Saturday, May 28, 2005

Game 47: Pirates at Reds

7:10pm, Dave Williams and Eric Milton. Milton has not been striking out or walking many batters; hitters have been making regular and solid contact off him.

On performance-enhancing drugs

Read this article, "A Day at the Brain Spa," by Ronald Bailey for Reason online.

The executive could also work in a cup or two of coffee here and there. And regular exercise.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Another one-run game

Bucs are now 3-11 in one-run games. Last year they were 20-26 in one-run games.

Not sure what else to say about that. Sucks to lose.

Game 46: Pirates at Reds

7:10pm. Josh Fogg and Ramon Ortiz.

I was pretty happy when I learned that the Reds signed Ramon Ortiz. So I could say, I've been looking forward to seeing him face the Bucs. I hope I'm not disappointed.

Mackowiak

Dejan Kovacevic reports on the ongoing development of Rob Mackowiak. I noticed some of these trends last week. Now Kovacevic explains what appears to be the basis for Mackowiak's improved plate discipline, and he notes that others have noticed the overall drop in power. Mackowiak has had some extra-base hits in the last week, though I'm not sure if that's been an indication of his power coming around. I'll follow up on that May 15 post sometime early in June.

Kovacevic also reports that Mackowiak has taken over third base against righties. Back in early January we speculated that this might or should happen. Wigginton has been a good part-time player.

This same notebook column describes the respect Ian Snell has earned from McClendon.

...Joe Rutter remembers the day Rob's son, Garrett, was born.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Zen and Zing

Nice piece by Jonathan Mayo on the friendship of Duke and Snell.

Game 44: Pirates at Cardinals

8:10pm. Mark Redman and Mark Mulder. Mulder has been in a groove.

On parity

Yesterday's Stats Geek.

One factor in the distribution of championships, I think, is the expanded playoff format. Most anything can happen in a short series. Like Brian, I'm tired of hearing that money is the be-all and end-all in baseball.

Wednesday Q & A

Here it is.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Game 43: Pirates at Cardinals

8:10pm. Kip Wells and Jason Marquis. Marquis has been wild. In his last four starts, he has K'd 8 and walked 11 in 25 innings. He's also been extremely lucky, I suppose, enjoying a .187 BABIP. Remember, the league average for batting average on balls in play is about .300. Pitchers have only a little control over this. Generally speaking, pitchers that are tough to hit are tough to hit hard. Mark Prior and Pedro Martinez have enjoyed sub-.200 BABIPs this month. They walk few and strike out more than a quarter of the opposing batters. Maybe Prior and Martinez have earned that low number.

More to the point, a pitcher that can't throw strikes - like Jason Marquis, of late - can't claim to generate pop-ups or groundouts "on purpose." This guy has been lucky. If fortune favors the brave, Jason Marquis has been Hercules. FWIW, last year they hit .305 on balls in play off Jason Marquis.

Hopefully the Bucs sit back and make him throw strikes tonight. Why swing at the tough stuff when you can expect a hanging breaking ball?

If Wells and Marquis both labor, or if we get a stingy ump, this could be a loooooooooooooong game. It will be worth it if the Bucs can score early and often off Marquis.

Eric Byrnes and Ken Macha

So the A's are back to peddling Eric Byrnes. An interesting subplot now is the possibility that he's on the block because he and his manager, Ken Macha, don't get along.

And I could be wrong about this, but I believe the possibility of Macha coming to manage the Pirates in 2006 was one of the factors in McClendon not getting an extension before the start of the season. Macha is from this part of the country.

I see a lot of somewhat-political bullshit whenever a new owner, manager, or GM takes over a team that has not been successful. The new boss replaces good people with new people, or goes about making dramatic roster moves to "send a message." There's a lot of bullshit barking at the employees to form new lines and walk new ways. Unless the previous boss was corrupt or incompetent, things get worse before they get better. A team that wants to win consistently needs stability in the front office.

McClendon has come a long way. He knows the rest of the NL Central as well as anyone. I'd like to see him retained come October. I will not be impressed or optimistic if the Pirates let him go.

Back to Byrnes. I don't know what to think of the possibility of acquiring him. It depends, I suppose, on what he costs in talent and on who he replaces on the 25-man roster. I certainly wouldn't deal Mike Gonzalez or Zach Duke for him. Would he play center? I also wonder what we could expect from him from the start. Would he hit much in his first tour of National League pitching? (Do GMs have a good idea which hitters put up good numbers only because they know the opposing pitchers so well [Jason Kendall, e.g.], and which hitters put up good numbers regardless of who is pitching?) I'd worry that Byrnes would not adapt to the NL quickly. Can we bear to watch another new acquisition suck for two months?

Bucco pitching, May 3 to May 23

Looking at the numbers for the last three weeks, I see that the pitching has been good, but not as good as I thought it had been.

