Familiar faces. Time to see if Burnett or Vogelsong can deliver a big game against top competition.
Friday, August 20, 2004
Bob Dvorchak, in today's notebook, repeats this fact:
With the exception of reliever Jose Mesa, the Pirates have every player on the roster under control for next season. Mesa can become a free agent. The Pirates have an option on P Brian Boehringer, and C Jason Kendall has three years left on his contract. Every other player is on a one-year deal but can be renewed if he has less than three years of service or offered arbitration.
I've been mulling this comment by Mac, caught in Ed Eagle's report for August 12:
"Payroll, depth, talent -- we're outmatched most nights," said McClendon. "Most of it is because of the experience. Give these guys three or four years and maybe we'll catch up."
This quote really stuck in my mind. I found it outrageous at first but wasn't sure why. Now I'm ready to write about it. I'm going to read a lot into this one quote so, if you're not a fan of close reading, you can skip the rest of the post.
Payroll - here again Mac offers his poisonously bad take on the team's light purse. If a team is willing to sacrifice time - and the Pirates have done that the last few years - a GM can be expected to cobble together a competitive and winning team with guys that have little service time. Oliver Perez is pitching like a $15M pitcher, and Darren Dreifort has pitched like a $300,000 pitcher. There's no firm relationship between salary and current performance. How do you acquire an Oliver Perez? You give up some now (Brian Giles) for some later (Perez, Bay, Stewart). Time is money, folks, and the team that doesn't have money can make that up with time. And luck.
Also, a really low payroll is a competitive advantage going forward. The Bucs have had larger payrolls in the past and if they keep winning, they'll sell out more games, and they better have the will to increase payroll when revenues increase. If team A has a payroll of $35M and team B has a payroll of $100M, and both teams win the same number of games, which team would you rather be? Which team is in a better position to make trades, sign free agents, or suffer through an economic downturn?
Finally, it's unAmerican and a bit repulsive to complain that your opportunities are limited because you're poor. David didn't complain that he had only pebbles and a slingshot when he went after Goliath. We don't like this victim mentality. Even if we're leaning way out toward the socialist end of the political spectrum, we all know (or should know) that whining about poverty is no way to rally people to your cause. It may not be right, but it's predictably true and has been for centuries. Did Rocky whine about how he had to chase chickens and do sit-ups when training for his big fight? Americans like underdogs who are stoic about their more limited opportunities. It may not be right, but that's the way it is and the way it will continue to be. We all know the Pirates have a low payroll. The less the representatives of the team complain about it, the more credit and admiration they'll elicit from observers.
Depth - we're not "outmatched" because of payroll, and we're also not outmatched in depth. We've got a ton of depth. Look at Altoona. The problem is not depth but the lack of highly-experienced first-string players. Our third-string players are as good as the third-stringers in any organization.
Talent - I don't think a manager should ever say that his team is outmatched in "talent" - and Mac seems to agree since he recanted that immediately. Danny Murtaugh used to tell his players they had more talent than any other team in the league. Why should the manager run his guys down in the talent department? Maybe I'm being too touchy-feely about this.
If you are on the fence, and not sure if you agree or disagree with me, side with Mac. He gets the benefit of the doubt right now because he's got the team playing very good baseball the last two months. This is the last time I'll criticize him for such comments; it's time for me to shut up and sit back and watch what he says the rest of the year.
The final part of the quote that stuck with me is the offhand comment about three or four years. We know that the ownership is looking at DL and Mac as parts of that future, too. Mac's comment suggests he is looking at this team as one we'll keep together next year and beyond. A lot of our players could fetch quite a bit in trade. They're good, they're cheap, they aren't so close to free agency. Looks to me - especially with the way the Wigginton trade was tailored to fit the existing roster - that the plan is to keep this group of players together.
I like that plan. I won't expect many trades or free agent signings this offseason that involve starting position players.
Brian of Redbird Nation has a fun take on last night's game.
Rolen made two errors late in the game and that has to be hard for Redbird fans who have only seen five all year. It would be kinda Chico Lind-ish hard if the Cardinals were regarding this series as an important one.
Oliver Perez, outstanding facial hair and all, looked great, but the rest of the team didn't look, shall we say, too invincible. D. Ward ran Kendall off third, for example, and short-circuited what might have been a big rally. And Mesa looks very old or very tired. I'd like to see him take the rest of the series off, if possible.
Mac made a funny that Pete Wickham reports today:
The last time these two teams met, the Pirates swept three from the Cardinals at PNC Park as part of a season-high 10-game winning streak. Did McClendon think that was a good building block for his young team?
