Sabean's habit of drafting pitchers

I got into this in Across the Seams's blog and thought I would put my answer here and rewrite it a bit (this is a preview of what I was going to write about in my finale article):

Why does Sabean always seem to draft pitchers more than position players? Even last year when he started out the draft by picking a number of position players first before getting to pitchers, he ended up drafting more pitchers than position players. Why this fixation with pitchers?

To me, it is all about supply and demand. Look at a team's composition. In the past of my youth, maybe 10 pitchers were on the roster but today's day of the short starts and reliever specialists, most teams carry 12-13 pitchers. That's approximately 50% of the roster, split with 20% starters and 30% relievers, roughly.

On the other hand, take any position player. Unless he's a utility player, he probably can play 2-3 positions tops, and most probably only 1 position excellently (if that). If you have a position prospect, you can only market him to teams with a need for that position, maybe two, three tops for a CF or SS. That's 24% tops but most probably just 8% of the roster (2 spots, one starter, one backup, out of 25) that a particular prospect can fulfill for a team.

Compare that to what I said about pitchers. So how many teams need one specific position and how many teams can use a starter or reliever? I don't know the numbers but the old adage is that you can never have too much pitching. Every team is always looking for pitching, can always use more pitching, but not all teams are looking for your studly 3B prospect.

In addition, the Giants, I believe, maximizes the potential for trade by being flexible and ambiguous, to some degree, about whether a pitcher is a starter or reliever. For example, Rod Beck was a starter in the minors and Russ Ortiz was a closer plus Aardsma was not thought of as only a reliever/closer, the Giants were not sure for his first professional season whether to start him or relieve with him. Also, Correia was moved into a relief role last season and there has been talk about using Valdez in a closer role because of his slight build not being able to handle grind of starting. I also recall reading or hearing somewhere that the Giants' player development philosophy is to prepare the pitchers with the thought that they can go into either role when the time and need comes at the Major League level.

Given all these, plus their habit of drafting mainly pitchers, the Giants can always deal with almost any ballclub in the Majors for what they need because they have a huge supply of what every club needs: pitching. And their pitchers could do either, start or relieve, opening more opportunities for trades and making it easier for them to do business with almost every team in the majors. This enables the Giants to have feelers out to every team for players that they are enamored with and when the other team is ready to deal, the Giants would have pitchers ready to be trade bait. By drafting predominantly pitchers, they ensure a steady supply of easily tradeable pawns - Bruso, Habel, Vogelsong, Grilli, Bump, etc. - that they can use to acquire proven veterans.

Sabean's contract is extended

AP reported that Sabean's contract was extended and that Colletti has a long-term contract as well.

Sabean detractors will be downcast about this move. They point out the players that Sabean has acquired over the years that make their case of him not being a good talent evaluator: Neifi Perez as the prime example, followed by Shawon Dunston, Russ Davis, Marquis Grissom, and now Mike Matheny, to name a few. They say that he has been lucky because he has Bonds but that he will fail once Bonds retire. They say that he overpays marginal players but his mistakes are covered by Bonds' and Schmidt's severe underpaying (plus Kent's when he was here).

Sabean supporters will be pleased by the move and I am one of those as those who accuse me of homerism would attest to (for the record, I hated Spec Richardson and Tom Haller as GMs and Jim Davenport and Joe Altobelli as managers, and I had serious problems with Dusty Baker at the end of his term as manager and was glad they chose to let him go; so much for a homer). Here's why I'm a Sabean supporter: under him for 8 seasons we have had 3 NL West titles, 1 Wild Card, 1 NL Championship, 738-557 record during that period, third only to the Yankees and Braves, also the first time the Giants have finished either 1st or 2nd for 8 seasons since John McGraw finished 1st or 2nd for 9 seasons from 1917 to 1925. The titles won under him match the total for the previous 27 seasons that I had followed the Giants prior, meaning he could finish out of the money (i.e. playoffs) for another 18 seasons and STILL would not have done worse than before him. And we have been competitive each and every year, with only a couple of handful of games that did not have playoff implications. Not only that but he transformed a 64-98 team that he inherited into a pennant winning team the next season and has essentially rebuilt the team every year since the 2001 season with a significant number of starters changed each season and the team has won through all that.

