Tagged: Pittsburgh Pirates: The Road to Respect

Dejan’s McLouth pipe-dream; Top Prospects

I found it fascinating that Dejan Kovacevic spent so much time on his Nate McLouth article. Had I been the average fan, I would have walked away drooling. I mean, gee.. Bill James said this-and-that.. it must be true.. it must mean something.

But I’m not the average fan and Bill James is the one who taught me to think critically with stats.

Dejan indicated the Bill James Handbook said this about McLouth..

"Took 61.6 percent of the pitches he saw, eighth-highest in the league. Barry Bonds’ 67.2 was tops."

Sounds pretty impressive, huh? Unfortunately, taking all those pitches led to McLouth striking out one-in-five at bats – the 27th highest in the league for all batters with 300 or more AB. Maybe in 2008 he’ll actually learn to put wood on the ball?

"Had the league’s highest success rate in stealing bases, 95.7 percent. He stole 22 of 23, a year after stealing 10 of 11."

Here McLouth did a very good job.

"Scored 38 percent of the time he reached base, 11th-highest in the league."

This is another one of those wild statements.

You see, McLouth actually had one of the lowest batting averages in the league on balls in play at .287 (300+ AB) but was a tad better drawing walks (70th percentile). So, sure, WHEN McLouth reached base (50th percentile in the league overall in OBP), he did a fine job scoring. Most speedy guys do.

But thinking critically, since McLouth was so poor at getting hits on balls in play, if he reached, chances are everyone was reaching thus probably better explaining this.

"Had the league’s ninth-best on-base percentage, .360, when leading off."

Here’s another one of those lead-in, make you feel good statements that has the look of Dejan being paid to deliver PR for the team. Unfortunately, this one isn’t even true.

ESPN indicates Bautista had the league’s 9th best league OBP at .377 – not McLouth who was 16th of 45 players (65th percentile.. a tick above league average) and just behind Rajai Davis.

"Had the best on-base plus slugging percentage — the statistician’s dream offensive measurement — of any player in the majors when seeing a slider, at 1.242."

I won’t call out Dejan on this one because I assume he copied it from the Handbook, but I will state he should have done a better job researching this before making a claim like it really meant something.

Here is McLouth’s PITCHf/x data on sliders:

As you can clearly see, he put 11 of the 63 sliders he saw in play and only three of those went for a hit (red arrows).. one single, one double, and one home run.

Also, if you look carefully above you’ll see 25% of all sliders called balls were actually strikes McLouth let float past which also helps explain some of McLouth’s unusually high OBP on sliders.

There’s your best OPS in the majors on a slider statement explained.. plain old fashion luck in what you might say was McLouth’s breakout "now deal him" year.

I don’t want to take anything away from McLouth – he’s a fine fourth outfielder who should never play center at PNC with his below league average route running. But he does have some pop in his bat off the bench and that’s where he should be.. on the bench. If we deal Bay or Nady, he’ll be an excellent fill-in until Pearce makes the trip from Indy to Pittsburgh.

Fukudome’s projected line at Yahoo: .305/.390/.528

I’m sorry, but I don’t see it.

The Pirates are interested in Matt Clement? Naw.. makes no sense at all unless he signs a split contract at the minimum and then he’d be in Bradenton and then Indy for awhile to be sure his arm stays attached.

Kris Benson back in Pittsburgh? There is as much chance of Benson returning to Pittsburgh as there is Robert Nutting selling the team to Mark Cuban next month.

But if you want to lick your chops, here’s the remaining free agents and non-tenders still available. Notice how many of these cats were linked to the Pirates at one time or another.

<td class="xl24" style="border: medium none rgb(236, 233,

PITCHf/x, Beaver’s culture, and only 2 days  left

RajkowskiKnow this guy?

Here’s a hint – he’s Don Beaver’s right-hand man in Charlotte.

If you said Dan Rajkowski, you’re right. If you didn’t have a clue, don’t feel bad – few do.

Dan’s currently the GM of the Charlotte Knights but that’s a silly title for this man because of his extensive minor league baseball credentials – well over 20 years.

You see, he was cherry-picked by Beaver to help bring to Charlotte what Beaver failed at over the last decade – a new downtown baseball stadium.

And Rajkowski’s won the war for Beaver, despite the taxpayer’s voting for a new park instead of a stadium.

Sound familiar?

Now, none of this means a thing to Pittsburgh Pirates fans other than the few of us who know multi-multi-millionaires Don Beaver and Frank Brenner, both from North Carolina, remained on the Pirates Board all these years. You see, long forgotten rumors had it that in the ’90’s Beaver wanted to relocate the Pirates to Charlotte.

Throw that out the door with this stadium at least – it will only seat 10,000.

If you plan to attend a game in 2010, be sure to be packing because the crime in Charlotte is unrelenting. But you’ll be safe if you hang close to Rajkowski – he’s an ex-jailbird who was arrested for DUI and two counts of domestic abuse battery after he was alleged to have beaten his wife and 15 year-old step-son in 2004.

