Friday, May 28, 2004

Greatest win ever #2

Pirates did it again and win both sides of the doubleheader against the dread Cubbers.

The theme for the rest of the night has to be: all hail Rob Mackowiak!

Mack's wife gave birth to his son, Rowdy (popular nickname for Garrett), this morning. Bones has been scratching his head as he thinks of a name for his son who'll be born this month, too. Since Rowdy Garrett is taken, how about Mackowiak? Or just plain Mack? Two ninth-inning homers to beat the Cubs on the day your son is born - that's pretty sweet.

All hail Rob Mackowiak! Enjoy the night, Pirates fans.

Greatest win ever

Well, biggest win of the year.

Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooolll!

That's me running laps around the room.

Let's set 'em up and re-enact it Hunter S. Thompson-style:

PITTSBURGH 9TH
-Bottom of the 9th inning
-J Borowski relieved L Hawkins.
-R Martinez at second base.
-T Redman tripled to deep center.
-A Nunez singled to shallow right, T Redman scored.
-J Kendall singled to left center, A Nunez to third.
-J Wilson lined out to center.
-D Ward intentionally walked, J Kendall to second.
-C Wilson struck out swinging.
-R Mackowiak homered to right center, A Nunez, J Kendall and D Ward scored.

5 runs, 4 hits, 0 errors
Chicago Cubs 5, Pittsburgh 9
Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooollllllllll!!

Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooollllllllll!!

Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooollllllllll!!

Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooollllllllll!!

The Reds vs. Joe Sheehan

I'm trying to catch up on all the baseball news I've missed since I fell into that cheering-induced stupor.

What the heck are the Reds doing in first place? That's been the big question every day when I've looked at scores and standings in the newspapers. I've always been a big Adam Dunn fan, but it doesn't seem like he's been going off.

They just dropped two of three to the Marlins. Looks like the difference between first place and .500 is winning seven in a row at home. They are still being outscored.

Thank god Joe Sheehan took up this subject over at Baseball Prospectus's pay archive. This is going to make my post on the Reds that much easier. While I share his disbelief, he overstates his case that there's nothing real about the Reds as a first-place team. Hyperbole is Joe's real weakness, as we've seen with his Pirates writing, and it's fun to pore over his essays since they tend to fall apart in revealing ways as you examine them.

Another huge flaw in Sheehan's game as a writer is the fact that writes shit like this:

You have to understand: I want to believe that the Reds can keep this up. They were my uncle's favorite team, for one, and while the city's blind spot for Pete Rose is a mark against it, it is a great baseball town, one that will fill the park if given any reason to do so.
Why do this, Joe? Of course we don't believe that he "wants to believe" or duh, he would be seen believing. His uncle's favorite team? Are we to think that his hold on objectivity is so thin? No--Sheehan's not someone who routinely claims that he has a flimsy grip on objectivity. Are we to be grateful that he can overcome the genetic bias he feels whenever he ponders that Pete Rose-loving Reds team? What's the point then? What kind of style points is Joe going for here? Is he conceding a point - "I really like the Reds" - in hopes that this will make his case against the Reds stronger? WTF? Either way, this is no way to mask your disrespect for a ballclub.

This is a major flaw in most of the baseball writing done for a national audience. Writers who are closet partisans of some team, bandwagon fans for a few teams, or worse, generic fans of the game with little attachment to team play, are often claiming to be your best friend right after they insult your girlfriend. Compounding the insult of such a statement is the fact that the author seems to believe that making such statements strengthens his case. Note to Joe: next time you want to bash a team and throw around some paragraphs to prop up your naysaying disbelief, restrain yourself from inserting the gratuitous paragraph in which you claim to really love the team in your heart of hearts. Or, when you are claiming to really love a team, restrain yourself from mentioning the "serious flaw" about the team that makes your love so heroic. If you translate this paragraph into one about a girlfriend, it would read, "You know what, friend, I'm sorry I had to point out that there's reason to believe your girlfriend Mabel is running around with Tom, Dick, and Harry while you are working nights at the tavern. I really want to like Mabel, so it hurts me to tell you she's a slut. My uncle had a thing for tall blondes and I like them too even though they are always really stupid. The other great thing about Mabel is that when she makes herself available, lots of guys will crowd around and cheer her on." Thanks a lot, Joe.

Back to Joe on the Reds. He explains the recent parity in the NL Central by noting that "the NL Central just hasn't had exceptional teams." OK, maybe, if "exceptional" means something more than "better than average" and is a word you reserve for just one or two teams. I sure thought the Cardinals were one of the top teams in 2002, but maybe Joe saw Arizona coming all the way.

