Saturday, July 10, 2004

Game 85: Kip Wells at Rocky Biddle

In his new book, the Numbers game, Alan Schwarz tells the story of a bowtied Baltimore gentleman, Earnshaw Cook, who published a book, Percentage Baseball, in 1964. Cook had a lot of harebrained ideas and he wasn't afraid to back them up with transcendental mathematical proofs. Here's one of them, as Schwarz summarizes it:

Sluggers should bat first. Games should be started by a "relief " pitcher who would leave for a pinch hitter at the first opportunity, followed by a "starting"-caliber pitcher who would then pitch four or five innings. All this, Cook claimed, would add a total of 250 runs and perhaps 25 wins to a team each season

The Expos will try this tomorrow. They'll lead off with Brad Wilkerson, the team's home run leader, and start former "closer" Rocky Biddle and follow him up with what's left of the bullpen. Good luck with that, Expos.

Kip Wells goes for the men in black and we'll show us what he's made of.

Pythagorean standings before and after an 11-0 win

Read this article from the New York Times if you've never heard of Pythagorean standings. It's a beautiful and simple formula that estimates a team's winning percentage based on the runs they have scored and the runs they have allowed. I used it earlier in the year to predict the Pirates would finish with 83 wins after guessing they might score 725 and allow 700-710. (FWIW, they are on pace to score 750 and allow 765.)

Coming into tonight, the Pirates had scored 377 and allowed 396, giving them a Pythagorean winning percentage of 0.478 which is good for 39.7 wins in 83 games. (You can have tenths of a win in higher realms of truth). After tonight, they have scored 388 and allowed 396 for a Pyth. winning percentage of .491. That's good for 41.2 wins in 84 games.

If you are a dreamy idealist and believe their is a higher realm of truth, perhaps you believe that some form of the Pythagorean standings is more true than the real, material current standings. If that is the case, the Pirates won not one but 1.5 games tonight. All Hail Jason Bay, indeed.

Friday, July 09, 2004

All hails explained

Years ago Bones & I lived together in a house with like seven other guys. One roomate was a Cal Ripken fan with the nerve to claim that Cal was the greatest shortstop of all time. Bones & I declared that inaccurate and would argue at length that Jay Bell was clearly better than Ripken. What kept him going was his pursuit of the question, whether or not we were serious. He never knew.

With that carnival of back-rent-owing roomates, we spent a little time playing games of skill. One game we often played. Players took turns attempting simple feats of dexterity with shotglasses and coins. Successful players were able to establish new rules legislating behavior during the game.

Whenever Bones or I accomplished said feats of dexterity, we made a rule that required all players to toast, "All Hail Jay Bell!" before each player's turn. After that, we'd pile on additional All Hails to other worthy athletes ("All Hail Chico Lind!" "All Hail Sammy Khalifa!" "All Hail Doug Frobel!" etc. etc.)

Cal Ripken would have to accomplish his own feat of dexterity to undo such a rule. He was very clumsy. Eventually, he became something of a Pirates fan.

your Rookie of the Year

All hail Jason Bay.

Game 84, Sean Burnett at Shawn Hill

In the battle of first names, Sean vs. Shawn is up there with John vs. Jon, Bo vs. Beau, and Caitlynn vs. Katelynn vs. Kaitlin etc.

Shawn Hill is a 6'2," 185-pound right-handed 23-year-old Canadian. He's a finesse guy who looked good in spring training and was called up from a good season at AA to make a start for the then-injured Tony Armas. In two starts, he's put up crazy numbers: 11.57 K/9, which way out of line with his minor-league performance (49 Ks in 78 innings), and 10.57 ERA, which is also way out of line with his minor-league performance (2.87). He made 14 starts for Harrisburg this year. Probably, some of our readers have seen him pitch this year.

Jayson Stark: Pirates Rumblings

ESPN's Jayson Stark serves up some news on the Pirates at the trade deadline.

This part doesn't surprise me:

Littlefield won't comment on the specifics of any offer. But he's getting tired of reading that his demands for the best pitcher on the market are "outrageous."

"I've done enough deals now," he says. "Nothing is outrageous. All you have to do is say no."

Yeah, that Jim Duquette has been a jackass through his minions in the New York media.

Stark reports the Marlins are looking at Kendall and that the Rangers won't deal Adrian Gonzalez for Kris Benson.

Thanks to reader Clay for the tip. I was gonna miss it, and I'm glad I didn't.

More Stink Night

Leeny of 'Toona shares this in the comments:

More followup to Stink Night -- the Altoona Mirror beat writer (Cory Giger) covered the ballgame from a chair inside the men's room (watching the game on one of the monitors installed there), and as a result he's getting to yak about his experience with Dan Patrick on ESPN Radio this afternoon (Friday). Nothing the media loves better than covering itself.

So true, Leeny. But we'll raise a glass and hold our noses for Cory's fifteen minutes of fame.

Benson in the news

Bob Smizik has good advice today for Littlefield. After Littlefield's experience dealing Jason Schmidt, I trust he has a better idea of how to make this kind of trade. Like Smizik, I'm not expecting a deal to be made before the deadline.

