Brian Sabean is all in

Texas Hold ‘Em is a game filled with odds, but the numbers are pretty simple. If you have a 35% chance to hit your flush on the turn when someone raises you 45% of your stack, you don’t have the odds to call. However, odds become finicky when you get more and more productive on the margins. For example, if I’m 35% to hit my flush, but I also know my opponent is holding a straight, I can reasonably expect a big payday if I make my hand. However, if I believe my opponent is holding a pair of deuces, then it’s not worth it, as my expected earnings are drastically less. Basically, when my future earnings increase I don’t have to stick to the odds as conservatively. The relatively small gamble I take could earn me a huge outcome.

This is why I was baffled when I saw some of the comments from Giants fans over at one of my favorite blogs, McCovey Chronicles. Anger, rage, and shock were expressed as if the Giants had just dealt Nathan, Liriano, and Bonser for Pierzynski all over again. Now, I won’t hold an intelligent fan base to their gut reaction to a deal that involves one of their better prospects, but many fans are still acting as if Neal Huntington simply pulled one over on Sabean. That just didn’t happen. Thus far in 2009, the Giants have allocated about 600 plate appearances to Emmanuel Burris and Edgar Renteria to respectively play second base and shortstop. Burris has been awful with an OPS+ of 49. Renteria isn’t much better at 66. However, Giants fans would be quick to point out that Juan Uribe has been solid at second base. This is true, but his .339 BABIP will not last, and Fangraphs has him sitting on an extremely generous .315 wOBA the rest of the way. If Uribe were to do that, it would be his best season since 2004, so it is pretty unlikely. On the other hand, Freddy Sanchez is off to a torrid start with his new club, and has been worth about 3.1 WAR per season over the past four years, a number severely lowered by his outlier 2008 campaign. In fact, the Giants would improve themselves even more if they took Keith Law’s advice and moved Uribe over to shortstop (his UZR at short has been bad this season, but it’s a tiny sample size and he’s been solid there historically).

Tim Alderson is not Tim Lincecum. One the day of the trade, BP’s Kevin Goldstein tweeted (@kingclip) that Alderson has been “continuously overrated throughout his career.” After the deal, other reports had come out that Alderson’s velocity has been down recently, and Goldstein even wrote about a scout describing Alderson as a big league pitcher, but “strictly back of the rotation.” While that’s still pretty good for a prospect, there has to be some diminishing returns for the Giants. They have a rotation that will include Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Jonathan Sanchez, and Zito/someone else in the near future. At some point, the Giants were going to have to deal from their strength (young pitching) to bolster their weakness (quality hitting). And that’s exactly what they did.

Now, back to poker. So far we’ve dealt with this deal in a semi-vacuum, disregarding most of the context. But let’s not forget that the Giants are currently leading the NL Wild Card race. Since making the deal their odds of making the playoffs, according to PECOTA, have increased by about 10 percent. In analyzing this trade, we’re going to assume that the Giants lost in a strict value sense, just like a poker player would if he paid 45% to hit 35% of the time. The player would be making an unwise move if he were simply playing for some measly blinds, just like Sabean would be at a loss if he was making this deal in December rather than near the trade deadline. But just as the flop has come and the player has seen a big opportunity available, Sabean has seen the first four months of the season go by and knows the hand he is playing. The playoffs are a big deal for any team; they are exciting, lucrative, and strengthen/grow the fan base, and entering the playoffs with Lincecum and Cain makes you a good bet to bring home the hardware. So with every percentage point the Giants come closer to making the playoffs, Sabean is closer to hitting his flush and watching as a drunk European kid in a Full Tilt visor and shades turns over his busted straight in fury. The bottom line is that the Giants did slightly overpay for Freddy Sanchez, but context truly matters, and sometimes you take a risk if it means the possibility of huge earnings in the near future. Brian Sabean has taken his risk, and now we’ll wait for the cards to play out and see if the Giants can cash in.


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Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat

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15 Comments on "Brian Sabean is all in"

