Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In Defense of Sabean

or: WTF is this guy smoking?

Hillary or Obama, Mitt or McCain, Patriots or Giants, buy or sell? It seems no one can agree on much of anything these days, except for one thing. Brian Sabean is universally regarded as an idiot. So, in the spirit of contrary thinking, I would like to present several reasons why Brian Sabean is not the world's worst baseball GM.

First, some good things Brian has done for the Giants (for those of you who can't think of any): Kent, Schmidt, Nen, Roberto Hernandez, Wilson Alvarez, Andres Galaraga, Randy Winn. These were all trades that went on to help the Giants, some of a patented end-of-season sort that provided a push to get the Giants into the playoffs sort. That we didn't win the world series as a result is hardly Sabean's fault. Then too: Mattheny, Zito, Matt Morris. Now some may take exception to adding Zito and Morris to a good things done list. But the fact is that Sabean went out and got the two best free agent pitchers two years in a row for the Giants. Some may argue that we overpaid, but that arguement can't really be validated until a contract is over, and in context with what comparable pitchers are being paid by the end of the contract. Remember how excited we (at least we at RMC) were at these acquisitions? Yes, we thought they were good things.

Now, to be fair: Joe Nathan. This was a horrible trade, and made worse by the fact that Pierzynsky was such an flaming asshole to compliment with his total suckiness as a player. But seriously, if Rob Nen had been able to come back, would we be whining about this now? No, it would have gone down in history as a poor trade, not a terrible one. And that brings us to last year. According to the Giants, Sabean chased Soriano, but came up empty. It seems like Aurilia and Durham were less than inspired signings, but they also underperformed what would be a reasonable expectation (although, to be fair, they would have had to overperform a reasonable expectation to make the Giants competitive).

Now, this year. Aaron Rowland. Have we overpaid? Perhaps not, if you review the contract values of free agents this year. Do we need more? Yes. Have we pissed away our best young pitchers for dubious, aging talent? No. Not yet, anway, in spite of everyone's expectation that this will happen any minute. This alone should get a few folks to lighten up on Sabean, except that, well, it won't.

And another thing, on personality. Would you really rather have a GM who tells everybody what he is going to do all the time? Doesn't seem like a very good strategy to me, sort of like Warren Buffett telling everyone what he will be buying and selling this year. Look at what Brian Sabean does, not what he says. The big moves, historically, have been largely un-heralded before they were made. There has been much discussion of whether Bonds' presence on the Giants in 2007 was the result of Sabean or ownership. We may never know the answer to this, but as a sage observer said back about 2006, "It's all about Barry."

Were I a GM, I think I would hire the best computer people I could find, and then make statements to the press about how I made these trades because the players were hard-nosed and scrappy. I would not refer to any stats other than era and batting average and wins when talking to the press. I would talk about how I need to look into a player's eyes to see his drive and desire, and I would use the phrase, "Knows how to win" a lot. I'm not saying that Brian Sabean is a genius, only that the Giants have been a pretty good team to watch for most of the last decade. I don't think the worst GM in the universe could have achieved that.


M.C. O'Connor said...

Mendocino, baby, or Maui-Wowie. Or maybe that skunky Oaxacan you brought back . . .

Seriously, while bashing the Mighty Sabes is a favorite sport here at RMC, the Zo-meister has a few good points. The Kent, Snow, Schmidt and LHernandez acquisitions were all big-time plusses, and helped us win. The World Series debacle was not Sabes' fault. Some of the cheesy pick-ups like Tucker may have been due to tightwad owners, not the GM.

BUT: Barry Bonds fooled us all in to believing the Giants had a quality "brain trust." He was SO GOOD that he lifted mediocre teams into the playoff hunt. Management deserves blame for failing to see that (they are supposed to be smarter than fans). In 2003, Sidney Ponson was the "answer" to our rotation weaknesses. Gag me!

The brain trust has no clue about how to evaluate offensive talent. The big FA signings were--or will be--duds (Alfonzo, Durham, Rowand), but looked good "on paper." Hire some fucking sabremetricians fer chrissakes. Or better yet, get out of the way and let new blood take over (Paul DePodesta, anyone?)

Consistenly we are told that glovework wins games (Snow, Feliz, Vizquel, Rowand). It won't. BATS and ARMS win games. Glovework should be the LAST piece. A GM in love with the glove is either a fool or behind the times. Neither is acceptable.

"Hard-nosed" ballplayers are a great sell, but TALENT wins. Is Manny Ramirez "hard-nosed?" Does it matter? Same for "veteran presence." My god, do we really have to buy that crap? Does he really believe it (slit wrists now) or just say it to shut up fans (fuck you, asshole)?

I was a Sabes Fan "back in the day." But as Barry aged, it became clear that the team had no post-BLB plan. That is a LEADERSHIP FAILURE. The team has lousy scouts, no real farm prospects, and no statistcal staff. That, too, is a LEADERSHIP FAILURE. Finally, GMs working with less (Oak, Min, Col, AZ) get more done. So our brain trust does not stack up to the their peers.

Final analysis? BRRRRAAAAAAAAP! (That's a raspberry.) I say hire DePodesta away from SD, and the sooner the better.

zo said...

One more thing - the Giants have been consistently built to WIN NOW throughout Barry's Giant career. Arguably, now that Barry's Giant career is over, in retrospect it doesn't seem like the best idea, and, they should have had a plan anyway. Apparently, the plan was to stockpile young pitchers and use them as currency. That may not be the best, most complete plan, but for an incomplete plan, it's as good as any other. I agree about leadership failure, but how do you know we have no statistical staff? I forgot about "veteran presence" and gloves winning baseball games. If I were a GM, I'd use those, too. Especially "veteran presence."

M.C. O'Connor said...

Yeah, stockpiling young arms is good. Neglecting the scouting staff is not. Signing washed up old farts is also bad. How do I know we have no statistical staff? AJP. No self-respecting stat nerd would have called AJP an all-star. If we had stat guys, we might have passed on that trade, since Yorvit and the rest could deliver nearly equal offense. Molina our MVP? Find me a stat nerd that bought that crap when BLB led the league in OPS. When we had Galarraga, he adding offense to our team. Sabes, hopelessly in love with JT's glove, refused to recognize his paltry offense was killing us. If we had a stat staff, we might have been spared that nonsense. I say MIGHT. It seems obvious to me that little or no real statistcal work is done evaluating players. That is unacceptable in the 21st century of baseball. We signed Rowand because he was available, not because he brings high value (either offense or defense). No markers exist anywhere that demonstrate his value as being significantly better than an average player. But our brilliant GM wants him anyway, because he's a "warrior." Pathetic.