Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Kickin' some ass lately

How about them Buccos?

Castillo has all of a sudden become Jason Bay. He's now making contact on all those swings where he used to basically fall over from swinging so hard... and the balls are going a long way. I think there's a great chance we'll see Jose break the 20 hr plateau this year, but expect him to continue his streakiness that he's shown his whole career.

Sanchez is still doing it, of course. He has a great chance to win the batting title this season if he is not benched when Randa returns.

Bay also won his second straight NL Player of the Week Award.

Is it me, or did this team over the past week become fun to watch again?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Attention Bob Smizik

Shut up.
Craig Wilson is starting to not look like an option. He's looking more and more like a platoon player. He thrives on left-handed pitching but is considerably less successful against right-handers, who form the majority of the major-league pitching corps. For his career, his on-base percentage is about 70 points lower against right-handed pitching and his slugging percentage is about 90 points lower.

Wilson will be a free agent next season, and it's unlikely the Pirates would make a multi-year investment in a streaky platoon player who is only adequate defensively.
"Starting to not look like an option?" "...looking more and more like a platoon player?" What could he possibly be talking about? The only possibility is that he wrote this during the brief slump Craig was in recently, and then was too lazy to update it in light of Craig's recent torrid streak. Too lazy. What is it that a newspaper columnist does with the rest of his time again? And what does the Post-Gazette pay him for his work?

As for his trademark--selective use of statistics to support ridiculous assertions--here's a takedown from a poster at Baseball Primer:
Like all RH batters, Wilson hits LHP better. His split is larger than most (and MGL will tell you that's random noise) but in nearly 1400 PA against righties, he's got an 808 OPS (985 against lefties). He's got an 858 career OPS (120 OPS+) with over 70% of his PA against righties which is not a substantial platoon split.

Will Craig Wilson ever be an all-star or make people forget Clemente? Of course not. But is he a perfectly average hitter for a corner player? You bet your butt. Would an average corner hitter have been a major improvement for the Pirates the last few years and for the next few years? You bet your butt.

The Game

I tuned in the radio in the car at 11:00, after a gig in Greensburg, pleased that the game was in extra innings and that we would be able to listen to it in the car on the way home. It was a great one all right. Zeke is at Laurel for the weekend, and he missed the whole thing. That's a shame; with all that we fans have suffered this season, we deserved to be able to savor this one game. A few random thoughts:
  • Jason Bay is a great, great ballplayer.
  • Vogelsong was quietly putting together a nice season before this game. Now, it's not so quiet.
  • Burnitz is a fine pinch hitter and should remain in that role now that we have discovered his strength. (Yeah, right. -ed) He's indicated during the past week or two that he may have something left and is not as awful as he had been during the first two months. But those first two months had expensive consequences to the team--so no matter what he does for the remainder of the season, bringing him here to replace Craig Wilson was still idiotic.
  • When I got home from the gig, we put the game on and I fired up the laptop. That's when I saw that Craig Wilson had finally reached the breaking point. Good for him. The Pirates under Dave Littlefield have proven over the past five years that they can't spot a ballplayer when they see one.
  • Another guy who is publicly and vocally irritated with management is Doumit. An interview with Doumit was shown on FSN Pittsburgh after the game, and he was less than enthusiastic about the first base experiment. "I'm a catcher," he said.
  • That bomb from Castillo! What a moment that was. I'm just sorry that I missed the Burnitz and Bay homers.
  • Bay probably shouldn't have tried to score on Bautista's shallow fly in the 18th. But in doing so, he created THE moment of the entire season.
  • What a horrendous loss for the Astros. One of the beautiful things about baseball is the way it tends to even things out over the 162-game schedule and over time frames longer than single seasons. One game like last night's game perpetuates the addiction to the game just when a fan is beginning to think, "You know, I think I've had enough of this. I can really take it or leave it at this point..."

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Buddy Bell on the Royals

Does this sound familiar to anyone?
“It’s pretty much the same every night,” Bell said. “We had a pretty good opportunity to win the game, and then: 0-2 and two outs. You’ve got to be able to close it out at that point.”

That’s something the Royals haven’t been able to do this entire season, which is not quite 2 months old and has already produced an 11-game losing streak and now a 13-game losing streak that can still get longer.

“We’ve had so many opportunities to win games, but we just haven’t been able to do it,” Bell said.
When your team stinks, there are only so many things you can say.

Pirates Sunday tomorrow

I'll be on the air with Rob Pratte on Pirates Sunday (KDKA, 11:00) before the game tomorrow. It would be great to hear from one or more Romo Phone Home readers during the show.

Blogging may be light this week. I'm working the release of my new CD, which just arrived on my doorstep yesterday, and have a big deadline coming up this week at work. On the other hand, something that happens with the Pirates or something that is written about them is always capable of setting me aflame, so you never know...

Today's Pirates Notebook

Chuck Finder does the Pirates Notebook today. Here are a few comments and reactions:
  • Whoever is writing the headlines at the Post-Gazette shares my disdain for Tracy. "Tracy blames bad start on players" is a deliberately critical and inflammatory headline. I've also concluded during the past week that Dejan Kovacevic has lost faith completely in Tracy. He too is becoming increasingly less guarded and more openly critical in his reporting.
  • Photo-finished! In the absence of competitive baseball, Tracy's butchery of the English language continues to be one of the only sources of entertainment this summer, at least for me. Maybe this is what is meant by "We Will Entertain."
  • In the interview reported in the Notebook and even here on the Pirates web site (via Bucs Dugout), Tracy is finally expressing some emotion and impatience. This is not a bad thing:
"Every ... little ... aspect of the game has to be important to you if you're going to change the culture," Tracy said slowly for emphasis.

"That's not something you're going to convince a group of people about overnight. Over time, you're very hopeful that they gain an understanding of that. I'm not going to continue to jog in place, I promise you that. I'm patient; with young players, you have to be patient."

Tracy also maintained that, while he expects improvement soon, change might be in the offing.

