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.

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.

Splash Hits: Prospect Ranking Season Begins…

San Francisco Giants 2012 Top 15 Prospects
San Francisco Giants 2012 Top 15 Prospects by the Bullpen Banter staff.

2011 Beyond the Box Score Catcher Defense Ratings: Year-End Edition – Beyond the Box Score
End-of-season catcher defense ratings for 2011.

The Platoon Advantage: Arrogance and uncertainty
Margins of error and uncertainty matter.

The Flagrant Fan: Did All Three Alou Brothers Really Start the Same Game?
Did Felipe, Matty, and Jesus Alou ever start the same game?

2011 MLB Draft Values By Team – MLB Bonus Baby
2011 MLB Draft Values by team – Giants at $13.78MM

Matty Alou career highlights
A look back at the biggest moments of Matty Alou’s career.

5 Questions with San Francisco Giants’ Expert Grant Brisbee – MLB Daily Dish
MLBDD asks 5 Questions of Baseball Nation writer and McCovey Chronicles’ Manager Grant Brisbee about the Giants, Buster Posey, and the management of Brandon Belt, among other topics.

2011 Season in Review: Aubrey Huff

Expectations for Aubrey Huff entering this season were reasonably low. He would be in his mid-30s, and a healthy dose of regression was inevitable, coming off of his incredible 2010 season. Out of nowhere, he had managed to hit .290/.385/.506 (.388 wOBA, 143 wRC+) on a measly one-year $3MM deal; he had posted the best walk rate of his career (12.4%) by far, and had even managed to steal seven bases without being caught at all. What’s more, he’d held his own defensively in the outfield — a position he hadn’t played since 2006 — after being asked to move there on short notice. He was, of sorts, the emblem of the Giants’ 2010 championship story, rally thong and all: a cheap one-year signing that had instantly revived his career with an all-star caliber season.

On November 23rd, the Giants rewarded him with a two-year $22MM contract; I’ve thought about this one a lot, and revisited it a while back. Conclusion: it was perfectly justifiable:

On November 23rd, the Giants re-signed Aubrey Huff to a two-year $22MM deal — one that was made, I think, under a few assumptions:

1. That Brandon Belt was not major-league ready; he had only played in thirteen games in Triple-A in 2010, and the organization is generally strong when it comes to internal scouting evaluations, so this seems like a fair — albeit early — assumption.

2. Aubrey Huff could fake it in the outfield. In 2010, his defense in the outfield was passable, and the Giants had strong defensive outfielders (Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Aaron Rowand, Nate Schierholtz) surrounding him, so this was also (arguably) a reasonable assumption.

3. Huff would be okay in 2011; again, another justifiable assumption. From 2008-2010, he had averaged ~2.5 WAR/600 PA, and the contract paid him — at market value — like an average player ($10MM/yr).

Unfortunately, there’s no greater emblem of the Giants’ offensive struggles this season than Aubrey Huff. One of the few Giants to remain healthy throughout the entire season, Huff struggled at the plate day after day:

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2011 34 SFG NL 150 579 521 45 128 27 1 12 47 90 .246 .306 .370 .676 90
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/20/2011.

His .676 OPS was the worst ever by a San Francisco Giants first baseman (min. 502 PAs), and it’s not even particularly close. All in all, he made a strong case for the National League’s least valuable player, and Tyler Kepner of the New York Times even named him such. It was an awful season, far worse than I’d have ever expected (in fact, I had him penciled in for a pretty respectable .280/.350/.460 this year).

His struggles came at quite a price, too: in addition to his integral role as a member of one of the worst-hitting teams in recent history, the organization’s handling of Huff created a poor environment for Brandon Belt’s development. Huff was penciled in the lineup on a daily basis, with Belt tossed aside as somewhat of an afterthought. Belt’s inconsistent playing time — as he was yo-yoed between the majors and the minors — most likely made it harder for him to work through his struggles at the major-league level, and it’s pretty easy to point at Huff, or rather, the way the organization handled Huff, as a major roadblock in Belt’s maturation.

The one positive aspect of Huff’s season that’s mostly overlooked is his solid defense at first base. FRAA, the defensive metric based on objective play-by-play data, had Huff at +7.1 runs above average, and he’s pretty good at scoops.

Nevertheless, his season was nothing more than a massive disappointment, and one of the major reasons the Giants missed out on the playoffs this year. It’s hard not to be frustrated with both Huff and the way he was handled this year, especially since news came out that he was out of shape this season.

Splash Hits: Brandon Belt, Aubrey Huff, Prospects

Giants

Brandon Belt and Summer School – McCovey Chronicles
On Brandon Belt playing winter ball.

Shopping list (and predictions) for next year’s team « Bay City Ball | Giants Baseball with a Side of STATS!
BCB’s offseason shopping list.

Mike Krukow Says Giants Clubhouse Turned On Aubrey Huff – Frisco Fastball – A San Francisco Giants Blog
On the Murph & Mac Show (KNBR), Mike Krukow recently said that Aubrey Huff lost a lot of credibility in the clubhouse this season for his offseason conditioning.

The Five Longest Giants Home Runs of the Season – McCovey Chronicles
Along with video, a list of the five longest Giants home runs of 2011. Spoiler alert: Pablo Sandoval is good.

Four Giants Among Cal League Top Prospects | San Jose Giants News
Four San Jose Giants were recognized among the top 20 prospects in the California League by Baseball America last week. Gary Brown was rated the third-best prospect in the league by the publication while Zack Wheeler (#4), Tommy Joseph (#11) and Chris Dominguez (#17) also received mention on the list.

The time I was Brian Wilson’s stand-in » Bay Area Sports Guy
Another interesting story from BASG.

15,000 days since a rare Marichal feat | The Hardball Times
A look back at Marichal’s 200th win.

