Friday, August 19, 2005

Eldred walks!

All hail Brad Eldred for his third big-league walk. Anyone see it and care to share the experience?

... found it on the ESPN pitch-by-pitch: Ball, Strike (foul), Ball, Strike (foul), Ball, Ball, B Eldred walked.

Better than expected! Hoo-raw! Great at-bat, Brad Eldred!

Game 122: Pirates at Phillies

The Phillies were always my favorite opponent for the Pirates back in the 1970s.

Tonight's game begins at seven. Kip Wells faces the Phillies' great rookie pitcher, Robinson Tejeda.

Which Kip will we see tonight? Dr. Kipple, or Mr. Wells?

...way to mess up Tejeda's YTD stats and ROY bid. All the young Bucs!

Global warming bad for Pirates

Look no further for the cause of 13 consecutive losing seasons.

I wonder if the FSM recognizes something like this as "full Pirate regalia."

I sure hope so.

Jose Castillo YTD

Now at .269 / .311 / .420. I was expecting .275 / .320 / .440. He's .258 / .304 / .445 since the ASB.

Brad Eldred 985 August OPS

Not bad.

Rowdy Doumit 16-for-32 in August

Wow. His real name is "Ryan," but everyone knows he'd prefer to be called Rowdy.

"One of the most meteoric starts in big-league history"

Bill Madden For the NY Daily News:

Nobody, not even Willie Randolph - who had vowed his troops would take an aggressive approach to the rookie - could say Duke didn't live up to his advance billing. "A sneaky 91-92 (mph) fastball, great curve and excellent command" was the basic scouting report on the Pirate phenom who, at 6-0 with a 1.87 ERA, is off to one of the most meteoric starts in big-league history.

Maybe it was the repeated media questions about being just 2 1/2 games out of the wild-card race despite a deflating 2-4 West Coast road trip, or simply the flush of two efficient wins over the Pirates to start the home stand, but Randolph struck a defiant tone before the game when asked about the prospect of his team facing Duke for the first time.

"I saw him on TV," the Mets manager said. "He's got a good curve, a sneaky fastball and he pitches inside. I was impressed. But we're going to attack him. You don't give him too much respect. He's a young player and you've got to attack him. You don't let him get comfortable."

It was sound enough advice, just easier said than done.

From the get-go Duke settled into a comfort zone, retiring the first 11 Mets until his right fielder, fellow rookie Nate McLouth, broke up the perfecto by nonchalanting Carlos Beltran's routine fly ball to right and allowing it to glance off his glove for a two-base error. Duke, however, was unruffled and proceeded to strike out Cliff Floyd on a 2-2 overhand curve to end the inning.

"It's hardly easy," Duke insisted. "The main thing was I was able to get my two-seamer down in the zone and got a lot of groundouts and I got Floyd on a curve."

Up to then, he'd used just 50 pitches and his Pirate teammates, specifically Brad Eldred, another rookie, and Jose Castillo, had staked him to a 4-0 lead. While Eldred had struck the most crushing blow against Victor Zambrano, a two-run homer in the fourth on an 0-2 letters-high fastball, Castillo had the dubious distinction of twice getting nailed for the third out trying to stretch a double into a triple, after RBI doubles in the second and fourth. It is undetermined if this is any sort of record.

But enough of Castillo. Last night was all about the artistry of Duke, who was not even on the Pirates' 40-man roster at the start of the season, yet, despite his late call-up, must be considered a leading Rookie of the Year candidate.

I wonder if Duke was unsurprised by McLouth's nonchalance because he'd seen it at Altoona.

And here's a good quote, from Dejan Kovacevic's recap:

"He's got a heck of a curveball," [Cliff Floyd] said of Duke. "I hope he'll be around a long time. The game needs guys like him. He can turn a franchise around."

We could use some of that.

And a few years ago, McClendon was in the habit of telling the media that the Pirates had to become better baserunners. This got him a reputation for being a small-minded small-ball manager. Perhaps that's why he stopped talking about baserunning so often. As DK reports:

"It's not for print," McClendon said when asked about Castillo's base running.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Game 121: Pirates at Mets

Seven o'clock. Victor Zambrano and Zach Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuke.

... all hail the Altoona Curve! I like how all the rookies (Duffy, McLouth, Doumit, Eldred) get the start with Duke on the mound.

... all hail Brad Eldred! Now I have to go find another bottle of Marlborough sauvignon blanc ...

Roethlisberger will suck this year

I'm starting to realize that the CW has Ben Roethlisberger coming "down to earth" this year. Chuck Delsman, for example:

If you're looking for an NFL player who will fall back to earth this season, try Ben Roethlisberger. I look for him and the Pittsburgh Steelers to struggle and miss the playoffs.

