Saturday, April 28, 2007

Game 22: Reds at Pirates

Belisle vs. Gorzelanny. Doumit in RF batting 6th. Game on.

Steeler #1: Lawrence Timmons

Ed Bouchette has comment.

NFL Draft, Day 1

Mesmerized by the Bucs' 11-10 start, we haven't thought much of late about football. But of course we're acutely aware that, later today, the names of young men will be read aloud in succession. A select handful of these men will be given the chance to compete for the right to wear a new throwback mustard helmet.

The Steelers needs are many (e.g. OLB/OL/DE/RB/CB/WR/ILB/P). As one would expect given the vagaries of the draft, predictions rarely agree:

Ryan of HSS predicts G Ben Grubbs. Ryan also likes punter Dan Sepulveda.

PFW predicts LB Lawrence Timmons.

Ed Bouchette predicts the Steelers trade down with JAX from 15 to 17, trading CB Darrelle Revis for DE Jamaal Anderson and an extra third round pick.

For live draft coverage, the P-G's Jerry Micco will be updating the P-G's Blog 'N' Gold.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mediocre

Four wins in a row and the Pirates have moved to that definition of mediocrity, the .500 record.

Every win now is big money for the team and the players. But they will have to kick it up a notch if they want to win much the rest of this homestand.

That series with the Astros was an epic battle of weakness against super weakness. I'm with Phil Garner. The Astros lost these games more than the Pirates won them. The Astros were much weaker than the Pirates. The Pirates had just enough self-command to walk away big winners.

That said, wins are wins and you take them as you find them.

The next two series are all-important.

Ian Snell goes for us tomorrow, with Tom Gorzelanny to follow. They have their aces ready to go, so the Pirates should approach these two games as they would a playoff series. If they get blown out by the Reds and then get blown out by the Cubs, then they are back to needing something like a four-game winning streak just to regain the opportunity. And the way the last fourteen years have gone, it is hard to say that four-game winning streaks are common things.

So it could be the team's last chance. They need to establish themselves as a group of men who tour the country with a winning record. The sooner the better. And that must be the goal: get above .500 and stay there--for a long time.

If they need a little extra motivation, they should study the standings. It is always a good day to win a baseball game, but it is an especially good time to be mediocre, or slightly above average, in the NL Central. The Pirates are locked up with the Reds. Only one team can advance from this point.

Game 20: Astros at Pirates

The Pirates are 9-10 and three games back. Today they send Tony Armas to match strikes with Wandy Rodriguez.

This is a day game. It starts in about three hours.

Keep an eye on the weather ... should be OK but sudden rain could happen ...

Willful squib

Adam LaRoche is uh, clutch.

Jose Bautista followed with a hit up the middle that moved Wilson to third. And Jason Bay was intentionally walked so that the Astros could face LaRoche.

Hey, why not? LaRoche came to the plate 0 for 4 on the evening, leaving him 0 for 18 at PNC Park since joining the Pirates.

Houston shortstop Adam Everett was shading well behind second base, and LaRoche noticed it. Moehler would throw him the steady diet of low-and-away sinkers he has been seeing -- and not hitting -- all season. And LaRoche was aware of that, too.

"How can you not be?" LaRoche asked.

He took a pitch, then willfully squibbed one of those sinkers right to where Everett would have been. It barely eluded Everett's backhand try to reach the outfield, and Wilson touched home to end the Pirates' longest game since the 18-inning gem they won against the same team at the same venue May 27, 2006.

"I didn't even want to stroke the ball," LaRoche said. "I just wanted to guide it right through that hole, just like a game of pepper."

That's Dejan Kovacevic on the lyre.

Clutchy

Dejan Kovacevic touches clutch again in the Q&A. He expresses a little frustration. I disagree with the parts I read. I would agree with the parts I didn't read except--I didn't read them.

The Pirates need good hitters. They would be wise to keep it simple. Hitting in this or that kind of situation is putting too fine a point on it. Get and make guys who hit well in every situation, and they will do it in the clutch.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Game 19: Astros at Pirates

Albers vs. Duke, starting now. Freddy has been scratched after an unidentified object was removed from his eye earlier today.

Straightforward logic

Fire Joe Morgan has fun with Dejan's clutch piece. The conclusion:

Tracy's "case" is that they need a high BA with RISP, and that OBP doesn't matter so much. That's like saying that the important part of the alley-oop is the slam dunk, and it doesn't matter so much whether anyone bothered to lob you the ball.

So, in the end, I guess I made fun of Jim Tracy. Dejan Kovacevic gets a check-plus, because I think if you read between the lines he is on the side of Facts and Truth. Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay get gold stars. Ronny Paulino and everyone else who would rather pitch to Albert Pujols than David Eckstein gets a punch in the face and an exhortation to seek counseling.

(link via WHYGAVS)

8 and 10

Four games out, two games under .500.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Paul Maholm is clutch

Tonight Maholm pitched a three-hit complete-game shutout against the Astros.

Game 18: Astros at Pirates

Woody Williams and Paul Maholm at seven.

Clutchiness

In response to Dejan Kovacevic's clutch study, Charlie argues that the Pirates are wrong and Dave Pinto follows Jason Bay and argues that it's not clutchiness that exists but chokiness.

