A Conversation With Baggs, Part 2

"How do we call him?"

In Part 1 of our discussion with beat writer Andrew Baggarly, we talked about his career and life as a beat writer, as well as his upcoming book, A Band of Misfits, Tales of the 2010 San Francisco Giants.

In Part 2, we discuss the 2010 team, what to look forward to this Spring Training and opinions about Bochy, Sabean, Panda and the Zito contract.

The 2010 Giants were a thrill to follow for us fans.  How was it being an objective journalist?

Being honest, it was a thrill for me. Reporters don't root for wins or losses, but there's no harm in hoping for compelling stories to write about. The Giants certainly were as compelling as any sports story in 2010. Plus I'd never covered a playoff team before, and narrowly missed covering the Angels in 2002. I always thought it would be great to cover a team that went all the way, see how they came together in the spring and write about their story arcs over the span of a season. And it was.

Every team is going to have personal internal issues, but last season the Giants gave the impression that they really enjoyed playing together and enjoyed each others' company.  From your vantage point, was that real?

Totally.  They really did enjoy each other.  It felt genuine and not forced.  I'd never seen a team want to win for each other rather than for themselves, but this team did.  I think that's the definition of team chemistry. Other than incredible pitching and one very, very composed rookie catcher, I think their chemistry is the reason they won it all.

What's something that most of us would be surprised to learn about the 2010 Giants?

You'd be surprised to learn Bruce Bochy is actually a very funny person and has a lot more personality than you'd think, if you just listened to him grumble through his KNBR pregame show. Oh, and Pat Burrell has this crazy S&M getup that he likes to wear at parties as a gag from time to time ... (What, you knew that already?)

Are there any players in particular who impress you as genuinely good guys?

Andres Torres, for sure. And Matt Cain really stands out.  When you think about what he went through at 21, 22 years old, pitching so well with no run support, and how mature he was ... I think about what I was like at that age, how I would've reacted ... But he never complained or threw a teammate under the bus.  Even off the record, he never said anything, or even gave a hint of body language, that he was frustrated with the lack of hitting. That left an impression on me, certainly.

Is it hard not to root for players you genuinely like?

Sure, and those players generally resonate the most with fans, too. So I think it's OK to let it color your coverage at times. But you can't let it affect what you write in a major way. After everything Cain went through, it was great to see him do so well on the national stage and it was gratifying to describe him walking off the mound with a shutout and a lead in the World Series. He deserved that. On the other hand, it wasn't fun to write about a good guy like Randy Winn when his production just wasn't there anymore, but it was part of the job. 

As the season went on and the Giants did well, did it become more difficult to stay objective and not root for them?

Well, this might be an unpopular answer, but when you're grinding out copy on a daily basis, practical concerns tend to trump all. So I root for brisk, nine-inning games and no late lead changes. If I'm on a tight deadline and it's the ninth inning, my story is probably 95% written at that point.  The last thing I want to see is Brian Wilson blow a save because it'll mean having to do a lot of re-writing with very little time. Of course, that means the same is also true when Heath Bell is protecting a one-run lead at San Diego.

Let's turn to a question from one of our readers.  Johnny Disaster wants to know, "How much has Sabremetric analysis infiltrated the press box?  Do writers use terms like FIP and wOBA in casual conversation?

Yes! Why, just the other day, Murray Chass was going on and on about Lance Berkman's VORP...

In all seriousness, it varies by individual, but it's in the mix more than ever. The traditional counting stats remain more common in usage, though.

Personally, I try to keep an open mind and use advanced stats to understand the game and challenge my perceptions, but won't typically include them in my newspaper writing if it means having to include a long explanation of what the acronym stands for or what the stat measures. There's simply no space to do that in print. (I think we've just reached the point where OPS doesn't need to be spelled out.) On the blog, I can make more assumptions about what my readership will understand, so I can use more Fangraphs data or drop a BABIP on ya.

The funny thing is, players couldn't care less about advanced statistics. So it's not something you'd want to discuss with them, unless you enjoy blank stares and polite head nodding.

You've already outed yourself as someone who visits McCovey Chronicles, as has Mychael Urban and Marty Lurie.  In addition, Dave Flemming was spotted on TV with the site on his computer screen.  Any other members of the media you'd care to name as closet McCoven?

What happens in the press box stays in the press box. The image threads are very popular, though. I'll say that. As well they should be. The things you learn ... when I was a kid and my Dad took me to Dodger Stadium, we sat in the "unbaptized babies" section. Who knew?

A lot of discussion and debate centers around Brian Sabean.  How much access do you get to him and how forthcoming is he with the media?

I wouldn't say access to Brian is tremendous; he often has Bobby Evans return calls from the press.  But I will say this: Brian is not a guy that will mislead you, and that's even more important to me than a GM who returns every call. The worst thing I can do is write an inaccurate story or chase the wrong rumor, and I can't think of a time when Brian sought to put out intentional misinformation through the press. Plus Brian is very honest, perhaps to his own detriment at times.  How many GMs will tell you the plan was to trade Bengie Molina all along or refer to other GMs as chatterboxes?

