Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Thoughts on What Went Wrong: What Now?

Before delving into what the Giants need to do to fix the first half collapse, let's quickly review the causes we identified in previous posts.  I will try to assign percentage fault to the different identified causes, although you have to understand this is completely subjective and entirely my opinion:

1.  Bad BABIP Luck- 50%.  This is data based.  Quick review:  Giants BABIP of .279 is .021 below historic norms.  Opponents BABIP of .320 is .020 above historic norms.  Total swing of BABIP luck= -.041.  That is huge and probably accounts for at least half of the Giants underperformance in the first half.

2.  Relative Lack of Power- 30%.  I say relative because the Giants HR rate is approximately equal to 2014 when they won the championship.  What's changed is opponents hit about the same number as the Giants in 2014, allowing the Giants to win with defense and putting balls in play.  In 2017, opponents have hit 50% more dingers than the Giants.  This is probably due more to a league wide trend of increase HR's than to bad pitching by the Giants.  The game change dramatically over the last 2 seasons and the Giants stayed the same.

3.  Relative Lack of Homegrown Talent- 10%.  Again I say relative because the Giants have done a good job of bringing talent they drafted and developed to the majors.  The problem is during the same time, the rest of MLB has seen an almost unprecedented influx of young talent.

4.  Bad Chemistry-10%.  It is almost impossible to even define Bad Chemistry let alone quantify it.  It likely impacts performance but what comes first, bad chemistry or poor performance? It tends to be a feedback loop.  We've seen it in the last 6 games.  The players realized they don't have a chance to win this year so started playing for fun.  They won a few games and the players started running a bit harder and diving a bit farther on defense.  The improved defense inspired the pitchers to be more aggressive in attacking the strike zone, etc.

So, let's see what we need to do to fix these issues dragging the Giants down.  We will look at immediate, short and long term for each category.

1.  BABIP Luck- Fortunately or unfortunately there is nothing anyone can do immediately, short term or long term about BABIP luck. That's why it's called luck!  Teams can and do avoid bad BABIP luck be drawing more walks and hitting more HR' and accepting more K's.  As long as the Giants play in AT&T Park, which severely suppresses HR's, they will need to be a contact oriented club which is susceptible to the whims of BABIP.  Solution:  Patience.

2.  Relative Lack of Power- The Giants are never going to be a three true outcomes team, but they do need to better keep up with the league-wide spike in power.  Finding power at 3B and corner OF needs to be an immediate, short and long term priority.

The Giants may have already have power upgrades at 3B and LF in Jae-Gyun Hwang and Austin Slater.  The immediate solution is to play those guys and find out if they are the long term answers.  Short term, they also have Ryder Jones who they can test at 3B and Chris Shaw and Mac Williamson who they can test in LF, but for now they need to play Slater and Hwang until they prove they are not the long term answers.  Hunter Pence is playing better and is an immediate solution in RF.  He is nearing the end of his Giants career, though, and they will need to find a replacement for the longer term.  Mac Williamson can play RF or Slater could move over to RF and Shaw could play LF.

Even longer term, it appears the Giants have already made subtle changes in their drafting philosophy leaning a bit more toward power when they made Bryan Reynolds, Heath Quinn, Heliot Ramos and Jacob Gonzalez their 4 highest draft picks of the past two drafts.

3.  Relative Lack of Homegrown Talent-  While it may be too little to late, the Giants did draft more for ceiling and upside in this draft with Ramos, Gonzalez and Corry, all HS players with upside as their top 3 picks.  They need to do a better job of scouting, signing and developing international talent.  It looks to me like the Giants do better with 6 digit international bonus players than with 7 digit ones.  That may be due to bad luck in Gustavo Cabrera's case but in the cases of Angel Villalona, Rafael Rodriguez and Lucius Fox it appears to be more just bad scouting.  Hopefully they will get more competitive next year when they are out from under the $300 K individual cap and other teams are under a harder total cap.  They probably need to address a relative lack of organizational pitching talent as early as next year's draft.

