Saturday, April 17, 2004

Feelin' limber, kicking myself

From Brian Hoch's report for mlb.com:
"Every pitch was working the way I wanted it to," said Perez, who allowed one run and two hits over 6 2/3 innings, striking out six and walking two. "I felt limber and very confident. I'll just continue working and see what happens."
Feeling limber?

Also worth noting: Mac regrets letting Perez start the seventh.

"I shouldn't have let him go back out there," McClendon said. "I was kicking myself because we really could have lost that game. I should have known that."
We're all for starters going six innings if they are going to pitch as well as Perez pitched today.

Jimmy Anderson warming up

Prior might be out for the season. Kerry Wood threw 131 pitches today. Only the ump could get him out of the ballgame: he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes. The Cubs lost and are again tied with the Bucs in the NL Central standings.

And people say Dusty Baker is a great manager.

Oliver Perez at Shea

Four innings, 46 pitches. Oliver Perez is looking good today. Pitch counts aren't everything but they are especially important with this guy.

... five innings, 52 pitches. Only two Ks. I like it. He gets in trouble when he tries to K everyone.

... six innings, 74 pitches. Gives up a leadoff single and strikes out the side (a backup catcher, a pitcher, and Kaz Matsui). All while doing funny things with his windup to hold the runner on base. Threw in a balk for good measure too. Here's hoping for a quick seventh.

... gets two outs in the seventh, throws seven straight balls, a strike, then ball four. Mac pulls him. Good call. Leave the poker table while you're ahead. Papers should say good things about Perez tomorrow.

... sweet, sweeet win of a road series. A win tomorrow would be gravy indeed.

Home Run Jose Castillo

Over the 410 sign in center at Shea. This guy is comin' on.

Sausage Man with RISP

Randall Simon's three-year splits show a curious and probably significant difference in his hitting ability: with the bases empty, he's hit .275 / .302 / .401 for an OPS of 703 and an OPS*SLG of .121. That's middle infielder territory. Not good.

But with runners on, he hits .313 / .342 / .500 (842, .171), which is good. With runners in scoring position he's even better: .332 / .363 / .553 (916, .200), which is awesome. Craig A. Wilson with RISP has been .261 / .371 / .495 (866, .184). In each case we have decent sample sizes. This is a good reason to bat Simon over Wilson in the fifth spot when both are playing.

We've advocated benching Simon to play Wilson when Bay returns. We'll continue to advocate this so long as Wilson is doing a lot more with the bat than Simon. In the meantime, it's good to have both guys in the lineup.

Friday, April 16, 2004

105 pitches in 5 innings

Jake Peavy just threw 105 pitches in 5 innings. I'll use that as a standard for Oliver Perez tomorrow. Here's to hoping he can last five and throw less than 105 pitches if he does.

Batting around in the 8th

Nothing better. Why did Glavine leave the game after less than 80 pitches? We're not complaining. Just curious.

Wells did well. Wilson walked. Other Wilson had an RBI with RISP. Mesa slammed the door with some nice help from a great play by Jose Castillo. This game went from real depressing to real satisfying in a hurry. We'll take it.

Mets, Mets, Mets

Three games with the Mets starting tonight. It's good timing for Pittsburgh. The "Mets" will include Karim Garcia, Shane Spencer, and Jeff Duncan. Dave Weathers should get into two games. Mike Cameron and Mike Piazza are a little dinged up. Two of their best players - Cliff Floyd and Jose Reyes - are on the DL, thank goodness. Jason Bay is on the DL and some of the Bucs are banged up, but there's no way we don't have an edge in the fielding-our-healthy-team department.

We throw Wells, Oliver Perez, and Benson at Glavine, Trachsel, and Seo. Shea is a pitcher's park so maybe we can keep the number of Met home runs below 10 for the series. We also have a day off on Monday as we wrap up this road trip, so Mac can empty the bullpen. Boehringers for everyone.

Hitting ratios and sample size

Question: If Abraham Nunez is 7 for 12 against Glavine, should he start - all other things being equal? A lot of baseball sites are citing this article today.

At first I'm underwhelmed by twelve at-bats and think no. Twelve at-bats? How can that be meaningful? Closer study shows that it depends on what happens in those 12 at-bats. 10 for 12 or 12 for 12 is much more relevant and useful information than, say, 2 for 12 or 4 for 12.

