Saturday, June 11, 2005

Game 60: Devil Rays at Pirates

Ed Eagle reports Freddy Sanchez will start today and tomorrow. I'm guessing he leads off. Lawton rests. Mackowiak plays center, Bay left. Restovich will probably start somewhere. Ward has struggled against lefties. Game on at seven. Scott Kazmir and Oliver Perez.

...Being five hundred is nothing to get excited about. It's how they've done it - how well they've played over the last five or six weeks. And how well they played yesterday.

I like nothing better than an 18-2 win.

Bot 1st: Pittsburgh
- J. Bay singled to left, F. Sanchez scored, R. Mackowiak to second
- D. Ward grounded out to first, R. Mackowiak scored, J. Bay to third, R. Doumit to second
- J. Castillo singled to right, J. Bay scored, R. Doumit to third

Bot 5th: Pittsburgh
- R. Doumit doubled to left, F. Sanchez scored, J. Bay to third
- D. Ward singled to left, J. Bay scored, R. Doumit to third
- J. Castillo homered to deep left, R. Doumit and D. Ward scored
- F. Sanchez singled to third, J. Wilson scored, O. Perez to second

Bot 6th: Pittsburgh
- J. Castillo singled to left, J. Bay scored, R. Doumit to third
- H. Cota singled to right center, R. Doumit scored, J. Castillo to third
- J. Wilson singled to right, J. Castillo scored, H. Cota to second

Top 7th: Tampa Bay
- D. Hollins singled to right, J. Lugo scored, A. Huff to second

Bot 7th: Pittsburgh
- D. Ward hit sacrifice fly to right, R. Mackowiak scored

Top 8th: Tampa Bay
- C. Crawford singled to left center, N. Green scored

Bot 8th: Pittsburgh
- R. Mackowiak singled to right, H. Cota scored, B. Hill to second
- M. Restovich singled to right, B. Hill scored, R. Mackowiak to third
- R. Doumit tripled to deep center, R. Mackowiak and M. Restovich scored
- D. Ward singled to right, R. Doumit scored

Poetry. I left in the Tampa Bay parts for balance.

Tike Redman is red hot

Dejan Kovacevic has the facts. Still, he won't start against the lefties today or tomorrow.

Jack Wilson and Mike Gonzalez

Jack Wilson has been great since moving down to the #8 spot. I'm in favor of trying other guys at the top of the lineup. If the team hits the skids, though, I'd bring him back up to number two.

Mike Gonzalez is not right physically and playing through it. Why?

Bobbleheads

Moustafa Ayad writes about bobblehead night. Fans want something; it's not hard to see why they attend games with giveaways.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Game 59: Devil Rays at Pirates

Seven o'clock. Decent chance of rain. Hideo Nomo and Mark Redman.

...Bucs pretty much unloaded on Nomo, he of the freaky delivery. Looks like hitters who haven't seen him go up and there and think WTF? Then they notice the pitches are pretty easy to whale. And they start whaling.

Rob Mackowiak's 2005 splits continue to fascinate me. He had a lousy April, but has an 833 or higher OPS against every team in the league except the Giants, the Padres, and the Marlins. The last two have great rotations. He has a 673 OPS as an outfielder. Does he not like playing the outfield, or is it some kind of distraction? If so, why? Does he spend too much time between innings getting advice about where to stand, and too little time watching the opposing pitcher? He has a 1302 OPS as a third baseman. These numbers are based on small numbers of at-bats, but they are dramatic, extreme, so probably meaningful.

Tonight Mackowiak hit third. He had two hits, the first with runners in scoring position. In the bottom of the fifth, the Rays intentionally walked him to pitch to Jason Bay. Bay tripled and broke the game open.

Both Redmans were great. Tike had a nice catch against the wall in centerfield, robbing some poor sap of a home run an extra base hit. He also tripled and scored three times. Mark Redman was never in much trouble. Carl Crawford singled to start the game, but Dave Ross threw him out. Crawford has sixteen steals and that was the third time he was caught. He's fast. The Bucs turned three double plays. They have Redman's back. Mark Redman must love playing in front of Mackowiak, Wilson, and Castillo.

All in all, a beautiful 7-2 victory for the Bucs. 27,000 fans left wondering how soon they could get back.

