Thursday, September 30, 2004

Alex Gonzalez For Silver Slugger!

So says Lloyd McClendon:

During the final homestand, McClendon and his coaching staff cast their ballots for the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. They were not allowed to vote for players from their own team. McClendon thinks shortstop Jack Wilson should receive consideration for both awards. McClendon's vote for the Gold Glove went to Cesar Izturis of the Los Angeles Dodgers. His vote for the Silver Slugger went to Alex Gonzalez of the Florida Marlins.

I am ashamed to admit that until now I wasn't exactly sure what the Silver Slugger award was, so I looked it up:

In Major League Baseball, the Louisville Silver Slugger award is given annually to the best offensive player at each position in each league.

Wait... so Lloyd McClendon thinks that a guy with a .270 OBP has been the best offensive shortstop in the National League this year? Either McClendon doesn't care much about who the good players in the league are, or we've got the Pirates' talent evaluation problems summed up in a neat little paragraph up there. Lloyd? Dave? Click here. The best offensive shortstop in the National League has been - and apologies to Honest Wagner and Pirates fans everywhere for what I'm about to say - Khalil Greene, and once you consider home parks it frankly isn't close. And Alex Gonzalez is one of the worst offensive starting shortstops, not one of the best.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Geek Gives Grades

...To Littlefield trades, and in the end gives him a C. Littlefield gets (and deserves) good marks for the Giles and Ritchie deals, and flunks on the Schmidt and Ramirez trades.

The trouble with this analysis (which I'm sure has more to do with Post-Gazette word limits than anything else) is that while it's dead-on for all the trades the Stats Geek actually evaluates, a GM's effect on his team cannot be accurately measured in blockbuster deals alone. Littlefield's dozens of smaller moves have done almost nothing to help the franchise and have often actively harmed it. His drafts have been overly conservative (although he did nab Brad Eldred in 2002); he's traded real prospects (including Chris Young, a Texas Rangers starter who we should think very hard about next time we watch Ryan Vogelsong pitch) for replaceable veterans; he's blocked cheap young talent like Craig Wilson in favor of more veterans; he gave a long-term contract to Brian Boehringer; he waived and Rule 5'd half the farm system last year; and so on. Once we see the small stuff start to accumulate - and GMs of small-market teams must sweat the small stuff - that C grade looks extremely generous.

And even if Littlefield really were worth a C, he'd be part of the problem, not the solution. Poor teams either need to have excellent luck, or they need to outsmart their richer competition. The Pirates haven't had much luck recently, and C students won't outsmart the Beanes - or even the Hendrys or Jockettys - of the class.

Monday, September 27, 2004

McClendon On The Bucs Offense

From the Post-Gazette:

"We really have to pound it in spring training about taking pitches, working the count, improving our on-base percentage and cutting down on our strikeouts. Good things happen when you put the ball in play. McClendon indicated he'll give the "take" sign with the count 1-0 and 2-0.

Well, that's... a start, I guess, and an improvement on the slap-first-ask-questions-later approach that seems to dominate the Pirates' minor league system. Again, though, the problem isn't strikeouts, it's outs, and the Pirates who've been striking out a lot - Jason Bay, Craig Wilson - are among the Pirates' best hitters.

Enough, Please

Please, Pittsburgh media, stop talking about the fact that Jack Wilson will probably get 200 hits this season. Not only does it seem to be distracting Jack himself, his hit totals actually say as much about his deficiencies as his strengths.

Wilson is tied for third in the National League in hits, with 196, but he's only ranked fifteenth in the league in batting average. We all know that batting average doesn't do a good job explaining anything about a player's value to his team, because batting average does not tell us about a player's power or his ability to get on base by means other than hits. "Hits," the statistic, has the same flaw, and it has the additional flaw of being a function of opportunity, much in the same way RBIs is. The reason Jack ranks better in hits than in batting average is because he gets a lot of opportunities as a result of hitting at the top of the order, and because he never walks. Jason Kendall, who also hits at the top of the Pirates' order, has a higher batting average than Wilson but almost twenty fewer hits, and the main reason for that is that Kendall walks much more.

