Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Pondering Sabean

I was perusing McCovey Chronicles the other day when I happened upon a diary with the headline "In Defense of Sabean". Immediately upon reading this title, I thought to myself, "uh oh." From time to time over at Grant's site, some poor soul will begin a diary trying to defend an unpopular notion, with a title like "Feliz Isn't So Bad" or "Give Benitez a Chance." Sure enough, the other denizens of the site soon catch wind of it, and things get reaaaaal ugly. Insults get tossed, VORPs and EQAs get thrown around, and soon enough the little troll who started the mini-argument is chased back into his little cave.

Thankfully, though, the debate sparked by this latest contrarian diary, while very passionate, was actually quite cordial, and I recommend that all fans go and read it. There are a lot of intelligent arguments pointing out the pros and cons of Brian Sabean's tenure as Giants GM, and whether or not he earned his extension.

That's what I'm here to talk about now. I, like many Giants fans, was baffled by the full vote of confidence given to Sabean by Giants ownership. I wanted to see the Giants go in a different direction. The Giants' future outlook is relentlessly bleak, and most (if not all) of it is of Sabean's making. I can see giving him the chance to dig himself out of the mess he's created, but what indication is there that he's competent enough to do it? He rebuilt the team from scratch in 1997, and did a hell of a job, but he also had Bonds in his prime and a bunch of other solid players entering their prime, so comparing then to now is apples and oranges.

Now, to be fair, I would argue that from 1997-2002, Sabean was one of the five best GMs in baseball. As I said before, he did a great job revitalizing this team at the major league level. Through 2002, he surrounded Bonds with adequate talent, and he found that talent through a number of shrewd trades. He absolutely robbed teams of Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow, Ellis Burks, Robb Nen, Jason Schmidt, Felix Rodriguez, Brian Johnson, and even Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez, if for just half of a season. His general philosophy was: trade your prospects (i.e. risks) for known commodities, and for a while it worked beautifully. Most of the prospects he traded flamed out completely, while the guys he traded for shined. He had the Giants in contention every year from 1997 to 2002, and while the farm system did continue to decay, you can't deny those results.

From 2003 to the present, though, I think it's clear that Sabean has been one of the worst GMs in all of baseball. His "prospects for vets" philosophy became increasingly cockeyed to the point where it almost became self-parody, as he began sacrificing draft picks for guys who he thought would help the team now. It might have worked, but instead of bringing in good players in their primes like Snow or Nen in '97 and '98, he was throwing away picks for mediocrities like Michael Tucker.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same dumb thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome each time. Perhaps Sabean's old person fetish drove him into insanity's cold embrace, because he kept on signing bad veteran after bad veteran in the hopes that the team would get better, and now we're stuck with the results of that plunge off the edge, as the team has a bunch of old guys and a horrible farm system. Where Sabean was once ahead of the curve when it came to building a contending team, at some point many other GMs grew wise to his ways and realized it was cheaper and easier to build through a solid combination of young talent and smart free agent pickups, and Sabean got left in the dust.

The Giants need to retool, and they need to do it by overhauling the farm system and just blowing up the roster as it is now. Sabean isn't the man to do it. Maybe if there were a quick fix, if it were a situation like 1997, Sabean would be the right man, but there's just no evidence whatsoever that he has the ability to rebuild this franchise. And don't start with the cries that he's rebuilt the pitching staff. Yes, Matt Cain rocks, and so does Lincecum, but Lincecum was a guy the Giants basically lucked into because a bunch of scouts had their heads up their asses. Noah Lowry? I like him, but he was an afterthought in the farm system who was thrown into the rotation in 2004 and, voila. He was a huge surprise. Plus, his control problems and below average stuff don't portend future greatness. These three guys are hardly indicative of some underlying genius.

So no, I'm not thrilled about Sabean's coming back, and a lot of Giants fans share my view (as do Joe Sheehan of BP and John Perricone of OBM, only they are way blunter about it than I am). I personally think the Giant front office is behind the times when it comes to talent evaluation and how to build a franchise. In extending Sabean, it's unfortunately likely to stay that way.

