Friday, June 30, 2006

"Don't give him anything he can hit; but don't walk him."

Wells has to be thinking, "The hell with this. Next time, I'm going back to gutless nibbling."

It's official: Our starting pitching is now a complete disaster. Wasn't this Colborn fellow supposed to be a great pitching coach?

Regarding the ninth inning: I hate the sacrifice bunt. Let Bautista swing the damn bat.

Dejan on the propaganda machine

Corroboration in today's Q&A for what I wrote about--and what many readers commented about--earlier in the week.
Increasingly, since you raised the subject, Ian, this team is engaged in all kinds of unusual behavior off the field lately. Without going into details -- since I would not know precisely where to point the finger -- management very clearly has recently begun pushing some in the organization, particularly those who have a public voice, to put a brazenly positive spin on what is nothing less than the most miserable stretch of play in the franchise's 120-year history.

That goes from some of what you hear over the air -- "We will persevere!" -- to suddenly ultra-happy press releases to asking what type of questions might be asked of Robert Nutting in an interview to the sudden absence of negativity in the daily game notes distributed to the media.

Information you might have read in our paper about the history of the Pirates' various losing streaks, for example, came as the result of a long stretch of clicking away, year by year, at a baseball reference site. It did not come from the team, as it has in the past on such transparent matters. Apparently, some in the Pirates' front offices must have thought that they could suppress an 0-13 slide into secrecy. ("Quick: Someone knock out Leno's transmission tower!")

Never mind what this sort of behavior does to lessen the public's trust in the organization.

And never mind, for that matter, that there is no such thing as negative publicity in sports. When your fans are angry in Pittsburgh, it means they care. When your fans no longer care, you become irrelevant.
It's a great point: The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The Pirates don't know how fortunate they are to have an active community of passionate fans who write about them on blogs and who organize and conduct fan protests.

Great moment coming in the All-Star Game

I am looking forward to the individual introductions on the field before the game. There may not be too many Pittsburghers in the crowd, but when Jim Tracy is introduced, I expect that at least half of those who are in the crowd will boo heartily, and the rest will be quiet. That should give the announcers something to talk about.

Regime change is the only hope

You would think that abject failure of the sort that earns an "F" in a midyear assessment by the top baseball sportswriter in a city might lead a general manager to reconsider strategies that have clearly not worked.

This response about Dave Littlefield in Dejan's Q&A today suggests otherwise:
Q: Hi, Dejan. I'm wondering what shape the much discussed changes that might take place. The obvious answer is that the Pirates will, as always, unload players in the last year of their contract for marginal prospects, most of whom will never smell the majors. This group would include Jeromy Burnitz, Joe Randa, Jose Hernandez (Ha!), Roberto Hernandez, Damaso Marte, Kip Wells (if he can win a couple games before July 31) and Sean Casey (if he doesn't sign an extension).

Do you see the Pirates looking into trading anyone else? What about Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Jose Castillo or -- gasp! -- one of our young pitchers? As you've mentioned many times in this space, it takes talent to get talent. If the Pirates are serious about a personnel shake-up, it would seem they have to offer more than rent-a-players.

Ryan Duchene of Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh

KOVACEVIC: Well, this one can be cut off quickly: The Pirates apparently have no intention of a personnel shakeup of the "serious" type, as you describe it. Right or wrong, Dave Littlefield and management are of the mind that they have a core they do not want to disperse. The three players you mentioned there are very much part of that, as are others.

The other players you mention are the ones that are or will be getting offered. In fact, of all the veterans on the team 30 or over, only Casey and Salomon Torres are likely not to be placed on the block. Casey, as you mentioned, could be signed. Torres is signed long-term and considered part of the core group despite his age.

You are right on about this: Trading prime chips is the only way to acquire prime, young talent. We have seen it all over baseball, most recently with Cleveland and Florida.

But there no indication of that coming, and there is no indication, in fact, that any aspect of how the Pirates have done things is on the verge of changing. Witness Littlefield's recent comments that he hopes to acquire talent that is "major-league ready."

That, my friends, is not Hanley Ramirez. It is J.J. Furmaniak.
As long as the "major-league ready" requirement remains in place, nothing will ever get better. Littlefield is going to stubbornly cling to his failed strategies until he loses his job. Even after a 13-game losing streak, there isn't anything to indicate that that day will be here anytime soon.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Wilsons

After a strong start this season, Jack is reverting to the offensive liability he has been for much of his career (so let's bat him leadoff).

And Craig, whose only remaining value to us, thanks to years of misuse and disrespect by the Bad Guys, was as trade bait, was just injured in a nasty-looking play at first base.

The Bay campaign

Charlie is taking a bit of heat from his normally respectful readers for his admonition to stop voting for Bay. I wouldn't go as far as to tell anyone else to stop voting for a favorite player--doing so is the reason why we have fan voting for the All-Star Game--but I have to agree with Charlie that the PR campaign being conducted by the Pirates is cynical and unseemly. And the motivation for it is transparent.

