Saturday, April 30, 2005

I'm Back

Where have I been? Elsewhere. Writing music, going out, walking on the beach. Three of the Pirates' first several series this year were against the Cubs or Padres, two teams I get on television, so I watched several games. Jeez, it was tough - it was hard to watch knowing that if the other team got a lead, the Pirates were pretty much toast.

The offense this year has been horrible, which is the worst kind of horrible to be. When Ryan Vogelsong comes out to pitch, I groan, but at least I get to see the other team's players hit the ball hard. When the Pirates come out to hit, I get a bunch of weak grounders, which are no fun at all.

I don't like Lloyd McClendon much, but I have to give him credit for finding some playing time for some bench players - Freddy Sanchez, Bobby Hill, Dave Ross - who have managed to do something on offense. Jack Wilson, Ty Wigginton and Tike Redman have been beyond terrible; Craig Wilson has at least managed to get on base, but he hasn't done anything else.

Throughout all this, the Pirates' front office has been inexplicable; the only move they've made is to reacquire Abraham Nunez, who's just as pointless and poorly suited to the Pirates' needs as he was the first time around.

Bob Smizik points out that the Pirates will have a decision to make soon - Benito Santiago can come off the DL, so the Pirates will have to decide what to do about their catchers. Smizik thinks the Pirates should cut Santiago. He's absolutely right.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Sample Size Disease

As much fun as it is to watch baseball again, now is actually a very difficult time to write about it. There are games going on, so one's usual ideas about how good or bad a player is can be defied by the player and his stat lines on a daily basis. At the same time, it's way too early to draw firm conclusions from the results on the field, so a player's 2004 stats are usually still much better indicators of his future value than anything he's already done in 2005. These situations can lead to some very bad writing.

Case in point: this atypically insane editorial from the otherwise excellent John Perrotto.

Perrotto points out that the Pirates used computer simulations to determine that Tike Redman should bat third. He then uses this as an excuse to take a cheap shot at "numbers" (which he does soften first, claiming that he sometimes finds advanced metrics helpful, but still):

I believe baseball instincts are just as important as numbers.

My instincts, supported by statistics, tell me Redman is not good enough to hit No. 3 on any major-league club. In fact, he isn't good enough to be in many teams' starting lineups.

What Perrotto's instincts tell him is obviously true, but it's also true that nearly everyone who has ever been accused of being a 'number cruncher' or a 'stat geek' has bashed the Pirates' decision to bat Redman third.

Then, he adds:

Hopefully, there was a money-back guarantee [for the simulations], especially since the Pirates failed to score more than three runs in any of their first five games and a total of 19 in their first seven.

Right, but Redman only batted third in two of those games! Apparently, though, Perrotto only said that to be nasty. He doesn't actually think that the Pirates' decision to bat Redman third is the only cause of their run-scoring problems, so he offers some of his own solutions. And here's where Perrotto's article really starts to get nuts.

I would suggest some drastic personnel changes, the biggest would be benching shortstop Jack Wilson or using him as a trade bait.

Well, that's drastic, alright. I fully agree that the Pirates should at least consider trading Wilson - they have a fair amount of talent at the middle infield positions, Wilson is coming off a career year, and he is signed to a reasonable contract. I'm less of a Wilson fan than many are, and I would be thrilled if the Pirates could get a blue-chip hitter or two for him. But benching him? That's crazy. He's still fairly young, he's coming off a very good year at the plate and his defense has improved to the point where he's quite an asset at shortstop. The Pirates are bad, yes, but that hasn't been Wilson's fault since 2003.

Perrotto then suggests a number of other moves, none of which are terrible in isolation. But, when taken together, they create the following defense:

C David Ross
1B Daryle Ward
2B Rob Mackowiak
SS Freddy Sanchez
3B Ty Wigginton
LF Craig Wilson
CF Jason Bay
RF Matt Lawton

This would be among the worst defenses fielded by a major league team in the last decade. The Pirates would be well below average at first, second, third, and right, and average to below average at shortstop, left, and center. They'd probably only be decent at catcher. And without Jack Wilson in the lineup, this team might even be worse offensively.

