Saturday, December 31, 2005

Friday, December 30, 2005

Pittsburgh's print media: a handy guide for newbies

I'm touring the blogs tonight, catching up all around, and I find this comical series of posts (click the links) by Jay Jaffe. The subject? His experience with the PG's Gene Collier, who calls Jaffe a "seamhead on crystal math." (Would such analysis soothe some meth addicts? I wonder.)

I'm amused that these guys can't get along, and I feel bad for Jaffe, who, in a perfect world, would have known better than to have expected better treatment from Collier.

Here's a tip for non-Pirate fans everywhere: stay away from the PG sports editorials. At the PG, read Dejan Kovacevic and Brian O'Neill. Their other beat writers are OK too, as are the beat writers at the Trib. And seek out John Perrotto's work at the Beaver County Times.

And for the record, I'm not choosing sides in the Collier-Jaffe debate. Why? I don't care much who's in and who's out of the Hall of Fame.

The mind skips

Mark Donohue reviews the bottom feeders of baseball in this piece for Baseball Toaster. I was shocked to read that "somehow the mind skips over the Pirates when you think of the worst teams in baseball." Clearly Mark is not living in the eastern time zone.

Pirates Sudoku

Make your own depth chart with this offseason game.

The Pirates, as a team, will make about 6050 PAs in 2006. Pitchers account for 300 of those, leaving 5750 for the position players. In 2005, the actual number was 5735; in 2004, 5743.

Study these pages. You will see, over the years, how few players manage 500 PAs. How many slide in around 350 PA. And, if you Diddle with the "select split" drop-down menu, you can see how each of the various positions accounts for 650-700 PAs.

In an Excel spreadsheet, measure the current 40-man roster. Put the players in the first column. Each position then gets its own column. Spread the PT across each row. Total it for players at the end of each row. Total for positions at the top of each column.

The goals are two-fold: do not allot an unrealistic amount of PT to any one player. And allot roughly the same amount of PT to each position.

Based on recent years, I suggest these totals for each position: c, 650; 1b, 700; 2b, 650; SS, 675; 3b, 675; lf, 700; cf, 700; rf, 700; misc (DH+PH), 300. You can adjust the numbers a bit, so long as the final total is 5750. If you're convinced the shortstop will bat eighth all year, you might adjust that number to 650 and add PT for C or 2b.

Like all projection systems, this one will produce results that look half-right, half-silly in the mid-season. But it also serves to give you a good idea of how much the team will rely on certain utility players. When I did this last year, for example, I was able to correctly predict that, though he was not an opening-day starter, Rob Mackowiak would have no problem getting 500 PAs on that team.

Back when I had tons of free time, I used to do this for all the teams as a way of finding roto sleepers. Have fun. I have my grid filled out, but it needs more thought I think. I'll publish my answers sometime next week.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Preston Wilson and Craig Wilson

To follow-up on a thoughtful comment charlie left in the comments to the previous post, I agree the Pirates need better OF depth at AAA.

My strategy right now would be to view Duffy and McLouth as the centerfielders of the future. I pick one - Duffy I suppose - and start him in Pittsburgh. I send the other to AAA to start every day and wait for the gimp-phone to ring. If Casey goes down and Wilson is needed at first, if Gerut can't go, if Duffy can't hit or maims himself crashing into a wall, etc., McLouth would be the guy to get the call. I'd move him right into an every day job.

This means the Pirates need someone who can play centerfield. The obvious answer, looking at the guys left on the market, is Preston Wilson. If the Bucs can sign him to a high-paying one-year gig, then they plug him in right field. Craig Wilson will play when Casey has an ache. Or, in the somewhat likely scenario that Duffy's first season as the starting centerfielder begins to resemble Tike Redman's first season as the same, then Preston slides into center and Wilson starts in right. Or, in the equally likely scenario that Preston gimps his knee sliding into second, then Craig takes over job and McLouth comes up to ride the pine.

One other thing. I wrote this in the comments, but not everyone reads them, so I will write it again. It regards the curiously sensitive subject of Craig Wilson.

Here it is: I do not believe everything I read in the papers. Just because management whispers disparaging remarks to folks who, they know, will print them, that does not mean they believe such things. The Pirates are taking Craig Wilson to arbitration, so there's no point in them singing his praises. And while they have good reason to be concerned about the rookies slated for CF next year, it makes sense to me that they would also have good reason not to express any shaky confidence about the young guys to the newspaper. Why be honest and tell the Trib that you are worried about Duffy's ability to hit major-league pitching, and thus want a plan B for CF (Encarnacion, Byrnes)? Why not blame the need for another OF on Craig Wilson? He's a good sport, and he's used to such abuse. He's been taking it for years. Why change that story when it's still handy? And, further, if the management can promote the notion that he's underappreciated in Pittsburgh, well that would seem, to me, to increase his profile as someone a team would do well to go get in trade. That's just so much more honey for catching flies. Any time someone is suckered into thinking he's just made a great deal, there has to be some kind of narrative that makes it seem plausible.

