Saturday, January 29, 2005

Good morning

Welcome to the weekend. Four new stories are worth attention.

First, Dejan Kovacevic files his version of the funny water story. McClatchy was speaking at an annual luncheon for the Pirates media. The remarks were almost certainly prepared or premeditated then.

McClatchy argues that the other owners "can't control themselves" and Kovacevic lines up the eye-raising signings in Florida, Arizona, and Cincinnati. I would think the Bucs should be thrilled to see Cincinnati throw that kind of money at Eric Milton - maybe now they won't be able to afford Adam Dunn. Is the threat of one of those teams going bankrupt and costing the Pirates a share of the liability real?

Jack Wilson's strength, conditioning, and stamina are not there because of his appendectomy. I'm not expecting him to repeat the torrid start he had in 2004.

Hard not to like the new pinstriped home jerseys.

Tike Redman says that everyone knows he can hit and he admits his defense "slacked off" in the second half. The Pirates are talking to Jeromy Burnitz, reports Kovacevic. He also does the best of the various back-of-the-envelope payroll calculations:

The Pirates have $29.29 million committed to the 12 players signed for the coming season, minus an unknown portion of Lawton's $7.25 million salary that will be paid by the Cleveland Indians. If the final 13 players on the major-league roster are paid close to the minimum salary of $316,000, the total payroll would be $33.4 million minus the Lawton portion.

The team has projected that the payroll would end up close to $40 million, which would appear to leave Littlefield enough room to fulfill his wish list of a power bat and another starting pitcher.

So the Bucs are planning to spend as much as $6M-$12M on two players.

Burnitz doesn't appeal to me. I don't like acquiring guys fresh off seasons at altitude (think Chris Stynes) and Burnitz had his agent disrespecting the Pirates earlier in the offseason. Even if we could sign him for a reasonable price, we'd probably wind up with a grouser, a malingerer, or some other kind of unwelcome clubhouse presence. You can't hire players that regard the team as some kind of joke.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Get Your Monkeys

Tango posted a set of Marcel the Monkey forecasts. I should read Primer more often.

News from the Caravan

Leeeny has posted.

3:36 pm

Roger Mooney brings this great story in the Bradenton paper about the group of old-timers who gather 'round the old left-field wall to listen to the 1960 World Series finale.

Drank Some Funny Water

Kevin McClatchy wants a salary cap.

What was the context of these remarks? Here he looks skeptical last May. Evidently, no cameras were present to snap a more recent photo - this is all ESPN has on their wire. Did he call a press conference and stage these remarks? How did these thoughts come to appear on the AP wire this evening? I must be missing some part of the story.

Ed Eagle also has the story. I'm not sure who had it first, Eagle or Alan Robinson of the AP. Maybe they wrote it together over a bottle of funny water.

Bobby Hill and Jose Castillo

We need better defensive statistics. We often hear about how bad or limited Bobby Hill looks out at second, and how good or promising Jose Castillo looks out there. But what do our numbers say?

Here's another tidbit from the Bill James Handbook which I grudgingly admire in so many ways. Castillo played 951 innings at second base. His fielding percentage was .980 and his Range, and I sure don't know how they compute that for this book, was 5.03. Middle of the pack for second basemen.

Bobby Hill's fielding percentage was .994 and his range was 5.61 in 255 innings. That's better than Castillo and better than Castillo.

Was Castillo better at turning the double play? He turned 81 in 951 innings. That's one every 11.7 innings. Hill turned 22 in 255 innings. That's one every 11.6 innings. Hmmm.

How does that grab you?

FWIW, I still think Castillo has more potential with the bat. And Bobby Hill was one hell of a pinch-hitter in 2004.

Friday Piracy news

Rob Biertempfel tells us about Ollie's offseason. Sam Ross Jr. reports on the Caravan. Dejan does as well for the PG. Kovacevic also follows up on JVB's labrum surgery, which went well enough. The Bucs signed Rick White and Andy Wilson, Jack's brother, to minor-league deals.

Kovacevic also reports that season ticket sales are picking up. The team hopes to average 25K per game this year.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Leeeny off schmoozing

I'll be curious to hear how her Thursday night schmooze session went.

P1r4t3s

Via Boing Boing, Pirates of the Caribbean, translated into "hacker."

Gibbs: d00d y0u w4nt teh bl4ck p34rl 4g4in????//
Cap'n Jack: y34h i g0t s0m3 l3v3r4g3
Gibbs: ok ill g3t s0m3 cr4zy d00ds t0g3th3r
The Good Pirates: 4rrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!111
Cap'n Jack: i m teh cr4zy
Will: d00d wtf wtf??
Gibbs: j4ckz 4 l1ttl3 w31rd
Will: y34h, t0tlly
Gibbs: b4rb0ss4 fuxx0r3d h1m
Will: suxx0r

I guess I shouldn't be surprised to learn that hackers are fans of p1r4c33.

