Saturday, February 19, 2005
Joe Rutter reports the Pirates have given the As a list of players for Eric Byrnes. Rutter suggests that it's down to Beane picking the two he wants from the list.
No worries about the outfield depth. You always need more players than you appear to need.
Dejan Kovacevic describes Neil Walker's experience in his first big-league camp. Walker appears to be wearing a goalie's mask as he catches in the photo associated with the story. Perhaps that's what caught Kovacevic's eye.
Joe Rutter profiles Mark Redman.
The Padres are making plans for their home opener, lining up Jake Peavy to face the Pirates.
Friday, February 18, 2005
"Me, I've never done steroids. Everything I do is natural," he said. "But some guys, they come out there and hitting these bombs and these liners to the gaps like ... as soon as the ball comes off the bat, you can't move quick enough. It's already by you. I'm not talking about the moon-shot home runs. I'm talking about the line drives. You wouldn't believe it."
That and other fun stuff in Dejan Kovacevic's new article.
All hail the start of Spring Training. Dejan Kovacevic has a bunch of goodies in his bag today.
If the Bucs could get 35 starts each from Kip Wells, Ollie Perez, Mark Redman, and Josh Fogg, then they win the NL Central.
They also win the NL Central if they can manage to score 1000 runs.
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Winners of the last five championships: Boston (2nd place, AL East, 98 wins), Florida (2nd place, NL East, 91 wins), Anaheim (2nd place, AL West, 99 wins), Arizona (1st place, NL West, 91 wins), New York (1st place, AL East, 87 wins). These teams have won 100 games in the last five years: New York (101 wins, 2004), St. Louis (105 wins, 2004), New York (101 wins, 2003), Atlanta (101 wins, 2003), San Francisco (100 wins, 2003), New York (103 wins, 2002), Oakland (103 wins, 2002), Atlanta (101 wins, 2002), Seattle (116 wins, 2001), Oakland (102 wins, 2001), Not one of those teams won a championship. Do we really believe that they weren't as good a team as the teams that won the championship?
The playoff tournament is a great way to decide who gets to take home the big trophy and who gets to wear expensive jewelry. It's very exciting. But do we honestly think that it perfectly measures the overall quality of the teams? Does the best team always advance, or can an inferior team catch a break or two and beat a better team in a five-game LDS?
All the teams that make the playoffs, in baseball, are very good. But the best team doesn't necessarily win the championship. Yes? Each of the top four or five teams has about an equal chance of winning the big prize. And the lesser wild card teams also have a chance to win the big prize.
You'll never hear a GM or a player say this. But that doesn't mean the fans may not realize this is true. The playoffs are more or less a crapshoot of the NBA lottery variety.
Dejan Kovacevic interviews the manager.
Q: Center field appears to be your area of greatest uncertainty. If you had to predict, how might that play out?I suppose that means no Jason Bay in center.
A: I sure couldn't give you an answer right now. We've got Tike Redman, Rob Mackowiak and ... if Dave can find anything on the market, that would be a piece. Other than that, we don't have anybody else who is going to compete for that job.
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
More Alan Robinson. Mac has some good lines:
"I feel good about this club," said Lloyd McClendon, who is in his fifth season as manager but was a Barry Bonds teammate when the Pirates last were winners. "I've told people it's the first time I don't feel like we've got an Abbott and Costello skit going - you know, who's on first and what's on second?"Spoken like a true politician.
After presiding over several spring training camps that seemed more like open tryouts, McClendon welcomes back each of last season's everyday regulars - except Kendall - and four of five starting pitchers.
The downside, of course, is this is nearly the same team that finished 72-89 last season, so far behind NL Central-winning St. Louis - 32 1/2 games - that Pittsburgh was virtually out of the division race by May.
"But this certainly is a good feeling," McClendon said. "This is my fifth year, but it's the first time I won't feel like a politician, having to sell this club."
Robinson is factually wrong when he argues that the Pirates were eliminated from the division race by May. On May 1, they were 2 1/2 games out. Did he mean by the end of May? Six games out, and two games under .500. And we all remember how well they played in July, until Benson was dealt.
I think Robinson must have just made that up. And given that the returning players were all young and improving, the argument that "this was a 72-win team" doesn't strike me as thoughtful. Whatever. The lower the expectations, the less likely we'll be disappointed. Good work, Alan Robinson.
Last year at least one writer predicted McClendon would be the first manager fired in 2004. Then, on Opening Day, he was extended. Now we get another, similar prediction. Did the author just make this up, or is there more to the Ken Macha rumblings reported last week by Perrotto?
