Saturday, June 05, 2004

It's Birdstone

At 6:35pm EST, I was on the local elementary school playground pushing Rowdietta on the swing. Pop-Pop put his phone in front of the TV set and I heard the call over my cell phone.

Great race, great finish. These guys liked it too. These guys didn't like it too much. Here's a shot of the guy who bought 6,000 souvenir $2 tickets for resale on eBay. No doubt horse racing provides the greatest few minutes in all professional sports.

In the end it sure looked like a 50-50 chance for Smarty Jones. He was there at the end but it wasn't him.

The way to play that, I realize now, would have been to bet every other horse in the field to win. Any one of the horses would have paid $16 and some - like Birdstone - much more.

Great race. It's sad to see Smarty Jones go the way of Real Quiet but it's great that next year this could all happen again. We'll probably never see this again in our lives but it's fun to hope and wait and see.

Vogelsong's last stand?

Joe Rutter reports that Vogelsong might be in a situation where he has one more chance.

I'd wait and see what's up with Wells' finger before I made any moves. It might be OK to demote Vogelsong, call up Burnett, then put Wells on the DL and bring up someone else, but that puts the team in a situation where the other starters aren't allowed to cut their own steaks or sleep on the second floor.

Since the Cubs have destroyed Vogelsong this year, giving him one more chance against the Cubs is kinda fitting. Go get 'em Ryan.

Benson good, Zambrano better

Ho hum. Looks like the middle of the lineup is coming back down to earth. Either that or the Cubs buried Kryptonite rods on the right side of the batter's box.

light rain at the Belmont

Or so says I don't have the TV on so I don't know what we can see there.

Am I reading this right - is Smarty Jones now at 1 to 9? Bet 9 win 10? You're insane to take those odds. Even at 2-5 it's not a smart wager.

My hunch is that Smarty Jones is not going to win. Purge appears to have fallen out of favor, prob. because of the rain and the sand and the long run. I'm going to back off the wager I proposed early in the week. All the total domination talk scares me and I can't believe Smarty Jones has a better than 50-50 chance of winning against eight other very good horses. Even the Devil Rays beat the Yankees sometimes.

Here are my wagers then: Eddington and Rock Hard Ten in a $2 exacta box ($4). $2 on Tap Dancer, Royal Assault, and Master David to win. That's ten bucks hedged against the possibility Smarty Jones can't do it.

I'll root for Smarty Jones, of course. It would be great to see him do it.

Friday, June 04, 2004

NL Central roundup

Brad Wilkerson showed some power tonight and les Expos stopped the Reds in Cincinnati. Dunn hit his fifteenth homer. The top of the lineup did nothing and the Reds continued their throw-strikes pitching philosophy, only walking two in the whole game.

The Cards just beat down Houston. The Cardinals are the best team in the league right now. (Always say that after your team gets swept.) Biggio had a nice game but Bagwell brought only a single and Berkman's lights were out. Matt Morris was not so good but Wade Miller was worse. They have to be concerned about him getting hit like this game after game after game. That win puts St. Louis one game back of Cincinnati.

The Brewers are out on the West Coast with a slim lead after four. It's Victor Santos against the Tank. Tankersley is an interesting story. When he came up with the Pads the first time - was it last year? - he couldn't pitch out of a jam and a number of veteran hitters called out the minor-league system for padding the stats of the minor-league pitchers. The Padres had some kind of rule where a pitcher came out of the game as soon as he gave up so many runs. They didn't want anyone getting shelled. This kept the truly disastrous outings off their resume and made everyone, including Tankersley, look like a minor-league stud to guys who look at stats and feel qualified to proclaim bold things about a player based on the stats alone. I'm not saying it's a bad way to bring up a pitcher. It might be a good way. It had to be tough for Tank, however, to know that his teammates thought the front office had trumped up his resume.

You know what happened with the Cubs and the Pirates. The Cubs are one game over .500, and the Pirates are six and a half games out of first place.

I like the Benson vs. Zambrano matchup tomorrow. One of these days the Pirates are going to do more than rattle Zambrano's cage. Of all the Cubs pitchers, Zambrano is the guy I'd most like to see the Bucs score and score and score against.

and another thing

Al at and another thing! was at the game. He reports some comical observations. I just read that blog for the first time & I like it.

Joe Borowski

We took a vote, he's our favorite Cub.

...the Cubs bring in a lefty to face Mackowiak, Mac pinch-hits with Chris Stynes, and Stynes delivers the goods. Wow.

Cubs 11-5 over Pirates today

Huh. That's an over/under of 111 wins in a hypothetical season of Mark Prior vs. Josh Fogg. Since the Cubs bullpen has been so crappy against the Bucs, I think it's a good deal for Pirates fans. A $5 bet would return $16.

There is this the-sun-will-never-rise-again thing with the Pirates. Get swept in a four-game series and it's hard to believe they're going to win again sometime soon.

Duckys not lucky

Damn, Mark Prior made a bunch of kids cry last night. Way to go, Mark.

Wilson not walking

Jack Wilson has hit .308 the last 21 days, but his OBP for that stretch is only .316. One walk in 78 at-bats. A .316 OBP is not good enough for the top of the order. I don't care what the batting average is.

Earlier other writers jumped on Wilson for having few walks while he was hitting .360 and higher. I said wait until his OBP falls below .340. The hope is that walks will replace hits when a batter goes through a stretch where he doesn't see many pitches he can hit hard. Wilson's batting average is falling and his walk total is falling with it.

Slow down, Jack, be patient. A .308 BA is pretty empty if it only amounts to a .316 OBP. In our wildest fantasy, Wilson manages a .340 OBP on the season. We'll take a .340 BA with no walks over a .300 BA with some walks or a .280 BA with many walks, but .300 with no walks maintain that modest goal of .340 OBP. There's little chance Wilson will ever be a high-walks guy since he lacks the power to draw the IBB numbers of guys like Pujols, Rolen, and Brian Giles.