The Pirates held a press conference yesterday about the phenomenon not only of Bay moving into first place among outfield candidates, but also the high standings of Jack Wilson, Castillo, Casey, and Sanchez. In the midst of what is now the worst losing streak in modern Pirates history, accompanied by an increasingly visible and viable fan revolt (kudos to for that, by the way), the Pirates PR/Marketing staff is actively diverting attention away from the bad news and promoting this feel-good story about our dedicated fans and their love for our players.

And are they ever promoting. We've all heard the non-stop admonitions from the announcers to vote as frequently as possible, but in addition, Bay revealed in the post-press-conference interview that the Pirates have a campaign going in Canada to get Canadians also to vote 25 times a day for Jason Bay. Is it just me, or does the vigor of the PR campaign somehow taint the achievement? So how real is this feel-good story if the phenomenon being described is not so much a groundswell of support from loving fans as it is a creation fabricated by a PR department with the sophistication of the government of Kim Il Jong.

I am a big fan of Jason Bay, but if I were to participate in this exercise by hitting "Send" 25 times a day, I think I might feel like taking a shower.


After reading The Stats Geek's article yesterday, I realize that I need to add The Fielding Bible to my reading list this summer. Brian's article offers an entirely different explanation for the Pirates' underachievement than the Wall Street Journal article I cited here. Both explanations are persuasive when looked at separately, but both can't be correct.

What is it that we are looking at here? Is it poor fielding, evidenced by the team's poor defensive efficiency rating? But defensive efficiency rating is neutral with respect to the phenomenon discussed in the Journal article--the fact that sometimes, randomly negative events, because they are random, don't get distributed equitably and end up affecting some teams and some players disproportionately. If you accept that life is sometimes not fair, then that unfairness could show up in defensive efficiency ratings and represent not bad fielding, but bad fortune.

I understand that this is an emotionally unsatisfying argument--just look at the comments thread on the original post. But if you're going to base decisions on performance, it's important to know whether the performance you're looking at is genuinely bad or is the result of a disproportionate number of bad breaks. And from what I've seen, fielding stats are still too imprecise to allow you to answer that question with any certainty.

As with any of these kinds of questions, there's always a danger in drawing conclusions from a sample size that is too small. Last year at this time, everyone was raving about the success of the surprise team of the year, the Washington Nationals, in one-run games. Today, I can't even remember the name of the closer who was being credited for the phenomenon. As things often do, they evened out over the course of the year, and we now remember the 2005 Nationals as an unsuccessful team.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Of all the nonsensical articles published in newspapers about the Pirates this year, this one has to be the worst (so far): Bucs' decision on Casey a no-brainer, by Mike Prisuta of the Tribune-Review.

The first half is the usual recitation of the Pirates' annual miseries with a superficial recap of Littlefield's best and worst deadline deals. At the end of this comes the first stunner:
And Lofton reached the postseason in 2003 and '04 and is hitting well for the Dodgers this season, while the Pirates continue to grope for a center fielder.
So Mike, you are seriously saying that you'd prefer to see Kenny Lofton in center field for the Pirates over Jose Bautista (or even Nate McLouth)? Tike Redman I'll grant you.

Then it's on to the thesis: It's a no-brainer--the Pirates must sign Sean Casey.
But some of the guesswork can be eliminated this time if the Pirates heed the Opening-Day advice of Michael Keaton and write at least one check to at least one player whose contract is about to expire.
This is a perfect illustration of the fallacy that what ails the Pirates is that they are cheap. Yes, they are cheap, but they also spend the money they do spend foolishly, with no sound, unifying plan for spending it to achieve any clearly defined goal.
The Upper St. Clair product is having a disappointing season, by his standards, mostly because of a potentially devastating back injury that contributed mightily to Casey playing in just 33 of the Pirates' first 75 games.
He had a disappointing season last year too, by anyone's standards, a season in which he also was injured and also demonstrated that he has lost any power that he ever had (he has three homers in 125 at-bats this season). Potentially devastating injuries have been happening with increasing frequency to the Upper St. Clair product in recent years. A key factor has contributed mightily to these injuries. It's called "aging." With the passage of time, the importance of this factor has historically tended to increase.
But with his 32nd birthday fast approaching (July 2), Casey remains all ballplayer.
(Putting aside for a moment that it's impossible to know what the phrase "all ballplayer" actually means) Evidence please? The evidence I'm looking at, something known as "statistics*," shows a guy playing first base--a position that on most teams is occupied by one of the two or three most productive offensive players on the team--who has so far this year produced three home runs and a mediocre slugging percentage of .448.

