March 29, 2010

Brandon Moss Era Ends

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / March 29, 2010

I didn't really expect it to happen, but Brandon Moss has played his last game in a Pirate uniform.

Moss was designated for assignment today meaning the team has ten days to trade, waive or release him.

While some players can get DFA'd and then slip through the cracks and be sent to the minors, Moss isn't one of them. He'd almost certainly be claimed on waivers, so the Pirates basically will try to trade him. Of course their negotiating position is quite compromised with the 10 day limit.

My personal Brandon Moss era ended when he hit .203/.254/.271 with 0 home runs and 1 RBI last April. However, I thought he would stick with this team as a fifth outfielder/defensive replacement. That job will now go to John Raynor.

Anyway, this move is basically an admission of defeat in the Jason Bay trade. Bay for Craig Hansen, Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris and Brandon Moss. Moss was the centerpiece and in retrospect maybe it's not a great idea to overpay for the numbers a guy put up at Augusta in the South Atlantic League. LaRoche is a decent hitter and a good fielder but he might be out of the starting lineup as early as June.*

* The month of June has not yet been renamed Alvarez.

For Moss's spot the Pirates picked up Hayden Penn on waivers. Hayden Penn has given up 90 runs in 80 major league innings. There is no way I can endorse this pickup.

Do MLB general managers make moves like that thinking, "Hayden Penn, looks like a good waiver claim" or do they make the move thinking, "Goddamnit. Jesus Christ. We actually are in a position where we have to claim Hayden Penn."

Iwamura Leading Off In Revamped Buccos Lineup

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / March 29, 2010

Did John Russell get drunk while chatting with Tony LaRussa on Facebook? Check out the brand new Pirates lineup:

1. Aki Iwamura, 2B
2. Andrew McCutchen, CF
3. Garrett Jones, RF
4. Ryan Doumit, C
5. Lastings Milledge, LF
6. Jeff Clement, 1B
7. Andy LaRoche, 3B
8. Pitcher
9. Bobby Crosby, SS

While we're still in Spring Training, it's almost time for real baseball and this lineup has been featured a couple of times now. A few things jump out:

Akinori Iwamura leading off. I love the move. He was good enough to lead off for the 2008 American League champions. McCutchen at second is perfect. If you have two players with equal on base skills, bat the one with less power first. I view McCutchen as more of a Grady Sizemore type than a Chuck Carr, and that is a good thing.

The pitcher batting eighth. Awful. I know all of the new sabermetric analyses say that a hypothetical lineup scores more runs this way. I don't believe it. A major aspect of National League baseball is the decision on whether to pinch hit for your starter or let him throw another inning. Well, if Paul Maholm is batting eighth maybe that comes up one inning earlier. It's not like Crosby/Cedeno is a true second leadoff man either. Connie Mack never batted his pitcher eighth and neither would I.

Crosby starting at SS. Like it. Crosby has more upside than Ronny Cedeno. Starting Cedeno is a move you make when your goal is going 74-88. I'm ignoring the fact that that actually is the 2010 Pirates' goal.

March 25, 2010

Padilla Announced For Opener

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / March 25, 2010

Obviously winning the first game is going to be key to the Pirates' World Championship. The Pirates took a big step toward that today as Dodgers manager Joe Torre named Vicente Padilla as the Opening Day Starter.

Padilla had a 4.46 ERA last year which was actually his best ERA of the past six seasons. Despite ESPN's claim that Padilla was "the last guy anybody expected to start the opener," I in fact named him yesterday as one of two guys with a chance.

Joe Torre on the decision:

We just had to pick somebody, and he was the one. Am I going to say he is better than the other guys? I can't do that. We just decided to line them up that way. Again, we have four guys where I think you can put their names in a hat and just take it out.

I've actually never seen a manager admit his Opening Day starter is terrible, but that's as close as ever.

