Thursday, 11 November 2010

The Giants of Moneyball

I’m saving a proper post with which to close the 2010 baseball season until the season is truly wrapped and we know who the MVP and Cy Young award winners are. However, clearly I couldn’t stay away.

To begin with, congratulations to the San Francisco Giants, thoroughly deserving winners of the World Series. It is a bitter pill to swallow for a Red Sox fan as, although I like the Giants and was glad to see them in the World Series, how can one all-pitching/no-hitting team do so well and another do so miserably.

The answer of course is clear. The Red Sox were meant to be a pitching and defence heavy team who scored runs where they could. Instead they became a team which got Cy Young calibre seasons out of its two lowest paid starters and mediocre to poor performances out of $50,000,000 worth of pitchers (Lackey, Beckett and Matsuzaka). The great defence thing didn’t happen either, although as Derek Jeter managed to pick up his 5th Gold Glove at SS this week who really knows anything about defence – all these advanced fielding stats could be nonsense and many Jeter is the new Ozzie Smith. Instead what we had for 2010 in Boston was a horrendously fragile team which leaked runs like a sieve (especially on the days neither Jon Lester nor Clay Buchholz pitched) and offensively….umm, well offensively they had Adrian Beltre.

Much of the off season debate for the Red Sox will focus on whether or not to resign Beltre and Victor Martinez. The answer to both questions is no.

Martinez is worth re-signing ONLY if he is prepared to become a full-time first baseman. He is simply too poor defensively to continue as the Red Sox catcher. In a division where the Sox play against the likes of B.J. Upton, Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Carl Crawford (although hopefully he will be suiting up for the Red Sox come 2011, please Theo, just get it done) it is suicide to have someone that bad at throwing out basestealers behind the place. Of course, if Martinez moves to 1st then Youkilis moves to 3rd. Youkilis is a far superior player to Beltre (who, given his track record of over-performing in contract years will likely be far worse next season), therefore there is no need to pay Beltre the $15,000,000 or so over 3 or 4 years he is likely to demand. Clearly a catching tandem of Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia isn’t going to win anything. Boston should use their bulging minor league system to secure a good young catcher to work with Varitek. My preference would be for Josh Thole of the Mets.

Mike Cameron needs the Old Yella treatment. With Ryan Kalish and Daniel Nava emerging as legitimate big leaguers there is absolutely no need to pay the 37 year old Mike Cameron $5m a year to get hurt every five minutes. He needs dumping back to the NL even if it means eating his contract for the year, after all if we keep him he’ll only get hurt again and we’ll eat the contract anyway.

The whole LF situation will sort itself out one way or another. Come opening day either Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth or Ryan Ludwick will be patrolling Manny’s old stomping ground for the Red Sox. I’m not hugely concerned about this, all three would help the team, although I’ve put them in order of preference.

What is crucial is that the Red Sox find a good, long-term short-stop. Obviously the Red Sox are unlikely to be able to prize the likes of Hanley Ramirez or Troy Tulowitski away from their teams, but they don’t need to. Dustin Pedroia wants to move to SS, he keeps saying it every year! Let him! Then the Red Sox should go out, armed with the likes of Nava, Josh Reddick, Lars Anderson, Jacoby Ellsbury (Kalish is more valuable to the Red Sox right now) and attempt to prize a good second baseman from a non-contender. Possibilities (in order of preference) are: Nick Walker (Pirates – Neil Huntington absolutely lives to trade away hot young talent for substandard prospects, give him Ellsbury he’d probably chuck in Pedro Alvarez too, that the long term DH problem sorted), Aaron Hill (Toronto), Scott Sizemore (Detroit), Luis Valbuena (Cleveland).

In summary, I would like my 2011 Boston Red Sox to look like this:

C: Thole/Varitek
1B: Martinez
2B: Walker
3B: Youkilis
SS: Pedroia/Scutaro
LF: Crawford/McDonald
CF: Kalish
RF: Drew/Nava
DH: Ortiz

SP: (in order) Buchholz, Lester, Beckett, Lackey, Matsuzaka
CP: Papelbon (unless he can be traded – highly unlikely).

Right that’s enough Red Sox ranting.

With the Giants winning the World Series I see that there has been a lot of gloating from the anti-Sabremetrics brigade declaring that the Giant’s victory is a public slap in the face for those who put their trust in advanced stats. It is however, simply not true.

“Moneyball” is a very misunderstood book: it is a chronicle of how one small-market, financially weak team achieved modest success, not a bible of how all teams should run their baseball operations. People tend to confuse sabremetrics and money-ball. They are not the same thing. Sabremetrics is the use of advanced statistical methods to evaluate baseball and baseball players in a way that the old, simple stats such as batting average cannot do. Money-ball is about GMs of poorer teams exploiting inefficiencies in the market in order to purchase baseball players who the use of advanced stats suggests can make a valuable contribution to their club for far less than those players who score highly in more traditional statistical catergories.

The thing is the Giants are the exact model of a team which has used advanced statistics and sabremetrics to its advantage. It is has also, with a few noticeable exceptions (Zito and Rowand) played ‘Money-ball’ very effectively too.

The Giants won the World Series on the back of their pitching. This is not surprising, they reached the playoffs on the back of their pitching too. Barry Zito and his $17m a year contract is the odd man out in the Giants rotation and he didn’t even pitch in the post-season. The remaining members of the Giants rotation are all products of their own system: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner. This is very similar to the A’s teams of the early 00’s. Their closer is home grown too, the shaky but exciting Brian Wilson. It the Giants truly decide to play Money-ball they should trade Wilson immediately whilst his stock is high.

The Giants have taken a similar approach with their position players. They recognised mid-way through the season that rookie catcher Buster Posey represented a better option behind the plate then Bengie Molina, and so, Molina and his large contract went to Texas. Posey went on to put up Rookie of the Year numbers.

Aubrey Huff has been one of the most under-rated players in baseball for years. The Giants signed him on a very cheap one year deal. Huff leads the team in HR and RBI.

Andres Torres scuffles around various teams, staying around as a 4th outfielder due to his speed. Rowand gets hurt and the Giants are forced to play Torres everyday. He emerges as one of the best leadoff hitters and most dangerous base-runners in baseball.

Juan Uribe is let go by the White Sox and generally ignored by every team in baseball. The Giants pick him up and he makes the all-star team.

Cody Ross. This is dubious as the Giants only picked him up to prevent the Padres from doing so. But, while the Padres were ruining their team chemistry by introducing Miguel Tejada and Ryan Ludwick to the mix, the Giants quietly went out and picked up Cody Ross who was instrumental in driving the Giants past Atlanta and the Phillies.

Finally, the Giants picked up Pat Burrell on the cheap from Tampa Bay, where he had the worst 18 months of hitting performances I have every witness. Clearly Bruce Bochy deserves a medal of honour, much less a manager of the year award for turning Burrell into a legitimate cleanup hitting down the stretch (although he was dire in the World Series).

So there you go. The San Francisco Giants: not the throwbacks you might think.

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