Monday, August 30, 2004

Minor League Players Of The Year

It's almost September call-up time, and I do love handing out meaningless and nonexistent hardware, so here are my picks for the Pirates' top minor league pitcher and position player of the year, as well as an all-prospect team for the organization.

Minor League Pitcher Of The Year: Zach Duke
Altoona: 46.1 IP, 33 K, 9 BB, 1.55 ERA
Lynchburg: 97 IP, 106 K, 20 BB, 1.39 ERA

A very easy choice. In an organization full of highly touted pitching prospects, Duke pitched circles around all of them. He's also still very young - his baseball age is 21 - so he's looking like one of the top pitching prospects in baseball despite not having overpowering stuff.

Minor League Position Player Of The Year: Brad Eldred, 1B
Altoona: 114 AB, 12 HR, .325/.658
Lynchburg: 334 AB, 21 HR

Eldred is similar to the Phillies' Ryan Howard in that he strikes out a ton, was a little old for his levels and absolutely crushed the ball this year. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to make contact in higher levels. He's also a very big man, so we'll see if he can field his position, although I haven't seen any scouting reports that suggest that he can't. He could help the Pirates as soon as next year. I was pretty bearish on him a month ago, but his ridiculous performance after being promoted to Altoona makes me hopeful.

2004 Pirates All-Prospect Team
C - J.R. House, Nashville: House hit for good power in 2004, but he didn't walk much, and must silence questions about his defense. He has a number of good prospects behind him, including Ryan Doumit and Ronny Paulino at Altoona, Steven Lerud at Williamsport and Neil Walker at Bradenton.
1B - Brad Eldred.
2B - Freddy Sanchez, Nashville: Spent most of the year injured and is 26, but hit well when he came back. The Pirates have been letting him play shortstop recently; could a Jack Wilson deal be in the works? Alex Peralta and Jermal Lomack are two other second basemen to watch.
SS - Javier Guzman, Hickory: There's no power or patience yet, but he can hit for contact, he's fast, and he's very young. Brian Bixler might have been the pick here if he'd shown anything at the plate in Williamsport. Dan Schwartzbauer was great there, though, and is worth watching next year.
3B - Urgh: Craig Stansberry? Eddie Prasch? Um... Jose Bautista?
OF - Nathan McLouth, Altoona: Of all the Pirates' speedy outfield prospects, McLouth is the only one who looks like he might become a legitimate leadoff man in the majors.
OF - J.J. Davis, Nashville: He has tons of potential, whether or not the Pirates want to admit it. Not much went right for Davis this year, which was partly the fault of injuries and partly the fault of the Pirates: they didn't let him play when he was with the big club, preferring to trot out retreads like Raul Mondesi and Randall Simon.
OF - Tony Alvarez, Nashville: Could help at the major league level as a fourth outfielder. May be better than that in time.
P - Zach Duke.
P - Leo Nunez, Hickory: Young, good stuff, impressive results: 135 Ks and 45 BBs in 137 innings.
P - Tom Gorzellany, Lynchburg: '03 second-rounder was great in Hickory and then pretty good in 50 innings at Lynchburg; will probably start 2005 there.
P - Bobby Bradley, Altoona: K/BB (70/40) numbers still not there, but at least he's finally healthy.
P - Paul Maholm, Lynchburg: Not to be confused with Pat Mahomes. Maholm didn't have a great season - in fact, he missed most of it after taking a ball in the face - but he was good when he pitched, and the Pirates will let him get work in the Arizona Fall League. He's here mostly because a lot of the Pirates' young pitchers - John Van Benschoten, Ian Snell, Sean Burnett, and Mike Gonzalez - were in the majors by August. Other candidates for the fifth spot: Justin Reid, Matt Peterson.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Señor K?

The Pirates’ radio announcers have begun calling Oliver Perez “Señor K.” That is the worst nickname ever. Hey, he’s a strikeout pitcher and he’s Latin!

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Poor Sabermetrics

Every once in a while I come across an article that reminds me how important it is to be careful with how we use numbers to evaluate the performances of baseball players. Tom Alexander's new column at Chicago Sports Review is one such article.

Alexander's thesis is that because a walk is as good as a hit, OPS undervalues walks since it gives a player credit for singles in both on-base percentage AND slugging percentage but only credits the player for walks in on-base percentage. "Let’s think about this for a second, though." writes Alexander. "Obviously in most cases a walk is as good as a single."

Alexander does not even attempt to convince us of this, which is strange, since it seems obvious to me that a walk is not as good as a single. A walk can only advance baserunners who are forced to the next base; a single can advance baserunners as far as their legs can carry them. A single can score a man from second; a walk cannot. With the bases empty, a walk is as good as a hit, but with runners on, a single is clearly better. That is why OPS is good at explaining how much a hitter contributes to his team, despite the fact that walks and singles are counted differently.