March 24, 2010

Rotation Set: Duke 1st, McCutchen 5th

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / March 24, 2010

Completely disregarding the results of the Pirates WFC Blog poll, the Pirates have named Zach Duke the Opening Day starter for Monday, April 5th.

Although Paul Maholm started the opener last year, my preference was to go with Duke because of his performance in last year's home opener. He shut out the Astros on four hits and was dominant throughout the game, something that's quite rare for a pitch to contact guy. Furthermore, look at him. Put an R next to his name and he could win a county commissioner election in any hinterlands county of Western PA.

It will be the lefty's second ever true Opening Day start. Zach also rose to the occasion in 2007 giving up two runs over seven innings, although the Paulino-led lineup only got him a no-decision. I love lefthanded pitching.

The Dodgers haven't named Duke's opponent yet. I think Joe Torre will let his young pitchers, Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, pitch the second and third games. That would leave either Hiroki Kuroda or Vicente "No N" Padilla to pitch the opener. My vote is Padilla because he's more likely to get lit up.

Ross Ohlendorf will start the second game of the season on Wednesday the 7th. Paul Maholm will start Thursday the 8th. Charlie Morton will start Friday the 9th at Arizona with Duke making his second start on the 10th.

Finally as predicted here and virtually nowhere else, Daniel McCutchen won the fifth starter job. In the clearest indication yet that the Pirates are basing their personnel decisions on the WFC Blog, Kevin Hart was sent to Indianapolis. McCutchen is a solid six inning/three run kind of guy which is the best any team gets from their fifth starter. He'll only start two games in April, neither of them at home, as the Pirates will give their top four guys the maximum number of starts. Another good decision.

Backing this pretty solid rotation will be a lineup that looks like this:

CF McCutchen
2B Iwamura
RF Jones
C Doumit
LF Milledge
3B LaRochetat
1B Clement
SS Cedeno

Not quite as impressive. The 5-6-7 spots could change but I'm pretty sure of the others. It's time for Ryan Doumit to put together a 25 home run year out of that cleanup spot.

March 18, 2010

Hart should begin 2010 as an AAA reliever

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / March 18, 2010

Kevin Hart's third consecutive terrible start yesterday, in which he walked six and failed to get out of the second inning, should end the fifth starter competition.

Hart, the centerpiece of the Grabow/Gorzellany deal, came to Pittsburgh after a couple of excellent AAA campaigns and four solid starts as a Cub. Seeing Hart's 2.60 ERA in Chicago and 9.7 K/9 in the minor leagues during 2008-09, the Pirates justifiably expected they were adding a major league starter to their club - one who could replace the talented but control-challenged Ian Snell.

Less than a year later, the time has come for the Pirates to admit they were wrong. Sadly enough, Hart has been something of a poor man's Ian Snell. And that is a very poor metaphorical man indeed. Kevin Hart simply has not performed well enough to be in an MLB rotation, or in the major leagues at all. He has an option remaining and the Pirates should take advantage of it by sending him to the Indianapolis bullpen until he regains his command.

While I have consistently projected Daniel McCutchen to be the fifth starter, management has clearly favored Kevin Hart so far because of his stuff. A 96 mph fastball does not do anything when you walk 13 batters in 4.2 innings, as Hart has this spring. Add in a wild pitch and a hit batter too. The role of a fifth starter is to pitch five or six innings and keep the team in the game. No one needs a fifth man who if he's on could pitch a shutout, while if he's off won't get out of the second inning. If we get outings like Hart's spring starts during the season, that will absolutely kill the bullpen. As a whole the starters need to average over six innings a start so that the relievers can average their optimal 60 innings per man this season.

Hart's control problems this spring greatly exceed the scope of last year, but they are not unprecedented. In his MLB career he's averaging five walks per nine innings. Unless you're J.R. Richard or Nolan Ryan striking out 300 batters a season, no starting pitcher can have success with that many walks. And while it's tempting to view Hart as a young player since he's new to Pittsburgh, he's 27 - the age where he should be in the prime of his career.

