Monday, January 8, 2018

Quit buying your kombucha at Whole Foods, you filthy sellouts

Over the last year or two, I've been thinking and having a lot of conversations about how Pittsburgh has changed in last decade, what that change means now, and what it means for the future of the city -- especially for the people whom, by virtue of birth, choice or other circumstance, were fully invested in the city before it showed the kind of promise that's led to years of obnoxious, clickbaity listicles, Portland comparisons and widespread use of the absurd term "livable."

These conversations really took off last October when the Pittsburgh episode of Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" quite masterfully distilled the questions fueling these discussions into a compelling, digestible 22-minutes.* And in the midst of one of these discussions, I wondered if Pittsburgh is getting just a little too precious for its own good. Like, is this city turning into a miniature top hat you'd put on a small dog so that you and the dog could have matching Halloween costumes?


I'm already worried the answer is "Yes." So when I see something like this, well...


Naomi Homison saw opportunity for real growth for her business when Pittsburgh Juice Company needed more space beyond its Lawrenceville location next to her brother’s yoga studio.


She bought the former 31st Street Pub at 3101 Penn Ave., a building with “good bones,” and asked other Pittsburgh food makers to become partners in a new venture, Heirloom Superfood Market. When renovations are complete, the market will open in late spring or early summer.


Though this reads like a letter from Portlandia Island, there's nothing terribly wrong here. The 31st Street Pub closed in 2015 after a 53-year run, the last 21 of which saw it reborn as the heir to the Electric Banana, hub of Pittsburgh's wildly underappreciated punk scene.** Apart from the objectively shitty aims and consequences of gentrification, there's nothing really wrong with this; re-purposing a vacant building doesn't displace anyone, and the Strip District hadn't really been a residential neighborhood for 40 years before developers started putting up condos and lofts targeted at wealthy yuppies and empty-nesters. Times change neighborhoods, beloved locales close. The way of things, circle of life and all that.


By placing orders together, her company and Pure GrubFickle Fox Fermented Foods and Frontier Cultures will lower their prices and be able to offer “amazing, hard to find ingredients” that include superfoods such as chia, flaxseed, hemp seeds and nutritional yeast.


::extended sigh::


With recent emphasis on plant-based diets and whole foods, it’s a good time to open a store offering natural foods and super foods, says Homison — even with big players in the market such as Whole Foods, East End Co-Op and Trader Joe’s. Sure, you can order coconut butter online, but some people “are conscientious enough that they don’t really want to be ordering, with all that packaging and shipping, just so you can get a thing of coconut butter.”


Did you feel that? That was me rolling my eyes so hard that it caused harmless but measurable seismic activity all the way to Van Meter, Iowa. 


Heirloom, she predicts, will fulfill a need. “This area, the Strip District and Lawrenceville/Polish Hill, has been dubbed a food desert and it’s a very real problem.



Of course. The Strip District is a food desert. It is also a craft distillery desert and a regional history museum desert. 

There are no grocery stores, let alone a place to find the real specialty stuff. And we’re going to have options, things that aren’t so scary for people who are afraid of healthy stuff.”

You know what I hate about the Strip? There's just no food. Like, anywhere. But it's not just that there isn't any food in the Strip District, it's that there's none of that really good specialty stuff. You can't get all kinds of fresh meat, fish, cheeses, coffee or pastries! And forget about exotic cuisines like Polish or Lebanese food, or the best goddamn banh mi you've ever had in your miserable life, lovingly handmade by a charming old Vietnamese woman in a tent standing next to a fabulous Italian restaurant and wine bar.

AND WHERE IS ALL THE OFF-BRAND STEELERS MERCH? THERE'S NOWHERE IN THE STRIP TO FIND KNOCKOFF BLACK AND GOLD GEAR AND AT HEIRLOOM WE'RE GOING TO CHANGE THAT, GODDAMMIT.

And we know people will love having us in that part of town because the one thing it has in spades is free, convenient parking -- you know, so you don't have a terribly long walk back to your car with that 60-lb bag of chia seeds.

