Are We Really Getting Better? Part II

Yesterday we closed Part I of this seriesknowing that the Pittsburgh Pirates averaged winning 13.7 fewer games than the MLB average team (81 wins) over the last three years, that our offense was short an average of 71 runs scored each of those years while our pitching and defense was short 35 runs allowed per year (106 runs total), and that our pitching staff faced a tick easier opponent in the box from the average MLB pitching staff based on BA, OBP, SLG, and OPS seen.

As you probably know, baseball…

Please go on Pittsburgh Pirates Blog – Bucco Blog to continue read this story.

More Pittsburgh Pirates Story, Pittsburgh Pirates and MLB baseball story can be found at Bucco Blog – Where the Pittsburgh Pirates are always on.

Bucco BLog URL has been changed:

Also make sure check out the Pittsburgh Pirates Forum at this URL:


Are We Really Getting Better? Part I

Over the last three years, the Pirates have averaged 67.3 wins whichwas 13.7 wins short from the average MLB team of 81 wins. Ask any fan
what the problem is and they will quickly tell you – we need more

Sure enough, the average MLB team scored 769 runs last three and the
Pirates averaged scoring 698.. a 71 run difference. The average MLB
team allowed 769 runs scored last three and the Pirates were at 804.. a
35 run difference.

Pittsburgh Pirate’s fans: Read more of the story on Pittsburgh Pirates Bucco Blog

New Bucco Blog is open to public today!

BIM is delighted to announce that the new Bucco Blog is open to public today!  This transition will allow us to present articles with a much more flexible platform.  Ever since Jake announced the acquisition deal of the Bucco Blog, we have been working very hard on this new website… It’s being improved every day, hope you will like it.

Here is the URL:

As part of the deal, Jake will remain as the main writer of the new website and have full authority over the editorial independence.  BIM would like to thank Jake’s support and cooperation in this trying transitioning period.  In the mean time, it is important to mention that without our most dedicated and contributing writers:  Rocco, Bill and John, you would not see this website today!

We would really love to hear your thoughts on this new site, Go the the Pittsburgh Pirates Bucco Blog Forum now, and tell us what you think. 

Does a set defensive position really help offensive production?

[This article is posted by Polka Bill, tell Polka and other fans what you think by joining Pittsburgh Pirates forum now! ]

It’s been suggested that having a player mentally prepared to enter the
season as the starter at one position will help them with their
offensive production.

I don’t buy it.

At least not at the major-league level.

I can understand wanting to draft a player and have them come up
through the minor-league system at one position so they learn
everything they can about what it takes to be a major-league at said
position. But position moves have to be made to get your best prospect
to the majors as soon as they are ready. Neil Walker was moved from
catcher to 3rd because that position is his best bet for making it to
the majors as soon as he’s ready. Jose Castillo was moved from SS to
2nd in the minors because Pokey Reese got injured and he was the best
prospect to come to the majors in case of an injury to a middle
infielder. And don’t you think it would have made some sense in having
Ryan Doumit and Brad Eldred shag some fly balls in the outfield when
management realized that to get their bats to the majors, a position
change might be needed.

At the major league level, these men are the best of the best. So does
it help the mentality of players to hear that Xavier Nady is our right
fielder, Freddy Sanchez is our 2nd baseman, Jose Bautista is our
starting 3rd baseman, and that’s that, end of discussion?

That might work for your teams that can afford to pay the best of the
best to come in and start at a designated position . But for teams like
our Pirates, it doesn’t work. When Jose Bautista got hurt last year
with the lacerated hand, did it not make the most sense to move Freddy
back to 3rd and let Castillo start at 2nd? I thought so, I think most
thought so, but because Freddy was dubbed our 2nd baseman, we were told
it was better for him to stay at 2nd and continue to improve there. But
at what cost? Castillo was your starting 2nd baseman for 3 years,
Freddy played lights out at 3rd the year before. Doesn’t seem like the
best choice for the entire team.

How about Xavier Nady. He played an outstanding 1st base after the
trade that brought him to the Pirates at the trade deadline in the
Ollie Perez deal. He showed that, when healthy, he can also play left
and center, and to know that he’s also played a little 3rd only excites
the fans more. But, the Pirates are saying they want Nady’s mind at
ease, for him to know he’s their right fielder and not worry about
position hopping. Seriously? Does that really help, knowing that it
might be better for the team to be prepared to make a position move?

