Depth is A’s edge on Giants

This is my Thursday column on the difference between the Giants and the A’s. WARNING: This is a baseball column. 49ers fans — feel free to skip this.

PHOENIX – The Giants hope. The A’s don’t. The biggest difference between the two teams right now.

The Giants hope so many things go their way this season. They hope Pablo Sandoval keeps his weight down. They hope Angel Pagan stays healthy. They hope Marco Scutaro stays healthy. They hope Ryan Vogelsong stays healthy. They hope Brandon Belt improves. They hope Tim Hudson bounces back from a broken ankle. They hope Mike Morse bounces back from wrist surgery. They hope Matt Cain bounces back from a bad season. They hope Tim Lincecum bounces back from two bad seasons in a row.

The entire team is built on a hope and a prayer.

On Wednesday, the Giants’ first day of full-squad workouts, manager Bruce Bochy sat on a bench in the Giants’ dugout at Scottsdale Stadium and expressed his hopes and wishes about Sandoval. “Hopefully, we’re not taking him out (at the end of games),” Bochy said. “He lost quite a few pounds. He should be moving around better. I think it’s going to help him with the bat, too.”

Circle the key words in Bochy’s quote.

If you circled “hopefully,” “should,” and “I think,” you get an A+. Those are words you use when you engage in wishful thinking. Bochy wishes Sandoval will improve this season and finally become a superstar. The pressure is on Sandoval to prove Bochy right.

On Thursday, the first day of full-squad workouts for the A’s, manager Bob Melvin sat on a picnic table outside the A’s minor-league complex and a reporter asked if he thought his third baseman, Josh Donaldson, will improve this season. I want you to compare what Melvin said about Donaldson to what Bochy said about Sandoval.

Melvin said: “I don’t want (Donaldson) to have that kind of pressure, going out there thinking he has to do better. He potentially could, but we insulate within the group. We don’t put too much pressure on him. All he has to do is go out there and perform in the fashion that he has and play with the intensity that he does. As long as he does that, the numbers will take care of themselves.”

Notice Melvin did not use the words “hopefully,” “should,” or “I think.” Notice Melvin made a point not to put the pressure on Donaldson like Bochy put it on Sandoval. That’s because there is no pressure on Donaldson.

The A’s scored the fourth-most runs in the Major Leagues last season even though Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes had down seasons – Reddick hit .226, Cespedes .240. The A’s don’t rely on superstars to drive in all of the runs. They have run producers up and down the batting order. The A’s have depth.

“I think that’s one of the focuses on our team,” said Melvin. “We are not a team that can go out and sign a $150 million or $200 million player. We have to have depth. We have to match up in certain positions. We use the whole complement of 25 players. And it’s not just 25. We had 50 players last year and we had 50-plus the year before. Just because you start here doesn’t mean you end up here. Your performance will dictate what kind of playing time you get.”

The Giants have not figured out how important depth is. If Sandoval gets fat again, or if Pagan gets hurt again, or if Matt Cain gets blasted again, then the Giants are in trouble because they have no strong backups. With a $144 million payroll, they could afford depth if they valued it.

Clearly, the A’s value depth. This offseason, they traded one of their top prospects, Michael Choice, to the Rangers for a role player – Craig Gentry. Gentry will be the A’s fourth outfielder. His career batting average is .280. “He is one of the better role players in all of baseball,” Melvin said.

“Craig is a great player,” said pitcher Josh Lindblom, who came to the A’s in the same trade Gentry did. “He’s probably one of the best outfielders I have ever been with. He will run through a wall. He plays the game hard. His speed speaks for itself. He gets on base and wreaks havoc.”

The Giants’ fourth outfielder is Gregor Blanco whose career batting average is .257. Not in Gentry’s league.

The Giants’ fifth outfielder is a kid named Juan Perez who has 89 at-bats in his Major League career.

“He was an unknown last year at this point,” Bochy admitted, “but he came up and did a good job.”

He hit .258.

“The young kids have more experience,” he continued. “You’re hoping they can continue their improvement.”

Circle the key words.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.

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    1. Let me also add that the Giants’ ‘hoping’ isn’t a negative. Anyone who has followed the Giants’ two World Series championships these last few years knows we weren’t the best team on paper, but we assembled a group of guys who believed in themselves and made their luck happen. And then we did it again. Sometimes hope and optimism at the right time is the best thing you have going for you.

