Tagged: Pittsburgh Pirates: The Road to Respect

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.

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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.

Mariners/Pirates deal; No Clement? Aw shucks..

The Pirates and Mariners have been talking for quite some time it seems as we heard Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington passed on a Jones-Morrow-Sherrill deal for Snell in December.

A few of my scouting buds are questioning whether a Pirates/M’s deal can get done on several fronts. For instance:

— does Brandon Morrow project long-term as a starter or a closer? Think Daniel Moskos. Some scouts are suggesting he might end up being a better fit closing. He can bring the heat but he had problems repeating his delivery late last year. Perhaps it was fatigue.. perhaps not. Also, he just can’t get a feel for most of his secondary pitches yet.. command might be his downfall.

— can any MLB team afford to keep Jeff Clement’s poor defense behind the dish? Yes, he can rake, but where does his glove play? Some scouts think first base which means the Pirates would end up with a 20/HR .275 MLB average defender on the corner. Do the Pirates already have that potential with Ryan Doumit, Steve Pearce, or even Neil Walker?

— you would think Adam Jones has to be in any package Huntington gets from the Mariners. He could be a league average or better shortstop which the Pirates need. With his speed and power potential, Pirate fans could drool thinking about OBP with Jones, McCutchen, and Walker sometime in 2009. But wait, few know this cat can throw 97 mph heaters off the mound too. Is pitching in his career down the road?

— Carlos who? Carlos Triunfel. Several scouts have told me Huntington would be nuts to not include this soon to be 18 year old in any deal. The Mariners have already told other teams he’s about as untouchable as anyone can be. Why all the rage? He’s being compared to A-Rod.

He hit .304/.320/.413 over 50 at bats in low-A, broke his thumb, rehabbed, then was sent to the California League where he raked .288/.333/.356 in 208 at bats while striking out a measly 15%. That was at 17, mind you.. in High-A. My-oh-my.

But 38 errors in 95 games at short is a bit of a shock. He needs to be slowed down and not pushed but he certainly has some scouts thinking his upside is off the charts. The problem for the Pirates is, Triunfel is at least 4 years off.. perhaps more. Can they eat the fan PR hit taking such a youngster?

— Wladimir Balentien put up some impressive first-half numbers at Tacoma then fell off the map toward the end of the year. He projects out as an average to plus defender on one of the outfield corners and certainly has plus power, but he might have a better chance of lending his name to a company that makes fans than staying on a club’s 25-man roster over time. Think about a Brad Eldred whiff-machine with a better glove and better foot speed.

We know what we have in Ian Snell – he’s a fastball/slider guy who is going to miss bats and keep us in the game over 80 pitches, despite having crud defenders behind him.

We also know Jason Bay will put the ball over the wall 25 times every year no matter if he hits .245 or .295. Bay is a complimentary piece with a poor arm, average to better than average foot speed for his size, and he does an ok job covering the ball in his zone. Out of his zone, forget it.

Snell is young, healthy, cheap, and a competitor. Bay has been declining the last 1.5 years (insert health excuses here?) but it stands to reason as he approaches his contract year he’s going to focus a bit more and put it back together.

Now dealing Snell is easy to do. He rates two "plus" 0-3 prospects or three above average 0-3 prospects. Bay rates at least one "plus" prospect or two above average prospects if a team takes him at face value, which may not be possible right now.

If the Mariners went to the checkout line with Bay and Snell in their cart, Huntington would have to ask for three A- to A prospects, but the Mariners only have one – Jones. They will argue Clement or Morrow deserve to be rated A-, but I doubt Coonley would allow Huntington to place them there.

So if Jones is partial payment, that leaves the Mariners still owing three above average prospects (B to B+), and they have to be players that fit the Pirates needs.

If the Pirates pro scouts think Morrow can continue to develop and fine tune pitches other a splitter and fastball, plus repeat his delivery and gain better command, he would be one of the three, I’m guessing. He could immediately fill our need for a right-hand reliever in the pen while the Pirates start stretching him out later in the year.

That leaves two players to pull from their wallet and this is where it starts getting risky.

Can Russell and the Pirates add mileage to Clement behind the dish? If they work only on his footwork, that might get him a couple more years behind the plate. His bat makes Paulino’s look like a joke, but don’t forget our pitching is young and we’ve already seen what a poor receiver does to them in Doumit – they lose, and they lose often. So do we spin Clement off? Use him at 1B? Or not accept him as payment?

Carlos Triunfel looks like the real deal, smells like the real deal, and walks like the real deal, but is he the real deal? And what’s his makeup like because there are some questions floating around about him. And can the Pirates even afford to take on a high-A player even if he is a potential impact guy?

That’s why this deal hasn’t gotten done.. there are too many question marks.. too many risks for the Pirates.

Look for the Mainers to continue their push for Snell but drop out of the Bay race. Jones, Morrow, and Clement or Triunfel, or even (maybe?) Jones, Morrow, and Tony Butler just might get this done from the Pirates perspective. From the Mariners perspective, they won’t talk past Jones and Morrow plus some unwanted stuff.