But what about our players still without a position, like Ryan Doumit,
a switch-hitting power bat that is blocked in right and 1st. Well, he
wouldn’t be blocked with a little position shuffling to get your best
eight men on the field. If that means Freddy goes back to 3rd, or Nady
grabs his infield glove, or Doumit grabs his catchers mit, the object
is to win, not to pamper the players.

Is it really that big of a deal for a major leaguer to be told “Hey
pal, we’ve got an injury or we’re not getting the production from a
certain position, we need you to go there because you’re better than
the back-up.” You’d think these players would be more than willing. Are
they? Will management allow this to happen? That’s to be determined.

Four needed moves; Sickels slop; & vacation time

Four things the Pirates have to do in 2008 if they want to try and sneak one by the rest of the division:

1. First and foremost, get rid of Xavier Nady if Jason Bay isn’t dealt.

Every defensive metric known puts Nady’s defense in right at no less than -1 win.. some as far out as nearly -2 wins. That’s close to equalizing Nady’s offensive contribution from the corner. But more importantly, the Pirates can’t put pitchers on the mound who pitch to contact and then feature two marginal or below average cover guys on the corners hoping Morgan or Duffy runs down more than their share. That doesn’t work, as we’ve already seen.

Unfortunately, Nate McLouth is even worse than Nady in right and Steve Pearce projects about like McLouth, so we have a serious problem if Bay is in left. Nady’s bat plays middle of the lineup and that’s sexy to have, but not at the expense of blowing so many games.

The answer is someone like Adam Jones, albeit his bat isn’t ready for the middle of the lineup yet.

2. Bullpen.

Could Luis Munoz or Todd Redmond make a big jump to the pen and do a better job than some of the junk we’ve signed this winter? It’s a very strong possibility.

The Pirates sorely need middle relief help and someone to setup from the right side. Osoria, Sanchez, and Davidson are only going to go so far. We need a couple of guys to step up big or to acquire someone who can sock away some innings and miss a few bats in a trade (Morrow?).

3. Third base.

I understand the front office seems high on Jose Bautista, but they really aren’t. His glove plays nowhere on the diamond and his bat runs alongside his glove. I suspect when I heard him say he didn’t want to play second a year or two ago I lost interest in him – it was the only place he had a chance in my book, and that was stretching it some.

The Pirates need a power corner infielder bad and you have to wonder why there isn’t more talk about Walker breaking camp and heading North with the club. His glove will lose games for us, his bat isn’t ready – and may never be ready, but he needs innings under his belt on the corner for us to tell.

I say start his clock, send him back to Indy for 30 days to keep the extra year on him, and then give him the balance of at bats the rest of the year. Who knows, he just might put it all together and be the #2 hitter the Bucs need so bad.

4. Centerfield.

Outside of our right field problem, this is the biggest hole the Pirates have. We can get by with a slimmed down bullpen, we can get by with Bautista at third, but we can’t get by with a league average defender in center who bats .275/.330/.395 leading off.

If Morgan opens the game in center for defensive purposes, he needs to bat 8th and Bautista needs to leadoff. As soon as possible, a double-switch should bring McLouth in for the extra bat.

Andrew McCutchen is at least two years off from being able to contribute and even then, he’s probably going to come up in right. So why not deal for the one thing this club needs – an OBP machine to play center even if he isn’t a 0-3 guy? Say.. Mike Cameron and dang the ‘culture change’ theory?

John Sickels ran out his 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates top prospect list:

1. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Grade A-
2. Steven Pearce, OF-1B, Grade B+
3. Neil Walker, 3B, Grade B (not convinced he’ll hit quite as well as they expect)
4. Daniel Moskos, LHP, Grade B
5. Brad Lincoln, RHP, Grade C+ (pending recovery from TJ)
6. Brian Bixler, SS, Grade C+
7. Shelby Ford, 2B, Grade C+
8. Duke Welker, RHP, Grade C+
9. Brian Friday, SS, Grade C+
10. Andrew Walker, C, Grade C+
15. Matt Peterson, RHP, Grade C

I don’t know what’s worse.. Sickels listing Peterson as the 15th rated player (he’s long gone), or Romak not even being listed.

