Saturday, July 17, 2004

Second-half strength

Joe Rutter reviews the recent history of the Pirates in the second half. I expect 83 wins by the end of the second half. This team can do that.

Jason Bay is good

Smizik on the Giles deal. Bay's batting eye is discriminating. His .370 OBP is tremendous, and his little career (300 AB) OBP of .393 is even better. Giles's OBP was stupendous, of course, but Bay is no Jack Wilson in the hurry-up-and-make-contact department.

No one expects him to continue this pace. He's no Ruth, no Kiner. But the Pirates will settle for what he is: A likely Rookie of the Year and a cornerstone for the future.

It's great knowing Jason Bay will be around for at least a few more years. If you're looking to get a Pirates jersey and don't know what name to choose for the back, look no further.

Expect more Hill, less Simon

Stands to reason.

Friday, July 16, 2004

All hail Kris Benson

Just win, matey.

We could keep this guy Kris Benson. To hell with all-you-can-eat B prospects. We got plenty of guys who can compete for bench spots in 2005. Why drop big coin on Kip Wells when Kris Benson is pitching like we knew he could? Give the man a fair-market-value one-year contract for 2005 and watch Peter Gammons call him Cy Young next March.

And huzza Jason Bay, our 2004 Rookie of the Year. Step aside, Ryan Madson and Akinori Otsuka, and let the man come through. And don't talk to me about Kaz "Alligator Arms" Matsui.

Give 'em hell, Buccos, and make them like it. Send 'em home all sad and sore. A good winning roll about now would do wonders for all the fans here, there, and everywhere.

More light blogging

Cruise the links on the right-hand side. There's lots of good stuff over there.

I'll be back. I'm not sure when, but it will be before the end of the month at the latest.

Games 87, 88, 89: Burnett, Pavano, and Penny at Bucs

A.J. Burnett missed nearly all of 2003 after Tommy John surgery. He's been back for eight starts this year and he's been excellent. He's not striking out a batter per inning like he did before the surgery, but he's been just as effective as he has cut down on his walks. Looks like he's trying to go deeper with fewer pitches as part of his ongoing rehab. He's 27 and he'll be eligible for free agency next year. None of our current Pirates have seen him before so he'll have that advantage. Kris Benson starts for the Pirates and he has been effective against the current Marlins.

We just saw Pavano before the break. He was good for six and didn't factor in the final decision. The Pirates counter with Kip Wells.

Brad Penny weighs somewhere in the Randall Simon range and can be worn down. He throws very hard, has a bunch of pitches, and has been outstanding overall this year. Oliver Perez slips into the third starter's spot to face Penny. He didn't fare so well against this team last week, so here's hoping he does better this time.

Not one of these Marlin starters are signed for 2005.

Generic trade response

I will be back before the deadline, but maybe the Pirates will make a trade while I'm away. So here's a generic response.

Wow, I'm surprised/a little disappointed/mildly overjoyed. Best of luck to the departing players.

Let's see if the new guy(s) can play a month without blowing out a knee/elbow/ankle before we get too excited about what they can or can't do.

It's not sensible to judge any trade in hyperbolic terms right when it happens, so I won't do that.

Duquette offers all-you-can-eat crap

Story here. He's telling reporters that teams offering star players can choose between medium, large, and jumbo collections of scrub players.

It's pretty clear, he doesn't want to make a trade and he doesn't want to look pessimistic or timid. By holding out such "bargains" he can blame the other guys when the top-quality players go to other teams for top-quality prospects.

Craig Wilson

John Perrotto has a report.

Question of the day: What will Craiggers make in arbitration, assuming his second half is as good as his first?

David Ortiz money?

Thursday, July 15, 2004

NL Central tonight

Who had the bright idea to give the Pirates this night off? We'll have to settle with looking in at the competition.

The Cardinals beat the Reds, 7-2, and still lead the division by seven games. They are twenty-some games over .500. Angry man Matt Morris was OK for six before handing the game over to the usual suspects. Edgar Renteria, possibly embarrassed by his not-up-to-Jack-Wilson-standards play in the All-Star game, had a shitload of hits. Say what you want about their run differential, the Reds are still five games over .500. With Wily Mo Pena working his way into a can't-bench starting gig, the Reds will turn that run differential around in a few games.

The Cubs beat the Brewers, 4-1. One of their young starters--I forget his name--left the game with some kind of discomfort in his elbow. Unfortunately, they just moved Jimmy Anderson to Boston so they'll have to look elsewhere for starting depth if the kid is out for a while. Glendon Rusch came in and pitched a bunch of innings in relief. The Cubs are eight over .500 and own second place. The Brewers are three over and sit in fourth.