"When the messenger has sent enough messages and they're not being heard, then you find something else," he continued. "It is going to get better. Because I didn't take this job to fail."
  • Tracy tiptoed up to the Freddy question, looked over the precipice, and promptly took two steps backward: "Are you going to take a guy who's hitting .342 and not play him? But that's not [a question] to dwell on for a very long period of time." I think that the move that is being contemplated by the front office when Randa returns is for Freddy to replace not Randa as the anointed third baseman, but Castillo as the regular second baseman. Between the critical comments by the announcers during games, the visible in-game scoldings in the dugout from Tracy, and the tenor of the comments by Tracy in the Notebook, it seems to me that Tracy and Littlefield are losing patience with Castillo's inability to get his head out of his ass during games.
  • If you want to know what the party line is about anything, just listen to Lanny during broadcasts and to the knuckleheads on the FSN Pittsburgh post-game show after games (if you can bear it). The key reason for the Pirates poor start? The Casey injury. This explanation of course ignores the evidence that Craig Wilson has been more productive replacing Casey than Casey ever would have been. But it's an explanation that might be believed by that majority of fans who don't pay much attention. And so, of course, that is the explanation that we are going to hear.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Harold Reynolds Is Right*

The Reds and Brewers are serious about getting better, and the Pirates are not.

In addition to unloading a popular but overpaid first baseman in the off-season to the Pirates, the Reds have now traded the guy they got for Casey--Dave Williams--to the Mets. This is the kind of move that the McClatchy-Littlefield Pirates never make: a public admission of a mistake that makes them look bad but that is the correct baseball decision.

The Reds understand the concept of sunk cost. Sure, they traded away The Mayor and got nothing for him, but the cost of that decision was already incurred, nothing they could do would undo the trade, and they needed the roster spot--so they acted. If McClatchy and Littlefield were running the Reds, they'd have held on to Williams all year, hoping that he would turn things around and give them a chance to save face. They are more serious about their public image than they are about winning baseball games. (See also this April post on sunk cost.)

After watching these first two months, could anyone in their right mind think that the Pirates would be better off playing Burnitz, Randa, and Casey everyday than they would be playing Bautista, Sanchez, and Wilson? Maybe a not entirely unreasonable case could be made for Casey over Wilson, but Randa over Sanchez or Burnitz over anyone (except maybe Jose Hernandez)? No way. Yet Dejan Kovacevic assured those he was chatting with on Tuesday that, when the Terrible Trio are all healthy, they will play. Excerpts:
Oh_No_Marte: What should happen to Burnitz/Wilson once Casey Returns?

Dejan Kovacevic: You can bet everything you own Craig Wilson will be relegated once again to bench duty. Already, in the past couple weeks, we have seen Wilson being benched for Jose Hernandez, so there very clearly is no trepidation on the Pirates' part to keep him out of the lineup. I have yet to figure out why that is.

Steve_Z: Geez Dejan, Tracy's killing us with...Jeremy B.? What's he thinking about?

Dejan Kovacevic: ...Don't overthink it. Management signs someone to a guaranteed $6.7 million, and he is going to play. Even Burnitz has acknowledged this much.

Mark: ...what do you think happens to Freddy Sanchez once Randa returns?

Dejan Kovacevic: Back to the bench. Bank on it.
Oddly, though, there is a slightly different tone in this week's Pirates Q&A--something like a public challenge to the Pirates that provides just the vaguest possibility of hope:
I consider the Pirates' coming decision regarding Sanchez to be a flashpoint for the season.

If Sanchez is benched after the outstanding two months he has had -- and do not forget he was no less productive and dynamic in the final month of last season -- it will reveal much about the direction the team is taking.

At some point, as so many have written to this forum, it would behoove the Pirates to abandon the concept that 2006 should be used as anything other than a springboard for 2007 and beyond. One can debate the merits of having placed any importance in 2006 to begin with -- I happen to feel 82 victories would have helped the franchise in many ways -- but the current combination of a terrible record and poor production from high-paid veterans is a very bad one.

The Pirates have everything to gain from finding out all they can about Sanchez, Jose Bautista at various positions, Ryan Doumit and...Castillo at second. ...I do feel that learning more about these players and others should be the only priority.
The idea that the Pirates are bound to improve mostly because things would appear they can't get any worse is to go against 14 years of precedent. Especially considering this year is the worst of those 14.

They teach you never to bet against streaks, so I reserve my right to continuing pessimism.

I also reserve my right, though, to alter that stance if the Pirates decide to use the rest of this season toward finding out about the future.
I know that Dejan has written and Littlefield has said on his Sunday show that the vets are going to play, but I simply cannot believe that, if Randa's foot were to make a quick recovery, they really would take Sanchez out of the lineup. Even Paul Meyer would flame them for it. And bloggers would roam the streets in gangs carrying pitchforks and setting fire to everything in sight.

Wouldn't it be great if they abandoned the Proven Vets experiment now and just went with all the guys we like? Do we dare to hope that such a thing could happen?

* This is likely the first and last time I will ever write this sentence.

Poetic license

Miguel Batista had this to say after the game about our Buccos (reported in Pirates Notes):
"They're a very good team, on their way to being better," he said of the Pirates. "I won't say they're going to make the playoffs, but they might keep some people out. Any team going to Pittsburgh who thinks they're going to improve their numbers, is going to leave with their heads between their tails."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

IrateFans t-shirts now available

Please click this link and purchase an Irate Fans "Best Ballpark / Worst Owners" t-shirt. Wear it to the ballpark. Show Kevin McClatchy and G. Ogden Nutting what for.

Blame and responsibility

I fell asleep before the fifth inning last night and missed the key Doumit play. There seems to be a difference of opinion about how tough the play was and whether Doumit should have made it.
"That's some of the chance that you take when you're trying to influx your lineup with a little more offense," Tracy said. "The ball wasn't really hit all that hard. It's a makeable play. That's not one of Luis Gonzalez's better swings that he took. It's a makeable play. That's all I have to say about it." [influx as a verb? now I've seen everything. -ed]

Two of Doumit's infield mates viewed the play differently.

"It was a line-drive smoked right at Ryan, and he was holding a man on first. I mean, dude, that's a hard play to make," shortstop Jack Wilson said. "You just hope it doesn't discourage him because he's worked so hard to do well at first base because he knows we need him in the lineup. You feel for him."

"That was a hard hit," third baseman Freddy Sanchez said. "The ball got by him, but that's a tough play for anybody. The same thing could have happened to me if it was hit my way."
Part of a good manager's role is to provide cover for the people he leads. "The buck stops here" is a quote we all recognize for good reason: it encapsulates something we all believe about good leadership. Tracy puts a player in the lineup at a position he has never played before, then blasts him in the press for what he says is a poor defensive play but what everyone else on the field says was a hard-hit ball that would have been tough for any first baseman to field. That's not leadership, that's cowardice. No one is going to follow a guy up the hill who deflects blame from himself and transfers it onto the people he is supposed to be leading. If you were trying to discourage that player and ensure that the experiment at the new position wouldn't succeed, you couldn't choose a more effective tactic.

For the sake of discussion, I'm going to pull out something I wrote in a comments thread below.
Jim Leyland often used to say things like, "We all have to do better--the hitters, the pitchers, the coaches, and me."

