June 2007

ProTrade WPA Scoreboard

Bucco Blog is pleased to announce the availability of ProTrade’s Win Probability Scoreboard each game for your viewing pleasure.

This is still in beta so expect some glitches here and there as we work to refine it.

JvB: Throwing on a Toasted Arm

Bucco Blog told our readers to add JvB to their red flag notebook after he threw 35 pitches in his last inning of work which was a career high for him. True to form, JvB hit the mound Wednesday and his control was so poor he walked 26% of the batters he faced.

In the fourth inning, Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit was so frustrated with home plate umpire Greg Gibson, he didn’t even move his mitt on a 92 mph heater that was thrown, and hit, Gibson square in the mask for ball four to Alfredo Amezaga. Needless to say, the next four pitches were all called balls by Gibson and the third batter of the inning walked.

JvB did not return to pitch the 5th after throwing 28 pitches in the 4th and 81 pitches overall. He has two more scheduled starts before the All-Star Game – against the Brewers and Cubs – both at PNC. I doubt he will be removed from the rotation unless he injured himself in Wednesday’s outing, but don’t expect to see quality starts from him until after he rests his arm over the break.

The Pirates scored two runs in the 3rd when Duffy walked and Bautista homered, one in the 4th when Nady homered, and two in the 5th when Bautista walked, Sanchez singled with Bautista going to second, LaRoche then singled home Bautista and Sanchez went to third, and Bay hit a sac fly to score Sanchez.

The Marlins had tied the game in the 8th inning off our bullpen and in the 10th Nady and Doumit went yard back-to-back to put the Pirates up by two and we would go on to win just the second game out of the last seven. It would be the first time this year the Pirates hit four home runs in one game.

Nady just passed Bay in number of home runs this year? Yup – that has to help Littlefield’s cause some since giving away Perez for him.

Hey – let’s take MLB’s most hittable pitcher and put him on the mound in a day game in Miami! What a novel idea, especially since it is also a getaway day. I’m sure the players appreciate that.

But hold on, there is some hope. There is a tropical wave off Florida that is expected to drench the state Thursday so there is an 80% chance this game will not be played anyway.

Whew.

If that happens, will Tracy move the starters back a day? I would assume so.

I’ve been asked a lot the last week what has happened to the Pirates lately? The fans seem to want to look at May 30th as the key turn-down date.

From the 30th thru June 26th we went 9-16, fell from second in the division to fifth, Paulino, Doumit, Bay, and LaRoche have a combined .638 OPS, and the team has averaged just 3.2 runs per game while allowing 5.3 runs – a 52 run deficit.

So what happened on the 30th the fans are looking at?

That was the magical day ex-Pirate prospect Chris Young tossed a four-hit shutout at us at PNC and Jonah Bayliss threw sixteen pitches issuing two walks and a grand slam blowing open the game. The very next day the Pirates were winning 2-0 into the 9th when Torres blew a save and Sharpless later threw ten pitches giving the Padres two runs to win.

Those were two humbling back-to-back losses, to be sure. Since then, Torres was removed as the closer, the bullpen has accumulated more frequent flyer miles in the last month than in the last five years combined, and everyone is blaming everyone else for the woes.

But May 30th wasn’t the day the Pirates died, May 19th was as we have only won 38% of our games since the day Sanchez couldn’t turn one double play.

Yet it’s been amplified since May 30th with all the angry fans, players calling out each other, the GM telling the media it’s the player fault for poor performances, and so on and so forth.

Ian Snell said the other day this team is significantly better than they have been playing. I suppose that could be said about every team. After all, baseball is a game of luck and the teams that make the fewest errors, and/or are better at capitalizing on opposing team errors or miscues, typically win a lot more games.

Nothing the Pirates have up their sleeve is going to change the winning percentage of this team. We need at least another half-run per game of offense, significantly better bullpen depth, and, as Snell said, the heart to win from the top down.

Until that happens, look for us to continue wining about 42% of our games overall.

Did the Royals just sweep the Angels? Rea-lly.

Bixler, Bullington, and DeCaster have been selected to play in the AAA All-Star Game this year. Congrats to them, although I have to wonder if Bullington will be/should be making the trip.

Maholm Dominates Marlins to Halt Skid

I swear Paul Maholm needs to pitch in Puerto Rico next December and January so that by April his arm is toast and he tosses games like Tuesday night’s manhandling of the Marlins.

As I mentioned yesterday, Maholm has been very strong his last three outings and has now dropped his ERA to 3.33 over his last four with this three-hit, two run game.