The Astros and the Pirates had the night off.

Many moves today

Welcome, J.R. House.

Can he pinch-hit against right-handed pitching? That's what I'd like to know.

Dickheads in the clubhouse

I had a hard time reading Ron Cook's piece on Jack Wilson because the thought of Pat Meares and Kevin Young makes my skin crawl.

It's hard not to like a confident kid with bad teeth and a wife who works as a waitress. Cook's description of the hazing Wilson endured in his rookie season makes me sick. Hopefully the team is not repeating this behavior with the new guys. If there's one thing a manager ought to be able to do, it's crack down on that kind of nonsense.

We can't forget that the players are competitors. They form cliques and haze rookies because they exhaust themselves competing with one another. Competition within members of a team can be healthy if the terms of promotion are transparent and related only to performance that translates into winning. Competition between members of the same team can also be stupid and self-destructive. Ridiculing Jack Wilson because his wife is a waitress would seem to fall into that category.

Kent Tekulve in left field

I remember the game Mike Prisuta describes in his column about "Tanner's commitment to the abstract" in 1979. I also share a bit of his sense that Mac may play it by the book a bit too often. It makes a lot of sense to attack another club methodically, to have the discipline to adhere to that method, and to attack weaknesses in another club. But, like Josh Fogg, a manager without the best stuff can only be most effective when he has the other team on their heels.

When a method becomes predictable, it provides an opportunity for the opposing team to focus on their more obvious weaknesses. It's easier to get better, too, when you know how you'll be tested by another club. When a relief pitcher has dominated right-handed hitters and just struck out one of your best lefties, sometimes you have to attack his strength and smack him with the unexpected or he'll his continue his good work toward improving the obvious weakness everyone expects you'll test.

In football, I always admire the coaches who attack another team's strength. Say team B has a strong D-line but the worst secondary in the league. And team A has a fairly balanced offense. All week long everyone expects team A to attack team B's secondary. A good coach might see that as an opportunity to do the opposite. Team B opens with nickels and dimes with new wrinkles they've worked on all week, but team A opts instead to run right at them. When this works, team A has 100 yards rushing and ten points before team B realizes team A came to run.

Or you'll see an offense take an unconventional approach that appears to succeed because the defense can't adjust. Remember when the Patrios came out and threw something like 30 straight passes on the Steelers? They couldn't adjust.

When an unconventional approach doesn't work, the coach looks like an idiot. Perhaps it's easier to think of examples from football, where games happen only once per week and are surrounded by so much more expectation.

Mac is not a perfect machine in the dugout, but there have been times where I've thought the predictability of his matchups weaken their edge. During the losing streak, for example, there were times when Mac was shrugging his shoulders and saying we had all the matchups we could have wanted. No doubt when the Pirates get on their next long winning streak we'll see some crazy decisions paying off here and there.

Mercedes, Bonifay, Sadler

Paul Meyer reports on some farther-away guys in the minors. Bonifay is a bit old for AA but who knows what he'll become. Ray Sadler was a good acquisition.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

In Praise of G. Ogden Nutting

Richard A. Mathews of the inimitable OnlyBucs.net has this column praising G. Ogden Nutting as a Pirate fan and successful businessman. FWIW, Mathews writes that Nutting was a "long-time family friend" to "young Kevin" while Smizik reported last year that the two were only brought together through a third party.

Mon Du

And I thought "Mon Du" was French for "My God, how will he make it through the fifth inning."

Home Sweet Home

As the Pirates come back to PNC Park, I remember the end of Gene Collier's July 5 editorial:

"Absolutely," McClendon said when asked if this homestand will really mean something when the next one starts July 16. "I know this team has tried hard to win at home and to win the admiration of the fans. They're very satisfied when the fans are up cheering and I know it means a lot to them."

Our pleasure, Mac. It would be great to see them shake off that San Juan series with some crowd-rousing play this weekend.

Astros fire Jimy

It's bush league to fire your manager in the middle of a season. It's disgraceful and cowardly. If he was that bad, or that clearly not the right guy, he should have been fired last November. What's the excuse? Has Jimy developed an uncontrollable crack-smoking habit in just last few months? They are scapegoating him so they can change directions without looking weak. If I was an Astros fan, I'd be embarrassed for my team. My condolences ...

... I spoke too soon. If they're going to get Phil Garner, no condolences necessary.

new Q & A

All kinds of fun in Paul Meyer's new Q&A.

