Saturday, February 18, 2006

Big Jack

He's ginormous. Right on. Good work, Jack, in the offseason.

I boggle at the news of players who fail to devote most of the offseason to whatever habits -- physical, mental -- will best prepare them for the upcoming season & the high likelihood, upon success, of many riches flowing their way.

You'd think that self-interest would have them at nothing but watching film, lifting weights, doing sit-ups, stretching, and whatever else they could do to better learn the strengths and weaknesses of themselves & opposing players.

Here's to Jack. Good work, bro. If the season does not go well for you, no one can blame you for a want of diligence.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

February PT estimates

Any pro season is more enjoyable when you have realistic expectations. The better you understand how the season might unfold, the more you anticipate events as they unfold. The more clearly you anticipate, the more you enjoy the surprises and the long-awaited hard-earned clearing of goals. All this makes the soap opera more gripping.

Fantasy baseball is not such a big thing with me anymore, but in my days I gained a serious edge over rivals by plotting out my own depth charts and PT estimates for every team. While I was no more accurate than ZiPS or PECOTA, the exercise was enough to give me a thorough knowledge of the relative degrees and nature of each team's depth chart. There are always guys, like Rob Mackowiak last year, who lack a starting job but stand to easily inherit as much PT as they can handle.

This year I worked out some estimates a week or two before the Burnitz signing. I saw enough to believe the Pirates actually needed Burnitz or someone like him. Here are updated estimates. Tell me what you think; we can hammer out these expectations together.

A few ground rules. For one, it is not so common for players to manage 500 PA in a season. Every team will have, on average, four or five guys who do this. It's very rare to have more than six 500 PA players on the same roster. And while that's no guarantee of a winning season, a team that only has one or two 500 PA players almost always disappoints, like the 1939 or the 1985 Pirates. Many fantasy publications predict a full season for all regular players. Since it can be hard to predict injuries or sudden drops in productivity, this may make sense. But I prefer to make estimates for a team as a whole, and I prefer to limit the number of 500 PA guys in the course of being pretty conservative with estimates. No rookie or player who has never achieved 500 PA in a season, for example, will get a 500 PA projection from me.

Another ground rule: the total PAs must add up (for NL teams) to 5750, which is more or less exactly where the team will finish if they play all 162 games. This is 650-700 per position. Positions involving likely pinch-hitters and defensive replacements should get 675 or 700; positions involving a regular player of no great of offensive ability (an eight-hitting shortstop, for example) get 650. To make up 5750, I allot 300 PA for "miscellaneous," which includes pinch-hitting.

Going around the horn, we'll start at catcher. Right now I see Ryan Doumit getting 350 PA, Cota 300, a standard time-share. No PT for Paulino at the moment. Doumit could be available for about 50 PA in pinch-hitting, but he's not needed yet. The Pirates look set at catcher to me.

At first base, I guess Sean Casey takes the first 550 PA, and I slot Craig Wilson in there for 150 PA. No PT for Bradley Eldred. An trip to the DL, a trade, or sudden suckitude by Casey or Wilson would open up some PT for him. I've no problem seeing him get a cup of joe, so the Pirates look set here.

At second base, Jose Castillo weighs in with a claim for the first 450 PAs. He only managed 414 and 393 PA last year, so it would be overly optimistic to go higher. Freddy Sanchez is a most capable backup; he scores the remaining 200 PA. (200 PA, for what it's worth, is about two full months of everyday play.) This position looks good to me.

At short, Jack Wilson will probably lead the team in PT and take 650. Sanchez is around to back him up, so the position also looks solid.

At third, Joe Randa looks like a 575 PA player, with Sanchez (50), and, to keep his name before us, Bautista (50) behind him. Again the depth looks good.

In the outfield, I see Jason Bay getting 625 PA in left. The remaining 75 PA in left I see falling to Nate McLouth. In center, Chris Duffy looks iffy, with the hammy problem and the great need to maintain an improbably high BA (or not be any use at the plate). I put him down for 450 PA but think that might be overly generous. McLouth inherits the remaining 250 PA there. If he's not a good option at CF, in your opinion, then swap some of the CF appearances with Jason Bay. I'd guess in most ballparks, an outfield with Bay and McLouth should have Bay starting in center.