Don't get me wrong, Wilson has been a productive player this season. But he's only having a decent season, not a great one, and there's no reason to go nuts about a milestone that says more about his less-than-optimal approach at the plate than his talents as a hitter.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Cutting Craig's Ks

Here's a report on Craig Wilson's strikeouts:

This was the year Craig Wilson got his at-bats as a full-time starter, which explains his career highs in home runs and RBIs. But he still strikes out roughly 30 percent of the time...

Yeah, so? Wilson has twenty-eight jacks and a good on-base percentage, so why should we care about his strikeouts? In general, strikeouts are no worse than any other out. If I were a Pirates beat writer, I'd be a lot more concerned with the fact that so many other Pirates make so many outs in general than I would be with the way a good player makes his.

Wilson:

I'll go home, figure out why I had such a high number and work on cutting it back next year."

I, and anyone who's watched the Pirates this year, would be happy to save Wilson the time: he strikes out a lot because he takes huge swings. Those swings are also the reason why so many balls he hits fly out of the park. The Pirates should tell Wilson not to worry about the Ks; if he tries to prevent them, he might end up short-circuiting his power, and that could make him a much less effective player.

There are things Wilson can do to improve his hitting, but to my eyes they mostly have to do with being more selective at the plate. For example, he might think about trying to hold back against down-and-away breaking junk from righties. If he could improve in that area, he'd probably draw more walks and hit fewer ground balls.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

More On Vogelsong

Here are some of Lloyd McClendon's comments on Ryan Vogelsong's performance in last night's game:

"It's very puzzling," McClendon said. "It's very disappointing. Just when you think this young man has turned the corner, he takes a step back."

As analysts far smarter than I have pointed out, even bad pitchers have good games. Even Jimmy Anderson had lots of good games. Looking too closely at a bad pitcher's individual performances might cause a reasonable person (not that I'm asserting that McClendon is necessarily a reasonable person) to think that if the pitcher just makes a couple of adjustments, he'll have that occasional good outing every time. But looking at a season ERA of 6.68 should cause such a reasonable person to wise up, especially if the pitcher in question is already 27.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Look...

There's no nice way to say this, but Ryan Vogelsong stinks. He's awful, and the Vogelsong starting experiment has been like a bad joke pretty much the entire year. The fact that the Pirates apparently have not dismissed the possibility of using him as a starter next year is absurd.

Not to beat a dead horse, but J.J. Davis was a better hitter in the minors than Vogelsong was as a pitcher. He's younger than Vogelsong, and his physical tools as a hitter are at least equal to those of Vogelsong's as a pitcher. Davis got thirty at bats this year to prove himself as a hitter, even though he didn't have any minor league options left. By way of explanation, the management talked about how major league playing time was determined by performance - never mind that Davis' performance in the minors was excellent, and his performance in the majors, in terms of playing time, was the equivalent of an everyday player's bad week.

Meanwhile, Vogelsong has been allowed to stink up not just the pitching staff, but the starting rotation for almost the entire year, even though he could have been moved to the bullpen and he had an option left. It wasn't a bad idea for the Pirates to give him a shot in the rotation to start the year, but his chance should have ended for the year in June or July. The Pirates also had a number of good alternatives to Vogelsong at various points in the year, such as Dave Williams, who pitched most of 2004 at Nashville.

This is incredibly unfair - and not just to Davis, who's a promising player who needs playing time to develop, but to Pirates fans, who had to watch Randall Simon's sorry act in his place and who now have to count on watching their team get blown out nearly every fifth day. Vogelsong's not a starter now and probably won't ever be, and J.J. Davis is still a promising outfielder.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

One Reason The Pirates Lost Tonight

It's the bottom of the eighth, and the Cubs are up 1-0. Jason Kendall and Bobby Hill occupy first and second, respectively, and there are no outs. One can hardly blame Lloyd McClendon for being frustrated, since the Pirates already had men on first and second and no outs twice in the game, and they failed to score both times. Still, what happens next is extremely dumb.

