Saturday, April 29, 2006

Game 25: Phillies at Pirates

Lidle vs. Maholm. Scoreless after one. First time Paul pitched a scoreless first inning in four starts. We will ... pay more attention to the Steelers' round two pick coming up soon.

Update: Steelers trade round 2(64th) pick to Minnesota for two third round picks (83rd and 95th). Pirates lead 3-1 after 5 1/2. Maholm pitching well.

NFL Draft thread

Houston took the DE, which is smart I think, and the Saints are on the clock. I'll tune in again in several hours, when it's about time for the Steelers to take the league to school.

. . . Steelers trade up to get their choice for the #1 WR in the draft. Since the competition was a Florida player, I'm psyched this guy is Ohio State. Did the league zig and the Steelers zag? Without knowing much of anything about the players, it looks like a smart play.

The Steelers are good at the draft, so odds are they will find players without their #3 and #4. With the extra picks, they will have plenty of chances, too. Quality matters as much as quantity, but we will have a better idea of their ability to find overlooked gems come September. Time will tell if this was a good play or just a good-looking play. For now, then, Welcome Santonio Holmes.

...Anthony Smith (FS) sounds like a project. Others will call him a reach. They did well with Ike Taylor . . .

Friday, April 28, 2006

Game 24: Phillies and Pirates

Brett Myers and Ian Snell.

Joe Table vs. Omar Vizquel

Bones and I have long been looking forward to this matchup. I missed it when it happened; I'm sorry I had to read about it so many days later.

Last year, McClendon wisely kept Joe away from Omar in the only six games the Bucs and Giants enjoyed together.

The NFL Draft

Sinorice Moss would be a wasted first-round choice, given that guys like Az Hakim and Tim Dwight are almost always available. Little speedy guys have their place in the NFL, and the Steelers could probably use one. But it's a waste of a first-round pick. Or even a second-round pick.

With the early picks, I'd like to see them get some people for the offensive line. With their six picks in the first four rounds, I also expect the Steelers will clean up and bring home a good haul of good players.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Horribly bad

Some counterpoints and conclusions:

1. All baseball players are not genetically predispositioned and environmentally adapted equally. Some have skills, and are good. Some have few skills, and are very, very bad. The probability of a baseball team playing .500 is a function of the collective skills of the team. For a team made up of mostly bad players, it is hard to play .500 baseball. For a team of mostly good players, it is not hard.

2. The Pirates do not have many good players. Thus, because of (1), their poor play is likely more a result of bad players, than of these bad players feigning injuries or slacking.

3. Because I believe (2), I put the burden of the blame for overall poor play on the front office, which has fielded said bad team.

4. For a bunch of mostly bad players to achieve a .217 winning percentage through 23 games is truly remarkable and almost unprecedented. For stooping to this abysmal nadir, the players, coaches, GM, and owners should all be held accountable. The owners, GM, and coaches should be mercilessly flogged in public.

5. The general conduct and decision-making of the owners and GM has been, overall, egregiously incompetent.

6. We could afford more good players if we canned three people and anointed Bob Walk as coach/pitching coach/GM.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Horribly broken

Some points and conclusions:

1. It’s not hard to play .500 baseball. Any team can do it most any year.

2. It is easy to play .450 baseball. Any group of malingering slackers can do it. It is difficult to play .550 baseball.

3. Because I believe (1), I am inclined to always believe the Pirates are poised for a .500 season. For this I am often mistaken for a pollyanna booster. I’m OK with that. Part of me wants to be one anyway.

4. Because I believe (1), I will not be heartily impressed when they do play .500 baseball. I have not had much opportunity to express such admirable skepticism on this blog.

5. All performance must be considered (or “translated” as statheads say) in the context of the scoreboard. For example, it is easier to pitch well when your team has a lead. It is harder to pitch well when your team is behind. It is easier to hit a home run when you’re team is down 8-0. It is harder to hit a home run when the score is tied. Another example: it is easier to win five of ten if you begin those ten games, twelve games under .500. It is harder to win five of ten if you begin those ten games, twelve games over .500. In baseball, managers shuffle players in and out of the lineup, saving their best for the best. If the Astros are in first, why should they care much if they lose to the Pirates? We are not a division rival; we are a division patsy. Our win does not hurt them twice, since we are in no position to threaten them for first place. On the other hand, if the Cardinals are in second, the first-place Astros should naturally regard a series with St. Louis as exactly twice as important as that series with last-place Pittsburgh.

6. Because I believe (5), I put little stock in excellent individual performances or outstanding winning periods if done in the context of twelve games under .500. So what if they win, say, nine of the next twelve? They are still hopelessly buried underground. They’d move from twelve games under to six games under. Individually, the wins might be enjoyable. But they are not much evidence that the team is competitive or offers hope for the future. Let them start at .500, and then let’s see them win nine of twelve.

7. Because I believe (6), the middle of the season only matters much if the start of the season went well. If the Pirates fall twelve games under in April, the season is more or less over for me, as a fan of continuous interest, except as a point of humor or a comfort of habit. It’s over unless, of course, they somehow improve their record to .500. Until they are beating teams that fear them and start all their best players against them, the wins don’t mean so much.

