Great Article About Sabean

The Chronicle had a great article on Sabean a few days ago and I've been chewing on it. I had been working on a post defending Sabean because I feel there are two many fans being too harsh (or even biased :^) in their evaluation. But maybe I'll scrap that (or save for next off-season) and throw out my thoughts in reaction to the article.

New Name Mentioned for his Inner Circle

The article mentioned his cabinet of advisors, his inner circle. Most names I either know or have heard of: Dick Tidrow, Pat Dobson, Ted Uhlaender, and (formerly) Ned Colletti. But there was a new one there, Joe DiCarlo. And, surprising to me because I saw their names put out when Ned was hired away as possible replacements, Jack Hiatt and Bobby Evans were not mentioned. I guess they are more administrator types, but one would hope that your Director of Player Development and Director of Minor League Operations, respectively, would be held in higher esteem by the GM.

Looking in the Giants 2005 Media Guide, I had to dig to find Joe DiCarlo's name: he is mentioned simply as one of our major league scouts. There is no other detail, other than he hails from New Jersey; perhaps they met when Sabean was head of player development for the Yankees, that's how Uhlaender got close to Sabean, I believe.

Sabean Pulled Off Nathan Deal Without Magowan Input

Wow, that is huge, particularly since his contract was up soon after that, if I recall correctly. Most people who do something like that usually would have something happen to them, some sort of public reprimand. DeBartolo demoted Walsh - Walsh! - after he had a great season but lost in the League Championship Game leading up to the Super Bowl. Most other people get fired for such a bone-headed move. And this trade only looks exponentially worse and worse with every season. Instead, he not only gets an extension, but he gets a contract of undisclosed length.

I still wonder who engineered that trade - according to Colletti in one of the article after he joined the Dodgers, he praised Sabean for allowing others to work out trades with other teams, among other duties. Was it really Sabean, then, who engineered the trade (though certainly he was the one who pulled the trigger)? Or was it Sheriff Ned? Or someone else?

Vocal Detractors who said his success due Solely to Bonds

That's one of my big problems with detractors. To me it is a big red herring. Of course a GM's success is related to the success of his best players. If you take the best player off of almost any team, that team will not "look pretty" either. But until 2005, when Bonds was out for most of the season, there was no comparison point so these people point to 2005 and say "see, that's what I mean!"

And sure, Bonds has outperformed for a while now, even for his prior standards. But without Bonds, the Giants are a $65M payroll team. That drops them to the middle of the pack payroll-wise, which makes it that much harder to compete. And these people conveniently forget that the team fell apart almost across the board in 2005, which drops them even further down, as high priced players underperformed for even what they did the prior two seasons.

The starting rotation was off. Schmidt was MIA for the season, subtract another $7M off. Williams appears to have ate his way off the team. While Rueter and Tomko did about what could be expected. Only Lowry did reasonably well and Hennessey was up and down but at least showed a lot of potential (at least he'll be a cheaper Tomko for the most part in 2006, at minimum).

The bullpen imploded. Benitez went on the DL almost immediately (and should have been on it sooner the way he was pitching). Brower, Christiansen, and Herges went MIA. Only Fassero and Eyre was doing it while Walker was hanging in there, pitching well enough as a closer but horribly otherwise.

The lineup was also hit. Grissom, who had performed well the two previous seasons, particularly for the money, just fell apart. As bad as Alfonzo had been with the Giants, he was a decent performer the two previous seasons, but in 2005, after he had one last gasp the first two weeks of the season, he then turned into a high-priced pumpkin for the rest of the season (at least you could get seeds from a pumpkin). There goes three of the main offensive contributors in Bonds, Grissom and Alfonzo. And Tucker, who had been a reliable 4th OF his whole career, and did well the previous two seasons filling in for Carlos Beltran and when Hammonds went lame (again). The team as constructed could have survived missing Bonds for the season, but not half their offense and half of their pitching.

