Saturday, February 05, 2005

The Corsair

Raise your hand if you've ever read this great work. Back in 1904, only the old-timers discussed it often.

All hail Josh Gibson

Ed Eagle describes his Pittsburgh career for

I was pretty bitter about Washington's decision to go Nationals instead of Grays. Pittsburgh's decision to play a game as the Crawfords looks downright classy by comparison. There must be ways to be skeptical about the purity of their motives here, but why bother? Let the circus honor the Negro Leagues without criticizing the circus for being the circus.

Trade non-news

This is new. The Cincinnati Enquirer summarizes a recent on-line chat as a news item for the paper. Makes sense to me. There, O'Brien says the price for an outfielder is very high.

For the Chicago Tribune, Dave Van Dyck reported the Reds were not inclined to trade Kearns within the division. This bit of news was prompted it looks by rumors the Cubs were interested in him. Journalists have also written about the Braves as a team that might be interested in Kearns.

It's hard to find any evidence in the media that Kearns was ever really "on the block." Rather it looks like the Randa signing prompted a lot of people to speculate that the Reds might want to deal him. While they were giving up on him as a third baseman, I haven't seen anything that suggests there's anything more to it.

The news that the Tigers are completing a deal with Magglio suggests to at least one Mets writer that Mike Cameron won't be going anywhere. Seeing that the Mets just signed a pretty good centerfielder, I'm not sure I follow that line of reasoning. But if it's true, it would affect the bidding for Eric Byrnes, I suppose.

Friday, February 04, 2005


The D'backs thought they had a deal, but another team got involved, and so they don't. That team got involved Wednesday, the same day that Dejan Kovacevic reported that the Pirates would target after other players after Burnitz signed with the Cubs.

In other news, the A's agreed to terms with Byrnes, the subject of rumored trade discussions with both Pittsburgh and Arizona.

Let's Go Bucks

Thanks Jeff, for putting all this salary information on one page.

Errors in the infield

According to the 2005 Bill James Handbook, infielders were 30% more likely to make an error at PNC Park than at other baseball stadiums during the period 2002-2004. The Pirates made 84 errors at home and 62 on the road; their opponents made 65 in PNC and 54 elsewhere.

This error rate, on the Pirates' side, can be attributed solely to the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Last year, the Bucs made 16 at home and 19 on the road. Their opponents continued to struggle a bit, though, making 19 at PNC and 16 elsewhere.

So it is the infield or is this just some kind of small-sample size oddity? I remember a certain third baseman cracking under a lot of pressure at home, but that wouldn't account for the visitors having similar troubles through all three years.

...oops, E-5 in this post, it's 30% more likely and not 130% more likely, duh.

Baseball has a salary cap

It is soft like a baby's hat, but apparently baseball's debt service rule will hold down payroll starting next year, according to that Washington Post report. Intelligent comment here, at Primer.

Talking about the weather

IIRC, last year, weather-wise, PNC experienced an unusual year. Where I can I find those stats - temperature, humidity, barometric pressure for games? Sure, I wouldn't know what to do with them if I found them. But I've always been surprised that a player's hitting and pitching stats are split by month, time of day, stadium, etc., and not, routinely, by temperature & other weather conditions. Is that because there's nothing to, say, the commonly-held belief that knuckleballers work better in certain conditions? Some players, who grew up near the equator, complain that they can't get loose for the April games in 45 degree weather. Is there nothing to that? Is Jason Bay, our hearty Canadian, better suited for cold-weather games? Is that part of the reason he improved after leaving San Diego? Didn't we learn that a significant part of the Coors effect was the influence of low humidity on baseballs?

To butcher Mark Twain, we talk all we want about the weather, but who is going to do something about it?

Thank you, Jim Hendry

Bob Smizik recommends it.

Thrift Shop

Some ideas won't go away.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Slow news night

So let's admire the painting again.

Here come the Brewers

For the Oconomowoc Focus, Ryan Ratajewski sets the stage for the amazing 2005 season that will be enjoyed by the Brewers. The division will be tough, though, he writes:

Cincinnati is improving, and Pittsburgh always kills the Brew Crew. This should be the year the Brewers move out of the Central cellar, passing Pittsburgh. The Pirates traded their best player, Jason Kendall, to Oakland. It will be a battle to watch all season.