And that’s where we stand today. Like Littlefield last year with Gonzalez, Huntington has to stand his ground on Snell. He has at least three teams in on him so to deal him short to the Mariners just because they are barking loud right now doesn’t make sense.

And Bay? I still think he has Cleveland written all over him, although the Padres might have something to say about that.

Matt Clement signed with the Cardinals. Yeah, oh boy.. he’ll be the 2008 version of 2007’s Kip Wells to them. Sink Cards, sink.

Tim Murray, forever the hilarious Pirates fan.

Marte and Morris say no thanks to the Pirates mini-camp. Geez.. who can blame them?

Pittsburgh Pirates Media Director Jim Trdinich has an Internship opportunity available if your looking for some college credit.

I’d give my twentieth born for that job just to be able to review the club’s history up close and personal. What a great opportunity. Unfortunately, I think I fit the Senior Programmer/Analyst position better with my MCDBA certification, coding background, and knowledge of sabermetrics.

Oh well.. sorry Jim. hehe

MLB censorship; rumor front picks up steam

Things are starting to trickle down on the trade front. Essentially, deals that didn’t go through before Xmas. If you are a member of Bucco Blog’s forum, then you know what I’m talking about. If you aren’t, you need to join because that’s where I post the juicy stuff until I get a better handle on it.

For now, let’s just say things are starting to warm up again and leave it at that until I can get more confirmed which should be by Friday.

Warm up – what a joke. It’s in the 20’s here in Florida with a chance of snow flurries in Daytona.

Here’s Bay’s projected home runs per number of at bats for you to gander at:

How about this poll at pirateball.com:

What I don’t get is how many people suggest they will still be around at the AS break considering the current roster. Of course, the way this poll was written there was no "other" selection so many just clicked the wait and see answer.

The 26% who expect the Pirates in the playoffs probably are a good representation of how many fans are left right now.. 26% of their available base. The diehards.. those who show up no matter what happens just because it’s baseball being played down the street.

A lot of people have emailed me suggesting they are not renewing their season tickets. Even more have said they will renew one more year, but have made other summer plans and will try to sell their tickets.

Every fan has their limit. Mine was in 2003, while your limit may never be hit. Whether you renew or not is up to you, but I’ll always suggest you should support the players. The owners aren’t making enough on your tickets to make or break them with MLB providing the Nuttings with food stamps.

So go enjoy the games.. root for the team. Just don’t get so high you vote "A World Series Ring" in polls like the one above.

Who? Huh? Where?

Good gosh..

Speaking of Dejan’s latest and greatest, did anyone else spew their brew when reading this line:

"When examining range-factor statistics, the Pirates’ left side of the infield with Jack Wilson and Jose Bautista is one of the best in baseball."

Holy cow.. talk about fantasyland.

The most respected range-factor stat houses are Baseball Information Systems and STATS, Inc. Neither is perfect but when you combine both you get a decent look.

Jose Bautista was the second worst 3B in the game (1,000 or more innings at the position) last year at -17 runs (-26 runs BIS, -9 runs STATS).

Jack Wilson was just a tick above average at 8th best of 22 with +6 runs (+18 runs BIS, -7 runs STATS).

Combined, they were -11 runs, or -1 win defensively.

Folks, that means the Pirates left-side of the infield was the 4th worst in the game of the 14 teams that had 1,000 inning players at both positions:

46 SF   0 Bos
24 NYM -4 Sea
15 KC -11 Pit
13 Bal -18 Cle
10 Det -26 NYA
4 Atl -35 Fla
4 Col
4 SD

Here’s the Spreadsheet (stats-n-bis-rng-d-07.xls) for you to look at.

BIS stats can be seen here and STATS are at ESPN. If you want a third opinion, pick up a copy of the Fielding Bible (Bautista/Wilson were even worse there).

Does this guy actually believe what he prints anymore? Maybe he has been placed on the Pirates PR department payroll?

Good Lord..

Speaking of the bizarre, yesterday I noticed Jenifer Langosch had posted her article at pirateball.com projecting the Pirates lineup card.

But she didn’t have a 2B listed.

Ok, everyone makes mistakes like the Post-Gazette spelling Huntington wrong. But what happened next freaked me out. As I was reading the discussion forum at pirateball, a thread that was discussing Ms. Langosch mysteriously disappeared.

Gone. History. Censored.

The thread didn’t have any cuss words or other infractions in it I saw.. just comments about her content since becoming a beat writer. For the thread to be removed by MLB like that was in poor taste. Folks have a right to their opinions and if MLB places so little value on the fan’s opinions, why do they offer a forum for them to discuss events?

For the record, this isn’t about Ms. Langosch who is new on the job.. this happens with many threads.

MLB needs to stop censoring the discussion forums. It’s one thing to remove threads with infractions, it’s quite another to remove content because they don’t like what’s being said.

Otherwise, they need to post a new forum rule: "You can only post positive things about baseball here."

2008? Bring. It. On.

The fans say, on paper, this is another boring 90-loss year for the Pirates. You know the kind they mean – first inning romps that bury us and the players give up until the 7th when they try to mount a come back in games they are only down a few runs.