For years, there's been this circuitous back-and-forth about what to do with the building we call the Produce Terminal. A big part of that conversation has been the mayor's desire to see it turned into a public market, and he'll go on to cite Seattle's Pike Place, Cleveland's West Side Market and Boston's Secret Warehouse in Southie Where You Go To Buy Imported Chinese Tom Brady Jerseys. Seemingly lost in the conversation about bringing a public market to the Strip is that the Strip already has a public market. It's called Penn Avenue.

For the uninitiated, the Strip District is the neighborhood in Pittsburgh known for one thing: food. If the Strip District is a food desert, Paris is an art desert. Wisconsin is a cheese desert. Seattle is an actual desert.



In 1996, documentary filmmaker and local hero Rick Sebak released "Strip Show" -- a 122-minute documentary entirely on this particular part of Pittsburgh. You can buy on the WQED-TV's website, where it's described thusly:
"The Strip District is a delicious old neighborhood in Pittsburgh. On most Saturday mornings, it's one of the best places on earth, full of hungry people, crunchy fruits, snappy vegetables, world-class street food, cool characters and tasty surprises."
But that was 22 years ago! Surely the neighborhood has changed substantially! To find out, I consulted local zine NEXTPittsburgh, whose neighborhood guides make it a fabulous resource for residents old and new. NEXT's "Things to do in The Strip District."*** Its subhead? "Once a hub for manufacturing and shipping, the Strip District is now a food and shopping destination unlike any other in the world." They offer nothing to back up that assertion, apart from 11 pages of comprehensive Strip District food-centric guidance.

Nonsense! Hogwash! East Coast Liberal Media Elite Bias! You sheeple believe everything you read on the Internet? Obama!


What do the experts say?


Food deserts are defined  as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.


Ah ha! Surely, the USDA's Food Desert Locator will confirm what we all know to be true: that the Strip, Lawrenceville and Polish Hill are bereft of food, and only we, the noble chia merchants at Heirloom, can save them!

Because you shouldn't trust my crude encircling of the neighborhoods in question, I encourage you to follow that link, plug in each neighborhood individually and see what the maps say. These are not, by any definition of the term, food deserts.


Is all of the piling on? Maybe. But when I worry about this city jumping the proverbial shark, this is exactly the shit that scares me:

To introduce Heirloom to the community, the partner businesses have planned a series of events in the months leading up to its opening, which they’ll publicize on Facebook and Instagram. The first event, in December, was a holiday retreat offering acupuncture and didgeridoo sound therapy. “It’s not just about food. It’s about overall wellness,” Heirloom says in a January 2 post on Facebook.

The only form of therapy with a didgeridoo I can fathom participating in involves violently smashing a didgeridoo.


Sure, you can order coconut butter online, but some people “are conscientious enough that they don’t really want to be ordering, with all that packaging and shipping, just so you can get a thing of coconut 'butter.”


To reduce packaging, everything at Heirloom, including coconut butter, will be sold by the handful.





I don't buy chia seed, in bulk or otherwise. And in the event I needed to, I would sooner buy it online from Hezbollah and have it sent directly to my residence in a comically absurd amount of packaging before I ever set foot in Heirloom.


And it's not that I have anything against healthy foods, organic produce, fad terms like "superfood" or small, local business. I don't.**** But for someone to make statements like this takes either incredible gall, a fundamental lack of understanding their setting or the complete absence of any self-awareness.


That's it. As always, your comments are not welcome.








*We're not reigniting the absurd conversation which followed the episode. If you want to bitch about that, go to Reddit or start your own goddamn blog.


**I was never big into punk, and I didn't frequent the 31st Street Pub. But my handful of visits were equally exhilarating and terrifying. My favorite part was the red LED scrolling marquee above the bar that read "FUCK" on the top line, and cycled through the names of nearly every other bar in Pittsburgh below it. FUCK THE BRILLOBOX. FUCK NEW AMSTERDAM. FUCK ROUND CORNER CANTINA. FUCK SILKY'S. It was wonderful.


***Full disclosure, I wrote an earlier version of this guide for NEXT in 2014, so I've been to the Strip before. Spoiler alert: they have food there.


****This is only 75 percent true. I have a tremendous problem with ridiculous terms like "superfood."

Saturday, October 7, 2017

FRANCO has a lot to say

I don't blog much anymore because ...well ... being histrionic about sports on the internet isn't what it once was for me. But whatever, Nils just had a baby and I only see Matt when I drive by him on the side of the road, so FTC, you're my only friend left. Here's what's going on:

Joe Girardi is an idiot. I think everyone is covering this, but let's pile on.