The Vegas odds makers haven't given Milwaukee a break. The odds are similar to last year, 101:1 to win the National League and 201:1 to win the World Series. Only the Pittsburgh Pirates (251:1) and the Kansas City Royals (401:1) have worse odds to win the World Series.

Hard to believe the Rockies have better odds to win it all.

Darlye Ward near the runway

Ward will grace this fundraiser hosted by Anand Jon.

Calling about Huff

Dejan Kovacevic handicaps the Huff derby.

Huff is defensively challenged wherever he plays. His third base makes Ty Wigginton look good. In the outfield, he's Daryle Ward, which is to say, he shouldn't be in the outfield.

If you say Aramis Ramirez is a lumbering first baseman, throw away Chris Shelton because he can't play a position, and see no future for J.R. House because he can't play a position, then it's not exactly consistent to go and acquire Aubrey Huff. Huff can hit but he's a DH, not a third baseman, and he's not the kind of player Littlefield has valued thus far in his term as GM.

I'm not saying it would be a mistake to acquire him. We need to score more runs. I just can't see the team reversing course and paying the high price Tampa Bay wants for a player who's much like a number of other guys the Pirates have valued less than most other teams.

Bloody Ahrns

As you resist the urge to drink beer this morning, consider this article by Frank Greve of the Detroit Free Press, who reminds us what made Iron City Beer so great in the early 1960s.

To season your beer, there's nothing like blood from your own lips.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Short history of Austin Kearns

Austin Kearns played some centerfield in 2003 (I presume when Griffey was hurt) but only managed a .822 zone rating which was not good. The man is a right-fielder.

He has a pretty long injury history. I gathered much, but not all, of the medical info from Will Carroll's Under the Knife archives:

May 2001 - Kearns tears ligament in his right thumb and misses two months of AA ball.

March 2002 - Kearns throws some kind of temper tantrum when he is demoted to AA ball at the end of spring training. Bowden says he has to go back and finish that year of AA ball he missed in 2001.

April 2002 - Kearns makes his major-league debut after hitting five home runs in four games at AA. Injuries on the big-league team create this chance for him.

April 2002 - Kearns puts up .455 / .571 / .727 numbers in 33 at-bats.

May 2002 - Kearns hits .261 / .377 / .477 in 88 at-bats.

June 2002 - Kearns hits .214 / .295 / .314 in 70 at-bats. Typical rookie inconsistency.

July 2002 - Kearns hits .333 / .413 / .478 in 90 at-bats.

August 2002 - Kearns hits .374 / .448 / .604 in 91 at-bats before injuring his left hamstring beating out an infield single. He's in a lot of pain, put on crutches, and declared all but done for year the next day. The magnitude of the injury is downplayed significantly within a week. But he does not return to action and does not win the Rookie of the Year award.

March 2003 - Kearns experiences difficulty with the hammy he tore and rehabbed in late 2002.

March 2003 - Kearns has surgery on his elbow to remove three bone chips and plays again in two weeks. Carroll writes on March 10: "Kearns has a reputation as hard to shut down, and as someone who can overdo it and damage his recovery, so the timing of the elbow procedure is probably not coincidental. Kearns' hamstring is of greater long-term concern." (WC)

April 2003 - Kearns hits .303 / .431 / .640 in 89 at-bats.

May 2003 - Kearns hits .287 / .368 / .455 in 101 at-bats.

May 2003 - Kearns injures his right (throwing) shoulder in a home-plate collision; injury is reported as a "shoulder bruise" (WC).

June, July 2003 - Kearns has no power at the plate as a result of the shoulder injury: he hits .229 / .319 / .337 in 83 June at-bats and .125 / .176 / .125 in 16 July at-bats.

August 2003 - After some weeks of rest, Kearns has surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder.

March 2004 - Kearns is not 100% in Spring Training yet remains "the only untouchable" on the Reds' roster (WC).

April 2004 - Kearns is slumping as he struggles to regain form lost to shoulder surgery: hits .137 / .290 / .333 in 51 April at-bats.

April 2004 - Kearns snaps his ulna, "the large bone on the medial side of the forearm," on an inside pitch (WC).

May 2004 - Kearns come back quickly from the snapped arm bone, but hits only .286 / .390 / .371 in 35 at-bats.