Naw.. it’s a new year. Bring. It. On.

Or all heck breaks lose when one of our infielders misses a routine grounder opening a big inning, or a two-out line drive goes just under our diving center fielder’s glove for a triple scoring two, or the coaching staff decides to develop the relievers with three innings to go down two.

Won’t happen. Bring. It. On.

I’m used to watching one of Duke, Maholm, or Gorzelanny stare down Jack Wilson after a routine double play ball went just under his glove because he pushed off the wrong foot ranging.

Not on the card. Bring. It. On.

And I know you are as sick as I am watching Bay paint the sky with pretty rainbow throws, Morgan oversliding bags, Paulino stepping in the bucket, Sanchez unable to pivot, and Gorzy and Maholm forgetting that the game includes holding men on base.

Things of the past. Bring. It. On.

You see, we have a few surprises lined up this year:

— Bay has been holding back on offense and defense on purpose the last two years setting himself up for a two-year monster run as he heads towards a contract year in 2009. Not only will he steal 20 bases next year, but he’ll hit .320/.405/.565. Why? Because the foot he moved closer to the plate in 2006 isn’t needed now and as opposing pitchers toss him all those inside pitches their scouting reports tell them to do, Bay will rake.

— While everyone thought Chris Duffy was rehabbing from having junk cleared out of his shoulder, what he was really doing was rehabbing his mindset with a private hitting instructor who was teaching him to hit line drives instead of beating everything on the ground. And he’s ready, but none of the teams will open the year knowing it.

— Paul Maholm and Matt Morris both went to Salomon Torres’ training facility over the winter to learn how to throw a splitter (split finger fastball) from Bruce Sutter. Maholm’s is so good, Sutter said the late movement is better than Smoltz’s. Won’t the Cubs and Brewers be surprised.. whoa.

— The Pirates are talking with the Rays on acquiring Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford in July for Neil Walker and some young relievers. Huntington will then spin off Crawford to the Mariners for a Clement package, deal McLouth, Matt Morris, Herrera, and some cash to the Padres for Headley, and trade Welker off to the Angels for a two month rental of Francisco Rodriguez who is expected to refuse resign with them.

Then we’ll make a second half run with Bay, Clement, Headley, Baldelli, Nady, Sanchez, Wilson, LaRoche, (bench: Pearce, McCutchen, Paulino, Bautista, and Doumit) and a rotation of Snell, Gorzy, Bullington, Duke, and Maholm (pen: Rodriguez, Capps, Marte, Grabow, Sanchez, Davidson, and Moskos.)

Won’t everyone be shocked.

— Saving the best for last, John Russell plans to implement his version of the "away game advantage" where our batters plant a dog hearing device in their ears to catch Tekulve’s dog whistle in the centerfield bleachers as he steal signs.

Sixteen consecutive losing seasons? Not in your lifetime.. move over flubs and bucket heads..  there’s a new game in town.

Bring. It. On.

Guy Cipriano, a sports writer for the Centre Daily Times who has been following Williamsport and now the Spikes for years, ripped into lightly into Chuck Greenberg and then called out the Pirates in his year-end story. Obviously Cipriano is a bit upset:

"The Pirates parlayed every bold move it made this past year into a baseball joke… [they] have not recorded a winning season since 1992. And they did lose 94 games in 2007. Even scarier, Curve Baseball LP, which operates the Spikes, willingly signed a four-year Player Development Contract with this organization.

"If things fall into place for the Pirates, they might record as many wins in the next two years as the Detroit Tigers compile in 2008…

"By the way, Coonelly, a Penn State graduate, helped institute Major League Baseball’s draft slotting system which recommends bonuses clubs should give picks. The Pirates have never signed a pick for a figure significantly over the slot value… The Pirates’ reward for giving slot bonuses and hiring an unknown CEO, general manager and manager?

"No tangible hope for 2008."

Bring. It. On. Guy says.

An email forwarded to me from someone around the game who was talking with a third party:

"[Robert Nutting]’s Coon Hunt. Or was it a Coon Hunt for Nutts?"

Hilarious.

Despite all the running around making sure all the players are actually participating in an offseason program, the Pirates mini-camp opens in a week but they don’t know who is going to attend.

The Post-Gazette said the other day the list is expected to be extensive as if the players want to do this. But I believe they have in their contract if they were hurt at the end of the year they have to report in January if a camp is called. I could be wrong, but I seem to remember one of the players telling me that.

If so, then it’s a lock these players will be there.. Sanchez, LaRoche, Nady, Duffy, Doumit, Bay, Morgan, JvB, Burnett, Bullington, Lincoln, Grabow, Bayliss. That’s 30% of the 40-man and probably 44% of the 25-man. Yeah, I’d say that’s extensive, especially since I didn’t add Gorzy or Maholm who were also down a bit in 2007.

Don’t get too excited about my opening piece.. my contract states I have to write one positive piece every 30 days to keep my rah-rah’s in shape. I’m good till February now.

Rumors?

None.

Bye.