Alexander continues: "There needs to be a new very basic statistic that is simply (BB+HBP+TB)/(BB+HBP+AB)." (The parentheses, which are pretty clearly needed, were added by me.) Why do we need such a statistic? I'm not saying we don't need it, just that it's still not clear that we do. What explanatory or predictive value would such a statistic have?
Here, finally, Alexander's findings might amount to something, even if I'm not sure what it is. He christens his new statistic "Alexander Rating" or "AR." (Oh boy. I'm going to pretend that's named after Grover Cleveland Alexander.) He then lists the players whose 2004 AR rankings are much higher than their OPS rankings. The list includes Jose Valentin, Mike Cameron, Carlos Delgado, Chipper Jones and other guys who have lots of walks and low batting averages.

Alexander writes, "Ultimately, though, Batting Average, and even OBP is a poor measure [sic] of what they bring to the team, because their real value comes in the idea that when they get a hit, it's a big one." But what about all the outs these guys chew up in the process?

Next there's a list of guys whose OPS rankings are far higher than their AR rankings. The list includes Ichiro, Michael Young, Johnny Estrada, Lyle Overbay and other guys who've gotten a lot of singles this year. Alexander: "I'm not saying that they're not having great seasons, but in certain cases, OPS is a bad measure of how good of an offensive player someone is, particularly when juxtaposed with AR."

Alexander doesn't give any actual reasons for this, but in a certain sense he may be right. AR has, as far as I can see, zero explanatory value - walks simply aren't as good as singles. But it may have some predictive value, in that I'd bet a lot of guys on the second list - the ones whose value is heavily concentrated in singles - are going to take steps backward next year. Singles are much more likely to fluctuate greatly from year to year than walks or power.

Still, the premise upon which Alexander's study is based - that a walk is really as good as a hit - is the sort of counterintuitive and wrong kind of thinking that makes non-sabermetric types of fans throw their hands up and think it's all snake oil.

Thanks to Baseball Primer for the link.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Diamondbacks Vs. Pirates, 25 August 2004

Tonight's game was extremely short (only an hour and 47 minutes), thanks largely to Randy Johnson being Randy Johnson and the Diamondbacks' offense being the Diamondbacks' offense. Oh, and Josh Fogg was pretty good, too.

Head over to Honest Wagner and see what he has to say about Kip Wells and Sean Burnett. The news, particularly regarding Burnett, who has been told by the Pirates that he shouldn't talk about his elbow, seems very bad.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

New Stats Geek

Brian O'Neill's new column concerns Jose Mesa's recent struggles. Citing Mesa's massive platoon splits, O'Neill suggests that it might be a good idea to go with a closer-by-committee if Mesa doesn't turn it around.

While this is tempting, closers-by-committee don't work if the manager doesn't have any idea how to use them. The number crunchers in Boston's front office took a ton of abuse in the press last year for trying a closer-by-committee, but the idea might have seemed a lot better if A) they'd had better pitchers and B) Grady Little hadn't used his pitchers seemingly at random. I have no confidence that McClendon would do a better job.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

How To Manage A Bench

Jonah Keri has a new free BP article that's a very good summary of BP's stance on the proper way to manage a bench and bullpen. Essentially, Keri feels that an ideal pitching staff could consist of a four-man rotation, a swingman and five relievers who can pitch multiple-inning outings. He thinks there should be no one-inning "closer" role and no situational LOOGY- or ROOGY- type relievers.

Keri also thinks that the best way to manage a bench would be to eliminate pinch-runner types and "versatile" players who can't particularly hit or field, and to fill those spots - as well as the spots vacated by situational relievers - with real hitters who can platoon with a team's starters.

Most of these ideas make a whole lot of sense. There wasn't really any such thing as a closer until the last couple decades, and there were four-man rotations back then too. Eliminating the fifth starter and streamlining bullpens would (ideally, at least) increase the quality of a team's pitching - fewer innings for Ryan Vogelsong, more for Oliver Perez and Mike Gonzalez.

Keri's basically right about batters, too - there are tons of completely inept hitters on major league benches and tons of decent ones at AAA who don't get to play in the majors because they don't play nine positions or run fast. For example, Nashville alone has Tony Alvarez, Andy Abad, Luke Allen, J.R. House and J.J. Davis, all of whom could outhit dozens of major league bench players if given the chance. (Davis and Alvarez can actually run fast, too, by the way.)

