Saturday, January 08, 2005

Still to come: hitter and starter

Dejan Kovacevic covers the Jack Wilson press conference. Everyone seems to agree that centerfield is up in the air. Kovacevic also notes Littlefield may acquire a right-hander for first and/or the outfield. And he still expects to pick up a starting pitcher.

Any guess who we'll bring in? Here's a list of FA first basemen. Carlos Baerga!

Here are some FA pitchers. Jeff Fassero signed, but Omar Daal is still out there. Steve Sparks would look pretty intimidating in black-and-gold. Todd Ritchie? Estaban Loaiza?

Or maybe we'll find those players some other way. Maybe we can trade some of our ready-for-primetime prospects ...

Banged-up Bucs

Injury updates from Ed Eagle and Joe Rutter.

All hail Mark Guthrie

He did good.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

2005 playing time estimates, January edition

These playing time estimates were made consulting the fielding statistics available at the Pirates' team index page at Baseball-Reference. Playing time is measured in total plate appearances (at-bats plus walks plus hit-by-pitches plus nuts and bolts leftover from the latest car repair). The players are sorted from the most playing time to the least playing time.

The Pirates made 5743 PAs in 2004 (not counting the pitchers). These projections add up to 5750. They could have a few more - they had a game cancelled in 2004 and didn't score a lot of runs - but that strikes me as a good number to expect for next year, too, so I used it. They are distributed as 700 at first base and left field, 675 at every other position, and 300 pinch-hitting and miscellaneous at-bats. Odds are that the few positions stocked with the healthiest and best-hitting players will go over the 675 number. Looking at the players, I'd guess we'll go over that number at 2B and maybe at another outfield position. For sure, Lloyd McClendon won't manage 300 pinch-hitting plate appearances, and no one will get 100 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter. Since it's tough to forecast which positions will go over the 675 number, however, I'll lump the final 300 plate appearances into a pinch-hitting and miscellaneous category.

Spring training will change everything, of course. A close look at the team's current options will reinforce the expectation that David Littlefield will acquire a hitter, especially if one of the top five or six players gets injured before the season begins.

The players with numbers are the ones I'm guessing will make the 25-man roster at the end of Spring Training.

1. Jack Wilson: 650 PAs at shortstop (2004: 693 total plate appearances).

Jack Wilson looks to me like our only everyday player. Given McClendon's ongoing studies of mixing and matching and rotating and platooning and substituting, that's not a bad thing. 650 is the most I'd project for anyone. Jack gets that number.

2. Jason Bay: 400 in left, 200 in center (2004: 472).

Jason Bay only had 475 plate appearances last year. I expect McClendon to play him as much as possible. Until he has a 650 PA year, however, I don't think it's wise to project one for him. He was amazingly consistent month to month in 2004, but he did have the occasional stretch where he struck out seven times in ten at-bats. With so many outfielders, I expect he'll get a day off now and then. With no Randall Simon, I'm not sure who will sit him down for a hug and a pep talk. Pirate fans everywhere should hope that Bay can play a good centerfield in 2005. If not, see Tike Redman, below.

3. Craig Wilson: 200 at first, 350 in right, 25 in left, 25 pinch-hitting & misc. (2004: 644).

In 2004, Craig's fielding percentage was good at first, but his range factor was statuesque. In right field he was at least average. For that, I expect him to see most of his time out there. The possibility that McClendon will want to start Redman - in spacious parks, or because Redman got a big hit the day before - combined with the probable presence of a healthy Bay, a healthy Lawton, and a versatile Mackowiak - suggests to me that Wilson won't start full-time out there. Most likely, he moves around. Give the man some love: he is as important to the offense as anyone on the team. Hopefully we'll see more of the Jim Thome impression he performed in the first half of 2004.

4. Jose Castillo: 525 at second, 25 at third (2004: 414).

Jose Castillo could change his name to Warren Morris and only earn about 300 plate appearances, or he maybe he'll play 95% of the innings at second and have a breakout year. I'm guessing he's on the Jack Wilson career path. Jack Wilson jumped from about 400 PAs in his rookie year to about 550 in his sophomore year. I have a hunch that he'll play some innings at third.

