Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Studes on the Bucs

Here's a nice article by Studes on why the Pirates and Brewers have been playing so well recently.

Studes notes, as many have, that the Pirates' run scoring has far better recently than it was at the beginning of the season. Here are the Pirates' hitting stats for May. Daryle Ward, Jose Castillo, Ty Wigginton and Rob Mackowiak are all playing way over their heads, and Jason Bay arguably is too. Jack Wilson and Matt Lawton, who probably shouldn't be benched for any extended period of time, have been cold. Other than that, it looks like Lloyd McClendon has done a fairly good job figuring out who the hot players are - or maybe those players are hot because they're getting playing time, or maybe McClendon is just lucky. (Actually, it's probably some combination of the three.) In any case, all the players above except Wigginton have played a lot, while cold players like Tike Redman, David Ross and Freddy Sanchez have had limited opportunities to hurt the Pirates.

The Pirates have allowed few runs in May, also, but the team's 3.73 ERA this month simply isn't sustainable, with nearly as many walks during that period as strikeouts. (And no, I don't care how good Brian O'Neill thinks the defense has been, but check out his fine article anyway.) In the meantime, though, Mark Redman, Kip Wells and Dave Williams have posted good ERAs this month, and opposing hitters have failed to score much at all against the Bucs' bullpen.

Meyer on Littlefield

What an unbelievably stupid, breathless, worthless piece of hackery this is.

"You always have to be prepared for what could happen," Littlefield said. "It's easy to think everything's going good and there's no worries, but every general manager will tell you that's not the case."

A foul tip can injure a catcher in an instant. A second baseman can be lost for two months because he stood his ground while a baserunner crashed into him trying to break up a double play. An outfielder can hit a wall trying to catch a long drive.

Or a starting pitcher can be lost for the season when a line drive strikes his knee.


All of which are incredibly pressing issues when the team you built has never contended and is nowhere near ready to contend!

"Since coming out of spring training, there have been some thunderbolts," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "I think Dave has done a tremendous job of trying to manage this roster and giving me the best players he can possibly give me under the circumstances.

'By the way, Dave, if you're reading this, please don't fire me.'

That makes one realize there's yet another category in the "What if" game, as in "What if" Littlefield hadn't done a good job?

Well, then, you'd probably have a ridiculously inept Ryan Vogelsong in the rotation for two thirds of a year. You'd probably have huge holes at center field and third base. You'd probably have had one of the worst offenses in the big leagues last year. You'd probably have a consistently terrible performance record. Good thing Littlefield has done such a good job.

Paul Meyer, Dave Littlefield, please do us all a favor and retire. Both of you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Pirates Acquire Restovich

The Pirates just acquired Mike Restovich from the Rockies for a player to be named later and cash. Presuming the PTBNL isn't a prospect and that amount of cash isn't much (in the last few months, Restovich has been DFA'ed by the Rockies and Devil Rays and waived by the Twins, though with the Pirates one never knows), this is a nice little trade. Restovich is just 26 and has an .806 career major league OPS, and he has always hit pretty well against minor league pitching, so there could be some upside here. Since Craig Wilson is hurt, Nate McLouth and Chris Duffy aren't ready, and the Pirates don't want to move Daryle Ward to the outfield, the Pirates have a corner outfield spot available. This is a nice opportunity to find out more about Restovich, who could be a dirt-cheap, league-average player the next few years if everything breaks right for him. He might grab some starts here and there in the outfield, then become a solid bench player if better players become available. This trade isn't any big deal, but that doesn't mean it couldn't turn out nicely.

On Bronson Arroyo and Other "Castoffs"

Bob Smizik writes about Chris Young, Bronson Arroyo, Leo Nunez and Roberto Novoa. Theirs are stories that need to be told, but Smizik doesn't tell them very well.

On Arroyo: "[The Pirates] gave Arroyo, who was a highly regarded prospect, ample opportunity and he never took advantage of it. In parts of three seasons with the Pirates, he was 9-14 and gave no hint of what was to come."

In parts of three seasons with the Pirates, that's almost true, but it doesn't come close to telling the whole story.

In 2000, when Arroyo was 23, he put up an 8-2 record and a 3.65 ERA in 88.2 innings at Class AAA Nashville. In spite of these superficially strong statistics, he had no business playing for the Pirates at that point - he only struck out 52 batters at Nashville, so his strikeout rate was quite low, an indication that he needed more time to develop. But he ended up pitching 71.2 innings for the Pirates that year anyway, and the results were predictable: he got bombed, putting up a 6.40 ERA.

Arroyo split 2001 between Nashville and Pittsburgh. His ERA went up a bit at Nashville, but his strikeout and K/BB rates were much better, indicating improvement. In Pittsburgh, his strikeout rate was a bit lower than it had been in 2000, but his walk rate dropped too, and he lopped 1.3 runs off his ERA.

