Saturday, July 7, 2007

I'm here to argue. Most will not see this, since I am not a regular blogger (due to limited internet access) like Pat, Andrew, Charlie, or Cory, but that's alright, I'll just ramble anyways.

Most folks seem to be in agreement that, while imperfect (since judging someone by one criteria generally is), OPS is as good a tool as any when attempting to judge a hitter's abilities and status as a prospect.

If you take a look at the International League stats, you can see that Pirate SS Brian Bixler is currently 15th in OPS in the league. Not too shabby. That improves to 7th if you remove all the players who are old enough to be borderline prospects/bench players at best (aka players who are at least as old as me).

Of the six players listed above Bixler, half of them have already been promoted to the big leagues, and two of them [Josh Fields (3B, CHA) and Ben Fransisco (OF, CLE)] are not coming back. Another, Cincinnati Reds 1B Joey Votto, is soon to follow if the Reds do as they should and begin prepping for next season.

The other guys are, like Bixler, blocked by someone at their current position on the big league club: all three are outfielders who are stuck behind the likes of Manny Ramirez, Magglio Ordonez, and Carl Crawford among others.

Bixler? He's stuck behind the world-reknowned Jack Wilson. Jacko is on fire. He is hitting .290 with a .759 OPS since Memorial day. Unfortunately, Jack was so atrocious at the plate for the first two months that this streak has only brought him up to a .262 average and .685 OPS for the season. No, it wasn't even a bad two months, because Wilson was hitting .288 with a .723 OPS as of the Pirates' first off day in May (the 7th). Wilson then hit an 11-65 skid where the only bright spot was a 3-3 night against Atlanta. Outside of that slump, he's been a .289 hitter this season.

I'll forgive Jack a slump, and I perhaps have been overly harsh towards him, but even at his best, he's a Brian Bixler clone who is five years older and about five million dollars more expensive. Call me crazy for wanting the Pirates to shop him like mad and give the SS job to Bixler as of August 1st.

There's more dragging of the feet by the Pirates beyond Bixler, I'm afraid. Here are two lines for you:

LOU INT .315 83 11 50 50 66 .412 .482 .894
ALT EAS .330 63 11 51 25 36 .397 .588 .985

The second line is, obviously, what Steven Pearce has done since being promoted to Altoona. The line above him is the one posted at AAA Louisville by the aforementioned Votto. The only other difference between the two is that Pearce is 24 this season, and Votto will be 24 at the end of the season. If Votto's numbers are good enough for him to be surrounded by "when will he arrive in Cincinnati" buzz, why isn't a more impressive line by Pearce grounds for a promotion to Indianapolis.

Alright, maybe it's "only" equally impressive, considering the difference in levels, but still...

I think Neil Walker has a similar beef. He isn't quite hitting like Pearce (who is top 5 in avg, OBP, SLG, OPS, HR, and RBI, by the way), but he is definitely one of the ten best hitters in the league right now (again, adjusting for all the older, filler guys).

On the one hand, I look and see "by god, he's committed 19 errors in 82 games at third base" which leads me to think "no wonder he hasn't been promoted.

On the other hand, look at B.J. Upton. He committed scads of errors (50+ in both of his full minor league seasons) but kept getting promoted because he was hitting like crazy. He is now in the big leagues full-time, and he has 13 errors in 50 games as a 3B last year, moved to 2B, and had 12 errors in 48 games when he hit the DL.

Tampa Bay figured out that his bat was too valuable to let it get stale while he figured out the defense, can't the Pirates do the same?

Maybe the CEO change will bring about fresh air, and perspective, but one can't assume too much.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Big our throats

We'll come home from New York tomorrow and get an off day to try and swallow that large fruit before we choke to death on it. The Bucs will then venture into a six game series against the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox. If the Pirates can't manage to go at least .500 in those six games, it will prove...well, it will prove that they suck, which we already know. Seriously though, if you can't beat Texas, who can you beat? A look at the upcoming homestand, for those masochists out there:

Texas at a glance:

This team is truly inept. Every starter in the rotation has an ERA over 6.00 and a WHIP of at least 1.55. That's a lot of legs running the bases. Texas pitchers have given up at least five runs in 40 games this season, including 14 of the last 16. Snell and Gorzelanny will pitch games two and three, and they have more quality starts this season than the entire Texas team.

