The word on the street is that Xavier Nady had a colonoscopy and other tests and was found to have a lingering infection causing his inflamed intestine. There did not seem to be any earmarks of Crohn’s. We’ll wait for the team’s official release to know for sure.
Assuming the infection part is correct, I’m going to guess he’ll be placed on an antibiotic regimen for 10 – 14 days and then reevaluated to see if the infection is gone. We’ll have to monitor this a bit closer because, the way it is starting to sound, Nady may not be 100% starting the season.
Maybe I need to start a Pirates Impode-O-Meter?
Several reports out today about Mark Cuban’s alleged interest in the Cubs. Word I got was that Mark laughed when he heard about it. ‘Nuff said.
Anybody else see anything a bit strange about Neil Walker’s mechanics in this photo: [link]? hehe
So the Pirates wailed Manatee Community College today getting to freshman Chad Fox for 6 runs and 5 hits in his 2 innings of work.
What is really sad about this line is that Fox is really a reliever and plays the infield. What is even sadder is that the Pirates had more strikeouts (3), and hit into as many double plays (2), as they had hits (2) the next six innings despite facing four eighteen year-old freshman middle relievers, a senior setup man, and a freshman closer [link].
But it is nice to know Hererra can blank 18 year old kids and that Neil Walker can hit freshman community college pitching.
Did Doumit really K?
Well, tomorrow Bradenton could see 30 mph wind gusts so I suppose we’ll start hearing how well our guys are knocking the ball out of the park [link].
And guess what, we’ll get to see Mike Gonzalez pitch an inning against us Friday if the game doesn’t get rained out.
Here’s the exchange between a Pirate fan asking a question to Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly today [link]:
Jim, Fruitland: I am from Western Pennsylvania so I was raised a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. They still have a place in my heart. What can I expect from them this year?
Dan Connolly: More heartache. As you know Jim, no franchise has endured more consecutive losing seasons. There is hope, though. The only way in this sport to dig out of a hole without a booming free agent budget is to develop your own pitching, and the Bucs have done that with a promising young rotation (Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, Tom Gorzelanny). And if those guys mature together, the Pirates have a shot in a division that was won by an 83-victory team last year. The offense lags, but they do have Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez and newly acquired Adam LaRoche. The problem is, as Oriole fans can tell you, young pitching is an impossible commodity to gauge. Add in the fact that the Cubs and Brewers have gotten better, the Astros and Cardinals are solid and the Reds made strides last season, the best you can probably hope for is a fourth place finish in 2007. (emphasis added)
Best we can hope for?
Long-time Pirate fans know to watch giveaway days in the minor league clubs as a barometer on how the Pirates front office might be thinking on player movement for the upcoming year.
The Altoona Curve announced their giveaway schedule today including Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen bobblehead doll giveaways on Saturday, April 21 and Friday, May 18, respectively [link].
Sorry Cutch – looks like Indy might have to wait until the second half of the season to see you. But Walker???
Man, somebody in Altoona HAS to grab me a McCutchen and Walker bobblehead. I’ll buy your family of four the tickets, hot dogs, and cokes – you send me the bobbleheads. Email me.
Signature Pharmacy in Orlando, Florida, linked to federal and state illegal steroid sales investigations, was raided today by twelve agencies. Among the boxes of data removed from the facility were several boxes containing customer lists. Some of those customers are said to be current baseball players and even a physician with the Pittsburgh Steelers [link].
While the Albany County, New York, prosecutor in charge of the Signature bust indicated his office isn’t concerned with the end-users at this point, it’s no secret that other ongoing investigation teams are licking their lips while waiting to get copies of the documents that were seized today.
2007 may very end up being the year steroid arrests in baseball get more headline attention at ESPN than your team’s play.
Here is a video of the arrests:
Part II of this series is here: [link].
Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Jose Castillo turns 26 in May and he has so far played the equivalent of 2.3 MLB years (368 games divided by 162). The Pirates signed him in 1997 as an undrafted free agent (at age 16 or 17) and he started his professional career at low-A Hickory in 2000 as a 19 year old.
