The Non-Tender Deadline

So this is the Giants’ offseason. The biggest remaining decision, Mike Fontenot or Jeff Keppinger, will be made today. And after today, the roster — give or take a spring training invitee — will just about be set.

No Jimmy Rollins. No Jose Reyes. No Carlos Beltran. Not even a Rafael Furcal.

In an effort to keep payroll down, the Giants are going the “Law of Averages” route; they’re depending on fewer injuries, better offensive performance, and more situational luck. To an extent, this makes a lot of sense. There’s really no telling what Buster Posey will look like next season, or how many games Freddy Sanchez will play, or if one of the Giants’ frontline starters will finally go down. But I suppose it’s fair to assume the Giants will be healthier in 2012, if only because the injury toll seemed so abnormally high in 2011.

And the hitting, well, it can’t get any worse. …wait, it can? Oh god.

In any event, the team posted a .561 OPS with two outs and runners in scoring position. That’s 30% worse than those hitters did overall (70 tOPS+), and it’s thus a figure that’s bound to go up. As bad as the hitting was, they’re certainly due for a healthier dose of situational luck.

So a little luck in those departments, and maybe the Giants are in business. Maybe.

They missed out on Willie Bloomquist (hooray!), but in Emmanuel Burriss, they’ve got someone equally terrible. Buster Posey, coming off that season-ending injury, will be (presumably) backed up by Chris Stewart. And Brett Pill will probably be getting at-bats at the major-league level in April. That’s a thin bench. Scary thin.

The fact that it’s gotten to this point — where Jeff Keppinger v. Mike Fontenot is such an important decision for the organization, speaks volumes about the Giants’ offseason. The team scored 570 runs in 2011, but they have done little to improve upon that. It’s neither an expensive strategy nor a sound one. And it guarantees that 2012 is going to be a loooong season.

As for today, hopefully the Giants make the right decision. Keppinger is a singles hitter, and that’s about all he does. No walks, no strikeouts, no homers. He’s basically bizarro Pat Burrell. He’s not useless with the bat, and he can hit southpaws pretty well…but he only profiles as a second baseman, and it’s not a position he plays very well. Give me Fontenot.

Now, how many days until pitchers and catchers report?

2011 Season in Review: Catchers

Buster Posey: When we look back on Posey’s 2011 season, this will inevitably be what we remember. Posey only played in 45 games before the collision, but it’s worth noting that he had quite the impact (considering how few games he played in). Despite not even tallying 200 plate appearances, he finished third on the team in wins above replacement at 1.6; we can’t take too much from his overall numbers (.284/.368/.389), but he showed an improved walk rate (and much less power) when he was healthy. Ideally, the power will come back next season, and Posey will continue to draw more walks. In any event, 2011 for Posey will always ultimately be defined by the Cousins collision.

Hector Sanchez: There’s not much to be said for Sanchez’s time in the majors because it didn’t last all that long. He appeared in a total of 13 games this year, posting a .258/.324/.323 line in 34 plate appearances. Obviously those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, but as a prospect, Sanchez certainly boosted his status. I ranked him sixth in my prospect rankings (an admittedly aggressive placement).

Eli Whiteside: After taking a regular role in the wake of Posey’s injury, Whiteside was everything the Giants could have expected — which is to say that he was awful. In 236 plate appearances, he hit .197/.264/.310, posting a wRC+ of 55. His defense, too, was pretty awful. Fangraphs had him at slightly above replacement level on the season, while Baseball-Reference had him at -0.5 wins.

This was pretty awesome though. As was his hopping.

Chris Stewart: Stewart proved to be the better of the two (Whiteside/Stewart) as he was actually an asset on defense. Defensive runs saved is an oversimplified evaluation of catcher defense, but it had Stewart at +9 runs above average in ~500 innings of work behind the plate. Matt Klaasen’s more all-encompassing catcher defense ratings had Stewart at +3.2 runs (also quite good). In any event, he — like Whiteside — failed to be productive on offense, putting up a .204/.283/.309 line. For what it’s worth though, he had pretty solid plate discipline (0.89 BB/K) and good contact skills (89%); unfortunately, it just didn’t translate into success for him.

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.

