An Appalachian Mountain newspaper sent a shot across the other National League Central Division team’s bows yesterday with their interview of Pittsburgh Pirate broadcaster John Wehner who said:
"The odds are stacked up against the Pirates because of the payroll situation, but there’s enough good young talent mixed in with some veterans who have had some productive years that there’s no reason to think they can’t win 85, 90, maybe 95 games and be in things in September.
I see that you can.. make a scenario where the Pirates can compete for a wild card if everything aligns perfectly."
Talk about putting pressure on the kids – whoa! I understand the team wanting to win — God knows I want them too. And, I understand keeping a positive mindset around the players.. that makes sense.
But 85 wins in 2006?
Gosh John, what have you been smoking?
Oh, the hillbilly newspaper?
It’s owned by frugal Pittsburgh Pirate owner Ogden Nutting who wants YOU to go buy a ticket this year.
Make more sense now?
Baseball Prospectus released their 2006 PECOTA projections this week. If you are not a subscriber, I recommend you join.
I had mentioned earlier in the week that none of the projections systems were liking the Pirates bats this year and PECOTA ended up being no different, albeit a tad more optimistic.
I won’t list all of the projections out of respect for their subscription service, but I will give you a few highlights:
– in 2005, the starting 8 of the Pirates had a tad over 3,400 at bats and they averaged .127 runs per AB. The end-of-year tally for all position players was 5,234 AB and 667 runs scored — .127 R per AB.
– in 2006, PECOTA has the starting 8 players getting more AB but only averaging .123 runs per AB. However, when the bench is added in, the end-of-year tally jumps to .125 R per AB.
– Burnitz getting 1 HR about every 23 AB — 21 HR in 544 PA. That still seems a bit high to me but I hope I am wrong.
– Jack Wilson having a horrible year at the plate along with Jose, and even Freddy.
– Gerut projects out very nice as does Craig Wilson (same HR per AB projection as Burnitz but much higher OBP and run scored projections).
– Bay and Casey, as with the other projection systems, project to have an extremely good year.
PECOTA is a bit more favorable to our bench than the other projection systems. How Tracy uses that could be a whole new article.
What is wrong with this picture:
– Pirates average draft position since 2002 = 7.75
– Yankees average draft position since 2002 = 34.50
– January 2006: Baseball America tanks the Pirates farm ranking to 19th best in MLB and the Yankee’s pass us.. as did the Tigers and Orioles (notoriously poor drafting teams).
The 2006 BA Pirate ranking is the worst since 2002 — David Littlefield’s first full year as General Manager.
No need to go any further.. ’nuff said.
‘"The business is in very good shape right now," [McClatchy] said."’
The Pittsburgh Post Gazette ran Part II of their ‘How Not to be Competitive in Professional Sports’ series yesterday.. you can read about it here. Part I is here. Of course, it isn’t really called that – just what it should be called.
I am not going to go into the gory details of how the ownership group will ‘probably’ net about $50MM in profits from 2005 thru 2006.. maybe even more.
Suffice it to say, it is very hard to be a Pittsburgh Pirate fan these days, no matter how much you love the history of the organization. As I stated in my first post in this blog, we are on a Mission from God to get these fat cat owners to spend reasonable amounts of money towards fielding a competitive product.
Goose Goslin, the ex-Pirate pitcher and a very conservative and typically a hard-nosed, organization friendly writer, blasted the ownership group in this April 17, 2005, article where he stopped just short of calling for an all out boycott:
"Those guys you see masquerading in Pirates’ uniforms these days are not really the guys representing the tradition of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Rather, they are the Unacceptables.
Forget the fact that it is early in the season. Forget the fact that they are a small-market team with a limited budget. It is time to turn up the heat on the Pirates’ ownership, management and players. Let’s quit babying the Buccos.
So long as the media, Pirates fans and politicians who made PNC Park possible continue to accept the low standards established by the organization (more than 10 years of incompetence), they will never get better. If what educators say is true, then all of us need to demand a better effort.