Sickels had Neil Walker at a B rating. I’ve been dropping him each year too, and I know the fans won’t want to hear that but I agree with him. Also like Sickels, I think he needs at bats to see where he really fits in.

I think Ford deserves to be a B- based on his conversion work to second and his bat until he hurt his back, Moskos is easily a B+/A- if he repeats consistently, and how Sickles rates Yoslan Herrera in the same category with Pat Bresnahan and Todd Redmond is beyond me. Herrera doesn’t deserve a C rating while the other two guys deserve better. But Herrera has one more year to prove he is what Littlefield’s scouts thought he was.

And somehow Sickles didn’t even mention Felix, Astacio, or Benoit’s name. Felix has been a disaster but has some health reasons for that, Asacio proved to me he has some upside, and Benoit was nothing short of spectacular last year.

I understand we may not totally agree, but Sickels obviously did some sloppy work on the Pirates. It shows.

I’ve received a few emails asking why the Pirates wouldn’t want to offer Freddy Sanchez a long-term deal and I think the answer to that is obvious – he’s on the downside of his career, albeit you wouldn’t know it by his batting average.

He’s a 30 year old singles hitter who just had shoulder surgery on top of his knee problems in 2006 and a medley of other health problems the rest of his career. The Pirates own him for two more years at below average cost so why spend more than you have to?

I certainly wouldn’t. In fact, I’m surprised he isn’t being dealt.

But the real puzzle to me is why the Pirates are thinking about locking up Capps long term unless they are thinking about dealing him over the next couple of years and want to pass on cost value.

I must be undervaluing Capps like I did so horribly with Ian Snell in 2005. But my instincts tell me Capps just isn’t what the fans think he is. He looks the part, he’s got the stats to back him up, but my gut says he’s been very, very lucky and the Pirates had better keep Marte around just in case.

How Snell and Capps get away throwing Josh Towers-like straight heaters is beyond me. At least Snell has gotten a bit of a bite the last couple of years, but Capps has none. Zilch. Straight as an arrow and he doesn’t even really bring it.

I wouldn’t give Capps a long-term deal.. I think we’ll end up seeing another Jack Wilson if we do (two years off, two years on) and a lot of blown saves. Well, I expect the blown saves either way.

Tonight is the last post from me until next Sunday as I start my week vacation. If anything breaks or I hear something juicy, I’ll try to get something posted here.

Buc Fever is the winner!

Buc Fever – you have 15 minutes to email and tell me, is it behind door #1, door #2, or door #3?

Ok.. just kidding.

Pittsburgh Pirates discussion forum user Buc Fever was selected by Alex over at Baseball Interactive Media as the winner of the limited-edition Neil Walker bobblehead contest.

Keep watching – they have several more promos coming your way this year. One way to get your name out there is to send Alex 500 words or so on what trades you would like to see or not see, and why, Monday or Tuesday and he’ll post them here while I’m gone Tuesday – Saturday this week.

Good Luck!

2008 Year in Review – early version

January — The Pirates kicked off their Winter Caravan the day Kevin McClatchy turned 45 (January 13th) by visiting Seven Springs, but nobody showed up for the party. Having sold just 2,000 season ticket packages by January 18th, Robert Nutting ordered more salary dumps which led to Jason Bay, Jack Wilson, Damaso Marte, and Adam LaRoche being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Matt Clement and Rick Ankiel. Piratefest was canceled due to a blizzard.

February — Spring training opened and problems at the new facility were immediately obvious – Ian Snell didn’t have a locker, each of the Fields had new names taken from the Nutting’s grandchildren causing a lot of confusion, there were only two urinals in the clubhouse, and the players were nearly ready to strike until John Wehner stepped in and told the chef if he didn’t stop serving veggy plates for lunch, he’d knock his socks off.

March — Fearing for their lives from viruses transported by monster-sized mosquitoes, the New York Yankees hired 10 rent-a-drunks and put them in Yankee uniforms to play against the Pirates March 19th – the first full squad game under the lights at McKechnie Field. More than 100 fans in attendance were hospitalized with 40 or more welts the size of a half-dollar on their faces. Camp broke with Sean Burnett as the 5th starter despite throwing 75 mph.