8. The start of 2005 was a tremendous disappointment. They fought back to 30-30, and then they were destroyed. The start of 2006 has been even worse. In both Aprils, I thought they stood a good chance of playing .500 ball for at least a few months. See (1).

9. The general conduct and decision-making of the owners and GM has been, overall, passably competent. There was the Aramis Ramirez thing, but then there was the Jason Bay trade. The got rid of Chris Shelton at just the wrong time, and they got rid of Jason Kendall at just the right time. There have been bad signings. There have been good signings gone inexplicably bad. Is all that the fault of the owners and front office? Would another group have done better? I don’t think we know. Still, we have point (8). The appearance of passable competence does not jibe with the documentation of spectacular failure. I can only conclude that the situation is much worse than it appears, on the surface, to a fan who is inclined to believe that everyone is usually acting and decision-making in good faith.

To make a long story short, this 5-17, after 2005’s April, is more than bad luck. Something is horribly broken, and I can’t tell you what it is.

The season is more or less over for me. Right now, I’d rather listen to John Lee Hooker than Lanny and Greg and Bob and John.

But don’t worry. I’m not closing down the blog or anything like that. I know you would hate that. Bad enough the Pirates stink, but to lose Honest Wagner? Unthinkable!

You can expect fewer and less serious postings, however. And maybe a post or two about the Greatness that is John Lee Hooker. All hail John Lee Hooker! Right now he's singing:

Should have been gone
Long time, long time ago.
I hung around here
way too long, way too long.
Hold up my right hand
I swear I won't be back no more
Hold up my right hand
I swear I won't be back no more.
I should have been gone
Long time, long time ago.

Game 23: Pirates at Cardinals

In progress. Duke vs. Mulder. Duke made it over 8 minutes before giving up the obligatory first inning run. Cards 2, Bucs 0 after two.

What do you think of that?

Ron Cook writes about how some guy from Cuba wants to buy the team. You know what, this might be a good idea. Down there they get a lot more life out of their cars, and for the next so many years, we're more or less stuck with this junker.

Lick it up

"I didn't just crap my pants. I crapped my #1-Pirates-Fan-Pants! I know it doesn't spell 'pennant' or anything, but I'm willing to give it a shot. Yeah baby!"

Ack! As if the Pirates' Bad-News-Bears Act and the jackassery of Lanny, Blass, and Wehner weren't painful enough, we get spoonfed this recycled garbage again? If the Pirates' marketing dept. can come up with a two word motto, why can't PNC bank come up with one new 30 second ad? Maybe because they assume, like the front office, that we can be paid in puke, and then asked to lick it up?

Anyway, as Billy pointed out, it's time to axe the ad featuring the offseason moves. Let's also axe the "Rob Rossi thinks this team is going to be entertaining" ads for the Trib (unless people think getting your ass whooped is entertaining).

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


At 9:11 eastern, the Pirates took the lead! Sure, it was gone by 9:21, but you have to make baby steps before you can bound like the breeze.

Game 22: Pirates at Cardinals

In progress. Jeff Suppan and Victor Santos. Cardinals 2, Pirates 0 after one inning.

Rowdy's new lineup

The Chris Duffy lead-off experiment must end. The man is an out machine, and this hurts our young starters. The lineup must be devoted to getting an early lead. So leading off with Chris Duffy is the worst possible strategy, at this point in time.

Even when healthy, Duffy strikes out a lot for a guy with little power. In the minors, he K'd in about 17% of his plate appearances. This year, he's K'd about 26%. Last year, he only K'd 16% while hitting an obviously unsustainable .340.

Contact rate and batting average correlate. Batting average is not so important if the batter has power. If the batter has little power, batting average is important; singles make up much of the player's on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Without a high batting average, guys like Chris Duffy have little value.

Even if he's fully healthy, Chris Duffy is going to strike out, I'd guess, about 18% of the time. Maybe more. He averaged about 16% in the minors, and he's not done anything in 2006 to suggest he's close to improving that number in the big leagues.

Here are some low-power types with 18% K rates: Jay Bell, 1995 and 1996: .262 BA / ..336 OBP / .404 SLG and .250 / .323 / .391. Mike Benjamin, 2000: .270 / .313 / .391. Pat Meares, 2000: .240 / .305 / .381. Hank Foiles, 1959: .225 / .287 / .375.

What separates Duffy from these guys is speed. Players with average speed and an 18% K rate tend to hit in the .240s. I rattle off those names just to give you an idea of what I think should be a base projection for Duffy -- i.e., Duffy without his wheels.

Duffy's PECOTA forecast is .278 / .330 / .389. This is not good enough to be an effective lead-off man, unless it comes with dozens and dozens and dozens of steals. And PECOTA forecasts a 15% K rate, which strikes me, today, as too optimistic. Still, Duffy often hit .300 in the minors, so that .278 may be more doable than you'd think looking at the seasons of Pat Meares and Mike Benjamin.