What about this year? Is the parity in the NL Central the result of all the teams being average? Looks to me like the Central is 38-24 (.613) against the NL East and 35-28 (.556) against the NL West. To put that in persepctive, the best teams in the NL have a .574 winning percentage. Am I doing the math wrong, or does it look like the NL Central has been been beating the crap out of the rest of the league? If one team has a 27-20 record and plays against some terrible teams in a weak division, is that as impressive as another team that routinely plays against the best teams in the league and also arrives at a 27-20 record?

Joe writes that the Reds are "not contenders in any real sense of the term." What the hell does that mean? The only "real" sense of the term is the "real" standings. The Reds are contenders in the only real sense of the term. Unless the NL East and NL West grow some exceptional ballclubs, the winner of the NL Central should be the odds-on favorite to represent the NL in the World Series.

Dave Williams's labrum

In a free piece at Baseball Prospectus, Will Carroll plugs Dave Williams as someone to cheer for. He's coming back from surgery on his labrum.

...what the heck does he mean when he alludes to himself as "talking politics"? Is the abuse of college pitchers a partisan issue?

Mondesi as free agent

Really I could care less what happens with Mondesi. He cleared waivers so we know he's not going to sign for some sick sum - he's a useful player at position where useful players are not scarce. The Bucs had him for one year at $1.8M with a 600K buyout or a second year at $8M. He'll probably sign for two years at less than Reggie Sanders money. As something to trade, he was only good for the remainder of the year with the buyout. No one would deal for him and want to keep him for the second year on the contract the Bucs negotiated, so don't think his trade value was the same as the value he'll now command as a free agent.

Mondy played with the Bucs long enough for Jason Bay to come back. The team stayed right around .500 with him around. He left just in time to make it easy to save J.J. Davis's job. At least three-quarters of the Pirates nation was scandalized by the notion that Littlefield might put Davis on waivers. (Seeing Davis as a very raw corner outfielder, I wasn't among that number.) So let the general love for keeping J.J. Davis around temper the outrage about the timing of Raul Mondesi's departure. (J.J. Davis fans, read this.)

Mondesi served his purpose as helped the team at a low cost for a short while. No one times all their stock-market trades so perfectly that he only buys at the lowest low and only sells at the highest high. That's a ridiculous standard by which to judge a GM, too. On the whole, the price and timing of the Mondesi signing and release were excellent and clearly improved the fortune of the team. Littlefield gets an easy pass from this critic for not holding onto Mondesi on some restricted list so that he could flip him for another B-grade middle infield prospect in a few months.

Laugh at anyone who argues the Bucs would have been better served by not signing Mondesi in the first place, and giving all of his PT to J.J. Davis or some other raw scrub as a part of some sinister and/or stupid plan to sacrifice wins so the young guys can have more at-bats and more on-the-job training in the field. And raise your glass to the fact that this person is not running our ballclub.

...Mondesi just signed for one year with Anaheim at a little less that he was owed on his Pirates contract & a lot less when you factor in the buyout. So with multiple teams bidding on him, he still wasn't worth the contract the Pirates could have traded with him. It's not that the Pirates were overpaying him so much as his childish behavior with the Pirates negatively affected his market value.

Eleven big ones

Tonight starts a key stretch for the Bucs. The team is playing well lately. Despite some shaky starting pitching, they are two games under .500 and on schedule, I think, for their first winning season in ages. (The formula for this, outlined in the preseason, is stay right at or around .500 until August and turn it on down the stretch.) They finished 2003 at 49-48 and stand now at 20-22 so that's 69-70 over the last 70 games. With so many players on the rise, this team will only get better as they play more games. I'm looking forward to seeing more stability in the lineup and rotation as Mac and the team settle into a groove. Also, unlike some of our rivals, the Bucs are well-positioned to deal with any injuries. Our top 10 players may not be as experienced as the top 10 of other NL Central teams, but our 40-man is as strong as any 40-man in the division.

The upcoming schedule should have the Bucs licking their chops. Up next is seven games against the dread Cubs and four games with the Cardinals. Division games count twice, of course, since a win against a division rival is also a loss for a division rival. On June 7, when the Bucs head to Texas to play twelve games against the AL West, they won't have anything to say about how many wins the Cubs and Cardinals add to their totals.

I'd like to see them win six of the next eleven.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Huzza for D. Ward

If you squint enough, Daryle Ward looks a little like Pops Stargell.

I'll be all the way back from this stupor in a day or two. Huzza for Bones and Scoop.

And oh yeah, let's go Bucs.

Cycle

WOW. Hat's off to Daryle for becoming the 23rd Pirate to hit for the cycle. We knew this guy could rake but honestly weren't expecting too many stand-up triples. Fun to see Reggie Sanders crash into the wall too. Don't believe the the cicada hype.