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Tom
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Tom
I think you’re glossing over a couple of criticisms Giants fans (e.g., myself) have of this deal: 1) They had an in-house replacement available. Kevin Frandsen is viewed as a similar player to Sanchez and has never gotten a fair shake at second (PECOTA weighted mean projections for 2009: Frandsen = .273/.334./.379, Sanchez = .285/.323/.389; PROPS thinks Sanchez has been lucky to date, and sees his season line as .281/.322./.402 – very much in line with PECOTA’s projection), and 2) They did not get enough return for Alderson, or the right kind of return. If the Giants were giving up… Read more »
Pat Andriola
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Pat Andriola
Hey Tom, thanks for the reply. 1) Kevin Frandsen isn’t very good. He’s 27 and has a career line of .242/.306/.343 in 441 PA. He’s also found a way to be worth -.3 runs this year in just 16 games. He has a .799 OPS in AAA, which is nice, but if you do his major league equivalence he’s at .260/.304/.372, much worse than Sachez’s line. ZiPs would give him a .293 wOBA for the rest of the season as well. He seems like your typical Quad-A player. 2) With position players you also get defense, and while Dunn’s bat… Read more »
Tom
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Tom
We could go back and forth on the merits of the various points (for example, I could point out that in the one year that Frandsen, who is by no means awesome, actually got semi-regular playing time, he put up a .269/.331/.379 line, which is (1) almost exactly what PECOTA thinks he can do, (2) only marginally worse than Sanchez’s career .300/.337/.422, and (3) was very unlucky, according to PROPS). My real point is that your insistence on dismissing the reaction of Giants fans to the deal as some sort of unreasoned, overly emotional “gut reaction” ignores the fact that… Read more »
Pat Andriola
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Pat Andriola

Tom, I really don’t think I was trying to hurt feelings. In fact, in the article I was quick to point out that McCovey Chronicles is one of my favorite blogs, that they have an intelligent fan base, and that it would be unfair to hold them to gut reactions. I’m sorry if I came off as being demeaning in any way; trust me, I hold McCovey Chronicles and the people there in high regard, along with the people you mention that disagree with me.

Tom
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Tom
Last comment: I don’t mean to say that you intended to hurt anyone’s feelings, and you haven’t hurt mine (and the McCovey Chronicles people are probably pretty thick-skinned, on average). I’m just pointing out that by continuously saying (for the third time now) that it “would be unfair to hold them to their gut reactions,” you are dismissing the views of those who disagree with you as overly-emotional and poorly reasoned, when in fact I – and likely others – believe that they have thought about their opinion and hold that position based on more than just a “gut feeling.” … Read more »
Pat Andriola
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Pat Andriola

Thanks for the comments, Tom. I didn’t mean to marginalize the people who disagree with me and their analysis- in fact I think I humbly concede ground many times in the article. The link I gave from McCovey Chronicles was just the immediate reaction, which was emotional (just read the comments), but I didn’t mean to characterize the rational arguments against mine as just hot-headed and lacking credence. Sorry again if it sounded that way.

Ben Aronson
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Ben Aronson

Solid article. Very strong analysis.

Dan Novick
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Dan Novick

Nice job, Pat. I was just about to email you tonight asking when you’d be ready to start.

Mad Bum
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Mad Bum

Not a horrible trade (yet) but Sabean did overpay, plus he got no cash out of the deal. But this deal seems more about getting Sabean an extension than anything else as he tries to cover up his other free agent blunders.

hilarie
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hilarie
The argument many Giants fans (and others) have made is, curiously, the same one made here but lots wiser: Context matters. Sabean made thie trade in large part because he paid $18 million for Renteria, the worst starting shortstop in the NL. He made this and the Garko trade—aquiring average infielders—after steering the team into half a decade of futility while publicly blaming his grand scale ineptitude on Barry Bonds, the meal ticket he inherited from the Lurie regime. The team he built has been historically bad offensively for several years, not just theast two: Bonds, the old cancer in… Read more »
hilarie
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hilarie

I’m sure what I meant to type, like “team stats” rather than “tram stats,” was clear, but sorry.

hank
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hank

whatever, it’s just the Giants…

Pat Andriola
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Pat Andriola

I understand your point, Hilarie, and I agree. Part of the reason Sabean made this deal was because he himelf had assembled a lackluster offense. I couldn’t adequately defend his GM tenure if I tried.

Sam
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Sam
“While that’s still pretty good for a prospect, there has to be some diminishing returns for the Giants. They have a rotation that will include Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Jonathan Sanchez, and Zito/someone else in the near future.” I’ve heard people make this argument and while I hope you are right, I think that it is very optimistic.  It is still some time before either Alderson or Bumgarner will be ready to join the major league roster.  It is hard to say with any kind of certainty that by the time Alderson is major league ready the Giants rotation… Read more »
obsessivegiantscompulsive
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obsessivegiantscompulsive
First, Bonds was the first big move of the Magowan regime;  Sabean inherited that when he was named GM. Second, I’m getting tired of all the Sabean bashing.  Is he not the one who put together this team?  Is it not the 2nd best record in the NL?  No GM makes no mistakes.  And he’s been rather poor in the free agent area, though I don’t know if that was driven by Magowan’s edict to win with Bonds – as stupid as some of those deals were or turned out, at the time of the signing, many of them were… Read more »
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