June 2004 - Kearns develops a mysterious wound, a "hole in his hand," that won't heal (WC). It originally "started as a blister, but has wavered in severity, never enough to get him back in the lineup" (WC). He is fitted with special gloves padded to protect bone spurs near his thumb but soon has surgery "to remove bone spurs, scar tissue, and close the wound on his right thumb" (WC). He strikes out in his only June at-bat.

July 2004 - Does not play.

August 2004 - Kearns has "a blood clot over the area of his thumb that was recently surgically repaired" (WC) and also misses a little time with pinkeye. In 26 at-bats, he manages a .308 / .400 / .346 line.

September 2004 - Kearns has his first decent month since May 2003, going .269 / .320 / .559 in 93 at-bats. He hits seven doubles and six home runs. FWIW, he homers off Wes Obermueller, Ben Hendrickson, Victor Santos, Frank Brooks, Jon Leicester, and Mark Prior.

October 2004 - Kearns goes 0-for-11 in the team's few games.

December 2004 - Right before Christmas, the Reds sign 35-year-old Joe Randa. They had considered playing Kearns at third base. After the Randa signing, GM O'Brien insists that Kearns remains a big part of the club. But there are rumors that the Reds will shop him for a proven starting pitcher or bullpen help.

The man has been hurt in the thumb, the hand, the forearm, the elbow, the shoulder, and the hamstring. No back problems! And nothing appears to be wrong with his head.

If it weren't for the one good month at the end of 2004, I'd wonder if he hadn't lost all of his skills to surgery. There's not much evidence that he ever "came back" from the May 2003 shoulder surgery until the last month of last season. And then we're looking for evidence that he came back from the snapped arm bone, the mysterious hole in his hand, the bone-spur surgery, the blood clot, and the pinkeye.

He's missed significant time for each of the last four years. If you put his good playing time into a table, you get this:

Year - # of good months
2002 - 4
2003 - 2
2004 - 1

Do you see a pattern?

If the Reds will send him to us for Matt Peterson, why not plug him into right field and see what happens? He could push Craig Wilson to first and Ward can start the year in the minors again. Even if Kearns only gives us one or two good months, that still has a lot of value, especially if the team has a lot of versatile depth around him.

Kearns wouldn't solve the centerfield problem, but it would be an adventure to acquire him. I'm game. How about you?

Ed Eagle writes up the rotation

The news on Kip Wells sounds good.

Hilarious water

Bob Smizik has some fun with Kevin McClatchy.

Third base

Dave Pinto is playing with new defensive measures. FWIW, his study of 2004 third-base performance shows that Chad Tracy, whose defense was so bad, he'll be moved elsewhere in 2005, was a little better than Ty Wigginton. Wigginton was better than Aramis Ramirez, and Ramirez was better than Chris Stynes, who had (I thought) an outstanding reputation for the glovework. Aubrey Huff's work at third grades below that of Ramirez but above that of Stynes. Rob Mackowiak was better than all of these guys but middle-of-the-pack overall.


Tike Redman says, "I am the man," as John Perrotto reports.

Dejan Kovacevic curiously calls Burnitz's decision to play for more money in Chicago a "snub." Maybe I was right about him. Either way, I don't know any Pirate fans who wanted him, so thank you Jim Hendry for making him a richer man.

Kovacevic outlines three options:

A handful of players who fit the Pirates' model are known to be available through trade. That includes three of note who are significantly younger than Burnitz, 35, and are on the block because of crowded outfields with their current employers:

Austin Kearns, 24, of the Cincinnati Reds has regressed slightly the past two seasons but already has 37 home runs in 253 career games. He will make $930,000 next season. The Reds are thought to be seeking a pitching prospect.

Aubrey Huff, 28, of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays has 86 home runs and 270 RBIs the past three seasons. He will make $4.75 million next season, $6.75 million the following season. The Devil Rays have asked for a top young starter and young infielder.

Eric Byrnes, 28, of the Oakland Athletics, hit .283 with 20 home runs and 17 stolen bases last season. He will make between $2 million and $2.5 million next season, pending arbitration. The Athletics want a young hitter or potential closer.

Asked if he would part with a pitching prospect -- the strength of the Pirates' system -- to improve the offense, Littlefield replied, "Absolutely. We realize, in our analysis, we've got more pitching at all levels than we do position players. Those types of things have been discussed, and I'm sure that will continue."

