August 30, 2010

Series Preview: Chicago Cubs

It may not be marked on your calendar but today is Mathematical Elimination Day in the Midwest. The first place Reds, 75-55, host the Milwaukee Brewers at 7:05. Then at 8:10 your 43-87 Pittsburgh Pirates play their first of three in Wrigley Field. A Reds win or a Pirates loss and first place in the Central becomes a distant memory. In related news those things are both pretty likely.

The Cubs, as you might have noticed, complete the Houston/Milwaukee/Chicago trifecta of boring NL Central opponents who aren't very good. In their last 13 road games the Pirates are 0-13 including 0-6 against that group. But the Cubs traded Derrek Lee to Atlanta so that should equalize everything.

There are teams for which it's hard to find preview babes, and there are the Cubs.Chicago Cubs - Monday 8:05, Tuesday 8:05, Wednesday 2:20
Tonight, Paul Maholm (7-12, 4.82) faces Carlos Zambrano (5-6, 4.64). Big Z has actually pitched really well since his return to the rotation - six earned runs in four starts. But one thing I can't say for him is that he didn't create a constant distraction while also sucking for half the season until said season was over. My pick is the Pirates.

Tuesday, Jeff Karstens (2-10, 4.98) faces Ryan Dempster (12-8, 3.42) as Dempster goes for his 100th win and Karstens tries for his 12th. I can't think of Karstens without thinking of Suzyn Waldman going on and on about how much he helped the Yankees after he had pitched two games for them. She did this during every broadcast. Yep, one of the downsides of Southeastern North Carolina was that literally five local business owners from New York can afford to make your local radio station a Yankees affiliate. I was the sixth listener. My pick is the Pirates.

Wednesday, an afternoon game and the last of this road trip. John McDonald (2-4, 5.65) faces Pirates bobblehead Tom Gorzellany (7-8, 3.98). Gorzellany has come out of nowhere, or more specifically the Pirates clubhouse, to become a strikeout machine for the Cubs. He had the one good year here but I can't say I saw his 2010 season happening. Nevertheless, McDonald has looked great this season and my pick is the Pirates.

Minor League Pennant Race Update

With only a week left in the minor league regular seasons, let's take a look at the Pirates' affiliates and their performance. I'll look at the player performances after the season but right now the focus is on the teams and their playoff prospects. From best to worst...

The Rookie league Venezuelan Summer League Pirates finished a cool 48-20. In the three-game championship series, they split the first two and then took the clincher 21-2. The VSL Pirates have had the league's best record for five years in a row.

So here's a country with an oppressive dictatorship but which has successfully implemented government health care and possesses a first place Pirates team. It is enough to blow your mind.The AA Altoona Curve are 79-55, 6.5 games in front in their division, and will undoubtedly win the division. This is great news for an affiliate that had a downright terrible team last year. Good minor league records get overlooked but I think they do help in player development due to human nature. If you've ever worked for a company that is just terrible at what they do, it's hard to be a good employee or do your best in that atmosphere.

The Class A Bradenton Marauders are 34-26, 2.5 games in front in their division for the second half. After a string of rainouts the Marauders have won four in a row to take control of the race. The Marauders are also 73-57 overall and have featured the best home field advantage in the league. If they can hang on over the final eight games, they'll make the playoffs in their first year as an affiliate which would also give the rehabilitating Tony Sanchez an opportunity to get back on the field.

The season is over for the Rookie league Dominican Summer League Pirates who are 37-34 but missed the playoffs. There is so much talent in the Dominican that five teams now operate two DSL affiliates.

The AAA Indianapolis Indians who are 68-68 and one game away from being eliminated from the race. A .500 record with eight games to go looks like a great accomplishment to me for manager Frank Kremblas. The Indians' lineup was decimated throughout the year by Pirates call ups, and they also had to deal with a number of reclamation projects on the pitching staff. Some people have chalked up the Pirates' strong preference to develop players fully in Indianapolis before bringing them up to cheapness. To me that preference shows either the organization's high opinion of their AAA coaching staff or a low opinion of the major league one.

The Rookie league Gulf Coast League Pirates are 29-30. This league is purely developmental so I'm not too worried about their record.

The Class A State College Spikes are 32-36 overall and are eliminated from contention. State College featured some good pitching but never put it together for a pennant run.

Finally the Low A West Virginia Power are 28-33 in the second half, 59-72 overall, and obviously won't make the playoffs. I'm not sure if this was a conscious decision but the Pirates haven't sent many top prospects to Charleston. Who needs prospects when your cable system carries FSN Pittsburgh?

August 28, 2010

The End of Garrett Jones?

Clearly, Garrett Jones had an awesome 2009. He got off to a good start this year, and as the owner of two Jones figurines I hate to say it - but it looks like GFJ may not be good enough to be a major league regular.

After going 0-for-6 tonight Jones' slash line now stands at .245/.304/.414. That just isn't good enough to start at either first base or right field.

Interestingly, the much-maligned Adam LaRoche actually hit .265/.340/.469 as a Pirate. Those numbers would have been better if he was kept around last year for his annual second half surge but they are still pretty good. LaRoche was also a better defender than Jones. The Mike Gonzalez for LaRoche deal was one of Dave Littlefield's few good ones. Yet I think most Pirates fans like Jones and hate LaRoche.

Everyone knew at the time that Jones' 2009 when he hit .293/.372/.567 was unsustainable. But I don't think many people expected him to be this ineffective. I say this as a random claim based on no reasearch, but Jones in fact is probably the least productive first baseman in the National League.

Of course there are really no better options right now, especially with Jeff Clement on the disabled list. But first base seems like a position that could be filled relatively cheaply by a free agent. In fact LaRoche signed for $4.5 million this year which seems quite reasonable in a world where Ryan Doumit is making nearly that much.

The past month notwithstanding, Jones hasn't had such a bad season that he can't still come out with decent numbers given a good September. But unless that happens, it's looking increasingly like first base is another position that needs improvement in the form of a new starter for 2011.

August 27, 2010

Series Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

Today, Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo was robbed at gunpoint in the early A.M. hours. This took place in the parking lot of a Milwaukee supermarket. "Sounds like a good time to try to steal," said Ryan Braun.

The first game of this series is already started, I really hate games against the Brewers, and this babe is not wearing any Brewers apparel. Nor is she a babe. Looks like this Series Preview is going to be worse than an actual Pirates-Brewers game.The Brewers lineup is second in the National League in runs even though Braun (.293/.349/.475) is having the worst season of his career. Prince Fielder (.270/.403/.486) is having his worst year since 2006. Also Prince is a dog's name.

Milwaukee Brewers - Friday 8:05, Saturday 8:05, Sunday 2:10
Chris Narveson (9-7, 5.69) faces James McDonald (2-3, 5.04) tonight. It reminds me of that movie where James McDonald pitches a game against a shitty lefthanded pitcher. My pick is the Pirates.

Saturday, the matchup is Zach Duke (6-12, 5.40) against Chris Capuano (2-2, 3.72)! Exclamation points really make games sound interesting! My pick is the Pirates.

Sunday, A! Day Game! Brian Burres (2-3, 5.62) faces Dave Bush (6-11, 4.76). This preview has an all time record low amount of actual analysis. A little known fact about Brian Burres - he's not Charlie Morton. Thus, my pick is the Pirates.

August 26, 2010

September Home Giveaways Preview

If you want your last chance to see the worst Pirates team since 1985, this is it. For some of you this might be the worst Pirates team of your lifetimes. If you're wondering why this introduction isn't funny, realize that this is the last Home Giveaways Preview of the 2010 season and nobody's last album is their best. I already wrote something funny on this site on Monday so quit bitching. Here's the free stuff you can get at PNC Park in September.

Friday, September 3
vs. Washington - 7:05 p.m.
Pirates Fleecie

Again, the Pirates web site provides no picture of what is certain to be a really photogenic giveaway. Based on these pictures of the Reds Fleecie, a Fleecie is a knock-off Snuggie which lefthanded pitchers look great in. The Snuggie has now been around long enough that it's OK for people in their 20s to like it ironically. The Pirates' record is bad enough that it's OK to like them ironically too. I'm going to unironically watch this game on TV.

Saturday, September 4
vs. Washington - 7:05 p.m.
Luke Bryan Skyblast

Considering that the only thing I know about Luke Bryan is that he claims repeatedly to have woken up in his chair after spending all his money to get drunk after seeing his ex-girlfriend, I was surprised to see that he looks really happy in every picture of him. Based on this one Google Image search I am guessing that country music artists aren't actually depressed. If you don't know who Luke Bryan is, ask someone from a town neither of us has ever heard of.