But now, the fun really begins.
And beyond that, Casey's MVP intangibles make him much more of an asset than his career averages of .305, 18 home runs and 91 RBI suggest.
1. Please, please, please**, let me not see the words "intangible" and "character" in print in reference to the Pirates ever again. "Intangibles" are the refuge of lazy thinkers who lack the integrity, commitment, and energy to make a substantive argument. And tell me, what value has Casey's intangibles contributed to the 2005 Cincinnati Reds or the 2006 Pittsburgh Pirates? Do intangibles ever have any effect on actual wins and losses? And if the answer is "no," why are they even pertinent to this argument?

2. If the Pirates sign Casey to a three-year deal, the evidence suggests that it is a virtual certainty that those career averages will degrade considerably. They were produced by a younger, healthier ballplayer than the guy we will be signing. It happened in the past with Kevin Young (among others), and it will happen again.
Casey is such a unique and invaluable presence that a three-year, $21 million deal would constitute a bargain, especially considering what the Bucs are paying Jeromy Burnitz, Joe Randa and Kip Wells this season.
I see. So mistakes that were committed in the past provide license to commit more egregious mistakes in the future. And so it goes...the cycle continues.
The Pirates remembered heading into 2006 that you have to pay someone.
Uh, no. The Pirates realized heading into 2006 that they would not be able to bear the reputational damage that would have resulted from taking too excessive a profit without increasing payroll. So they directed their highly compliant GM to sign contracts with a few overpaid players in the twilights of their careers, crafted a cynical PR campaign around their purported "commitment to winning," then rewarded the GM with a contract extension.
If they've learned anything from this debacle, it should be the value of paying the right guy.
On that, Mr. Prisuta, we can all agree.

* statistics: arcane, obscure trivia that is of interest only to pasty-faced geeks who sit around in their underwear poring over books and web sites and who have never been to a baseball game or played the game themselves.

** Famous Flames: Please, please don't go.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Luck Factor

Fascinating article in today's Wall Street Journal about luck in baseball. I can't link to it because the link requires registration, but it's titled "Baseball Confronts the Luck Factor" by Russell Adams. You can get a free two-week registration at if you want to read the full article.

The article is about efforts to quantify "the ethereal quality of luck" in baseball using insights into randomnesss from other fields. The Journal asked ProTrade, "a startup co-founded by a former M.I.T. math whiz and staffed by engineers and former executives from companies like PayPal and eBay," to figure out which teams have been the luckiest and unluckiest this season.
ProTrade analyzed detailed data about each batted ball in every Major League game, including speed off the bat and the exact spot where it landed. Based on typical results seen over the past four years for batted balls with similar characteristics, ProTrade approximates the number of runs a team would have recorded, excluding "lucky" and "unlucky" plays. ProTrade then plugged those numbers into a formula (created by Baseball Prospectus) to predict each team's overall wins.
What ProTrade found is highly relevant to us:
The unluckiest team in baseball? The Pittsburgh Pirates, who, if you subtract chance as a factor, would jump from last to third place in their division.
ProTrade asserts that, if luck could be extracted from the results this year, we would be ahead of the Astros, Brewers, and Cubs in our division, 6 1/2 games behind the league-leading Cardinals. They also found that bad luck has inflated Ryan Vogelsong's ERA by about two full runs. Vogelsong is considered by ProTrade to be the 9th unluckiest pitcher in the National League. Mike Gonzalez, on the other hand, is the 10th luckiest--good fortune has lowered his ERA by about one and a quarter runs.

Of course, bad luck is not what we've seen at least during the last five games. That has been bad baseball (an understatement). But this data does seem to correlate with the large number of one-run losses we've experienced and with the vague sense that for as bad as this team has been, it is not quite as bad as its results would indicate.

Friday, June 23, 2006

"A Cheat and a Fraud"

Great essay by Wilbur Miller at (via Bucs Dugout):

Read the whole thing.

Dejan at the Post-Gazette and, surprisingly, Rutter at the Trib (which is supposed to be the Pirates' Pravda), have covered some of this story. But no one has yet nailed it the way Miller--not a "professional" journalist, just an articulate, passionate fan--does here.

A while back, I posed the question, Evil or Just Stupid? Miller makes a well substantiated case for the former.

Vive la revolution!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

How it all began

It started with those three strikeouts in the ninth inning on Monday to Burnitz, Sanchez, and Castillo. Zeke and I were there. At the time, it was rough, sure; but how could we anticipate the suffering, shame, horror, and degradation that were soon to follow?

It was like being present at the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

I'm issuing a "buy"

on shares of

Just when you think it can't get any worse

along comes today's game.

Is this what it looks like when a team quits on its manager?

True devotion

I am doing my best not to overreact to the past three games. After being one of the thousand or so eyewitnesses to The Big Choke, I had a rare Tuesday night gig with my band this week, so I was fortunate enough to miss The Worst Baseball Game Ever Played--at least the most painful parts of it.

I wasn't so fortunate last night. Had I written something after the game, it might have looked something like this. Pat is younger and, presumably, has a stronger heart than I do; I'm just glad that someone wrote it.