Let’s not baby the Pirates anymore. Let’s scream and yell when they stink, which they do. And, let’s stay away from the ballpark, too."
Joe Starkey, a writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, was more blunt when he said last year:
"Kevin McClatchy is a genius.
Either that, or Pirates season-ticket holders are fools. There is no in-between.
McClatchy is selling crud. We’re buying it. Maybe it’s time to look in the mirror instead of blaming McClatchy, G. Ogden Nutting and the rest of the crew for putting such a pitiful product on the field. They’re just running a business — and a profitable one, at that.
If we’re regularly buying tickets to PNC Park, we’re enabling them.
We’re part of the problem"
Oh.. did I mention that attendance was up 17% last year and that the Pirates are selling more tickets this year than they have in a decade?
I guess we are fools.
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Over the July 4th weekend, I went down and checked out Andrew McCutchen playing in a GCL game in Bradenton. At the field, I met Lastings Milledge’s dad and we sat and chewed baseball for quite some time while watching the game.
The more Andrew played, the more it became obvious he was hurt because I watched him grimace several times playing CF. So I whipped out the camera and recorded some of his playing time, including the video above.
Mr. Milledge swore it looked like he had a right heel problem. Evidently, heel problems are common in the farm because some teams use ‘Nike’ shoes that don’t protect the heel as well when landing on bases, according to the rumors I heard.
But then I saw Cutch massage his hammy area after running out a hit. I then knew he had more problems than just a heel issue.
Mr. Milledge shared a little inside info that Cutch has had leg injury problems. I researched it the best I could and found this article: read it here. Sure enough, the Pirates drafted him knowing:
"McCutchen had to undergo reconstructive surgery on the knee and flirted with the possibility of never playing any sport ever again."
Less than a week later, Cutch was on the bench. Joe Rutter at the Tribune mentioned on the 17th that Cutch had missed a few games due to a "left oblique strain". (Sound familiar? Some examples: Jose Castillo last year was out nearly the entire month of April and a few days in May… Cota was out in 2004 and missed most of April 2005.. Ward missed about a week in March last year.. all with oblique strains.)
Andrew was back on the field again playing the next week and, of course, didn’t do too well for about another 10 days, then started ripping again.
Flash back to draft days and McCutchen’s scouting report at Baseball America.. Cutch was ranked as the second highest high school player ‘closest to the majors’.
The Pirates have vehemently stated they would move Cutch no more than one level per year. However, in just 3.5 months, Cutch played in two leagues – GCL and NYPL and 27% of all the games he played last year were in the higher league.
Flash forward to 2006 where Dave Littlefield announced that Cutch has been invited to participate in 2006 Spring Training.
When Brian Graham was hired as Director of Player Development, David Littlefield stressed a new organizational philosophy: a player generally moves a maximum of one level per year. To that end, Graham said this:
"When the time comes, I’d like a player to go up and compete as opposed to going up and trying to survive," he said."
As we know now, that hasn’t happened — Jose Castillo, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Ryan Doumit, J J Davis, Mike Gonzalez, Ian Snell, Dave Williams, Bryan Bullington, Sean Burnett, and John Van Benschoten were all rushed to the bigs under Graham and Littlefield. Five of those eight pitchers had surgery, Doumit and Castillo have had a rash of injuries, and Gonzalez’s knee has placed him on the DL quite a bit.
That doesn’t seem to be a good record of player development as few have survived the rush.
McCutchen’s contract specifically states he has the right to start participating in spring training in 2007.. not 2006. Pirate fans don’t want Jim Tracy to see Cutch.. we don’t even want Tracy to even know Cutch exists. In fact, we pray Brian Graham simply puts Cutch on auto-pilot and delivers him to the bigs in September 2008, and not a minute sooner.
The writing seems to be on the wall. Will the Pirate organization declare McCutchen ready to take over CF in 2007 in an attempt to bolster ticket sales?
Littlefield said this in early 2002:
"Scouting and player development is the way to go," Littlefield said. "It’s just a more efficient way to get things done in the market we’re in. I don’t see that there’s any magic going on in any other organizations. We have to be more efficient. We have to make good decisions."
