Saturday, April 08, 2006

Oh and six

Six games under, in my mind, is pretty much six feet under.

The starting pitching has been shit. Casey, Wilson, and Castillo look as good as I hoped and expected. Randa and Burnitz are looking busty. It's too early to panic about them. If I'm Tracy, however, I'd shamelessly ride Craig Wilson's hot bat.

The pitchers should be better than this. And the bullpen too. But maybe not soon. Bad pitching tends to beget bad pitching; tired pitchers are rarely good pitchers. And they are, more often than fresh pitchers, guys getting injuries. There are going to be many sore arms over the rest of this seventeen-game stretch. A few rainouts would help. Otherwise I expect Jim Tracy will be requesting fresh arms from Indianapolis. He can't slag the arms of our young starters on the excuse that they need to save the bullpen.

My Steelers Tea Set

I recently had a birthday (thank you, thank you) and my favorite gift was a box set of Steelers champion beer mug, coffee mug, and shot glass. Rowdietta - now 4 - chose it for me. She knows the Steelers logo on sight (how could she not?) though she won't remember the Super Bowl--she slept through it, curled up in the Morris chair on top of me.

This boxed set made perfect sense to her. "Look Mom!" she said in the store, "a Steelers tea set!" It was her choice of gifts for me.

Anyway, just a word of advice for younger fans: stockpile your XL gear before it's no longer on sale. Terrible towel, t-shirts, mugs, etc. It may seem hokey or overdone now, but take it from me--it could be another ten years before the Steelers make the Super Bowl, and it could be another twenty-five before they win one. Them's a lot of years. While I doubted it would take so long, I wore thin my Steelers: Super Bowl XXX t-shirt.

The coffee mug is already my mug of choice, narrowly eclipsing this one in overall customer satisfaction.

Game 6: Pirates at Reds

Oliver Perez and Aaron Harang scheduled for a 1:15pm EST start.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Game 5: Pirates at Reds

Game at seven. Paul Maholm and some tater-serving Red. Looks rainy. Will they get this in?

In the meantime, the drinking room has some Baltica Porter (7% alcohol), rowdy red beans with Busha Browne's Pukka Hot Pepper sauce, and Madeleine Peyroux, whose two albums are playing to a mixed but generally positive reception.

10:30 PM EST (Bones): Game on. 5-0 Reds after 3. Maholm is getting knocked around. Meanwhile in Texas, Chris Shelton has hit his FIFTH jack.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

2006 Steelers schedule

Here it is.

Sep 7 Miami 8:30pm
Sep 18 @Jacksonville 8:30pm
Sep 24 Cincinnati 1:00pm
Week 4 BYE
Oct 8 @San Diego 8:15pm
Oct 15 Kansas City 4:15pm
Oct 22 @Atlanta 1:00pm
Oct 29 @Oakland 4:15pm
Nov 5 Denver 4:15pm
Nov 12 New Orleans 1:00pm
Nov 19 @Cleveland 1:00pm
Nov 26 @Baltimore 1:00pm
Dec 3 Tampa Bay 1:00pm
Dec 7 Cleveland 8:00pm
Dec 17 @Carolina 1:00pm
Dec 24 Baltimore 1:00pm
Dec 31 @Cincinnati 1:00pm
Looks good to me.

I posted the Steelers schedule not to joke about the Pirates, but because the NFL just released it today.

0-4 sucks but not half so much as say 4-14. Four games under is bad. For some reason, six games under is about my threshold for suckitude. I'm not ready to panic.

Though I do wonder how it is that this pitching staff looks worse than the one we had last year.

But how about that schedule? Lots of late games at the start. Many division games at the end. I like it.

Game 4: Pirates at Reds

Ian Snell and Brandon Claussen tonight at 7 pm eastern. I caught some of the Reds' last series, with the Cubs; I expect there will be many runs scored in this series. The Reds are all healthy, so they are dangerous. Adam Dunn is a monster.

... 6:10pm ... rain and more rain in Cincinnati tonight. Could be April rainout #1.

... 7:10 pm (Bones) Game on. Duffy drilled in the back with first pitch of game.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Game 3: More Brewers

Those guys are getting on my nerves. I don't like them. Zach Duke bumbaye? Tonight we begin to see if he was just putting us on with that "can't find my command" act he performed in March.

Bell's Rye Stout

Beer du jour: Bell's Rye Stout. C'est yum.