For the record, Jack's hitting .343 with a .357 OBP on the season. On the whole, he's wildly exceeding expectations on the season. There's no great cause for alarm. He's cooling off and in a little slump, that's all. Let's not start calling him Marlon Byrd. His defense remains spectacular. He's a big asset for the club.

the Promised Land of .500 baseball

We can start calling Mac "Moses" if we reverse this losing trend soon. Fun work from Smizik. Like Mac, I think the starters can only get better. They've been that bad.

Suitable for framing

LaRussa and McClendon went at it last night and both got ejected. Story here. More here. LaRussa would like to intimidate the young Pirates pitchers by hollering about "retaliation" and spouting conspiracy bullshit everytime a young guy loses one up and in.

More fun with Cubs

Prior vs. Fogg this afternoon. Sounds fair to me.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Bautista to Tampa Bay

One of the rule V milk carton boys and a 20th-round draft pick in 2000, Jose Bautista was claimed off waivers by Tampa Bay. He'd been with Baltimore. Had he cleared waivers, the Pirates could have bought him back.

Mac saying all the right things

It warms my heart. Steve Novotney has a good line of talk from the manager in that article.

McClendon acknowledged that his starters have disappointed him this year as much as the relievers did last season. "I think that's a fair assessment," he said. "But this is why I'm encouraged about where we are - we're two games under .500 and our starting pitching has been terrible, for the most part.

  "If you would have told me when we left spring training that we would be 23-25 and our starting pitchers would be where they are right now, I'd have hugged you because I think they are going to get better.

John Perrotto also remarked that the starting rotation, which we all thought might be the strength of this club, has been its weakest part. I was thinking the same thing last night. Mac's right, though, it's too early to give up on anyone, and it's pretty remarkable how bad the starters have been and how close to .500 the team has remained.

Hopefully the rotation will get it going before the offense hits one of those mass slumps like the Astros suffered at the end of May.

Gay pride at PNC

Check out the photo.

Or does that have something to do with the Lord promising not to punish the team with another Derek Bell?

We report, you decide.

More on the draft

Ed Eagle has this on the Bucs and this weekend's draft. Since the Bucs lost Maholm for a half-year or more to one of those freak injuries that happens every so often, I'd look to take another left-handed pitcher myself. I can see good reasons to take the local catcher too. Who knows. Good luck in the draft, Pirates people.

Simon buys 28 pairs of shoes

From the same Trib notebook:

First baseman Randall Simon hosted two teams, the Monarchs and Crawfords, from Pittsburgh's RBI youth league program. He bought Adidas spikes (the same brand he wears) for 28 players. He also purchased tickets to last night's game for the teams and signed autographs for the players.
Simon is the slowest man in pro baseball. Do they really want his shoes?

Just kidding. It was a classy thing to do.

Boehringer hid injury

From the Trib notebook:

"He did not let on about the injury," McClendon said. "This is probably something that had been coming on. But I don't need heroes. I need healthy pitchers."
Sensible comment from Mac.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Wells pitches per PA

Looking here, we find Wells at the top of the NL in pitches per PA. I'm looking Wednesday night too, so if you read this on Thursday and click on that link, the numbers might be updated a bit.

Right now Wells is listed as throwing 4.0 pitches per plate appearance. His company is not necessarily bad - Jason Schmidt throws 4.1 and Randy Johnson 3.9. The thing is, they are more effective than Kip; they get more outs per plate appearance. Schmidt averages 15.7 pitches per inning and Johnson 15.1 pitches per inning. Wells averages 18.1 pitches per inning. That's close to tops in the NL for starters. Only Montreal's Claudio Vargas throws more pitches per inning.

What does this mean? Give Wells 120 pitches and he won't get through the seventh if he has his usual 2004 stuff.

He can be better than that. In 2002 he averaged 15.5 pitches per inning and in 2003 he averaged 16.2 pitches per inning. He's never thrown more than 3200 pitches in a year.

At 18 per inning, 3200 pitches will get him only 177 2/3 innings. An "ace" will give you 200, 220. In 2003, only sixteen pitchers threw more than 3200 pitches and only Al Leiter averaged more than 16.8 pitches per inning. Leiter had a good year, winning fifteen. That's amazing considering he only made 30 starts. Typically starters can expect to win about 1/3 of their starts provided they play on a .500 team. Leiter won half his starts by holding batters to .260 / .351 / .396. No doubt some luck is involved. He gave up 15 home runs in 180 innings. Overall he was good enough for #2 pitcher on a 66-95 team. This year, Wells has been holding them to (not including tonight's start) .261 / .347 / .412. He's on course for about 20 home runs in 180 innings. He's not going to hit the 200 inning mark unless he brings down the number of pitches he throws per inning.

Reader Dan said all this much more concisely - he's been too cute around the corners this season. The solution is easy. He needs to, in the words of Craig Wilson, throw strikes.

Still no word on the trouble with his hand. Let's hope he's not seriously injured. Since pitchers tend to get hurt by throwing when they are fatigued, Wells will remain an injury candidate, even if he's A-OK for his next start, because he's laboring too hard to get to the seventh inning. It's not fair but the Bucs count on Wells more than anyone to go out there and give the bullpen a rest.

Wells lifted

Something's wrong with his hand and he's pulled from the 3-3 game tonight. He did throw 107 pitches. I know that would make my hand feel funny.

The Belmont

Let's talk horse racing for one minute.

Hard to believe a horse on the outside might be a 2-5 favorite at the Belmont. Tell me that doesn't make a difference. At the Derby he stalked from 13 and he did the same at Arkansas. The huge runaway victories came from prime post positions.

Smarty Jones has an impressive recent record (pdf), to say the least: he has won his last eight races. Them speed ratings are pretty good too. Pretty impressive stuff.

I'd consider Purge, Eddington, and Rock Hard Ten, in that order, after Smarty Jones. No sense betting on a 2-5 favorite, but there's no doubt he's one hell of a horse on one hell of a run. Lay my money on a trifecta box with Smarty Jones and whichever two of Purge, Eddington, and Rock Hard Ten have the longest odds. It would take a miracle for one of those other horses to factor against this competition.