The definition of a fan is "an enthusiastic devotee (as of a sport or a performing art) usually as a spectator." When applied to a sport, this implies that, in almost all cases, the fan of any particular sporting contest wants his team to win. I call myself a Pirates fan, but now, today, I want the Pirates to lose. I want them to be swept by the team that people used to think was the worst team in baseball. Then I want their blowhard of a new manager to be humiliated and embarrassed in his former place of employment by the team he used to manage. Then I want the Pirates to be swept by the White Sox (can't wait to see those games), Tigers, Mets, and Phillies, so that they host the All-Star Break as the owners of a 24-game losing streak. I want that losing streak to be the focus of stories by every good baseball writer in the country, so that they all can investigate and describe in depth to the rest of the country the mendacity and ineptitude of those responsible for this mess.

Change at the top is all we can reasonably hope for. Anything that hastens that change is good.

(It's a good thing you're not overreacting. - ed.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Today's debacle

Cal and I were there. The weather just before the game and the fact that it was a previously unscheduled makeup game kept almost everyone else in the city away. Foul balls rattled around in unpopulated parts of the park and sat unclaimed. Rhythmic applause from three fans could be heard throughout the park. A lunatic right behind us yelled something incomprehensible everytime the ump called a strike against us when we didn't swing. Everyone in the park heard him too.

Yes, I took the day off from work, and all I have to show for it is a bad sunburn and a stomach full of bile. The most horrendous, gut-wrenching, hopeless, despair-inducing game of an already lost season, and I was there!

I don't have words to describe it that you haven't already read or will read tomorrow. You know what happened; you know about the nearly incomprehensible depth of the failure by Burnitz, Sanchez, Castillo, Bautista, and Wilson to win the game when doing so would have been so easy. It was a collective choke by a team that competed valiently until the bottom of the ninth only to give itself that opportunity to choke so thoroughly. What a tidy little game it would have been if someone--anyone--had been able to just punch one through a drawn-in infield, hit a ground ball, draw a walk, get hit with a pitch, or get a fly out of the infield.

It was like watching an automobile accident or a natural disaster. There's just not much you can say. It happened, and it was horrid.

Lucky? Not us

Lest you think that the health of the pitching staff this season has been one area in which the Pirates have been blessed by good fortune, our esteemed field general would like you to know the truth:
The Pirates are the lone team in the National League to use only five starters all season, a run that will end tomorrow when Wells rejoins the rotation. The Seattle Mariners are the only team in the American League to have used five. "We've done a terrific job in that regard," Tracy said. "A lot of that has to do with the way we've handled these pitchers."
Oh, and the nice weather we have had this season, with relatively few rainouts? We did that too.

I guess when you are 26-44, in last place, and 17 games out of first place two and a half months into the season, there's not a lot you can take credit for.

"Err" is the root of "error"

Dave Littlefield:
"Right now, we're stronger pitching-wise than with the whole group of position players," he said. "You've got to make the philosophical decision, knowing the resources we have in pitching, at what point do you whittle away at that depth to improve your position players? My strong belief is that we've always got to err on the side of pitching."
Looks like anemic offense, an identifying characteristic of the once-proud former Lumber Company during the Littlefield era, will continue indefinately.

Dejan and Tracy

The Pirates beat writer for the Post-Gazette, Dejan Kovacevic, would never say this in so many words, but it is becoming clear that he considers our new manager a horse's ass. The theme of his story in today's paper is the disparity between Tracy's perception of yesterday's loss and that of everyone else who watched it. That's a theme that Dejan has used before.
"You know that the club has made progress," Tracy said. "Now, the next step we have to take is realizing exactly what it is I'm sitting here talking about and know that, if you're going to be a club that's going to win these games, the mistakes that we saw happen today ... they can't occur. They just can't happen."
As I've pointed out before, realizing exactly what Tracy is sitting there talking about is a challenge in itself. But the larger issue raised by the article is that Tracy's leadership style, again as we have seen before, is to hector his players unreasonably while failing to take public responsibility for his own game decisions.

Jack Wilson and the others players who are quoted in this article don't believe there is anything that Jack could have done to make the play on the goofy little popup that started the rally. Most people also agree that charging an error to Perez on the bunt was ridiculous. There is, in fact, only one thing in that inning that can be second guessed. After Torres came in and hit Cuddyer, Morneau, a lefty, came up to bat with Grabow warming in the bullpen. Tracy left Torres in the game, and Morneau promptly cleared the bases.

The Pirates didn't get anymore runs, so a case could be made that, after the first run scored, nothing else mattered. Maybe that's why Tracy focused his comments on what happened before the Twins took the lead. Still, Tracy's tendency to be publicly critical of anyone other than himself can't be helping the atmosphere in the Pirates clubhouse.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

This is a day...

when the manager should overturn the post-game deli table. The Twins are making us look like Little Leaguers.

Why is Ryan Vogelsong on this team?