And it is not like I think he is perfect. Neifi stands as the number one example of that. I was so glad when we put him on waivers, but then I did a spit-take and had the wind knocked out of me when I learned that we not only signed him but signed him to a $4.2M contract! (It was then that I believed that somebody must have incriminating photos on Sabean and Colletti to get that to happen. :^) Then there was the Vlad Guerrero non-move. As I showed in an article, the Giants could have had Vlad AND most of the additions they made last off-season if they signed him to the same contract as he had signed with the Angels, used the money they had offered Maddux plus another couple of million dollars. Think how well our offense would have been in 2004 - we would have won the division running away and perhaps done some stuff in the playoffs, we were on a pretty good run there at the end.

Then there was the F-Rod trade last season. I wholeheartedly believe that that trade costed us the playoffs, and perhaps more (with hot run, we could have run the table on someone), because, not only did Ledee probably provided negative results to us, but we could have used F-Rod to absorb innings at the end of the season which would have allowed Brower to pitch in that Dodger's game and would have given Hermanson enough rest to pitch better in that Dodger's game. That trade costed us the 2004 season in my opinion.

Lastly, I still think that it is an open book on how well he has drafted for the Giants. His first two seasons (1997 and 1998) were underwhelming in terms of valid major leaguers, though he was able to parlay them via trades into a number of very useful players, like Nen, Livan, and Schmidt. Subsequently, he has been much better with Jerome Williams, Jesse Foppert, Kevin Correia, Noah Lowry, and Brad Hennessey all contributing significantly to the pennant drives in 2003 and 2004 and David Aardsma and Matt Cain about a year away from significantly contributing. But still, there are no position players who are even close to joining the team nor any who contributed significantly at the major league level yet - Linden has had the most, sadly enough given how little he has done (but I think that is partly to do with his focus on pitching, which I will get into in my last article).

What people are forgeting is that Sabean not only crafted the rosters that the Giants won with - and for those who think Bonds is god, god was unable to bring the Giants to the playoffs in his first four seasons with the club and, in fact, the team had a losing record 3 of those 4 seasons - but he also drafted and developed the main core of players who helped the Yankees win all their World Series Championships, which means he had a strong hand in the core players of two of the three teams with the best records in the past 8 seasons. (I was going to get into this in the finale to my series but I just can't help myself, I'm on a roll. :^)

He was the director of scouting and head of player development during his time there just before joining the Giants. He was a big part of the decisions that led to the team the Yankees developed for the mid-to-late 1990's run that won all those World Series and that have continued to compete well. Sabean showed his strong abilities in evaluating talent when he was the head of scouting and player development for the Yankees in the early 1990's, when many of the Yankees' homegrown talent were signed: Derek Jeter, Jose Posada, Mariano Rivera, Ramiro Mendoza, Andy Pettitte, and Gerald Williams. In addition, other players were drafted who had extended MLB careers, including Scott Kamienieki, Hal Morris, Turner Ward, Kevin Maas, Brad Ausmus, Pat Kelly, Russ Davis, Deion Sanders, Andy Fox, J.T. Snow, Russ Springer, Sterling Hitchcock, Brian Johnson, Carl Everett, Ricky Ledee, Shane Spencer, and Mike DeJean. Not all were stars but they were all useful in one way or another in complementing the stars that were developed.

One needs to look at the overall talent that he has amassed and how they have performed, and not fixate only on the mistakes he has "made" in his personnel decisions because no one is perfect. In addition, as we all know, Sabean sometimes have his hands tied by the finances of the team. And sometimes they are tied by circumstances where you just get the best available player. And sometimes they are clearly just mistakes. Those will all contribute to sub-optimal personnel decisions.

But you need to look at the overall results and decide whether you are happy with the results or not. I am happy but I wish it could have been more, like any fan. But I much prefer Sabean over what I've experienced as a fan in terms of Giants GMs. He has been head and shoulders beyond not just all past Giants GMs but beyond all past MLB GMs over the past 8 seasons if you value wins above anything else. People focusing on his mistakes are missing the big picture: the Giants have been winning and competitive. Plus, if you examine most of his trades made, he has not given away very many players who we regretted trading away, just Foulke and Nathan over all those years for prospects and unproven players.