May I suggest making Hart a reliever? Looking at minor league stats, in 2006-07 he struck out 7.4 and 7.5 batters per nine innings as mainly a starter. In 2008-09, in a swingman role with more relief appearances, those numbers went up to 9.8 and 9.6. In the major leagues those numbers have declined to 7.5 K/9 relieving - still a good number - but only 6/1 K/9 starting, an unacceptable number for a pitcher with poor control.

Moreover, relievers who throw one inning can work around walks much better than starters, who inevitably will give up a three-run homer if there are always men on base. For example, J.C. Romero in his career has averaged five walks per nine innings - identical to Hart's total. Romero has been a part of six playoff teams in the last eight years, including four seasons of under a 3 ERA and two seasons under a 2 ERA. New Pirates closer Octavio Dotel walked 5.2 per nine last year on his way to a 3.32 ERA in a role as a top set-up man.

Daniel McCutchen is no Hall of Famer but he can pitch at least five innings and keep the team in games. McCutchen is the fifth best starter in camp, capable of an ERA in the high fours which is fine for a fifth starter. I don't even see any reason to use Hart over such career minor league types as Virgil Vasquez.

Whatever is done with Kevin Hart, he should not be starting with any Major League club. This would simply lead to too many bullpen innings, loss of confidence and an inevitable demotion. A 6.92 ERA last summer and a 15.43 this spring should be enough to end his tenure as a Pirates starter.

March 13, 2010

April Home Giveaways Preview

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / March 13, 2010

Before I start with the promotions, I am pleased to report that The Pittsburgh Kid Paul Spadafora defeated Ivan Fiorletta by technical knockout Friday improving his record to 44-0-1. 50,000 people will watch a couple of three loss fighters tomorrow in Dallas, while Spadafora can't get a title fight because everyone is afraid of him.

Monday, April 5 vs. Los Angeles - 1:35 p.m.
Opening Day / Magnetic Schedule
The home opener is the most fun Pirates game of the season, and this year we get a rare home game on the true Opening Day. While the schedule magnet is not that amazing, the atmosphere of being at a 100% full PNC Park is unbeatable. Last year we also got an unadvertised free hat so I would expect something similar again.

The Pirates have announced that standing room-only and single-seat tickets are all that remain. I have 30 tickets to the game so it must be awesome to be my friend.

Wednesday, April 7 vs. Los Angeles - 7:05 p.m.
There's no giveaway this night and it's likely to be cold. But for people who can't get out of work during the day this is the only chance to see them against a good team this month. To me the Dodgers organization always has had a certain cachet.

Thursday, April 8 vs. Los Angeles - 12:35 p.m.
T-Shirt Thursday

This is my favorite among the 2010 free shirts. It's a unique yet understated design with the PNC park diagram. You'll get to see either Cy Ohlendorf, Cy Duke or Cy Maholm pitching and you'll have a whole section to yourself. Luckily my schedule is open from 11:45-4:30 Thursdays, a perfect window to go claim this shirt.

Friday, April 16 vs. Cincinnati - 7:05 p.m.
Pirates Aluminum Water Bottle
These water bottles are all the rage these days. You can tell because the same people who own Mac laptops own them. Not only that, but aluminum is unparalleled amopng metals for its combination of strength and relatively light weight. Another game I'm planning to attend.

Saturday, April 17 vs. Cincinnati - 7:05 p.m.
Fireworks / Irish Celebration / Scratch'n Win Saturday
PIttsburgh loves fireworks. Why is it Scratch'n Win? Shouldn't it be Scratch 'n' Win? I guess they want parallelism with Eat'n Park, where you will most certainly "win" two dollars off. Cincinnati has a lot of fairly interesting young players. Hopefully in this game Pittsburgh is not called for a late hit out of bounds FOR HITTING A GUY WHO IS STILL IN BOUNDS.