Jack Wilson comes to the plate and lays down a bunt that rolls right to pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who throws it to third, nailing Hill. Now, sacrifice bunts are almost categorically moronic, but they look especially silly when they don't work out (and, anecdotally, they seem to fail an awful lot when the Pirates try them).

But wait, it gets dumber! The next batter is Jason Bay, who's the Pirates' best hitter right now, and he walks. The Cubs then bring in Kent Mercker to face Daryle Ward, and the Pirates use Craig Wilson to pinch hit with one out and the bases loaded. Craig strikes out looking, and Mercker retires Ty Wigginton to end the game.

Let's imagine, for a second, that the sacrifice had worked, and the runners had wound up on second and third with one out. If anything, this situation would have increased Bay's chance of walking, since first base would have been open. McClendon should have been considering the possibility that at that point, with one out and the bases loaded, the Cubs would bring in a lefty reliever. Here, the hypothetical becomes reality: since the sacrifice didn't work and Bay advanced the runners himself by walking, the bases were loaded, there was one out, and the Cubs did bring in a lefty reliever. And the Pirates brought in Craig Wilson, who likes hitting lefties.

I love Craig, but he's a terrible guy to use in that situation. The Pirates only needed one run to tie, and a batter can get that with a hit, a fly ball, or even a well-placed grounder. One near-guaranteed way to fail to get that run is to strike out, and as analysts with resin bags for brains love to point out, Craig Wilson strikes out all the time. Usually, that doesn't mean anything, but in a situation like tonight's, it's important for the batter not to strike out.

So McClendon made two mistakes:
1) He wasted an out with the botched sacrifice.
2) He used a strikeout-prone hitter to pinch hit with the bases juiced and one out.

McClendon's tactics made it very likely the Pirates would score no runs in that inning. And as it turned out, that's exactly what happened. The Pirates lost, 1-0.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

New Paul Meyer

Paul Meyer thinks the Pirates will bring back Daryle Ward next year. This would likely entail taking Ward to arbitration, which would be an extremely stupid thing for the Pirates to do: Ward plays bad defense, he can't run at all, and he doesn't get on base nearly enough to be a starting first baseman. Let me put it this way:

Randall Simon '04 = Daryle Ward '05

Well, that's not entirely fair. Ward has a bit more power than Simon, and Simon's implosion this year was so spectacular that it's hard to imagine Ward duplicating it. But the similarities between the two players are striking, and they're both marginal players in even their best years. The Pirates should save their money on this one. First base can be handled internally - and not by the execrable Carlos Rivera, but by Craig Wilson, J.R. House or even Brad Eldred.

Meyer also reports that Ty Wigginton will likely play third base for the Pirates next year. Again, that's a very bad idea - sure, he'll be cheaper than Ward, but his instincts are terrible at third, and he never reaches base. Wigginton's main skills - looking like a high school bully and piledriving people who wear masks - would be far more useful in the WWE than in major league baseball.

Allow me to offer a potential solution to these problems.

1. Trade or non-tender Ward.
2. Install J.R. House or Brad Eldred at first.
3. Make sure Dave Littlefield is tied to the mast when the Pirate ship passes the Simon's island.
4. Use whatever resources are available to sign a real third baseman. Adrian Beltre and Troy Glaus will be free agents; obviously the Pirates won't be getting those guys. But while the big-market teams fight it out over those two, Meyer reports that Corey Koskie will be available, and he could provide excellent production at a relatively low cost in the next couple years. Unlike Wigginton, his defense is very good, and unlike most Pirates, he has a track record of getting on base consistently. He also runs well.

Koskie might be affordable for the Pirates because he's having a bit of an off year. But he's still been well above average, and his dropoff has been heavily concentrated in his batting average, which suggests he'll be able to bounce back.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

New Stats Geek

Brian O'Neill has a new column on the state of the Pirates. I plan to offer my own soon after the end of the season, but in the meantime, here are my thoughts on Mr. O'Neill's.