April — The Pirates ended up playing just 11 games in April because all the players had pneumonia from opening in Atlanta in 30 degree temps, flying to Miami to play in the 80’s, then back to Pittsburgh to play in the teens with blowing snow. They got out of the hospital in time to fly to Los Angeles to play in the 90’s, went to Chicago to play in the teens again, and then all ended back in the hospital with a relapse of pneumonia.

May — After finally winning just their first game of the year against the Nats, the Pirates played 36 games over 24 days finishing the month with a two-month record of 3-43 – the worst losing streak opening the year in the history of the franchise. Season ticket holders sued the Pirates for pain and suffering, and the players sued for better working conditions after the Pirates were forced to play 10 games in monsoon rains with field puddles up to their knees.

June to the AS break — The Bucs played 41 games in 35 days and all the starting pitching ended up on the DL except for Zach Duke, who ended up 2-9 in the first half, and Matt Morris, who went 3-7. After being shutout 12 consecutive games against the White Sox, Jays, Yankees, and Rays, plus taking a draft pick who he could meet slot with, Frank Coonely was fired and Chuck Greenberg hired to take over. The team finished 18-70 at the break, Ian Snell was institutionalized for a mental breakdown (all he would say is "I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it"), and Rick Ankiel led the team in home runs with 8. 

July trade deadline — Greenberg ordered Huntington to dump every player making more than the minimum in exchange for the best talent he could get, to bring Andrew McCutchen, Bryan Bullington, and Neil Walker up, and after the game on July 31st held a closed-door meeting with the players. When Greenberg appeared from the meeting in front of media, he handed Neal Huntington his walking papers. Tony LaCava was hired as GM the next day.

August — The fired up Bucs start winning behind Walker and McCutchen who were both hitting over .400, Oliver Perez and Kris Benson are both brought back since they were begging to play for Greenberg, and Chris Duffy came out of the closet admitting he’s really a right-hand batter who was forced to hit lefty because the Pirates demanded that from him.

September — Pirate fans pack PNC for the last 10 games at home and the players respond putting on a show winning every single game from that point forward to close the season 82-80 fending off the club’s 16th consecutive losing season. The Pirates finished third in the division.

October — LaCava wastes no time in putting together his club for 2009 bringing in Tom Kotchman as bullpen coach, Perry Hill as first base coach, Trent Jewitt is brought up as third base coach, and Bob Walk was hired as pitching coach. LaCava gets so many calls from people wanting to join his club he has to change his cell number. After firing nearly every pro scout and special assistant except Pete Vuckovich and Jack Bowen, LaCava revamped the entire scouting department and John Wehner was hired as Player Development Director.

November — Greenberg and LaCava were handed the keys to the City for their achievements, and they entered the GM meetings looking to deal. Pirate fans continued to flock to the park two months after the season ended hoping to get a glance of the now famous duo.

December — After much speculation, Robert Nutting sold the club to Mark Cuban the day before Christmas declaring that "God told him to." Cuban announces on Christmas day the payroll would be set at $120M in 2009 and more than 25,000 season tickets are sold before the end of the year.

Bay/Snell value & Contest last call

Jason Churchill pens a fabulous blog called Prospect Insider where he follows the Mariner’s farm system, and he announced yesterday that the M’s aren’t going to get Bay and Snell anytime soon.

He also said that my suggested value return for Bay and Snell of Adam Jones, Jeff Clement, Brandon Morrow and Carlos Triunfel was a bit too much.

Perhaps it is.

In retrospect, I might have tagged on too much value for Bay considering he still has $13.25M left on his contract. That’s good value for a team picking him up for two years but that’s just it – it’s only for two years. On the other side of the coin, perhaps Churchill overvalues Triunfel?

So I went to ask the prospect wizard, Jim Callis at Baseball America, what he thought and he suggested:

"I don’t think the Pirates would get all four of those guys. Clement-Jones-Triunfel or Morrow-Jones-Clement is probably middle ground."