Boehringer to DL, Mike Gonzalez back up

Good move. Nothing like three lefties in the pen.

Paul Meyer in the flesh

This week's Q & A is adorned with a suitable-for-framing picture of Paul Meyer's mug. That said, I'm not sure that glare encourages me to ask a question.

His take on what to do with Simon and the lineup is good.

There continues to be a lot of talk and outrage about Mondesi. Save your breath, people. If the Pirates were unhappy about losing Mondy as soon as Bay came back, they would have filed some kind of grievance. If the Pirates had signed Mondesi to a contract for just a few months, to use him while they waited for Bay's return, we'd all be hailing the front office as a bunch of geniuses.

If a moody, troublesome girlfriend left town the same day that your darling, steady high school sweetheart came home from the Peace corps, would you sit around and bitch about the ex-girlfriend the morning after a spectacular date with the steady darling? Let it go, people, let it go.


Bob Smizik has a good approach to the Vogelsong situation. It's the same one I think we should use with Benson. We have to let these guys be who they are and encourage them to get better. The coaches have to teach them, make them better, and there's no point in Mac getting into the business of punishing guys who probably wouldn't enjoy this same opportunity on most other clubs.

Injuries have a way of cropping up at the most unexpected times. Just because the Pirates have not made a move with the rotation in some time, doesn't mean they need to make one now.

I have no idea if Vogelsong might be suited better for the bullpen. I don't know how the team determines who is a starter and who is a reliever, but a pitcher is a pitcher in my eye. It's all the same to me.

That said, if the Bucs slide him into the bullpen or return him to the minors. and bring up Burnett, then what will they do if one of the other starters needs a few weeks off to recover from some unexpected injury? Bring up Big Ben? They have to move slowly with these moves, and give the players plenty of time to show us who they are and who they can be. A half-season in the rotation for Vogelsong should produce some pretty conclusive statistics. If he's dominating NL hitters by mid-July, no one will care about how he pitched in April and May and June. He shouldn't have to worry about anything but his next start, and he should approach each one like he's just been recalled from the minors and has a chance to claim and hold a place in the rotation.

Burnett should have a strong run when he starts his big-league career since he has such an unusual left-handed delivery. The test of Sean will come when teams begin to see him a second time and have plenty of tape to study before they go see him. The quality of his delivery is such that he'll have a long career at the very least as a left-handed reliever capable of bringing a very different look than any of the pitchers before him. I wonder if the minor-league coaches see a drop in his effectiveness when his league gets a little more familiar with his delivery.

Go Thursday

The first 10,000 fans to arrive to PNC Park Thursday will receive one of two T-shirts honoring Pirates infielder Daryle Ward and outfielder Rob Mackowiak, says Steve.

I may have to look for mine on eBay.

NL Central round-up

I didn't get to watch or hear much of last night's game since I was busy consoling little Rowdietta, who repaid my kindness by urinating all over my lap while I rocked her in the Dutailier. I keep telling her that if she must pee on me, she should pee on my hands, but she was falling asleep at the time so I had to let it slide.

Since I didn't see much except that Vogelsong threw some more BP, I'll make notes as I do my own three-minute roundup and share them for your edification.

Adam Dunn went off as the best of the NL Central beat the best of the NL Least. The Reds are ten games over .500. Catcher Larue went 1-for-3 with a promising walk to lift his average to .192. Aaron Harang went five innings, gave up ten hits, but didn't allow any walks. Say what you want about the Reds pitching staff, but you can't deny that they have been super-stingy with the free passes. And guys like Jimenez, Griffey, and Dunn have been taking them in big bunches from the other team.

Houston won at Wrigley after the clock struck midnight for Glendon Rusch. He was OK but he gave up two homers. No pitcher can expect to win after giving up two homers in one start. Josh Fogg is the exception that proves the rule. One of those homers was hit by Jeff Bagwell, so maybe he's waking up from his slump. Now would be a good time for him to do that. Kyle Farnsworth was the hard-luck loser as he was charged with two unearned runs off an error by Todd Walker. Only one game separates these two teams right now so all Pirates fans are rooting for grueling extra-inning games and a split in the series.

Albert Pujols went 5-for-5 and Ryan Vogelsong started and that's all that needs to be said about this game. The Bucs are two games under .500 and six games out.

The Brewers are on the west coast representin' the mighty NL Central against the NL We(ak)st. Doug Davis continued his roll with six shutout innings. Adrian Beltre continues his free-fall at the plate. This guy runs hot or cold and nothing in between. He graduated from the same school of hitting as Reggie Sanders and Paul Konerko. Jenkins had a double so maybe his power is returning. Scott Podsednik was the speedy hero for the Brewer team. The win puts the Brewers two games ahead of the Pirates.

Today, the Cubs and Astros continue their battle-to-the-mutual-deaths as Roger Clemens and Matt Clement neutralize one another. Chris Carpenter and Kip Wells face each other in a battle of lesser aces here at PNC. Cory Lidle leads the Reds against Mongo Willis in Florida, and Ben Hendrickson (who?) faces "better than Adam Dunn" Edwin Jackson in Los Angeles.

My All-Star ballot

I know you don't care who I voted for, so I won't bore you with details or harangue and speechify about the proper way to fill out a ballot. I did, however, vote for Kendall, D. Ward (write-in at first), Jack Wilson, R. Mackowiak (write-in at third), and Craig Wilson. I hope you have fun with your ballot too.

Ward and Mackowiak named N.L. Co-Players of the Week

Congratulations to these two guys. Analysts everywhere are rolling their eyes and concocting pithy, cynical things to say about these "unlikely" stars.

Daryle Ward and Rob Mackowiak of the Pittsburgh Pirates were named the National League Co-Players of the Week for May 24-30.

Ward hit .458 (11-for-24) with a home run and eight RBI. On May 26, he was 4-for-5, hit for the cycle (double in the first, triple in the fourth, home run in the fifth and single in the ninth), and tied his career-high with six RBI. He also made history by joining his father Gary Ward in becoming the first father-son combination to hit for the cycle.