This is basically like the Mariucci firing for the Niners - why fire someone who has been very successful if you don't have someone (or ones) better in mind that you think you can hire away from someone else? Who would be a better choice than Sabean? Instead of griping about how horrible he is in selecting personnel, give us some better choices; maybe we will agree with you but then that would be a more fruitful conversation because either you like winning or you don't and Sabean has won better than all teams except for the two top dominant teams in the NL and AL during his tenure as GM. I don't see how anyone could have a problem with winning a lot of games better than 27 other teams.

I think the major problem that has caused a lot of the consternation that Giants fans have felt and that I have felt, is the problem of overpaying for players. I think we are all mostly in agreement about that, if not about Sabean. The buck stops there in one individual on the team because Sabean does not negotiate contracts - he has delegated all those duties to Ned Colletti.


Alou Gives Some of His Plans

In the Trib's article about Alou, he gives some hints as to how he sees things for the Giants in 2005. Besides the obvious - Snow sits to let Feliz hit against LH SP - he had a number of tidbits. He sees Jason Ellison being the 5th OF because of his defense (shades of Calvin Murray). He expects to hold Grissom out for 32 games (that is, he's going to play him about 130 games) plus move Moises to LF on the days Bonds takes a day off. He is looking to Jim Brower to be the primary set-up man and to Jesse Foppert to be long relief, assuming he's healthy (2 cents/2c: which is not too surprisingly, we all saw that coming). To get Feliz more AB, he plans to play Feliz at both corner OF spots. And Tucker will see play in CF too (2c: which is not surprising, he has played CF during his career).

Across the Seam's account of a season ticket holders' meeting with Alou and Sabean gave further tidbits of info. Alou feels much better about the bullpen because of better defined roles (2c: it WAS defined last year; unfortunately, Herges sucked). The rotation is set with Schmidt, Tomko, Lowry, Williams, and Rueter. Foppert, Hennessey and Cain will have chances to fill in (2c: interesting on who he didn't mention, Valdez). Alou said that Williams is a future 20-game winner (2c: not a hard thing to say after his 2003 season; despite 2004 season, I still believe in him, he is going to be an anchor of the rotation for a while). Linden's star has dimmed greatly but they still like his athleticism.

Mohr was jettisoned due to the money (2c: no surprise there, 5th OF won't get many ABs with Tucker sucking up most available AB and Feliz sucking up even more; #5 will only get mop-up duties on defense and PH and you wouldn't want to pay $1M for that. I still think they should have kept Mohr and either trade away Grissom or Tucker). Unfortunately, Alou said that Bonds is used to batting 4th now so it looks like the lineup will be pretty set at Durham, Vizquel, Snow/Feliz, Bonds, Alou, Alonzo, Grissom, Matheny, with a little juggle on the days that Tucker or Feliz subs for one of the Elderly Trio.

Lastly, they reiterated why they got Matheny over Torrealba: known quantity, not an experiment, plus got two youngsters in the rotation (2c: unsaid is that by end of 2005 we could have Hennessey or Cain in the rotation as well, depending on how Woody does in the rotation, plus Foppert in the bullpen, adding more youngsters into the mix, then next year there's Cain and Aardsma, maybe Misch or Correia too, getting ready to come up and contribute. The Giants will have a cheap pitching staff pretty soon, after Rueter's contract is up probably, with only Schmidt's contract bringing up the average massively.)

Hmm, seems like the Trib's article is an account of this meeting but they made it seem like they interviewed Alou or something...

Well, now we can see how the numbers work now that we have the exact number of games Alou plans to use Grissom. Not too surprising it is so low since Alou talked about how tired Grissom was last season while Grissom was saying "B.S. I'm not tired" but his season ending stats said otherwise. His great first month masked all the problems he had hitting the rest of the season.

