The Kids Deserve Better than Brian Sabean

September 19, 2009 at 4:25 pm | Posted in Giants | 4 Comments
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Chronicle writer Henry Schulman says prospects look good for a re-sign of GM Brian Sabean. If Sabean is re-signed, he will waste the grand opportunity presented by the young stable of arms, just as he wasted the prime years of the greatest hitter in baseball history.

Ten years from now, historians will look back on Sabean’s tenure and scratch their heads at the fact that he couldn’t win a championship with Barry Bonds, even in the year the man hit 74 homeruns in a pitcher’s park. With a player like that, you have to go for championships, then re-tool and save money after he’s gone. The Giants kept the payroll steady throughout, and blowing their chance to pair Bonds and Vladimir Guerrero is only the most popular example of missed opportunity. Sabean brought Jeff Kent to the Giants, but since then his  moves have been not only awful, but bizarre and illogical. Of course hindsight is 20/20 and injuries can curtail even the smartest baseball moves. But Sabean’s moves lead to head scratching even if you leave out the abysmal returns on investment that have actually occured.

Bill Neukom: do not repeat history! Find someone with the brains and boldness to give the greatest pitching staff in baseball what they need to win. And if Sabean and the businessmen around you have clouded your memory, here’s a run-down of Sabean’s latest gaffes:

Barry Zito, 2009 Salary:18.5 Million

Zito’s record the four years prior to coming to the Giants: 14-12, 11-11, 14-13, 16-10. For a winning team, the A’s, that hit.  Sabean analyzed these medoicre stats and awarded him the highest contract, ever. If you look at the numbers, Zito has performed about as good as one could expect: mediocre. Head. Scratch.

Randy Winn, 2009 Salary: 9.6 Million

Randy Winn came over near the end of 2005 and batted .359 overall with 14 homers and 26 RBIs in only 58 games. Apparently this short tryout in meaningless fall games had a profound effect on Sabean’s evaluation:

“I thought the ballclub was really energized and had a different look when we acquired him,” said Giants general manager Brian Sabean. “To get a switch-hitter [who is] a leadoff hitter with a lot of dimensions — power, speed — [and] the ability to play the outfield as he does is really a godsend to the organization. [article]

Unfortunately, what Sabean neglected to mention, or perhaps even analyze, was that Winn’s  .680 slugging percentage during the short stretch was over 200 points higher than his best full season of .461, and 250 points higher than his second best. And Winn was no up and coming player: Sabean had seven years of evidence to look at. Instead, he based Winn’s salary on a late-season hot streak.

As a leadoff man, Winn is serviceable, with a decent but still mediocre .345 career on-base percentage. Of course the Giants don’t use him there, instead inserting him in the middle of the order where his .419 career slugging percentage make him one of the least productive players in the baseball  (As of today, he ranks 41st out of 45 right fielders in slugging percentage). Head. Scratch.

Dave Roberts, 2009 Salary:: 6.5 Millon

Yes, Dave is still on the payroll, big-time. This time Sabean was fooled by  a 2005 world series stolen base followed by a career year in San Diego, where Roberts had career highs of a .293 average and .363 on-base percentage. But let’s give Sabean a break and venture back to 2006: go as with Winn, Sabean might have been a servicable lead-off man and center fielder, and though he was older, one wouldn’t have expected the injuries that did occur. So, O.K., but then you take into account that Sabean has just spent 9+ million a year on another powerless outfielder, Winn, and Barry Bonds is near retirement. This is where the head-scratching begins: How do you possibly decide you need to overspend on a second powerless outfielder with little up-side?

Aaron Rowand, 2009 Salary, 9.6 Million.

This time Sabean is fooled by Rowand’s career year with Philadelphia in 2007, a year in which he had 27 homers, 89 RBIs and a .309 batting average. He ignores the fact that Rowand’s previous three years had produced: 24 homers  and 69 RBI, 13 homers  and 69 RBI, and 12 homers  and 47 RBI, respectively. Note that Rowand attained these less than Ruthian numbers  while playing in hitter’s parks and averaging over 500 at-bats a year.

The RBI totals are especially disconcerting, given the players he was batting behind. If Sabean had cared to look, Baseball Prospectus would have shown tha in 2007, his best year by far, Rowand batted in just 12.4% of the runners who were on base, good for 11th on the Phillies. One slot behind the great Wes Helms.

Here’s what a huge Phillie and Rowand fan said about the Giant’s signing of Rowand:

Despite all the stats mentioned above about Rowand’s fantastic 2007, I personally think that the Giants grossly overpaid for a career .286 hitter who is on the wrong side of 30 years old.

Here’s what a Phillie fan said about Rowand’s gold glove:

J-Roll’s award is long overdue, but I think Rowand’s is a joke. He’s a solid outfielder, but not a gold glover. Heck, our best CF plays RF. I know he only had 2 errors, but how many times have you seen him take poor routes to balls or flat out misplaying them; they don’t count as errors.

Now I apologize for using quotes from random bloggers, but anyone who has watched as the slow-footed Rowand manned centerfield flanked by the fleeter-footed Winn, Torres, Schierholz, and even Velez know exactly what this dude is saying.

Go back even further, and you read this from a Whitesox fan arguing with another who thought Rowand should have won the Gold Glove:

Instead of trying to change his appearance to get a gold glove, I suggest aaron Rowand stop taking diving swings at sliders low and away.

Apparently our friends from the South Side see things a bit clearer than Brian Sabean.

Like with Zito and Winn, the return on investment for Rowand has met expectations: his 13 and 70 last year and his 15 and 62 this year are exactly what a statistician would predict based on the past, and probably higher given the dimensions of AT&T.

Edgar Renteria: 2009 Salary, 9 Million

Though he had slipped to .270 with 10 homers last year, Edgar hit .330 with 12 homers in 2007, so its reasonable that Sabean would have expected more this year, maybe .290 with double-digits in homers. Worth 9 million? Not in the buyer’s market that existed, especially given that he has clearly lost a least one step and maybe two.

But what really makes the Renteria move a head scratcher, in terms of analyzing Sabean’s decision-making process, is that it was made at a time when he should have been despartely searching for a power hitter or two. If you’re the Cardinals and need to get over the hump by upgrading at shortstop. Renteria for 9 million is an overpay, but its not unreasonable. But if you’re the Giants, and you hit 94 homers the previous year, 17 less than the second-worst team in the majors, signing Edgar Renteria for $9 million is plain crazy.

And for Renteria-money look who was available: Adam Dunn who had hit 40 homers for, ummm, five straight years, and Raul Ibanez, who’s averaged 24 over the past four? Head. Scratch.

Giants owner Bill Neukom needs to get away from Larry Baer and the other suits and find some baseball people to talk to. Take a look at the decisions that Sabean has made, and realize they’ve turned out poorly, not because of bad luck but because they were illogical at the time they were made. Fire Sabean, and keep your scouts.

Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathon Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner are awaiting your decision.


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