Perrotto is right that the Pirates' offense is inadequate. But sacrificing defense entirely doesn't even solve their problems on offense, and creates entirely new ones on defense. And benching one of the team's few good players out of impatience doesn't help the offense or the defense.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Pittsburgh vs. San Diego, 9 April 2005

Oliver Perez looked as bad as his box score tonight - he threw hard but had all kinds of trouble throwing strikes, getting into a number of 3-1 counts even in a number of plate appearances that didn't end with walks. He didn't throw his breaking ball that much, and except for a couple of knee-bucklers in the fourth inning, it didn't snap nearly as much as it did in his best outings in 2004. Perez's outing could have looked much worse than it did, since the Padres hit a number of balls very hard that ended up dying in the outfield - this happens a lot in Petco Park.

Lloyd McClendon seems to be trying some different lineups in an attempt to produce offense - last night he started Rob Mackowiak at second, and tonight he benched Tike Redman, moving Jason Bay to center, Craig Wilson to right and Daryle Ward to first. The Pirates are having troubles on offense for three reasons: they've had the misfortune to start the season in a slump, they're a terrible offensive team, and Petco is a very difficult park in which to try to hit.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Pittsburgh vs. San Diego, 8 April 2005

Here are some random thoughts on the first Pirates game of the year I was able to watch.

-Did you know the Padres' mascot - or, at least, the only one I saw - is a freaking monk who dances on the dugout and does all the usual dumb mascot stuff? How bizarre is that?

-Josh Fogg was looking like his usual mediocre self to me until I checked the box score and realized he had struck out five and walked only one. That's a nice outing.

-Craig Wilson has gone from having the worst hair in the big leagues to having merely the worst facial hair in the big leagues. Or the best in both areas, if you're really into Judas Priest and/or porn. (Actually, that's not entirely true: Brett Myers whips Wilson in the Best Porn 'Stache category.) Either way, Wilson had a nice game, with two singles and one of his trademark HBPs. He misplayed a foul ball and swung at some breaking junk down and away, though.

-Tike Redman drew two walks, so I hope you TIVOed this one, because that's not ever going to happen again.

-Miguel Ojeda was the first batter Mike Gonzalez faced, and I was a little confused when Gonzalez started out with some really mediocre-looking stuff. Gonzalez waited until he had a two-strike count against Ojeda, then whiffed him with an amazing glove-popping fastball. He was great after that - his only baserunner was Brian Giles, and that was only after Gonzalez almost nailed Giles with a questionable check-swing with two strikes and then barely missed the strike zone on his last pitch.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

2005 Predictions

Trev has posted his predictions for the 2005 season. Just for fun, here are mine.

A.L. East
New York
Tampa Bay

Picking the Red Sox may be a bit of wishful thinking on my part. I think it'll be a very close race with the Yankees.

A.L. Central
Kansas City

I like Cleveland but am not sure they'll have they'll be able to overcome the Twins, who should benefit from the presence of Joe Mauer and an entire year of Justin Morneau.

A.L. West

I think Anaheim's much-ballyhooed outfield could actually turn out to be only average, but I love their bullpen and their depth - once everyone gets healthy, their bench could include Juan Rivera, Jeff DaVanon, Chone Figgins and Robb Quinlan, all of whom could be decent starters for lots of other teams. Oakland gets the nod over the other two teams because their pitching is actually much better. Still, I think this division contains four pretty good teams and that all four of them could be breathing down each other's necks all year long. The West is a great pennant race waiting to happen.

N.L. East
New York

I won't make the mistake of betting against the Braves this year.

N.L. Central
St. Louis

I changed my mind - I picked the Cubs to win a few weeks ago, but doubt they can win without a healthy Mark Prior.

N.L. West
Los Angeles
San Diego
San Francisco

The Dodgers and the Padres are the class of this division. Unless Barry Bonds comes back soon, the Giants should be terrible. The Rockies will be, too. Arizona threw a bunch of money around this offseason but made some ridiculously bad decisions; amazingly, their starting middle infield is Craig Counsell and Royce Clayton, who also have the first two positions in the batting order. Yuck.

Duffy to Pittsburgh...

Jose Castillo to the DL. Here's what is going on here:

1. The Pirates placed their starting second baseman on the DL.

2. The Pirates recognized that since they already have five players in addition to Castillo on the 25-man roster who can play at least one middle infield position, they didn't need to use Castillo's spot on the 25-man roster on a middle infielder (likely Howie Clark, Cesar Crespo or Jorge Velandia, although Indianapolis hasn't updated its website, so it's hard to figure out who's down there right now). That's good thinking. Hopefully, the Pirates will use this window of time to get a closer look at Freddy Sanchez.

