FanPost

Building An Offense, Sabean Style, Chopped Into 3 Parts


With the Giants offensive woes rearing their ugly head yet again after a brief outburst of run scoring, the frustration of not putting crooked numbers up on the scoreboard is boiling over for fans. The familiar “why can’t Brian Sabean construct a decent offense?” is rocking in the free world, internet style. Maybe at the ballpark as well. Reports of the wave being socially acceptable tells me otherwise. I can just see Larry Baer now: Check out our wireless network! Cha-Cha Bowl? Have you renewed your season tickets for 2013? We have a sand pit now! Offense? Nothing to see here!

As we go into year 4 of the beautiful pitching fans nerves might begin to fray, especially with the additional burden of miserable hitting with runners in scoring position. On paper what looks to be a solid defense has been sieving, which puts tremendous pressure on the pitchers to not make mistakes, and further puts pressure on these hitters to make timely hits… that haven’t been coming. Are we in a time machine controlled by a Motorola Razr with a bad battery? Is this the dead ball era for reals?

A further question might be “why can’t Bruce Bochy put his best pieces in the best places to succeed?” In Grant’s excellent “Turns Out the Giants Swing at a Lot of Bad Pitches” there were some interesting discussions going on about that. There is some separation between what the General Manager gives the Field Manager to work with, and what comes out on the field. One basic theme that has been constant in the last few years is “do the Giants know how to evaluate hitters properly?” and the follow up to that is “do the Giants know how to prepare their hitters properly?”

The whole hitting with runners in scoring position is baffling. My best guess is it is a combination of greybeard philosophy on what to do when there are ducks on the pond (Hack Like Hell), inexperience with these situations (don’t look now but Brian Sabean has assembled a very young team) and a lack of premium talent in the hitting department. Or just really bad luck that can swing back around. But there are some contradictions that bother me, Bam Bam repeatedly preaches to get in a hitters count and to look for your pitch to hit. This advice appears to be getting ignored at the moment, but it is being dispensed. The biggest problem might be there just aren’t enough hitters capable of hitting home runs. It may just be that simple an answer.

So I wanted to check out the engine that is driving this carriage. The core of each team sorted out by who got the most trips to the plate, to see what kind of horsepower is under the hood. The Sabean era is pretty unique because it spans so many years. Here is what I did: chopped up into the three periods of Bochy, Alou and Baker. I took the overall runs scored by team as the most basic offensive stat for comparison to the league. I put up the National League rankings as well as the overall MLB ranking. I also noted how many runs to the next place in line, ie 27 runs to 14th would mean the Giants are 15th in the NL in hitting, 27 additional runs scored would put them into 14th in the NL.

To be fair to Sabean, I also put down the pitching/defense, in the very rough form of runs allowed, as that has clearly been where the Giants have focused so much of their attention. Then I sorted each team by Plate Appearances, and we have a snapshot of the core offensive talent. Injuries and managerial choices such as rest and lineup order determine who came to home plate the most. One thing to note in a review like this is it’s a rough snapshot, and it may not have been Sabean’s intention to put the particular players at the plate the number of times they actually got there.

I used OPS+ as a general offensive snapshot. A standard definition for OPS+ is OPS adjusted for the park and the league in which the player played, but not for fielding position. An OPS+ of 100 is defined to be the league average. An OPS+ of 150 or more is excellent and 125 very good, while an OPS+ of 75 or below is poor. I mainly did this because its easy to grab and gives a ballpark figure of a hitters skills, if more advanced stat folks have any objection or a better easier stat to grab I’m all ears. Simple ratings of Poor, Average and Good to begin each year. Yes, I could have used miserable, terrible or ineffective as well.

BOCHY YEARS – 2007 to the Present

2007 Verdict: Poor

2007 71-91 (5th NL West) Scored 683 runs, Allowed 720 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 77-85

15th in runs scored NL (27 runs to 14th), 29th in runs scored MLB (10 runs to 28th)

3rd in runs allowed NL (30 runs to 2nd), 6th in runs allowed MLB (16 runs to 5th)

Randy Winn RF 653 PA 104 OPS+

Pedro Feliz 3B 590 PA 80 OPS+

Omar Visquel SS 575 PA 61 OPS+

Ray Durham 2B 528 PA 64 OPS+

Bengie Molina C 517 PA 86 OPS+

Barry Bonds LF 477 PA 169 OPS+

2008 Verdict: Poor

2008 72-90 (4th NL West) Scored 640 runs, Allowed 759 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 68-94