So did Maholm pitch that good, or where the Marlins that bad?

The funny part about the Marlins is that they wanted to go deep with everything instead of simply putting the ball in play the other way. I mentioned earlier they had an average per game .477 SLG their last 7 with an OPS of .700, meaning they only had a .233 OBP, and the reason why is obvious – swing, swing, swing.

Thank you very much for keeping the ball out of our middle infielders hands most of the night Marlins.

Poor approach at the plate = a poor game plan.

Don’t get me wrong – when Maholm only walks one batter in 7.2 innings you know he is confident on the mound. Indeed, he pitched a very nice game.

But the Marlins at bats were as pathetic as Maholm was good.

The Pirates scored a couple in the second on four straight singles (mostly soft stuff), the fourth being Wilson’s who brought home Nady. Then Davis managed to get a ball in the air to score Phelps. And in the 4th, Wilson went deep. That’s all there was to it.

Chacon and Capps came in and shut the door and the Pirates inched away with another one run win.

When I originally saw the lineup card posted I was a bit concerned seeing Phelps at first and Davis in center because neither one of them grade out even average defensively, and Maholm typically allows a lot of balls in play. Davis showed us how rough he is on several routes and even Phelps looked a bit uncoordinated at first.

But in the end everything worked out ok. I just pray we don’t see this card very often, especially with Sanchez also at second. Man – a good team would have severely exploited us.

JVB Wednesday. Hmm.. he tossed 35 pitches in his last inning of work last game – the highest in his career. It is going to be very interesting to see how his command and control hold up over several innings, as well as his arm after this start. Look for the pen to be working early in this game.

I mentioned Sunday that the Pirates should go after Jeff Clement and I’ve spoken to a few of the beat reporters and bloggers in Seattle and the consensus thought is that he is probably blocked right now and might be available. He would be a very solid addition for the long-term.

I don’t EVEN want to get another email about how well Oliver Perez pitched Tuesday. Ughhh..

Speaking of red flags, Bullington pitched his first game back the other day and threw 38 pitches in the first inning and came back out and threw another inning plus. That’s a lot of abuse on the young man’s arm.

He also threw 37 pitches in one inning and was made to go back out the next inning three starts before he tossed 26 pitches and was put on the DL.

I think it’s fair to question whether Bullington is in Littlefield’s long term plan.

Interestingly, I received a lot of email from the Deadspin visitors sending their condolences like I was burying my long lost puppy or something. Most asked how I could continue to blog about the Pirates.

It’s not easy being a sounding board for all the fan’s depression, especially this year. I’ll be traveling to Bradenton here shortly and the first thing I plan to ask the new players will be how is all this affecting them mentally? I’m sure 99% will give me the stock answer that it isn’t. But you know the kids in the farm have to be as depressed as the fans.

Just in from a reader: the Bradenton Herald had a very nice article on the Pirates fourth round draft pick Quincy Latimore the other day. Check it out.

Tidbits

Take a lot of young men making a lot of money and drop them off five miles from the party lines in South Beach and what do you get the next day if you are a Pirate fan?

A loss.

Throw in the fact those same party animals have averaged just 2.6 runs per game the last ten while managing an OPS over .700 just twice, and now face a team that has a per game OPS over .700 in 6 of their last 10 facing the likes of Santana, Danks, and Contreras and, well, you almost get one of those ‘bet the farm’ scenarios.

Since 2003 when Willis started against the Pirates, the Marlins have won every single game except one. In those five starts, Willis has never allowed more than three runs, and since July 2005 the Pirates have managed just 1.6 runs per game off him.

Bet the farm? Shoot, now you’re at the ‘bet your first born’ stage.

Paul Maholm might have something to say about all this too. While he’s 0-1 in Miami, he has a career 3.00 ERA/1.00 WHIP there and a 3.42 ERA in his last three games where batters hit a low .354 against him (hehe). Of course, .354 in Miami’s heat is like .450, but that’s still .050 better than Willis has allowed last three.

And he’s going to need that advantage as the Marlins have an eye popping .477 slugging percentage their last 7 games (the Mariners were only .455 to give you an idea) while the Pirates have a .542 — OPS! Oh, and we’re batting just .199 in our last five games.

Ouch.

This game comes down to the Pirates middle infielders. The Marlins are going to sting the ball no matter if it is on the ground or in the air and it will depend on whether Tracy starts Sanchez at second or Castillo, imo.