Mackowiak led the Majors with 12 RBI, hitting .304 (7-for-23) with three home runs. On May 28, he hit a walk-off grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat the Chicago Cubs 9-5 in the first game of a doubleheader. In the second game, he hit a game-tying two-run home run, again in the bottom of the ninth, after entering the game as a defensive replacement and the Pirates won in extra-innings 5-4.

That's the text of the press release from MLB. Congratulations again. I hope they get some kind of shiny trophy. Rob can put his in the crib and let little Garrett drool all over it.

...The PG reports they get a Tourneau luxury Swiss timepiece. Pretty sweet. Kids love watches, too. Get one that ticks, Rob.

We get letters

A reader treats us to the following joke:

Q: What's the matta with Mondy?
A: He's a Bum
As always, we won't print his or her name since we weren't told we could do so. Keep the letters coming. We love 'em.

Kneel Walker

Is that a great name for a high-OBP catcher or what?

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Kris Benson

OK, that last post was a bit impatient. Vogelsong was chased early again tonight. A "rebuilding" team - one that holds auditions through platoons at lots of positions - should haste slowly. Surely Kris Benson is not pleased with himself. If injuries don't force the Bucs to make changes in the rotation, they'll be lucky. In the meantime trot the guys out there and let them be what they are. The Bucs have to win to fill the seats to increase revenues, but the odds of winning are such that it probably won't happen without Kris Benson pitching the way he's capable of pitching.

Tell it, Ronnie

Ron Cook is all over the way we're feeling about Kris Benson. Why not move him into long relief? Give him a Wilson Alvarez-type role. If he can't get it together, he's not worth diddly on the trade market. And he's not getting it together in the rotation. The Bucs should stop babying him and take him down a peg the way they did with Daryle Ward. Even if "tough love" is a stupid concept, at least you minimize the damage Benson can do to our morale.

Bucs working out Walker

Bucs are hanging out with local boy Neil Walker.

Mondesi some more


Yawn. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

(No offense, John.)

Geekin' up Mackowiak

We agree with this and second it and so forth.

Only thing is, Mackowiak has a trick knee (see Oct. 31, 2003) and only 21 360-OPS at-bats against left-handers.

My guess is he's already playing as much as he's able. No one have an aneurysm if he sits out every fifth game and/or against left-handed starters.

Trivia question: what do Operation Shutdown and Papa Mack have in common? Answer at the end of this post.

...Super Bucco-sleuth Steve Novotney learned the Subway sandwich signing bonus story was a joke. Oh well. Every story gets old anyway eventually.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Reds, Cubs, Cardinals win

The Ken Griffey/Sean Casey tandem went a combined 4-for-9 with three HR, four runs and seven RBIs as the Reds beat the Marlins, 9-7, tonight in Florida. The 91-degree weather agreed with old Barry Larkin, who went 3-for-5 with two runs and an RBI, and Wily Mo Pena continued to press for more playing time with two hits and his fourth homer. Jason Larue continued the misery with an 0-for-3 performance and two errors. Todd Van Poppel was battered through 96 pitches. Riedling was just as bad in the sixth but Jones and Graves shut the Marlins down to finish the game.

In Chicago, Greg Maddux and the Cubs beat Roy Oswalt and the Astros, 3-1. Moises Alou continues to change the headlines after that urine-soaking secret leaked out. He went 3-for-4 with a double and his 13th home run. Maddux was great and Borowski got the save after making it interesting once again.

Oswalt was OK again. Biggio had two hits and a walk, but Bagwell was 1-for-4 with only a single. Hidalgo had one hit, a double. Berkman carried the team that short distance with his 14th HR, a two-out solo shot off Maddux.

Kris Benson was awful again and the Cardinals thumped the Pirates before 12,582 fans at PNC Park. Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen humiliated the Pirates. The Cardinals even got production from Tony Womack, who homered off Benson in the fifth. When you give up a home run to Tony Womack, it's time to take a good look in the mirror. Even the pitcher, Jason Marquis, had a double off Benson. On the other hand, Reggie Sanders was 0-for-5 with two strikeouts tonight.

For the Bucs, Mark Corey was excellent in his first game of the year. Craig Wilson went 4-for-4 with his twelfth homer, a two-run shot that gave the Bucs a rare but temporary early lead. Tike Redman was 0-for-3 before being lifted for a pinch-hitter. Bobby Hill got the start at second and went 0-for-4.

The Brewers lost in Los Angeles in ten innings. The news is more painful than cheering for the Brew crew. Bill Hall started, batted second, and went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and an RBI. Spivey, Overbay, and Ginter equally contributed to a combined 0-for-12 afternoon. Geoff Jenkins showed signs of life by going 3-for-4 with a double and a HR.

The Brewer pitching was solid. Fellow clowns Wise and Kinney combined for seven shutout innings. Vizcaino added an eighth and Danny Kolb blew his first save. Left with Dave Burba to pitch the tenth, the Brewers, predictably, lost the game. It's not like they hit well enough to feel cheated.

The Pirates are one game under .500 and five games out of first.

Reds 13-6 over last nineteen

The Reds are the big story of the last three weeks in the NL Central.

Ken Griffey (0.235 / 0.358 / 0.574) and Sean Casey (0.422 / 0.471 / 0.656) are pacing the offense. Adam Dunn (0.197 / 0.329 / 0.348) has struggled but continues to draw walks. It's just a matter of time before he guts a stretch of bad pitching.

Ryan Freel (0.254 / 0.390 / 0.333) has been an unexpected asset. D'Angelo Jimenez (0.292 / 0.378 / 0.369) has been getting on base. Austin Kearns hasn't done much but walk and hit singles (0.286 / 0.390 / 0.371) as he struggles with various injuries.

Catchers Larue (0.167 / 0.362 / 0.222) and Valentin (0.161 / 0.212 / 0.290) can't take much credit for the thirteen wins. Barry Larkin, Tim Hummel, Juan Castro, and Jacob Cruz better keep quiet when the big boys are talking. Wily Mo Pena has been padding his stats with select at-bats.