15th in runs scored NL (1 run to 14th), 29th in runs scored MLB (1 run to 28th)

8th in runs allowed NL (5 runs to 7th), 17th in runs allowed MLB (14 runs to 16th)

Randy Winn RF 667 PA 105 OPS+

Aaron Rowand CF 611 PA 94 OPS+

Bengie Molina C 569 PA 98 OPS+

Fred Lewis LF 521 PA 105 OPS+

Rich Aurilia CI 440 PA 93 OPS+

Jose Castillo 3B 420 PA 73 OPS+

2009 Verdict: Poor

2009 88-74 (3rd NL West) Scored 657 runs, Allowed 611 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 86-76

13th in runs scored NL (14 runs to 12th), 26th in runs scored MLB (14 runs to 25th)

1st in runs allowed NL (Tied With Doyers), 1st in runs allowed MLB (Tied)

Pablo Sandoval 3B 633 PA 144 OPS+

Randy Winn RF 597 PA 76 OPS+

Aaron Rowand CF 546 PA 92 OPS+

Bengie Molina C 520 PA 87 OPS+

Edgar Renteria SS 510 PA 67 OPS+

Juan Uribe IF 432 PA 112 OPS+

2010 Verdict: Average

2010 92-70 (1st NL West) Scored 697 runs, Allowed 583 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 94-68

9th in runs scored NL (16 runs to 8th), 17th in runs scored MLB (16 runs to 16th)

2nd in runs allowed NL (2 runs to 1st), 2nd in runs allowed MLB (2 runs to 1st)

Aubrey Huff 1B 668 PA 142 OPS+

Pablo Sandoval 3B 616 PA 99 OPS+

Juan Uribe SS 575 PA 102 OPS+

Andres Torres CF 570 PA 122 OPS+

Freddy Sanchez 2B 479 PA 102 OPS+

Buster Posey C 443 PA 133 OPS+

2011 Verdict: Poor

2011 86-76 (2nd NL West) Scored 570 runs, Allowed 578 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 80-82

16th in runs scored NL (23 runs to 15th), 29th in runs scored MLB (23 runs to 28th)

2nd in runs allowed NL (49 runs to 1st), 2nd in runs allowed MLB (49 runs to 1st)

Aubrey Huff 1B 579 PA 90 OPS+

Pablo Sandoval 3B 466 PA 153 OPS+

Cody Ross LF 461 PA 105 OPS+

Andres Torres CF 398 PA 82 OPS+

Nate Schierholtz RF 362 PA 112 OPS+

Aaron Rowand OF 351 PA 74 OPS+

Miguel Tejada IF 343 PA 68 OPS+

BOCHY YEARS ANALYSIS

The most important thing that pops out at me is there simply isn’t enough impact hitting. Coupled with numbers that meet and exceed the “poor” rating, and there is your answer to why the Giants offense has been terrible. You have the last Barry Bonds year as truly excellent. You have Sandoval’s breakout and rebound years. Then you have 2010 where Huff, Torres and Posey all banded together. And that is it on the excellent to very good.

The second thing I notice is you have the common thread of Aaron Rowand squatting though almost the entire timeline. In addition to the huge drop in performance from Torres slump/injury/adhd medical issues in 2011, it also allowed Rowand back into the lineup. Forget how much money he is paid, having Rowand take the 2nd or 3rd most trips to the plate invites offensive disaster. Stubbornly trying to make it work by running him out again and again, in the leadoff spot no less, is absolute insanity.

The third thing might be a cheap shot, but Randy Winn and Bengie Molina are two very average players that were paid good to overpriced salaries and thrust into rolls they were not suited for. They would be fine “last man on the core” types. Instead they were asked to headline the show. In addition, I maintain that a player like Randy Winn is a player you have to develop in your system, you cannot be paying him almost $30MM for league average production, no matter how good his defense is. Molina got $21MM of Sabean largesse, and I’d have to say the same thing applies. Nice as a bottom of the order guy, asking Molina to hit cleanup is also a recipe for disaster.

So we know all this already, nothing new and definitely nothing exciting. I guess it comes down to the following question: Is Sabean doing something new in the last couple of years, or is this just more of the same old same old. On one hand, we knew the Giants were going to be terrible post-Bonds, so why worry about Winn/Rowand/Molina and the dark years, that is over now. Enjoy the pitching he drafted and hope like hell. On the other hand, there is a pattern of Sabean spending his precious resources on bad bets and misguided priorities. And a pattern of Bochy running out terrible bets such as Rowand and Tejada, damn the consequences. The other question is: does he see the need to have a core group of hitters who lie in the 125 OPS+ category, and does he have the ability to get these players via the open market, trade market or drafting and international scouting?