Anywho, that's 32 games there. I assume Bonds and Alou will probably be in the 140 game range so that frees up another 22 games each for a total of 76 games or approximately 380 PA. Throw in the DH, that's probably another 9 games or 45 PA, which brings us to approximately 425 PA. Of course, there will be laughers that one of the reserves will come in, etc., so that probably brings us up to about 450. That is not a lot of PA to spread between Tucker, Feliz, and then Ellison. Especially if they want to get Feliz close to 600 PA.

Speaking of the devil, how will Feliz get there? Snow, assuming he plays healthy, would get all the RHP PA, leaving about 250 PA vs. LHP for Feliz. Throw in some sit-downs vs. tough RHP, that gets Feliz up to 300 PA. Alou said that Moises would get LF if Bonds sit so maybe Feliz gets RF for those 22 games for another 110 PA for 410 PA. If Alfonzo is finally fit, he'll play maybe 145 games leaving Feliz 17 games and 90 PA. Throw in 1 PH per week and that's another 25 PA. We are at 525 PA or so, a good 75 PA away still and no position to play Feliz at unless they want to try him at SS again. Feliz does not look like he will get 600 PA unless the Giants play Bonds or Alou only 130 games but Feliz, as nicely as he hits, cannot replace either player adequately, offensively or defensively, so I would prefer not to contemplate a move like this.

Looking at Mohr's stats only made me pine more for him. His stats were always odd in that he hit RHP about as well as LHP. But in 2004 he hit RHP WAY better than LHP: .899 vs. .738, 5 homers in 148 AB vs. 2 homers in 115 AB. So he could have been Grissom's platoon buddy plus be the first choice for OF when resting an OF if Tucker would have been traded.

I mean, Tucker's contract is for, what, $2M this year? Trade him plus $1M to make his salary palatable to the other team at $1M, we sign Mohr to a $1M contract, we end up still paying $2M, same as before, plus we get a minor prospect in exchange for Tucker. And I loved the way he played defense plus he could play CF if necessary and adequately for he was used there often when he was with the Twins. It will be hard not to root for him while he's in a Rockies uni and playing against the Giants.

Study shows that the Giants have been one of the least successful teams at making good trades since 1961.

Now tell me something a hardcore, old timer Giants fan doesn't know. The study, done by Studes of Hardball Times, used Win Shares to measure how trades worked out, i.e. how much Win Shares gained vs. Win Shares lost. The Giants ended up 4th worse since 1961 with -344 W.S. (then Boston with -380, Atlanta with -391, and the worst, the Mets with -680!).

The surprise to me is that the Giants are not even last, not by a mile. We have a long litany of horrible trades that ended up lopsided for the other team. For gosh's sakes, we've traded away for virtually nothing two Hall of Famers, a number of 40+ homer hitters when that was a rare and special thing, a 50 homer hitter when that was a rarer and more special thing, and a number of fan favorites. For entertainment I used to look through the Sunday list of player stats for ex-Giants and how they were doing so much better than the current Giants. Then at the World Series I would do the Giants version of the Cubs World Series curse and count the number of players who were ex-Giants on the two World Series participants (the one with the most Giants always lost when I checked).

The first big lopper was before my time but a big one nonetheless: Orlando Cepeda for Ray Sadecki. And who can forget this whopper of a loser (well I guess the player we got in trade since he was an admitted total drunk): Gaylord Perry for Sudden Sam McDowell (who wasn't sudden any more). I'm still cursing that one, damn Indians ripped us off! But that was soon followed by another total loser of a trade: George Foster for Frank Duffy. That's an All-time trio of horrible trades - two Hall of Famers and a 50 homer hitter - and we haven't even finished the 1971 season yet!

Not as big but still hurt was the trade of Chris Speier for Tim Foli. Tim was serviceable at least, unlike the losers above (well Sadecki did well but had a losing record still). We also lost King Kong Dave Kingman in trade (but at least got $100K). Still in the early 70's.

Then there was a lull in trades, or perhaps my memory, before we get to some good ones in the 80's. Rob Deer was given away for magic beans (at least baseball's version of magic beans, two prospects who never did anything). Jack Clark was given away for David Green and others, though we did get a player who lives in Giants lore out of it in Jo-say Urrri-bay, the literal player to be named later (I think his name was Jose Gonzalez or some other common Latin surname and he changed it to his mother's maiden name when he was traded).