I guess what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander.

The Astros continue to build by signing Oscar Villarreal to a 2/$2.85M deal yesterday. He would have been in a contract year in 2008. Don’t look now but the Astros are much stronger than in 2007.

Take a wild guess..

.. using PITCHf/x data from 2007 (which we already know was limited for the Pirates), which event do you think occurred most often when Zack Duke heaved his average 88 mph fastball:

1 — looked at by the batter for a strike;
2 — hammered for hit;
3 — swung at and missed;
4 — fouled off.

If you said strike looking you’re right. Imagine that.

Position Players Pitchers
Sean Casey 1b FA Matt DeSalvo SP NT
Tony Clark 1b FA Jose Garcia SP NT
Julio Franco 1b FA Mike O’Connor SP NT
Ryan Klesko 1b FA Darrell Rasner SP NT
Doug Mientkiewicz 1b FA Josh Towers SP NT
Mark Sweeney 1b FA Antonio Alfonseca rhp FA
Eric Hinske 1b-of FA Tony Armas rhp FA
Damion Easley 2b FA Armando Benitez rhp FA
Ramon Martinez 2b FA Kris Benson rhp FA
Jose Valentin 2b FA Shawn Chacon rhp FA
Jerry Hairston 2b-of FA Roger Clemens rhp FA
Russell Branyan 3b FA Matt Clement rhp FA
Jeff Cirillo 3b FA Bartolo Colon rhp FA
a-Pedro Feliz 3b FA Elmer Dessens rhp FA
Corey Koskie 3b FA Octavio Dotel rhp FA
Abraham Nunez 3b FA Josh Fogg rhp FA
Royce Clayton ss FA Keith Foulke rhp FA
Neifi Perez ss FA Freddy Garcia rhp FA
Chris Woodward ss FA a-Livan Hernandez rhp FA
Tony Batista 1B FA Jason Jennings rhp FA
Marcus Giles 2B FA Jorge Julio rhp FA
Aaron Miles 2B NT Byung-Hyun Kim rhp FA
Morgan Ensberg 3B NT Jon Lieber rhp FA
Andy Gonzalez 3B NT Kyle Lohse rhp FA
Dallas McPherson 3B NT Rodrigo Lopez rhp FA
Miguel Cairo inf FA Jose Mesa rhp FA
Tony Graffanino inf FA Brian Moehler rhp FA
Jerry Gil SS NT Russ Ortiz rhp FA
Sandy Alomar c FA Chris Reitsma rhp FA
Paul Bako c FA Rudy Seanez rhp FA
Rod Barajas c FA Aaron Sele rhp FA
Mike DiFelice c FA John Thomson rhp FA
Mike Lieberthal c FA Brett Tomko rhp FA
Mike Matheny c FA Steve Trachsel rhp FA
Damian Miller c FA Jeff Weaver rhp FA
Doug Mirabelli c FA Bob Wickman rhp FA
Josh Paul c FA Jamey Wright rhp FA
a-Mike Piazza c FA Jeremy Affeldt lhp FA
Kelly Stinnett c FA Eddie Guardado lhp FA
Johnny Estrada c NT Ray King lhp FA
Mike Sweeney dh FA a-Trever Miller lhp FA
Greg Norton dh FA Eric Milton lhp FA
Barry Bonds of FA Mike Myers lhp FA
a-Mike Cameron of FA Odalis Perez lhp FA
Jeffrey DaVanon of FA Arthur Rhodes lhp FA
Luis Gonzalez of FA Ron Villone lhp FA
Shawn Green of FA David Wells lhp FA
Bobby Kielty of FA T.J. Beam RP NT
Kenny Lofton
Total Total % of InPlay % of InPlay % of
FB inPlay FB Outs FB Hits FB
Maholm 228 65 28.5% 41 18.0% 24 10.5%
Snell 455 92 20.2% 56 12.3% 36 7.9%
Gorzy 586 101 17.2% 72 12.3% 29 4.9%
Morris 532 128 24.1% 77 14.5% 51 9.6%
Duke 159 31 19.5% 14 8.8% 17 10.7%

Total Strike % of Strike % of Strike % of
FB Called FB Swinging   FB Foul FB
Maholm 228 38 16.7% 5 2.2% 37 16.2%
Snell 455 89 19.6% 19 4.2% 72 15.8%
Gorzy 586 100 17.1% 43 7.3% 131 22.4%
Morris 532 128 24.1% 13 2.4% 70 13.2%
Duke 159 36 22.6% 2 1.3% 33 20.8%

Total % of
FB Ball FB
Maholm 228 83 36.4%
Snell 455 183 40.2%
Gorzy 586 211 36.0%
Morris 532 193 36.3%
Duke 159 57 35.8%

Notice three of the Pirates starter’s see one out of every ten fastballs thrown hammered for a hit (Morris, Duke, and Maholm). That’s very high and only 4% less than outs generated by the same number thrown. Even worse, nearly one-in-four fastballs that went for a hit went for extra bases.

