…. Fifty-fifty

We’re just about a third of the way through the 2006 season, and the NL West is as crowded as the Bay Bridge at rush hour. All five teams are separated by less than 4 games, with the D’backs and the Dodgers proving to be the early favorites. The Dodgers, in fact, have under-performed their expected wins by a decent amount; they should be 33-20 having outscored their opponents by 61 runs. The Giants, on the other hand, have outscored their opponents by just 8 runs, leaving them exactly where they should be; one game over .500.

A quick look at the month of May shows a different picture, however. While the Giants were treading water with a 13-15 record, the Dodgers were 18-9, the Padres were 18-10, and the D’backs were 18-8. That, my friends, is a bad trend. Sabean should be thinking about making some changes right now, because the Giants have been a .500 club from the first minute of the season, while our three main competitors for the NL West title have been showing signs of pulling away.

The month of June will determine who is playing for the postseason and who is playing out the string, (something like 75% of division leaders on the Fourth of July make the post-season), so the Giants have the next 30 days to make a move. So, what is the Giants biggest need right now? Glad you asked.

The Giants have scored 258 runs in 53 games, good for just under 5 runs a game (Which is almost exactly as many runs as the NL-leading Cardinals have scored, by the way). Not juggernaut status, but certainly adequate. But, when your team ERA is 4.47, 4.9 runs a game translates into a .500 team, win some, lose some. The Cardinals are allowing almost a full run per game less than the Giants which means….. well, you get the picture.

In the month of May, the Giants were a little more offensive, averaging over 5 runs per, again keeping pace with the Cardinals, but somehow,the Giants were unable to take advantage of actually lowering their ERA (3.95) by that full run. Yes, you read that right. In May, the Giants allowed under 4 runs a game, scored more than 5, and still managed to win fewer games than they lost. How? Well, the Giants had six blowout wins, which skewed their numbers. They won games 9-3, 10-1, 14-3, 10-1, 9-2 and 9-0. In those six wins, the team performed like the ’27 Yankees, averaging a 10-2 win. If you take those games out of the Giants record for the entire season, you can see the real team, clear as day; a 21-26 record, 7 games behind the pace; and a team with little real chance to contend.

And that is what Sabean must do. He has to remove those six games from the season, and then look at what he’s got. Without those six games, the Giants have scored 197 runs in 47 games, which is just over 4 runs per game, a far cry from the Cardinals, or any other contender (the Dodgers have scored an NL-best 291 runs this season). And while the Dodgers also have five or six blowouts this season, they also have run off streaks of 6, 5, 6, 5, 1, 3, 16, 8, 7, 6, 8, 7, 4, 3, 12, 8 runs, which demonstrates the offensive consistency needed to be a real contender. For crying out loud, Brett Tomko is 5-1 for them. The Giants have had no such run of offense, nor, for that matter, have they had a serious stretch of preventing runs.

This is a mediocre team, performing as expected. And in particular, it is a terrible offense. The Giants rank 14th in doubles, 12th in home runs, 13th in total bases, 7th in on-base percentage (Bonds is a huge component in that), but only 12th in OPS. And that’s the bottom line for a GM. He can’t look at the standings and say, well we’re only 3.5 games out of first, we just need a hot streak. He has to look at the team with a much more discerning eye. He has to say, we’re a poor offensive team, we need power, real, real bad.

The Giants are getting just shy of league worst production from the catchers slot (3 home runs, 19 RBI), first base (7 home runs, 34 RBI), second base (4 home runs, 23 RBI), left field (5 home runs, 25 RBI), and centerfield (3 home runs, 31 RBI). Vizquel is one of the top shortstops in the league, and although he has no power, he is getting on base and accumulating plenty of hits from the #2 slot. Right field has also been good, but only when Moises is playing. Without him, (as we’ve been for a couple of weeks now), we’re right back in the cellar. And then there’s Feliz, whose recent hot streak has brought him up to league average.

