Sunday, September 13, 2009

Brian Sabean - Executive of the Millenium

The Niners just beat the defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals (due pretty much to Arizona repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot, but that's not what I want to talk about rightnow), and the nation is abuzz with NFL opening day, at least according to my facebook news feed; so what better time to talk about the San Francisco baseball Giants' amazing season, which, despite a nice win against the hated Dodgers today, is all but over. (It's also a great time to write what may or may not be a grammatically correct sentence with more clauses than the North Pole, ba-dum-bum!)

After today's win, the Giants are 7.5 games behind the division-leading Dodgers, and 4.5 games behind the Colorado Rockies in the Wild Card chase. The Giants have three more games each against Colorado and Los Angeles, so they certainly can cut into those leads. They've also got six more games against the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks (.431 winning percentage, 1-9 over their last 10 games) and the Padres (.451, 7-3 over their last 10), as well as a four-game series at home against the middling Cubs. So the Giants definitely are not out of it, but the way they've been playing lately (4-6 over their last 10, including some crucial losses to the Dodgers), it's unlikely they'll be making a serious move up in the standings. Regardless, the fact that the Giants are in the playoff discussion in mid-September is truly amazing. This has been a miraculous season for a team built around a pitching staff from heaven, and held back by an offense from hell, which is what bothers me the most.

Certainly, somebody, likely several people, deserves a lot of credit for piecing together a really good pitching staff around Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain; however, somebody also deserves to be beheaded, or at least fired for putting together what is truly an anemic offense. Sure, the Giants are a playoff-contender, but with a real offense they could be in the driver's seat and not staring up at the Dodgers and Rockies. It is for this reason, that I really really really hope that Brian Sabean, whose contract as general manager expires this season, joins the growing ranks of the unemployed sometime very soon.

Just how bad are the Giants? Well, I went through the NL West and compared the Giants to the other teams in the division position by position. As I didn't want to waste too much of my time, I didn't go through box scores or search for a site that shows offensive stats accrued while playing a specific position; instead, I just multiplied each players' stats by the percentage of innings played at each position for the season, which isn't exactly accurate, but paints a relatively reliable picture of a team's performance at each position. I ranked every position by OPS (On Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage), which indicates a player's ability to get on base and hit for power, both of which tend to lead to runs being scored.

Not surprisingly, the Giants rank 4th or 5th (second to last and last in the five-team division) in five of the eight positions (pitchers were excluded). In particular, they rank 4th or 5th at first base and both corner outfield positions, traditionally three of the positions were a team's more capable batters play. The only positions where they aren't truly horrible are third base (Rank - 2nd), thanks to Pablo Sandoval's contributions; centerfield and catcher, where they rank 3rd, which isn't exactly anything to write home about. San Diego is worse than the Giants at both positions, while Arizona is worse at centerfield and Los Angeles is worse at catcher. Centerfield and catcher are two of the few positions in which the Giants actually have "established" starters entrenched, in Aaron Rowand and Bengie Molina, respectively. Whereas, the Padres ineptitude at these positions is largely due to their lack of a real full-time starter, rather employing platoons of mediocre (at best) players. The Diamondbacks' poor play in centerfield is primarily the result of a continued decline by former top prospect Chris Young, while the Dodgers' low ranking at catcher is due to a down season from Russell Martin, a former all-star. The Giants would probably rank 4th in catcher if Martin was having a more typical season by his standards.

Overall, the Giants' average ranking is 4.125, tied for worst in the division with San Diego. Of course some consideration should be given to the fact that the Diamondbacks and Rockies play half their games in ballparks that tend to inflate offensive numbers, notably extra base hits. On the other hand, the Padres and Dodgers, and to a lesser degree the Giants, have home ballparks that favor pitchers. Nonetheless, Brian Sabean, in his infinite wisdom, has managed to assemble a team whose offensive capabilities are comparable to a rebuilding Padres team that is also hampered by playing in one of the most notorious pitchers parks in MLB; and far inferior to the other three teams in the division. Good job, buddy!

I hope Giants management can recognize Sabean's, and the team's (as currently configured), shortcomings and make the appropriate decision for the 2010 season. It's almost impossible to believe that just about any random person couldn't manage to put together a better offensive team than Sabean has assembled. Granted, some help may come from the farm system; however, the Giants top position-player prospect is Buster Posey, a catcher. So even if he lives up to the hype, he's helping at a position where the Giants aren't necessarily in need performance-wise, although Molina is a free agent after this season. Sandoval has recently been playing more firstbase, but if that is what the future holds, then the Giants will soon have a gaping offensive hole at thirdbase. Worse yet, Edgar Renteria, the Giants' starting shortstop who is largely responsible for the Giants' 4th place ranking in OPS at that position, has one more year left on his two-year $18 million contract, and he's not getting any younger...or better.

This post could be a whole lot longer, but I'm sure I've written way too much already. In summary, the Giants offense truly sucks. Brian Sabean has built that offense. Many things need to change if the Giants are really going to compete for titles in the near-future, why not start with the doofus who has put together the offense that is holding back our tremendous pitching staff?

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