Ouch.

Now look at Duke’s foul percentage – 21%. Wow.. you have to wonder how many of those were straight back or inches off the line?

Someone tell Maholm to lay off throwing fastballs.

Tis’ the season to be whacked.. Alcoa won’t lower their parking fees, the Pirates didn’t lower their ticket prices, and now you’ll get hit with a 10% tax on that bourbon at the park.

Life’s good for everyone but Pirates fans and local business owners. You might as well go visit the Thrift Shop Romantic and try and save a buc or two.

No pun intended.

Just two more days left for you to register at Bucco Blog’s Pittsburgh Pirates discussion forum for your chance to win a 2007 Neil Walker bobblehead.

Readers ask Jake


"I love the new discussion forum Jake. State-of-the-art. Can you ask the new group if they can add some fantasy statistics?" — EW, Pittsburgh

Alex and the group at Baseball Interactive Media say thanks! Their intention was to give Pittsburgh Pirates fans a long-term place to hang out while making it as enjoyable as possible. The software does rock Pittsburgh Pirates Forum.

As for the statistics, I can add a fantasy section to the blog here if you would like. I’m already doing pre-season projections but I’m guessing you would like analysis as well and in-season stats and analysis that isn’t mainstream.

Good stuff – I’ll talk to them and look into it over the next couple of weeks since drafts will be starting.

"Best moment of the 2007 year?" — PN, Iraq

Wow – let me think back. It would have to be hammering the Astros in the opening series. There were lots of good moments but that one seems to stick out since my hope traveled about three steps up the ladder.

"Who the heck is Baseball Interactive Media and why would you sell to New Yorkers? — TC, Bellefield, PA

BIM is a privately held company which has both national and international interests, including in Pittsburgh. So while the group is headquartered in New York, think of them as neighbors. I expect a media release will be offered in January sometime.

"I hope your grandfather is doing better Jake. Tell me something new on the trade front." — LL, Bryant, PA

Paw-paw is doing well, thanks for asking! A new rumor? Hmm.. not many floating around at all. As mentioned at the discussion forum, I’m still hearing whispers about Snell/Bay to the Mariners. But as one journalist in Seattle said recently, I’m not sure they can get this deal done.

There are numerous reports that suggest Huntington is looking for three MLB-ready prospects for Snell and I assume if he’s dealing Bay at 2006 value, he’ll want close to that for him.

Will Clement, Jones, Balentein, Morrow, Tillman, Triunfel, and maybe Sherrill get it done? Hmm..

"Please tell me Ryan Doumit won’t be catching in 2007." — JB, Houston

I think Mr. Doumit has caught enough innings for the experiment to finally be over. He had some good stats to go with the many bad ones, but the bottom line is, he’s just an unlucky receiver and he gets absolutely no respect from MLB umpires. Look for him to be Nady’s backup and be available off the bench.

"Looking back, Moskos or Weiters?" — SA, Lakeland, FL

I think Weiters taking what he did surprised everyone in the game. Not only did he back off money, he backed off terms in the contract.

No question Weiters was the impact player to grab but overall, I’m happy with Moskos and I think you’ll see why in 2008 if his mechanics stay consistent.

"You mentioned the Pirates missed out on Mackowiak and Erstad, they also passed on Taguchi, Everett, and Eckstein and haven’t talked to Ensberg. I don’t get it." — CE, Vandergrift, PA

But Cameron and Lofton are still out there.

Seriously, we are up to our armpits in average outfielders so adding another one to the roster really doesn’t make sense unless they play full-time, I suppose. Perhaps Cameron is that guy? We certainly could use his bat.

I don’t know what to tell you about keeping Wilson and his big money over getting an Eckstein who could leadoff too. Wilson is the superior shortstop defensively but have we seen the best of Jack Flash overall? Are we going to see Freddy and Jack starting to rack up DL time? Probably.

Erstad was a bit different to me because of the money vs Gomez. Throw him on the roster with Ensberg and I like our chances for a few more wins. But..

"Kyle Bloom and Brandon Chavez are boneheads. Why would anyone in their position take such a ridiculous risk?" — JP, Altoona, PA

My thoughts exactly. I asked at Bucco Blog’s forum whether the fans thought they should be released and the general consensus was no. But I certainly do.

I don’t expect them to be on the club’s roster for long.

And for those asking what if it was McCutchen or Walker, I’d have the same reply. I might give an inch on Cutch because of his age – not his status as a top 10 prospect – but just an inch.

No Erstad? Sanchez and Cubs? Plus, PR hits

Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington had a chance to add a quality player in Darin Erstad but for some reason passed on him at the same price Chris Gomez cost him.

Let’s see.. Erstad potential upside or Gomez downslide? Erstad’s glove or Gomez’s no-glove? Erstad’s left-hand bat or Gomez from the right side?