Randy Miller of reports Benson is "down on the list" for Ed Wade as he pursues other options.

Miller reports - I gather he has heard this from people with the Phillies - that Benson has "a reputation for lacking mental toughness."

As one of my favorite Americans said, "He that speaks ill of the Mare, will buy her."

Here's another timely proverb: "Necessity never made a good bargain."

Tim Kawakami of the San Fran Mercury News predicts (reg. req'd) that there will be no Ponson-style two-month rentals for the Giants this year.

Newsday staff writers Ken Davidoff and Jon Heyman appear to have taken the Waldstein N.Y. Confidential piece and written it like official news. It's spread all over a bunch of outlets. Here is one example. They also report that "the St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers and Anaheim Angels also are believed to be among the suitors for Benson."

T.R. Sullivan writes an overview of the trade outlook for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (reg. req'd) which mentions Benson.

Dan Graziano reports for the Star-Ledger that Steinbrenner still wants Benson but his people don't like him. What George wants, George often gets.

Jim Souhane of the Star Tribune reports that the Twins are looking at Toronto's poet/pitcher, Miguel Batista. He's signed for $9.5M over the next two years. That seems like an expensive gamble for a small-market club like the Twins to be making.

Kris Benson - Ty Wigginton skepticism

The daily news sites for fantasy players are abuzz with the word that a Benson for Wigginton deal is "alive" or "imminent." Know that the Mets and Yankees get far more news coverage than, say, the Twins, and know that there also seems to be an unusually speculative and/or sensational edge to some of the sports reporting in the Big Apple. This doesn't diminish the overall quality of the sports writing, but you have to have the saltshaker handy when you sit down to consume some of the breathless whispers they'll report as news over there.

The article making the buzz appears to be David Waldstein's "off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush" work for the Star-Ledger. Take a look:

PHILADELPHIA -- Although they may not even be aware of it yet, the Mets have moved a step closer to acquiring pitcher Kris Benson.

The Mets had offered Ty Wigginton in recent weeks but were rebuffed. However, a baseball official who has spoken with Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield in the past few days said Littlefield has been asking about Wigginton and is starting to show serious interest.

The official said that if the Mets are willing to trade Wigginton to get Benson, which they are, the deal could happen very soon. Besides Wigginton, the Mets have also offered the Pirates Jason Phillips and minor-league slugger Craig Brazell in an effort to get the right-hander, who will be a free agent after the season.

A Mets official said there had not been talks in several days and that as far as he knew the Pirates were still holding out for top prospect David Wright, which won't happen. The Mets have said they might be willing to part with Wigginton for Benson, but the Pirates didn't show much interest.

. . .

The Mets would probably be willing to trade Wigginton and a marginal minor-leaguer for Benson. If that doesn't work out, they can turn back to Ramon Ortiz. The Orioles have made Sidney Ponson available, but the Mets have very little interest in the contract he just signed.

Waldstein here reports a bit of gossip that he heard. Stop the presses: David Littlefield sought opinions of Ty Wigginton! No self-respecting GM would get off the couch to ask questions about a player unless he was this close to acquring him. So, Waldstein appears to reason, Littlefield's inquiries can be fairly interpreted as him "starting to show serious interest."

The Mets official says they haven't heard anything from Littlefield. As far as he or she knows, the talks between the teams are dead since the Pirates haven't moved off their interest in acquiring David Wright.

Waldstein then reports that the Mets said "they might be willing" to part with Wigginton for Benson. Yeah, right. In my fantasy league, I "might be willing" to trade Tony Alvarez for Bobby Abreu. That's not exactly fair to Wigginton, who does have value. But he's got enough major-league experience that his salary won't be so cheap, and his skill set reminds me of a lot of the Pirates we already have. Anyone following Jim Duquette's rantings about Littlefield's insanity for not taking Wigginton and liking the deal knows that a Wigginton-for-Benson trade would be the best-case scenario for the Mets, who dream of the day they can promote Scott Rolen to the big leagues.

In defense of Waldstein, he covets Benson for his Mets, and I can't blame a guy for trying to wish it true. If Waldstein can get people all over the country thinking that Littlefield is ready to take Wigginton, then that might push other GMs into playing tough with Littlefield out of embarrassment ("Well, if he'll take Wigginton, I don't know why we were thinking about parting with Grady Sizemore").

One more thing about Ty Wigginton's recent tear. Wigginton goes on a tear every time he nearly loses his job. Last year they brought in Jay Bell to compete with him and he performed real well in the first half of the season. Then Bell retired or the threat of him went away and Ty wore down was a marginal big-leaguer in the second half. This year, they handed him the job and he was no good. They hid him on the DL for awhile - maybe he was really hurt, I don't know - and when they brought him back, only the news of Wright's imminent promotion lit a fire under his ass. Maybe it's coincidence. Maybe not. Maybe Ty Wigginton will go on and have a very productive and slugging career that dispels the reputation he has for being Shea Hillenbrand Lite. Or maybe not.

