As the Giants’ spending draws its way to a close, with $22.75 million out of pocket, many McCoven are still trying to figure out where it all went. Surely an expenditure of this magnitude must greatly increase the Giants’ chances of making the playoffs this year! But this has not happened; the general consensus is that they are no more than 1 or 2 wins better than before.
Especially in the wake of the Molina signing, I am willing to lampoon the offseason as a disaster. There are a few commonly voiced objections to this view, which can be roughly categorized under:
1) At least players are being signed/Would you rather spend nothing on such a promising team?
2) Look at the players who took less to go to other teams: Sabean is operating at a competitive disadvantage, and the weak free agent market only exacerbates the problem
Concerning the first: if you gave me a choice between these free agents and signing 10 Duanel Jones-type players using the same money, I’d take the Duanel Jones’s. At least one of the prospects, and maybe two or three, would become a solid player for us out of the farm system, and if he did, he would provide more value relative to salary over the course of his six years under club control than all five of the signees will provide over the entire duration of their contracts combined. However, such a course of action would leave Lincecum and Cain bereft of support for yet another season as the window of opportunity closes. Thankfully, one need not spend on mediocre vets or Duanel Joneses alone. Which brings me to the second objection, and this question: how weak was the free agent pool and the trade market relative to the Giants’ needs, really?
For most of the offseason, I assumed, given the conventional wisdom that the 2010 free agent class was weak, that there weren’t many players available at a desirable cost who fit the Giants’ needs. The assumption about cost was blown away after the Giants moved their payroll up to $100 million this year. With the knowledge of how much they were willing to spend at the beginning of the offseason, it is easier to assess their performance. My assumption about the weakness of the free agent market relative to the Giants’ needs was shaken a couple of weeks ago. I was farting around, looking at the percentages of pitches the Giants’ hitters swung at in the zone and out of the zone, and then looked at the league leaders as a comparison. This is what I found.
(these are the top 14 players out of 153)
Name O-Swing% Luis Castillo 12.20% Marco Scutaro 12.30% Nick Johnson 14.20% Chone Figgins 14.90% J.D. Drew 15.30% Chipper Jones 15.40% Bobby Abreu 15.90% Mike Cameron 17.40% Nick Swisher 17.40% Jack Cust 17.50% Kosuke Fukudome 17.80% Grady Sizemore 17.90% Denard Span 18.30% Dan Uggla 18.70%
O-Swing% is the proportion of pitches out of the strike zone that the batter swings at. These are the anti-Giants of 2008. They know where the zone is. They control the terms of the encounter. They make the pitcher come to them, instead of going out and doing the pitcher a favor by swinging at sliders in the dirt or off their leg.
Statistical Aside: These players may be undervalued by WAR, which I believe doesn’t account for the impact a player’s at-bats have on pitch count. A favorable approach will lead to more walks, which are counted by WAR as a function of OBP, but the benefits of wearing down a pitcher and getting into the bullpen faster are reflected in improvements to the hitting stats of everybody in the lineup, without giving credit to players whose plate appearances were of a longer duration.
The big surprise here was the proportion of these players on the free agent market or widely rumored to be available on the trade market. A makeover of the lineup with regards to plate approach would have been the quickest path to a large increase in the number of runs scored, and looking at the league leaders, the Giants had a golden opportunity to make a radical shift in the identity of the lineup.
The available players:
Marco Scutaro was a free agent who signed a 2 year, $12.5 million contract with the Red Sox; would have been a superior 2B to Freddy Sanchez (07/09 WAR avg: 2.5)
Nick Johnson was a free agent who signed a 1 year, $5.5 million contract with the Yankees; he would have been a superior 1B to Ishikawa, Garko, or Huff (07/09 WAR avg: 2.9)
Chone Figgins was a free agent who signed a 4 year, $36 million contract with the (Edit: Mariners ); he would have been an improvement at 2B, LF, and RF (07/09 WAR avg: 3.5)
Mike Cameron was a free agent who signed a 2 year, $15.5 million contract with the Red Sox; he would have been a superior LF/RF to any of our current options (07/09 WAR avg: 3.5)
Dan Uggla was shopped by the Marlins, who were in talks with the Giants over possible deals; he is owed $7.8 million next year and would have been a superior 2B (07/09 WAR avg: 3.4)
Any Cust proponents or people who consider Swisher/Sizemore within our reach in terms of trades are free to discuss their relative values/trade values.
The four best players in baseball last year at taking pitches outside of the zone were readily available last year, and several others in the top 20 who would have been substantial upgrades as well. In addition, while it is very clear in the case of Huff and perhaps DeRosa that defense is being sacrificed for offense, two of these free agents have excellent defensive reputations both in the scouting community and when using UZR (Scutaro, Cameron). With payroll space of $23 million, it would have been economically feasible for Sabean to overbid on any 2 of the 4 free agents- take your pick. With four excellent targets, the chances that all will turn down offers to go play at Mays Field for less lucrative contracts is exceedingly small.
After adding Castillo and Uggla to the list, there are three 2B (one who can also play SS), one 1B, and 3 OF, a list of players that very neatly fits the Giants’ positional needs.
With the acquisition of 2 of the free agents and the insertion of Bowker/Lewis and Posey (after a 1-month Holm/Whiteside period with service time concerns) into the lineup, half of the lineup would have experienced a radical turnaround in the right direction, and with Swisher and Uggla on the trade market, the turnaround of 5 players would not have been out of reach.
As a fitting sendoff, I’ll give the O-Swing% rankings of the players that the Giants did sign this offseason: