December 2006

Ownership Change on the Horizon?

That’s right ladies and gentlemen, the new rumor floating around Pittsburgh circles is not about a Huff contract or a LaRoche trade.. it’s about new ownership.

I am early in posting this rumor so I won’t go into the details of what I am hearing. The last thing in the world I want to do is blow it if it is happening. But I will tell you this – if it comes true, Pirates fans will finally rejoice. No, I didn’t say Pirate fans could expect a winner anytime soon.. or the new ownership will sink half-a-billion into the franchise to get it back on track. Only that the principles in the rumor bring a lot more ‘fire to win’ credibility to the table than our current group has.

The bottom line to the rumor is this.. evidently there has been an offer made to purchase some stock and this time there wasn’t an automatic ‘the Pirates aren’t for sale’ response. That does *not* mean the current group will sell.. only that an interest to buy was floated.

One economist I spoke to yesterday after I picked up on the rumor said he believed the timing was right.. while there is a lot of cash in the game right now, that doesn’t mean a whole lot if you can’t put fans in the stadium or dig up up commercial sponsors. He also felt the franchise could use a financial boast right now to get commercial sponsors back on their side.

Understand this please – it is a rumor I heard. It isn’t the Holy Grail.. it doesn’t mean it will happen.. and we may not even hear about it if the current group decides to remain on. Some folks love to think rumors = fact.

The rumor came from an A+ source and that is why I am posting it. And yes, I continue to hear Littlefield is after LaRoche. So there you go – you can hammer me twice.  :)

If the offer is genuine and the current group decides to sell, I’m sure something will be leaked in the next few weeks.

I guess I’m in the middle-of-the-road on this.. perhaps my source heard something that already happened.. perhaps it never happened. Perhaps he only has half of it right but thinks he has the whole picture. I don’t really want to get my hopes up so I’m going to believe it isn’t happening with my fingers and toes crossed.

But there you go – it’s out there and it’s being talked about, albeit by only a few folks right now. We’ll watch and see.

Xmlpodcast Listen to the Talkr mp3 Podcast now (iTunes compatible)

Pittsburgh Pirates 2006 Year in Review

’nuff said.

Tidbits

I suppose the biggest news lately has been the Pirates signing a new 30-year lease with the City of Bradenton for use of the spring training facilities. It’s a good move for the Pirates because they only have to pay $300k per year in maintenance and the Pirates get to keep all the revenues from the games – about $100k. I assume that means you can expect prices to be jacked up in the next year or two like they have been at every other field in Florida.

Of course the caveat to this entire deal is that the State of Florida has yet to authorize the City of Bradenton the funding. That isn’t expected until the first week or two of January. The second caveat is that the City is now allowed to use the stadium facility for events despite the Pirates requirement to maintain the facility.

Lastly, the Pirates have hinted they planned to use the facility for their own events as well to offset their costs so maybe they will be drawing some more headline entertainment like the Gimme Gimme’s during spring training for everyone to enjoy.

While we’re on the subject of Florida, Orlando’s Mayor Buddy Dyer announced today that he is going to push a $1b sports package through the Commission next year that includes a very nice location for a new baseball stadium — right in the middle of Orlando’s biggest ghetto neighborhood, believe it or not. The area is so crime ridden they even have their own McDonald’s like sign on a pole that reads: "40 murders served in 2006".

I don’t know what Dyer was smoking when he thought of the site especially with all the wonderful open land surrounding the airport corridor that is right off three separate expressways that would be perfect for a stadium. Just think.. 40 minutes to the beach, 15 minutes to Disney, and 5 minutes to a flight.

Orlando is ready for baseball on a major league level easily. Every year thousands of folks litter Brighthouse Networks email boxes with requests they cover the Rays but they refuse to. It’s unbelievable. But a good minor league franchise could make a few bucks if they build an indoor stadium that can withstand hurricane force winds and double as a hurricane shelter. LoL

Hey Don Beaver – want to sell a team? Maybe Johnny Damon will join me in purchasing one from you to move down there. Email me – blog at bucco blog dot com.

