Brian Sabean: 2014

By on June 19, 2014
Brian Sabean.004

“Do the ends justify the means?” post-Moneyball has made Brian Sabean the most maligned General Manager in the National League.

Brian Sabean is currently the longest tenured General Manager in Major League Baseball. With the assistance of Dick Tidrow and Dave Righetti, Brian Sabean has put together one of the top pitching-minded organizations. Transactional highlights include:

  • Free Agency: Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla
  • Trade: Jason Schmidt, Robb Nen, Livan Hernandez, Javier Lopez, Felix Rodriguez
  • Draft: Madison Bumgarner, Joe Nathan, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Sergio Romo, Brian Wilson

Sabean’s acumen is not limited to acquiring pitchers; he has proved equally adept at trading away arms. It has been well-documented the minor league pitching talent given away – often with little regret. This is of paramount significance at this juncture, because The Giants are primed to wheel and deal at this year’s trade deadline. Entering the year, most of the Giants top minor’s talent was in pitching. Recent 1st rd pick Tyler Beede can quickly reinvest for any assets traded. Dealing from a point of strength is often wise, and Sabean has never been fearful of taking a risk (see Zack Wheeler).

Now to the noticeable negative: hitters. Sabean has been questioned for offensive maneuvering since his first offseason - “I am not an idiot” - through his second World Series crown. He has built lineups that make little sense in today’s baseball landscape.  The 2012 World Series team was the first in baseball history to win the crown while being last in home runs, a fact that ought to astound even the most lackadaisical of fans. And that is what causes so many journalists, bloggers and fans to question his aptitude (google “Brian Sabean sucks” or “Brian Sabean idiot” to see).

The biggest flaw in Sabean’s philosophy is the over-reliance on older, fading veterans, such as Michael Tucker, Aaron Rowand, Edgardo Alfonso, Dave Roberts, Ryan Theriot, Miguel Tejada, Mark DeRosa, Ryan Klesko, Steve Finley. High draft picks used on hitters have been nothing short of wasteful. For a plus like Buster Posey, there is an inordinate amount of minuses (Todd Linden, Tony Torcato, Dan McKinley, Wendell Fairley). A weakness this consistent comes across as an organizational tenet, rather than a string of anomalies.

Bottom line, Sabean knows how to build a team based off his strengths. SABR has studied the adage “Pitching Always Wins”, a pre-Moneyball saying that seems to fit him perfectly.Brian Sabean.001Brian Sabean.002Brian Sabean.003Brian Sabean.004Brian Sabean.005Brian Sabean.006 Brian Sabean.007Brian Sabean.008

About Daniel Stern

@Daniel_Stern | I gave Jason Grilli a tour of Twitter HQ, but couldn't Mark Melancon | #SocialStandings MLB | work @Twitter, @Yahoo
  • Pingback: Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Sabean, Buehrle, Duffy – MLB Trade Rumors

  • rockytony

    The bottom line: 2 World Series Championships in the last three seasons! You can have all your charts, graphs SABR numbers and gurus. Sabean has produced the laudable results, operating on a budget well below the “front running teams” favored so much by pundits. Give this man the credit he has earned and deserves.

    • http://www.nltheory.com/ Daniel Stern

      I agree with you 100%. Did the tone of making fun of SABR not come across? If so, let me know so I can improve the writing. Thanks Tony

      • rockytony

        Thank you. Like all GM’s, there is always a certain element of SABR numbers injected into the mix but by and large this GM, being old school, relies on his scouts, player development people and his own scouting instincts to produce a good, entertaining and competitive club. He rarely gets the accolades he deserves and I for one will bleat that message until…

  • http://www.yougottalikethesekids.com/ Shankbone

    Interesting article. Your build the offense part is a bit light on the 1997-2004 squads which were absolute juggernauts. And the old vets left off some great names like Ellis Burks and Reggie Sanders. A core of Bonds, Kent, Snow, Aurilia and Mueller was sweet.