Looking at that 2011 “core” – you really understand just how much the Posey injury meant, and how devastated they were with injuries. Only 1 Giant has 500 PAs. Sandoval somehow ends up with the 2nd most PAs on the team despite hamate bone #1? I don’t think you can pin Huff or Torres massive regression on Sabean. With those 3 players removed or dragging down the engine, having Rowand and Tejada sneak in for almost 700 PAs kill as well. Missing in action is Pat Burrell, due to the career ending foot injury. I can give Sabean a pass on the construction of the lineup in 2011. It is reasonable to anticipate 4 players at 110-120 OPS+ give or take (Torres, Huff, Sandoval and Posey), with Burrell and Ross as wild cards. And don’t forget the wildest of wild cards there is: Brandon Belt.

It is very easy to say “The Giants need more excellent hitters, the guys with 150 OPS+” but it isn’t easy to acquire them. However, without a core powered by at least 3 hitters putting up 125 OPS+ along with some league average supporting cast, the results appear to be dead ball fantastic. As evidenced above, that is what happened from 2007-09. The debate will rage about 2011, but looking at the results from 2010 I don’t think it was necessarily a bad move to stand pat, without being given the benefit of hindsight. Posey and Sandoval are a great start. It is most likely not enough, especially if the rest of the supporting cast is going to be in that sub 100 OPS+ region.

ALOU YEARS 2003-2006

2003 Verdict: Good

2003 100-61 (1st NL West) Scored 755 runs, Allowed 638 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 93-68

6th in runs scored NL (36 runs to 5th), 15th in runs scored MLB (13 runs to 14th)

2nd in runs allowed NL (82 runs to 1st), 3rd in runs allowed MLB (1 run to 2nd)

Jose Cruz Jr RF 650 PA 104 OPS+

Marquis Grissom CF 618 PA 104 OPS+

Edgardo Alfonso 3B 586 PA 90 OPS+

Barry Bonds LF 550 PA 231 OPS+

Rich Aurilia SS 545 PA 91 OPS+

Ray Durham 2B 469 PA 111 OPS+

2004 Verdict: Good

2004 91-71 (2nd NL West) Scored 850 runs, Allowed 770 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 88-74

2nd in runs scored NL (5 runs to 1st), 7th in runs scored MLB (5 runs to 6th)

12th in runs allowed NL (1 run to 11th), 16th in runs allowed MLB (1 run to 15th)

Barry Bonds LF 617 PA 263 OPS+

Marquis Grissom CF 606 PA 97 OPS+

Edgardo Alfonso 3B 576 PA 95 OPS+

Michael Tucker RF 547 PA 97 OPS+

Ray Durham 2B 542 PA 117 OPS+

Pedro Feliz 3B 531 PA 100 OPS+

2005 Verdict: Poor

2005 75-87 (3rd NL West) Scored 649 runs, Allowed 745 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 71-91

15th in runs scored NL (31 runs to 14th), 29th in runs scored MLB (31 runs to 28th)

11th in runs allowed NL (13 runs to 10th), 17th in runs allowed MLB (13 runs to 16th)

Omar Visquel SS 651 PA 82 OPS+

Pedro Feliz 3B 615 PA 85 OPS+

Ray Durham 2B 560 PA 104 OPS+

Moises Alou OF 490 PA 138 OPS+

Mike Matheny C 485 PA 81 OPS+

JT Snow 1B 410 PA 86 OPS+

2006 Verdict: Average

2006 76-85 (3rd NL West) Scored 746 runs, Allowed 790 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 76-85

10th in runs scored NL (3 runs to 9th), 23rd in runs scored MLB (3 runs to 22nd)

8th in runs allowed NL (2 runs to 7th), 16th in runs allowed MLB (2 runs to 15th)

Omar Visquel SS 659 PA 93 OPS+

Pedro Feliz 3B 644 PA 79 OPS+

Randy Winn RF 635 PA 84 OPS+

Ray Durham 2B 555 PA 127 OPS+

Barry Bonds LF 493 PA 156 OPS+

Steve Finley CF 481 PA 83 OPS+

ALOU YEARS ANALYSIS

Tale of two teams. The fill out the Bonds with league average players, and what happens to the team when you take him out of the equation. The most shocking thing for me was the pitching in 2003 was that good. I had forgotten that, or I don’t believe it happened. I also had my Jeff Kent theory partially popped (more below), the Giants put up plenty of runs in 2003-4, and the pitching was what failed them in 2004 more than anything else. 2005 is a nice preview of things to come, with Omar and Feliz taking the most PAs. 2005 brought on the defensive first additions of Visquel, Matheny, another year of Feliz and the last of JT Snow. Those four were plus defenders, but the offense suffered tremendously.