Me and my ice-cold Rolling Rock say all hail that.

...hey, lookit. Yankees went to St. Louis and the Cards put them down. Bucs 29-30, Yankees 29-31. Much will be made of the Bucs' schedule to date, which has been one of the easier ones, but guess what, the Yankees are right there with them in that department. Both have played teams with a cumulative .488 winning percentage.

This could be misleading. It's demonstrably and obviously false, that teams are consistently a certain amount of good. So that measure doesn't say how strong a team was when they played the Pirates or the Yankees; it says how strong they've been all year. Teams that have been playing the torrid Pirates may not appreciate getting credit for facing only a .483 team.

And the numbers could be read different ways. In the Pirates' case, for example, the low cumulative winning percentage of opponents has something to do with the Pirates breaking their will to compete. Surely. You play the Pirates and look bad, you know, that hurts, it breaks your will to compete. You didn't expect that; it rocks your world. You look in the mirror and see gray hair and spreading incompetence. No one will believe you, you think, when you tell them that the Pirates played good.

On the other hand, you play the Yankees and look good, maybe that has to give a team a charge. You are inspired to kick some more ass over the next week or two. Those numbers could be read a number of ways. That's all I'm saying.

10%

The Bucs are now at 28-30. The BP crew project 81 wins and a ten percent chance of making the playoffs.

Is this a championship team? Who cares. As Jesse Jackson used to say, the question is moot. In baseball, all you need to do is make the playoffs. Then you have a good chance, esp. if you have a pair of aces, of making the World Series. The question shouldn't be "is this a championship team," but "is this a playoff team?" The answer now is maybe.

Or probably not. One in ten is far short of fifty percent or more, the measure that defines "probable." But one-in-ten sure beats the Powerball. So it's not accurate to use words like "hopeless."

Small victories: we'll take them. If you buy into the theory that the Bucs, going forward, will be more like the May-June team than the April team, you might expect those chances to improve. I buy into that theory. (1) Tike Redman is now a fourth OF. (2) Ty Wigginton is in the minors. (3) Craig Wilson is not slumping as a cleanup hitter. (4) Jack Wilson is back to 2004 form after starting the year out of shape. (5) Oliver Perez is back to 2004 form (knock on wood) after starting the year out of shape. (6) Kip Wells has got on a roll. (7) Jose Castillo is off the DL. (8) Rob Mackowiak has shown improvement. (9) Daryle Ward has shown consistency. (10) Ryan Doumit is up and should do some catching. (11) Matt Lawton continues to play well with regular rest. (12) The bullpen has not imploded.

I could maybe come up with a list of reasons to expect the team to revert to the April version, but I doubt it would be as long.

How cool would it be for the Bucs to go into Yankee Stadium with a record that's better than the Yankees? The New Yorkers are 29-30 and play three games in St. Louis. The Bucs are 28-30 and host the Devil Rays for three games. Stranger things can happen. On one hand, you know the media attention would fire up the Yankees. On the other hand, it would give the lie to the bullshit economic determinism that justifies so much intellectual laziness among the less creative half of the baseball punditocracy. I'm not denying that payroll is not a big factor. I am denying that the correlation between salary and performance is not as strong as some people argue.

I won't get my hopes up, however. If this reads like so much breathless optimism, look closer. It's been a long time since the Pirates have been able to sustain a .550 clip for more than a few weeks. They bobbed along just under .500 for much of last year, and little good came of it.

Rosenthal on Wells

If both Zito and Astros righthander Roger Clemens stay put, Pirates righthander Kip Wells could become the focus of intense trade interest before July 31. But guess what? Wells might not be available, either.

The Pirates have won consecutive series against the Marlins, Braves and Orioles, moving into third place in the N.L. Central with a 28-30 record. Wells, 28, could help them attain their first winning season in 1992. The Pirates then could retain him in '06, though it would cost them at least $5 million in arbitration.

That money would be well-spent, even though the Pirates might land the young center fielder and/or third baseman they need for Wells, who has posted a 2.15 ERA in his last nine starts. The Pirates have two starters at Class AAA who could be in next year's rotation--lefthander Zach Duke (10-3, 2.86) and righthander Ian Snell (9-0, 2.93). It would behoove the team to pair Wells and lefthander Oliver Perez at the top of the rotation to help ease the development of the younger starters.

