Celebrating homegrown talent.

Friday Baseball Blogging: Learning to Love the Ones You're With

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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The San Francisco Giants have two World Series victories over the last four years and are back in the National League Championship Series this weekend thanks, in large part, to the adaptability of general manager Brian Sabean.

Sabean was always good at discovering talented pitchers. For hitters, though, when Sabean took over, he relied on one method to make the team's lineup work: Find and play proven major league players. Sometimes it worked: Jeff Kent and Ellis Burks were terrific. Sometimes it didn't: Shawon Dunston is one example, but there were plenty of others.

Let's look at the starting lineups for Sabean's World Series teams:

  • In 2002, the team featured seven major league players the Giants had acquired from other clubs. Rich Aurilia, who was picked up as a minor league player before Sabean came on board for the 1997 season, was the only exception.
  • In 2010, it changed a bit. Buster Posey was the only full-time player in the Giants starting lineup who had been drafted and developed by the team. There were six hitters (seven, if we count the other side of a platoon) who had been acquired from other major league teams, and one guy, Andres Torres, who was far removed from being a regular player before the Giants picked him up. Still, that's three sources of talent, not two. Progress!
  • In 2012, Posey, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt had been drafted and developed by the team. Pablo Sandoval was signed from a foreign country and developed. Gregor Blanco wasn't a regular player before coming on with the Giants. That leaves only three proven major leaguers who had been acquired and plugged into the lineup.

Now, let's look at this year's team. Assuming that the division series lineup stays in place, the entire infield (including catcher) is homegrown, with Joe Panik joining the 2012 group. And now there are two guys, Blanco and Travis Ishikawa -- who, as a bonus, was originally a minor league player for the Giants -- who are off-the-scrapheap-type players. Only Hunter Pence is an acquired proven major leaguer, although if the team gets to the World Series, Michael Morse will probably be the designated hitter. Still, it's an amazing turnaround.

I'm guessing that change of this sort is very, very unusual. And Sabean should get a ton of credit for it.

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net