Arroyo spent most of 2002 at Nashville, where he was downright good, posting 116 strikeouts, 28 walks and an ERA below 3. He didn't play much at Pittsburgh that year, but again, he knocked more than a run off the previous year's ERA when he did (although it was a small sample, and his strikeout and walk rates were about what they had been in 2000).

Arroyo's record wasn't completely consistent, but the general trend was one of marked improvement. The reason why Arroyo may have looked like a failed prospect at the time was that he was called up well before he should have been. In reality, he was already a productive big league pitcher in the season before the Pirates let him go, and a 25 year-old who puts up the numbers Arroyo did at AAA in 2002 deserves a spot on a roster, especially the roster of a bad team. It is also worth pointing out that when the Pirates let him go, Arroyo was two years younger than Ryan Vogelsong is now, and Vogelsong continues to get chances with the Pirates even though his performance record is not as strong as Arroyo's was. Dave Littlefield really screwed up in letting Arroyo go.

Elsewhere, Smizik rightly calls the Pirates out for losing Chris Young for the veteran Matt Herges, and for having so many former farmhands on other major league teams but failing to get anything from their own top draft picks. The Young move offers an unfortunate bit of history that the Pirates recently repeated. At the time of the trade, Young had posted great numbers at Class A Hickory, but his status as a prospect was widely doubted because he was old for his level and because he relied too much on a small number of pitches. Young's subsequent rise through the minors and success in the big leagues (in a small sample, I know) shows that There Is No Such Thing As Not A Pitching Prospect (TINSTANAPP). Just as you can't rely on a successful Class A pitcher to eventually help you in the big leagues, it's probably unwise to discount successful Class A starters on the basis of things they might improve later anyway, like secondary pitches and velocity. But that's exactly what the Pirates did with Leo Nunez, who, like Young, was mowing down hitters at Hickory but having trouble with secondary pitches when he was traded for a crappy veteran. The kicker, though, is that Nunez' stuff was probably better than Young's was at the time, and unlike Young, Nunez was not old for his league.

Anyway, Smizik fails to mention the real reason why it was dumb to dump Arroyo, Young and Nunez: the Pirates were not contending when those players were lost. Any transaction a team makes must be judged from within the context of what that team is trying to achieve. For example, if the Red Sox were to trade a pitching prospect for a veteran, and then they didn't get anything from the veteran while the prospect ended up helping another team a few years later, that would be a shame for the Red Sox. But it would not necessarily indicate a major error in judgment. It might just have been a good gamble that didn't work out. As Smizik points out, "Bad trades and ill-advised personnel decisions are part of baseball. They happen to all teams." If a bad trade happens every so often, that isn't the end of the world. But all trades should come within the context of a plan. Dave Littlefield doesn't have one, or if he does, it isn't any good.

Unlike the Red Sox, the Pirates need talented young players to succeed, and unlike the Sox, the Pirates aren't perennial contenders in need of immediate help at the big league level. That's what's so galling about the losses of Arroyo, Young, Nunez, Chris Shelton, Duaner Sanchez, Walter Young, and others - not only was there no immediate need for the mediocrities for whom those prospects were lost (Herges, Benito Santiago, Mike Lincoln, Abraham Nunez, Mark Corey, Jim Mann, Raul Mondesi, Randall Simon and others), but the Pirates also had and continue to have a pressing need for young players. Not only will young players help them build for the future, but they're also cheap, and the Pirates simply don't (or won't) have the resources to reach the playoffs without a core of players performing much better than their salaries.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Stats Geek on the Catchers

Brian O'Neill explains that defense was also a good reason why it was a good idea to drop Benito Santiago. This is a good column. I comment less on O'Neill's work than I used to, but that's mostly because there's less in them that I disagree with.

In other Benito-related news, the Royals called up Leo Nunez today. From a PR standpoint, that's some poor timing for the Pirates. Actually, though, what seems to be happening here is that the Royals aren't making a good decision. Nunez didn't pitch very well at Class A this year, and then he pitched five good innings at Class AA. Those five innings are his only experience above Class A. I don't see much evidence to suggest that he's ready.

Moreover, he isn't old, and he pitched very successfully last year in the South Atlantic League as a starter. Given that Nunez has very good stuff (although he has a limited assortment of pitches), it would behoove the Royals to let him start in the minors unless he proves he can't handle it. A good starter is worth far more than a good reliever. Nunez should be in the rotation at High Desert right now, not in the Royals' bullpen.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Oust McClatchy

Sign the petition.

And visit Eric Bowser's frequently updated Pirates Ownership Must Go, while you're at it.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Santiago Released

The Pirates have released Benito Santiago. Kudos to them for correcting their mistake, which was trading for him in the first place. When he was acquired, I complained that there was no need to trade a real prospect, Leo Nunez, for a catcher when the Pirates had several young catchers, and catchers who contribute at Santiago's level are fairly easy to find anyway.