A quick look at the new ZIPS projections sheds some light on some possible breakouts in 2007 as well as some downturns.

Bucco Blog has been mentioning that we think Nate McLouth is due to breakout this year but ZIPS doesn’t seem to see it. ZIPS doesn’t see breakouts very good anyway so that’s no surprise.

One quick thing to look at with Nate is that ZIPS has him as the best run producer per at bat on the team at .171 runs per AB. To give you an idea how obscene that estimate is, Bay is only at .166, Nady at .138, and Paulino at .104. Duffy is at .156 so there isn’t any advantage for Littlefield to play McLouth over Duffy with Duffy’s decent defensive cover ability. But how do you spell trade bait?

Another quick observation was that our current rotation that includes Chacon is projected to allow 1.36 HR/9. That’s very high considering the rotation has three southpaws and how large PNC’s left field is.

ZIPS also sees a 0.020 improvement on the five starters winning percentage over 144 starts which is very discouraging, to say the least. As I mentioned the other day, and as Bill James has said for years and years, it is impossible to project pitchers with any accuracy so take the projected 0.020 improvement with a grain of salt.

However, ZIPS does do a good job with hitters and unfortunately the Pirates come up pretty short in 2007 projections on offense according to ZIPS. The current eight starters including Nady, Paulino, Duffy, Castillo, Bay, Wilson, Bautista, and Sanchez project out to a .274 BA.. some ten points lower than their production in 2006. Realize that the ZIPS predictions are based on median guidelines and some players will regress and some will improve.

ZIPS also sees a tad fewer K’s and walks in 2007 which is also a bit disturbing since we were so rank in both categories in 2006.

ZIPS had a correlation r-value of .524, between actual 2006 performance and their 2006 ZIPS projections, for seven of our eight potential position starters for 2007 (not including Nady) so they weren’t off so much it makes you think their estimates are worthless. Just not highly accurate. Unfortunately with the buildup of nuclear waste in the NLCD this year, I suspect the downturn ZIPS is picking up is justified. Perhaps even more of a downturn is warranted.

I’ll let you play around with the projections to get your own gut feelings because my stomach is upset just looking at them, to be quite honest.

2007 Pittsburgh Pirates ZIPS Projections

The Baseball Think Factory has released the 2007 Pittsburgh Pirates ZIPS projections. You can download an Excel spreadsheet I prepared that contains:

– 2007 ZIPS projections
– 2006 ZIPS projections
– 2006 actual statistics
– a little basic analysis going into 2007

If you don’t have Excel, you can download a 2003 Excel Viewer for the PC at Microsoft. Here is the link for the viewer search page and please notice the Microsoft security patches for the Viewer. For those that use the Viewer, or those that have an earlier version of Excel than 2003, you will need to download this 2007 ZIPS spreadsheet that is saved for the earlier versions of Excel.

You can download a zip file of the spreadsheet if you prefer:

Standard ZIP container download
Earlier version ZIP container download

Here is the BBTF link to the 2007 ZIPS projections.

I’ll post some discussion after further analysis.

It’s Time to Halt the Dysfunction

Pirate fans keep hearing how Dave Littlefield wants to acquire one big bat – a lefty McThump, if you will. I continue to hear whispers that LaRoche will be a Pirate very soon – perhaps sooner than we all might think.

The Pirates ended up the year with a team batting average of .263 which was the best average we have had since the 2003 Reggie Sanders/Kenny Lofton days.

Because of that BA, I researched our schedule the last three years and ran correlation plots on our winning percentage against each team we played vs. that teams ERA at the end of the year for each of the three years, and here is what I found:

2004 r = 0.162
2005 r = 0.287
2006 r = 0.611

The overall r-value over the three years was just 0.273 meaning there was very little relationship between the opposing team’s final year ERA on our winning percentage against that team over the three year period.