Sunday, September 5
vs. Washington - 1:35 p.m.
Kids Night Light

I would like to think that if I was a parent, I would be strict enough to force my kids to spend the first 135 games of the baseball season afraid of the dark and tripping when they get up to go to the bathroom. Then in Game 136 I would take them to get this night light, because baseball more than any other sport is something for parents to share with their children. It would be a valuable learning experience. Primarily, learning that dad is a dick.

Friday, September 17
vs. Arizona - 7:05 p.m.
Roberto Clemente Bronze Bust

This actually looks sort of nicely done. In a recent radio program the question of "Who was the greatest Pirate?" was raised. Clemente won and Ryan Doumit was not even in the discussion. I think that while Clemente was the most significant Pirate, Honus Wagner was the greatest. Wagner was the Ryan Doumit of his day only good at baseball and buttoning his uniform. Assuming buttons were invented. I hope this thing is actually made of bronze because I am a former Materials Handler I and metal is my favorite material.

Saturday, September 18
vs. Arizona - 7:05 p.m.
Fireworks

I never mention fireworks here because I don't care about them and I don't even stay for them if I'm at the game. But you know, I don't like chipped chopped ham either and Pittsburgh loves it. You're my audience, folks. I just can't trust anything modified by two adjectives that only differ by one letter. Apparently the Pirates put on a great fireworks show so enjoy it.

Sunday, September 19
vs. Arizona - 1:35 p.m.
Kids PNC Park Puzzle Poster

Such alliteration! If you're missing all these giveaways because you don't have a kid under 14, keep in mind it's still possible to have one by the 2011 season. Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.

Thursday, September 23
vs. St. Louis - 12:35 p.m.
T-Shirt Thursday X

Among the many things I learned by attending Law of Professional Sports for one day so far is this: In order for the Pirates to legally sell a T-shirt, said shirt must be manufactured by an MLB licensed apparel company. But a shirt that is given away can be manufactured by any asshole.

During a recent episode of Plain Jane, the host claimed that the girl who was being made over should stop wearing all black. She said that Audrey Hepburn wore bright colors too and that a girl wearing red had a 50% higher chance of being asked out. On the other hand, there's a greater than 50% chance that is a bullshit claim made by the host of a six episode show in The CW. But I just report; you decide.

Friday, September 24
vs. Houston - 7:05 p.m.
Pirates Fleece Scarf & Glove Set

How great will you look wearing this to a Twins playoff game? Not as great as you will look if you also wear a Pirates Fleecie.

In the quest to stay organized I keep getting rid of more and more stuff. I basically buy nothing now but I get a lot of free stadium giveaways. So we're fast approaching the point where everything I own is either an empty can of PBR or a stadium giveaway.

Saturday, September 25
vs. Houston - 7:05 p.m.
O.A.R. Concert/Magnetic Schedule

I couldn't find a picture of the same chord sequence being played for two hours so here is a picture of the band. Sunday's game is a 1:35 start so it will be a tight fit to get O.A.R. to finish up by then. Maybe they can cancel batting practice because it sure didn't help much for these two teams this season.

Sunday, September 26
vs. Houston - 1:35 p.m.
Fan Appreciation Day/Magnetic Schedule

Here it is, home game 81 of the season. Possibly the 100th loss. A lot of stuff will be given away. To be more specific, "Great prizes will be given away after each half inning!" The Steelers are scheduled to lose to Tampa during this game so what we'll have is a crapfest game with nobody there - increasing your chance to win Great Prizes!

August 25, 2010

Ohlendorf Out For Season

Although there was no official announcement, Ross Ohlendorf told several media members he expects to be out for the season. According to an MRI he strained a muscle in his shoulder during Monday's game. It's also possible he got hurt in warm-ups as Ross's velocity was down from the first pitch.

With the team's record at 42-84 there is really no reason to bring Ohlendorf back from the injury in September. It's better to just have him start next season at full strength.

It's hard to say whether Ross Ohlendorf had a good year or not. He ends the season 1-11 with a 4.07 ERA. He allowed 8.8 hits and 3.7 walks per nine innings with 6.6 strikeouts - more of all three than in 2009. I am optimistic about his future based on this: in July and August Ohlendorf was much more overpowering than at any point in his career with 42 strikeouts in 47 innings. He was also throwing a harder fastball that was consistently 92 or 93 mph instead of 90-91. He's a candidate to start on Opening Day 2011.

Daniel McCutchen (1-5, 6.65) will take Ohlendorf's spot in the rotation and will actually pitch tonight instead of Jeff Karstens. Karstens was scratched from the start with arm fatigue and is expected to make his next start.

McCutchen last started a game July 31 but earned another shot with a 1.93 ERA in eight relief appearances this month. His stats are still ugly but actually since his first three starts of the season, D-Cutch has a 3.90 ERA for the Pirates.

If Karstens is not available by Saturday, the likely starter is Charlie Morton, who is 4-4 with a 3.83 ERA at Indianapolis. He has a 1.50 ERA over his last four games. Morton is also giving up more than a hit an inning at AAA and is just too hittable to pitch in the majors. I certainly hope at least one free agent starter is signed so we don't see him in a position battle for the fifth starter spot out of spring training.

August 24, 2010

2011 Shortstop Options

It is no secret that this Pirates team has been rather terrible offensively. The numbers say they are last in the National League in runs scored, but it is really worse than that. There are certain games where it s just certain before the game that the Pirates won't score. For example, I would be shocked if they got over two runs in tonight's game. One looks like a good bet.

Lineup changes are certainly in order for 2011. One obvious area for improvement is shortstop where Ronny Cedeno, though serviceable defensively, simply can't hit well enough to warrant being an MLB regular.

Acquired in the Jack Wilson/Ian Snell deal, Cedeno hit .248/.307/.394 in 46 games at the end of last year while playing below average defense. This year he has played above average defense and is hitting .245/.288/.366. He has 19 walks and 88 strikeouts. That might look like a bad year to you but by OPS+ this is Cedeno's career year.

Cedeno is making $1.1 million this year and is eligible for his final year of arbitration. He would probably get around $1.5 million if tendered a contract, but I think the far wiser move is to non-tender him and let him catch on elsewhere as a utility infielder. The Pirates can't afford to have him in their lineup and $1.5 million is too much for a player who can't hit.

Here are the potential free agent shortstops who are currently starters:

Orlando Cabrera is hitting .260/.302/.339 this season for the Reds, which is poor enough that Cincinnati probably will decline his $4 million mutual option for next year and use Paul Janish as their starter. O-Dog was productive from 2001-08 but he will be 36 next year making him a poor bet to rebound to respectable numbers. He hasn't hit for power since he wore an Expos uniform. Pass.

Alex Gonzalez, at .261/.307/.479, has probably shown enough pop that the Braves pick up his $2.5 million option - especially considering they just traded for him.

Cristian Guzman is hitting .263/.309/.334 and is another Cedeno-like player - a free swinger with little power. Pass.

Jerry Hairston Jr., hitting .252/.307/.364 with San Diego, would actually be an upgrade over Cedeno and would cost around $2 million. You could do worse but he's really better suited to a utility role.

Derek Jeter at .277/.340/.387 is having the worst year of his career but possibly the best year of anyone on this list. It would be hilarious if the Yankees didn't bring him back and he signed with the Pirates. However, the Yankees will bring him back.

Jhonny Peralta is hitting .239/.306/.395, which would be an upgrade over Cedeno but also isn't very good. Peralta will be 29 next year and the Tigers certainly will decline his $7.5 million option. From 2005-08 he scored 357 runs and drove in 307 runs with 81 home runs. With the worst case scenario still better than Cedeno, it might be worth a shot to see if he can recapture that form.

Nick Punto is hitting .253/.327/.318 which is a little better than Cedeno's numbers. It's also not good enough to start. The Twins won't pick up his $5 million option but I still think he'll come back to Minnesota.

Edgar Renteria has well underperformed his contract with San Francisco but actually if he can put up this year's .342 OBP again would be one of the better options on this list. I wouldn't be surprised if he has to settle for something in the $2 million range for his age 34 season.

Jose Reyes has an $11 million team option which might not be picked up. He is only hitting .292/.329/.432 which is really not well enough to be worth that kind of money. Some systems also rate his defense as below average. Reyes, however, is so overrated that his cost would certainly be prohbitively expensive.

Miguel Tejada was moved to third base for a reason and also can't hit anymore. He's actually had a decent run back at shortstop in San Diego but it would be absurd to sign a rapidly declining 38 year old to be the starting shortstop.