You say Gomez was needed to handle the hot corner in Bautista’s stead? Don’t we have Sanchez (+20 runs UZR at 3B 2005 – 2006) with a guy named Josh Wilson (+/- 0 runs UZR at 2B) able to take over at 2B? You think Gomez was needed to spell LaRoche? Erstad actually plays a very solid first base (+14 runs UZR in 2005 — +1 runs UZR 2006 and 2007).

No brainer.

This is exactly the type of deal a small-market team needs to make – a plus makeup player on the rebound wanting a one-year deal who understands he doesn’t have a full-time role. And he’s the kind of player who will rock the NLCD right-hand arms. 

I understand not signing a Lo Duca, I understand not getting involved in the Lamb sweepstakes, but I don’t understand signing a Gomez over an Erstad when we are dying for left hand bats and people who can cover the ball.

Oh, that’s right. I guess we should believe power sluggers Ryan Doumit and Chris Duffy will be available all year.

I swear I still feel the ghost of Dave Littlefield. Yeah, we might as well start Pearce in AAA too.. it only makes sense.

Only four days left for you to register and try and win a 2007 Neil Walker bobblehead. By registering at Bucco Blog’s Pittsburgh Pirates Discussion Forum before the stroke of midnight New Year’s eve, you are automatically entered.

Pirateball.com recaps the year saying:

"Pirates’ 2007 marked by inconsistency

"There were defensive lapses and offensive inconsistencies. A relatively young group of pitchers endured growing pains, though each of the rotation’s top three starters would finish the season with a new high in career innings set.

"The bullpen and bench struggled early, only to mesh as the season progressed and as roles and personnel changed… Twice the Pirates endured periods in which they dropped 13 of 15 games. And when it came to Interleague road games, the club reeled off just one win in nine games."

Yeah – it’s the players fault. They were "inconsistent," had too many "lapses" and "growing pains," and "struggled" often.

Are we supposed to believe from that article that the writer believes if the players hadn’t been "inconsistent" et al that they would have been a .500 team or something?

I mean, isn’t there a high correlation between "inconsistent" play and extended periods of low player payroll? Sure there is, and that high r value is called low morale.

You get what you pay for in this world.

I think the Cubs and Pirates need to work on a package deal with Freddy Sanchez and Josh Vitters as the main cards. Retrun the call Huntington.

My Hall of Fame card? Hey, since it’s the year of steroids, I’d vote for McGwire since he won’t get one anywhere else. Best bet? The Goose.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished below .500 for the first time in eight years last year. However, they saw the post-season in 6 of the previous 8 plus took home the World Series trophy two years ago. But that’s not enough for one Cardinals blogger who is now calling out the front office as liars and demanding change:

"For Cardinal fans, the promises that were made 3 years ago, last year and this year have turned out to be lies. A spade is a spade and until we get some proof that DeWitt, Johnny Mo or any other person employed by the team is willing to make the changes necessary to elevate this business above mediocrity, than we shouldn’t relent. After all, it’s a business. And us, the customers, have been lied to long enough."

Talk about spoiled rotten fans. Imagine this dude 14 years from now.

LoL

Reduni

I suppose we now know where Kevin McClatchy got the idea for the red uni’s last year.

Last year the Pirates front office went to sleep from Christmas until well into the new year. It was the first time in years the Pirates didn’t make a deal or sign a major or minor league free agent during the period.

Looks like we’re sleeping again this year.

I actually went back and counted how many fan emails I have received since Huntington took office that asked this question or a derivative of it:

"What are we doing?"

Sixty-three emails, with thirteen in the last four days.

The roster doesn’t compete on paper, they aren’t dealing for youth, and they continue to salary dump.

It’s sexy to think Bay will achieve a higher value if he mashes next year, but will he?

Bay will be in a contract year in 2009 so the the club that deals for him next winter isn’t going to pay anywhere near the value for him then he would command today coming off a bad year that is semi-explained with his knee problem. So why wait?

Sanchez is heading into declining years, has multiple health issues, and really isn’t a very good second baseman, so why keep him? And Nady and Wilson are coming off almost career years – we’ll never get more for them than we can now.

True – dealing all these guys means we end up with a replacement level roster that probably wins 50 games. But so what – at least we are getting the most of our value at the best possible time. Waiting does nothing but force us to eat declining values.. values that should be building our farm.

Isn’t that the plan? Shouldn’t that be the plan?

I said it once and I’ll say it again – I think Huntington has a deal or two already worked out and he won’t pull the trigger on them until mid to late January because they hope to get as many season ticket holders resigned before they make their moves knowing they are going to take a huge PR hit.

It’s all about the almighty dollar, baby.

Where oh’ where has the Pirates coverage gone, oh’ where oh’ where could the beat writers be? You can hear a pin drop..

Boy, talk about one dead city for Pirates coverage.

