Archive for April, 2005
The Giants hard-fought, (poorly pitched) victory over the Padres last night came at a cost, as they will lose the services of their big closer for a while. Benitez injured his right hamstring covering first on the final play of the game. The SJ Mercury has a Conte quote on Bentiez’s status:
…. Benitez will undergo an MRI examination today that will determine the extent of the injury, Conte said. Regarding the length of time Benitez might be sidelined, Conte said, “It could be as little as a couple of days. With a hamstring that’s significant enough for him to be carried off, it could be a couple of weeks. It’s really hard to speculate at this point.”
Well, not that hard, Stan. You just told us that he could be fine in a couple of days, or he might miss a couple of weeks. Where I come from, that’s called speculating.
Amazingly, Jason Schmidt has given up a home run to Mark Sweeney, (career number 28) to allow the opposition to score first for the 14th time in the Giants first 20 games. But Alfonzo, the clear front-runner for Giants MVP so far this season, smacks an RBI double to tie the game, Giants still batting in the third.
D’oh! Alfonzo is stranded, game tied after three.
Update: Is Schmidt kidding somebody?! THE VERY FIRST BATTER he faces after Snow gives him the lead hts ANOTHER HOME RUN (Ramon Hernandez’s 80th career home run) to a nobody who absolutely should not be hitting home runs against him, and now the game is tied again.
What the hell is going on here?!?! Is this for real?!?!
Update: Oh, this is for real, alright. Schmidt gets knocked out in the 7th, after allowing the go-ahead run on a double by Klesko. Between the hitters stranding runners (Alfonzo stranded on second, Snow on third, both after driving in runs and being in the middle of a potential rally that could, oh, I don’t know, take some pressure off the pitching staff!!!!!) and the pitchers being unable to protect a lead, or to just go out and string together some f$@&ing zeroes….. Well, all I can say is that I’m glad I’m not watching this Chinese water torture.
By the way, the ESPN Gamecast and the MLB Gamecast are both just horrible. Slow, can’t do anything to adjust the refresh rate like last season. Just as frustrating as humanly possible. Between the crappy Gamecast action and what appears to be happening at PacBell, well, the drive to crazy town isn’t taking as long as usual.
Oh, and it just keeps getting better. Alou just had Mr. April (Alfonzo) sacrifice Snow and Vizquel so that his son, batting .136, can come to the plate with the season on the line. And the Padres quickly walk him to pitch to the leading RBI man on the team, Feliz. OK. Happy Pete, it’s up to you.
Update: Feliz comes through! Giants lead 4-3 on Feliz’s 17th and 18th RBI. Durham follows with a run scoring grounder (he’s so bad right now, he’ll take it), and the Giants have their first two-run lead in 24 innings.
Update: Of course, these are the 2005 SF Giants. Eyre quickly goes 3-0 to Miguel Ojeda (8 career home runs, .238 career batting average), before walking him on five pitches to lead off the inning, bringing the tying run to the plate before most of the fans have even sat down.
And now Alou makes another tailor-made second guess move, bringing in Benitez to get SIX outs, as he realizes that there is essentially no one in the bullpen that he trusts anymore, and the Giants absolutely have to get this game. His first move worked like a charm, having Alfonzo bunt.
Update: Wow. I am speechless. I know that the Padres are no pushover, but I just cannot believe the way this team is pitching right now. Benitez allows a game-tying home run to Phil Nevin, and the Giants first full inning lead in 24 innings lasted all of two batters. Every time you think they’re getting past this, they fail. Sorry, Felipe, but bringing in Benitez was a mistake. Actually, the mistake was allowing Eyre to start the inning, against a right-hander, when Eyre has made his bones as a LEFTY SPECIALIST, something Alou has done numerous times regardless of how many times Eyre has failed in that situation. So now the pitching, defense, hitting and managing have all conspired to derail the team in the first twenty games. Great.
Update: Snow, now batting .365 after his 4 for 5 night, doubles in Ellison to push the Giants back up 6-5. I guess in tomorrow’s paper they’ll be writing about what a barn-burner of a game this was, but in the dry world of numbers and reading what’s happening, it doesn’t seem like a fun game at all. Snow was stranded at second by Alfonzo, (who was probably pushed off his hot streak by the absurd bunt earlier), making it 5 runners left in scoring position with two outs, 9 overall.