Game should be on about now, but no, we wait an hour because the Pirates as always are in another time zone. Not to whine about this, but this is the #1 reason I don't like the team in the NL Central. Let central time zone teams play in the central, and eastern time zone teams play in the east. Games should not start later than 7pm whenever possible.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Game 2: Pirates at Brewers

Santos for us. On the one hand, maybe he'll be motivated to show up them Brewers who exposed him to the Rule 5 draft employed him last year. On the other hand, maybe the Brewers know extra well why he's the kind of guy you the Royals expose to the Rule 5 draft.

We'll see. Give 'em hell, Santos.

Sean Casey homers to deep right as I post this. He's now on pace for 81 home runs.

...hey, Craig Wilson starting in right against the lefty. McLouth in center, Doumit behind the plate.

Ollie bumbaye!

Best news of Game 1 was Flaco returning to form. 9 Ks through 5.1, topping out at 93 mph. All hail Ollie!

On a related note, can anyone explain Tracy's decision to not PH for Ollie with the bases loaded in a 2-1 game, only to leave Ollie in for two more batters (and have C-dub never bat)?

MLB audio

Anyone else have problems with the MLB audio today? Instead of hearing innings 3-8.1 of the Bucs game, I got dead air, and occasionally some guy dictating notes about a NCAA basketball tourney video montage. For awhile they had a notice blaming another entity for the problem, an excuse I found neither believable nor acceptable. The game came back in about 30 seconds before the game-ending double play. Thanks, MLB!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Opening day: Pirates at Brewers

Game on. Ollie, bumbaye! He can throw it 82 for all I care -- just get them out.

Littlefield renewed

Yes indeed -- another year on the end of DL's contract. Congratulations Dave.

Slow is the new fast

Sherlock Kovacevic solves the Case of the Missing Velocity in today's Post-Gazette.

Speaking of Tom Glavine, he's not getting those extra inches off the plate in this afternoon's game against the Nationals. It may not be best to push Randy Johnson as the model for Oliver Perez's future success, but Tom Glavine can't be a good idea in this age of Questec.

And speaking of slow, Livan Hernandez is topping off around 82 mph in his opening-day start.

Opening day: Pirates at Brewers

Two o'clock. Oliver Perez and Doug Davis.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The stopgaps

I don't fret as much as some about the one-year proven veteran signings. This is because, one, I'm not one to fret about much of anything, let alone baseball, and two, most of the recent signings have made enough sense to me.

Yet I have to admit that the Joe Randa signing -- when Freddy Sanchez, at the least, was available to play third -- looks extravagant after three thousand words on what the Pirates can do with money in Latin America, the draft, and player development.

Here's the Kovacevic article with this stretch of paragraphs:

One argument against such spending is that this money, if funneled instead to the developmental level, would create an immense pool for signing amateurs.

"With a team like Pittsburgh, that's what I'd be doing," one National League executive said. "At the lower levels, they can compete financially with anyone. Not in the bigs. You're just throwing the money away instead of continuing to build."

Scouting director Ed Creech disagreed.

"There isn't an unlimited amount we can spend," he said. "We have what we need."

Pshaw, Creech, spoken like a company man. Hire another Rene Gayo, better research the Zach Duke types who will go to college because no team will give them the signing bonus they demand. Don't tell us you can't spend more money getting players.

I know the arguments in favor of stopgap signings - I've made them - but they aren't on the tip of my tongue.

... oh yes, here they are. It starts with, I WANT TO WIN NOW, and includes profanity.


In Kovacevic's development report, we learn that Brian Graham more or less deserves an A for his work. Good job, Brian. You the man. The Pirates more or less do the kinds of things I expected and hoped they would be doing.

If you like your stats, here are the numbers:

Of the 17 players the Pirates drafted in the first five rounds in 2000-03, those that might reasonably have been expected to progress under Graham, eight reached the majors or are on a firm track to do so. That 47 percent success rate is better than the historical norm of 41 percent, as researched by Baseball America.

More impressive, perhaps, seven of the 37 players taken in the 20th round or later have made it or still could. That is 19 percent, double the historical norm.

One moral of this story, coming as it does after the drafting story, is the Pirates might do well to raise the bar in the lower rounds. Zach Duke and Nate McLouth are two of the guys padding those good numbers from the 20th round and later.

White and Creech

Kovacevic's report on the state of the Pirates' drafting more or less confirms what we've all figured out on our own: Littlefield fired an outstanding director when he took over the job. And the guy he hired, Ed Creech, has not done as well.

The surprising news here - good news - is the consensus that the Pirates have not underfunded their drafts. McClatchy was even singled out by MLB for signing "too large" checks for low-round draft picks like Zach Duke, Nate McLouth, and Chris Young. Ownership does not look like the cause for the poor drafts that characterized Littlefield's first few years.