Defending our turf

Pirates have done a good job in the Twins series of beating back the recent challenge from the Cubs.

Sixth place is ours, Dusty--don't forget that.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Shooting fish in a barrel

Seriously, Bob Smizik: Are you really suggesting that Ian Snell belongs on the All-Star team? He's one of the 12 best pitchers in the National League based on a half season in the majors?

Absurd. And the reasoning--that Snell belongs because of how hard it is to have a winning record on a losing team--is equally absurd. Although Snell has been our best pitcher this year, his won-lost record, like all won-lost records, is dependent on all kinds of other variables that have nothing to do with his performance--things like who the opponent was, who the opponent's pitcher was, how well the guys were hitting when he pitched, how well the guys were fielding when he pitched, and so on.

Josh Fogg's relatively good won-lost record (relative to other stats that describe performance more precisely) was often cited as evidence that he had a certain indefinable something--moxie, guts, competitive spirit, bulldogishness, whatever. I liked Fogg just fine. He was a guy who, like Bob Walk and Jim Rooker, got the most out of his talent. But in a big game, I would rather have had Doug Drabek or John Candelaria, thanks.

I think that the All-Star Game has to take careers into account as well as performance in the first few months of the season. Snell might make an All-Star team some year, but he's not ready yet.


Rooting for the Pirates is like being married to an alcoholic: eternally hoping that the behavior will change, and repeatedly being disappointed.

The Pirates are getting ready to go out on a toot again, and there's not a thing I can do about it. I know, I know..."You have to take care of yourself."

Will someone please explain to me why the fact that Sean Casey is a nice guy is pertinent to the discussion of whether signing him to a three-year contract is wise? Really, who cares? As a poster at OnlyBucs points out, the teams that Casey has played on have a .480 win percentage.
"I think it would be a huge thing for the Pirates," outfielder Jason Bay said. "They always talk about trying to get good baseball players who are also good people.

"Sean hasn't been here long, but he has more than lived up to his reputation as one of the best people in baseball and, obviously, what he can do on the field goes without saying."
No, it doesn't go without saying, so I'll say it: What he will be able to do on the field in 2007-2009 is not sufficient to be a good way to spend $18M.

Character doesn't win championships, talent does. Talk to a sports writer who covered the 1979 Pirates sometime and ask him what that group of guys was like in the clubhouse.

Durocher may have been right.

Friday, June 16, 2006

All things Kip Wells

Today's read-the-whole-thing post is the lengthy dissertation by Pat at Van Slyke about Kip Wells. Don't miss the attached comments thread either.

I fall squarely on the side of inserting Kip into the rotation when he returns, though my reasons aren't nearly as well researched or carefully considered as Pat's. I was at his best game of the year last year, against the Phillies--sang the national anthem that day, in fact--and I can't get the memory of what Kip can do out of my mind.

In the absence of disciplined statistical analysis, we are all blind men describing elephants and then disagreeing with each other about what they look like. I say disciplined statistical analysis because it's also true that interpreting statistics objectively is not easy. Most often, people use statistics selectively to support opinions they already hold.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Cognitive dissonance

OK, first there's this:
"I can't really put into words how reliable this guy is," Tracy said of Sanchez, who is hitting .462 in the sixth spot. "He's a terrific offensive player. He's not a home run hitter and he's not going to be asked to be one here.

"But he's an ideal sixth hitter. He does his fair share of damage cleaning up what the third, fourth and fifth hitters don't do. He's a very unselfish player. He's a headsy player. He's a thinking man's player. He's a winning player."
Aha, says I, Tracy clearly gets it. I can now relax about Freddy losing playing time to Joe effing Randa.

And then, the same day that the quote above appeared in the Post-Gazette, there's this:
1. J. Bautista, CF
2. J. Wilson, SS
3. S. Casey, 1B
4. J. Bay, LF
5. J. Randa, 3B
6. C. Wilson, RF
7. J. Castillo, 2B
8. H. Cota, C
9. V. Santos, P
Now I know, it's one game and doesn't necessarily indicate any kind of a trend, but I've been trained not to trust this team to do the right thing. So this makes me a little nervous.

On the other hand, I guess it's possible that this is one case in which we really are putting Randa into the lineup to showcase him for major league scouts who may be in Pittsburgh to assess his health, for a possible trade. If that's the case, then I'm okay with it. We sure don't need Joe Randa now; we never did, but the Pirates didn't know that.

This team, by the way, is not as bad as it appeared to be in the beginning of the season. I was there last night, and they played a damned good game--one of many they have played recently. Jose Castillo, with his newfound power, is a real difference maker. If everything else remains the same, the pitchers improve, and Castillo achieves the potential that we've been waiting for for a couple of years now, this team might even be capable of exceeding mediocrity.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The mystical intangibles of Mr. Ronnie Paulino

Paul Meyer in today's game story:
Perez zipped through the Cardinals over the first three innings, allowing only a two-out single to Scott Rolen in the first. He had a tough fourth, but crisis intervention by Paulino kept damage to a minimum.

