Why Repeating is So Difficult, Pt. 3

Alright, this is the end of it…some of us have real jobs that we need to get back too =)

We ended the last post with the 2009 Yankees, so lets move on to the Giants!

2010 San Francisco Giants

  • 2009 88-74 (3rd in NL West): 8.1 K/9, 3.55 ERA, 121 ERA+, 1.28 WHIP
  • 2010 92-70 (1st): 8.2, 3.36, 121 (no change!), 1.27 WHIP

First off, how nasty has the Giants’ pitching been the last two years?! Lets review: the only team we looked at to post even one K/9 rate over 8 was the Diamondbacks. The Giants did it two years in a row! Those same Diamondbacks, who had two Hall of Famers on their staff, matched the 121 ERA+ but only did it once. The Giants did it two years in a row! The 2005 White Sox had the best ERA+ at 125, but nowhere near that in ’04 or ’06. The 2007 Red Sox had an ERA+ of 123, but couldn’t quite match it the next year. The Giants broke 120 two years in a row! And, the best ERA of any other team, regardless of year belongs to the 2005 Cardinals (3.49) which was matched essentially matched by the Giants’ in 2009 and bested this last season.

By my simplistic methods, no Championship team in the last 10 years pitched as well as the 2010 Giants. (fun fact: in 2009, when the Yankees won, CC Sabathia posted an ERA+ of 137 and won 20 games…that same season Tim Lincecum crushed Sabathia with a 173 ERA+ and Matt Cain bested CC at 148…how many games did they win? 15 for Tim and 14 for Matt.)

The Giants are a true outlier in my model for a couple of reasons. 1) They didn’t make any significant additions to their staff in 2010…yes they added Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla, but it was mostly bullpen tweaks. Their big addition: Todd Wellemeyer (we all know how that ended up).

2) They did have a major contributor emerge over the course of the season in Madison Bumgarner (his 136 ERA+ was actually the best of any of the starters in ’10). That said, MadBum didn’t explode on to the scene they way Pavano did in 2003, or Lackey in 2002, or Garland in 2005 (this is actually a good thing, as I will explain later, but essentially he wasn’t extremely overworked as the 4th starter).

3) Like the Yankees the year before, the Giants break the mold a bit in that their ability to get to the postseason had more to do with their offense than pitching. It is in the regular that a good offense really shows up as significant predictor of success. The real important additions were Huff, Burrell, Posey, Torres, and Ross who allowed the Giants to scrape together enough runs to get four more wins. Once in the playoffs the Giants ridiculous pitching took over (which fits the BP model for playoff success to a T).


I said in yesterday’s post, the pattern for World Series Championships tends to be this: an average staff makes a couple of key additions, sees a few young arms emerge, and experiences a significant bump in production. This bump caries the team to the title, but it also has proven to be unsustainable. Many championship teams have seen a major drop off in pitching production in their title-defending season torpedoing their ability to repeat.

Most of this drop off has to do with injuries and fatigue and a lack of the same type of talent infusion the team experienced the season before. For example, the 2004 Red Sox saw a huge bump in production (13 pts of ERA+) with the additions of Curt Schilling, Bronson Arroyo, and Keith Foulke. They added more arms the next year in Matt Clement and David Wells, but neither provided the same bump. On top of that, the Sox lost Schilling for most of the year due to the injury (bloody sock) he suffered in the 2004 playoffs, Pedro Martinez to free agency, and saw the beginning of the end of Keith Foulke (who pulled a Robb Nen in sacrificing his shoulder for the sake of the WS).

For teams hoping to make the jump to the WS it would behoove them to add pitching. If they are lucky enough to pull it off, they then need to add even MORE pitching and hope their guys stay healthy and strong for another long season.


Based on these findings, I see a ton of red flags for the 2011 Giants. They have made no significant additions to their staff. Furthermore, Lincecum and Sanchez profile as the type of pitchers who might not rebound as well from their extended seasons. Tim Kawakami wrote a great article back in August about Lincecum’s astronomical pitch numbers, and it was clear to anyone watching (and confirmed here) that Sanchez ran out of gas at the end of THIS season, which doesn’t bode well for the next. The Giants’ staff seems poised for a classic post-World Series hangover drop in production.

Reasons for Hope

1) The Giants are clearly unique in their pitching superiority. No other team trying to repeat in the last 10 years has (a) been able to bring all the key players back and (b) had such a nasty staff. One of the things that made the Giants so good is their lack of a weak link (Zito is the obvious objection, but as a 5th starter he is unparalleled, both in quality and salary). Even if the Giants regress a bit as a staff they will still be better than a lot of the staffs that won WS in the last 10 years.

