Brian Murphy

Giants winning in spite of Sabean’s fear of speed

Until last night’s exercise in catharsis against the vaunted San Diego Padres, people wracked their brains. How could the Giants lose and lose against San Diego? Not just this year, but last season, when the Pads’ record was as crappy as everyone thought it’d be. Was it bad luck? Do some teams just have other teams’ numbers?

Ah, who gives a damn…

We can’t complain about the Giants making too much out of small sample sizes (Eugenio Velez, John Bowker, Kevin Frandsen, blahblahblah) and then let your brain hemorrhage over 25 games against one division opponent over a two-year span. OK, you can, because I have no control over what freaks you out. But getting your boxers in a bunch about the Giants’ recent luck against San Diego is as worthwhile and effective as complaining about the DMV to your dog. Makes you feel better, yes, but that lady with the mustache will still lose your appointment.

However, it’s enlightening to explore why the Giants would have so much trouble against a team that is supposedly a poor man’s version of the Giants. The ‘Dres play in an even more pitcherrific stadium than BobbleSnuggie Park (that’s the new name for the place, since promotions have officially become more important than the games there), they spend about half the money on players that the Giants do, and like the Giants they have a regular lineup that would leave 80% of the teams in the AL East rolling on the floor, LTAO (Laughing Their Asses Off). OMG WTF, why can’t the Giants look like they do against the NL Central against these dudes?

Thing is, they aren’t built the same at all. For one thing, the San Diego closer’s main goal isn’t modeling for an MMA calendar. And on a serious note, the Padres aren’t afraid of speed like the Giants. In fact, they want to run.

Brian Sabean laughs at this notion. To him, stolen bases are ways for the non-obese veterans to amuse themselves during the dog days of summer. Oh Omar, it’s so cute that you’re stealing bases when you’re 38! We’ll be sure to bring this up in 10 years when you come back for Omar Vizquel Day, which should be a week or two after Randy Winn Weekend!

San Diego’s laughing too — and leaving everyone else in their dust. Check out this passage from the recent SI story on the Pads’ surprising success:

San Diego general manager Jed Hoyer had identified a larger issue when he was the Red Sox assistant G.M., a job he held until last October. He would tune into late games at Petco, where the scoreboard always seems to read 2–1. “An extra base could be the difference,” Hoyer would tell himself. “They have to run.” When Hoyer was hired in the off-season, he found that manager Bud Black agreed.

Hoyer and Black needed someone to impart their philosophy, and last winter they hired special assistant Dave Roberts. In spring training he hauled players out to the back fields, showing them how to lengthen leads and quicken jumps.

I’d focus on the fact that the Giants paid Roberts millions of dollars to go away and a year later he goes and teaches the Padres how to steal bases off Matt Cain, but it’s not Roberts’ fault the Giants overpaid him and let him do whatever he pleased with his other former teams (plus Roberts got cancer, which means any rude comments I write automatically make me an asshat).

Actually, the key here is the Padres have a new GM who realized his team had the pitching and defense to compete but not the power, so speed was a necessary weapon. And, he was able to change the team basically overnight to suit that mindset.

Contrast that with Sabean, who’s so vet-friendly that only twice in his tenure has the team’s leader in stolen bases been under 32, and both times that player was Marvin Benard. Don’t believe me?

Giants Single Season Leaders, Stolen Bases

1997: Bonds, age 32 (37 SB)

1998: Bonds, age 33 (28 SB)

1999: Benard, age 27 (28 SB)

2000: Benard, age 29 (22 SB)

2001: Bonds, age 36 (13 SB)

2002: Sanders, age 34 (18 SB)

2003: Grissom, age 36 (11 SB)

2004: Durham, age 32 (10 SB)

2005: Vizquel, age 38 (24 SB)

2006: Vizquel, age 39 (24 SB)

2007: Roberts, age 35 (31 SB)

2008: Winn, age 34 (25 SB)

2009: Winn, age 35 (16 SB)

It’s yet another example of Sabean still living in the BALCO era. Of the 14(!) seasons Sabean has made (most of the) player personnel decisions, the Giants have finished 10th or worst in the NL in stolen bases 10 times. It was OK from 2001-2004 when they finished last in the league three times (’01, ’03 and ’04) and 13th place in ’02, because they were winning 90+ games per season and the entire team was drinking from the same fountain as Bonds, Marion Jones and the Giambi bros. In other words, the era Sabez thinks about while driving around in his car listening to “Glory Days” on his mini-disc player.