The starters of these past three weeks (Acevedo, Lidle, Harang, Wilson and Van Poppel) walked an amazingly low 22 batters in about 115 innings. (The Pirates walked 43 in their 96 innings.) Only Acevedo mowed them down, but the low walk rates have surely helped all five of these guys to be effective. Paul Wilson (0.190 / 0.220 / 0.278) and Todd Van Poppel (0.239 / 0.247 / 0.423) were unhittable (though Van Poppel was hit pretty hard when he was hit at all). Acevedo and Lidle were above average, and Harang was average to below average but still managed a 2-1 record.

Graves, Jones, and Riedling were dominant in the bullpen. Ryan Wagner was average but the Reds used the winning streak to sneak him down to AAA without catching a lot of flak for wasting their draft pick on a college closer and then thinking he'd step right into a set-up or closing role this season. He'll be back, and he'll be contribute, but perhaps not until August. Mop-up guys Mike Matthews, Brian Reith, and spot-starter Joe Valentine were the only clowns in the bullpen.

Pirates 11-6 over last three weeks

No team in the NL Central has had the hitting performance that the Pirates have seen the last three weeks.

Jack Wilson (0.373 / 0.397 / 0.520), Craig Wilson (0.358 / 0.469 / 0.701), Daryle Ward (0.377 / 0.413 / 0.739), Rob Mackowiak (0.333 / 0.380 / 0.742), and Jason Kendall (0.417 / 0.493 / 0.483) lead the team in PAs over that period. Jason Bay (0.302 / 0.392 / 0.535) has been worked more slowly into the flow of things as he comes off that surgery. For Lloyd McClendon, it has paid to play the hot hand. Anecdotal reports suggest the team has bought into this philosophy, too. An egotist or two in the clubhouse is the main reason this strategy often fails. As long as the team keeps winning, I doubt we'll see any complaining as Mac mixes it up night after night.

Tike Redman is looking better (0.277 / 0.321 / 0.404). He's two-for-four in steal attempts over this period but his speed has paid off as he has crossed the plate ten times. The difference between him and Scott Podsednik - besides the steals - has been twenty points of OBP. With the quality of his defensive play in center, he's looking like a plus as a guy who hits in the bottom third of the lineup.

Jose Castillo (0.275 / 0.326 / 0.300) has not done much at the plate, and Bobby Hill (0.278 / 0.333 / 0.417) is doing about what we hoped from him going into the season.

Chris Stynes (0.156 / 0.206 / 0.188) continues to sink like the Titanic at the plate. The only thing saving his job is the fact that the Bucs have been winning. He should buy Daryle Ward a watch with his next paycheck. His defense is outstanding, but this isn't the Houston Astros and bench space is too valuable on this team. If the Pirates had a starting eight that played every single night, maybe then we'd have room for a no-hitting defensive specialist at third.

Randall Simon (6-for-12), Humberto Cota (4-for-10), and Ruben Mateo (2-for-9, HR), have contributed in minor roles.

The immortal Josh Fogg has been the Pirates' best starter these past few weeks, limiting the bad guys to 0.265 / 0.315 / 0.338 in seventeen innings with his usual strikeout and walk rates. Kudos to Spin and Mac for sticking with him while sillier people called for his release, demotion to the minors, or move to the bullpen. Fogg has three of the Pirates' eleven wins.

Oliver Perez and Kip Wells have been contributors. Perez is walking too many guys again and they have to stamp that out right away. Kip Wells has been a rock, but his recent numbers are not exactly rotation-anchor Superman-type stuff.

The bad guys have torched Kris Benson (0.358 / 0.391 / 0.580), who has no trade value today I'm sure, and Ryan Vogelsong (0.322 / 0.427 / 0.525), who has poor strikeout and walk rates to boot. Those numbers suggest he's not exactly turning things around.

The bullpen's recent run does not look good on paper. Mesa has been solid but average overall. Abe Nunez was spectacular (on paper) in his one appearance. Mike Gonzalez was perfect while he was with the team. In descending order of magnitude, Jason Boyd (now gone, thankfully), Mike Johnston, Brian Meadows, John Grabow, and Brian Boehringer have been far too generous with the opposing hitters if we look at the last three weeks all at once.

It's pretty amazing that the Pirates managed to go 11-6 during this stretch. The starting pitching has been decent. The hitting has been unbelievably and unsustainably good, and the relief pitching has been uncharacteristically bad. Obviously they aren't going to play .650 ball the rest of the way, but .500 is manageable provided that the Pirates continue to manage the roster and the lineup as well as they have this past month.

Brewers 10-7 since May 10th

The Brewers haven't been hitting so well the last three weeks so I assume we'll see the story of their ten wins when I look at the pitching numbers.

Lyle Overbay has cooled off in the extra-base hit department but continues to smack many singles (0.302 / 0.392 / 0.429). He also has three recent errors. Bill Hall has been a pleasant surprise, making good on the comparisons to Tony Batista (0.278 / 0.333 / 0.500).

Keith Ginter, Craig Counsell, and Ben Grieve have all seen a lot of playing time and turned in average performances. Ben Grieve is walking a lot, though, and has a .390 OBP over his last 41 PAs. He has moved into the third spot in the lineup. Wes Helms has hitting well before he went on the DL.

Geoff Jenkins (0.225 / 0.273 / 0.310), Scott Podsednik (0.197 / 0.293 / 0.333), Chad Moeller (0.200 / 0.237 / 0.229), and Brady Clark (0.182 / 0.250 / 0.182) have all been lost at the plate. Jenkins' OPS for the season now stands at 716. Slugging he ain't. Scott Podsednik has 22 stolen bases but his season averages have fallen to .261 / .345 / .407, which is still good enough to start on most teams. I'm curious to see if he can manage another .300 season this year.