Juan Uribe is hitting .248/.309/.422 and is the best choice on this list. He is making $3.25 million this year and should sign for about the same. Uribe has consistent 20 home run power and plays solid defense. He doesn't walk enough but still gets on base more than Cedeno. At age 31 he should have plenty left.

Reaction To Pirates Finances

As you probably know, the Pirates revealed their balance sheets yesterday for 2007-09. The team made $34.8 million in profits over the three years.Apparently everyone is supposed to be shocked and outraged that this for-profit enterprise in fact turned a profit. The whole reason an MLB team is worth hundreds of millions of dollars is the ability to make money each year.

On $140 to $150 million a year in revenue, the Pirates are making an average 8% profit per year. This is in line with what any business makes. The average corporate profit margin for the S&P 500 for the last 30 years is 8%. Unless your owner is Mark Cuban, the team's goal is going to be 8% profits or more.

Now, clearly this 2010 Pirates team is horrendous and major league payroll needs to increase to achieve success. To contend in 2011 the Pirates would need to add - at a minimum - established everyday players in right field and shortstop, two starting pitchers and a couple relievers, including at least two stars among that total. This would probably cost around $40 million.

But the problem is not the profits, it is the revenues. Gate receipts are averaging around $35 million a year. That amount is definitely bottom ten and probably bottom five in the league.

The Yankees can spend over $200 million on salaries because they make over $200 million on tickets. Throughout Major League Baseball the ticket revenues mirror player salaries. Those are the two main variables in the balance sheet.

Super low salary winners like the current Padres or '08 Rays are basically a one- or two-year fluke where every key player is still young and cheap. To consistently contend it takes good management and payroll of $75 to $80 million a year.

To do this profitably the Pirates would have to double their gate revenues based on a combination of increased attendance and increased ticket prices. And for that to happen the Pirates would need at least one winning season. I don't think it would actually take a championship but it would take at least an 86 win contending team. Maybe it would require a playoff spot. But it is possible. The Penguins certainly have doubled their ticket revenue from the days when anyone could go buy a ticket on the street for ten bucks.

Basically ownership needs to bite the bullet and lose money for a year in order to get a contending a team that increases fan interest. Then attendance will go up and the Pirates can cease to be a laughingstock.

Until then, enjoy your $9 seats.

August 23, 2010

Series Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

Apologies for the lack of posts over the weekend. I have a secret double life as a student at a top 68 law school so I had to prepare for today, the first day of the semester, which basically consisted of finding one friend in each class I am taking and notifying them to start thinking of their book as "our book". My thoughts on the Pirates signings and finances are forthcoming. For now just appreciate that you have this juicy, sparkling Series Preview.

The 67-54 St. Louis Cardinals make their penultimate trip to town this week. The Cardinals are 3.5 games behind Cincinnati in the Central and two games back of Philadelphia for the wild card. St. Louis has to be looking at this three game series with the Pirates as a chance to make up grrrrround on the Rrrrreds and that is something St. Louis likes.

The Cardinals have the league's second best pitching staff and are 1-5 against the Pirates this year. The big guns are the same: Albert Pujols (.316/.411/.592) would have been a legit MVP choice in every year of his career and Matt Holliday (.301/.373/.518) is the prototypical #3 hitter. They've added rookie Jon Jay (.362/.411/.523) who is doing his best Pujols impression. Colby Rasmus (.269/.353/.504) is having a breakout year and the rest of the guys in their lineup would have been mentioned here with numbers after their name if they were hitting well.

St. Louis Cardinals - Monday 7:05, Tuesday 7:05, Wednesday 7:05
Tonight the Cardinals' Kyle Lohse (1-5, 6.79) faces Ross Ohlendorf (1-10, 3.90). You know things are bad when your opponent's pitcher has an ERA three runs higher than your own starter yet Las Vegas still has your team as underdogs in a home game. Another sign is that your record is 41-83. Interesting fact: The Pirates have only been favored in nine games this year. Interesting fact 2: Kyle Lohse's career is over. My pick is the Pirates.

Let's talk about how much I hated Sergei Federov in 1997. The answer is a lot. At the time I was 16 and Anna Kournikova was also 16, which means that she was someone who I pretty reasonably could have been dating if not for goddamn Federov, and I always played as an Eastern Conference team on the Genesis so whenever I made the Stanley Cup Finals invariably it was to face Detroit and motherfucking Federov again as a second line center, and I had the three button controller but the computer didn't have to use a controller, that cheating bastard, so it had use of all the functions of buttons X, Y and Z while I did not, and he didn't even love Anna like I did and besides wasn't it a little creepy anyway, and her tennis was suffering, and she still looks pretty goddamn nice in this Cardinals jersey and if not for Sergei, we would probably be married now and my job would be to be her house husband and I would make the most annoying to cook dishes like Twice Baked Potatoes for her if we were married because she deserves it.

Tomorrow, Adam Wainwright (17-7, 2.06) faces Paul Maholm (7-12, 4.92). No matter what happens I still don't buy that Adam Wainwright can successfully make the transition from relieving to starting. My pick is the Pirates.

Wednesday, Jake Westbrook (7-8, 4.48) faces Jeff Karstens (2-10, 4.98). With the Cardinals Westbrook has 26 strikeouts while walking four in 25 innings. Dave Duncan is a genius because in his Tribe glory days Westbrook would have hurt himself even reading that stat. Karstens is still a threat to pitch a no-hitter every time out so my pick is the Pirates.

August 20, 2010

Series Preview: New York Mets

K-Rod will not be with the Mets for their weekend series in Pittsburgh. I will say this in his defense: Who among us has never made an unprovoked physical attack on our children's grandfather outside our workplace, causing assault charges, suspension from the job, breakup and the loss of many millions of dollars? That was a situation that really could have happened to anyone.

At 60-61 the Mets are in that position where everyone knows they are out of contention, but the team still makes a bullshit claim of being in contention. So New York has to be looking at this three game series in Pittsburgh like a chance to move out of New York only to inform everyone in their new hometown about how much better everything was in New York, and that is something New York likes.

The Mets actually have pretty good pitching but an ineffective lineup - none less effective than Jason Bay (.257/.347/.402). Unfortunately Bay is on the disabled list making his return to Pittsburgh somewhat less triumphant. The stars Jose Reyes (.285/.324/.425), Carlos Beltran (.226/.333/.358), and David Wright (.290/.362/.488) are all there, though only Wright is still good enough to justify star status.

New York Mets - Friday 7:05, Saturday 7:05, Sunday 1:35
Tonight the Mets go with Mike Pelfrey (11-7, 3.95) against Jeff Karstens (2-9, 4.57). Karstens had a great curveball in his last start, which to the naked eye looked like another keep-the-team-in-but-lose game. Pelfrey got off to a great start but if I showed his recent stats they would be like (OK-Mediocre, Really.High). Ryan Doumit is in right field again with Jeff Clement at first and a slumping Garrett Jones benched. I like Jerry Manuel's random lineups - for the Mets, Chris Carter is batting cleanup since he has two home runs this year. My pick is the Pirates.

Saturday, Jon Niese (7-5, 3.38) faces James McDonald (2-2, 4.26). As a Pirate McDonald has four walks, 20 K's and no home runs allowed in 18 innings. Rookie pitchers usually have a meltdown game at some point; luckily Jon Niese is a rookie pitcher too so this is another clear win. My pick is the Pirates.

Sunday, Johan Santana (10-7, 2.97) goes for the Mets against Zach Duke (5-12, 5.33). You sort of know the drill with the Pirates against an ace pitcher, but Duke already beat Roy Halladay this year so my pick is the Pirates.

August 19, 2010

Top Mexican Prospect Heredia Signed

Early this morning the Pirates signed Mexico's top pitching prospect, Luis Heredia, for $2.6 million. They really wasted no time on this one as he just became eligible to be added to an MLB team yesterday. Only three days after signing Stetson Allie and Jameson Taillon, the signing obviously adds even more young talent to the minor league system.

Honestly if anyone has any clue how a 16-year-old pitcher is going to develop, more power to them. Heredia already throws in the low 90s and the Yankees, Blue Jays and other teams were interested him, so I guess he's a good prospect.

I'll probably post something later reacting to the draft and signings. For now suffice it to say this is good news.

Building a Champion: 1960 (Part 2)

In honor of the life of the Pirates' greatest general manager, Joe L. Brown, I've been chronicling how he built his first World Series team. In Part 1 I examined 1955-57, in which Brown incrementally improved a moribund franchise that had finished last in the National League four years running before he was hired in 1955. The Pirates improved slightly to seventh place in their first two seasons under Brown, employing a solid pitching staff but still struggling to score runs.

