Saturday, January 20, 2007

Saturday

How do you handicap the Bautista / Castillo showdown for playing time?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Baseball card question

I want to buy a box or a complete set of 2007 baseball cards to feed to the destruction machine that is Rowdy Jr. and Rowdietta. Any recommendations? When do the cards come out, anyway?

More LaRoche

Dejan Kovacevic runs down the ramifications of the trade, which might be announced formally this afternoon.

John Perrotto summarized the deal yesterday. He mentions Adam's father, Dave, who I remember as Nolan Ryan's closer. Back when we played some kind of baseball (most often wiffle ball) every day through the summer, weather permitting, I often pretended to be Nolan Ryan of the California Angels. (Bert Blyleven couldn't pitch every day, of course.)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Lillibridge

Nate Silver thinks Schuerholz robbed DL. Silver's PECOTA projections think Lillibridge was one of the top fifteen prospects in all of baseball. If Lillibridge outperforms Jack Wilson this year or in years to come, we'll look back on yesterday much differently. But in a world where players break their backs, kick laundry carts, get hit in the head with a teammate's bat while stretching in the tunnel, etc., attrition is the most likely outcome.

One day after the trade, I still like it. DL had a plan (!), dealt from a position of ridiculous strength, and acquired the guy he wanted to fill a position of desperate need.

... [6:25pm] Rowdy here. Nate Silver's PECOTA works from sound premises but achieves questionable results. I'll admit the system has not worked well for me with fantasy drafts the last two years, not well at all in fact, so maybe that's why I'm skeptical. There are other evaluations out there of Lillibridge. John Sickels just posted his grade, for example.

It's ironic, too, that a BP author would praise a GM for trading a high-OPS slugger for a "proven closer." For years that was one of their great hobby horses, i.e., debunking the notion (a) that closing was hard or (b) that teams should pay much, in salary or trade, for a "proven closer."

The notion that this A-level prospect may be the best player in the deal is laughable. It's knee-jerk contrarianism. It's the kind of stuff that would belong in The New Republic of baseball journalism. That said, it got Bones' attention and has some of the Pirates' fans a little shaken. Kudos for Nate for doing what it takes to have that kind of influence on people. All hail PECOTA, beast of the jungle.

Twenty-four hours later, I still love the trade.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Great trade

We still don't know who is the additional player, but if it's a minor-leaguer or a six through eight starter, I don't care.

Let's not get carried away and regard LaRoche as the next Willie Stargell.

Still I say, great trade! I'll raise the next few Great Lakes porters in appreciation. It's about time something went our way.

Well played, Mr. Littlefield!

LaRoche!

The Post-Gazette is reporting that Adam LaRoche has been traded for Gonzo and one other player. (rubs eyes). Still there. I can not tell if this is true or dream.

Starters six through eight

The news that stands above the usual restlessness is this, in Dejan Kovacevic's report: "Starters Sean Burnett, John Van Benschoten and Bryan Bullington, all working their way back from arm surgeries, were throwing yesterday at PNC Park and predicted they would be ready to pitch in spring training." I did not know Bullington was on such a timetable.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Juan Quinto making good

Just got an email from my man in Ecuador. I wrote about him awhile ago. He's repaid half the money I lent him. Way to go, Juan! I am definitely eating at his restaurant the next time I am in Ecuador.

LaRoche

The LaRoche story will not die. Dejan Kovacevic reports how it lumbers from the graveyard.

Littlefield is right to reject the Duffy-and-Gonzo offer. I'm less sure about the starter-and-Gonzo scenario. We need six to ten starters for next year. No one got hurt in 2006, so you know a couple of people will get maimed on us in 2007. It's going to happen--depend on it.

Here's the depth chart, off the top of my head: Ian Snell, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Tom Gorzelanny. That's four good starters. The Bucs would be lucky if they combine for 100 starts. Who starts the other 62 games? Shawn Chacon, Sean Burnett, John Van Benschoten, Yoslan Herrera (good signing), Shane Youman, Marty McLeary, Bryan Bullington, ... uh ... Kip Bouknight?

Chacon is good for 20 mediocre to bad starts. Burnett might be good for a dozen, ditto for JVB. They could be good for more, but I would not plan on it. Herrera might be ready at the end of the year for six starts. That leaves twelve starts open for Youman and McLeary.

The problem with dealing one of the starters is this. Who starts those 25 games? The Pirates have little depth in the starting pitching department. How many of those relief pitchers could be converted into starting pitchers? Torres maybe?

And who's left on the free agent wire? Where's Jimmy Anderson? Where's Omar Daal? Who could the Pirates sign that would be good for 25 starts in 2007? Call Ryan Vogelsong and tell him to put down those Japanese language tapes.

