Friday, April 13, 2012

The Brandon Belt Situation: Why he should be in Fresno

 Update: This post was written before Aubrey Huff's trip to the disabled list and  subsequent demotion to bench player. The argument is no longer relevant as Brandon Belt is now getting enough at bats to justify keeping him in the big leagues.

I was one of many fans who experienced visceral pain during the 2011 season during every single one of Aubrey Huff’s 579 plate appearances; however, is not a post about why Belt should be in the lineup everyday.

It is abundantly clear that as long as Aubrey Huff is on the payroll, Brandon Belt will not get a chance to play and get significant at bats at the big league level.

Brandon Belt belongs in Fresno not because he struck out in 5 of his first 10 plate appearances (PA) but because Bochy and Sabean will not give him a chance to get 250 PA and demonstrate what he can do with big league pitching over a larger sample size.

Is Belt ready to contribute to this club at the big league level? This is currently up for debate, but I would argue, yes he is based on his 101 OPS+ last year in 209 PA. Belt is not the typical Brian Sabean empty batting average, put the ball in play type of player, which is one of the main reasons fans find him so refreshing.

Belt will strike out a lot. He will also walk. He is good for about 1 home run per 20 at bats.

On the surface an old school scout like Sabean may not see this as an effective player. On the other hand, modern sabermetrics have shown Carlos Pena and Adam Dunn were valuable MLB first basemen in their respective primes despite high strike out rates and low batting averages.

Despite Belts potential productivity and 20-25 HR potential, the Giants would be better served with him in the minor leagues than as Aubrey Huff’s caddy for three reasons:

1. Baseball economics: the nature of baseball player salaries is that a player is very cheap the first 3-4 years of his career and then begins to approach a fair value salary through the arbitration process. If we still believe that Belt has the potential to be an above average 3-4 WAR player if given sufficient PAs, it does not make sense to waste one of the 3 seasons he is obligated to play for the major league minimum riding the pine and getting little value from him. Bench players simply are not worth that much, and his swing and approach do not profile particularly well as a pinch hitter. Brett Pill can be a perfectly adequate backup to Aubrey Huff at first base.

2. Belt only has 165 official at bats in AAA. He clearly is very raw and could continue to improve against left handed pitching, and reduce the hole he has in his swing with more minor league at bats. This learning curve will not occur getting at bats once a week in the big leagues. 

3. Starting both Belt and Huff creates the fundamental problem of having a first baseman playing left field. The Giants make the mistake of trading Orlando Cepeda when confronted with this situation in the past.

I would not be surprised if Aubrey Huff has a better year. He has looked better with the bat and has a 4:1 walk to strike out ratio in his first 19 PAs this year. He seems to be a player who tries harder in a contract year. He is not motivated to keep himself in shape, avoid cigarettes unless the $$$ are on the line. Either way his is not coming out of the lineup as long as Bochy is still the manager at 3rd and King. If we take this fact as a given (it should not be but that’s not the point of this post) then it is clear that Belt and the Giants would both be better off if he were playing for the Grizzlies.  

The fact that Belt was pulled from the lineup after 3 games demonstrates that the front office does not believe in him right now. He should not have made the team if management was not committed to playing him everyday for more than 3 games. It really makes no sense to further damage the guy’s confidence, waste his service time, and keep him from getting the consistent playing time he needs to improve by having him ride the bench.

Hey, Mike Fontenot is still available…I’m only halfway joking.

Friday, March 30, 2012

What is the Most the Giants Should Offer Matt Cain?

In a previous post I discussed how the Giants do not have much leverage in the Cain and Lincecum negotiations. However, this week I decided it was a good time to do a more thorough analysis of the next 7 years of Matt Cain’s career in order to get a better sense of what the “Fair Value” for his services would be on the open market based on realistic WAR projections.

How far can the Giants go without giving Cain a contract that massively overpays him relative to his expected production and restricts the teams overall competitiveness for years to come?

Let’s begin by projecting out Cain’s peripherals for 2012-2018:
(Projections in blue)

Matt Cain

These assumptions form the basis for the WAR calculation that results from the “most likely” outcome for Cain’s career through the 2018 season. I believe this scenario has a 65% chance of occurring.