2) The Giants’ offense could potentially be a lot better over the course of the whole season this year. A full season of Posey/Ross/Sanchez, repeat performances by Burrell/Huff/Torres, a bounce back season from Sandoval, and the emergence of Brandon Belt could produce a better than league average offense for the first time since Bonds left. Improved offense and a regression on the mound could balance out to the same regular season results. Then the G-men will just have to hope for the magic in the postseason.

3) I have legitimate concerns about Sanchez, but I continue to marvel at Lincecum. Everything about him and how he’s been used to this point screams tommy john surgery in the near future. However, maybe he really is a freak. He is in great shape and has never had an arm injury, ever! Perhaps he’s just blessed in bizarre ways and 2011 will be business as usual.


We will have full prediction posts in March when the season is a lot closer, but here’s where I am at currently. I do think the Giants pitching will regress overall but not significantly (think an ERA+ of 112 and a K/9 of 7.5). As good as they were last year they did give 15 or so starts to Todd Wellemeyer and had some bullpen issues early (Romo and Affeldt struggled early and Affeldt never came close to his 2009 form…if he comes back healthy and strong that will provide another significant internal addition).

I also think the Giants will score a lot more runs this year with a nice season for Pablo, depth in place at the start of the season (not just at the end), and the jolt Belt will provide when he does his Posey imitation this summer.

That said, I see them running out of gas in the postseason. Several NL teams have followed “my plan” well this offseason. The Phillies are the obvious offenders, but watch out for the Brewers (big additions), the Reds (big emergence potential), and even the Cubs (especially if this is true), Marlins (addition and emergence), and Dodgers (addition and emergence). Also, don’t forget about the Rockies/Braves/Nationals who all improved in various ways over the offseason, plus they have some young players who should continue to mature. Also, the Cardinals still have a few good players.

All that to say, the NL is going to be TOUGH this year, which means the Giants probably need to improve on both sides of the ball. The problem: that just hasn’t happened with returning Champions in a long time.


Why Repeating is So Difficult, Pt. 2

This ended up being a lot longer than expected so we’re going to do a three parter. The premise of part 2: winning a world series is all about pitching. It takes a big jump in pitching production from the year before to win the championship and in the last ten years that jump has been unsustainable for reasons I will try to explain in part 3.

I recently reread Baseball Behind the Numbers by the Baseball Prospectus guys. Having just watched the Giants surprising postseason run I was eager to review the study where they unveil the factors that lead most directly to success in the postseason.

According to BP, the only four factors that have any kind of statistical significance (and it’s not that much statistically speaking) are: 1) strong starting pitching (and more specifically, power pitchers who can strike batters out and get swings and misses), 2) dominant relief pitching (especially from the closer), 3) defense that doesn’t make mistakes (doesn’t have to be great in terms of range but NO errors), 4) to a much lesser extent than the first three, power hitting (i.e. home runs).

Just based on that you can see why the Giants 2010 run makes a lot of sense. Their findings form the basis for the premise of this post and the importance of pitching:

Winning in the postseason, and thus the World Series, is, based on the stats, all about pitching. My observation is that over the last ten years the WS champions have seen a major addition or jump forward in their pitching talent, and then an inability to sustain that the next year. I am way more adept at reading statistical baseball analysis than performing it, so what follows is pretty elementary, but hopefully you will see my point.

Let’s look at the last 10 World Series Champions, how their pitching fared in the year before, the year of, and the year after their win, and their key staff additions (through trades, free agency, or a young talent emerging). I’ll be using K/9, ERA, ERA+ (note that an era+ score of 100 is league average), and WHIP data from BaseballReference.com.

2001 Arizona Diamondbacks

  • 2000 83-79 (3rd in NL West): 7.6 K/9, 4.35 ERA, 110 ERA +, 1.34 WHIP
  • 2001 92-70 (1st): 8.0, 3.87, 121 (11 pt increase), 1.24
  • 2002 98-64 (1st): 8.1, 3.92, 117 (4 pt drop), 1.23

The Diamondbacks had 2 key additions in 2001: a full season of Curt Schilling and Miguel Bautista. They also had some great subtractions (no Omar Daal). They actually had a better regular season in their repeat year, but got swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Cardinals. Thus begins the trend I hope to highlight here: it is very difficult to get the same production out of a pitching staff two post-seasons in a row. Especially staffs that are super top-heavy (It was Johnson and Schilling and then smoke and mirrors the rest of the way).

