Friday, August 18, 2006

Game 122: Pirates at Reds

The 46-75 Pirates go down south to Cincinnati. It's Ian Snell and Harvey Michalak at seven.

...I'd like to see Snell get through this one with less than a walk an inning and no home runs. What're the odds?

How you gonna spend $70 million?

Dejan Kovacevic seeks your advice (scroll down to the bottom).

Thursday, August 17, 2006

MLB standings with Rowdy's radical realignment

A week or so ago, I abolished the DH, expanded the league, and did some radical realignment with hypothetical and unlimited commissioner powers. The new divisions were organized mainly by geographical and cultural proximity. Here are today's standings.

AMERICAN

WEST
Oakland.............68 52 ---- 0.567
San Francisco.......58 63 10.5 0.479
Seattle.............56 64 12.0 0.467
Las Vegas...........xx xx xxxx 0.000

SOUTH
Texas...............62 59 ---- 0.512
Colorado............59 62 03.0 0.488
Houston.............57 63 04.5 0.475
San Antonio.........xx xx xxxx 0.000

MIDWEST
Detroit.............78 42 ---- 0.650
Chicago White Sox...72 48 06.0 0.600
Toronto.............64 56 14.0 0.533
Chicago Cubs........52 68 26.0 0.433

EAST
New York Mets.......72 48 ---- 0.600
New York Yankees....70 48 01.0 0.593
Boston..............69 50 02.5 0.580
Philadelphia........59 61 13.0 0.492

NATIONAL

WEST
Los Angeles Dodgers.64 57 ---- 0.529
Los Angeles Angels..62 59 02.0 0.512
Arizona.............61 60 03.0 0.504
San Diego...........60 61 04.0 0.496

SOUTH
Cincinnati..........62 59 ---- 0.512
Atlanta.............56 64 05.5 0.467
Florida.............56 64 05.5 0.467
Tampa Bay...........48 72 13.5 0.400

MIDWEST
Minnesota...........70 50 ---- 0.583
St. Louis...........64 56 06.0 0.533
Milwaukee...........57 63 13.0 0.475
Kansas City.........43 79 28.0 0.352

EAST
Cleveland...........54 66 ---- 0.450
Baltimore...........53 68 01.5 0.438
Washington..........53 68 01.5 0.438
Pittsburgh..........46 75 08.5 0.380

If the playoffs began tomorrow, it would be Texas vs. Detroit, Oakland vs. New York Mets, Cleveland vs. Minnesota, and Cincinnati vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers. Few baseball fans would live far from one of these teams, and the playoffs might hold their own, in every major market, against whatever's on the NFL Network.

Nutting's half-billion dollar empire

FWIW. Facts are so hard to uncover about the men behind the curtain, we will take speculation and file it away. George Hohmann, writing for the Charleston Daily Mail, writes this:

A lot of truly powerful people make a point of staying out of the spotlight. So it's not surprising the magazine missed publicity-shy G. Ogden Nutting.

Nutting heads a Wheeling-based empire that's probably worth a half-billion dollars. We don't know an exact number because his companies are closely held private enterprises. We do know the family owns 40 daily newspapers, a slew of weekly papers and a rack full of magazines. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review estimates the family owns 25 percent of the Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Club. In June the family bought Seven Springs Mountain Resort. And Nutting is a director of United Bankshares Inc.

Back to your regularly-scheduled discussion of the question, "How well are the Pirates developing young starters?"

Off day

No game today.

What do you think of a six-man rotation? On the one hand, I wouldn't want to push too many young guys too far past the 175 inning mark. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to disrupt the preparation routines for a bunch of fatigued pitchers.

Either way, it's worth considering: how best do you end the season of a young starter playing for a 100-loss team? Dejan Kovacevic explains that the Pirates have had a policy of not advancing a starter's inning count by more than 20 from the previous year's total.

Perhaps Ryan Vogelsong can come up and start every game after September 15.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Game 121: Brewers at Pirates

Capuano and Duke at twelve-thirty.

Lame duck Cowher?

Ed Bouchette on Cowher and what looks more and more like his final year with the Steelers.

It's hard to put the word "lame" next to Cowher, but you have to wonder how the transition will go as/if the team advances to the playoffs.

Freddy will destroy himself to be better than you

ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reports on Freddy's ping-pong and baseball skills:

"He's so competitive, he'll destroy himself to be better than you," says Freddy's agent. Crasnick notes: "If Sanchez can fend off Florida's Miguel Cabrera in September, he will join Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Paul Waner, Arky Vaughan and Roberto Clemente as one of 10 Buccos with a batting crown."

To date, Freddy leads the NL with his .346 BA.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Game 120: Brewers at Pirates

The Bucs are 46-73. (And 32-28 at home.) Tonight it's Doug Davis and Tom Gorzelanny at seven.

Prospects promoted

Dejan Kovacevic reports catcher Neil Walker and outfielder Andrew McCutchen have been promoted to Altoona.

Dolan the owner

The Indians are not doing well, according to Terry Pluto of the Akron Beacon Journal.

Indians owner Paul Dolan has a far more serious problem than the Indians falling out of contention by June.

He needs to give his customers a reason to believe.