Near the beginning of the season, the Pirates proved me, and nearly everyone else who was paying attention, right. After J.R. House's injury problems finally got the best of him and Humberto Cota experienced a minor injury, the Pirates decided it would help to acquire yet another catcher rather than bring up Ryan Doumit or Ronny Paulino to ride the bench behind Santiago. So they acquired David Ross from the Dodgers for a nominal fee. He has hit fairly well since then, and his defense is far better than Santiago's, so the Pirates are now releasing Santiago rather than sending Ross to Indianapolis to be their second AAA catcher.

Ross was probably not available for such a low price when the Pirates acquired Santiago, since Ross was not really expendable for the Dodgers until they later acquired Jason Phillips. But that is not the point. The point is that talents like Ross and Santiago are not hard to find in the offseason. You shouldn't trade prospects for them, especially if you're a bad team and you're hoping to contend in the future rather than the present.

In case you're wondering, Nunez is now pitching out of the bullpen for the Class AA Wichita Wranglers, where he has allowed one earned run and one walk, with five strikeouts, in five innings. In April, he also pitched for high Class A High Desert, where he has a 9.00 ERA in 13 innings, although he struck out 15 and walked only three. His chance of making the big leagues will be reduced if he can't make it as a starter, but he still has a chance at helping the Royals in the future. Santiago has no chance of ever helping the Pirates.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Reasons To Care

One of the few comforts in rooting for a very bad baseball team is thinking about what's going on in the minor leagues. The guys the Pirates have down there mostly aren't very good either, but at least they're interesting. Let's take a look at how some of the Pirates' more intriguing farmhands are doing so far.

Indianapolis

Ryan Doumit 7 HR .333/.416/.680
Graham Koonce 7 HR .264/.341/.583

Doumit is similar to J.R. House in that he's hit very well as he has climbed the ladder, despite not actually playing very much at some spots due to injury. Unlike House, he's healthy now, and he's hitting better at AAA than House ever did. If he keeps this up, Doumit might make the Bucs' complicated catching situation even more complicated in a few months. Koonce continues to mash at AAA; his upside is low, but he might provide a fearsome bat off the bench for a Pirates team that badly needs offense. The Pirates should call him up now.

Ian Snell 38 IP 36 K 6 BB 3.55
Zach Duke 37 IP 24 K 8 BB 3.41

After a rough start for Indianapolis, Duke has performed better recently, but his ERA is way up from last year. The Pirates were right to send him back to the minors; he needs a couple more months there. Snell deserves to take the next opening in the rotation in Pittsburgh. In the last few years, many Pirates' pitching prospects have received more hype (Duke, Sean Burnett, John VanBenschoten, and even Bryan Bullington), but none have been as consistently good as Snell.

Altoona

Well, actually, no one currently at Altoona has played very well there. Brad Eldred punished the ball as usual for a month, then got promoted to Indianapolis; infielder Craig Stansberry was good at Lynchburg and recently got promoted to Altoona. After that, there isn't much to report. However, this line is nothing if not interesting:

Matt Peterson 21.1 IP 9 K 22 BB 9.70

No, I didn't get those K and BB numbers backwards. Ouch.

Lynchburg

Javier Guzman 3 HR .333/.384/.510

The entire Lynchburg team is hitting well, but most of its players are so old that they have no chance of making the majors. Guzman isn't one of those; he's young, he plays middle infield, and he hit well for contact last year at Hickory. He was left off the 40-man roster last winter, but no one took him in the Rule 5 draft. He's hitting like crazy right now, and people who've had the chance to watch him have reported that the numbers aren't fluky - he's hitting the ball with more authority this year. Of the Hillcats' other hitters, only Mike McCuiston bears watching - he's a bit old for his level, but he has showed some on-base skills in the past and he's currently hitting .314/.435/.549.

Wardell Starling 30.2 IP 24 K 9 BB 3.52 ERA
Josh Sharpless 14 IP 23 K 6 BB 0.00 ERA

Starling is a real prospect - a tall 22 year-old with mid-90s heat and a good breaking ball. Watch out for him. Sharpless is 24 and he's a reliever, but his performance so far is too good to be ignored. He's not getting any younger, so the Pirates might want to consider promoting him aggressively.

Hickory

Yeah, this isn't so good. The most intriguing lines belong to Antonio Sucre and Kyle Bloom. Sucre, an outfielder who was acquired for J.J. Davis, has a .400 OBP but has shown no power at all. Bloom is a promising pitcher who has had a good strikeout rate and great ERA so far, but has walked 13 batters in 23 innings. Neil Walker has hit .279/.330/.433, which isn't bad for a kid his age in Class A ball.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Go Dejan

I have very little to say about this subject that I haven't said before, but this is really nice work.

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