Swfl3 Calling all movie stars:

—————————————————————–
ENTRY DEADLINE: JANUARY 4, 2008
—————————————————————–

WANTED: Looking for one person with the fantasy savvy, obsession and determination to compete in TOUT WARS as part of a feature film fantasy baseball documentary, inspired by Sam Walker’s book Fantasyland.

In 2006, Sam Walker, of the Wall St Journal took on fantasy baseball’s best of the best, competing for one season in the ultimate league, Tout Wars. Sam’s journey was documented in his New York Times best-seller, Fantasyland.

The 2008 Tout Wars season is going to be filmed as part of a feature film documentary, produced by Wonderland Sound and Vision, and Sound Pictures. They are looking for one person to take over where Sam Walker left off. You will compete against the Tout Wars American League experts and have your entire season captured on film.

They are looking for someone who is a veteran of fantasy baseball, is obsessed with the game and has followed Tout Wars. They are looking for someone who is interested in not just playing by the numbers but wants to go out and talk to scouts, players and general managers to help in their decision making.

They are looking for someone between the ages of 30-50 who will be willing to provide complete access into their life during the fantasy baseball season. There will be some travel involved, including attending spring training. You must be available for the Tout Wars draft in New York City the weekend of March 21-23.

If you are interested and available for this experience, please respond to the following questions. Please cut and paste the questions into an email, respond and send to fantasyking@live.com by January 4, 2008.

Your name

Where are you located?

How many years have you been playing fantasy baseball?

What attracted you to fantasy baseball?

How does fantasy baseball dominate your life? Give us a sense of the amount of hours you spend playing, along with stories that illustrate your obsession in action.

What was your greatest fantasy baseball trade?

What was a decision that you will haunt you forever?

What do you know about Tout Wars and what would it mean to you to be able to compete in this league?

How does fantasy baseball affect your home life? Your work life?

Which person in Tout Wars would you be most excited to compete against and beat?

How do you think you would do if given a chance to compete in Tout?

Have you read the book Fantasyland by Sam Walker?

What did you think of the way Sam Walker played fantasy baseball (contacting players, scouts, etc)?

Please tell us about your life outside of fantasy baseball: job, relationship, etc.

NLCD Starters vs Bucs; Two Pittsburgh Pirates arrested

Since the National League Central Division teams have pretty much set their rotations for 2008 other than a late big deal or two, I thought it was time to take a quick look at how these pitchers have done against the Pirates franchise over their careers.

Obviously this isn’t perfect science, but it’s generally close.

First, the potential starters for each team I used herein are from each team’s MLB.com depth chart.

An asterisk by their names means that player’s stats were not used either because I expect them to be on the extended DL or I don’t have a career history against the Bucs worth talking about.

Here’s the potential starters:

HOU 44 Roy Oswalt STL 50 Adam Wainwright
51 Wandy Rodriguez 35 Joel Pineiro
41 Brandon Backe 23 Anthony Reyes
29 Woody Williams 48 Brad Thompson
52 Felipe Paulino  * 29 Chris Carpenter
MIL 15 Ben Sheets CHN 38 Carlos Zambrano
31 Dave Bush 30 Ted Lilly
46 Claudio Vargas 21 Jason Marquis
37 Jeff Suppan 53 Rich Hill
49 Yovani Gallardo 45 Sean Marshall
39 Chris Capuano 46 Ryan Dempster
12 Carlos Villanueva
* 43 Manny Parra CIN 39 Aaron Harang
61 Bronson Arroyo
31 Matt Belisle
* 34 Homer Bailey
* Edinson Volquez

Now let’s look at how each team’s potential starting staff has handled the Pirates over their career:

ERA career IP K/9 BB/9
Astros 3.23   332 7.4 2.1
Brewers 3.85   411 6.6 2.2
Cards 3.73     82 5.8 3.2
Cubs 4.55   372 6.8 3.5
Reds 3.93   188 7.3 1.8

Win% ERA
average 0.604 3.89

An average 3.89 ERA over 1,385 innings of work is pretty significant.

Here’s how we hit as a team against the NLCD starters last year:

BA OBP SLG OPS
Astros 0.242 0.297 0.404 0.701
Brewers 0.258 0.322 0.423 0.745
Cards 0.273 0.339 0.402 0.741
Cubs 0.246 0.320 0.378 0.699
Reds 0.274 0.318 0.444 0.763

When you consider the Pirates play 80 games against the division, starters generally throw 70% of the game, and earned runs are generally 90% of the Pirates run production, that would mean the Pirates are going to score 249 runs in the equivalent of 58 complete games using the 3.89 ERA.

Sounds good so far you say?

Add 15 interleague games where the Pirates average scoring 4.1 runs per game if they are lucky (62 R), 35 games against the teams out West averaging 4.3 runs per game (151 R), and that’s 108 games where we are expected to score a total of 462 runs.

Just to make it to 700 runs, we would need to score 4.4 runs per game on average for the remaining 54 games (30 of them against the NLED), or to make it to 724 runs like last year, we would need to score 4.9 per. 

I see the optimists are running.