Here's a table that lists manager replay challenges in 2017. If you sort it by total successes, you see Girardi is #3 overall with 30 overturned calls; even more impressive is that he's correct a league leading 75% of the time.

All that is basically meaningless.

The only thing that matters is that a manager be aggressive with challenges in high leverage situations. The penalty for being wrong with a challenge is that you don't get to do it again for the rest of the game... unless it's the postseason, in which case you have to be wrong twice to lose your invisible red flag. There is basically no consequence at all for taking a long shot gamble during a high leverage situation, except losing the ability to take a potentially better gamble in a later, high leverage situation, assuming one comes around. So chalk this up to another guy who is paid millions of dollars to watch sports being risk averse.

Speaking of being risk averse, I can't help but think of how terrible Neal Huntington was this year. I love NH, and we at FTC were defending him before people knew what a Pedro Alvarez was. However, he chickened out in the worst possible way when it came time to trade Cutch and everyone else 29 years of age or older.

Watching Cleveland, it's hard to think of an American League team with more depth in recent years. This is a phenomenal roster, and they got that way by drafting well, getting lucky (after a string of years being snakebitten), and selling high.  Here are some people they traded away once:

Shin Soo Choo: 0.8 WAR in 2017
CC Sabathia: 1.9 WAR in 2017
Cliff Lee: retired
Jake Westbrook: retired

Here are some things they got back:

Corey Kluber: 8.0 WAR in 2017
Trevor Bauer: 3.1 WAR in 2017
Michael Brantley: 2.1 WAR in 2017
Carlos Carrasco: 5.4 WAR in 2017

Those four latter guys took a long time to pan out, but it happened and Cleveland is competitive because of it.  Had Cleveland let Sabathia or Lee walk after their Cy Young years, maybe they'd still be in the mix in 2017, but they wouldn't be the team to beat.

And that's the point. Trades alone aren't the ticket; drafting well, smart FA signing, good luck, you need it all.  I'm not asking the Pirates to reboot every other year. But they have to know that the window has closed for a Cutch-led playoff team.  Cole is under arbitration control for 2 more years and then he's a free agent. Cervelli and Harrison and Mercer are great complimentary pieces, but are just old, injured garbage on their own. Polanco and Marte aren't as good as we thought, but they're okay. Basically, there isn't anyone on this team that shouldn't be considered trade worthy.  And when that's the case, it's time to take a 75 win team down to a 65 win team and start building for 2020ish.

Finally, I want to say it's always bothered me that the Cleveland baseball team is deeply invested in racist iconography.  Growing up there, I was that kid with the vintage C cap that I bought at the Western Reserve Historical Society museum, because I refused to wear the Wahoo. The other kids made fun of me for wearing such a small brimmed hat. I told them that was historically accurate, and that their way of life was based on white washing genocide. Both points were true then, and they're true now. Hats really did have smaller brims in the 1920s, and America really is a horrible sham at best. I'm not looking for debate on that point (if you feel the need to debate it, read more books, preferably some written by people who don't look like you).

I'm just throwing this out there because I want to jump on the bandwagon with Cleveland-- really, I want to do anything at all Francisco Lindor tells me to do -- but the redface racism is unacceptable.

Onward, towards decency.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

This week in Francisco Liriano

In the name of emphasizing the absurd overreaction to the Pirates dumping of Francisco Liriano's terrible contract last year, the logical take on which you can read here, FTC is proud to introduce a new recurring segment in which we look at why it's good that the Pirates got rid of the worst pitcher in baseball.

