Wednesday, July 14, 2004

New Paul Meyer

There are a few interesting sections in Paul Meyer's new Q&A. The first, up at the top of the page, concerns the Pirates' position as the trade deadline approaches. Meyer writes:

It appears the Pirates will be sellers only in terms of Kris Benson. He'll be traded. Any other deals involving the Pirates will come out of left field -- or right field -- and be the kinds in which another team comes after somebody the Pirates have.

I hope Meyer's wrong about that, and that Dave Littlefield is working the phones, trying to move Jose Mesa and Abraham Nunez as well as Benson. Neither of those guys is going to help in the long term, although they'd both be useful to the right contender.

Down at the bottom there's an entire section about my J.J. Davis letter (published last week):

COMMENT: Wow, I guess Charlie Wilmoth of Wheeling really told you!

Erik Yost of Tarentum

COMMENT: No personal disrespect to Charlie Wilmoth of Wheeling, W.Va., but his comments about J.J. Davis in the July 7 edition of "Pirates Q&A" are so far off the mark that I wonder if he's watching the same J.J. as the rest of us! First of all, Davis hasn't been "crushing" AAA pitching for "two years running," as Wilmoth says. In 2002, he was at AA Altoona -- where he finished with a respectable but hardly spectacular .287 average. In 2003, his average at Nashville was consistent at .284, but he only managed to hit .200 in his 19 games with the big boys at PNC. So while he has shown a bit of a stick in the minors, he hasn't been knocking anyone's socks off as a "big time prospect." And I'm sorry, Charlie. Minor league pitching is nowhere near the quality of the majors. It's simple, man -- these guys are pitching in the minors for a reason! They're not ready for the show yet. When they are, you'll see them as soon as possible -- especially pitchers. Teams want to win and they'll bring up the best players they can as quickly as possible.

Davis has been a disappointment as a prospect and a disaster as a Pirate. He's been a pro now for seven years and still he's flummoxed by major league pitching. (He's currently batting .121 in 22 games.) His defensive play has been poor as well. What good is a "rifle arm," (which I still haven't seen) if you throw to the wrong base or misjudge an easy fly and miss the play all together! You can't blame his lack of fundamentals on coaching (because) he's been in the system for too long. I'm sure that throughout his seven years as a pro, he's been coached and taught, but somehow it hasn't stuck.

No, Charlie, it's time to check the stats, learn a little about baseball and realize that J.J. is a bust. Arguments about additional playing time are fruitless because in the pros, playing time is based on production -- not potential. J.J. simply doesn't produce; therefore he doesn't play. It's time for the Bucs to move Davis if they can. Maybe the kid will wake up ala Esteban Loaiza or Jason Schmidt (and I wish him well in that regard), but most likely he'll end up another Chad Hermansen. Time to cut our losses and put a little time into more promising prospects.

Don Szejk of Pittsburgh

Yeee-oww! Did Davis look at this guy's mom the wrong way? Because I didn't.

I understand that Davis has looked very, very bad in many of the few times he's been allowed to play in Pittsburgh - in some cases, he's looked like he's not on the same planet as the rest of us. And when fans think a player lacks "fundamentals" (makes baserunning mistakes, throws to the wrong base, that sort of thing), fans take that very personally, as they should: if you're going to pay twenty bucks to watch a baseball game, you expect to see good baseball.

Still, this situation needs to be put into perspective. Davis has eighty - eighty - big league at-bats in his career. This year, he has thirty-five. That's about nine games worth of at-bats, spread out over three months. He hasn't been given any kind of chance, to put it mildly, and he hasn't been allowed to establish a rhythm of any kind. It certainly isn't enough time to decide a player is a "bust."

Does Davis lack fundamentals? It is obvious to me that he does not, unless fundamentals are magically acquired (or not) when a player reaches the major league level. Davis has, in fact, crushed AAA pitching two years in a row (and by that I meant 2003 and 2004; I thought that was pretty straightforward). He was among the league leaders in slugging in 2003, and in 2004 he slugged over .700. How does someone who lacks the skills necessary to play baseball play baseball so very well in a league that's just a notch below the best in the world?

Is there such a huge difference between the leagues that a young man with no skills could clobber the lower league and yet have zero chance of success in a higher one? No way: players are shuttled between AAA and the majors nearly every day, and many AAA players are unquestionably better than many major leaguers. Just ask Justin Morneau of Rochester. Talent isn't the only factor that affects where a player ends up: there's also service time, the depth of particular organizations at particular positions, rehab assignments, and the incompetence of general managers and farm directors affecting who goes where. The leagues can be compared to one another; if they couldn't, there'd be no point in trading for prospects or having minor leagues at all. Players in the majors are obviously generally better than players at AAA, but a 25 year-old who hits 20+ homers in AAA in one year and then slugs over .700 the next is a valuable commodity.

So, what numbers are you going to trust, the 500ish AAA at-bats that say that Davis is a good power prospect, or the week's worth of major league at-bats that say he's Pat Meares with functioning hands? Here are some players who've hit .400 or better in the last seven days: Jose Vizcaino, Eli Marrero, Neifi Perez, Tony Womack, and Jayson Werth. Me, I'm not worrying about those 35 at-bats that much. Boneheaded plays are another matter, but I gave reasons why he might be making those in my last letter: he can't get in a rhythm, he's nervous, he has trouble adjusting to new levels, or he's just plain unlucky.

Many of Mr. Szejk's other points are flatly untrue or just plain silly:

[Davis] hasn't been knocking anyone's socks off as a "big time prospect."

Wrong. He was listed as one of the top fifty prospects in all of baseball by Baseball Prospectus earlier this year. BP also called him "a darkhorse pick for NL Rookie of the Year."

