February 17, 2010

Pirates Start Training For WFC Season

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training at noon today.

I really prefer that pitchers and catchers report to spring training during the worst possible weather here in the Great White North. It creates the greatest possible difference between current life and hope. While we're sitting here hoping garbage collection resumes, somewhere Donnie Veal is long tossing and Jason Jaramillo is doing wind sprints. It really uplifts the soul.

And I almost don't need to mention it, but there's a special air of optimism knowing that there's a 100% chance of a Pirates title this year.

Finally, apologies for the lack of posts lately. Admittedly this blog has been suffering so our staff can bring you the Fantasy Winter Olympics Blog. Check the site out, it's F'ing Awesome.

February 10, 2010

I Sponsored His Baseball Reference Page For A Reason

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / February 10, 2010

While most of the national recognition goes to the #1 ace power pitchers, the Randy Johnsons and now the Tim Lincecums, quite another type of pitcher has long since stolen my heart. That is, of course, the four-pitch, pitch to contact, classic #3 starter.

My favorite season in baseball history has to be Carlos Silva's 2005. Although he's imploded since then, his 2005 was a year of beauty. Despite allowing more than 10 hits and one home run per nine innings, Silva went 9-8, 3.44 that year. He did so by allowing 9 walks all year. Nine walks in 188 innings. And two were intentional.

In addition to a lack of walks, the other stat I like for a starting pitcher is innings pitched. When you watch pitcher usage throughout a year, it comes up once every week or so that a bullpen needs a day off. They need a starting pitcher to go seven innings so most guys can take a break. Carlos Silva pitched seven innings in 22 of his 27 starts in 2005. And he only allowed more than four runs three times.

While the Pirates lack a true ace, the Pirates have three definite #2/#3 control guys atop their rotation. Because he got the job done in both 2008 and 2009, Paul Maholm is my choice to start on Opening Day.

Paul is the exception from the Littlefield era, Dave's only #1 pick that worked out. Chosen #8 overall in 2003 out of Mississippi State, he had top prospect pedigree having gone 9-2, 2.76 against SEC aluminum bat lineups that spring. He went to former New York-Penn League affiliate Williamsport and had a 1.83 ERA in the summer.

After an injury riddled 2004 when Paul nevertheless had a 3.43 ERA, he really put things together by going 7-3, 3.30 in the minors in 2005. Of course he was a young pitcher with the Pirates in the 2000s and it was time to rush him to the big leagues. He had some up and down years as a young MLB starter going 21-26, 4.60 from 2005-2007.

As I'm sure you remember, Maholm had his breakout season two years ago. The record (9-9) said mediocre but the other numbers - 206 innings, a 1.28 WHIP, 3.71 ERA and 2.7 walks per nine innings - said ace. That earned him the Opening Day start last year.

Paul continued his success and even upped the ante at the beginning of last year. He was 3-0, 2.02 after four starts and had a 3.61 ERA through June 11. Then, inexplicably, he got hit hard all summer to the tune of a 6.58 ERA and .340 batting average against from mid-June through mid-August.

There had to be some problem. Apparently it was that he had injured his knee in that Opening Day start, an injury which he later revealed hurt him all season. He wrapped his knee in ice after every start. Nevertheless Paul finished strong with a 2.89 ERA over his last seven starts.

Despite pitching through injury, there were a lot of positives in Maholm's 2009. Considering that he gave up 10.2 hits per nine innings his 8-9, 4.44 overall mark was solid. He did this by keeping the ball in the park (0.6 home runs per 9 innings) and not issuing free passes (2.8 walks per nine). In the last two years he's put up an identical 4.06 ERA to the $16 million pitcher A.J. Burnett.

While for batters the key to improvement is usually correcting a weakness, the key for Maholm will be getting better at the strongest aspect of his game. With a 90 mph fastball and hittable breaking stuff, to have a "Silva 2005" type of year Paul will need to have even better control.