"I think it was a pretty good building block for the Cardinals," he said. "Hell, they haven't looked back since. I think we [ticked] them off pretty good. Nobody can beat them anymore."
Good answer, Mac.
As for that series, we were there. The Cards were resting Edmonds and La Russa was managing like his boys could beat our boys with one hand tied behind his back. La Russa also made some childish and bitter taunting-like comments when the Cardinals left town that gave the Bucs no credit whatsoever.
We may be starting to see some heat in this rivalry. Should be fun for everyone involved.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Yeah the Cardinals have won a lot games are great etc. Larry Walker etc. 1982 etc. gonna win the World Series whatever.
I'm not afraid of the Cardinals.
And I doubt the Bucs are afraid of Jason Marquis.
Eight of the next eleven games are against St. Louis. The Pirates should treat it as a playoff series.
I'd also like to see Mac and La Russa jawing at each other and getting tossed out of games. That stuff is good theater.
Football is a brutal sport. Yeah, we know that. But we too quickly forget about the bodily damage even healthy players suffer. Jim Wexell reports that Kendrell Bell will lay off the Advil this season:
"I figured out I really need to start taking care of my body," Bell said. "And that's eating right and not taking so many painkillers. It kind of makes you soft if you can't deal with the pain. Football is pain and if you continue to take medication like that, it becomes a way of getting by."
Back in 1996, Bones and I made up a fantasy game and played it with our older sister. I'm not proud of this, by the way, but the story is edifying so I'll share it.
We called it "The Maim Game." We each made up a roster of NFL players. No player could be on more than one roster and we had players at every position. We didn't have a draft or spend a lot of time making up our rosters; we all made one up off the top of our head and made sure we didn't share players by talking about them as we made them. The rules were simple. If one of our players was injured and lost for a game, we won a beer from the other two players in the league. If one of our players was injured and lost for the season, we won a pitcher of beer from the other two players in the league. The injuries had to be documented as "out" on the injury report.
Anyway, two or three weeks into the season we solemnly stopped playing, stopped talking about it, and felt pretty awful for thinking it would have been a source of amusement. It really opened my eyes to the everyday damage and the everyday risk of life-long crippling injuries all players endure. It's not just the superstars who are at risk. I'll never look at kickoffs, for example, the same way. Big-ass men in full pads and crash helmets get a thirty-yard running start and then slam into each other. It's barbaric. A lot of people think that the pads and helmets made the collisions less dangerous but the opposite is true. It's the same way with boxing, which is much more brutal now that the players wear gloves. The protective equipment enables one player to hit another player with greater frequency, less risk of injury (for the attacking player), and more momentum (the equipment adds mass, weight to the blow). If the defenders didn't have pads and helmets, they'd have to tackle ball carriers with greater agility and technique if they wanted to have a long career.
The Wigginton-Hill collision would have been pretty run-of-the-mill in the NFL. I'm not saying baseball is better than football because of that - I don't feel that way at all - but they are very different games.
Ed Eagles reports that Jay Bell was hanging around the clubhouse the other day. He compared Mac to Leyland.
I don't see a lot of similarity between the managers. When I think about it, though, maybe Jay's right. I think Mac's a fine manager because he more or less manages the team the way I've come to expect a Pirate club to be managed. And those expectations were established, in part, by Leyland.
The reason it's not more obvious to me is that I mainly perceive Mac through the press, and Mac acts like a jackass with the reporters sometimes. When he singled out Joe Rutter and called him "unprofessional" for reporting comments that Kip Wells made on the record, he looks like a jackass. As a fan, I want Joe Rutter doing his job and telling us everything he can tell us. There's no way I'm siding with Mac there.
Mac also says too many things that sound a little thoughtless. For example, when he hinted that maybe he deserved some credit for the development of Craig Wilson. Another example: he perforates too many of his comments with profanity. I'm all for profanity and think it's generally a good thing, but the manager has to give the reporters things they can write down and publish. Like fresh fruit, swear words fucking rot on the shelf. What sounds good here and now looks like shit in a couple of days. And when reporters have to change every third word to (expletive) or (goshdarn), then I often I have no idea what Mac was trying to say. I'm sure I'd know if I was there when he said it but guess what, I wasn't there, so I rely on the reporters. They might as well report it like this, "When asked about the throwing errors that cost the team two unearned runs in the ninth inning, McClendon answered with profanity-laced platitudes." That's a little more subjective but probably more useful that printing, "Mac said, "Jack (expletive) the (expletive) and (expletive) turned the (expletive) to (expletive) to sugar."
