New Year -- New Title? -- Part 5

by Gregg Pearlman

Monday, January 26, 1998

We'd just gotten past that fear that Ozzie Smith will be in orange and black, and when the horror at the thought that our next shortstop would be the horrendous Ozzie Guillen was at its peak, the Giants signed veteran offensive non-threat Rey Sanchez -- ostensibly to back up the likes of Rich Aurilia at shortstop, but in fact to become the starting shortstop.

Oh, I say "in fact," but I could be wrong -- I mean, it wouldn't be the first time. (It would be the sixth.) But given Brian Sabean's apparent fear of turning the reins loose for young players, it would make sense for Sanchez to become the starter just by having a medium-decent spring.

The folks discussing this and other issues were Steven R., Henry, Gary, Ben H., Grant, David Beck, Scott, Andy, Richard, Pat, Jeff C., Dan I., Jerry, John S., Sarah, J.E., Dan P., Jonathan, Tom S., Greg, Keith, Ben F., Coach Larry, Peter S., Edith, Grant, and Walt.

Toward the end of the last installment, I talked about the brawl between the Giants and Cardinals in 1988, in which the chief participants were Will Clark, Ozzie Smith, Jose Oquendo, and Candy Maldonado. "Regarding that famous team fight, which I too believe is 99% of why we hate Ozzie Smith to this day, I'm not sure if even your hyperbolic account of Maldonado's contribution is excessive enough to really get at what a great job he did," says Steven R. (Not even hyperbolic enough? Man! Tough room!) "It was as if Tito Santana had stopped by the ballpark after a hard day working out at the WWF Gym, saw a fight, and decided to do a Flying Burrito off the top rope! This is one event that might have played even better on TV than it did in real life, since my memory of the television picture is a shot of the second base area, Ozzie's cowardly punch, and then, from out of the picture entirely, here comes Candido, flying through the air with fists outstretched. It was, I think, his greatest moment as a Giant."

Easily, and this is my memory, too.

I wish I'd also had the radio on at the time, because I've only once heard a recording of Wayne Hagin during this fight: "Cheap shot! Cheap shot! Ozzie Smith, Mr. Cheap Shot!" It's the only possible recording I'd want to have of Hagin....

We were able to laugh about this, because we hadn't yet heard about Henry Schulman's story in the Examiner, headlined thus: "Another Oz in Giants' dreamland -- Guillen draws interest at shortstop, as does Dunston."

My response pretty much spoke for the entire Giants newsgroup: "Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!"

"There might be an Ozzie playing shortstop for the Giants this season, but not the one you're thinking of," writes Henry. I thought, "God, I think I'd rather have Smith. In 20 years.

"Although club officials have decided not to bring longtime St. Louis Cardinal Ozzie Smith out of retirement, they did say they've discussed the possibility of signing former Chicago White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen."

Now, I hope that Brian Sabean understood that when Gary begged him (on the baseball newsgroup a few weeks ago) to sign Guillen, and urged other fans to fax similar requests to Sabean, it was because Gary hates the Giants.

"Keep those faxes rolling in!" says the delighted Gary. "Gregg Pearlman might have to change the name of his site to 'EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEMOTHEROFALLTHATISHOLYAAAAARRRRRGGGGGGG!!'"

That's pretty tame, really -- at least in comparison to the words steaming through my mind.

"Heh heh heh. I love it. And Number 13's available, too."

But Gary's an A's fan, so I was able to tease him -- albeit only a little -- about the fact that the A's signed Rickey Henderson for the fourth time. (Can't tease him too much, because Rickey's, well, a future Hall-of-Famer. But still, for some reason I'm reminded of Bobo Newsom and the Senators.)

Ben H.'s response to Henry's article: "You best not be makin' this one up, Hank."

The articles says, "The Giants say they have little money to spend on another shortstop, and anyone they sign would earn a role player's salary and would have to compete for playing time with [Rich] Aurilia and [Wilson] Delgado."

"Our only hope is that other GMs are way less frugal," says Ben.

This is the part that bugs me. I mean, we've seen quotes from Sabean complaining about money troubles, so why put more into somebody like Guillen? Criminy. Bring back Robby Thompson as a coach, because that's pretty much the role they're trying to fill anyway, it sounds like.

But Henry put our minds at ease by saying, "Guys, sometimes when you go out on a limb, you have to be prepared for the limb to break, sending you to a painful death down below."

Prepared? Hell, that's old hat now.

"I wrote this story on Guillen acting on a tip, and while the story was true, that the Giants indeed were talking to Guillen's agent, what I didn't know was they were also talking to Rey Sanchez. Late last night, the Giants actually signed Sanchez to a one-year contract with an option for 1999. No need to work up a lather on Guillen, then."

"Yeah," says Ben, "we can save it up for his ex-crosstown-rival, Rey Sanchez, who, speaking candidly, is a stiff."

"I've never thought Rey Sanchez' name could sound so sweet," says Grant. "And he's pretty bad, too."

My gut reaction upon hearing about the signing was not to be too bugged, but that's because I didn't have much of a sense of Sanchez's numbers; I figured he was pretty much a Jose Vizcaino clone.

Steven R. says I should get to work on that new site name, per Gary's suggestion. I figure, though, that I kind of like it the way it is. "EEEEEE!" is pretty easy to spell -- all I have to do is count to six.

"Well, I guess this puts Delgado in AAA for the year, which isn't necessarily a bad thing," says Ben. "And I guess you do have to carry two shortstops. The only real question is the bite. I would guess $500,000, which is only two to five times what Rey Sanchez is worth."

Ben provides the blurb on Sanchez from the 1997 Baseball Prospectus:

"Perspective: Rey Sanchez puts up a .272 OBP last season, and people are calling for his head on a pointed stick. Over on the South Side, Ozzie Guillen puts up a .273 OBP, and it's being called another sturdy campaign from a good player. Sanchez is an exceptional defensive player, but unless his manager really likes him, he won't play. Rey Ordonez should be following Sanchez' career closely, since it's what awaits him should he learn to hit."

"Giants fans everywhere should hope like heck that Dusty 'doesn't like' Sanchez," says Ben. "Elsewise, I would like to initiate the calls for his head on a pointed stick."

Okay, so my gut reaction was probably the wrong one.

Henry's article says that Giants Assistant GM Ned Colletti said that "the Giants would probably pay a new shortstop the kind of money they offered Smith, which was less than $1 million."

"This is good reporting," says Jonathan. "It gives us a very clear idea of what the Giants are thinking. It would not, in my opinion, be inappropriate to add that the Giants seem to have an insane insecurity about letting their successful prospects win jobs without keeping guys like this around as threats."

(He was talking about Guillen when he said this, but it applies just as well to Sanchez, really.)

"If Sanchez's fielding is terrific -- and I haven't checked out anything but the BP quote so far -- then it's just a question of how much money was wasted.

"As Ben said, you have to have a bench-infielder-who-can-play-shortstop, and I think we all agree that keeping Delgado in AAA this year is reasonable, which leaves Matt Howard [who was invited to spring training] and Sanchez. My preference on such things is that given equal overall quality I'd rather have a guy who does one thing very well than someone with better balance; I'm not sure of anything that Howard does that's above average, while Sanchez may have an excellent glove. Although Howard can pinch-run...

"Looking it up, at least a little, Sanchez had excellent fielding numbers in 1996, but not so much in 1997, bouncing around between positions.

"Ah well, it's probably just more money wasted."

Turns out Ben's right, as it happens: Sanchez signed for $500,000, with a 1999 option for $1.4 million, a $100,000 buyout clause, and a clause saying that his salary doubles if he's traded before October 1.

