Saturday, May 01, 2004
P.S. Everything's priced at the Cafépress minimum. We won't make any money on anything purchased through the store. We do that because we want the stuff to be as cheap as possible for the few good souls who want a shirt.
Friday, April 30, 2004
They also play most of the NL West - Los Angeles, San Diego, at San Francisco, and at Colorado. No numbers at hand, but the Bucs never seem to do too well on west-coast road trips. Three games in Colorado followed by three at San Francisco will be jarring as the Bucs swing from the league's most violently strange hitting environment into a deadball paradise to face a team led by Barry Bonds. The Bucs will have to make some adjustments but no big deal. What are the odds Chris Stynes is still on the roster when we travel to Colorado? They should do better than anyone expects hosting LA and San Diego so that's a wash. I can see them winning half or more of these NL West games. It's not like LA circled this trip to Pittsburgh in the offseason and said to themselves, "Oh, Lordy, we'll have to play our best on this trip." Those might be good games to wager money on, in fact. Brian Giles should have SD on edge though.
For sure the NL Central games are more important. This is going to be a rough month. Win thirteen (less one for each pair of postponements) and we're still on schedule for the first winning season in many moons.
Three pitchers walk four batters and the Cubs lose a squeaker. LaTroy Hawkins was ahead of the final batter 0-2 before walking in the winning run. The Cubs squandered a beautiful start from Kerry Wood.
...10:30pm update: Bucs win. We were hoping for 11 wins this month, an 11-12 record, and got a 10-11 record with two postponed games. That's even better since the Bucs will be a better team when they make those games up later. It was a good month. The longer the Bucs hang around .500, the better their chance of being within striking distance of something later this season.
Jim Thome: 73 AB, 16 R, 27 H, 12 XBH, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 12 BB, 20 K, .370 / . 465 / .699.
Craig Wilson: 74 AB, 10 R, 27 H, 14 XBH, 5 HR, 10 RBI, 6 BB, 15 K, .365 / .447 / .703.
Oh yeah, one more thing: 33-yo Thome $12M, 27-yo Wilson $1.2M.
It's a limited sample size, sure. If Craig keeps this up all year, it will be interesting to see if the Bucs do what it will take to re-sign him. And yes, he'll be worth a couple of Dioner Navarros at the trade deadline. Even a team like the Brewers could afford the remainder of his 2004 contract. A Wilson trade would not be a salary dump but a trading what's ready now for what might be ready later. The bidding could theoretically involve the very best of every contending team's minor-league stock. I'd support dealing Wilson since it's pretty easy to find serviceable corner guys to join a team at the last minute and provide that final push into the playoffs. It's the top-quality guys up the middle and the starters on the mound who are impossible to gather on the cheap.
If Littlefield trades Wilson for a Jeremy Reed, an Andy Marte, a Richie Weeks, a Bobby Crosby, a J.J. Hardy, or some other uber-prospect, will the Heathers come to praise the decision to limit to Wilson's plate appearances in 2003 (and thus drive down the value of his 2004 contract)? Had Wilson done this last year, the Bucs wouldn't have him for this year.
A lot of people shriek, whine, and argue shrilly that a player can't learn if he's on the bench. That's bullshit. I guarantee that if you or I got to sit on the bench and watch the game for a week, we'd learn all kinds of things we never knew. I don't know what the Bucs have J.J. Davis doing in his spare time while he rides the pine, but if I was Professor McClendon, I'd assign homework. He's not allowed to sit and chew sunflower seeds or play his gameboy. Make him keep a notebook describing what he sees of the opposing pitchers and so forth. Review it with him after every game. There's plenty to learn on the bench. If the Bucs play J.J. Davis every other day, and make him work while he rides the pine, he'll be fine and his hitting rate stats won't be quoted in the same breath as those of Abe Nunez and Chris Stynes.
The Brewers are coming off a two-game sweep of the Reds. They battered Paul Wilson and Cory Lidle and scored nineteen runs in two games. In the second game, they rallied from nine runs down to win in extra innings.
The last time the Pirates went to Milwaukee (last August) the Racing Sausages beat the Pierogies in the relay race. The Bucs lost each game of the three-game series by one run.
A win tonight would have the Bucs finishing one game below .500 in the month of April, which we consider pretty good and in line with expectations. If they lose tonight, I'll be thinking about the two games they squandered in the first week of the season.