After finishing his first AA season at age 22, Castillo was promoted to Pittsburgh in 2004 as the starting second baseman. That was quite a jump for the young man considering he only had 389 professional games of development in the Pirates farm system.
As the 2007 season approaches, one local sports writer recently proclaimed that Castillo is "among the worst" at fielding ground balls, that it was his fault that fewer double plays were turned by the Pirates in 2007, and Castillo needs to hit better [link].
Another Pirates beat writer openly declared that "Castillo and Bautista are dueling for the lone vacancy among starting position players" [link].
Worst of all the recent outbursts about Castillo was fellow teammate Jack Wilson who has "criticized Castillo’s physical conditioning, work ethic and mental preparation, going so far as to call Castillo’s approach to some defensive plays "lazy"’ [link].
Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski is often thought of as the best second baseman ever to put on a Pirates uniform. Did you know that in Maz’s first 377 games, his career fielding percentage was .979? [link] Castillo has played 368 games so far and has a career .977 fielding percentage. That .002 difference between Maz and Castillo is the equivalent of 1 error, or 13 more assists or putouts, per year.
Another second baseman stat heads love to compare players to is Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg won a Gold Glove nine consecutive years from 1983 – 1991 [link].
When we compare Castillo to Mazeroski and Sandberg in double plays obtained per 162 games played thru age 25, Castillo is 7 per year short of Maz, and has averaged 11 more per year than Sandberg.
Remember above where one of the local writer’s had questioned Castillo’s ability to turn a double play?
That remark now seems non-sensible when you consider how well Castillo has done on the pivot compared to two Hall of Famer’s by age at the position, doesn’t it?
And it’s not just turning double plays Castillo has done comparatively well in either. When you take the number of games each player played through age 25 at second base, and then divide that by 162 to get the number of years experience each player had the position, Castillo has averaged 18 errors per year to Maz’s 17.
That’s not too shabby, if you ask me. Especially when you consider Maz saw 67% more total chances through age 25 and was, therefore, significantly more experienced than Castillo. For those that want to know, Sandberg had 11 errors per year average through age 25.
Putout and assist comparisons are worthless because of the type of pitching staffs each player had. But for a general look, Castillo has had more putouts per year on average than Sandberg despite 266 less total chances per year average, but fewer putouts and total chances than Maz. As for assists, Castillo had fewer than both players.
Let’s face it, for a 25 year old player who has 2.3 years experience, Castillo has more than held his own defensively when stacked against two of the best that have ever played the game.
Then there is the above comment about Castillo needing to hit better. Obviously Maz and Sandberg were different type of hitters though age 25 than Castillo has been, but still, Castillo has held his own ground as you can see from these wonderful abbreviated charts I obtained from Fangraphs.com:
There’s no doubt Castillo has struck out more than the other two players but, believe it or not, Castillo actually walked more than Maz in two of the first three seasons he has played [link].
Sandberg broke out offensively at age 25 in his fourth season. On the other hand, Maz was never a real offensive threat until October 13, 1960. While Castillo will be entering his fourth MLB season in 2007, his experience at the major league level – based on the number of games played overall – is just 58% of Sandberg’s and 38% of Mazeroski at the same age.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tickled to death about Jose Castillo. I always have been, and I always will be, as long as he continues to improve. Don’t forget he ended the 2005 season with a torn MCL in his knee and we don’t really know how much that set him back in 2006. I suspect it was a lot. There is no question that Castillo has areas he can improve on, but the fact remains, he is nearly identical to Maz in every way through his first few years.
The last comment made above about Castillo having to battle for a starting position this year is simply ludicrous when you consider the big picture. Freddy Sanchez, while a decent defender himself at second, is no Jose Castillo on the pivot. Nor will he ever be as good overall at the position, I suspect. And Jose Bautista is a horrific defender at third, and he would be the one essentially replacing Castillo.
No brainer – Jose Castillo remains our starting second baseman. And for all you fans out there who whine and complain about Jose Castillo wanting to bench or release him, I wonder if you would have wanted to bench Maz after his first 377 games?
I suspect you would have.
Alan Schwarz penned a nice article in the New York Times the other day about a high school student from Bloomington, Minnesota, named Victor Wang [link].