I think he does that in 2010. An ace in 2008, Paul was pitching hurt in a horrible atmosphere last year and still was a good #3 starter. He'll be 28 this year and I think he has a career year - a hit an inning and 1.8 walks per nine innings while still under one home run per nine. That would yield a 3.30 ERA which would be good for 15 wins with the improved offense.

February 5, 2010

Post-Gazette Is A Joke

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / February 5, 2010

Up until now I haven't commented on the apparent offer by Mario Lemieux to buy the Pirates - the reason being that the team is not for sale, so Mario's offer is irrelevant.

I also would prefer not to comment on garbage editorials in the local newspaper regarding the same topic. Yet I feel compelled to do exactly that.

A recent Post-Gazette editorial, calling for Bob Nutting to sell the team, starts with a completely dirty trick by blaming the Nuttings for the past 17 years. In less than 3 of those years did the Nuttings have control of the team. I own some stock in Exxon and I actually had the same power over Exxon from 1994-2007 as Bob Nutting had over the Pirates, that is to say none. It's hard to believe the editorial board of a major American newspaper has such a poor grasp of facts.

To make matters worse the editorial goes on to criticize Nutting for the Pirates' failure to win in 2010. Are they serious? The 2010 season hasn't even started yet!

And finally, the editorial closes by saying that Nutting should sell the team to the Mario Lemieux-led group for the good of the city - citing the money Lemieux has put into the Penguins.

Of course it would be nice if some rich guy paid a lot of money for the Pirates for fun. Believe it or not there is no Mark Cuban here.

While a Lemieux-led group might in fact benefit the Pirates, Bob Nutting has no obligation to sell the team for that reason. And it's a complete joke to blame him for the losing that took place since 2007. It is like blaming me that the 20 pound weight I bought around the same time still does not float.

Finally, Lemieux clearly would not buy the Pirates with the intention of losing money. With a bottom 5 ranking in the league in attendance comes a bottom 5 ranking in payroll. Give the Pirates, Nutting ownership and all, what the Penguins have - a full house paying $50 to $150 a seat - and I am sure you would see a much higher MLB payroll.

During the Littlefield years, the Post-Gazette was reliably optimistic for no reason - even endorsing the Santiago transactions I wrote about yesterday. Now that the Pirates have a solid young core together, the P-G calls for a sale of the team.

I happen to think the Pirates have put together a good team. At the very least, I would not proclaim this a losing season with the Pirates' record at 0-0. I would hope that before writing any more, the P-G Editorial Board takes the time to find a factual basis for their statements.

February 4, 2010

Great Pirates In History: Benito Santiago

December 2004. Having already traded the erstwhile catcher/leadoff man Jason Kendall to Oakland, Pirates GM Dave Littlefield now started to think about whether he had any catchers who could start the following season.

Kendall had always caught ridiculous numbers of innings (one of the reasons it was actually smart to trade him at that point), which meant nobody else in the Pirates organization had any experience. Backups Humberto Cota and J.R. House had totalled just 79 plate appearances for the '04 Bucs. So Littlefield, in his ongoing epic quest for veteran experience, decided he needed a catcher who "could start 80 to 90 games."

Rather than add a catcher via free agency, why not get one at the cost of a promising prospect? Enter the Royals' Benito Santiago, 40 years old at the time, coming off both an injury that ended his 2003 season in June and a subpoena in the Congressional steroid inquiry. Completing the Littlefield trifecta he had a contract for over $2 million in 2005. Kansas City agreed to pay $1 million of his salary. In exchange, the Pirates sent Leo Nunez, a 21-year-old relief prospect who had gone 10-4, 3.12 in A ball and already possessed a fastball in the mid 90s.

Another way to put that would be to say that instead of releasing Benito Santiago, Royals GM Dayton Moore - hardly a master dealer - got the Pirates to give up a good prospect and pay $1.125 million of Santiago's salary.

