Monday, September 17, 2007


Infield of Screams

On Friday I talked a little bit about how awful Omar Vizquel's hitting has been this year, and how I didn't totally grasp the magnitude of his suckiness until I actually went to Baseball Reference and checked the numbers. Due to the Giants' general inability to toss out an entertaining product this season, I've honestly been kind of wavering in and out of interest in the team's numbers for the last month or two.

When I looked at the Giant team page on BR, though, I realized that the problem isn't just isolated to their shortstop. The team's whole infield has been an absolute nightmare. I'm sure all Giants fans are sadly aware of the whole infield unit's struggles at the plate, but really, it's got to be historically bad. Not one player has been above average, and three have been downright abysmal. Here are the gory details, with each starter, his hitting line, and his OPS+:

Ryan Klesko: .265/.349/.413, 97

Ray Durham: .217/.297/.346, 66

Omar Vizquel: .240/.300/.295, 56 (!)

Pedro Feliz: .249/.289/.414, 80

Rich Aurilia: .249/.301/.366, 72

Okay, going into the season we all knew that the Giants' offense would probably stink and that Brian Sabean's loyalty to all things over 35 might come back to bite him in the ass, but to this extent? Look at those numbers again. That's astoundingly bad. That's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider/Armageddon double-feature bad. Forget the youth movement, why the hell are these guys getting at-bats over, like, 30-year old non-prospects like Justin Leone or Scott McClain at this point?

We've discussed Vizquel already, so let's look at these other guys point by point. Klesko's on-base ability still gives him some value, so he hasn't been a total disaster, but his total lack of power is unacceptable at a position where it just isn't that hard to find a slugger. As I've harped about again and again and again, Sabean has just demonstrated an utter lack of imagination in filling the chasm at first base the past few years.

For example, Carlos Pena was DFA'd by the Yankees in the spring, and the Giants could have had him for basically nothing, even less than they're paying Klesko. Instead Sabean was asleep at the wheel. What has Pena done this year? Check for yourself. Perhaps Pena wouldn't have gone bonkers in the same way if he'd been hitting at Mays Field, a tough park on lefty hitters, but come on. Klesko has been decent, but it could have been soooo much better.

Moving on to Durham...I just don't know what to say. Being a leading proponent of his re-signing, I can't criticize Sabean too much here. Durham was awesome in 2006 and was one of the best second baseman in the NL from 2003-2006, so when the Giants got him for reasonable value this winter, it seemed like a very good move.

For whatever reason, though, he's just gone in the tank. Is it age? Injury? Complacency from the new contract? You tell me. I seriously just can't fathom how a guy can go from a line of .293/.360/.538 to the complete disaster we have on our hands now. Since this year is so out of line with his usual performance, and since he isn't that old, I'd say that Durham has to rebound next year. How could it get worse?

Moving on to Feliz...well, my hatred of Pedro is well-documented here. The only question, I guess, is what did Sabean expect when he brought Feliz back this offseason? That he'd magically turn into Matt Williams? We fans pretty much anticipated another year of Felizian helplessness at the plate, and we've been treated to exactly that. Seriously though, if Feliz is the Giants everyday third baseman again next season...well, remember George Brett's reaction when the ump tossed him for having too much pine tar on his bat? Yeah, that'll be me.

Aurilia has been hampered by injuries, but it's hard to really say how much they've affected his hitting. What I do know is that he wasn't much good in 2004, then he did well in a great hitters' park for the 2005 and 2006 seasons, and now he's back in a pitcher's park and he stinks.

Not to beat a dead horse, but this infield ineptness is yet another shining example of Sabean's flawed "proven veterans" philosophy. It was certainly fair to assume that Vizquel, Durham, Klesko, and Aurilia wouldn't be nearly this bad, but when you're dealing with players over age 35 you have to realize that they could crap out at any minute. Some players age well, some don't. So it's totally foolish to rely on such an aged group of players to help a team win, when the risk of them falling apart is so high.

As for Feliz, well, he isn't over 35...he just blows.

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Re: Sabean's flawed "proven veterans" philosophy. Aren't you kind of cherry picking the 'proofs' for your argument? Isn't virtually every team in MLB who is currently in contention relying on "proven veterans?"
It is clear the IF, as a whole, catastrophically failed to produce. But that does include the younger players, Feliz and Frandsen. As you point out, at least one of those players, Durham, looked like a sure bet. I think it is kind of lame to blame Sabean for the awful year's these guys had. Sure, you can say older proven veterans, at some point, because of age, are going to lose their edge, their productivity. But you can also say young prospects have a very high propensity to fail. The "proven veterans" strategy is not the problem, otherwise all the other contenders around MLB wouldn't be playing 'proven veterans.'
True, young prospects are risky also, but they're incredibly cheap, so if they don't perform, you can just send them to the minors or jettison them completely and go find something equally cheap. With older veterans, if they crap out, then you're stuck with their expensive contract, and often to justify that contract, you just keep playing them, and they just keep on sucking and sucking...
There is a difference between "proven veterans" and "proven veterans who are past their prime and aren't going to outplay AAAA players". Did anyone really think Klesko was going to be an effective player? Was Vizquel, at 40, going to somehow improve on his recent tepid performance? Was Aurilia going to magically hit as well in SF as he did at the bandbox in Cincy? Granted, Durham's drop was slightly stunning to me, but that happens sometimes with 35 year olds with injury histories.
The point is Sabean has done a lousy job developing everyday players for years and he knew this. He was left with 2 options:
1) go young, give all the young players a chance and pray something sticks. This option would have been fine except he knew he had nothing in the likes of Frandsen and Niekro and the rest of the scrub bunch. So that left him with,
2) Go balls out and grab every 35+ former all-star that no one else wants in the hope that they will reclaim their former glory playing with a leader who inspires everyone he meets, Mr. Bonds.
Both of those options sucked and were going to leave the Giants in the same position they are in now. For either of those options to work involved much more faith than I have in me.
Frank says that other contenders have "proven veterans" and that is true. They have "proven veterans" who aren't quite over-the-hill. And if those vets step over that hill, they also have young TALENT to plug in. No team can succeed with one and not the other. What the Giants need to do is stop dicking around with these over-the-hill "proven veterans", send as many as you can to the pirates (damn, no more Littlefield) or anyone who might take them off their hands even if they get nothing back, commit some real money to scouting and the draft, and live with being a last place team for a couple of years. It's not like they aren't there already.

P.S. Too bad no other GM is stupid enough to trade for Zito.
P.P.S. Sabean is a terrible GM who was lucky to have a once in a generation talent.
P.P.S. I thought Armageddon was pretty good. Is my opinion now meaningless?
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