So the quality of bench hitting could actually improve dramatically if players were chosen intelligently, even if more roster spots overall were set aside for hitters. And it makes sense to use those extra roster spots to maximize platoon advantages for hitters rather than pitchers, anyway: a LOOGY will only face a batter a game, but a righty hitter can get three plate appearances while spotting a regular against a good lefty starter. Meanwhile, all these extra hitters could be used as pinch-hitters too.

There may be at least two practical problems with the Keri (I keep wanting to write "Kerry") plan: we don't really know how pitchers accustomed to the five-man rotation or to situational bullpen usage might perform if sweeping changes were made. And perhaps ten pitchers might be one too few, especially for teams with young starters who can't/shouldn't go deep into games. But surely these issues could be resolved over time, and we know the four-man rotation and multiple-inning use of relievers can work, because both have worked before.

These changes would be especially helpful to the Pirates, who might have won last night's game, for example, if Abraham Nunez (who'd be an early casualty of the BP system - he's a perfectly good utility infielder, but do the Pirates really need three of them?) hadn't started and Lloyd McClendon hadn't removed Mike Gonzalez in order to secure a favorable situational matchup against righty Edgar Renteria. The Pirates' bench has been a disaster this year, and Keri offers some sure ways to improve it.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Young Ready To Join Rangers

No, not Kevin Young, or Walter Young. It's Chris Young, one of the players Dave Littlefield dealt for Matt Herges, who never played a game for the Pirates. Young, 25, is a very tall pitcher who the Pirates paid over a million bucks to sign. Since the Bucs traded him, he pitched in the Montreal organization for a year and was traded again, this time to Texas in the Einar Diaz deal.

Since joining Class AAA Oklahoma, Young has been dazzling, posting a 1.48 ERA with 34 Ks and 9 walks in 30.1 innings. He's got his fastball up to 94, according to Buck Showalter, and his breaking ball has improved. (Young has used fastballs almost exclusively at various points in his minor-league career.) also reports that Young may start on Tuesday for the Rangers. He'd look awfully good in a Nashville Sounds - or Pittsburgh Pirates - uniform right now. But at least the Pirates got... well, actually, they didn't get anything in return for him.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

VanBenschoten Debut

John VanBenschoten will start tonight for the Pirates. After his start, he'll be sent back to Nashville and Ian Snell will be called up from Altoona to join the bullpen. Those are both exciting pieces of news. Here's hoping the Pirates don't follow through with their idea of leaving Snell in the bullpen permanently - hopefully they'll give him a chance in the rotation sometime soon.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Pirates Vs. Diamondbacks, 16 August 2004

I had no idea how bad the Diamondbacks really were until last night. They've got two pitchers that most teams would like to have (Randy Johnson and Brandon Webb), a few guys with some semblance of upside (Scott Hairston, Chad Tracy, Koyie Hill), a couple of okay veterans (Shea Hillenbrand, Danny Bautista, Mike Koplove), and not much else at all. Some aspects of last night's game were a little bit surreal. If you'd told me a year ago that in 2004 I'd be watching Jose Mesa and Daryle Ward make a close play at first to stop Carlos Baerga, I'd have wondered if it would be at a Newark Bears game or something.

But enough grousing! It was a great game, featuring an improbable comeback, a couple of pretty double plays, an ejection, some big homers, a great slide (by Jose Castillo), about a hundred balls in the dirt, and excellent offensive performances by Hill and Ward. I don't like Ward's long-term chances with the team, but he looked downright great last night, and he looks like he might go on another hot streak like he did after he was called up in May.

The best part of the game, though, was the nine-pitch showdown that ended with Mike Gonzalez striking out Hill to get the final out. Gonzalez looked like he'd ingested a bottle of caffeine pills before going out to pitch. There are certain guys that don't perform well when they become closers, but Gonzalez doesn't look like he'll be one of them - he looks like he'll be great and fun to watch.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Redman's Future

Bob Smizik has a new column on Tike Redman’s future with the Pirates.

The notion that Redman will ever be a good major league player – much less a leadoff hitter - for any extended period strikes me as extreme wishful thinking. Here’s Redman’s line this year, which includes his last two decent months: .305/.365/.670. He has drawn just 17 walks this year. For an everyday player, that’s very, very bad. For a leadoff hitter, it’s a disaster.

This would be one thing if Redman were a young player with lots of potential. He’s not. He’s 27 now and not likely to improve much. And his minor league record doesn’t inspire confidence. He never really hit for average or power in the low minors (except in 1996, when he nearly hit .300 in two rookie leagues). He only managed to hit even acceptably in AAA two of the three years he was there, in 2001 and 2003. After his awful season in 2002, when he hit .315/.344/.659 at age 25, he passed through waivers and no one claimed him.