Sure, stolen bases aren’t the only standard by which team speed is measured. And the Giants aren’t exactly saddled with the most aggressive manager in the world when it comes to baserunning. But this antiquated way of putting together the non-pitching side of the roster is why the Giants aren’t running away with the National League right now, like any team that has Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, retro Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez along with a serviceable-to-outstanding bullpen (depending on what day it is) should be.

Injuries, fielders with no discernible range, base-cloggers like Bengie Molina, Pablo “I may be too fat to hit fastballs now” Sandoval, Edgar Renteria … OK, let’s just make this list “every regular besides Andres Torres and Nate Schierholtz” — it all goes together. If you don’t change your philosophy to suit the times (and with drug testing the times have definitely changed — just ask guys like Pat Burrell, Lance Berkman and any other power hitter who can’t stay good/healthy anymore), the times — and Padres — will pass you by.

More Giant Complaints

— I’m holding out hope like all of you that someday the Giants will drop Sabez’ tired act and sign a young (at least in mind if not in body) GM that pays attention to things like, I don’t know, minor league stats, new stats in general and the ages of available free agents and trade targets.

— But that won’t happen, because the Giants Brass is too busy putting together bids to BUY THE WARRIORS. Remember that next time they cry poor, even though they’ve only spent top dollar on a free agent only once (Zito) since signing Bonds after the 1992 season.

— I don’t care how cute it would be if the Warriors played in a nice new arena next to the Giants (where Stephen Curry bobbleheads will be available to the first 7,500 fans, so line up early!) — if this is what they’ve been saving up their money for, we should all feel cheated.

— Why cheated? OK, here are five reasons…

— 1. They’re totally cockblocking Larry Ellison.

— 2. Larry Baer and the boys have been peddling this whole story about the debt service on the park being a reason why they can’t open up the wallet as wide as any of the other teams that average 3 million fans a year, but they can afford a $300M+ basketball team. Sure.

— 3. If the Giants buy the Warriors, their team in 2015 will include guys like Carlos Boozer, Tony Parker, Zach Randolph, Jason Kidd and pretty much any other past-his-prime vet who used to carve up the Warriors.

— 4. The Warriors’ biggest problem has been that their front office used entertaining, fun-for-the-family Nellie Ball as a cheap substitute for a winning team. The Giants’ goal since the current regime took over in 1997 has been one thing (besides employing Sabean until the end of time): staying “competitive,” which means “good enough to draw fans and perhaps get lucky.” If you’re looking for an ownership group that would strive for a championship at all costs, what makes you think the Giants would ever fit the bill?

— 5. You know they’d outfit Lou Seal in a Warriors uniform and teach him how to jump off a trampoline. And you thought Thunder was lame…

— Finally, here’s a disturbing story from Rich Lieberman. If you don’t know him or aren’t fluent enough in  Gary Radnich-speak to catch the veiled references, Lieberman’s the Bay Area media watchdog who’s been attacking KNBR left and right for a myriad of reasons. I didn’t hear the segment this morning on Murph and Mac, but if what Lieberman says is true — that the soundbite-addicted duo used the occasion of Bruce Bochy putting down his 16-year-old black lab on Tuesday to play barking dog soundbites with “host Brian Murphy … cackling through the ‘bit.'” — the Morning Show crew has some explaining to do. You don’t make fun of someone’s dead dog, dudes.

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