Friday, December 23, 2005

Week 16: Steelers at Browns

Must win. Marvel has been upgraded to probable. Please share your predictions/comments. I see Steelers winning big and covering easily: Steelers 30, Browns 16.

Happy Holidays

I've had too much of Rowdy's kool-aid so will be curling up under the table for a few days. Happy Holidays to all! Go Steelers!

A lunch-pail kind of guy

DK reports that the Bucs have made inquiries with Eric Byrnes' agent the last two days. I'd rather see Byrnes signed than Encarnacion. Byrnes should cost far less money. Juan made 4.4 million last year and is coming off his career year which still wasn't very good. But Rotoworld's take on this, that if Byrnes is signed, Craig "would likely be traded," scares me.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Willie can

The AP gives Willie Parker some love on the occasion of undrafted Willie needing 63 more yards to become only the sixth Steeler ever to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Props to Willie, but we need to win on Saturday.

Juan Encarnacion

John Perrotto pours salt in our wounds reporting that DL wants Juan Encarnacion again. Nooooo! We went through this in spring training last year, but just to reiterate: Juan's sub-par power and poor on-base skills are exactly what we don't need and would likely ice that 14th straight losing season. Juan (career .268/.316/.440) wishes he could hit like Craig (career .268/.363/.488). Please don't do it, DL.

DL on free agent pool

DK has the story on DL's view of the free agent pool:

"As far as the names right now, I don't see anyone who will fill our needs for a bigger bat in right field or third base," DL said. "But there are always possibilities as far as what we can do for our depth in the outfield, and we're always looking for another arm in the bullpen. As far as extra-type players, there are a few in that group".
Beware, DL could have a field day with all them fourth outfielders and "extra-type players". Anyway, DK perpetuates the Eric Byrnes rumor. Byrnes has done well vs. LHPs, so might be useful in a bench role, provided he's dirt-cheap (which he should be, since he was putrid last year). As far as the suggestions made that Byrnes could be our new Wiggy, I'm just not seeing it. Byrnes throws himself all over the field and basepaths with reckless abandon, but even if he gained a lot of weight, I just can't picture him bowling anybody over like Wiggy.

Four Steelers selected to Pro Bowl

All hail Faneca, Hartings, Polamalu, and Porter!

All I want for Christmas

is some Excel-formatted or -formattable (i.e. tab-delimited) stats of MLB players and teams for 2005 (and ideally for past years too). Anybody have suggestions on where to find these?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Fogg non-tendered

RV made the cut, as Fogg is only non-tendered Buc. This frees up 3 more million for Manny Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Think I'll take a Christmas break

It's time to unplug for some days. You should too, if you can. Bones, I don't know where he is. Or when he'll be back. Maybe soon, maybe not.

If you want me again look for me under the mistletoe. I'll be the guy adding rum to the kool-aid. Cheers and huzza.

Mum's the word

Any news on the status of Fogg and Vogelsong?

Roberto Clemente's hypochondria

Milt Dunnell's 1973 column on Clemente's death has been posted to celebrate Dunnell's 100th birthday.

TORONTO—This time, there can be no doubting the seriousness of Roberto Clemente's injuries. Roberto Clemente, one of the most talented baseball players of his time — and, until recent years, one of the most unappreciated of superstars — is dead.

Clemente, who spent most of his 18 years as a big leaguer defending himself against insinuations that he was a hypochondriac — that he was the type of athlete who would apply a cast to a hangnail — lost his life on a mission of mercy.

We forget that Clemente was not a "gamer" who lived in denial of pain and injury. Go read the whole article. Finoli & Ranier treat it briefly in their Encyclopedia, where they attribute Clemente's "hypochondria" to the culture of Latin baseball. Do the Latin players still struggle to understand why the North American white boys pride themselves on playing through injury? Is anyone writing today on the different cultures & their different interpretations of such significant aspects of the game?

And oh for the days when "the Pirates firmly believed they were . . . better than any other team in the world."

Eric Byrnes and Emil Brown

John Perrotto has some inside-dopester stuff for you.

Tenders tomorrow

The deadline for offering contracts is tomorrow morning midnight. Dejan Kovacevic handicaps the situation.