Considering Littlefield halted advance scouting and more and more players are being rushed each year, we can only hope David Littlefield doesn’t make Andrew McCutchen his next victim.
I created an Excel worksheet for you to download that lists the 2006 Pirates schedule by team they play, location of play, by dates, and by strength of schedule. You can download it here: Excel Spreadsheet (right click on link and then select ‘Save As’ to save it to your computer)
Here are some of the highlights:
|games by strength of opponent – by hardest month|
|games by strength of opponent – by month|
As you can see, April and August are our hardest months of play, based on each team’s 2005 winning percentage record.
Enjoy the speadsheet!
"The Cardinals are a tremendous model," Tracy said. "They’re interesting for this reason — they can kill you with the long ball. But what takes place with that club in between that long one being hit is what’s most damaging about them." Pittsburgh Post Gazette, October 12, 2005.
Those were some of Jim Tracy’s first words to the media after being hired as the new manager of the Pirates. You can’t blame the guy for wanting to model after the Cards.. they have had a great run the last 6 years. But, I found it interesting he didn’t mention the fact he would like to model the Pirates after his Dodgers. Hmm..
I decided to see just how well Dave Littlefield’s off-season acquisitions helped Tracy toward his goal by comparing the 2005 season stats of the two teams.
I picked the VORP stat from Baseball Prospectus (Value Over Replacement Player — the number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances) since it is a tidy stat and generally well known and accepted. VORP does not include defense.. only offense. I didn’t worry too much about defense here because the difference in defensive efficiency between the two clubs last year was 0.10, and much of that was due to lack of Pirate run production and poor pitching.
Before I begin, let me stress that this was an unscientific analysis.. who knows what Burnitz or Randa’s VORP will be at PNC in 2006. But, all things created equal, it will tend to show the value differences between the two clubs based on the 2005 stats. Nothing more, nothing less.
First, let’s look at position players. The data below shows the total amount of VORP achieved at each position, for each club, in 2005:
As you can see, the Pirates position players fell 90 VORP short of the Cards last year.. about the value of another Bay+. You can also see that the Pirates picked up another 20 VORP with the additions of Casey, Burnitz, and Randa, and the player’s Littlefield releasing or traded this winter.
Now, let’s look at the pitching comparison:
Here, the Pirates fell short 142 VORP and actually lost value through trades, releases, and acquisitions.
Overall, the Pirates were 232 VORP short of the Cards last year who managed 562. That is a considerable amount of value to be short, to say the least.
VORP is a counting stat.. meaning, for instance, each plate appearance Jason Bay had last year added an additional .116 VORP to his total, on average. Because it is a counting stat, and because some Pirate players that performed well like Duke didn’t play much last year, the totals are a bit skewed. But, make no mistake about it.. the Cards got about 5800 PA and so did the Pirates.. the Cards got 1400 IP and so did the Pirates.
To that end, after I projected out a starting rotation of Duke, Maholm, Wells, Perez, Santos, and Burnett, and then plugged in Randa, Burnitz, and Casey, our 2006 total projected VORP climbed to 468 from 329. Realize that the 468 is an arbitrary figure.. just a wild guess, if you will.
So, did Dave Littlefield help Jim Tracy toward reaching his goal of modeling behind the Cardinals? That is debatable, of course. The game is still played between the lines. However, the team certainly seems better with the new acquisitions.
Ed Eagle, MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirate beat writer, said this in his recent Mailbag:
So, assuming that Burnitz can once again play on an everyday basis — and that is admittedly a leap of faith on my part — I’m going to stick with my original guess that he’ll go deep somewhere around 30 times this season.
Is that the same Jeromy Burnitz that Gammon’s said something like ‘almost everyone believes he failed [Baltimore's] physical’? Naw.. it can’t be. Can it?