To illustrate: imagine that Nunez could hypothetically bat against Glavine a thousand times and both players would have constant abilities. As in Strat-O-Matic. The margin of error on a sample size of 12 would be 28.1%. That is the pure sampling error; the margin of error describes the likely range of results from repeated surveys with n=12. By "likely" the MOE means 95% likely.

In other words, if you took 100 samples of 12 at-bats from this hypothetical population, in 95 of these samples Nunez's batting average would fall between 7-for-12 plus or minus 28.1%. That's somewhere between .302 and .864. Assuming that hitting and pitching abilities are perfectly constant, and therefore each at-bat is a sample of a much broader population of at-bats which comprise the "true" matchup, then a 7-for-12 performance means that there is a 95% chance that Abraham Nunez is at least a .302 hitter against Tom Glavine.

To repeat. Statistically speaking, then, it's not true that you throw out all samples just because they are small. Not all small sample sizes are equally meaningless. The smaller they are, the more dramatic they must be to make the sample have value. If Nunez was 4 for 12 against Glavine, the sampling error would be the same, and 95 percent of the samples of the hypothetical population of 1000 would fall between .052 and .614 (which is .333 plus or minus .281). Raul Mondesi is a .286 hitter in 56 at-bats. If this was Strat-O-Matic, that sample would indicate there is a 95% chance his "true" ability vs. Glavine lies in the range from .286 plus or minus 12.7% (the MOE for a sample size of 56) or from .159 to .413. That statistic is meaningless as an indicator of above-average ability vs. Glavine, even in Strat-O-Matic, since .286 is much too close to average to make a sample of 56 meaningful. Chris Stynes is 2 for 14 against Glavine. That is also meaningless in a Strat-O-Matic world since it means there's a 95% chance his "true" BA vs. Glavine lies between .001 (which I would believe right now) and .402 (which strains credulity, but that's what the math says). The moral of these examples: low batting averages in small samples mean much less than high batting averages in small samples - in a Strat-O-Matic world - since "average" ability is on the low end of the spectrum. (2 for 14 is much closer to average than 7 for 12.)

Here's the catch. I don't believe that hitting and pitching abilities are constant. I think a hitter's ability changes from minute to minute and from at-bat to at-bat. Much of baseball statistics is predicated on the Strat-O-Matic model. Just because Josh Fogg has never been good after the 46th pitch, doesn't mean he never will be good after the 46th pitch. Common sense suggests otherwise, but it could happen. It could start to rain on pitch 47 and his ball could start darting crazy. Or maybe he took a Claritan-D tablet before the game and it really kicks in at pitch 46 and, nostrils clear, he takes huge, healthy lungs of air and starts pitching the best game of his life. It could happen. His abilities are not etched in stone in some Platonic ideal realm of truth. Still, since we have nothing better, we have to suspend belief and agree that baseball is enough like Stat-O-Matic. Otherwise, we can have no statistical analysis at all. And that would be no fun.

This is a huge reason why you have to combine scouting with statistical analysis. For all we know, Nunez got his 12 at-bats in three games where Glavine was not the constant true ideal Glavine ability but rather a poor number in the highly-variable series of Glavine ability. Maybe all 12 at-bats took place in one extra-inning game at Coors Field when Glavine had the flu and a ten-run lead. Or, uh, maybe not. You get the idea. Before Mac should trust this sample of 12, he has to know if there is any reason to believe it was a good, random sample of Glavine in various stages of ability (and Nunez in various stages of ability).

Maybe there is something about Nunez as a hitter that matches up unusually well with Glavine - something that Mac, Nunez, Glavine, etc., can see. Some way that Glavine throws and some way that Nunez swings. Something that makes this 7 for 12 expected. If so, you have to start him. If no, you disregard the number.

Is the number meaningless then? No, because it gives you the heads-up. It tells you to investigate and see if there is any rationale for such numbers. Maybe Mac didn't realize that guys like Nunez have such a real advantage on guys like Glavine because Nunez is humble and doesn't remember that he has a lot of hits against him.

Whatever. Either way, you can't dismiss 7-for-12 just because the sample size is only 12.