2002 Anaheim Angels

  • 2001 75-87 (3rd in AL West): 5.9 K/9, 4.20 ERA, 108 ERA+, 1.38 WHIP
  • 2002 (99-63 Wild Card): 6.2, 3.69, 120 (12 pt increase), 1.28
  • 2003 77-5 (3rd): 6.2, 4.28, 103 (17 pt drop!), 1.35

A classic case of key additions (Kevin Appier which sent Scott Schoenwies to the bullpen) and the emergence of young talent (John Lackey, K-Rod, Scot Shields) providing a huge, but unsustainable, bump in production. The 2002 Angels actually saw a bigger salary increase from 2001 to 2002 than the infamous 1997 Marlins team. As a result, they got better in a lot of areas, not just pitching. In 2004 they saw a similar bump when they added Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar and won the division before getting bounced from the playoffs in dramatic fashion by David Ortiz (I mean the Boston Red Sox).

2003 Florida Marlins

  • 2002 79-83 (4th in NL East): 6.8 K/9, 4.36 ERA, 93 ERA+, 1.43 WHIP
  • 2003 91-71 (Wild Card): 7.0, 4.04, 105 (12 pt increase), 1.35
  • 2004 83-79 (3rd): 7.0, 4.10, 101 (4 pt drop), 133

Looking at this makes me mad because it reinforces what a flukey team this was. They were obviously helped by the additions of Donrelle Willis, Matt Redmond, and Uegeth Urbina as well as getting full/emergent seasons from Carl Pavano and Josh Beckett. But they were essentially the same (fairly average) staff all three years with a small spike in performance in 2003. One caveat (and some foreshadowing) injuries really hurt them in 2004 as none of their 5 main starters pitched a full season.

2004 Boston Red Sox

  • 2003 95-67 (Wild Card): 7.0 K/9, 4.48 ERA, 104 ERA+, 1.36 WHIP
  • 2004 98-64 (Wild Card): 7.0, 4.18, 117 (13 pt increase), 1.29
  • 2005 95-67 (Wild Card): 6.0, 4.74, 96 (21 pt drop!), 1.39

The Red Sox were really good through this three-year window, yet they represent the best example so far of the cycle of major additions, big bump in production, followed by post-championship drop off. The 2004 team saw a huge jump because they added Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke. And the 2005 team suffered greatly the loss of Schilling (injury kept him out most of the season) and Pedro Martinez to the Mets. The 2005 additions of David Wells and Matt Clement weren’t enough to overcome the letdown. (The ERA numbers also show how hard it is to pitch in the Al East.)

2005 Chicago White Sox

  • 2004 83-79 (2nd in AL Central): 6.4 K/9, 4.91 ERA, 97 ERA+, 1.42 WHIP
  • 2005 99-63 (1st in AL Central): 6.3, 3.61, 125 (28 pt increase!), 1.25
  • 2006 90-72 (3rd): 6.3, 4.61, 103 (22 pt drop!), 1.36

The White Sox trump the ’04 Red Sox in my pitching cycle theory. The addition of Orlando Hernandez, healthy/full seasons from Freddy Garcia and Jose Contreras, and the emergence of Jon Garland and Bobby Jenks help partially account for this crazy spike in ERA+ followed by a tremendous drop. The interesting thing about the White Sox is how the K rate stayed the same, but the other numbers changed so dramatically. This probably shows that in ’05 they had an exceptional year defensively and got a bit lucky (if I had more time I’d look into some other numbers like BABIP). The 2005 Chicago White Sox: the poster-children for my pitching theory.

2006 St. Louis Cardinals

  • 2005 100-62 (1st in NL Central): 6.1 K/9, 3.49 ERA, 122 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP
  • 2006 83-78 (1st): 6.1, 4.54, 98 (24 pt drop!), 1.38
  • 2007 78-84 (3rd): 5.9, 4.65, 95 (3 pt drop), 1.41

If the ’05 White Sox are my well-behaved/front row students, then the ’06 Cardinals are my unruly/spit wad shooting/back row/trouble makers. Thanks for killing the drill guys. That said, keep in mind that the Cards had GREAT teams in 2004 and 2005 and that the ’06 team was basically the same core. Also, you do see a drop in the repeat year, mostly having to do with losing Chris Carpenter for the season (notice a big injury following a Championship has a lot to do with the depressed repeat season stats). However you slice it, this was a weird Championship team, period.

2007 Red Sox

  • 2006 86-76 (3rd in AL East): 6.7 K/9, 4.83 ERA, 99 ERA+, 1.44 WHIP
  • 2007 96-66 (1st): 7.2, 3.87, 123 (24 pt increase), 1.27
  • 2008 95-67 (Wild Card): 7.4, 4.01, 116 (7 pt drop), 1.33

The Red Sox stats show that they had the best chance of anyone to repeat in the last 10 years. They went to 7 games against the Rays in the 2008 ALCS and from their statistical steadiness that should be no surprise. The big additions in ’07 were the Japanese imports (Matsuzaka and Okajima), plus Becket had the best year of his career as he fully adjusted to life in the AL East. Papelbon also benefited from his first full season in the closer role. The Sox did add a full season of John Lester in ’08 which helped, but the big problem with repeating was Becket broke down as the season wore on and pitched with half a shoulder in playoffs. Again, the injury problems to key starters in the year after a WS win is a major reason why teams have struggled to repeat.