1957-58 Offseason
In his first two offseasons Brown had stood pat, waiting until games started to make major moves. This time around Brown pulled off two challenge trades with Cincinnati in December.

In the first move, righthanded knuckleballer Bob Purkey was traded for lefthander Don Gross. Gross assumed Luis Arroyo's role as the main lefty in the bullpen with Arroyo returning to AAA. Completing the pitching staff, prospects Curt Raydon and George Witt were called up to assume swingman roles while Red Swanson was sent back to the minors.

The other move was a swap of first basemen as Brown traded Dee Fondy to Cincinnati for slugger Ted Kluszewski. The objective clearly was to add power to a lineup that had finished last in home runs. Big Klu hit 171 home runs from 1953-56 before an injury plagued and unsuccessful 1957 season, and was installed as the cleanup hitter for 1958. The team's only returning slugger, Frank Thomas, moved back to third base.

In May, Brown purchased veteran hurler Bob Porterfield from the Red Sox. On June 15 which at the time was the non-waiver trade deadline, Brown pulled off his first career deadline deal. Backups Gene Freese and Johnny O'Brien went to St. Louis for slick-fielding infield prospect Dick Schofield. Completing the 1958 club, Dick Stuart forced Brown's hand by hitting 31 home runs for AAA Salt Lake City by the All-Star break when he was called up to the big leagues.

The overhaul had been gradual, but by 1958 the Pirates now employed only three of the 11 primary position players Brown inherited in 1955 - Roberto Clemente, Dick Groat and Frank Thomas.

1958 Pirates
The 1958 season was nothing less than a revelation as Pittsburgh posted an 84-70 record and finished second in the league. Using the same primary players, the team made a stunning 22 game improvement over the previous season. The Pirates stayed close to eventual champion Milwaukee through September. The fans loved it; attendance increased to 1.3 million - three times the attendance of 1955.

The pitching was a big success, finishing second in the league. Actually this staff could have been even better, as the traded Purkey won 17 games and was an All-Star in Cincinnati.

On the hitting side, the high profile addition Kluszewski - though far more useful than the man swapped for him - was either over the hill or too injured to be an effective cleanup hitter. The lineup was strengthened when Stuart replaced him in midseason. The core hitters all improved greatly, although the offense still was seventh in the league in scoring.

Although this move obviously didn't affect the 1960 team, I have to mention that on August 7 Brown signed Willie Stargell as an amateur free agent.

1958-59 Offseason
Continuing Brown's practice of trading frequently with Cincinnati (called the Redlegs at that time due to anti-Communist hysteria), Brown pulled off his biggest trade yet on January 30. The popular slugger Thomas - a three time All-Star with 163 home runs already as a Pirate - went to Cincinnati for three players: catcher Smoky Burgess, pitcher Harvey Haddix, and third baseman Don Hoak.

While Thomas was a bona fide star, two everyday players plus a starting pitcher was a shockingly good return for him. Both Burgess and Hoak were good contact hitters. Hoak lacked the departed slugger's pop but unlike Thomas was a natural third baseman and an above average fielder there. One of the best hitting catchers in baseball, Burgess was a major offensive upgrade. Haddix was a veteran pitcher with 83 wins and a career 3.66 ERA.

Brown picked journeyman Rocky Nelson in the Rule V draft to be the fourth outfielder. Stuart got a full season as the everyday first baseman, pushing Kluszewski into a reserve role.

1959 Season
Even though all the players from the Thomas trade played well, the Pirates dropped back to fourth place with a 78-76 record. They were in the pennant race for half the season but never challenged after a nine game losing streak at the end of July. The biggest problem again was a lack of power as Pittsburgh's 112 home runs were last in the league.

1959-60 Offseason
Through a combination of trades and player development, under Joe Brown the Pirates improved from a laughingstock to a team with back to back winning seasons. Now the GM had a club that only required finishing touches to be a true contender.

At the winter meetings Brown got catcher Hal Smith from Kansas City for spare parts including pitcher Dick Hall, who had been relegated to the minors for three seasons. Smith had a good throwing arm and a .280 career average, but the A's were determined to sell off their best players - around the same time they also dumped Roger Maris to the Yankees.

In a second December deal, Ron Kline went to St. Louis for pitcher Tom Cheney and center fielder Gino Cimoli. Cheney was a hard-throwing but raw prospect while Cimoli was a former All-Star center fielder. Kline compiled a 66-91 record and a 3.77 ERA with Pittsburgh. With the trade he became the first of the four core pitchers from 1955 to leave town. His replacement came in May when Brown sent prospects Ed Bauta and Julian Javier to St. Louis for lefthander Vinegar Bend Mizell, who had 69 major league wins and an astoundingly great nickname.

1960 Pirates
The results, of course, are history. Fueled by Clemente's breakout season, the same offense that had never finished better than sixth in the league in run scoring led the league in offense in 1960. Every position player had an above average year. Friend and Law both had their best seasons while the trade acquisitions Haddix and Mizell rounded out a good starting staff in front of Face, the best Pirates reliever in history. Pittsburgh also had a great defense, getting positive contributions from all of their starters. The team went 95-59, easily winning the pennant, and of course beat the Yankees in a seven game World Series.

Overall, this was a remarkable job done by Joe Brown in his first five seasons as GM. Inheriting a terrible team, he correctly identified the core players - Groat, Clemente and Mazeroski in the field and Friend, Law and Face on the mound. He gave starting jobs to two promising minor leaguers, Stuart and Skinner, and traded either veterans at their peak value or prospects for the other key players on the roster.

Of course, really all a GM can do is put his team in a position to win. The Pirates were strong enough from 1958 on that they could have finished first. 1960 just happened to be the year everything came together.

The 1979 champions are more celebrated for being more recent, but it is the 1960 club that represents the real hope for the current Pirates. It was also the team that remains Joe Brown's greatest achievement in a long career with the Pirates.

August 18, 2010

Why I Hate The Pirate Parrot

This was supposed to be a long essay...
But it's hard to express such a strong feeling...
Really the only reason I hate the Pirate Parrot is...

He's just so smug.

August 17, 2010

Building A Champion: 1960 (Part 1)

Former Pirates general manager Joe L. Brown died Monday morning at the age of 91. In his 22 years as GM, Brown was at the helm for the 1960 and '71 WFC teams and built the core of the 1979 champions as well. He also presided over the playoff teams of 1970, '72, '74 and '75.

Brown's tenure undoubtedly was the golden age in Pirates history. In his honor, let's take a look at how the Pirates' greatest GM built his first champion. I'll cover 1955 through '57 here and I'll follow up in the next few days with Part 2 taking you through to 1960.

An Unknown GM Takes Over
The great general manager Branch Rickey is little remembered for his end-career stint with the Pirates. Though Rickey's presence would pay dividends down the line thanks to his signing of Roberto Clemente, during his six years running the Pirates the team finished no better than seventh.

When Rickey retired in October 1955 at the age of 74, he left a team that had finished last in the National League four years in a row and not coincidentally, had finished last in attendance three years running. But it was a less cynical time, and Pittsburgh Baseball Club stockholders voted in his handpicked successor Joe L. Brown to take over as GM. Brown inherited a 60-94 club that finished last but was stocked with young talent.

1955 PiratesThis team scored the fewest runs in the league and allowed the most. On the pitching side, clearly the task was to surround the five talented one-syllable youngsters with better filler than the ineffective veterans used in '55. The lineup was more of a mess, as only Long provided better than average hitting. The rookie Clemente already was playing great defense but had a long way to go as an offensive weapon.

1955-56 Offseason
Brown's first big move was hiring Bobby Bragan as the club's new manager. He invigorated the lineup a bit by bringing up left fielder Lee Walls, moving cleanup hitter Thomas to third base. Bob Skinner was called up for a fourth outfielder role. Veteran Red Munger and career minor leaguers Nellie King and Fred Waters were called up to strengthen the bullpen, freeing up Kline to become a front line starter.

In May, Brown dumped the three poorly performing veteran pitchers from '55. Surkont was dealt for reliever Luis Arroyo and Donoso was sent to the minors. Most importantly, for Littlefield and prospect Bobby Del Greco, Brown got 1955 Rookie of the Year Bill Virdon to play center field replacing the poor fielding Lynch. Spare part Preston Ward was traded for catcher Hank Foiles. And in early July, 19-year-old Bill Mazeroski was called up to play second base.