As far as hitting goes, they have Mark Teixeira, Sammy Sosa...and their third best hitter is either Gerald Laird or Ian Kinsler, who hit nine home runs in the first three weeks of the season and is hitting .200 since. Sosa, Teixeira, and Laird are also the only three players hitting well (.750 OPS and .270 AVG or better) on the road.

The Rangers played our mirror image, Houston, in the first round of interleague play, and won two of three, though Brandon McCarthy pitched (who we wont see) and a pre-implosion Robinson Tejada pitched as well (I'll explain that later). This is exactly the kind of series where we could win all three 30-3, lose all three 30-3, or anything in between.

Tuesday: Zach Duke vs. Kevin Millwood

Duke has been pretty damn awful this season, and his numbers are still better than at least 2/5ths of the Texas rotation. Millwood started the rather mediocre fashion (5.88 ERA, 1.73WHIP, 26:15 K/BB in 33.2 IP) before going on the DL at the end of April. He came back in mid-May and got tagged for two innings before going back on the DL. In two starts since returning, Millwood has been even worse (8.2IP, 19H, 14R, 11ER, 3HR, 4BB, 7K).

Wednesday: Ian Snell vs. Kameron Loe

I really don't need to go on about Snell. He's been pretty effing good all year. Kameron with a K has been the Anti-Snell. He was moved to the from the bullpen to the rotation three weeks into the season and has been bad across the board (53.2IP, 72H, 50R, 46ER, 8HR, 18BB, 30K, 7.72 ERA, 1.68 WHIP). There's really no details to give - he isn't fooling anybody.

Thursday: Tom Gorzelanny vs. Robinson Tejada
Gorzelanny has probably been left in too long in his last two starts, laboring in the 7th inning (mostly due to also laboring in the first inning). In spite of that, his numbers are still top notch, and against a relatively thin lineup like this one, he should be able to succeed. Tejada has been a very strange case. Observe this split of his performance:

1st 6 starts: 3-2, 3.89 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7HR, 27K, 10BB in 37 innings
2nd 6 starts: 2-4, 9.99 ERA, 2.04 WHIP, 6HR, 21K, 20BB in 27 innings

Is this the league catching up with him? It certainly would seem that way. Further evidence to support that claim: he has faced two teams twice this season, the Yankees and Athletics. He has done as follows:

1st outings: 12.2 IP, 15H, 6R, 6ER, 2HR, 1BB, 12K
2nd outings: 6.2 IP, 10H, 11R, 11ER, 2HR, 7BB, 1K

Looks like he fools hitters at first, but not for long.

On the other hand, Millwood still strikes batters out,and any pitcher who can fool hitters at all usually has some success against us. So who knows?

Chicago at a glance:

The White Sox aren't very different than us, either. The Sox were 24-20 when they had a game rained out against Tampa on May 26th. Since then, they are 2-12 and have been outscored 86-37 in that span (1-7, 47-23 in their last eight). Chicago's worst starter has been John Danks, who has posted a 4.38 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, and a 44:26 K/BB ratio in 61 innings.

So it must be Chicago's hitting that is crap, right? You guessed it. Jim Thome is the only regular starter with an OPS above .725, with an overall OPS above one, but only .837 in 18 games since coming off the DL.

The Sox have 10 players with at least 100 at-bats. Two of them, Darin Erstad and Joe Crede, are on the DL and will not play against the Pirates (though neither was doing particularly well anyways, posting OPS's of .652 and .576, respectively). Their replacements are Jerry Owens, Chicago's very own Chris Duffy, and Josh Fields, the stud 3B who was being blocked by Crede. Fields hit .283 with 10 HR, 37 RBI, and an .891 OPS in 56 games before being called up Thursday. We'll see how quickly he adjusts in the bigs.

The other eight? Tad Iguchi extended his hit streak to 10 games today and is hitting .381 in that span, and Thome now has a seven game streak where he is hitting .320. During that same 10 game span, Konerko is the only other starter hitting better than .250. Rob Mackowiak is their leadoff hitter, fer chrissakes.

Basically: Owens=Duffy, Uribe=Wilson, Konerko=LaRoche, Pierzynski=Paulino (with better D), Iguchi=Sanchez circa '06, Dye=Nady, Mackowiak=Bautista.

I'm not even going to bother with the pitching matchups. Barring significant change, it's Maholm, Chacon, and Duke against Jon Garland, Mark Buerhle, and Javier Vazquez. We could very easily win all three of these games, or lose all three and only get outscored 8-4.