If I'm playing it safe and investing conservatively, I regard Wigginton as a Rob Mackowiak-type super utility player at best. He's a good guy to have on the roster if he's cheap and if he's on the bench three nights a week. The thing is, the Pirates already have Mackowiak and his protege, Bobby Hill, is not part of the problem but part of the solution. We need someone who can step in and start for a few years. We need someone who is not eligible for arbitration next year. We'll have enough trouble keeping the good players we already have without adding one will cost more than the minimum in 2005.

I wouldn't recognize David Littlefield if he stepped into the elevator with me. I don't have any information beyond what I've gathered following the team and the players and the news, but I wouldn't read this Waldstein report out of New York as a sign that the Pirates are any closer to acquiring Ty Wigginton than they were a week ago.

Handsome Pirate hats

One reader writes this morning to ask where he can get one of those hats that Luis Clemente wore on TV yesterday. 70s yellow (not early 70s mustard) with the handsome Pirate logo. I've seen them on kids at the stadium and thought they had to be a promotion; I vaguely remember there being the name of a bank or supermarket on the back.

Turn back the clock night

Look for the '69 style uniforms tonight. Ed Eagle reports:

Friday, the Pirates and Expos will turn the clock back to 1969, the first year of the Montreal franchise, by wearing uniforms from that season. The Bucs' sleeveless gray road jerseys will differ only in that the lettering across the front will read "Pirates," rather than "Pittsburgh," and there will be no name plates on the back."

Raise your hand if you remember the '69 Expos uniform.

I'd like to see the Expos go to Las Vegas, where they could become the Explorers and adopt the same lettering style and general look as the Montreal team. There would be no way to reincorporate that tri-color M. The current script on the chest of the uniforms could be retained, though. And Expos->Explorers would give Vegas a good excuse to be yet another team with red, white, and blue colors. That may be the happiest of possible endings for that franchise.

Roberto Clemente

With the Pirates in San Juan, there are a lot of reports about Clemente and the way the Pirates and Expos are honoring his memory. Steve Novotney has a number of great anecdotes. Joe Rutter notes the pregame honors. Bob Dvorchak does the same in his notebook. Ed Eagle has a note with a picture of Clemente in a tux on his wedding day. Lookin' good, Roberto.


Bob Barrickman catches up with Al Oliver for the Beaver County & Allegheny County Times. Turns out he's a deacon living in Ohio now.

"Scoops" got his nickname because he made 140 errors in two seasons as a minor-league first baseman. That's in the so-bad-he-must-be-good category. Like a twenty-game loser, the guy who makes that many errors must be contributing somehow for his team to put up with such numbers.

Kevin Jarvis

A sign that the Pirates will need starters at AAA Nashville: they signed Kevin Jarvis, that guy the Mariners wanted to trade to us, to a minor-league deal. Link takes you to Joe Rutter's notebook, one of many sources reporting this today.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Game 83: Kris Benson at Tony Armas

Carve 'em up, Kris.


Trade deadline rumormongering

Two general reports worth noting. Chris De Luca at the Chicago Sun-Times provides a list of available players and breaks down needs and desires on a team-by-team basis. He has both Benson and Wells on the list. His "source" is "writers covering all 30 teams." Not sure what that means; some of the worst and most unreliable writers are the guys who cover all 30 teams in a superficial fashion. I'm also suspicious of writers who insist the Pirates "are going nowhere."

Chris Kucharski at did some homework and highlights some of the prospects the Pirates might be examining.


Speaking for Phillies fans, Chuck Hixson writes that the Phillies would be "lucky" to acquire a pitcher of Benson's caliber. Brett Myers was awful last night; they need help. Interestingly, Ken Mandel catches the Phillies lowering fan expectations with Ryan Howard. Howard is a big boy on a home-run hitting tear. He's 24 and has no major-league service time. Here is his bio from Reading's home page.

230 pounds, hits left-handed, one of the slowest men on the basepaths. Sound familiar? In Howard's defense, he is 6'4" so the weight is not as heavy as it would be on a 6'0" slugger.

Ken Mandel reports that teams are not asking for Howard. It sounds like he's a few years away from the show and, at 24, that doesn't bode well for the upside of his career.


Kevin J. Cunningham offers his analysis of the trade market on a Giants fan site.


Jim Duquette signed a Cuban defector to relieve some of their need for starting pitching. Soler is a month away from helping. Duquette continues to bad-mouth the Pirates. He's using his bully pulpit - the New York media - in an attempt to browbeat Littlefield into making a deal that solves all the Mets' problems. That, or he's trying to blame the Pirates for his reluctance to make the deals that will help his team. "Hey, sorry fans, I tried to get Carlos Beltran and Kris Benson but those other GMs - who let them out of the asylum?" Fuck off, jackass. David Wright is not your first-born son, and he's not an unreasonable demand for a team that can't use Ty Wigginton and needs a third baseman. You don't see Dave Littlefield telling P-G reporters that Jim Duquette is stubborn and self-deluded.