Basically, then, Redman wasn’t a prospect at all as recently as 18 months ago. But because of two good months in the majors last year, he was given the starting job this year out of spring training.

That wasn’t necessarily a bad idea. The Pirates didn’t have a lot of options in center at the time, so there wasn’t any reason not to find out if Redman was for real or not. But his performance the first couple of months should have convinced the Pirates that he was not, and his showing the last two months hasn’t been nearly good enough to make up for the first two.

Redman isn’t an answer for the Pirates in the long term. And he shouldn’t even be an answer in the short term. The strangest part of Smizik’s article is its suggestion that center field is Jason Bay’s best position. I hadn’t realized that he could do much more than fake center field. If he can really play there, then the choice seems clear to me: the second Redman’s hot streak stops, move Bay to center and let someone else play left.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Happy Trails, Randall

Randall Simon's finally gone. And in a twisted way, I'm going to miss him.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Jack Wilson: An Obsessive's Perspective

Honest Wagner, his readers and I have been having an interesting discussion regarding my recent post about Jack Wilson. They’ve advanced some intriguing ideas about why Jack Wilson might continue to have a high batting average in the future, such as that his speed allows him to reach base more often on hits than most players. His quickness/speed, along with a recent increase in power that renders him finally able to hit the ball out of the infield, are the main factors in Wilson’s recent success, or so goes the HWag crew hypothesis.

One problem with the discussions we had was that they were too general to come to a solid conclusion; not enough effort was made on either side (and understandably so, since what I’m about to present took a long time to research) to parse out the various causes of Wilson’s success this year. I’d like to do that here.

First, the numbers:
2003: .256/.303/.353/.656. AB: 558. HR: 9. XBH: 33. BB: 36
2004: .319/.341/.490/.831. AB: 457. HR: 9. XBH: 49. BB: 14

I don’t think anyone doubts that Wilson’s power spike represents real improvement; his numbers are way up in extra base hits, and it’s clear from watching him that he’s hitting the ball with a lot more authority than he used to. He’ll likely retain most or all of that power going forward.

What I find weird – and sorry to those of you who’ve read this from me before – is the big improvement in batting average, and the drop in walk rate. An improved walk rate might indicate a better approach at the plate, which would explain the increase in batting average, but Wilson’s walk rate has actually gotten worse.

There are players who put up extremely high batting averages and extremely tiny walk rates. But most of them tend to be slap hitters with lots of speed, like Alex Sanchez. Wilson can’t be called a slap hitter anymore. And while HWags and others at his site claim he’s a quick player, I don’t know why that quickness wouldn’t have translated to a high – or even average – BA in the past. And he’s never stolen many bases.

I’m skeptical. But let’s see if they’re right. Let’s look at some more numbers:
2003: K: 74. GB: 207. FB: 179. GB/FB: 1.16
2004: K: 48. GB: 176. FB: 142. GB/FB: 1.24

These GB/FB ratios, which come from ESPN, don’t seem to include line drives since, according to, Wilson has had 139 flyball outs this year (compared to 142 flyballs).

Wilson has hit groundballs and flyballs in fairly similar proportions to his number of at-bats both years. So it doesn’t appear that he’s tried to slap the ball more this year to get more infield hits. And since speed isn’t a skill that suddenly appears in players who didn’t have it before, it seems unlikely that his increase in batting average has much to do with his speed.

More numbers:
2001 groundball outs: 117. Total Ground Balls/Ground Ball Outs: 1.21
2002 groundball outs: 167. GB/GBO: 1.18
2003 groundball outs: 164. GB/GBO: 1.26
2004 groundball outs: 126. GB/GBO: 1.40

These numbers appear to me to be significant. Many more of Wilson’s groundballs are becoming hits this year than in the previous three. Perhaps Wilson deserves some credit for this – perhaps he’s improved at hitting seeing-eye singles. But this seems unlikely, since it would be strange for a guy who can’t even control the strike zone well enough to draw a walk to suddenly excel at hitting the ball between fielders. Perhaps he’s hitting his grounders harder than last year. Or perhaps his speed has improved, although again, I think that’s unlikely.

I think it is more likely that this sudden improvement in GB/GBO is simply luck. In any case, if Wilson had the same GB/GBO ratio in 2004 that he had in 2003, he would have about 14 fewer hits.