"In the dubious interest of putting this 'acquisition' in the best possible light," says Ben, "Sanchez (a) wasn't hitting awful for the Yankees (in a whopping 138 at-bats), (b) has a career OBP above .300 (which is better than Guillen's), and (c) really is an excellent fielder (.968 zone rating at shortstop for his career -- by comparison, Rey Ordonez is .953, Vizcaino checks in at .930, and AuriliaÕs .944, albeit in only 937 innings -- 528 chances)." (I'd like to know Guillen's zone rating, though. I expect it to be significantly less than Sanchez's, but if it isn't, somewhere out there you'll hear the screams of someone who thinks Sabean is a moron for not signing Guillen.)

My understanding is that Sanchez gives away about 20 points to Vizcaino in on-base percentage, but if he's that much better a fielder, then maybe we've actually improved.

On the other hand, as Jonathan and several others have been pointing out all along, who the hell does Rich Aurilia have to drop trou for in order to get a chance to start?

"I think Henry should take a bow," says Steven. "The signing of Sanchez suggests that, as Henry pointed out, the Giants were indeed in the market for a 'veteran' shortstop who can't hit. That it turned out to be Rey Sanchez rather than Ozzie Guillen doesn't help much, although Rey is younger.

"One thing must be kept in mind: Rey Sanchez can't hit productively at the major-league level. He has spent all or part of seven seasons in the majors, with a career OBP of .306 and a slugging percentage of .330. His highest OBP for one season in his career was .345, four years ago, over 291 at-bats; his highest slugging percentage was three years ago, .360. It is safe to say that Rey Sanchez offers plenty of evidence to support the fact that he is an awful major-league hitter.

"Okay. The Giants already have two shortstops they are looking at for 1998, Rich Aurilia and Wilson Delgado. The team has made it clear that they would like to have an experienced shortstop to cover their asses in case Aurilia and/or Delgado don't pan out. Let's say we accept their position on this, and agree for discussion's sake that they are correct to acquire such a shortstop.

"Rey Sanchez isn't that player. Because Rey Sanchez can't hit. As in, really awful. As in, not good enough for the majors.

"So what happens if the worst occurs: Delgado is still too young, Aurilia doesn't really have it. The result? Rey Sanchez will be the Giants regular shortstop.

"And Rey Sanchez can't hit. I can't repeat that point enough.

"So the Giants have signed Rey Sanchez. If Aurilia plays well enough to earn himself the regular shortstop job, Rey Sanchez is a benchwarmer. If Aurilia and Delgado don't get the job done, Rey Sanchez, who can't hit, will get hundreds of at-bats for the San Francisco Giants. Which is a bad thing. Because Rey Sanchez can't hit.

"So, even if we accept the idea that the Giants need that experienced shortstop, what's the point of signing Rey Sanchez? Who can't hit? And who will either warm the bench or waste hundreds of at-bats?

"And what does it say about our genius GM that he thinks signing Rey Sanchez is a good idea? This isn't a rumor, this is reality... he really did it, he really signed Sanchez."

"Let's say that magic dust is sprayed on [Sanchez's] bat, and wham, bam, all of a sudden he hits in a Giants uniform," says Scott. "What are the chances? Don't say 'no way,' because 'anything can happen!'"

J.T. Snow has taught me, sort of, to ride these things out, insofar as I'm able to maintain my patience (and I'm someone who gets antsy when microwaving).

Besides, says EEEEEE! Contributing Editor David Beck, "maybe Aurilia really isn't all that good. Maybe the Giants know something we don't." That had occurred to me, too -- which kind of scared me a little....

"You know, I hate to be the one that brings this up, but it sorta seems like Giants prospects are never as good as we hear," says Andy. "Really, Estes is the only prospect since 1986-87 who has fulfilled his potential. For some reason we just don't seem to get the studs that other franchises do."

That's pretty true. I'm drawing a blank on any names to dispute that, and it's something I'm always complaining about, especially when it comes to pitching. And it's not as if we grew Estes in our soil, either.

Richard came up with some names: "Royce Clayton... Rod Beck (granted, from the A's)... Um... uh... well... Kirt Manwaring?"

Meanwhile, Pat, who must be very new to the newsgroup, says, "Sanchez is not an All-Star, but compare his lifetime average with the last few Giants shortstops: Sanchez, .266; Vizcaino, .273; Dunston, .270; Clayton, .257. And, he hit .308 against lefties last year, better than all other Giants except Charlie Hayes, .311. I'm beginning to like the depth. Hate to admit it, but Sabean is not an idiot."

"First off," says Steven, "Vizcaino couldn't hit, either. Dunston had some power, but otherwise couldn't hit. Nor could Clayton. Ignore batting average -- OBP is what matters. [This is the part that makes me think Pat's new. -- GP] Rey Sanchez' career OBP is .306. That stinks. (Clayton's is the same, Dunston's is under .300, Viz is in the .320s, I think.)

"[Hayes' success against lefties] was in 68 at-bats. His OBP was only .333. Over the past five years, Sanchez has hit .270 against lefties with a .302 OBP and a .327 slugging percentage. No good.

"You might be right [in saying that Sabean's not an idiot], but Rey Sanchez doesn't exactly make the case."

"I wonder if, five years from now, we are even going to be able to easily remember who the Giants' shortstop was in 1997," says Richard. "Vizzer really made very little impression on me last year. Also, did Clayton get better once he went to St. Louis, or did he just start getting more attention because he replaced Ozzie?"

Jeff C. provides this data for Clayton:

Year Team  G  OBP
1993 SF  153 .331
1994 SF  108 .295
1995 SF  138 .298
1996 StL 129 .321
1997 StL 154 .306
"What was the average OBP and OPS for shortstops last year?" says Richard.

"Well, I can't give you the exact average for OBP for the major league shortstops," says Jeff, "but in quickly looking at the ESPNet stats page and sorting by OBP, Clayton ranked higher than only Greg Gagne (.298), Mike Bordick (.283), Ozzie Guillen (.275), and Gary Disarcina (.271). If I do a very rough calculation, the average for all of the shortstops listed is about .340."

"Nothing against Sanchez," says Richard, "but I am kind of tired of the Giants always finding hope in some free agent's late season surge (usually in about 40 games over August and September). If last year proved anything, it's just how important early season wins are towards winning a division."

David Bush of The San Francisco Chronicle writes, "Calling Sanchez 'the missing piece,' Giants general manager Brian Sabean said in a conference call that he likes the Giants' situation of having 'youth on the one hand and a guy who's been around the block on the other.... In a long season, there will be plenty of playing time for everybody."

Translation: "Sanchez is our new starting shortstop."

"Sabean, who was in Boston to accept an award as executive of the year from the Boston Baseball Writers, said the latest signing in no way signals a change of direction for the Giants. 'This is not a knock against Rich's abilities, or Delgado's,' said Sabean."

Sure it is.

"I'm just starting to get the feeling that Sabean really likes these 'around the block' guys," says Dan I. "I know that Aurilia, Delgado, et al. are not the second coming of Cal Ripken, but Sabean seems awful skittish about the young players in the system."

Well, I think we really saw that last year, when he kept going on about 'proven major leaguers,' seemingly without respect to ability. Obviously 1997 turned out better than we thought or hoped, so he looks a lot less stubborn in this respect, but it's hard not to keep this skittishness in mind.

"But maybe he's just hedging his bets, which isn't such a bad thing. He signed Lewis last year, ended up platooning Mueller, then cut Lewis loose when Mueller showed he could do the job. Maybe Sanchez fills the same role this year as Lewis did last.

"But, then again, he acquired Charlie Hayes, indicating that he still doesn't have much faith in Mueller as an everyday player.

"Maybe Sabean will ultimately be known as the first GM to exclusively use the major leagues as his player development system (well, maybe the Yankees of the 1960s were the first to do that, using the old Kansas City Athletics like a 'AAAA' club)."