What the Pirates will not do, Littlefield said, is set aside leftover money from the 2005 budget toward future seasons. The team is on pace to have a payroll in the range of $33 million, well short of ownership's projected budget of $40 million.

Littlefield sounds like Cam Bonifay with that determination to blow through the available $7M.

If you could pick your poison of those three guys, who would you take?

Kearns has averaged 60 days per year on the DL the last three years. And he hasn't been able to duplicate his 2001 success. That said, if the Reds weren't saddled with Ken Griffey Jr., they might not be so impatient to give up on him. Being injury-prone is a bit like having a nasty platoon split. What pitching prospect would they take? As long as his initials weren't ZD or MG, I'd consider Kearns seriously - with the expectation that he would be on the DL for 60 games in 2005.

If the Devil Rays think Huff is worth Oliver Perez, they are out of their mind. Huff is a stud who would help us. He plays third base and first base, however. Since we can't push Ward to the outfield, this only helps the team in centerfield if they see Huff as someone who would release significant third-base playing time from Mackowiak, allowing Rob to play more center.

Huff is such a good hitter, though, I don't see a problem telling Wigginton or Ward to shove over and make room.

Byrnes looks like a good fit, but I'd think long and hard about parting with Mike Gonzalez for him. On one hand, Gonzalez is just a relief prospect. On the other hand, he's a really good one. Freddy Sanchez plus Mike Gonzalez strikes me as a high price for Byrnes. And the D'backs sound ready to take him or maybe another centerfielder off the market.

Perrotto sees chance

John Perrotto attributes the new enthusiasm for the team to the fact that there is no hockey.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Pirate fever

Ed Eagle reports on the delirium seizing western Pennsylvania. I believe the cure for this is eating a little bit of vitamin C every once in a while.

Seriously, though, Craig Wilson was asked to explain it.

Why are fans so excited about a team which is coming off a franchise-worst 12th consecutive losing seasons?

"I think the fans are getting more accustomed to the players and they are able to latch on to who they like," said Bucs slugger Craig Wilson, who has predictably fielded hundreds of questions about his new buzz-cut hairdo. "As players have been around here a little longer, the fans are getting to know us better and support us more. It's hard to get to know the guys who are only around for a year or two and then they are gone."

Me, me, me. Just like a clean-up hitter.

Win and we love you, Craig. Lose and you're dogmeat. No amount of personal charisma makes losing look good.

The surging enthusiasm dates to the 22-11 run that ended, more or less, with the Kris Benson trade for Ty "I'm Due" Wigginton.

Throw out the interleague games (the Bucs went 2-10 in interleague through the end of July, which is all the fault of those damn A's), and the Bucs were 45-40 at that point. In other words, the Bucs were holding their own against the familiar opponents. That winning streak began with the team ripping through Cincinnati, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Florida. They'd have won more games if it wasn't for the Quixotic trip to San Juan and the All-Star break. My theory is that the local fans pay less attention to the team when they play real far away (and especially when the games start at 10pm eastern). So there was a good month there before the football season started when the Pirates were ripping up the league and looking like they actually had a good chance to finish strong.

Technically, there were two more months of baseball after the Benson trade, but in Pittsburgh, if the Bucs don't win and the Steelers are playing, fans will tune the team out.

Two areas where the Pirates need to improve in 2005: first, in interleague. They can't be intimidated or overwhelmed by the novel experience of playing in places like Yankee stadium. They don't want to start the interleague with a 2-10 skid. Second, they have to play meaningful baseball in August and September.

One way to impress upon the fans that the baseball is meaningful: don't turn July into a month where we dare the rest of the league to outbid one another for some of our better players. I realize that trading veterans at the deadline has been part of Littlefield's game, but it has to stop being the big event of the summer. Even if it means getting nothing for someone who will walk at the end of the year. The big event of the summer has to be yet another meaningful game against a division rival.

The laziness of Ollie

Alan Robinson, of AP fame, reports on the laziness of Oliver Perez.

Perez's first full season in the majors also was his longest in baseball, so he skipped pitching for hometown Culiacan in the Mexican league this winter.

"It was the first time I felt so tired, so that's why I rested a lot," Perez said. "I wanted to enjoy my family, have a vacation, just stay with my friends and try to forget a little bit of baseball."