The Stats Geek take is that it's not unreasonable to hope that some things go right and the Pirates compete for a Wild Card next year. O'Neill's wishes:

1. That Jack Wilson will continue his solid play.
2. That Jose Castillo will continue to improve.
3. The real Kip Wells is V.2003, not V.2004.
4. Jason Bay and Oliver Perez will show they really are this good.
5. Something different will happen in center field.

These are all nice things to hope for, but how reasonable are they?

1. Hey, I admit it, Jack Wilson's a good player and he'll probably continue to be, but 2004 is likely his career year. I've tackled this topic at length elsewhere, so I'll just repeat here that Wilson's batting average will probably dip a bit next year, although I think his power will stick.

2. I'm not sure what to make of Castillo. I thought he had turned the corner after an excellent August, but look at his monthly splits:

Month/OPS
April/.786
May/.637
June/.537
July/.512
August/.971
September/.523

There's no pattern there, and there isn't any compelling pattern of improvement in any of his other stats, either. His monthly on-base percentages are all over the place, and he hasn't hit for power or drawn walks in any month. He's fairly likely to get better simply because he's maturing, but I don't think that's a given at all.

3. It might be easier to hope for good performances from Kip Wells if his elbow were healthy.

4. Oliver Perez is one hundred percent for real - his ERA is right in line with his strikeout and walk totals, and his strikeout and walk totals are right in line with his ridiculous stuff. Just like any pitcher his age, however, he has to stay healthy.

5. It's hard to know what the Pirates will do in center field in 2005. If they stick with Tike Redman, expect more mediocre play. Tike V.2004 is just about as good as it's going to get. Redman's minor league track record looks more like that of an organizational soldier than a major league center fielder. And other than two very freakish months at the end of 2003, he's never shown much in the majors either. Next year he'll be 28. Time to let it go.

O'Neill rightly points out that we don't know what will happen if Jason Bay is moved to center next year - if Bay plays center, there's no guarantee that he'll catch the balls hit his way. But those who've watched the Pirates this year know the same is true of Redman. If Bay can play center at all, he should be moved there, and his corner spot should be filled by Brad Eldred or J.J. Davis or a high-upside youngster the Pirates might acquire (not by Randall Simon or Tino Martinez or Rico Brogna or whomever).

It's not impossible to imagine all of O'Neill's wishes coming true. But it's much easier to imagine that some of them won't. And the Pirates need to improve by about fifteen games next year in order to be a wild card contender. Pretty much all those things need to go right for the Pirates to improve that much. And that's assuming that lots of other things go right: continued excellent leadoff work from Jason Kendall, for example, and no ridiculous Chris Stynes / Randall Simon busts. But aging catchers with lengthy injury histories seem like good bets to decline, the Pirates love veteran free agents, and Ty Wigginton is Chris Stynes waiting to happen. The Pirates would need to be absurdly lucky to contend in 2005. Wait 'til... the year after next year!

Saturday, September 18, 2004

3rd Musketeer

The Cub Reporter has a nice feature on former Pirate future star Aramis Ramirez. The 2003 trade that sent Ramirez to the Cubs looked bad at the time for the Pirates, and it looks even worse now: Bobby Hill is, at best, a decent pinch hitting option who can't play defense, and Jose Hernandez and Matt Bruback are long gone. Meanwhile, the Pirates have to endure Ty Wigginton at third.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Roster Decisions

Pirate prospect pundit Wilbur Miller has a very good article on which players the Pirates should protect on the 40 man roster in order to avoid losing more good talent in this year's Rule 5 draft. His picks are pretty similar to mine: I'd also keep Eldred, Nunez, McLouth, Peterson and Guzman. I might also protect Rajai Davis if there's still space available. Wilbur is probably right that the Pirates should protect Jeff Miller, as well.