Wouldn't that be cool if we had a weak-sister team like that? Well, no, probably not, but it would imply that we were awfully damn good....

Meanwhile, Henry Schulman writes, "With Thursday's signing of shortstop Rey Sanchez, the Giants' front office is out of disposable income."

Interestingly put. Remember the Steve Martin bit? "Hey, I got four dollars. I think I'll throw it out onto the street. Oh, I can come in here for four dollars? Okay. What happens?"

"Although there are still a few needs, especially more pitching help and someone with pop to come off the bench [Because Charlie Hayes sure as hell ain't it. -- GP], the Giants are done shopping for free agents.

"'I think we're done as far as the acquisition mode,' general manager Brian Sabean said in announcing the Sanchez signing. 'Budget-wise, we're at where we need to be. We have no flexibility. But spring training is going to dictate what we still need. Somewhere along the line we might make some trades.'

"Many players who aren't available in January often go on the block in March as teams fine-tune their rosters.

"Sanchez, who will compete with Rich Aurilia and perhaps Wilson Delgado for the starting shortstop job, will earn $500,000 in 1998. The club has a $1.4 million option for 1999, and the contract calls for the '98 salary to be doubled if the Giants trade Sanchez before Oct. 1."

Suddenly that $500,000 looks like less of a relief that they're not paying him that much.

Still, Jerry says, "my attitude has changed. Yeah, as a hitter he blows, but he backs up three positions in the infield with good defense. The Giants were limited in their flexibility; Sanchez covers that deficiency for a decent price."

I'm still not all that bugged -- provided Sanchez doesn't go and take the starting job in spring training.

Speaking of which, what utter, unexpected retread will win a job out of spring training, thus following in the footsteps of Randy Elliott, James Steels, and Mel Hall?

Plus, just how happy can Rich Aurilia be these days? Last year Shawon Dunston was quoted as saying he wasn't going to be anybody's backup, especially for Aurilia -- which rather gives one the impression that brass thought Richie would be the starter. Then the Giants made the Williams deal, which brought Vizcaino to the team, which made us (and Aurilia) wonder just what he had to do to be the starter. Mark Gonzales of the San Jose Mercury News quotes him as saying, "It's kind of getting old being labeled an up-and-coming player when you've been here three years. I don't know what their intentions are, but there seems to be a pattern."

Good point.

"I think I've proved I can come off the bench. I don't want that label."

On the other hand, that's what's keeping Marvin Benard in the major leagues. (The difference, though, is that Benard isn't really going to be anything other than a backup outfielder -- a fifth outfielder, most likely -- and Aurilia's a better player than that.)

Gonzales writes, "'We have no intention to move anyone now, especially Richie,' Sabean said."

Well, I don't know how much attention to pay to this -- Sabean routinely says all kinds of weird things.

John Shea of the Oakland Tribune quotes Aurilia as having this to say about the Sanchez signing: "All these Cubs. All these damn Cubs."

"I agree," says Dan I. "This ex-Cub thing must end. Hasn't the Jon Perlman experience taught the Giants anything? (Sorry, I think Gregg is the only one who will catch that reference.)

Oh, maybe not....

"Quickly, somebody-much-less-lazy-than-me do some research and find out which major club has produced the most effective talent for the Giants. I think it's the Pirates by a long shot, and all because of one guy (and it ain't Milt May)."

The scary thing is, it might be the Giants.

Speaking of Marvin Benard, the Giants just signed him and Joe Roa to one-year contracts. I don't suppose I'm making a revolutionary observation here, but I think I assumed that these guys would be looking for work. Not that a one-year deal suggests long-term, ironclad commitment on the part of the team, but among other things, it seems that Roa is reasonably highly regarded (at least highly regarded enough not to have been released), and Benard has a shot at that last outfield spot, which kind of surprises me, unless they're thinking that either Dante Powell or Jacob Cruz will make the club, and whichever one doesn't should start in Triple A.

"I liked Roa's attitude throughout the year and he has a pretty good arm," says John S. "Also, I believe he's young. [I think he's 26 or 27 -- just seems younger because of all of Mike Krukow's "Joe Rook" stories about him. -- GP] I have always liked Bernard: good hustle, doesn't mind his role as a bench player, and I recall that he had one of the highest averages among pinch-hitters in the NL. Good moves; nothing earth shattering but good."

"J.T. Snow is going to be a free agent after this season and someone told me that the Giants and J.T. Snow are working on a contract extension. Anyone else heard anything?"

Henry says that the two sides aren't working on a contract extension, and Steven R. says, "I hope this doesn't happen. Given his age, it's quite possible he's already had his best season. By the end of 1998, he'll be one season further away from that peak. A long-term extension to a first baseman in his thirties who wasn't a superstar to begin with is a bad idea."

(This thought is echoed by virtually every Braves fan I've come across on the Net.)

"I haven't watched J.T. play very often, but I was surprised by your [Steven's reaction]," says J.E. "The Giants have an option on J.T. for 1999 at $3 million, which I think is a great deal on a guy who can drive in 100-plus runs. His 1995 season was certainly cause for concern, but I thought he performed well for the Giants last season (again, based on seeing him in only a few games). What is it about J.T. (other than his age) that you don't like about his performance?"

"Well, my own bias involves redirecting your final question," Steven says. "Even if there was nothing other than his age, I would be concerned. The vast majority of hitters are in decline by the time they reach the age of 31, which is how old Snow will be in 1999. Obviously there are exceptions [Listen to that part, angry anti-statheads. The man said "there are exceptions." He did not say, "Every player declines by age 31." -- GP], but very few, so if I am running a team, I will 'play the odds' and be extremely wary of paying big bucks to hitters in their thirties. Now, if you're starting with a superstar like Barry Bonds, that's one thing: Bonds in decline is better than almost every player in his prime. But J.T. Snow is not a superstar. Even if we take last year as his true level, which is unlikely but not impossible, then we're left with a pretty good first baseman, not a great one.

"So what do we have? A pretty good first baseman in decline (which means he's closer to being an average first baseman by the time he's 31) at best. If we take his career as a whole as his true level, then he's average at best, which means that in decline, he's below average. I am not personally convinced that a good way to spend $3 million is on a mid-level or worse first baseman who's in his declining years.

"Just to note a couple of other things, Snow's RBI totals last year were helped by the presence of Bonds in the lineup ahead of him. He has now had five full major-league seasons; last year was the first good one -- he's had one that was a bit above average, and three bad ones. That doesn't give me confidence. Finally, even last year, at his peak, he couldn't hit lefties -- he is so bad at this that he needs to be platooned, even in his prime. You want to spend $3 million on a fading platoon player?"

"Rather than platooned, I think he should just bat lefthanded," says Dan P. "How much worse could he be? and he certainly has more power hitting lefthanded."

"His slugging percentage against lefties over the past five seasons is .320," says Steven. "Even if he did a little better by dumping the switch-hitting, it wouldn't be enough. And it's hard to know if he has more power hitting lefthanded, or if he just can't hit righties. [I think this is the key point in this discussion. -- GP] I guess if I were Snow I might try what Dan suggests, but if I were the Giants, I wouldn't let him start against lefties in any event."

Regarding the tendency to decline by age 31, Henry says, "Steven, if you had any numbers to back this up, I'd be interested in seeing them. Most GMs would disagree. They feel players, especially power hitters, reach their prime around age 28 or 29 and have four or five good years left before a decline."

(I would argue that anything after one's prime would be a decline, even if a small one.)

"The classic study is in one of the Bill James Baseball Abstracts. The proof of the pudding, however, is that the age 27 peak assumption is built in to all of the projection systems that are out there, including the one that STATS uses, and that those projection systems do in fact work.