Leyland was a bit more polished in his communications to the fans through the media. Mac could work on the important role he plays in the media coverage of events on the field. If he doesn't understand the value of free media coverage, someone should explain it to him. The beat reporters do much more to drive fans into the stadium than all the poorly-acted radio ads about grass stains on the uniform. Mac, a.k.a., "Mr. Light Purse, Heavy Heart," often bitches about not having enough money to field veterans of the caliber on some of the other teams. If he wants more money, he better help sell the tickets. He could put some more thought into the persona that fans perceive through the beat reporting.
All that said, I'm a big fan of Mac as an on-field manager and obviously that's a lot more important that his ability to talk smooth and be magnetic through the newspaper reporting. Like all the young players on the team, though, Mac could do some more work on some of the finer aspects of his game.
Bob Smizik looks at the state of sports reporting on the local television stations. It's not good, he says.
I wouldn't know. I never watch the news on TV.
The internet has almost completely replaced television for me. There's not much on TV that I want that I can't get in one-tenth the amount of time with the internet. I used to sit in hotel rooms and watch the ESPN ticker for that one score I wanted. This was as much fun as standing in a long check-out line at the supermarket. I have to watch four ads to get a score? Then I discovered that I can get the score by text message on my cell phone.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Casey Fossum is a soft-tossing lefty with the usual unusual release. They'll have to make this guy throw strikes if they are going to score a whole bunch of runs. The Pirates drew seven walks last night so maybe there's hope for them solving their struggles with soft-tossing lefties. If you missed it, make sure you go back and read Rob Mackowiak's analysis of the situation.
John Van Benschoten is our big right-handed starter from Kent State University. He was great in Spring Training and suffered a bit of a letdown when sent to Nashville on the last day of camp. After a few rough starts, he got right and flew pretty straight. Like all young guys, he's still learning. Nate Silver's PECOTA projections system finds these guys with similar stats, height, and weight at the same age: Charlie Lea, Willie Banks, Jim Clancy, A.J. Burnett, Jack Morris, Jason Schmidt, Pete Vuckovich. Kip Wells also shows up in that list. It's an encouraging list.
In this recent piece by John Manual for Baseball America, Mickey White, the scouting director in 2001 who drafted JVB as a pitcher - most thought he projected as a big-league hitter - tells how he let JVB hit in A ball and then decided he was right to draft him as a pitcher. He saw a guy "with long, lean arms" who reminded him "of Michael Jordan when he played baseball." Curious analogy. What if Michael Jordan had tried to make it as a pitcher?
Rockstar Bucco fan Eileen has been keeping a blog, Leeeny's Mien. Stop by and say hello.
Her most recent post looks at the Pirates' ability to get some "bang" for their buck. The one before that describes the luxury that is the 200-level at PNC Park.
Me, I get too absorbed in the game to pay much attention to amenities. I'll take those seats on the first-base side. The leg room is fine and the view is never obstructed.
The usual beer man is good but a broader delivery menu would be fantastic. Once the game starts, I'm not getting out of my seat. I was at Safeco a year or two ago and the usher gave me a whole menu of stuff I could order. You filled out the card with a pencil and someone delivered your goods right to your seat. That was the best. The Pirates should do more of that.
Kip Wells has a sore right elbow. I can find no word yet about the roster move the Bucs will make for JVB. My guess is Mark Corey will go back to Nashville (again) unless Kip's elbow has swollen up like a grapefruit after last night's Madden session with Plaxico Burress.
Sounds like the tentative plan is a spot-start for JVB with Snell coming up behind him to work out of the bullpen. I don't like spot-starting minor league guys but it worked for Sean Burnett.
From Joe Rutter's notebook:
The list of players heading to the Arizona Fall League officially was released this week, confirming that the Pirates will have pitchers Bobby Bradley, Paul Maholm, Jeff Miller, catcher J.R. House, second baseman Freddy Sanchez and center fielder Chris Duffy going to the developmental league. All six will play for the Peoria Saguaros, a team whose bench coach/hitting instructor will be Pirates third base coach John Russell.
What, no Jose Bautista? I thought they were going to get him some at-bats there.
Of those guys, only Maholm, Miller, and Duffy are not on the 40-man roster. Jeff Miller has 14 saves at Altoona with 71 strikeouts (and 25 walks, and 8 home runs) in 58 innings. Miller and Duffy were taken in the 2001 draft so they'll have to be added to the 40-man roster unless, of course, the Pirates are only sending them to the Arizona league to showcase them for the Rule V draft.
