Warriors Future, Baseball Prospectus, A's Hitting, 49ers Needs
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 25, 2009

THE WARRIORS are building for the future. . . or, are they? Though Don Nelson is playing young players probably more than he ever has, there are still big questions about the team because they still have too many round pegs in square holes.

The main question is still point guard. Nelson has said that he wants Monta Ellis to be the point guard but that won’t fly. Though Ellis is a good player, he’s always presented a problem because he’s a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. He isn’t big enough to guard the bigger shooting guards but he doesn’t have either the skills or the mentality to play the point.

The best situation for Ellis was the one he had last year, when Baron Davis was big enough to defend shooting guards, so Ellis could be the shooter and defend point guards. But Davis is not here, and the Warriors don’t have anybody remotely like him on the roster. Jamal Crawford seemed to be a possibility when the Warriors got him in the Al Harrington trade, but he doesn’t have very good playmaking instincts. Nelson has told him to opt out of his contract or he’ll be traded. Stephen Jackson has been moved back to shooting guard, which is a good position for him. You absolutely do not want him as your primary playmaker.

The forward situation is equally fluid. Rookie Anthony Randolph is only 19 and has a great upside, but what’s his position? He’s got the height – 6-11 – to play strong forward but he really needs to hit the gym to build up his body and strength. He looks more like a very tall small forward but his defense isn’t there. Opposing small forwards would light him up regularly for 30 points or more.

Still, Randolph’s best future position would seem to be small forward, but who would play strong forward? Brandon Wright has show flashes of ability but he’s also missed a lot of time on the injured list.

Behind the playing questions is the front office soap opera. The consensus is that Chris Mullin will be gone after the season. Though many think Nelson has undermined him, especially since Larry Riley was installed in the front office, I don’t see it. Nelson and Mullin have too much history, and Mullin has basically done what Nelson wanted: Trading Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy to get Jackson and Harrington, for instance, and then trading Harrington for Crawford.

I think Mullin’s problem is with Bobby Rowell, the resident bean-counter. Mullin thought he had a deal worked out to keep Davis here, but Rowell vetoed it. When Ellis suffered his moped accident, Rowell cut two months off his contract, against Mullin’s recommendation, and has even talked of taking away more of Ellis’s money.

What’s scary is that Rowell seems to have gained the upper hand in the front office. When the main man is primarily interested in the bottom line, there’s no reason to be optimistic about he team’s future.

BASEBALL PROSPECTUS: If you want to know what’s going on in baseball, beyond the ordinary statistics, the one book you really need is “Baseball Prospectus”. Two of the editors/writers, Christina Kahrl and Kevin Goldstein (and perhaps Gary Huckabay) will make an appearance at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Books, Inc. in Alameda.

The books are a direct descendant of the trail-blazing research and writing by Bill James in the ‘80s. “We all read the Bill James Abstracts growing up and missed them terribly when he stopped writing,” said Kahrl in a telephone conversation yesterday, “so a bunch of us got together in 1995 and put out our own book. That first one was terrible, but we said we could and would do better, so we’ve been doing yearly ones ever since.”

When I first started reading James, many of his statements seemed counter-intuitive, but as I kept reading, I saw that he had persuasive arguments backing up his claims. I don’t pretend to understand the mathematical formulas used, but he started a new school, called sabrematicians, and their thinking has revolutionized the baseball world. Front offices throughout baseball have been influenced by his thinking, and the Boston Red Sox even hired him for a brief period.

The “Baseball Prospectus” has carried on in that tradition with general essays on each club and individual evaluations of each player, as well as projections for the next season. (Player evaluations are done on the basis of the clubs for whom they played the previous year. Orlando Cabrera, for instance, is listed with the Chicago White Sox, though he’s now with the Oakland A’s.)

The comments are often caustic. For the last 4-5 years, comments have been especially critical of Giants general manager Brian Sabean and his big spending habit. One comment from this year’s book: “The Giants surprised a lot of people by giving Edgar Renteria $18.5 million for the next two years, but we’ve all but given upon trying to figure out what the Giants are doing of late.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

One of the book’s editors, Nate Silver, took on another project last year, starting a political site, FiveThirtyEight.com, on which he analyzed polls and reports to come up with accurate predictions about how the Presidential and Congressional races were going. I checked it 3-4 times daily in the fall and still go there on a less regular basis.

A’S STYLE: One of the teams which first embraced the Bill James philosophy was the Oakland A’s, when Sandy Alderson was the general manager and Tony La Russa the manager in the mid-‘80s. The first time I first became aware of the importance of on-base percentage, in fact, was in a conversation with Alderson in that period. Alderson showed me the batting average and on-base percentage for American League clubs, and the runs scored. There was almost a direct correlation between on-base percentage and runs scored, but the correlation between batting average and runs scored was inconsistent.

Since then, under Billy Beane, the A’s have been strongly identified with an approach which emphasizes on-base percentage, but this approach is often misunderstood. I saw an example of that recently in a quote by Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins who said that he thought being passive at the plate corresponded to being passive in the field, too.

The A’s do not teach their hitters to be passive. They teach them to be selective. Part of that is obvious: Don’t swing at pitches out of the strike zone. A less obvious situation is when a hitter has less than two strikes and a pitcher puts a pitch low in the strike zone on the outside corner of the plate. A hitter should let that pitch go. If he swings at it – well, that’s why Pedro Feliz hit so many double play grounders to the shortstop when he was with the Giants.

No system can make a bad hitter a good one, which is why the A’s had such a bad offense last year. But Jason Giambi is a good example of how the A’s system can work You certainly wouldn’t call Giambi a passive hitter, but he is selective, so when he’s been healthy, he’s been able to combine a high on-base percentage with good power numbers.

49ERS NEEDS: Statistics are useful, but they can also be misleading if they’re not correctly analyzed. Case in point: Local writers talk of the 49ers offensive line being weak because it gave up a league-leading 55 sacks last year, but the biggest reason for that was the offensive system which was used for the first half of the season.

Mike Martz likes his quarterbacks to make downfield throws frequently. That means more interceptions than in a system which utilizes short passes – and it also means more sacks and fumbles when the quarterback holds on to the ball trying to make those downfield throws. But it also means more long gains on pass plays. Martz’s teams have all been at or near the top in interceptions, quarterback fumbles and long gains on passes. That pattern was repeated in the first half of last season, with J. T. O’Sullivan at quarterback. Martz threw out most of his playbook and called conservative games for Shaun Hill.

Right now, the 49ers have a nice young core with Joe Staley at left tackle and David Baas and Chila Rachal as guards. They could use an upgrade at right tackle but Adam Snyder is serviceable, if they have to use him. They may sign veteran Marvel Smith, a good player though often injured the past two years. They should say goodbye to Jonas Jennings, who can't stay healthy and hasn’t played well when he has been. Barry Sims has some value as a versatile backup but he has never been good enough as a starter at any position.

Yes, the 49ers could use an upgrade, and if they could draft a player to plug in at right tackle, that would be ideal. Then, Snyder could be the versatile backup and they could say goodbye to Sims. But, they can survive with Snyder as a starter, especially if we can believe Mike Singletary’s comments about basing the offense on their running game.

OVER-RATED: The World Baseball Classic? Ho-hum – unless you enjoy watching players from your favorite team get injured in meaningless games. . . The Sharks on topof the NHL? Double ho-hum. In the Bay Area, hockey is more of a cult than a sport.


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