Littlefield on vacation

Headed to Mexico.

Ollie has pitched well while he's down there.

Perez has impressed in limited duty for Culiacan, posting a 1.50 earned run average and 15 strikeouts in 12 innings spread over four appearances.

"My numbers are good, but the best thing is my velocity," he said. "The last time I pitched in Pittsburgh, I was at 90 mph. Now, I'm at 94, 95. The slider's good, too. I feel very strong. I'm feeling great."

Go Tomato Growers.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Strikeouts and Kip Wells

Ed Eagle explains why the brass are down on Craiggers and why Kip Wells has no trade value.

Strikeouts are your friend when they come with 850 OPS production. Are Littlefield and Tracy that irrational on the subject, or is this a cover for some other unmentionable concern with Craig Wilson?

Steelers could win out and miss playoffs

Mike Bires explains. An 11-5 team could miss the playoffs? The myth of parity in the NFL should be over after this year.

Sean Casey hurt and Sean Casey healthy

Sean Casey has been two players: Sean Casey hurt and Sean Casey healthy. Unlike the cases of Dr. Jekyll or the Hulk, the difference in Casey is not immediately visible. At times, he has played hurt, and the Cincinnati fans did not know he was playing hurt. The good news is that Sean Casey has been a .400 OBP / .500-.600 SLG player when healthy. Surely this is just what the Pirates, and every other team in the league, need from their first baseman. The bad news is not just that Sean Casey has been a .340 OBP / .360 SLG when playing hurt. Also bad news is the fact that Casey is one of those “gamers” who might keep an injury secret and plays hurt until people notice the long slump and realize he must be playing hurt. If this is not the case, then his coaches in Cincinnati were utter morons who kept starting him for no good reason. Either way, it appears that his injuries were routinely hidden from the fans. That might be typical, but Pirate fans will want to keep a close eye on Casey’s health and performance.

1999 and 2000

My memories of Casey’s career and health history were incomplete and fuzzy, so I spent an hour in the library pouring through the old newspapers. Here’s what I’ve gathered. I’m sure this is an incomplete record in two ways. First, I probably missed stories. Second, I’m sure there have been health issues that went unreported. So take the following summary as a rough sketch.

As a top prospect, Casey broke out in 1999. He was good all year, but surprisingly powerful in the first half. In the second half of the season he was only good, but surprisingly durable: he played in 151 games, a career high. (Between 1995 and 1998, he never played more than 120 games in a pro season) On the whole, he was one of the league’s best in 1999.

He began 2000 as Sean Casey hurt, missing most of the first month with a broken thumb. When he returned to the field, he sucked, perhaps because he was still working his way back from the thumb injury. From June to September, however, he was Sean Casey healthy, and he hit as well as he did in 1999. He had the power. He hit ten home runs in September.

2001 and 2002

Casey went into the 2001 season as a career .311 hitter with a .502 slugging percentage built out of 96 doubles, 6 triples, and 52 home runs. But he played through a series of minor injuries. He fouled a pitch off his foot in April, he strained his back in May, he hurt his ankle in July, he tore a muscle in his calf in September. And that’s not even a thorough summary of the bumps and bruises. He played 145 games, had 40 doubles, 13 home runs, and .310 / .369 / .458 final numbers. While that is a pretty good season, especially for a down year, expectations were high, and Casey’s season was regarded by many as a disappointment.

Because he smiled all the time, was adored by Red beat writers such as Hal McCoy, and hit for a gaudy average, the Baseball Prospectus crew nailed Casey as “overrated.” The emergence of Adam Dunn fueled the smart-guy negativity on Casey. Only old-school jackasses, the argument ran, could overvalue Casey’s charisma and somewhat hollow batting average. In early 2002, Adam Dunn was, literally, a centerpiece in the performance-analysis war on old fartation; he was even the cover boy for the January 2002 Baseball Prospectus annual.

By 2002, Casey and his injuries were interacting consistently. First, he continued to be hurt often. Second, he continued to hit feebly when hurt. He could maintain the average, but he could not drive the ball for extra bases. Or, he could drive the ball for extra bases, but he could not leg out those doubles.

Third and, I think, more interesting, is the fact that he continued to conceal his injuries. Casey’s conversations with the Cincinnati media consistently displayed a macho attitude about playing through pain.