3. The Pirates decided they would use that roster spot on a position player. Again, good thinking.

4. The Pirates decided they would use that spot on a hitter who would back up the guy who's currently batting third in their order. This is actually less nonsensical than it seems when you remember who's batting third.

5. The Pirates decided they would use that spot on Chris Duffy, who, if one actually pays attention to his performance record and not the orgasmic exclamations from the Pirates' management and its lapdogs, is not nearly ready to hit in the big leagues. I can't comment much on his defense except to say that his reputation in that area is very good, although at least some of that reputation has come from reports from the same partisans and/or idiots who have recently decided, despite the amazing amount of evidence to the contrary, that Duffy is a top prospect.

I'm skeptical, but if Duffy really is terrific on defense, this isn't a completely terrible move. I said last week that Duffy will not contribute to a major league team for any sustained period of time and I still believe that is basically true (although I was a bit too hyperbolic; I probably should have said "contribute much"). But as a weak hitter with a supposedly strong glove, he'd be most useful as a bench player on a team with a couple of decent pinch-hitting options already on the pine and a very bad defensive outfield. The Pirates are that team.

When I started this post, I was going to grouse about this decision. If I were making the call, I'd probably grab Graham Koonce instead, and I still feel the Pirates are promoting Duffy for the wrong reasons - to hype him as a prospect, give the fans some cheap thrills, and have him 'learn' while sitting on the bench. But, all things considered, this isn't bad. Normally, I'd whine about Duffy's service time, but he's not a good prospect, so who cares?

* * *
The Cub Reporter has a nice piece up about the Pirates. The intro, about Atlas Shrugged and the economic structure of baseball, is very perceptive and well written. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

This Made Me Laugh

I've been watching the Red Sox - Yankees game on ESPN and they've been repeatedly running a banner at the bottom of the page saying that three Pirates minor leaguers have been punished for steroids. Great press, huh? I was immediately worried that one of them would be Brad Eldred or Nate McLouth or someone else who has potential, but no, it was Jon Nunnally, Brian Mallette, and Tom Evans.

Dave Littlefield wins the Hypocrite of the Day award for this one:

"If there's a positive in this, it's that Tom Evans is the only one who has been part of our organization," Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said. "We have a zero-tolerance philosophy in terms of drugs."

Despite that policy, Littlefield said the Pirates did not plan to release any of the players after their suspensions end.

Hilarious! They're serious about this no-tolerance policy, but not so serious that they'd be willing to part with three journeyman non-prospects who are doing something illegal. I personally don't care much about the steroids issue, so I mostly avoid writing about it here. But I find it funny that Littlefield doesn't even bother to frame his moral righteousness in such a way that he can avoid looking completely ridiculous after a follow-up question.

UPDATE: A commenter points out that "zero-tolerance" might actually mean something like "punishing after the first offense." Littlefield did say he was referring to "drugs" and not "drug users," and Mallette et. al. will be punished, which means that maybe what he said isn't as hypocritical as I originally thought. Now I just wonder what he's talking about, since it's the league, not the Pirates, that actually metes out the punishments. In any case, nothing to see here, move along...

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Tike Redman to Bat Third

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

If this is Lloyd McClendon's idea of an April Fools' Day joke, it's not very nice to Tike Redman.

If it's not, this is the cockamamiest baseball idea of all time. The effect of this move will be to take plate appearances away from Jason Bay and Craig Wilson, the two best hitters on the team, and give them to Tike Redman, who's possibly the worst hitter on the team.

Here's the Trib article. Here's the Post-Gazette writeup. I'm posting them both because of they offer an amazing array of half-baked explanations and bizarre reasonings.

McClendon, from the PG:

"But, if you want to talk about legitimate No. 3 hitters, we don't have one. We don't have Jim Edmonds. We make do with what we have, whether that's Tike or Bay or anybody else."

'We don't have a legitimate No. 3 hitter, whatever that is, so it makes sense for me to put my most pointless hitter there'?

From the Trib:

"I like his contact, I like his average, I like his two-strike approach, and I like his speed atop the order," McClendon said. "If he's on base, that's going to allow the big boppers behind him to see a few more fastballs."

If his "speed atop the order" is the issue, wouldn't it behoove McClendon to put Redman at, you know, the top of the order? That would be a stupid and unimaginative thing to do, but at least McClendon wouldn't be breaking new ground for stupid.

From the PG:

Part of McClendon's motivation, as he explained it, is to move high-average players to the top. That would be Lawton (.277 last season), Jack Wilson (.308) and Redman (.280). This way, he added, he could minimize his team's glaring shortage of players with a history of good on-base percentage.