Now the Blue Jays don't even want him. Per MLB Trade Rumors:

2:14pm: The Jays and Royals are “making progress” on a deal involving Liriano, reports MLB.com’s Jon Morosi (via Twitter).
2:03pm: Francisco Liriano has struggled mightily this season, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that the lefty is still drawing some interest. Sherman adds that the Blue Jays “may be close to dealing him.” To this point, the Royals have been the one club that has been definitively connected to the 33-year-old Liriano.
Playing out the final season of a three-year, $39MM contract, Liriano has seen his strikeout, walk and ground-ball rates each trend in the wrong direction, and his ERA has correspondingly soared to an unpalatable 5.99. Liriano’s 8.2 K/9, 4.9 BB/9 and 43.1 percent grounder rate would all rank as his worst marks since a disastrous 2012 campaign split between the Twins and White Sox...Nearly all of his struggles this season have come against right-handed hitters (.289/.394/.512), as he’s limited opposing lefties to a putrid .241/.267/.379 batting line. Liriano has a 16-to-1 K/BB ratio against lefties in 2017 and has struck out nearly 27 percent of the left-handed hitters he’s faced.
I've been pretty delinquent in keeping up with "This Week in Francisco Liriano" since the first installment, and I know that's a lot of text up there, and you're probably pissed that you're reading this instead of Chris Cillizza's #hottakes, so let's just look at those numbers one more time:

8.2 K/9, 4.9 BB/9, 5.99 ERA, 1.67 WHIP. The home runs are up, too: 1.29/9.

He's faced 351 batters in 76.2 innings. That's 121 over the minimum. That is what happens when you walk 12 percent of the hitters you face. Now, a middling AL Central team is looking at him as possible bullpen piece, mostly because they wouldn't have to give up anything to get him as long as they're willing to eat the final two months of his contract.

Before we go, let's check in with The Prince Who Was Promised, Reese McGuire. Here's the most recent note on the Pirates' former catcher of the future:
7.21.2017McGuire (knee) was removed from Double-A New Hampshire's disabled list to begin a rehab assignment at the Jays complex in Dunedin.
McGuire has played in 22 minor league games this season, 16 of which have been in AA. His numbers from those games: .216/.311/.373. He has played a total of 37 games since being traded. But I'm sure his defense has been otherworldly, and that the baseball fans of New Hampshire sing songs about his pitch-framing abilities.

And what of Harold Ramirez, the plucky little outfielder who was also one of the Pirates' top 10 prospects at the time of the deal?

Through 348 plate appearances in 88 games in AA this year, Harry is slashing .260/.304/.373 with an abysmal 5.5 percent walk rate. Six homers! Four steals! Harold Ramirez! Get him up the fuck up here!

Sure, these are small sample sizes, and yes, both guys are still just 22. But this is not what you want to see from the guys scouts consistently rate as your top prospects. Disturbingly, it's pretty close to the norm for what the Pirates have been getting out of their higher draft picks. That these guys were top 10 prospects in their system says more about that system than it does about the players. 

But yeah, worst trade ever. You're all idiots.

With the trade deadline looming, stay tuned for expanded FTC coverage of Tyler Glasnow's frustrating attempts at properly using a light switch.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

This week in Francisco Liriano

In the name of emphasizing the absurd overreaction to the Pirates dumping of Francisco Liriano's terrible contract last year, the logical take on which you can read here, FTC is proud to introduce a new, recurring segment in which we look at why it's good that the Pirates got rid of the worst pitcher in baseball.


Start No. 1
April 7, 2017 at Tampa Bay
1/3 IP, 5 ER, 3 H, 4 BB, 1 K


In the shortest start of his career, Liriano threw 35 pitches, only 13 for strikes. Of those 13 strikes, five were called, and only two came on swings and misses. The other six came by contact. As the heat map from this performance shows, only 11 of the 13 even clipped the zone. It's impossible to overemphasize how extraordinarily terrible this is, but here's how the local scribe at the Toronto Sun saw it:

While a brush fire closed a major highway servicing Tropicana Field on Friday night, inside the stadium the Tampa Bay Rays burned Blue Jays starter Francisco Liriano.

The Rays did not do this. Francisco Liriano is his own self-contained dumpster fire.

After the Jays took an early 2-0 lead on Troy Tulowitzki’s two-out double to right, the Rays got right back into it in the bottom of the first when Evan Longoria smacked a 92-mph four-seam fastball from Liriano over the left-field wall with Steven Souza on base. Liriano struggled big-time in the first and, following the Longoria blast, had one out and runners at first and second, prompting a visit to the mound by pitching coach Pete Walker.