1956 Pirates
The '56 Pirates had a winning record as late as June 25 before stumbling to a seventh place finish at 66-88. The key success was the club's pitching, which improved from last to fourth in the league as new manager Bragan relied on his top five guys to a near preposterous extent. Virdon, Walls and an improved Clemente formed a fast and contact-hitting outfield, though the offense was still just seventh in the league in scoring. Pittsburgh was optimistic about the improved club - incredibly, attendance more than doubled to 950,000. The season has to be considered a great debut for the new GM Brown as pretty much all his moves worked. He had just inherited too poor of a team to win right away.

1956-57 Offseason
Again, Brown made no offseason trades. On the pitching side, Arroyo and Bob Purkey were called up to assume key swingman roles behind the Friend/Kline/Law trio of starters. Munger was released, which made room for 20-year-old bonus baby Red Swanson to assume a regular role in the bullpen. Waters was sent back to AAA.

The Pirates opened 1957 with the same lineup as the previous year, but Brown again made a blockbuster trade in May. Long and Walls, strong middle of the order hitters in '56, were sent to the Cubs for first baseman Dee Fondy and third baseman Gene Baker. It was an apparent attempt to win in 1957 since both new players were in their age 32 seasons. Foiles caught more often this season. Skinner also assumed a greater role and was the everyday cleanup hitter by the end of the year. Thomas kept hitting in the middle of the order, starting games at all four corner positions. Freese, who hadn't hit at all in '56, again was a semi-regular player while minor leaguer Paul Smith was called up for an outfield reserve role.

1957 Pirates
1957 was a disappointing year as the Pirates' record dropped to 62-92. The pitching was decent, ranking fifth in the NL and featuring a breakout performance from Law and another steady year for Friend. But the offense was downright awful scoring the fewest runs in the league. Clemente regressed to his poor offense of 1955, while Virdon joined him in posting a below-.300 on base percentage at the top of the lineup. Skinner, Groat, Mazeroski and Foiles all hit for good contact but could not make up for the club's lack of power.

By the end of 1957, the Long/Walls trade already looked like a shortsighted mistake. Long slugged .511 with Chicago and hit a home run in over 5% of his at bats. Fondy, for his part, could still stroke line drives but had lost nearly all his power. Walls had a sophomore slump and wouldn't have helped the Pirates much in '57 but was still just 24 years old. The move was Brown's first major mistake as GM, as he gave up the best player in the deal (Long) and received two players who were in serious decline.

While the final field results make 1957 look like a lost season, Brown made one move which caused fans to have optimism for '58. On August 3, he fired Bragan and replaced him with interim manager Danny Murtaugh. Murtaugh took the 36-67 ballclub and guided them to a 26-25 record the rest of the way. After the pitching staff blossomed under Murtaugh, Brown removed the interim tag in late September.

After 1957, the Pirates had suffered nine straight losing seasons. Yet there was much optimism that Murtaugh could coax a better performance in '58 out of his talented and young club. In an upcoming post I will finish examining how Brown's moves as GM led to the 1960 World Championship.

August 16, 2010

Taillon Signed

Three hours before the midnight deadline to sign draft picks - and as I told you a few days ago would happen - the Pirates have signed first round draft pick Jameson Taillon.

Taillon throws a mid-90s fastball with great movement and also has a good curveball among his secondary pitches. He immediately becomes the top prospect in the system, although with the late signing it's unlikely that he'll pitch in the minors this year.

Still nothing official on second round pick Stetson Allie, another fireballer who profiles as a closer with a high 90s fastball and high 80s slider. The Post-Gazette is reporting that a deal is close. Allie was expected to go much higher than he did so if he signs as expected, this looks like a great 2010 draft for your Pirates.

There's no word on the amount of the contract. Third overall pick Manny Machado is looking like he might not sign with the Orioles, so the Pirates really dodged a bullet by picking Taillon over him.

UPDATE: Allie has signed as well. Great news obviously. He has the hardest fastball in the draft and gets bonus points for being from St. Ed's H.S. The Pirates have announced this one but they haven't announced Taillon yet.

UPDATE: Allie got a $2.25 million signing bonus. Taillon signed for just over $6 million. I expected Taillon to get around $7 million so this is a win for the Pirates.

UPDATE: Both pitchers were signed to minor league deals meaning no one needs to be dropped from the 40-man roster. This was said to be a sticking point in the Taillon negotiations, although the Pirates hardly can be said to have a crowded 40-man roster when the likes of Aki Iwamura, Wil Ledezma and Dan McCutchen are all taking up spots.

Series Preview: Florida Marlins

The Marlins make their only visit of the year to PNC Park, and you can start getting excited because it's a four game series. Florida has already fired their manager this year, recently traded free-agent-corner-infielder-who-can't-field Jorge Cantu, ranks 16th of 16 National League teams in attendance despite playing in a big market, yet has a heartwarming 57-59 record. "What a great small market success story," said Dave Littlefield.

The Marlins offense is led by Dan Uggla (.286/.375/.523) and Hanley Ramirez (.287/.368/.457 and having the worst year of his career). Right fielder Mike Stanton (.275/.346/.459) has 14 home runs through 56 games and catcher Ronny Paulino (.256/.309/.351) incredibly is an everyday player for an MLB team. Paulino is still wondering when he gets to marry a hot beach volleyball player in the great tradition of mediocre Marlins catchers...

Florida Marlins - Monday 7:05, Tuesday 7:05, Wednesday 7:05, Thursday 7:05
Tonighr the Marlins' Chris Volstad (6-8, 3.74) faces Pittsburgh's John McDonald (1-2, 5.40). After a great debut McDonald was roughed up a little as he didn't make it out of the fifth inning against San Diego in his second Pirates start. But the peripheral numbers were good as he walked one and struck out six. Chris Volstad is a professional baseball player which means the 2010 Pirates could struggle to hit him. My pick is the Pirates.

Tuesday, Ricky Nolasco (13-8, 4.29) faces Zach Duke (5-11, 5.20). If Bud Norris can strike out 14 Pirates, Nolasco should be good for at least 28. I feel like something free should be given away at this game, but no such luck. My pick is the Pirates.

Wednesday, in the best a/k/a "only good" pitching matchup this week, Josh Johnson (10-5, 2.27) gets the ball for the Marlins against Ross Ohlendorf (1-9, 3.95). Ross the Boss has a 2.17 ERA in his last nine appearances during which he also has one win. He's even started striking guys out. Going to the game to watch the opposing team's overpowering All-Star pitcher usualy results in seeing a 7-1 Pirates loss; nevertheless my pick is the Pirates.

Thursday, the Marlins go with Sean West (0-2, 7.71) who has pulled off the near impossible task of starting 22 major league games without me ever having heard of him. He only has one good pitch, a slider, but is 6'8" and lefthanded. Paul Maholm (7-11, 4.86) is due for a shutout. My pick is the Pirates.

August 15, 2010

Should Kawakami Be A Pirate?

Kenshin Kawakami won 112 games with a 3.22 ERA in Japan's Central League. He was one of the highest profile free agents of 2008-09, finally signing a three-year, $25 million deal with the Braves.

Now less than two seasons later, Kawakami has fallen out of favor to the point where he's in the minors. Yet while the Braves apparently see him as dead weight, he's actually pitched pretty well in both of his MLB seasons.

In two years as a major league starter, Kenshin Kawakami has a 4.17 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. Per nine innings he's allowed 9.2 hits, 3.1 walks and 0.9 home runs while striking out 6.1. He's done this in the NL East which is a much more difficult division for pitchers than the NL Central.

Kawakami's fastball tops out in the low 90s but he has five pitches including an excellent cut fastball, a slow curve, a sinker and a split-fingered fastball. If he was left-handed he would be celebrated as "crafty" but since he's right-handed he's sent to the minors for not having "stuff".

Overall, Kawakami profiles as a league average or slightly better starter. By no means is he a legit ace, but he's better than every one of the 11 pitchers who the Pirates have trotted out to the mound to start games this year.

If the Pirates traded a nothing prospect for Kawakami, essentially they would get him on a one-year deal for $6.7 million. He's better than anyone they could get at that price - consider the three year, $24 million deal awarded to Joe Blanton (!).

Clearly, the Braves don't want to be in a position much longer of paying Kawakami $7 million a year to pitch for AAA Gwinnett County. They might be willing to send money in a deal. Oh, hope of hopes, they might even take Ryan Doumit for Kawakami if they see it as a swap of a couple of bad contracts. It's worth a shot...

Has Lastings Milledge Lost His Job?

When the Pirates traded for Lastings Milledge, clearly they hoped he would be part of their young core going forward. That hasn't materialized.

Milledge started 85 of the first 110 games in the outfield. Of course nothing was announced about Milledge losing his job but of the past six games, he started only two.