When the trade went down, I wrote this about Wigginton:
We may be a little tired of hearing about hustle and blue-collar work ethics, but Wigginton does have some of that reckless abandon on the basepaths that Pirate fans have cheered since the days of the Flying Dutchman. The man consistently scores more runs than you'd expect for a .330 OBP guy.
Here's how. Bob Dvorchak's recap comes with a nice Wigginton-meets-Hill photo essay. We'll have to clear a spot on the drinking-room wall for that one.
P.S. Get well Koyie Hill.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
The Pirates are starting to get some respect from some national media guys.
Exhibit A: SI's Peter King writes:
b. Two quick non-Sox observations: PNC Park is such a gem. And Rob Mackowiak is the next Travis Hafner.
I like the comparision. But what does it mean?
(Thanks to reader Dan.)
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic reports the D'backs will use two scheduled pitchers tonight, with the first one, Stephen Randolph, on a short leash.
Steven Randolph is a wild 30-year-old lefthander. He has walked 55 batters in 55 innings. The team better make him throw strikes. He's been very hard to hit otherwise. When the pitcher rolls the ball to the plate or lobs it to the backstop, it makes sense that opposing batters might do no better than .191 against him.
Lance Cormier is a young wild righthander just called up from Tucson. In 21 major-league innings, teams have hit .383 / .444 / .745 off him.
Last night, Mac yanked a less-than-stellar Sean Burnett early for a pinch hitter. I hope he would do the same tonight with Vogelsong. If he doesn't have his best stuff, don't leave him in there. Play it like a playoff game, Mac.
Game time 9:35pm.
Another good one from Brian O'Neill. The only glaring flaw is the closing, where he claims to be the first writer to make the Jose Castillo / Jack Wilson comparison.
No doubt a lot of Pirate fans are making the comparison by themselves about now. Castillo's even flashing his own game-winning Matrix-like moves at the plate.
The AP points out the fact that the Bucs played some error-free baseball over the last so many games. More evidence that they are getting the most out of the balls they can reach.
Lookin' good, big guy.
Yes, if he keeps this up, we bring him back next year as our left-handed slugging first baseman. Mesa's another story. Lately he's been pitching like a 48-year-old man. That Mike Gonzalez looks like a closer . . .
Monday, August 16, 2004
That thing up there needs a little explanation. They tell us, but they don't tell you. The "search" window will search this blog. The BlogThis! button will open a "create new post" window if you are logged into Blogger and have your own blog. The "next" button takes you to a random blog that has been recently updated.
Looks like I was able to repair the template without smashing my thumb with the hammer.
Holy cow, this just sank in:
Since falling 16 games under .500 on June 25, they are 28-17, a .622 pace. If they play their remaining 47 games at that pace, they'd win 29 of them and finish the season -- hallelujah! -- with 84 wins.
Every team has a hot streak like this at some point in the season, but what's impressive about this one, for me, is that it hasn't seemed like the Pirates have been playing all that well. In other words, they are doing this and showing lots of room for improvement.
Mac keeps pushing him, as Ed Eagle reports:
"Craig's held his own," McClendon said. "I'm still not sure if he's a legitimate No. 4 hitter, but he's a guy who has the ability to drive in 120 (runs). The opportunity is there, and after he gains more at-bats, learns to cut down on the strikeouts and hit the ball the other way, he has a chance to be a true threat at the plate."
It would be sweet if our no. 5 hitter drove in 120 runs.
Bob Smizik ponders the present and future of Tike Redman.
He also points out the Bucs will have to maintain a .622 winning percentage - what they've done for six weeks or so now - to finish with 84 wins. There are 47 games left and they need to win 26 of them to finish at .500. That would be a 26-21 run or .553 baseball. Stranger things have happened.
This month, they'll have to hang tough with the Cardinals (8 games) and not overlook the games with the D'backs (6 games), Brewers (2). Looking ahead, September will be Brewers (5 games), Houston (8 games), Cubs (7 games), Reds (3 games), and three games each with New York and Philadelphia.
Sunday, August 15, 2004
One name that draws raves is LHP Zach Duke, who dominated at Lynchburg before he was promoted to Altoona at midseason. "Scary," Ruby said. "He's got a chance to be special. He's one of those guys. He just turned 21. He's got a perfect delivery, throws downhill all the time. He's always learning, reads the bat well, makes adjustments. He goes after holes in swings while most young guys are following the glove." Duke, who got some attention in spring training, isn't overpowering. He averages 88 to 89 mph with his fastball but can reach 92 mph on occasion. But he has great command of his pitches and has an excellent curveball and changeup. "His makeup is off the charts. He's not overpowering, but he has some weapons," Banister said. "When you look at his numbers, those numbers are legit." Duke is 2-1 with a 0.90 ERA with the Curve in five starts. At Lynchburg, he was 10-5 with a 1.39 ERA in 17 starts. Duke could get a spring training invitation next year and some in the organization would not be surprised if he earned a spot on the big-league rotation.