Just because some source said the Pirates would love to have Eric Byrnes and start him ahead of Craig Wilson, that does not mean - especially the night before another team signs him - that this was true. The last two and a half years, Craig Wilson has started every game and hit in the middle of the lineup when healthy. And all the while someone has been feeding the beat reporters disparaging quotes. Actions speak louder than words here.

We have to remember that GMs are part politicians, part poker players, and part used-car salesmen. Why should we take everything Littlefield says, or everything his assistants leak, at face value?

The Pirates need another outfielder, as I argued in the previous post, and if they want to blame that need on Craig Wilson, fine. It does not change the fact that they need another outfielder.

Right field

I understand the need to add a corner outfielder, and I'm not sure it's because upgrading that position will make the Pirates wild-card contenders.

The Pirates currently have a collection of unproven and unreliable players for center and right. Even if we love Craig Wilson and think the world of his ability as a hitter, it would not be prudent to expect more than 450 PAs from him. He has that injury thing. If we are going to say that about Sean Casey, it has to be said about Craig Wilson. I don't know much about his recent hand injuries, either. Are they Pat Mearesish? I don't know. Let's guess that he's fine, but likely to miss time with a back problem or another HBP dent, as usual. Or likely to slump very hard and need days off. So then a bright yet prudent forecast for Craiggers production is 450 PAs.

The Pirates will get about 2100 PAs from their outfielders in 2006 - about 700 per position. Jason Bay will soak up 650 in left. Center appears to be manned by Chris Duffy and Nate Dykstra McLouth. What are they good for? I hesitate to expect more than 500 PAs from any player who has never finished a 500 PA big-league season. If we guess they both will hit well enough to earn 450 PAs, which seems very sunny and not prudent to me, then with Bay the Pirates have (650+900) or 1550 PAs budgeted.

Sean Casey looks good for 550 PAs at first. The Bucs will need an additional 150 from other guys. Let's continue with the positive vibrations and assume that Eldred continues to press for big-league PT. Give him 100, a one-month cup of Joe or two fill-in appearances the length of a short DL trip. Give Craig Wilson the other 50.

So Craig Wilson would have about 400 PAs worth of a productive Craigger season in right field. With the 1550 portioned to Bay and the two centerfielding youngsters, the Pirates now have 1950 PAs. That gives the Pirates 150 more for . . .

Jody Gerut. Given his injury troubles and nasty platoon splits, I think it would be too optimistic to forecast more than 250 PAs for him in 2005.

Now the outfield looks full up, until we remember that the Pirates will need a DH (about 25 PA) and many PH appearances (about 250 PA). Doumit can soak up some pinch-hitting duties, and Freddy Sanchez can play the Bobby Hill/Noonie role. So right now the Pirates do not urgently need outfielders off the bench; having a surplus of 100 is probably OK from that perspective.

But, unless the Pirates add an outfielder capable of contributing 450 quality PAs, they are banking on (a) Craig Wilson being healthy and productive, (b) Chris Duffy staying healthy and hitting well enough to keep a big-league job, (c) Nate McLouth staying healthy and hitting well enough to keep a big-league job, and (d) Jody Gerut being useful off the bench.

Is that prudent? Is it wise? Chris Duffy finished last year strong. Tike Redman was also coming off a strong second half when he began his first season as the starting centerfielder. Remember Tony Alvarez? J.J. Davis? Are we so sure that Duffy and McLouth are more sure to succeed?

Should the Pirates lose any one of those four players, or should any one of those four players flop, who do we have in the minors worth the call? Are we as high on Rajai Davis as we are on Jose Bautista?

The Pirates need to add someone worth throwing into the OF mix. Then let the players compete for playing time, and play the best ones. Since they want to see what they got in Duffy and McLouth, and since they don't want to prevent Wilson or Gerut from contributing if and when he's able, the need looks, to me, to be more about finding someone who fits. They don't need to find a Joe Randa of right field.

The right-field situation is not so much about Craig Wilson and the Pirates' faith in his ability to be healthy and hit ball hard. I've grown tired of seeing the issue framed that way exclusively. The spokespeople for the team may be more comfortable singling him out or whatever, but this is not just about Craig Wilson. It's also about Duffy, McLouth, Gerut, Rajai Davis, and the odds that the Pirates have 1200 quality plate appearances - that's two full-time players - in that group.

Now catching

Nice hometown look at Ryan Doumit.