But look at 2006.. 0.611 is a very high correlation. In fact, it is extremely high.

When you start seeing r-values that high it typically means opposing pitchers are dominating your batters more often than not. The most obvious reason that the correlation was so high in 2006 was due to the age of our batters. We’re young and inexperienced. And in 2007 we will still be young and inexperienced.

Now Littlefield wants to add some more youth with a Kotchman or LaRoche type of player. Without adding additional veterans to the lineup, that r-value will remain high again in 2007.. and probably still be in the 0.500 range in 2008 as we add even more youth like McCutchen.

I know – I hear you. A lot of you remember a great second half last year and want to believe that will translate into something good in 2007. Even I was hoping for "Good Times" in 2007 — before I did 30 hours of recent research.

I’ve heard many different reasons why the Pirates did so good in the second half from better defensive efficiency to better pitching to more clutch hitting.

I’m sure all of that played a part.

But so did other factors like who we played and whether that team was already out of contention, were easily sailing to win their division, or just wanted to get rid of a manager. And then there was Freddy’s hunt which surely fired our players up some too.

But consider this.. after the all star break the Pirates only played .400 ball on the road but yet swept four of ten series they played in Pittsburgh.

Four of ten.

Trivia time — when was the last time the Pirates swept four of ten series at home in the second half? Good luck finding the answer.

Do you know what the odds are of the Pittsburgh Pirates sweeping four of ten series after the ASG at home are? Off the charts.. probably in the same order of you winning the Mega Millions lottery next week.

Now are we to believe this roster can do that again in 2007 during the entire course of the year? Or, take it one step backwards.. are we to believe the Pirates can win a majority of their series over the year in 2007?

Fat chance.

Or was it more than a coincidence that the Pirates accomplished a feat on the same magnitude as a 100-year flood zone being flooded after hosting the ASG?

Probably.

But maybe not. Don’t forget, during that same period of time the Astros beat the Pirates in 9 of 10 games and the Padres swept us. Heck, even the Cubs took 3 of 7 from us at Wrigley and the Reds took 4 of 6 at Great American from us. Hmm..

Next years schedule presents some pretty tough bumps to grind out. For instance, over the first 45 games we play one stretch of 33 games with only two days off. True, only 14 of those games are away from home which helps tremendously. Unfortunately, our average winning percentage against the teams we play at PNC during that period of time is below .450. That’s not good.

Nor is it good that many of our starters are sinkerball pitchers who can’t get sink in cold weather. Their arms need to be toast before they will see a bite on their 2-seam fastballs and that won’t happen until well into the year. Just like last year.

Then we go another 26 games with just one day off – half of those games are on the road against the Yankees, Cards, and Reds, and the other half are at home against teams like the White Sox, Rangers, and Padres — teams we’ve only won 4 of 13 games against the last 3 years.

Then we get a break – 28 games with 8 days off including the ASG sandwiched in the middle. Then we do a few 6 days on and one day off type of series and then the last motherlode.. 28 games with one day off mostly against NLCD teams with a couple of road trips thown in for good measure.

I mean, we do not have a friendly schedule. And our winning percentage the last three-years is just .415 against the clubs that we play next year.

But we’re supposed to believe we can play like the last half of 2006? Even with adding one little bat?

Pleassee… I’m sorry.. I don’t buy it. I wanted to.. I talked like I did because there had to be some hope. But when you start running the models..

.. 2007 is not looking good.

Now combine all this with our potential rotation problems I mentioned the other day and, well, the Pirates could end up being a bigger whipping post to most teams than we were last year.. especially with all the upgrades in the divison.

Dave Littlefield acknowledged in his webcast the other day that he was looking toward 2008 and 2009, but I don’t see any reason for him to see anything different then than what we see today because there is nothing special to see with only one impact player in the farm system and he’s playing over his head in AA right now.

I’m going to go back to my original thought this winter that DL would have been better off making a bold move by trading Bay off for 0-3′s than to play the ‘I think we can win with what we have’ game and potentially allow Bay’s value to fall.