That's an interesting theory, in a Sean Connery / Celebrity Jeopardy sort of way. Hey, if Jose Castillo, a high average hitter in the minors, gets off to a hot start, expect to see him batting cleanup by May.

"We've got quite a few guys who have a lot of strikeouts, if you look at Craig, Mackowiak, Bay and Ward, and that's something we've got to be concerned about," he said. "We need to keep the ball in play, keep the runners moving. We've got to somehow score more runs."

Oh, for...


Daryle Ward, Strikeout Concern, 2004: 45 K 293 AB AB/K: 6.51
Matt Lawton, Professional Leadoff Hitter, 2004: 84 K 591 AB AB/K: 7.04

Lawton's strikeout rate would look a bit better compared to Ward's if I'd factored in the two players' walk rates. But Ward's strikeout rate and Lawton's are similar. If strikeouts at the top of the lineup are the issue, why would McClendon want to lead off with a player whose strikeout rate is similar to that of another whom he considers part of the problem? I'm not arguing that Lawton shouldn't be the leadoff hitter, but that even given the ludicrous rationale offered, this decision makes no sense.

Now let's consider the rationale itself. Are strikeouts the problem with this offense? Of course not. The value of a strikeout, by run expectancy, is only .01 more than that of any old out.


Craig Wilson, 2004: 169 K x .01 = 1.69
Tike Redman, 2004: 52 K x .01 = .52

1.69 - .52 = 1.17

If baseball history is to be believed, the difference between the cost of Wilson's strikeouts and of Redman's was a little over a run in 2004. That's before considering everything else they did on offense.

It isn't that strikeouts have no effect as compared to other outs - if there's a man on third and no outs, striking out is bad. Rather, it's that strikeouts have almost no effect as compared to other outs. For a team with the Pirates' deficiencies, offensive strikeouts should be far, far down their list of concerns.

What about the put-high-average-players-at-the-top theory? Well, this one is sort of similar to the put-high-OBP-players-at-the-top theory that intelligent teams believe in, except without the intelligence.

Let's assume that the lineup before this move would have been

J. Wilson
C. Wilson

and now it will be

J. Wilson
Wigginton/C. Wilson/Mackowiak.

Here are the 3rd and 4th spots, by 2004 stats:

#3: .282/.358/.550
#4: .264/.354/499

#3: .280/.310/.374
#4: .282/.358/.550

By moving Redman to the third spot, the Pirates presumably gain 16 points of batting average in the third and fourth spots combined. They lose 48 points of on-base percentage and 125 points of slugging percentage.

A single is better than a walk, in that a single can move a runner on first to third or a runner on second to home, and a walk cannot. But what does that mean in concrete terms? Let's do a quick and dirty analysis.

Redman's 2004 BA: .280
C. Wilson's 2004 BA: .264
Redman, hits per 500 at bats: 140
C. Wilson, hits per 500 at bats: 132

With 500 at bats each in a season, at their current batting averages, Redman would get eight more hits than Wilson. Remember, though, that a single only has more value than a walk or an HBP with runners on base (or if a fielder makes an error on the single). Lawton and Jack Wilson's combined on-base percentage is likely to be about .350 in 2005, so let's say that one or both of them gets on base in front of Redman about 45% of the time.

8 hits X .45 = 3.6

The difference between Redman's batting average and Craig Wilson's might help Lawton and Jack Wilson move up an extra base about four times over the course of the entire season. Again, that's before considering the other massive differences between Redman and Craig on offense.

What about speed? That can't be McClendon's real motivation for doing this, since #2 hitter Jack Wilson is not especially speedy - he's never stolen more than eight bases in a season. If speed were the issue, the more obvious - and slightly more sane - solution would have been to put Redman in the #2 spot and move Jack Wilson down in the order. If McClendon would like to go all Juan Pierre / Luis Castillo on the National League, he probably should take note of the fact that Jack Wilson is just Alex Gonzalez with better contact skills, and that the Marlins ranked 11th in the NL in runs scored last year.

I suspect McClendon's real reason for moving Redman up is that he wants to load the top of his lineup with players who look like top of the order hitters. McClendon probably looks at Lawton and sees a savvy, athletic veteran who can steal bases; he looks at Jack Wilson and sees a small, scrappy, situational type of hitter who does the little things; he looks at Redman and sees another athlete who can steal bases. Me? I look at McClendon and see a man who has lost his ever-lovin' mind.

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