... another example: Craig A. Wilson is 1 for 10 this year with RISP. The MOE for a sample of 10 of a hypothetical ideal RISP ability (say 1000 ABs) is 30.8%. That means there is a 95% chance, based on this sample of ten, that Wilson's hypothetical ideal RISP ability lies between .001 (has a hit, can't be .000) and .408. Obviously the first case is terrible and the second is Hall-of-Fame caliber. This sample of ten is pretty meaningless as an indicator of his "clutch" ability then. FWIW, his three-year splits indicate he's the same hitter with RISP as with the bases empty.

Sorry Josh, you're nuts

Josh Fogg on serving tater tots:
"In my mind, if I give up five solo jacks, it's 5-4 and we're still in the game," Fogg said. "That's part of the game I can live with if they're all solos. I was putting guys on before they were hitting them. If you can't keep the ball down in the zone, you don't deserve to keep the ball in the yard."
This from Bob Dvorchak's column today.

Sure the wind was blowing out, but no starter can credibly argue that he has kept his team in the game after serving up five home runs (or four, as Fogg allowed yesterday). Five runs is not a quality start. Like a number of his pitches, that quote is probably one that Fogg would like back.

Boehringer and Boyd are pitching well enough to keep their jobs right now, making any move of Fogg to the bullpen more difficult.

Roster moves coming

Rob Biertempfel notes in the Trib-Review that the Pirates will have to cut someone to make room for Jason Bay. He speculates that Cota and Davis are candidates. Davis would surely be claimed on waivers. A Cota demotion might signal the Bucs intend to keep Kendall around for awhile.

Stynes is playing himself out of a job right now, and would probably accept a minor-league assignment to figure out what the hell is wrong with his swing. His only hits this year have been weak bloop singles. He may be a .280 hitter lifetime, but he's been a real stiff for more than a full season now. Start Mackowiak at third full-time. His defense can't be worse than Aramis's. Keep Davis and Cota around. Nunez and later, Freddy Sanchez, can be the backup third basemen.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Josh grumble Fogg grumble

So he wasn't good for three innings. And at 52 pitches, the Cubs are looking at the bases loaded. Mac could compare him to Greg Maddux again.

OK, not funny. Get this guy out of the rotation. He could do some real good in the seventh and eighth innings.

...four innings, eight hits, four homers, nine earned runs, 95 pitches.

A brief history of Freddy Sanchez

Last we heard about Freddy Sanchez, he was on schedule for a rehab assignment at Nashville later this month.

Don't get too excited about Sanchez; our hopes lie not so much with him as they do with Craig Wilson, Tike Redman, Jason Bay, and the young starting pitchers. Sanchez has gotten a lot of hype since he came from Boston. Everything out of Boston gets a lot of hype these days. In the big picture, though, he's not a better prospect than Hill or Castillo. They are all about the same with different strengths and weaknesses. If you want to split hairs and bicker about age and size and comparables, go right ahead. Otherwise, I think you'll do OK regarding each of these guys as having something like a one-in-three chance for a respectable major-league career as a starter. They all have talent. Barring catastrophic failure at the plate, it's going to take 500 or 1000 at-bats to really know what they can do over the long haul. The Pirates appear to be committed to give all three young men plenty of opportunity, and once there is talent and opportunity there's nothing to do but wait and watch and see what happens on the field.

Here's a brief history of Sanchez. Going into Spring Training in 2003, the Red Sox nation was pretty high on him, mainly because he had a high (.319) batting average in his three years in the minors. He was an 11th-round pick in 2000 from Oklahoma City University. Since he played in college, he's on the older end of the prospect spectrum (he's 26 this year). Though hyped, his reputation was as a "good little offensive player," as Grady Little called him, and his upside was compared to David Eckstein's. He's listed at 5'11" and 180 pounds. Sanchez is not as small as Eckstein (5' 8" 165), so note the pre-2003 hype was pretty tempered by such descriptions.

The Red Sox went out and signed Todd Walker to start at 2B. With the first cut last March, Sanchez was sent to AAA Pawtucket after playing there half of the previous season. Sanchez was too much for AAA pitching and hit .384, leading the International League, before being recalled to Boston at the end of May. He hit .235 in 20 games and was sent back to Pawtucket to await a trade. The Bucs got him in the Suppan deal that also sent the mysteriously-injured Brandon Lyon back to Boston. At that time, Littlefield described him as a potential top-of-the-lineup middle infielder, someone who could get on base and play second or third.