5. Rob Mackowiak: 100 in right, 50 in left, 325 at third, 50 in center (2004: 555).

Mackowiak's defensive numbers suggest that he could play more 3B in 2005 than he did in the Chris Stynes-afflicted 2004 season. With Stynes out of the equation, he should. If Rob's fielding percentage and range factor are correct in their suggestion that he's at least average over there, then he's better than Wigginton. My guess is that Rob and Ty both hit in the neighborhood of a 330 OBP and a 440 SLG, so the rotation at third base could well depend upon who was slick with the glove or hot with the bat the night before. Mackowiak's fielding percentage and range factor in the outfield were mixed. He looked pretty good in left but not so good in center or right. Overall the numbers suggest that he's pretty average out there. Assuming that Craig Wilson and Matt Lawton are still around after the trade deadline, this season Mackowiak won't have as many opportunities to play a corner outfield post.

6. Ty Wigginton: 100 at first (?!), 300 at third, 50 at second (2004: 206 with the Bucs, 339 with the Mets).

Can Ty Wigginton, a second-baseman moved to third, play first base? He did some for the Mets. Looking for ways to get him into the lineup, I figure that if Mackowiak plays as much as he did last year, Wigginton may be hard-pressed to get the same amount of PT he got with the Mets and Pirates combined in 2004. So I'm giving him 100 plate appearances as a weak-hitting first baseman to get him up to a 450 PA projection. It looks like there may be time at first, too. First, I want to be conservative with estimations of Ward's time there. Second, I also think Craig Wilson will be needed in right field, because I don't want to predict that Lawton, who has a history of missing time, will be an everyday player for us. This leaves a little gap at first. Littlefield talks about acquiring a power-hitting first-baseman, so perhaps this is reserved for him. Or, maybe the time here will filled by another of the team's trademark super-subs. Or these 100 plate appearances at first could easily go to Craig Wilson, if someone like Lawton or Redman exceeds expectations. Or they could go to a minor-league call-up like Brad Eldred.

7. Matt Lawton: 225 in right, 200 in left, 25 pinch-hitting & misc. (2004: 665 with the Tribe).

Lawton wore down after All-Star break in 2004. More frightening: his second-best comp at Baseball-Reference is Derek Bell, who shut it down at the age of 32. Lawton will be playing his 33rd year. I don't think he'll break down, but I also don't think he'll play 150 games in the field. We're desperate for plate discipline and he could fit that need. Lawton could be a hero if he can manage a .370 OBP – his career average – leading off.

8. Tike Redman: 425 in center (2004: 581)

I'm guessing his role will be reduced somewhat with a healthy Jason Bay to play some center. I see him moving toward a Kerry Robinson-type fourth outfielder role. If Lawton can't play the outfield very well, then Bay has to spend more time in left. Redman and maybe Mackowiak would then see more time in centerfield.

9. Benito Santiago: 375 catching, 25 pinch-hitting & misc. (2004: 183).

400 plate appearances for the Old Man may be optimistic.

10. Darlye Ward: 350 at first, 50 pinch-hitting & misc. (2004: 321).

A ballplayer needs three things to succeed in the show: athletic ability, competitive knowledge, and the will to maintain professional work habits. Ward has shown that he can hit the ball, when healthy and in shape. As the son of a ballplayer, Ward strikes me as someone who knows how to succeed in the majors. It's the third component, willpower, that I'd question with Daryle Ward. After getting sent to the minors at the end of Spring Training, Ward appeared in some stories as a character who looked in the mirror and turned over a new leaf (after throwing some tantrums). First of all, no pro gets so out of shape. And second of all, no pro throws that kind of tantrum when he's demoted. Both facts show that what he lacked in willpower, he made up in self-delusion. On the other hand, he was very impressive when he stormed back in May of 2004 before hurting his hand. I believe the changed-man narrative that came with the May surge, and I expect him to have a few surprisingly productive years. The playing time estimate (400 total PAs) reflects pros and cons. To his credit, I believe that he'll hit pretty well. If he hits as well as he's capable of hitting, he'll be a hero. He'll get all the PT he can handle, too. Even if he only manages 400 plate appearances, he could be a bargain at under one million if he hits for power. Working against a more generous PT projection is his history of injury and his defensive shortcomings. Ward had a horrible zone rating in the outfield last year; I'm assuming his days out there are over. And he wasn't that good at first base, so he's worth yanking for a defensive replacement.

11. Humberto Cota: 250 catching (2004: 70).

Cota has less than 120 big-league plate appearances and a history of getting injured often. His cut of the catching duties could easily fall to J.R. House or Ronny Paulino.