Larry Baer on Chronicle Live: “Keep the Pitching Intact”

Giants president Larry Baer just appeared on Chronicle Live (on CSN Bay Area), discussing the offseason to come. A lot of it was old stuff — stuff we’ve been hearing again and again. The organization has made it quite clear that their philosophy is “pitching, pitching, pitching.” That’s their priority this offseason, and it seems that pursuing a top free agent hitter (someone like Jose Reyes) is not a reality.

The organization will try to sign Tim Lincecum to a long-term deal, and if it doesn’t happen, they’ll try again next offseason. If again he doesn’t sign a long-term deal, the Giants will make a third attempt (as Lincecum becomes a free agent) to sign him to a long-term deal. As Baer puts it, the Giants have three tries with him.

Similarly, signing Cain long-term is a priority for the organization, but a more pressing need — as he hits free agency sooner. Baer said something to the effect of — “it’s equally important to sign Cain and Lincecum” long-term.

When asked if the Giants could afford to sign them both, Baer said they could. What he doesn’t know is if they can afford to sign a top free agent hitter (a $20-30MM per year guy, as he puts it) in addition to Cain/Lincecum.

Lastly, he said that successful teams, of late, have been winning by virtue of deep bullpens, strong pitching, and “the ability to adjust as you go along.” My takeaway from this is that Baer is emphasizing a pitching and only pitching philosophy with the team. It sounds almost as though he doesn’t care at all about the offense, and is completely oblivious to the fact that their issues extend far beyond the injuries to Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez. Additionally, the “adjustment” line implies that the Giants will continue to be active before the trade deadline.

Anyway, please do note that this is all paraphrased, and simply what I’ve inferred from it. I’m sure the video of the interview will be posted eventually, at which point you can go check it out. In any event, I’m a bit concerned about the organizational view on the importance of offense.

Update: here’s the video of Baer’s interview.

News and Notes: Gold Glove Awards, Elias Rankings

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.

Thoughts on Buster Posey, Catcher

Via Baggs:

For all Buster Posey‘s insistence that he will be the starting catcher on opening day, there is a strong undercurrent in the front office for moving him to first base — or maybe even third base, with Pablo Sandoval grabbing a first baseman’s mitt.

Buster Posey is a special player. You don’t need me to tell you that obviously — in his short career thus far, he’s played (for the most part), at an elite level. To date, he has 645 plate appearances in 160 games — roughly a full season of playing time, during which he’s hit .294/.353/.462 and amassed 5.1 wins above replacement. And he’s still only 24 years old, so he presumably has a ways to go before reaching his offensive peak.

The problem with moving Posey is that a major element of his value is positional: in other words, that he’s a catcher. And catchers that are above-average on both sides of the game, as Posey is, are very difficult to find/replace. It’s the basic concept of positional value, as explained here. A brief excerpt:

The concept is easy enough to understand. Different positions on the field require different skills to play, and some are inherently more difficult than others. Catcher is harder to play than left field, and shortstop is harder to play than first base. We can easily accept an argument for accepting less production out of certain positions as an acknowledgment that the pool of players who can adequately play said position is small.

Posey’s inherently more valuable as a catcher, merely because it’s a harder position to play. In fact, based on estimates by Tom Tango (chart), over the course of a full season (600 PAs), a catcher provides roughly 2.5 wins more in value than a first baseman (assuming all other factors — defensive, offensive, etc. equal). To put it simply, that’s the difference between Posey being an all-star caliber player, and Posey being a solid/average-ish player.

But it extends beyond that. Posey is a good defensive catcher. Small sample size — I know, but if you take his catcher defense rankings from 2010 and 2011 (which, again, is roughly a full season), he’s worth about +7.5 runs on defense (not accounting for game-calling/pitch-framing).

Perhaps most importantly though, Buster Posey wants to catch.

Look, I understand the rationale behind moving Posey from the catcher position. As a catcher, he’s a constant injury risk. But the fact of the matter is:

1) Posey’s collision was sort of a freak accident — in the sense that those injuries are relatively uncommon. (For the record, I believe MLB should address the issue of collisions).
2) The reason Posey’s special is that he’s a catcher, and he’s a good one. And by moving him from the catcher position, he’s stripped of a lot of that value.