Sam Borden at the Daily News reports that Benson is "unappealing." The Yankees are making noise about doing OK with Kevin Brown and El Duque. Steinbrenner wants a deal, reports Mark Topkin of the St. Pete Times.

Finally, don't overlook Steve's report on what Benson says about a possible trade right now.

...just up: Bob Nightengale of USAToday says the Bucs are "lucky" Benson can pitch well. He talks up Colorado's Jason Jennings as the best available starter, and advises the Pirates to give Benson to the Mets. Thanks for the advice, Bob. Enjoy your free Mets tickets.

Stink night

WTF? Did they hand out scratch-n-sniff cards as a promotion? Who came to the park just to help Altoona "salute odors of all kinds"?

Willis Roberts

He's throwing 92-95 with a good sinkerball, according to the notebooks of Bob Dvorchak and Joe Rutter. They will catch you up on the weight loss and injury rehab he's done since the spring.

Mac on pitch counts

One of these days I'll collect all Mac's comments on pitch counts and see how they add up to some consistent philosophy. He's of the opinion that pitchers shouldn't throw too many pitches when they are tired. Here's a quote Joe Rutter's recap of last night's Kendall-charged victory:

Perez (5-4) won his second consecutive start even though he exited after five innings having allowed two runs. The departure was hastened by a 0-pitch first inning in which the Marlins took a 1-0 lead. Thirty-five of those pitches came after Perez got the second out.

"Another five and I'd have to go get him," McClendon said. "You're in dangerous territory with that amount of pitches in one inning."

It was 40-pitch first (note to Trib editors), so Mac says here that 45 pitches is the most he'd let a guy throw in one inning.

Pitch counts concern me not so much because of injury but because they indicate the total number of innings the team can expect to get from a starter. The odds that any starter will give the team 3300 pitches are not great so that looks to me like a reasonable expectation for a maximum number. My hunch is that the team should hope to get 200 innings from the rotation anchors. The Marlins got 201 from Pavano last year, the 2002 Angels got 200 plus from Ramon Ortiz and Jarrod Washburn, the 2001 D'Backs got 250 innings from Schilling and Johnson, the 2000 Yankees got 200 from Clemens and Pettitee. To get 200 innings out of 3300 pitches, a starter can't average more than 16.5 pitches per inning. Fogg, Benson, and Oliver Perez are under that bar, but Kip Wells, signed to be the ace of this year's team and often discussed as the ace of next year's team, is way up there at 18.4.

We have to pay attention to that if we're thinking about how to shape this team into a World Series champion. If he can only deliver 180 innings, and we've penciled him in as the ace, that's 20 or 30 innings he's throwing on the bullpen and/or on the back end of the team's rotation. That could be five starts for one of the AAA guys or half a season's worth of work for one of our scrubbier relievers. We'll take quality innings in whatever quantity a pitcher delivers them. If Wells is great for 180 innings, I'm happy, but let's plan for that and recognize him not as a number one guy but as a number three guy.

To get to the point, he's not been great and by paying attention to pitch counts we can get some idea of how to project the rest of the season. In Kip's case, the pitch counts were also a good indicator that something was wrong. Over half a season, when we see a slump in a pitcher's efficiency, that's a better indication that his ERA or won-loss record that something is different.

Another reason to focus on pitch counts is that they give a more accurate measure of a pitcher's workload than innings pitched. All pitches are not created equal but obviously 120 pitches from Kip Wells is probably more work than 80 pitches from Kip Wells. With the smaller parks and the reduction of foul terrority, pitchers have to throw more pitches than their predecessors a generation or two ago. If we focus on pitches as a measure of overall use, then we avoid the trap of thinking four innings are the same here and there, then and now, So there's a lot of good to keeping track of these things.

That said, there's also a lot of simple-minded thought on the use of pitch counts as a measure. Last month, Dan Malcolm posted a rant at Baseball Primer on the subject. It's not super-well written, but it's worth reading as it provides one man's candid overview of the ongoing debate.

Reporters and interviewers looking for an idea for an article or a series of questions might consider asking Mac, Spin, and Littlefield how the team uses pitch counts to evaluate a specific player. They are going to say that they do it differently for each pitcher. Try to get past that and see if you can learn some other rules-of-thumb they are implementing such as the one Mac mentions at the top of this post. Is 45 per inning the limit just for Oliver? If so, why that number and how does it compare to the numbers they have for the other starters?

Steve Novotney

Steve Novotney has been on a roll for The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register. Today he has a report on Benson's side of all this trade deadline fun. Earlier in the week, he reported on the youth of the Bucs. He had another story on Jack Wilson's reaction to his All-Star nod, but they seem to have it taken it down off the website for now.

Tickets in San Juan

Tickets for the Pirates-Expos series are not available through the website, and there is no explanation, either, of how to obtain them. If anyone has suggestions about how to get tickets for these games, post them in the comments. Good luck, everyone who is looking for them!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Pirate attendance

The Bucs have averaged 19,676 fans per game this year in their 37 home dates. That's near the bottom both as an overall figure and as a percentage of capacity figure.