"That GMs believe peak age is between 28 and 32 or so is a well-known fact, and [the GMs' assumption is] also a well-known myth. It's proving a real, real hard myth to [dispel], partially because the 'real' peak of 25 to 29, or 26 to 28, contains enough exceptions that it takes a real study to prove otherwise (and there are enough methodological difficulties in it that it's very possible to do a poor study with the wrong conclusions). Nevertheless, it is a thoroughly documented fact."

"One thing to remember vis-a-vis Snow and 1999," says Henry: "A lot of times GMs will take a gamble based on who they think will be available on the free-agent market that year. I haven't done the research yet, so I don't know if there will be a glut or a paucity of first basemen out there that year."

"Well, at the elite level, you'd have to look," says Jonathan, "but at the average or somewhat below average level, which is where Snow is overwhelmingly likely to be for 1999 (unless he's much worse), there's pretty much always a glut at first base. If you look around right now, there are almost certainly half a dozen guys in that category either looking for jobs or probably available real, real cheap. Pat Lennon, Bob Hamelin, Roberto Petagine, Jeff Ball... there's tons of them."

"This isn't the Bill James study," says Tom S., but Keith Woolner [of, I believe, the Big Bad Baseball Annual -- and I hope to be corrected if I guessed wrong. -- GP] took a large sample of players and determined what their best year was (by Adjusted Batting Runs) and at what age it happened. The highest percentage of players peaked at 27 (10.3%) followed by 26 (10.1%). Over 50% of players peaked between 25 and 30, and 75% of players peaked at 30 or younger.

"There's a second study rolled into that one where he charts an 'average' player's career -- rapid improvement up to 24, gradual improvement up to a two-year plateau at 26 to 27, gradual decline through 32, then more rapid decline. There are, of course, exceptions."

"Well, that seems to be basically consistent with what Henry said most GMs feel about power hitters, that you can expect a fairly consistent performance from 28 to 32," says Greg. "Even though it's not the 'peak,' the peak isn't that far removed from performance age 32. Is it?"

"Depends how far 'far removed' is," says Keith. "As the author of the studies mentioned above, I might be able to shed a little light as to how to interpret them.

"The first thing to note is that the sample of players in the first study (looking at the age where they put up the most Adjusted Batting Runs), was players with a 10-year career -- that is, there's a built-in bias toward players who were good enough to hold a job in the majors as they aged. If you looked at more marginal players, the 'peak age' drops -- if I remember correctly, the peak age for all players using this methodology was 25. However, semi-prospects who get a cup of coffee early on and are never seen again aren't the players we tend to think of when defining peaks, so I limited the study to those with substantial careers. Even then, most players have their best years between 26 and 28.

"As for the other point made, it is true that the decline phase of a player's career can have value, particularly if it's pretty close in value to the player's peak value (assuming a good peak). I might interpret the results from my second study (comparing the year-to-year changes in production with age) differently, however. From the peak production in age 26 to the end of the graceful decline phase at age 32, the overall percentage drop in [runs created per game] is about 10% -- in other words, to use the OPS scale, a player with a peak OPS of .950 will be expected to decline to about .855.

"This appears not too bad on the surface, until we consider the following facts:

  1. The table in the second study only considers players who had at least 400 plate appearances in consecutive years. The players who got severely injured, became platoon players, or who just plain fell off a cliff are invisible to the study. These factors represent real risks that are not quantified in the study. The table basically represents the expected decline of healthy, full-time players.

  2. A 10% absolute decline is a much larger effective decline, since replacement level isn't a zero OPS. At first base, where replacement level last year was about a .725 OPS, a decline from .950 to .855 is effectively a 42% decline from peak value. If you're talking about a third baseman (replacement level OPS of approximately .650), it's still a 32% decline.

"So between peak and age 32, the average player will lose, conservatively, a third of his value, assuming he remains healthy and plays full time. That's pretty far removed from peak, in my estimation.

"Of course, the mitigating factor in all this is that salaries have been escalating in such a way that it may still pay to lock in a cost for that production now, rather than seek it on the open market in a few years (unless you can develop it from within). The effective free market salary per marginal win has escalated at a rate of 20 to 25% in the 1990s, and if a GM believes it will continue to do so, the apparent overpayment today may not be as bad as it seems tomorrow -- indeed it may be economical."

"Think of what a great advantage it would give you if you knew two years before every other GM that Joe Blow was in decline," says Steven. "(It's a given, of course, that in this example I'm using pretend players; in individual cases you take lots of other factors into consideration besides just age.) Once a player is in decline, they are often being paid a salary commensurate with what they've done in the past, i.e., they are overpaid. You have some good years, say of value X, you're up for a new contract, you get paid, say, X+1 -- X for what you've done, +1 because you're proven and there's a bidding war. What follows, since you are in decline, is X-1 production. A team will pay you X+1 for X-1 production; that's a bad idea.

"But if you know that players tend to decline a couple years earlier than everyone else thinks, you'll know to stay away from most bidding wars involving guys around 30 to 31 (again understanding that individual cases involve more than age). You will know that the market value for those players is higher than their value on the field. You'll also know that the market value for players a bit younger than this is probably a bit lower than their value on the field.

"If you give a four-year deal to a guy who just turned 27, you'll get his four best years, all else being equal. If you give a four-year deal to a guy that just turned 29, you'll get two of his best years and two of his declining years... and quite possibly pay more for the honor, since his reputation will be greater after two years at his peak so his market value will go up.

"Now, if the 'older' guy is Barry Bonds, well, that's one thing. But if he's Jeff Kent, that's another. Jeff Kent in his prime is worth something to a team; Jeff Kent in decline is something else. The more of his prime seasons you get, the better off your team is; the more of his declining years your opponents get, the better off your team is. If everyone but you is about two years off in guessing when the prime seasons occur, you'll do pretty well."

"Being a Jeff Kent fan, I sure hope you are wrong on your diagnosis of J.T. Snow," says Ben F. "Snow and Kent progressed the same way. I have decided you are wrong." He's sort of poking fun in this last part, as indicated by the fact that the original message had a smiling emoticon. I just want to clarify that Ben F. isn't closing the door, which leads Ben H. to say, "Well, you don't have to believe me, but prepare to be disappointed."

"Kent and Snow had a breakout year," says Ben F., "and the Giants will reap the benefits of their outstanding play for years to come."

As much as I'd love to believe that, Ben H. says, "Totally bogus. Kent has been that good for years -- he merely had more power and less OBP than previously. The only way it looks so good is if you look at batting average, home runs, and RBIs.

"His average was a little low, but he hit more home runs than ever (net usefulness was the same, at least as measured by OBP plus slugging percentage).

"His RBIs were so high because he got to bat behind Barry all year. This is a prime example why RBIs are a dangerous, nigh-useless stat.

"Snow did have a breakout year by any statistical measure (well, except against lefties), particularly because he drew way more walks than he ever had. The only question is whether or not he reverts.

"Calling either of them outstanding is hyperbole of a fair order. 'Adequate' would be an accurate assessment.

"To put this in a concrete light: They are better than Eric Karros and Eric Young."

"One thing that I think is very important is that there continues to be an enormous difference between what 'statheads' assume is common knowledge, and what is actually common knowledge amongst the general populace of fans and reporters," says Steven. "Baseball stat analysts have dug their teeth into the 'when hitters peak/decline' situation for a couple of decades, now; there are occasional studies that disagree -- I can't say it's something that is 100% certain (although I admit I myself think the matter is mostly settled) -- but the large majority of studies have come to the same conclusion: around 27 for the peak, decline setting in by 30. It is true that 'baseball men' have for many, many years believed that the prime was older than this -- in fact, such beliefs were what prompted the original analytic studies.

"In other words, stat analysts have spent a lot of time studying this over the last 20 years, and mostly agree that peak/decline for hitters comes earlier than the baseball men used to believe.