I admire guys with high pain thresholds. I’m one of them, myself; it is cool to impress the doctors with an ability to endure pain. And hey, the less pain you feel, the less pain you feel. No one wants much pain in life.

That said, I’m not one to admire ballplayers who hurt their team by playing hurt. That’s not tough. It’s selfish. Ballplayers should take themselves out of the game if their injury significantly impairs their ability to perform. It's ironic that Sean Casey would have a much better reputation among performance analysts were he to cry, squeal, and miss time like J.D. Drew. He's never going to be like that, but Casey would help his team by being at least a little more unwilling to play through pain.

Let the record show, however, that Adam Dunn played 158 games in 2002. Despite the perception that the Reds were choosing Casey over Dunn, Casey did not cut into Dunn's playing time. Had Casey sat out those two months, his playing time would have gone to some one of Russell Branyan, Reggie Taylor, Jose Guillen, or Ruben Mateo. None of those guys had great years. If Casey hurt was truly the best available option for a non-contending team, that's an indictment of his organization for failing to provide adequate reserves.

The Reds finished 2002 at 78-84 in a year that saw the Cardinals run away with the Central. On June 1, the Reds were 46-61 and twenty games back. There was no good reason for Casey to continue playing hurt, but he did so anyway.

After enduring a 1-for-22 slump to end a .133 July, Casey went on the 15-day DL with a sore shoulder. He came back in August for another four weeks. In September, they operated on his left shoulder. The surgeon found a torn labrum and a torn rotator cuff. They sewed him up, and the season went down as one in which Casey only hit .261 / .334 / .362 line in 120 games.

2003 and 2004

The following February, Hal McCoy lionized Casey in the Dayton Daily News for, basically, hiding the injury in 2002 and inflicting a suck-ass hitting performance on his teammates. “Because Casey smiles through the darkest of days without a whimper, few suspected anything,” McCoy wrote. You don’t have to be a hard-boiled fan to get sick on that spin. More disturbing for me, though, is the fact that (according to McCoy) Casey had “secretly” received a cortisone shot in the shoulder so he could continue to go out there, all gimpy, and more or less suck.

At the end of March, 2003, Casey looked healthy and very good at the plate. The Reds opened their new ballpark. FWIW, in an interesting and prescient remark, Will Carroll, in one of his Baseball Prospectus reports, cautioned his audience – on the advice of one his “smart readers” – not to expect the ballpark to help Casey’s power numbers. Many people guessed (correctly) then that GAB would be a hitter’s park whose short right-field porch would favor left-handed home run hitters, but Carroll wr0te then that “Casey’s power is mostly to the opposite field.” Casey would often explain himself as someone who “is a high-average guy, a guy who hits the balls in the gaps.” As I wrote about in a previous post, Casey did not thrive in the GAB.

His first month in 2003 was pretty good. He hit .323 / .391 / .495 in 110 PA. His May was awful; playing every day, he only managed a .257 / .305 / .321 line. At the end of the month, Reds fans were eager to trade him, and Hal McCoy offered another classic defense of Casey as a high-average good guy. “Most of all,” he wrote, Casey “hits home as one of the world's great human beings so who cares if he hits homers?”

Casey recovered with a decent June (.323 / .359 / .479 playing full-time). But he gimped his groin in mid-July and struggled with this the rest of the season. His August was particularly lame (.245 / .292 / .306). Will Carroll expressed some skepticism about the strength of his surgically-repaired shoulder, but he also predicted the groin problem would go away with extended – that is, offseason – rest. He finished 2003 with .291 / .350 / .408 numbers. His home run total – 14 – was down from his healthy days (he hit 20 in 2000 and 25 in 1999). But not so down as his doubles. After hitting 42, 33, and 40 the previous year, ripped-groin Casey only hobbled out 19 doubles in 2003. If the slow-footed Casey cannot leg out his doubles, he’s not going to slug .500 in 2006. He does not have speed to spare.