Curiously, though, they are the seventh-best road attraction measured by capacity (home teams sell 71.2% of their tickets hosting the Pirates) and ninth-best road attraction measured by total ticket sales. See for yourself here. In 2003, they were the 12th-best by both measures.

Why? I don't know. Two answers come right to mind. First, the Central has three of the top ten home draws: the Cubs, the Astros, and the Cardinals sell a lot of home tickets and the Pirates play there often. Second, the Pirates have a national reputation for being a doormat, and since people like to go to games and see the home team win, maybe they choose the games when the Pirates are in town.

Both explanations fail, though, because Milwaukee has similar home attendance numbers and a similar reputation for being a doormat. This year the Brewers are 14th as a road draw by percentage and 18th as a road draw by raw numbers. In 2003, the Brewers were 16th (by pct) and 18th (by raw numbers).

Here's the third explanation: everywhere, people love the Pirates. That Harris poll suggested as much. Why the low sales numbers, then, in PNC? Because Pittsburghers have contempt for losers? Or is it just the poor weather? The promotions have been great. How can you not go for Sauerkraut Saul Bobblehead night?

Pirates in San Juan

Don your Roberto Clemente jerseys: the Pirates start a series in San Juan tomorrow.

The Braves hit six home runs down there tonight.

Good win tonight

Better than win no. 10. Six games under still.

Baseball America: Twins

The Twins are said to be looking for a starting pitcher, and they are unusually deep with prospects. Jim Callis of Baseball America runs down the current state of their "Top 15" list in his latest column.

Game 82, Oliver Perez at Carl Pavano

No internet the rest of the day for me so here's a thread for tonight's game.

Carl Pavano is a right-handed, tank-sized finesse pitcher (6'5", 240 pounds) who gets his groundballs. He's a lot like Jeff D'Amico (the one who started 29 games for us last year). Once upon a time, Pavano was traded in multi-player deals for Pedro Martinez and later, for Cliff Floyd, as he struggled in the early years of his big-league career. He's been great for some time now.

He should bounce back from his last start. He was the NL Pitcher of the Month for June. He's been very good all year. The Pirates have their work cut out for them.

Tonight's game will set the tone for the rest of the first half.

How they respond to the end of their streak will tell us more about the team than the streak itself.

Smizik: Sign Jack long-term

Bob Smizik makes the case.

Jack Wilson only won his arbitration case last year because he didn't ask for much.

Say the Pirates wanted to keep him, and they don't think they could better spend the money on, say, Craig Wilson.

Arbitration was good for him. Real good for him. See here, here, here. So, I'd do it again. He might make Carlos Guillen money - $4M to $5M for next year - and maybe he'll win his case. Heck, if he does, congratulate him. But don't give him his payday without reading him the riot act. He's not a perfect ballplayer; he can get better. And he got a lot better in well-targeted areas after going through arbitration. So I'd do it again.

Good news in the minor leagues

Joe Rutter has a round-up at the bottom of today's notebook. More here. Special agent Frank Brooks is looking like a starter.

Mowing the grass

Check out this article on the Pirates' ground crew. I'm not sure why I liked this article so much.

Benson news

Today's Paul Meyer Q & A coaches the fans who are reluctant to part with players. Trade 'em all, that's my philosophy. When the team is in last place and would need to sweep a few series to get back to .500, everyone is available for the right price.

You never trade players just to get rid of them, but you can't be afraid to trade good players if you expect to get good players in return. Who knows what Craig Wilson might fetch? It could be worth a deal. One other thing: check out Meyer's rum-addled speculation about the Ruben Mateo trade. I hope he's right on that one. No hint of a source in that speculation so we'll have to wait and see. The Q & A closes with a full-on rant from Charlie Wilmoth worth beholding. I wish I could agree with him.

After overlooking Jason Bay as your 2004 National League Rookie of the Year, Peter Gammons has this about Kris:

"There is absolutely no pitching around right now except for Kris Benson," lamented one AL GM on Monday. "And Dave Littlefield knows what he's doing -- he has the one legitimate starting pitcher and he's going to hold out until he gets a position player who can step in soon." Thus teams like the Dodgers, Mets and Yankees who have chatted about Benson right now don't seem likely to get him.

For Gammons, the Twins appear to be the team with the depth to make a trade with Littlefield.

In Philadelphia, the players are whining to the media that they can't win a championship without help. That should put some pressure on the GM to make a deal.

The Mets want Kris Benson and insist cowardly they won't trade David Wright for him. Shit or get off the pot, Jim Duquette. Are you trying to win a championship this year, or are you just faking it, and hoping to satisfy the fans? If he wants to win now, he is compounding the error he made with Carlos Beltran. Any time you are contending and can trade some overhyped child for a Carlos Beltran or a Kris Benson, you do it. For all we know, Wright will hit like Jack Cust when he gets to the majors. Don't con yourself into thinking David Wright is the equal of Scott Rolen: he's never swung a bat in a major-league game. As we wrote yesterday, perhaps, if Duquette asks, the Pirates will throw in Abraham Nunez, who would immediately become the Mets' best pinch-hitter.