Now these detractors would say, well, he got these lousy players, that's why he sucks. Well, these are the same players who contributed to a 100-win season two years before and 91-win season the year before. You can't say they are lousy players in 2005 if they were good players in 2003 and 2004, contributing to the team's success, you cannot have it both ways.

Sabean Does Not Bow to OBP, Therefore He Sucks Mentality

There are those who say he is SO not a saber, because of the low OBP players he has gotten or used, like Vizcaino, Russ Davis, Dunston, Grissom, Santiago, Feliz, Neifi, and Deivi. But you cannot judge how he is by how he choses relatively minor (i.e. cheaper, under $3M players) players because every team (except for the Yankees) is forced to make sacrifices with the edges of the starting lineup when you allocate a lot of money to your best players. Or do these fans really think that he can get a high OBP hitter, particularly a starter, for a couple of million?

You need to look more at his bigger acquisitions, particularly via contract extensions and free agents. Of course, Bonds you cannot count, the best players are typically high OBP hitters. You could apply similar logic to Kent if you wish on his extension. However, if you look at his other acquisitions, he looks a lot more like a saber than sabers would think.

To me, the players he should be accountable for were signed to salaries over $4M. Alfonzo and Durham clearly qualifies as high OBP hitters. People complain about him resigning Snow, whether via contract extensions or free agent contracts, but he is a high OBP hitter as well. In addition, Ellis Burks and Moises Alou are very much high OBP hitters. Even Vizquel counts as a high OBP hitter. On the short end, Aurilia and Benard also got big contracts but neither was not a high OBP hitter, though Aurilia was a power hitter among shortstops, which has value too, OBP is not the only game in town.

Also, looking over the league average OBP for the past five years, the mean OBP has been around .325-.345. There were a number of bigger name players who were acquired, though they didn't necessarily make the bigger bucks. Players like Sanders, Hammonds, Tucker, and Pierzynski would count in terms of players acquired who fall into that range. Kenny Lofton, Darryl Hamilton and Jose Cruz Jr. would count as high OBP hitters as well as El Gato Galarraga, though they didn't make the big bucks. Plus two of our best hitting prospects are on-base machines - EME and Ishikawa.

Kent Reconcilation Not Realistic

No way, Kent hated Bonds and his attention and attendent circus, plus his privileges (I guess he didn't react well to the bull-dance initiation :^). It was simply an untenable situation that Sabean could not have ameliorated no matter what he did.

Look at Kent's behavior after he left the Giants. He chose to make fun of Giants fans, he deliberately burned his bridges with this area, despite starring at U.C. Berkeley and with the Giants. His behavior post-Giants and "dream come true" by signing with the Dodgers makes me wonder if he subconsciously underachived during the playoffs. He wasn't even our 4th best hitter during the World Series run of 2002.

B.S. (And That Doesn't Mean Brian Sabean) on Vlad

That is such B.S. about Vlad Guererro and the Giants. First, Guerrero never expressed a desire to come to any team so what is the point that he didn't express a desire to come to SF. But he clearly said that he was willing to play anywhere, even New York. Compile that with Guererro telling a Spanish news outlet that he owes his career to Felipe Alou and one of his proudest moment as a ballplayer would be to be on the field with Alou in the opposing dugout, one can see that while Vlad may not have expressed a desire to come to SF, he surely would have greatly enjoyed it. If he got such a thrill being in the opposing dugout, imagine how he would feel in the same dugout!

Second, the Giants could have afforded the contract the Angels gave him, as I showed in an article I had written before in another lifetime. Basically, with the $6-7M the Giants were offering Maddux that same off-season plus not signing Tucker and Hammonds plus a few others and, even better, not trading for Pierzynski, the Giants could have afforded to sign Guerrero and keep the main core of players on that 2004 Giants team. They could have done that if they had kept their eye on Guererro as an acquisition target instead of jumping on the Pierzynski trade so fast.