Santiago arrived in training camp, and Mike Gonzalez and others predicted they would have lower ERAs thanks to the veteran backstop. The Post-Gazette speculated on his chances of moving up the career games caught list (he was seventh at the time).

Though management claimed excitement about their new catcher, the first sign of dissatisfaction with the Santiago deal came just before the season when Littlefield bought Dave Ross from the Dodgers. The L.A. backup had hit .170 in 2004, making him a great candidate for a job in Pittsburgh.

Benito started on Opening Day and tripled off Ben Sheets in his first Pirates at-bat. He would bat only seven more times at PNC Park.

A week into the season, Santiago came down with a virus and was placed on the disabled list. Humberto Cota was recalled to split time with Ross. On April 30th the Pirates tried to send Benito on a rehab assignment, but he refused and proclaimed himself ready to play. Although Cota still had options remaining and could have been sent to AAA, the Pirates decided to release Santiago on May 8, feeling that Humberto Cota - batting .200 at the time - had won the starting job.

Santiago never played again in MLB.

So it was that after spending $1.125 million, trading the future closer Nunez, and buying the contract of another veteran, the Pirates were left a month into the season with Humberto Cota - a Pirate since 2001 - as the starter.

Benito Santiago's Pirates Career:
6 games (team record 1-5)
23 at-bats
1 run
6 hits
0 home runs
0 walks
0 stolen bases
.263 average

February 2, 2010

The Decade in Bobbleheads: 2002

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / February 2, 2002

Continuing the bobblehead retrospective, let's look at 2002, the first year the Pirates did better in the bobblehead department than on the field.

After issuing only one bobblehead per season in 2000 and 2001, the Pirates truly got on the bobblehead bandwagon in 2002 with a total of five giveaways. Quality was up as well, with all statues looking at least somewhat like the real player depicted despite some obvious flaws. The fans responded with solid attendance for all giveaways.

Willie Stargell
April 10, 2002
Worthiness: A+
Execution: B-

While Clemente's all-around game makes him the best Pirates player of all time, Willie Stargell gets my vote as the best Pirates hitter ever. His 2002 bobblehead, though not great, was easily the Pirates' best effort to date. The statue's face looks like Stargell, complete with 1979 era 'stache, and the 1979 jersey and hat are well done complete with Stargell Stars.

Unfortunately 2002 was still part of the "two fat legs stuck together" era of bobbleheads, causing the attempt at high stirrups to make it appear that the slugger is wearing black shorts and black work boots. As always I would prefer an action pose or at least a batting stance, but apparently technology didn't allow such things back in those days of yore.

The Pirates gave these away at the second home game of the season - traditionally one of the worst days of the year for attendance - and drew 36,000 fans. With a decent bobblehead and 62 degree weather, it hardly mattered that starter Kip Wells got rocked on the way to an 8-5 victory. Overall, this was a worthy giveaway and the best example of an early bobblehead before poses became more complex.

Jason Kendall
June 26, 2002
Worthiness: A
Execution: C+

After honoring three Hall of Famers, the Pirates made another worthy choice in depicting Jason Kendall as the first 2000s era bobblehead. Kendall is the greatest catcher in Pirates history, a three-time All-Star with a .306 batting average and .387 on base percentage during nine years in the Steel City. On a more dubious note, this giveaway began the tradition that any Pirate honored with a bobblehead is destined to be traded. At least Kendall stuck around for two more years after this giveaway.

Here the Pirates have done a pretty good job of depicting what Jason Kendall would look like if he was Puerto Rican. He looks pretty good as a Puerto Rican. Bonus points for finally producing a bobblehead that has an accurate mouth, i.e. including both lips and teeth. Catcher's gear is pretty well done too.

Kendall led off that day and got a walk, a hit, a run and an RBI as the giveaway drew 37,000 fans for a midweek 7-4 win over Montreal.