Update: With one out, Benitez gives upa single to Adam Hydzu, so the tying run is on. Hydzu promptly steals second, so now the tying run is in scoring position, and still just the one out. Pop up, two outs. Now only uber slugger Geoff Blum stands in the way of a dirty, hard fought, up and down, barn-burning, baby screaming, want to turn off my computer and go to bed but I care about the damn team too much win, merciful win. 2-2 count….. Ground ball to first, Giants win!!!
Good God Almighty, that was a hard game to read.
After last night’s bitchin’ and moanin’ about the state of the Giants pitching, I thought I’d take a deeper look at the four starters who have really been the bane of the team, Jerome Williams, Brett Tomko, Kirk Reuter, and Noah Lowry.
Williams has a strange collection of situational stats. Swinging at his first pitch, batters are 4 for 10 and he’s gotten a first pitch strike 25 times. He’s also gone 1-0 32 times, which isn’t too good. His real weakness has been with men on, where he’s been, to put it kindly, horrific. With runners on, hitters have feasted on him to the tune of 11 for 25, running out a .440/.483/.720 1.203 OPS line. With runners in scoring position, he’s allowed 7 hits in 15 at-bats. Siince he’s given up only 10 hits in 42 at-bats with the bases empty, his breakdown this season seems to be his inability to get outs from the stretch. The Giants appear to be aware of this problem, as evidenced in this article about his demotion.
Pitching coach Dave Righetti said Williams needs to continue rebuilding arm strength lost after his Aug. 4 elbow operation. Besides lacking command with his fastball, particularly out of the stretch, Williams’ pitches are “short,” Righetti said. In other words, they lack the final snap that makes hitters swing and miss or hit the ball on the ground.
Lowry has a different problem. He can’t get through the bottom of the order. The 7th, 8th and 9th hitters are a combined 7 for 27 with 5 walks (.370 OBP) against him, which prevents him from having ‘soft’ innings after making it through the heart of the lineup. He’s also inexplicably been lit up from the #2 slot, which may be because he’s pitching from the stretch the second time through the lineup in virtually every game. He also doesn’t seem to be fooling anyone, as evidenced by .445 batting average against him in an 0-1 count, but really highlighted by the raking going on against him when the hitters are ahead. After 1-0, hitters are batting .375, after 2-0 they’re at .467, after 2-1 they’re at .381…. I mean, he’s not recovering at all when he’s behind. He’s gotten a first strike 54 out of 86 at-bats, but from there, he seems to have no margin for error. He has to stay ahead, or he’s literally on fire. I’m not sure what that means from a coaching standpoint. Lowry himself had this to say, “When guys struggle, they tend to press a little, I’m going to go out and try to work on making quality pitches in my next bullpen (session). I’ve been successful at this level. There’s no reason I can’t do it again. A lot of it for me is not mechanical. I think it’s mental, and I’ve got to step it up.” Yeah, well, good luck with that. I’m never too excited about a guy who thinks he’s just not making quality pitches. I much prefer hearing about a problem or an issue they’re gonna work on.
Tomko‘s numbers seem to indicate that he’s been spending too much time in the strike zone. Hitters are 12 for 21 swinging at the first pitch (what?), and they’re raking (6 for 15) even when he’s all the way ahead at 0-2. And by the time he’s thrown 45 pitches, whatever he’s doing has been figured out. Hitters are a combined 25 for 46 (.543(!) batting average) against him on pitches 46 and up, including 6 doubles. That’s simply absurd. On the one hand, you could say that he’s had all his season’s worth of bad luck already. On the other, that’s about as bad as a starter can be.
