In this spring's Baseball Prospectus Annual, they spent essentially the entire Giants' article arguing for Brian Sabean's firing. The Giants were in disarray. The Front Office didn't have any direction or plan, and only a couple of lucky past drafts landing Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum prevented us from being a 100 loss team. I didn't disagree;mostly was hoping Bill Neukom read the thing. Most of the McCoven likely hoped that too.
Magic number: 1. And so, I come to praise Caesar, not to bury him.
The factor that prompted Michael Lewis' valentine to Billy Beane was the way Beane discovered and exploited market inefficiencies--specifically, the value of OBP. Recently, it's been defense--that's why the Rays rock. So who built their teams this year around defense? The Mariners, right? The Red Sox? Worked great, huh?
So paging Dr. Lewis: I'm starting to wonder and would now like to argue that the success of the 2010 Giants might owe to the discovery and systematic exploitation, by Brian Sabean, of two specific market inefficiencies. First, for years, Sabean has pursued a drafting strategy focusing on pitching. He's good at evaluating pitching anyway, and he's got Dick Tidrow in the FO. I suggest that he has noted and exploited the way talented young pitchers are overvalued by other clubs. Second, 30+ year old veterans are, right now, consistently undervalued. The Giants don't have the payroll to outbid the Yankees or Red Sox for the Mark Texeiras of the world. But we can add an Aubrey Huff or Mark DeRosa.
One downside of this strategy is that older players are risky. They get hurt and they decline. The secret is to collect a lot of them. A Freddy Sanchez has value--he's a pretty good hitter and a good defender. He also gets hurt a lot. So you also pick up a Mark DeRosa and a Juan Uribe and a Mike Fontenot. A second downside can be when you trade one of those young pitchers and he becomes Francisco Liriano, especially when the guy you traded him for, uh, didn't exactly work out.
Mistakes happen. But one key to this strategy is to really have a lot of faith in your ability to project young pitchers. If you've got both a Madison Bumgarner AND a Tim Alderson in your system, figure out which one is going to be really good, and trade the other guy to fill a need. Brian Sabean presided over a system that could produce Lincecum and Cain and Sanchez and MadBum and Brian Wilson. That's a better-than-decent track record.
Because veterans are so undervalued, the Giants could accumulate not only Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell, but also Jose Guillen and Cody Ross and DeRosa and Aaron Rowand and Andres Torres. They haven't all worked out, of course. And we overpaid for Rowand. But you only need three outfielders.
So Edgar Renteria, turns out, is injury prone and in decline; he's talking about retirement. But Juan Uribe's been terrific. No one saw that coming--Sabean may not have either. But he knew Uribe was a good clubhouse guy, a hard worker, and a guy with some pop. And it's worked out.
Is our minor league system in terrible shape? Not hardly--we've developed Posey, Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Wilson, MadBum, Sandoval, and we've got Brandon Belt waiting in the wings, plus Wheeler and numerous Bucardos. And we've got a clubhouse full of great chemistry guys, and a Magic Number of 1. Luck is indeed the residue of design.