made just two starts, I feel quite confident in saying that Eric Surkamp is also better than Zito at this point. It remains to be seen whether Jonathan Sanchez will be tendered a contract this offseason, but he’s also a better option in the fifth-starter slot than Zito.

The reason I bring this up is because Wendy Thurm has penned an excellent piece over at Baseball Nation in which she looks at teams getting rid of expensive/unproductive players. Zito, of course, is one of the main subjects of the article:

The Giants still owe Zito $39 million on the contract, plus $7 million if they fail to pick up Zito’s option for 2014 (which seems certain). Giants management has been non-committal when asked about Zito’s role next season. As with Rowand, the Giants will have determine this winter whether they are a better team without Zito as the fifth starter.

Maybe 2011 marks the end of Zito’s career as a San Francicso Giant. It’s a tough decision, but it’s looking like it’s probably the right decision. I imagine if the Giants eat the entirety of his contract, there will definitely be teams interested in acquiring him.

UPDATE: Because I think this is an interesting topic of debate…
Comment-starter:
1) Do you think the Giants should part ways with Zito this offseason?
2) Not accounting for cost, rank the following in order of who you think is the better SP entering 2012: Zito, Surkamp, Vogelsong, Sanchez.