Arguments about additional playing time are fruitless because in the pros, playing time is based on production -- not potential.

Wrong. In Pittsburgh, they often aren't based on either one. Randall Simon has been a complete disaster this year, and he continues to play more than Davis does. Chris Stynes does too. Jack Wilson spent two and a half years hitting like a vegan Rey Ordonez before he had any success. Tike Redman has been a mess all year. Mike Williams stunk all last year and he held the sacred closer role until he was traded. Josh Fogg continues to stick in the rotation last year despite the fact that he's pitching horribly. Playing time is pretty plainly not based on production in Pittsburgh, and that's been clear for years.

And even if it were "based on production" - should 35 bad at-bats be enough to get a player benched?

And even if playing time ideally would be based on production, wouldn't it be smart for a team in the Pirates' position to instead hand out playing time to guys who might conceivably help down the road, rather than giving it to stopgaps (who, let's face it, flop just as often as the rookies do)?

Most likely he'll end up another Chad Hermansen...

I suppose anything's possible, but there's no good reason to think Davis and Hermansen are similar players, except in that they both hit well at AAA.

Time to cut our losses and put a little time into more promising prospects.

Like... who? Last I checked, Randall Simon was still getting most of the time Davis should be getting. He's not a prospect. Tony Alvarez has gotten a few at-bats recently; he's interesting, but doesn't have the track record Davis does. If there really were better prospects than Davis available to man all three outfield positions, the Pirates' future would be bright indeed, but there aren't. After Jason Bay, Davis is easily the best there is.

Szejk concedes: "Maybe the kid will wake up ala Esteban Loaiza or Jason Schmidt..." Is it not in the Pirates' best interests to see if that will happen? As I wrote in my original letter, there is absolutely no downside to giving him a vote of confidence and letting him play the rest of the season. If he stinks, it's really no big deal. And if he's good, he could be a big asset. He costs the Pirates virtually nothing now, and there's no good reason not to really find out if he can play.

Davis isn't the second coming or anything, and it is possible he will be a bust. But I don't understand why a team in the Pirates' position would willingly give up on a guy who might help them win later. The Pirates should give Davis a chance. If he's terrible after a couple hundred at-bats, then we can all move on.


Blogger Rowdy said...

Hey Charlie. So what player do you bench or dump on the trade market to give J.J. Davis so many consecutive starts? Never mind the fact that's he's injured right now; I'm curious how you would find the PT for him without pissing off too many teammates. I'm amused that you are so rational about J.J. Davis and so emotonal about some of the other guys like Simon, who is playing a lot now because Ward is hurt, Redman, who has been a little better lately and had huge hits during the winning streak, and Stynes, who is a utility player who starts on occasion to rest Mack-a-whack's knee and hide him against some kinds of left-handed starters.

I suppose it's all academic now that Davis is injured so maybe it's best to move on to other matters.

Great Pirate blogging, by the way. I threw up a link for your site at Honest Wagner. Keep up the good work.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Charlie said...

I guess it IS academic now, although it will be interesting to see if the Pirates put him on another long, bogus rehab assignment once he gets better. I'd rather see him play in AAA every day than sit on the bench in the majors.

What I would do is put Craig Wilson at first, then move Bay or Alvarez to center and let Davis and Bay/Alvarez take the corners. I know the defense would suffer some that way, but I don't think that should be a permanent arrangement - it's fairly likely that either Davis or Alvarez wouldn't work out. But at least we'd know at that point, and I think it's also likely that one of them WOULD work out. That way the Pirates would know how to proceed going forward. Ward has performed well this year, but I'm not too worried about getting him too many at-bats; his upside is pretty low. He could still get his fair share when he got back by playing first while Wilson spelled Davis or Alvarez against tough matchups, and by being the top pinch-hitting option.

So I guess the odd men out would be Simon and Redman. Simon, I think we can both agree, is a very bad baseball player, and he has little chance of getting better. And if he does, the Pirates wouldn't have him under contract anyway. Redman was fantastic in the majors last year, but he has never hit particularly well before or since, in the majors or minors. And he's 27. In my opinion, there's not much upside there. But he might still have some value as a defensive sub and pinch runner.

Stynes would probably have some value as a utility man for some team, but the Pirates already have lots of utility players: Nunez, Mackowiak, and whichever second baseman isn't playing. All those guys are typically better options than Stynes (even considering his good defense), so he doesn't help the Pirates very much. That might change somewhat if Nunez gets traded, but there's still no way he should be starting.

As for "emotion," I won't apologize for that! I love the Pirates and I want to see them win. They're not going to win now, so I'll settle for winning in the future. And when I see them doing things that I think lessen their chances of winning in the future, I get upset, just as I feel good when they make a good decision or a good trade.

Thanks for posting, man. I do read your blog once a week or so, and even though I rarely agree with it, it's the best-written Pirate blog I've found. I've been meaning to put a link up there anyway; I think I will do so now.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Rowdy said...

Thanks for the answer. I'm SHOCKED, and I mean shocked, that you could disagree with me often. Psych, just kidding.

Feel free to abuse me in the comments at H Wags. You can even use some pseudonym like Sam Khalifa if it makes you more comfortable.

Or, abuse me here. I'm all grown up and can take all kinds of abuse. I won't say I enjoy it or blog just to get it, but I understand that it's part of the dynamic when fans get together.

Reading your other posts, I find it hard to believe that we disagree on much. Perhaps you are more bothered by my tone than by the content of my takes. Just remember, it's all in good fun and often tongue-in-cheek.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Charlie said...

hey Rowdy, I already wrote a response to your blog. Unfortunately, it's large so I can't post it over there, so I'll just put something in the comments and post it here.

4:54 PM  
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11:51 PM  

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