If Sanchez starts and by the end of the third you see either two groundballs past him into the outfield and you’re sitting there wondering if Castillo might have made a play on them, or two double plays not turned you know Castillo would have made, just turn the TV off because the score might end up being one of those lopsided affairs – again.

Or if you see Ed Hickox, Tim Timmons, or Bill Welke behind the plate, or Ryan Doumit start catching (unlikely), you might as well take the wife out to dinner.

On the other hand, the Pirates live for game one of every series so the best game you’ll see in them will probably be tonight. We are 4-0 in our last four Tuesday games (Marlins 8-1 last 9), 5-1 after a day off last 6 (Marlins 5-0 last 5), and 13-5 in game one in our last 18 series.

And don’t forget Willis believes he is trade fodder this July so he very well might continue to overthrow everything like in his last outing where he started on six days rest and lasted just 34 pitches before leaving with a tight forearm. And get this weird stat – the Marlins are just 3-11 in Willis’ last 14 Tuesday games and 1-4 last 5 when Willis faces NLCD teams.

Bottom line? Look for the Pirates offense to start feeling more comfortable in the box and to break out – at least for one game.

Rumor spreading fast today: Nutting is set to announce Kevin McClatchy will be replaced sometime after the All-Star game. I’m sure he’ll take another 6 months to name a new CEO, and another 6 months to announce Littlefield is fired, then another 4 months to find his replacement.

All the while the organization’s 1999 five year plan will officially become ten years old and Nutting will continue to make his deposits.

Three Reds wins and three Pirates losses will put the Pirates in the cellar and in a position for the number one draft pick in 2008 where maybe we’ll be able to get this guy.

Magic Number: 38  –  the number of losses needed to guarantee a 15th consecutive losing season.

Mark this game down in your calendar: August 16th.. Mets vs Pirates. How ironic would it be if Oliver Perez was scheduled to start that day and hand the Pirates their 82cd loss? Mets fans are already drooling to see it.

The Braves have gone 14-26 their last 40 games and they blame it all on the Pirates after getting mauled 13-2 May 13th in Pittsburgh. That was also the last series Mike Gonzalez pitched in.

Did you ever in your life think you would miss Randall Simon and Ryan Vogelsong?

Ughh..

The only Pirate worthy of being on the All-Star roster this year in my opinion is Tom Gorzelanny. Even LaRussa will be hard challenged to pass him by, although I have to believe the Pirates hope he does.

Yeah – we finally made it into Deadspin. Thanks to everyone that emailed. Man they push a lot of traffic at you. Whew! Great stuff.

Fans For Change: Hold ‘Em or Fold ‘Em?

Some Pittsburgh Pirate fans are frustrated and they are planning a walkout June 30th after the third inning as their statement of protest.

The local media reaction to the walkout has been a mixed bag of worms – everything from Mark Madden’s ridicule to Bob Smizik’s applause.

So I decided to ask others what they thought of the walkout and/or boycott idea (the complete email of each respondent are listed in the comment section):

"[M]y advice to Pirates fans is to stop going to the game until they make an effort to field a winner. You should be aware, the outcome might be that they move the team from Pittsburgh." — Sports Economist David J. Berri; Associate Professor of Economics, California State University-Bakersfield; author at The Sports Economist

"So, in terms of sports teams, I have to conclude that fan boycotts are not in the best interests of the fans involved. The best thing for fans to do is stand by their team and attend games regardless of the team record, thus helping the team afford the players they need and preventing a move." — Fred Taub, President, Boycott Watch

"All a fan can do is vote with his $$.  The worst thing to do if you don’t like the product is to hand the the owner your money.  A boycott is just an organized way of sending the same message." — Sports Economist Raymond D. Sauer, Jr; Chair, Department of Economics, Clemson University; ; author at The Sports Economist

"I’m not a fan of boycotts."Mark Cuban

"Protesting, while a sign of solidarity and something that shows the level of frustration that the current Pirates ownership has rightfully driven its core constituency to, it is, none the less, a fruitless endeavor. If the Pirates ownership has been unwilling to right their own ship after all these years of poor returns on the field, I doubt anything short of a citywide protest will register to the point of action on their part." – Maury Brown, Biz of Baseball

Michael Keaton, Dennis Miller, and a few local attorneys who practice mediation, have all declined to respond to my question up to this point.

Although every one of them is deeply passionate on the subject, some believe one road is correct, others believe in another path, and some prefer to not get involved.

And that’s exactly why walkouts fail – there’s no cohesion.

Bob Smizik said in his article:

"[Nutting] does not deserve to be boycotted.. Anyone who wants to boycott all of Nutting’s businesses needs to take a serious look at their life."