Ben Sheets and Doug Davis (yes!) have been spectacular for the Brewers. Sheets has held hitters to 0.195 / 0.222 / 0.301, striking out a ton and walking very few. Davis has been average in the strikeout and walk department yet has managed to hold opposing hitters to a line of 0.214 / 0.257 / 0.252. That's four doubles and no other extra base hits in four starts and 27 innings.

Victor Santos has been solid and Wes Obermueller has been better than you'd think the last three weeks. Only Chris Capuano has really embarassed the staff, and that was just one poor start.

The bullpen has been excellent where it matters most. Closer Kolb is lights-out. Vizcaino has done his job with Ben Sheets-like strikeout and walk rates. Mike Adams and secret agent Jeff Bennett have been outstanding. Kieschnick, Kinney, Burba, and Wise have been clowning around in what were probably mop-up situations.

Redbirds have been winning

The Cardinals have won 10 of their last 17.

The offense is scoring plenty as Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen have been their usual All-Star / MVP / HOF-type selves.

Reggie Sanders has been a little disappointing but nothing too bad. John Mabry has been a part-time superstar, hitting 0.412 / 0.474 / 0.588 with seven hits and three extra-base hits in his last nineteen plate appearances.

Edgar Renteria (0.231 / 0.254 / 0.338), Tony Womack (0.250 / 0.276 / 0.268), Mike Matheny (0.234 / 0.280 / 0.362), Ray Lankford (0.209 / 0.292 / 0.302), and Marlon Anderson (0.182 / 0.286 / 0.182) have all been eating the wrong cereal for breakfast. Renteria has back pain. He'll be a free agent at the end of the season, too, and it seems like there might be some anxiety or additional pressure on the young man to play well for his agent's commission. Womack has been the regular old Tony Womack after he had some elbow soreness a month ago. A hitting streak has masked Matheny's pathetic production. Lankford has been in a slump I guess. Marlon Anderson isn't impressing anyone either.

No one in the Redbird rotation is striking out a ton of guys. Chris Carpenter has been their closest thing to unhittable these last three weeks, and Morris, Suppan, and Williams have been able and average. Jason Marquis has scuffled.

Tony LaRussa has got the most out of his lefties, King and Kline, and while Julian Tavarez has not been overpowering, he has been effective in late innings. Jason Isringhausen has been a little wild with six walks in his last eight innings, but he's still been hard to hit. Kiko Calero has been average and Cal Eldred has been getting pounded. Hitters have gone 0.280 / 0.357 / 0.680 off Eldred since May 10th. Ouch.

The Cardinals have been pretty all-around solid. It's feast and famine with their hitters so I'm sure McClendon plans to empty the bullpen night after night as he attempts to neutralize Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen with whatever thing in the bullpen looks most suited to do the job.

Cubs have gone 8-10 in their last 18

We all know about the players who are hurt now with the Cubs so no sense going over that.

Their mediocre performance has not been the fault of Moises Alou, Aramis Ramirez, Todd Hollandsworth, Michael Barrett, or Jose Macias (0.348 / 0.348 / 0.522 in his last 46 PAs). Ramirez has contributed nine extra-base hits, sixteen runs and fifteen RBIs since he started pissing on his hands May 10th. Ramirez is on fire and his team isn't winning more than eight of eighteen. That sounds vaguely familiar to me.

Todd Walker has been a little disappointing and the bench - Goodwin, Bako, Jackson, some other scrubs - have put only stones into the team's stone soup.

Derrek Lee has been wretched, hitting 0.227 / 0.282 / 0.364 over his last 71 PAs. No idea why he's slumping. Ramon Martinez has been even worse - 0.213 / 0.273 / 0.295 - but he's Ramon Martinez so we know why he's slumping. No wonder Rey Ordonez was called up.

Glendon Rusch has been a big surprise to me in his last four starts, holding all opposing batters to a 0.269 / 0.306 / 0.344 line while walking a stingy number. It's surprising he only has one win to show for it. Matt Clement and funny beard have been outstanding. Carlos Zambrano has been excellent. Sergio Mitre has been awful.

The bullpen has been solid but Joe Borowski has been torched to the tune of 0.276 / 0.371 / 0.586. He has been striking out few and walking many.

8-10 is not a terrible record for a nineteen-game stretch. Obviously the Cubs have had some ups and downs, but it's not like the sky is falling. Prior's return will remove Mitre from the rotation and Rusch has been dandy while Wood's away. Obviously they want Lee to find his stroke and they'd love to get Sosa back and in his old form. I doubt Alou and Ramirez will keep up the blistering pace. Hollandsworth may also cool off. The Cubs are not playing that far below their abilities, I think, and are closer to a .500 team - in this division - than most people think. No doubt, however, that they have a vicious set of starting pitchers and should be able to win any given series if Baker can stack the rotation for it. Over the long run, if Rusch continues to pitch this well, they may be able to do just fine with Jimmy Anderson out there should they face another stretch when injuries sideline any two of Prior, Wood, Maddux, Zambrano, and Clement.

Astros 7-11 over last three weeks

How have the Astros gone 7-11 over the last three weeks?

Lance Berkman and Jeff Kent have been top notch. Both these guys have been crushing the ball.

Adam Everett has been average at the plate, which is good for him; they'll take his recent 0.292 / 0.338 / 0.444 performance and like it. Morgan Ensberg is hitting a lot of singles (0.309 / 0.339 / 0.364). Brad Ausmus has been Brad Ausmus.

Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell have been pretty awful. Biggio is going 0.238 / 0.256 / 0.350 over his last 80 plate appearances - basically, dating back to his 2,500th hit on May 9th. He has cooled off after a hot start, and he'll probably cool off some more given his age and overall level of performance the past few years. Bagwell is suffering at the plate, hitting an uncharacteristic 0.254 / 0.346 / 0.403 over his last 76 plate appearances. No word that he's injured so I guess he's just plain scuffling.

Richard Hidalgo has been a big zero at 0.167 / 0.270 / 0.204 in his last 62 PAs. Again, no word that he's injured so I guess it's a slump. With Biggio, Bagwell, and Hidalgo not producing, I'm surprised Jason Lane has only managed 12 PAs in the last 21 days.