The more people bet against the Steelers, the better their chances. They play better with a chip on their shoulders. Last year they were universally disrespected after the 6-10 season. It's a good thing to see the Roethlisberger-will-be-a-dud meme going. I'll try to promote it with the misleading title of this post.

I don't know if it was Ward's good faith or the abundant magic on Monday Night, but I'm growing more optimistic about this Steeler season. No way Roethlisberger will be as good as he was last year. Well, he'll be better, but there's no way his stats will reflect that. Teams will attack weaknesses that he had (but no one knew about) in 2004. We can expect that. But down to earth? I doubt the guy will be mundane. My point in stating the expectation that he'll look worse on paper is mainly to say that everything went right in the 15-1 season, and the odds are greatly against a repeat of that run. He'll throw a game-ending interception into the end zone this year. When comparing the 2005 Steelers to the 2004 Steelers, you have to see that we can't expect Roethlisberger to be as near-perfect as he was last year.

Speaking of Steeler QBs, Tommy Maddox has always reminded me of Mike Tomczak - great backup. If Roethlisberger misses a game or mightily struggles somewhere, I don't think that impacts the Steelers that terribly, especially if they have Maddox ready to go in his place.

I still think that 9 wins is the most likely result. Before I said 7 before 10, but I'd reverse that now and say 10 before 7. Maybe 11 before 7. I can't expect 11 or more, not at this point, though I wouldn't rule it out.

And I think they'll take the division. They have to be the favorite. I look for the bad teams to be better, so I expect the North will be bunched up. The Bengals and the Browns will pose more difficult tests this year.

Depth does look like the possible problem with this team, but it's not a problem until it becomes a problem. I've liked Max Starks from day one. And once again I think Verron Haynes could break out with health and opportunity. So we'll see. The rest of the preseason will be a meaningless fog. So long as everyone stays healthy, we won't learn much more about this team until the games begin next month.

Josh Fogg

Dejan Kovacevic reports Josh Fogg may not see too many starts. As with D. Ward and Tike Redman, Josh Fogg got the full set of opportunities to establish himself as a regular. He'll probably leave Pittsburgh, be out a job, and, starting in 2007, catch on with another team. And then go on to contribute 2000 innings over the next dozen years. And maybe win a World Series or two.

Fogg's probably done here, but his career is not over. If wanted to stick around as a Pirate, he picked a bad year to have a bad year. He cleared waivers so the Bucs could even trade him if a contender wanted him right now.

Twitchy Eldred

So a number of us have noticed that Eldred twitches and fidgets at the plate these days, and the few of us who saw him at Altoona, don't remember seeing this.

What do we make of that?

Eldred's power potential makes him a must-play, must-keep character for us. Unless Littlefield can replace him with a sure thing - which is doubtful considering the salaries power hitters command - we'll sink or swim with Big Country. I may not like to watch nervous Eldred at the plate, but there's no way I'd rather be watching Darlye Ward, who has worn out his welcome with his still-inconsistent contribution. I had hoped 2005 would be the year he'd be a steady if unspectacular contributor. I also came into the year viewing 2005 as his last chance.

Eldred has struggled each time he has moved up a level. And after the struggles, he calmed down and became one of the best hitters in his league.

The best-case scenario for Eldred's future, I think, is something like Adam Dunn or Russ Branyan. Despite his huge size, Dunn has always drawn walks. His strike zone is big but not so big that every pitch is a strike. Eldred has not shown that patience. Branyan has always showed a dramatic platoon split. A left-handed hitter, Branyan just can't hit lefties. Eldred has not hit lefties, either. Eldred has been above-average (already) against right-handed pitching. Since Eldred is a right-handed hitter, there's no reason to think he won't adjust to big-league left-handed pitching. That may be the point where he emerges as the kind of hitter he can be at this level.

If he turns into a .265 / .325 / 575 hitter, who makes something near the minimum, then he's a real asset. Eventually, hitters with poor K-to-BB ratios and Ginormous Power will draw more walks. Pitchers begin to fear them. Branyan developed into a .325 OBP guy and this year, he's sporting an OBP in the .380s.

Good things come to those who wait. The Pirates have to wait for Eldred. The fans might as well. It would be easier to watch all the games if Eldred's batting posture was a bit more reassuring, but I think we have to wait on this guy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Game 120: Pirates at Mets

Down 3-1 in the fifth.

Abraham Nunez

A good test for the nature vs. nuture argument w/ player development might be our beloved pinch-hitter, Abraham Nunez. Why has he blossomed in St. Louis? Did Tony La Russa teach him to cut down on his strikeouts? Or his improvement more likely the result of him getting older and more experienced?