2008 Philadelphia Phillies

  • 2007 89-73 (1st in NL East): 6.5 K/9, 4.73 ERA, 97 ERA+, 1.45 WHIP
  • 2008 92-70 (1st): 6.7, 3.88, 113 (16 pt increase), 1.36
  • 2009 93-69 (1st): 7.1, 4.16, 101 (12 pt drop), 1.35

Record wise, the Phillies have gotten better each of the last 4 years (including 2010). And they seem to be the team that takes my theory “most seriously,” having added Cliff Lee in 2009 to try to repeat, Roy Halladay/Oswalt in 2010 to get back on top, and Cliff Lee again this offseason. Hats off for improving the most important part of the team four years running.

The 2008 championship team featured the key addition of Brad Lidge (who had the year of his life posting a 226 ERA+) which allowed them to put Brett Myers back in the rotation. 2008 also saw the emergence of Cole Hamels (ERA+ of 142). However, despite the addition of Lee in ’09, Lidge had a major setback that year posting an abysmal ERA+ of 59, and Hamels struggled with mental and physical issues all year (ERA+ of 97). Bullpen struggles have really hampered them the last two seasons.

2009 New York Yankees

  • 2008 89-73 (3rd in AL East): 7.1 K/9, 4.28 ERA, 104 ERA+, 1.36 WHIP
  • 2009 103-59 (1st): 7.8, 4.26, 108 (4 pt increase), 1.35
  • 2010 95-67 (Wild Card): 7.2, 4.06, 106 (2 pt drop), 1.31

The Yankees are an interesting case. First, it’s clear that their success is more closely tied to offense than any team in the last 10 years. Despite some significant additions over the last three years, they have had essentially the same staff production each season. Each staff had one guy who had a great year (Mike Mussina in 2008…look it up, it was legit…and then CC Sabathia in ’09 and ‘10), one other guy who stepped up as a legitimate number 2 (Andy Pettitte in ’08, AJ Burnett in ’09, Phil Hughes in ‘10). The big difference in 2009 was Pettitte offered a solid third option, which they sorely lacked in 2008 and 2010. 2010 had a lot to do with injuries, per usual, with Pettitte/Javier Vasquez/Burnett all missing time or lacking effectiveness due to being hurt.

That’s it for part 2. Sorry for the length! Tomorrow we’ll wrap it up by looking at the 2010 Giants, drawing some conclusions, and deciding if this spells doom or not for 2011 Giants.


ESPN’s Bonehead Move

I commute 45 minutes to work every single day.  Frickin’ lame! I pass the time by listening to one of two media sources: sports radio and stand up comedians. While I would love to break down the inner workings of a Ralphie May monologue, I really want to talk about the greatness of sports radio and how I long for the nuggets of KNBR.

Sometimes, I flip on the 680 station in the hopes that satellites will get awesome and broadcast KNBR all the way to Virginia.  Until some genius accomplishes that, I listen to the local ESPN stations.

I live for a good sports discussion. My favorite sports radio personalities are two guys that call themselves the sports reporters.  I don’t like them because they offer the best insights on sports, or because they have great on air chemistry (which they do), or even because they constantly rip on Peter King.  I enjoy their presence in my ear drums because of their passion for their teams.  And its ridiculous passion for some awful teams.

There is something about the way a “journalist” breaks down the 4th play of the 7th drive where Albert Haynesworth came off the line quickly and pulled off a double reverse spin move, completely missed a tackle, yet showed true potential and the Skins should keep him.  You don’t get that kind of analysis in California.  KNBR analysis consists of Gary Radnich talking about Jessica Simpson dating Eric Johnson how that could affect Tony Romo’s pass delivery.  Brilliant.  Actually both are brilliant.  Just worlds apart from each other.

So how does this tie back into the Giants and who the crap cares about two sports reporters breaking down the moves of a washed up defensive linemen?  Well first off, I care, and secondly they often will break out into great discussions about broadcasters.

Recently, they started talking about the greatness of Jon Miller.  Jon Miller is one of my icons.  He can somehow describe the action in a way that actually makes me smell the sod in the stadium or actually see the chalk from the rosin bag when he describes a pitcher.