Before we criticize the Pirates for bringing in Randa and Casey and not "seeing what we got" in Sanchez and Eldred, remember that the Pirates will be "seeing what we got" at catcher and centerfield. And second base ... Jose Castillo has yet to complete a 450 PA season. And at closer, and in three-fifths of the starting rotation jobs. There will be plenty of youth served.

I like the Randa signing. One year is fine. We need Sanchez to back up Castillo and Wilson and now, Randa, who is not going to play all 162 games. And if Bautista is ready at the deadline, the Pirates can easily move Joe and get good prospects for him, too, just as the Reds did a few months ago.

The Pirates did not acquire the bat we need to make a big step forward, but going into 2005 we have some good lottery tickets. Ryan Doumit, a 25-year-old switch-hitter who raked in the minors, is one of them. The immediate future of the team will continue to rest on the immediate improvement of the youngest players.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Return of the Joker

Randa signs for one year and four million dollars. Huh. Will Randa hit second in front of Bay and Manny? On off days at home (while being spelled by Eldred and Freddie), shouldn't Casey and Randa work the crowd, shaking hands, handing out cheap baseball cards and wiffle balls, while being all-around nice guys?

Nate McLouth

How has he looked in winter ball? And, what do you all expect of him for 2006?

Little fans

Dejan Kovacevic talks some stuff over in this week's Q&A.

He also asks how we can interest the children in the Pirates. I've found baseball to be a pretty good hobby, so I share his selfless desire to raise our kids just exactly the way I was raised. Here are some suggestions that look beyond the most obvious solutions (WIN MORE GAMES, play more day games, hang the jolly roger in their bedroom, etc.)

1. Unsupervised play. When I was tot, all neighborhood children were unleashed and expelled from the home for several hours in the morning (before lunch) and many hours in the afternoon. Like Kovacevic, I also pretended to be Bruce Kison when I played wiffle ball. Children won't embarrass themselves so readily in front of adults. No one did this kind of role-playing in gym class. Nevermind that it's now a misdemeanor or felony offense to not supervise your children while they play wiffle ball in Drunk Joe's unused backyard. No child can properly learn the game of baseball without a heavy dose of freedom.

2. Cheap baseball cards. Around the late '80s, baseball cards lost most of their value for fan training. People started to regard them as investments, and card companies outdid one another making more and more expensive cards.

Fans raised on the baseball cards of the 1970s derived much greater value from them. They were not investments; they were toys. They were not cherished or encased in plastic; they were used and improved with magic marker. If I got mad at Greg Luzinski, I drew a funny moustache on him and felt good about it. Cards of my youth were not art-objects; they were flash cards. It's how I learned the names, faces, positions, and histories of all the players.

MLB should sponsor and distribute cheap cards to the children. They should be 25 cents a pack, and they should contain at least twelve cards. The Pirates should give away team sets to all fans under 16.

3. Better baseball toys. Too many of the promotional giveaways fall into the art-object / investment category. The Jack Wilson jack-in-the-box idea was brilliant. Future kid-oriented promotional freebies should also target the way children of various ages play. The Pirates should give away wiffle balls. And posable action figures would be a great improvement over bobbleheads.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Playoff picture

Looks like the Steelers, unless they self-destruct in the Motor City at home, will be headed for Cincinnati in week one of the playoffs.

If the Chargers beat the Denver Broncos Saturday in San Diego, it will clinch the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC for the Steelers, who play the Lions at Heinz Field. If Denver wins, the Steelers would have to beat or tie the Lions, or the Chiefs would have to lose or tie the Cincinnati Bengals in Kansas City Sunday.


If the Steelers make the playoffs, their first game will come in Cincinnati unless the Bengals lose and the Patriots win.

Ed Bouchette reporting here.

Monday, December 26, 2005

One for the drinking room

Too good.

One of these days, years and years from now, when I'm like 85, and the Browns have been whipping the Steelers on a regular basis, and the Browns are shutting out the Steelers in Pittsburgh, one thing I will NOT do is run onto the field in the fourth quarter to celebrate mine own assjackery.

... Hoagie brings the video. If you are at work, unless your co-workers like hearing the word "bitch," then you should turn the sound down before playing it.

Lump of coal

Perrotto One and Perrotto Two emerge with mischief.

The best thing about the Encarnacion courting is the ridiculous sum the Cardinals pledged to start him in right field. Like Byrnes, Encarnacion looked to me like a decent centerfield backup. Obviously you don't pay someone that much money to back up Chris Duffy. Since a team needs depth at that position, I still expect Littlefield to sign someone who can play center.

Sucks for us that Littlefield could not match Toronto's offer for Glaus. Here's wishing us a Manny New Year.