12. Bobby Hill: 100 at second, 100 pinch-hitting & misc. (2004: 267).

Bobby Hill will have to keep up his torrid pinch-hitting to get this much PT in that department because McClendon will have more and better pinch-hitting options this year. The pinch-hitting is sure to improve from the 2004 campaign led by Abraham Nunez. Hill doesn't have a great defensive reputation, but perhaps that's unfair. His fielding percentage and range factor were both above-average in 2004. He could pick up another 100-150 plate appearances if one of the above players gets injured and misses a substantial amount of time.

AAA. Brad Eldred: 50 at first (2004: 0).

Eldred will get a big cup of Joe if the Pirates fail to acquire another power-hitting first baseman before the trade deadline.

13. Freddy Sanchez: 25 at short (2004: 20).

Someone will have to pick up the few innings at short when Jack Wilson comes out of the game or needs a day off. It will be interesting to see who makes the Opening Day roster as the backup shortstop. Sanchez could be the thirteenth position player if McClendon is comfortable with two catchers. If he does make the Opening Day roster, I imagine the team will find a way to get him more than 25 plate appearances over the course of the season. Perhaps they'll trade one of their utility players in a package for a power hitter if Sanchez looks ready for even more time.

AAA. J.R. House: 25 catching (2004: 9).
AAA. Ronny Paulino: 25 catching (2004: 0).

House and Paulino will probably get some playing time if/when Benito or Humberto go on the disabled list. If they start the year in the minors, both these guys should have a bag packed for the next flight out of town.

Right now, I project no playing time for Bautista, Doumit, R. Davis, Duffy, or McLouth. Right now, it looks to me like those guys need a trade, an injury or two (injuries will happen), or some kind of stellar start to find their way into the 2005 lineup.

Minor-league signings

In addition to the Jack Wilson signing, the Bucs also signed some minor-leaguers (thank you Clay). Meanwhile, the Astros signed Carlos Rivera

Jack gets two years

Alan Robinson has the non-details here. Dejan Kovacevic has the scoop on the salary information for the PG. Littlefield appears to have gotten what he wanted.

...the AP revised their story to include more financial details. Good work, Alan Robinson.

...did Jack get a no-trade clause? Is it me or do these terms say "hometown discount"?

Dodger-Pirate Thoughts

In keeping with our new blog name and marketability, it's time to turn our attention to the Los Angeles Dodger-Pirates. Here are some topics we might discuss.

First, contrary to what's been said on all the discussion boards, we reject the notion that the Dodger-Pirate is a figment of our imagination. No less an authority than Robert Louis Stevenson, for example, writes

"If it's the only course that we can lie, sir, we must even lie it," returned the captain. "We must keep upstream. You see, sir," he went on, "if once we dropped to leeward of the landing-place, it's hard to say where we should get ashore, besides the chance of being boarded by the gigs; whereas, the way we go the current must slacken, and then we can dodge back along the shore."
Obviously, dodging and piracy have a long and shared history.

Now let's turn our attention to the larger, more marketability club we intend to cover here at Los Angeles Wagner of Honest.

A. The Aramis Beltre fiasco. When will the Dodger-Pirates do anything to show their fans that we intend to compete with the big-market clubs? It's one thing to pass on the overpriced likes of Alex Rodriguez. It's another to give away your homegrown talent for nothing. Where will we find a third baseman to replace him?

B. The Jason Lo Duca trade. What exactly can fans of the Dodger-Pirates expect without our heart, soul, and backstop? What do we have to show for this trade? Obviously Brad Redman didn't like pitching on the West Coast. Can we expect him to re-discover the groove he had pitching for the Los Angeles Marlins of Florida?

C. Now a bit of news that is more fun. A friend of mine in Los Angeles of Aspen says that Craig Seop Choi, who been skiing there lately, has grown a full head of long, flowing blond locks. He needs a new nickname. What do you think of "Chore"?

These are just a few topics we might discuss. They are just a start. If you have other ideas that might get the ball rolling, please include them in the comments.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

New Blog Name

Today we announce that we are changing the blog name to Los Angeles Wagner of Honest. The name change will strengthen the blog's long-term economic health by enhancing the marketability through this metropolitan area and beyond. This change is effective January 5, 2004.

How to beat the Steelers

Peter King wrote this on Monday, but I missed it until today.

Kovacevic drives in two

Dejan Kovacevic (does it rhyme with copacetic?) brings us two bundles of Pirates news-joy today. First, some details about one-year contracts, complete with griping agents. Second, his first-ever Q & A, in which he cops out and has the nerve to ask us the questions! Talk about mailing it in.

Copying & answering questions has a long if undistinguished history on blogs. Here are my answers.