The sports reporters were breaking down the recent firing of Jon Miller from ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.  This saddens me to great lengths but it is always good to hear it from other people.  Jon Miller is my link to SF Giants baseball.  The Giants are rarely on TV Sunday nights, but Jon is always on.  He makes me miss listening to him on the radio back in Cali.  Strangely enough, he also makes me miss my family.  I used to love watching ball games with my mom and sisters and the announcers are a big part of that experience.

I know it sounds stupid and ridiculous, but ESPN’s move to get rid of Miller really pisses me off.  The sports reporters called it an epic mistake and I couldn’t agree more.  Joe Morgan, who has also been fired, was the weak link in the Morgan/Miller team.  The reporters said they were throwing the baby out with the bath water.  I couldn’t agree more.


Why Repeating is So Difficult

In the fall of 2001 I was starting my last year of undergrad, working as an RA, trying to figure out what to do with my life, and using Barry Bonds’ chase of the home run record as a diversion from the reality that was staring me straight in the face.

I have always loved baseball, but at that stage of life I had become a part-time baseball fan. The main reason for this: The Yankees and The Braves. I loved the game, loved the Giants, had started dabbling in some unsophisticated fantasy games, but loathed/detested/hated the post-season. I hated NBC and Bob Costas and Joe Morgan, and then I hated FOX and Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. I hated the fact that Giants only sniffed the playoffs and when they got there bowed out quickly and often in very lame ways. Mostly, I hated the inevitability of the Yankees, and to a lesser extent the Braves. I hated Paul O’Neil and Chipper Jones and that my boyhood hero, Roger Clemens, was in pinstripes. I hated that a team could win 116 regular season games and then fold like a house of cards in the face of the “indomitable” Yankees. And I hated the Braves and the complaining about how they had “only” won one Series despite winning the division every year, because I would have given an arm for “only” one WS trophy. The post-season sucked.

And the Yankees made the World Series again in 2001 and it was this big stupid patriotic thing because of 9/11 and everyone just knew the Yankees would win because New York needed them to. It all seemed wrong…America’s game had been taken over by a corporation, the evil empire, and it was awful. I railed against the system, called for a salary cap, decried the injustice.

And then a funny thing happened: The Diamondbacks won the World Series. The Diamondbacks. They hadn’t even existed five years before this! Then, in 2002 the Yankees lost to the Angels in the FIRST ROUND OF THE PLAYOFFS…the Angels. Then in 2003, the Yankees made it back to the WS and lost to the Marlins…the Marlins? And then, in the kicker of all kickers, in 2004, after having acquired Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees collapsed in the most dramatic and amazing way possible to the Boston Red Sox…the Boston freakin’ Red Sox.

Then the floodgates of weirdness opened up. The White Sox won in 2005 for the first time in a hundred years. The Cardinals won in 2006 after winning only 83 games. The Red Sox won AGAIN in 2007 (hell really had frozen over). The Phillies won in 2008 after spending 30 years as one of the worst franchises in baseball (and the Yankees didn’t even make the playoffs that year!). The Yankees did win in 2009 after spending big, but it didn’t have the same inevitable feeling as the late 90’s teams. And then, miracle of all miracles, the Giants won the World Series this year. (Let me just say that again…the Giants won the World Series this year!!!!!!!)

Since the Yankees late 90’s dynasty no one has repeated as WS champion and only one franchise (the Red Sox) has won 2 and they did it with two pretty different teams.

Meanwhile, people still rail against the injustice of baseball’s structure (even though, over the same 10 year window, the NFL has had 2 teams win half the championships, and the NBA has seen 2 teams win 7 of the championships).

In many ways, the NFL and NBA do have more “fair” economic structures, but it hasn’t produced the same kind of parity at the championship level that baseball has. Why is this?

Much has been said on this subject, but I want to explore my own “pet” theories, so here is part one of a two parter on why it is so hard to repeat as champions in MLB.

Part One: The Big Picture

1) In the early 2000’s MLB created a new collective bargaining agreement that has allowed for revenue sharing and a luxury tax. Far from the “harder” cap system of the NFL it has allowed for small market teams to enjoy a larger revenue stream and has helped curb, to an extent, the spending of the big market franchises.

It’s not a perfect system and I can go on and on about some of the details in the deal, but the bottom line is this: in each major league season there are AT LEAST 10 teams (more like 10-12) that can realistically win the the World Series (I would argue that pre-wild card, there were closer to 5-6).

So, can the Pittsburgh Pirates hope to win the World Series year in and year out? No. But can they (or the Kansas City Royals, or the Oakland A’s, or the Tampa Bay Rays, or the Minnesota Twins, etc) work and exploit the system and be competitive for windows of time? YES!

Some teams (The Yankees, the Red Sox, the Phillies) can spend their way into contention every season. That is inevitable under the current system. However, large market teams do find ways to screw this up all the time (see the Mets, the Dodgers, the Cubs, even the Angels this past year).