Finally, we get to Reuter. Woody has also been raked when he’s pitched from the stretch, allowing 15 hits in 38 at-bats with men on, a ruinous 395/.429/.632 1.060 OPS clip. His other weakness has been his inability to get himself started. In the first three innings, he’s allowed 21 hits in 55 at-bats, (.382) more of the same kind of pounding. Although he’s hardly been around to accumulate many at-bats, once he gets into the fourth, he’s been pretty good. (Of course, by then, the hitters are all exhausted from running so much) Historically, he’s been worse as the game’s moved on, so I don’t know what to make of this, other than to say he’s finished as a pitcher. Righties are crucifying him, (.339/.382/.532 .915 OPS), but he’s done a credible job against lefties. Maybe he’d be more effective as a long reliever/specialist lefty out of the pen. He could get you a ground ball when you need one, go against a tough lefty or two, and pick up a couple of innings here and there when somebody gets knocked around. Otherwise, what can you do with him? How much longer can he get run out there getting his brains kicked in?
These are the four guys who have been most responsible for derailing the Giants efforts this season. Contrary to my comments last night, they are not all having the same breakdown. Each seems to be having their own specific breakdown, (all at the same time, of course), but each one is going to require a specific corrective measure. Williams has been sent down to work on his. Reuter may well be on his way out a starting role. Lowry will be given a lot of rope after his 7-0 start, and Tomko will too, as he’s one of Sabean’s coveted ‘veterans.’ The season is more or less on these pitchers shoulders right now. I don’t see how the Giants can reverse this early season slide without these four pitchers getting on track.
Thanks again to OBM’s host and uber-tech guy, Jay Paul Simon, you can now purchase OBM Gear, over there, on the right, just below the email list. Jay and I are working on t-shirts and caps and such, but for now, you can show your colors, so to speak, by getting your hands on a bumper sticker or, (this is the one I am ordering today) a coffee mug! Grab ‘em, and let everyone know you are a member of the smartest group of baseball fans in the blogosphere.
I am opening a competition for a slogan or catchphrase for the t-shirts/sweatshirts. I was picturing a small OBM logo on the front, (left or right breast), and a larger one on the back with something witty, something about Bonds, the Giants, maybe a quote from Sabean, “…. Don’t give me any of that on-base crap.” Something along those lines.
The reader who comes up with the winning phrase gets a free set of goodies, t-shirt, mug and bumper sticker. The deadline for submissions will be May 6th, my original Bonds’ return date.
Once again the starting pitching has let the Giants down, as Noah Lowry allowed a second-inning, two-run home run to Geoff Blum (another pure power-hitter), to drive the team deeper into it’s already abyssian funk. Not only did Lowry force the Giants hitters to come to the plate down a run in the first, but he failed to prevent the Pods from scoring the inning after the Giants offense picked him up with a run of their own in the bottom of the first.
Of course, Lowry was let down by the completely lost Ray Durham, who made an error on a ground ball that immediately forced Lowry back into the stretch, from which he promptly gave up the homer to Blum.
The Giants have now allowed home runs to the following batters this season:
Jeff Kent (1 HR) 307 career home runs
Todd Helton (1 HR) 252 career home runs
Jose Valentin (1 HR) 228 career home runs
Carlos Lee (2 HR) 155 career home runs
Preston Wilson (1 HR) 150 career home runs
Russell Branyan (1 HR) 84 career home runs
Todd Greene (1 HR) 63 career home runs
Geoff Blum (1 HR) 58 career home runs
Junior Spivey (1 HR) 44 career home runs
Heep Sop Choi (1 HR) 26 career home runs
Chad Tracy (1 HR) 11 career home runs
Cesar Izturis (1 HR) 9 career home runs
Clint Barmes(2 HR) 6 career home runs
Jason Repko (1 HR) 3 career home runs
For those of you counting at home, that would be, say, three, “Well, what are you gonna do’s,” two, “Come on’s,” and a bunch of “Are you kidding me’s.”
Update: Lowry, (aided by brand new call-up Al Levine), immediately gave the Padres back the two runs the Giants had just scored to tie the game, forcing the hitters to once again come to the plate behind.
This cannot continue. Professional pitchers don’t hit 7th place hitters on 1-2 counts. They don’t allow home runs to guys with no power, again and again. This is a systemic breakdown, sort of like a disease. As with a disease, you look at the symptoms, and the symptons guide you in your efforts to eliminate the potential causes one by one.