Let’s subtract these 14 hits from his 2004 totals and calculate his batting average again:

AB: 457. H: 146-14=132. BA: .289

Wow. That’s a big difference. I don’t really know if GB/GBO represents a skill or not; I strongly suspect that it is not. I calculated the GB/GBO’s of several players and could not find a meaningful relationship between GB/GBO’s by the same player in different years. Speedy players do tend to have better ones, but other than that I didn’t find any other trend that suggests a good GB/GBO is a skill. I even checked some players who had big power spikes to see if their GB/GBO improved after the spike. It did in some cases (Javy Lopez ’02-’03, for example) and didn’t in others (Alfonso Soriano ’01-’02). I haven’t done a scientific study, but I don’t think the improvement in Wilson’s GB/GBO reflects much actual improvement in Wilson. It could be the subject of a good study, though; if anyone is aware of any research on this subject, please let me know.

Still, a .289 batting average for Wilson would still be a big improvement over the Wilson of old. What explains the rest of the improvement in batting average?

2001 AB/K: 5.57
2002 AB/K: 7.12
2003 AB/K: 7.54
2004 AB/K: 9.62

As Wilson has matured, he has struck out a lot less. Offensive strikeouts don’t tell us anything about how good a player has been, but they may be able to tell us something about why a player was good (or not). Wilson’s putting the ball in play more than he used to, and therefore giving himself more chances to get hits. There may be some element of luck here, but since players seem to strike out or not at fairly stable rates, it’s likely that Wilson has simply improved in this area.

Now let’s take that .289 average (the one we got from adjusting for GB/GBO) and adjust it down by pretending that Wilson struck out this year at the same rate he did last year.

AB: 457. K: 61 (AB/K: about 7.54)

If he’d struck out at his 2003 rate, he would have put 14 fewer balls in play. He probably would have gotten hits on about five of those (Last year, Wilson’s BA on balls in play was .295; this year it’s .358). So:

AB: 457. H: 132-5=127. BA:.278

So Wilson has improved his batting average about 11 points by striking out less; I think these gains will stick.

When a player homers, his opponents have no chance of getting him out. Wilson has been hitting more homers last year than he did in the past.

2003 AB/HR: 62
2004 AB/HR: 51

Now let’s adjust 2004 for his 2003 homer rate.

AB: 457 HR: 7.37

So if Wilson had continued to hit homers at his 2003 rate, he would have hit seven or eight rather than nine. Let’s say he got one extra hit this year that he wouldn’t have gotten last year, since there’s some chance of one of his homers dropping in for a double in 2003.

AB: 457. H: 127-1=126. BA: 276

So after adjusting for these explanations, Wilson’s 2004 BA would have been .276. That’s still 20 points higher than his 2003 BA, but it’s much closer than we were before.

How might we explain these other twenty points? I’m not sure, but I bet they’re mostly the result of Wilson hitting the ball a whole lot harder and getting more line drives. So the only part of Wilson’s 2004 batting average I don’t think is the result of real improvement is his GB/GBO. After we adjust for that, we still have a batting average of .289. That, I think, is very likely to be close to Wilson’s ‘true level’ going forward.

So let’s create an OPS for Wilson using the new batting average along with his current walk rate and isolated power, which I think more or less represent his ‘real’ level of ability:


There’s a lot of potential error here, especially since there are twenty points of batting average I don’t really know how to explain. And batting average is notoriously hard to predict from year to year anyway. But I think the above numbers are the best I can do. (Please note, also, that after all that analysis, those numbers are pretty close to HWags' offhand .290/.310/.430 prediction a couple days ago.)

Wilson’s walk rate will likely continue to be atrocious, but the average should still be quite good and his power should be good too. Any further dropoff in his batting average could be offset as his walk rate returns to his usual levels (which are still pathetic, but better than they’ve been this year). And it’s possible he could continue to get better. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think most of his improvement this year is going to stick. 2004 will probably turn out to be his career year, but he should be a productive player from now on.

I must also add that it would be a good idea to supplement this projection with knowledge of the career paths of players similar to Wilson. An up-to-the-minute PECOTA projection, for example, would be helpful. Perhaps players who did what Wilson is doing in 2004 tended to flame out the next year as pitchers started to exploit their tendencies to swing at junk, for example. But given all the information to which I have access, the prognosis looks... better than I thought, at least.

I advance this not as and end to debate/discussion, but as a beginning.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Power Outage

Bob Smizik has a new column on the Pirates' recent poor hitting. His section on Craig Wilson strikes me as strange:

This could be just a bad two-month stretch. That has been known to happen. But it could be the unmasking of Wilson. It could be the reason McClendon was so reluctant to use him on a more regular basis the first three years of his career.