  • Mark Redman has been a stud. He's thrown just under 30 innings and held hitters to a .200 /.241 /.286 line, a 527 OPS, which is sick. He faced Houston, San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Colorado. His control has been good, not great. He struck out an average number (15), walked a few (6), and probably was more lucky than not with balls in play.
  • Kip Wells has been good. For a power pitcher, he still needs to change some of his walks into strikeouts before we'll see elite performance. 20 Ks in 27 IP is decent, but 12 BBs in the same period cancels out some of that strikeout goodness. Hitters only managed a utility-infielder-esque .237 / .325 / .333 off Kip. He faced Houston, Arizona, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Redman's BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .235 looks lucky to me; Kip's BABIP in the same period, .289, looks more sustainable. The best part of Wells' recent success has been his ability to go deep into games. He's gone 6, 7, 6, and 8 innings without throwing more than 110 pitches. The combination of effectiveness and less-than-stellar power rates makes me wonder if Kip is becoming less of a thrower and more of a pitcher.
  • Josh Fogg is a pitcher. He continues to houdini sublime effectiveness from mediocre to poor rate stats. In his last 26 innings, he has struck out 11 (not good) and walked 10 (not good). "Control" does not come to mind looking at those numbers. Nevertheless, he held the Diamondbacks, the Giants, the Cubs, and the Rockies to autility-infielder-esque 0.232 / 0.303 / 0.337. Fogg does more with less. His .255 BABIP probably speaks of more good than ill luck; with that number Fogg has averaged right around .300, with the rest of the league, the last two years.
  • Dave Williams has imitated Mark Redman to good effect. He had similar K/BB numbers, a more average BABIP (.287), did about six innings per start, and held the Diamondbacks, Giants, Brewers, and Cardinals to a fourth-outfielder-esque 0.258 / 0.305 / 0.404 line. Three of those starts were on the road. His performance may be just as impressive as Redman's.
  • Ollie started twice in those three weeks, at Arizona (disaster) and home against Colorado (better). He's back at square one, stuck in March 2004 form. He struck out a bunch (9 in 10 IP), walked way too many (6), and got pounded at a three-hitter-esque rate of .293 / .396 / .537.
  • The bullpen has not seen much action with the starters going 6-7 innings per start. Vogelsong and Grabow have pitched less than five innings, Rick White six.
  • Jose Mesa has been wild, hittable, and lucky. In eight high-leverage innings, he has struck out few (3), walked a ridiculous number (7), and been pounded with five extra-base hits. It all adds up to a .292 / .412 / .583 line. I would call that wild and hittable. The .240 BABIP suggests it could have been worse. His BABIPs for 2004 and 2003 were .320 and .340. With hidden vigorish, maybe he'll finish 2005 around .280. On the year, though, he's around .302.
  • Mike Gonzalez has 9 Ks in his last 7 2/3 innings. You don't need luck if the opposing hitters can't put the ball in play, but he's had some, too, with his .217 BABIP. He's been wild, too, walking an Ollie-esque 4 batters in that period. That said, no one could hit this guy. Opponents went .115 / .233 / .154 off him.
  • Salomon Torres has been wild - 1 K and 6 BBs in 7 IP. But he's been effective without too much in the way of visible luck. Like the three soft-tossing starters, he appears to be getting the most from what's he got.
On the whole the pitchers have been average or better. They are not hurting the team's chances at finishing at or just above .500. It would unrealistic to expect these guys to shut down the better-hitting teams and win 2-0 games. But I think they will continue to pull their weight. Paired with a sick-hitting offense, this staff could take a team to the playoffs. I also take comfort in the team's depth here. With Zach Duke and Ian Snell more or less ready, or at least qualified, to work as the fifth starter, the pitchers look set to do their part.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Zach Duke surgery

The doctor went to work in Durham. A little here, a little there, sew the patient up, all in a day's work.

When's the last time a 22-year-old was compared to Warren Spahn? And how is that changeup coming along? I think he'll need it in the show.

Thoughts on the loss

Damn, the Cardinals have some good players. You just cannot give RBI opportunities to Albert Pujols. You cannot give Larry Walker an inch on the bases. And Chris Carpenter was untouchable for most of the night.

That said, the Bucs don't look too shabby to me. This one wasn't a laugher. The Bucs need to make haste slowly, as the old saying goes, with the Cardinals. They are going to make mistakes and the Cardinals are going to make mistakes. It looked to me like the Pirates made a few extra mistakes after the first few. Maybe they were thinking they had to play mistake-free ball to beat the Cardinals. Going into the ninth, that two-run lead felt like twenty runs. It wasn't a laugher but it didn't look or feel close at the end. Still, the fact remains that it was close. It's good to see such focus on the need to play perfect ball, even when you see it, for example, in that terrified look Dave Williams flashed, at the end of his start, as he wheeled around on every batted ball to see where the hell it would land.

With a little luck - a baserunner or two in front of Jason Bay's home run, maybe - that kind of focus will be rewarded. For a moment I thought tonight's game had the feel of a playoff game. It didn't seem like they had a chance to win at the end, but they did, and it did seem like they belonged on the same field as the Cardinals. And that was not so much the case at the end of last year.

Anyway, it's been more than a couple weeks. The Pirates continue to look consistently better. There may be little chance of winning the NL Central but still they look consistently better, even losing. I hope they sleep well tonight.

Game 42: Pirates at Cardinals

8:10pm. Dave Williams and Chris Carpenter.

This is the first of a three-game series with the team that's running away with the NL Central. The Cardinals continue to be the team the Bucs must measure up against. Yes, I think this team is better than last year's team. But the team's improvement means little if it means nothing relative to the best teams in the division.

Minor-league update

Dejan Kovacevic has some news in today's notebook.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Game 41: Rockies at Pirates

1:35pm. More perfect weather forecast, for the afternoon at least. Joe Kennedy and Josh Fogg.