What a slacker! Hard to believe I'm ready to name my next child (or cat) after him.

Minimum payroll

Ken Rosenthal suggests a minimum payroll would force the owners of the Pirates to spend more or sell the team to someone who will spend more.

Don't hold your breath

Dejan Kovacevic reports that Burnitz will probably not sign with the Bucs.

...oops, the don't hold your breath assessment was offered not by Burnitz's agent, but by Pedro Astacio's agent.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Castillo the Groundhog

In his 2005 Baseball Forecaster book, Ron Shandler provides some unusual information about player performance. With Jose Castillo, for example, we learn that 59% of his balls in play were groundballs. The league average is about 45%. That's a huge difference - about 33%. 16% of Castillo's hit balls were line drives, below the 19% league average. 24% were fly balls (compared to the average of 36%). Shandler or one of his writers comments that he "hammers ball into ground regularly but mediocre speed doesn't turn them into hits."

Line drives are the best things to hit - short of fly balls with enough distance to leave most parks - so a key to Castillo's growth as a hitter may be getting him to hit more line drives and fewer ground balls.

Last August we heard a lot about the leg kick that they asked him to use. And, after a three-week slump (or so; this is from memory), he seemed to get the hang of it before looking very tired and ready to call it a season.

Did Castillo use this leg kick in winter ball? If not, what, if anything, did he change in his approach at the plate? Supposedly, he hit well and for power down there.

Finally, did this leg kick - a "timing" thing I believe it was explained - have anything to do with this inability to get on or under pitches?

And what other smart things can you tell me about Castillo's development as a hitter? This inquiring mind wants to know.

Bucco fever

Dejan Kovacevic reports that lots of kids have it.

Of course they do, I say.

Andres Reiner

I wonder what this guy thinks of the so-called scouts vs. sabermetrics debate.

Seriously, the man has a peg leg. How could the Pirates have turned him down, so many years ago?

Super Rob

John Perrotto reports on what's it like to be Rob Mackowiak. To me, the biggest thing keeping him out of the lineup every day is his platoon split.

Sounds like my expectation that he would/could/should platoon with Wigginton at third won't be realized. That said, I expect my expectations to be wrong a lot. Baseball's just another soap opera. If everything went as we expected it to go, it wouldn't be interesting. And we wouldn't feel compelled to catch every installment.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

No funny water in San Diego

Some sympathy for McClatchy coming out of San Diego.

Roaring hot stove this morning

I had to scoot my chair back, the hot stove is so hot.

Centerfield: the always-temperate John Perrotto handicaps the Ben Grieve - Tike Redman battle now shaping up. No reason to worry about the Pirates having more players than positions in January. Someone will probably get hurt. In the meantime, we're looking at a situation where Bay has to prove he can handle center, where Lawton has to prove he can handle left, and where Redman has to prove he play center and hit for something more than a somewhat-high empty batting average.

Joe Rutter reports the Bucs have made a competitive one-year offer to Burnitz. He also reports Burnitz wants to go only to a "contender." If Burnitz doesn't think the addition of Burnitz will help the Pirates contend in the NL Central, then he has no business signing a contract with the Pirates. Many reports suggest the Cubs will make Burnitz a happy man. In the meantime, Bucco fans such as Charlie are cautiously optimistic.

Caravan: Another report on the Bucco road show, this time from the Wheeling paper that once featured the work of Steve Novotney.

Rotation: Dejan Kovacevic looks into the big red book and sees the team's rate of arm injuries is not high. All the time we think or gripe that the Bucs are the worst at this, the worst at that, and so forth, when if we knew more about some of the other teams, then we'd know better. Fans everywhere complain about pretty much the same things. That was the point (if there really was one) of the Aramis Beltre post a few months ago. There are exceptions, I know.

Joe Rutter reports that the Bucs have interest in Pedro Astacio. I can't say I have a clue about this Pedro's current ability. John Perrotto catches up with a well-rested Oliver Perez.

the Funny Water rant: John Perrotto writes it up. John Mehno gives McClatchy the glass house treatment. Leeeny also comments. And here's how one out of town writer comments.

Rowdietta brought some kind of nasty virus home from daycare and now we're all laid low. Stay well, people.