"But, as Henry notes, baseball men haven't changed their minds much, analysts or no analysts. This is why people like me get frustrated. If I thought it was a difference of opinion based on a shared desire to do what was necessary to get at the truth, that would be one thing, but what it looks like here is that 'baseball men' start with the assumption that they already know everything, so they persist in notions that would seem to be outdated."

(Baseball Insiders: They Know More Than You Do.) "There is another category of 'knowledge,' says J.E.: "what the people in the baseball industry believe and know based upon their years of experience."

"It's quite evident that this category exists," says Steven. "The question remains, just how useful is this vast experience if it's combined with a willful ignorance about other kinds of knowledge?"

Also, the "other category of knowledge" still doesn't suggest that Insiders are always right. Depends on how you define "knowledge." If you look at "knowledge" as "known, absolute facts," then in this argument, I probably disagree with J.E.; if you see "knowledge" as "interpretation of available data," that's something different.

"Throughout this [discussion], I have yet to see any quantification of the term 'decline," says J.E. "It is difficult to measure changes in performance solely through a raw differences in the statistics. It might be more effective to measure such changes against leagues norms and league leaders."

"It's not only more effective, it's essential," says Ben H. "An any stathead definition includes this effect."

This is why even I -- admittedly not a stathead, though probably in possession of more baseball statistical knowledge than a good proportion of non-statheads -- keep talking about the importance of context.

Ben says, "Here is a simple definition -- let's stick to hitters, as the age-27 norm isn't even really relevant for pitchers [And I consider this very statement important, though I have no data to use in a discussion about it. Oh, well. -- GP]: Total Baseball uses a stat called PRO+/-: this is OPS corrected for park and league average.

"A 'decline' is defined as a year in which a player has a lower PRO+ than the year before.

"Now, a player really isn't 'in decline' with one declining year -- witness J.T. Snow -- but when you average over players, decline tends to be cumulative.

"So a player with two consecutive declining years might be a nice working definition of decline."

"My opinion is essentially consistent with Henry's report that GM's consider a power hitter's peak performance years are between ages 27 to 33," J.E. says.

"From that study that [Tom S. mentioned]," says Ben, "roughly 21% of all players with long careers have their best year at age 27 or 28. My guess is that the 27-to-33 misconception comes from the fact that most decent or worse players (not stars) aren't getting full playing time at age 26 -- then they have that breakthough year at 27 and earn many plate appearances, thereby garnering them much better raw stats (particularly RBIs and home runs). The study also points out that steady (but often slow) decline sets in around age 28 -- i.e., the may still be 'peak' but they aren't getting better."

"I am not attempting to assign one year as the peak," says J.E., "because, as prior postings indicate, there would be so many exceptions that assignment of a range would be a more useful in terms of a GM incorporating that information into an evaluation of players. I do not believe any of the prior posts citing the results of studies by Bill James or other analysts discussed a more productive range. It looks to me like there may be no real difference in what analysts are preaching and what GMs 'believe.'

"Many industry old-timers are much more resistant to statistical theories and analyses than you might think. [Wow. How can that be? They seem awfully resistant to me. -- GP] Additionally, in evaluating talent, almost all baseball personnel place considerable emphasis on their subjective conclusions made possible by their ability to watch players play on a regular basis. Apparently one GM follower of the stat analysts is Dan Duquette -- Roger Clemens-breath. In all fairness, the next two years can possibly redeem Duquette's decision. The stats tell part of the story, but a club official that watched a player all season knows that the stats usually do not tell the complete story about a player.

"This discussion began with your opinion that J.T. Snow, who will be 31 in 1999, would not be the best investment for $3 million the Giants' hard-earned cash. Your opinion was, I believe, based on your agreement with studies that indicate that J.T. would be 'in decline' in 1999. From this, it appears to me that you may be frustrated with the apparent disregard of such studies by 'baseball men' based, in part, on the salaries paid to players who would clearly be in decline pursuant to these statistical analyses that pinpoint peak performance around age 27 or 28. Is this accurate or just a bad guess?"

"It's close enough," says Steven. "Let's try this: Too often a player has his best season when he's, say, 29, and a GM will assume that the player is likely to continue at this high level for a few more years, when it will be more often true that he will never reach that level again."

"If so, I think a major missing element from this analysis is the current system in place for determining player salaries," says J.E.

"I agree with most of the discussion of how players are paid in today's market," says Steven. "And yes, part of what I'm saying is that in general (understanding that you must take each case on an individual basis), by the time a player reaches the point in his career where he can utilize the free-agent market to raise his salary, that player has become overpriced. If that player is Barry Bonds, the best player of his generation, and he's 28 years old, you realize that it is unlikely there will be any better left fielder in the game over the next several years, even once he begins to decline, and you bite the bullet. If that player is J.T. Snow, a sporadically useful first baseman who may have raised his game a notch to where he's better than average, and he's 30 years old, you realize that as he declines he is unlikely to be one of the better first basemen in the game, and you are better off letting someone else bite that bullet while you find a first baseman who has a better chance of being productive in the future."

"I have not conducted any study on players and at what age they are eligible for free agency," says J.E., "but my guess would be that most players reach six-plus years of major league service between the ages of 28 to 30. Barry Bonds (drafted as a college player) spent very little time in the minors and had accumulated six years in the majors by age 28. Albert Belle (drafted as a college player) spent three more years in the minors than did Barry and became a free agent at age 30. J.T. will actually be 32 by the time he is eligible.

"Before a player reaches salary arbitration eligibility, he has to accept the salary the team wants to pay and the only negotiating option he has is to hold out. This tactic has only been successful in baseball on one occasion that I am aware of. As a super two-, three-, four-, or five-year player, he has some negotiating leverage, but it is limited to having an arbitrator determine the value of a one-year contract. When a player reaches free agency, his salary and the length of his contract are most significantly impacted by his advantage in negotiating with any and all takers. If the player is average to above average, and several teams are interested in his services, his compensation will usually increase substantially and he will have the ability to negotiate for a multiyear term. The GMs who have a significant position to fill will probably lose out in attempting to sign a free agent if they're unwilling to make a competitive offer on the term of the contract, e.g., only offer to give Barry Bonds a two-year contract because he will be declining by age 30. Even though Albert Belle technically declined in 1997, look at the raw numbers for 1997: 30 home runs and 116 RBI. These are still very productive numbers."

Belle's OBP dropped 78 points last year, to a mediocre .332," says Steven. "His slugging percentage dropped 132 points. If he just maintains last year's production, he'll be a middle-of-the-pack left fielder making more than Barry Bonds. That's not good."

"The fact that players tend to be at or near their 'peak' when they negotiate as free agents, and the fact that they have the upper hand in negotiations for the first time in their 10-year careers, forces clubs to offer contract lengths beyond what 'statheads' believe to be prudent," says J.E.

"Again, I agree," says Steven. "My point is, why do something that isn't prudent? If the market is such that younger players entering their prime are underpriced, while older players entering their decline are overpriced, then why not take the prudent course?"

"The statistical analysis can be considered," J.E. says, "but it cannot change the compensation system that produces multiyear contracts.

"J.T. Snow signed his current contract in 1996, before he was even eligible for salary arbitration. The option salary for 1999 at $3 million is probably less than he could obtain as a free agent if he has a 1998 season similar to his performance in 1997. Despite the lofty performances by many first basemen, there were only 25 first basemen with at least 400 plate appearances in 1997. J.T. ranks around the middle of that group and he has one of the lowest salaries."

"However just because it's lower than his market value doesn't necessarily mean it's a good move from a cash-poor team," says Ben. "He may be 'worth' more than $3 million -- but technically Sammy Sosa is 'worth' $11 million! The goal is to make the other sucker pay too much -- while you go out and find (maybe a slightly worse) first baseman for much less money. You can then spend the money you save on players who are good bargains."