As our team settles into a groove I expect they'll start to play better, on defense and at the plate. Many roles are up in the air right now. Nothing is easy and things won't get easier with the Bucs scheduled against Houston and Los Angeles after this weekend's series. One good thing about McClendon's Pirates team is that they don't play down to their competition. They more or less scrap it out against everyone. They'll play the Brewers the same way they'll play the Astros and the Dodgers.
Thursday, April 29, 2004
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Jose Mesa has been dominant. Tike Redman made a sweet diving catch for the 2nd out in the ninth, robbing Richard Hidalgo of extra bases, but Mesa has been getting ahead of hitters and getting outs.
One other thing: Smizik's not the only one to call attention to the 8-10 record like it confirms a reasonable preseason expectation of a 72-win season. OK, 72 wins is reasonable enough, especially if you hate disappointment. But it's still reasonable to think the Bucs will win 83 games. I'm being totally honest when I say I think that's possible. This team is better than last year's team and I don't think the rest of the NL Central is remarkably better than it was last year. Still, 18 games is too early - barring rain postponement boredom - to be extrapolating final season results from available data. If the Bucs were 10-8, we wouldn't be sitting here forecasting 90 wins. The same standard should apply for 8-10. Wait and see, people, wait and see. I'll start to believe that 83 wins may be an unreasonable expectation if the Bucs start the season 23-29.
In other words, his job shouldn't be on the line with each start. His role should be. A permanent move to the bullpen should precede cutting him loose unless he'd prefer to go to AAA as a starter and then you consider that option. Lots of failed starters turn out to be great relievers. The Bucs have to get the most for the buck and that means saving the losing lottery tickets and entering them in the second-chance drawings.
This doesn't surprise me and I expect the Bucs to hang around fifth all year long, but it doesn't mean anything yet. For hitters and teams, the 21st and 52nd games - for no good reason - are favorite benchmarks of mine. 21 games represents three and half or four weeks' worth of play, and a player who can keep a streak going, good or bad, for three or four weeks, might be telling us something significant about permanent change(s) in his skill(z). When Jack Wilson's hot start approaches 21 games, the possibility that it has nothing to do with his stated goal of seeing pitches, drawing walks, and getting on base begins to diminish. It's a great story, don't get me wrong, and it's story I believe because it's one I've been following. But the numbers alone don't have anything like full significance until the 52-game mark, at which point, I think, a current year's statistics become as significant as the previous year's statistics. I don't remember how I came up with those numbers and there was some math involved. Whatever. I'm comfortable offering them as superstition since that's the only responsible thing to do when you come without evidence. When the Bucs are in the top five in hitting and when Jack Wilson has a 340 OBP fifty-two games into the season, then I'll start crowing about it.
While I'm on the subject of arbitrary measures of time, with pitchers I see Memorial Day weekend as a key moment. This is fantasy baseball advice, really, something we don't often indulge here at Honest Wagner. Me, personally, I don't enjoy blog posts about someone's fantasy baseball team - I don't dig that kind of window on the trivial permutations in another person's sporting experience. It's as interesting as reading about someone's collection of potatoes that look like Elvis - no, less interesting - so we refrain from the gratuitous fantasy baseball stuff here. (And we abhor and don't play fantasy football, but that's another subject.) Still, here's a general principle for fantasy baseball, which we love to play: if pitcher X, say Estaban Loaiza or Brian Meadows, opens the season at a higher level and tears up the league for all of April and all of May, then he's going to keep tearing up the league in June and July and August, probably, barring injury etc., since he made it through Memorial Day weekend. A starting pitcher who is only "hot" or demonstrating a new level of performance for the first two, three, four, or six weeks of the season is not to be fully trusted. They are high risks. Three examples: Joe Kennedy, Ismael Valdes, and our boy Oliver Perez. Two of these three guys are very tempting roto adds. Yes sir, I can see the case. But me, I'll be waiting until Memorial Day before I see them as safe bets for solid production over the next several months. Likewise, I'm not dropping Mike Mussina unless he stinks through Memorial Day.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
I don't know if Ruben Mateo is a legitimate option in center. I doubt it: he's not playing center at Nashville though the Reds sometimes played him there the last two years. So far this year, Mateo is 17-for-59 with thirteen extra-base hits and eight walks. He's 26 and he's a former megaprospect who lost a few years of playing time to a broken leg. A few years ago he had a reputation as a guy with a bad attitude and poor work ethic. That kind of thing makes me reluctant to cheer for a quick promotion to the big leagues. By all means don't treat the guy like a savior. There's hope though: Milton Bradley is playing well now. If the Bucs someday get a full productive season from Mateo, it will make it a little easier to watch Jose Guillen enjoying a semi-productive career in his late twenties.