Sunday, April 18 vs. Cincinnati - 1:35 p.m.
Kids Day / Kids Andy LaRoche Replica Home Jersey
I see people walking around with kids all the time. Where are they finding women who aren't on The Pill? Unfortunately I haven't figured out the answer to this question.

Oakland coeds, if you're planning ahead for Halloween, a child's size Andy Laroche jersey would be perfect, cut up, for your "SluRoche" costume.

Tuesday, April 20 vs. Milwaukee - 7:05 p.m.
Ah, a rare Pirates-Brewers series. The Bucs haven't had much success against Milwaukee the last few years, but the 2010 Brew Crew is going with a rotation of Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, Doug Davis, Jeff Suppan and Manny Parra. That looks merely well below average until you consider the top three are locks to get hurt...

Wednesday, April 21 vs. Milwaukee - 7:05 p.m.
...The Brewers had the NL's third best offense in '09 but Mike Cameron and Jason Kendall are gone, replaced in the starting lineup by Carlos ".292 career OBP" Gomez and 39 year old Gregg "Only in the starting lineup ironically" Zaun. Felipe Lopez had a .407 OBP in his half season and is gone as well. Their bench is Jody Gerut, Joe Inglett, Craig Counsell, George Kottaras and Mat Gamel.

Thursday, April 22 vs. Milwaukee - 12:35 p.m.
Pirates Recycled Green Cap / T-Shirt Thursday / Alumni Autographs
The motherlode! I'll gladly buy a $9 ticket to see the game and get a free cap and T-shirt. The hat will be perfect for many St. Patrick's Days to come, and the shirt looks awesome in an "already looks like a 20 year old find at Goodwill" kind of way.

March 12, 2010

Great Pirates In History: Don SlaValliere

While platooning has fallen out of favor in this century, a couple of decades ago almost all MLB teams used platoons at one or two positions. The Pirates duo of Don Slaught and Mike LaValliere was one of the best, backstopping the Pirates during their three consecutive division championships from 1990-92.

The lefthanded half of the platoon, Mike LaValliere, was the first to arrive in Pittsburgh. He had started as a rookie for the '86 Cardinals, but Whitey Herzog wanted the Pirates' veteran catcher Tony Pena to work with his ptiching staff of mostly lefthanded junkballers. The Cardinals would pay a steep price for Pena, sending LaValliere, Mike Dunne and Andy Van Slyke.

The '87 Cardinals won the pennant but the Pirates won the trade. Platooning with Junior Ortiz in 1987, LaValliere improved his batting average from .236 to .300, threw out 45% of base stealers and even won the Gold Glove - an impressive accomplishment for a part time player. By 1989 Ortiz had slumped to .217 with one home run, while LaValliere hit .316 with a .406 OBP. It was time to make a move.

Spanky's numbers would certainly lead to a starting job today, but it was sacrilege in 1989 to suggest that a lefthanded hitting catcher could play every day.So the Pirates sent a journeyman pitcher and a nothing prospect to the Yankees, acquiring the nondescript, 31 year old Don Slaught. In retrospect it's hard to imagine much excitement about bringing in the guy who had just hit .251 with five home runs while catching the second worst pitching staff in the American League.

Yet it all worked out in 1990. Just as LaValliere had done three years before, Don Slaught suddenly turned into a line drive hitter of epic proportions in Pittsburgh. He hit .300 with a .375 OBP and had 25 extra base hits in 230 at-bats. LaValliere didn't have any power but got on base at a .362 clip. This was great production out of the 7 hole in a year when the Pirates' team OBP of .330 led the league. While LaValliere was the better catcher of the pair, Slaught threw out a respectable 31% of runners too. The pitching staff improved to fifth in the league, led by Doug Drabek's 22 win season.

In 1991, it was more of the same as LaValliere hit .289, Slaught hit .295 and both had OBPs over .350 again. Both were veteran catchers by now and the pitching staff thrived, posting the second best ERA in the league. Bob Walk's 3.60 was the highest ERA in the starting rotation.

