Saturday, January 15, 2005

It was the Jets who got lucky

Powered by Baltica 6 ... this is what I'm thinking as I can't sleep and can't enjoy the damn dome game.

This year, all NFL kickers were 185 for 257 in their attempts of field goals of 40-49 yards. That's a 72% success rate. We know Heinz Field is a tough place to kick. It's not a dome. The stadium is pretty open and exposed to winds. It's cold. Not many 40+ field goals are even attempted in Heinz Field. I'd guess the odds of any pro kicker making a 40+-yarder in the cold and in Heinz Field are closer to 50%. But throw all that out. Let's be generous. Let's assume that Brien had a 72% chance of making either one of those field goals. Odds of missing two in a row: 28% * 28% = 7.8%. Same odds as Jason Bay, a .280 hitter, getting two consecutive hits in a 2004 game.

There were eleven punts returned for a touchdown in the NFL in 2004. In 256 games. Odds of getting a punt return for a TD in a game: 11/256 or 4.3%.

There were 53 interceptions returned for touchdowns in the NFL in 2004. In 256 games. Odds of getting an INT run back for a TD in a game: 53/256 or 20.7%.

Odds of getting both a punt return TD and an interception return TD: 4.3% * 20.7% or 0.9%. Same odds as a pitcher or me or you or any other .094 hitter getting back-to-back hits in consecutive at-bats.

7.8% versus 0.9%. In any one game, a team is eight times more likely to miss two 40-49 yard field goals than they are to score on both a punt return and an interception return.

The Steelers weren't any more lucky to win the game than the Jets were lucky to be in it. But it was still a choke-a-thon. Both the Colts and the Patriots are sleeping a little easier tonight.


All hail the Steelers! File that one under "humbling."

Now to sleep it off ...

Steelers must prove themselves

All week we've been talking (not on the blog, of course, but out there in the scary world outside this virtual drinking room) about how everyone seems to be focussed on the Peyton Manning vs. Patriots game. Alan Robinson mentions this in his pre-game AP report. Some of it is enduring skepticism that a team can go far or win much with a rookie QB. But that's not all of it.

I'm not sure what's the rest of it.

Saturday News

I hear they are playing a football game today at 4:30pm. You might want to check it out.

There are some good reports up about the Pirates. Joe Rutter and Dejan Kovacevic have notebooks. Yes, the GM is still looking to make a trade. Yes, Mike Cameron is out there. Pre-arbitration negotiations continue. Kovacevic reports the Bucs are close to bringing in Albie Lopez.

The Bradenton Herald offers this report on Humberto Cota. Both Joe Rutter and Dejan Kovacevic report on the physical and mental shape of Daryle Ward. Ward is making notes in a little notebook about his goals. More players should do this.

At on the home page they are advertising ticket six-packs with a skeleton-head Pirate logo. Is this new or has this been an alternative logo for some time?

And all hail the Honus Wagner museum.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Marvin Miller

Here's to Marvin Miller. And here's to our still being here when we're 87.

And here's to Primer for posting that link.

Lynn Swann

Seen fighting junk food. He was one of my favorite players back in the day, but I'm not going to enjoy his career as a politician.

Wells signs one-year deal

Dejan reports this.

Lame "performance-enhancing drugs" agreement

Nothing there about amphetamines. The Bucs can have the Killer Coffee again in 2005.

Quote of the day, from this report by Kovacevic:

Asked about the new steroids program yesterday, Santiago replied, "If they want me to pee 10 times, I'll pee 10 times."
Amazing. Raise your hand if you can pee ten times in a row on demand. Now you know why they get the Big Bucks.

Wilson down 15 pounds

Give the man a chocolate malt. I don't like learning that the little guy is littler.

Venezuelan Vogelsong

Joe Rutter quotes Pete Mackanin, who coached Vogelsong in winter ball, with a less-than-ringing endorsement of the progess RV made:

Little by little, I think he understands it, but he didn't get the results we were looking for.

Ouch. Yet RV brought back a new pitch and a new grip. Story here.