Matt Cain’s stats demonstrate his development as a pitcher. While his average fastball velocity has declined 5 out of the last 6 years from 93.4 to 91.2, Cain has increased his K/BB rate over that time period. His strikeouts are down marginally, but Cain has increased his O-Swing% every year of his career going from 20.6% in 2006 to 33.5% in 2011. This statistic combined with Cain’s decreasing walk rate demonstrates the increased effectiveness of his breaking pitches, especially his changeup.

How much more can Cain get out of his breaking stuff? How quickly will his velocity continue to fall? The answers to those questions will drive your interpretation of Cain’s value over the next 6-7 years.

Imputing these assumptions I generated Fair Value Salaries based on expected WAR times $M/WAR.

As shown below:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What is Really Going on with Brian Wilson: Why He Will Need Tommy John for a Second Time

Brian Wilson's career season in 2010 was a huge reason why the Giants won the World Series.
Not only did he pitch well, but he did something even rarer: go 1.2 innings or more in 10 of his 70 appearances that year.

One reason why it is rare to see a closer pitch so 5 or 6 out saves is because those that do it usually do not stay healthy to keep pitching.

 BJ Ryan is the last closer I can think of who regularly pitched two inning saves. In 2006 for the Blue Jays Ryan had 11 appearances of 1.2 innings or more out of 65 appearances (6 of those were 2 inning saves compared to Wilson who threw 2 innings just twice in 2010).

The story for Ryan did not end so well. After his superman season in 2006 his ERAs in his final three seasons were 12.46, 2.95, and 6.53 respectively. Ryan was released in 2009 at age 33 by the Jays with $15 million dollars left on his contract.

I am not going as far as to say that Wilson's career is over. However, it is certainly in jeopardy.

Here is what I think is going on with Wilson's arm right now:

After pitching through pain last year,

Friday, March 23, 2012

Solving A Chronic Imbalance: Why Now Is The Time To Move The Fences In

Lets face for Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan is not going to turn the 29th best offense into the middle of the pack offense needed to make it back to the playoffs.

This is not a posting about how Sabean could have more efficiently allocated resources over the winter to improve the offense. Forget for a minute that Sabean himself may be a major reason that the Giants have only featured an above average MLB offense in one year since the departure of the great Barry Bonds (2010).

Don't get me wrong, ATT Park is the most aesthetic ballpark in the big leagues.  However, it was built as a pitchers park in another era. Yes the Big Man (Barry that is) could hit the ball out over the 421 mark on a 63 degree night. Sadly though, that era of Giants baseball is over. League wide offensive output has been steadily declining for several years. Players are not hitting the ball as far as they were in 2001 and thats a fact.

What was once a pitchers park is now a factor that completely distorts how you can build a team. Because ATT park is so pitcher friendly, no elite free agent hitter will ever sign with San Francisco. Beyond that, any mid-grade talent will demand a premium in order to see their offensive numbers reduced.

This fact has caused management to act ineptly and overpay for offense, signing the likes of Aaron Rowand (5 years $60m), Aubrey Huff, Edgardo Alfonzo, and others that I have since erased from my memory to deals that simply do not work out.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The back 2/5ths of the rotation and the Zito question: The case for giving the veteran 38 year old Guillermo Mota a chance to compete for a starting role

With Ryan Vogelsong unlikely to begin the season in the rotation following a fairly serious offseason weightlifting injury, and the trade of Jonathon Sanchez for Melky Cabrera, the Giants currently have a need for two starters to follow the triumvirate of Bumgarner, Cain and Lincecum in the most heralded rotation in baseball west of Philly.

This is not an article about Zito, his strengths and weaknesses, or anything else anyone can say about the guy. This is about objectively analyzing the best starting pitcher available currently to fill the 5th spot (lets assume that Vogelsong returns soon and is effective).

In this post we will completely ignore respective players salaries, contract statuses, and history of big league achievement. A very simple concept that seems lost on many big league front offices, Sabean’s included, is that of sunk costs. Sunk costs are simply costs that cannot be removed and are thus irrelevant. What Zito is making is irrelevant. So is the fact that he won the 2002 Cy Young (which Pedro deserved but that’s not the point).

You are probably thinking, moving a 38-year-old reliever who in 717 career big league appearances has never once started a game into the rotation to replace a Cy Young Award winner making $20.00 million a year is absolute horseshit.