Most people have forgotten Gene Lamont, and deservedly so, because he wasn't much of a "leader of men." But one thing I do remember about Lamont is what a forthright, no-bullshit guy he was. Near the end of his tenure, someone asked him a question about his future with the club, and he just answered it honestly. That's how the world found out that he was about to be fired. He almost never said anything that was self-serving, dishonest, or stupid.

There may be other qualities in a manager that are more important--that leader of men thing, maybe--but Lamont at least had integrity, which has to count for something. This clown who Littlefield brought in to preside over his own demise doesn't.
With the performance of Jim Tracy this season, this franchise has now, for me, reached the lowest and most hopeless point in its current string of losing seasons. If you need evidence for that, just go read this online chat transcript with Kovacevic, which everyone else is linking to.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The soft bigotry of lowered expectations

The skipper defines success down:
The Pirates are 14-31, but Tracy spoke -- for the first time this season -- about diminishing the importance of the team's place in the standings.

"We're making strides," he said. "We have to not involve ourselves with our won-lost record, but with staying with a process. We have to keep putting ourselves in position to win games. Those are going to go our way, eventually."
We will...stay with a process.

Monday, May 22, 2006

ATT Pirates clubhouse: please secure the laundry carts

I didn't like the way Ollie just slammed his bat on the ground after striking out againt Hernandez.

Take this poll at Baseball Primer

Question: "Are the Pirates better off today than they were on July 13, 2001, when Dave Littlefield was named general manager?"

You have to scroll down a bit to see it. It's on the right of the page.

I won't tell you how to vote. Do what your conscience tells you to do.

(via Wilbur Miller at

If your sanity is important to you...

don't read Paul Meyer's game description and notes in the Post-Gazette today. Because I made the mistake of doing so, I am beginning my day today with rage--not a good way to begin the day.
Perfect situation -- runners on first and second, no outs.

Tracy sent up Jose Hernandez to bat for Craig Wilson. Hernandez lifetime was 3 for 7 with two home runs against Bob Wickman, but Tracy ordered Hernandez to bunt.

"Numerically, I was very well aware of [Hernandez's success against Wickman]," Tracy said. "But right now he's not swinging the bat that makes you think he's going to hit. I thought it was very, very important to get the runner to third. That puts you in a wonderful position and means a lot of decision-making on the other side of the field.

"If Hernandez swings away and hits into a double play, you kick yourself."
It gives confidence to know that our manager was "very aware" of the long and significant history that Hernandez has had facing Bob Wickman. Were he unaware of that, we might be inclined to think that he is an idiot.

Left unaddressed here is the elephant in the middle of the room that no one talks about--why was Hernandez batting for Wilson in the first place? I would hope that Kovacevic would have at least suggested the possibility that the game was lost yesterday by Tracy's overmanaging, pointing to the two failed sacrifice bunts late in the game. Meyer offers an alternate explanation, though: failure of the DH.
They are, after all, 14-30. And 4-19 on the road. And 2-13 in day games. And 4-12 in one-run games. And 2-13 in their past 15 interleague road games.
Some of that ineptitude in the final category can be attributed to the unproductiveness of their designated hitters.

The Pirates first used a designated hitter June 16, 1997, at Minnesota. Mark Smith hit a two-run home run in his first at-bat, and it has been pretty much downhill for the Pirates' DH since.

Smith hit three home runs as the Pirates' DH. Nobody else has more than one.

Entering games yesterday, Pirates designated hitters ranked seventh all-time among National League teams with a DH career batting average of .260. They were tied for eighth with nine home runs. And tied for 13th with 31 RBIs.
Thanks for the astute statistical analysis, Paul. But take heart, Pirates fans, there is hope on the horizon as we stumble from Cleveland to Arizona. Meyer offers this in the Pirates Notes:
The Pirates might enter their next series at Arizona with some confidence.

They've won seven of their past 10 games at Chase Field, outscoring the Diamondbacks, 69-46. In their past four games at The Chase, they've had 52 hits and scored 29 runs.

Jeromy Burnitz is a lifetime .259 hitter in Phoenix and has 12 home runs and 28 RBIs in 139 at-bats there.
Yes, a red-hot Jeromy Burnitz could really turn things around for us in Arizona. Can't wait!

And what's more, Arizona may afford the opportunity to insert into the lineup a catcher who has played first base once (or is it twice) in his life, enabling us to replace our second best hitter.
Doumit, bothered by a tender left hamstring, still isn't able to catch, but there's a possibility he could play some first base during the series in Phoenix.

Doumit worked out at first base Saturday and yesterday in the cool temperatures at Jacobs Field and should be able to expand his workouts in much warmer Phoenix.
So, that will be a good thing...why again?

OK, that's enough. I'm getting worked up all over again...

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Nice managing in the ninth, Tracy


Jeromy giveth...

and Jeromy taketh away.

When are we going to see that much-vaunted defense of his?

Littlefield Evaluation Day

Joe Starkey and Bob Smizik both took it on themselves, independently, to evaluate the performance of the general manager yesterday and today. The two columns don't cover much that hasn't been covered on this and many other Pirates blogs and message boards for some time, and it's hard not to react to both with, "Well, duh!"

It's nice to see Big Media finally coming around, though. I also saw Kovacevic with Steigerwald on the Nightly Sports Call last night, and I was surprised at his level of cynicism and negativity toward all things Pirates. Why has it taken them this long? One reason, I think, is that newspaper writers depend on face-to-face access to players, coaches, managers, general managers, and owners. They need--or think they need--to develop positive personal relationships with these people, and it could be that those relationships affect their ability to dispassionately recognize failure when they see it. Bloggers, on the other hand, have only the objective record of performance--stats and public statements--on which to base opinions and conclusions.

For a long time, and still to this day, people dismissed the insights that Bill James brought to baseball on the grounds that he had never played the game. He argued that, paradoxically, it was his relative detachment from the game that allowed him to see things that those closer to the game could not see. Times have changed, of course--Bill James is now on the payroll of the Red Sox, and there is at least one general manager who has succeeded in a small market by capitalizing on the insights of an unabashed outsider. But a baseball fan who really wants to know about and understand the state of the Pirates today still gets a much clearer picture from Bucs Dugout, Van Slyke, Honest Wagner, Baseball Primer, and Wilbur Miller than from the Post-Gazette and the Tribune Review. As more and more people get their news online, which is inevitable, this is going to represent a bigger and bigger problem for Big Media. Unless they change--which they probably will.