"Everything Is Going To Be Fine"

I just noticed this Post-Gazette article about Ryan Vogelsong's reaction to the Sean Burnett injury:

When Vogelsong had his surgery he could lean on Kris Benson for advice and support because Benson had the same operation five months before he did.

"Everything is going to be fine," Vogelsong said.


Does anyone else find this more scary than reassuring?

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

I'm Back! / Pirates News

The most signficant piece of news since we started driving (and driving, and driving) is that Sean Burnett has a tear in his elbow and may miss the 2005 season. This is terrible news for Pirates fans, but realistically, injuries are to be expected of pitchers Burnett's age. Hopefully he'll be fully recovered and throwing well in time for 2006.

Also, the Pirates' 2005 AAA affiliate will be Indianapolis. As Tom Veil points out, there are many advantages to this, such as that the Pirates will be much closer to some of their opponents.

An interesting quote from the MLB article:

"We all had a feeling it might happen," said [J.R.] House. "It's something to look forward to if we go to Triple-A again next year. We'll get to go to a newer ballpark. That's nothing but good news for me.

Why should House care where the Pirates' AAA team is? If he isn't in the big leagues the whole year, he'll have been a big disappointment. He's also out of options next year, so if he plays in AAA it almost certainly won't be for the Pirates, unless he's on a rehab assignment.

Friday, September 10, 2004

VORB Vacation

Well, not a vacation, really. I'll be moving from the east to San Diego, and it will take a few days to drive and then perhaps a few more to get internet set up. Hopefully you'll hear from me within a week.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

New Callups

Five new players joined the Pirates yesterday as Nashville's season ended. They are:

OF Tony Alvarez
OF J.J. Davis
INF Freddy Sanchez
C/1B J.R. House
P Mark Corey

Corey has been with the team much of the year and was mysteriously sent to Nashville a few days ago even though rosters had already been expanded to 40. Davis is on the DL and won't play.

Alvarez, Sanchez and House all present interesting options for the Pirates in 2005. Alvarez can play center field, and he's a reasonably good hitter with some speed and the ability to hit for average, so he'd make a good reserve outfielder for the 2005 Pirates.

Sanchez is 26 and crushed AAA pitching in the Red Sox system in 2003, but he was injured most of this year. When he returned, he didn't hit well in 125 at-bats. Still, if healthy he could be a good low-cost option for the Pirates next year. The Bucs should pencil him in as their utility infielder, let Abraham Nunez go, and either trade Bobby Hill or send him to Nashville (would it be possible for the Pirates to do this?). The Pirates should also watch Sanchez closely in the Arizona Fall League, and if he goes nuts like he did in 2003, they might consider trading Jack Wilson and making Sanchez and Jose Castillo their starting middle infielders. Wilson's value is as high as it will ever be, and he might be able to land a young player who could turn into the cleanup bat the Bucs badly need.

House will be out of options next spring, so he'll almost certainly stick somewhere with the Pirates, or at least he should. At the very least, he should be an upgrade over Humberto Cota as the Pirates backup catcher (House's defense isn't as good as Cota's, but his bat is much better). The Pirates should also find a way to get at bats for him elsewhere, either at first or in the outfield.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Brewers Vs. Pirates, 6 September 2004

Al is rambling about the Brewers’ use of utility players as starters. I checked to see who these utility players have been, what they’ve contributed, and what that means for the Brewers going forward. Then I compared the Brewers’ situation to the Pirates’.

Here are the VORPs of Milwaukee’s best players, according to Baseball Prospectus. (VORP is a decent quick-and-dirty cumulative measure of a player’s value based on comparison to a typical fungible backup or AAA player.)

Overbay 46.6
Podsednik 17.0
Spivey 13.7
Jenkins 13.2
Ginter 10.6
Grieve (now with Cubs) 10.4
Clark 9.2

Sheets 50.4
Davis 36.3
Kolb 16.1
Santos 13.7
Burba (now with Giants) 9.1
Vizcaino 6.9

Overbay, Sheets, Davis and Kolb have been excellent; the rest have been around league average for the amount of playing time they’ve received or maybe a bit better. So why have the Brewers lost so many games?