The point is there are 10-12 good teams every year, and it is harder and harder to have one supremely dominant team (the Red Sox are going to challenge this notion this year), which means that the 8 that get in to the playoffs are all capable of making a run.

Look at some of the teams that didn’t make it this year: the Cardinals, Rockies, White Sox, and Red Sox. Were the 2010 Giants CLEARLY superior to those teams? Not really. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine one of those teams making it in on the last day of the season and enjoying a Giants-like ride through the playoffs (each team had better line-ups than the Giants and strong starting pitching)…

2) Which brings me to the fickle nature of the playoff system: The Giants have been on the brutal end of this before, but with 8 closely matched teams in 3 short series, statistically speaking, anything can happen. Jose Cruz, in the middle of a Gold Glove season, can drop an easy flyball in soul crushing fashion, or Ian Kinsler can hit a ball off the top of the wall that comes back into fair play. Weird stuff happens and sometimes it screws you over and sometimes it leads to a parade down Market Street.

3) The rise of market-exploiting, statistically minded, smart executives has helped close the gap between rich and poor teams. Mostly this has meant the recognition of the importance of using young, cheap players who offer similar production value to older, more expensive options. Nothing new in this statement, but it has helped create the effect I described in point number 1. When it gets to playoff time, there are a lot of good, evenly matched, teams in the playoffs. And even if all 8 teams aren’t good, the series’ are short enough that mediocre teams can have everything work right at just the right time (see the 2006 Cardinals). The worst team in baseball can beat the best team in baseball in a short series even one out of ten times.

I do not think that it is impossible for a team to repeat under the current conditions. I also think that if the right pieces fall together a shrewdly managed club with deeper resources could put together a good multiple championship run (the Phillies and Red Sox are the closest to this right now).

However, the current economic structure of MLB, though still unfair, has actually created some of the greatest parity the game has ever seen, making repeat championships an impossible (to this point) feat.

Tomorrow we look more specifically at the role pitching plays in repeating as champions.


Windows of Opportunity?

There is much debate over the validity of “windows of opportunity” for major league franchises. Yankees fans will point out that their window is always open, and fans of, say, the Pittsburgh Pirates, will roll their eyes as they’ve heard rumors of this proverbial window for two decades now but have yet to see anything like it.

That being said, there seems to be some validity to the fact that teams build towards something. My hometown Giants have been building a post-Bonds franchise around pitching and defense, suspecting their window to be 2010-2012 (an era where their young pitchers would mature and where some homegrown position players would emerge). They just happened to strike gold in the first year of that window. Even here in Boston, GM Theo Epstein controversially labeled 2010 a “bridge year” indicating that while the team could be competitive (and they likely could have won the division this year if healthy) they were really working towards making a splash and big push for 2011 and beyond (and boy was that the understatement of the decade).

So now we come to the hand-wringing over the Zack Greinke-to-the-Brewers trade. For some reason I know a lot of people from Missouri who grew up rooting for the Royals and they, to a person, seem to see this trade as “classic Royals.” “Just when we get a good, homegrown player who has had some success and who we like, the team trades them or lets them go in free agency claiming some future payoff down the road.” They will then cite the all-star team of players who were prospects with the Royals but played their prime years elsewhere: Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Beltran, etc, etc.

There is also hand-wringing in Milwaukee, where some see this move as another overpay for a small window of opportunity (i.e. trading several prospects to Cleveland for three months of CC Sabathia in 2008 when they made the playoffs but got swept out of the first round). The window, they argue, is only for one year, and when Prince Fielder leaves after the 2011 season, others (Greinke, Marcum, Weeks) will soon follow leaving a few good players (Gallardo and Braun) with no prospects left to fill in the blanks. It’ll be ugly!

I would argue, though, that this is exactly the trade both teams should be making given where they are at in their “window” cycle. It is, quite possibly, the most perfect baseball trade in recent memory. This is not a small market team dumping a soon to be expensive player in the laps of a perennial powerhouse with resources to absorb the financial hit. Nor is it a mid-market team trying to make a foolish off-season splash to generate interest among its fan base. It is EXACTLY the kind of move each team should be making right now.

There are other articles out there on the interweb that explain each team’s situation better than I will here, but consider this while I build to the point I want to make about the Giants.

