Saturday, January 07, 2006

Wild-card Saturday

Washington is crushing Tampa Bay. In the more interesting game, J'ville and New England go at it later. I expect J'ville will play well, keep it close, and lose on a last-minute Vinateri field goal.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Indictments for contractors who built PNC Park

Indictments against Capco for their "work" at PNC Park? I am rubbing my eyes and blinking. That's Joe Mandak reporting for the AP.

Irrational exuberance

Who is this Susan Kelly, writing nice things about the Pirates?

Pirates don't want to win

Puh-leaze. Pat of Andy Van Slyke found The Onion commenting on the Pirates' recent acquisitions. Ha ha, very funny.

Pat also has a series of posts on the "evil genius" of David Littlefield here. This is a familiar argument; we've heard it before.

It doesn't mesh with my generous yet low opinion of human nature, however. I can't be persuaded that the GM and the owners don't want to win. I can be persuaded that they don't know how to win, but the argument that they are just milking the club for millions and laughing their asses off from some yacht in Florida, that doesn't jibe with my understanding of baseball people. Feel free to disagree; it's a free country.

And as for the argument that they are playing like the first half of 2006 is all that matters, to that I say Amen. Of course the first half of the season is all that matters. Any team that's out of contention at the All-Star break only plays mainly meaningless exhibition games the rest of the way. What fan wants to pay to see that?

I don't know how to do the math to support this, but this is why, for example, I don't put much stock in Freddy Sanchez's hot September. It was September, and the Pirates were cruising to 60-some wins. Nice homestand against Eric Milton, Luke Hudson, Matt Belisle, and the rest of the fifth-place Reds. He stunk at the plate the rest of the year. Sure, more recent performance should weigh heavier in projections of future performance. At the same time, however, there's no denying that there are varying levels of play. As much as the teams advertise that they play hard all year long, no matter what, common sense and personal experience prove that's bluster.

This is also why I was so pissed at Lloyd McClendon for not managing the 2004 opening series like it was a playoff series. And at Craig Wilson for his miserable April.

As the Pirates fall out of contention, I can not help thinking that it gets easier for most of them, as individuals, to produce good-looking statistics--if they have the will to do this in an atmosphere of loss and resignation. If it's easier for players on winning teams to stay motivated, they certainly do not face the same quality of opponent as teams renowned for incompetence. The Cardinals, who went 12-4 against the Pirates last year, will come to town and not play Jim Edmonds, saving him for their next series, against the Cubs or the Astros. When the Pirates go to New York and Boston, those teams don't juggle their rotations so that their aces pitch more often than their fifth starters. The statistics generated by all players do not have the same predictive value. Everything could be adjusted or translated for winning percentage. If Roy Oswalt mows down a Spring Training lineup in late September, that's not the same indicator of greatness as Roy Oswalt mowing down a 98-win lineup in October.

April is October for this club. So hell yeah, manage the team like the first half is all that counts. I'd go farther and manage the team like April is all that counts. Don't give us the "it's a long season" bullshit like McClendon did in response to our anger last April.

The only argument against playing to win now is that the Pirates might win more later if they deliberately lose now. And this, I've come to think, this "losing to win" strategy, is just bullshit. Nine out of ten "rebuilding" programs fail.

The team - all teams - should play to win every year. If the season devolves into several months of largely meaningless exhibitions, then we can talk about regarding the season as so many auditions and learning experiences - if anyone is around to listen.

Steelers healthy

Good news: "We are about as healthy as we have been all year going into the game," coach Bill Cowher said.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Cincinnati fans

The economy must be pretty hard down there:

A Pittsburgh ticket broker told the Cincinnati Enquirer yesterday he's getting many calls from Bengals fans trying to sell their tickets.

"If the game was in Pittsburgh, you couldn't pry a ticket out of a fan's hands," broker Robert Mancuso said. "In Cincinnati, if you put $100 in front of them, they'll take it."

Joe Rutter reports here. So, who wants it more?

On Cowher

Ryan has stuff to say.

I don't take regular-season wins for granted. I like his record very much. Playoff losses suck because they gnaw at you the entire offseason. Still, there's only one team each year that ends the season with a win. I don't want to lose Cowher.

World of Burnitz

Dejan Kovacevic reports.

"That's crazy that they came after me two years in a row," [Burnitz] said.

It gets better:

He explained he chose the Pirates because they play 12 games in or near southern California compared to Baltimore's three.

I'd say that too, if my wife was on the couch next to me. I'd lay it on thicker.

And finally, some sense from Littlefield:

He also said he does not intend to trade Craig Wilson, even though Burnitz and Casey will start in right field and first base, Wilson's two positions, and even though Wilson could make $4 million or more next season.

"Whether it's media or fans, everybody has to realize that, if we are going to get better, part of it is having better backups," Littlefield said. "Through ownership, we've been able to increase payroll, so you're going to have the opportunity to have quality backups. Craig brings things that we need. He has power, gets on base and has versatility in the field. To me, that piece makes a lot of sense for us."