All season, Milledge has run the bases basically like a guy who has never watched a baseball game much less played in one. Friday night he failed to advance to second on a wild pitch, which directly led to a game ending double play. Then before Saturday's game, Tony Beasley announced that all players would be expected to practice baserunning during batting practice every day, and Milledge was back out of the lineup. The reason is a bit transparent.

Maybe mistakes like this could be forgiven in exchange for the benefit a big bat, but Milledge is a corner outfielder who has three home runs all year along with a .371 slugging percentage and a .331 on base percentage.

Overall, nothing in the Pirates' recent actions suggests that Milledge is the right fielder for the rest of 2010 or 2011 much less the future. Apart from simply using his backup Delwyn Young, they also have moved Garrett Jones back to right field twice this week, taught the position to Ryan Doumit, and traded for yet another player who can play right field, John Bowker (who is raking in AAA).

Options for the spot in 2011 are as follows:

1. A free agent signing;
2. A trade (unlikely unless Joel Hanrahan or Evan Meek is moved);
3. Giving Milledge the job again;
4. An utter crapfest spring training competition between Milledge, Bowker, Doumit, Young and Clement for the last starting lineup spot.

I would prefer option 1 but considering how things tend to go in these parts, option 4 looks damn likely.

August 14, 2010

Meek Left In To Blow Game After Injury

I have rarely criticized John Russell's managing decisions on this site. Nor have I really even written that much about individual games. The only non-depressing story this year is one of player development and the arrival of a new core of young players.

Yet, Russell made a decision last night that is not defensible.

For those of you who missed the game: The Pirates got a great start out of Ross Ohlendorf, 6.2 scoreless innings, and led Houston 1-0 entering the bottom of the eighth. Set-up man Evan Meek came on to pitch the inning.

Michael Bourn led off and grounded to Garrett Jones, who threw to Meek covering first for the out. Meek apparently hurt himself somehow covering first and as he got ready to pitch to the next batter, Angel Sanchez, was clearly favoring his right leg.

Now, presumably John Russell as well as trainer Brad Henderson are watching the action on the field. Once a player appears hurt in any way it is the manager's job to send the trainer out to take a look at him. This stuff is elementary. Instead J.R. did nothing and Sanchez worked a 3-2 count, then singled to right.

OK, so J.R. thought this was something Meek could shake off - but how do you know that without sending the trainer out? What is the point of paying to fly a trainer to Houston if you don't use him?

The next batter, Hunter Pence, went to a 3-0 count with none of the pitches being really close. Meek's foot was clearly affecting his follow-through and therefore his command on the mound. Catcher Chris Snyder visited the mound at that point, but Pence walked on a 3-1 pitch.

Clearly it was time now to take Meek out of the game. I said it at the time but anyone would have known it. Either Meek is hurt, or he just doesn't have it today. Regardless, you can send the trainer out, remove him from the game and have Joel Hanrahan come on for the final five outs after getting an unlimited time to warm up. You can't screw around in a 1-0 game.

Instead, pitching coach Ray Searage went out to the mound sans trainer. Meek pitched to the next batter, Carlos Lee, who hit a three-run homer to left for the 3-1 lead which effectively iced the game.

It's true that Meek never summoned the trainer, but at the point he looks hurt at all you send him out. If pitchers were allowed to decide themselves whether they stayed in the game, each team would go to their bullpen approximately zero times a year. I suspect this is the reason why throughout basbeall history, to my knowledge a pitcher was never a player-manager.

The next batter, Geoff Blum, lined a single to right. Now the Pirates started warming up another reliever, Wil Ledezma. While Ledezma was getting ready, Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace singled, the latter hit scoring Blum to make it 4-1. Ledezma came in at that point and got out of the inning with no further damage, but the game was already lost.

All this happened while the Pirates had five men available in the bullpen. I really don't see the point of leaving an injured player in a baseball game in most situations. No matter how minor the injury, it has to affect performance somewhat. Almost any healthy player has to be better. Furthermore it is a 162 game season and there are very few injuries that can adequately be diagnosed, using no equipment, immediately after they occur.

Maybe the injury was nothing. I suspect it subsided in fifteen minutes. But even on Meek's follow through on the home run ball it was apparent that his leg was affected to some extent.

Evan Meek looks like he blew the game in the box score, but I blame this one at least half on the manager. Meek should have been removed - at the latest - when it was 1-0 with two men on and one out. Against a weak lineup with his stuff, Hanrahan would have had at least a 50/50 shot at closing it out from there.

Pirates WFC Twitter Is Up

As a modern and progressive blog, at this point I really had no choice but to get an associated Twitter account.

Now, the main drawback to this is that I have nothing to post. Yet, a quick examination of this monstrosity of a medium reveals that 98% of Twitter users are in the same boat. This doesn't stop them from posting so why should it stop me? We're talking about a service which includes, among other things, a Fake Charlie Morton site. And a Fake Andy LaRoche. You should be legitimately scared.

A link to the Twitter site, www.twitter.com/pirateswfc, is now on the right sidebar.

August 13, 2010

Series Preview: Houston Astros

The Pirates finish their road trip with a three game set in Houston. Obviously, this is a barnburner of a series that features the 15th and 16th best offenses in the National League. At 48-65 the Astros are good enough to be out of the running for the top draft pick, yet bad enough to be playing out the string.

I read on one site that asking a girl to go to the Pirates-Astros game is a good way to tell if she likes you because there's no other way she would go. Hmm, I've been to Pirates-Astros games with a lot of girls so I guess I should have put out.

After iconic Astros Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt were dumped two weeks ago at the non-waiver deadline, Houston has an even less interesting team than before. I know, I know. Rookie Chris Johnson (.361/.388/.548) has been on fire since his recent call-up while Carlos Lee (.248/.295/.401) recently was named worst player in baseball by one blog I read.

Houston Astros - Friday 8:05, Saturday 7:05, Sunday 2:05
Tonight Ross Ohlendorf (1-9, 4.23) faces Brett Myers (8-7, 3.21). Myers was recently signed to an extension and will be the Astros ace through at least 2012. Ohlendorf has only given up 11 runs over his last eight starts and as an added bonus, is the only pitcher in this matchup who never got arrested for publicly assaulting his wife in Boston. My pick is the Pirates.

Saturday, Nelson Figueroa (3-1, 3.38) faces Paul Maholm (7-10, 4.90). Figueroa has exclusively been a reliever so far for Houston, but since it was too hot to go outside, Astros manager Brad Mills was chatting about the Astros with his eHarmony matches and "Angela" informed him that Figueroa has a 1.07 WHIP this season. So he gets his first start here against Maholm, who needs a good finish to end the season with respectable numbers. Maholm always bounces back after a 7+ run start so my pick is the Pirates.

Sunday, Jeff Karstens (2-8, 4.39) faces Bud Norris (4-7, 5.63). Bud Norris is one of those guys who you think should get it together due to his K rate (over a batter an inning) but never can because he's awful. He gave up seven runs on the way to a 12-6 loss last month at PNC Park. My pick is the Pirates.

No Reason To Trust Taillon Rumors

As you probably know, the Pirates used their #2 overall pick this year on pitcher Jameson Taillon. There are no guarantees in baseball but I'd wager money on the future success of a 6'7" high school pitcher whose fastball has been clocked at 99 mph and who once threw a 19-strikeout no-hitter.

How An Internet Rumor Starts
With the August 16 deadline to sign draft picks approaching, Pirates fans are understandably anxious to see Taillon ink a contract. So anxious, apparently, that an unconfirmed Twitter report based on no information has caused multiple sources to report that Taillon has already been signed.

The Twitter post which started the rumor is this: "Word is that the #Pirates already have a deal in place for Jameson Taillon and are just waiting to announce it."

This was posted by "Houston 5A baseball" - which sounds like and has been reported to be the official Twitter of the league Taillon played in, but is actually an independent site that apparently covers high school baseball in Houston. A bunch of people have re-tweeted it and it also inspired many blog posts, so the information now appears to have been posted by many different sources.

One would think that if a baseball news site had enough information to break a story on the signing of the #2 overall draft pick, that story would be, you know, on the site. Yet at the H5AB Twitter page's associated site h5ab.com this supposed story was not enough to bump the news of "H5AB CHAMPIONSHIP TOURNAMENT T-SHIRTS STILL AVAILABLE."

Besides being a guy who writes a Pirate blog under the initials "B.S.", I also have actual journalism experience. Not much, but enough that a business owner once called me and said "I'll sue you and your backwater rag" and Cindy Sheehan publicly called me "the mainstream media." And this experience tells me that H5AB's Twitter is not exactly a "reputable news source."