Obviously Mr. Smizik tempered his boycott response while applauding the walkout concept.

Nutting’s product most certainly deserves to be boycotted if those who purchase it are that dissatisfied and desire to. Plus, anyone with a brain knows the way you bring the enemy to their knees is to cut off their supply chain.

That’s basic warfare.

But that’s also my second point – there is no identifiable goal in the walkout.

The "Fans For Change" flyer advertising the walkout indicates they simply want to make a statement showing their displeasure with the Pirates ownership for not fielding a competitive product.

That’s hardly warfare, especially when they first hand over their hard earned cash to those they are protesting to watch what they feel is a non-competitive team battle. Why not just stand up at the end of the 3rd, face CEO Kevin McClatchy in his seat or box, and chant over and over "I’m mad as ****" instead?

So I take it the fans aren’t really at a boycott stage just yet. They are simply being loud while trying to show their anger. Will that do anything?

No, of course not.

The Pirates ownership group is not going to back down to a bunch of fans whose only interest is the fact they are angry. The only way to ever bring the group to their knees is to first understand capitalism.

Watch how fast McClatchy implements change if all of a sudden The McClatchy Company lost 10% of it’s stock value from a boycott, or how fast Nutting implements change if Pennsylvania residents boycott Seven Springs for a season or two.

It’s all about the risks and rewards. The Pirates ownership group was willing to take all the risks buying the team and now they are benefiting from the rewards. Kudos to them.

Ask a Marlins, Orioles, or Rays fan who participated in all the franchise walkouts the last few years if they have seen any changes.

Walkouts don’t work.

However, if Pirate fans are willing to take the risks associated with a boycott in potentially seeing the franchise moved, a few jobs lost, or business in the downtown corridor come to a crawl on game day, then they very well might reap years of rewards after a new CEO is put in place, a new GM hired, and the franchise take a new direction.

Ask any fan who boycotted the Tigers in 2002 – 2003 after eight consecutive losing seasons and then saw them reload in 2004 and make it to the World Series two years later.

Boycotts can work.

But Nutting is surely betting you’ll stand pat and buy another ticket to one of his bobblehead giveaway promotions so you can walk out.

Fan to Littlefield: When Are You Resigning?

Click the Play button to hear part of the 6/24 broadcast
Trouble? Try clicking this link to download the media

For the hearing impaired:

Dave Littlefield was asked by a Pirate fan when he plans to resign and Littlefield answered him by saying the current offense is not up to par, the players are in the 26 – 30 year old range and should be performing better, and the Pirates will score more runs when they do.

The second caller asked Littlefield what advice he has for suffering fans and Littlefield responded by saying there are better days ahead, the Pirates won three of four series before they went on the last road trip, the players must perform better, the players are young and in a funk right now, and he feels strongly it will be better.

The third caller was Dave Littlefield’s agent (just kidding – it was a fan) who called to say he was tired of people ripping on Littlefield, he thinks Littlefield is doing a really good job, and to hang in there. Littlefield’s response was that winning games was the most important thing and that’s what they are going to try and do.

Brutal stuff.

Phelps Chokes, Bucs Lose 5th Straight

Twice Josh Phelps came to the plate with men in scoring position and two outs with the opportunity to tie the game or put the Pirates ahead, and he performed as well as his career .238 BA in that event suggests he would.

He choked under pressure.

Not just any choking, mind you, but one that included a gut wrenching at bat in the 7th with the bases loaded where Phelps watched three straight pitches float right across the heart of the plate as he comfortably rested his bat on his shoulder.

*~ Slap ~*  thank you, may I have another?

And in the 9th with men at 1st and 2cd when he again struckout on three straight pitches.

*~ Slap Slap ~*

Welcome to the Pittsburgh Pirates Mr. Phelps.

Tom Gorzelanny pitched a decent game holding the Angels potent offense down to seven hits and three runs. What hurt him was a leadoff walk to Figgins in the 5th as he would eventually come around to score the Angels 3rd run after he stole second, an infield groundball, and a sac fly.

BaysafeThe Pirates seemed to pick their game up in the 7th.

With one out, Bay hit a sharp groundball to Figgins who made a nice play, but Bay hustled down the line and was called out.

The replay clearly shows first base umpire Tim Timmons blew the call – Bay was safe.

The Timmons error would eventually go on to become an assist for the Angels because LaRoche would then walk after a great at bat and Nady singled putting men at first and second.