Brian Giles
September 6, 2002
Worthiness: A
Execution: B-

It seems like so long ago that Brian Giles batted in the middle of the Pirates' order. While he was still a useful player until 2008, his recent years have eroded memories of the level of star he was. In his five years in Pittsburgh, he never had an on base percentage below .404 or slugged less than .514. He averaged over 100 runs, RBI and walks a season and actually got MVP votes four years in a row - all astounding for a player who toiled for last place teams with little protection in the lineup. He even was part of two good trades, as the Pirates got him from the Indians for Ricardo Rincon and then after the five great years of production swapped him to San Diego for a package including future bobblehead Jason Bay.

The Brian Giles face is pretty well done, assuming he played for the Pirates when he was 16. Also I know that the fat attached legs era bobbleheads had limitations on pose, but get that ball to the infield already! When would he ever stand around with the ball during a game? Do they think Brian was a pitcher? Still, this cartoon 16-year-old Brian Giles bears a remarkable resemblance to the real guy and that's good for a B-. At this point I'm just going to assume the Pirates used to play in work boots.

33,000 fans turned out for this giveaway and were rewarded with an 11-0 rout of the Marlins. Giles batted third and went 1-for-3 with a walk, an RBI and a run scored.

Pokey Reese
September 21, 2002
Worthiness: C
Execution: B

I'm not sure why, but the Pirates were really pleased with their signing of Pokey Reese in 2002. He hit .237 with one home run in the first half, and the Pirates responded by adding a Reese bobblehead giveaway that September. Sure he was a good defender and a fan favorite, but Pokey Reese just isn't a name you would expect to see accompanied by the phrase "Pirates Great." I could understand the choice if the Pirates had honored five or six players from the '02 team, but there's no reason to honor Reese before Ramirez, Kevin Young, even Craig Wilson or Kris Benson.

Perhaps this bobblehead itself reflects the reason Pokey was chosen. Who else would be so proud to stand in a Pirates uniform, holding his hat and glove? While the Mazeroski bobblehead of 2000 appeared to be in great pain, this Pokey Reese radiates joy. It's also the most realistic proportioned bobblehead of the year, as the trademark early 2000s fat legs stuck together are a bit skinner than all other examples.

Over 33,000 fans turned out, and Pokey went 0-for-4 with a walk and a run scored out of the leadoff spot in a 4-2 loss to the Cubs.

Pirate Parrot
September 22, 2002
Worthiness: F
Execution: B

Do we really need a bobblehead of the Pirate Parrot? I just can't believe anyone cares that much about a mascot. This giveaway was nothing but shameless pandering for attendance by a bad team. The fact that this Pirate Parrot depiction is better done than the Mazeroski, Clemente and Stargell statues just adds insult to injury. The Pirate Parrot did not play as 25,000 fans saw a 5-4 victory over the Cubs.

Be sure to check out the previous years:
The Decade in Bobbleheads: 2001
The Decade in Bobbleheads: 2000

Again, sorry to disappoint anyone who came for the 1979 World Series Live Blog. For unavoidable reasons I had to postpone the Game 3 Live Blog to next week, Tuesday February 9 at 7:00 p.m.

No Live Blog Tonight / Bobblehead Retrospective Instead

Greetings loyal readers,

I'm sure this will disappoint the 5 people who were looking forward to the Live Blog, but alas I am a law student as well as a Pirates blogger. Law school responsibilities will prevent me from presenting a new 1979 World Series Live Blog tonight. I will resume with the Game 3 Live Blog a week from today, Tuesday, February 9, at 7 p.m.

I do strive to be the best blogger I can be, so in a pathetic attempt to provide original content, I will present the 2002 Year in Bobbleheads retrospective tonight at 7 p.m. This break should also give me a chance to recharge with my 1979 cultural references.

Go Bucs!

February 1, 2010

The 2010 Championship Is Real

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / February 1, 2010

It has come to my attention that several Pittsburgh fans do not believe 2010 will be a World Championship season. The argument goes something like: The same players who formed a horrible team in last year's second half are coming back, there have only been minor offseason changes, and even if a few players improve the Pirates will only win 75 games.