Let’s look at Burnitz’s career numbers at PNC park: .174/.276/.337 and 3 HR’s in 92 AB. Hmm.. if Burnitz was to get 250 AB at PNC, and considering his past performance there, he would hit just 8 HR’s.
I assume we are to believe that Burnitz will hit the other 22 HR’s on the road in his other 250 AB?? That is 1 HR every 11.36 AB. However, that is a feat he has never accomplished in his entire career.. the closest he got was at age 30 in Milwaukee when he hit 1 per 14 AB playing half his games at a 1.08 HR park factor park.
Shoot.. in 2004 playing for the Rockies in the NLWD smaller parks, he only averaged 1 HR per 15 AB. And, last year while playing for the Cubbies, he only managed 1 HR per 25 AB.. at age 36.
Now he is 37, playing 81 games at a .088 HR park factor park, in the pitching rich NLCD, and Eagle somehow feels he will triple his production on the road?
Shhh… let’s not tell Eagle Burnitz only hit .237/.300/.387 with 10 HR after the ASG last year. Oh.. and 7 of the 10 HR’s were at wind driven Wrigley Field, one at Coors, one at Great American Park, and the last at Busch — all of which combined equal a 1.08 HR park factor.
How do some of these writer’s get their jobs anyway.. kissing the owner’s hope baskets?
Zach Duke posted unbelievable rookie numbers last year: 14 GS, 85 innings pitched, 1.81 ERA, and a 1.20 WHIP
Paul Maholm’s rookie numbers were just as impressive: 6 GS, 41 innings pitched, 2.18 ERA, and a 1.16 WHIP.
Together, these two phenoms had an impressive 11 – 3 record in only 8.8% of all innings pitched, yet racked up 16.4% of all the Pirates wins.
Considering these feats were accomplished on a team that lost 95 games last year, that is pretty remarkable.
I can just hear some of the more knowledgeable baseball fans out there claiming it their performance was enhanced from the ‘rookie advantage’ — since they were rookies, none of the teams had seen them before so they were at an advantage the first time they pitched. Ok.. that is a fair statement — let’s look at that a minute.
One way to measure the quality of these performances is to use the Bill James ‘Game Score’ metric that evaluates the dominance of a starting pitcher’s effort. A game score is totalled for each start and then an average is taken of all starts made. That average is called the AGS — average game score. You look at the way the GSc is tallied in ESPN’s glossary here.
I wandered over to ESPN and put my mouse on their stats page (you can follow me using this link) and found Maholm had the 11th best AGS of all MLB starting pitcher’s last year — just behind Jake Peavy and Chris Carpenter. Duke was 18th behind Carlos Zambrano.
I then looked at the result of all qualified and unqualified pitchers from 2002 – 2005. Maholm’s 2005 rookie season placed him 31st best overall (tied at 61 AGS) and Duke’s 48th best (tied at 59 AGS). Because I looked across 4 years of data, some pitchers were listed more than once like Pedro Martinez. I determined just 31 unique pitcher’s were in front of Maholm and 40 in front of Duke.
Of the 40 pitcher’s in front of Duke and Maholm, only four rookie pitchers had thrown the equivalent to Maholm’s 600 pitches in their rookie year.. Matt Cain in 2005, Kiko Calero in 2003, Felix Hernandez in 2005, and Jose Contrearas in 2003.
Calero was 28 years old as a rookie and, of course, developed elbow problems in 2004, and Contrearas was 32 years old as a rookie. Maholm was 23 last year and Duke just 22.. a huge difference. Cain and Hernandez were 21 and 19 as well and both were rookies in 2005.
There were other rookies with fewer than 600 pitches thrown with high AGS scores:
– Anthony Reyes – 181 P in 2005
– Chris Saenz – 93 P in 2004 then had TJ surgery
– Edwin Jackson – 342 P 2003 then developed elbow problems in 2004
– Gustavo Chacin – 203 P in 2004 — 63 AGS — and who had a 62.5 AGS his sophomore season
– Jorge DePaula – 146 P then had TJ surgery
So, it was had to determine how much falloff, if any, to expect from Duke and Maholm because there was only Chacin to measure them against (knocking on wood we don’t have to measure Duke and Maholm against the injured players).