The other bold move I think he should make is moving Gorzelanny since his profile doesn’t match up to PNC Park and he is healthy right now where a team would take a chance on him.

Gorzelanny, Gonzo, Bay, and a couple of our younger relievers who have perceived value should all be dealt off for the best 0-3 packages we can get to build around McCutchen and company.

I think it’s time to stop the fantasy game — we have to break the dysfunction. Now is the time before we draft in 2007 so we know who to fill in with.

The Fire’s Still There

Problems on the horizon with the rotation?

This post updates an earlier projection I made regarding our starters.

Last February we evaluated Duke and Maholm’s second year potential. In that post we compared all rookie pitchers second year performance from 1871 to 2005 and then we projected Duke and Maholm’s 2006 ERA as follows:

Duke’s overall projection: 3.49 ERA
Maholm’s overall projection: 3.86 ERA

I then pulled out two subsets of data from the overall data.. the first was all rookie left hand pitchers and the second was based on the number of innings thrown as compared to Duke and Maholm. When I averaged the two subsets and the overall projection I came up with the final 2006 projection forecasts of:

Duke: 3.38 ERA
Maholm 4.04 ERA

Now that 2006 is history, I went back and revisited the projected forecasts and compared them to their actual performances:

Duke Maholm
actual 4.47 4.76
forecast 3.38 4.04
diff 24.4% 15.1%

Bill James will tell you that pitching projections can’t be done.. they are worthless for the most part. The forecasted projections I used were pretty narrow in scope and I was still off by a considerable margin as you can see.

Chone Smith recently penned an article on the various pitching projection systems used in 2006 and found ZIPS was the best, albeit it was worthless too with an r-value of just .459.

I did pretty good projecting Maholm and Duke last year – all things considered. And after researching, evaluating, and making some hard decisions on these two pitchers possible projections for 2007, I’ve come to the conclusion that there could be a bumpy road ahead.

I went back to the 1871 – 2006 database and evaluated third year baselines to get forecasts and here is what I came up with for Maholm and Duke:

Duke Maholm
projection 4.43 5.19

Duke, unfortunately, could even be worse. The reason I say that is because Duke had 44 more innings of work between 2004 and 2005 and then in 2006 he was plus yet another 23 innings. Pitchers in the 1871 – 2006 database with at least 60 and less than 80 plus innings over their previous three years of work tanked considerably in their third year (+1.03 ERA over their 2cd year), but I gave him some benefit of doubt.

Maholm is even worse off.. he is plus 116 innings over the last three and 22.6% of the rookie pitchers who experienced 110 – 130 plus innings over their last three years ended up on the DL in their third year and saw a significant rise to their ERA (+2.21 ERA).

Those are not good signs.

Snell is fairly stable the last three, albeit he was plus 28 in 2006, which is high but not so high one has to start worrying. But if Ian heads toward the 210 innings range in 2007, he’ll be plus another 24 which will certainly be a worry in 2008 – if not late 2007.

Gorzelanny was plus 118 innings in one year – 2003 and that could be why he was seeing a barking elbow in 2006. His risk of injury is extremely high in 2007, especially since he was plus 26 innings from 2005 to 2006. There is no possible way Gorzy will be able to toss 200 innings in 2007 or he faces a significant risk of injury.. if not in 2007, certainly in 2008.

I have to believe Dave Littlefield knows all this. I’m sure his stat gurus have picked apart the data in much more detail than I have. Many of the players in the database were much older than our youthful starters so that could play into it, just as Duke’s ease to repeat his delivery could knock off some of his higher ERA risk in 2007. But history also repeats itself and southpaws were more apt to go down than right-hand pitchers.

There’s no question our rotation is a lot more questionable than I originally projected. My guess is that we are going to see at least one starter with significant DL time next year (about a one in four chance).. and possibly a second one down for a little bit of time (one in two-hundred chance). We have emergency backups from Grabow to Capps and several others in the farm like Burnett and Youman, so it isn’t like we are without options if it indeed happens.