"The interesting fact is that after 1998, J.T. should have another year of service, but will be short of the six full years needed for free agency," says J.E. "The leverage he will have as a five-plus player should place his value at or above the $3 million of the option, particularly in light of the 1998 and probable 1999 salary escalation. The problem Snow has with lefthanded pitching should be a substantial factor in determining his value. See Sorrento/Klesko/Segui -- lefthanded hitters used in platoon roles. If, as you predict, he declines substantially in 1998, the Giants should 'decline' to exercise the option. The Giants would still be obligated to pay a $750,000 buyout. If he does not figure in their plans at all, they could then non-tender Snow.

"The Giants should be able to wait and see if Snow's 1998 performance justifies another contract. I think it would be foolish of the Giants to offer another contract until J.T. proves he can put together two years in a row."

"But even if he does, that's no reason to believe he will continue to do so," says Ben. "Let's say Snow repeats his 1997 and is the third or fourth best first baseman in the National League again. He is now 32 and going to ask for a $40 million, five-year contract! You can't believe this is a good idea... however, it might be a good idea to pick up his option for $3 million -- then hope the Padres sign him for $40 million.

"Now, if he were 26 and put up two 1997's in a row, it is a good deal, because at worse he's likely to be okay, and has a much greater chance of improving."

Now, this all leads to an ongoing discussion Steven R. and I have had -- in fact, I've had this discussion with a lot of folks. He recently wrote a piece for the Baseball Prospectus site that, to a certain extent, was about anti-statheadism. I really enjoyed the piece -- I found myself getting indignant all over again. I've said this before, but I really think we're battling the tide, here -- "we" being BP, other so-called statheads, and me, i.e, someone who has, I would say, significantly more than average knowledge of baseball statistics, but also significantly less than the real "stathead in-crowd."

I'm not sure who really started shaping the public's perception of what stats are important -- sportswriters, I assume, because I bet there didn't use to be a whole hell of a lot of stats talk at field level -- but they got it wrong early on, and the effect is like that of the Arizona disaster at Pearl Harbor: there's a lovely monument and everything, and it's a cool tourist attraction, but to this day, the thing continues to leak oil into the water.

I can't remember where I read it, but I do recall reading about such early, early stats as "hits per game," which is laughable if you look at, say, the 1997 Rich Aurilia, who hit .275 with some pop, but in those early days would've rated a certain amount of laughter for getting 28 hits in 162 games -- or, if it's "per game played," then 28 in 46, both of which would have to be seen as pretty weak -- .173, .609: take your pick. It's almost like the basketball example about a guy who scores 4.6 points a game, with 2.3 boards and 1.7 assists, being seen as a noncontributor, until you see that the guy plays, like, 12 minutes a game.

So you could say we've come a long way since those benighted times of yore, but the Flat Earth sector still exists. I mean, it's hardly Young Whippersnapper Time to talk about, say, OPS, or even OBP, but when you do, you still get people rolling their eyes.

Tell me: What the hell's so hard to accept about the validity of non-triple-crown stuff? Hmm? Hmm? I don't heeeeeeeear yoooooouuuuuu....

"It's not what we're used to, is all," says Steven. "What is probably needed is incessant use of, say, OBP for a decade or so by a majority of announcers... then it might make its way into the public mind."

Steven quoted a paragraph in the Henry Schulman article discussed early in this installment: "[Ozzie Guillen and Shawon Dunston] were everyday players last year with some eerily similar stats. Guillen, who turned 34 Tuesday, and Dunston, who will be 35 by Opening Day, both had 490 at-bats and both committed 15 errors. But Dunston, who played for the Cubs and Pirates in '97 after playing for the Giants in '96, hit .300, compared to .244 for Guillen with the White Sox."

"Baseball analysis will have made great progress when a paragraph like the above includes information about OBP, which is absolutely vital to any discussion of the merits of these guys as ballplayers," Steven says. "The use of, 'hey, they both had the same number of at-bats and errors last season' invites the derision of the anti-statheads who think stat analysis is all on this level. It does a disservice to real statistically based analysis. It is no wonder that so many fans think statheads are morons, when the examples they get of a proper use of stats is to ignore OBP while mentioning coincidental oddities like the above."

But the outlook isn't dark, at least with respect to Henry in particular. "One of the more astounding things I've learned through my recent participation [in the Giants newsgroup] is the immense knowledge of the game and the wealth of statistical evidence used to back opinions," he says. In your discussions of the relative value of certain players, however, there are other significant factors a general manager considers in acquiring players -- facts that seem to be left out of the discussions posted here. I'm not saying the GMs are right and you're wrong... I just want to give you a better idea of how the thinking goes in front offices (and I'm sure this isn't news to most of you anyway).

  1. In discussing the acquisition of any player, GMs consider not only his abilities, but his abilities relative to the salary he will command and how that salary will impact his budget.

    [I like to hope that that's true -- but given when some players sign for relative to their abilities, it seems that there's not a real strong relationship between the two factors. Meanwhile, Steven says, "I think this is crucial to the running of a club operating under a budget, which is why it's extremely important not to acquire too many players whose market value is real high compared to their actual value on the field." -- GP]

    There have been a lot of discussions about that power-hitting right fielder the Giants don't have. I think Brian Sabean would argue that, sure, in a perfect world, he'd love to sign or trade for someone like that. But if he's looking at a $37.5 million payroll, and he's already spent $36.5 million, he's not likely to find that power-hitting right fielder.

    ["Well, some of us think Jacob Cruz should have had that job last season," says Steven. "We thought guys like Glenallen Hill cost more than they were worth, while guys like Cruz are relatively inexpensive. Most GMs would seem to disagree, Sabean included. I'm not asking for an expensive power-hitting right fielder, I'm asking for a decent right-fielder who doesn't break the bank in such a manner that you can't afford to get any other quality players." -- GP]

  2. [Steven added] a damning assessment of Rey Sanchez's skills as a hitter. Although I didn't have room in my Examiner story to get into this, I believe a critical reason for his signing was his defense, which the Giants believe (and my colleagues in New York confirm) is better than average. Sabean and Baker are big believers in strong up-the-middle defense and want to be protected in that area should Aurilia or Delgado not pan out. I think Sabean also feels Sanchez came at a relative bargain.

    [From what's being said, that appears to be true; it's been my hope since Henry told us about the Sanchez signing that his defense was the main factor, or close to it. But that $1.4 million option? Plus doubling his salary if he gets traded before October 1? Less bargainlike....

    "These things don't really bother me much," says Richard. "I don't see why we should sweat options; what matter to me is what the buyout is if you don't exercise it.

    "Options for a marginal player should only be considered the starting point for next year's salary discussions or non-tender decision, plus insurance against the possibility that the player does happen to ascend to the next level of ability, no matter how unlikely. Whereas a buyout is real money that could be spent elsewhere.

    "As for the trade thing, I find it hard to get too worked up about this. If someone else wants him and trades for him, wouldn't the salary become their problem?"

    I don't know. Maybe it's like it was with Charlie Hayes, and the trading team pays the salary.

    "If not, his salary is at least in the solar system for a backup shortstop, and I would assume if the Giants cut him that they are only on the hook for the $500K, not $1 million. Thus, the only issue here is that he is less easily traded this year, and for the role he is likely to play, it doesn't seem like that big of a deal."

    On balance, probably not.

