Monday, March 29, 2010

Baseball the Giants Way

Before the Giants moved to San Francisco, they were one of the premier teams of professional baseball.  When looking at the accomplishments of the Giants, which includes 5 World Series titles, 20 National League Pennants, and 6 West Division Titles, it becomes clear the Giants were a much more powerful team during their days in New York.  5 of their World Series titles came in New York, while 17 of their National League Pennants also came from back east.  Since moving to San Francisco, the Giants have managed to make it to the World Series three times, yet each time they fell (they lost to the Yankees in game 7 in 1962, were swept by the Oakland A's in 1989, and lost in Game 7 to the Anaheim Angels, following a heartbreaking Game 6 loss in Southern California).  For those of you who are interested in myth, there is a legend that the Giants will never win a World Series in San Francisco due to the Curse of Coogan's Bluff.  The legend goes that once the Giants were packing up to leave the Polo Grounds (which lay on Coogan's Bluff), fans noted that they would never win a World Series away from New York.  Thus far, their predictions have remained true.  For those of us, however, who do not believe in baseball specters, there must be another reason for the Giants' failure over the past 50 years.

Before attempting to answer that question, I believe it would be wise to take a look at a similarly situation team: the ever hated Dodgers.  Before the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, they played in a place called Brooklyn, while the Giants played up-town.  This is where the seeds of rivalry were sown.  During the New York era the Dodgers were the Giants' whipping boys.  The Giants were vastly more successful than the Dodgers: whereas the Giants won the World Series five times, the Dodgers won it once.  The Giants won the pennant 17 times, while the Dodgers won it 12.  However, the teams fortunes changed after the moved to California.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have generally enjoyed a success that the San Francisco Giants have not.  They have won 9 pennants since coming to LA, and they have won 5 World Series in Chavez Ravine.  Why were the Dodgers more successful?

One thing might have been payroll.  I do not have any statistics on hand, but at least in the past 20 years the Dodgers have generally had a higher payroll than the Giants.  Another part of higher payroll is fan revenue.  With Chavez Ravine being easily accessible to Los Angelinos, and with there being a vast amount of people available to attend games, Los Angeles has generally been a very profitable ball club.

After the 1970s, the Giants fortunes were not so good.  Candlestick Park, where the Giants played since they moved to San Francisco up until AT&T Park was built in 2000, was known as being cold, wet, and depressing.  Furthermore, being a Bay Area native myself, I personally knew how difficult it was to get to the park.  Most Giants fans do not live in San Francisco, rather they live in the East and South Bay.  Growing up in the East Bay myself, it was quite a drive, through San Francisco, which is always a nightmare, to get to an evening baseball game.  My mother, an avid Giants fan throughout my youth, was loathe to go to a game during the week after working.  I think many fans felt the same way.  In fact, after negotiations to create a new stadium failed throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Giants threatened to move to Florida.  The move, thankfully, was stopped.  Private funding was made for the new stadium, the Giants signed Barry Bonds, and San Francisco baseball continued.

Thankfully, the trends of poor attendance and revnue has reserved.  The Giants are now considered one of the most profitable clubs, with Forbes reporting that the Giants are the ninth most valuable baseball club (the Dodgers are the fourth).  Moreover, per fan, the Giants are the most valuable team.  So, for now, it seems economics should no longer player much of a role in the achievement gap.

What else then?  Strategy.  Strategy probably is what has led to the significant achievement gap between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  When you think of your favorite Giants players, aside from those still playing on the team, few are pitchers.  Most fans will mention Mays, Bonds, Jack Clark, Will "the Thrill" Clark, and McCovey.  In fact, the San Francisco Giants defined their team through the strength of its hitting through almost all of the time in San Francisco.  The Giants were known as sluggers; there's a reason for "Bye, Bye, Baby."

When thinking of the great Dodgers of the Los Angeles era, however, not many hitters come to mind.  Most think of Koufax, Drysdale, Hershiser, and Ramon Martinez, players who defined Los Angeles as a pitcher's club.

Today, however, the roles have seemed to reversed.  Will we see something different in the coming years?  The Giants have one of the best young pitching staffs in baseball, while the Dodgers have some of the best hitters in baseball.  Thus far, it has been the Dodgers who have been the more successful club, as they are coming off back-to-back NL West titles.

