Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bucs out of the cellar

Today is a day to stretch out and enjoy the dizzying heights of fifth place. The Pirates suffer from chronic incompetence, but our rivals the Cubs this year are showing what acute incompetence looks like. It's fitting that the winning run came on a wild pitch last night; so many of these games have not so much been won by the Pirates as they have been surrendered by the Cubs.

Remember one-run losses in the first half? The Pirates were 9-25 in one-run games before the All-Star break and are 12-2 in such games since, for a record of 21-27 overall. If you accept as a premise that luck is a greater factor in determining the outcome of one-run games than it is in other games, then what we're seeing has something to do with the tendency of luck to even out over time, as small-sample anomalies disappear. Following that premise, it's possible to believe that the Pirates were not as bad a team as they appeared to be in the first half of the season. However, they are also not as good as they appear to be now. 21-27 is closer to their true abilities than 9-25 or 12-2. Charlie at Bucs Dugout gets it right--the thin air of fifth place should not intoxicate us into thinking that this team is close to contending. It isn't.

That is exactly what the Pirates public-relations machine will assert in the off-season, though. Tracy beats the drum to the press every day, but his relentless optimism doesn't really bother me; as a leader, conveying optimism is central to his job. Littlefield, on the other hand, is a shameless and cynical purveyor of untruths for the purpose of distracting the public and his bosses from his record of incompetence. He is the worst general manager in baseball at building a team and at judging, acquiring, and retaining talent, but when it comes to self-promotion through subterfuge and guile, he is a master without peer.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"Better days are definitely ahead...

and they're coming soon." So ended Dave Littlefield on today's Dave Littlefield Show, in response to Greg Brown's question about McClatchy's vote of confidence.

Other notes on today's show:
  • Paulino has definitely won the catching job. Littlefield stated this explicitly. Doumit is now the new Craig Wilson, a good hitter without a position.
  • He said, "Freddy has shown us that he can play all three positions." Something about the way he emphasized "three" makes me think that they would now trade Jack Wilson in the off-season if they thought the deal made sense.

Some love for Salomon Torres

It's a shame that game wasn't on TV last night, because it was a good one. Torres was brilliant in the last two innings. In the eighth, after giving up singles to Pujols and Rolen followed by a sacrifice and an intentional walk to Molina (the wisdom of which was debated by the Cardinals announcers), Torres struck out Ronnie Belliard and Preston Wilson, then got Pujols to bounce out harmlessly in a Pujols moment in the ninth, poised for a walk-off two-run homer but decisively denied.

Torres is a freak. How do you lead the league in appearances and still seem to get stronger as the year winds down?

Freddy was 1 for 4 at the plate, but played inspired defense at short all night, drawing raves from the Cardinals announcers. We don't lose much on defense if anything with Freddy at short and Jack on the bench. What a player Freddy is.

Fooled again

When I read John Perrotto's speculation that Dave Littlefield was going to be fired at the end of the year and reported it here and here, I again allowed my emotions to cloud my reason. Dejan Kovacevic emphatically puts an end to any cause for optimism about the Pirates situation in an interview with Kevin McClatchy this morning.

Dejan's skepticism, clearly evident in the article, makes a line-by-line refutation of McClatchy's blather unnecessary. But I can't resist at least a few additional observations.
...anytime a sports executive goes so long without winning -- and, in Littlefield's case, the Pirates' record likely will have regressed each of the past four seasons by the time this one ends -- some doubt tends to be raised about whether the team will honor that contract in its entirety.
Yes, one would think.
McClatchy added that he is not satisfied with the outcome to date, though.
Well, that's a relief. A patient man, that McClatchy.
"Obviously, there's one piece that we have not accomplished, and that's to win. And Dave would tell you the same thing. His job is not done successfully until we win. But I think we're starting to see what I think is the framework we need to do that."
Whenever I hear the word "framework," my bullshit detector starts to beep. Dejan's seems to be beeping too, as he immediately examines the framework and finds it a bit rickety.
In addition to being the National League's worst team this season, the Pirates have a minor-league system nearly depleted of prospects at the top two levels, Class AAA Indianapolis and Class AA Altoona.
But of course, you know where this is going:
Littlefield's explanation has been that, because the Pirates have moved so many young players to the majors the past two years, a temporary void at those levels was inevitable. It is a view shared, apparently, by McClatchy.
That view simultaneously overvalues the young talent on the major league team, which does not appear to be strong enough to form the core of a winning team, and excuses Littlefield's staff for its desultory record in assessing talent, drafting, and developing players. But McClatchy shares that view not on its merits, but for a much simpler reason: 14 losing seasons are an insufficient motivator for change as long as the partnership is profitable. And it is.

The spinning and obfuscating will continue for another year, at least.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Target practice

The Pirates are target practice for the Cardinals. Weaver hit Duffy tonight. Isn't it time a pitcher on the Pirates sent a message to Mr. LaRussa?

Wishful thinking

Suspending disbelief for a moment and accepting as an axiom that McClatchy and/or the Nuttings are unhappy with Littlefield for his off-season profligacy and are contemplating firing him, his failure to unload Burnitz and Randa before the August 30 deadline won't help his case.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Back from the Dead!

Yes, Mr. Randall Simon is back in the big leagues. His abilities aside, Simon was highly entertaining, and I confess to some residual fondness for the free-swinging sausage mauler.

Here's cause for hope for those so inclined: The Tigers were so bad in 2002, the year before we acquired Simon for the first time, that he was their team MVP for the season. And just look at them now! Ed Eagle, take note.

I also miss Josias Manzanillo and Mike Fetters. If you're going to lose, do it with some flair.