One that was relatively minor but that stuck in my craw was trading Fred Breining, Max Venable, and then throwing in Andy McGaffigan (I loved Andy!) for Al Oliver, who we didn't even keep for a whole season before trading him off. Another one that bothered me was trading Dan Gladden for basically nothing.

There was basically a big lull during the Al Rosen/Bob Quinn/Brian Sabean era as far as I can remember. But I have a feeling the Joe Nathan trade will turn out to be a big lopper with A.J. 86'ed out of SF for a doughnut hole. And with the way Livan has suddenly seen the light (perhaps that old man he took a swing at with a golf club corrected his pitching arm?), it looks like that will be a big loser despite Brower's great stats with us.

But we got some good lopsided ones sometimes too. Jeffrey Leonard for Mike Ivie (plus we got Dave Bergman, who I liked and followed his career after the Giants). Don Robinson for Mackey Sasser. Big Daddy Rick Rueschel for two so-so major leaguers. Kevin Mitchell, Dave Dravecky, AND Craig Lefferts for Chris Brown, Keith Comstock, Mark Davis and Mark Grant. And then we came ahead even more by trading Mitchell with Remlinger for Bill Swift, Mike Jackson, and Dave Burba. (Never noticed until now that we traded away two big disappointing pitching prospects in Mark Grant and Mike Remlinger in Kevin Mitchell trades)

Then there was Rod Beck for a prospect (stealing him from the A's made it doubly sweet!). Shawn Estes for Solomon Torres. Robb Nen for 3 prospects. Jeff Kent (and others who have done OK in the majors) for Matt Williams. And of course our biggest lopsider, Jason Schmidt (plus John Valder Wal) for Ryan Vogelsong and Armando Rios. Even the Livan trade to use worked for us, giving up only prospects who haven't done much still while Livan pitched OK for us.

So there goes the difference between the Giants and the Mets, the Giants have gotten some big trades in their favor over the past 20 years or so. We could use another this season, especially with the push to win it all this season.


Reaction to my article

There has been a couple of reactions to my article that I am aware of. One was at Baseball Primer. The other was at Only Baseball Matters. I will put together a detailed response (not merely a rebuttal, but a discussion of the points brought up and my thoughts on them) when I get the time but I wanted to be up front about discussions that have occurred thus far, both good and bad; I've already posted a response on OBM.

I like civil discussions and I will own up if I did something wrong, I have a life (like you all) and had to cut some corners to get it out. So I know that I may get some things wrong here and there (plus I tried to acknowledge some of them in my methodology discussion) but thought I was far along with it to publish and get a discussion going. As a new friend kindly told me, my results are suggestive, not conclusive, but I thought it was interesting, as he put it, to bring a counterpoint to the discussion about Sabean's early round draft pick practices.

My initial reactions? At least please give my article a thorough read before you decide to opine on my article conclusions and not react to other's (or your own) misconception of either my article or myself. I am not a homer, though I root for the Giants. I was down with the Giants in the 70's and early 80's during the mediocre years and let my homer friends know that they were not going anywhere that year, and still rooted my heart out for them to prove me wrong. I said last year that the Giants were good enough to compete for the NL West pennant but nothing more.

Unfortunately my column title fakes some people out and they chose to read a book by its cover. I chose the column name to be funny because anyone who knows me will know that I try to be as unbiased as I can in all that I do and to be as nice as I can (though I can be pushed and am not perfect). Perhaps I should have changed it once I realized this inside joke was only funny to my closest friends, but I was lazy and decided that it's no big deal, I'll just keep that title for my columns on Scout.com and have been "known" by that on boards.

Just give my article and its results a fair reading and I will listen carefully to any problems with my methodology. But I came into this project expecting the worst. I was one of those bashing Sabean for his poor farm system, though I did acknowledge his expertise in being able to flip ultimately useless players into good useful players. And this was what I found. All I care about is that if we are going to say something, is there some way of finding out whether what we say is true and makes sense. I tried to do that and these were my results. Now if only one of us can figure out a way to make the Giants not overpay for players...