The sixteen year-old determined that OPS was misleading when used to try and determine why a team scored as many runs as they did in any given year. He concluded that a weighted OPS system was better and found that 1.8 times OBP plus SLG correlated more closely in determining which players helped their team the most to score runs.
In the book Moneyball, OBP was said to be worth 3 times as much as SLG, so this discovery is somewhat new wave.
When you take Wang’s weighted OBP(*1.8) + SLG result and then divide by 4, you get a new stat sweeping sabermetric land called GPA, or Gross Production Average. The end result of GPA looks much like batting average — .360 is very good, .265 is about average, and .200 is horrible.
The true value of GPA is significantly more important than OPS because it is more accurate in equally comparing players team-to-team on their ability to contribute to runs scored.
Here are a few of the 2006 Pirates GPA’s for 2006:
As you can see, we only had two players above average – Bay and Sanchez. Adam LaRoche had a .300 GPA last year so you can see how valuable he is to the Pirates if he can maintain his production. But that still only makes three players above average on the team.
To give you some context, here are the Brewers top 12 — again, of batters with more than 200 at bats:
|Hall, Bill||0.294||Jenkins, Geoff||0.264|
|Gross, Gabe||0.290||Graffanino, Tony||0.254|
|Koskie, Corey||0.274||Weeks, Rickie||0.251|
|Fielder, Prince||0.273||Bell, David||0.251|
|Cirillo, Jeff||0.270||Mench, Kevin||0.245|
|Hart, Corey||0.266||Miller, Damian||0.241|
They had six players above the .265 average scale, and a seventh just at it.
The Reds had five players above .265, the Cubs had four players above, and the Cardinals and Astros both had five with two above .300 each.
And here are the top 16 from the National League with 200 or more at bats in 2006:
|Pujols, Albert||STL||0.361||Atkins, Garrett||COL||0.322|
|Howard, Ryan||PHI||0.354||Johnson, Nick||WAS||0.318|
|Berkman, Lance||HOU||0.345||McCann, Brian||ATL||0.318|
|Scott, Luke||HOU||0.343||Helms, Wes||FLA||0.316|
|Bonds, Barry||SF||0.336||Holliday, Matt||COL||0.315|
|Jones, Chipper||ATL||0.334||Bard, Josh||SD||0.313|
|Cabrera, Miguel||FLA||0.333||Bay, Jason||PIT||0.310|
|Beltran, Carlos||NYM||0.323||Duncan, Chris||STL||0.310|
While the top players closely resembled the OPS leader board last year, when you get below .300 it becomes a lot more obvious who was marginal and who helped their team to put up runs.
It’s not just power you think of with GPA, although it will seem that way. It is the ability of a player to get on base times 1.8, coupled with power. But that’s not all encompassing.
For instance, Chris Duffy looks pretty weak with his .218 GPA above, and he was weak by the GPA standard. But guess who had a higher average in runs scored per game last year – Duffy or Sanchez? Right – Duffy at .548 to Sanchez’s .541.
So GPA has to be looked at with all other available stats to make a final determination on who helped the most, although GPA goes a long way toward being more meaningful to the senses than OPS does, as Schwarz mentioned.
Over the last few days I had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time with a long time NL front office exec. At one point the conversation turned to how well the Pirates did in the second half last year and I stated I thought it was primarily because of better defense behind better pitching. He agreed defense was the primary reason.
But then he told me there was another explanation – one that was just as important because it created a lot more luck for the Pirates than they were able to put together in the first half. It was a reason I hadn’t heard before, and one that took me by surprise.
Bench match ups.
Taken aback, I wanted to know more. He said, do you think it was a coincidence that the team started winning more after Xavier Nady became a Pirate and Chris Duffy came back? I said I thought it was. In 2 minutes he showed me why it might not have been such a coincidence, and I’m going to try and explain those two minutes to you today.
He started off by telling me that as of June 29th last year, the Pirates lead off batter had the 6th best OBP in the National League, and 14th best in baseball. Chris Duffy had left about May 1st and Jose Bautista had been leading off. But the team had only won 27 games of the first 80 they had played.