In the rotation, Clemens, Redding, and Pettitte have been outstanding. Oswalt has been above average. Wade Miller has been throwing batting practice: opponents have been hitting 0.317 / 0.398 / 0.598 off him. Clearly, something ain't right there.

Brad Lidge has been the best in their bullpen, but he is somehow responsible for two losses in the last three weeks. Dotel has been solid. Brandon Backe has been torched and the rest of the crew has been average.

If we must identify scapegoats for the recent win/loss record, I guess they'd have to be the slumping studs and Wade Miller.

NL Central 21-day standings

Here's what has been happening the last three weeks (all games played between May 10 and May 30). More on these records in a minute.

Cincinnati 13 6 0.684
Pittsburgh 11 6 0.647
Milwaukee 10 7 0.588
St. Louis 10 7 0.588
Chicago 8 10 0.444
Houston 7 11 0.389

Cardinals for four

Looks like Marquis, Suppan, Carpenter, and Williams - a steady diet of right-handers - at PNC this week to close the homestand. The Pirates counter with Benson, Vogelsong, Wells, and Oliver Perez. You have to wonder if Vogelsong won't be looking at a roster squeeze if he pitches not so good on Tuesday and the Bucs decide to hold onto Sean Burnett. There's no way you run Ryan out against the Cubs again, I think, not if you can avoid it at least.

As a team, the Bucs have a 1.089 OPS against Marquis, so maybe they'll get it going today.

Randall Simon and Jason Kendall have some crooked numbers against Jeff Suppan but those numbers don't really mean anything since they are close enough to average to fall with the MOE for a sample that small. Still, expect Simon to start on Tuesday.

No one has seen Chris Carpenter and he's been excellent this year. Jason Kendall owns Woody Williams so maybe he'll bat third on Thursday's finale.

the June draft

Neil Walker anyone?

Jeremy Sowers? Scott Elbert?


Next Sunday against the Cubs might be a good time to start Sean Burnett again. That would keep the Bucs from using Ryan Vogelsong against the Cubs again.

Prior healthy

And it looks like he'll start against the Pirates next weekend at Wrigley. Be the best beat the best etc etc.

Not good

The team is only as good as its most recent game.

We'll say the same thing about home plate umpire Jack Samuels, who warned both benches that another HBP would warrant an ejection. Zambrano, one of the league's most notorious hotheads, went on to hit Daryle Ward - those two guys had been jawing at each other on the basepaths - and no ejection. Then Mike Johnston hits a Cub and Samuels tosses both Johnston and McClendon. That should be the last time MLB leans on that minor-league umpire in a pinch. It doesn't excuse the loss, not by a long stretch, but it's pretty pathetic when the umps huddle up every time someone protests and then the home plate guy can't apply his own rules consistently.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Bucs lead NL in OBP

Not quite, but third is good. What's up with the Cardinals being down there at .331? Is this some kind of Tony Womack effect?

Do we offend?

Bucs lead the NL in HBP.

NCAA softball

Thanks to Bryan for reminding me to blog how great the NCAA softball games were last week on ESPN (I watched a lot of TV on vacation in my cheering-induced stupor).

Fantasy baseball could be taken to a whole new level with an eight-team league of professional women softball players. (Yes, I'm thinking about that Anna Kournikova commercial from a few years back.) Pittsburgh needs a professional team of lady softball players. I don't want the lingerie bowl - I want these college players and serious, competitive play.

Set-up studs and wishful thinking

Is it really smart to use your best reliever as a set-up guy? Something about the way people are spinning Dusty Baker's decision to use Joe Borowski with a lead strikes me as wishful thinking. This isn't the only place I've heard that line of argument so don't excoriate me if that's not exactly what that article says. (Thanks to the Clark & Addison guys for that link, BTW.)

Manager does something that is stupid or questionable, and everyone turns it upside down to praise it as something smart. This happens a lot with the Cubs. If it was Lloyd McClendon, no one would bend over backwards to argue that it was a smart move. Instead they'd damn him as a moron who continues to use Borowski with a lead. McClendon prefers Simon to Craig Wilson (in Wilson's can't hit breaking pitches phase). National media: McClendon is a moron who should be fired. Baker prefers Eric Karros to Hee Seop Choi (in Choi's can't hit breaking pitches phase). National media: Dusty Baker is a genius. I'm overstating the case here but the basic observation holds I think.

Explain to me, how is using Hawkins first necessarily tied to using Borowski in high-leverage situations at all? It's two separate issues. If using Hawkins (or Betancourt, over in Cleveland) in tie and slim lead situations is smart, why does that mean that it's smart to use Borowski an inning or two later?

P.S. Speaking of wishful thinking, check out this essay explaining how Borowski is really a stud. We can play the same game with any high-profile relief pitcher. Last night when Mesa came on with a four-run lead, I says to Mrs. Rowdy, "watch Mesa make this look hard." He has a reputation for being volatile when used in non-save situations, and sure enough he came through last night. But you won't hear me going on about how we have to throw those stats out when we assess his overall quality as a ballplayer.

Make every moment matter. Better said:

To finish the moment, to find the journey's end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom. It is not the part of men, but of fanatics, or of mathematicians, if you will, to say, that, the shortness of life considered, it is not worth caring whether for so short a duration we were sprawling in want, or sitting high. Since our office is with moments, let us husband them. Five minutes of today are worth as much to me, as five minutes in the next millennium. Let us be poised, and wise, and our own, today. Let us treat the men and women well: treat them as if they were real: perhaps they are. Men live in their fancy, like drunkards whose hands are too soft and tremulous for successful labor. It is a tempest of fancies, and the only ballast I know, is a respect to the present hour.
Let's go Bucs.

Sergio Mitre

This was news to me. Are the Cubs really showcasing Sergio Mitre for a trade? Is that why they're giving him so many starts? I thought it had something to do with the history of Glendon Rusch and Jimmy Anderson. And the lack of better options.