    "I'll admit now, since I wasn't clear before, that I personally don't have much use for guys who can't hit unless their gloves are Gold," says Steven. "But this is a difference of opinion, and I can see the argument for a guy like Sanchez. I'd feel better about it, though, if I thought the team had solid hitting at all the other positions. Since the Giants look to be below-average behind the plate, in center field, and perhaps in right field, and are only sure to be above-average at one position, I worry that a shortstop who can't hit will be more than the team's offense can bear." -- GP]

    In any other year, Sanchez probably would have commanded more money, despite his problems as a hitter. But there happened to be a glut of decent shortstops on the market this year, and all the teams that could afford to spend big bucks on the shortstop position already signed the likes of Jeff Blauser, Jose Vizcaino, Walt Weiss, et al. Sanchez probably waited too long to sign.

  3. Front offices do use complex statistical analyses, but not to assess talent. Rather, they use them mainly in salary negotiations and arbitration. They still rely on personal observations of scouts more than anything when deciding which players to bring in. Like some of you have said in your posts, it's tough to get an old dinosaur to do new tricks.

[I think that pretty much nails it. However, people sure got used to color TV, the microwave oven, and the Internet in a hurry, and without much grumbling (even though things had never been done that way before), so, yet again, why the resistance to "new" stats like, say, OPS, or even OBP? "Speak for yourself," says Richard. "I still occasionally have a hard time with microwaves, and don't even get me started on VCRs. I even understand Zone Ratings better than how to program one of those stupid things."

I actually do just dandy with VCRs, except for that part about an hour of Spanish-language soccer instead of Deep Space Nine.... -- GP]

"The bottom line, as you can see, folks, is money money money money. It drives decision-making more than anything else. Whether that's a good or bad thing, that's the way it is."

"Great point," says Steven. "I just want the Giants to do a better job of spending their money."

"Absolutely," says Jonathan. "And the biggest problem with Sabean so far is that he's wasting enormous amounts of it, all the time."

"Or maybe it's that he's wastes relatively small amounts of it repeatedly until it adds up to a big enough chunk to pay another Barry Bonds," says Greg.

I guess the main argument against that is that these folks constantly seem to make decisions that are likely to hurt a ballclub's on-field performance, which has to have some effect on money.... I guess what I'm saying is that the thinking on the part of the GMs sometimes appears to be inside-out, given that money is at the heart of the decision.

By the way, believe me, I certainly am interested in the way things really work, and not just the way I wish they'd work.

Jonathan brings up Henry's point about Sabean not looking for a highly paid, power-hitting right fielder when he's already butting up against the internal salary cap. "I hope that we have been taking that into account," he says; "it's absolutely crucial, and marks a huge difference between pie-in-the-sky fans and analysis.

"The biggest difference between some of us and the Sabeans of the world is that we believe, as Bill James said long ago, that talent is cheap. Not Barry Bonds-type talent -- that's rare, and very expensive. But the type of talent represented by players like Stan Javier, Darryl Hamilton, Brian Johnson, Jose Vizcaino, J.T. Snow, and lots of other guys like that. Those guys are not talentless; they range from barely acceptable major league starting players to solid starting players.

"But for each of those guys, there are guys like Matt Stairs and Bob Hamelin (pre-1997), Geronimo Berroa (pre-1994), Kevin Elster (pre-1996), etc., etc. The Giants have got guys like that -- Brian Johnson was picked up for nothing just this year. And there are many, many more of them: Pat Lennon, Roberto Petagine, Frank Catalanatto, Bob Hamelin again, and another 30 or 50 more. The range of talent of those guys is very similar to the Giants I listed in the previous paragraph; some are better, some somewhat worse, but overall, no big difference.

"And those guys are dirt cheap. It's not fair to assume that any specific one of them is available for nothing, but there are enough of them, and the talent differences are small enough that it's fair to say that any GM can find a cheap, adequate player for every position at any time.

"The big difference between us and Brian Sabean is that we aren't really willing to believe that there is a crucial difference between List 1 and List 2, the difference being that the first group are 'proven' or 'established' major leaguers. I don't believe in such a thing. I don't believe there's any empirical evidence for it; I think it's a myth, caused and maintained by very understandable social reasons.

"Anyway, if you don't believe in the myth, then you don't believe the idea that picking up a guy like Sanchez is a big deal, because there are literally dozens of guys that good around, guys who are perfectly adequate for the 'backup utility infielder, able to play shortstop' spot.

"And you believe that signing Javier or Hamilton for $1 million a year is basically a waste of money, because Powell or Cruz will be at least as good, and if they're not then you can just sign Pat Lennon or Juan Williams or whoever.

"(And that's not even getting into signing Glenallen Hill for $1 million)."

"I have to admit that signing Javier for $1 million seems like a good move to me," says Greg. "He's insurance in two different outfield areas and while he's below average in right, he's pretty solid in center and above replacement level. Though I certainly can't afford to spend $1 million on Javier, in baseball terms, it's probably chump change."

"I don't exactly disagree with that," says Jonathan. "What I mean, I guess, is that there are two contexts: Sabean vs. the Average GM, and Sabean vs. The Best Thing To Do. Compared to an average GM move, Javier at $1 million is okay, since it beats trading something for Devon White at $4 million, or signing Joe Carter at $3 million. But it's still worse than just letting Cruz and Powell play, and insuring them by signing, say, Pat Lennon and Juan Williams for a total of $500,000. Or, even better, trading for Jon Nunnally last year."

"The money doesn't bother me so much about Sanchez as the fact that it represents the continuing belief that Aurilia is not an acceptable long-term answer at shortstop and that two months against inferior pitching is a better proving ground for him than the evidence we have even from just 1997 that he has power and acceptable fielding ability to play shortstop," Greg says.

"Absolutely," says Jonathan. "The truth is, if Sanchez is the 'utility infielder who can play shortstop,' I don't think it's a bad move at all. He may not be the best guy available for that job available for $500,000 or less, but he's close enough that you wouldn't notice the difference over a season."

Ben H. says he doesn't have a problem with the Sanchez signing -- "as long as his use is restricted to late-inning replacement. The Giants offense doesn't have the luxury to stick a .600 OPS guy out there every day."

Well, you know he won't be a late-inning replacement. I figure that his "years of experience" immediately make him the front runner.

"He's pretty much significantly worse offensively, than Vizcaino," Ben says (which amazes me because unless you're Mike Benjamin, Kim Batiste, or a pitcher, how is this possible?), "but pretty much significantly better defensively (using zone ratings). Defensive average also backs this up in a big way -- Sanchez has 34 defensive runs from 1993 and 1996 alone (net runs saved). He saves about 25 hits a year, and is about average on extra bases (not a big shortstop thing) and double plays.

"That's a lot, but offense-wise, the Vizzer has a .667 career OPS (.735 peak year) and Sanchez clocks in at .632 -- but never had a year above .683. That's through 1996 -- and Vizcaino handily out hit Sanchez last year."

Not that this matters all that much, but are we mostly talking walks, power, or roughly equal amounts of both? In other words, in what way is Sanchez significantly worse than Vizzer? Oh, and Dusty: please don't bat Rey second.

"I guess overall I'd rather have Rey at $500,000 than Viz at $2 million," says Ben, "primarily because you're less tempted to play Sanchez cause he hits an empty .260 instead of and empty .275."

Yeah, we're less tempted... but until I see otherwise, I have this feeling of the Giants biting themselves in the butt with the tried-and-true "proven major leaguer" thing.

"Steven brought up an excellent point regarding what GMs see as peak years," says Jerry. It's not so much whether they're right or wrong (on the whole, they're wrong) but an indictment of how GMs are made. Taking the local example, Brian Sabean was a disciple of the prior GM, Bob Quinn. He learned most of his managerial skills from Quinn and notes him as his 'father [figure].' This is a tried and true system of ascension in Major League Baseball."

Tried, true... not necessarily effective.

"But the game has changed at such a tremendous rate over the years that 'experience' has less validity. We've seen management make outrageous move after move after move for so long. Maybe the only hope for the game is that clubs realize they need to reach out from the 'club' and allow some people with a different perspective into their hallowed halls."