Left-handed-hitting Luke Allen is 21-for-67 with nine extra-base hits and seven walks. The Bucs picked him up as a minor-league free agent in January. Though only 26, he's in his eighth professional season and coming off a hellish streaky year of hitting at attitude. He has a great arm but played more right than center for Colorado Springs last year.
Tony Alvarez is also 26. His current Nashville numbers are relatively unimpressive (15-for-60, five extra-base hits, eight walks) but what jumps out is the fact that he only has eight strikeouts. Last year at Nashville he hit with a three-to-seven walk-to-strikeout ratio. Obviously he's refining his approach at the plate.
I don't have the HBP numbers from Nashville. Using walks and hits and at-bats, their lines come out as Mateo .288 / .373 / .746, Allen .313 / .378 / .612, and Alvarez .250 / .338 / .383.
There are two 24-year-old centerfielders at Altoona: left-handed-hitting Chris Duffy and five-foot-seven-inch Gary Thomas. 23-year-old Ray Sadler, who had been a centerfielder in the Cubs organization, is listed as a rightfielder for Altoona. Altoona has only played fifteen games as the weather hasn't been great in western PA. None of these guys are doing much hitting. Duffy has seen the most PT and he's 16-for-55 with five extra-base hits and four walks for something like .291 / .339 / .400.
Redman should have plenty of time. The Pirates have to haste slowly with the assembly of the roster. It's not good to start an inexperienced guy and give up on him after twenty games. It's disastrous to do that twice in a row. And it's embarrassing to go back to the first guy after souring on the guy who replaced him. Every time a player starts at a new level there is a potentially disruptive transition period, and players will hold a grudge against management if they aren't given enough time to make the necessary adjustments. The only way to do a time-share that allows two players to audition for full-time play is to have both players on the roster at the same time. You can't be promoting and demoting guys in rapid succession and expect to encourage development or maintain the respect of your players.
Meanwhile, lots of things could happen. With one pitch you can lose a player to a broken wrist. If Mateo or Allen is the centerfielder of the immediate future, they'll continue to produce at a high level at Nashville and another month down there won't change anything. If either player was 22, there would be more urgency to get them to a level that challenged them.
There's also been talk of Bay playing some center whenever he's ready to return. He played a wee bit of center for San Diego and Pittsburgh and I have no idea how much center he played for Portland or Mobile. The Bucs can afford to be patient with Tike Redman, and it's premature to start recruiting members for the Luke Allen fan club.
"He's in there, and he'll see some time," Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He'll certainly be a defensive replacement when he's not starting. We'll see how it goes."My guess is we'll see some kind of time-share with Davis and Rivera roughly alternating starts. The Bucs have to find out about Chris Stynes before Freddy Sanchez is ready so I expect to see him in the lineup consistently.
Rivera, 25, was used as a late-inning specialist last year after making his major-league debut in June. He played in 78 games, batting .221 with three homers and 10 RBI in 95 at-bats.
"He moves well, has good hands and protects balls in the dirt," McClendon said. "I think he's going to be a good hitter at this level. He has power to all fields, a short stroke, and he liked hitting in big situations. What it projects to, I don't know. Time will tell."
The attention to Rivera is more bad news for fans of the Sausage Man. As Rutter reports it, Simon's preparation has not been exemplary:
Simon has been in questionable shape since reporting to spring training. He injured his hamstring in the fifth game of the season and missed five starts. He was scratched again Wednesday night after he aggravated the injury while moving furniture in his apartment. The hamstring was still tender Saturday night when Simon hurt it again trying unsuccessfully to score from second on a single to center.Moving furniture? Why do I think Simon was trying to slide the big leather sofa closer to the widescreen high-def television for a session of Grand Theft Auto?
The Bucs catch the Astros coming off a 2-1 series win in Colorado. They'll play the Astros six of the next nine games. Milwaukee and Los Angeles are also on the immediate schedule so this is a critical stretch in the season. Three of the next four series are against top-notch clubs; the fourth is against an NL Central division rival. A west-coast road trip featuring a pair of day games after night games follows the brief May 7-9 homestand with LA. The Bucs must scrap against elite teams and on the road to be around .500 on June 18th. It could happen.