Ryan Doumit then came to the plate who had been scalding the ball all day and the Halos simply intentionally walked him instead of being forced to pitch to him with the bases loaded and one out without the Timmons miscue.

After the walk, Phelps came to the plate and whiffed looking at three straight heaters down the pike to end the inning.

DuffsafeWith two outs in the 10th, Duffy singled with a groundball off first baseman Moralas’ glove and then tried to steal second with Sanchez at the plate.

The Angels pitched out and seemed to have Duffy easily but Molina’s throw was off the bag and Duffy slid under the tag.

But second base umpire Rick Reed called him out in yet another blown call giving the Angels their second umpire assist of the game.

Capps came in to pitch the 10th and Kendrick doubled off the left centerfield wall with one out, Moralas, who was swinging a hot bat, was intentionally walked, and Aybar crushed a 1-0 Capps heater well over Nady’s head that went for a walk off ground rule double scoring Kendrick.

And the Pirates were swept for the third time this year.

You have to tip your hat to the Angels pen this series for throwing 10 quality innings and surrendering just one earned run for a 0.90 ERA. They were the difference makers. In contrast, the Pirates pen gave up 10 runs in 10.2 innings for an 8.41 ERA after our starters left the game with their respectable 4.68 series ERA.

Duke and Gorzy had a combined 3.27 ERA in two games the Pirates should have won but lacked the pitching to keep them in the game.

And how about Masumi Kuwata? This guy is something else with his third straight quality effort out of the pen. I suspected his little 68 mph curveball would get crushed by Major League batters but that hasn’t happened. It’s so slow it throws their balance at the plate off and he stays honest by adding a decent changeup, two or three varieties of the curve, and painting an 88 mph heater on the black.

Very nice work – especially after Freddy Sanchez failed to make a play on a groundball past him allowing the Angels to eventually load the bases with no outs. Kuwata got a strikeout and a double play to strand all three runners.

The Pirates head to Miami on what is sure to be a very, very long flight. I remember last year when the Pirates were flying home after losing their 7th consecutive game being swept in St. Louis when Roberto Hernandez asked Tracy on the flight if he could hold a player’s only meeting. Tracy said yes.

When the team reported to PNC April 28th, they went behind closed doors and there were some very heated discussions that took place including some finger pointing. The team went on to win that day but the clubhouse rocked of problems until the July trades.

I wonder who will be stepping up this year to call the annual player’s only meeting?

Edit – a reader pointed me to this Trib report indicating that Wilson called the meeting before the game Sunday. But then a later Post-Gazette article said the players scraped the meeting, as if dissing Wilson.

In the Trib article Jack Wilson was quoted as saying:

"It’s almost like we’re overwhelmed by playing better teams. It shouldn’t be that way because everybody in here knows we are 10 times better than we’re (playing) right now. It’s really tough to take."

Hmm..

Looking back at posts I made at Pirateball.com over the years, I see in 2004 the Pirates were spending 38.5% less than the median MLB team but were only 9.3% off the median team productivity in runs scored. That trend hasn’t held up.

I also see a post I made in January 2004 where I showed the Pirates had scored more run per year on average from 1998 – 2003 than five other MLB clubs – two of which Dave Littlefield worked for – yet had the second lowest organizational per run cost over the period.

So to hear Jack Wilson say that the team is 10 times better than they are performing right now is simply ridiculous. Ten percent more would take the team to a .453 winning percentage which, of course, has happened only one time since Dave Littlefield became the GM and that was the year they gave Ramirez away – 2003.

The productivity level at which this roster is producing is a true sales per man hour model – the cheapest employees available all producing at their highest possible level netting maximum profits to the owners. It’s what you learn in Business 101 class.

And of course they are overwhelmed and frustrated playing better teams.

It’s like the Pirates owning a ’66 289 Mustang and entering it into a 1/4 mile race everyday against the likes of a ’66 427 Vette, a ’67 389 GTO, or a ’69 455 Hemi RoadRunner. The Pirates might jump off the line first a lot, and every once in awhile the other driver will make too many mistakes, his car will blow up, or something else will happen where your Stang wins.

But holding that lead against the muscle cars is not easy because they are vastly superior machines, and rarely will the Mustang win when the other car needs to.

Speaking of inferior machines, John Wasdin was just recalled by the Pirates sending Bayliss down. Bayliss.. Wasdin. Bayliss.. Wasdin. Not much difference there.

Ughh..