That was a curious stat, he said, because the winning percentage of the 13 teams with OBP higher than the Pirates was .535, or .519 in the NL only. One reason the Pirates lost so many of those games was because our lead off batter had unproductive OBP.
Unproductive OBP, I muttered?
Sure, he said, the Pirates had the 5th highest number of lead off batter strikeouts in baseball and the 4th fewest number of walks. While the Pirates did had the 13th best lead off batter OPS on June 29th, it was useless OPS because most of the production came with few men on base.
Oh, I said, as a little light went off in my head.
In other words, he declared, the Pirates were spinning their wheels at the top of the order. After the break, that changed and he showed me how.
ESPN has a great statistic they keep that is often over looked – how batters do against certain pitcher types. For instance, if you follow this link and scroll down to the "By Pitcher" area, you’ll see that Jason Bay has a career .913 OPS against power pitcher types. At the very bottom of that same page, ESPN shows you how they define each type.
When Nady was obtained and Duffy came back on to the roster, the exec went on to say, Tracy had the ability to better match up his available players against the type of pitcher the team was facing that day. While this availability didn’t provide more runs scored than runs allowed over the second half, it played a huge role in their ability to win.
Before Nady was obtained, the only other person the Pirates had on their roster that could hit a finesse pitcher was Jose Bautista. When you compare Bautista’s June production when he faced a lot of ground ball/finesse type pitchers, to his August when he faced more power pitchers, you’ll see the difference real quick.. a .639 OPS vs a .910 OPS.
I said I had thought all along that the reason for most of the ups and downs in the Pirates production was because of streakiness of the players. He agreed it was, to some degree. But there is usually a reason for the streakiness, he declared. One of those reasons is feeling comfortable in the box against who you are facing, especially for younger players.
There you go.. one more person’s take on why the Pirates did so well in the second half. So I took his idea one step further – I broke down most of the players on the roster against each of the main four pitcher types – power, finesse, ground ball, and fly ball, and here is the result:
|Bautista -||Bautista +||Bautista +||Bautista -|
|McLouth +||McLouth -||McLouth -||McLouth +|
|Castillo +||Castillo -||Castillo -||Castillo -|
|Nady +||Nady -||Nady +||Nady -|
|LaRoche -||LaRoche slg+ rest-||LaRoche -||LaRoche slg+ rest-|
|Wilson -||Wilson +||Wilson +||Wilson +|
|Bay slg+ rest+/-||Bay ++||Bay +/-||Bay ++|
|Doumit slg+ rest-||Doumit -||Doumit +||Doumit BA- rest+|
|Hernandez -||Hernandez -||Hernandez +||Hernandez -|
|Duffy +||Duffy -||Duffy -||Duffy +|
A plus sign means the player hits that pitcher type better than not, a minus is just the opposite. The "+/-" sign means a neutral ability and you’ll see that some players either hit the ball out of the park, or don’t do anything against some pitchers. That is marked with a "slg+ rest-" sign.
I then put together proposed lineups based on the pitcher type we might face on any given day:
Notice that LaRoche gets his days off against finesse pitching, with Nady taking 1B and Bautista playing RF. Hernandez also starts at 2B that day. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get Castillo out enough, like against power pitchers, because there wasn’t a better replacement for him, offensively or defensively. And Doumit never played a game because he simply lacks a position to play.
I also have Bay batting 4th more often than not. You can be sure Jim Tracy won’t do that but he might consider it.
The end result won’t be that the Pirates score a ton of runs. Instead, this proposal suggests it might create more luck than not, and luck is what propels us each year.
For those that want to create a cheat sheet, I have prepared a list of each of the five NLCD team starters and rated them based on the type pitcher they are. For instance, Jeff Suppan is rated a 9 in finesse. I simply divide 9 by the 411 finesse pitchers in the pool and subtract the result from 1.0 to get the percentile he is in.
In Suppan’s case, that is the 98th percentile and a sure bet Jim Tracy is going to look hard at matching up his players to face him. At about the 60th percentile, you might start seeing less of a concern from Tracy on matching up his players and instead worrying about who is seeing the ball better that day.
Notice I didn’t list fly ball pitchers. That is because so few rated out as a FB pitcher using the five year requirement ESPN uses to qualify them.