The Pirates made it to 724 runs scored last year on a fluke – they just happened to play a lot of blow out games between August 1 and September 9th where they scored 8 or more runs in 40% of their games (16 of 40). Don’t count on that happening every year.

So when you hear someone telling you the Pirates scored 724 and they should be improved as a group in 2008, now you know better. They will be lucky to score 700, and that is with Bay’s expected improvement.

Fast stat:

The Pirates #3 hitter in 2007 scored just 80 runs in 665 at bats – third worst in baseball, had the second lowest OBP at .328 (.041 below the NL median), and had the lowest OPS in the game at .734.

Freddy Sanchez had 68% of those at bats. He racked up a .348 OBP which was .021 below the NL average and .778 OPS which was .083 below league average. Jason Bay had 14% with a .270 OBP and .625 OPS, and Adam LaRoche took it on the chin batting third 14% of the time with a .330 OBP and .778 OPS.

Ouch.

Hopefully Freddy Sanchez is healthy this year or Jason Bay picks up his game because the lack of OBP from the #3 hitter last year killed us.

Long-time pro scout Bill Clark penned a great article on Branch Rickey Wednesday you might want to read. You can follow that up with a little story on Clark’s work with the Pirates when he helped Isaiah "Fireball" Jackson get out of prison to pitch for the Bucs in the mid-sixties.

Good stuff.

Smoking gun.

Three days before one of the Pirate players called out Jim Colborn in John Perrotto’s column, the Pirates learned two of their minor leaguers were arrested at a DUI checkpoint in Sarasota – Kyle Bloom and Brandon Chavez.

Bloom_1

Click images to see full size.

Chavez

So much for the new wave culture rhetoric. Notice they were both driving vehicles heading back to Bradenton where they both live. And a cab costs, how much?

Two other Pirates’ pitchers – Cory Stewart and Jeff Miller – were arrested in 2005 charged with a host of crimes including pulic intoxication. Neither are in the game anymore.

The worst part about their getting busted? The police announced they would be setting up the roadblock in Sarasota in the Bradenton newspaper where they live.

Here’s a nice article on the Pirates new hitting coach, Don Long.

‘"To be a successful hitting coach, he went on, "you have to develop a rapport with (the players). And they have to trust what you’re telling them. That trust is important, whether you’re in the big leagues or in the rookie leagues. And if you develop that trust, then when it’s time to tell them what you see, I think they’ll listen."’

Cory Giger had a revealing piece on ex-Buc Mike Johnston in the Altoona Mirror.

‘‘Johnston appeared in 24 games as a reliever with the Pirates in 2004, going 0-3 with a 4.37 ERA, and has battled injuries off and on ever since. The hard-throwing lefty had surgery to repair a torn labrum in October of 2006, which marked the end of his tenure with the Bucs.

‘‘I got released the day I had surgery,’’ Johnston said. ‘‘I came out of surgery to a phone call from [assistant general manager] Doug Strange that I had been released. That’s not the best news coming out of surgery.

‘‘But it’s part of the game. I was part of the 40-man [roster], so they would have had to pay me a lot of money this year. They knew I wasn’t going to throw the whole year, so why take a financial hit when they’re pinching money anyway?’’

Luxury Tax vs actual spending and Dobrow

Marlin blog FishStripes read a few random posts at one of the Pirates’ blogs and the Post-Gazette and then said this about acquiring Jose Castillo:

"I have heard in the past that Castillo has an attitude problem." Additional reader comments said: "The Fish landed a real lump of coal in this guy.. this guy should be called Jose Mendoza with the way he performs."

Ok.. no SB Nation jokes. Where they got the "attitude" problem stuff is beyond me. Perhaps they need to do a site search here.

If anyone has any clue about Jose Castillo it is Mickey White who, last I heard, is still working for the Fish. Castillo signed as a teenager as an undrafted free agent in 1997 and White took over as scouting director here in 1998.

In any case, congrats to Castillo for catching a ride. May he finally get the chance he so rightfully deserves.

The average age of the Pirates 40-man roster on April 1, 2008, will be 27.4 years as it stands today. I assume that is the youngest 40-man for us in quite awhile.

Speaking of numbers, take a look at the widening spread between the Luxury Tax threshold and the Pirates spending on player salary since the 2002 Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed:

Notice the Pirates payroll trend falls from 2003 to 2008 at just under $1M per year while the Luxury Tax grows at $8M per year on average.

I estimated the Pirates 2008 payroll at $42M since that was the median of the previous five years. But as we all know, it could be $28M just as easily if more dumps were to take place. Plus, I graciously included opening day payrolls instead of the average salary for the year because as we all know, the Pirates dumped in 2003 so the gap is really much wider than what shows.

The idea behind the Luxury Tax (actually known as the Competitive Balance Tax) is to try and halt player salaries from growing too fast allowing smaller club’s the ability to stay in the game. Think of it as a salary cap because it penalizes the club’s who exceed it. 