Running on Fumes, Lazy Play Costs Game

Second inning –

– leadoff groundball hits Snell’s heel and bounces to Sanchez, he gloves it, drops it, and the runner is safe;

– next batter hammers a double and then the next batter hit a flair for a single into center to score both runners;

2-0 Angels with no outs and a man at first, although it should be 1 out and 1-0 with a man at first

– next batter hits a grounder through the right side for a single and there are now men at first and third;

– then an infield pop up to Wilson who let it fall, he shoveled to Sanchez for the force, and Sanchez threw home but Paulino dropped the sure out throw;

3-0 Angels with one out and a man at second, although the inning should be over and the score 1-0

– runners at first and second with two outs after a walk and there’s a sharp line drive to Bay who throws home for yet another sure out with a relay anywhere near the plate, but his throw is 20′ up the third base line, Paulino doesn’t get to it, the ball hobbles to the wall, and both runners advance another base (Dejan reported today that Paulino failed to ‘budge’ for the throw but Paulino had no idea Bautista wasn’t going to cut it, imo);

4-0 Angels with one out and runners at second and third, although we should have recorded our 4th out by now

– the next batter hits a line drive towards Sanchez, he fails to put his glove on it as it whizzes by into right field and another run scores;

5-0 Angels with one out and runners on the corners, although we should have had our 5th out

– the next two batters are retired to end a 30 pitch inning by Snell.

5-0 Angels — a thirty pitch inning from 10 batters coming to the plate providing an opportunity for no less than 7 potential outs, and we recorded just 3

And I won’t even distress you with other events like another groundball to LaRoche where he failed to touch first base for an out before throwing home, Bay throwing behind base runners advancing on him, two missed double plays by the Sanchez/Wilson team, Doumit not running out infield groundballs, or how bad Tony Armas looked on the mound.

Tip your hat to Escobar – he had decent stuff. Not outstanding, but very good. He seemed hittable but the Pirates approach was just as disjointed against Escobar as it was against Saunders Friday night. Maybe our lack of spending on scouting is showing up in this series?

Consider this — the Pirates aren’t an offensive threat so every team in baseball knows the way to beat us is to keep us out of fastball counts. Afterall, one thing we can do is mash a fastball. So earlier hitter’s counts are where we have to do our damage.

Friday and Saturday night the Pirates had 71 at bats with 30 of those at bats having a hitter’s count of 2-1 or 2-0. In those we:

– put the ball in play 8 times resulting in 1 single, 1 home run, and 6 outs;
– fouled off or swung at the next pitch in 9 at bats;
– watched the next pitch float past 13 times, with 7 of the 13 going for strikes.

That means in 73% of the at bats the batter ended up with another strike or made an out, 20% of the time the batter saw the next pitch called a ball, and 7% of the time got a hit.

However the Pirates lineup came into this game hitting .359 on the same 2-0 and 2-1 counts, but the last two games we’ve hit just .067.

Part of it is because the Pirates haven’t seen this staff before, they are pitching well, and we’re not getting good swings. That’s somewhat understandable with young hitters.

But an 81% regression?

Naw.. I’m not buying that one bit, and you shouldn’t either. We’ve been lazy in the box just like we’ve been lazy on the field and it’s showing up in every imaginable stat that you care to look at.

I’m not in the dugout and can’t tell you if it is because the players are tired from Tracy’s refusal to force players to take days off, too much coach’s coffee, clubhouse cancer running amuck, the failure of Tracy to lower the boom by consistently benching for poor play, the players missing their wives on the road, or a defeatist attitude. Maybe it’s a combination of them all, or something entirely different. Who knows.

One thing for sure, if it keeps up this team will be losing six of every ten games or more here real fast.

Snell pitched a fairly good game, considering his defense didn’t show up. One thing Paulino has to learn is that when a team obviously has your game plan in their hip pocket, he needs to re-adjust quicker. That’s going to take time to learn.

The Pirates continue to be a circus act with Sanchez at second base and it throws the entire defensive scheme out of whack. He’s got to move back to third and we’ll just have to suffer the consequences of Sanchez not gloving as many balls in play, or throwing out as many batters, as Bautista might.

If Tracy wants Bautista in the lineup, then he’ll have to shift Nady to center and have Bautista play right. Or – perhaps move Sanchez to left field, Bay to right, and have Nady play center.

The Wilson/Sanchez middle infield team makes Castillo’s 18 errors a year look like heaven. Castillo has to get back in the game up the middle and reducing the number of touches Bay has sure wouldn’t hurt us any.