Although Jack Wilson DIDN'T WALK, 4 for 6 with 3 runs scored is acceptable in our book.

RV vs. Suppan tomorrow. A Bucs win would bring us to .500 (!) and drag the Cards down into the cellar with us.

There's a rumor going around that Daryle's daily flights after driving Mondy's kids to school have made our gentle giant/hero late for pre-game stretching...

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Guess who's back...back again

So now Mondy is being courted by the Angels, Red Sox, and other contenders with injury problems (who doesn't have them these days?) and is expected to sign with someone by the end of the week. How bad does this stink? Maybe I'm missing something, but it sure seems like DL dropped the ball on this one by not letting Mondy dangle in Santo Domingo until Theo Epstein at least kicked in a 2005 draft pick.

Can the pirates file some sort of grievance with some Minister of Fairness and receive some compensation? Who's going to take little Mondy Jr. to school?

Oh and get this--Mondy wants a two year deal. The sad thing is he's going to find someone to give it to him.

To the Cardinals

May they play well and lose to a better team.

With that toast, I'm moving to the corner. I'll be getting horizontal on that bench. Don't worry if I drool as I sleep the next few days.

Meanwhile, maybe Bones will be around to make comments on the ongoing series with the Cardinals. Maybe he'll instruct us in how to choose a good wine. Or maybe Scoop will drop in and regale us with song.

Help yourself to the punch. See you late Thursday or Friday.

Daryle Ward fan sites

The PG runs down the recent history of Ward and the internet.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Go Reds

The Reds are working on a sweep of the Astros. I love to see the "big 3" taken down by the "little 3" in the NL Central, and something about the Reds makes me root for them in other situations as well. That said, I'm a little disappointed they removed Jimmy Haynes from their rotation.

Doubleheader spot-starting

There's talk that the Bucs will call up someone from Nashville for a spot-start in the weekend doubleheader against the Cubs. This strikes me as a great chance to get a look at someone in a low-stress situation. Provided that his schedule can be massaged so that he is starting on regular rest, and hasn't had to fly across the country and land two hours before the first pitch, any of those guys should relish the chance to come up and make an impression. If he does real well, then perhaps you think about keeping him around and making a change with the roster. When grafting players onto the roster, nothing makes them stick better than success. If the spot-starter flops, it's no big deal when he's returned since he was called up with the news that this was a one-time gig.

Freddy Sanchez

Don't hold your breath waiting for Freddy Sanchez. Here's more. As always, please use the comments to correct us where we're wrong.

Minnesota and Oakland

From the man himself:

On his pregame radio show, general manager Dave Littlefield defended the club's plans to allocate a reported $13.3 million in revenue sharing. "It's a balancing act. We're funneling money to both [the minor-league system and the big-league budget]. We're going to continue to invest in our minor-league system. We've got to balance the short term and the long term. There's a great deal of frustration over the last decade [on the fans' part]. They'll be back when we get to winning." But there will be no quick fixes anytime soon, he added. "It's going to be a rare circumstance when we get the above-average free agent. We've got to have our young players grow to become above-average players. The model is out there that I point to continuously: the Minnesota Twins and Oakland."
If I was DL's assistant, I'd recommend that he says that he hopes the fans will be back when the Bucs return to winning. He's right but he's in a position where he doesn't want to be seen as taking anything for granted. The fans are impatient.

I gave the idea of using the whole $13M to sign seven Cabrera-type prospects from Latin America, and while I'm sure this isn't how they will use the money, the more I thought about it the more attractive the idea seemed to me. Even better would be using the money to sign five such prospects and the world's greatest set of scouts. The first round of the draft is too useful for taking college starters, and the Bucs should not bank on having a #1 pick anytime soon.

Day off, looking ahead

Day off today. The Bucs are playing the Cardinals this week and then host the Cubs this weekend. We trot out Benson, Perez, and Vogelsong to face Suppan, Marquis, and Carpenter. That's a pretty even matchup.

The Cardinals are going to score their runs. Reggie Sanders will probably go off and Jim Edmonds will throw someone out at third or at home and Tony La Russa and Mac will make a dozen consecutive roster changes. Watch, one of these guys will put a pitcher in the outfield for an at-bat or walk the bases loaded on intentional walks to face the other guy's pitcher. It's always interesting when these guys get together.

The Bucs are working their way toward a most-productive and semi-regular lineup. My guess is Bay will settle into the three-slot nicely. It's hard to argue with Kendall-Wilson-Bay-Wilson at the top of the lineup. One of these days things are going to click as most of the positions settle into stable platoons or become the clear job of one player. We'll have to score some runs in St. Louis to keep the games close.