1) Milwaukee: There is a very good chance that they lose Fielder at the end of the year. I get that. However, even if they do they still will have three guys in their rotation who are beasts (Greinke, Marcum, Gallardo). They also will still have a middle of the order force in Ryan Braun. If 2011 even goes remotely to plan and they can get in the playoffs, the revenue bump should make keeping Greinke/Weeks/Marcum a whole lot easier especially if they DON’T go all in on Fielder (just think of the cheap and decent 1B options out there right now and it’s easy to see how they could deal with his loss). As Ken Rosenthal points out, the Brewers have every small and mid-market teams dream: a core of under 30 pitchers and position players together for a 1-2 season run at glory (possibly longer if they play this right). This is the window that every team in their situation is working towards and they should be commended for going for it even if 2013 could be awful.

2) Kansas City: Despite the track record, the Royals are actually doing things the right way behind the scenes. Drayton Moore has been building a farm system that is now the envy of baseball. Just as the Rays did from 2008-2010 and the Twins have done for years, the Royals are about enter into a phase starting in 2012 where they will roll out excellent young players at almost every position (and throughout the starting rotation). Nothing, obviously, is guaranteed, and my cynical KC friends will tell you that the Royals will figure out a way to mess this up, but they just added four pretty good guys to a mix that could flip the power structure of the AL Central around over the course of the next five seasons. This is exactly the kind of move the Royals should be making [note: some will point out that the Royals could have received better players from other teams who were interested, but it seems that Greinke would not have been a fit with those teams, either because of wariness on the part of other other team (Yankees), or Zack not wanting to go there (Blue Jays, Nationals)].

What does this have to do with the Giants? This is all about a team accurately assessing where it is at in its competitive window and being able to make shrewd moves given the current market situation. My argument is not that this was a good or bad trade vis a vis the players involved, but that it is the PERFECT type of trade given where each team is at in its window.

In my last post I debated whether the Giants have done enough this off-season. My conclusion (given the market and what was available to them in resources) is: yes. That being said, since they are right in the middle of their window of opportunity there is some logic to leveraging their situation and getting even better. I just don’t know that there has been as perfect a situation for the Giants as the one the Royals and Brewers just took advantage of.


Why the Cliff Lee Decision is Good for the Yankees

it seems like the prevailing theory on cliff lee’s decision to join the phillies is that the yankees are screwed. you will hear all kinds of rumors about this player and that player being yankee targets (grienke and chris carpenter are two hot ones right now), and they will undoubtedly do SOMETHING before the season opens. but there is no way they can compete with the red sox and the phillies now right?

the immediate/gut-level reaction is: yes. at the very least, there is revelry over the fact that for once new york didn’t just open the checkbook and get their guy (which makes texeira look like even more of a bottom-line scum bag now).

we will see how this all plays out but i actually think this could be good for the yankees long term. i’ll admit, there was a secret part of me that hoped the yankees would sign lee and then be stuck with a bunch of old guys getting paid 20 million dollars a year for the next several years.

don’t get me wrong, i think lee is great. he was the cornerstone of my pitching staff in my most important fantasy league last year. he just struck out 185 guys and walked 18 during a season in which he missed over a month with an injury (that is an otherworldly k/bb ratio of 10.28). he’s been ridiculous in the post-season. he is a really, really good pitcher and is everything i wish barry zito would be/become.

but here’s my other line of thinking on lee. he was in the MINOR LEAGUES at the end of 2007 because he was really, really bad. he will be 33 before the 2011 season is over. he will be 38 when the contract runs out. he does not throw hard and relies on some of the best (freakish) control you will ever see. the giants exposed how hittable lee can be when he doesn’t hit his spots (see game one of the 2010 WS and edgar renteria, 2010 WS MVP). he also strained an abdomen in spring training last year and missed all of april, then tweaked his back in august and struggled up until the post-season.

lee is still nasty and likely has two great seasons left in him, but the decline will come soon, if it hasn’t started already, and it will not be pretty, especially in that ballpark. the phillies were right to go after halladay last year (similar age, but the kind of pitcher who will get old in a more pleasing way, plus he’s cheaper).

to top it all off, how much better does lee actually make a team that has 3 excellent starters? (this brings up the question of value, value added, and allocation of resources. not something i’ll explore in this post, but it is an interesting question.)

bottom line, as a giants fan i am very scared of the phillies now. but, this is a team that is getting older, doesn’t have jason werth (or any right-handed presence), and is going to continue spending on aging stars for some time now. they will be a beast in 2011, but after that it could get interesting (rollins, for example, might be following werth out-of-town next year).

all of which brings me back to the yankees. anyone with a brain who read moneyball in 2004 had to wonder how long it would take for the rest of baseball to catch up with the billy beanes of the world. well, that has happened in the last few years, with the yankees, of all people, teetering on the brink of being a full on moneyball team (at least in the sense of valuing young players…especially since brian cashman took over more of the baseball ops circa 2006). no one doubts their ability to spend, but the question has always lurked: what if the yankees were forced to be shrewd and still had all their financial resources available to them?