    On the hitter draft picks, are you really holding out a #49 overall as a sign of weakness with McKinley? Posey, Belt, Crawford are all huge wins. And new investments in hitters that was lacking during the winning years because the Giants drafted late and practically always drafted pitchers as that was their philosophy.

    The old vets were almost all in the 2004-8 period, and that’s where he’s trying to win one with Barry with a hand (ownership purse strings not open at all) tied behind his back. With his minor league pitching talent (highly rated) coming up snake eyes.

    Sabean kicks the hell out of most GMs, and he’s done it for a long time.

    • http://www.nltheory.com/ Daniel Stern

      Excellent comment. The point of this is to paint a picture of transactional success & transactional failure over his tenure. Ellis Burks was a great pickup, Reggie was solid for 1 year. No mention of Belt/Crawford because this is a snapshot. Personally I think the amount of free agent pitchers signed to minor league deals who have had success is more noteworthy than non-1st rd picks. It shows how in-depth he can scout pitching via draft (Cain, Bumgarner, Timmy), trade (Javier, white flag sale, Nen, Livan) and small minor free agency.

      Here is one for Colletti –> http://www.nltheory.com/2014/06/08/ned-colletti-2014/

      • http://www.yougottalikethesekids.com/ Shankbone

        Sabean’s “dumpster dives” is an obvious skill and strategy. Going back to Grissom, but all over the place with Juan Uribe, Huff, the mid season guys like Burrell and Ross. Its one of his greatest skills – the sideways trade, and he occasionally takes a bad beat like with Orlando Cabrera. But the thing that goes unnoticed is they’re easily discarded for something else. He’s won a whole lot more than he’s lost. Juan Uribe and Ryan Vogelsong have been huge towards getting the rings.

        • http://www.nltheory.com/ Daniel Stern

          Exactly! And he never gets props for it. He pulls off those minor league deals way too much to just be lucky. He knows how to find what Righetti/Tidrow/Gardner can work with – look at Machi, Casilla. Even trading for Schmidt, who was a high prospect who’d gone through 2 orgs already.

          • http://www.yougottalikethesekids.com/ Shankbone

            The 2007 draft was supposed to be loaded, but it ended up being Bumgarner and two important trades – Alderson for Sanchez and Culberson for Scutaro. There might be another one brewing as we type… You know who reminds me of Schmidt? Jeff the Shark who the Cubs are currently muddling about on the trade block while trying to pretend to re-sign. Fastball took a while to control.

          • http://www.nltheory.com/ Daniel Stern

            Was arguing on some other board about Scmardjz. Someone was making the argument we don’t need another SP, which is an awful approach. You can never go wrong getting the best player nor can you ever go wrong having the best pitchers in a short series. At worst, it blocks another team from acquiring Samardzija. I don’t think the Giants will get him though, has to be the Dodgers, Yankees or a surprise team like Royals/Indians.

            I see a bullpen arm and 2B. Zobrist will cost a bit, as will Utley – hopefully Amaro Jr doesn’t get fired before he can trade Utley. Rickie Weeks as a backup/reclamation project for 1/2 season makes sense too, wouldn’t cost a lot.

  • http://www.yougottalikethesekids.com/ Shankbone

    The graph transactional downs – 14 first round picks on hitters, only Buster Posey as a regular – is a bit misleading. Sabean took over scouting in 1993/4. Here are his 1st round hitters and their overall draft position: Dante Powell 1/22; Jacob Cruz 1S/32 (as SD); 1S/49 Dan McKinley; 1/19 Tony Torcato – but the big story on that was the FO wanted to draft Sabathia but ownership and specifically McGowan said no to bonus demands; 1/29 Arturo McDowell; 1S/49 Todd Linden; 1S/33 Manny Burriss; 1/29 Wendall Fairley; 1S/32 Nick Noonan; 1S/43 Jackson Williams; 1S/51 Charlie Culberson; 1/5 Posey; 1S/37 Conor Gillasipe; 1/24 Gary Brown; 1/29 Joe Panik; 1/25 Christian Arroyo.