Pitchouts

I'm not a big fan of the Bill James Handbook, which I purchased, sight unseen, because I heard it had lefty/righty splits for ballpark effects. The book looks slapped-together and there are some really worthless things in it. (More on that later, maybe.) On the other hand, I would buy it again. It wasn't that expensive and it's my conviction that you can never have too many books. And it's full of little tidbits of statistical trivia worth considering. Pitchouts provide one example.

First, the park effect thing. FWIW, PNC, the last three years, played well for average for both lefties and righties, with index scores of 106 and 102. But it depressed home run totals, with index scores of 94 and 89. In other words, despite the short trip to the right-field porch, PNC hitters have not been clubbing a lot of home runs from the left-handed side of the plate. And it's even tougher for right-handers, who hit 10% fewer home runs in PNC than they did in the average park. In 2004, the score was 83, which I think has to do with the nasty weather the team experienced - remember the black clouds that followed them everywhere? And all that said, singles aren't tough to find. It's a small-ball park.

Anyway, the thing I wanted to post about is the pitchout numbers, which are provided in a section of managerial stats. The Pirates were among the league leaders in pitchouts in 2004 - by a pretty wide margin. Dusty Baker's team called 56 and Mac's team called 55. Felipe Alou's Giants? 2. Bruce Bochy's Padres? 14. Larry Bowa's Phillies? 23. Bob Brenly's D'Backs? 25. Bobby Cox's Braves? 4. Phil Garner's Astros? 7 (in 74 games). Art Howe's Mets? 19. Clint Hurdle's Rockies? 11. Tony LaRussa's Cardinals? 4. Jack McKeon's Marlins? 19. Dave Miley's Reds 8, Frank Robinson's Expos, 1, Jim Tracy's Dodgers, 7.

So the NL breaks down into teams that called pitchouts a lot (the Cubs and the Pirates) and teams that called hardly any. And there also appears to be a correlation between the success of a given team and the number of pitchouts. The playoff teams called relatively few. The champs called only four - and that from a manager with a reputation for tinkering.

More curious is the fact that the pitchout numbers plummeted for many of those guys. Tony LaRussa called 79 in 1997. Dusty Baker called 96 in 1996. Bruce Bochy called 65 in 1996. Phil Garner called 82 in 1996. Jimy Williams called more than 100 in 2000 and 2001 but only 16 in his 88 games last year. Clearly the pitchout is on the wane.

Now, I hate the pitchout. It's the two-point conversion of baseball with more of the risk and less of the thrill. It's not a good percentage play, especially when you are managing a team with guys who can struggle to throw strikes. Why give away a ball?

Here's my questions about this. (1) Jason Kendall's caught stealing rate shot up last year. Were they calling a lot of pitchouts - relative to the rest of the league - to help pad those numbers? He had a reputation for having a rag arm. Did they rehabilitate that just in time to trade him? (2) Why have managers like Tony LaRussa abandoned the pitchout? The drop in pitchouts is widespread enough. The reason should be fairly common knowledge. (3) Will the Pirates call so many pitchouts this year?

I hope not.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

John Perrotto all burnt out

John Perrotto taunts the rest of the staff in the toy department.

Obviously, I think, he doesn't "get it." File that one under "misanthropy." How can you love the sport and hate the fans?

Nevermind - that combination is common enough. Misanthropes abound in all escapist communities.

John Perrotto does great work. But maybe it's time for a vacation?

If so, he better hurry. Spring training is just around the corner.

... now, maybe I rushed to judgment there. Perrotto's almost chummy in his Baseball America chat.

JVB out

No maybes about it. Ed Eagle has the story.

PECOTA projections released

By the email they send to subscribers, I was just told that Baseball Prospectus has released their 2005 50th-percentile PECOTA projections. This is the fourth set of projections I've looked at so far this off-season - first, the ones mysteriously slapped into the Bill James Handbook; second, the ZiPS forecast from Baseball Primer; third, the forecasts in Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster, and now these.

The only surprise that jumps out at me is Brad Eldred. PECOTA loves him, projecting 20 doubles and 20 homers in only 364 at-bats. With 127 strikeouts for a final line of .256 / .326 / .485. Not too shabby.

All the forecasts which fail to work with last-minute playing-time adjustments fail to impress me, overall. Why 364 at-bats? All the systems generate those numbers by comparing the player's profile to that of other players. Or so I gather. Of the 20 guys most like Eldred, that's the rough average of the playing time they received in the year after they put up stats that were so like Eldred.

