Some baseball analysts have begun reevaluating Giants general manager Brian Sabean in the wake of two World Series titles in three years. I suppose I should do the same.
Sabean has never seemed comfortable with modern analytics. This might be partly for show, but his disregard for on-base percentage was never a good sign. His signings often seemed reactive, as if he were competing with himself. The team wanted Barry Zito, and Sabean offered Zeets so much that they got their man, with the biggest problem being not the salary but the length of the contracts. Sabes at times acted like a ADD kid in a candy shop. A player would have his first good year in awhile, and Sabean would grab him up with a deal that extended well into the player’s 30s.
His supporters usually argued that there were always mitigating circumstances. Sabean didn’t want Zito, the owners did, so he went along. Sabean didn’t want to try and win with Barry Bonds and a cast of old-timers, but the owners did, so he put together the best teams he could given the albatross that was Bonds. (That anyone thought Bonds was an albatross is for another day … suffice to say, they’re looney.) Sabean went against current trends when he’d grab old players, and that’s “Moneyball” 101: go for undervalued talent. If everyone else was figuring out that guys in their 30s were overpriced, those guys would become underpriced, and Sabes would clean up. This often worked … Ellis Burks in particular comes to mind.
So, did Sabean see the light in the last few years? Has he come to love OBP? Has he quit chasing after geezers? Probably, not likely, no.
They had a decent OBP this season, but that was more batting average than walks. It was regularly noted that the Giants “put the ball in play”, and it’s true, among other things, the Giants’ hitters struck out fewer times than all but one NL team. As for the geezers, I suppose he broke even. Scutaro was terrific, of course, although it’s worth remembering that Sabean had to go get a 2B because he’d somehow decided in April that Ryan Theriot was the answer. Aubrey Huff made $10 million because of a sentimental contract he got after 2010.
What was more noteworthy was that a lot of younger hitters were given a chance. But, not to be crotchety, here, too, Sabean was hit-and-miss. Did it take much acumen to know that Buster Posey was good, or that Pablo Sandoval was capable of great things? He (and Bochy … it’s hard to know who does what) decided to go with Brandon Crawford at SS, and he never did hit, but his glove was good. Brandon Belt did hit, but I don’t know that Sabean/Bochy should be congratulated for “giving him a chance”, considering how much he was fucked with.
The pitching was fine. Sabean has always built good bullpens, and this was no exception. The starting pitching had some ups and down, but three of the starters were good, and while Lincecum was awful, I don’t blame that on Sabean.
It’s no longer enough to say Sabean is lucky. Two World Series in three years deserves respect. How did he do it? Figuring that out is a lot harder than it was identifying what he did wrong in previous years. Four of the main offensive and defensive contributors were homegrown: Posey, Belt, Crawford, and Sandoval. The same goes for much of the rotation, as well as Romo (and Brian Wilson, for that matter). This is a far cry from the days when Sabean would purposely give up draft picks, and may be the single most important reason why things are better now.
And once you finally build a base from your system (pitching AND hitting), then you can start filling spots with the likes of Melky and Pagan and Scutaro and most of the bullpen. Those were things Sabean always did well.
I’m not coming to any brilliant conclusion here. I know Sabean has had the last laugh, and to his credit, he never gloats, although inside he must love being right, in the midst of so much criticism from the lunatic fringe. Every general manager has good and bad points. In Sabean’s case, his bad points were so obvious, and so aggravating, that they overwhelmed my ability to see the bigger picture. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment has been to finally convince people like me to accept his good qualities, as well.