Not getting Vladimir Guerrero is the other elephant in the room, he would have given the Giants an offense for the ages, possibly overkill, but also extended the offense past the Bonds period. A trio of Kent, Bonds and Guerrero would have been a sight to see in 2005-6, instead we had Moises Alou, Steve Finley and the various Felipe quotes such as “Players dying at my watch” and of course the dust up about “Brain-Dead Hackers”.

So if you pick out the 150+ you have Bonds. By his 2006 year he is “only” at 156 OPS+. The only other good to great performance is Moises in 2005 with 138 OPS+, and Ray-Ray muscled up in 2006 to try and give Barry a running mate with a 127 OPS+, but by then it was the barn door getting slammed after the horse had bolted. The lesson to be learned that I see is you can’t surround an aging superstar with league average players and succeed.

BAKER YEARS – 1997-2002

1997 Verdict: Good

1997 90-72 (1st NL West) Scored 784 runs, Allowed 793 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 80-82

4th in runs scored NL (7 runs to 3rd), 11th in runs scored MLB (7 runs to 10th)

11th in runs allowed NL (29 runs to 10th), 16th in runs allowed MLB (3 runs to 15th)

Barry Bonds LF 690 PA 170 OPS+

Jeff Kent 2B 651 PA 105 OPS+

JT Snow 1B 637 PA 135 OPS+

Jose Vizcaino SS 630 PA 78 OPS+

Darryl Hamilton CF 529 PA 91 OPS+

Stan Javier OF 510 PA 102 OPS+

1998 Verdict: Good

1998 89-74 (2nd NL West) Scored 845 runs, Allowed 739 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 91-72

2nd in runs scored NL (29 runs to 1st), 8th in runs scored MLB (5 runs to 7th)

7th in runs allowed NL (21 runs to 6th), 9th in runs allowed MLB (10 runs to 8th)

Barry Bonds LF 697 PA 178 OPS+

Bill Mueller 3B 622 PA 110 OPS+

Jeff Kent 2B 594 PA 142 OPS+

JT Snow 1B 500 PA 102 OPS+

Stan Javier RF 490 PA 106 OPS+

Rich Aurilia SS 453 PA 94 OPS+

1999 Verdict: Good

1999 86-76 (2nd NL West) Scored 872 runs, Allowed 831 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 85-77

3rd in runs scored NL (34 runs to 2nd), 8th in runs scored MLB (11 runs to 7th)

9th in runs allowed NL (44 runs to 8th), 13th in runs allowed MLB (5 runs to 12th)

JT Snow 1B 668 PA 112 OPS+

Marvin Bernard CF 625 PA 110 OPS+

Rich Aurilia SS 614 PA 100 OPS+

Jeff Kent 2B 585 PA 124 OPS+

Bill Mueller 3B 492 PA 96 OPS+

Ellis Burks RF 469 PA 146 OPS+

Barry Bonds LF 434 PA 155 OPS+

2000 Verdict: Good

2000 97-65 (1st NL West) Scored 925 runs, Allowed 747 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 97-65

3rd in runs scored NL (13 runs to 2nd), 6th in runs scored MLB (13 runs to 5th)

4th in runs allowed NL (9 runs to 3rd), 5th in runs allowed MLB (2 runs to 4th)

Jeff Kent 2B 695 PA 162 OPS+

Marvin Bernard CF 633 PA 92 OPS+

Bill Mueller 3B 631 PA 87 OPS+

JT Snow 1B 627 PA 113 OPS+

Barry Bonds LF 607 PA 188 OPS+

Rich Aurilia SS 571 PA 102 OPS+

Ellis Burks RF 458 PA 163 OPS+

2001 Verdict: Good

2001 90-72 (2nd NL West) Scored 799 runs, Allowed 748 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 86-76

5th in runs scored NL (15 runs to 4th), 10th in runs scored MLB (5 runs to 9th)

9th in runs allowed NL (4 runs to 8th), 14th in runs allowed MLB (3 runs to 13th)