There could be an approach problem, as in a faulty game plan, or a lack of preparation. Or you could conculde that there is a talent/ability deficit; in that the teams braintrust hasn’t accurately appraised it’s talent. The alternative is that all of these pitchers are exactly the same, no stuff, no command, no brains, and no plan. Since the results seem to be so consistent, pitcher to pitcher, it would appear that talent is not at issue. Sure, some of these pitchers may not be as good as the Giants think, but the pitching failure crosses all boundaries, starters, relievers, veterans, youngsters, lefties, righties…. No, it’s not a talent issue. Sure, some of these pitchers are cast-offs and has-beens; but a good number of them are pretty damn good.
It’s a coaching, preparation and planning issue. The pitchers came out of spring training unprepared for the start of the season. Now, that may surprise you, because it might remind you of last season; and you might ask yourself: How could a team, investing tens of millions of dollars into a season-long campaign to win a championship allow itself to repeat the same mistakes that doomed it one year ago?
On April 19th of last season, I wrote:
…. The Giants have undergone a pretty radical transormation the last three or four seasons. We know they’ve lost a huge number of home runs, OBA, and OPS. More importantly, they’ve gone from a pitching staff that had struck out a respectable number of hitters, to a disaster waiting to happen. The Giants made what I believe was a huge error when they decided to bet on Kirk Rueter (well below league average K/IP) instead of Russ Ortiz (above league average K/IP). They further compounded that error by trading away pitchers with solid strikeout ratios, and picking up more guys like Rueter, guys who nibble and try to induce grounders. This strategy is provably wrong, and there can be no doubt as to what the problem has been for the Giants pitching staff so far this season.
They don’t strike anybody out.
In 2000, they averaged 6.64 strikeouts per game.
In 2001, they averaged 6.66 strikeouts per game.
In 2002, they averaged 6.16 strikeouts per game.
In 2003, they averaged 6.17 strikeouts per game.
In 2004, they average 4.00 strikeouts per game.
The pitching staff was able to raise its collective strikeout rate all the way up to 6.30 per game, still only good enough for 13th out of 16. This year, they’re 15th out of 16, averaging a dismal 5.29 strikeouts per game. Add in their 1.48 WHIP, (12th), their 1.42 strikeouts per walk (14th), and their OPS allowed of .758 (11th), and you can see that the San Francisco pitching staff has started out ’05 almost exactly where they started off ’04.
How can that be allowed to happen? How can you start this season in almost the exact same problematic circumstances that doomed you last season? Whose fault is that? Is it Righetti’s? I mean, whose job is it to get these pitchers ready for the season anyway? Is it Alou’s fault? IT’S SOMEBODY’S!!!
The Giants hitters are doing their jobs, albeit somewhat inconsistently. Still, the Giants have scored the 5th most runs in the NL (88), they lead the league in total bases (300), they’re 4th in on-base percentage, 6th in OPS. The offense is doing amazingly well, considering Superman is swinging a bat in a pool somewhere.
The pitchers, for the second year in a row, have been dismal. If it hasn’t been the starters, it’s been the middle guys, If the middle guys get it done, Benitez melts down. The relievers get going, the starters can’t get through four innings without allowing some nobody to have a career day. On and on. For me, it’s on Righetti. These pitchers, (Lowry, Tomko, Schmidt, Williams, some of the relievers), these guys have all pitched well enough, they’ve been professional pitchers, able to throw strikes, get guys out. For them to come out of the gate in a coma two years in a row is on the pitching coach.
Righetti’s on the hot seat now, I’ll tell you that. You may not read about it in the paper, you may not hear about it on ESPN, but there is no way the entire pitching staff can fall victim to the same problem two years in a row and not have that be on the pitching coach. They don’t figure this out, soon, he’s gonna take the fall. He might make it through the season ~~ the Giants aren’t big on mid-season firings ~~ but he’ll be gone as soon as the season ends if they go through this season like this, (unless he quits when they start to take away some of his authority).
Magowan will overrule Sabean on this one. Guaranteed. Far too much has been invested in getting this team to the postseason, this year.
Update, Part II: Lowry lost his second in a row, and the Giants fell to 8-11, after losing 5-3 to the Padres.
