Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Baseball Post

I've been behind on these, too, and have some stuff to get through before I turn to the HOF ballot, which I'll do in December sometime.

But first: Brian Sabean.

Steve Rubio did a re-evaluation post after the World Series; see also Bryan Murphy's apology. I'll start by quoting Steven:
I know Sabean has had the last laugh, and to his credit, he never gloats, although inside he must love being right, in the midst of so much criticism from the lunatic fringe. Every general manager has good and bad points. In Sabean’s case, his bad points were so obvious, and so aggravating, that they overwhelmed my ability to see the bigger picture. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment has been to finally convince people like me to accept his good qualities, as well.
I think that gets to a large part of it. Sabean's weaknesses are just so obvious, and always have been. His strengths have always been there, however, and I think they've been a lot less obvious. I've written about him lots of times before, but essentially he's had two major strengths: drafting and developing pitchers, and aggressive problem-solving. The problem was that he really did appear to have a mid-career slump as far as problem-solving goes; in the late Bonds years and then during the down time, he sometimes was willing to sit passively through and obvious problem. How, exactly, did Deivi Cruz and Neifi Perez combine for almost 800 PAs in 2004? Where was the timely trade to rescue the disaster of a bullpen that season? Since Sabean's talent evaluation has always been hit or miss, he's needed to stay aggressive in order to keep the team in good shape; it doesn't really hurt if you pick up a dud as long as you're willing to go out and get the next guy. So Sabean teams really need that midseason boost more than others, I'd guess; when he's active, it works out well, and when he's not, very bad things can happen.

But anyway: my big criticism of Sabean, the one that I said he should be fired for the year before he won the World Series the first time, isn't really the poor talent evaluation.

It's that for a long, long, time, Brian Sabean limited himself to just one source for position players: established major league veterans. It wasn't a preference; it was an obsession.

And you can't win that way, at least unless you happen to have the guy with the cape carrying you most of the way. It's just too big of a handicap. Brian Sabean wouldn't use players from so many categories in his first dozen years: drafted and developed, of course, but also players who were in the minors elsewhere, or were platoon or bench players elsewhere; and foreign players, either major league ready or not.

So what happened? Sabean changed.

The obvious one is the drafted and developed players: Posey, Belt, Crawford, and then also Schierholz. Also, Pablo Sandoval was an overseas signing and developed. Without Posey -- without Posey -- that's more homegrown hitter talent than Sabean had in his first twelve years (through 2008) combined.

Then there's the real shocker: Andres Torres. In his first twelve seasons, Sabean had never done that: pick up a guy who had flopped in his only major league trial, and make him into a regular. Of course, Torres not only had a great (if fluky) year, but then was traded for Angel Pagan, who had a very nice year in 2012. And if you do it once, you can do it again: Sabean found more free talent with Gregor Blanco in 2012. No, Blanco wasn't anything great, but he was better than, say, having to play Xavier Nady every day. Joaquin Arias wasn't exactly a regular in 2012, but that was the same thing, picking up free talent and making something out of it.

The point is that for twelve years, there were no comps for Torres, Blanco, and Arias. And that meant sometimes scraping bottom, because the choices were burned-out ex-regulars or non-prospects. Again: not saying that Torres, Blanco, and Arias are anything special, although Torres was quite good in 2010. It's that Sabean finally was willing to tap into talent streams which he had ignored in the past.

I mean, he's the same old Sabean, unable to really tell the difference between...Mark DeRosa, Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Jeff Keppinger, Bill Hall, and Marco Scutaro, or between Cody Ross, Pat Burrell....well, you know the corner outfielders they've shuffled through. But by expanding the options to include homegrown and free talent, everything gets a lot easier.

And meanwhile, the strengths are still there. Or, perhaps, a bit stronger. When I wrote about Sabean in 2009 I of course didn't include Bumgarner in the drafted and developed; I also didn't include Romo, and I only made passing reference to the Bearded One. But in my long list of drafted-and-developed pitchers, I did have one important category: "burnout cases such as Vogelsong, Ainsworth, Williams, Foppert, Bump." Guess that part has to be revisited!

So I'm obviously very glad that the Giants didn't listen to me and fire Brian Sabean in 2009...but I'm also glad that Sabean did what I had blamed him for not doing. Without it there's no way that he brings two titles to China Basin. With it, he becomes a first-rate general manager. And he deserves a ton of credit. It's awful hard to change, but Brian Sabean really did change over the last three years. He's a  better GM now than he was in his first dozen years, and he deserves the credit he's received.


  1. Oh dear. I may have to stop reading this blog now that I know the author is a Giants fan. I hold bitter memories of 1962 that I'll never get over. ;)

  2. Clearly you haven't read the Jenkins piece explaining that the Giants evaluate personnel based on "the face".

    I would have fired Sabean after the Liriano trade, after the explanation of the reason for the Tucker signing, and within a year of the Zito signing I would have fired everyone who gave the thumbs up.

    In a world where DePodesta loses his shot as quickly as he did that seems like a rational reaction.

    And I would have been wrong, to extend your thesis, people can improve in their jobs. I approach analysis of Obama's performance from his left, maybe as opposed to using FDR's growth in the office as metaphor, we should now reference late period Sabean as shorthand for "don't give up on this guy too soon"


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