First and third

Ed Eagle reports that third base is Wigginton's. He better outhit Mackowiak if he wants to hold onto it. Eagle also reports that Darlye Ward thinks his conditioning woes are behind him. We'll see soon enough.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Kip Wells: Key to 2005

Many stories on Kip Wells after he threw yesterday. Dejan Kovacevic, Ed Eagle, Joe Rutter, and the AP bring the news, which is good.

Mac is right here:

"Kip is big for us right now," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "We need for the guy to be healthy enough to make 32 starts. Our biggest concern for us going into spring training is having a healthy Kip Wells."
Yes, yes, yes. (Rutter has him saying 32-33, FWIW.)

Carpal tunnel release surgery, if my wife's midwife can be cited as an authority, is no big deal at all. The elbow is the thing we should watch.

I carp about the need for ten or twelve pitchers, but I think one of the keys to a winning season is having four or five guys making more than 25-30 starts for you. That's not only a sign that the pitchers are being effective. It's also a sign of the stability I think a team needs to prevent the long losing streaks which separate a 72-win team from an 88-win team.

That crazy Curve

What will they think of next?

Actually, that's not such a crazy idea. They can do better I think.

Brian Meadows gets paid

One more arbitration case settled.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Happy Pittsburgh

The New York Times describes the city and its relationship with the Steelers. Complete with picture of a Roethlisburger. Go read. Thanks, Joey G, for the link.

Duce and Jerome

Great picture on the wire. They look like brothers. The four raised eyebrows are good, too. This is better two-headed photography than the image that recently graced National Geographic Sports Illustrated.

Noonie a Cardinal

Story here. He strikes me as a Tony La Russa kind of player.

Kovacevic Q & A

Whoa. It's huge.

People are pissed; he's right about the anger thing. But I'd attribute some of the intemperance of commentary to inexperience. A lot of writers are driven to write and, when they start out, have a lot of passion and little practice restraining it. And nobody proofreads anymore. It's very easy to be a lot more harsh than we mean to be. It takes awhile to learn the strength of your punches.

Sean Burnett hanging out, not touching baseballs

Dejan Kovacevic reports on the laziness of Sean Burnett. When I was a kid, we got right back out there after Tommy John surgery, threw baseballs and what not until the horses got rootchie and raised a hell of a noise.

Seriously, get well Sean.

University of Torres

Joe Rutter reports that he's investing some of his new contract dough in the construction of a baseball academy near his home of San Pedro de Macoris, a bustling city and part of an area that "has supplied the greatest number of Major League players in the world."

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Eric Byrnes

Time for some shamelessly idle speculation. I don't routinely indulge in this kind of posting, but what the heck.

Both Athletics Nation and Baysball are expressing the belief that arbitration-eligible Eric Byrnes will be headed out of town. They regard the D'backs as the team most interested in him. They express some hope the D'Backs will part with one of their outfield prospects. They also think the A's might settle for one of the D'Backs middle infielders, such as 24-year-old Scott Hairston. If the Athletics are looking for a pre-arbitration infielder, we have a few of them. And one of them, Freddy Sanchez, has had a good reputation among sabermetric types since his days in the Boston system.

Eric Byrnes is no Magglio Ordonez, but he can play centerfield and he's been a fan favorite in Oakland. A right-hander, he smokes left-handed pitching. While he doesn't hit right-handed pitching as well, he's better than Tike Redman.

If the Bucs acquire a guy like Byrnes, that would squeeze Tike Redman off the roster, I think. It would also eat into the available playing time that will probably fall to Daryle Ward. So any trade for Byrnes would be Player plus (diminished use of Redman) plus (diminished use of Ward). Some of you would call that addition by subtraction. Others might think that's selling your stock prematurely low.

Either way, I'm of the opinion that the Pirates should be dealing prospects they don't look to use extensively. Sanchez fits that description. If he hangs around and gets 100 plate appearances with the big team this year, his trade value will only decrease. Prospects are overvalued on the current trade market since prospects and only prospects serve to "save face" for GMs who are dumping players primarily for salary reasons. If the A's have to throw Byrnes overboard to pay their new Japanese pitcher, they also have to get some kind of prospect in return.