SportsCenter and the internet

I don't often watch ESPN's SportsCenter or Baseball Tonight. In theory, watching either program sounds like a great idea. In practice, I don't have time for it. I'm a busy guy, and so much experience with the Internet makes me too impatient to sit for an hour to learn what I can learn with three minutes and any of the major online papers. My impatience is such that I prefer USAToday's quick-loading scoreboard to the prettier and more overloaded ESPN scoreboard, though the ESPN page is the way to go sometimes for sure. I have a killer broadband connection except when I'm on the road, too, so we're talking about some serious impatience - half-seconds of delay will cause me to look for more immediate gratification on another site.

To be sure, I'm not ADD or anything like it. I have the attention span of a tortoise. What I want is efficiency, not speed. Why turn on the TV to sit through an hour of commercials and random (but predictable) highlights when I can get what I want in a few minutes on the Internet? You can only watch so many diving catches (and if someone is going to report to me about a diving catch, I'd rather see it re-enacted live than watch a tape of what it looked like from the TV booth).

When radio was king in the WWII era few people thought it would ever be marginalized to the extent that it is today. Television immediately gripped viewers and clearly offered something more than radio. It's not going away, but the internet is going to change it and what it does the same way that TV changed radio and what it does. The nature of these changes is such that I don't think there's much of a future for shows like Baseball Tonight. The internet will provide what that show offers in a much more tailored and efficient form.

I've never used TiVo, and if that becomes commonplace, maybe shows like Baseball Tonight will continue to thrive if they index themselves in some more predictable fashion. If they always spent two minutes on the Buccos, and if those two minutes were easy to find - say within ten seconds - I'd be hooked. Otherwise, I'm not going to sit around for forty minutes to see a video replay of Tike Redman's diving catch.

All that said, I did tune into SportsCenter early Saturday morning and I was tremendously pleased to see Rob Mackowiak and our two huge wins as the lead item. That did provide a kind of satisfaction I didn't expect and rarely get from television, and it does incline me to watch again some time soon. National media is pretty cool when your team is the center of national attention.

Bob Smizik loves Aramis Ramriez

As much as I respect Bob Smizik's work, the man is irrationally infatuated with Aramis Ramirez. I'm not saying Aramis is a bad player, but it's a little early to frame last summer's trade as something like the Red Sox trading away Babe Ruth.

And I take issue with his assertion, often repeated, that the Ramirez trade sent a message to all Pirates fans that the Pirates were not interested in winning. That's his interpretation. It's not like Littlefield read an announcement titled, "We don't want to win," the day he announced the trade. It's not a fact. That's Smizik's interpretation. He got that message from that trade.

I said good riddance, see you later, thanks for all the memories. And I for one thought it was pretty good to sneak Bobby Hill away from Dusty Baker's Cubs. Just because he was a PTBNL doesn't mean he wasn't a key to the deal. I thought he was the PTBNL because the Pirates wanted to make sure he came back to play from that back injury. And I also thought Littlefield did a good job of playing down Hill's value - this is something that I do when I make big trades in my roto leagues. "Oh, and by the way," I said last January, "why don't you throw in Khalil Greene and we'll call it even."

Maybe I'm a fool. Certainly I say and do all kinds of foolish things. But at least I understand that this is my interpretation of the deal. Smizik should stop insisting that all Pirates fans everywhere understood the Ramirez trade as an admission that the team was not at all interested in winning in the long term. I think that reading is unduly pessimisstic and I don't share it. And I know plenty of other Pirates fans who were equally frustrated with Ramirez's play in Pittsburgh. It ain't right to keep writing as though all Pirates fans think dealing Ramirez for "nothing" means only that the Pirates ownership is not interested in winning in the long-term as well as the short-term.

Pirates finishing above .500?

The Trib has a poll. Go take it.

Nice to see more than 50% of all Bucco fans agreeing with my once-ridiculous and often-ridiculed prediction that the Bucs would finish with 83 wins.


The magic's not in the pills or beans or serums, it's in the babies. Any parent will tell you that.

Bucco minor league talent

I recommend Steve Novotney's run-down. It sucks that J.R. House went down right at the same time as Cota.

Power numbers steady

Duh, they keep hitting. Why does the public think more regulation of the private lives of baseball players is a good idea? Just because they make a lot of money doesn't mean that we have the right to test their pee and find out everything they ate over the last twenty-four hours. They aren't public servants; they are not our slaves; we do not own them; they deserve all the rights and privileges of any free citizen in this our great democracy.

If you are going to ban all performance-enhancing drugs, you better start with caffeine. I for one could never do my job without several daily performance-enhancing drugs. The other day, finishing a big job under deadline, I even cracked open a can of Red Bull. To single out one substance, call it "performance-enhancing," and ban it on the grounds that it improves performance is one thing, but to do that selectively and to not begin with the most obvious and most commonplace drugs is worse than hypocritical. It's stupid.

Anyone who thinks there's a magic home-run hitting drug is a fool who should examine the history of drugs in America before they humiliate themselves further. There's no pill or serum that adds muscle with no work. Ball players put a lot of time in the weight room and it's possible much of any performance-enhancing drug's potency is due to the placebo effect. Even if a player bulks up, that doesn't mean the additional muscles are going to translate into improved performance. Go ask Marty Cordova.

I can understand regulating drugs, especially if that regulation successfully restricts the access of minors to those drugs. I can't understand believing that Barry Bonds is the best hitter in the history of the game only because he took some magic pill or shot up some magic serum. That makes just as much sense as suspecting him of selling his soul to ol' Scratch.

Commish says drugs will be rooted out

Story here.

We'll do this right after we send a man to Mars and put a stop to all cheating on income taxes.

Four games out

Good morning. It's fun to win with Josh Fogg as your starter.

Welcome back, Jimmy Anderson.

37,806 fans came out to PNC tonight. That would qualify as a sell-out I believe.

The Pirates are four games out of first place.

It's a regular mardi gras around here tonight. Bones said something about starting a Rob Mackowiak parade. We'll see about that. In the meantime I'm headed outside to re-enact that diving catch by Tike Redman for friends and family. Cheers!