Soon after that, Liriano threw a wild pitch, moving the runners to second and third. Brad Miller then punched a double to left centre, scoring Rickie Weeks and Derek Norris. After DH Daniel Robertson hit a single to left, Gibbons pulled Liriano for long reliever Dominic Leone who got Peter Bourjos to ground out to second, though Miller scored on the play, staking the Rays to a 5-2 lead.
As for the top-shelf prospects the Pirates sent to the Blue Jays in order to unload Liriano's salary, we'll update when there's something worth noting. That said, Harold Ramirez is slashing .286/.286/.286 through two games, and Reese McGuire hasn't quite matched those numbers yet.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Enough of this anti-intellectual crap

Analytics aren't exactly new to baseball. Shifts aren't exactly new to baseball. As such, players complaining about analytics and shifts is not new to baseball, which is part of what makes this, from the Trib's Rob Biertempfel, so galling:

Let’s cut to the chase: the Pirates were shafted by their shifts. Against Pablo Sandoval and Sandy Leon — neither of whom has sprinter’s speed — the infield set up with SS Jordy Mercer hugging the second base bag and, when Leon was up, with 3B David Freese in shallow right field. The numbers say Sandoval and Leon (who are both switch-hitters) more often pull the ball to the right side when they bat lefty.

The ball Sandoval hit went precisely to the spot where Mercer would have been standing if he wasn’t shifted. And, of course, Leon would not have bunted to no-man’s land if Freese, the third baseman, had actually been at … um, third base.

Nobody is asking Gerrit Cole to play third base, you dolt. Part of putting on shifts like the Pirates did against those two hitters involves conceding the infield hit if the batter can earn it. Sandoval earned his. That's a calculated risk the Pirates took. And to Leon's credit, he laid down an excellent bunt that Gerrit Cole failed to field cleanly, though not for a lack of effort.

There was palpable frustration in the clubhouse after the game. However, none of the players dared speak up about the shifts during interviews. It’s a tiny clubhouse, and several coaches and front office folks were within earshot — as well as the Pirates’ traveling analytics wonks, who set up their laptops on a table in the center of the room.

Cole and Cervelli expressed what Biertempfel characterized as frustrations in coded language, but Mercer was less subtle.

Mercer: “It sucks. That’s the bad part about the big shifts. In big situations, it doesn’t work out for us sometimes.”

The operative word here is "sometimes." The point of the shift is to place your fielders in such a way that it maximizes the chance of getting a particular hitter out. It's not going to work every time, just as playing your fielders at normal depth wouldn't work every time. But there's a growing file of tangible evidence that this stuff works.

We went through this same thing back in 2013 when A.J. Burnett did his best old-man-yells-at-cloud until he begrudgingly capitulated with a mea culpa that amounted to "whatever, I'm just going to pitch one more year and never think about this ever again."

But think about this: this was game 1 of 162, and at least one player is already complaining about the Pirates' organizational philosophy. I don't begrudge Mercer this, and I don't think it's his fault he doesn't understand it -- this isn't how he learned to play baseball, and it's not how he wound up a major league player. It makes him uncomfortable. Evidence-based practices are hard to implement in any field -- not just baseball, and if there has to be a little bit of hand-holding along the way, I'm okay with that. Even if the hands being held are those of millionaire professional athletes.

This is just another area in which the Pirates have continuously fallen short. When you refuse to spend on the talent and instead choose the route of "we're going to try to make the most out of what we have here using data," you need to go the extra mile to show your players and coaches why you're doing what you're doing. That means translating it into terms they can understand and doing all you can to get them to buy in. 

The Pirates aren't incapable of this. In Travis Sawchick's excellent book "Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak," he recounts an offseason conversation between Pirates GM Neal Huntington and Manager Clint Hurdle that ultimately got the old, gum-chewing skipper to buy into the front office's data-driven approach. The Pirates are capable of having these conversations, and if they hope to win on a budget without alienating their players, they're going to need to have more of them.