We need our own prospects, of course, but there's no sense in having a ton of guys ready for playing time rotting in the system. We'll be featuring a bunch of guys far short of hoary veteran status: Jack Wilson, Jason Bay, Jose Castillo, Ty Wigginton, Rob Mackowiak, Oliver Perez, Mike Gonzalez, etc. The team needs to get better players onto the big-league roster. Trading surplus prospects while they have value makes sense to me. It may not go over well with the fans, and it may not fit the "rebuilding through the minors" message easily, but it surely is part of the way a team would rebuild through the minors. Assuming Byrnes is due for several millions in arbitration, and assuming the team has the money left, how many of you would agree that it would be wise to trade Freddy Sanchez for him?

[Please note: this isn't based on any rumors. The source of this "rumor" is me. Some press reports suggest a deal sending Byrnes to Arizona is all but done, and I've never seen any press reports suggesting the Pirates ever showed any kind of interest in Byrnes.]

...and it's not like Littlefield doesn't trade prospects. Check out the first question, on Jeff Keppinger, in the latest Mets Q & A.

Ed Eagle interviews Mac

Text here.

Bettis / Staley

No contest. Start Bettis. When the team gets a two-touchdown lead, pull him for Staley. No sense saving Bettis for the next game; if you don't win this one, there is no next game.

Steelers Nation

Fun photo collection at the PG.

Ritchie reports

From Kovacevic and Rutter and Perrotto. Reads like the team is still in the hunt for a fifth starter. Since it looks like Ritchie, Vogelsong, JVB, and possibly Kip Wells won't be ready in late March, I'd say we need one.

Jim Andrews operated on Todd Ritchie's rotator cuff in June 2003. Curiously, in "Redbook Redux," a April 14, 2003 article for Baseball Prospectus Premium, Will Carroll wrote that, when visiting with the Redbook people - the people who keep baseball's proprietary injury data - he learned that "Rotator cuff injuries are the easiest ones to say are preventable. Almost every rotator cuff tear is the result of either poor mechanics or overuse." A quick search of Carroll's archives shows that Jaret Wright, Zach Day, Casey Fossum, Steve Karsay, Pedro Astacio, Tony Armas, Orlando Hernandez, Robb Nen, Reds top prospect Chris Gruler, Eddie Guardado, and Joe Borowski are some other pitchers who have come back or not from some form of rotator cuff surgery. Maybe Will can update us on Ritchie's health when he gets back to writing his Under the Knife columns.

So now you know why Ritchie is talking about needing two years to come back. Jaret Wright had his rotator cuff surgeries in 2000 and 2001. I have no idea if his surgeries were very similar to what Ritchie experienced. Either way, I wish Ritchie the best.

Spanky in the booth

Bob Smizik reports it could happen. Kent Tekulve is another candidate.

Boras and Beltran

This Bob DiCesare comment on the Mets-Beltran agreement is relevant not because it suggests the astonishing fact that the Pirates were in on the Beltran bidding, but because Scott Boras represents Oliver Perez.

Wigginton and Mackowiak

Is it a platoon? I assumed it was but maybe that's not the way the team sees it now. Ed Eagle describes Ty Wigginton as the starter at third in his Q & A. I suppose "starter" could just mean the guy who plays there on Opening Day.

Wigginton, a right-handed hitter, hit lefties at a .272 / .343 / .453 rate the last three years. Mackowiak, a left-handed hitter, does not hit lefties. But he's been a .258 / .337 / .447 hitter against righties. And Wigginton has hit righties at a .259 / .317 / .415 rate. Combine them and, if they keep hitting at those rates, you have .788 OPS production at third base. Not great, but better than all-Wigginton all the time.

Maybe the Bucs see something in Wigginton's history against particular kinds of righties. Maybe they believe Wigginton has a edge over Mackowiak against these guys. Otherwise, I don't see why this won't shake out as a traditional platoon arrangement, with Mackowiak playing against righties and Wigginton playing against lefties. Since two-thirds of the pitchers are right-handed, that would seem to give more playing time to Mackowiak at third.

