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Buster, Freddy, And The Noble Quest For League Average Offense

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I jotted some notes during the brief Larry Baer TV interview last week. The Larry shot down the idea of spending $20 million a year on a free agent, no big surprise, but I was struck by the way he framed the coming winter's work. Getting Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez back was key -- "something to build around," I think was the phrase he used. So it got me thinking. How much more would they actually need to build around those two, assuming they come back healthy?

For this rough little thought exercise, let's make a couple more assumptions:

1) The Giants' run prevention (pitching + defense) will be as good in 2012 as it has been the past two seasons. If you disagree, let's go down that path in another post. For now, please play along.

2) If the run prevention remains as strong, the Giants only need a league-average offense to take back the NL West. That was the formula in 2010: 17th in runs scored, 2nd in runs allowed.

What is league average? From 2009 to 2011, NL teams scored an average of 696 runs a season. Major-league average was 717 runs. The average has dropped every year since 2009, by the way, so it's possible "league-average" next year will be lower than the 2011 averages of 668 in the NL and 694 overall. I'm sure there are statistical models out there to predict whether offense will continue to drop, reverse course and increase, or if it has hit a plateau.

I'll be rougher about it and take 2011 as our point of comparison. The Giants need to score about 668 runs to be (National) league-average in 2012. In 2010, they scored 697, and boy, wouldn't that be nice next year?

Last year they scored 570. With the acquisition of a major impact bat highly unlikely, where will they find one hundred more runs over the course of 162 games? If they play full years, Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez will certainly be big improvements over their offensively enfeebled replacements.

In 2010, Posey was worth 1.6 wins above replacement (WAR), and he played in only 25% of the total Giant catcher-innings. (He played 361 innings, and Giants catchers logged 1467 innings total.) Let's pretend he played in 80% of the innings (roughly 130 games); he would project to a 5.2 WAR. I'll be conservative and shave off a full win to account for fatigue, nagging injury, etc. So, let's say a full-time Posey would have clocked 4.2 WAR last year. His replacements totaled 1.0 WAR in 1106 innings, nearly all of it due to Chris Stewart's defense. (Keep that in mind when considering Buster's backup next year.)

If Posey hadn't been injured, Stewart and his arm-cannon would never have reached the majors, and Eli Whiteside would have been Buster's backup. I'm going to assume Whiteside would not have contributed more than a fraction of a win as the season-long backup.

In other words, catcher contributions with a healthy Posey would have been 4.2 WAR -- call it 4.5 if you want to be less conservative -- anywhere from 1.5 to 2 wins more than what catchers contributed in 2011.

What about a healthy Freddy Sanchez? He played in 514 innings before his season-ending shoulder injury. Total innings for Giant second basemen: 1466. Freddy played 35% of the year, and he contributed 1 WAR. The contributions of his replacements are harder to tease out, as many of them played multiple positions. But let's take the two who played the most keystone innings after Sanchez: Jeff Keppinger, who was exclusively 2B, and Manny Burriss, who only played a little shortstop. They were awful, combining for nearly -1.0 WAR in nearly 690 innings (Burriss spent 48 of them at short). If Freddy had played another third of the season -- he managed 111 games in 2010 -- he probably would have added another win, and it would have kept the win-destroying replacements off the field a bit more. Let's give Theoretically Healthy Freddy 2.5 -- his total for 2010 -- and give his replacements -0.5 for a total of 2 WAR. That's at least a 2 win improvement over what actually happened.

So a relatively healthy Posey and Sanchez in 2011 could have added 3.5 to 4 wins, or, if you use the sabermetric conversion of 10 runs = 1 win: 35 to 40 runs. Will they hit those marks in 2012? The projection systems have yet to release numbers; with the severity of their injuries (and Sanchez's age and injury history), I won't be surprised if they're projected lower than I've guesstimated.

Even if I'm right, though, the Giants will need at least 60 more runs to be a roughly league-average offense again. Guess how much difference there was between Aubrey Huff's 2010 and 2011: 6.6 WAR.

Of course, there are a ton of other moving parts, parts to move, and unfathomable fathoms. But when the palooka on the neighboring bar stool says to you, hey, they're getting Freddy and Buster back, how much else will they need, you can say, "2010-version Aubrey Huff!" and when everyone in the bar laugh-snorts their PBRs through their noses you can say, "OK, bitches, half of 2010-version Huff, with a little bit more Andres Torres and a full year of a healthy Carlos Beltran. Now you're cooking with league-average gas."

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