Of course, middle ground is just that – it’s what is considered win-win for both teams. The Pirates don’t need to deal Snell and, like Jason mentioned, the Mariner’s don’t exactly go over the top adding Snell. But I think even Churchill would agree Snell makes the Mariners a lot more competitive in the division than Morrow as the final starter.

Adam Jones is exactly the kind of player the Pirates need – young, cheap for several years, and toolsy. A Jones type of player is a must in any package for Snell, if he’s dealt.

However, one lingering problem is that Bavasi has declared Brandon Morrow to be untouchable. Dave over at the always wonderful U.S.S. Mariner blog broke down Morrow just after Christmas by saying:

"The Mariners can believe in Morrow’s talent all they want, and they can talk themselves into believing that his 4.00 ERA out of the pen last year means that he’s capable of pitching well in the rotation in 2008…

"The Mariners fancy themselves as a contender next year. There’s not a contender in baseball going into 2008 with a guy as woefully unprepared for a starting rotation job as Brandon Morrow."

And that’s exactly what every scout in the game I’ve talked to has said about Morrow.. he projects as a reliever or potential closer.

That leaves Clement and Triunfel with Jones, if Bavasi has his way. Is that honestly enough of a return?

Now what this series has hopefully done is open your eyes to what the realistic value for Snell and Bay is in the marketplace, whether with the Mariners or anyone else. True, Huntington will look for a club who has more demanding need for a middle order starter and/or Bay’s punch to try and get a greater return, and he very well might find it.

But don’t count on the return value being much different overall than from what has been mentioned here. The names might be different, but the combined overall upside probably won’t be. Even if Bay comes out on fire next year, this won’t change much.

Now, would you deal Snell and/or Bay knowing this? Talk about it at the discussion forum.

Monday night will be my last post for six days as I’ll be relocating for my new job next week. Alex with Baseball Interactive Media (BIM) will be in touch with me if anything goes down to get my reaction. This is my first vacation from posting since I opened the doors here so I’m looking forward to kicking back some.

Speaking of Monday, don’t forget to register at the discussion forum for your chance to win the Neil Walker limited edition bobblehead (BIM) is giving away Monday.

Elmer Dessens. Wow.. who would have thought. He misses some bats here and there but is prone to give up the long ball. I think if he’s used right he’ll throw better than his ERA suggests. If we get the Dodgers version of Dessens, we’ll be ok. But if I am any starter in the Pirates rotation, I’m already having nightmares of bequested runners scoring next year.. it could be a record-setting year.

Unfortunately, I guess this means Bullington starts in Indy now. I was looking forward to seeing him in relief and making the occasional start. Perhaps the Pirates pro scouts think he has more in his tank than I do long-term?

Why did we let Youman get away? That’s going to haunt us more ways than one – I just feel it in my bones.

Sniff.. sniff.. is that the Mets I smell looking to steal another starter from us? Go away..

Morris.. Wilson.. to the Cards? Yeah, can we then sign Sig as he walks? Ah shucks, I say unload them on the Brewers and let the bucketheads moan.

Or how about the Snell to Cubs rumors being fueled all over the web? Right.. I see that happening. Hendry knows he needs a third team.

Pirates ex-pitching rover Gary Ruby joined the Astros. I tip my hat to the Pirates for following through with the ‘culture change’ mentality by not bringing back Ruby, but I have to wonder now how bad Ruby’s personal problem really was? Maybe there is more to this story than was told under the table?

Mini-camp opens Tuesday – two hours per day for four days. One of the players has to fill me in on whether or not Huntington holds classes like how to balance your checkbook, holistic medicine, and leads the group in yoga.

Bucs CF? Chris Duffy. And, Costly Player Errors

One of Bucco Blog’s readers asked me if I would break down the errors made last year. He was interested in knowing how many were made in games that were tied or when the Pirates were relatively close – up or down by four runs or less.

I emailed him back and told him 84% of all errors were committed when the game was tied or +/- 4 runs. He then asked about the home/away split on those errors.

That’s when it started to get interesting.

As you may remember me saying in my game threads here the last couple of years, the Pirates official scorekeeper has been extremely biased on giving errors to Pirates, in my opinion.