In 1992, LaValliere dropped to a .256 average but had excellent plate discipline and still had a .350 OBP. Slaught, now a 33 year old catcher who had never been a full time player, posted an unreal .345/.384/.482 slash line. Behind the plate, this was the duo's finest season. They combined to throw out 37% of base stealers and did an excellent job catching a young knuckleballer named Tim Wakefield who went 8-1 with a 2.15 ERA. While the '09 Red Sox had to carry three catchers for part of the year just to have someone who could catch Wakefield, the '92 Pirates didn't even have to break their regular platoon as both men did a near flawless job of catching the knuckler.

Of course with this duo having led the Bucs to three straight division titles, hitting and fielding well every year, the clear choice was to keep them together. Not so. General manager Ted Simmons began dismantling the division champions in the offseason, and 11 men from the playoff roster were gone by Opening Day including aces Doug Drabek and John Smiley. LaValliere criticized these moves, and he became the 12th player gone - released after one game in 1993. The Pirates still owed $4.05 million on his contract so they paid him to catch for the White Sox in 1993 and '94.

With LaValliere gone, incredibly, Slaught still wasn't an everyday player. Tom Prince batted 204 times and hit .196 with two home runs. Slaught continued with the Bucs until 1995, and overall hit .305/.370/.421 for the Bucs before he departed via free agency to make way for Jason Kendall.

Both catchers are now working in instructional roles. LaValliere and Jeff Robinson opened a youth baseball training facility in Florida, while Slaught is president of the video training company RightView Pro.

A switch hitter with excellent contact hitting, on base, throwing and game calling skills, Don SlaValliere was truly a Great Pirate in History.

March 10, 2010

A Four Man Rotation?

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / March 10, 2010

Recently I have had a chance to listen to several of the radio broadcasts of the Pirates spring training games. Yes, I realize that is pathetic, but isn't it more pathetic to be reading a blog about someone listening to these games on the radio?

Anyway, the announcers were talking about the possibility of carrying only 11 pitchers out of camp. The advantage is obvious, in that keeping 11 pitchers would buy some time to keep both Brandon Moss and Delwyn Young on the roster. Young is their best pinch hitter, while Moss is their best defensive outfielder. Both are out of options and would certainly be claimed by another team if the Pirates tried to pass them through waivers.

In Weaver on Strategy, Earl Weaver talks about why he went with a nine man pitching staff. That tenth pitcher would be only used in blowouts, Weaver reasoned, while an extra pinch runner, pinch hitter or defender would be used in tight games. The same reasoning holds doubly true when we're talking about a 12th pitcher. I have no problem going with 11 pitchers all season. WIth 12 pitchers it is always a challenge finding enough work for everyone.

What surprises me is that the Pirates are discussing not a six man bullpen (essentially what they used last year with Donnie Veal as the rarely used seventh reliever) but breaking camp with a four man rotation. Of course not a real four man rotation, 1971 style with everybody starting 40 games - but at least four men until we get through off days in April. This would buy some time to make a roster move or wait for an injury so Moss and Young can remain in the organization.

Looking at the schedule, with no rainouts a true four man rotation would necessitate using whoever started on April 7 on three days rest on April 11. I have to think there's no way they would do this, especially with a day game scheduled on the 11th. However, D.J. Carrasco or another long reliever could make this start allowing the Pirates to option their fifth starter (probably Daniel McCutchen) to Indianapolis until the 24th. With rain outs it could be longer.

I actually think this course of action seems likely, because I just can't see the Pirates giving up on Moss considering what they gave for him. I also can't imagine they would want to get rid of Young's bench bat. This would have the added benefit of keeping everyone pitching every fifth day in April.