Jeff Kent 2B 696 PA 131 OPS+

Rich Aurilia SS 689 PA 146 OPS+

Barry Bonds LF 664 PA 259 OPS+

Benito Santiago C 515 PA 76 OPS+

Ramon Martinez 446 PA 81 OPS+

Marvin Bernard 429 PA 100 OPS+

2002 Verdict: Good

2002 95-66 (2nd NL West) Scored 783 runs, Allowed 616 runs. Pythagorean W-L: 98-63

3rd in runs scored NL (4 runs to 2nd), 11th in runs scored MLB (4 runs to 10th)

2nd in runs allowed NL (51 runs to 1st), 2nd in runs allowed MLB (51 runs to 1st)

Jeff Kent 2B 682 PA 147 OPS+

David Bell 3B 628 PA 104 OPS+

Barry Bonds LF 612 PA 268 OPS+

Rich Aurilia SS 589 PA 92 OPS+

Reggie Sanders RF 571 PA 107 OPS+

Benito Santiago C 517 PA 103 OPS+

BAKER YEARS ANALYSIS

I have to go back to this for two reasons: first, I enjoyed the hell out of these years, and I didn’t know anything about WAR values, xFIP or this damn OPS+ thing I’m throwing all over the place. I did however understand slugging and getting on base. And that’s what these cats did. In style.

I maintain the single biggest mistake of the Sabean years is losing Jeff Kent. Never mind who’s fault it was, Barry/Kent/Sabean and of course Peter the Pink. You don’t let go of your star hitters. Now look up there at Jeff Kent. Consistency. Near the top in PAs every year. Excellence from 2B gives you huge position scarcity advantage. The numbers don’t necessarily agree with me though. The Giants offense didn’t miss a beat in 2003 or 2004. Bonds was enough, he didn’t need a running mate, at least according to the baseline of runs scored. Eventually things did go south, and it is possible that Kent would have joined Aurilia and Snow as aging ineffective vets.

Picking out the 125 OPS+ and above, you have one year each for Snow and Aurilia, 2 big years from Ellis Burks, 4 of the 6 years from Kent, and 4 of the 6 years with Awesome Barry, the other 2 with Superman Barry. The Baker era was fueled by a core group that not only put up good numbers, but consistent PAs. There wasn’t any guess the lineup of the day back then. As the Bochy lineup of the day gets tossed out on twitter, I yearn for a simpler time when our middle infield was slow but sure and could hit a lick.

GET TO THE POINT ANALYSIS

Don’t have answers, only questions. How many 125 OPS+ hitters does a team need? Can you win with a crew of 100 OPS+ instead with just pitching and defense? Are the Giants doing everything in their power to get their hands of these types of hitters? Are they settling for less, meaning is this an intentional strategy? One thing that bothers me is the notion of “we’ll be league average and we’ll be OK.” Sure, you can suffer a bad offense with good pitching. But why not stack the deck a little bit more in your favor? What is a reasonable time frame to bring a better offense online to pair with this pitching? Gut reaction is that this all comes down to home runs. The 2010 offense led the league in HRs in the 2nd half, and the team thrived. The scarcity of legitimate hitting in the majors makes it the 2nd most precious resource, behind ace level pitching. In 2011 across all of MLB, there were 11 hitters with an OPS+ of 150 and above. An additional 31 made the arbitrary cutoff of 125 OPS+ and above. To be fair, Sabean has not given up any of his Blue Chip talent currently on the roster, in fact has not made a big trade in years before you know what happened last July.

The Giants have traditionally been a big time hitting team. The less than stellar offenses of the past few years have definitely been frustrating to watch. The Giants do have two promising cornerstones with Pablo and Posey. It appears that instead of going the sign a proven vet route of 2003-08, Sabean is instead entrusting the offense to home grown youts. How long he will stick with this until he moves for a trade (which can be disastrous, Cabrera, Orlando being the current posterboy) remains to be seen. I lean optimistic, that 2007-09 was the burn off support Barry/bad signing types and we're into a new period. But I can't say that with complete confidence. There are definite signs here and there that it's the same old, same old. The broken hamate #2 pulls the best weapon the Giants have out of the mix, Bochy wants to focus on platoon splits instead of playing Brandon Belt, and the youts are pretty green. Still, if Belt does prove out, Pablo comes back and Posey maintains his health and fast start, you have something to build on, both short term and long term. I still think the Giants need a power corner OF to really tie everything together and get serious about their offense, and I'll acknowledge that is easy to say and not easy to do.

This FanPost is reader-generated, and it does not necessarily reflect the views of McCovey Chronicles. If the author uses filler to achieve the minimum word requirement, a moderator may edit the FanPost for his or her own amusement.

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