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. 

Giants’ Top Twenty Prospects: Part II…10-1

In case you missed it, here’s part one. Tomorrow, I’ll post honorable mentions — prospects that just missed the list. Moving on…

10. Ehire Adrianza, age 22, SS

Plus defensive shortstop, and as such, the bar for his offense is set pretty low. Showed glimpses of potential for reaching that bar (.300/.375/.470 at San Jose).

9. Heath Hembree, age 22, RHP

Hesitant to rank him higher because of the walks and the fact that he’s a reliever, but his stuff is legit.

8. Francisco Peguero, age 23, OF

High ceiling, but the lack of plate discipline is a major issue (five walks in 296 PAs at Richmond)

7. Tommy Joseph, age 20, C

Age and positional value work to his favor, and he saw tremendous improvement (defensively and offensively) as the year went on. Plate discipline, however, is not his strong suit.

6. Hector Sanchez, age 21, C

Fairly advanced for his age, and he has quality defensive tools (as well as good power potential at the plate). That said, his conditioning could be a major roadblock in his development.

5. Eric Surkamp, age 24, LHP

He dominated Double-A, but was quite underwhelming in six starts in the majors. A low-ceiling arm, but I think he could still develop into a useful back-end starter.

4. Kyle Crick, age 18, RHP

Ace potential, but very raw at this point.

3. Andrew Susac, age 21, C

Above-average defensive catcher with on-base skills; a pretty polished product.

2. Joe Panik, age 21, SS/2B

Either he stays at shortstop, where he could be as good as average defensively, or he moves to second-base where he projects as an above-average defender. In any event, his bat plays well for a middle-infielder — good contact/on-base skills.

1. Gary Brown, age 23, CF

Legitimate all-star potential: plus defensive outfielder with speed on the basepaths, and a quality bat (especially from an up-the-middle position). Hopefully he’ll do well in his transition to Double-A Richmond (a notoriously pitcher-friendly environment).

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.