Here's the roster I expect to see on Opening Day:
C (2) Ryan Doumit, Jason Jaramillo
IF (6) Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, Bobby Crosby, Akinori Iwamura, Andy LaRoche, Ramon Vazquez
OF (6) Ryan Church, Garrett Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge, Brandon Moss, Delwyn Young
SP (4) Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton, Ross Ohlendorf
RP (7) Brian Bass, D.J. Carrasco, Brendan Donnelly, Octavio Dotel, Javier Lopez, Evan Meek, Jack Taschner.
DL (1) Joel Hanrahan

I have Jack Taschner taking the final relief spot, because he throws with his left hand. That's not to say that he isn't f'ing horrible, spring results notwithstanding. I would prefer Jeff Karstens there.

Then on April 24, you call up Daniel McCutchen to make his first start. Presuming none of the outfielders have gotten injured yet, choose who is doing worst out of Crosby, Vazquez and Cedeno and DL them with a phantom injury. Five infielders is fine for a while with Jones able to play first base and Young able to play second.

March 5, 2010

Pirates Aughts All-Star Team

One of the most frustrating aspects of being a Pirates fan, if I had lived in Pittsburgh prior to 2008, must have been the great seasons that were wasted. During the past decade there were great, even historically great seasons. Here's the best lineup I could come up with from the 2000-09 teams. Indeed, compressing ten years into one would produce a World Series champion.

1. C Jason Kendall '00 (R)
.320/.412/.470, 112 R, 14 HR, 58 RBI, 22 SB
Even in the offense-happy era of 2000, Jason Kendall's season was unreal. A .412 OBP from a catcher with some pop. Not only that, but Kendall started an unbelievable 147 games and threw out 30% of base stealerrs. At this point, in his third consecutive season of a .400 OBP, Jason Kendall looked like a Hall of Fame catcher. Until age 32 his most comparable players were Mickey Cochrane and Thurman Munson.

2. RF Brian Giles '02 (L)
.298/.450/.622, 95 R, 38 HR, 103 RBI, 15 SB
Acquired for Ricardo Rincon in one of the great trades in history by any team, Brian Giles was a completely ridiculous player during his time in Pittsburgh. In five years he put up an OPS over 1.000, with a .426 OBP and .591 slugging percentage. Mickey Mantle had a .421 OBP and slugged .557 in his career. Yeah, Brian Giles was awesome.

3. LF Jason Bay '05 (R)
.306/.402/.559, 110 R, 32 HR, 101 RBI, 21 SB
I could have chosen several Jason Bay seasons. Bay was, and still is, a legitimate top 10 run producer in MLB. Oh, and he stole 21 bases while being caught once. It's too bad the Pirates didn't get more for him as he was one of the greatest talents ever to be traded at the July deadline.

4. 3B Aramis Ramirez '01
.300/.350/.536, 83 R, 34 HR, 112 RBI, 5 SB
He's put up similar numbers for the past seven years in Wrigley, but Ramirez's '01 season was otherwordly. Can you even fathom driving in 112 runs for the '01 Pirates? He played good defense too, and he was 23. Mike Schmidt hit .196 when he was 23.

5. CF Nate McLouth '08 (L)
.276/.356/.497, 113 R, 26 HR, 94 RBI, 23 SB
In his first full season, Nate McLouth made a lot of us wonder why the hell he wasn't starting earlier. McLouth has the speed and contact skills of your father's leadoff hitters, but he adds the power of the new generation of leadoff men. Add in a gold glove and only 3 times caught stealing all year, and you wonder why Nate couldn't still be playing left field at PNC.

6. 2B Freddy Sanchez '06 (R)
.344/.378/.473, 85 R, 6 HR, 85 RBI, 3 SB
I guess not walking isn't a problem when you hit .344. I know batting average is an overrated statistic, but you have to realize how unreal a .344 batting average really is. Going 1-for-3 would decrease that average. Freddy got 200 hits and a league leading 53 doubles in '06, and managed to get MVP votes despite playing for a 95 loss team.

7. 1B Adam LaRoche '08 (L)
.270/.341/.500, 66 R, 25 HR, 85 RBI, 1 SB
Pittsburgh fans never warmed up to Adam LaRoche, but he quietly had a few very good years here. He's not Ryan Howard but as the 2004-05 Braves proved, you can go to the playoffs with Adam LaRoche as a first baseman. In classic LaRoche fashion, Adam hit .304/.361/.613 in the second half and drove in 42 runs in 49 games despite having no one to drive in.