This isn't to say the Pirates' methods aren't flawed -- those methods are closely guarded trade secrets. What we know about them is only what we can discern from examining patterns in their decision making. But we're several years into this experiment and the players are still complaining based on what appears to be a fundamental lack of understanding. This is something the Pirates need to rectify, because failure to do so will only hurt them in the long run. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Requiem for the 2016 Pirates

This is the saddest of possible yarns
Chad Kuhl is pitching tonight
Cubbies smack baseballs like broadsides of barns
Chad Kuhl is pitching tonight
Mounting walks spell inescapable trouble
Turning a breaking ball into a double
Removes the Pirates from the payoff bubble
Chad Kuhl is pitching tonight

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Everybody calm the eff down

The Pirates made a few moves yesterday that have the local hive mind in something of a tizzy.


"Maybe Neal Huntington wants to get fired." - Dejan Kovacevic
"But with these trades, it’s almost as if Huntington was begging to be ridiculed. He succeeded in a big way." - Nobel Laureate Ron Cook
"But I hated the trade of Francisco Liriano. That is the equivalent of giving up on the season." - Paul Zeise

Here's a quick rundown of the Pirates' deadline moves, via MLBTR:
The Melancon trade stands out as the best of the four. Melancon is set to hit free agency after this season and the likelihood the Pirates would have brought him back at a raise from the $9.65 million he's making this year is non-existent, so the Pirates traded two months of Mark Melancon for two fireballing lefties. The first, Felipe Rivero, is 25 and under club control through 2021. He sports a mid-90s fastball, a nice slider and a hard changeup. He has nice strikeout numbers, an appreciably low walk rate, and he figures to be even more effective pitching in front of a team that shifts as much as the Pirates do.
Taylor Hearn is 21 and pitching in A-ball, where he's averaging almost 13 K/9 while keeping his walks down. He's a former fifth-round pick, and it's easy to see why the Pirates like him. He's 6'5", 210. His fastball works in the upper 90s, and he has a slider to go with it. This guy was drafted four times, including once by the Pirates. No guarantees he'll work out but Rivero alone would have been fine return on Melancon. The Pirates made out like bandits in this deal, and at no significant cost to the quality of the major league club.
The Nova deal is probably fine. The PTBNs likely won't be anyone of consequence, as Nova is a two-month rental who'll hit the open market after this season. The Pirates were reportedly in on Tampa Bay's Matt Moore (who wound up with the Giants) and Jake Odorizzi, but balked at requests for Josh Bell and Austin Meadows. No complaints there. Nova isn't a long-term solution, but his peripherals indicate he's pitched better than his standard numbers, and he'll help stabilize the rotation for two months, which the Pirates need more than anything.
Speaking of stabilizing the rotation, let's think about the final two, which seem to have drawn the most criticism. Dumping Niese back on the Mets in exchange for a lefty reliever who's signed through next season isn't a bad thing. The PR hit the Pirates are taking right now is attributable to two things. First, the Pirates had Antonio Bastardo last season and opted not to bring him back. Second, and more importantly, the reason Jon Niese was here in the first place is that the Pirates shipped Neil Walker to the Mets to get him in a straight-up, cost-neutral trade that made all the sense in the world. New York lost Daniel Murphy to free agency and was looking for a second baseman, and the Pirates, knowing they had no plans to sign Walker to a long-term deal, knew they needed a starting pitcher. Their 2016 salaries are identical, only Niese came with two club options. Given that Walker is on the wrong side of age 30, has a bad back, can barely play his position and is in steady decline, this is a deal you make 10 times out of 10. The metrics said Niese looked like a guy who could get a nice bump from playing in a pitcher-friendly park in front of a good defense. He was an excellent bounce-back candidate. He just pitched horribly. So now, the Pirates have Antonio Bastardo, a perfectly serviceable lefty reliever, for the rest of this year and locked up through next year at $6.5 million. That's a little steep, but between Watson, Rivero and now Bastardo, that's three guaranteed bullpen spots for effective lefties, and at totally reasonable cost across the three players. Having lefty pitchers in spades is never a bad thing, and I'd expect to see one of them flipped to another team this winter.
But onto the elephant in the room...
The Pirates unloaded Francisco Liriano on the unsuspecting city of Toronto and its Blue Jays, just over halfway through his three-year, $39 million contract. And they had to ship two of their top 10 prospects, Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire, to the Jays in order to shed that payroll.