Several of the best SF Giants bloggers got together and analyzed the five best Giants’ prospects in a roundtable format. The bloggers were Tom and Rob (Fogball), Steve (Giants News Diary), Alex (El Lefty Malo), Doug (Westwood Blues), Grant (McCovey Chronicles) and Martin (Biased Giants Fanatic). Here’s the prospect list:
I don’t follow the minor leagues much, I’m just a little too busy, and I am more interested in other stuff. These guys do a bang-up job of providing you with great insight, analysis, and an outsiders view of the players actual and potential value. If you’re a hardcore Giants fan, they deserve your attention.
…. A buddy of mine says this, and it’s so priceless that I’m going to end with it:
Marchman’s case for Matheny reminds me of Lionel Hutz’s line from the Simpsons episode where Chester J. Lampwick sues Roger Myers Jr. for stealing Itchy and Scratchy.
First the judge asks Hutz, “Do you have any evidence?”
Hutz replies: “We have plenty of hearsay and conjecture, Your Honor… those are kinds of evidence!”
I can actually hear Phil Hartman in my mind’s ear.
Greg Skidmore followed up my post with an excellent reply in which he basically agrees with me:
…. Despite my agreement, the law may (unfortunately) dictate a change. The tort law is moving in a dangerous direction — where injured plaintiffs must have a chance to be compensated no matter the remoteness of the danger. The case I cited in the first post, Sanchez v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co., 128 Cal. Rptr. 2d 529 (Cal. App. 2002), is an example of this. If the law continues to impose potential burdens on those that provide youth sports opportunities, then some preventative measures must be taken. Otherwise, one injury could potentially lead to a lawsuit that will bankrupt youth sports in an area.
Of course, this is the problem. In today’s “save the children” society, it is but a matter of time until a child is killed by a line drive, and there is a massive lawsuit that bankrupts a Little League; and that’ll be that. Helmets will only be the first in an onslaught of protective requirements.
Greg also offers the story of how his younger brother put a bicycle helmet to good use. Perhaps, but overall, there is a growing consensus that helmets are, at best, useless, and at worst, harmful (in that they promote a more reckless style of riding that engenders greater risk). Anecdotal reports of helmets saving lives are difficult to review or appraise. But let’s keep in mind, we’re talking about a styrofoam helmet with holes in it for air flow. Common sense would lead me to wonder just how much of an impact a helmet like that is really going to provide.
Hockey helmets are much more comprehensive, and yet they are nowhere near as effective as a footbal helmet. And footbal players, wearing the toughest helmets there are, still suffer head injuries without hitting the ground or a car. For that matter, motorcyclists suffer head injuries and their helmets are even tougher still.
‘Nuff said. He and I agree that there probably isn’t much of a problem (1 in a million is pretty infintesmal risk), but we also agree that the inevitable massive lawsuit will eventually force leagues to require baseball players to wear helmets, especially Little League.
Greg Skidmore looks at the recent movement to eliminate aluminum bats from youth, high school and college baseball in his Monday Monday column.
…. There is a growing dark side to aluminum bats, though. As the technology continues to improve, and players continue to grow stronger, especially at the high school and collegiate level, the risk of injury due to aluminum bats grows higher.
He then goes on to cite a couple of instances where serious head injuries have occured, and then looks at some ideas to mitigate the risks of serious injury. Strangely enough, he does this after noting that baseball appears to be one of the safest sports to play, citing one study and calculating the risk of serious injury at something like 1 in a million. He notes that, “some may argue that there is not a problem at all.”
Well, count me as one of the some.
One person or two people getting seriously injured, or even killed, while a tragedy for the families and friends of the individuals; do not give us a reason to create even more “risk-preventative” laws. Or put another way, you cannot legislate risk, although we continue to try and do so regardless of the cost. Children in most states can no longer ride a bicycle without a safety helmet, even though the facts do not support the claims that it saves lives, although it seems that it does reduce the number of children actually riding bikes.
Do we really need to have all young pitchers and infielders wearing helmets because there is a one in a million chance that they could suffer serious injury?
Skidmore posits a simpler solution, one that makes far more sense than creating another new “safety” industry. Make the baseball progressively softer the younger the players. Simple, easy, safer, done. Below, say, the varsity level of high school, no kids need to be using a major league baseball, do they? Are you telling me a 5% reduction in the hardness of the baseball would somehow hurt a kids development? Would it make them more susceptible to injury? I find that premise absurd. It would obviously make them less likely to get hurt.