The Giants can also look to trades to bolster the farm system.  For the first time in recent memory, they are in a position to sell off veteran talent at the MLB level for younger players.  I am not going to propose any specific trades here but will list a few of the potential trade pieces in order of priority.  Remember, since the biggest factor in the collapse is bad BABIP luck, they do not want to do a complete teardown and 5-year rebuild, even if they could:

Eduardo Nunez- Free agent at the end of the season.  They have to trade him for what they can get.  Several contending teams could use a 3B who is versatile enough to fill in at other positions.  Should get a mid-level prospect or two in return.

Johnny Cueto- The Giants expect him to opt out of his contract at the end of the season and word is Johnny is still planning to do just that.  While the Giants would probably be not unhappy if he did not opt out, they cannot afford to just let him walk while getting nothing in return.  If he does opt out, I think the Giants can make a QO and get draft pick compensation but the new rules on that are murky and I don't know what kind of pick they would get.  The opt out may scare off some potential trade partners, but Cueto is still a pitcher with postseason experience who can help a contending team win a championship.  A recent MLBTR Q/A response had him fetching a top 100 prospect plus another mid-level in a deal.  If the Giants can get that, they have to pull the trigger.

Bullpen- George Kontos, Cory Gearrin and Hunter Strickland could all help a contending team in the bullpen and could fetch a mid-low level prospect in return.  In addition the Giants need to decide if Sam Dyson is more valuable to them next year or as a quick profit on a flip trade.

Denard Span- Span is playing well right now and his value may be at its peak.  He is signed through next season at a relatively inexpensive price, so they don't have to trade him unless the return is substantial.  Cubs are rumored to be interested.

Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt-  The Giant probably want to keep all 4 of these guys if they want to re-tool and compete in 2018 which Larry Baer has stated they definitely do.   Again, they don't have to trade them but should be open if impact talent is coming back.

4.  Bad Chemistry- Winning changes everything on the Chemistry front and I don't think they need to bring in guys like Gordon Beckham just for clubhouse chemistry, but all things being equal they probably should be looking for some players who are a bit more extroverted.

One more thought:  Looking ahead at the FA classes the next two year, there a quite a few good players on the lists, but the Big Kahuna is Bryce Harper after the 2018 season.  He has expressed his love of the city of San Francisco and admiration for the Giants organization.  While Harper will undoubtedly go to the highest bidder, intangibles like location and organization may be enough to tip the scale in a close bid.  Do the Giants keep their powder dry on the FA front and go all in for Harper?  I vote yes on that!  I won't hold my breath as that would be a sea change in Giants front office philosophy.


  1. Hopefully Nunez gets healthy enough to trade. Panik is an interesting name. I wouldn't want to trade him but he's bring some value. Could move Slater to 2nd, Belt to left and when Shaw is ready plug him in at first base. Give up some defense probably but increase the power. Shaw may be able to play left and keep Belt at first. I think it's going to be interesting.

  2. At the risk of a ton of bricks thrown at my old head, is Harper a good team mate? (Was Barry Bonds?)
    With arguably the best team in baseball since the 19-year old's arrival in 2012, they have only losses in 3 NLDS to show for it.
    Maybe it was Davey Johnson or Matt Williams or Dusty Baker?
    Yes, it was selfish (and so old school) for Strickland to plunk Harper, but how much maturity has more than 3000 plate appearances brought Harper? Wasn't charging the mound selfish also? How about a wink and a "I'll get you next time and you know I will"? Or, "I'll still be hitting HRs when you're selling cars, Hunter!"
    It's certainly intriguing, but another LHB to go with the Giants All-Star infield and Shaw and Duggar and Jones and Dobson plus longer shot Angomas?
    Perhaps that's a good problem, and it slots really well with Pence's contract.
    Giants have some BIG contracts down the road and Harper would be the biggest ever.
    BTW, Tyler Horan (bats left) was released late last month.