For instance in 2007, we recorded only 83 total errors – 4th lowest in MLB. But when you compare other statistics like defensive efficiency behind the pitchers (4th worst in the game), it’s clear the Pirates error total should have been 10% – 20% higher.

Look at it another way. On the road the Pirates were charged with one error every 1.7 games. At home just one in 2.3 games – a 28% difference when the league average spread was 9%. Part is explained by the younger players like Bautista and Paulino, but we only had five "charged" errors in center all year and our other positions had fairly experienced players.

Scorekeeper error charging bias at home is seemingly more evident in games when the Pirates were tied or ahead by two runs or less – just 6.5% vs 25% on the road under the same condition over the same 81 number of games.

Lastly, I thought it was interesting that only 15.8% of all errors occurred in the 32.8% blowout games we played. I don’t know if that is the result of pitcher’s pitching to contact faster, playing more loose, or something else, but it is a sign we can be doing a better job defending.

Here’s the breakdown for you to look at:

Home Away Overall
Running Running Running
Home  Total Away Total Total
Game Tied 2.6% 2.6% 13.2% 13.2% 15.8%
Behind 1 or 2 Runs 13.2% 15.8% 14.5% 27.6% 43.4%
Ahead 1 or 2 Runs 3.9% 19.7% 11.8% 39.5% 59.2%
Behind 3 or 4 Runs 10.5% 30.3% 6.6% 46.1% 76.3%
Ahead 3 or 4 Runs 5.3% 35.5% 2.6% 48.7% 84.2%
Behind >= 5 Runs 2.6% 38.2% 5.3% 53.9% 92.1%
Ahead >= 5 Runs 3.9% 42.1% 3.9% 57.9% 100.0%

One new name popping up more and more in baseball fan discussion forums has been Matt Morris. The Post-Gazette fueled part of that by suggesting the other day Morris could be had if someone was willing to take on most of his contract. Many fans surmise that isn’t likely to happen.

Don’t be too sure.

If Josh Fogg could help lead the Rox to the big series, Matt Morris can certainly do it as well. The PG mentioned the Yankees and Mets but I don’t see Morris fitting in with either team. The Mets need a #2 type like a Snell or Gorzelanny and the Yankees aren’t exactly hurting by any means when you think of Hughes and Kennedy being available.

Morris will see more play in July than he’ll get now if a team needs an experienced arm looking at playing in October. We’ll have to watch how he throws early on.

Ever since I penned this article on Chris Duffy and his Nike shoes, his game has sunk to new lows just about every month. If he isn’t hurt, he didn’t know if he wanted to play, and if he did, his head didn’t seem to be in the game. One minute he’d argue with his hitting instructor and the GM on his approach at the plate, the next minute he’d be running home to mom and dad.

Now he’s hearing he’ll open up in Indy mainly because the club suggests he’s not 100% yet, although we should hear more about that in the next couple of weeks. I’m guessing they want him to ride the bus circuit for awhile to prove he really wants to play.

The Pirates are telling us there is a battle brewing between Morgan and McLouth to start in center but Pirate fans with an eye to defense know there is no substitution for Chris Duffy. McLouth can powder the ball better when he makes contact and doesn’t strike out, and Morgan can certainly electrify the crowds with his late jumps and corkscrew dives for balls. But Duffy is the real deal and our go-to guy.

And for good reason.

In games Duffy had 5 or more plate appearances since 2005, the Pirates won 58% of them. With Morgan and McLouth that falls to 52%. When Duffy got 3 or more plate appearances, the Pirates won 44% – the same with Morgan and McLouth.

But when Duffy got at least one hit or one walk in a game – which was 73% of the games he had at least one plate appearance in – the Pirates won 47% of the time. Notice I said 47%, which is above the club’s median winning percentage the last two years.

With McLouth and Morgan – who reached at least once in just 59% of the games they played in – the winning percentage falls down near our average club winning perceantage at 43%.

Now you tell me – would you rather have Duffy reaching at least one time per game in 3 of 4 he plays, or McLouth or Morgan reaching just a tick over two in four? Then throw in Duffy’s superior defense over McLouth and Morgan and the answer is a no-brainer.

Chris Duffy is clearly the Pirates centerfielder. The other two are simply stand-ins.

Hurry back Duff.