8. SS Jack Wilson '04 (R)
.308/.335/.459, 82 R, 11 HR, 59 RBI, 8 SB
A slick fielder who's valuable even when he doesn't hit, Jack Wilson hit a ton in 2004. We're talking 201 hits and 64 extra base hits from a guy who played Gold Glove caliber defense. I wish him the best in Seattle.

9. P Oliver Perez '04
12-10, 2.98, 1.15 WHIP, 196 IP, 239 K
Not surprisingly, no Pirate pitchers have good win totals in the decade. But Oliver Perez in 2004 was as dominating as any pitcher has been this century. It's hard to believe considering some other seasons he's put up, but 2004 Oliver struck out a cool 11 batters per nine innings while batters hit .207 against him. Oh, and he was 22 at the time.

March 3, 2010

Thoughts On The Lineup

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / March 3, 2010

As expected, all the Pirates' regulars made the trip to Tampa for the exhibition opener today. I wouldn't take anything from the results (a 6-3 loss to the Yankees) but it does appear that today's lineup shows how John Russell will order his hitters.

1. Andrew McCutchen cf
2. Akinori Iwamura 2b
3. Garrett Jones rf
4. Ryan Doumit c
5. Ryan Church dh
6. Lastings Milledge lf
7. Jeff Clement 1b
8. Andy LaRoche 3b
9. Ronny Cedeno ss

1. If JR believes Ryan Church is the #5 hitter out of this group, we'll see him starting a lot of games.
2. I've seen arguments for batting McCutchen third. Cutch is the team's best hitter but he belongs at the leadoff spot. This is the spot he's been accustomed to, it gets him the most plate appearances on the team, and it gets him on base in situations where stealing second helps the team.
3. McCutchen and LaRoche are the only Pirates who are above average hitters for their lineup spot.
4. Once again the club lacks a true cleanup hitter. For this to be an average lineup, Ryan Doumit needs to play like his 2008 form.
5. The lineup would look a lot better if we had a legitimate hitter at shortstop.

I would guess tomorrow afternoon's Pirates-Braves game in Kissimmee will be a B game, with Clement and maybe one or two others as the only starters making the trip. Charlie Morton will pitch the first two innings for the Pirates.

March 2, 2010

Time to play ball!

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / March 2, 2010

The Pirates finally start their Grapefruit League schedule Wednesday afternoon against the New York Yankees. Live from Legends Field in Tampa, the game will be shown on national TV on the MLB Network. And in the Pittsburgh area, the radio broadcast will be on 104.7.
Cy Maholm will pitch the first inning and Cy Ohlendorf will pitch the second inning for the Pirates. The Pirates haven't said which position players will travel, but with Thursday's game in Kissimmee I would expect to see the whole starting lineup make the much shorter trip to Tampa Wednesday.

Even in the spring there's a heightened excitement facing the Yankees, but don't look for the Bucs to show too much against their potential World Series opponent.

One position battle I'm watching is for the final roster spot or two - Brandon Moss vs. Delwyn Young vs. John Raynor. These battles are usually somewhat of a pointless crapfest since the loser goes to AAA and is back in May. But Young and Moss are out of options and Raynor is a Rule V pick - meaning that one or two of these guys could be out of the organization by Opening Day. All three should get a lot of playing time this spring, especially Raynor since he's new to the organization.

Jeff Clement is another guy who should play a lot. He has the bat to start in MLB, but even though he's the projected starter I don't think the Pirates are 100% sold on him at first base. If he can't field the position they'll move Garrett Jones back to first and start Ryan Church most days in the outfield.

34 days until the real Opening Day.

March 1, 2010

Pirates Fantasy Values

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / March 1, 2010

It's March, and that means we've turned the calendar from Fantasy Winter Olympics season to Fantasy Baseball season.