In right, Burnitz stands for 550 PA. There's word he might sit against some lefties. And with his age, he might need some pine time to nurse owies. Yet he's managed 600+ the last two seasons, so a 550 PA expectation looks sound to me.

This leaves 150 PA for Craig Wilson in right. Wilson picks up 150 or half of the miscellaneous at-bats, too. He'll be an every day player, though many days he'll not appear until the team needs a pinch-hitter. Jody Gerut, right now, looks to me to be the first beneficiary of any injury to Bay, Burnitz, or Wilson, as he only has about 100 PA of miscellaneous to call his own. The other 50 PA, which brings the total to 5750, goes to Sanchez.

To sum up, the PT looks to fall this way: Jack Wilson 650, Bay 625, Randa 575, Casey 550, Burnitz 550, Castillo 450, Craig Wilson 450, Duffy 450, Doumit 350, McLouth 325, Sanchez 325, Cota 300, Gerut 100, Bautista 50.

The Pirates do not have the best-looking group of position-player prospects here, but I've followed all these guys for years now and think they still deserve the chances they'll get. I certainly can't fault Littlefield--in fact, I'd praise him--for constructing a roster that looks to give this collection of young players a good chance to realize the 10% or whatever chance they have of becoming star players.

The team has a lot of flexibility, a lot of depth, and plenty of dependable veterans. The position players look solidly mediocre, at worst, to me right now. This is one of the reasons I think a solidly mediocre season--I call it .500 ball--is well within reach of this team.

No Honus Wagner Bed & Breakfast


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Steelers shrine

This looks a little like my screensaver. Nice use of a matrix wipe on page one.

Kent Tekulve, Advance Scout

DK reports. Tekulve will travel around, scouting 150-160 games.

"The Pirates did not employ anyone in such a role the past three years, general manager Dave Littlefield explained yesterday, because the task of analyzing future opponents was performed through a combination of scouting agencies, statistical services and video analysis.

That method drew private grumblings late last season from a few coaches and players, who complained they were not as prepared as other teams. In September, one coach showed the Post-Gazette a scouting report on one of the Chicago Cubs' position players that left blank spots next to categories such as "hitting weaknesses" and "defensive weaknesses.""

I wonder if, to scrape up enough change for Teke, Ogden released the hounds on the computer simulation people responsible for the Tike-hits-third embarrassment.

Welcome back, Teke. All hail advance scouting!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day

We like to start fun holidays at sundown the night before, so I'm off to celebrate a fun holiday in a fun style. Let's love, that's my motto. More rum in the punch!

I will be offline until Wednesday or Thursday. This is a good time to live the sports-free life if you can. Even the NHL is down for the Olympics (yawn).

One last bit of love. The NFL season will open in in Pittsburgh.

Lineup predictions

The PG ran this thinger on Sunday.

One of my pet peeves, no offense Ron Cook, is the whole "significant improvement, but not enough for a .500 season" hedge that we'll get everywhere from folks who want to be optimistic but are deathly afraid that others will regard them as pollyanna.

A .500 season is not that difficult to manage. It's what we ought to expect from most every team. It's winning half your games. As a fan, I'm more than a little annoyed by all the talk about .500 as though (a) it would represent some significant improvement, and (b) it would difficult to accomplish.

The Pirates' run of sub-.500 seasons has been assisted by a run of mid-season roster rebuildings. What made last year's team a 67-win team was not some inherent lack of quality among the players who started the season. What made them a 67-win team was the tearing down of the lineup, through injury and trade. Had they kept those same players they started the year with, and played with them through thick and thin and not lost some to injury, they may well have been a 75-win team.

No one can predict injury, so all we can do is evaluate the roster as it's constructed today. When I say I think this is a .500 looking team, an average roster, that's not meant as a great compliment or a great cause for optimism.