His rehab assignment at Nashville should be short since he has nothing to prove at the AAA level. The high batting average at AAA doesn't mean a whole lot: Endy Chavez hit .343 down there. It's probably safe to view Chavez's big-league record as something like a below-average expectation for Sanchez, who lacks Chavez's blazing speed but has a better hitting eye and a wee bit more power.

I doubt anyone knows what the Pirates will do to make room for Sanchez when he's ready on May 1 or so. A lot of factors will influence the decision: the Pirates' win-loss record, Chris Stynes' hitting performance, the health of Hill and Castillo and Jack Wilson, the uniforms on Benson, Kendall, and other players the Pirates might trade. I'd guess that if Sanchez were ready today he'd take Stynes' place or Nunez's place. Nunez is a switch-hitter and Mac is fond of playing lefty/righty matchups, so the fact that Sanchez is another right-handed hitter may play into whatever final decision the Bucs make. And yes, Sanchez has played some third base in the minors, so the Pirates could use him there. Obviously we'll know if that is in the plans soon since Sanchez will show up in the Nashville box scores at some position. Playing him at third would allow the Pirates to get two of the three middle infield prospects into the lineup every day. They could also score big points with the fans by parting ways with Stynes. Stynes is worth keeping, but if he's hitting .200 two weeks from now, cutting Stynes would underline the youth movement and probably garner some positive attention from the hard-to-please national media.

The worst-case scenario for Sanchez would be the same as the worst-case scenario for all prospects: think Brandon Larson 2003. A realistic expectation for Sanchez might be something like a .330 OBP with a slugging percentage of .375. He won't hit many home runs but he should leg out some doubles. Batting averages fluctuate like ERA so it's foolish to predict a number. Say he might do something like .330/.375 with a BA in the .240 to .270 range. Nate Silver's PECOTA system (we lean on it, and think you should, too) sees something like that with a .305 / .375 / .450 best-case scenario and maybe a ten percent chance of seeing that happen. One of the noteworthy comps the system finds is Aaron Boone and his .280 / .330 / .445 numbers from 1999. After Boone, PECOTA finds a bunch of mid-century utility players and Doug Flynn.

To be sure, one in ten is a great lottery ticket, and getting steady 800 or 825 OPS from a third base would be a rainstorm in the drought right now. Sanchez is certainly worth the gamble. There's no way Nunez has the same chance of putting up such numbers (though Mackowiak might). Sanchez's limited upside - he's no Jose Reyes, J.J. Hardy, or Bobby Crosby - is offset by the fact that he's a surer bet to contribute right away. Add that to the corner outfield / first-base offense the Bucs should have going into 2005, and build all of this around a young, durable, above-average, deep, and pre-arbitration starting rotation, and the Bucs just might have a playoff-caliber team, built on the cheap, in 2005 and 2006.

Mac quote of the day

Magic, karma, etc. On Vogelsong, from Eagle's wrap-up:
"He got some pitches in the middle of the plate, elevated a couple of pitches and they took advantage of it," said Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon.

"I thought his stuff was good today. He didn't have the karma today. There was no magic today. That certainly happens from time-to-time. But I just think his stuff is too good for one of his [bad] days to be like that.

"He'll bounce back. He's a tough kid."

Tough man, Mac, he's a tough man. A "kid" is a young goat.

Josh Fogg today

He should be good for three innings.

Yesterday's game made me want to puke. I suppose we can look on the bright side and note the Bucs have a chance to win the series today. The Cubs better stack their lineup righty-lefty-righty-lefty. Mac will have to empty the bullpen on them if the Bucs have a lead after five.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

No restructuring needed for Maddox

General consensus is that the steelers should restructure Tommy Gun's contract to make it more equitable with the pay of other starting qb's, most likely through easy to reach incentives. But hold the phone a sec, checkbook-breath. When Mr. Rooney agreed to Tommy's current contract, it was a nanotech-stock type investment. Kordell was the firm #1 starter, and Tommy's question marks far outweighed the exclamation points. No doubt Tommy felt it was a more than fair offer at the time. So what exactly has changed? He became the starter--well, isn't that what he intended to do the first time he put on black and gold? He had one super half-year (enhanced perceptually by fans no longer having to witness #10 one-hopping the ball to middle linebackers), one okay half year, and one middling year.