Counsell 3.4
Hall 3.9
Moeller –8.6
Helms 0.7
G. Bennett –3.6

Obermuller –10.0
Capuano 1.9
J. Bennett 3.2
Kinney (now with Royals) –1.1

Those figures account for every Brewer who has pitched 50 innings or received 150 plate appearances. There have been a couple players (Ben Hendrickson, Adrian Hernandez) who’ve managed to do serious damage despite not receiving much playing time, and the Moeller/Bennett catching situation has been a disaster, but most of these Brewers aren’t going to embarrass you. The problem, as Al’s post indicates, is that it’s not enough merely to settle for not being embarrassed. One Craig Counsell on a team is fine; nine is a huge problem, and the Brewers don’t have enough star power to make up for it elsewhere.

Let’s do the same investigation for the Pirates.
J. Wilson 39.8
C. Wilson 39.6
Kendall 29.0
Bay 26.6
Mackowiak 14.0
Ward 13.3
Castillo 8.0

Perez 42.8
Torres 23.2
Wells 18.9
Benson (now with the Mets) 16.3
Mesa 16.1
Fogg 12.1
Meadows 9.9
Burnett 5.2

The Pirates’ offensive core has been far better than the Brewers’, and its best pitchers have collectively been as good as Milwaukee’s best (and the list above doesn’t even include the amazing Mike Gonzalez, who’s posted a VORP of 16.5 in 33.7 innings). So why have the Pirates as a whole been nearly as bad as the Brewers this season?

The first reason is that the Brewers have overperformed, and the Pirates underperformed, their expected wins and losses based on runs scored and allowed. If we look only at runs scored and allowed rather than wins and losses (which are, I know, ultimately what counts), the Pirates appear to be better and the Brewers appear to be worse.

But then there’s this:

Redman 2.2
Hill 2.5
Simon (now with the Devil Rays) –10.2
Stynes (no longer with the Pirates) –8.2
Nunez –3.9

Vogelsong –8.7
Grabow –2.2

Ty Wigginton has also done significant damage in limited time. The Pirates have nearly sunk to Brewer level this season in part because the utility types that Brewers’ fans complain about have been better than several players who have chewed up innings and plate appearances for the Pirates.

Strangely, this may actually be good news for the Pirates. Both the Brewers and the Pirates have areas they should be thinking of upgrading this offseason (shortstop, third base, catcher and pitcher for the Brewers; center field, third base, pitcher and whatever corner position Craig Wilson doesn’t play for the Pirates). Unfortunately for teams like Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, there’s no guarantee that their problems will be solved by the free agents they can afford, so if the Brewers try to sign a shortstop for 2005, there’s a good chance he’ll turn out to be the next Craig Counsell.

If, on the other hand, the Pirates replace Chris Stynes’ production with Craig Counsell’s, they’ve made a huge upgrade. I’m obviously not suggesting the Pirates should sign Craig Counsell, just that the Pirates could dramatically improve their 2005 outlook over 2004 by beginning next season with halfway decent players in place of Stynes and Randall Simon.

In my opinion, the Pirates should save whatever money is available for one good player rather than spreading it around to several mediocre ones. Those types can usually be replaced cheaply with guys like Rob Mackowiak or minor league free agent Daryle Ward. Next year, Brad Eldred, J.J. Davis, J.R. House, Ian Snell, Zach Duke, John Van Benschoten and others will be likely to outperform the glut of cheapo free agents the Pirates usually sign. And as 2004 shows, cheap free agents can inflict significant damage - especially if, as in the Pirates' case, they're handed starting jobs they don't necessarily deserve, then allowed to keep those jobs simply because they're "proven" and they're making bank.