This quote from Smizik today was particularly remarkable:
When Littlefield's contract was extended in April, this column called it a positive move. Chalk that up to temporary insanity on our part. What's Littlefield's excuse for this abysmal record?
No one who has read Smizik for years can reasonably expect that the return to sanity is permanent, but temporary spells of sanity seem now to be more frequent and accompanied by the occasional hint of humility.

A quick fact-check, though; I believe that Smizik got this wrong:
Outfielder Jeromy Burnitz was lured to Pittsburgh with a $6 million contract, considerably more than he earned last year when his skills were beginning to erode with the Chicago Cubs. In fact, the Chicago Tribune reported earlier this month that Cubs general manager Jim Hendry suggested to Burnitz that he retire.
As I wrote a recently, the article that Smizik is referring to, which is unfortunately no longer available online, actually said this:
"It's kind of weird how it worked out, honestly," Burnitz said. "Jim asked me (about retiring the last day of the season). I basically told him I wasn't sure what I was going to do. … I was trying to get a job closer to home [in Southern California]. Once that kind of didn't pan out, basically, he just seemed like he decided to go in another direction.

"I would have loved to [return], especially as I realized those job opportunities toward home weren't really materializing. I loved it here and loved the guys."
This does not say that Hendry "suggested to Burnitz to retire." It says that Hendry checked with Burnitz to ascertain his plans, that Burnitz told Hendry he was hoping to hook on with a team in California, and that, in the end, things didn't work out with re-signing with the Cubs. It's quite possible, even likely, that Hendry recognized that Burnitz's skills were degrading and that he wasn't interested in re-signing him, but the impression given by Smizik--that Hendry had a fatherly, heart-to-heart talk with Burnitz ("Son, maybe it's time you think about what you're going to do with the rest of your life")--is a misinterpretation by Smizik of the words on the page in the Chicago Tribune.

(Another example of how the environment is changing for Big Media: An army of fact-checkers can now dissect every published assertion and verify its correctness. We all win by getting better and more accurate information. The only ones who lose in this game are those journalists who cling to their positions as arbiters of what is and is not true and refuse to acknowledge that the rules of the game have fundamentally changed.)

Jim Tracy 1, English language 0

This, uttered by Tracy last week after the Thursday afternoon loss, is the quote of the year from our new skipper:
"We have some people who, resume-wise, wouldn't be suggesting that we have some guys in that lineup that are doing what they're doing right now offensively," Tracy said. "In some cases, it's not real good."

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The fellas are swinging the bats tonight

I like what I'm seeing from Bay and Castillo lately.

The bullpen could still blow this one, which would further distract us from the revival of the offense, but the early leads still happened, both tonight and on Thursday afternoon.

Earl Weaver said that a team is never as bad as they look when they're losing or as good as they look when they're winning. We could be just about due for some progression toward the mean.

Friday, May 19, 2006

What is it with Hernandez and Pittsburgh?

I hated Hernandez I, of course, as a replacement for Ramirez, and I marvelled at the moxie of Pirates management for bringing him in again to become Hernandez II. But between I and II, he did have some fairly good years, and before Hernandez I he had some good years too. Lots of strikeouts of course, but good power and lots of defensive versatility.

Why do we keep getting seasons from him in which he is hopelessly, pathetically, depressingly awful?

Randall I, Randall II, Hernandez I, Hernandez II...the legacy continues...

Light blogging lately

Busy with a lot of things, including my new CD.

And my day job, which mercifully prevented me from having to follow the 9-8 debacle yesterday. I'm sure that, if I had had to experience the elation of the 6-run first inning followed by the slow torture of the game slipping from our grasp, I would be as angry as everyone else on the net seems to be. But from my detached perspective, it looks to me like it was a fairly rare bullpen failure from a bullpen that has been decent overall, and a poor start from a starter who isn't likely to be pitching for us too much longer. On the other hand, Bay is becoming more Baylike, Castillo is coming around, and Bautista and Sanchez are making it increasingly difficult for Tracy to justify a return to the starting lineup for Randa when and if his foot heals.

The Duffy situation, about which I wrote the other day, is like watching a couple that you didn't like too much to begin with go through an acrimonious and highly public divorce, placing each individual's worst qualities on public display. Duffy's early success in 2005 was a kind of curse that set everything that has happened this year into motion. It fooled Duffy into thinking that his hitting approach was going to be adequate for the major leagues. Evidently, he still thinks this, and thinks that his problem is that he is "too coachable." I don't think this is his problem, and as long as he thinks it is, he has no future with the Pirates.

Duffy can be excused for believing that he could hit .341 in the major leagues after doing so for 12o at bats last year. Any of us would believe the same. But what in the world were the Pirates thinking asking this guy to change his entire approach to the game while batting leadoff for a team whose fans are justifiably impatient after 13 years of losing? Putting people into positions in which they are doomed to fail is right out of the bad management textbook.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Stats Geek piles on

As Pat at Van Slyke has done previously, this week's Stats Geek column invokes the Win Probability charts at to debunk what has now become Jim Tracy's mantra, the Big Hit Theory.

To his credit, Littlefield on his Sunday show said essentially the same thing that Brian is saying here. When Brown fed him a softball about how the Pirates were struggling because they weren't hitting in the clutch and getting the big, game-changing hit, he said that the problem wasn't a lack of key hits, it was overall bad hitting.

It's disturbing to see the team's manager so clearly mistake the effect for the cause.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Latest from Rob & Rany on the Royals

I love reading Joe Posnanski and Rob & Rany about the Royals.

This is my favorite part of the latest from Rob & Rany:
...was last night's game the most depressing Royals game of all time? I ask that not because the Royals got ripped, 11 to 1...I ask because this was the starting lineup, with their current ages in parentheses:

Kerry Robinson (32)
Mark Grudzielanek (35)
Doug Mientkiewicz (31)
Reggie Sanders (38)
Matt Stairs (38)
Tony Graffanino (33)
Aaron Guiel (33)
Angel Berroa (28)
Paul Bako (33)

And these were the pitchers:
Mark Redman (32)
Chris Booker (29)
Joel Peralta (30)

The Royals are not just 10-25, owners of the worst record in baseball as I write this. After losing 100 games in each of the last two years, they have still found a way to play an entire game in which every single player who made an appearance was 28 or older, and therefore (statistically speaking) on the downslope of his career.

This is a truly historic achievement.
Reggie Sanders and Matt Stairs in the 4-5 holes! Will they acquire Kenny Lofton and become a 2003 Pirates tribute band?