The healthy Sean Casey returned for April and May 2004. STATS wrote this about him: “Casey came to spring training . . . with added muscle, and the new strength was evident. He became quicker on inside pitches and was able to pull balls much more frequently for extra bases. At the same time, he retained his ability to take outside pitches to the opposite field with extra-base authority.” In April, and you might remember this – I know I do – he hit .414 / .458 / .667. In May, he hit .377 / .422 / .623. On June 1, Joe Sheehan, the dean of Baseball Prospectus, lamented that Casey would probably make the All-Star team for these “great eight weeks.”

Indeed, the down-with-Casey, up-with-Dunn crowd handled his stellar play with a frustration partly created by Dunn's struggle to hit for any average and re-gain full-time playing status. Like Casey, Dunn had been also been busty in 2003 (hitting .215 / .354 / 465), a year in which Dunn lost playing time to Casey and the suddenly-1000 OPS Jose Guillen. FWIW, Dunn played in 161 games in 2004, so the red-hot Casey was no threat to Dunn’s playing time. So perhaps it was just the memory of this high-average smiling good guy robbing PT from the free-swinging goon that motivated pundits like Sheehan to piss on Casey's hot start as flukish. While it was flukish in the sense that Casey had often been injured, it's not much of a fluke for a hitter like Casey to flirt with .400 for the first two months of a season. His emergence in 2004 was nothing like that of players like Melvin Mora or Brian Roberts. He had a history of playing at that level.

Casey then went .266 / .327 / 532 for the month of June, slowed by a hamstring strain and a calf strain. There’s an old baseball saying that doubles turn into homers which expresses the typical development, over time, of youthful doubles hitters into more sedentary home run hitters. Will this happen with Casey? He better plan on it, I think, for he has little speed to spare. 2004 showed some of this metamorphosis, as Casey’s power numbers for the first three months featured more home runs: he had 11 doubles and 3 homers in April, 8 and 6 in May, and 7 and 6 in June. On June 24, his numbers were .361 / .410 / .625. The Reds were eight-games over .500 and owners of the third-best record in the National League.

By the end of the month, Casey was in a walking boot. His injured calf did not heal despite sunny early reports of his imminent return. Casey wound up on the DL. When he came back, he was lousy. If he was not playing hurt, he was not playing well. In July he played most of the games and put up better but still lousy .234 / .338 / .375 numbers. If his injuries heal before these post-injury periods of swinging a wet noodle, then we can still say that Casey has trouble both playing with injury and playing after injury. Given that he speaks of his ability to play through pain, I'm guessing that he has consistently returned from injury before he was truly ready.

Come August, he was back to early-season form, hitting .349 / .400 / .594 in good health. He wore down in September and finished 2004 with .324 / .381 / .534 numbers in 625 PAs.

As a Pirate fan, I find this 2004 season encouraging. It’s clear that Casey will be a substantial injury risk for the Bucs, and it’s clear that Casey will probably play hurt and suck before anyone figures out he’s hurt. But it’s also still clear to me that he still has 900-1000 OPS upside. When he’s been healthy, he’s been very good.


This past season, Casey missed time at the end of spring training with some kind of leg problem. In gamer fashion, he told the Cincinnati Enquirer, "If this was the season, I'd wrap it up and play.” Let’s hope that the Pittsburgh reporters follow up such statements with questions such as, “Is it possible that you would be hurting the team and delaying full recovery by doing that?”

Perhaps because of this leg problem, he stumbled out of the gate, hitting only .276 / .323 / .356. By May he was on fire again, hitting .361 / .415 / .505. Toward the end of the month, he jammed his left shoulder in the field and missed a number of games. Casey apparently feared some terrible injury to his surgically-repaired shoulder. At this same time, you may remember, the Reds cut Danny Graves and Casey was widely quoted as “shocked,” teary-eyed, and somewhat unglued. Things were coming apart for Casey; I’m sure his memories of this part of the season are not pleasant.

An MRI revealed only a bruised rotator cuff, so he did the tough-guy thing and played hurt for all of June and July. Austin Kearns and Ryan Freel were out for most of these months, so Casey played in place of guys like Jason Romano. But the Reds were 18 games under .500 on July 1, so why not play Jason Romano and get your slugger back into form? Casey's June and July numbers were acceptable only for a middle infielder: .303 / .349 / .364 in June, .287 / .374 / .386 in July.