Wouldn't that be something? But they're like acolytes guarding the Secret Holy Books that you can only view wearing those cardboard glasses with red lenses.

Note how neatly this discussion moves to Quinn: The Giants recently named him "senior advisor/director of Arizona operations." (See what I did there? Huh? Didja?)

So he's a Giants spy in Diamondback country?

"Better than no spy at all," says John S. "Maybe he can convince Matty to swing at those curve balls low and away."

"This means that Quinn will be in charge of the Giants' operations during spring training, i.e., running Scottsdale Stadium, Indian School Park, etc.," says Henry. "The great twist to this story is that Quinn will be doing a job previously held by his son, Bob Quinn Jr., who has moved on to other things.

"This might sound like a humiliating job for a guy who was the club's GM, but I'd like to share something with you: Even though Quinn was essentially fired as GM so Sabean could take the job, there is a genuine affection between the two men. Quinn could have taken his money from what was left of his Giants contract and gone home, but he wanted to stick around, and Sabean wants him to stick around as well. Sabean truly welcomes Quinn's input on scouting matters."

This is my guess. (I think it's also my fear.)

"Quinn says [as Jerry points out] that Sabean is like a son to him, and Sabean says Quinn is like a father to him. They don't seem to be bullshitting when they say it."

Greg guesses that Quinn is in charge of procuring sun-tan lotion during spring training: "I really think you'd be better off with SPF 30, Orel."

"Wonder what he would have said to Matty?" says John. "Matty, whatever you do, don't walk around without either a hat or helmet on," guesses Jeff.

"Gee, I'd like to hangout in Phoenix in the wintertime and get paid for it," says Coach Larry. "Maricopa County has 228 golf courses. That alone would be challenge enough."

By the way, the day after the Sanchez signing, our favorite Rude Blitherer, Ralph Barbieri of KNBR, interviewed Sanchez. Here, Barbieri did the following:

Last year he asked Darryl Hamilton if Carl Lewis was gay. Next year, then what?

He seems to just seek out this stuff, on the premise of having a social conscience and being interested in "people." Looks to me like he just enjoys dishing dirt, that's all. It's a really tiresome act.

The fact is -- and I know my opinion is counter to that of many other folks, including some on other planets that pick up KNBR's signal -- that I think Barbieri is actually a pretty good interviewer, that he's intelligent, asks good questions (generally), and is very much a "human being," which helps. But for crying out loud, Ralph....

"Both Shawn and Orel wear uniform number 55," says Peter S. "Who gets it this season?"

I've been thinking about that as well. Why can't Orel just reverse the digits?


"Does Orel have to purchase it from Shawn?" Peter says. "If you were Shawn, what kind of payment would you demand?"

You just know it's going to be something like a fishing rod. Either that, or Estes will gladly give it up to this established star, in much the way Dan Gladden gave up 32 when Steve Carlton joined the team.

"What a truly frightening analogy," says Grant.

Richard suggests that payment should be "Orel's 1988 World Series Ring." (And I further suggest Hershiser's 1998 World Series Ring, while we're at it.)

"I read an interview where Shawn said he chose 55 because his favorite number is 5, but he can't wear it because he's a pitcher, so he figured 55 was twice as good," says Edith. "Someone with decent math credentials might be able to point out that 50 is actually 10 times better (come on, the boy almost went to Stanford, he'd get it)."

Ah, but 55 is 11 times better, and if This Is Spinal Tap has taught us anything, it's the importance of "11."

"That is, if Hershiser's really stuck on getting his number back," says Edith. "Maybe he'd want 50 in tribute to Scott Garrelts."

Or William VanLandingham.

"Just a thought."

Works for me. On the other hand, maybe Shawn could wear number 555.

Okay, folks, insert Hershiser punchline here. (So far, I'm still waiting for the appropriate punchline, which -- hint -- also involves a three-digit number. C'mon, people, you can do it.)

"Why can't a pitcher wear a single digit?" says Walt. "I seem to remember Dwight Gooden or Ron Darling with a very low number somewhere during their careers. Jeff Juden wore 8 or 9 as an Indian last year. Are there others?"

The only ones I know of are Atlee Hammaker with the Giants, ca. 1985, and Matt Young with -- I think the Mariners in the late 1980s/early 1990s (his second tour with Seattle). Hammaker wore number 7 (because 14 was being worn by Vida Blue, whom the Giants originally traded for Hammaker and subsequently reacquired), and Young wore number 1.

"Well, Atlee having had a single digit number is all the argument I need for a rule like this," says Richard.

I'm still waiting for triple digits.

However, to me, the most ridiculous number will always be Benito Santiago's "09" -- 'cause he wanted 9, but he also wanted double figures. And it's not so much the number itself that's ridiculous, but the fact that the Padres gave him that number.

I tease EEEEEE! Contributing Editor David Beck about that a lot, because, years ago, players on one of the fictional teams in his table-top baseball league had "09"-type numbers.

Another thread floated around the Giants newsgroup suggesting that the Giants should change their logo. Generally this was shouted down as heresy, but here's Peter's suggestion: "I'd like to see new colors, maybe teal and bronze and peach and midnight purple, with a kind of stripy thing like the Astros' 1985 uniforms, except wavy, and fading down the sides of the pants, with glittering silver threads on the numbers, and six different hats, for home, home Sunday, home weekday-day game, road, road Sunday, and interleague, and velcro-detachable sleeves so players could look muscle-bound when they're at bat but not look like geeks in the field, and commemorative patches for the 40th anniversary of the first season in San Francisco, and the 30th anniversary of the Martin Luther King assassination, the 20th anniversary of Disco Fever, the 100th anniversary of the Spanish American War, and of course the addition of the Brewers and Diamondbacks to the National League, and pay the players bonuses to grow beards with no mustaches, maybe it'll start a trend, and the logo should sort of contour, like "gIaNtS,: so it looks like the hilly City, and has motion and dynamism to it, like an earthquake, or a really big, scary monster in a science-fiction movie, so it intimidates the other team, and it should have a pair of menacing yellow eyes peering out behind it, with claws, and of course the PacBell logo and a large R in a circle with a somewhat smaller TM nearby, and a Universal Product Code so the players could get discounts at Safeway just by walking through the checkout line, I think Mr. Magowan would agree to that, and a special pocket with clear plastic that the player could put a photo of his family in so he could look down and see it when he's sitting in the bullpen or standing in the outfield during an intentional walk, because it gets kind of boring out there and I'm sure the players would appreciate it. But no pinstripes."

In reminiscing about hateful Giants opponents, Dan I. says, Glenn Brummer is the guy that still pisses me off. He did something like steal home to win an important game. A friggin' catcher. Sometimes the Cardinals are more 'hatenous' than the Dodgers...."

I remember that moment like it was yesterday -- not that I would ever, ever hold a grudge over something so comparatively trivial, oh, no, NEVER!

Anyway, I'm pretty sure the game (in, as I recall, 1984) was in extra innings. With two strikes on the hitter and two outs, Gary Lavelle's pitch was absolutely a strike, and Dave Pallone -- who seemed like a terrible umpire to me anyway -- rather forgot to call the pitch. Why the hell Brummer was stealing home, I don't know, but he was, and he did. The Giants protested, of course, to zero avail. KTVU ran the replay over and over. I mean, this was so very much a strike... but no.

I remember hearing Bob Brenly talk about it on the "Bob Brenly Show" some years later. Said pretty much what I said above, and also that the Cardinals knew it was a strike, and were laughing about it afterwards. The Giants? Not so much laughter.

I only bring this up just to piss other people off, 'cause why should Dan and I suffer alone?

Copyright ©1998 by Gregg Pearlman

Last updated 1/27/98
Gregg Pearlman,

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