I do believe said Charlie Wilmoth has a blog, Value Over Replacement Blog. The title alludes to a one-stat measure of a player's overall offensive value relative to the "freely available" replacement talent. It's created and published by Baseball Prospectus. I'm no fan of one-stat measures of ability and sometimes I wonder how freely available replacement talent truly is, but c'mon, it isn't right to complain about everything no matter how surly I'm feeling about that series in San Juan. The VORP stat has value and I recommend it for your reading pleasure.

Some interesting things in those VORP rankings. Craig Wilson trails Brian Giles by a small margin in right field. Jack Wilson leads the NL in VORP. He has more than twice as much VORP as Edgar Renteria. This could be what Roger Clemens was grousing about when he took the mound yesterday.

At Charlie's blog I see he's arguing with the wind about his position on J.J. Davis.

We've gone over this here. Shorter Rowdy: the development of no one player is worth more than the development of the team as a whole. I'm cheering for J.J. Davis. I hope he goes 2-for-4 with a home run and a stolen base in his next big-league start. But he has to earn PT the way the rest of the guys earn it. I could go on and on but he's injured and headed to Nashville so it's all academic right now.

Go read the rest of Charlie's blog. He is pretty devoted to the Pirates so he's my kind of guy. The take on J.J. appears to be the weak link in his patter.

All-Star game

I think we all know what happened at the All-Star game. Roger Clemens took the field and was rattled by the sight of Edgar Renteria at shortstop. I didn't see the first inning but I'm sure he was cursing and mumbling to himself as he realized that Jack Wilson probably wouldn't play behind him at all.

Next McKeon, conscious that the Marlins open the second half in Pittsburgh, kept Jack until the sixth inning in some kind of bound-to-fail attempt to diminish Jack's self-worth. Edgar Renteria is a great player, but the NL All-Stars would have been better served by subbing in Jack Wilson ASAP. If you are like me, when lesser NL All-Stars were swinging and missing pitches, you were thinking, "Jack Wilson would have hit that pitch." And when Edgar Renteria missed those ground balls and botched that double play, you were saying to yourself, "Jack Wilson would have made that play."

So, it all boils down to Jack McKeon selfishly seeking an minor advantage in this weekend's series at PNC Park. Shame on you, old man. Yet another reason why it's hard to get excited about an exhibition game in the middle of the season.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Winning matters

Last Saturday I sat in an Eat-n-Park and read all the papers while Rowdietta slurped down mac-n-cheese. I read a column by someone (can't remember who, can't find it online) that said if you are going to lose, lose big time. The argument ran that there's no more shame in losing 100 games than there is losing 81.

This is not true in baseball, especially for the Pirates. Winning 81 is far better than 80 is far better than 79 is far better than 78 is much, much, much better than 61. Every stinking win counts right now.

Winning teams start winning before anyone expects it. A team must court winning every day if they expect winning to come and stay with them for any extended period of time. Even a blind squirrel will find a nut now and then. Even rotten teams will string together winning streaks or win dramatic games against high-quality opponents over the course of a season. Streaks and individual dramatic wins signal nothing about the improvement of a team that goes beyond the fact that the team won another game. Only by pressing always - and through all moods; the pressing can't be the kind that turns into monotonous depression or single-mindedness - will the team be ready for winning as quickly as possible.

In other sports, the draft can offer some compensation for losing a lot. Not in baseball. Tanking on purpose to greatly overpay Matt Bush is no way to rebuild a franchise.

For the Pirates to build a new dynasty, they have to find, develop, and acquire better and - most important - winning ballplayers. Then they have to increase their attendance to increase revenue to the point where, if they have the wisdom, they can recognize and retain their best players. I'm not going to get into what the team's profit margin ought to be or how much more the team could probably afford to spend on payroll. All I know is the team is not selling out every game and they could be selling out every game and they will sell out every game when they win and win and win and win some more.

The only way this happens here is winning. You have to win at home so fans leave thinking, "How soon can I get back to the ballpark?" Manny's pork sandwiches can sustain us through occassional losing. Only winning keeps baseball at the front of the fans' mind. And, just as important, a team also has to win on the road so they can roll into town with a head of steam. Fans generally decide to attend games and then plan their attendance a few days in advance. Winning on the road gets the fans excited and creates some anticipation for the next homestand.

No one expects the Pirates to win every game, but you can only go to (or watch, or listen to, or read about) so many lost games before you start thinking about the Steelers or fishing or Spider-man or the girls of Maxim or whatever it is that usurps the place of baseball in that small handful of diversions your average hard-working fan can afford.

So win, win, win. Every win is huge, and all wins are equally important and dramatic and necessary in the long run.