Hell yeah, keep that mo'fo Craig Wilson. Don't make Sean Casey play when he's gimpy, like they did in Cincinnati. Expect Burnitz to miss time--he's an OLD MAN. And don't fear the jumbo outfield of Bay, Burnitz, and Wilson.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

What are the odds

I guess the Steelers have an 8% chance of winning three road games and reaching the Super Bowl. Which is better, I think, than the Bengals' chances.

Go time

Steeler fans, if you're not reading Ryan's stuff at Heels, Sox, and Steelers, you should be.

I'll never quite understand the whole "Sox" thing, but the Steelers stuff is good reading.

The Pirates moving from KDKA?

Bob Smizik reports that KDKA might lose the Pirates to rival Clear Channel. The Pirates want to reach a younger audience. I wonder this might coincide with some kind of shake-up of the broadcast crew.

Craig Wilson for trade

John Perrotto, today:

While the Pirates still have enough room to fit first baseman/outfielder Craig Wilson into their expanded payroll that is rising from $32 million to $49 million this year, they figure to intensify their efforts to trade him.

Wilson made $3 million last season when he was limited to 59 games because of hand injuries. As a arbitration-eligible player, he figures to get at least a slight raise despite getting only 197 at bats and hitting .264 with five homers and 22 RBIs.

Colorado and Toronto have been mentioned as possible destinations for Wilson, though Cleveland's interest appears to have waned now that the Indians have struck a tentative deal with free-agent first baseman Eduardo Perez.

Dejan Kovacevic, this morning:
Burnitz's acquisition and the trade for first baseman Sean Casey appear to bump Craig Wilson out of the Pirates' plans. Wilson, 29, plays first and right field, and he is unlikely to be retained as a bench player with a salary in the range of $4 million, which is what he is expected to receive this month.

"I really don't know what their plan is," Wilson said last night from his home in California. "I'm hoping to be part of it somewhere."

Wilson is coming off a season in which two injuries to his left hand limited him to 59 games. The Pirates have made known their desire to trade him but are believed to have had difficulty generating interest because of his injuries.

The Pirates should hold onto Craig Wilson. He's an expensive insurance policy and back-up player, but with this cast of starters, he figures to see plenty of playing time. Plus, if the rest of the league is not sold on the strength of his grip, they should only trade him now, while his stock is low, if they too doubt he can impress anyone in the first half of 2006.

Q & A: Burnitz vs. Craig Wilson

The Post-Gazette's Dejan Kovacevic explains the Burnitz signing. He reports that no one, especially the Pirates, has much confidence in Craig Wilson:

Chris Duffy will start in center and, unless he implodes in spring training, is going to bat leadoff. That will make for an outfield of Bay, Duffy and Burnitz.

What will happen to Wilson is that he will continue to be shopped for a trade but, as I wrote in the newspaper for today, that does not mean there is a willing partner. Hand injuries tend to be very scary for teams looking into making commitments for hitters (Pat Meares, anyone?), and I have heard that the interest in Wilson has been minimal.

Wilson's a free agent at the end of 2006. If he comes back from those injuries, the Pirates will trade him for sure.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Go Lions

Something about a game tonight.

Pirates to sign Jeromy Burnitz

So Preston Wilson is not the only CF-capable slugger still out there. Dejan Kovacevic and John Perrotto both report that Burnitz is the word. This Thursday, December 29 entry (scroll down) in Dan Szymborski's Transaction Oracle had me thinking Burnitz was signed with Baltimore.

As Szymborski notes so elegantly, Burnitz's career appears to be trending downward. As in, downward to an end, a stop, a cessation of effective plate appearing. He'll be 37 in 2006 and 38 in 2007. Projections are not kind for players at this age. Going into 2005, he was projected by Perrotto fave, Bill James, to hit .246 / .327 / .477 with 27 doubles and 31 homers in Colorado. James's book ranked Burnitz's injury risk as "high." Nate Silver projected .251 / .328 / .480 with 19 doubles and 22 home runs. If you think those projections were bad, wait to you see the ones for 2006. If you clicked on that last link, you've already seen Dan Szymborski's ZiPs projection.

Last year, Burnitz finished at .258 / .322 / .435 with 31 homers and 24 homers for Chicago. He outperformed the 2005 projections for the first half of the season, but he limped home, hitting only .237 / .300 / .387 in 2005's second half. I wish there was some evidence of an injury; then I could spin it Sean Casey-style. Instead it looks like he got old and feeble-sticked.

He's streaky, he strikes out a lot. He's Craig Wilson without the high-HBP on-base percentage. He hits for power. Like all teams, we need more of that. Assuming Craig Wilson has or will recover from the hand injuries of 2005, he will probably outhit Burnitz in 2006.