These aren't forecasts so much as they are ways of summarizing what the player's career has been recently. PECOTA says that Eldred has shown enough power. We should focus on that and not on his inability to make contact. Guys like Eldred have hit enough big-league doubles and homers to be useful. Using PECOTA as evidence in a Brad Manifesto, demanding that management release Daryle Ward and give Brad the first 350 at-bats at first base, would be totally naive.

Here are some other general thoughts I have about forecasts. First of all, you have to read everything at Tango's link on the right. The difference between all the forecasting systems isn't as great as you'd think. But it can be significant.

The Bill James forecast bugs me because there's no explanation of a methodology. They just magically appear. I find Shandler's book appealing and compelling because so much of the methodology is explained. I don't know enough about how the ZiPS forecasst is put together, but it appears to be some kind of juiced-up Marcel the Monkey. The PECOTA system creeps me out because it smacks of eugenics and late-nineteenth-century social Darwinism. I believe it is the only system to put great weight on a player's height and weight. This is why we're always hearing that Khalil Greene is too big for a shortstop. Or is he too slow? Memory fails.

There may some advantage to this system. Only time will tell. The 2004 PECOTA forecasts did not impress me terribly much. There were some hits but there were some misses. And worse, there were a lot of fools who wouldn't believe their lying eyes because players were outperforming their PECOTA forecasts. So that besmirched their reputation a little more for me. The BP guys have struggled to balance their snake-oil hyperbolic marketing against its disciple-producing embarrassments. If they want to be taken as scholarly and serious, they will need to be more scholarly and serious as they market their product.

All that said, maybe PECOTA will start kicking ass right now.

In the meantime, I'm a little creeped out by the decision to only compare guys who are six-four two-hundred to other guys in that ballpark. Perhaps I am too sensitive. Scouts have been looking at size and weight distribution for years and years so there must be something to it. When will PECOTA only compare pear-shaped players, then, to other pear-shaped players? Or barrel-chested guys only to other barrel-chested guys? Are all 200-pounders really that much more alike than any other subset of guys in the 180-to-220 range?

The rigid comparison of players only to other players of the same baseball age creeps me out too. Don't we all know twenty-six year-olds with bodies that look twenty-one? Or forty-four? Just because peak years, on average, tend to clump together, that doesn't mean that everyone's body ages and matures on the same clock. Last I checked, for example, there was no one age when (a) puberty begins or (b) hair falls out. Maybe Brad is an "old" 24-year-old. I don't know. But it does sound like Neil Walker is a young 19 or whatever he is.

There's also the issue of treating height and weight and age as definite facts with the same precision as, say, the number of strikeouts someone accumulated. Players change weight over the course of a season. Folks lie about their heights and weights - pretty much everyone fudges a little bit. One guy listed as "200" may really be 210 for most of the season; another one might be 190. At least half of all the guys who claim to be six feet tall are really five-eleven. And many of the foreign-born players fudged their age to prolong their prospect status. For such reasons, I don't see the justification to give such weight to physical profile when making a projection.

Any pearls of wisdom, dear readers, on the subject of the various competing projection systems? Has Rotowire released theirs yet? My subscription lapsed so I don't know.

Eagle on the outfield

Ed Eagle reviews the outfield situation. Eagle talks in plain language about Tike Redman's disappointing defense.

The headline for Eagle's piece strikes me as spot on. Littlefield's favorite term for having "a margin for error" is "flexibility." Or so I interpret all that talk about needed more flexibility.

Call me a geek, but I'm pretty excited about the addition of Ben Grieve.

Read the book, Anthony

Another great Q & A with DAY-un Kovacevic.

I share the optimism for Jose Castillo.

One Anthony gets a nice read-the-friggin'-manual answer, too.

And somehow he finds a way to talk about hockey, hockey, hockey. He must be homesick. Don't tell me the honeymoon is over already!

JVB, torn labrum, same sentence

Dejan reporting bad news.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

All hail Mike Webster

Greg Garber's five-part biography begins here.

Rest in peace, Mike.

Bucs add Ben Grieve

Some of you predicted this - kudos for that.

Red rover, red rover, Ben Grieve come over. Grieve, the 1998 AL Rookie of the Year, will provide a reality-check for Jason Bay, who still has a long way to go as he establishes himself as an enduring and productive big-leaguer.

Grieve's comparable players - see the above link - are pretty good. This is another good low-risk, high-upside signing. Grieve is no savior but he has a great career OBP. Like Matt Lawton, he's of more value to the impatient young Pirates team than he would be to many other teams. We need more guys who can set an example of working the count. Craig Wilson has decent on-base skills but leaning in and getting hit by a pitch is not a method that will work for everyone.