What do the Pirates hope for with Chris Duffy? Is it Willy Taveras? He hit .291 / .325 / .341 last season, with 34 steals. Is it Omar Moreno? He struck out in 18% of his PAs in 1982--and stole 60 bases. Still, his overall numbers were .245 / .292 / .315. He scored only 82 runs -- despite 689 PAs -- and knocked in 44. That's not so good. In Moreno's best year, 1979, he scored 110 runs by stealing 77 bases and hitting .282 / .333 / .381, while striking out 14% of the time.

If that's the plan for Duffy, fine. Somehow teach him to halve the current level of strikeouts. Then run his ass ragged on the basepaths. OK. It's a longshot, but it's a plan.

The Pirates don't need to abandon this plan, but they should put the part where all this happens while he leads off against the weakest pitchers - that part - in the shredder.

The Bucs should move Duffy to the bottom of the lineup. Bat him eighth. He can develop his Omarness down there.

Should he continue to play? Sure, I think, if his defense is worth that much to the young starting pitchers.

Should he continue to lead off? No way.

To take better care of the young starters, I'd work harder to get them an early lead. No out machines may hit at the top of the lineup. Period. This 5-16 business means the team must take care of priority one.

Therefore, my new leadoff hitter would be Jack Wilson. For so long as he's caliente. Jason Bay hits second.

Pitchers say it's easier to pitch with a lead. We've seen some evidence of this the last two weeks. Without more early leads, the coaches will never see how these young guys pitch with a lead. And a starter can only be an ace -- a 15-game winner -- if he can pitch with a lead. And aces is priority one.

So bat Duffy eighth, if his defense is that good. Or start Nate McLouth and bat him sixth or seventh. He's not likely to develop sufficient Omarness. He's likely to out-hit Duffy, for sure, but not in a way that you want at the top of the lineup.

Make it Wilson, Bay, then the 20-homer K club.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Game 21: Pirates at Cardinals

Chris Carpenter in the new stadium against Skinny Perez. Game on in fifteen minutes. Pirates want to score early and often on this guy. (Uh, duh. We say the obvious when we're 5-15.) Hopefully Nate McLouth, leading off and playing center, can get on base in one of his first two at-bats.

How they scored

First inning, year to date:

Pirates, 7
The other team, 24.
Second and third innings:
Pirates, 11
The other team, 24.
Fourth through ninth innings:
Pirates, 68
The other team, 65.

How have they outscored their opponents in the last five or six innings and not won more games on the late-inning rally? Because the other team has been, to borrow a football phrase, running out the clock. It's not so much that other teams have used bad pitchers to protect their leads. Rather, it's that those pitchers are letting the Pirates hit their way out of innings. If you have a 6-0 lead in the top of the fifth, who cares if the Pirates score one run? If you are leading 3-1 in the top of the ninth, you'll give the Pirates one run. If it's 7-0 and the Pirates come to bat in the bottom of the sixth, it's a good time to throw the ball where the Pirates can hit it. They score three runs? No big deal--you still lead by four. There's no need to waste pitches, especially if, as the starter, you feel some pressure to go seven or eight innings now that you have a seven-run lead.

The Bucs are fooling themselves if they think they have been in many games. This is how they are 5-15 and not 7-12 or some other better record. The two come-from-behind victories against LA are not enough to earn the "we scrap and are in every game" badge, especially since they squandered three leads in the Milwaukee series.

Game after game, they fall behind. And they stay behind. The game ends, and they have lost. That's how they are 5-15.

Top priority

What is the team's top priority, at this point? I would argue that it regards the crew of young starters. If they can only do one thing this season, they ought to study all the young starters and sort the good from the bad, the reliable from the unreliable, and the future from the past.

Agree or disagree?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sunday night

John Perrotto rolls out the good rambling voice for his Sunday plog. He tries pretty hard to rag on the fans, but he can't do better than to complain about guys who holler for beanings. Still, the ball in that game goes back to Dejan.

Dejan Kovacevic writes up that thing we saw in the opening series, namely, that teams are going to take away Jason Bay and make the rest of the lineup beat them.

The Pirates continue to handle the Duffy / McLouth platoon in center stupidly, as evidenced by the team stacking the deck against McLouth and continuing to play Duffy--while McLouth continues to outproduce Duffy. It's idiotic. At some point, a grown-up has to tell the child to stop jamming the square peg at the round hole.

Another gem. Read this:

The Astros' Lance Berkman offered one eyebrow-raising theory as to why offensive numbers are up around the majors: The pitchers had to get off steroids, too. "Everybody wants to talk about the hitters being juiced. Nobody even really thinks about the pitchers," he said. "Before, they were throwing 95 mph, but now they're throwing 90. It's going to be a whole different feel."
I think it's safe to assume that some players around the league think Oliver Perez has dropped from 95 to 90 because he's no longer "juiced." Well--maybe not "some players." Lance Berkman would appear to believe this theory deserves consideration.

Game 20: Pirates at Astros

In progress. The Houston players roughed up Paul Maholm in the first, and the Astros lead 4-0.