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
The AP's Alan Robinson covers the capable Zach Duke in all your papers today:
Duke wasn't considered to have major league potential while growing up in Midland, Texas, because his fastball peaked at a below-average 88 miles per hour while in high school. He has since picked up about 4 mph in velocity, and was chosen recently by Baseball America as the Pirates' top prospect.
Duke impressed Spin Williams during the Pirates' minicamp in Bradenton last month with a sweeping curveball that left-handed hitters rarely touch and a more-than-adequate changeup. Left-handers batted only .192 with one homer against Duke last season.
The Pirates hope the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Duke can add another mile per hour or two onto his fastball as he matures. They're taking Duke to spring training partly because they want him to experience a major league clubhouse and to pitch to big league hitters during exhibition games.
Let's not trade this guy. Especially because Robinson quotes Spin on Kip this way:
"Kip is the biggest question mark in the rotation right now," Spin Williams said.I don't know what to think about Kip and his health. Is he OK? Not OK? Does anyone know? Nothing to do but wait and see.
Ed Eagle answers questions.
Some points to look at:
The team's biggest concern with Redman is his defense in center field. Although he has improved in this area since 2001, Redman still has a tough time getting jumps on balls hit toward the gaps. There were several occasions last season when this turned what would have been outs for most center fielders with Redman's speed into doubles or triples that rolled into the North Side notch at PNC Park. It also doesn't help that Tike possesses a below-average throwing arm.If Redman repeats this performance in 2005, and if Matt Lawton is half as bad, defensively, as some Cleveland fans claim, can you imagine the number of triples we'll see in 2005? Yikes. I expect Lawton's offense will more than compensate for whatever deficiencies appear in his defense. I'm less confident with Tike Redman. Also:
In my opinion, Castillo is more talented than the other two and he should have no problem keeping his job as the starting second baseman. I expect Castillo to be the team's most improved player in 2005. He is already an excellent defensive player and his bat showed signs of increased power potential at the end of last season and during his time in the Venezuelan Winter League.If Castillo doesn't jump forward this year, I expect it will happen next year. He's the guy I'd pick as the biggest breakout candidate too. But the odds of a real breakout can't be more than 1 in 3 or 1 in 2.
Monday, February 14, 2005
It was his performance in Game 5 of the  Fall Classic for which he will always be remembered. The Bucs had just won Games 3 and 4 to pull even with the Orioles in the series and manager Danny Murtaugh called on Briles to send them back to Baltimore with the lead. The 28-year-old pitcher did not disappoint, as he completely dominated the Birds, two-hitting them in the 4-0 win. The one memory from every Pirate fan who recalls the game is the scene of Nellie falling on his face off the mound after several pitches. This was a constant thing throughout his career, as Briles would throw hard and end up on the ground. . . .He had other talents.
As his pitching career was budding, so was his new career as a singer. Nellie played several nightclubs and got to the point where he was starring in shows with such actresses as Kaye Ballard in Chicago. Nellie was so accomplished that he was invited to sing the National Anthem before Game 4 of the 1973 World Series.
Jingoist asked a good question in the comments thread for the 1941 photo of old Honus Wagner with the team (scroll two posts down for the link). He wanted to know how long Wagner was associated with the team. I went to the Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia by David Finoli and Bill Ranier and found this answer:
Wagner stayed on with the Pirates as a coach until 1952, although in later years the designation was part-time and he seldom made road trips after 1942. During his years as a coach, Wagner developed a grandfatherly persona and became known for telling tall tales and spending time with children. . . .
Wagner's legend continued to grow during his coaching days, helped along by his own gift for spinning a yarn. It is said that during a threatened players' strike in 1946 Pirates owner William Benswanger claimed he would "play seventy-four-year-old Honus Wagner at shortstop" rather than forfeit a game. The story goes that an elderly gentleman flew from North Carolina with his grandson to Pittsburgh, hoping the lad would get a chance to see Honus play. . . .
In failing health, Wagner attended the dedication of a statue in his honor of April 30, 1955 in Schenly Park outside his former ballyard. Although he passed away on December 6 that year, the statue has kept his contributions in the minds of fans at Forbes, then Three Rivers Stadium and now at PNC Park. It is still a common meeting place for fans going to watch his favorite team.
This is a great book to be reading when there's not much else to occupy your baseball-addicted mind.
We're not a big fan of defensive statistics articles. Not on Monday mornings and not so much on days that are made for love. That said, they could be worth the trouble. Will someone please read this essay on Defensive Regression Analysis by Michael Humphreys of the Hardball Times and tell us what it says?
In the meantime, me and Rowdy Jr. are mellow with "Summertime" from the Ray Charles and Cleo Laine Porgy & Bess soundtrack. All hail Leeeny for turning us on to it.