Link here.

Winning as much as possible right now - today, tomorrow, next week, next month - is the most important thing for this franchise.

Trading Wells, Lawton, Mesa

The subject of Ed Eagle's mailbag. No doubt, this team needs another Jason Bay-caliber bat to compete with the Cardinals.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Pirate fiction

While we are on the subject of the theater and great literature, check out this collection of Pirate fiction.

Honus and Me

City Theatre has Bucco fever (scroll down, final play in 2005-2006 season).

Or something like it. Leeeny says she will buy everyone tickets.

Just kidding about that. Anyone blogging the City Theatre season? I can see the possibilities. Imagine attending "The Underpants" every night and commenting on the performance of the actors, actresses, and stage managers. ("For the love of God, when will Giles deliver more than 92.3% of his lines correctly? Why do they keep running him out there? Why do I watch this night after night? We need a petition to get Tracy Brigden fired!")

Someone must be doing that somewhere.

Pirate hitting, May 19 to June 8

It’s an off day, so let’s look at some numbers. I like three-week splits. In the habit of looking at them, they mean something to me. FWIW, I last did this on May 16.

In this three-week period of May 19 to June 8, the Bucs went 11-9 (and 2-5 in one-run games). They outscored their opponents 95-78 in that period. Much is made of the fact that the Bucs have played one of the league’s weakest schedules. Teams go up and down over the course of the season. During the last three-week stretch, the Bucs played Colorado, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Florida, Atlanta, and Baltimore. The Reds have made themselves a laughingstock with swaggering, stupid “shake-up” moves that only look good in the newspaper. But the Bucs caught them (and split a series) in the middle of the 7-for-11 streak that some hailed as evidence the Reds had turned it all around. The Cardinals swept the Pirates, but the Pirates played pretty well against them. If Reds played better than their record, the Braves were pouty and underperforming when they came to town. And so were the Orioles, who all know their franchise has the league’s worst interleague record. None of this should diminish the fact that the Pirates played .550 ball against a schedule that must rate average at least. Their play has been crisp and inspired the past three weeks. You have to play well to make another team look bad. I don't recall one game in this period that the Pirates just handed to the opponents -- something we often saw last year (and this past April). The Bucs are surely heading in the right direction.

  • Rob Mackowiak paced the team with a torrid 61 plate appearances. His rates, .404 / .500 / .750, are obviously unsustainable and luck-aided. Let's not talk about luck, actually. Since fortune favors the brave, let's call it bravery. A guy who strikes out 15% of the time, as Mack did the last three weeks, should not be hitting .404. So what, all signs point to real and continued improvement. Last year he struck out 23% of the time; in the late April to mid-May period, he struck out 17% of the time. Even better is the walk rate. He walked in roughly 9% of his PA last year. In the past three weeks, he collected nine walks for a 15% rate. On May 16, I wondered where the power went; Mackowiak went upstairs and found it in the closet. His 21 hits included four doubles, one triple, and four home runs. To make a long story short, Rob Mackowiak is The Man. He's proof that anyone can make themselves into big-league superstar through pluck and ... er ... bravery. The clich├ęs fail me. The man has made himself into a better player, year after year. If he can maintain this performance consistently, he's a bona fide superstar.
  • Matt Lawton had some days off and has been studly. He's made great contact and his K and BB numbers suggest to me that the BA and OBP for this period are not bravery-related. The most impressive part of the stretch for him has been the power: six doubles, one triple, and four home runs.
  • Jason Bay whiffed 20 times in his last 85 PA, which represents better contact for the free-swinging Canadian. He continues to drive half of his hits for extra bases, evidence to me that he's moving into the ranks of the elite hitters in the National League. Bay's batting average is pretty irrelevant considering his power and ability to work the count and draw walks.
  • Daryle Ward continues to have the year I hoped from him. He's been consistently good. Don't let the recent, conspicuous struggles with men in scoring position mislead you. His fielding abilities are rough, sure, but he has done what a first baseman should do.
  • Nothing is wrong with Jack Wilson. He's a star and he's back at the level he achieved in 2004. I'm proud to say I saw this coming.
  • Tike Redman has been a singles machine. As a fourth outfielder, he's an asset. He's not going to hit .417 for a year but he's a much better bet to build an 800 OPS on singles than the high strikeout guys. Tike has four strikeouts and three walks in his last 51 plate appearances.
  • Jose Castillo has cooled off considerably. In mid-May I guessed he'd finish the year around .275 / .325 / .440. He's now at .285 / .319 / .392. Have opposing pitchers made adjustments?
  • Freddy Sanchez showed unusual power and/or speed and/or bravery with six doubles. They ran his line to .333 / .348 / .467. Expect Tike Redman numbers from Freddy; they are similar hitters. That will sound like heresy or foolishness to some of the team's critics, but it's true. Sanchez had three strikeouts and no walks in the last three weeks.
  • David Ross has been David Ross; Humberto Cota has not shown his usual power; Ryan Doumit has barely got his feet wet.
  • Wigginton's numbers are deceiving, as I wrote earlier this week. The argument that the Bucs sent him down "just as he found his stroke" is bullshit, the kind of thing someone would write if he did not have actual game-watching experience to contextualize them. I don't blame Wigginton for making that case himself. I'm sure he sees it that way.
  • Restovich and Bobby Hill haven't played much. Both guys give us some good depth in case we lose another player to injury.