This suggests that Pluto doubts the owners are outspending revenue (see headline: "Paul Dolan says team payroll will top $60 million, likely exceed revenue. Fans need reason to believe") while superficially doing the usual cry for hope. It's pretty pathetic and humiliating, isn't it, to be cast in the role of crying for "a reason to believe." At least they are holding out for playoff contention--Pirate fans seem more focussed on the .500 season. And this is not asking for the moon or even a moon pie; .500 seasons should come and go with regularity, even under poor management.

That said, while the irritation and anger might be considerable, I don't think fans go quite that far with the despair. We don't need "a reason to believe." We need something else--satisfaction maybe?

The Indians have a shaky fan base in a soft economy (Ohio leads the nation in job losses) with a superstar named LeBron James playing in the building next door for the Cavaliers.

As always, the Browns rule the Northeast Ohio sports market. You could put an empty orange helmet on the 50-yard line at Cleveland Browns Stadium and 50,000 fans would show up to stare at it.

It doesn't matter to fans how many games the Browns have lost, and they've lost more than any other NFL team since 1999.

You know the Steelers would draw well if they fell on hard times, too. Is this really a disadvantage? A city of sports fans is a city of sports fans. The Indians and Pirates may have trouble selling tickets on fall Sundays, and that may extend somewhat into the other days in September and October, but I question the logic that says sports fans will only spend money on one sport. It's a bit like arguing that beer drinkers will only drink one beer.

The Indians are a different story. To draw big crowds, they have to prove themselves to many of the fans who have abandoned them since 2001, the last playoff season.

This could have nothing to do with the Browns. The Pirates are in the same situation. The fans, who are serious sports fans, want to watch games and usually see their team win. (It's not the same in all cities. I'll never forget a game I saw in Seattle's old mall-like Metrodome, when I sat next to a person reading a book, and had to look over a crowd of people who were literally paying no attention to the action on the field. Things may be different in Safeco, but my point remains the same.)

The Tribe is on pace to draw about 2 million fans, slightly below the 2.1 million that was projected. But more than 60 percent of those tickets were sold in the offseason, when the Indians were coming off a 93-69 year.

Are the Pirates doing better than the Indians at drawing crowds? I will look up that information and insert it here later. The Pirates also look to have trouble selling tickets this offseason--they will have no All-Star game boost.

Pluto argues that it takes money:

Dolan and his father, Larry, have to spend more than they have in recent years. Yes, the three highest payrolls in team history were under the Dolans: $78 million in 2000, $96 million in 2001 and $82 million in 2002.

Since then, their highest has been this season's $56 million payroll, which ranks 24th in baseball. By comparison, Central Division contenders Chicago (fourth at $102 million), Detroit (14th at $82 million) and Minnesota (19th at $63 million) are outspending the Tribe.

If a team doesn't have a budget that at least matches that of the frugal Twins, it has no chance to compete consistently in the division.

He could be right, more money would help. But Pirates fans tend to ask not so much for more money but for better use of the money they have. We know that money is not everything if it is spent wisely. I've been reading up on the Indians because I've been looking for a GM to tout as doing better with a similar situation than Littlefield has done with his. Shapiro may fit that bill, but here the local Cleveland media talk only money and take Shapiro's better trading record for granted. (As perhaps they should; perhaps it is not so outstanding as to exceed expectations.)

The Indians are averaging 25,507 fans. That's 24th out of 30 teams, which is the same ranking they have in total salary.

Dolan said next year's payroll will be ``north of $60 million.''

Realistically, the payroll must approach $70 million if ownership is serious about returning the team to contention.

The front office also has to change some tactics. So often, they spend the winter chasing free agents and signing none of them. A better approach would be to explore the trade market, dealing for talented players on teams looking to cut payroll, and using prospects as bait.

How many high-payed players earn their salary (relative to what one can pay a young guy)? The Phillies already gave away Bobby Abreu. And how many teams are cutting payroll this off-season? I don't hear about so many, but if another Abreu becomes available for a rate he should earn, the Pirates would also be wise to take him.

Finally, what other teams are owned by people accused of profiting "excessively" and disregarding the imperative to win? Pirate fans may have more company than I first suspected.

Loria the owner

Just read Dayn Perry's summary of Loria's work as an owner, and I wonder if the Nuttings are all that bad.

My main problem with whoever owns the Pirates today has been the unlimited patience with failure. Now that the Pirates are playing better than .500 ball since the All-Star Break, I suppose ownership feels encouraged about "staying the course." Loria's won a championship, and winning is everything, but Dayn Perry's unflattering portrait makes the Nuttings look reasonable.

McLouth DL'd, Rajai Davis up

Get well, Nate McLouth.

Davis is another candidate in the search for the next Omar Moreno.

Gold Glove for Freddy

Brian O'Neill says make it so.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Brewers lose

Ha ha. They were no match for our army of young relievers!

Game 119: Brewers at Pirates

Bush and Santos starting about now.

Relievers 'R' Us

Dejan Kovacevic reports on the great skill with which the Pirates have stockpiled relievers.

They begin to look like a pro football team with nine good, young field-goal kickers.

Nuttings may lift finger

John Perrotto has rumors, and this is the big one:

A source close to the Nutting family indicates that Pirates ownership is losing patience with General Manager Dave Littlefield and may fire him at the end of the season, even though they extended his contract one year through the 2008 season on opening day. If Littlefield is let go, his waterloo will have been acquiring $18.5-million worth of declining veterans in Sean Casey, Joe Randa and Jeromy Burnitz last winter and getting little production in return.

The trade for Shawn Chacon, as Perrotto notes here, was more stupid than each of those signings.