Labels: ,

It seems your article is aimed at me as well as at a number of others who post regularly. I will say, first, I am not a troll, if by that term is meant someone who has no interest but to cause trouble, upset people, and start a fight. I have written a number of diaries on McC Chrons in defense of Sabean and Feliz. But, to your article. It is poorly reasoned and misuses facts, both in selection and in using selected ones to support previously reached conclusions. (BTW, I read your blog regularly and comment ocassionally, and, by and large enjoy it. I would just like to see it get better).
So, your first error: your conclusion that Sabean got "a full vote of confidence." He got two a year extension, hardly a full vote of confidence. Of course, any statements have to be effusive, that's just smart, necessary PR.
2) The Giants outlook "is relentlessly bleak." A gross overstatement, tho not without journalistic flair. I will get into this later.
3) "from 97-02, Sabean was one of 5 best GMs in baseball." Maybe it was just a typo, but the team won 100 games in '03 and 91 in '04; they finished 1st in '03 and 2nd, 2 games out in '04. So, really, the Giants have had 2 bad years and are in the midst of compiling a record stinko of a 3d. Thus, Sabean had 7 consecutive great years (97-03), followed by 3 consecutive poor years. I think you completely ignore that this is the way of the world. Sure before the draft and other strategies adopted in an effort to somewhat level the playing field, the Yankees were a dynasty. Now, teams cannot duplicate those dynasties of the Yankees. Teams now rise and fall. True, some teams do better than others, and Atlanta is an exceptional story. So is ours. It cannot go on for ever. By virtue of winning year after year, we end up with draft picks in the range of 25, as opposed to the teams that lose year after year drafting with the 4,5,6 pick. This is a huge advantage, as far as drafting. Top 5 picks have about a 40% chance of becom=ing good MLB players. Picks in the 25 area have about a 5% chance of becoming good players. Despite these disadvantages, Sabean outperformed the market, outperformed what could reasonable be expected from his lower draft positions
6) "he was throwing away picks for mediocrities..." What an overstatement. My recollection is that this "throwing away" occured once. You ignore the fact that Sabean, particularly at that time, operated under fairly tight financial constraints. He made an intelligent decision to divert money to improve the MLB team. And he did this at a time when the team was strong, very close, and in the midst of Bonds' strongest production years. Shouldn't he have been doing this? Shouldn't he have been trying to augment the team while Bonds was such a force? You can't have it both ways, say he didn't maximize the Bonds years and then say, when he attempts to do just that, that he is "throwing away..." Not only do you just publish your conclusion as if it is fact, you also ignore the fact that absolutely nothing was lost by punting the pick. It wasn't a particularly good draft year (this is my rather unresearched conclusion). And, virtually no one of value was selected by other teams at about the slot we gave up.
7) "old person fetish." This hides your unstated, unsupported conclusions that a) older players are less valuable and less productive than young players and b) that the Giants are somehow remarkable in their use of old players. First, as I pointed out in blogs on ELM and McChrons earlier this week, the Giants have approximately the same number of 'old' players as both of our competitors (LA and SD). You also ignore the fact that, over the past few years, Sabean has completely rebuilt the pitching staff, almost exclusively with young players - with several more young replacement players in the minors. I actually think that is a remarkable achievement, considering the low likelihood of success given our low draft pick status.
8) "Other GMs grew wise... and Sabean got left in the dust" It is possible that other GMs became wary of trading for our prospects (pitching) as they didn't pan out, but I've never read that as based on some GMs statement, just as speculation. More importantly, what has happened is that veteran salaries have gone thru the roof - THAT is why GMs are placing more emphasis on keeping their young players.
9) Sabean "isn't the man to (rebuild)." "And don't start with the cries that he's rebuilt the pitching staff." Well, it is exactly where you start. And your argument that follow are incredibly lame, almost too lame to even refute. The Giants lucked into Lincecum? You can say that about every single successful pick. Scouts had their heads up their asses? Even picking 1-5, scouts only have a 43% chance of picking a player who will become a good MLB player. Scout miss all the time. Every single MLB team missed on Albert Pujols thru 4 1/2 rounds - and the draft history is full of those stories. Several scouts had their heads up their ass for not picking Cain before #22. And Lowry? That's why they have 50 rounds. It's not science, sometimes late round picks turn out. That's why they spend so much time and money on scouting, to maximize their chances, even in the lower rounds. It is grasping at straws to pick out a couple of pick and analyze them. You have to compare the teams draft performance to the other 31 teams AND you have to correct for the advantages - or disadvantages - of draft position. Had you done this, you would find that Sabean has done very well. Currently Sabean has 11-12 MLB roster players that he has drafted and developed. Good? Bad? You can't tell unless you compare to other MLB teams. And, before I lose my whole post, I will post and take up my argument later...
the saga continues...
9) 3 of those are SPs, 1 is (nominally) the closer, the rest are pretty decent RPs and useful parts/prospects.
So, how does this compare?
SF: 11/12
LA: 9
SD: 4
Atl: 15
Bos: 5
Det: 6