Could it? Here are the reasons Pirates management has provided at various points (or that the press has reported in attempts to explain the Pirates' reasoning) for not playing Wilson:

1. He can't play defense. This one probably isn't true. I don't have many advanced defensive metrics available for Wilson, since he never got enough playing time in any one year. But his range factor has consistently been near or above the league average at both first base and right field, and it was legitimately outstanding in right field in 2003. And if defense was the problem, you'd think it would have behooved the Pirates to let a slugger like Wilson learn one position rather than letting a 'bad' defensive player juggle three or more.

2. Playing time is based on production here. This one is demonstrably false, given many of the jokers playing in front of Wilson.

3. He strikes out too much. So does Jim Thome. Worrying about offensive strikeouts at the major league level is silly. The Pirates should have worried about on-base percentage instead.

4. We don't want to overexpose him. Smizik thinks this may be what's happening now. But I find it strange that a player could get over 800 at bats (over the course of three seasons prior to 2004) and not be overexposed before now. If Wilson's easy to figure out, why did it take pitchers three and a half years to do it, even if Wilson wasn't playing every day?

5. He's inconsistent. This one is absolutely true. Wilson is inconsistent. But it's not advisable to use this as an excuse to play him sparingly, because his offensive numbers usually wind up better than league average for his various positions. He more than makes up for his cold streaks with his hot streaks.

Wilson's had two bad (read: OPS below .700) months this season: June and August (and August isn't even half over yet). In 2002, he was bad in April and July. In 2003, he was bad in May.

Despite his 1 1/3 bad months this year, Wilson still has an .867 OPS - better than the league average for a rightfielder or first baseman, and five points above his career OPS. He's mixed great months with bad months, but this is nothing new, and up to this point there's no reason to fret about any "unmasking." The Pirates have lots of players they should be fretting about - Craig Wilson isn't one of them.

Smizik concludes:

It once was a foregone conclusion they would take Wilson to arbitration, pay him about $3 million for 2005 and see what happens. In light of his recent decline, they might be thinking otherwise.

I don't think Wilson should be handed a long-term contract or anything, but one year at $3 million for 2005 is like an easy choice. But Smizik may be right - the Pirates may be thinking three Randall Simons would be a better use of that cash.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Jack Wilson Articles

The Rocky Mountain News (?) has two articles on Jack Wilson. One of them, the one with lots (and lots) of (very) (distracting) parentheses, is by Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty, who says he regrets trading Wilson for Jason Christiansen.

If I'm Jocketty, I'm not losing any sleep. The Pirates had to put up with three very bad seasons of Wilson to get one good season, and the Cardinals probably couldn't have afforded to wait for Wilson to develop. (The Cardinals have, however, done lots of things the past few years that mid-market contenders aren't supposed to be able to do: start Mike Metheny; have a bench that includes two catchers, three utility players and no hitters; and so on.) Also, Edgar Renteria, the Cardinals' current shortstop, is still a much better bet for long-term success than Wilson.

Still, I'll admit that my opinion on Wilson has gone from "absolutely no way he's for real" to "some of his improvement must be real." He still has no plate discipline at all, so it's unlikely he'll keep his gains in batting average, but he's piling up extra base hits at a rate that's impossible to ignore - he's got 47 in all this season, including two yesterday.

Some wild guesswork: I think Wilson's 2005 batting average and on-base percentage will drop way down, perhaps to about .270/.310, while a similar percentage of his hits will be for extra bases (he'll likely lose about 50 points of slugging as his batting average drops). His defense, which many say has improved this year, will probably continue to be about average.

So I think a reasonable prediction for Wilson in 2005 would be something like .270/.310/.430 with decent defense, which makes him valuable, and worth taking into arbitration. I wouldn't commit to him for more than a year under any circumstances, though. He's not worth any kind of big money or a long term commitment - basically, I think his performance will be similar to that of the Cubs' Alex Gonzalez in 2002. Gonzalez is a nice player to have around, and a good supporting player on a contending team, but you only keep him as long as he's cheap. And if he's your starting shortstop, you should be on the lookout for someone better - not because he's a bad player, but because he's not great. And just last week, the Cubs did get someone better, trading Gonzalez and prospects for Nomar Garciaparra. The Pirates wouldn't be able to afford the likes of Garciaparra, of course, but they should be looking to develop a top shortstop internally, as it would probably not be a good idea for them to keep Wilson beyond 2006.

Thanks to Tom Veil for the link.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Pirates Vs. Padres, 7 August 2004

Sorry we haven't updated much recently, but I've been recovering from a teaching job that just ended and haven't spent much time on the internet. I have been watching games, though, or at least parts of them.