  1. uhm…how are they competing again??? uh…the exhibition bay bridge series? the 6 or so interleague games? the world series?

    i’m pretty sure the Giants and A’s aren’t preparing their clubs to compete with each other.

  2. Grant-

    This whole column is based on the fact that the Giants use the word ‘hope?’ Let me fill you in on something, every team hopes things will happen.

    You point out that the Giants’ fourth outfielder has a career batting average of .257, but completely ignore the fact that Donaldson’s career avg. before last year was .232? And he was named the starter, not a backup. I guess Melvin didn’t put hope into that decision.

    You point out that the Giants are hoping for a bounce back season for Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, but completely ignore the fact that Josh Reddick hit .226 and Yoenis Cespedes hit .240 last year. I guess Melvin isn’t hoping that they have resurgent seasons as well.

    You also completely ignore the fact that the A’s are relying on a starting second baseman whose career avg. is .241, a starting first baseman whose career avg. is .253, a starting catcher whose career batting avg. is .226 and a starting DH whose career avg. is .258. You also conveniently fail to mention that the A’s best starting pitcher, Jarrod Parker, had an ERA of 3.97. In fact, the only A’s starting pitcher with an ERA under 3.9 was Sonny Gray, who made just 12 starts.

    The Giants are hoping a lot of things go their way, but don’t fool yourself, so are the A’s.

    I might just be hoping you recognize this though.

    1. Sean great response. For gods sake Grant it is spring training and hope springs eternal. Only Sports writers look to the future then express their opinion like its fact. Its belief and we all hope our belief comes true. Only you and other writers know your belief is fact.

      1. The A’s don’t have to rely on hope. They can finish top-five in runs scored even if Josh Donaldson completely falls apart. That’s because they have depth. The Giants have none. So their wishes better come true. And even if they do, the Giants probably will not finish top-10 in runs scored.

        1. Why do you keep saying depth is going to make or break these teams? First off, the A’s have had a history of injury-prone players. Therefore, Beane must have depth in order to make it through a full season. Injuries happen to every team, but you’re valuation of depth is completely ridiculous.

          Second, what is this depth you keep talking about with Oakland? You mention ONE player that the A’s added to give them depth and it cost them arguably their best prospect. Unless you consider Nick Punto, Alberto Callaspo or Daric Barton great players, the A’s depth is nonexistent as well.

          1. Depth very well could break the Giants just like it did last season. The A’s don’t have to have everything go their way to remain a playoff team. Their margin for error is much larger. If Pagan goes down again, the Giants are toast.

        2. Grant you are right the A’s MAY finish in the top 5 in runs scored even if Donaldson falls apart and i’m sure the A’s fans and management hope it happens either way.

    2. didn’t the A’s lose an 18 game winning starting pitcher with a 2.65 ERA? I’m sure the A’s are hoping they don’t miss him.

        1. Grant i agree the A’s are’nt sweating losing Colon but i bet they hope the injury bug does’nt hit the rest of the staff.

  3. I’m still failing to see how the Athletics’ depth is significantly better than the Giants. San Francisco signed a starting-caliber outfielder which forced Blanco, who has experience as a starter, to a reserve role. Meanwhile, Oakland decided to trade a top prospect for a fourth outfielder that is 30 years old and has never had more than 246 at bats in a season.

    I also find it funny that you’re banking this season on the health of Angel Pagan. With a lineup that features Scutaro, Sandoval, Posey, Pence, Morse and Belt, you’re really going to choose Pagan to single out?

    Honestly, I think you’re looking at two successful seasons by the A’s and translating that to them being perennial contenders. Keep in mind they’ve advanced past the ALDS once since 1992, and got swept in the next round.

    1. The Giants hope Morse is healthy and Scutaro stays healthy. Good luck to them, they will need it.

      The Giants basically had the same hitters last year and they had one of the worst offenses in baseball.

      Blanco stinks.

      1. Grant you are right Blanco is not a good major leaguer but i bet the A’s are hoping Sonny Gray’s young arm can last for over 200 big league innings plus playoffs

        1. I don’t think they’re hoping that. The A’s don’t need a heroic effort from any of their starters. They have six of them, and all six have to pitch just five innings per start. The A’s have a bullpen that can take over in the sixth inning and dominate.