Gorzelanny goes Sunday on four days rest in an afternoon game after throwing 123 pitches last outing. We’ll probably be lucky if he makes it to the 5th with Alfonso Marquez calling the plate. I just hope he doesn’t push himself into an injury because this is a major red flag start for him.

After the game Ian Snell was quoted by the Post-Gazette as saying:

"I [expletive] hate this," he said at his stall, his voice rising. "And you can put that in the paper. I [expletive] hate losing.. I hate when the team doesn’t bring out its full potential. And if they fine me, fine me. I don’t care. Because this is getting stupid."

God Bless Ian Snell.

LaRoche was also quoted as saying:

"When you lose, everything gets magnified and you start questioning yourself, questioning each other, wondering why this play was or wasn’t made, whether we should have bunted here or there. It’s stuff that never should come up."

There’s nothing like one player calling out another saying he shouldn’t be saying things.

And in case you’re not keeping track, the Post-Gazette just created controversies on 12% of the Pirates 25-man roster in one day.

Ouch.

All that comes one day after Sean Burnett ripped into the organization by saying to the Beaver County Times:

"I think spring training proved that I am no longer in the plans. That’s why I’m taking the attitude that I’m pitching for 29 other (major-league) teams. They all have scouts. They know I can pitch in the big leagues and help a team right now."

Burnett might be right the way the Pirates allowed him to heave 76 tosses off the mound on May 30th. After being devalued with that type of two-inning action, you have to wonder if any other team would want him either until he can prove he isn’t going to break.

Double Ouch.

Then if all that isn’t enough, the Post-Gazette threw another tidbit right into Ronny Paulino’s face when they said the Pirates are wanting to deal for a front line receiver and Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s name was mentioned from the Braves organization.

Of course, this is less than a month after the first year draft where they could have had one, albeit he would have needed years to develop.

If they are going to move on a receiver, why not go after Jeff Clement in the Mariners system? At least he won’t be priced as high as Saltalamacchia and he’s blocked too.

I tend to believe this report is a smoke screen to try and get some life into Paulino. I doubt seriously we’ll be picking up another catcher. Afterall, didn’t we just sign the one and only Josh Phelps? (now watch him go 4-4 tomorrow).

Meriweather Given an Assist in Angels Win

(Note – I don’t usually document my game posts this heavily but there are articles circulating that paint what I consider a highly inaccurate picture of this game and I felt my readers needed to experience the difference.)

May 4th, 2007 — Chuck Meriweather was calling the plate in the Brewers/Pirates series and Jim Tracy was all over him from the first inning on. In the 4th, a very frustrated Paul Maholm decided to tell Mr. Meriweather what he thought of him from the mound and Meriweather immediately started walking toward Maholm when Tracy ran out of the dugout and yanked him out of the game.

Yep – that was also the series Capps was suspended from for hitting Fielder, as well as the series I call Middle Infielder ****.

You see, Meriweather never had a chance the rest of that Brewers series to show the Pirates what he thought of them because they self-imploded the remaining two games. But he got his chance Friday night and he made sure Jim Tracy knew it was pay back time.

With the Pirates up 4-1 going into the bottom of the 7th, Marte took the mound. Napoli hit a sharp groundball to Bautista who booted it allowing Napoli an infield single.

Willits then hit a groundball between Bautista and the bag that went right under his glove and down into the left field corner where Bay booted it a second time, Napoli rounded third and Bay’s throw came into to Sanchez who easily should have had Napoli but his throw went between the sliding runner’s legs instead of to Paulino who had no chance to make a play because he couldn’t even see the ball. Willits took third on Sanchez’s errand throw.

The score was 4-2 now with a man at third and one out when Chacon relieved Marte. Cabrera then hit a line drive single into left scoring the runner and making the score 4-3, and Chacon shut them down the rest of the inning, including a flyball to McLouth by Guerrero that McLouth ran into the rubber padding in center hitting the side of his face.

The 8th inning started with Kendrick hitting yet another groundball under Bautista’s glove for a single, Hillenbrand hit groundball to LaRoche who threw to 2cd for the force, and Chacon took the relay for the double play.

But Meriweather said Chacon didn’t touch the bag.

As Chacon bounced the ball off the ground in anger, Meriweather took a long look right into the Pirates dugout at Jim Tracy who looked away. Replays clearly show Chacon touched the bag, albeit Chacon made the play too close with his poor footwork.

So instead of two outs and nobody on, there was one out and Hillenbrand was lifted for pitch runner Haynes. Chacon then got Napoli to fly out to center which should have ended the inning.