Rolen flared a one-out double over first. Juan Encarnacion's single to center gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. Jim Edmonds bounced a single to right, moving Encarnacion to second.

Perez thought a 1-2 pitch to Yadier Molina was a strike, but plate umpire Mike Winters ruled it inside. That seemed to upset Perez and, when Molina followed with a bases-loading single to right, his mood didn't improve.

Paulino kept calming down Perez through a six-pitch at-bat by Chris Duncan that ended with the rookie waving badly at a 3-2 pitch that was low and outside.

"[Paulino] has a sixth sense of recognizing that," Tracy said of the catcher's cognizance of looming trouble. "He put [Perez'] focus right back where it needed to be."

Perez finished the inning by getting Hector Luna to line to left.
It helps to remember that sixth sense when pondering the four strikeouts and the called third strike in the ninth with the tying run on third.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Oh please, dear Lord, let it be true

Tigers are interested in Burnie:
Newsday reported that the Tigers might take a run at acquiring outfielder Jeromy Burnitz from the Pirates, citing two reasons: because the Tigers are looking for a left-handed hitter with power and because Burnitz "usually gets traded this time of year."
via Honest Wagner.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The earth is shifting under our feet

Odd headline to Pirates Notebook today: "GM will eye trades if team fails to contend." This is still in question? Who knew?

Although it is always a challenging exercise to figure out exactly what Littlefield is saying--he is a master of obscurity, ambiguity, equivocation, and shameless spin--as near as I can tell, he is getting ready to do something, and he's beginning to build a case for why he did it.
Littlefield said in an interview that the team must show dramatic improvement soon for him to consider keeping it intact.
And who was it, exactly, who constructed this aggregation of players and believed that it would contend? Well, that doesn't matter, I guess. The point is that, if they want to stay intact, they'd damn well better show some dramatic improvement. You have to admire such courageous commitment to excellence in a leader.
"We're going to have to make some very serious strides for what I would characterize as doing something, meaning getting into the playoff hunt," he said. "The idea is that we want to get better, and I think we're showing that. We've been competitive all year. Unfortunately, we've lost a lot of one-run games, and the record is not good."
Umm...what? Does this guy just put a bunch of cliches into a blender and press "blend" when he gives an interview?
"But the idea of what takes place at the trading deadline ... there's always a balance you have to strike as you get closer to it. We'll see how it unfolds, but you have to have legitimate options to play certain positions."

"We're in a much, much different position now. If you look at the team, we had a couple of holes coming into the season that we filled with veterans. With Freddy playing the way he has, that looks like less of a hole for the future. Obviously, Bautista has done a nice job, and we'll see where he fits in. But a high percentage of our guys are going to be around for the next 3-5 years, and we have much better options if we were to trade a veteran player."
So, we didn't have a legitimate option at third base during the winter, and that's why we acquired Joe Randa? Is Freddy's performance this year that much of a surprise and a revelation? What team was Littlefield watching last year?

And then there's right field. Bautista might be a legitimate option out there, so now we may be able to afford to unload Jeromy Burnitz and some of that $7M contract. Call me crazy, but it seems to me that that $7M contract was a damned expensive insurance policy, with a damned small payoff, for a small market team to be able to afford. But then that wasn't the point, was it? That money was spent to send a message to the fans: We Will (spend money).

Craig who? Please don't bring that name up again. We don't talk about him around here.

In the end, unloading the veterans is exactly what I would like to see Mr. Littlefield do. I won't have any problem with the unloading; in fact, I welcome it. It's the loading that I had a problem with.

Update: Great minds think alike.

Duffy is back

What was all that about, anyway? Maybe we'll never find out.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Gammons: No Pirates/Cards trade talk about Craig

Peter Gammons just said on Sunday Night Baseball that Walt Jocketty says he has not been talking to the Pirates about Craig Wilson.

It's that time of the season again. Last year it was Lawton, the year before it was Benson, and this year it's Craig Wilson. It's important to remember that almost nothing that gets written about ever ends up happening.


That's why you keep the TV on during games like this.

Burnitz left the game in the 4th

He hurt his leg.

I'm going to refrain from writing something intemperate.

Irate fans make WPXI

Enjoyed seeing the video online. These guys are getting lots of attention, and that is nothing but good. You'd have to say that the niche they have identified is poised for growth. If I were a sports writer visiting Pittsburgh and looking for a good story, I would be seeking these guys out.

If I were advising the Irate Fans guys, I'd recommend against reusing one of the phrases that Possum (I think that who it was) used to WPXI, though. I don't think it's smart to emphasize the need for an owner with "deep pockets"--doing so is an invitation to McClatchy & Nutting to use the convenient alibi that they have used to such great effect for so many years. I continue to think that it's not the depth of the pockets that has been the problem, it's the bad decisions about how to spend available funds.