Trade time

I expect we'll see a deal or two after the game tonight. No one wants to announce some deal and have that compete for coverage with the game and the home run derby. Poor form. Any deals tomorrow or later this week probably won't involve the Pirates. That's my hunch. What's yours?

Mac too generous

Ed Eagle induced Mac to hand out some midseason grades. In Mac's defense, he doesn't appear to have given much thought to each subject.

That said, I take issue with the generous grades. If the goal is to win a world championship, you have to reserve the A marks for performance that gets you into the playoffs. The B marks should go to wild-card contention performance, the C marks for .500 play. The Bucs are too far below .500 to earn grades that average any better than D.

So I'll grade them like this. Hitting, C plus. Fielding, baserunning, other such things, F. Starting pitching, D minus. Bullpen, D.

If the players want better grades for what they've done so far, they can take that performance and go dominate some beer league. A C grade has to be more difficult to earn at this level, and the players should understand that the manager is not running them down or stunting their development when he tells it like it is. You are what you are, and this current crop of Pirates are pretty far below .500.

They've had some great games and they are great people, but you guys are losers until you win. And there's no excuse for not winning at least half your games. Overall I'm giving them a D for the first half. There are bright spots and I am optimistic about the possibility of much better performance in the second half. The Pirates do not "suck" and they are not "worthless" or "hopeless" or "going nowhere." There can be dignity in low grades for a team working hard to get better. But you are what you are and until they are .500, they can't expect "B" grades for much of anything.

...John Perrotto is also a bit too generous in my judgment. It's hard to decide if you grade a player relative to your expectations for him or relative to the demands of his role in the system. For example, Tony Alvarez and Jose Castillo get "C"s from Perrotto because, I think, his expectations are pretty low given that they are rookies. If the goal is winning a championship, grade by the demands of the role. Alvarez hasn't done much as a fourth outfielder, and since his playing time is limited, we'll pass on nailing him with any grade but incomplete. Castillo gets a D or an F, though. He hasn't played like a second baseman on a winning team. I don't disagree with the decision to keep him around and fast-track his development, but admit it, his play this year hasn't helped to get the team above .500. Redman has been an F, Wells has been an F, and Craig Wilson has been a C. The gaudy numbers are nice but he has to figure out how to distribute those numbers more consistently. Your clean-up guy can't slump like he has without seriously hurting the team's immediate chances.

The help on the way

Paul Meyer provides little bios of the brighter prospects in the minors.

Huzza Stats Geek

Brian O'Neill's latest on the subject of Jack Wilson strikes me as wise in several respects. For one, players on losing teams shouldn't get impatient with the front office for contract extensions. Win some games and then we'll talk. That would be my attitude. If that creates resentment, fine. Get the selfish asshole off the team. Players that want to put the cart before the horse can play somewhere else.

For two, the hullabaloo about Wilson not drawing walks is foolish so long as he maintains a .340 OBP. I have only a pitifully slow dial-up connection available to me this week as they remodel the $4.2M Rowdy estate (yeah, right) so I'm not going to find and link to the pre-season editorials I generously shared with the world on this subject. A .340 OBP from Jack Wilson was something of a dream then, and we'll love it now. If you had to choose between getting your .340 OBP on a .240 BA or a .330 BA, which would you choose? You'd be a fool to choose the former.

Anyone who thinks they look smart predicting that Jack Wilson won't finish the year with a .330 BA - for whatever reason, be it his walk numbers, the quality of the pitching he has faced, or his astrological sign - is self-deluded. One might as well predict that it will snow before Halloween. All the talk about Wilson's high BA being a "house of cards" makes the author look foolish and worse, so stubborn they're unable to see some good where it's evident in abundance. You get nothing but negative style points if you (a) are a non-fan writer with a national audience and (b) are so resentful that Wilson didn't live up to your pre-season predictions that (c) you can't restrain yourself from kicking a team when it's down with your dime-store prediction that Jack Wilson probably won't finish the season with a .330 batting average. Why not go for broke and predict he won't finish the year with a .400 batting average? If he finishes the year with a .290 batting average and an OBP that is below the top of the league's range of team averages (about .340), then you can get out your pen and stick it in the ribs of Pirates fans if you are still so insecure about the public's lack of undying respect for the wisdom of your pre-season predictions.

Huzza Jack Wilson. I don't give a damn about the All-Star game since I fail to see how his nomination will improve on our current place in the standings. And I don't care to re-sign Jack Wilson or anyone while the team is so disgracefully far below .500. All that said, Jack Wilson has made a huge improvement at the plate this year and I'm sure the improvement is here to stay.

Now tell me how a team can have such a quality shortstop and be so low in the standings.