          1. Grant thats not how the major leagues work a srarter pitches every 5th day you lengthen that out to every 7th day and pitchers cant stay sharp and you would.nt have enough pitchers in your bullpen

            1. I understand that. They have an extra good starter in case someone gets hurt or doesn’t pitch well. Tommy Millone might start the season in AAA.

          2. My difference with you is’nt about the the Giants and A’s roster, if i was going to make a bet right now i would put my money on the A’s. Its with your use of the word hope as if the A’s success is a foregone conclusion. I know you are not a gambling man but if you are so sure of the A’s you should start, no wait thats right there is no such thing as a sure thing all you can do is lay your money down and hope.

            1. That’s not my point. The Giants have to hope because they have no backup plans. There is no 6th starter waiting in AAA if Vogelsong stinks or Lincecum stinks or Hudson stinks. There is no one good on the bench if Pagan gets hurt or Scutaro gets hurt or Sandoval gets fat. But the A’s have backup plans all over their roster. They thrived last season despite Reddick hitting horribly and Cespedes hitting just .240. They can weather more bad luck than the Giants can. That’s my point.

          1. why do you believe he’s a poor fielder? I know his defensive metrics (even before Spike posted them). Your opinion of Blanco seems irrational.

            1. He’s OK in the field, nothing special. He doesn’t hit for a good average, he doesn’t get on base at a high rate and he doesn’t have power. He’s just a guy, not a quality role player.

          2. “decent fielder”???

            2.3 WAR and that ain’t for his hitting (which isn’t bad for a platoon hitter). Career UZR of 7.9 which puts him between Above Average to Great.

            I was at Cain’s 2012 perfect game and saw Blanco’s spectacular catch to save the perfect game. Incredible.

      1. While WAR is a statistical tool and is by no means perfect, it is interesting that over the last 2 years Blanco’s WAR (based heavily on his D) is almost the exact same as Carlos Beltran’s. This from one of the best Giants blogs out there, When The Giants Come To Town, on a 10/24/13 post about left field:

        http://whenthegiantscometotown.blogspot.com/2013/10/thoughts-on-left-field.html

        ** I think most people see Gregor Blanco as more of a 4′th OF. I have to say that is pretty much how I think of him too, but recently something caught my eye that made me re-think that. I think it was someone here made a comment that Blanco’s WAR score over the last 2 years is approximately equal to Carlos Beltran’s. Wait! What? I decided to look up Blanco’s stat sheet on Fangraphs. Sure enough, he had a WAR of 2.3 in 2012 and 2.8 in 2013 while Beltran’s 2 year WAR was 5.3, just 0.2 higher than Blanco’s 5.1. I decided to look up leaders by WAR and found that in 2013, Blanco’s 2.8 was the 28′th highest in MLB. That’s right, 28′th highest!

        There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball. That means that, base on WAR criteria, there are at least 3 MLB teams on which Gregor Blanco would have been the top OF! Now, there are some caveats to this. WAR is not a perfect measure of value and is dependent on a combination of hitting, fielding, baserunning and position value. Right off the bat, Blanco gets much of his WAR value from defense and he got extra credit for playing CF more than he played LF due to Pagan’s injury. On the other hand, before you go looking for a replacement and bump him down to #4, you better be sure you are getting an upgrade. While WAR is not a perfect measurement, it also is not terrible and should be take seriously, especially since his 2 year average is also very respectable suggesting that the 2.9 is not a fluke.

        While I am completely on board with the Giants exploring other options for LF this offseason, they could do a lot worse than stand pat with Blanco and possibly a RH hitting platoon partner. Juan Perez anyone? **

  4. your opinionated analysis sounds comes off as the stereotypical A’s fan with an inferiority complex to their bigger market neighbors to the west.

  5. Grant,

    The reason Melvin spoke about Donaldson the way he did, is he knows that if Donaldson even approaches what he did in 2013, in 2014, it will be a prayer. Baseball players’ stats regress to the mean, from year to year, and I would bet (and I’m sure Melvin knows). That Donaldson likely has one big old regression coming this year.

    It makes perfect sense for Bochy to talk about Sandoval the way he did. The Giants are hopeful he returns to the level he’s capable.

    Just as it makes perfect sense the way Melvin is talking about Donaldson. He knows full well that it would be counterproductive to add any more pressure than what Donaldson must be feeling already. Donaldson’s 2013 was such an outlier, even he must have tempered expectations for 2014.

    On the other hand, maybe Donaldson is a budding superstar. Nah.

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