Success With No World Series Championship

Ultimately, yes, I would share this opinion, but he has done well enough to warrant a 5 year period A.B. (After Barry) to try for this before I would say his time is up. He has a lot of interesting prospects coming up - Cain, Hennessey, Correia, EME, Ishikawa, Sanders, Sandoval, Sanchez, Frandsen, Valdez - and some already up - Lowry, Munter, Taschner, Accardo - that the post Bonds period is looking to be an exciting period of re-birth for the Giants franchise.

Sabean Deserves To Lead Us

Overall, I'm glad Sabean has been our GM and I still support him. Someone with the talent and know-how to identify and acquire so many useful and talented player over the years earned my support. He found two great players via trades in Kent and Schmidt - how many even get one? And where would the Giants have been without the two? He found a lot of good puzzle pieces off the junk heap, like F-Rod, Hermanson, Santiago, Embree, Eyre, Brower, Grissom, Tucker. He found other good pieces in JT Snow, Durham, Burks, Worrell. He stole other pieces like Livan and Nen. He shepherded others through the farm system in Russ Ortiz, Shawn Estes, Bill Mueller, Rich Aurilia, Keith Foulke, and Joe Nathan. And he has drafted nice players like Jerome Williams and Noah Lowry.

For those who point to the Pierzynski trade, I say that any GM who isn't making any mistakes in his trades isn't working hard enough or taking enough risks. Any good or great GM will make mistakes sometimes, you need to look at both sides of the ledger to judge him correctly. You need to look at the whole of his decisions, which is how well the team has performed under his guidance.

He has a .558 winning percentage, third best to the Yankees and Braves during his tenure as GM. And as one baseball stat website showed (sorry, don't recall where), the odds of the best team winning the World Series is ridiculously small given the short series plus three rounds of play. Plus Billy Beane has said that the playoffs is a crapshoot in terms of who wins it all. So winning it all is not the be all and end all it used to be before the wildcard came in. So I think Brian deserves a chance to shepherd his young draftees into the major league leagues and see how a team developed by Brian Sabean really looks like.


Blogger allfrank said...

Martin, I really like and appreciate this article. I completely agree. Over the tenure Sabean has had, what other GM would people want? As you point out only two other teams out of all of MLB have better records. As the Giants like to point out, they have played (I think) fewer than 10 meaningless games in 9 years.
I remember those crummy years and this is a whole lot better. No way we can compete w/ Boston and NY - but we have.
And don't forget, he brought us Barry Bonds. A terrific ballplayer who has roots in Giants history. Its not Sabean's fault Barry's media personna is subpar. Every year we go into the season knowing we have a chance to win, if not "it all," at least the NLW.
Finally, you are completely right on regarding the Nathan trade. 1) who could have known. Minnesota surely didn't. They took a flyer because they had Mauer on the way. The trade looked pretty cheap at the time. 2) As you point out, he would be pretty gutless if absolutely no trade ever failed. I'm sure Atlanta, Boston, NY have trades they came out short on.
Enjoy your knowledge and rational approach.

Wed Feb 22, 07:09:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Lyle said...

Martin, your mention of Barry's contract got me to wondering: how would the NL teams' payrolls rank if you removed the most expensive player from each total? I have the sense that the results might be instructive. Especially since so much of our payroll goes to Barry. Maybe the results would be indicative of the team-building skills of the GM's.
Although I generally don't bash Sabean, and certainly acknowledge the W-L success during his tenure, I have to downgrade him when it comes to the draft. Yes, I understand that those consistently good records caused us to have poor draft positions, which in turn lowered our odds of drafting an impact player - but we've come up empty for years, now. Yes, the current crop of youngsters looks encouraging, but it's entirely possible that in 4-5 years we'll look back and see that these prospects didn't turn out any better than their predecessors. For that matter, we've been hitter-prospect-starved for so long, we may be unrealistically enthused about average prospects.

Fri Feb 24, 09:05:00 AM PST  
Blogger obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

Thanks for the kind comments, much appreciated, allfrank. I do wonder sometimes if I'm out there or what.