    I added on the two as SD, those are the 14 you listed – go check odds of making the show much less being a starter and you’ll see he’s done above average even with hitters. You’re talking about 7 of the 14 as supplemental first round picks. 5 as picks in the 20s. One pick in the teens – and not the guy the FO wanted. Posey as the only top 10 guy, and a couple who have a chance to shine still including recently promoted Joe Panik.

    As a long time Giant prospect hound, the Giants hitters are very rarely blue chip, and there haven’t been very many home growns. That’s what is so exciting about Belt, Crawford and of course Posey. As well as Sandoval and Sanchez. Panik might just be the next guy.

    Sabean built the Yankees dynasty. He always gets discredited for it, but he made the call on Jeter, Posada and Petit. He’s a great draft and developer. But he’s even better at competing on a major league level. You linked to a whiny Grant Brisbee piece on BP. What did he expect during a rebuild? That’s what it was, a PR rebuild where Sabean was saddled with Zito and Rowand at ownerships behest because they wanted seats filled. He turned it around in 4 years. Go look at all the saber friendly GMs rebuilds. Much longer already. And not as successful.

    • e

      as a long time giants prospect hound, I think you’d recognize that the giants generally don’t draft the best guy on the board in the 1st round, particularly recently. i recall that brown seemed to be reach, same with panik and arroyo. even if it helps them sign better players like belt later in the draft. whatever the strategy, it’s fair to say most the 1st round hitters leave something to be desired (like a productive career), and that should partly fall on sabean.

      • http://www.yougottalikethesekids.com/ Shankbone

        Best guy on the board rated by BA, BP or others? Or industry? Because the 2010 class wasn’t very good. The best players can be counted on 5 fingers: Sale, Harper, Machado, Harvey. The best player left on the board by prospect ranking after Brown is Taijuan Walker, the 43rd pick, and best hitter is Nick Castallanos a overslot at 44. Should Sabean be held to that high a standard? There is a tier of prospects where consensus gets very broad very fast. The 20s is that. We’ll see what happens with Panik (hell, and Crick and Susac) as well as Arroyo/Jones and what not. But getting upset about picks in the 20s not working out all the time (Matt Cain!) is an extremely high standard of draftnik nitpicking.

        I will give you that the Giants might be better served going fishing for arms in the 20s. But that varies from draft to draft. And unlike in the 90s where Sabean could rob teams of their vets (Nen, Livan, Burks et al) for young arms, now teams hold onto their guys and demand your very best and nothing but.

        • http://www.nltheory.com/ Daniel Stern

          I don’t view it as him not picking high enough to draft a “Javier Baez” talent every time. It’s noticeable that he relied (albeit not so much since 2012) on hitters outside of the organization. The question is why? Why did he have to bring in Marquis Grissom & Michael Tucker & Aaron Rowand & Daryl Hamilton? Why did Calvin Murray & Dante Powell & Wendell Fairly never make it? After nearly two decades, it’s not a good track record.

          Sabean is a fricking genius. Doesn’t mean he’s always right.

          • http://www.yougottalikethesekids.com/ Shankbone

            I’m just pointing out the failure rate in the 20s is extremely harsh. The OFs? Well, the Giants don’t have a real success story there home-grown since Chili Davis. Got close with Marvin Bernard, Freddy Lew and Nate the Great, but the simplest answer I have is the Giants rarely prioritize it as a need, and it shows in these draft picks they made. Also, Grissom was an awesome draft signing just as Michael Tucker was one of the lamest excuses for a franchise on multiple levels!

          • http://www.yougottalikethesekids.com/ Shankbone

            Er… Meant to say Grissom is an awesome FA signing. Got draft on the mind.

          • http://www.nltheory.com/ Daniel Stern

            I have a Grissom light switch & mini-bobblehead… He was a such a good compliment to those Bonds teams in the 2000s. Funny to talk to also, down to earth guy

    • http://www.nltheory.com/ Daniel Stern

      I agree with you about the SABR friendly GMs, was making fun of why SABR folk don’t get him yet don’t credit him (maybe the tone didn’t come across that way). He’s arguably the best (at worst Top 3) GM in the game.

