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life with brian

It’s instructive to see what goes on inside the mind of a hardcore non-sabermetric General Manager like Brian Sabean, which is why his comments are so fascinating, if depressing. Take today, when he spoke about the team’s chances for 2010:

“With this lineup, I think we can springboard off the 88 wins from last year and get into playoff contention,” he said.

The reasons?

“Number One,” Sabean said, “we'll have more experience on the field. Number Two, guys will be able to hit in the order where they have traditionally hit.”

What is he telling us about his approach to player evaluation? His first “reason” addresses defense, his second talks about offense. What he is saying in the first case is that the defense will be better in part because there will be “more experience on the field.” He says nothing about the actual defensive abilities of the players on the field; he does not say “our defense will be improved because we’ve added some solid glove men.” He merely says they have added experience to last year’s model. As for hitting, he is saying that the offense will be better because of how the lineup will be constructed. He says nothing about the actual hitting abilities of the players; he does not say “our offense will be improved because we’ve added some better hitters.” He merely says that the hitters he does have will fit better into the lineup than they used to.

Sabean values experience. He thinks lineups are an important part of a team’s offense. Neither of those points are necessarily incorrect. But when you’re trying to move from an aging group of offensive players to a younger crowd, when you need to get people on base more often, when you need, in essence, better hitters, you need to consider more than just experience and whether Bengie Molina is a true cleanup hitter. But Brian doesn’t do that.

It is very depressing to know that the Giants are among the last teams to accept the changing paradigms of player evaluation. In the past, you could argue that at least Brian Sabean was good at the kinds of skills that were valued in the past, that while he lacked the vision to move forward, at least he could effectively apply what tools he did have in his workshop. But it’s hard to see even that bright side here.

Take the defense, and his focus on increased experience. Three positions will have new players in 2010. Two of them will feature “more experienced” players, Aubrey Huff at first base and Mark DeRosa in left field. Both are indeed quite a bit older than the players they are replacing. But does this mean they will improve the defense? Certainly not a first base, where a decent fielder (Ishikawa) is replaced by a DH (Huff). DeRosa might help; it’s hard to tell. He hasn’t played much LF in his career, never regularly, although the fact he can play other, harder positions is a good sign. Still, he’s 35 years old and coming off of an injury. It’s also worth nothing that Sabean has added experience in the field at the two easiest-to-play positions, 1B and LF. They will get younger in RF, where Nate Schierholtz has a good reputation (he replaces veteran Randy Winn, who wasn’t a bad fielder, although his bat died along the way).

So, has the increased experience improved the defense? Hard to see how. We haven’t even mentioned the return of four older players in the “up the middle” part of the defense: Molina, Sanchez, Renteria, and Rowand, all a year older. Honestly, I’d feel a lot better about the defense if they replaced some of these guys with younger fellows who had decent gloves.

How about the batting order? Really, who cares? What matters is whether the team has better hitters. Are Mark DeRosa, Aubrey Huff, the return of Bengie Molina, and a full year of Nate Schierholtz going to markedly improve the offense? Only if three of those guys find the fountain of youth, and the young guy learns how to hit.

But like I say, what’s important is how this gives us further insight into the mind of Brian Sabean, who takes a team that can’t score runs and “improves” it by getting older players and moving Bengie Molina down in the batting order.

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