Despite all this, I still wouldn’t have offered Suppan more than a two-year deal. But I can almost guarantee that one of the deals Littlefield makes this winter will be for a starter that can eat some innings, even if given a minor league deal, because he knows there is a higher risk of down time from our starters in 2007 than we have seen the last few years. Also, don’t expect Littlefield to release Chacon even if he picks up another back of the rotation starter.

Where the heck is the game going?

What’s your take with all the ‘onshoring’ that is occurring this year?

I’m not an economist by any means but it seems the trend we are seeing is going to cause an eventual downfall in the quality of the game, all in the name of greed.

Micro-multinationalism, I suppose.

Instead of pouring a ton of money into baseball camps and development in the US over the last five years, we have seen teams like the Pirates branch out to places like South Korea where they really had no business being. Then, as if done on a side-note, MLB popped a few token dollars into what my friend calls "Negro baseball interest camps" in the US.

My son is three-years old and I am starting to look at the greed surrounding the game today thinking to myself that by the time the kid is sixteen, instead of needing to be in the top 5% of US players to get a realistic opportunity to play the game, he’ll have to be in the top 0.01% of the world.

A few of my friends are in the game and they are concerned about a different outcome – dilution of the strength of the players association. I mean, are we watching the Act I of the collapse of the union?

I suppose if we look at GM, Chrysler, and Ford’s path we could run MLB right down the same line.. outsourcing, building plants overseas, buying out overseas competitors, merging, then finding no cash left to operate the humongous enterprise they own because it is so top heavy with greed and too large to control.

Have you called Dell’s support line the last two years? Then you know what I am talking about here.

I have to believe there was a directive from the Commissioner’s Office this year that said every team will add one multinational player to their roster by "X" date. The Pirates signing of Kuwata can’t be anything but a "thunderball" PR move because my friends in Japan say he is beyond washed up as a pitcher. Perhaps he will find the strength to muster one good season in the US.. perhaps. I mean, even a 50-year old like me can muster 100 pushups when there is a large enough audience or enough bet on it.

And then guys like Ryan Vogelsong head to Japan to flourish because he looks like King Kong on the mound to them and can throw a 96 mph heater past 96% of the Japanese players – when he finds the plate, of course.

Cheap multi-national imports are only going to allow an organization like the Pirates to have more excuses to not field a competitive team and continue to pocket obscene amounts of cash like they are right now.

The Pirates have $126m available for player payroll (by my own accounts) in the bank from the start of 2005 thru 2006.. monies they received from MLBAM, the Nats sale, etc.. But they won’t even talk about spending close to the Commissioner’s wish of $65m in 2007.

None of this is about worthy international players, of course. There will always be a better player down the street.. that is expected. But the Pirates just took up 5% of their 40-man with two players who haven’t seen one decent competitive effort the last two years. What does that say about the Pirates poor 2002 and 2003 drafts?

Let’s face it, there are only 30 teams with 40-man rosters and there are only so many farm system slots. I realize MLB wants to grow the game.. but it seems like they are more intent on growing the revenues of MLBAM and the owners than they are the quality of the game.

If I’m the union, I put my foot down asap. I’m surprised they didn’t this year, albeit nobody wants to kill the golden goose.

I guess I better go learn how to speak Japanese, get a subscription to the Japan Times, and find an apartment in Tokyo since my son projects to be 6′ and 200 pounds. Maybe I can find a baseball camp over there where he will be noticed by US scouts in 12 years?