What is interesting about all this is that the owners allowed a 6% growth in player salaries annually. So if you use their general thought, $40M in player payroll value in 2003 would be worth $53.5M in 2008… $50M in 2003, which is what Kevin McClatchy had seemingly promised Pittsburgh taxpayers with his PNC gift, would be worth $67M in 2008.

It is conceivable that by 2009 the Pirates could have a $20M payroll as they dump to rebuild which would be a $142M gap – 20% more than it is today.

Wow.

Now as we go forward we can answer the question – is it possible to rebuild and remain competitive at the same time?

Sure.. by trading the aging, expensive, and/or underperforming roster players like Morris, Sanchez, Wilson, and Nady, as well as players with value like Bay and Snell, for as many AA+ type impact prospects as possible to build around McCutchen. Then, with the roster at a bare minimum cost, sign as many impact stop gap players as possible on two to three year deals up to the $67M we should be spending while the franchise develops the youngsters.

But that’s a perfect world.. one we haven’t seen in Pittsburgh since Leyland days.

The McClatchy Company does a great job with newspapers but they certainly don’t seem to understand the Internet:

"The company has been increasing its online-ad sales force, and adding video and more-frequent news updates to its newspaper Web sites… This year, McClatchy joined a consortium of newspaper companies in a deal with Yahoo that some analysts believe could bring significantly more traffic and ad revenue to members’ Web sites." – Wall Street Journal 12/25/07

The public doesn’t want to have to play a video to see a newspaper article, fight off ads that take over your computer, or have to see a lot of flashy ad movement while trying to read the headlines.

Look at the St. Petersburg Times new look, for example. While they are not in the McClatchy portfolio, their website had been one of the best reads on the Internet and now holds the useless flag.

Two papers in the McClatchy brand are the Miami Herald and Bradenton Herald and they make you feel like you are flying in an airplane at 500 feet and 200 mph while looking out the window. If you don’t turn flash off, you risk seizures from the repetitive ad movement.

Newspapers need to go back to the basics online – provide quality coverage first. Hit me hard with coverage – tell me what’s happening and where – make me want to dig deeper.

Once that is achieved, use lead-in’s that force us to click to read each article we want to follow. The subsequent page should have their advertising in stationary format using color as the attractor, for example.

Until these big newspapers get back to the basics, I’ll stick with my news aggregator that removes the ads.

Maxmim Online’s Larry Dobrow penned a nice piece on the Bucs at CBSSports.com yesterday. It’s pretty funny.

"The Pirates careen into 2008 in much the same manner they’ve entered every season since Barry Bonds left for the West Coast 15 years ago: without a hope or a clue. The potential opening-day lineup, rotation, bullpen and defense are almost morbidly mediocre. The farm system is barren of impact players beyond CF Andrew McCutchen — who, if recent history repeats itself, will be rushed to the majors and then traded for Ryan Church. It’s bad, dude."

Colborn rejection unwarranted & Paulino

Several readers emailed me about John Perrotto’s article Sunday on Neal Huntington calling Jeff Andrews telling him he had been hired.  In that article Perroto said:

"The Pirates finished 14th in the 16-team National League in earned run average last season, just .02 from last place. That confounded many executives and scouts, who felt the Pirates staff greatly underachieved under former pitching coach Jim Colborn."

Time to think critically folks.

The National League median team ERA was 4.43 last year, according to ESPN. And 74% of the innings tossed by Pirate pitchers were thrown by our core ten pitchers who racked up a below league average 4.24 ERA (would have been 7th best in the NL). Those ten pitchers were: Capps, Duke, Gorzelanny, Marte, Snell, Chacon, Maholm, Torres, Grabow, and Youman.

The remaining fifteen pitchers in 2007 tossed 371 innings and had a 6.94 ERA. Those 15 include: Morris, Osoria, Sanchez, Bullington, Wasdin, McLeary, Armas, Kuwata, Bayliss, Kolb, Sharpless, Davidson, Perez, Rogers, and Van Benschoten. Essentially that’s 11 rookies, 3 washed up veterans, and Morris.

Now here’s where all you optimists can start spreading the cheer.

The main core group of 10 pitchers had a 4.31 ERA with the Pirates in 2006, so this group actually improved under Colborn. Plus, it’s even more dramatic if you remove Duke from both 2006 and 2007 since he was hurt last year. The remaining nine had a 4.11 ERA (would have been third best staff in the NL) and had improved from a 4.26 ERA in 2006.

That’s a rock solid 3.5% improvement.

Now if scouts and executives in the game are "confounded" and think Pirate pitching "underachieved" with Colborn, they need their heads examined because a 3.5% core group improvement year-to-year is platinum on a .417 winning percentage team (average of the two years).

And that doesn’t even speak volumes about Colborn’s actual success when you consider the core’s age, Youman has been released as unwanted, Grabow and Maholm were pitching hurt part of the year, Chacon had to be used in wrong roles, and young receivers were behind the dish in Doumit, Maldonado, and Paulino.