They’d be less likely to get their fingers smashed or broken on a hard grounder, or if they get hit by a pitch or a line drive, it’d be a lot less painful or possibly dangerous. The only thing helmets would do is make less kids want to play baseball.
Listen, I’m a parent. I worry about my kids too. But enough already with the helmets and seats and armor and on and on. Enough. Children are at risk to a million dangers, as are all of us. It’s called life.
A quick look at the SF Giants stats page reveals some interesting tidbits. Over the last 7 days, several Giants have come crashing back to earth:
JT Snow 0 for his last 10, Matheny is 2 for his last 18, Durham is 4 for 21, Grissom is 4 for 25. At the other end of the spectrum is, well, nobody, really. Torrealba is 3 for 8, for what that’s worth, and Neikro is 7 for 21, Alfonzo is slowing down a bit, he’s 7 for his last 24 (.292)
Overall, Durham is off to a woeful start, with just 6.1 runs created, an average of 3.64 per 27 outs.
Giants pitchers have put together some start. Not including the 7 more runs they’ve already allowed to the Brewers today, (through 6 innings they’re down 7-4), they’ve been somewhere between mediocre and horrible, with the ancient Jeff Fassero (2.08) leading the team in ERA, ahead of Jason Schmidt (3.24)
The team ERA is down to a human-like 4.83, and nobody is above 10.00 anymore. The starters, however, (4.99 ERA) have begun to fall behind the relievers (4.55 ERA), something I wouldn’t have thought possible given the first two weeks of the season. Reuter, I’m sorry to say, appears to be done. 20 innings, 25 hits allowed, 7 walks, 6 strikeouts, 7.20 ERA, 2.70 K/9IP, I mean, he is done. And what the hell is up with Tomko? His numbers are, amazingly, worse than Reuter. At least Reuter has the excuse of not having any stuff.
In 23.2 innings, Tomko’s allowed 31 hits, 3 home runs, 11 walks, for an unbelievable 42 baserunners, or just shy of two(!) per inning. Meanwhile, he’s only struck out 8 hitters (just two more than Reuter!?). The Giants starters have struck out just 57 hitters in 97.1 innings, and without Schmidt (26 K’s in 25 innings), the rest of them have struck out 31 batters in 72 innings, an anemic 3.875 K/9IP. Boys and girls, that ain’t gonna get it done.
As a team, the Giants pitchers have managed just 26 strikeouts in their last 65 innnings, basically that same rate, even with Schmidt getting 5 in 7 innings the other day. While they’ve managed to strikeout just 26 hitters, they’ve added fuel to the fire by walking 31 guys, added to the 61 hits they’ve allowed…. Ugly.
Update: The Giants fell to 8-10 after losing two of three to the Brewers, who came into the series having lost seven in a row. Jerome Williams (0-2 6.48 ERA) continued to flounder, allowing a pair of two-run home runs to the slumping Carlos Lee, (on 0-2 and 1-2 pitches respectively), the second home run effectively ending any chance for a comeback. The hitters managed to get a bunch of guys on base, but repeatedly failed to get the runners home, and continuing a season-long trend, the Giants pitchers allowed the Brewers to score the very next half inning each time the Giants hitters managed to score.
Following up on some of the hitters, Durham’s 0 for 4 dropped him to .196, Alou is now batting .125 after his first Giant home run, and Matheny’s 0 for 4 has brought him all the way home (.236).
David Pinto sends us to this long article in today’s Sunday NY Times. In it, Michael Lewis, of Moneyball fame, looks into the lives and baseball careers of two minor league ballplayers who are trying to make the big leagues sans power. It’s a fascinating and excellent read, and one that again illustrates how poorly baseball understand what makes a succesful major leaguer.
