Thursday, October 21, 2004

Way to Go, Sox!

Hello? Is anyone paying attention?

I just finished watching the most exciting postseason series since... well, last year's Red Sox - Yankees ALCS matchup. I'm very excited for the Red Sox who, along with the A's, have become the teams I root for after the Pirates' season reaches its inevitable early ending.

But this isn't a post about the Red Sox so much as it's about my sadness that Pirates' fans can't feel what Boston fans are now feeling, and that the pathetic Pirates organization has a press corps with surface-level analysis and boring defeatist attitudes to match. To be sure, there are a few smart Pirates fans who write like they actually care and want things to improve. The most visible is the Post-Gazette's excellent Stats Geek, but there's also the superb WTM, Honest Wagner, and a number of folks at Baseball Primer. I'm sure there are some others, and I don't intend to diss anyone by omission, but most discussion of the Pirates, especially in the mainstream press, is unbearably unintelligent and sad.

Of course, mainstream sports analysis in general isn't known for being penetrating and brilliant. But geez, the Pirates have had a dozen losing seasons in a row. The management is horrible. It sure seems like the Pirates' ownership isn't being honest with the fans. If Pirates reporters and columnists can't be smart, they should at least be angry. As a group, Boston sports writers have more than their share of problems, but at least they appear passionate and attempt to hold the Red Sox accountable when things go wrong.

Value Over Replacement Blog is often what some people would describe as a third-order publication. I don't actually do the stuff that gets written about; the players do that. Then there's a group of writers, mostly for mainstream publications, that reports things that the players do. Then there's me. When the Pirates are playing or making transactions, I can sometimes report those things and analyze them, making VORB a second-order publication. But since the Pirates aren't doing much of anything right now, I can often only report things that other people say and comment on them. So it's:

actual baseball -> reporting -> reporting on reporting

Sadly, there aren't even many articles being written about the Pirates right now, and most of the ones that are being written are dreary as can be. Let's take, for example, this week's Q+A by Paul Meyer. Now, I've held back a bit on Meyer in the past, in part because he's published my comments, even comments that were critical of his analysis. He gets my compliments for that. But forget it, I'm not holding back anymore. Here's a Meyer paragraph about Josh Fogg:

Something to remember about Fogg, Dan, is that his 11-10 record and 4.64 earned run average look really good as a fifth starter. Put those numbers in the third spot, particularly, and they begin to pale. Fogg at this point is more valuable to the Pirates as a fifth starter - how many teams' fifth starter finished over .500? - so it would behoove the Pirates to leave him there and fill in above him. One could certainly argue that Fogg would look solid in the fourth spot and a young starter could take over the fifth spot, which is likely. Fogg did pitch much better in the second half of the 2004 season (5-3, 3.32 in 15 starts). If he continues to improve, Fogg could work his way up in the rotation, which would be fine and dandy. And he'll probably have to do that if he's to stay with the Pirates. They won't want to pay a fifth starter, say, $2.5 or $3.5 million a year in the near future. Fogg could command that kind of money if he's in the third spot.

I feel like the AFLAC duck walking out of the barber shop after reading that! Somewhere in Meyer's mind is the notion that "third starter" and "fifth starter" are markedly different positions with markedly different functions. Whether Fogg is the third or fifth starter is irrelevant; what matters is whether he's the third-best starter or the fifth best. The reason why a 4.64 ERA looks good for a fifth starter is because we presume that the first through fourth starters are all doing better than that.

Meyer then reviews a ficticious team consisting of former Pirates now on playoff teams. That team has the following bullpen:

Julian Tavarez
Dan Miceli
Elmer Dessens
Duaner Sanchez

Meyer says the Pirates 'pen is superior, in part because "There isn't a real closer" on the fictional team. What, and Jose Mesa is a "real closer"? And aren't there any bigger questions to consider than this one?

Meyer's analysis is often loopy, but the bigger problem is that it's frivolous. Sure, it's mildly amusing to compare Jose Mesa to Duaner Sanchez, or to speculate about whether Ty Wigginton would be better if he tried to hit the ball to the opposite field. But these things miss the forest for the trees. It would be much more accurate to simply say that Mesa stinks, Wigginton stinks and the Pirates gave up on Sanchez for no good reason. Meyer can only answer the questions he's sent, but do we really need to know whether he thinks Wigginton will hit twelve homers next year, or fifteen? The correct answer to that question is, "Who cares? Our third baseman is Ty Wigginton. He can't hit very well, he can't field at all, and we traded our best trading chit last year to get him."

Not to pick on Wigginton specifically, but as I said when we got him, he is the status quo. He's cheap and just good enough for casual fans to fail to realize he's part of the problem. The same goes for Tike Redman, and Josh Fogg, and Jose Mesa, and Daryle Ward and any number of other players who've passed through the Pirates' ranks over the past few years. (Then there are the disasters, like Chris Stynes and Randall Simon.) Amazingly, Meyer actually thinks that Redman's performance was a highlight of the Pirates' 2004 season.

Does Meyer have any idea why the Pirates keep losing? I don't think he does, and that's a big problem. But if he does, he needs to dismiss the frivolous questions:

"Dear so and so, I could write about whether Josh Fogg will be the third starter or the fifth starter next year, but that would be boring. The fact is, Josh Fogg is boring and he's not very good, and the Pirates have much bigger problems to worry about than what position Fogg should occupy in the rotation, if he's even taken to arbitration this year. In fact, rather than spending millions on mediocrities like Fogg and Ward, the Pirates should give their spots to players who might conceivably help the Pirates get to the World Series in the future, and pool the money saved and sign Carlos Beltran or Adrian Beltre. Sure, they'll be expensive, but Kevin McClatchy and company should have plenty of money left over from the last couple of years of salary dumping and revenue-sharing. It sure seems like the Pirates' ownership is lying to all of us! Thanks for writing, so and so!"

Again, Meyer's not the only problem. Many other the other Pirates writers also often seem like apologists for the team who would rather deal with little questions than big ones. Pirates writers should take stock and try to figure out why the Pirates keep losing. Is it the Pirates' small-market status? (Hint: Nope!) Or is it the management? Is it the ownership? Is it all the semi-okay players these writers seem to tolerate?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Meyer the dude who wrote about how many home runs Kevin Young "socked" in 1999 and "walloped" in 2000 "while manning the first sack"? And who wrote possibly the most hilariously bad line in the history of sports jounalism: "In that fact, in fact, lies the Pittsburgh's problem"? Because his analysis is just as crappy.


12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, maybe the Sox should shift Pedro to the fifth slot in their World Series rotation! That way they could resign him for what, three million a season? He might have trouble adjusting to his new position but if he could, that would be fine and dandy.

12:45 PM  
Blogger Charlie said...

Ha ha ha!

Ryan: no, that writer was Steve Novotney. Meyer is slightly better.

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