So what does the future hold for the San Francisco Giants?  Will a change in strategy help this club become more successful?  What strategy changes are taking place?

William "Bill" Neukom became Managing General Partern of the San Francisco Giants in 2008.  When Neukom rolled into town he announced that the Giants would change course.  They would start following a plan that Neukom called "baseball the Giants' way."  What exactly is baseball "the Giants' way?"  Neukom's new strategy revolves around internal development of players.  The Giants, instead of looking outside for talent on the market, will focus much of their resources into building better facilities and hiring better trainers and coaches for the players being brought up in our farm.  Neukom described the plan as being something that would be "medium-term to long-term."

So, where will such a plan land the Giants?  It's hard to tell.  The benefits are clear: building an organization from within certainly is cheaper.  If the Giants have a lot of young, exciting baseball players making relatively little they will be able to focus more money on getting the right free agents for that particular season.  That might be exactly what the Giants need in order to make a World Series run.  Thus far, the system has seemed to work out well: The Giants have the best pitcher on baseball on their team, Tim Lincecum, and up until last year he was making less than half a million.  Matt Cain, also brought up through the Giants' system, is considered on of the National League's elite.  Brian Wilson, yet another veteran of the Giants minor league system, is considered among the league's best closers.  Finally, Pablo Sandoval, the best position player in his division with the exception of perhaps Andrian Gonzalez, was also brought up through the system.  Thus far, the Giants' youth movement appears to be working.

What's the downside?  It will be interesting to see where the team is in 2012.  Payroll restrictions are going to hurt the Giants.  In 2010, Barry Zito, Matt Cain, and Brian Wilson will make $42.5 million.  How much will Lincecum make that year?  $20 million?  So now we have four pitchers taking up $62.5 million?  Then add in Aaron Rowand's final year ($12 million) so now we have $74.5 million.  Unless the plan works out, and we can fill the rest of the 40 man roster with the money available, the Giants are not going to have enough money to go out and get big name free agents.  Essentially, the San Francisco Giants, in the short term, will live and die with Neukom's plan.  Hopefully it works.

A new era of Giants baseball is certainly on the rise.  Fans have called out dearly for a youth movement to save them from having to see, year in and year out, one of the oldest teams in baseball.  For this team to really capitalize on the plan, however, I think some organization changes must be made.  First, Bruce Bochey either needs to get specific instructions to start playing younger players or he needs to go.  The fact that Bochey played Randy Winn throughout the 2009 season, despite Winn's pitiful performance is shocking.  Winn was clearly outplayed by Schierholtz, yet the younger player sat most of the season on the bench.  Bochey also was quick to give up on former Giant Ryan Garko.  Garko was brought into the organization through a trade, by which the Giants sent Cleveland Scott Barnes, a top pitching prospect, in exchange for Garko.  Garko received 100 at-bats and was quickly benched.  Bochey needs to learn how to work with young players or this system will never come to fruition.

Second, the Giants need to learn how to evaluate hitting talent.  In the past several years, the Giants have shown that they have no clue how to organize a team around hitting.  Take Fred Lewis.  Lewis is a fine baseball player and one that can consistently get on base.  Yes, he has struggled as of late, however that is no reason to abandon him and assume he will never get back to form.  Rumor has it, however, that there is no longer any place on this team for Lewis and the Giants are actively seeking to trade him.  Look at the free agent acquisitions the Giants made this season.  Why on Earth was Ryan Garko non-tendered after we made a trade for him, and then the Giants go out and sign Aubrey Huff?  I understand the Giants wanted Adam LaRoche, and LaRoche turned them down.  However, quick knee-jerk reactions to deals falling through should not result in signings of mediocre veterans like Aubrey Huff.

The Giants currently have some of the best prospects in baseball in their system.  Buster Posey is on the brink of breaking through.  Right now, the Giants are considering bringing up the young catcher and splitting him at 1B.  This would be the most asinine move the Giants could possibly make.  If the Giants do not want Posey catching in the bigs today, they should keep him in the minors, where he can start every single day.  The Giants should certainly not let their future star rot on the bench in 2010.

To close, the Giants' future will be interesting to watch.  The Giants will rise or fall depending on the success of players whose names almost no one today knows.

No comments:

Post a Comment