Addition, Subtraction, and other fun activities

If there is one thing that General Managers Brian Sabean and Billy Beane have in common, it’s that both buck convention. Billy Beane does so with the flair of a virtuoso– he sees the ghost in the machine, the numbers within the numbers, like Hoffman’s idiot savant from Rainman, when the chips are down, he makes it rain (or so I’m told– I never could sit through that movie in its entirety).

Brian Sabean bucks convention the way a drunk captain of a cruise ship might. Thunderstorms ahead? Good. No need to change course. Should provide a nice switch from all that sun we’ve been having. Maybe tomorrow we’ll head south a bit. Slalom around some icebergs. That’ll be a real thrill for the kiddies, eh? Brian Sabean, you see, liked to draft pitchers. Can’t get enough of them. Even when the system is flush with pitchers, he’ll land you another pitcher. In fact top secret sources have revealed that the Giants’ draft board under his direction looked like this. But when it came to position players, he was a like a jittery teen encountering his first bra. By the end of the evening, there was disappointment and embarrassment from all parties involved. The conclusion was forgone. The Giants have drafted another pitcher.

This season, however, something happened. Maybe it was the hiring of Jim Barr. Maybe Sabean finally realized that he could no longer build an offense through free agent acquisitions. Whatever was the cause, the Giants selected four position players with their first four picks. And not only that, the picks were almost universally acclaimed by pundits and fans as shrewd. (This unprecedented occurrence naturally caused the majority of Giants fans to pinch themselves afterwards and then check their calenders to make sure that it was indeed June and not April 1st.) And shrewd it was. The Giants picked Buster Posey, who was considered by the Rays as a possibility for the first overall pick, Conor Gillaspie who could have gone in the first round, Roger Kieschnick, a toolsy OF who hadn’t quite lived up to his potential, and Brandon Crawford who was considered by some to be a first round pick before his pedestrian showing this season. Solid picks all. It appeared that after years of drafting ineptitude, Brian Sabean finally got it.

The big recent news (which I had missed due to Internet troubles) was the Giants’ signing of Conor Gillaspie. I personally regard Conor’s pick more so than Buster Posey’s as a step in the right direction. My thinking is this: 1. It is very hard to fuck up a number five pick overall. 2. It is very easy to fuck up a supplemental pick (for reference, see Jackson Williams). Of course it is way too early to label Conor a success, but it is not too early to label him a good pick. Conor is widely regarded to have an advanced bat, projected by most scouts to hit for average, but with only line drive power. Scouts also praise his work ethic and determination. He is often compared to the Giants’ own Bill Mueller.

In looking at a supplemental pick, it should be said that success is relative. If Conor turns into a player like Mueller, I would be ecstatic. If he turns into a player like Darin Erstad– that is, a below average player with a couple of good peak seasons– I would also be pleased. He played in his first pro game in the Arizona League yesterday, going 1 for 5. Ideally, he would show that he is too advanced for the league, finish the year at Salem-Keizer and start next year at San Jose.

Some scouting reports:

Baseball America

PG Crosschecker

Hard Ball Times

Other Notes

  • The Giants also signed 23rd round pick RHP Jason Jarvis. Jason was one of the more interesting names of the draft, as he had dropped out of college due to academics. He is an aggressive pitcher with low 90s heat with a change and curve in his repertoire. I would imagine that his make-up has severely impacted his draft status. Based on stuff alone, I think he would have gone in the first ten rounds. BA projects him as a reliever.
  • The Giants also recently released OF Jeremiah Luster who had been playing at Salem-Keizer. This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, I had high hopes for Jeremiah. He was a toolsy OF drafted out of high school in the later rounds– the kind of players I wish the giants would draft more often on the second day of the draft. The second interesting point about Luster is for you trivia buffs out there. If you remember, Adrianza Ehire was called up to Fresno from Arizona to fill in for a couple of games earlier this year. Last year, that man was Jeremiah Luster who was similarly called up to Fresno from Salem-Keizer to fill in for a couple of games. In 2006, the Fresno Grizzlies also needed a stopgap for a few games. That year, they called up Tayler (with an ‘e’) Creswell from Arizona. Tayler was released last month if you’ll recall. So for those of you who have high hopes for Ehire Adrianza or attach significance to his temporary call-up, history is unfortunately not on your side.
  • Edited to add: I was reading Andy Baggarly’s excellent blog and noticed some fans wringing their hands about the lack of draft signings. I’m not a Sabean supporter by any means, but if the picks indeed don’t sign, I won’t place all of the blame on Sabean. If there’s one thing the Zito deal has shown us, it’s that Sabean is not afraid to shell out the big bucks (unfortunately for us.) If Posey indeed wants nothing short of 10 million, I would seriously reconsider signing him. Two picks in the top ten next year would be quite a boon, especially since next year’s crop looks to be quite good in the early first round. However, I still think that all of this is for naught and the early picks will sign.