Tommy Maddox is likeable, and he's an upgrade from Kordell. Other players like and respect him more than they did #10. But Senator, he's no Tom Brady. He might not even be Jon Kitna.

Why shouldn't Mr. Rooney be permitted to enjoy the benefits of his prudent financial decisions while continuing to pay for his imprudent ones ?

Vogelsong today

Game starts at 2:20. Here's hoping he keeps the ball in the park.

Get Gallery

Bob Smizik makes the case against drafting a QB. Hell, no, I say. I'm with Scoop and Smizik. The need is OL. You can't play Steeler football without total domination from the offensive line and we haven't seen that in years.

The Steelers should prepare to trade up and get Robert Gallery of Iowa. Every time I saw Gallery in Iowa's black and gold I would squint a little and see him in a Steeler uniform. The man would be huge in Pittsburgh. What city has more respect for the OL than Pittsburgh? The man was made for black and gold.

Steeler football begins with a dominating offensive line. A dominating offensive line will improve the running game, which has not been up to Steeler standards, and the passing game, which again features a no-frills fragile statue immobile quarterback. It will also improve the defense by increasing the time of possession and keeping the other team's offense off the field.

It's a no brainer. Get this guy.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Jack is taking pitches

Does the great Ed Eagle read Honest Wagner? He talked to Gerald Perry about one of our favorite themes, Jack Wilson's approach at the plate:
Following Monday's win over the Cubs in which he collected three hits against future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, Wilson has hit safely in each of the Pirates' seven games and his average is a robust .414.

"Jack has a good stroke. When he stays within himself and stays short with his swing he usually has success," Pirates hitting coach Gerald Perry explained. "He's been taking a lot of pitches and it's definitely been paying off. He's been working the count and doing everything that we've asked him to do."

Eagle also reports Wilson is still talking about the hard school of arbitration. We enjoyed the whole piece and recommend it highly. If Wilson keeps up the good work, he can expect to double his salary in 2005.

With Great Hubris Comes More Great Hubris

BP = Baseball Police.

Shorter BP: Because we love baseball more than you, and because we have MBAs, we regret to inform you that it's still against BP law to root for the Pirates or think good thoughts about the work of Littlefield and McClendon.

BP is crazy negative on the Bucs. What gives? I don't get it.

Bucco OBP not woeful

The good Brian O'Neill calls for more getting on base in his new Stats Geek column. He's right. The more we get on, the merrier we'll be.

For years, it has been de rigeur to excoriate the Pirates for neglecting the value of on-base percentage. This line of attack continues with self-perpetuating energy. Hey, they did re-sign Randall Simon.

Yet the facts suggest the Pirates are now one of the better NL clubs in the OBP department. This morning, the Bucs as a team are hitting .294 / .362 / .450. If they do that all year, they will score 900 runs.

Jack Wilson deserves a shot in the two hole. He has a ton of big-league experience for his age and he's in the prime of his breakout period. Why not court the breakout? He'll get more at-bats batting second. It's wise to put him there and hope for the best.

Sure, he's not walking right now. His only walk this season came off Jimmy Haynes, and like yesterday's walks by Andy Pratt, they shouldn't count as evidence of difficult patience. But hell, he's hitting .414. It's not right to expect a .414 hitter to be drawing walks. When Nap Lajoie hit .426 in 1901, he drew only 24 walks in 550 at-bats. The high batting average suggests that Wilson is reaping the benefit of patience: he is getting pitches to hit and hitting them hard and far. He can't pick up the walking pace until pitchers stop feeding him juicy strikes. (OK, granted, George Brett drew 58 walks in 450 at-bats when he hit .390, but let's not get carried away with high expectations.)

Tike Redman is off to a slow start. His OBP sits at .226. A player with six hits and one walk in 28 at-bats has been impatient, no doubt, or unlucky at best. Either way, he needs to be calm at the plate, lay off the junk, and hit the hittable pitches. OBP is part of Tike's game so I suspect this is nothing but a slow start. Yesterday, he went one-for-three with his first walk (the only one Wuertz has issued this season, so it counts.). That's good. Maybe he's pressing. Still, it's nothing to worry about after seven games.

