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Checking In On Larry Baer’s 162 Game Roadmap

At the annual San Francisco Giants FanFest last February at AT&T Park, Giants President and Chief Operating Officer Larry Baer was interviewed about managing an MLB team throughout a 162-game season. Not the day-to-day work done by Manager Bruce Bochy but the overall assessment and decision-making by the front office to stay on a winning path.

Baer essentially said the first 50 games of the season allow the manager and front office to assess what they have; the next 50 games allow management to adjust and problem-solve; and the final 62 games are all about winning. It’s a simple, insightful and almost zen-like blueprint that reflects the realities and opportunities offered by the 162 game MLB schedule.

Obviously Baer was not describing a franchise philosophy carved in stone or emblazoned in quotes on his executive business card, but the 50-50-62 roadmap is still a rational approach to understanding how a season works and how much time is available to properly assess player performance and make critical decisions.

Exceptions to the formula certainly abound, most recently 2010 NLCS MVP Cody Ross playing his first game as a Giant on August 23, 2010– which was game #126. Player decisions are also dependent on opportunity, but compare Major League Baseball to the NFL, where the season goes by so fast it’s rare to see major personnel changes during the season unless they are injury-related.

So, where in the Baer blueprint are the 2011 Giants? Game number 50 is coming up next week: the Thursday May 26th day game with the Florida Marlins at AT&T Park. General Manager Brian Sabean and his executive team have certainly had time to assess team strengths, team weaknesses and team needs. Since every issue can’t be addressed and every problem on the field can’t be solved, discerning the team’s critical priorities ends up being the most important decision of all.

The 2011 Giants have three major problems staring at them at game #50: run production up and down the line-up, shortstop defense, and getting another left handed power bat.

Out of 16 NL teams, San Francisco ranks 16th in runs scored with 142; St. Louis leads the League with 220 runs. The Giants come in at 15 of 16 teams with a .304 OBP, and again the Cardinals rank first with a .359 OBP. Maybe most troubling of all is the fall off in the category of extra base hits; they’re 10th of 16 teams with 105 XBH. The aggressive St. Louis Cards top the League with 126 XBH.

The ability to produce XBH throughout the line-up was a mainstay of the 2010 Championship team, and provided just enough support for the team’s outstanding starting and bullpen pitching to win. That piece is missing the first seven weeks of the 2011 season.

Few things support starting pitching better than infield defense. The Giants’ lagging offense has the front office in a bind trying to fill the shortstop position with players who can also produce runs. This year, they’re getting  neither offense or defense at short and it puts a lot of additional pressure on the pitchers. This is not about errors, it’s about range and creating outs and double plays. Once again, the Giants come in 15th in the NL with 28 DPs made so far this year; the hard charging Cards again lead the pack with 43 DPs.

Rumors that the Giants were in discussions with the Mets over upcoming free agent shortstop Jose Reyes were a fantasy. How ridiculous is it to believe the Giants would, a) give up top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler in a deal to get Reyes now; and then, b) pony up $100-120 million to retain Reyes for 5 or 6 years.

In Brandon Crawford and Ehire Adrianza, the Giants have two in-house shortstops who can provide Major League defense– now. Adrianza’s offense is likely a year or two away, but Crawford can hit and would almost instantly improve the infield defense and create more outs to support Giant pitchers.

And the lefty power hitter the Giants so desperately need? He is currently batting .387 with a 1.129 OPS in the city of Fresno, CA. The name is Belt, Brandon Belt…