Or, seriously, sign some mediocre to good pitcher and live with the contract. All the other teams are doing it. If candidates are floating around, they should deal one of the starters and take care of the first-base, the left-handed bat, and the home-run power problems. This would be good for everyone in the lineup. They only need one 25-game starter now (to fill the traded pitcher's turns) and they can get another 25-game starter, or group of guys who can start 25 games collectively, later (to fill the hole created by the first injured starter).

If the Pirates could get LaRoche tomorrow with one of those starters - say, Maholm, since his name is most often mentioned - they could do that first and worry about the 25 starts second.

Here's an added bonus. The addition of LaRoche would sell tickets. And few fans look beyond five or six starters. Littlefield can talk about former #1 picks and the Cuban signing when asked who fills the loss of Maholm. The fans would be happy. The new owner would look good. It's a risk but not that great a risk. And if it fails, Littlefield won't be around to fix it anyway. He can do such a trade.

It would be terrifying, but I think it would be worth it.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Big Mac

One more thing before I return to the lazy Sunday routine. If I had a vote, I would have given it to Mark McGwire.

There is facts and there is interpretation of facts. The facts of his career are all on his side. The sportswriters and the fans can interpret the facts however they please, but it is tiresome and not worth debating when folks advance their interpretations as facts. It is not a fact that McGwire's performance was entirely caused or significantly aided by steroid use. That is an interpretation. We could run down a whole series of excuses sportswriters used to distract readers from the facts of McGwire's career. While I may agree with those interpretations, they remain interpretations, and personally I think the world is a better place when people recognize the difference.

I also think the Hall of Fame is entirely overblown. People invest far too much meaning in it. Baseball stands for many things, and that is good, but it is not the same thing for everyone. Personally, I want to puke when I watch The Natural or Field of Dreams. Not everyone buys into the same interpretations of the significance of baseball. The sport would be better if the sportswriters recognized that and did not pretend to know the meaning of the game. Let it be protean.

The facts say Mark McGwire belongs in the Hall. I expect one day soon he'll get in.

All that said, I recognize that perhaps there are other things at work in the McGwire vote. The moral indignation may be a disguise. Perhaps the sportswriters feel some kind of declining authority among ballplayers. Perhaps they feel that by withholding McGwire's admission to the Hall of Fame, they stand to gain something in their work with the current collection of ballplayers. It's not for me to say. There are different ways to interpret why they voted against him.

P.S. I'm not saying the sportswriters "got it wrong." It was a vote and Big Mac lost. I'm saying I would have voted for him. And I'm predicting that sportswriters will soften and vote him in one day soon. There's no good case against him.

Expecting improvement

One theme I've noticed in Kovacevic's pre-season preview writing is that we should not expect much improvement from the better players. This is true.

We also have to expect, however, two or three guys to come out of nowhere and surprise us. I can't name which three. Maybe Jose Bautista hits 40 bombs, or maybe Ian Snell finishes the year with 200 innings of 1.12 WHIP and 230 strikeouts. Likewise, Jason Bay could hit .230 with 9 home runs and Chris Duffy could hit a buck-fifty for the first two months of the season.

There are about forty to fifty players who could make an impact, and each player has at least a five percent chance of being, over the course of a season, a superhero. And at least a five percent chance of being a supergoat. Call it six percent for round numbers, and it's even money that three players wildly outperform your expectations (think Freddy Sanchez) and three players wildly underperform (think Oliver Perez).

Strange shit will happen. It always does. None of these young men are fixed quantities. Even Jack Wilson could go and have some kind of season at the plate which diverges from his amazingly consistent career.

It's trite to say expect the unexpected, sure. But sometimes trite is true.

My respect for the unexpected is one of the reasons I always project an 81-win season for the Pirates. The fact that I always expect an 81-win season is something that keeps me a fan. I've been genuinely dumbfounded by this streak of losing.

What I truly expect is this. One year, say this year, the Pirates will win 82 games. Expectations will be high for the next year, and they will disappoint and win 74 again. Then maybe they win 82 in the following year. The payroll stuff might have them averaging 78 wins year after year, but I expect enough deviation from that 78. We could see a 90 win team soon. Far stranger things happen every year.

Folks who blink and say there's no way that's happening are too snug in their certainties. Not much is so certain in pro sports. That's what makes it so engrossing.

Meet the Nuttings

Dejan Kovacevic profiles the man at the top.

I expect little to change, but this dispels some uncertainty. So the only change is this. Now things are less likely to change.

If the Pirates would do a better job drafting and developing players, all this tight-fistedness and painful patience could work for them.