The Cubs don't seem to know who will pitch this weekend. With the day off today and a day off Thursday, they are being OK in the short run. It's doubtful that my fantasy will come true. Jimmy Anderson probably won't be called up in time to start against the Pirates. Meanwhile I'm sure Jim Hendry is on the phone with Seattle inquiring about Freddy Garcia.

RISP

Pirate fans spill more ink about hitting with RISP than most other subjects.

Focussing on this stat is a lose-lose situation. If the team is hitting well with RISP, and you call attention to it, everyone will think we're due for a correction. If the team is hitting poorly, the only thing attention to this stat will do is stress out the guys. No doubt they'll be giving it their all and being as focussed as they can etc. when they go up with a runner on second and third. Who doesn't want to hit with RISP? It's like going into a bar as a bachelor and finding it crowded with available ladies. If the Pirates can "score" 30% of the time someone goes to the plate with a man in RISP, they will be jumping for joy when the season ends. Focus on the positives. Attention to a hitless streak with RISP is only going to make the situation more difficult.

The other important thing is that RISP is a meaningless stat, especially if you sample it just over one series. It's like walking downtown, asking 45 people who they are going to vote for in the next election, and thinking the election is over because you got some kind of lopsided result. Over the course of a season or over the course of a career it means something for sure, but not over the course of three games.

Focus on the positive. The Bucs got a bunch of runners into scoring position yesterday. If they do that every game, they'll score a bunch of runs and be happy in short order. All the focus on the inability to score runners in scoring position is going to look foolish if/when the Bucs struggle just getting them into scoring position.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Bucs trailing Brewers

As I head out to a family picnic, the Bucs are trailing the Brewers 1-0 with three innings to go. Thing #2 has come on in relief of Kip Wells, who was brilliant today.

It's been a frustrating game. If the Bucs can't pull it out somehow in the end, I'm sure Mac will be tempted to talk about not getting the big hit. On the other hand, the Bucs did an OK job getting runners into scoring position. It's not like they were one-hit today. If they can keep that up, the hits with RISP will come eventually.

Reggie Sanders and the Cardinals later this week.

Cubs pitching depth

We're watching the situation with the Cubs rotation with no little amount of interest. From today's papers:

Pitcher Sergio Mitre saw his ERA balloon to 5.82 in a 7-6 loss Friday, but manager Dusty Baker said he had no choice except to keep the 23-year-old in the rotation.

"Yeah," Baker told reporters. "You got any better choices?"

Yes sir, yes. We recommend this guy.
In five innings, Mitre allowed seven runs on 10 hits, walked one batter and threw two wild pitches. He also gave up a base after he ignored a runner on a comebacker to the mound.

"This was a young man who was 7-9 in Double A," Baker said. "For his lack of experience and lack of success, he's 2-3 in the big leagues. Not many kids could come up from Double A and done what he's done. This is on-the-job training in the big leagues in the heat of a pennant race."

I can see the steam escaping from his ears as Baker contemplates the fact that he has to go with a pitcher who couldn't win in AA at the end of the pre-Memorial Day leg of the pennant race. Meanwhile our man is is winning at AAA. Something tells me the Cubs will deal for a starter or two during the July leg of the pennant race.

Revenue sharing

Some things are very right and some things are very wrong with the great Bob Smizik's latest.

Wrong: the Bucs are violating the "spirit" of revenue sharing. The teams are free to do whatever they want with this money, and there is no longstanding tradition (what we usually mean by "spirit" in baseball) dictating how to use the money. That's overwrought.

Right: The Pirates are in need of short-term solution to repair the dwindling fan base.

Wrong: The costs of scouting and player development are relatively fixed. This report by Joe Starkey explains how the Pirates are routinely outbid for the best Latin American prospects. Even with millions invested in Latin America, and as long and as distinguished a history in Latin America as any other team, the Bucs still pony up only $5K to $100K for signing bonuses. The best players command much more. Miguel Cabrera, for example, got $1.9M.

I'm not sure it makes a lot of sense for the Bucs to spend $2M of their revenue sharing money to sign a dazzling high-school-aged Latin American player, but I would bet that this is a better bet than using the same money to sign a first-round high school player like Jeff Allison.

Regardless, there is plenty more money to spend in scouting and player development.

Finally, Smizik's right that the money will burn a hole in the pockets of fans who have fallen in love with Jack Wilson or Craig Wilson for the way they handled their daughter's autograph request. It's going to be hard for the Bucs to let these guys go and have nothing to show for $13M invested in the minor leagues. Clearly the Bucs are taking a path to major-league success that compares to the ones taken by the Athletics and the Twins. I think it's the right way to go. But the Bucs could have a serious PR problem on their hands if both Wilsons are traded or allowed to leave and Littlefield cites money as one of the reasons the Bucs decided not to keep them.