While most Pittsburghers do not view the Pirates through black and gold goggles, I saw Nate McLouth go in the fourth round last year in a Pittsburgh-based draft. I perrsonally was pleased to get Ryan Doumit in like round 7. If you have ever even considered picking up Mewelde Moore in Fantasy Football or Mark Eaton in Fantasy Hockey, you could be susceptible to a similar mistake in baseball.

The Pirates have a balanced team that will win the World Championship, but fantasy baseball is not real baseball. The Pirates do not hit that many home runs or attempt that many steals, and they don't have pitchers who get many strikeouts. Here's where you should draft your Buccos players in a 12 team league. Adjust accordingly if you're playing NL Only or with a larger league.


Andrew McCutchen - 9th Round

Cutch was a great player to pick up on waivers last year, but I have seen him go too early in every draft this spring. He'll score 100 and steal 30 bases, but I don't think he has more than 15 homer power. He definitely can't drive in many runs batting leadoff behind Ronny Cedeno and the pitcher's spot. So the only thing making him better than Rajai Davis or Juan Pierre, who you can get in the 14th round, is 10 home runs and 20 RBI.

Garrett Jones - 11th Round
Garrett Jones is somewhat of a question mark. But there are actually not that many outfielders who hit with power anymore. If you took a guy like Carl Crawford early it makes sense to fill out your outfield with a guy like Jones who has 25 home run power and 15 steal speed. He'll also bat third which is a great spot for runs and RBI. The reason he falls to round 11 is that he is too risky. If he doesn't hit at the beginning of the year he'll get dropped in the lineup and could even lose his starting role.

Octavio Dotel - 14th Round
Compared to other lower tier closers, Dotel's advantages are strikeouts and a secure job. He was brought to Pittsburgh to close and as we saw last year, there is really no set of facts that would cause JR to change his closer. His ratios won't be that great but I'd certainly take him over a guy like Bobby Jenks who could lose his closing job in April. In a non-Pittsburgh draft you can get him much later, like round 18.

Ryan Doumit - 16th Round
Ryan Doumit was rather terrible last year, and could easiliy lose his starting job. The Pirates aren't showing great confidence in him by attempting to trade him. However, he has a spot in the middle of the order and if he doesn't get injured and hits like 2008 could be a top 5 catcher. The odds of both of those things happening are pretty low.

Lastings Milledge - 17th Round
Lastings has 25 home run/25 steal talent, but it's risky to bet on whether he'll achieve that. But none of the other outfielders going this late have the same combination of talent and starting job, making Lastings a solid fourth or fifth outfield choice.

Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf - 20th Round
The Pirates' top three starters are way better in real life than in fantasy. They won't hurt your ratios but none of them are strikeout pitchers and wins are too unpredictable. One guy like that is good in the late rounds, where you're hoping for a sixth starting pitcher who won't kill your team. Any more and you'll lose points in strikeouts.

Jeff Clement, Andy LaRoche - 21st Round
Clement will probably be the Pirates' first baseman but still qualifies at catcher. He has the potential to hit 25 home runs which makes him worth drafting if you punted your catcher spot. The problem with Clement is that even if JR names him starter, which is not certain, I think he'll start maybe 75% of the time. He'll also hurt your batting average.

Unless he gets moved up in the lineup, Andy LaRoche won't score enough runs to be worth a higher pick. A guy who doesn't steal bases needs a little more power to help, and in fantasy you won't get points for his defense.

Akinori Iwamura - 22nd Round
Iwamura is not a terrible second base option if you don't get any of the top ten second basemen. If he's healthy all year he'll score 100 runs and steal 25 bases. He's never healthy all year so you drop him when he gets hurt.

The reason why nobody else is on this list is because you shouldn't draft him. For various reasons, every player on here except Milledge and Jones is way more valuable in real baseball than in fantasy. It's more fun to win your league than to have a team of all Pirates.