Defensive statistics, for what they are worth, suggest that Mackowiak, Mac's "best athlete," is the superior fielder at third. All the ones I can find favor Rob. Here, for example, he's listed as playing third with a .962 FPCT, a 2.78 range factor, and a .775 zone rating. Wigginton's fielding stats look like this: a .938 FPCT, a 2.62 range factor, and a .731 zone rating. Those are the 2004 numbers. Range factor is nothing but (putouts + assists) * 9 / innings, so for all we know, one guy has a higher zone rating because he more often played behind pitchers that put the ball in play. I don't know how the zone rating is figured. Regardless, it's hard to see a defensive edge for Wigginton in the numbers.

Ed Eagle quotes McClendon as describing Mackowiak as a player who can't get overexposed. By that, I'd guess he means "exposed to any left-handed pitching." Perhaps Mackowiak is considered a player with lower upside because of this. Perhaps there's reason to be hopeful that Ty Wigginton will continue to improve at the plate. Since both these guys are at the probable peak of their careers, odds are that they'll outperform, by a small amount, the three-year averages I just quoted. Certainly Wigginton's streakiness suggests that he still has something to learn. But some players start streaky and retire streaky. Some players never learn.

Wigginton and Mackowiak are pretty natural platoon partners, So why anoint one the starter? It's not at all clear to me that this has happened, but Ed Eagle's Q & A suggests that this is his take on the position.

Here's hoping that Wigginton has a breakout year in his 27th year. There's a chance. It could happen. Crazier things etc. etc. Otherwise, here's hoping that Mackowiak has the chance to challenge him for playing time every step of the way. All things being equal, the average player with the slightly better defense and the more common platoon split should wind up with a greater amount of playing time.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Todd Ritchie a Pirate

Signed to a minor-league deal. No surprise there.

J.R. House

Ed Eagle reports that House is on the Craig Wilson career path. Let your hair down, J.R.!


Press release here. The Buc-lywed Game sounds like a terrible idea. I don't even want to know more about it. Ah, just kidding. I'm sure it's just as much fun as Pirate Karaoke. Rowdietta, who clears 30 inches in shoes, would probably dig this.

The 2005 alternate uniforms have pinstripes.

Monday morning reading

Dejan Kovacevic describes the shape of the starting pitchers. When did we first learn that Kip Wells had an elbow problem in addition to a carpal-tunnel problem? I must have missed or forgotten that news. Burnett, of course, is out for awhile. JVB will come back slowly. And now Vogelsong's shoulder is tired. He only started about 34 games, summer and winter combined, so who knows what's up with him. He looks to start the year in the back of the bullpen. It's not hard to see why Littlefield wants to acquire another starting pitcher. You need about twelve of these guys to start the year even though you hope to never use your seven back-ups.

Around the blogs, bkopec has a herniated disc and is headed for the DL. Trev isn't sold on Jose Castillo and wants to see more Freddy Sanchez. Charlie answers the ten questions. For the front page at OnlyBucs, Richard A. Mathews has been profiling the players. While you are there, take a minute to admire this painting of Honus. It brings a tear to me eye. See Paul's other work, which is equally impressive, here. I find this one especially entrancing.

While we are talking art, don't miss "Creation of Big Ben". I was on an airplane and missed the game during which CBS featured that thing.

And did any of you New Yorkers get over to Brooklyn to see the Roberto Clemente exhibit (scroll down, under "Vamos!")? More here and here. Maybe it's Rowdietta's remarkable artistic talents, or maybe not, but these days I'm a real sucker for kid art. I'm sorry I missed the exhibition and wish they had some of the work posted online.

Back to football. For the Trib-Review, Bob Prine offers a valuable dissertation on the arguments against the NFL's current hard-salary-cap pay structure. It seems that the players pay a toll, physically, for their inability to miss games without having their pay docked. This leads me to wonder if the NFL shouldn't be reporting who will miss games with and without pay. When the Steelers decide to sit Burress, for example, does he take a pay cut for that game check? This doesn't appear to be a salary issue so much as it appears to be the NFL's management using the salary cap to crack down on suspected malingerers. Maybe I'm not following all the arguments. Anyone, there's the link for now. Don't miss it or file it away for later.