And the living is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy's rich
And your mama's good lookin'
So hush little baby now
Don't you cry
One of these mornin's
You're gonna rise up singin'
Then you'll spread your wings
And take to the sky
But til that mornin'
Ain't nothin' can harm you
With your daddy
And your mammy
Rowdy Jr. loves this tune. Around here we skip all the Baby Mozart Sleep Sound in Jesus Lullaby Earth Welcoming Baby and go right for the good stuff. Life is too short to do otherwise.
Other Rowdy Jr. favorites: Charlie Parker, "Hootie Blues," Miles Davis, "My Funny Valentine," Red Allen, "Sweet Lorraine" and "I Cover the Waterfront," Django Rhinehart, "Improvisation on 'Pathetique'," Roy Milton, "So Tired," Taj Mahal & Toumani Diabate, "Tunkaranke," and Peggy Lee / Benny Goodman, "Ev'rything I Love." The boy is five months old and that's what we find on his iPod playlist.
Sunday, February 13, 2005
This comment thread just discussed getting the Pirates on your TV if you live outside the Pittsburgh area.
I prefer baseball on the radio to baseball on television for lots of reasons I won't get into here. I've done enough ranting about television on this site to last at least another year or two.
Every year I subscribe to the radio broadcasts from MLB.com. I enjoy surfing the different broadcasts when the Pirates aren't on the radio. Does anyone have any experience with the XM radio deal? It looks to me like you can listen to all the broadcasts of all the games. Is this the same thing as GameDay audio, with (I hope) better sound quality? Are the commercials muted as they are in GameDay audio (a feature that I love)? Is this on the same service that carries all the football games? What else do you get with XM radio that's worth the coin?
While we're at it, is there anything else to add or ask about the Extra Innings or MLB TV packages?
John Perrotto has the scoop:
The Pittsburgh Pirates have inquired about trading for Mets center fielder Mike Cameron in recent weeks but New York does not want to pay any of the $12.5-million left on the final two years of his contract. The Pirates have tried to entice the Mets to eat some salary by offering pitching prospects, though it is unclear which ones.Two things here. First, confirmation that yeah, the Bucs are going after Cameron. I wonder how the Benson trade has or has not eased relations between the two clubs. They got Keppinger. They can't complain. If Cameron's owed almost $13M for two years, obviously the Bucs have to get the Mets to pay about half. Cameron is a huge question mark and the Mets signed him for a ridiculously high wage. Even at $7M per year, I doubt he's a great value. I'd pass if I'm Littlefield. Save the money to acquire a player from a team that unexpectedly tanks and throws it into Rebuild to save face in June.
Oakland manager Ken Macha, a former Pirates catcher/infielder, turned down a three-year contract extension offer and likely won't return to the Athletics next season. Macha, who lives in Murrysville, would likely become the leading candidate for the Pirates' job if they don't pick up Lloyd McClendon's contract option for 2006.
This could shape up as a big season for Joe Liggins. I'm one of those people who believe that a change of manager, like a change of lineup, doesn't make much if any difference. The only exception is when there are some kind of personality conflicts or philosophic differences between the manager and the GM that results with some kind of unusual incompetence filling out the lineup card--say the manager just won't play some rookie that he finds disrespectful, or he won't use players in the roles for which the GM acquired them; then a team might change dramatically by replacing him. When managers are made into scapegoats, that often compounds the underlying problems with a team by creating the illusion that things will be different. Anyway, Macha has a good reputation and now we'll see if his name continues to bounce around as a possible replacement for the current skipper.
Dejan Kovacevic and Joe Rutter both have twin features preparing the reading public for the upcoming spring. Dejan echoes Perrotto's reporting that the Bucs are "aggressively pursuing a trade to upgrade the outfield and to add a starting pitcher". I also admire the subtitle of that piece, "With a handful of young players like Wilson, Bay and Perez just establishing themselves, talk of a better year for Pirates may not be nonsense." Talk about setting the bar low.
Kovacevic and Rutter both offer things-to-look-for lists. Kovacevic counts ten, Rutter does five, but both pieces don't really have a lot of new information in them if you have been reading about the team every day since mid-November. I don't think we're really in the target audience for these kind of pieces though I enjoy them a lot. Rutter also has this essay on starting pitching. I will have to update this post before April begins. One thing I will say about the current team: regardless of whether or not Littlefield adds another starter, the core of 2005 rotation looks much stronger than the 2004 rotation looked on opening day, mainly because of the emergence of Ollie and the addition of Redman. We're missing some of the depth we had last year, however.
Finally, Perrotto also offers this off-season recap for those of you who have been living in a cave.