Friday, July 22, 2005

Game 97: Rockies at Pirates

Seven. Wright and Wells. C'mon Kip. Throw strikes man.

Eldred bats cleanup. Welcome to the big leagues.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

All hail Brad Eldred

And the Brad Eldred watch was just four hours old.

If he can keep the strikeouts under 50% for the first 100 at-bats, I'll be fine with that, provided we get some extra-base hits in the mix. Russell the Muscle struck out 41% of the time in his first 235 at-bats. Eldred doesn't have to be Jim Thome to help right now. Heck, he can be Julio Zuleta and help this team. Swing, big man. Give the fans something to cheer about.

The Trib

Written like true bloggers!

Game 96: Rockies at Pirates

Zach Duke tonight. The Rockies have been on the road for some time, so they should be adjusted to baseball near sea level. But the gamblers are onto Duke, and the Bucs, I understand it, are pretty heavily favored.

I've lost patience with Daryle Ward. DFA him if no one wants him. He's only making 900K; someone must want him. We've seen enough to know he's no part of the future. And I want Ryan Doumit to stick at catcher. If that just gets worse, let him play 1B in the AFL.

This means it's time to watch just-turned-25-years-old Brad Eldred. Big Country's numbers at Indianapolis look like this. 53 hits in 192 AB (.276), 28 extra-base hits (a Branyanesque 53% of all hits), a .583 SLG. 4 steals! The man can lumber. Or maybe it's the giant steps. The swing is giant too: 56 K (29% of all AB) and only 14 BB. Some of those BB must be intentional, too.

He can strike 67% for all I care, provided he still manages a .330 OBP and a .580 SLG. My concern would be that a guy who Ks 29% at AAA will K 49% up here.

But would that be so bad? After 1200 MLB at-bats, Russell Branyan is striking out 37% of the time. He's only starting against RHP, but he's been very productive in this limited role. Ryan Howard, who is six months older than Eldred, is now K'ing 47% of the time and being moderately useful.

So damn the strikeouts, I say, they are of little matter when every second hit goes for extra bases. Let's not quote that K rate without mentioning the .583 SLG.

Tonight, Indy plays Syracuse at 8pm.

We suck, basically

Rob Mackowiak.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Game 95: Astros at Pirates

Noonish, Andy Pettitte and Josh Fogg.

Q & A

Another installment.

Is it easier for a rookie to break in at the bottom of the lineup on a winning team, surrounded by players like Chipper Jones and John Smoltz? I would guess yes. Also, if the Braves only start their rookies, why has Jeff Francoeur been out of the lineup the last two nights? I think we often exaggerate the difference between how the Pirates are run and how the other teams are run. The Pirates' trouble is not so much how the team is managed, but how the players play. I don't completely understand the impulse to blame everyone but the players.

Doumit should be the primary catcher, Duffy should be the primary centerfielder, and Eldred should be here soon. I agree with all that. There are no veteran players standing in their way right now.

And on the subject of Mark Cuban, you can now get your t-shirt. I've been doubtful that anyone would buy the team and infuse, say, $50M in payroll with the belief that it takes money to make money. But maybe I'm wrong.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Game 93 and 94: Astros at Pirates

Games starting soon. Will Ian Snell baffle the Astros?

On proven veterans

Wilbur, his neck snapping from the strain of pondering a Mike Lowell trade, offers this editorial at OnlyBucs. He's making sense--if there are many fans who believe the Pirates are only one bat away from contending. And if those same fans will believe that Mike Lowell is that bat. Are Pirate fans that gullible?

We can't smack ourselves on the forehead every time the Pirates sign some 30-something that another team no longer wants. Every team adds "washed-up," "struggling," "overrated," and/or "past their peak" veterans. Just because the Pirates have been stuck around 75 wins, that doesn't mean they should not add veterans. Wilbur describes a method for maintaining an "OK" 75-win team, but this same method is also employed by most of the best teams in baseball right now. The difference between the Pirates and the perpetual winners is not that the Pirates sign more mediocre proven veterans.

Consider the following transactions. In the 2004-2005 offseason, the Cardinals signed 30-year-old David Eckstein to lead off in 2005. Eckstein was coming off a season in which he posted an OBP of .339. The White Sox signed 31-year-old Jermaine Dye, who was coming off seasons in which he posted OPS numbers of 514 and 793. The Angels signed the ancient 40-year-old Steve Finley and 30-year-old Orlando Cabrera, who came off a 630 OPS second-half and down year. The Red Sox signed the 29-year-old Edgar Renteria off a down year. The Braves signed the conspicuously-worthless 34-year-old Raul Mondesi. The Orioles signed the 36-year-old malcontent Sammy Sosa. The Rangers acquired the long-worthless 30-year-old Richard Hidalgo and the 760-OPS underwhelming 31-year-old David Dellucci. The Indians built their team around the maimed and disappointing 32-year-old Aaron Boone. The Athletics acquired a 31-year-old overpaid catcher with 1205 games on the odometer of his knees and ankles.

Hmmm ... what do these teams have in common? They all add "washed-up," "struggling," "overrated," and/or "past their peak" as part of the regular ongoing roster shuffle. What else do they have in common? They all have GMs basking in the warm, adoring light of fans and pundits.

Of those acquistions, most would have irritated Pirate fans if the Pirates had done the signing. With a few obvious exceptions, most of these players would have been regarded as the second coming of Derek Bell, Chris Stynes, Randall Simon, or Raul Mondesi. (Renteria was a four-year, $40M player, yes, but fans and pundits recognized that he was "at the end of his peak, not the middle of it", so I include him.) Of these eleven acquisitions, I count six clear busts and five good acquisitions: Renteria's 14.8 VORP is sixth-best on the Red Sox, Dellucci has posted 26.9 VORP numbers, Dye's 16.4 VORP is second-best on the White Sox, Eckstein's 15.3 VORP is fifth-best on the Cardinals, and Kendall's 15.7 VORP is third-best for the Athletics. (Play with VORP.)