If you've done your your Pirates Sudoku, you know we need more PA in the outfield. A Burnitz signing would not influence Craig Wilson's final PA numbers so much as it limits the PA that appear to immediately fall to Nate McLouth. Right now I'm guessing that Burnitz and Craig Wilson both stand to see something in the 400-450 PA range. Burnitz would not replace Craig Wilson so much as he'd double the at-bats we can expect from a Craig Wilson-like hitter. That is a good thing--if Burnitz can hit that well at 37.

The fear with Burnitz is the projection, and the problem with the projection is the age. Nate Silver has his comparable players as Fred Lynn, Dave Henderson, Bill Nicholson, Hubie Brooks, Dale Long, Steve Finley, Ellis Burks, Donn Clendenon, Dale Murphy, Tino Martinez, Tony Perez, Ron Gant, George Foster, Graig Nettles, Doug DeCinces, Kirk Gibson, Joe Carter, Deron Johnson, Ben Oglivie, and Charlie Maxwell. Baseball-Reference sees Jay Buhner, Darryl Strawberry, Ron Gant, Reggie Sanders, David Justice, Bill Nicholson, Eric Davis, Frank Thomas, Ray Lankford, and Roy Sievers. That's good company, for sure, but we're only looking at the end of these careers. Of this group, the players who were still good at age 37 and 38 are modern ones. Reggie Sanders can still hit, but he managed only 350 PA last year, his 37 season. For the D'backs, Steve Finley had two full and solid seasons at 37 and 38. Ellis Burks, long-time Bones and Rowdy favorite, mashed at 37 for the 2002 Indians. A generation or so back, the great Tony Perez's 37 and 38 seasons looked much like Burnitz's 36 season. Graig Nettles remained league-average for his 37 and 38 seasons. Freddy Lynn managed 400 mediocre PA at age 37. The rest of the players on the list were done at 37.

Is Burnitz done? I don't know. That second half was not good. I suppose that, with their high salaries and advanced medical crap, today's players may age more gracefully than those of previous generations. I'm not sure I believe this, however; such arguments sound, to me, like naive progressivism. Maybe it's true. Maybe not. Either way, general trends in player aging will do very little to determine just how Jeromy Burnitz ages.

Burnitz or no Burnitz, the Pirates need an outfielder, someone who could conceivably play some CF. He may be the best available option. Until we see what rate and length Preston Wilson gets in his next contract, it will be difficult to know if Burnitz at two years and twelve million is a good idea. I would have traded Oliver Perez by now, but Littlefield wants to hold onto him another year. If we won't trade a player to get a player, we have to sign one of the available sluggers.

If Burnitz is healthy after the ASB, maybe the Pirates could trade him. I dunno. My guess is that Burnitz will be fine for the first half of 2005. At any moment, however, the earth could split and swallow him up. We could say that about all the players, sure. But Burnitz is not young enough to expect any quick or full recovery from whatever might be his next injury. Won't Burnitz take one year and eight million? I'd rather do that than have him on the books for six million in 2007.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Bill James 2006 predictions

John Perrotto writes them down.

Bell's Porter

I'm having this to celebrate the finer things of the new year.

This is good. You have to decant it, which I like, considering that we don't brook cant here at Honest Wagner. A beer shouldn't come with cant in the first place, of course. But this way I know for sure there's no cant about it.

As Ms. Rowdy might say, it has a certain je ne sais yum. About 6%.

Sammy Sosa and Craig Wilson

Unless Trib writer Rob Rossi moonlights for a Spanish-language paper, it looks like the Tribune-Review will report in a few hours that the Pirates are interested in Slammin' Sammy Sosa. This from a rumor site from Bleed Cubbie Blue, who drool a little at the thought that the Cubs could acquire Craig Wilson.

The Bucs should definitely take a flyer on some one or two of Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, and/or Richard Hidalgo, if they come at the right price.

But I still think the need is not for a Craig Wilson replacement, but for an upgrade in the outfield who could play right and quietly back up Sam and Frodo (KPatrick's phrase), two guys about who management won't say a bad thing. That's my theory, and it's based on the fact that the other two guys they tried to get - Encarnacion and Byrnes - can play center if needed.

Jason Bay is not a centerfield backup since LF is another CF in PNC Park. Craig Wilson can't play centerfield, but him we need to back up Sean Casey. And him we need for his offense. Like Rob Mackowiak last year, Craig Wilson will get plenty of playing time even if the Pirates sign Preston Wilson, the guy they really ought to get, I think. So I doubt Craig's going anywhere.

Week 17: Lions at Steelers

With the Broncos victory today, the Steelers need a win or a Chiefs loss to make the playoffs.

All hail the Bus, who will likely play his final home game.

I can't picture this game being close. Look for the porous Lions D to give up the run, and the porous Lions OL to introduce Joey to Joey. Steelers 45, Lions 0.