Pirate Talk – 12/26/06

Pirate Talk – 12/26/06

– One-on-One with Andrew McCutchen

– Transcript below –

  • he has been given a spring training invite for 2007
  • he plans on working out in Georgia starting in January
  • he would love to be in Pittsburgh in 2008 but acknowledges he still has a ways to go
  • looks forward to learning all he can from Chris Duffy
  • he feels Pirates Roving OF Instructor Gary Redus has helped him tremendously with his defense
  • he said he is working hard to get to the ball in a hurry defensively
  • he worked on his base stealing in the Instructional League this winter
  • he credited his teammates in Altoona for helping him to adjust when he was called up
  • and he was thankful for being healthy in 2006 and looks forward to playing ball in 2007

Tidbits

Brewers signed Suppan. It is the one signing none of the other NLCD GM’s wanted to see – Littlefield included. The Pirates were said to have offered two years to Soup at the winter meetings with a third year option. Bucco Blog was the first to break the news last week that Littlefield had increased the offer to a solid three-years with a fourth year option, but that still wasn’t enough.

Pirate fans knew we didn’t have a chance in signing Suppan, even with the fourth year option, the way Littlefield treated him in 2003 by making him take a multi-million dollar cut in salary. Remember now, Suppan’s agent was one of those who were whispering the "C" (collusion) word in 2003. So the fact the Brewers – not the Pirates – signed Soup is not a real surprise.

The question now becomes — how formidable is the Brewers rotation?

The main three of Capuao, Suppan, and Bush are all very durable and accomplished starters.

Sheets presents some question marks having only thrown an average of 130 innings the last two years and Vargas will be pitching with the ‘year after affect’ having thrown 35+ more innings in 2006 than in 2005. Combined, Sheets and Vargas should give the Brewers a solid #3 starter performance plus a few more innings.

That means they will have to rely on their farm for about 15 – 20 starts with pitchers like Villanueva, Eveland, or perhaps Dillard, which Melvin surely doesn’t want to do. So look for the Brewers to be a player for a rent-a-starter at the July trade deadline if they are in the hunt.

Melvin has to like what he sees and there is already some talk about the Brewers being underdogs in 2007. But I think 2008-2009′ish will be the real years for the Brewers.. not 2007.

In any case, Pirate fans don’t really care because we light up every starter the Brewers have except for Suppan.

Dave Littlefield will be criticized for not getting Suppan to ink a deal in Pittsburgh but Bucco Blog readers know I didn’t want Soup here anyway unless it was on an overpaid two-year deal, which was not going to happen. We aren’t going anywhere in 2007 with the roster we have so why fool ourselves? Our pitching depth starts to really shine by late 2008 or 2009.. not in 2007.

Unfortunately, 2009 is also Bay’s last year with us. Bucco Blog floated the idea earlier this winter of Bay being traded for some prospects like for Brandon McCarthy and Josh Fields of the White Sox when the Sox needed a corner OF.

Let’s face it, if Littlefield is now going to take the stand that 2007 and 2008 are developmental years, then he is admitting Bay is worthless to us. Trading him before July 2007 will bring the highest return.. not in July 2008.

It would be a *huge* blow to Pirate fans if Littlefield allowed Bay’s value to drop over the next couple of year’s with old school ‘Bay is a cornerstone and you don’t trade cornerstones’ mentality. 

I received an email yesterday that told me the Pirates changed the Mike Gonzalez bobblehead day to a TBD day last Saturday. That’s interesting..

A tidbit for all you Yankee/Braves fans — bookmark this link.. when you see Mike Gonzalez’s picture removed, you’ll know the deal is done. Pirate fans have long known that what happens on that banner is more reliable than any news source in Pittsburgh will ever be.. and it is also more timely.

A little off the subject.. I got my three-year old his first battery operated vehicle this year – a Jeep Hurricane. If you haven’t seen the new wave of power wheels you’ll have to check them out. It has a real FM radio, a two-speed transmission, and a non-slip differential/posi rear end. It’s unbelievable.. it will cruise over wet grass, sand on the beach, or even mud at speeds up to 10 mph if you remove the limiting screw.

When Grandpa told the kids his typical Christmas tale of having to walk 10 miles in the snow to school every day, my three-year old said ‘I’ll ride my Jeep’. It was hirarious.

Man, why weren’t toys built like that when we were kids? hehe

Happy Holidays!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.