the 2011 yankees as presently constructed are still extremely talented but also something of a mess. there are about 10 other rotations in major league baseball i would take over the yankees right now. they are not deep in the bullpen or the bench. the core is getting older especially the left side of the infield.

i hoped they would sign cliff lee because that would have been business as usual and helped gloss over some of the cracks showing in the walls of the house that jeter built. now, though, anything is possible. it will be fascinating to see if the yankees panic, or if they (and i mean cashman who should be empowered by this rather than the opposite) take this as an opportunity to get creative.

i don’t know what the answer is or what they should do (sherman has some ideas, as does sheehan) but i have been fearing a moment like this: one where the yankees can no longer simply write a big fat check and band aid over whatever ails them and instead have to get smart. what if the yankees become efficient on top of being rich as a result of losing cliff lee to the phillies?

that could be a problem.


Giants Dynasty?

ok, ok i’m a giants fan, so this is homer-positivity all the way, i’ll admit that upfront. but hear me out…the Giants are in the beginning of a national league dynasty.

two disclaimers to begin with:

1) i DO NOT think the giants will repeat in 2011. it is really hard to do, and in fact has proven to be impossible under the last two collective bargaining agreements (in place since 2002). the yankees haven’t done it, the red sox have won twice in that time frame but with two different teams, and the phillies went to the WS in back to back years but could not pull it off. playoff teams under the current CBA’s are evenly matched, meaning luck has a lot to do with it, and as much as i loved and appreciated the run of the 2010 giants (only WS champion in my life time and, for that matter, in my dad’s lifetime) they benefited from a good deal of amazing fortune (thank you cody ross, edgar renteria, brooks conrad, and the center field wall at AT&T, among other things, for that). all that to say any number of things could go incredibly wrong and mess it all up, which makes repeating very difficult, in fact impossible.

2) the competition is going to be good this year: the phillies just got scarier, the red sox have added a few good players, the rockies are locking up their young core, the white sox are quietly nasty, the reds could be even better this year, the cards can hit and pitch, don’t forget about the yankees (still pretty good) and it goes on and on. the giants are the same team essentially, and miguel tejada doesn’t exactly get the blood flowing.

with that in mind though, i do think the Giants have begun a golden era that could harken memories of the Atlanta Braves 1995-2005 run (or the yankees for that matter). let me explain:

1) the baseball powers of the day will be great in 2011 and 2012 but could enter into a down window after that:

i’ll post some red sox thoughts soon but maybe the best thing they’ve done is replace beltre/martinez with better (slightly) AND younger players. that’s key (the price to do was pretty steep however). on the other hand their rotation is getting old fast and it is my opinion that the last couple of years of the crawford deal will be painful (AGon, i think will age well).

same can be said for the phillies…as nasty as they will be in 2011, their guys are getting older and the game today, especially in regards to pitching, is more and more a young man’s game. they have a ton of cash tied in to three guys who will be in their mid 30’s, plus the lineup is aging fast (and showing it in injuries, a big reason i think the giants got past them in the NLCS)…it’s not hard to imagine philly trying to dump a lot of expensive old guys with big names after the 2012 season.

the yankees, as presently constructed, are in worse shape than anyone. they will be good in 2011 and certainly competitive every year after that, but again, tons of money invested in old and declining players means they will be vulnerable (see the 2010 NY Mets or the 2008 Yankees).

conclusion: the next two years are going to be ultra competitive and then a huge window will open up in which the big players will vulnerable. look for teams like the reds, royals, rays, and a’s to start thinking very strategically about the 2013-2014 window, the stars may be aligning for them during that time.

and it will be an opportunity for the Giants…

2) I will break down the Giants’ off-season and future outlook more in upcoming posts, but consider this…by the end of the 2011 season the Giants’ could have a lineup that feature a young, homegrown core of Posey C, Sandoval 3B, and Belt 1B to go along with the arms they already have.

a lot will have to break right for the following scenario to occur, but in 2013 the Giant’s will NOT have Rowand and probably not have Zito (any chance the Giants ship him to the Yankees now), and could have a completely homegrown lineup AND rotation:

CF Brown

RF Ford/Peguero

1B Belt

C Posey

3B Sandoval

LF Neal

2B Culberson

SS Crawford/Adrianza

1) Lincecum

2) Cain

3) Bumgartner

4) Wheeler

5) Runzler

and a bullpen built around Wilson, Romo, Sosa, at al.

conclusion: for that to happen a whole lot will have to go right. naturally, i don’t realistically think this will/could happen. but the giants are entering a window where they, like the vintage braves, could keep integrating a few young players each season around their core of great pitching providing the ground work for a consistent winner for the foreseeable future. a remarkable change events for giants fans. likely? we’ll see.