Clearly this argument is wrong, because the Pirates are going to win the World Series this year, and 75 win teams don't win the World Series. To elaborate:

1. The offense is better at every position.
The average age for a position player's offensive peak is 27. Thus, it is reasonable to expect anyone who was under 27 in 2008 to be better in 2009. Several returning starters, SS Ronny Cedeno (27 in 2010), 3B Andy LaRoche (26), CF Andrew McCutchen (23), and LF Lastings Milledge (25) fall into this category. It's unlikely that any of these players have had their career years yet.

2B Akinori Iwamura is a ridiculous upgrade on Delwyn Young, a solid pinch hitter who couldn't field or hit as an everyday player. 1B Jeff Clement, while unproven, has to do better than the crapfest that was Steven Pearce's second half. C Ryan Doumit had a poor 2009 mainly due to injury and should bounce back given good health, while backup Jason Jaramillo hits the magic age 27 this year. And RF Garret Jones, while not possessing Brandon Moss's defensive skills, will play a full season and is a major offensive upgrade over Moss, who memorably drove in one run all of last April.

There's no way a lineup is going to click when it is inhabited by garbage players like Brian Bixler and Steven Pearce. While not featuring any superstars, the Pirates' 2010 lineup is a big improvement and has as much talent as say, the 1988 Dodgers, who won the World Series. I see 800 run potential. Note: I may or may not have made that bullshit 1988 Dodgers claim while only being able to think of three players in that lineup.

2. The girl on the right sidebar believes in the Pirates.
And it's not just her. Halloween falls on the same night as Game 4 of the World Series this year. Imagine the possibilities. So many girls in Oakland will dress up as Slutty Ross Ohlendorf.

3. The starting rotation will eat innings and throw strikes.
Unlike hitters, control-type starting pitchers usually improve until age 29 or 30. The Pirates' rotation is headlined by Zach Duke (age 27), Paul Maholm (28) and Ross Ohlendorf (27), all of whom were solid last year and all of whom should continue to get better. I expect the Big 3 to each pitch 200 innings with a sub-4.00 ERA and under 3 walks per nine innings. Few walks plus good defense is a recipe for success. At #4, Charlie Morton had a 4.55 ERA last year as a 25-year-old, and showed a lot of improvement throughout the summer. He should be a league average starter which is all you expect from your #4.

Finally at fifth starter, there are a few options but I expect Daniel McCutchen to win the job. Do you remember the Kevin Hart/Ian Snell disaster at #5 last season? Yeah, they combined to go 3-16 with a 5.98 ERA in the 5 hole. Daniel McCutchen has been solid in Triple A for two full seasons now and while no one was watching, put up a respectable 4.21 ERA in six starts last September. Bullshit projection systems have him at between a 4.27 and 4.67 ERA this year which is far better than an average fifth starter.

4. Momentum will carry the Pirates to the World Series.
Anyone with even an elementary understanding of fluid dynamics knows that by getting off to a good start at home - say a 2-1 series win over the Dodgers - the Pirates will establish an unstoppable force which will carry them to a championship.

5. The Marlins have won two World Series.
Their logo is a teal fish! Obviously it doesn't take much.

6. The bullpen is significantly upgraded.
As I explained in an earlier post, unlike in previous years the Pirates should have a bullpen made up of seven pitchers who aren't complete jokes. John Russell was hamstrung last year by only having one or two reliable bullpen options at any time, which gave him zero leverage in making decisions. The Pirates have completely revamped their bullpen, filling it with credible average to above-average major league arms.

7. Wearing all black to games.
People look awesome in all black.

8. Believe.
There's really no reason to be a baseball fan other than to root for a championship for your team. You want to start believing now so that you can enjoy this entire championship run, from spring training until the parade.

Once Pittsburgh wins the championship it's not going to be that great to say, I bitched for 15 years, have been believing in them since mid-October and went to one game. You want to say, I believed all along.

This is 2010.
This is our year.
Go Pens Pirates.