      The downward trend was only focusing on 1st rd picks, thus no mention of Belt, Crawford, etc. His 1st rd picks on hitters have been noticeable for the wrong reasons- is it making the wrong pick or not knowing how to develop? John Barr was promoted ~3 yrs ago to address this issue, and there have been improvements overall as seen in Belt, Crawford, etc. It’s not as simple as saying they pick in the 20s since that has not effected their pitching development. The Cardinals don’t draft Top 5 yet have shown an inclination under Moz to continunually turn out productive hitters.

      • http://www.yougottalikethesekids.com/ Shankbone

        Barr was hired in 2007 to get more hitting talent in the organization and free up Dick Tidrow. His first draft was 2008, with Posey and Crawford that will be a hard one to beat. I do think Barr can be too conservative at times with his picks. There is not quite enough HS talent drafted and its often focusing on college picks that have dropped. But then… that’s how they got Crawford, so its hard to argue it too much.

        I’ve comped the Giants to the Cards since the Matt Cain draft, the Giants hold up quite well. I think one part is that Sabean has survived multiple GMs so there is more to pick at in terms of failures. The Cards definitely are best in baseball at getting talent in later rounds. I’d point out they have their share of busts though – Brett Wallace, Pete Kozma, Zack Cox recently and we’ll see about Shelby Miller and Kolten Wong just like we’ll see about Chris Stratton and Joe Panik. And really, is an Alan Craig that much of a “get”? Some of the Cards new guys are just that – new – and we’ll see what’s what in the next few years.

        • http://www.nltheory.com/ Daniel Stern

          Definitely, you nailed it on the head. Do you think it would be better to make these reports more expansive? It’s a tough to cover as much as possbible while keeping someone’s attention.

          • http://www.yougottalikethesekids.com/ Shankbone

            That’s a good point, and I didn’t mean to come across as criticizing. Its extremely hard to paint a whole picture, especially with a guy who’s got almost 20 years on the job, 3 different eras that roughly coincide with managers – Dusty years winning pretty steadily – Alou (bye Jeff Kent as well) trying to win with a limited budget plus Barry – Bochy when Alou was worn out and had worn out all the bullpen arms. Build a core, suffer through 4 years of painful wilderness, Build New Core. That’s how I see it at least.

            I think you did a good job with it, there are always going to be things that get picked at, like I just did.

          • http://www.nltheory.com/ Daniel Stern

            I don’t think you’re criticizing at all, you have intelligent points. Clearly you know your stuff; otherwise I wouldn’t have asked about making it more expansive. Appreciate your advice, want to make sure my tone is coming across too of making fun of SABR/Grant.

            Been doing a different GM every week; please check them out & if you think changes should be made let me know! http://www.nltheory.com/understanding/management/

          • http://www.yougottalikethesekids.com/ Shankbone

            Will do. One place where Sabean is in direct contrast to sabr theory (until recently) is paying for his pen with no regards. Especially the lefties Affeldt and Lopez. That turned out to be extremely helpful in 2012. As they age, it may or may not turn out OK. I lean towards an OK prediction, because lefties out of the pen can pitch for a long time. You hint at that with the Lopez compatibility. For me its about Sabean learning the lessons of 2002 – worn out pen, and then Alou wore it out further. I bet that was a big factor in getting Bochy on board.

          • http://www.nltheory.com/ Daniel Stern

            Alou ruined Tyler Walker’s elbow… Bochy & Sabean are very similar with type of pitchers, how to use a bullpen (haa one last link for you, it is a study on GMs team construction aligning with on-field managers use of team. National League only –> http://www.nltheory.com/2014/03/12/management-style-2014/)

          • http://www.nltheory.com/ Daniel Stern

            Would love your feedback, took your advice & did a more expansive profile on Doug Melvin. Let me know if more along what you think would be better: http://www.nltheory.com/2014/07/02/doug-melvin-2014/