Friday, September 03, 2004

New Links

I just put new links to some exciting baseball pages in the column to your right, including Futility Infielder, Cub Reporter (the links section now contains at least one excellent page devoted to each NL Central team) and Wilbur Miller's invaluable Pirates Scouting Report.

This week I received an email from a reader named Yoni who runs a college basketball blog. I told him I would not link to his site because VORB is a baseball site. Now it occurs to me that I may have been a little unfair. Baseball has zillions of bloggers and maybe a hundred very good ones; college basketball does not, at least not to my knowledge. Yoni's not going to get a ton of links if only college basketball bloggers help him out, which would be a shame, because his blog seems to be quite good.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Giles Trade Revisited

Baseball Prospectus has a look at last year's Brian Giles trade.

I'm usually pretty critical of the Pirates' recent management - they haven't had a winning season in over a decade and they haven't deserved to. Just in the three years Dave Littlefield has been the team's general manager, the Pirates have traded two of their top players (Aramis Ramirez and Jason Schmidt) for next to nothing; traded real prospects (Chris Young, Kody Kirkland) for mediocre veterans they didn't need; lost enormous amounts of young talent via waivers and the Rule 5 draft while protecting worthless veterans; bent over backwards to re-acquire a player lost in that draft, costing them even more talent; blocked talented young players (Craig Wilson, J.J. Davis) for no good reason; and had drafts that appear so far to have been very poor.

Honest Wagner writes, "Knee-jerk negativity about the players, the owners, the GM, or the scouting people will not help to arouse the legion of dormant Pirate fans and point them in the direction of beautiful PNC Park."

I really want to see the Pirates win. But it is not my duty to cheerlead for a front office that has a long history of not taking winning as seriously as I do. And hey, maybe if I criticize enough, someone in the front office will notice and change some policies, or hire a better GM.

If the Pirates want more fans to come through the turnstiles, they need to make decisions that are geared toward helping the team contend. More ticket sales and more money would help them, but they don't need those things to win. What they need more than anything else is a good general manager and an owner that plans for the future rather than the present. Right now, they simply don't have either of those things.

Despite all that, I've got to give credit where credit is due: the Giles trade is looking like a great one for the Pirates. Unlike Baseball Prospectus, I thought it was a pretty good deal at the time - everyone knew Jason Bay would hit, Cory Stewart's strikeout numbers showed potential, and I was a big fan of Oliver Perez, who put up excellent strikeout numbers in the minors and then was great in 2002 for the Padres. I didn't think he'd be this good this soon, but young players with high upsides will sometimes surprise you by being better than expected.

But problems can arise when we view this trade (and the Kip Wells for Todd Ritchie deal, which is about the only other good trade Littlefield has made) as an excuse for the zillions of transactions the Pirates have lost. In a recent comment to this site, a reader wrote, "Win big, lose small. Oliver Perez and Jason Bay are going to cover a lot of minor mistakes for a long time."

This might be a good argument if the Pirates were the Yankees, but they're not, and this is where the Pirates' small-market status is a major disadvantage. The Pirates have very little margin for error. They've got to come out way ahead in their transactions and drafts, or else they'll continue to lose. So it's not enough for Bay and Perez to merely offset dozens of smaller mistakes; for the Pirates to maximize their meager resources, they've got to win most of those smaller deals too. If Littlefield deserves a tip of the cap for the Giles trade - and I think most would agree that he does - he also deserves a number of kicks in the shins* for the number of moves he's made that have set the Pirates back.

*Please do not actually kick Dave Littlefield in the shins. And if you do, don't blame me.

Pirates Vs. Brewers, 31 August 2004

Anyone care to comment on how John VanBenschoten looked last night? I saw the first inning and it was hard to watch - until the Pirates were able to turn a double play to end the inning, it looked like VanBenschoten was headed toward a mess of Tankerslian proportions.

After that first inning, the game didn't look bad despite the loss - VanBenschoten apparently settled down (read: threw some strikes), the bullpen was good and the Pirates actually managed a fair number of hits and walks despite not really having many runs to show for them.

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