There's no doubt that the situation affects a player's ability to hit. With all respect to Charlie, I am not persuaded by something like career batting averages and postseason batting averages. The hitting environment is just not stable, and the data is far too incomplete (making sample sizes much too small) to say with any authority that the numbers prove anything in the debate about "clutch." It could be coincidence that Joe Rudi's postseason numbers delivered in the clutch match his overall regular-season numbers. Joe Rudi does not dent the argument either way.

Think about the variance in the hitting environment from at-bat to at-bat. Some players are affected by defensive alignments. Sometimes you'll see a shift on, for example, and both the shortstop and the second baseman will be on the right side of the infield. That affects a player's ability to get on base in the at-bat. Or maybe some lucky genius had the right-fielder cheat just far enough toward the line that a usual double is caught for an out. These situations are not easily sorted from the rest of the player's at-bats. And there is no "true" or consistent "regular" hitting environment. There is enough variance from at-bat to at-bat to make each one unique and each one its own too-small sample size--when, that is, we get into debates about one of the endless variety of at-bat subsets.

So it's hard for us to say what a player's "true" clutch hitting ability is--it depends, in ways we cannot articulate with the current stats made available, say, from ESPN or USAToday, on the kinds of situations in which they bat. I am not saying that season-long, month-long, or career-long averages are meaningless. I am saying they are too messy and complicated to neatly subdivide into statistically authoritative arguments about subsets of at-bats.

And not all "close and late" situations are the same. There are games where both teams look tired and appear to be going through the motions, and there are games where the playoffs are on the line and the stadium is packed and the crowd noise is intimidating.

The data is not complete enough to say much of anything decisively at this point.

Proof for me that hitting is heavily influenced by the immediate hitting environment are the abysmal numbers most players post in pinch-hitting situations. Very few players are good pinch-hitters, as I discovered, to my surprise, a few years ago. If hitting ability was truly some kind of ideal constant, we would not see a difference between PH numbers and everyday play numbers. This, for me, is proof that something like "clutch" surely exists--but what that is would depend on how it's defined and even then, the numbers are not likely to be very helpful in distinguishing one player's clutchiness from another's. Fine distinctions may be impossible to quantify.

Further proof that clutch exists is anecdotal. Even Charlie concedes it in Elway and Jordan. But for me, this anecdotal evidence carries as much or more weight than the kind of statistical evidence we have at hand today. I have no disdain for statistics, mind you. Rather it's a serious respect for their present limitations. Because I have thought so long and hard about them, I am of the opinion that they do not tell as much as we wish. So I expect the study of baseball to be one that is further characterized by innovations in approach and further scholarly explanations of how everything you previously thought was all wrong. (For example.) Though I do think that some sabermetricians adopt a tiresome "Mr. Enlightenment" tone toward the observation of anecdotal evidence, I am no bleeding-heart Romantic arguing for the conviction of reason-transcending intuition. My belief in clutch is not an article of faith, either.

My advice to the Pirates would run along the lines Adam LaRoche advances in the piece. You certainly can't depend on some perception of clutch ability. The season is too long. Not every game will have a playoff atmosphere. It's just not possible.

If the Pirates want to score more runs, they have to get on base more often. Any way they can get on base is a good way to get on base. As I've said before, I'm not so frustrated when they load the bases and fail to score--as they have too often done this season. The best solution to such trouble "in the red zone" is practice in the red zone. If they keep loading the bases, they will score more runs.

So I believe in clutch and I believe that people choke, but I would not trust in clutch. I would trust more in consistency. I'd rather have a #2 hitter who can draw a walk in his sleep than a #2 hitter who appears to have an ability to deliver a hit in a clutch situation. Why? Because the first player will have far more opportunities to exercise his skill than the second player. As a result, the team would score more runs. And I'd also be skeptical that we can be certain that this or that player truly possesses more clutchiness than the others.

And one more thing on the lineup. I'd stick with what works. If the Pirates win big against mainly right-handed pitching on Monday and face a right-hander on Tuesday, I'd run that same lineup out there again. If they can win often with Jack Wilson in the #2 spot, then don't fix what's not broken. The standings, however, suggest that Jim Tracy would do well to keep tinkering with the lineup until he finds a consistent winner.

Clutch

Dejan Kovacevic studies clutch.

The coming homestand

Brian O'Neill looks at the coming homestand.

I'm still not sold that anyone's hitting numbers are beyond the usual week-to-week fluctuations. They don't look good, a number of them, but they have established a good level of ability in previous year(s). They are not rookies. So they are due.

Break out the hidden vigorish, and bust some people on the head.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Off day

Take it easy.

Here's some reading material if you need it. The Pirates climbed out of last place with the win yesterday. Hopefully the Cubs can sweep the Brewers in their series this week.

The coming homestand will be Astros, Reds, Cubs. Weekday games this Thursday and Wednesday a week from now (5/2). It will be nothing but the NL Central until May 10. Now would be a good time for the team to heat up and maintain concentration.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Game 17: Pirates at Dodgers

The Pirates are 6-10, in last place, and 3.5 games out of first. The Pirates have won only two of their last ten. The Astros have won eight of the last ten, and the Brewers have won seven of the last ten, and they are teams at the top of the NL Central. Those teams play each other at two o'clock.

The Dodgers are 13-5 and own the best record in the NL. The Pirates send Tom Gorzelanny against Brett Tomko. They need a win. Game on at four.