"But I hated the trade of Francisco Liriano. That is the equivalent of giving up on the season." - Paul Zeise
First things first, Liriano was pitching terribly. That can't be overstated. His HR:FB ratio is up 8 percent from the last two years. He's allowing more than twice the home runs per nine innings. He's walking 5.46 hitters per nine, and his strikeout rate has dipped, even if slightly. Even his park-adjusted fielding independent pitching (xFIP) is 4.51, and that's against a 5.46 ERA and a 5.27 FIP. Liriano hasn't been unlucky, he's been downright awful. 
This trade wasn't just about dumping Liriano's salary, it was about unloading a pitcher who'd clearly hit a wall. The Pirates are far better off without him -- that's not even up for debate. So where anyone gets the idea that unloading this guy who's just been painful to watch is giving up on the season is, like much of what Paul Zeise writes, wholly without merit.*
Where things have the potential to get sticky is what the Pirates gave up in order to give up on Liriano. 
Ramirez and McGuire are rated as the Pirates' No. 6 and 7 prospects, respectively. Ramirez, a speedy little outfielder with little to no power and a subpar walk rate, but who makes decent contact. McGuire, a former supplementary first-round pick, is an excellent defensive catcher who doesn't profile as much of a hitter.
Three things to consider about this aspect:
1) Neither player has a direct path to the majors through this organization. The Pirates are set with Cervelli as their catcher for the next three years, and clearly value Elias Diaz, 25, over McGuire. They can and should begin searching for another prospective catcher this winter or in next year's draft, but it's clear they don't feel they've traded their catcher of the future. In an outfield where two of the three spots are locked down and the third will, over the next five years, be manned by a combination of Declining Andrew McCutchen and Austin Meadows (the Pirates' no. 2 and top offensive prospect) Ramirez is a totally expendable piece.
2. Pat Lackey at WHYGAVS made this point last night, and rather than restate it, I'm just going to quote him, though I'd highly recommend reading his entire piece. 
...it’s certainly true that a team’s evaluations of prospects shifts internally almost always before it shifts anywhere else. The Giants knew exactly what they were doing when they traded Tim Alderson for Freddy Sanchez, even if almost no one else that was watching that trade did. Both Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire are hitting inflection points as prospects, where things that were forgivable early in their careers (Ramirez’s lack of power, McGuire’s generally inability to hit) quickly become red flags. If Ramirez doesn’t find some power in his swing, his prospect status will drop quickly. If McGuire can’t hit, all his ability with the glove makes him is a more highly touted version of Jacob Stallings. If these players are going in these directions, the Pirates would probably be the first to know.
3. Don't get me wrong, I'm not happy with the notion that the Pirates are trading prospects in the name of dumping salary. If you're not going to use that organizational depth on your major league roster, your best thing to do is leverage it into ways to help the major league roster. They didn't do that here. What I take away from this and the Niese trade is that Huntington isn't going to sit on his mistakes. This dude ate a lot of crow yesterday and he's surely feeling the sting today. But there's something to be said for looking at what you've done, assessing why and how it isn't working, and making an adjustment. In blowing up over these trades yesterday, the local hive mind seemed pretty quick to forget the quite solid ratio of successes to failures the current front office has assembled since taking over. It's neither prudent nor responsible to go around spewing fire and slitting throats because they shipped out a prospect. And keep in mind, the word "prospect" carries different meaning in this town than it does elsewhere, owing almost entirely to 20 years of ignominy. We've been trained to believe that you don't trade prospects, you trade for prospects -- that they're the holy grail. And generally, that's true. But writers and fans alike are calling for heads to roll because it took adding a 21-year-old catcher to the pot in order to jettison the worst starting pitcher in baseball. I just don't think that's the worst thing in the world. And I'm certainly not upset that Neal Huntington is the type of GM to stand by a move, long after he realizes it's a mistake. The ability to admit you done fucked up is incredibly important. 
Before news broke that McGuire was included in the Liriano deal, the consensus was that the Pirates were about as good a team after the deadline as they were before -- all they did was move some pieces around in what amounted to crafty accounting. The inclusion of a 21-year-old catcher whom the Pirates deemed worth giving up shouldn't change that.



*To Paul's credit, he had a correct take on the Melancon trade. It wasn't a strong take or a fresh take, but it wasn't offensive or wrong.