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.

The Yankees were never in on Jonathan Sanchez

Yesterday, Jon Heyman tweeted that the Yankees were disappointed that Jonathan Sanchez went to the Royals.

Apparently (with a tip of the cap to Giants Win), that’s not the case:

The Yankees’ prime directive this winter is adding pitching, but they were never in on trade talks for lefty Jonathan Sanchez, who the Giants traded to the Kansas City earlier this week for Melky Cabrera, Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman said.

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 Acquire Melky Cabrera in Exchange for Jonathan Sanchez, Ryan Verdugo

More info to come…

Update: Sanchez, 28, is up for his third year of arbitration elibility (and final year of team control), and would have made something like $5-6MM through the process. Cabrera, 27, is up for his fourth year of arbitration elibility (he’s a Super Two), and could earn as much as $4MM this offseason.

Ryan Verdugo, who just barely missed the cut in my Giants prospect rankings, was converted to a starter this year — and had moderate success in the role (4.35 ERA, 4.31 FIP), but frankly, his control is not very good (he walks a hitter every other inning).

Initial reaction: not a fantastic return, but this is honestly more than I’d expected to get in exchange for Sanchez. Cabrera isn’t a very good player (and most certainly won’t repeat what he did this year), but he’s something; on a similar note though, he’s not really a capable defensive centerfielder.

Anyway, this is pretty interesting. Brian Sabean had never made a trade in November, prior to this.