Futhermore, I see no reason why the Pirates would not announce the signing if a deal were actually in place. Your Pirates currently have their worst winning percentage since 1953 and are universally criticized in this city for not spending enough money on the team. I think the Pirates are about as likely to secretly be making multimillion dollar signings as British Petroleum is to be secretly rescuing small children from a burning building.

Why Taillon Will Sign
Now, none of this is meant to suggest that Taillon will not sign with the Pirates. He will. He has a scholarship offer to Rice University, which is a great option for pretty much anyone except the guy whose alternative is to take around $7.5 million to play baseball professionally. His agents are working on a commission basis and stand to make around $375,000 from the deal, or of course they could take zero. Neil Huntington could either add a future ace to his minor league system or get fired for blowing the 2010 draft.

Clearly, there is too much at stake for this deal not to get done. And once it is done, of course it will look like this rumor was correct. But I won't believe Taillon is signed until he's, wait for it, signed.

August 12, 2010

Overusing Evan Meek?

Evan Meek entered tonight's game having thrown 63.1 innings in relief, third most in the National League behind Tyler Clippard and Matt Belisle. His overall numbers still look great (1.56 ERA, 0.93 WHIP) but Meek looks to me to be showing some signs of fatigue. After walking 16 batters in the first four months, he's already walked six in five innings so far in August.

To John Russell's credit, despite a depleted relief corps he has called on Meek in only four of 12 games since the trade deadline. Unlike some managers J.R. also is good about not warming up guys who then don't appear in the game. Yet I wonder if Meek's usage needs to be decreased even more going forward.

In his first three years since being converted to a reliever for the 2007 season, Meek appeared in 44, 42, and 47 games out of the bullpen in the last three years throwing 67, 70, and 56 innings. At his current rate of usage he'll appear in 74 games and throw 90 innings in 2010. These are all high leverage innings.

Also, anyone who has watched a game can observe that Meek is clearly a high effort guy on the mound. When watching his 50-pitch outing against the Reds I was reminded of the faces I saw earlier this year when I watched some of the Pittsburgh Marathon at mile 22. Except that during the marathon it was actually raining while our All-Star reliever was just sweating.

I would be fine with this pattern of usage during a pennant race, but we're approaching the level of use that can have negative effects the following year. Basically, 74 game guys usually throw 60-65 innings and 90 inning guys usually appear in only 55-60 games. Pitching is an unnatural motion and everyone will get an arm injury after some number of pitches. No one knows what that number is for any individual pitcher, but the combination of appearing in every other game and often appearing for multiple innings can only increase the chances of arm injuries going forward.

Meek is a valuable asset who is under club control for four more years, and throwing him for another 27 innings has zero chance of resulting in anything other than a last place finish this season. Once September call-ups arrive I would like to see his usage drastically cut back to a point where he throws only 80 innings this year.

August 11, 2010

Minor League Pennant Races Take Shape

Most of us in major league cities think about the minor leagues only in terms of player development. Rest assured that the players, managers and coaching staff in the minors don't think this way. These guys want to win championships no matter what the level. There's a reason every league holds playoffs and crowns a champion; this is what guys have been playing for all season.

From a player development standpoint, a championship run gets guys appearances in more of a pressure environment and helps players to develop an expectation of winning which will be helpful later in their career. And honestly, who among us hasn't sent down their star major leaguers in MVP Baseball 2005 to the Eastern League to win a coveted AA championship, only to find that ending a season in AA makes them retire?

Minor league seasons end on Labor Day so we can judge by now which teams are in or out of a pennant race. Here's a rundown on the top three teams' chances and their best performers this year.

AAA Indianapolis Indians
The Indians are 59-59, third in the International League's four-team Western Division. They're 7.5 games back of wild card leader Louisville (Reds) and would have to pass three other teams as well. They're also nine games behind Columbus (Indians) in the division and would have to pass both Columbus and Louisville to finish first. With 26 games to go the playoffs are looking highly unlikely.

There's not much to see here on the pitching side, but Indianapolis has had a good hitting club all year. Brandon Moss (.272/.335/.481) leads the I-Tribe in almost every offensive category. Akinori Iwamura (.275/.422/.412) has hit well in Indy, so well that I predict a pinch hitting role in September. Erik Kratz (.297/.397/.547) is the regular catcher again and John Bowker (.500/.538/.792) has been on fire in his seven games.

AA Altoona Curve
The Curve is 66-49 and in first place in the Eastern League's Western Division. They're three games ahead of Bowie (Orioles), but the top two teams in each division make the playoffs so the key number is the 5.5 games by which they lead Harrisburg (Nationals). With 28 games to go nothing is assured, but this is mostly the same group that won the Carolina League last year so they are playoff tough. The EL playoffs start September 8 and consist of two best-of-five series.

The Curve has a strong pitching staff led by Rudy Owens (9-6, 2.74) and Justin Wilson (9-6, 3.35). Jeff Locke (1-1, 3.54) has done well since his call up from Bradenton. On the offensive side, outfielder Matt Hague (.300/.381/.454) has been solid all year and should get to 90 runs and RBI. Catcher Hector Giminez (.311/.396/.548) leads the team with 14 home runs and new outfielder Andrew Lambo (.406/.472/.594) has obviously been great in his first eight games.

A Bradenton Marauders
In their first season the Marauders are 61-51, 22-20 in the second half, and in second place in the Florida State League's South Division. Under the primitive first half/second half system Bradenton can clinch the playoffs by overcoming their one game deficit to Palm Beach (Cardinals). It would be quite impressive if they do so because Bradenton should have had their hopes dashed by their huge number of injuries. The FSL plays a best-of-three semifinal round followed by a best-of-five final series.

The Maurauders lost most of their bats to injury in midsummer, but should get shortstop Brock Holt (.351/.410/.438) back this month to provide a big lift down the stretch. Third baseman Jeremy Farrell (.289/.357/.500) just turned yesterday and outfielder Starling Marte (.292/.394/.383) returned a week ago. Catcher Eric Fryer (.287/.384/.495) has played well in Tony Sanchez's absence. Even without Sanchez, Bradenton will have easily the best lineup in the pitcher-dominated FSL once Holt returns. With Locke and Bryan Morris promoted to Altoona, Nathan Adcock (8-7, 3.70) leads the starting staff and Noah Krol (27 saves) anchors the bullpen.

We're A Real .com

I invested $9.50 into a domain name so typing pirateswfc.com or www.pirateswfc.com will now take you to this very page. I wish this was 1999 and I could issue an IPO based on having a web site and no product and make lots of money while also harboring a reasonable hope of a second New Radicals album being released one day.

The blogspot address will still work. At some point I might move to a real host which would remove the blogspot title bar, but this thing is becoming a real money pit with $24.50 invested already this year. If that happens though, I will set the blogger address to redirect so both addresses should always work.

Pirates Within Half Game of Orioles

In a Bizarro 1979 World Series-like competition, the Pirates have inched to within a half game of the Orioles for worst record in baseball.

Since hiring veteran manager Buck Showalter the Orioles have gone on a 7-1 tear. The Orioles' 14-8 win over Cleveland yesterday ran their record to 39-74. Your Pittsburgh Pirates are 39-73. The prize, of course, is the #1 draft pick. The presumptive top pick is Anthony Rendon, a third baseman from Rice University. Rendon hit .394/.530/.801 this year, averaging more than one walk, run scored and RBI per game in his sophomore season.

Judging by run differential the Orioles look like the better team going forward. The Orioles have scored 424 runs and allowed 605. The Pirates have scored 391 and allowed 606. In another interesting fact, a real oriole looks just like the Orioles logo.A major detriment for the O's in this race, in addition to their new manager, is that their team is mostly intact. They were only able to move one useful piece at the deadline, lefthanded reliever Will Ohman. This leaves them with more than two reliable relievers, which must be nice. Miguel Tejada was traded as well but he was hitting .269/.308/.362 with poor defense so that one is addition by subtraction. In fact the return of Brian Roberts and Mike Gonalez from injury makes the current Orioles the strongest they have been all season. Apart from using Corey Patterson as their DH, the Orioles fielded a pretty credible lineup last night.

Of course, don't count Baltimore out yet. Their starting rotation consists of Jeremy Guthrie (4.04 ERA), Brian Matusz (5.08), Jake Arrieta (5.29), Kevin Millwood (5.84) and (6.26). This is if no one gets hurt; presumably they would have to use the ghost of Sidney Ponson if one of those guys goes down. I actually think the Pirates rotation is far superior. The Orioles also have 37 games left against teams with winning records. It's going to take drastic measures for the Pirates to lose this race, like starting Andy LaRoche at first base and deploying Wil Ledezma as a high leverage late inning reliever. Oh wait, that happened last night.