More and more I think Duquette is just faking it. He's too smart to not know the Mets could have anyone they wanted (Adrian Beltre, for example) starting at third next year if they make the playoffs this year. He's playing games with the fans, that's all.

The Yankees need a pitcher and the Unit is the talk of their clubhouse. They don't have much to trade so I doubt they can make a deal. Not unless they want to throw us a huge pile of money: "Here's $10 million for Kris Benson; go get yourself a third baseman."

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Game 81, Josh Fogg at Dontrelle Willis

It's game 81, the mid-point of the 162-game season. And the Bucs are playing pretty well.

Doug Jones Josh Fogg will don the funny wig, the red ball nose, and the oversized shoes for the Pirates. He's starting on short rest but no worry. Said Josh,

"I don't throw the ball hard enough to get any wear and tear," Fogg joked. "When you are throwing the ball 85 miles an hour, you are not really straining yourself too much."

Are we sure he was joking? Thanks again to Ed Eagle for putting that quote in his recent report.

Dontrelle Willis is having your basic sophomore slump. In his last three starts, he hasn't lasted five innings. He's allowed three homers, seven walks, and twenty-five hits in his last thirteen innings. We all know that means he's due for a good game tonight. The Pirates haven't seen much of Willis. And that's always an advantage for the pitcher provided the pitcher can take advantage of that advantage (to paraphrase Tony LaRussa). Kendall has four hits in six at-bats against him. Maybe he'll continue to climb out of the mini-funk he's been in for the last ten days or so.

Pictures or no pictures?

So far the w/pictures look has only got jeers. What say you? Keep the pictures on the side - I was planning to add a few more - or stay text-only? There's no danger of images ever usurping the visual weight of text. Not here. And the pictures are small and shouldn't drag on 56K users. So I guess I'm leaning for. Still, I'd like to know how more people think. Reader e is a known crank so his vote only counts 1/2 (just kidding). Send email or leave comments and I'll respond one way or the other. Thanks and let's go Bucs.

Now with Pictures

Thanks to ImageShack.

Let's see what happens if I put one into a post:

Image Hosted by

You should see a Pirate ship.

I can't test the w/ pictures look in many browsers or with many operating systems. Kindly do me a favor and leave a note in the comments (or send an email) if they break your browser or don't display. Thanks.

Now pinch-hitting ... Abe Nunez, revisited

Today, Brian O'Neill calls out McClendon for leaning on Abe Nunez as a pinch-hitter. This is a glaring need for the Pirates right now. This year, the top two in pinch-hit at-bats are Noonie at .212 / .229 / .303 and Bobby Hill is .308 / .400 / .462. After Hill, no one on the team has distinguished himself as a pinch-hitter this season.

This is an obvious and well-known grouse and it's good to get it out in the open and subject it to the cleansing air of public debate.

When I discussed this previously, I wrote that I wished I knew the NL averages. Well, I found the stats, finally, and it was easy to cut and paste into Excel. We've been on the laugh-at-Abe bandwagon for too long now. It's time to be honest and admit Abe has value as a pinch-hitter.

With these pinch-hitting numbers, I can now report the 2004 NL averages for pinch-hitters are 0.231 BA / 0.306 OBP / 0.364 SLG. (Those numbers remind me of last year's Jack Wilson: .256 / .303 / .353. Next year, look for all pinch-hitters to make a huge leap forward.)

So Abe Nunez has been a little below average. But further study shows that many teams lack a pinch-hitter with his level of ability. Seriously, five teams in the NL have been more of a miserable failure in the pinch-hitting department: the Mets, the D'Backs, the Padres, the Marlins, and the Expos. Three of those teams are contenders today. Let's break it down.

The Mets are getting by with Eric Valent as their go-to guy. At .208 / .367 / .333, he's been getting on base for them. The next two most-frequent pinch-hitters, Todd Zeile (2 for 17) and Shane Spencer (3 for 17) make Noonie look good.

The Padres have leaned on Kerry Robinson and Terrence Long. Noonie (2004 build) has both those guys beat. They are clocking in at .130 / .160 / .130 and .200 / .261 / .250.

In a pinch, the Marlins turn to proven veteran Lenny Harris. Damion Easley and Mike Mordecai also fill in often. These top three pinch-hitters are murdering the ball at the rate of .125 / .160 / .167, .063 / .167 / .250, and .200 / .333 / .200. Only Mordecai has hit at Noonie's level.

Since the Mets, the Padres, and the Marlins all fancy themselves in the playoff race, clearly they need to go out and acquire a real professional pinch-hitter before the end of the month. The solution is obvious. Sure, Abraham Nunez struggled in his first two years as the primary pinch-hitter, but his day has come. He's getting better. Why, just the other day, he hit his first pinch-hit home run. Surely more will follow.

