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.

The Mets are a mess

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The Mets lost again on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Braves. It’s their sixth consecutive loss and the club is now in last place in the NL East. Not exactly the start the Mets envisioned.

Matt Harvey got the start, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs on five hits and five walks with only one strikeout. After the game, Harvey said he was tight and that he threw yesterday expecting to start on Friday instead, per Matt Ehalt of The Record. Sounds like no one communicated to Harvey that he’d be starting this afternoon until it was too late for him to properly prepare.

Harvey started because Noah Syndergaard was scratched due to a “tired arm.” Syndergaard blew reporters off after the game, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Puma then added that Syndergaard ripped Mets P.R. guy Jay Horwitz for letting reporters approach him.

By the way, the Mets also lost outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a hamstring injury. Not much else can go wrong in Queens.

Joey Votto isn’t on board with the latest fly ball trend among hitters

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If you haven’t heard, fly balls — not ground balls or line drives — are all the rage among hitters these days. Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez summed it up perfectly last month when he said, “I’m not trying to hit a [freaking] line drive or a freaking ground ball.” The goal is to maximize damage. Last year, for example, fly balls became hits about 17 percent less often than ground balls (7.4% versus 24.6%), but hitters had a slugging percentage more than twice as much as on ground balls (.539 versus .267). This refocusing has helped hitters like Martinez as well as Ryan Zimmerman reinvigorate their careers.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who is as much a student of new age analytics as anyone in the game, doesn’t feel that this approach is necessarily a good one, as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto said:

Where I get concerned is the guys that make this attempt and burn out too much of their time and don’t get a chance to be their best selves, and either don’t make it to the big leagues or don’t perform their best in the big leagues because they’re always attempting this new style of hitting. I see it with a lot of guys. Everyone tells the good stories, but there’s a lot of s—ty stories of guys who are wasting their time trying things.

Votto added that while the fly ball approach is working right now, pitchers will soon adapt and the fly ball approach won’t be so good anymore. And he’s right. Baseball has always been a game of adjustments. For example, as teams have gotten comfortable with shifting their infield, hitters like the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber have both dropped bunts down the third base line for easy hits. Knowing that hitters are aiming to hit fly balls now, pitchers may stay higher in the strike zone more often as one possible solution.

Votto is just trying to stay as well-rounded as possible. He says that he wants to become “unpitchable.” Votto wants to be like Angels outfielder Mike Trout, whom he describes as a guy “who can do absolutely anything he wants” and “at all times [has] all options.”

So far, Votto is having another productive season despite a relatively pedestrian batting average and on-base percentage. He’s hitting .238/.330/.563 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 94 plate appearances. Coincidentally, he’s been hitting way more fly balls than usual as he’s currently carrying a 42.3 percent rate compared to his 33.1 career average, according to FanGraphs. His line drives are way down to 16.9 percent compared to his 25.4 percent career average.