Jim Leyland: the one that got away

The Tigers under Jim Leyland are a half game out of first place in the AL Central and have the second-best won/lost percentage in baseball. Leyland could be home in Pittsburgh for half of the summer with his family if the Pirates had hired him instead of the kindly Presbyterian minister from a small town in Ohio who now manages the team.

Many people believe that managers don't matter much. Those who said that about McClendon now find confirmation in the Pirates' performance under their new field leader. Leyland has always reminded me of Billy Martin, an intense, driven, self-destructive guy who had a remarkable record of improving teams whenever he was brought in to manage them, before he would invariably do something to self destruct and get himself fired. Leyland is not nearly as extreme a personality type as Martin, but like Martin, he is a real leader, and real leaders are capable of getting results. I can't say with certainty that Leyland is entirely responsible for the Tigers' early success or that the Pirates would have a better record under Leyland than they have under Tracy, but that is what I believe.

Duffy speaks his mind

Parting shots from Chris Duffy on his way to Indianapolis:
Starting in January, Tracy urged Duffy to adopt more of a prototypical leadoff approach, to draw walks and hit the ball more the other way and into the ground. Although Duffy was a line-drive hitter all through the minors, he offered no resistance, even when his spring struggles carried over into the season.

Yesterday, he made clear -- to management and, later, to the media -- that the change was not to his liking.

"Before I even played for Tracy, he was already kind of saying what he wanted me to do. I think, sometimes, I'm a little too coachable," Duffy told reporters. "I'll just try to get my game right and back to where it usually is."

Of his talk with management, he said: "There was definitely some stuff I needed to get off my chest. I think it was a good talk ... long overdue."
Duffy was always miscast as a leadoff hitter. To be a useful leadoff hitter, a free swinger like Duffy would have to have kept up the offensive production he had at the end of 2005, but that was unlikely at best. Guys don't typically improve that much when they move from AAA to the majors.

Duffy's best role was always as a back-of-the-order defensive specialist who would occasionally help with the bat. You could argue that you don't want a player like that in your lineup every day. I've argued that, and the outcome of having McLouth win the center field job is the outcome I've hoped for all along. The whole Duffy affair, though, is another example of the Pirates making a classic management blunder: putting someone into a role for which he is ill suited and then trying to change him to fit the role you put him in. Good managers build on employees' strengths and don't spend a lot of time or energy trying to correct their weaknesses.

Someone will now invoke the apocryphal story of how Harry "The Hat" Walker worked with Matty Alou, taught him to beat everything into the ground, and made him into a great leadoff hitter and OBP machine. But the exception doesn't disprove the rule.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Today's "read the whole thing" post

is by Charlie at Bucs Dugout, who does some investigative reporting by discussing Jim Tracy's tendencies with a Dodgers blogger. Extremely depressing and not for the faint of heart. We have Tracy and Littlefield for three more years and McClatchy for 15 or 20.

We trooped off to the game today, Zeke, Rebecca, and I, to celebrate Mother's Day. However, the damned thing was over in 15 minutes, putting all three of us in a foul mood that motivated a lot of catcalls to the field--our seats are within hearing range of the field, we think, in the section right behind where McClatchy sits, although he wasn't in his seat today. "Mark Cuban!" "Cu-ban, Cu-ban, Cu-ban!" "Tracy--retire!!!" "Bring back Lloyd!!!" and of course, "Burnitz, you stink!!!" This is really no way for a man my age to behave, and not the kind of behavior that parents are supposed to model for their children. No excuses here: following this team has me completely unhinged.

I picked a bad season in which to start a Pirates blog.

One of the oddest things about Pirates games these days is the demeanor of the ushers and other employees of the Pirates. If you say something to them such as, "Man, they really stink, don't they?" they give you these nervous smiles without actually responding, as if someone has explicitly forbidden to speak negatively about the team. There have been reports that the announcers are under similar orders. The other announcers play this a bit more subtly, but has anyone else noticed how, as things continue to unravel, Lanny has become increasingly like the Iraqi Information Minister?

The People's Republic of the Pittsburgh Pirates. My team.

I recall a conversation that the guys on the Baseball Prospectus podcasts had with one of the BP writers (can't recall which one) who is a lifelong Royals fan. They asked him something like, "How can you stand it?" and his answer was that, when you root for a sick team for which there is no hope in the foreseeable future, one way to survive is to become more of a fan of baseball instead of a fan of one particular team. This is easier than it has ever been, with blogs, internet sites, and making both live games and archived games available. Maybe that's the answer for me.

McClatchy plays the money card again

In this interview in the Tribune-Review, a somewhat wistful and pensive Kevin McClatchy discusses his future. If he can be taken at his word--a big if--it appears that, though I may not live to see a McClatchyless Pirates team, there is at least a chance that Zeke might.

McClatchy, ever the gentleman, refrains from criticizing his tormentor Mark Cuban other than to suggest that Cuban himself is breaking the code of baseball-owner ethics by criticizing him.

Toward the end of the interview, he goes back to an argument that has worked so well for him for so long that he doesn't see how threadbare it has become:
McClatchy said an injection of $5 million into the payroll by Cuban would not dramatically affect the Pirates, nor would it help the team in the long run. McClatchy believes his role on the MLB executive committee and the labor committee -- which is negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the players' union -- is more vital to the Pirates' long-term viability and competitiveness.

"If Mark came in here, I don't think he do too much different than what we're doing at this time," McClatchy said. "I have nothing negative to say about Mark. But there are slightly different economics in Major League Baseball than there are in certain other sports (leagues)."
There are a few things wrong with this argument:
  1. Cuban would undoubtedly increase the payroll by more than $5M, and he would undoubtedly do things differently such as, for example, hiring a competent general manager.
  2. After watching our $6.7M investment in a right fielder flail away at yet another slider with the game on the line last night, how can anyone fail to see that the way money is spent is at least as important to success as the quantity of it that is available?
  3. McClatchy says this not because he believes it, but because he has learned in his 10 years in Pittsburgh that the argument has traction with lazy, irresponsible sports writers and casual fans ("How can we ever compete with the Yankees?") and distracts them from the larger story: that he and his partners are making a tidy profit selling a poor product to the city and its residents.

Friday, May 12, 2006


is a signature quality of our starting pitchers this year. We frequently play from behind because of early-inning failures, but somehow our starters often manage to get us past Vogelsongland and into the bullpen.

The sad fate of the lottery winner

Ever read a story about someone who wins the lottery and then leads a life of misery and disappointment? Here's another one.
"...This is the first team I've been on in a couple years where I'm Joe High-Paid Free Agent. That in and of itself should tell you the big picture that the team's in. If I'm just another guy on one of those big-market, big-paying teams ... that's not the way it is here, and I understand that. I'm cool with it."