It appears from his stats – if they can tell the story - that his shoulder had recovered by early August. He was hitting the ball with authority then. If he had missed a few more weeks in June, would his shoulder have healed more quickly? As a Pirate fan, I’d much rather have one month of Craig Wilson and/or Brad Eldred if it means Casey will return to his 900-1000 OPS form at the end of their relief work.

In mid-August, before a game, Casey signed 200 promotional figurines for employees of the Reds organization. In his first at-bat, he felt something in his shoulder and removed himself from the game. At this point, Jerry Narron revealed to the media that Casey had played much of the season with pain in the shoulder. “He has not made an excuse about [his shoulder] and has played through it. At times it has felt good and at times he has struggled with it, and tonight he just couldn't go.” When did Jerry Narron find out that Casey’s shoulder hurt him? I’d be asking that question if I was a beat reporter who just learned that an obviously-slumping player was playing through injury.

Casey was godawful in September, hitting only .240 / .278 / .260 in the games before Humberto Cota dealt Casey the third concussion of his playing career. Casey was still woozy on September 24, when Jerry Narron confirmed that his season was finished.


There are a lot of reasons to like the Sean Casey acquisition that have nothing to do with his sunny disposition or willingness to sign 200 bobbleheads in the hours before a game.

The Pirates are pretty good defensively. Their young rotation has tremendous potential, and it’s not crazy talk to speculate on the odds that Mike Gonzalez might develop, as Jim Tracy likes to say, into an Eric Gagne-like closer.

The problem for the Pirates is offense. They are committed to Jack Wilson and Jose Castillo. Jack Wilson’s Michael Young impersonation ended abruptly with the start of the 2005 season. We don’t what we’ll get from him in 2006, his walk year. Jose Castillo’s development as a hitter does not appear to have him on the Chase Utley career path. The rookie catcher (Doumit) and centerfielder (Duffy) are unproven. The relatively inexperienced third baseman (Freddy Sanchez) is an equal enigma.

For the Bucs to improve significantly in 2006, they will need lots more offense, and they need offense from the corner positions to make up for the probable lack of offense up the middle. Teams with more than one player like Manny Ramirez are not teams that engage in salary dumps. And it makes no sense to overpay in high-upside rookies for a year or two of a Manny Ramirez-type player. The Pirates have the money to take on a high-payroll player, but you can’t buy what’s not for sale.

Sean Casey’s upside is as high as that of almost anyone. The odds that Casey will be healthy wire-to-wire may not be great, but that’s the kind of chance we have to be taking.

All the talk of Sean Casey being a proven mediocrity is just wrong, in my book. His career has been too uneven, and his injuries have been too common and played too obvious a role in the fluctuation of his slugging ability.

We don’t know what we’ll get with Sean Casey in 2006. Projecting the performance of a player like this is a nonsensical exercise. The track record suggests that if he’s healthy, he’ll be very good, and he’ll more than justify his salary. If he’s not healthy, he won’t be so good, but he may be good enough that Jim Tracy will not raise too many eyebrows by running him out their through what might look, on the surface, to be nothing more than a prolonged slump.

If Pirate fans can do anything to help, I think they can do two things. First, watch Casey's performance and question his health if he's slumpy. In almost every down month since 1999, Casey has been going on or coming off the DL. Or playing, as he did for all of 2003, with conspicuous nagging injuries. He's too good to just suck for no reason for a whole month.

Second, Pirate fans should not expect Sean Casey to play more than three-quarters of the games. We should ask each other, who is the back-up plan? The Pirates must have one, I think. If you can't rest Casey, you can't get the best from him. After reviewing Casey's history of health and preformance, I would strongly urge the organization to keep Craig Wilson for 2006. The Casey signing makes Craiggers even more essential. We need more than Jason Romano backing up Sean Casey.

We can expect great things from Casey without being irrational and merely excited. But we should also expect Littlefield to do a better job providing Jim Tracy with other options for the probably-inevitable period when Casey needs rehab time. Littlefield has always been about "flexibility," so I'd guess Tracy will be better off in that department than Boone and Narron were. But we shall see.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Steelers at Vikings

I am not a good hater as I don't hate many things. But I hate dome football.

... hey, that was all right.