The loss of Mickey White figures large in the more compelling arguments I read for the dismissal of David Littlefield or the replacement of ownership. My guess is that Ed Creech will have his day and, if Littlefield made that poor decision from some wrong principle, Littlefield has probably learned his lesson.

What's more, should the ownership turn over or should we get a new GM, I would expect the new person to more or less make the same mistake: clean house, bring in people that are known, and then as fans we'd be stuck watching another group of people set the team back as they learned the ropes.

Before Wilbur jumps in, one could also argue that there's no reason to think Littlefield or Creech are learning from their mistakes.

Me, I think it's more likely a new regime would blunder from the start, than it is likely that the current regime will not get better with time. I look at the Steelers as the model of the patient franchise. I see the Browns as the model of the franchise with too much scapegoating-driven turnover.

You see it how you like. But read this first, and get up on your facts.

Young Dominican Pirates

Dejan Kovacevic's report on the Pirates' expanding presence in Latin America is worth your time. We blather about this topic on the blog pretty often; here are the facts. The situation appears to have gone from good to bad to good again. Unfortunately, the Pirates are paying right now for that middle bad phase.

This passage names names:

Gayo's most expensive signing was Starlin Cespedes, a switch-hitting shortstop from the Dominican whom Gayo likens to a young Tony Fernandez. That was two years ago, and Cespedes turned 16 at the time. His bonus was $90,000 and, according to Gayo, he took less than he was offered by two other teams.

"I've been following that kid since he was 14," Gayo said. "He wanted to stay with us."

Another favorite signing cited by Gayo was first baseman Alex Vargas, also out of the Dominican. He is a left-handed power hitter who "really can rake," Gayo said, comparing his swing to that of David Ortiz.

"These guys, I'm telling you, are on par with the best I signed with Cleveland," Gayo said. "I realize that's a strong statement, but I mean it."

Rene Gayo was hired away from Cleveland. For the Tribe he signed 89 players; twelve (13%) made it to the majors. Jhonny Peralta and Willy Taveras were his signings.

I'm not sure how percentage compares to players drafted, but it must be similar. Say there's a one in four chance, then, that we'll see Cespedes or Vargas make it. Here's to hoping.

If the Pirates are smart, they'll pay Gayo whatever it takes to sign all the best he can. It can't be much longer that Latin America provides such superior value than the regular draft. The Pirates need to make the most of this opportunity while they can.

Opening day epic

Dejan Kovacevic has about 7000 words in today's PG. Plenty more at the Tribune-Review and at John Perrotto's paper. The Bradenton Herald wraps up their coverage of the team as well.

Torres signing

Salomon Torres signed a two year, $6.5 million extension. I agree with Charlie, Pat, and Billy (who bring up Aramis, burning a big pile of money, and Brian Boehringer, respectively) : very bad idea. Way too much money to lock up a 35-36 year old reliever. Anyway, now that it's a done deal and baseball is set to begin tomorrow (!), all hail future Buc/trade bait Salomon Torres!

... Rowdy here. I don't know what was the big idea with signing Torres for '07 and '08. I won't jump to the conclusion that he will overpaid by MLB standards. I just don't know what's the going rate. I do know it has gone up every year, but beyond that, I can't say. And I don't believe the arguments about there being so much "freely available talent." It's nonsense to assert the team would have success if they took any scrub, paid him the minimum, and gave him the primary right-handed set-up job. We saw those guys in camp this spring. Would you really want one of the players we cut in Torres' job? There will be no better options in '07 and '08, I'm sure. Or would you promote Ryan Vogelsong to that job? Get real, I say. And it would be bad roster management to take some of our starting candidates (say, Ian Snell) and convert them to full-time relief work before we're certain they can not go as starters, which are much more needed on any club. Quality relievers are "fungible" and abundant only in fantasy baseball. But why go two more years? I still don't know. I suspect that the Pirates intend to work with Torres and his baseball academy after he retires, and that may be a factor. They may regard his salary as something like an investment in their international scouting department. If so, that might be smart. It also looks like they are rewarding him for past service, when he was, no doubt, paid less than average. If so, that's probably not smart, but perhaps unavoidable if they wish to prevent mutiny. All in all, I don't know enough about the team's financial state to have anything like an informed opinion of whether or not this signing could hurt the team, as I think the Boehringer contract did. But like the rest of you, I scratched my head when I read about it. Like the Wilson re-upping, it strikes me as out of character, and it's further evidence there has been some kind of shift in their financial planning. It could be about selling the team. It could be about the coming new labor agreement. It could be about the Ghost of Christmas Future visiting G. Ogden Nutting last Christmas eve.