Another dark horse is 28th place Seattle, whose 44-70 record includes an 8-3 mark by the departed Cliff Lee. They still have three decent starting pitchers but their lineup is almost comically bad - so bad that Ichiro Suzuki has reached base 183 times out of the leadoff spot and only has 45 runs. But like the Orioles they are winning rather than seizing the opportunity for the draft pick. The M's won three straight and go for four this afternoon against Oakland.

August 10, 2010

Series Preview: San Diego Padres

The Pirates make their only trip to San Diego for three games this week. Actually they've already made the trip, making the tense of that sentence horribly incorrect. The Padres are 64-46 and in first place but have lost six of ten. With their lead over the Giants trimmed to 1.5 games, San Diego has to be looking at this Pirates series like a suburb named after two Spanish words and that is something San Diego likes.

Since their series at PNC Park San Diego has added a couple of players via trade. Ryan Ludwick (.272/.334/.460) is now batting cleanup behind MVP candidate Adrian Gonzalez (.293/.387/.509). Miguel Tejada (.267/.306/.361) is now their #2 hitter which is a brilliant acquisition, assuming he can play shortstop ahead of Khalil Greene for the 2005 Padres. San Diego has the best team ERA in baseball at 3.30 which is worrisome since the Pirates aren't that good at hitting pitching.

San Diego Padres - Tuesday 10:05, Wednesday 10:05, Thursday 6:35
Tonight the Padres go with lefthander Wade LeBlanc (5-10, 3.61) against the Pirates' Jeff Karstens (2-7, 4.47). These guys are the masters of keeping their teams in games which are ultimately lost, but someone has to win. Andy LaRoche is playing first base, his brother's old position, which should bring a tear to many an eye. My pick is the Pirates.

Wednesday, James McDonald (1-1, 4.61) makes his second Pittsburgh start against Kevin Correia (8-7, 4.81). McDonald looked great against the Rockies and it is nice to have a strikeout pitcher in the rotation. Correia is the Padres' only pitcher with an ERA above 4.00 and still would be the ace of the Pirates staff. My pick is the Pirates.

Thursday, the Pirates' Zach Duke (5-10, 5.32) hopes to turn his season around against Jon Garland (10-8, 3.55). This is also a day game after a night game so that means Ryan Doumit will be behind the plate trying to shut down the #2 ranked running game in the league. Duke has a 6.50 ERA in away games. Garland has a 2.69 ERA at home. I have heard of regression to the mean and my pick is the Pirates.

August 9, 2010

Reaction to Kerrigan, Varsho Firings

The first shots were fired at Pirates management before Sunday's game as pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and bench coach Gary Varsho were both relieved of their duties.

In a Warren Commissionesque move, everyone involved claimed that this was John Russell's decision acting alone. Forgive me, but if defensive positioning for specific batters is being dictated from above, I find it hard to believe that hiring and firing of key personnel is 100% delegated. It's also worth pointing out that the typical sequence is pitching/hitting coach fired, manager fired, GM fired.

Varsho Should Have Stuck To Pinch Hitting
Whoever made the decision, Varsho's firing is no surprise since he clearly had personality conflicts with members of the team. Journalist extraordinaire John Perrotto quotes a source as saying Varsho was "too outspoken and confrontational." That is some crack journalism indeed. Could the "source" be "anyone who was listening to the radio broadcast when Varsho had to be physically restrained from coming to blows with Lastings Milledge during a game against the Rangers?" Varsho also didn't get along with Ronny Cedeno. Now these aren't core players by any means, but they're more important than Varsho. Bench coach is a rather bullshit job to start with and it seems like you would keep it by NOT physically fighting with players.

Kerrigan Can't Recapture Red Sox Magic
Kerrigan is a bigger story both because of his more important role and because he came here with some pedigree. Although it is popular to say that there isn't much coaching one can still do at the major league level, clearly there are a few pitching coaches who cause major improvements in many pitchers. Dave Duncan in St. Louis and Leo Mazzone in Atlanta come to mind. Joe Kerrigan, too, was once considered in that class. After finishing last in ERA in 1997, in 1998 his Red Sox pitching staff had the second best ERA in the American League; Kerrigan was credited with resurrecting the careers of guys like Bret Saberhagen and Tom Gordon. The Sox ranked first in ERA in 1999 and 2000, again with Kerrigan as their pitching coach. He was promoted to manager, went 17-26 and was out of Boston after a quarter season, but no one thought at that point that he couldn't perform as pitching coach.

His next job was with the Phillies in 2003 and 2004. He apparently did a solid job in 2003 when he got 14 or more wins out of starters Kevin Millwood, Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla and Brett Myers. The Phillies finished a respectable seventh in ERA. All four of those declined in 2004, Philadelphia finished 13th in ERA and Kerrigan was out.

In Pittsburgh the story was even worse. In this, his second season as pitching coach, Kerrigan's staff ranked 15th in the National League with a 5.08 team ERA at the time he was fired. Last year the Pirates ranked 14th with a 4.59. Evan Meek is the only pitcher who really blossomed during Kerrigan's tenure. Many more have regressed including guys like Charlie Morton, Kevin Hart, and to a lesser extent Paul Maholm. I can't recall any stories of Kerrigan teaching guys new pitches or really being credited with much of anything.

It is doubtful that any pitching coach could keep his job after ranking 14th and 15th in team ERA, but Kerrigan is also rumored to have had personality conflicts with some Pirates pitchers. Phillies pitchers openly said they didn't like working with Kerrigan during his tenure there from 2003-04; Pirates pitchers are not very outspoken but the midseason firing suggests possibly the same type of thing was going on here. Also after flaming out in Pittsburgh, one wonders if Kerrigan will get another MLB pitching coach job.

In any event, his replacement Ray Searage by all accounts has an agreeable personality and already has developed a good rapport with the staff as bullpen coach. Searage carries an interim tag but has widely been considered the pitching coach of the future. He served as a minor league pitching coach for the last seven years, experience that could be helpful with the Pirates' young staff.

August 8, 2010

With Real Crowds, A Real Team

The Pirates continued their run of last night of big games before a big crowd. They're 7-3 this season before crowds of 30,000 or more.

The Pirates are now averaging 20,561 fans a night, 23rd in baseball. It's not a great total by any means, but we're ahead of a few notable teams: The Tampa Bay Rays, owners of the best record in baseball at 67-43. The second place Oakland A's. The Cleveland Indians, who sold out 455 straight games when they had a good team. And the Toronto Blue Jays, who not only have a winning record but lead baseball in home runs. Attendance in Pittsburgh has increased despite a worse record than last year.Performing well before these big crowds should help to keep fans coming back to the park. Here's a full list of what the 30,000+ crowds have seen:

39,024 - April 5 - On Opening Day, Pirates win 12-5 behind three home runs including two from Garrett Jones.

31,061 - April 7 - Pirates bullpen pitches five shutout innings preserving a 3-3 tie into the tenth. Pirates load the bases with one out; Ronny Cedeno hits a line drive to right center scoring Lastings Milledge to beat the Dodgers 4-3.

36,687 - June 5 - Andrew McCutchen homers and goes 4-for-5; Ryan Doumit homers and drives in four; Pirates beat Giants 6-3.

38,008 - June 19 - McCutchen gets on base five times scoring four runs; Milledge gets three hits and drives in four; Pirates beat Indians 6-4.

30,339 - July 2 - Ross Ohlendorf pitches seven shutout innings, striking out eight to beat the Phillies 2-0.

38,052 - July 3 - Pedro Alvarez hits his first career home run but Paul Maholm gets lit up for eight runs as the Pirates get blown out by the Phillies 12-4.

36,665 - July 17 - In a balanced and strong attack, seven players get more than one hit as the Pirates overcome a four-run Astros second inning for a 12-6 blowout win.

36,967 - July 24 - Pirates lead 2-1 through five but Padres get two big innings for a 9-2 win.

30,711 - August 6 - Alvarez's three-run homer is not enough; bullpen allows three late runs for a 6-3 loss to the Rockies.

38,147 - August 7 - Chris Snyder hits a three-run homer helping the Pirates to a 5-2 lead through eight. Todd Helton ties it in the ninth on a three-run homer of his own. The Rockies push two across in the top of the tenth but Pedro Alvarez hits a walk-off three run homer to defeat the Rockies 8-7.

It's time to get on board now. When Pittsburgh wins the 2011 WFC, you want to be able to say you were a true Pirate fan when they were in last place.