The pockets last winter were deep enough to overpay Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa, and deep enough to make similarly idiotic decisions during the entire McClatchy tenure; so clearly, there is something else that is amiss. The Iraters would be better off talking about that something else: bad management and the absence of a coherent plan.

The Brandon Duckworth era ends

Traded to the Royals. Hope we don't come to regret this one.

So who goes when Kip comes back? One more bad outing and Perez will be a lock to go down. But what if he pitches well? Seems to me that a package with Santos and Craig Wilson ought to get us something useful.

Kudos to Tracy for benching Burnitz against a righty after his execrable game the other night when he left a starting lineup's worth of baserunners on base and helped to botch a catchable popup. However, he is back in there today.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Rob & Rany on the Royals, Pirates, and other bottom feeders

Excellent exchange between Rob and Rany about protracted hopelessness and its effect on being a baseball fan. Here is the money quote relevant to those of us in whom the fan affliction attaches to the Pittsburgh Pirates, from Rany:
I guess the best thing I can say about the Royals is this: for many years around the turn of the century, I could at least argue that as bad as things were, the Royals were not the single worst franchise in the game. There was always the Devil Rays, and the Pirates were no prize either. The Tigers lost 119 games three years ago; we were never close to being that bad.

But all that changed over the last year. The Devil Rays were bought by a new owner, Chuck Lamar was jettisoned, and they started producing outfielders by the bushelful. The Reds have a new owner and a new GM, and they're competitive. The Brewers are everyone's trendy sleeper, and the Tigers look like a playoff team.

And for the last few months the Royals weren't just the most hopeless franchise in baseball; they might have been the most hopeless franchise in American professional sports.

I think that, if nothing else, the arrival of Dayton Moore and the effective departure of Dan Glass gets us out of this particular cellar. The Royals will still almost certainly have the worst record in the game this season. But long-term, I strongly feel that with David Littlefield still running things in Pittsburgh, and Kevin McClatchy still owning things, the Royals have a better -- if still slim -- chance of turning things around over the next five years than the Pirates do.
Despite the recent homestand and the games against the Rockies, today's Casey story makes me think that these guys are right about the Pirates. Littlefield and McClatchy are hellbent on making the same stupid move that has burned this team over and over again, and those of us who remain fans, in spite of our better judgment, can no nothing but stand aside and watch in horror.

The article is about how--and if--you can keep rooting for a team like this.

Read the whole thing.

If you're depressed

about the Pirates' Groundhog Day-like repetition of past mistakes, I recommend this comments thread at Baseball Primer to lighten your mood.

I feel like I'm going to be sick

Great idea, let's work real hard to lock up Sean Casey's declining years.

This is Kevin Young all over again. Worse, because when the Pirates signed Young, his future looked better than Casey's does now and, unless I'm forgetting someone, we didn't have another much better option already on the team. Unless someone with foresight had realized back then that we had a young guy on the team, considered a catcher at the time, who could give us great offensive production at first base for many years at a reasonable price...a fellow named Craig Wilson.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The game keeps finding Burnitz, doesn't it?

Man, would I like to see Craig Wilson playing every day. It's just criminal that we brought this guy in to replace Wilson in right, who is now likely to play only against lefties. What a joke this team is.

He hasn't been as awful lately as he was for the first month and a half, but this is what he is--an average to poor fielder who hits for low average and low OBP with occasional power. No matter what side he hits from, Craig Wilson is simply a much better ballplayer than Burnitz at this stage of their careers. We need Craig back in the lineup, and that is just not going to happen. Infuriating.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


From a comments thread at Honest Wagner:
Interesting DL radio show. He said point blank Freddy is the 3B and will not be replaced when Randa is ready to return.
Man bites dog; the Pirates do the right thing.

Bert Cota, unpack your bags

Doumit just pulled the hamstring on a play at first, and it looked real bad.



A common theme among our announcers and various other apologists for the team is that the current hot streak somehow demonstrates the "character" of team members, whatever that might mean.

So, if we say that the fact that we are now winning some games demonstrates some quality that we call "character," that means that the team is demonstrating a quality that other aggregations of 25 men would not demonstrate in identical circumstances. Really? Aren't teams always trying their best to win every game they play? Are we saying that the Pirates are trying harder than other teams who have horrible starts do? And if this turnaround continues and we do manage to salvage some respectability this season, how rare is that really? I know that earlier versions of the Pirates did it all the time, notably in 1974 and 1978.

I don't have any data to back up my impression, but to me, it seems that the opposite--the team that starts poorly and then completely falls apart and stops caring and trying--is more rare, simply because management doesn't tolerate teams like that, and their managers nearly always get fired. The only example I can think of is the team in Lamont's last season. McClendon't team last year did poorly and he got fired, but it never seemed to me as if they weren't trying.

So if this quality of continuing to try and sometimes succeeding is really not so rare, what value is there in citing it as an illustration of character?