Fearless prediction for the homestand? 1-5.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Draft talk

Interesting article about the 2004 draft and how Brian Bixler and Neil Walker are the last remaining proscpects from that draft that are still worth talking about. Here's what I took from it....

From 2004's 30 first-rounders:

~Walker is one of 11 position players taken, and is the third best (based on progress through pro ball thusfar) behind only Arizona's Stephen Drew and KC's Billy Butler (both of whom the Bucs passed on).

~19 pitchers taken that round, six of whom are already starting at MLB level (including Jered Weaver, taken right after Walker), with two more on the way soon (Phil Humber and Homer Bailey)

So that's 11 out of 30 2004 first round picks who will be on a 25 man roster by Opening day 2008. Sounds about right.

The Pirates drafted 50 players that year (usual), signed half of them (27 - again, about average), and 13 of them are still in the organization. So the Pirates are as good at drafting players worth being in pro ball as the league is at producing first-round talent.


Bits and Pieces

Which is what the Bucs will probably be in when Brad Penny i through with them. SOme interesting notes....

~Survivor Kuwata finally started rolling yesterday with one shutout inning. More, err...MLB seasoned relievers Wayback and Kolb(asa) combined to give up five runs in four innings.

~The Pirates have signed Dewon Brazelton to a minor league contract and will start him at AA Altoona. This should be nothing if not interesting. Brazelton was the D-Rays' next big thing back when he was drafted in the first round (#3 overall) in 2001 - back before any of Tampa's current pitching stars were even out of high school.

He spent most of four years (02-05) bouncing between AA, AAA, and MLB, in spite of not exactly putting up promotion-worthy numbers at most of his stops. He also looks like someone who was rushed through the system. He made his MLB debut in September 2002, at age 23, after only five innings of experience above AA (and not exactly earth-shattering numbers at AA either).

Then in 2003, he made 10 starts and was pretty bad, so Tampa demoted him all the way to A ball and then told him "forget all the changes we made to your delivery. Our bad."

Brazelton improved enough that Tampa called him back up in June of 2004, and Brazelton went 6-8 in 21 starts, while managing a respectable 120 innings and 4.77 ERA - and a 64:53 strikeout to walk ratio. Yikes.

In spite of that, Dewon was Tampa's Opening Day starter in 2005 (mostly because he was actually the best pitcher they had at the time, not because he was doing anything incredible, obviously). He pitched...reasonably well, but not good enough for Tampa (who had Kazmir in the rotation by now) and was optioned to AAA Durham...but he never went. He pulled a Duffy and disappeared for three weeks. He then came back to AAA, then was recalled and finished the season in the bullpen, though he only pitched in 12 games over three months.

That offseason, he was dealt to Sand Diego. In '06, he made two starts, got shellacked, was moved to the buulpen, got hit hard a few more times, and then went off to Portland (AAA).

Perhaps there's a chance Brazelton is still salvageable. He's only 26, he's big (6'4", 215), he hasn't had any major injuries. Who knows?

Though I'm willing to bet we aren't the right team to salvage him.

~Gene Collier talks about Bill James' term "game altering lack of hustle" - Pirates response? not vebatim, but basically:

DL: "I bet that's skewed by false hustle, like running hard for a foul ball"
Tracy: "I bet that involve a bunch of addition, subtraction, and division."

Oy. Our fearless leaders, everyone.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Da Fyoo-Chah II OR Why the Pirates Need to Make Nice With the Devil Rays

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have done a great job, much like the Braves always have, and the Brewers, Dodgers, and Angels recently have, of replenishing and producing from within their own farm system. Although, they may have done too good a job, judging by the lopsidedness of what they have currently...

Starting Rotation

The Rays already have Scott Kazmir and James Shields pitching every five days. Both are young (23 and 25 respectively), probably in the top 15 or 20 pitchers in the AL, and getting better.