It was nice to see Jose Bautista play last night and hit well. The Post-Gazette reports that the Pirates plan to use him a good amount while he's still in Pittsburgh, which I think is a good idea - give him ten at-bats a week so he can stay sharp, even if he doesn't perform well. He'll play winter ball after the season, and he'll have a chance of making the team next year if he plays well this winter.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Pirates Vs. Dodgers, 5 August 2004

One reason people like to watch sports is because of the possibility of seeing something they've never seen before. If that's what you're looking for when you watch a game, I hope you just caught the first inning of today's contest in Los Angeles. In the bottom of the first, sinker-sinker-down-down-down Pirates pitcher Sean Burnett gave up three consecutive homers in the toughest hitters' park in baseball - weird, and amazing. And Lloyd McClendon made a unique and highly unconventional move to ensure that the Pirates will never catch up, starting Randall Simon and his .527 OPS in the cleanup spot.

Craig Wilson, the Pirates' usual cleanup guy, is struggling and probably needs a break. But why would McClendon start Simon there? And why is Jason Bay hitting after him?

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

New Paul Meyer

There's lots of interesting stuff in Paul Meyer's new Q+A. First up is Meyer trying to defend the Benson trade:

Doesn't sound like much? Well, consider that Benson didn't generate all that much interest from other teams to begin with. Only a handful had serious interest in acquiring him - and there certainly were more than a handful of teams that needed starting pitching.

Well, "a handful" - in this case, at least about half a dozen - is actually quite a lot of teams going after one player. And the Mets traded a top prospect (Justin Huber) to acquire a guy to send to the Pirates for Benson, and they traded a terrific prospect (Scott Kazmir) for Victor Zambrano, a worse pitcher than Benson. And the Pirates were widely rumored to have been offered Casey Kotchman, who's a great hitting prospect, and the Phillies' Ryan Howard, who's at least a very intriguing one.

Anyway, we've been down this road before. The rest of the Q+A is filled with angry letters from fans who didn't like the trade at all. Good for them.

More interesting stuff:

Freddy Sanchez? He's been hurt so much since the Pirates acquired him from Boston a year ago that he's a non-factor for the immediate future at second base. Sanchez, who turns 27 years old in December, almost without doubt will return to Nashville next season.

Ouch. Meyer may be right about this. That's really disappointing, given the promise Sanchez has shown in the past.

[Bryan] Bullington is 7-7 with a 4.43 earned run average and hasn't dominated in a single start. That makes one think Bullington will at least begin next season back with Altoona.

Wow again. It's not that I find this news terribly surprising - what's surprising is to read a Pirates homer like Meyer admitting these things. Bullington is looking more and more like a bust. And B.J. Upton just made his major league debut this week.

* * *

The Pirates lost tonight, but as losses go this one was easier to take than most. The Bucs managed to score a couple runs off Eric Gagne, which is almost like a little win in itself. Although he gave up three runs and didn't really get the job done, Oliver Perez was impressive - he struck out ten in five innings and walked only three, and he didn't allow any homers.

And most of the damage to the Pirates was inflicted by new Dodgers starter Brad Penny. It's wonderful to see Penny's first start go so well. Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta has taken a spectacular beating in the press for sending Paul Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota and Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for Penny, Hee Seop Choi and Bill Murphy. I posted an entry below about the trade a few minutes after it was announced - I thought it was a fantastic deal for the Dodgers. But the national press declared the Marlins the clear winner, citing LoDuca's intangibles and leadership. Their criticism of DePodesta often took a moral tone, and critics accused him of breaking up the team and of trading the heart and soul of the team (the best response of the week came from Al's Ramblings: "Finally, Lo Duca, or shall I refer to him as Jesus Christ?").

While DePodesta's trade was a gamble in the sense that the Dodgers were already in first place, he pretty clearly got the two best players in the deal in Penny and Choi. Both are young and likely to get better; Lo Duca, as a catcher in his thirties, is likely to get worse. And he has a history of falling apart in the second half. It was a great trade by the Dodgers, and because of Penny's excellent start, the intangibles columnists will probably tone it down - for a day or two, at least.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004



General manager Dave Littlefield knows he is open to second-guessing for not protecting Jose Bautista on the 40-man roster in November, especially since the Pirates had to swing a trade to re-acquire the promising third baseman.

"In retrospect, knowing everything we know now, I'd have put him on the roster," Littlefield said. "But you don't have the luxury of that info eight months later."

What info is he talking about? Is he impressed with Bautista's 500ish OPS in about 50 big-league at-bats this year? Or something else? Did he think that Bautista wouldn't be claimed in the Rule 5 draft? Whatever's going on here, Littlefield's comments are bizarre.