Monday, April 26, 2004
The Kris Benson to New York rumors are going again. Here's the guy to get from the Yankees in a deal for Benson. He's a catcher. You can't have too many catching prospects. I wouldn't take any shit from the Yankees, either, about this guy being untouchable. Prospects are prospects and even the best kind of prospects fail more often than we like to admit. The Yankees have the money to sign themselves some more top prospects from Latin America and South America - where they routinely outbid the Pirates - so I'd tell them Dioner Navarro or no deal. They'd have no business acting like the Bucs should settle for less. The guy is only 20 for crissakes. Here's a handy list (thank you Ted Nye) of other prospects to consider if we need to round out a deal that includes Benson and perhaps a second baseman.
Makes sense to me. We touched on this before with the present case of Jack Wilson. A walk is always the second-most-desirable outcome. If you give a hitter a better hitting eye, the first thing he'll do is mash more balls in an extra-base hit-worthy fashion. A hitter is looking for a pitch to hit, and hit hard, so if he is seeing more pitches he can hit hard, and hitting those pitches hard, the initial gains from improved "vision" will translate into more extra-base hits and more hard-hit outs. Meanwhile the walk rate treads water until the hitter stops seeing pitches he can hit hard.
OBP is not tied, then, to batting average - though BA is a large part of it - because new walks and new hits don't appear in equal numbers as the hitter improves. They don't grow proportionally. One reason is that some of the balls that are hit with new authority will be outs - the shortstop will jump up and spear some, the outfielders will dive to catch some, the wind will hold some in the park. Therefore OBP is not going to stay constant or steadily rise as the hitter oscillates between spells of new extra-base hitting and spells of new walking.
Given the choice of ten more walks or seven more extra-base hits, I'd guess, to a man, every MLB hitter would choose the seven extra-base hits. So, as a hitter improves, his "isolated discipline" - OBP less BA - will decline as his BA and SLG increase. The disappointment would be if the walks didn't jump in number when the extra-base hits stop coming. When the pitchers stop giving the red-hot hitter something to hit with authority, the hitter has to make them pay by drawing walks. A hitter that failed to do that would be one that gave back a temporary improvement in his batting eye.
Josh Fogg, who hasn't pitched well in any of his three starts, goes back to the mound tomorrow night against Houston. "The results haven't been real positive," Littlefield said. "There are guys you root for, but there's no fighting the facts. His stuff isn't as impressive as the stuff of the other four [starters]."Oliver Perez has been dominant as a fifth starter. If Vogelsong can bounce back tonight, Fogg will be the obvious and only weak link in the rotation. Sean Burnett has kept his strong spring going at Nashville. That guy is ready now; there's no good reason to delay his introduction to big-league pitching. A rookie starter should never rot at AAA, where the starter can get into bad habits that improve AAA numbers but degenerate his ability to take on major-league pitching. The sucess of Oliver Perez is also more proof that Spin Williams is the best pitching coach in the organization, so get the young guys to Spin as soon as they are ready.
Fogg needs to look real sharp tomorrow night if he hopes to keep his job in the rotation. Then comes a big question: will the Bucs convert him to middle relief, or will they send him to Nashville to continue his career as a starter?
We think he'll make a great one-to-three-inning reliever, and we want to win now, so we hope they put him in middle relief and make room somehow, maybe even bumping Boehringer or Boyd off the roster if it comes down to that. The conversion to relief pitching should be permanent from the start: Fogg should excel in relief work and you can't have his early and probable success as a reliever interpreted as "Fogg is ready to reclaim his rotation spot."
On the other hand, a team must anticipate injuries and other unforeseen events, and since it's early in the season, keeping him in Nashville's rotation would provide some insurance that would keep the Bucs from rushing Van Benschoten or some other young guy to the majors before he's ready. This may be a weak argument since the Pirates have spot-starters in Meadows and Torres and the addition of Fogg to the bullpen would improve their availability.
Sunday, April 25, 2004
Me, if I ran the show down there, I'd let the players go home a little more often. I'd also send balloons and flowers to their homes if they were sick or if someone in their family was sick. Balloons are cheap, hugs are free, and a little love goes a long way.
I was gonna say, after last night's game, that it's always darkest before the dawn. That could be the motto of my sometimes-irrational spring exuberance. If you break this team down, by far the majority of players are underrated by the national media. It's going to be a great year to follow the club.
Checked in on today's game, saw the rain delay, checked in again, and it was over. Not a good one to miss.
My first thought is let Oliver Perez pitch every Sunday. The long rest seems to do him good. And we can't forget that he just pitched half a MLB season's worth of innings at winter ball. No way he should crack 150-160 innings this year. Maybe I'm being overprotective, but some things are worth protecting.
One other thing: the best thing about today's win is that Oliver Perez kept the Bucs from slipping three games below .500.