Giants' Question Marks: Giants Fans, Tucker Down

Giants fans have been in an uproar over losing the Giants #1 draft pick when the Giants signed Michael Tucker hours before they could have signed him and lost no pick. This Giants fanatic decided to examine in more detail what the real deal is.

Giants Fans have tuckered themselves out over losing a first round draft pick when the Giants signed Michael Tucker hours before they could have signed him and lost no pick. Brian Sabean said that this was necessary in order for the Giants to afford to sign Tucker, as the Giants then saves the signing bonus and contract that would have went to that drafted player. I thought the Giants reasoning appeared sound on the surface based on their past practices and accepted it. But there were other Giants fans who said that we need to build our farm system and that this is a short-sighted decision, especially to sign a utility outfielder like Tucker. Perhaps it is the fans being shortsighted.

The Sitch

The Giants on December 7, 2003, signed Michael Tucker to a $3.5M two-year contract. Signed just hours before the deadline for teams to lose the right to a draft pick when their free agent player is signed by another team, the signing essentially dealt the Giants 2004 first round draft pick of the 2004 Amateur Draft to Kansas City for Tucker when it was commonly known even among fans that Kansas City was not going to offer Tucker (or any of their free agents for that matter) arbitration.

Bonus Babies

First, there is a question on how much the Giants actually saved. Let's examine what happened in the draft last year. Taking a look at Baseball America's 2003 draft database, you'll get a way to look at the draft in draft sequence and by team, including bonuses. The lowest bonus 1st round 2003 was $750K, but that was an aberration pick by San Diego for a #4 pick, where as #3 got $3.35M and #5 got $2.1M, which means that San Diego should have had a bonus of about $2.5-$3.0M. For reference, the next lowest was $900K - Kansas City - and all the rest, including the supplemental round, were basically at $1M or more. That means that you're looking at paying at least $1M for a first round draft pick near the end of the first round.

However, the Giants typically draft people out of the "expected" draft sequence, that is, at least a round or two higher than most draft consensus had the player going. So the Giants could essentially still end up drafting the same people in the 2004 draft but end up paying them less as the actual drafted players will be about the same as if they kept their first round draft pick with all the players just pushed back one round.

For reference, let's examine what the Giants have done over the past six drafts. The Giants since 1998, has drafted both high school and college players with their first picks, with picks from 19th in the first round (Tony Torcato in 1998) to as late as 25th in the first round (Matt Cain in 2002). The average bonus given to their first pick of the draft was $1.3M, with a low of $0.975M for Torcato in 1998 to a high of $1.425M for David Aardsma, the 22nd pick of the first round in 2003. But Torcato was much lower as the next lowest was $1.245M for Boof Bonser in 2000.

In addition, some have suggested that if the bonus is the problem, then the Giants should draft someone willing to accept lower money just because the player would have normally drafted lower. And if I'm that player, I would say, "Sez who?" Maybe the Giants wouldn't have drafted me earlier but maybe other teams might. Who is to judge exactly at what round money you should be getting? Then it becomes a case of how much.

So all they really lost, by this reckoning, is their 50th round draft pick and technically, he should be available in the 51st round as teams are allowed to draft until they stop. In any case, he doesn't get a bonus and they end up paying the draftees in aggregate a total of about $1M less than they would have for the same players that they normally would have drafted anyway. This is the money that the Giants said that enabled them to sign Tucker, because they slid the money from the draft budget over to the MLB players budget.

Get A Hold of Yourselves

Some fans have been reacting to the lost of the first round draft pick like it was the end of the Roman Empire. Get a hold of yourselves. It is a late first round draft pick. People are reacting like this will destroy the Giants farm system. It is only one draft pick. And the odds of a first round draft player being a major league player of significance is very low. It is even lower for late first round draft picks, like shooting with a shotgun, maybe you will get a hit, probably you won't.

But this doesn't affect the Giants much anyway because they normally draft out of the expected draft sequence, as noted above. Thus losing a first round draft pick for the Giants is not as disastrous as it would be for other teams because they would end up drafting the player anyway, just in a later round, because the other teams would not have drafted him yet anyway. So fans should calm down about this aspect of the deal.

Is Tucker Giants' Worthy?

Part of the anger is from a certain segment of the fans that don't think Tucker is worthwhile to get for the contract he signed. They look at him and see him as a 4th outfielder, who hasn't done much in his career. What they are missing is that he is a versatile left-handed hitter who plays about 120-140 games a year at all three outfield positions.

For one thing, Cruz was horrible hitting against RHP, .233/.353/.379/.732, logging 460 plate appearances in that situation. Meanwhile Tucker hit .263/.339/.431/.770 over the past three years against RHP and has hit at about that rate over his career. Tucker as the lefty in a platoon with Hammonds and Mohr will increase run production because instead of Cruz walking or making an out against RHP, Tucker would get a hit instead and would hit for more power. Furthermore, Tucker will probably be resting Grissom in centerfield during the year as well because Grissom has trouble against certain RHP - over the past three years Grissom has hit .253/.280/.402/.682, very Neifi-ish, against RHP but has killed LHP with .305/.343/.592/.935. And so Tucker will improve the offensive production in centerfield as well.