4 Responses to Addition, Subtraction, and other fun activities

  1. Ryan says:

    Good to see you back.

    However, I do think you are being quite unfair with Sabean here, as the drafting process includes more voices than the GM, and we don’t know how the internal discussions played out. Also, they have done quite well with the pitchers taken. Since it has been clear that rebuilding was the direction the team was going (and it appears that Magowan was the hold up with that, not Sabean, and it wasn’t Sabean shot to call), they have made the right moves–ultimately that is what counts. I do believe you know better than to fall into incautious and somewhat naive analysis, and many of the Sabean naysayers do just that. BTW, I wouldn’t call myself a Sabean supporter, and certainly have my share of complaints, but let us be fair, and not just a written form of the fools on the radio.

  2. Ryan says:

    oh. I should say that I do not mean to imply you are ‘a written form of the fools on the radio’. I meant the ‘us’ to refer to all of ‘us’ who speculate from the outside.

  3. James says:

    No offense taken at all Ryan. In fact I do cringe when I read the posters on sfgiants.com or on various newpaper blogs who seek any opportunity at all to criticize Sabean. In my opinion, he’s not the best of GM’s but also not the worst. I would say 15-20 range. What I do criticize him on is organizational philosphy and in particular, drafting philosophy (especially since he came to the team resting on his laurels as a Yankees scout).

    Under his tenure, the obvious weakness has been position player development. Whether that is due to scouting, coaching, or both, I can’t say. When you don’t develop a position player for ten years, it’s no longer bad luck, it’s a systemic problem. It shouldn’t have taken him this long to realize that something wasn’t working. As you said, however, he has done a very good job of drafting pitchers and for that I am glad. The Giants’ system is probably one of the best at developing young pitchers. If they could just be moderately competent on the offensive side of things, the Giants would have a top ten farm system.

  4. Ryan says:

    On the whole, I would say he is a good GM–though I would retract that if the post 04 direction (not including this year and half of the year before) was something he was completely on board with. To his benefit, it seems much the overall agenda was set by Magowan, and Sabean had to work within that–but that isn’t entirely clear. I thought the draft and trade pitching strategy was sound while in contention, but it clearly continued too long. A major reason why I buy ‘Magowan’s parameters’ argument (beside the anecdotal information, which is strong), and continue to think of Sabean as good, is that the direction the organization has gone since last year–once it was clear ‘contending’ was a pipe dream– has been in the right direction (good drafts, good signings–all on the long term growth plan).

    There is no doubt that a major organizational weakness has been position player development, but we do have to somewhat careful about how much of that we put on Sabean–though certainly some of it is on him. As you know, GM’s often have less to do with scouting, drafts, and Player Development than is commonly assumed, and the recent interview article with Coletti was telling as to how Sabean conducted business–the implication was that he gave his underlings a fair amount of autonomy. While we can fault him on this (and I do), it is rather standard practice in MLB. Still, some trades shouldn’t have been made, and some other players should have been picked.

    I just went back through the first 4 rounds of the MLB draft under Sabean’s tenure (which is typically where you end up getting your impact players), and the exercise proved quite surprising to me. I was expecting to find many good positional players that the Giants passed on (and were regarded as going around the same area of the draft), but I hardly found any, and those that I did were often around a pitcher the giants drafted that has worked out. The impact bats that were drafted those years were pretty much all off the board by the Giants picks, except for the disastrous years of 2004 and 2005 (disastrous because they lacked a fist when there was available talent–and chime in 2 and 3 for 05). 2003 could fit in that too, but I wouldn’t call it a disaster. The Giants actually drafted well prior to 03 04 05, and have drafted well after, so it doesn’t seem fair to say that the team doesn’t value the draft, however much one should *justly* blast those 3 years. There has been some speculation about financial pressures (and mistakes, particularly with arbitration) that lead to that situation, but whatever it is, serious mistakes were made. After having looked at this information–which is an exercise I recommend, as it is interesting–those 3 years seem ‘weird’: a team that drafts well, suddenly losing it entirely, and the drafting strong again; not a team that is habitually poor with the draft, even with position players.

    Of course some gems emerge out of the later rounds that the giants passed on, but one always has to be careful with complaining about that too much–later round picks that make it are a combination of good scouting, and luck–often much more of the later than former, sadly. And SF has had its share of later round *pitching* steals. Later round picks are usually the product of the scouting dept, with the GM having relatively little input on them, so I suspect the Giants have had week positional scouts–and hopefully that has been remedied.

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