1. Who deserves most of the blame for the Pirates' inability to win since moving into PNC Park?

A. Satan? No, seriously, the blame would have to go to the people who signed the bad players to ridiculous contracts. I'd also note that they have only played four seasons in PNC Park. It's not like the Pirates have been losing there for 86 years.

2. When you see young players excel, as have Oliver Perez, Jason Bay, Jose Castillo, Jack Wilson and Mike Gonzalez, do you find reason for hope? Or do you just picture how they will look in another uniform?

A. That's a leading question. If I was a lawyer, I'd object to that line of questioning. Now, to answer. With enough beer in me, I can find reason for hope watching the Parrot dance on the top of the dugout.

3. For old-timers only: Can you recall any Pirates player between Ralph Kiner and Perez who single-handedly drew Pittsburgh fans to the ballpark?

A. Uh. Pass.

4. What are your choices for Dave Littlefield's best and worst personnel moves in his tenure? This does not have to be limited to trades. It also can be an internal move (keeping Castillo in the majors last year, Rule 5 fiasco, drafting Neil Walker, whatever).

A. Right off the top of my head, the Giles trade ranks as the best and the Aramis trade ranks as the worst.

5. In your mind, which prospect in the organization who has yet to appear in a major-league game has the greatest potential?

A. Zach Duke?

6. If Major League Baseball shut down for a full season or more when its current Basic Agreement expires in a couple of years, and you had reason to believe that the end result would be a salary-cap system, how would you react during the work stoppage?

A. Watch hockey games? Play Yahoo! scrabble? A salary cap would be fine with me. I would find another hobby for the work stoppage.

7. For season-ticket holders only: Is there anyone 18 or younger in Pittsburgh who cares about the Pirates? I am not talking about kids who get dragged there by their parents and roll their eyes when dad starts talking about how Bill Madlock once said that hitting a sac fly is the easiest thing in baseball. I am talking about passionate, stats-keeping, analyze-every-move, Bay-jersey-wearing fans.

A. Why is this question for season-ticket holders only?

8. Who should start in center field? For that matter, what should the outfield look like? Feel free to throw in a free agent you think the Pirates should sign or acquire through trade. But be realistic. No Beltran.

A. A lot depends on Matt Lawton's ability, range, and throwing arm. My guess is the team plans to rotate Bay, Lawton, Craig Wilson, Tike Redman, and maybe some Rob Mackowiak in the outfield. Redman's a low-budget Kerry Robinson-type; he can play center as a defensive replacement. I don't see any centerfield FAs the Bucs "should" or will acquire before opening day.

9. How do you feel about the Pirates' decision to delay signing Perez to a long-term contract? Is it a needless risk that could cost the team money in the long run? Or a shrewd show of patience?

A. Two words: Scott Boras. This is a trick question outside that context. Even if we thought the Pirates should negotiate now, the odds are against Boras letting his client sign for anything less than insane terms. Boras is on the record gloating about what a great thing it is to be a starting pitcher and a free agent. It's not right to frame the Oliver Perez situation as one in which the front office has a range of options. I'd even guess that Littlefield's decision to not participate in negotiations now is mainly sour grapes - he must know that he's in no position to get anything done with Perez right now.

10. A purely selfish one: What would you like to see in the Post-Gazette's coverage of the Pirates in 2005? Over the years, suggestions made to the Penguins Q&A have led directly to regular features in the newspaper. Among them were a minor-league notebook, nearly every element of our Sunday hockey page, specific story angles, the recent Penguins in Exile feature and a slew of other stuff. I would like to encourage that type of communication here.

A. The Post-Gazette should feature what fans can't get from other sources, e.g., information and analysis from players, the manager, other clubhouse folks, former players, the GM, etc.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Steeler links a-blazin'

Here's what I found on the internets.

First a word about registration. If you are one of those people who has trouble reading different papers because you aren't registered for many, or hate to register for them, visit this great site and thank me later.

Dolores Block of Shaler won 33 grand because the Steelers scored 33 in that win against the Giants. I used to work at a bar that was said to sell more Rolling Rock than any other establishment in the country. I love the stuff cold, in bottles, in the summer. When I lived in London I read a review in Time Out that said the beer tasted like "hay." Uh, yeah. British people.

Looks like Hines Ward will be on Wheel of Fortune.

Jon Gruden will root for the Steelers in the playoffs. I understand the bias. If you coach the Bucs, it must be hard to not like the Steelers too.

The Browns want Russ Grimm. Of course they do.

The team nutritionist appears to be a big fan of Weight Watchers. Note to Daryle Ward: call her. Offer a cut of the raise you might receive for 2006.