The Pirates should package Noonie with Benson and trade him for that left-handed, power-hitting, no-big-league-experience-having, can't-miss corner infielder. When Abraham Nunez drives home the winning run in the final game of the 2004 NLCS, Mets fans everywhere will celebrate the day they parted with David Wright.

Big hit

Jose Castillo's home run yesterday went 445 feet, making it the longest home run of the day. Wow. Do it again, Jose.

Googling Benson news

Google news is too easy to use. Current highlights:


Matt Ginter (1-2, 4.74 ERA) will pitch Thursday against the Phillies, but his status - and Jae Seo's, despite praise from Art Howe - remain tenuous with Erickson potentially nearing a return and the Mets in pursuit of a pitcher via trade, particularly Pittsburgh's Kris Benson. -- Adam Rubin, New York Daily News, 7/6/04

DEAL/MOVE TO MAKE NOW: Get pitcher Kris Benson from the Pirates and send Matt Ginter back to the minors. This is more of a necessity than bringing up third baseman David Wright. -- David Waldstein, Star-Ledger, 7/6/04


Many Giants fans would like to see Sabean add a starter for a possible postseason run, and Pittsburgh's Kris Benson is the current flavor of the month. However, it's costly to get a starter and Sabean got burned with Sidney Ponson last year. My guess is that he'll try to strengthen the bullpen and wait to make big changes until the offseason, when he has more room on the payroll. -- Glenn Dickey, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/6/04

Ten in a row

It's hard not to enjoy the recaps when they describe the team's tenth win in a row.

Charlie Nobles hits on the highlights, such as Rob Mackowiak's diving catch in his report for Said Moses:

McClendon said, "Mac is probably our best athlete. He plays all over the field. He's a great leaper, sprints well, comes in on the ball well and has a strong arm. That was a heck of a play."

Joe Rutter leads with a signature joke in his recap for the Tribune-Review. Click over and see for yourself.

The rest of Rutter's report emphasizes the fact that the win was a team effort. Moses answered and said,

"When you're winning, everyone steps up and contributes," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "You get production from a lot of different people."
That's the truth, Mac. A winning team is a group of equals characterized by each of the players taking control of the game at unexpected times and in an unexpected order. If a player can't step up and be the leader on occasion, he doesn't belong on the team. If one player dominates the leadership responsibilities, the team lacks the spirit of equality that invites lesser players to step up, and you wind up with a loser like Alex Rodriguez's Rangers.

Bob Dvorchak focusses on Wells' performance as part of a recent trend in his report for the Post-Gazette. He summarizes the defensive plays as contributions to Wells's final numbers, and he tempers the impressiveness of the win by noting that the Marlins have not been playing well. He closes with Moses. Moses said,

"The thing that's most amazing is the guys in that locker room haven't changed. They have the same attitude as when we lost nine in a row," McClendon said. "There's not a lot of things that affect them. This is most workmanlike group I've been associated with. They go about their business day in and day out. It's nice to see."

That's a good thing to hear from the manager. Even if it isn't true, it should be, and this wouldn't be the worst way to remind the players that they have to keep their wits about them. The last time they had some emotional wins, they followed them up with one of the worst losing streaks in team history.

Blessed be Moses

I really like the biblical side of Lloyd McClendon. It adds great texture to the passionate ranting and the Job-like suffering. John Perrotto also enjoys it in his report about the contributions of young lefties Oliver Perez and Sean Burnett.

You don't want to be overhasty signing guys to long-term contracts, but if I was scripting this soap opera, I'd give the first one to Oliver Perez. There aren't many guys like that in all of pro baseball, and he's tailor-made for PNC Park.

Expect Sean Burnett to continue his young Mark Buehrle impersonation.

Clemente and San Juan

For the Tribune-Review, Gabrielle Paese reports on the legacy of Roberto Clemente. The Pirates close out the first half of the season down there. Surely some of the players will stick around an extra day or two and have themselves a nice vacation, too.

Now pinch-hitting ... Abe Nunez

Some things are too obvious to overlook. Brian O'Neill looks at Noonie's history as a pinch-hitter in his latest Stats Geek.

Monday, July 05, 2004

All hail Kip Wells

So maybe we keep him. Good outing for Kip.

More trade rumor reports

Yeah, we enjoy this.

Ken Rosenthal at The Sporting News reports that in addition to Benson, Wells and Meadows are also drawing some attention. There were nine scouts at Benson's last start. The Cardinals would like him and would offer Danny Haren. Haren was decent last year but got creamed the only time he pitched in the bigs this year. We don't need another pitching prospect, and we don't need to see Benson in St. Louis.

Rosenthal notes that the Rangers would be interested in Kip Wells and would consider dealing Adrian Gonzalez. If the Pirates can get power-hitting prospects of that caliber with that little service time for both pitchers, they should trade Wells and Benson. The rookies can fill out the rotation for the rest of the year and the Pirates can bring some Jeff Suppan/Rick Reed type into camp next year to compete for a roster spot.