…. Even the experts are astonishingly bad at guessing who will become a good major-league player and who will not. Eddie Epstein, a former front-office employee with the Baltimore Orioles and San Diego Padres and a man with an analytical bent, recently illustrated the depth of the problem. Now a consultant to three major-league teams, Epstein was asked by one of them to analyze the success of past baseball drafts: how good have baseball scouts been at guessing which amateur players will make successful professional ones? Epstein took the first two rounds of the drafts from 1987 to 1998 and divided the picks into two groups: the supposedly ”can’t miss” players, taken with the first 20 picks and paid millions of dollars to sign professional contracts; and the ”shouldn’t miss” players, taken in the bottom of the first round and the top of the second round and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to sign. Of the can’t-miss prospects, less than half had meaningful major-league careers — defined, modestly, by Epstein as having played regularly for three consecutive seasons — and a quarter never appeared in a major-league game. Of the shouldn’t-miss prospects, fully half never had an at-bat in the big leagues -just one in six had made it in the majors. One in six.
But that’s only the beginning of the uncertainty. The relatively new ability of big-league front offices to translate minor-league statistics into major-league equivalents has exposed another layer of confusion: a lot of players who make it to the major leagues are essentially interchangeable with those who don’t. As Paul DePodesta, general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, puts it: ”A very small percentage of the players in the big leagues actually are much better than everyone else, and deserve to be paid the millions. A slightly larger percentage of players are actually worse than players who are stuck in the minors, but those guys usually aren’t the ones getting the big money. It’s the vast middle where the bulk of the inefficiency lies — the player who is a ‘known’ player due to his major-league service time making millions of dollars who can be replaced at little to no cost in terms of production with a player making close to the league minimum.” Just beneath a thin tier of truly great big-league ballplayers is a roiling inferno of essentially arbitrary promotions and demotions, in which the outcomes are determined by politics, fashion, misunderstanding and luck. Put another way: the market for most baseball players is hugely speculative, more like the market for, say, new Internet stocks than the market for stocks in companies with healthy earnings. The investors don’t know how to value the assets.
Again, this is unsurprising to anyone who has a more than casual interest in the game, because the information needed to try and figure out who will or won’t do what is available for anyone to see. And even more amazing, the same people who cannot seem to come up with anything better than a guess as to who is a legitimate prospect and who isn’t, are just as bad at trying to determine who has real ability and who doesn’t among the players already in the big leagues.
Players like Shawon Dunston, Neifi Perez, Jason Christiansen, Mike Matheny, Marvin Benard…. These players have careers, make millions of dollars, and are completely replaceable almost from the minute they take the field as a big leaguer. “Oh, but Neifi is fast and has great arm,” they say. Or, “Shawon is an amazing athlete.” Or, “Jason can really bring it.” But what they never seem to understand is that these players do not contribute to winning games. They do not play baseball well.
The major leagues are littered, today, with players whose abilities are utterly replaceable. Every team has perhaps two or three or even more players who could be, who should be replaced by better players who are currently in baseball, but just out of sight in the minor leagues. Every year players come up from the minors and blow everyone away, and you read and hear one guy after another say how could we have known?
And every year players like Matheny get another contract, because he’s a great defensive catcher, or he handles pitchers well, or he calls a good game; as if all of these intangibles (read, bullshit) add up to contributing to winning in any reasonable, replicable way. Meanwhile, a player like Torrealba, after three seasons of part-time work, is denied, again, the opportunity to prove whether he can or cannot be an everyday, major league catcher. And this occurs at a cost. It costs money, it costs wins, it costs pennants, it costs championships, it costs the fans their hearts and their sanity and it is all predictable, knowable and preventable.
I keep getting backtalkers telling me that looking at Sabean’s individual moves makes him seem more fallible than he is. Hey, if a guy is already in the bigs, the question is no longer one of whether he should be a Giant, it’s at what cost. This guy or that, $90 million to spend, the how you spend it is where the analysis begins. This is Brian’s team. He has a second baseman who can’t stay healthy, an over-paid, old shortstop, an overpaid, old catcher, an old, but finally cost-effective first baseman, an overpaid, but finally hitting third baseman, an old centerfielder, an old and expensive rightfielder, and a bunch of cast-aways and has-beens in a bullpen backed up by a guy who got a year and $7 million more from the Giants than anyone else was willing to give him.
A team that a year ago was plagued by poor relief pitching and grounding into double plays got older, and slower, replaced one single guy in the bullpen, and is now plagued by poor relief pitching and grounding into double plays.