Much of the criticism he's taken is well intentioned and on the mark, but Brian brings a lot to the table, too. He's very good at delegating and letting people do their jobs. He gives a lot of authority to guys like Dick Tidrow and John Barr, as well as to Yeshayah Goldfarb and Jeremy Shelley and their statistical work.

I do wonder if the isolationist way he runs things means he misses out on some creative dealmaking opportunities, such as potential 3-way trades that other GMs seem to be discussing more and more.  But hey, the guy won a World Series. That earns you a grace period till at least, oh, I don't know ... mid-March, I'd think.

How do you think he's handled this off-season?

He got clearance to increase the payroll and bring the team back and he essentially accomplished that.  He signed Huff and didn't have major issues signing the arbitration-eligible players.

I wonder if he might have missed an opportunity to get more athletic at shortstop, perhaps trying to get a guy like Jason Bartlett or J.J. Hardy.  The Giants pitching staff led the league in strikeouts and you could argue they are less reliant on infield defense than most other teams, but the left side of the infield could be an issue with Sandoval and Tejada. When you play a lot of one-run games, as the Giants figure to do, I think the left-side infield defense stands to be a major issue.

Although the Giants haven't publicly said it, a lot of writers have blamed Peter Magowan (as opposed to Sabean) for some of the worst contracts, especially Zito's,   From what you see and hear, is this based in fact or is it just speculation?

From everything I know about the situation, the decision to sign Zito was made above Sabean's head.

You've seen me both dancing and on the kiss cam.  In your professional opinion, am I better dancer or kisser?

I'm pretty sure "dancer" is the safer play for me here...

Until taking the team to the post-season, Bruce Bochy took a lot of grief.   It's been written that he's much more engaging and insightful than at his public persona lets on.  What's your impression?  Would you consider him "highly respected" around the league by both baseball people and the media?

Bruce Bochy is very respected throughout baseball.  He can be frustrating for a fan to watch over 162 games because he's slow to quit on guys.  He treats the regular season as marathon and tries to keep players involved.  Rowand and Renteria are examples of guys that fans wanted him to bury. Even when they were down to a start or two a week, I knew the comments on my blog were gonna be ugly if one of them was in the lineup on a given day. But both guys ended up making contributions in the postseason, just as Bochy thought they would.

Once the playoffs began, you saw Bochy manage with a lot more urgency.  When Sandoval didn't do well, he was replaced by Fontenot.  When Fontenot struggled and allowed that pop-up to drop in Philly, Bochy slid Uribe over to third base and put Renteria at shortstop. 

The players really enjoy playing for Bochy. He treats them with respect and doesn't spend all his time coddling his stars. I really believe that a lot of the team chemistry I talked about earlier comes from the way Bochy manages the team. I mean, the guy won four NL West titles in 12 years with the Padres. The Padres! They should win a division title, like, maybe once a decade, tops.

Pablo Sandoval is another endless discussion topic.  What do you think is behind his drop off in 2010?

I think, more than anything, it was his conditioning.  His energy level suffered and he'd get winded after taking just a few ground balls.  When he struggled, he tried too hard and thought too much and things just got worse.  He wanted to go from .260 to .330 in a one-game span and that was impossible to do. The issues in his personal life might have played a part as well.

When you look for reasons to believe that the Giants might repeat in 2011, the prospect of a resurgent Pablo might top the list He looked great when I saw him the other day, and not just the weight he lost. He looked energetic, happy and confident - all things that make you feel better at the plate. No doubt, it's a huge year for him.

As you gear up to follow the 2011 Giants, what story lines are you most eager to see play out?

It's going to be a very different spring training.  Returning as champions, it'll be interesting to see how motivated they are. I think they will be. There's bound to be even more energy around the park with a lot more fans coming to spring training for the first time. I had a harder time finding a condo to rent this year, so it should be interesting.

I look forward to include seeing how Brandon Belt does, whether Pablo looks like he's back and how the pitchers look after all the innings they pitched last year. And reading Brian Wilson's tweets, of course.

What do you think Brandon Belt's chances are of making the big team out of spring training?

I'd say less than 50/50.  Unless he blows the doors off of spring training or other players really do poorly or there are injuries, I think he'll start the season in Fresno and we'll probably see him in May or June.

Thanks for your time and good luck with the book. Anything else you'd like to say to the readers of McCovey Chronicles.

Grant, swing by the press box sometime. Bring your laptop. If you take a bathroom break, I promise not to hijack your computer and write about llamas. Unless I do.

Really, though, Grant is a unique talent. You guys know that. He's more insightful than most reporters with access, which is hard to do. And I wish I could be as funny as he is.

I appreciate everyone's passion on the MCC, and truth be told, y'all make me work harder. I mean, you made a "Baggs Signal," for heaven's sake. If I write something that isn't well researched or thought out, you will call B.S. on me.  You push me and I like that. (And I'll add my own TWSS just for you, Goofus.)

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