Game 80, Kip Wells at Josh Beckett

The defending World Champs are in the middle of the NL East and right around .500 as we cross the midpoint of the season. Here are the current hitting stats, here are the current pitching stats. On offense, they are paced by three speeds guys (Pierre and Castillo) and three sluggers (Lowell, Cabrera, and Choi). The bullpen recently received Billy Koch in trade to shore up the ranks of the setup guys. Their closer, Benitez, has been outstanding.

Tonight's starter, Josh Beckett, is pretty famous for his playoff performance last year. He's great when he's healthy. Beckett is coming off the DL to start against the Pirates. He was out with a strained back.

Kip Wells will try to get back into a good kind of groove.

Steinbrenner wants Benson

As he should. From Dan Graziano's report for the Star-Ledger:

As they survey more realistic options, and are being told to wait on such potentially available arms as Jamie Moyer and Russ Ortiz, Steinbrenner is losing patience, which means they are back in the hunt for Pittsburgh's Kris Benson.

The Yankees' front office isn't high on Benson, a talented right-hander who has a reputation as a bad clubhouse guy and whose wife, Anna, has her own Web site and a habit of calling talk radio stations to complain about criticism of her husband.

But Steinbrenner likes him and could order the front office to get into the hunt. Benson is making $6.1 million in this, the final year of his contract, and the Pirates are so determined to get rid of his contract that they may be willing to accept less in a trade from a team that can afford to pay him.

The criticism of his wife is frivolous and hateful. Obviously she's no distraction to Kris, and we can't start talking like baseball players are so easily distracted by radio call-in shows, regardless of who calls in to rant. If that's the strongest case his detractors can make against the pitcher, the Pirates should have no problem getting what they want for him.

Fogg and Bay

Great quote from Josh Fogg, who will go tomorrow on three days' rest:

"I don't throw the ball hard enough to get any wear and tear," Fogg joked. "When you are throwing the ball 85 miles an hour, you are not really straining yourself too much.

Fogg is one of those guys who suceeds by getting other people to underestimate him.

Jason Bay sat out yesterday with some tightness in his surgically-repaired shoulder. Expect him to miss games periodically the rest of the season. The Pirates have plenty of incentive to give him plenty of rest.

In the meantime, we'll enjoy seeing more of Tony Alvarez. Mac on Alvarez:

"He is a wild, parts-flying-everywhere type of player," said McClendon. "You take the good with the bad. He'll screw up from time-to-time and he'll do some good things from time-to-time. As he matures and gets to play a little bit more, hopefully you'll see less and less of the bad.

Both quotes from Ed Eagle's report.

Jack Wilson, Bucs' lone All-Star

Stories here, here, here. Congratulations, little guy.


OK, 7 games under .500 in the basement still stinks on ice, but hey... 9-game winning streaks RULE! GO BUCS!

While our glasses are raised, let's toast this badass for his Jose Mesa impression with the homegrown PVC flamethrower.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Dust my broom

I'm gon' write a letter, telephone every town I know . . .

So ... Howlin' Wolf or John Hammond? Tina w/ Ike Turner or Etta James? Elmore James? So many versions to choose from ...

We'll play them all after a few glasses over discussion of this question: how much does it suck to be seven games under .500?

Enjoy the 4th, Pirate fans. I know we will.

Game 79, Chris Capuano at Sean Burnett

Chris Capuano is a left-handed Tommy John retread who did time on the DL recently for back problems.

Sean Burnett needs no introduction.

...interesting lineup today. We could call it the "leave no stone unturned" lineup. Alvarez, Davis, and Stynes are starting against the lefty:

Kendall C
Wilson SS
Alvarez LF
Wilson 1B
Davis RF
Stynes 3B
Redman CF
Castillo 2B

Bay, Mackowiak, and Simon get the early innings off and, with Bobby Hill and Nunez, give Mac a great bench.

... arggggggggh ... that J.J. Davis drives me crazy. He just misplayed a possible out in right field and probably cost Burnett an out & an single. This after looking awful in his first at-bat. Then a run scores on a sacrifice fly and J.J. Davis overthrows the cut-off man. Or did he think he could get the runner at home after he crossed the plate and went into the dugout?

... home run chris stynes! ... maybe his bat is coming around ...

... two-run double chris stynes! ... nice to get some return on that investment ...

... tony alvarez just made another great play in left field ... he's blowing davis away if the two are in a competition for playing time down the road ...

Anna Benson trade rumors

Who knew she was a writer too? Check this out:

KRIS BENSON has been awesome through six innings in each of his past four starts, fading in the seventh in two of them. Scouts have clocked his fastball at 93-97 mph and one said his slider has been terrific. But teams are still wary of the Pirate starter's heart, his $6 million salary and the effect he could have on team chemistry. Benson's wife, Anna, has written extensively about the couple's sex life and that of some of his Pirates teammates and had a Web site that reportedly crashed because it received so many web hits.
That's Lawrence Rococca of the Star-Ledger.

Not cool if that's the kind of crap other GMs are using against us in trade negotiations. "Our players are sex maniacs, and they'd be distracted with fears that Anna Benson would learn about that and write it up." Leave the missus out of it.