They just made the move yesterday to call up Andy Sonnanstine and J.P. Howell from AAA Durham yesterday, which will make the rotation even better if these two can perform as they have been.
Sonnanstine is a flamethrower who may be hit or miss (8 HR in 11 starts) but is mostly miss (6 1/3 IP/S, 1.03 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 5:1 ratio).
J.P. Howell came over to the team from Kansas City when they got rid of Joey Gathright, and had minimal success in a couple spot appearances with the Royals. He has been about equal to Sonnanstine in Durham, however, posting a very similar line (5.8 IP/S, 1.26 WHIP, 9.06 K/9, 3.6:1 ratio).
The, umm, lesser pitchers at Durham start with Jason Hammel. Hammel has been equally untouchable in his first two months with the Bulls, posting another impressive line (6 IP/S, 1.04 WHIP, 8.96 K/, 3:1 ratio). Hammel is followed by the runt of the group, Jeff Niemann.
Niemann, the back end guy, has only managed 5 2/3 IP/s, a 1.38 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, and a 2.8 :1 ratio. How pedestrian.
Oooh, and let us not forget lil' Chris Mason, down in AA with the...*ahem* Montgomery Biscuits. He's managed a meager 1.11 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 4.2:1 ratio.

Now, I realize that's a whole bunch of numbers, and that there's a difference between AA and AAA, and another difference between AAA and MLB. That being said, I don't think it is unreasonable to suggest that all five of these guys (none of whom are older than 24, by the way) have at least a 50/50 chance of making the rotation out of spring training next season and being at least a solid mid-rotation guy for the forseeable future.

I repeat, that's seven guys for five spots. You do the math.

Starting Lineup

The Rays already have quite the lineup of the future - a second baseman (BJ Upton) and center fielder (Crawford) who are pretty much here to stay. Then they have Jonny Gomes, Elijah Dukes, and Delmon Young in the outfield. Gomes is the only one with any amount of success at the major league level, but all of them fall into "hit too well in the minors to justify more time there" territory. They also have Justin Ruggiano down in AAA, who isn't obliterating the ball, but a .295 average, .865 OPS, and 7 HR through 43 games is nothing to scoff at. None of the players I just mentioned is older than 25.

Oh wait, they also have Rocco Baldelli, a speedy outfielder with genuine 20-20 potential who has struggled with injury recently but is still only 25. They also have Jorge Cantu, 2B turned 1B (see: Upton) who also has struggled, but is only 25 and less than two years removed from .286/28/117. They Devil Rays have Akinori Iwamura, the Japanese import who hasn't played a ton due to minor injury, but has hit well and may wind up with numbers like Cantu's by years' end.

Lest we forget the guy Iwamura is blocking, Evan Longoria, who was just drafted last summer, and is already hitting well enough that at his current pace, he may win the starting job next spring. Or Jon Jaso, the catcher with minimal pop, but sweet swing, who is a defensive improvement away from AAA himself.

You see where I'm going with all this? The Devil Rays have five rotation spots and eight positions in the field, plus a DH spot. That's as many as seven pitchers competing for five rotation spots, and as many as eleven hitters competing for nine lineup spots - within the next two years!

If that isn't talent out the wazoo, I don't know what is. It is certainly more talent than they have room for, unless they luck into a few players who play their way onto the bench.

One thing Tampa doesn't have, however, is relievers. Al Reyes is the only Tampa reliever with an ERA under 4, and he's 37. The next best relevier is Juan Salas, pitching his first full season above AAA at age 28. The next best option is Jae Kuk Ryu, but Tampa acquired him from Chicago to be a starter, and he's been sent down to Durham to work on exactly that.

The Rays have exactly four relievers who are a) above A+, b) young enough to still be a prospect, and c) pitching well enough to warrant a promotion.

The Pirates....the one thing they DO have is more relief pitching prospects (of varying quality) than they reasonably know what to do with/have room for.

I see happy marriage! I hope?

Da Fyoo-Chah OR How Jason Bay Is Secretly Kobe Bryant

DK's inquiry - about whether keeping the core intact or capitalizing on the weak division is more important - appears to have ignited the Plogosphere into a rash of posts. Allow me to join the fray, but I'd like to pull together a few slightly different ideas before I throw my own onto the bonfire.

Dejan put it quite well, I think, when he stated quite some time back that "if you continually plan for the future, the future never actually arrives."

I.e., if you're always looking to win later, you're less likely to win now, and if you aren't winning now, you aren't very likely to be winning later.

The best statement, however, came from Mr. Pat Lackey at WHYGAVS:

"Unless every single move is geared towards making the team better as soon as possible, none of the moves being made are anything but lateral." (emphasis mine)

This is plain, real life, provable fact. Even in the most basic sense; if you choose a goal, say a tree on the other end of the football field, and draw a straight line path to that tree, your goal is now following that line to that tree. Absolutely anything you do that is anything but taking a step along that line does nothing other than erode the progress you have made to that point. Same goes for the Pirates.

