Brian Sabean has some tough calls to make this offseason

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Brian Sabean bashing is a pretty common pastime among stathead types. I’ve spent an awful lot of time doing it, I’ll admit. For what it’s worth, my bashing him has less to do with any individual moves he’s made and more to do with some poor behavior on his part, but it’s undeniable that, for whatever reason, Sabean catches a lot of flak from the so-called smart set.

But that flack pales compared to two World Series championships in three years. No, you can’t absolve Sabean of bad moves and give him all the credit for those titles — like most GMs he’s had good moments and bad — but it seems pretty damn petty to take potshots at the job he’s done, especially in recent years, in light of the undeniable success of the Giants. Ultimately the job is to win and the Brian Sabean-led Giants have won.

But baseball success is a fleeting thing, and there are a couple of decisions Sabean has to make soon that are anything but easy calls: contracts for Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro.

Pagan and Scutaro were key components for the Giants down the stretch. Indeed, despite there being little reason to assume he’d be useful, Scutaro was probably the absolute best mid-season pickup by any team. Pagan likewise was a critical cog in the machine, posting his best season in 2012, hitting .288, finding the big gaps in AT&T Park to his liking with 15 triples and playing some sweet D.

However, as Chris Haft notes at MLB.com, both of them are free agents. Today is Scutaro’s 37th birthday. Pagan will turn 32 next summer. Neither has the sort of track record that anticipated their 2012 contributions to the Giants’ World Series championship and neither can be expected to repeat that performance on a consistent basis for an extended period, but both will greet the ecstatic San Francisco fans at the victory parade tomorrow as heroes. And there will be a lot of those folks who desperately want to see Scutaro and Pagan back in Giants uniforms next year.

And each is likely the best option for the Giants too. But not at any price and not for a lengthy period of time.  And that’s Sabean’s biggest challenge this offseason. A challenge that a lot of World Series winning general managers have had to face mere days after the champagne dried: how to balance the past, the present and the future of a winning team without overpaying and without letting emotion play too large a role.

It’s a nice problem for a GM to have, but it’s certainly not an easy one to solve, even if you have a couple of World Series rings on your fingers. And no matter how much success Brian Sabean has had in recent years, he gets almost no time to rest on those laurels before being put to the test once again.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.