Cubs lay down

How sweet was yesterday's win? Sweetest of the year I think. The Pirates made four errors and left 33 (!) men on base. Who gives a damn? They scored 13 runs. That will do it every time.

Many good things happened yesterday. Benson put in six good innings. Jose Castillo had a big game. Bobby Hill walked and scored against his old team. Craig Wilson continued his torrid hitting. Jack Wilson had three hits and stole his second base. Even Chris Stynes had two hits. Our new favorite Bucco, Estaban Meadows, took care of business and saved the bullpen. Tomorrow the Bucs can throw the best of everything at the Cubs.

Life is good. No complaints here.

Oh yeah. We also made a huge pile of money.

...commenter Dave is right: how can you leave 33 men on base in 9 innings? Don't ask me. But that's what this boxscore suggests. This one says they left no one on base. This one also says 33 LOB. Hmmm.

... the actual number was 16. The NL record is 18.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Plax on the hot seat?

Interesting article on the Stiller's seemingly sudden interest in a wide receiver with their 1st or 2nd pick. Bouchette opines that this means Burress's days are numbered. I would agree that if Burress has a monster year the stillers won't give him T.O. cash, but, were he to have another disappointing year, don't be surprised if they make a serious play to keep him, as was the case with Kordell, coming off back to back disappointing seasons in 1999. The situations would be pretty comparable--two high-skill players having showed a superstar's ability to take over games but with seeming chronic attentional/motivational disorders, plus a propensity for alarmingly regular exhibitions of embarassingly horrendous play, usually occuring before or after episodes of junior-varsity-type pouting. Now whether they should keep Plax is a post for another time...

A receiver would be a shocker first pick in my opinion. And though the idea has been much discussed, I also don't see them taking a qb with their first pick -- I think if they were really interested in moving in that direction they would have made a stronger play for Drew Henson. Steelers also think Tommy Gun is good for five more years.

So which position will they take? If I had my way there would be no mystery -- the steelers would take either an offensive or defensive lineman with every first-round pick until the sun explodes.

Today's odds

The Cubs are 12:5 favorites over the Bucs today. That's predicting today's Cubs have a .705 chance of winning. In other words, today's line suggests that the over/under on a full season of today's Cubs against Kris Benson and today's Pirates would be 115 wins. That's ridiculous. The line is obviously the result of high demand for the favorite and low demand for the men in black. If I was a gambling man, I'd bet against the Cubs as the odds are too good to refuse.

Bucs could return to the NL East

If the Expos move where they'd belong in the NL West, Colorado would move to the NL Central and the Pirates would return to the East. Thus spoke Bud (reg. req'd).

(Thanks to John Mileskey at Clutch Hits.)

Be patient Jack

Mac told the press that Jack Wilson reminds him "a little bit" of Jay Bell. "I wish he was as patient as Jay," he said. Go read Joe Starkey's notebook for the Trib-Review for this and more.

Good for Mac to keep this pressure on Jack.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Move Josh Fogg to the bullpen

This coming Thursday, Josh Fogg will have another chance to prove that he still belongs in the rotation. Sean Burnett and John Van Benschoten surprised a lot of people by looking so ready in March. If Fogg keeps scuffling and losing and taxing the bullpen more than his fair share (and thus encouraging more losing the next day), then it's time to call Nashville and start the process of finding the 2005 rotation.

Fogg's only making $342,000 this year, so don't think that he has a firm grip on a rotation spot or a special exemption from Mac's promise to only reward good performance with playing time. Fogg's performance has been below average on the whole since he was sidelined with a strained left oblique muscle last April and May.

Josh Fogg has a place on the next Pirates team to make the playoffs. A quick study of his three-year numbers suggests that place is in the bullpen. A move to the pen might be the surest way to dramatically improve the quality of his contribution. Fogg is just as effective with men on base as with the bases empty. He dominates for 45 pitches (OPS splits, pitches 1-15: 673; pitches 16-30: 586; pitches 31-45: 707). Then the clock strikes 12 with pitch 46, and he makes every batter look like Jeff Bagwell (pitches 46-60: OPS 897), Luis Gonzalez (pitches 61-75: OPS 937), Chipper Jones (pitches 76-90: OPS 922), and Albert Pujols (pitches 91-105: OPS 1150) as he stays in the game. Keep in mind these three-year numbers include his brief relief year (2001), his good year (2002), and his bad year (2003).