He paused.

"If I have to wear through this all season and stink, you won't see me quit."
Only one team in baseball was dumb enough to give Jeromy Burnitz $6 million at this point in his career. Burnitz is the latest lottery winner to learn that money doesn't buy happiness.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Tracy, who pledged from the day he was hired that effort would never be an issue with his team, did not deny that Burnitz went less than all-out. But he also defended him.

"Well, you know, he went down the line," Tracy responded to a reporter's question. "Obviously, he hit a ground ball to the second baseman. I don't know ... do you think he's going to be safe? I mean, he was going down the line, Orlando Hudson fielded the ball cleanly and recorded the out. You know, it's not something to sit here and nit-pick things like that. I just explained very clearly why we got beat tonight. That's not why we got beat."
It pains me to write this, but I am beginning to miss Lloyd McClendon.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Back from the game

Just got back from tonight's loss at PNC, a cavernous, echoing mausoleum tonight. The crowd was announced at somewhere around 14,000.

The Pirates couldn't get over the hump all night. Maholm was just missing with his pitches in the first, and the ump wasn't helping him with a tight strike zone. As a result, we were in an early hole--when has that ever happened before?--and the hole kept expanding just beyond our reach whenever we appeared to be climbing out of it. Maholm battled through 5 2/3 innings and kept it close. We barely had time to rejoice over Castillo's game-tying double--he had two tonight to go with a solid single, evidence that he may be coming out of his season-long slump--before Marte returned the lead to the DBacks, who never again relinquished it.

Bautista, McLouth, and Sanchez all had good nights in the 1-2-3 spots, but the big story tonight was failure in the clutch by Bay, who is really in a funk, and Burnitz, whose funk appears to be terminal. With the first three guys getting on consistently all night, Bay came up repeatedly with chances to tie the game or put us ahead and responded with a run-scoring DP in the first to tie the game followed by three consecutive sorry-looking strikeouts with men on base. On his last at-bat, with McLouth on base, he went 0 and 2 before getting a hit, thereby providing Burnitz with the opportunity to complete another perfect night of futility by striking out to end the game when a home run would have tied it. Burnitz was 0 for 5.

The worst thing about this, to me, is that it provides apparent confirmation of Tracy's erroneous diagnosis (the attending nurse in this case is Paul Meyer) of what primarily ails the Pirates:
"We know what our situation is," manager Jim Tracy said. "And we know we have to fix it -- quickly."

The Pirates' situation is that they haven't hit nearly enough balls in the gap with runners on first and second, haven't hit enough three-run homers and haven't hit enough two-out, run-scoring singles.

"That's what we're missing," Tracy said. "We have guys on base. We are doing a good job of setting the stage in order to create that [game-changing] at-bat."

But they don't do a good job of getting the game-changing hit.

"It's a matter of applying yourself in the situation and then executing," Tracy said. "That's what good major-league hitters do."

Tracy paused.

"We're going to get that [big] hit," he said, then added, perhaps trying to reassure himself, "we're going to get that hit."
("I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...")

Well sure, some clutch hitting would be nice, but overall, the lineup and the offense are sick, and the primary symptom of that sickness has been low OBP, not failure in particular kinds of situations. To this point in the season, the statement "We have guys on base. We are doing a good job of setting the stage in order to create that [game-changing] at-bat" has been patently and demonstrably untrue. Tonight, though, it was true.

In addition to all of that, for some reason, Jose Hernandez played first base tonight. I am sure that Tracy will provide some chuckleheaded rationale for this in tomorrow's paper--I look forward to reading it and choking on my granola tomorrow morning.

UPDATE: Here it is:
Tracy might have fortified the middle of the order by using Craig Wilson, but he benched Wilson's .255 average and seven home runs in favor of Jose Hernandez, who went 0 for 4 to drop his average to a team-worst .150.

Tracy's explanation was twofold: One, Wilson was 0 for 7 with five strikeouts against Arizona starter Brandon Webb. Two, Tracy said, "You enhance yourself defensively a little bit."

Wilson's .996 fielding percentage ranks second among National League first basemen. Hernandez, a middle infielder by trade, was charged with an error when failing to corral a low throw in the fourth inning.
Kovacevic isn't buying it either.

Back to Burnitz for a moment. It rained briefly in the 7th inning, and my wife convinced me that we should move back under shelter. So we went back about 20 rows and ended up sitting two rows behind none other than Bob Smizik, enjoying an ice cream cone with the great unwashed masses outside the press box and watching the game dispassionately with a few admirers. Oddly, he left the game immediately after Bay's single in the 9th and didn't stay to watch Burnitz strike out.

One of his buddies told me that Smizik had told him that there was an article in the Chicago Tribune-Review stating that Jim Hendry of the Cubs had urged Burnitz to retire last season. When I got home, I googled the article and found it; the article is not exactly as reported, but it does contain several interesting bits. To wit:
"It's kind of weird how it worked out, honestly," Burnitz said. "Jim asked me (about retiring the last day of the season). I basically told him I wasn't sure what I was going to do. … I was trying to get a job closer to home [in Southern California]. Once that kind of didn't pan out, basically, he just seemed like he decided to go in another direction.

"I would have loved to [return], especially as I realized those job opportunities toward home weren't really materializing. I loved it here and loved the guys."
I wouldn't describe this as Hendry urging Burnitz to retire, unfortunately; if he had done so, there is always the possibility that Burnitz might have taken the advice. Then there's this:
Burnitz, 37, said baseball has changed for the worse in the last few years in terms of fan abuse. Where New York once was renowned for giving struggling players a hard time, Burnitz said that tense atmosphere has pervaded all ballparks.

"Honestly, every single ballpark I go to, the style of people, it seems like a football game to me—the yelling, the screaming and the mean stuff," he said. "It's not one of my favorite things about the sport. I can't stand it. But you deal with it and you do your job."
It seems that Burnitz made a wise choice when he chose to sign with Pirates. With the exception of a few boos here and there, the crowd tonight was, as always, reserved, polite, docile, complacent, and well accustomed to the losing and the failure.

Like lambs to the slaughter, that's what we have become in the McClatchy years.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Two must-read columns today

I can't add much to these two columns from today's papers by Brian O'Neill and Jon Perrotto.

That this point of view is now visible in two local papers means something. Romo Phone Home, Bucs Dugout, Van Slyke, and Honest Wagner have been narrowcasting these messages for a while now. The more they are broadcasted, the sooner Pirates ownership will have to respond in some more substantial way than what we've seen so far. Although I've written frequently that I doubted that Littlefield would be fired before his contract expires, I'm beginning to imagine a plausible scenario in which he gets fired this year.