.NAME .TM .G PA ..BA. .OBP. .SLG. R+RBI
Mckwk PIT 17 61 0.404 0.500 0.750 32
Lawtn PIT 18 78 0.313 0.438 0.625 24
BayJa PIT 20 85 0.261 0.395 0.493 21
WardD PIT 18 73 0.279 0.397 0.508 22
WlsnJ PIT 20 77 0.329 0.342 0.500 12
Redmn PIT 17 51 0.417 0.442 0.542 15
Cstlo PIT 20 82 0.263 0.313 0.316 16
Snchz PIT 13 45 0.333 0.348 0.467 12
CotaH PIT 16 54 0.275 0.327 0.373 14
Wiggn PIT 08 24 0.273 0.333 0.727 10
Resto PIT 10 27 0.160 0.222 0.320 03
RossD PIT 10 26 0.200 0.259 0.240 03
HillB PIT 14 14 0.231 0.333 0.231 01
Doumt PIT 03 06 0.167 0.167 0.333 00

Mack and the lefty

Joe Rutter describes last night's game from that angle. Paul Meyer does the same for the PG, which also includes (scroll down) a nice photo of the sellout crowd.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

All hail the Bucs

Two out of three from the best team in baseball. Last night was great, but give me more nights like tonight. To hell with comeback wins. Let's lead them all the way.

Day off tomorrow. Then, look out for the Devil Rays. You know they will kick our ass if the Bucs do much celebrating tonight and tomorrow.

Game 58: Orioles at Pirates

Kip Wells and Bruce Chen, seven o'clock. Hot, some chance of t-storms.

More on Day 1

Wilbur was up late, often typing "overdraft."

Day one of the draft

Ed Eagle has a recap.

Down five, come back to win

Doesn't often happen.

All hail Jack Wilson. And everybody else.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Game 57: Orioles at Pirates

Seven o'clock, some kid and Dave Williams.

Draft today

Here's a thread to discuss / predict how the Bucs pick 'em. I don't know enough about the talent pool to have an opinion. John Sickels' blog should be a good off-the-beaten path for analysis as it happens.

...Andrew McCutchen. Now we can start blaming Wilbur for any lousiness in the minors.

...Paul Meyer was on the McCutchen angle. What Meyer leaves unsaid is this. McCutchen's stock rose around the league after Wilbur Miller drafted him in Sickels' mock draft. Way to go, Wilbur, nearly costing us our boy.

On Wigginton

John Perrotto thinks Wigginton deserves a second chance.

The always-streaky guys make me nervous, I admit. I discount them compared to players who put up similar numbers day after day. I'd rather have a 20 home-run guy deliver the big knock once every eight games than 15 times in one month, three in another, and two in the other four months.

A red-hot player can carry a team for a week or two, as Wigginton did for the Mets last year, but a stone-cold player can really kill a team as well. So the prospect of intense production doesn't excite me unless it's consistent.