The inscrutable Mr. Tracy

Even company shill Ed Engle is mystified:
Tracy said Duke's first-inning problems are probably "more strategic than it is anything else" but wouldn't elaborate when asked to explain what he meant by that.
He didn't elaborate because he has no idea what he meant by that. The common word for this sort of statement is "bullshit."

Thursday, June 01, 2006


After listening to this afternoon's game while working on a major editing project, I thought about something George Will said on last week's Baseball Prospectus Radio. He said that, when he was writing Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball, the one thing that he found both surprising and impressive was that he never once heard anyone who had played the game of baseball brag in the way that, say, Terrell Owens brags. Will thinks that this is because baseball is so difficult, and failure in baseball is so much more common than success, that the game tends to enforce a certain humility on those who play it, including its most successful performers.

If that's true of ballplayers, it also ought to be true of bloggers and others who write about the game as if they have it all figured out. Just when you think you know all there is to know, something happens like this Brewers series. Before this series, I was certain that the Brewers and Pirates were polar opposites: a team with a promising future run by smart guys who made smart decisions...and us. I know that this was only four games, and bad teams sweep good teams all the time, but still...

As a Pirates fan first and blogger second, though, I'm happy to sacrifice my certainty about what ails the Pirates for victories as sweet as this one.

Irate Fans

Let's give some love to Welcome to the neighborhood, fellas, stop by if you need anything.

We'll add them to the sidebar soon.

Correlation and causation

I suspect that readers may be checking the blog during the past few days and concluding that the reason I haven't been posting is that, when the Pirates are winning and things are going well, I have nothing to say.

Not true: correlation and causation are not the same thing (just as it is not necessarily the return of Sean Casey that has ignited our offense--although it definitely is a factor).

The fact is that I have a big deadline at work that is cutting into my reading and blogging time. Maybe one of the reasons I often rail about the inadequacies of the likes of Bob Smizik and Paul Meyer is that I envy the freedom they have to write about the Pirates whenever they want to, and I sometimes think that they abuse that freedom.

But that's enough metablogging--on to the show.

Enter dark, ominous music creating a sense of foreboding and doom:
Third baseman Joe Randa, out with a fractured right foot, has taken batting practice the past two days and is making "very good progress," Tracy said. (From Pirates Notebook today.)
After all of the Freddy talk of the past week, I'd say that at this point, the Pirates simply can't replace him with Randa when he returns. I think that Freddy has played his way into the starting lineup, and that is a measure of just how great Freddy has been playing; playing well enough to change the team's plans is very difficult to do with a front office as taciturn and as obsessed with saving face as this one has often been.

At the same time, I have to give Tracy some credit for doing the right things lately. Jeromy Burnitz didn't play against any of the three Brewers lefthanders we just faced and, with the exception of the continued obsession with Paulino and the shunning of Doumit, I can't disagree with any of the lineups he has recently put out there. After working myself into a lather about Tracy, there is something reassuring about this statement, also from the Notebook:
Tracy, asked why he kept the same batting order for a third consecutive game: "Twenty-six runs."
Back to Sanchez for a moment: It's now clear that I deserve a public flogging for this statement from a few days ago, written moments before Jose Castillo arrived with the prodigious power that has been predicted for him for a long time but that has never quite materialized until now:
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.
I will take the occasional, or even frequent, mental lapses in the field in exchange for the offense we've seen lately, and I'm sure that Tracy will too.

Speaking of announcers, the one irritant during The Streak (now up to three games) has been the aggressive triumphalism of Lanny Frattare. Unfortunately, I've had to listen to many of the games on the radio, and when he is not describing what is happening on the field, Lanny has seemed intent on declaring success prematurely (Bush on the aircraft carrier, "Mission Accomplished") and assaulting the character of those of us who have expressed skepticism and derision about the team. This is a direct quote from last night's game: "Jim Tracy is a tremendous manager, and he has a tremendous coaching staff."

As much as I love the offense we've been seeing lately, I'm not quite ready to buy that one.

Wilbur Miller, who turns up all over the place and is invariably perceptive, articulate, knowledgeable, and correct, wrote somewhere yesterday that the biggest issue for the Pirates right now is recovering gracefully from the bad moves they made in the winter. If there were a way simply to vaporize Joe Randa and Jeromy Burnitz, the season could proceed as it should, we'd learn about the young players we need to learn about, and we'd have a team that would be fun to watch and to follow.

But from McClatchy down, there is both a financial and a reputational investment in the fiction that the Pirates generously entered the free-agent market and spent money to make the team better. This was the brand story of the 2006 season, expressed in one of the "We Will" commercials that was shown only a couple of times before reality rendered it unusable. The Pirates need to find a graceful way of rewriting the brand story now that the original one has lost its usefulness. There's a better story that could now be written, but this has not typically been an organization nimble enough to change plans when things don't work out.