I've been watching this team make inexplicable decisions for years now--we all have--but I never remember a time in which their decision making seemed quite this random and irrational. Perrotto captures this irrationality perfectly. We have moved from the merely unwise and foolish to the realm of the Red Queen.

Off with their heads!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Rosenthal on the Royals

Again, the parallels with the Pirates are striking. Check this one:
Oh, Glass will argue that he raised the payroll from $34.9 million last season to $47 million this season, but that money would have been better spent on player development. Overpaying for second-tier free agents is a losing strategy, but Baird had little choice. Glass ordered the payroll increase, and Rafael Furcal wasn't about to come to Kansas City.

Dream world

So, I slept over at a friend's house last night. He tells me that at around 6 AM I started talking in my sleep. He heard me say, at a perfectly ordinary, conversational volume:
If I were the Pirates' general manager, I would play Sanchez at third base.

In my sleep I was able to make a decision that Dave Littlefield failed (miserably, I might add) to make in full consciousness this off-season. The Pirates' upper management is not evil, they are just complete morons. That is the only conclusion I can reach from this.


heard that the Pirates brass wanted hitters to make more contact this year and to cut down on strikeouts. In response, Jose has now perfected the pop up.


There haven't been many memorable moments for us this year, but that triple by Sanchez in the top of the fourth was tremendous. What an at bat.

The Pirates are turning me into Bob Smizik

I'm deeply concerned about the way my views about the Pirates are converging with those of Bob Smizik, the Miniver Cheevy of sports columnists. Smizik's combination of relentless negativity and uninformed opinion used to drive me insane, and I've had a couple of letters to the editor published over the years in reaction to it. These days, whenever he writes about the Pirates, I find myself agreeing with him.

This tells me that I have become relentlessly negative about the Pirates--but how can any sane person not be?

I really need a new hobby. I don't want to be Bob Smizik.

Today's outrage

The quote in today's Post-Gazette that will cause gnashing of teeth--there is usually at least one a day with our Pirates--is this one:
Asked why he would use Ryan Doumit at first base rather than right field -- a position he has played previously -- and supplant Jeromy Burnitz, who was batting .198, Tracy replied: "We need Jeromy Burnitz. We need him to do offensive things, and the only way to get that is to keep sending him out there."
What this tells us is that the Pirates organization is nowhere close to acknowledging the dreadful off-season signings of Casey, Burnitz, and Randa as a mistake. Those signings also effectively represented a decision to allow Craig Wilson to leave the team either this year in a trade or at the end of the season as a free agent, and again, despite what's happened in the first month of the season, the Pirates are not reconsidering. When Craig was hot a couple of weeks ago, many of us were hoping that the Pirates would approach Craig's agent and discuss a contract extension. I'm now convinced that there is no chance of that happening.

Putting Doumit at first base, not re-signing Wilson, is the Pirates' chosen solution to the lack of system depth at first base. Doumit may have helped to spark a win last night, but any idiot can see that doing so does not represent a net gain in offense, whereas putting him in right field in place of Burnitz and keeping Wilson at first base might. Dave Littlefield and Jim Tracy are not just any idiots, though.

This dogged persistance with a strategy that anyone can see is failing reminds me of something Groucho Marx once said: "Who are you going to believe? Me or your own eyes?"

Friday, May 05, 2006

Two Royals links

Misery loves company.

The Royals, our spiritual brethren, are horrible, but they have Joe Posnanski, one of the best beat writers in baseball. Joe has had enough (via Bucs Dugout).

Meanwhile, there is this from the Royals' owner, angry and promising changes. Will we ever hear anything like this from McClatchy? Oh that's right, he signed his miserable GM to an extension before the season began.

Mr. Tracy: Some of this, please

I'd like to hear Tracy, just once, say something like this to the press. It's about time that someone in this organization--the owner, general manager, or manager, I don't care who--says, with some energy and some passion, that the team is pathetic and embarrassing and that they are not happy about it. Enough with the excuses and pleas for patience. Somebody needs to overturn a food table in the clubhouse.

What would Jim Leyland do if he were managing this team?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mismanagement 101

Don't miss this indictment of Dave Littlefield's tenure as general manager by Wilbur Miller.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Real-time game comments

Thoughts during the game last night:

  • Ian Snell is a pitcher. He sure seems to have figured something out over the past few games. Two weeks ago, they were talking about sending him to AAA or the bullpen. He pitches better when he's pissed, and maybe they were just trying to push his buttons. But that gives them more credit than I'm willing to concede. Walk describes Snell as a "free spirit." That's what people used to say about Walk when he pitched. This must have been intended as a compliment. Snell made Delgado look particularly sick on his eighth strikeout. As I often do, I agree with Walk: "Snell deserved a better fate tonight."

  • Dave Littlefield: Please end Chris Duffy's and all Pirates fans' misery and send him down to AAA already. He is not ready. Rotate Doumit, McLouth, and Burnitz in right and center and live with the degraded defense. If you're not going to do that, at least take Duffy out of the leadoff spot. McLouth is not being given a fair chance to succeed with this team. Duffy is being given more than a fair chance, and he is not succeeding. We're choosing to optimize on the wrong guy.
  • Duffy's route to Cliff Floyd's fly in the 7th was Redmanesque. Let's blame it on the weather.
  • What Freddy Sanchez is doing is known as "playing your way into the lineup."

  • The only "We Will" commercial that doesn't now make the Pirates look ridiculous is the Mazeroski/Casey spot. So it's now the only one they use. Add the money wasted on the unusable spots to the sunk cost of the veteran acquisitions. The Mazeroski/Casey ad is bad enough to have to sit through once in an evening. After viewing it four times last night, I'm considering adding a TiVo in the bedroom. As real success for the Pirates becomes increasingly unlikely in the present and recedes into an increasingly distant past, it gets mythologized, like the Ottoman Caliphate.

  • Walk has been highly critical of our approaches during the game in the loss to the Cubs and again last night, and after the loss to the Cubs, Brown was highly critical of Randa. These guys seem to be finding it impossible to toe the company line. Good.

  • I like Mets fans a lot better than I like Yankees fans. They're a lot scruffier and edgier. I was one for a short time when I lived in NJ. White Sox fans are cooler than Cubs fans too.

  • Defense behind the plate is overrated. Exhibit A: Brad Ausmus. Exhibit B: Mike Methany. However...I have no idea whether the correlation between Paulino's entry into the lineup and the improved pitching represents causation or coincidence, but at this point, I might also be inclined not to mess with it. Meanwhile, the batting average and defense from Paulino are nice, but I hope we start to see some power sometime soon. Here's the first indication I've seen that Cota is going to be the odd man out.