By gosh, Colborn should have been given the keys to the City for halting a sure 100 loss season.

Unfortunately, Perroto’s article also quoted a player as saying:

"We definitely need a good dose of Colby detox,” said one Pirates pitcher."

That player needs their head examined. Ok, so Colborn was head strong. Ok, so he didn’t get along with all the young bucks. Ok, so he didn’t like losing.

It’s sad to see a player talk about Colborn now that he’s gone for a couple of reasons. One, Huntington’s desire for a "culture change" obviously doesn’t mean much to that individual since he talked poo about another person in the game to the media. And two, we have to assume it was Zach Duke doing the talking because Perrotto also said:

"Many of the Pirates pitchers lost confidence in Colborn, who always seemed to either be tinkering with their mechanics or changing their approach to pitch selection."

That’s unfortunate for Duke if it was him because he was a victim of organizational mismanagement. Just like Kris Benson was, Ryan Vogelsong, Oliver Perez, and several others over the years.

For instance, I started to see red flags on Duke during spring training of 2006, saw more red flags in May 2006, saw him become a nibbler mid-year 2006 probably after his arm started to give way, even more red flags again in August 2006, and then warned everyone after the season both Duke and Maholm were headed for disaster in 2007.

And it all started with the Pirates desire to push Duke during spring training 2006 coupled with his added pitch count workload.

The same thing happened to Oliver Perez in 2005. Remember Dave Littlefield telling us Perez didn’t work out over the winter of 2004 to 2005 and it was his fault for not following up with him?

February 27th Perez threw off the mound first time for one minute bullpen session.. between 2/28 and 3/11 he pitched two batting practice sessions.. one a 20 pitch and one a 40 pitch.. then he hit the mound in ST games..

3/11 – 4R, 3H, 0 K, 0 BB, 1 IP – 26 P
3/20 – 3R, 3H, 3K, 2BB, 4 IP – 65 P
3/25 – 1 R, 3H, 5K, 0 BB, 5 IP – 97 P
3/30 – 0 R, 0 H, 6K, 5 BB, 4 IP – 77 P

Then, thru 4/10 a 0-2 record, 8 walks, 11 hits and 11 earned runs allowed in just nine innings of work.. thru 5/11 a 1-4 record, 37 IP, 10 HR, 25 BB, 29 K, 33 R, 46 Hits for an 8.03 ERA and a 1.92 WHIP. Batters had a .998 OPS against him.

Over the next year and one-half before Littlefield finally dealt him, Perez labored to throw 179 innings and had a 6.18 ERA including stupidity like 106 pitches in 3.2 innings April 30th, 2006. Obviously, Perez was already history in Littlefield’s mind.

But that March 25, 2005 game at the Trop was more than 90 degrees on the field and it was the game that broke his arm, as a couple of starts later he started to feel it. And it showed.

Shane Youman? Jeff Andrews pushed him over 40 pitches in one inning last year at Indy them had him return the next inning. Now he’s gone.

Now I bring all this up because the Pirates have already said they intend to push our pitchers in spring training this year hoping to get better early results from Maholm and Duke. But they better just back off unless they send them to Puerto Rico to play winter ball.

Now, if you want to blame Colborn for the Pirates problems, then you go right ahead and do that. But the real problem extended through the entire organization from Dave Littlefield to his pro scouts, from the bullpen coach to the player development team, from the coaches to the rovers. Everyone in that front office and down was guilty of destroying numerous arms over the years.

Including Brad Lincoln.

Unfortunately, many of the abusers remain in the organization today.

Lastly, Perrotto also chimed in with this tidbit that has been echoed by numerous media outlets as well as the Pirates:

"While many Pirates players underachieved last season, it was catcher Ronny Paulino who led the way."

I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. Does he step in the bucket hitting? Yes. Does he run like a mass of jello down to first? Yes. Does he look scared to handle plays at the plate? Yes. Does he look lazy on the field? Yes. Did he only throw out 27%? Yes.

So?

He was a receiver in his sophomore year and history tells us receivers regress the hardest in sophomore years. Folks, it’s not easy being promoted during a year when your club is hosting the All-Star game, having to learn a whole new staff, new routines, traveling, new peers, etc.. much less come back and do it again the next year.

Say what you want, feel what you want, but Paulino is being blamed for way too much. Sure, he cost us games. So did Gorzy.. so did Snell.. so did Tracy. I’m not anywhere as unhappy with Paulino as a lot of fans are, or the club for that matter. And all this stressing accountability then throwing Paulino’s name out there is asinine when you consider the roster we have and their projected win/loss capability.

You want to talk about accountability? Start talking Robert Nutting. But I say leave Paulino alone.. he had the fourth best FPCT of all full-time receivers and that includes receiving the fifteen garbage pitchers we had. Paulino’s doing fine for the non-impact receiver he is. Actually, he’s doing better than I expected and I was his biggest critic in 2006.

You think the Pirates are actually going to replace him?

Bah-humbug.