I'm also of the belief, and there may be no way to support this objectively, that the score of the game affects the difficulty of the game for some players. Kip Wells has said, in the past, that it's a lot easier to pitch when you are ahead. This makes perfect sense. And we see it all the time. With a big lead, a starter can just throw strikes - or batting practice, even - and not worry about the occasional home run. The corollary to this should be that it's easier or harder to hit in certain situations.

There was a time when all the young Excel guns distinguished themselves by pissing on the concept of "clutch hitting," but it's hard to follow one team day after day and not develop opinions, fair or not, of differing abilities to deliver in the clutch. Likewise there seem to me to be players who are adept at "piling on," that is, having a big game when everyone else is having a big game. Some guys need to underestimated to suceed. If I gave it more thought, I could probably come up with other categories of hitting. Maybe hitting with a huge lead or a huge deficit could be studied as "blowout hitting" or "exhibition hitting." Someone has probably thought of this already.

Wigginton hit well in limited platoon work in May but I wasn't impressed by the context of the hitting. But if you run through his game log you can see how he didn't contribute as much as the numbers suggest. This is especially clear if you look at his two big games.

He had three hits and homered in this 16-2 romp at Arizona on May 8. He was studly but we didn't need the second half of that studliness. In terms of how much his production actually contributed to wins and losses, you could pretty much wipe those numbers off his record. Or, at least, you could discount it considering the sad shape of the back half of Arizona's bullpen on that day. That three-hit day is like rushing for 100 yards in the second half of a blowout football game when the opposing D has quit. It's not the same as rushing for 100 yards in the second half of a playoff game.

Another one of his "big days" was May 25 against the Cardinals. No hits until the team is already down 6-0. For all I know, the Cardinals decided to give him some pitches to hit. If I'm Tony La Russa, and I see the other team has a 628 OPS third baseman, I suggest to Mark Mulder - with a 6-0 lead - that it might be smart to make him look good. This would increase the chance that he's still starting the next time the Cardinals play him.

Some players, I imagine, are too concerned with their ERA to participate in such shenanigans. We know for a fact, however, that others - often the "smartest" players - do engage in this kind of behavior. I remember reading an interview with Greg Maddux - or was it a Gammons love poem? - arguing that he'd never pitch a no-hitter because he's too eager to use such opportunities - pitching with a huge lead - to set up the next time he sees the opposing hitter. Maddux was known for pitching to players in some way that invited them to think they could get the better of this or that pitch the next time they saw him. So why wouldn't a team with a huge lead on the division - like the Cardinals - use those opportunities to pervert the other team's data set? I know I would do it.

So Wigginton had twelve hits in May. Three in the 16-2 win and three in the 11-5 loss.

I expected him to improve this year. It's not totally right to dump on a guy who just got demoted to the minors, and it's not exactly fair or scientific to isolate these games and say his hits were not as good as hits in a 1-0 squeaker. If we did that for all the players, though, we might come up with some interesting measures.

Still, those two performances were his only three-hit performances on the year. If he's going to live and die with the streaky, those three-hit games are real important in his case for more playing time. And if those games don't function, logically, as evidence capable of summing up his entire 2005 season, they do work metaphorically.

It was too little, too late with that guy. The thing that most impressed me about his few good games in May was the manager's reluctance to get excited about them. This team needs more consistent production from players holding down more than a platoon role.

Stats Geek: Ward, Mackowiak, Redman edition

Brian O'Neill looks at these guys. There was a period last year, about this time, when Mackowiak had posted a 900 OPS for a full year. He learns and gets better. Redman looks like a steal and Ward like a bargain.

To keep playing .550 ball the rest of the year, my sense is that they will need to find a thumper, and quick, or have one of these guys learn and get better. Maybe getting Craig Wilson back in Jim Thome mode would do it. With this pitching, I think a .525 rest-of-the-way, or a .512, is not out of the question. As I counted last week, a .525 has them above .500 to stay in mid-August. A .512 has them fluttering at .500 at the end of the season.

Below-average track record

In his AP report on the draft, Alan Robinson notes the Bucs have had a below-average track record with the draft under Littlefield. Has anyone done a study comparing all the different teams? The drafts have been disappointing for fans, OK, but is there an actual objective study comparing our drafts to those of other teams? What other teams have had bad drafts? Who has had good ones? By what criteria do we compare them?

I assume the study is out there. Anyone help me find it?

Monday, June 06, 2005