Grieve's one of the new generation of low-BA, high-OBP hitters that don't impress too many people because he strikes out a lot. And like Mackowiak, who now avoid arbitration after getting a sweet raise, Grieve hasn't been able to hit left-handed pitching. That said, he crushed lefties in the very few at-bats he was given against them last year.

Hitting lefties or not hitting lefties, he's a player that fits with Mac's Shuffle Boogie management philosophy. Give us all your guys with vicious platoon splits. There's no doubt they are undervalued on the free agent market.

Now, what's the story with his defensive ability? I remember him being described as a statue in the Oakland outfield. Anyone have any good idea how his defensive abilities rate? Does he have a good arm? What does it say on his Strat card?

Monday, January 24, 2005

Congratulations 2005 World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers!

Steeler fans everywhere awoke this morning hungover and beaming with pride, basking in the beatific vision of another world championship. The title was sealed before kickoff on Sunday, as the lowly Eagles thumped the even-more-lowly Falcons. The Eagles win left the Eagles and the Pats as the only two potential championship challengers. However, players, coaches, and fans alike all recognized the obvious:

"We killed both those teams already. We're the champs!," concluded one jubilant fan. "The Steelers are the best team in the NFL," quipped Bill Belichick. "There's no way we could ever beat them." The Steelers were seen celebrating their fifth world championship during pre-game warm-ups. "We were really happy, knowing we were the best and all that. We just wanted to go out in this meaningless 'playoff' game and have fun," giggled a defensive back. "Ben was real loose, and was just enjoying himself. In the huddle he was all like 'Watch this, I'll do Bradshaw', then he'd hit Randle El with a strike. Then he was like 'Now I'm Slash' and he'd tuck it under and sprint up the middle. Then one time he was like 'Watch me do O'Donnell'. It was fun to have the title cinched up so we could just clown around," said Nijinsky.

Congratulations Champs!

Baseball America: Bucs top ten prospects

John Perrotto, of Beaver County Times fame, previews the Bucs' top ten prospects here. I won't pretend to know more about this than he does. And I won't pretend that there's anything set in stone or undeniably certain about his rank-ordering.

I'll wait for the book to get published to read the write-ups, which are now available only to subscribers.

End football season

All things considered, it was a damn good football season. I'd rather go to the AFC championship and lose than not go at all. Some of you may disagree - to those I prescribe a hair of the dog that bit them. I'm not the least bit bothered by the fact that Cowher hasn't won half the Championship games he's been in. Better than not getting there at all.

As a young boy I bawled my eyes out watching the Steelers lose in the snow and the cold to the Browns. It was some kind of season-ending loss. That's the memory. I've searched for the game - and can't find it. My memory of my first Pirates game turned up in Retrosheet just as I remembered it, but this memory looks pretty faulty. Maybe it was the 1977 divisional playoff at Denver. Maybe it was some other team that lost? Inconceivable, but not impossible. I watched a lot of football in the 1970s and while the Steelers were #1 with me, I also developed attachments to other teams and had a list of favorite teams.

Anyway I remember one of the players, someone who looked like Jack Ham, in the big coat they wore on the sidelines, with his head down. I was watching the game by myself. My father came into the room. He was always more of a Penn State fan than a Steeler fan and mainly watched football on Saturday, not Sunday.

"Why are you crying?" he asked. I think he knew why but wanted to make sure.

"Because the" I blubbered.

He pointed to the TV. "That was a football game," he said. He also said, without saying it out loud, "it's not something you cry about." He was part mad and part gentle about it. Point made.

That's the memory.

I always like the end of the football season. The end of the football season signals the end of television watching for a few months. I doubt I'll watch the Super Bowl. Who gives a damn? Not me. If there's another wardrobe malfunction, I can find the video on the internet if I really want to see it. I'm not a fan of television, which is why I keep a blog, I think, because TV is not an efficient way to get information. I'm on the internet a lot when I want to answer questions.

With TV, there's too much interruption and foot-dragging so that we can see more ads. It's almost as bad as the nationally-syndicated talk radio shows. So long, stupid Levitra ads. So long, stupid car ads and beer ads. I won't miss you. So long, semi-moronic television analysts. There were two ads I enjoyed watching all year - the one where the guys are slacking off and dancing to Salt n Pepa in the office, and the one they showed yesterday with the athletes wearing "warrior" headgear. The rest of it was a huge expanse of wasted time. I know it's trite to bitch about television and it's tired to brag about not watching it. But that doesn't change the way I feel about it.

Another thing. The end of the football season also signals the start of the fantasy baseball season. And the start of that signals the start of spring. So long, old man Winter. Your days are numbered now.

Sunday, January 23, 2005