Peavy’s 61 AGS last year was good enough for a 13 – 7 record on the small market Padres who, like the Pirates, scored very few runs. I expect that Maholm and Duke will be somewhere in that neighborhood. James projects Duke at 14 – 8.. so we are close.
Are Duke and Maholm the real deals? It sure looks like it. Considering their young age, all they can do is get better and better too. The Pirates seem to have a couple of studs with these two guys.
First of all, I am in the camp that Sean Burnett will be our 5th starter out of spring training until the organization says absolutely, positively, Snell or someone else is the 5th.
I happened to buzz by The Baseball Think Factory and gobbled up their new 2006 ZIPS projections for the Pirates today: http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org
*puts on the optimisim rally hat*
After running a few quick numbers through the calc, I came across one very significant projection.. using Duke, Perez, Wells, Maholm, and Burnett as the starting 5, they project out with a 2.02 K/BB rate.
I ran to go get Bill James predictions to see how they matched up but, unfortunately, James didn’t project out Burnett or Maholm. But, for Wells, Duke, and Perez, the total was very much the same.. 2.04.
So, I went to work and dug even further using the new wave tango master Dips 3.0 beta version (j/k tango) to see what would come of it all and, sure enough, 2.01.. again.
The Pirates haven’t had a 2.00+ K/BB ratio staff with low ERA’s since Schmidt and Lieber days in 1998 (they lost 93 too – but not because of the arms they had).
The projection of 2.00+ was significantly higher than I thought possible from a starting rotation where 3 of the 5 guys have never thrown more than 85 innings in the bigs, and another hasn’t thrown more than 103 innings since 2004.
Well, I dug a bit further.. of the 9 NL teams last year that had a 2.00 K/BB ratio or better, the combined winning percentage of those teams was (are you sitting down?)… .519. Three of the 9 teams were small market teams.. the Pads, Marlins, and Brewers.
Bill James and ZIPS projected these starters to average almost 6 IP per game and allow only 2.8 ER over 134 games. Not bad.
Now, I’m adding like crazy to get the projected W/L record and I can’t believe what I am coming up with.. a .472 winning percentage. What the..???
Ready to choke??
These same 5 starters are projected to go 44 – 49 over the 134 games.
Huh? With the great pen we have??
*pulls off rally cap and stomps on it*
Well, needless to say, that was where the fun ended. As I continued to dig thru all of the projection systems, I quickly came to the realization that nobody, not one projection system, gave any value whatsoever to our projected offensive lineup. However, the 2006 PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus aren’t out yet, so there is still hope.
Other than Bay and Casey that shoot off the map, the projections are horrible:
– Burnitz: .240/.311/.412 with 10 HR in 541 AB
– Castillo: .277/.325/.394 in 437 AB
– J Wilson: .272/.314/.395 in 628 AB
– Doumit: .264/.327/.424 in 387 AB
– Randa: .277/.332/.440 in 534 AB
– Duffy: .287/.338/.384 in 484 AB
There are some good projections, as..
– Craig Wilson projects out at .266/.363/.484 with 20 HRs, but, unfortunately, he will seemingly be sitting on the bench or traded;
– Nate McLouth projects out at .283/.343/.406 in 508 AB and even manages 9 HR (as I look back at Burnitz’s numbers). But, he too will be on the bench or in AAA.
– Eldred projects out at .250/.300/.502 with 32 HR in 476 AB, but he’ll be in AAA ..as he should be.
But, you know, for about 45 minutes there, I actually found something to hope for this year.. a memory refresher, if you will, of the powerful 70′s, we are family, rah-rah, feel good stuff.
It faded fast.
Linear weights, Base Runs, UZR, Dial, PECOTA, FIPS, DIPS, CHIPS, ZIPS, and LIPS, all agree..
..the Pirates are going to pitch their way to an 85 – 90 L season next year unless this org finds a way to pick up some offensive talent to go with the arms.