Sounds good to me.
The guy's a genius. Ed Eagle has a great analysis of the current state of the team especially with regard to their weakness for crafty, soft-tossing lefthanders like Jeff Fassero. He quotes Rob:
Rob Mackowiak, a left-handed batter who started against Fassero on Friday, has a theory.
"The majority of the left-handed pitchers we've faced have been guys who throw a lot of changeups and pitch the ball away," said Mackowiak. "We have a young team and we chase some pitches we probably shouldn't swing at sometimes.
"[Pitchers] know we swing the bats and they see our walk totals. They know they can pick [the corners] and we're going to chase."
Mackowiak certainly has a point when it comes to the Pirates' lack of patience at the plate. Heading into Friday's action, eight Bucs hitters had swung at the first pitch they saw during an at-bat at least one-third of the time: Bobby Hill (34.2 percent), Randall Simon (36.4 percent), Daryle Ward (36.6 percent), Mackowiak (36.9 percent), Jose Castillo (41 percent), Wilson (41.3 percent), Ty Wigginton (44.3 percent) and Abraham Nunez (53.1 percent).
According to catcher Jason Kendall, who swings at fewer first pitches than any other player in the big leagues (2.8 percent), the combination of aggressive hitters and crafty southpaws can lead to a lack of productivity for the guys holding the lumber.
"If those [pitchers] are on, they're going to get younger guys to swing at a lot of stuff," said Kendall. "They know how to pitch. That's why they've been here for a long time."
I would say Rob has got it pegged. When he sits, he better be sitting next to Mac. It's hard to believe he can be walking around as such a fountain of wisdom and his teammates like Craiggers can still be caught gaping:
"There's really no explanation for why or what we need to do to fix it," said outfielder Craig Wilson. "I really don't know the reason. If we did know the reason we'd try to correct it.
"I don't know. This year we've just swung better against righties."
Listen to Rob, Craig, listen to Rob.
Jose Mesa is 38 and his bio indicates that his oldest son is 25. Could be from another marriage, could be that Mesa is more like 41. Still, the man's got some progeny. His 19-year-old son, Juan, worked out for the team. Scroll down here and read the ribbing he got for it. Pretty funny stuff.
I vote we bring back Mesa for next year. He'll be going for 300 saves. He likes it here and clearly he and Mac have a good-enough relationship. I doubt we need any more veteran help for 2005 though a left-handed power guy would be nice if Ward can't recapture the magic he had earlier in the year. But we could use Mesa for another go-round if he's not super-expensive. If he is, forget it, we'll be fine with the other guys we already have.
The test for Jerome Bettis is the collision. When he was the man, he'd smack into a defender or two and drive them backwards. Last year, too often he was the guy driven back. He always got his high per-carry average on those extra yards. Turn them into losses of one or even a half-yard at the end of the run and he's not much of an asset. I didn't see last night's game.
After the mistake they made with Rod Woodson, I respect the Steelers for not cutting Jerome Bettis while he's still eager to play. In the long run, it's worth it. But he's not going to be the starting running back if he can't knock people over.
Duce is a proven veteran in the good sense of the term. Dante Brown is back doing his preseason frenzy thing. And Verron Haynes is a Steeler power back waiting to happen. Haynes got more yards after contact than any other back in Georgia history. The man was a beast.
We should keep Jerome on the payroll but I don't want him carrying the ball while better options are on the team.
The Pirates were great last night so I blew off the Steelers. I did enjoy reading about the game, though, especially this part:
Replacing starter Tommy Maddox early in the second quarter, Roethlisberger threw his first pro touchdown pass -- it went for 7 yards -- to Antwaan Randle El. Roethlisberger then walked off the field without celebrating, as if he had done that sort of thing a million times.Better than the black-and-gold pinstripe suit he wore on draft day, this kind of thing will endear Ben to western PA and Steeler fans everywhere. More like this, Ben. Read this and more in today's recap by Ed Bouchette.
I have a powerful good feeling about this year but it won't help to alert the national media. No Monday night games? Beautiful. Maddox and a rookie at quarterback? Yeah, that's right. Distracting Madden-addicted wideouts? No better. So the official Honest Wags prophesy, complete with this last wink for insiders, will be a 5-11 season with the Steelers not winning a playoff game or two.