When I found these numbers I was very surprised. WE hear over and over how good the Dodgers farm system is. And yet, they only have 9 players on their roster that they've developed. You think we are old? The Dodgers have more 32 and over players on their 25 man roster than we do.
I am not saying the rebuild will be a snap. Yes, we have both some old players and players under performing. And I don't know where the replacements are going to come from. But I do know our pitching is set. LA certainly will have some issues to deal with: Gonzo (40), Kent (39), Garci (34/health), Lowe (34), Saito (37), SChmidt (34/health). LIkewise, SD: Hoffman (40), Maddux (41), Wells (44), Giles (36), Cameron (34), Brocail (40).
I would say we have 4 or 5 issues, LA 7, SD 6.
I realize losing is painful. But, to use cliches, you don't overreact, throw the baby out with the bath water. You have to look to see what is good, what is wrong, where the problems are and how to fix them. I think we are in much, much better shape than you think we are. I am not promising a pennant next year, but I think we will be younger, better, and competitive. Now I have to go watch tonights edition of misery.
Whoah, whoah, this post certainly wasn't meant to be directed at anybody in particular, and I wasn't taking shots at you or anybody else. Believe me, I'm not here to piss other Giants fans off, because then they'll stop reading this blog, and I don't want that. There are a lot of readers over at McC, and my memory isn't good enough to hold weird grudges against anybody. Any input you have here is welcome and I'm happy that you're a regular reader.
Ok, I finally have some time to go into this. I'll touch on your comments point by point:

1) GMs rarely get signed to deals longer than three years, simply because of the general volatility of the business. If a GM stinks and needs to be replaced midway through the contract, owners don't want to be on the hook for too much money. The simple fact that Sabean wasn't let go despite the utter ineptness of the last three years says to me he has a full vote of confidence from ownership.

2)The Giants are one of the worst teams in baseball this season, their farm system is completely bereft of any hitting talent and they're going to have a fifth of their payroll taken up by a pitcher who isn't very good. Anything can happen, yes, but I don't think that statement was an exaggeration at all.

3)The Giants were good in '03 and '04, yes, but Sabean made a number of poor decisions in those seasons that had ramifications that led directly to the bad situation the team is in now. The two most egregious mistakes were Pierzynski trade and the Tucker/draft pick farce. A winning season doesn't excuse stupid decision-making that severely hampers a team's future.

Not sure where 4 and 5 are sooooo...

6) Sabean signed both Michael Tucker and Omar Vizquel before the arbitration deadline (maybe Benitez, too, I can't remember) with the specific intention of punting the draft picks to save money. If he had just waited, he could have had both the player and the pick.

If the farm system was rife with young talent, this may have been defensible, but it wasn't. You want to argue that Vizquel was worth the money and/or risk supposedly saved? Fine; he was a pretty good player. But Michael Tucker?!?!

Screw it, I'll just let BP 2004 do the talking here:

"If you're going to sacrifice high draft picks for free-agent signings, go after elite players who'll make a big difference to your team. Is money spent on Michael Tucker instead of comparable, cheaper talent really worth a well-researched draft pick to boot? Not bloody likely.

The fact that the Giants got Matt Cain with a late 1st rounder also makes this strategy look like shit.

7) Old players aren't inherently bad, they're just a huge risk because they're much more likely to get hurt or decline. And again, to beat a dead horse, Sabean signs mediocre old players to be regulars.

8) More importantly, what has happened is that veteran salaries have gone thru the roof - THAT is why GMs are placing more emphasis on keeping their young players.

Soooo, Sabean is behind the curve? I don't see how this refutes my point.

9) Lincecum was widely regarded as the best prospect in the draft, but a lot of scouts were terrified by his slight build. It was a great pick, but, again, he fell in their lap. It's not indicative of some underlying genius.

Cain was a brilliant pick, no argument there, but Lowry was basically an afterthought in the system who turned to gold. And your whole point about teams spending money to maximize the ability to find a good draft pick contradicts your argument that it was OK to punt picks for veteran players.

Finally, who gives a shit how many homegrown players the Giants have on the roster if the majority of them aren't very good? Let's use the example of the Phillies. They have fewer homegrown players on their roster than SF, except that three of those guys, Utley, Howard, and Rollins, are star caliber players. Two or three homegrown impact players are much more important than 12 fourth outfielders and mediocre relievers, which is essentially what the Giants have.

Meanwhile, that Dodger example...ugh. The average age of the Dodger team is 30.1. The Giants are at 33.1. Five of the eight regular position players LA has are under 30. The Giants have none under 30 and five are 35 or over. Look what you made me do, you made me defend THE DODGERS! This last point completely lacks context and it gives me a headache.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?