Fogg throws only 3.4 pitches per plate appearance, which is admirably efficient and in the Roy Halladay zone of the rankings. But he averages 15.0 pitches per inning, which is more Joe Roa/Danny Graves territory and miles from Halladay territory. Graves turns into a batting-practice arm at pitch 61. He's a four-inning starter. Fogg is three-inning starter (45 good pitches, 15 per inning, that's three innings folks.) Graves often has trouble in his first inning of work, and the numbers show that Graves is significantly less effective with runners on base. Fogg is never better than in his first inning of work, and the numbers show that Fogg is more or less the same pitcher with the bases empty or with runners on or with runners in scoring position.

Fogg's numbers to date suggest he would be a better reliever than Danny Graves. The Bucs should cut Brian Boehringer or Jason Boyd, promote Burnett, and give Fogg a sink-or-swim test in high-leverage relief. I'm sure he'll swim. What's the worst that could happen? If the Nashville starter scuffles in the bigs, demote him after five starts and bring up someone else. The Pirates are at least three starters deep at Nashville. And last I checked, Danny Graves was a pretty useful reliever.

We all want to win. Josh Fogg might be upset at first with this demotion. He'll get over that, I'd bet, when he sees how valuable he can be in the bullpen. The Reds are paying Danny Graves $6M to close this year. If Fogg excels as a right-handed setup man, he'll get his chance to close some day, and he's much more likely to land a huge payday contract as a dominant closer than he is as a three-inning starter.

Showdown at the Addison Street Saloon

The Pirates will put on their Washington Generals Tampa Bay Devil Rays road unis tomorrow and take the field in a day-game home opener against the Cubs, big-media darling and a preseason consensus choice for lots and lots of winning. Kris Benson will be the guy in the black hat with the nasty scar on his cheek elbow. Out in the dusty street, he'll line up against the boy-faced "new sheriff in town," Greg Maddux, and try to do some things to make the ladies' hearts flutter as they peak out from behind the shuttered saloon windows obstructed view seats.

Had Mac used Brian Meadows today, the Pirates would have Boehringer, Grabow, Boyd, and Mesa in the posse that has Benson's back. Since Boehringer did some clutch gunslinging this afternoon, however, Benson's gang of seconds will include Brian "Estaban Loaiza" Meadows (scroll down, similar pitchers, center column, and make sure you exorcise #7 on that list from your memory).

Tuesday the Bucs and Cubs have the day off, so Mike Johnston and Salomon Torres should be ready to ride in and provide cover for Ryan Vogelsong in his duel against Matt Clement on Wednesday. Thursday will pit Josh Fogg against Carlos Zambrano. More on Fogg in a moment.

The Cubs are coming off an eventful series in Atlanta, where they won two of three. They emptied their guns against Will Cunnane, scoring ten on fourteen hits. Hopefully we can catch them re-loading their weapons tomorrow. LaTroy Hawkins might hang back at the ranch after working tonight, but the rest of the bullpen should be good to go on Monday.

The dread Aramis Ramirez went 6 for 15 in Atlanta with three doubles, three strikeouts, one walk, and no errors. In 2003, he savaged the Bucs after he was traded, hitting two doubles and three homers in a stretch of 22 at-bats of 1242 OPS. The rough beta version of Vogelsong 2.0 held him in check, however, and he never saw Kris Benson.

Long ball pitchers

Kearns just homered off Oliver Perez, who has been decent but not as good as the line indicates here in the fifth inning. Kendall has been setting up for the ball right down the middle of the plate, and Perez has delivered the ball all over the place.

The Kearns homer was the second Perez has delivered - Adam Dunn hit the first - but Redman caught fly balls at the wall in deep center both times Griffey batted.