I'm not sorry the Astros won't get Carlos Beltran. The AP reports there that they may be using the "R-word" - rebuilding - more often. Lance Berkman tore his ACL washing his truck. Jeff Kent will make $8.5 million playing for Los Angeles. Wade Miller got cut. Clemens is on the fence. But they still have a former Bucco managing the team, and Jason Lane is not the worst option to plug into centerfield. The team re-signed Jose Vizcaino for $1.25M and Orlando Palmeiro for 800K. Hmmm. We'll see them six times before May 5. Hopefully Berkman won't come back until May 6.

It's getting time to look in at the other clubs. The Cubs let Moises Alou go to San Francisco. Insert pee joke here. Matt Clement went to Boston. They lose Grudz to St. Louis. Ramon Martinez was lured away by Detroit for one year and $1M. How is Abraham Nunez still out of work? Kent Mercker left Chicago for Cincinnati, yawn. The Cubs resigned Nomar, Neifi, Todd Hollandsworth, Glendon Rusch, Todd Walker, and Ryan Dempster. They also picked up Henry Blanco. I'm not sure if these moves make them a stronger or a weaker club though I'm tipping toward weaker since Matt Clement was solid for them. We see the Cubs for a three-game homestand starting April 15th.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

J - E - T - S

Looks like the Steelers will line up against the Jersey team, who won yesterday's choke-a-thon. To me, both the Jets and the Chargers looked like Losers coming out of that one.

But all I have to say now is this: There is no little enemy. The saddest-looking opponents are the most likely to surprise you in the playoffs.

Burnitz in centerfield

Dejan Kovacevic handicaps the chance the Bucs could land Burnitz to play centerfield. As long as his agent talks like the Pirates "are not a contending team," I say Burnitz can fuck off.

Craig Wilson bobblehead day June 4th. Long hair or short? After going over what the Bucs now have and how it might fit together on the field, I can't see how they can deal Wilson without getting someone just like him in return. Since he's good, I can understand Littlefield "shopping" him. You have to trade quality to get quality.


Gene Collier sheds some tears for the Pirates and their low payroll.

I'd be down with a salary cap; it has been good for football. But don't tell me you can't field a respectable baseball team on forty million dollars.

The part I most resent about this line of reasoning is that it exaggerates the gap between the Pirates and the rest of the league. In the recent Sports Illustrated sports atlas, they showed that our rust belt region tunes into less baseball than any other part of the country. Since our teams are the Tigers, the Brewers, the Reds, the Indians, and the Pirates, that can't be surprising.

The Bucs have fallen into a vicious cycle. They have a losing season. Fans and sportswriters get disgusted and stop paying as much attention. They have another losing season. Everyone pays less attention. Year after year, the level and accuracy of the discussion of the team sinks a little lower and a little lower. Fewer and fewer people know what's going on. Collier's review of the state of the team reminds me of a book review by someone who hasn't read the book carefully. All this crap about we don't have as much money amounts to little more than an elaborate rationalization to not pay attention to the team.

There's definitely some real-world, reality-based reasons so many people in Pittsburgh frame the state of the baseball team in these terms. But let's keep the political arguments off the field, OK? Stop crapping so near the well. Pirate fans who really want to hate on our Gilded-Age distribution of wealth should redirect their energy into support of their local unions. It would be much more effective and satisfying in that arena.

There were stretches in 2004 when the Pirates were as good as any team in the big leagues. Maybe they weren't as good on paper, but I remember, for example, a stretch last summer during which the Cardinals came to PNC and got swept. If you win seventeen or eighteen games out of twenty-one, that's as good as it gets. And that's what I live for. Sure it sucks that the team hasn't made the playoffs since they cut Tim Wakefield. But on any given summer evening, it's hard to think about the playoffs when there's a game on the field. Collier may think he's doing the team a service by calling attention to the fact that the Yankees have a bigger payroll. But who doesn't know that? We've heard about it ad nauseam.

I look forward to seeing the Bucs win in Yankee stadium. How sweet would a sweep be?