This is supported by Wilbur T. Miller on Honest Wagner, "[Littlefield]'s failures are perfect examples of what happens when you don't commit to a particular course of action. Instead, they've tried to have it both ways, pretending to build through the farm system without committing the resources needed to do so, and wasting money and playing time on mostly crappy veteran fill-ins without looking for longer term, higher upside solutions."

So what in the world does this have to do with Jason Bay comparing to Kobe Bryant? Well...

It has been discussed often over the past year or two that the Los Angeles Lakers - and head man Mitch Kupchak - are a directionless bunch running themselves into the ground. The proof is in their dealings: hanging onto Kobe until the monster trade comes along is the mindset of a team that wants to win now and will only relinquish that opportunity if they get a great chance to win in the near future in return...drafting a player like Andrew Bynum - a straight out of prep school pick who has bonafide All-Star potential, but who everyone (correctly, it seems) said was at least three years of development away from reaching it, strikes of a team who is resigned to starting the rebuilding process and therefore willing to put in the time to develop a player who needs it...a team that doesn't sign or draft anyone else onto the team who would be more than a back-of-the-bench type for any true contender stinks of a team that refuses to invest the money to truly be a winner in the present. All of this adds up to a team that has one of the best players at his position not just now, but in recent history, and still can't manage anything better than .500 ball.

You see where I'm going, right? Follow me on a bit of a Mad Lib word swap....

It has been discussed often over the past year or two that the Pittsburgh Pirates - and head man Dave Littlefield- are a directionless bunch running themselves into the ground. The proof is in their dealings: hanging onto Jason Bay until the monster trade comes along is the mindset of a team that wants to win now and will only relinquish that opportunity if they get a great chance to win in the near future in return...drafting a player like Andrew McCutchen- a straight out of prep school pick who has bonafide All-Star potential, but who everyone (correctly, it seems) said was at least three years of development away from reaching it, strikes of a team who is resigned to starting the rebuilding process and therefore willing to put in the time to develop a player who needs it...a team that doesn't sign or draft anyone else onto the team who would be more than a back-of-the-bench type for any true contender stinks of a team that refuses to invest the money to truly be a winner in the present. All of this adds up to a team that has one of the best players at his position not just now, but in recent history, and still can't manage anything better than .500 ball.

So we then throw in a few more tweaks - Jason Bay isn't quite as All-World as Kobe Bryant is, nor have the Pirates even entertained any sort of offer for Jason Bay (as far as I know).

I think I'll have to start watching Laker games from now on to see if certain Pirates' brass appear in the stands.

Next up..."Da Fyoo-Chah Part Two OR Why the Pirates Need to Make Nice With the Devil Rays"

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Comedy Central

The name seems appropriate. Why? Well let's look at what's been going on lately...

The Brewers still lead the division, but have now lost 11 of their last 15 games and are in danger of hanging another one in the L column against Jake Peavy today. Any reason? Well....

During this 15 game schneid, the Brewers have (obviously) made three full turns through the rotation. During that time, Ben Sheets is 2-1 with a 3.15 ERA, a 0.75 WHIP, and 20K's to 4 BB's in 20 innings. The rest of Milwaukee's rotation is 1-8 with a 7.17 ERA, a 1.68 WHIP, and only 35 strikeouts to go with 23 walks in 65 1/3 innings.

That looks like Brewer rotations past, no?

The Reds? Well...we're finding out that their bullpen is still not very good, their offense is still too all-or-nothing (HR's and K's)...and Arroyo is still a douche.

The Cubbies....Friday night said it all. After five innings, the usually reliable Ted Lilly had surrendered five runs, and the Cubs trailed 5-1 with nine outs left. They then came out a-balsting, scoring seven runs in the seventh to take an 8-5 lead.....only to wind up losing 9-8, because Bob Howry and Wil Ohman combined to face four batters and get none of them out.

The Astros...have lost nine of their last ten games and been outscored 68-19 (!!!) in the process, including 58-12 during their six game losing streak.

The Cardinals managed to not blow a seven run lead against the nationals, and havent really beaten anybody except us lately.

Sure looks like a wide open division to me, eh? Let's see if we can find a way to win another one today.