  • After a good first week or so, Jose Castillo has completely disappeared at the plate.

  • I'm warming up to Matt Capps. "Here it is. Hit it if you can." He could be a nice closer someday. Marte has looked great lately. Torres dominated the middle of the Mets order in the 9th, and Hernandez was strong too. Good night for the bullpen overall. Gonzo just got beat by a good hitter.

  • Craig Wilson batted for Burnitz in the 9th with two on. The fact that Tracy made this move was one of the best things that happened this whole game, despite the result.
  • Wagner, Sanchez, and Bradford. The Mets have a veteran bullpen all right, with lots of different looks.

Bucs shopping Perez and Doumit to Phillies?

See this comments thread at Baseball Primer. One commenter cites a rumor at Baseball Prospectus that Perez and Doumit are being offered to the Phillies. Rumors such as this rarely materialize, but this one both reflects and intensifies the fear that the Pirates will make yet another bad decision about their current glut of catchers.

UPDATE: link here

I also agree with the commenters who suggest that Doumit's situation is eerily reminiscent of how the Pirates have mishandled the careers of both Craig Wilson and Chris Shelton--a catcher/first baseman/third baseman/right fielder type whose inability to excel defensively at any one position leads the Pirates to underutilize the player's offensive potential. When a team's organizational bias is to look for any opportunity to disqualify a good hitter because of his defense, the result is a poor offensive team like ours has been for many years.

Rowdy at Honest Wagner has argued (such as here) in favor of continuity in ownership, and the argument would be persuasive if the Pirates hadn't shown repeatedly that they don't learn anything from experience. Littlefield has stated clearly that losing Shelton in the Rule Five was a mistake, but I don't see evidence that the organization has internalized the reasons why it was a mistake in a way that immunizes it from making the same mistake again. Doumit's new status in purgatory reinforces the impression that this organization's philosophy and ability to evaluate talent is fundamentally and irretrievably flawed.

As the game is about to begin tonight, I brace myself for the anger I almost always feel when I get my first look at the lineup. It's a conditioned response, and I've been having it in the half-hour before game time for years. Part of the bitterness that I, and I suspect that many other Pirates fans, feel this year comes from the expectation that the firing of McClendon and hiring of Tracy represented some kind of a change. I almost forget what it's like to root for a team whose management you trust to make sensible decisions. That's the way it was for me when Jim Leyland managed the Pirates; I wish he were managing them now.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Perrotto's head-scratcher today

The logic of this article today by the usually sensible John Perrotto of the Beaver County Times escapes me. Perrotto is arguing that what looks to almost everyone else in Pittsburgh, including the Stats Geek, like a bug (stubborn unwillingness to admit a mistake by taking positive action) is really a feature (patience and persistance).

OK, so the Pirates are choosing to stick with Randa over Sanchez at third, although Sanchez is making that increasingly difficult. Is that a smart decision or not? That depends on whether Randa ever produces at the expected level. If he does, then Tracy's patience will prove to have been a virtue; if he doesn't, then it will prove to have been a vice. From here, it just looks like the same sort of obstinacy we saw for years from Tracy's predecessor. And it's simply weird to be praising Tracy for it, as Perrotto does here.

The Tigers are 11 and 3 since Jim Leyland threw his tantrum. Would you follow historical precedent today and trade Humberto Cota for Jim Leyland?

The Perrotto article is via Bucs Dugout, where Charlie also has today's must-read article on the Pirates, comparing the Brewers' handling of Bill Hall with the Pirates' handling of Freddy Sanchez. Brewers fans get creativity from their team's management; Pirates fans get PR, BS, and spurious arguments that defy logic and reason.

Read the whole thing.

Summary of last night's game on Pirates Web site

Santos goes seven strong, but Bucs fall

Victor Santos gave up one unearned run and five hits while striking out six in seven innings, but the Pirates were edged by the Cubs, 2-1, at Wrigley Field on Monday night. Third baseman Joe Randa knocked in Pittsburgh's lone run in the seventh
Yep, the game was a drag, but at least Randa had a good night.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Bad luck or really this bad?

One of the prerecorded segments on KDKA yesterday was an interview with John Kruk talking about the Pirates. Kruk was diplomatic, perhaps realizing that he was a national guy talking to a local Pittsburgh reporter, and he asserted that their horrendous April was just a matter of bad luck. He said the predictable stuff: The pitchers are young with high upside, young pitchers are going to struggle, they have a lot of talent on the team, the veterans have all started slow, I liked the team in spring training and still do, they've made a commitment by spending some money, blah blah blah...

On the other hand, Will Carroll and Brad Wochomurka on this week's Baseball Prospectus radio podcast spent about five minutes talking about Major League Baseball's two biggest disasters, the Royals and the Pirates. They live in Indianapolis and see the Indians play frequently, and they said that some of last year's AAA prospects--McLouth, Duffy, Duke, Snell, and Maholm--fooled them into thinking that the Pirates were making progress toward respectability; but because the rest of the team is so weak, from the major leagues down through the minor league system, the young players who just moved up to the majors aren't likely to make any difference.

"They have one prospect to get excited about in their system (McCutcheon), and he's at least two years away and won't help them much anyway."

Littlefield has been on their show and they seem to like him and think he is an intelligent guy, but they agreed that he has failed and "has to go." Brad reminded Will that Littlefield had just been given a contract extension, but Will dismissed that, saying that things will inevitably get so bad that McClatchy will have no choice but to fire Littlefield before the contract is up. They also acknowledged that, for both the Pirates and the Royals, the real problem is the owner, not the general manager; but you can't fire the owner (despite what some people would like to think).

The only mitigating argument against this doom and gloom came earlier in an interview with Joe Sheehan, who reminded Will and Brad that April records don't give a reliable picture of how good or bad a team is because April records depend on a limited and unrepresentative sample of competition. One reason that the Reds and Astros are doing as well as they are, Sheehan said, is that they've played against two very bad teams, the Nationals and the Marlins.

My brother, who lives in Connecticut and follows the Pirates on the dish, mentioned to me the other day that the Pirates always seem to be playing against a good team. Maybe he's right, and we can look forward to competing when we play teams that are closer to us in talent. But other than maybe the Reds, we don't have those kinds of teams in our division. Because of the unbalanced schedule, we'll be playing the Brewers, Astros, Cardinals, and Cubs a lot this year; so far, we haven't been competitive, and it's hard to imagine that that is going to change.