In addition, Tucker should improve greatly our RBI production from right field because Cruz is a horrible player to use as an RBI producer. Tucker hit .274/.357/.409/.766 with RISP the past three years while Cruz had a miserable .189/.346/.357/.702; Cruz has been that bad in RISP all his career while Tucker has been that good. Tucker hit even better with runners on .286/.350/.468/.818. Cruz with runners on was a little better too, .221/.362/.361/.723, but still worse. What the Giants may give up in HRs and defense, they will probably more than make up with Tucker, in tandem with Hammonds and Mohr. The three of them batting 7th behind high OBP types, like Bonds, Alfonzo, and Pierzynski, who get on base a lot and will be driven in by the three instead of having Cruz strike out, make an out, or walk with the pitcher coming up.

But Tucker Will Hit Horribly in S.F., won't he?

Some fans note that Tucker hit horrible on the road while at Kansas City and, in addition, will suffer hitting as a lefty at the park formerly known as Pac Bell. First, this home/road dichotomy was a phenomenon that affected the whole Royals team, not just Tucker, with the team as a whole hitting much better at home than on the road. Some have attributed it to a number of pitching oriented parks opening up in the AL, but I don't subscribe to that yet because the change is too much to attribute to just a few new parks, such a big shift would require a lot of the clubs to have new parks.

I think the real culprit is a combination of a new park in the division with something new recently: unbalanced schedules. The Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, and Minnesota Twins all experienced raised offense at home in 2000. What was new? The Detroit Tigers opened up Comerica Park in 2000 and it turned out to be a severe pitcher's park that severely depressed offense there.

According to, the White Sox went from 97/98 (park factor for batting/pitching) in 1999 to 105/105 in 2000, the Royals from 101/101 to 104/103 and the Twins from 104/104 to 108/107. And Detroit, with the new stadium, went from 101/101 in 1999 at the old stadium to 97/97 in 2000. Then Major League Baseball instituted the unbalanced schedule for the 2001 season. With that the White Sox, Indians, and Twins experienced drops in their park factors while the Royals had a big jump, as suddenly the Royals were playing a lot more games in stadiums that depresses offense: Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit.

Looking in The Bill James Handbook at stadium effects on runs, the Royals played 98 games (home and road) against teams with strong pitching parks that depressed runs by a lot: Anaheim, Baltimore, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York Yankees, Oakland, Seattle, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay. In addition, they had another 28 games against teams where the park was essentially neutral: Minnesota and San Francisco. That left 36 games against teams with hitters parks: Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Texas, and Toronto.

Tucker throughout his career has been pretty much the same home or away. Before his last two years with the Royals, he basically had the same .260 batting average, home or away. He was just affected by being in the KC Offensive Distortion Zone the last two years, playing in all these pitchers parks in the Central Division.

And while it is true that the park formerly known as Pac Bell does depress left-handed hitters' statistics, Tucker should not be affected much by it, or at least not as much as other players who depend on homers as a big part of their offense. According to The Bill James Handbook for 2004 (got mine using Amazon; great book! Must buy for any fan interested in stats), lefthanders are mildly affected by the park for batting average. It is hitting homers where players statistics are depressed greatly. And while the book did not break out lefty breakdowns for other stats, in general the park has little effect on doubles, vastly increases triples (one of the intentions of the park design), while severely depressing homers.

Tucker's main offensive value comes from things other than homers: in his career he has 548 singles, 167 doubles, 42 triples, and 106 homers. Homers only account for 28 percent of his total bases, 12 percent of his total hits. For contrast, Jose Cruz Jr. had homers account for 42 percent of his total bases, and 19 percent of his total hits before coming to the Giants. For the Giants, Cruz dropped to 36 percent and 15 percent, respectively, for the Giants, drops of about 14 percent and 24 percent due to the park formerly known as PBP.

Tell Me Why

So why are the Giants fans crying in their garlic fries? I can understand the disappointment of getting Michael Tucker when fans are clamoring for a big signing like Vlad or Sheffield or Maddux. That would be a big come down for almost any player the Giants could have signed.

But let's tally the positives. The Giants saved $1.0-1.4M approximately from losing our draft pick to the Royals but will draft essentially the same players that they would have had they instead kept the pick. A calculated risk but very minor risk. The sky is not falling, we have not lost THE key player who will lead us into the next decade. And Tucker looks like he will be an improvement over Cruz when facing right-handed pitchers and will help make Grissom more effective offensively by taking some of Grissom's plate appearances against right-handers who are especially tough on Grissom. This should counteract the strong possibility that Grissom had a career year in 2003 and would slide back in 2004 and replaces Cruz's horrible stats against right-handers and in runners on situations with a player more capable of cashing in on those situations.

Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fanatic's View' for when the mood and muse strikes him. He wants to teach and share his love of baseball and, in particular, his love for the San Francisco Giants. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player and should be in Cooperstown. Please feel free to e-mail him at (remove the "nospam." if you wish to e-mail me) if you have a question or comment.

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