Did he work harder in the offseason because he'd be starting a new job?

Was he used incorrectly by McClendon? Most of us would yes; we hated to see him pinch-hit so much. Is this why he struck out so much as a Pirate?

Has his effectiveness increased because he's surrounded by greatness? I call this the Charles Johnson effect. He had one good year (2000), in large part, I always thought, because he hit ninth in a stacked Chicago lineup. Does Noonie succeed in St. Louis because his opponents overlook him among so many intimidating players? Did opponents ever regard him as a threat when a Pirate?

I don't know why Noonie has played better than Scott Rolen this year, but I doubt the reason is Tony La Russa's ability to better handle him.

I'd guess it's far more likely that Noonie answered the wake-up call of unemployment with redoubled efforts to improve himself as a player. He was once a prospect (with St. Louis, I think), so it's not like he's ever been without talent.

Should McClendon be fired because there is some Noonie on the current roster?

I just don't accept the idea that the big-league manager has much to do with the success or failure of his individual players.

Javier Guzman

The Pirates have a waterbug prospect at Altoona. Paul Meyer provides this biography.

Also catch Josh Bonifay on Jose Castillo's defense. Yeah, Charlie is right. We can expect Castillo to post better defensive numbers (see Tuesday's Stats Geek) as he matures.

Q & A and McClendon

A lot of interesting stuff, as usual, in the Q & A.

My take on any manager or general manager is this. If he's a rookie, he's going to screw up. If he pays attention, studies the game, and has real problem-solving ability, he's going to get better. If he does not pay attention, does not study the game, and creates more problems then he solves, then he needs to be fired.

I don't have any kind of access or inside information, but I've seen little evidence that McClendon is more a problem-maker than problem-solver. The fact that a lot of raw players leave Pittsburgh and continue to improve is no strike against McClendon; that's like blaming the 6th-grade teacher when the 10th-grade girls grow boobs or get pregnant. I expect every player the Pirates cast off after a few years of service to catch on somewhere else and keep getting better. They have talent and sometimes it takes a lack of security (e.g., getting dumped by the Pirates) to motivate young players to get the most out of it. If players are malingering in Pittsburgh, trying to stay healthy and extend their career into the free agency paydays, then it doesn't matter who is the manager in Pittsburgh. If the additional motivation of finding a new job doesn't help, simple aging and maturing will. Of course young players leave Pittsburgh and keep getting better.

In addition, I'm not impressed with arguments that proceed from the assumption that the manager is the person who is primarily responsible for a player's development. The primary responsibility for a player's development falls to the player. Any good coach or teacher knows this. All the good players know this.

So all things being equal, I would assume that McClendon will be a better manager in 2006 than any rookie manager. I also assume that Littlefield will be a better general manager in 2006 than any rookie general manager. But I'm not terribly qualified to make that decision, so I can only offer that opinion with a shrug.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Perrotto: Farm system loaded

Uplifting stuff.

Game 119: Pirates at Mets

Seven o'clock. Mark Redman and Kristin Bentley. Bentley's name triggers some kind of memory. I'm not sure what. Anyway, he's pitching a hell of a lot better this year than, say, Kip Wells.

J.R. House

Needs time and some WD-40. Story there from the Charleston Daily Mail.

Wilson and Castillo

Good Stats Geek this morning.

Is Castillo's defense so Bobby Hillesque? I expected a little more from him with the bat. There's still time.

Why does Castillo hit so poorly at home?

And why does Rob Mackowiak hit so poorly as an outfielder?

Next time, maybe the Stats Geek can interpret some of the crazy splits which characterize our inconsistent players.

Good faith

All hail Hines Ward.

Monday, August 15, 2005

All hail back-to-back road series wins

And all hail Jason Bay. How long had it been since we won a series in Houston?

A gambler friend of mine offers this rule: if a good team loses to a bad team, bet on the bad team to win again the next day. Everyone thinks no way they lose to them again, but usually, they do just that.

I was skeptical and wanted to see the math when he told me this. With the Astros streaking and due to face first Chicago and second Milwaukee, I admit that's what I thought when we snuck out of dodge with the series win.

For some reason I doubt the Astros would give a playoff start to Wandy Rodriguez.

This preseason game is getting a little silly. Somewhere, fantasy players are snagging Nate Washington off waivers and high-fiving themselves mentally.

50-50 on McClendon for 2006

John Perrotto gives that number.

Eagles at Steelers

Game on in half an hour. I remember the last time the Eagles came to Pittsburgh for a preseason game ... maybe it was the last time ... years ago at Three Rivers. The Steelers stunk it up and lost, but I had a blast anyway.