In better news, Oliver Perez faces off against Brad Penny tonight - should be a good matchup.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Trade Aftermath

The Kris Benson trade did have one positive effect, which is that Chris Stynes won't be playing for the Pirates anymore. The Pirates also sent Tony Alvarez back to Nashville, however, which kind of makes sense in Lloyd McClendon's bizarro universe: in Pittsburgh, he's just another rookie who'll rarely get to play (J.R. House and Jose Bautista are the others; J.J. Davis, if and when he returns, will make three). So it almost makes sense to just send him back to Nashville where he'll get to play every day. McClendon probably doesn't trust Alvarez, but if given the chance, he'd be a much better bat off the bench than Randall Simon (not that that would be particularly hard, even given that Simon played well today). Alvarez also has more long-term upside than Tike Redman, but the Pirates seem determined not to give up on Redman despite his mediocre minor league career and the awful year he's had. He's hit better lately, though, so maybe now wouldn't exactly be the right time to dump him anyway.

But more to the point: I've given myself some time to think a little about this trade in order to give you, the reader, a more balanced assessment of it. After forty-eight hours, I must report that this deal is still crap. Matt Peterson is a fairly low-upside guy; if all goes well he may be a back of the rotation starter. He's only a bit better than Matt Bruback, for example - a nice arm to have in the system, but no one to get excited about. Ty Wigginton is the status quo - a nice chess piece to have for a team trying to win 75 games. Anything can happen, of course, but with his age and history, I don't think he's ever going to play much better than he's played so far this year, which makes him the type of guy you settle on for a couple years until you can get something else. If he can really play second, he might be an asset there, but the Pirates already have several decent young second basemen.

Jose Bautista is the third part of the deal, and the most perplexing. He's lost a year and a half now to injuries and to the Rule 5 development-sucking process. He showed superb plate discipline in the low minors, but since then he hasn't been able to play. His upside is higher than that of Jeff "Singles" Keppinger, whom the Pirates also traded to the Mets along with Benson. But how high can it be now that he's lost almost two years?

And here's the strange part: last November, the Pirates didn't even think Bautista was worth protecting on the 40 man roster. He hasn't hit well since then, since he hasn't played much; what has convinced the Pirates that now he's not only worth a spot on the 25 man roster, he's worth trading important chits for? It's as if the Pirates are going out of their way to admit they made a mistake by leaving him unprotected. They did make a mistake, and their fans knew it then as well as they know it now. I thought Dave Littlefield was incompetent before; this move strikes me as, basically, proof of that, as an admission of incompetence. By acquiring Bautista like this, he admits that he screwed up by making a number of roster moves that even many casual fans knew were bad ideas. So, was the Pirates' loss of Bautista and others in the Rule 5 draft part of some grand plan that we fans did not understand? No, now we know it obviously was not. Or if it was, that plan has now been aborted. What's going on here? Does Littlefield even know?

And! Exactly how far out of their way did the Pirates go to get Bautista? Well, earlier in the day, the Mets traded Justin Huber, a legitimately good catching prospect, for Bautista before sending Bautista to the Pirates. What this means is that for the Mets, the price for Benson and Keppinger was Wigginton, Peterson and Huber. Why didn't the Pirates just take Huber, who's a much better prospect than Bautista? It could be because the Pirates already have very good catching depth, but that's not a good excuse. If the Pirates traded for Huber and then called and offered him to the Royals, Allard Baird would almost certainly have given up something besides just Bautista.

So unless Bautista or Peterson becomes a productive player - and it seems unlikely to me that either of them will (Peterson won't because he's not very good; Bautista won't because injuries and the Rule 5 process have messed up his development) - the Pirates didn't really acquire the future impact player they said they were looking for. I doubt that matters much to them, though. If everything breaks right they might be fairly competitive in the next few years anyway, mostly because of the nice work Cam Bonifay and Mickey White did in the farm system before Littlefield arrived, and because of the Brian Giles trade, which Littlefield doesn't deserve too much credit for because it was Bonifay who acquired Giles for next to nothing, then signed him to a favorable deal.

Before the Benson trade, the core of the '06 (or so) Pirates - Perez, Burnett, Van Benschoten, Bay, House, Craig Wilson, probably Jack Wilson - didn't seem like the sort of team that could win more than 88 games or so. In the next few years, they might have competed for a wild card or two. This Benson trade, like most moves Littlefield makes, has done nothing to change my opinion for the better. It's a "good" trade in that it gives the Pirates a few more chances of getting better in the future than two months of Benson would have, but it's a very bad trade in that the Pirates could have done a whole lot better - there's no one in this trade who has much of a chance of becoming a star, and the Pirates need to take chances on players who might, even if they have to reach way down into the low minors to acquire them.

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