Horror of horrors: Brian Boehringer is warming up with the Pirates nursing a 4-3 lead. WTF? I thought playing time was determined by performance. In 2003, opponents hit 11 long balls off BB in 62 IP and he finished with a 5.49 ERA. He blew all three of his save opps. In 2002 - his last good year - he blew five of six save opps. This year, in spring training, opponents hit .378 off BB (who authored a 6.78 ERA). On April 7 he couldn't get an out against the Phillies, blew the save opp and took that tough loss. On April 9 he walked two and gave up a hit in one inning of mop-up work.

Mac says he doesn't play favorites. What performance, then, has earned Boehringer playing time when the Bucs have a small lead? One of our intrepid reporters should ask that question if Boehringer comes in today.

...OK, I post this and Boehringer strikes out the side.

...8:30pm update: Considering that we called for using Boehringer today, knowing/betting that Perez would require relief early, we sure can't complain about bringing him in today. For all I know, Mac told Boehringer he would be coming in early if Perez had to come out before the seventh. Johnston and Torres got the job done in set-up, and Mesa struck out two to get his third quick and easy save. The Honest Wagner roadmap to an 83-win season involves eleven or twelve wins in April. So far, so good: the Bucs are on course. Not everything is going perfectly - this isn't the 1984 Tigers - but the Bucs are on course.

Craig Wilson in the lineup

Again Mac has Craig A. Wilson in the sixth spot behind a weaker hitter. Is he trying to use Wilson as protection, to jump-start Mackowiak (today), Stynes (yesterday), and Simon (Friday)? Someone should ask him why Craig A. Wilson so often hits behind weaker hitters.

True or False: Whatever protection Wilson provides for these guys is offset by Wilson's reduced RBI chances and reduced plate appearances.

...perhaps this essay by Tom Ruane could help. It shows that, in the NL, the #6 hitter bats with the bases empty 54.6% of the time and with a runner in scoring position 27.5% of the time. The #5 hitter bats with the bases empty 53.3% and with runners in scoring position 29.4% of the time. The #4 hitter bats with the bases empty 50.2% and with runners in scoring position 31.2%. Significant differences?

One more thing to consider. According to Wilson's three-year splits, over the last three seasons Wilson hit .281 / .358 / .511 in 450 at-bats with the bases empty and .261 / .371 / .495 in 225 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

For what it's worth: over the last three years, here are Mondesi's numbers. With the bases empty: .272 / .350 / .487 in 850 at-bats. With runner(s) in scoring position: .218 / .301 / .405 in 500 at-bats.

And Raul Mondesi just smoked an RBI double with a RISP and the Pirates take the lead 2-1.

And Rob Mackowiak followed this by tomahawking a line-drive two-run homer. Sweet.

...Monday update ... OK, inserting Simon or Mackowiak between Mondesi and Wilson makes a righty-lefty-righty pattern. Anyone know of studies that suggest this significantly helps a team score more runs?

Minor-league rotations set

John Perrotto runs down the minor-league rotations. We'll probably see each of the Nashville starters at some point this season.

Mac on job security

We've heard this before, and we're hearing it again. Mac again:
"Look, I told my players, and I'll tell you the same thing. Playing time is based on performance," McClendon said. "It's that simple. I don't see any faces. I don't have any favorites.

"If you produce, you play. If you don't, you sit next to me."

The new question mark is Chris Stynes. He'll always have value as a defensive replacement. If he is going to hit like a defensive replacement, let him be one. Rob Mackowiak was decent at the plate in limited play last year. Let Mack press Stynes and take away his job if Stynes can't come up with some hits.

In other news, it was good to see Boehringer called in for a little mop-up in Friday's loss. Meadows, Johnston, and Torres appear to be the top set-up men going into Sunday.

Wells to NL: Take my pitches, please

Everybody's talking about taking pitches:
"With me, guys are going to take pitches until I throw a lot of strikes," Wells explained. "If I were scouting me, I would make me throw strikes and prove that I can throw a lot of strikes. Until I do, they can wait me out a little bit.

"They may not necessarily get any more hits off of me or put any better swings on the ball, but just getting my pitch count up will get me out of the game quicker. With that in mind, I've got to continue to throw as many strikes as I can."

Kudos to Ed Eagle of MLB.com, who got the quote in his wrapup of Saturday's 3-1 loss. The Pirates clowned around the basepaths again and continued their hitless streak with runners in scoring position.