The Steelers' easy 2005 schedule

Wow, I'd like to be as optimistic as Al & Vivek at Football Outsiders. I blame the Bucs ....

Football tonight

The Steelers have NOT established themselves as one of the best teams in the NFL. One good season doesn't do this for me. They went 15-1 in 2004, but they were a 6-10 team in 2003. The 2005 season could be like the 2004 season for the Chiefs. The Chiefs went 8-8 in 2002, 13-3 in 2003, and 7-9 in 2004.

Football teams that take their greatness for granted will disappoint their fans. Are the Steelers up to this? I don't know. But ask yourself this: would we have had this kind of contract-holdout distraction one year ago?

I'm not convinced the 2003 record has much bearing on the Steelers' 2005 season, but I'm also not convinced the 2004 season does much to meaningfully predict the 2005 season. I guess any prediction should begin at zero, that is, at 8-8. What are the Steelers showing us right now to suggest they are better than an 8-8 team? Not much, but the same could be said for almost every team in the league. The only exceptions would be the ones that have posted winning season after winning season after winning season.

Another thing. Most of you have been over this before, so forgive me if this is tired stuff by now. Ben Roethlisberger is good, but he's not going to complete 66% of his passes over the course of his career. Dan Marino completed 59%. The all-time completion PCT record-holders are Steve Young (64%), Joe Montana (63%), and Troy Aikman (61%). I'm not predicting disaster for Big Ben, but teams will make adjustments - remember the New England playoff game - and it's not at all likely that he will be as effective in 2005. Even if he is really, really good - say a Hall-of-Fame QB - he's not going to live up to the 2005 standard.

For all we know, he'll be kicking a laundry cart after a 3-5 start. He has to play pretty well for what, another dozen seasons, before anyone should be serious with with Marino / Young / Montana stuff.

And as Scoop always notes, it's been part of Cowher's legacy to delight when expectations are low and disappoint when expectations are high. I'll be keeping my expectations pretty low.

I would not be shocked to see them go 7-9 in 2005. Eight or nine wins may be more likely, but I'd go with seven before I'd go with ten.

So I say, brace yourself, Steeler fans.

What are your thoughts?

Pirates to cut back Duke's workload

Joe Rutter reports.

Perrotto on Parity

John Perrotto:

A total of 18 of the 30 major-league clubs were within 6½ games of a playoff spot when the weekend began.

So, while it's understandable that Pirates' fans think the economic deck is stacked against their favorite team, the truth is there is as much parity in the majors now as there has ever been. While the Pirates have not figured out how to take advantage, increased revenue sharing and a luxury tax have helped competitive balance.

Even the Los Angeles Dodgers still have hopes of making the playoffs.

So what happened? What does it mean to not "take advantage" of the greater parity?

Sally O'Leary

Rick Shrum PG interview with Pirates historian and retired PR whiz Sally O'Leary.

What did your work entail during the early years with the team?

O'Leary: We did community days, fan mail. There weren't many promotions until later. One of my biggest jobs was to update statistics every day. I had to go to every home game and keep statistics and a box score. I had to listen to road games because I still had to keep score. We also kept a ledger book of every game, which was handwritten and had details of everything: weather, the umpires, outstanding plays. We also had a page on every player. When we were at Forbes, we didn't have things like a computer or electric typewriter. I didn't even have a calculator. I had a little book that listed percentages that helped me with batting averages.

All hail Sally. Link here.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

All hail runs

Beautiful win. Way to stick it to the NL Wild-Card leader.

And three toasts tonight for Dave Williams. All hail that guy for the CG gem.

Duke in the NYT

Murray Chass:

The Pirates plucked Duke, a left-hander from Texas, in the 2001 draft. But they selected him in the 20th round, meaning he was available to every other team in the first 19 rounds. How does a 20th-round pick win his first five decisions in the majors after dazzling five minor leagues in the previous three and a half seasons?

The answer is Duke wasn't really a 20th-rounder. He wasn't projected as a first-round pick, but he would most likely have gone within the first five rounds.

"He would have gone higher in the draft," Dave Littlefield, the Pirates' general manager said, "but there was word that he wanted a lot more dollars than he was worth. Since people deemed him unsignable, he was headed to college."

The Pirates, moving belatedly but boldly, intercepted Duke before he matriculated. It was one of the best moves they had made since drafting Roberto Clemente in 1954. "Our scout" -- Grant Brittain -- "did a nice job with him and was able to get him signed," Littlefield said.

Link here.

Game 118: Pirates at Astros

Two o'clock. Another win at Enron field would make my day. Dave Williams and Ezequiel Astacio.

Carrying water

Get well Chris Duffy, and don't let Brad Eldred punch you in the kidneys again.