Ben Roethlisberger is rich. File that under "D" for "Duh."

Alan Robinson, football writer extraordinaire for the Associated Press, writes up Jeff Reed, who is good. I'm generally shocked that sports teams don't spend more time and money educating their players against superstition. I'd start by making them memorize the definition of the word.

This was yesterday, but I missed it then. Michael Wilborn of the Washington Post predicts good things for the team in the playoffs. For some reason, none of the talk like this unnerves me this time around. It's kind of like reading articles that say the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.

One last link. The Steelers and "slumping Pittsburgh" have made the Christian Science Monitor.

Catching up with Spanky

The Bradenton Herald has a story.

He's only 44. How old is Santiago again?

Very positive conversations with most everybody

Joe Rutter reports on the negotiations with the arbitration-eligible. Also explained is Jack Wilson's mysterious extra year of arbitration eligibility.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Groundhog Day

I'd like to see Bill Murray tackling this day after day.

Don't wait until next year

Steeler schedule for the 2005 regular season. HOME: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Tennessee, New England, Chicago, Detroit. AWAY: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Houston, Indianapolis, San Diego, Green Bay, Minnesota.

Ed Eagle mailbag

Ed Eagle looks at the outfield and writes a bit about Brad Eldred.

I'm all about Jack Wilson. I never doubted the staying power of his breakout year, and I think he's shown that he's someone the team can build around. But here's a PR question Eagle's comments raise with me: Why does the team need to have "a face"? A related question - to what extent can the front office (successfully) determine who that face is going to be? If the 2004 Pirates had a face, for most baseball fans it was Randall Simon, not Jason Kendall. Jack Wilson is worth good money, but I don't get the rationale that he's worth extra because he's "the face" of the team. Such extra money would be better spent on uniform and logo design. That's my hunch at least.


The good chance of a winning season is one of the reasons I'm filled with irrational exuberance about the 2005 team. Jim Molony frames the upcoming year as one in which the team could make a run at .500. Low expectations are a good thing since they are more rarely disappointed.

But taking any given ballclub and forecasting a .500 season strikes me as an always-conservative enterprise. It's akin to predicting an NFL team will score 17 to 21 points. Or projecting that Average Man will lose most of what he brought during his weekend at Vegas. Or predicting that it will be very cold on New Year's Day. A team has to be pretty wretched to not have at least a 45%-55% of finishing at .500. That's my sense of it.

The current team is not wretched so again I'd handicap their chances of a .500 season at something like 50-50. Over the last twelve years or so, maybe there have been four or five teams that weren't wretched at the start of the year. The fact that none of them finished above .500 is unfortunate but no great improbability. A quarter can come up heads five times in a row. That kind of improbability happens every day. It's easy to be a fatalist and think that the team didn't reach .500 in all of those years because those teams never had a chance of reaching .500. But my experience as a sporting fan rejects that logic. To me, that's like losing twelve straight hands of blackjack and chalking it up to your genetics. It's an overreaction to what probably included some usual dose of ill luck.

I also thought that the team underperformed in 2004. Injuries, a cruel schedule, and unexpected extremities of performance added to a sense of anxiety that appeared, to me, to prolong the losing streaks. Every sub-.500 team can say that. If the rotation stays reasonably healthy and if we aren't watching the likes of Nelson Figueroa come September, I think it's no great feat of irrational optimism to expect something close to a .500 season. If the horses are healthy and the team looks game at the end of March, I'll probably forecast something like 85 wins. As Ty Wigginton would reason, they're due.

Sunday, January 02, 2005


Great story from Clark Judge of CBS Sportsline. Here we go ...

All hail Dejan

Mega-useful notebook. If Ollie has a 2005 that is as good as his 2004, he's worth whatever he can win in arbitration. I'd like to see the team roll the dice and not grimace if they lose their attempt to keep down his 2006 salary.

The Boras factor considerably raises the risks associated with signing a young player long-term. When the long-term deal talks open - after next year, or after a year or two at arbitration-determined salaries - you know Scott will bust out the PowerPoint presentation projecting Ollie as a certain Hall-of-Famer. There will be a cheesy fade at the end where Ollie's smiling mug blurs into a Photoshop-generated brass plaque. And Boras will ask for the sun and the moon.

And all hail Jose Castillo, who knocked the snot out of the ball this winter. Look for him to outperform expectations in 2005. Go get him in your deep keeper leagues.

While we are making hasty toasts, all hail the Steelers JV as well.