Willits came to the plate and ripped a line drive into left centerfield and Bay cut the ball off as Haynes was halfway to third. I assume Bay took it for granted Haynes would stop at third because he threw a moderately soft relay to Wilson about 20′ in front of second to the shortstop side of the bag as Haynes rounded the corner and headed home. Wilson’s relay was about 10′ up the third base line so Paulino had no chance even though he booted the throw anyway.

All thing being equal from that point on, the Bucs should have walked away 4-3 winners.

Capps pitched a scoreless 9th and 10th and then Tracy went to Bayliss and, 12 pitches later Cabrera hit a walkoff single scoring Figgins who had crushed a Bayliss heater for a triple.

Bayliss walked off the field with his third loss of the year and and a 9.40 June ERA that is just a click better than his 10.13 May ERA.

With Duke starting I expected middle infield **** from jump street and I didn’t have to wait long. On the first batter Wilson made a nice stop on a groundball in the hole but then sent an airmail package to the dugout allowing Willits to take second base.

If Jim Tracy didn’t play the infield in with one out later in the first, Willits would have scored because Bautista threw him out at the plate.

I have to admit Duke pitched a tad better than I though he would but I account that to the Angels batters wanting to pull his sinkerball instead of taking him the other way. Batter after batter grounded to short or third and Duke mostly scattered nine hits while allowing just one earned run.

I also noticed that Duke is now positioning himself in the middle of the rubber instead of on the far left and the end result is that right-hand batters hit the ball to Bautista instead of Wilson. We’ll have to see how this plays out over his next few starts.

Our offense managed four runs. In the first, Davis flaired a single into right then stole two bases, and Sanchez lined a ground rule double into the left field seats on a bounce scoring him.

In the third, Wilson lined a single into center and advanced to third on two wild pitches, Davis hit a soft line drive off the pitcher’s glove scoring Wilson for his first career rbi, and then Bay raked a Saunders 2-0 heater into the left field seats.

Overall we managed just eight hits, eleven total bases, and walked once.

Three of Sanchez’s throws were off the mark in this game – two of them relay throws home that should have nailed both runners, Wilson airmailed a throw of his own, Bay choked on two of his relay’s, and Bautista couldn’t handle three groundballs that went under his glove like he has Wilson-itis.

It’s a credit to Duke he managed to keep the Halo’s to one run despite all those blunders.

And it begs the question why Jose Castillo remains on the bench.

-

Pirates bullpen last 30 days: 6.43 ERA.

The Angels announcers spoke about Littlefield being after Kotchman this winter but settling on LaRoche instead. There’s no question we would have had to give up a Gorzelanny package to get Kotch, but you have to wonder if it might have been worth it in the long run.

I think it would have.

Look for Kotch to play Saturday night.

Brad Eldred found a way to halt the strikeouts – swing at the first pitch every at bat like he did his first three trips to the plate Friday night. They all went for fly ball outs.

Did you see Jim Tracy’s comment about adding Josh Phelps to the roster? He said he could now spell LaRoche against lefties at times. He also specifically said using Phelps this way did not mean he plans to platoon LaRoche, and as Bill James told Bucco Blog he should make every attempt to keep LaRoche in the lineup.

But you have to wonder where this is going as LaRoche is now a career .217 hitter in the four hole and Bay is hitting better behind LaRoche than in front of him. Go figure.

Look for LaRoche to be placed down the lineup (six or seven hole) for the rest of the year.

30 Minute Trashcan Meals: Bucs Sign Phelps

What an absolute waste of media ink, blogger space, and fan time: claiming Josh Phelps off the waiver wire.

I assume Littlefield was joking when he said:

"He’ll give us a little more flexibility and he will help strengthen our bench. And it will allow us to use (Ryan) Doumit more freely."

Gee.. chew your burger, spit it out on the floor, stomp on it with your muddy feet, have your dog swallow and regurgitate it, then eat it for dinner and you finally get to the roster value of Josh Phelps.

You think Brad Eldred is a poor defender at first? You haven’t seen Phelps. You think Adam Dunn has a long swing? Scouts don’t mention bat speed with Phelps – they talk about stopwatch time. Phelps as a backup catcher? Sure – let’s put a career 41 inning receiver behind the plate with all our youthful sinkerball arms heating up.

I suppose this signing could only mean one of three things:

1 — The Indy Indians need a replacement level player for Eldred and Littlefield plans to put Phelps right back on the wire to get him there as the Pirates attempt to go for the MLB one-year strikeout record; or

2 — Doumit is on his way out the door; or

2 — Dave Littlefield has finally lost it.

Ughh..

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