Lyle, good idea, I'll have to take a look when I get more time.

About Sabean's draft record, I totally agree that it is too soon to judge anything a success yet, we need to wait for the players to prove themselves. But what I was trying to convey was two things.

One is that because, as you noted my research, drafting good talent is very hard, it is hard to judge the success of a GM's drafts until after most GM's are fired, because it takes up to 4-6 years for your first fruits to make it to the show then a few more years for them to prove they belong. It takes a consistent long-term view and philosophy to drive success in the draft. Given that Sabean has been able to guide the team to relative success, I think he should be given the time to prove whether his drafts are working or not. It is at least working better than it was before he was GM, particularly in the past few years as the team under Tidrow appears to have taken hold.

Second, I was also trying to convey that there is a light at the end at the tunnel in terms of players contributing now. Publications like BA are openly acknowledging Giants hitting prospects as being tops within their league, let alone top of the poor Giants system, indicating that there is some quality there. Hitters like EME, Sanders, and Sandoval, are making top 10 prospects lists for the league, so it is not just us Giants fans thinking they are good, experts are too. But you are right that the proof in the pudding is when they become major leaguers. I am just trying to say that things appear to be getting better, so we should give Sabean the time to prove his methods work, which is the 5 year window I suggested.

Fri Feb 24, 11:42:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Lyle said...

OK, but can't we at least fault Sabean for the 1997 - 2001 drafts by now?

Sat Feb 25, 08:50:00 AM PST  
Blogger obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

Yes, I think we can if you look at the whole period, but you need to cut it off one year sooner.

1997 only produced Scott Linebrink (pretty good reliever) and Jason Grilli. Pretty bad draft.

1998 was even worse, Chris Magruder (journeyman OF), Ryan Vogelsong, Tony Torcato, Cody Ransom. I think only Doug Clark remains (other than the ones above) in the system, though he might be gone for 2006.

1999 was the best for a while but is probably now second with Williams, Ainsworth, Taschner.

2000 is in the middle but not saying much, with Niekro, Knoedler, Ellison, Boof, Treadway, Hannaman, Shabala, Burres, and Threets. Might be one or two others too.

2001, however, you will have to acknowledge as a pretty good draft, the top of the period, with Sabean picking up Hennessey, Lowry, Linden, Foppert, Knoedler (signed), Athas, and, almost last (47th round) but not least, Munter.

So I would agree with calling 1997-2000 pretty bad, but 2001 is looking pretty good right now, with two starters in the rotation, a good reliever, and maybe a starting OF. And 2000 could turn out good if Niekro can hit like he did in the first half of 2005 for a whole season without missing games due to injury.

Sat Feb 25, 09:57:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Lyle said...

You are correct, I'd judge 2001 a good year; I overestimated without looking it up. And that '98 draft was brutal. Was it just our bad luck to have a lot of early picks in a draft that ultimately didn't turn out many sold major leaguers? Hey, there's a big research project for you, Martin: grade the overall drafts. How many picks reached the majors? Perhaps you could break it down into two sections: (1) how many early selections {rounds 1-5?} became at least average or better {you pick the definition} major leaguers, and (2) how many lower round picks even got to the ML? After that was done, you could go back and see how the Giants did versus the ML average. It would have no predictive power, but it might be a way to grade the GM's.

Mon Feb 27, 06:33:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Lyle said...

...or even "solid" major leaguers?

Mon Feb 27, 04:18:00 PM PST  
Blogger obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

That's OK, I didn't know either until I looked up the data myself, been busy with work.

Sounds like a good idea. I did something like that in my original Sabean draft series that I did (and compared them to Atlanta, Oakland, and the Yankees) so I could update that for this year, but didn't do any grading as you suggested since, well, nobody really made the majors yet at that time for the teams, it was too soon (I think it was as of 2002 stats).

Mon Feb 27, 08:52:00 PM PST  

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