MLB

When You Should Ignore the Data | FanGraphs Baseball
The meaninglessness of batter v. pitcher splits.

Introducing Weighted Pythagorean Winning Percentage | Getting Blanked | Blogs | theScore.com
The Giants had a weighted Pythagorean record of 73-89 in 2011. Yikes.

Joe Blogs: Verlander and Narratives
Another fantastic Joe Posnanski post.

Baseball Prospectus | Manufactured Runs: The O-Swing of Things
Rolling out new PITCHf/x stats as a taste of things to come

How to Scout First-baseman – Beyond the Box Score
Dave Gershman continues his excellent series on scouting players.

Jon Heyman’s Airline Tweets | NotGraphs Baseball
Jon Heyman’s airline complaints.

Splash Hits: Eliminated-from-Playoff-Contention Edition

Sunday afternoon links…

Giants/NL West

Tim Lincecum’s Contract Thoughts Are What A GM Should Want To Hear – Baseball Nation
Tim Lincecum noted that he’d prefer to take things year to year rather than sign a long-term contract. That should be music to a general manager’s ears.

The 2011 Backes « Bay City Ball | Giants Baseball with a Side of STATS!
The question that I can’t help but think of in such a situation is this: who are the four worst pitchers to beat the Giants this year? I call it the Backe awards.

This Week in Mismanagement — The ‘Break Out the Belt’ Edition | Getting Blanked | Blogs | theScore.com
Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy is often lauded as one of the best managers in baseball, but the truth is, he seems to make more questionable calls than most of his contemporaries. Case in point: his use of rookie Brandon Belt.

15,000 days since a rare Marichal feat
15,000 days ago, Giants ace Juan Marichal achieved a notable milestone, winning his 200th game.

Kershaw and his evolving slider – Baseball Analytics Blog – MLB Baseball Analytics
Check out the evolution of the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw from a fastball/curveball pitcher to a fastball/slider pitcher.

Golden Gloves For The Arizona Outfield? – AZ Snake Pit
By UZR, Arizona has the three best outfielders in the league.

MLB

Report: MLB likely to add Wild Card, implement one-game playoff | HardballTalk
The MLB playoff system is about to get an overhaul.

The myth and reality of ‘valuable’ – Los Angeles Dodger Thoughts Blog – ESPN Los Angeles
The idea that an MVP must come from a contending team is completely invented. It is not part of the rules of the award nor its roots.

The Next Moneyball: Seven Movies That Hollywood Should Consider – Baseball Nation
What other teams should get the “Moneyball” treatment?

Bud Selig threatens to terminate Dodgers from MLB if Frank McCourt does not sell | HardballTalk
The only thing that can save current Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is a high-dollar and stable new television contract — one that will bring financial security to a club buried in bankruptcy court.

MLB, MLBPA To Bring “All-Star Team” to Taiwan in November
Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) today announced that a team of Major Leaguers will travel to Taiwan this November to play against the Chinese Taipei national team in the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series.

Game Recap: DBacks Clinch NL West

Diamondbacks 3, Giants 1.

Well, there goes the NL West. Orlando Cabrera accounted for the Giants’ lone run with a solo shot in the fifth inning, and the Giants failed to add to that. Matt Cain took a one-run lead into the seventh, but a Chris Young RBI double, and a Paul Goldschmidt two-run triple in the eighth inning, gave Arizona all the runs they’d need.

Congratulations to the DBacks. They’ve earned it. Justin Upton has had a hell of a season, and up until recently, was the favorite for the NL MVP. The pitching duo of Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson have combined for nearly 10 wins above replacement, even more if you account for their bats (it’s looking like Hudson will win a Silver Slugger). DBacks position players, meanwhile, have combined for 30+ wins in value, which is roughly twice that of the Giants (15.3).

This entire season has come as somewhat of a shock (and, of course, a massive disappointment). I figured Buster Posey would lead this team to another division title; I knew Aubrey Huff would drop off, but nobody could have seen this coming: his .675 OPS is the worst ever by a San Francisco Giants first-baseman, and it’s nearly 100 points worse than the previous worstTyler Kepner just named him the NL’s least-valuable player; I thought that, by now, Brandon Belt would be a mainstay in the lineup, and a strong candidate for the NL Rookie of the Year; and I expected the Giants to get something — anything above replacement level — out of the shortstop position.

You can’t predict baseball. You just can’t.

Game Recap: Clayton Kershaw does Clayton Kershaw things

Dodgers 2, Giants 1.

Same old story. This time, Kershaw kept the Giants to one run over 7.1 innings — his lone mistake a home run to Chris Stewart (you really can’t predict baseball). It was the first homer he’d allowed to a Giant this season (in five starts).

The Giants also got a taste of Kenley Jansenwho’s been doing pretty amazing things this season — in the top of the eighth; he struck out the two hitters he faced — Pablo Sandoval and Carlos Beltran — on seven pitches.

Javy Guerra is a right-handed pitcher. He threw the entire ninth inning for the Giants, and faced two right-handed hitters — Mark DeRosa and Brett Pill — followed by Aubrey Huff. Brandon Belt, who’s homered in three straight games, sat on the bench the whole time. I mean, I can understand not putting him in the lineup against Kershaw. That’s defensible. But to have Pill and DeRosa face a righty, over Belt, and then to have Huff pinch hit for Orlando Cabrera — over Belt……enough is enough.

Well, the season’s almost over. The Giants have eight games left. If they win every single one of those games, they’ll finish the season at 91 wins. The DBacks, currently at 89 wins, have seven games left. It’s simple math — barring some kind of miraculous come back, Arizona will win the NL West. With the wild card, it’s closer…yet pretty much the same story. The Braves are at 88 wins, with seven games left.