While an Orioles fan, I have spent the past five years living in San Francisco. I have always rooted against the Giants, due in part to an unpleasant run-in with Barry Bonds when I was a child, and in part to an intense dislike of Brian Sabean's style of general management. While I have enjoyed living in a city excited about baseball, I was concerned that 2010's championship would vindicate Sabean's "throw-money-at-dessicated-veterens-and-hope-they-all-play-as-well-as-they-did-when-they-were-ten-years-younger" style. The person most convinced that Sabean's predilection for the formerly mediocre was a recipe for success seems to have been Sabean himself.
Now that the Giants have officially given up on what was left of Miguel Tejada and Aaron Rowand, an experiment occurs to me. As I type, the giants are 6 games behind the Diamondbacks for the NL West, and look to go home at the end of September a year after winning the World Series. I wonder, could this failure have been avoided? Now obviously it is simple to say, "the Giants should have signed [insert free agent having a good season], they would have won." However, Sabean made a number of moves prior to, and during the 2011 season that EVERYONE thought were crazy.
The experiment is this, is it possible to make up those 6 games, not by ADDING any players (excepting those currently in the Giants system), but by NOT giving playing time to players who nobody (at least in the statistical community) thought had any chance to perform well.
The biggest failure of the Giants has been the offense. Aubrey Huff, Orlando Cabrera, Miguel Tejada, Jeff Keppinger, Aaron Rowand and Cody Ross have COMBINED for 1865 Plate appearances and -.7 WAR. Let me restate that. Those 6 players, have combined for 38.6%…over one third, of all non-pitcher plate appearances…and have been worth almost 1 win below replacement level (the level of talent readily available to all teams on the open market at any time).
These acquisitions, with the possible exception of Keppinger and Ross, were universally derided at the time they were made. This, being an offensive minded list, does not even mention the lack of contributions by Barry Zito. The giants have not suffered in terms of pitching, but the money wasted on Zito could certainly have been invested in an upper-echelon offensive talent.
Let's take these position by position.
Tejada had 343 Plate appearances. He played 334 innings at short stop. This is a player who, in successive seasons, had been told by the Orioles and the Astros, neither of whom were trying to make the God Damn World Series, that he was not good enough to play short stop for them. He played 372 innings at third base. He was signed to be the Giants shortstop. It wasn't an accident or anything.
Cabrera took over for Tejada when Tejada moved to third to cover for the injured Pablo Sandoval. He has cost the Giants .05 WAR in 26 games.
Mike Fontenot has played 275 innings at short for the Giants. Due to his solid defense, and to his not being the worst hitter in the history of baseball, Fontenot has been worth .9 wins on the year. Brandon Crawford has also seen some significant time at short. He is an excellent defensive shortstop…but may actually be the worst hitter in the history of baseball. Had Fontenot been the Giants' shortstop to start the year and then moved to third while Sandoval was out (with Crawford filling in at short only during those 41 games), how many more games would they have won?
Adjusted for individual playing time, the -.6 WAR would have been replaced by an extra .9 WAR produced by Mike Fontenot. Crawford's numbers would have stayed the same.
short stop net gain +1.5 wins
This is perhaps, the most infamous of Sabean's mistakes. In 2009, Aubrey Huff, was, essentially the worst player in baseball. He cost the Orioles and the Tigers almost 2 wins (1.8) below replacement level. The year before he had hit very well, but he was 33, an immobile first baseman, and looked to be done as an everyday player. The Giants signed him to a one year 3 million dollar deal. A deal that few thought would work, but was not for a cripplingly large sum. He was one of the ten best players in the league. He was worth 5.8 wins above replacement. It was the best year of career. Most of us saw a fluky great season. Essentially no player gains skill at 34, and Huff had stopped hitting for power in the second half, few thought he was capable of repeating.
Sabean signed him to a two year deal worth 10 million dollars a year. He outbid only himself. He was either rewarding Huff for helping the Giants win in 2010, or he was deluded into thinking that Huff really was the third best first baseman in the league. Either position is inexcusable.
Huff has cost the Giants -1.0 below replacement player.
Of course, the issue with Huff is not just that he is bad. It is that he is blocking the best offensive prospect the Giants have had in the past few years. Brandon Belt.
Sabean mishandling of Belt is well known. Belt hit .309/.448/.527 in triple A while being shuttled back and forth from San Francisco to Fresno. In 145 Plate Appearances with the big club, he has been worth .4 WAR. Erase Huff's 529 PAs, give 375 of them to Belt. If we assume that being given a job and allowed to settle in would have helped Belt a little bit, it is easy (maybe even conservative) to project Belt as a 2.0 win player.
Net Gain by not signing Huff and letting Belt play +3.0 Wins
Cody Ross has had 402 Plate Appearances in 2011. He has been worth 0.0 WAR. He has played at both outfield corners, taking plate appearances away from Nate Schierholtz in right, and a combination of Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrel in left. Burrell has been frequently injured, but split Ross's 400 PAs evenly between Schierholtz and Rowand/Burrell would give the Giants an extra win.
Net cost of Not keeping Cody Ross in a starting role 1.0 WAR.
That's 5.5 wins just from not making silly decisions that seemed silly at the time. The Giants could be either tied for first, or one game back, instead of 6 games behind the Diamondbacks.
Had they done either of the following:
sign lance Berkman instead of Huff
sign Carlos Pena instead of Huff
and subsequently put Belt in left field, sending Rowand to the bench, it would have added another 1-2 wins to the team total, making them the odds on favorite to be in first place right now, even with injuries to Sandoval and Posey.
Total number of Wins Sabean could have easily gained for the Giants by not making silly decisions and signing one first basemen for LESS THAN AUBREY HUFF MAKES…..