The addition of one player will not make a huge difference for any team. These teams are winning because they already had a good nucleus of players. But it should be no shock that some of the more surprising winners, like Chicago-AL and Texas, are winning because they hit the jackpot in the "worthless" proven-veteran lotto.

Are these vets such a bad gamble? What are the odds that Ryan Doumit, Chris Duffy, Brad Eldred, Jose Bautista, or Yurendell DeCaster will play every day in 2006 and contribute in a way that ranks them as a top-six hitter on a top-ten team? Are those odds five in eleven? Four in ten? Three in nine? I would guess 33% or less, but maybe that's because I'm jaded. (As a side note: if you think the Pirates' main problem is evaluating talent, wouldn't that incline you even further toward the addition of veterans? Is our taste in rookies that much better than our taste in veterans?)

The Bucs should trade the likes of Lawton, Mark Redman, Tike Redman, D. Ward, Freddy Sanchez, and Bobby Hill if they can find takers. None of these guys, for various reasons, has much of a chance of being a top hitter on a team that's as good as any of the teams listed above. Certainly the chances are not four in ten or even three in nine.

The Bucs don't need to add a half-dozen veterans to make their best play for a playoff-worthy 2006. But they certainly need to add new players. The current crop is not getting the job done. A Mike Lowell may or may not be 2006's Jermaine Dye, but he has as good a chance, I think, as Brad Eldred or Jose Bautista.

The best approach probably involves balance. The Pirates need better players. They will add a "proven veteran" or two or three. It's inevitable. No one manages their roster without doing this.

Finally, some will argue that the Pirates, lacking the solid offensive core that these other teams have, need to be looking not for one-year past-peak wonders but for long-term solutions. I agree. My definition of "long-term," however, would be not one but two or, at most, three years down the road. Too many things change from year to year to make longer plans wise. Four-year plans, five-year plans, these have always been doomed to fail.

Rob Mackowiak, Freddy Sanchez, Bobby Hill, and Ty Wigginton have not done much to suggest they will be one of those top hitters in 2006. Since the Pirates have no minor-league third baseman poised for a promotion, it makes sense to add a "proven veteran" to play third base for 2006.

Mike Lowell rumor

They'll play two.

Mike Lowell is not a terrible idea. He's come around after a bad-luck-driven poor start, but I wouldn't expect him to return to his 2002-2004 peak. His 2005 numbers look bad compared to that stretch, but they look more typical compared to his career numbers. STATS wrote this about him in the last offseason:

Lowell always had been a dead-pull hitter, but he made a concerted effort last year to hit more balls to right-center, where he has enough power to take pitchers out of the park. He showed better pitch selection and built his walk total to a career best. He still likes the ball middle-in and thigh high, and will yank inside mistakes over the relatively short porch in left at Pro Player Stadium. He's a marked flyball hitter who can have trouble with high fastballs and breaking balls away, although in general he did a better job of tracking breaking stuff. He crushes lefties and holds his own against righthanders. Lowell has been one of the club's most reliable clutch hitters, but last year only nine of his 27 homers came with men on base.

Here's the bad: It does not sound like he's built for PNC Park. He has two-and-a-half years on his contract; it's worth about 8M per year. He has been as inconsistent as Rob Mackowiak. His monthly OPS splits for 2004, a peak year, were 993 / 1183 / 692 / 927 / 619 / 790.

What I like about him: he's done his best hitting as a cleanup hitter. Rob Mackowiak still has a 1000+ OPS as a third baseman, but he has not been much of a cleanup hitter. He plays third base. Jose Bautista looks a year or more away.

Lowell looks to me like a 277 / 346 / 477 hitter - no Aramis Ramirez but no Chris Stynes or Ty Wigginton, either. If he gets slumpy, he can start against lefties, and Rob Mackowiak can take some of his at-bats against righties. A Lowell / Mackowiak platoon could be very strong.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Game 92: Astros at Pirates

Seven o'clock. Dave Williams and Brandon Backe.

Looks like this July will shape up like last July, only the Pirates are not playing well as the fans look to the trading deadline like it's the last weekend of the baseball season.

Will Carroll wrote this yesterday:

For those that doubted Zach Duke, well, quit doubting. The kid is real. His emergence - and several options including Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny, make Mark Redman and Kip Wells available. Redman is being watched by the Yanks and Red Sox. The White Sox would love to have Wells back if they miss out on Burnett or another top-line starter.

That's from his Juice Blog. I'm glad to know that Zach Duke is not just a figment of my winning-deprived mind.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Game 91: Pirates at Cubs

Another day game. Kip Wells and Carlos Zambrano.

All hail Zach Duke, again

From Joe Rutter's report on the game:

Duke also chipped in with a sacrifice fly in the second inning that gave the Pirates a 2-0 lead.

"I'm more proud of that than anything," Duke said. "I got an RBI off Greg Maddux. I'm going to call home and tell my parents."

Maddux (8-7) pitched well enough to win, allowing two earned runs and five hits in eight innings. Still, he came up short of career win No. 314.

"I threw OK, but I got out-pitched," Maddux said. "Their guy didn't make many mistakes and pitched a very good game. He shut down a team that's been swinging the bats really good the past few games."

What is not to like about this guy, Zach Duke?