In short, this is a team with virtually no power whatsoever in the lineup (particularly when our two 40-year old outfielders are hurt, which they probably will be for most of the rest of their careers). Then again, we knew this coming in. We knew that a team of has beens and castoffs, relying so heavily on two aging sluggers, had little margin for error. Unfortunately, our luck’s been bad, and not likely to get much better. As an aside, let me mention, again, what a disappointment Ray Durham has been. Between injuries and slumps, he’s been a complete bust, one more in an endless stream of overpaid “veterans” Sabean has based his last four seasons on.

It is clear that Bonds is never gonna be Bonds again. It is clear that he will not be here next season, playing or not. It is clear that the strategy of surrounding him with league-average or worse talent will not work. It. Is. Clear. There is still time to salvage this season. Sabean needs to find a way to get more power in this lineup. First base is the obvious spot. (Geez, Frank Thomas sure looks like a bargain right about now, eh?) Here’s what I wrote about Thomas in December:

…. Frank Thomas can be had for probably $3 millon a year for two years right now, I mean, the A’s are negotiating with him!!! He had 12 home runs in 105 at-bats, I mean, come on, that’s two seasons of Snow. I know he’s been injured a bunch the last two years, but jeez, the guy’s a Hall of Famer.

…. So, to solve what has been, for most of the last decade, a gaping hole at first base, Sabean signs a 36-year old, career pinch-hitter. Read that sentence a couple of times.

Listen people. Frank Thomas is negotiating with the Oakland A’s. That means he’s gonna be cheap. There’s no logical reason for Sabean to ignore him. Remember Galarraga? Thomas is a younger, better Andres Galarraga. He’s not worth two years for $6 million but Neifi Perez is worth two years for $5 million? Whatever drugs Sabean’s taking, he’s not sharing, that’s for sure.

He ended up signing an incentives-laden contract, with a base of $500,000. In other words, he’s cheaper than Sweeney, who makes $850,000. All he’s done is hit 11 home runs (more than any Giants player has), which projects to about 38 for the year. Sweeney has 38 home runs in his entire 12-year career.

Sabean’s wrong. He and Magowan are wrong. Their approach to building this team is wrong. It’s not too late. Make a move. Get a hitter. Get. A. Hitter.

UPDATE: Over at Baseball Musings, David links to a Contra Costa Times article by Gary Peterson, in which Sabean’s record as a GM is adressed:

…. we keep coming back to: 170 games over .500, meaningful games every April through every September.

Not only that, we keep coming back to the tightly focused mission statement Sabean has been expected to fulfill. If it can rightly be said that Sabean hasn’t exactly stocked the farm the past 10 years, it can also rightly be said that it hasn’t exactly been an organizational mandate. Bonds, and the window of success he has represented, has been the top priority.

Thus, Sabean’s task has differed from that of say, Oakland’s Billy Beane, who for years was asked to groom replacements for the fabulous players the A’s were going to have to let slip away when their contracts expired.

Sabean could not serve the Bonds window with players who would be on top of their game three years from now. He has needed known quantities, veteran players who already were as good as they were going to get. He needed players who would complement Bonds’ skills, and who would work for wages that would complement his hefty salary. The older Bonds has gotten, and the higher his salary has soared, the more exacting Sabean’s task has become.

Yeah, well, it would have been great for Sabean and the Giants had Felix Rodriguez not given up that three-run homer to Spezio, but he did, and we know the rest. In the meantime, Sabean has followed up his great early trading success with some of the worst deals possible, all made in that indefensible “known quantity” bullshit.

Trading promising young talent for mediocre, established “veterans” is and always will be a recipe for failure. It’s one thing to pass on superstars, I don’t agree with it, but it’s defensible. It’s an entirely different thing to try and fill half your roster slots with left over potato salad, particularly when you’re throwing millions of dollars away on “known quantities” like Neifi Perez and Shawon Dunston.

Peterson’s got it all wrong. The Giants are 170 games over .500 during Sabean’s tenure because of Bonds. Since the start of ’05, we’ve seen what Sabean’s plan will produce without Superman to save the day.

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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
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