Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Out-wise the Smize

Hello, Smizik.

I see you want us blogging again.  I see our little hiatus has upset you.  Why else would you bait us with this

Dejan Kovacevic weighs in with an excellent piece in the Post-Gazette today on the pros and cons of the Pirates signing Dominican Republic phenom Miguel Angel Sano, whose asking price is said to be about $4 million.

This is like David Brooks politely complimenting Mark Shields ideas on health care right before telling Jim Lehrer that the man is full of shit.  Pump fake, bitches!
As Kovacevic points out, there are plenty of reasons to pursue this young man and plenty to avoid him.
Three of each.  
But one fact overrides all others.
Is this you or him, speaking now, Bob?  
Sano is 16.
That is kind of the kicker.  Good or bad.  
In an era when the most sophisticated scouting by the National Football League cannot accurately predict the success of 22 and 23-year old men 
Why shit on just one sport when you can shit on two?  Also: why the NFL, Bob?  You live in Pittsburgh.  You're a sports writer in Pittsburgh.  Your team is the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Be happy about football.  Post-merger, it hasn't done a single thing to hurt you.
ALSO!  If you think about it, the NFL is really pretty good at projecting prospects. Let's go back a couple of years.  From the 2002 draft, 9 of the 32 first round selections went on to make the Pro-Bowl; in the 2003 draft, the number was 11; in 2004, the number was 14; 2005, the number was 7; 2006, the number was 7.  Will there always be a Tom Brady in the 6th round and a Ryan Leaf in the 1st?  Sure.  But generally, the high level of NCAA exposure, as well as the combine and "pro-day" system, lead teams to knowing what guys are worth.  
Weren't we talking about baseball?
and when the best talent evaluators in Major League Baseball miss way too often on college, 
Yes and no.  Sometimes there are misses in the amateur draft, but often times it has nothing to do with scouting and everything to do with money.  No one on Dave Littlefield's staff thought Daniel Moskos was the next Nolan Ryan.  They thought he was the piece of shit pitcher he is, and one who would sign for less.  (This afforded us the services of the real Nolan Ryan of our generation, Matt Morris.)
let along high-school age, players, it makes no sense -- none -- to spend millions on a sophomore in high school.
Part of the Moneyball school of thought is that spending good draft spots and a lot of money on high school phenoms is a patently bad business practice.  The competition at that level isn't intense enough, and the sample sizes aren't big enough for these prospects to prove anything.  I would mostly agree with this.  Except that Sano isn't coming out of a U.S. prep school, he's coming from the Dominican Republic.  Furthermore, we're not spending a "draft pick" on him, we're going after him in the international signing pool.  Yes, we're talking about a 16 year old kid getting $4,000,000, and that's a lot.  But I'd much rather be making this kind of splash, than playing chicken with Stephen Strasburg's agent, Scott Boras.  
Nobody knows who's going to be good, but it's obvious who's going to be bad.  We can either take a gamble on a prospect, or we can keep the good times rolling by being cheap bastards.
If, indeed, he is a sophomore.
Smize is referring to the age-verification problem with latin talent.  A lot of guys will fudge their D.O.B.'s to appear younger and more promising.  This had been a concern for the Pirates, but then we started doing bone marrow tests, which can narrow down a guy's age to within 12 months.  Sano is 16 or 17.  Of this, science tells us (see this Dejan article for more on that).
There are doubts about Sano’s age since he looks and plays so much older. Those doubts are justified because many players from Latin America have falsified their ages to get a better deal. Sophisticated tests have been run on Sano, but there remains doubt.
This is vintage Smizik.  "There are doubts that it's going to be sunny today.  Those doubts are justified because Pittsburgh is regularly cloudy, if not rainy.  The weather channel, local forecast, and observable data say it's a beautiful day out with 0% chance of rain.  ...But I have my doubts!"
As far as warning signs, no one need look any further than the Pirates inability to evaluate young talent in the recent past. 
That does it.  After this entry I'm going to go get plastered and come back with an iMovie video montage of all the prospects Neal Huntington's administration has scouted, signed, or traded for, and I'm going to set it to something like this.
C'mon, people!  This nonsense has to stop.  The overhaul of our front office was 100%.  The scouts, directors of player development, and coaches are all Huntington's.  His decisions have been the polar opposite of Littlefield's.  
Although they have been dealing with players 18 and older, they have been largely incorrect in their evaluations. Of the 16 first-round draft choices the Pirates have made since they took Jason Kendall in 1992, Paul Maholm has been the most and, arguably, only successful pick
Christ, that's awful.  Maybe you should fire the GM who was responsible for all that shitty scouting and get someone new.
Behind Maholm would be Kris Benson and then Sean Burnett. 
You mean Joel Hanrahan?
Of course, the jury is still out on some of the more recent picks but even among those only Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez look to have significant upside.
1) our amateur draft selections have crippled the team.
2) we shouldn't pursue someone in the international pool who might make us better.
Although the Pirates might be worse than other franchises in talent evaluation, they are not the only organization that has difficulty. It's just the nature of the business. Projecting young men as professionals is not a science and sometimes it's a guessing game.
3) no one knows anything, therefore don't do anything.
Since the draft began in 1965, 13 pitchers have been taken with the No. 1 overall choice. The most successful of the lot has been Andy Benes, with a career record of 155-139. Three others, Tim Belcher (146-140), Mike Moore (161-176) and Floyd Bannister (134-143), have had success. The others, like the Pirates Bryan Bullington, have been failures.
4) Miguel Sano will make a poor big league pitcher if we draft him number one overall in the U.S. amateur draft.
If talent evaluators can’t get the No. 1 pick, often college-age players, right, how can they be expected to expertly evaluate a 16 year old?
So much wrong with this line of reasoning.  
First of all, there's no guarantee of anything.  Fuck it, we don't know.  That doesn't mean we should sit on our hands and do nothing.
Secondly, you gave a list of American born and raised pitchers who were drafted high in the U.S. amateur talent draft.   Miguel Sano is neither a pitcher, nor is he part of the American amateur talent pool.  Both of these things are incredibly significant.  The reason it's such a crap shoot to commit to pitching prospects isn't because we can't project quality, it's because we can't project health.  It's so easy for a young pitcher to blow out his arm, and that has everything to do with why these guys weren't successful.  
Now let's talk about this domestic talent draft versus the international pool.  Imagine if the NHL draft only included Canadians and USAmericans.  That would mean that the talent available through the draft would drop off much fast, which would give more bargaining power to number 1 picks like Sidney Crosby.  It would also mean that a bum team drafting seventh would miss out on the marquee impact players, but could go on the international scouting circuit and sign an Alex Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin for a ton of money.  Should they not go out an sign an international talent, just because they got a mediocre player in the domestic draft?  No fucking way.   Metaphor complete.
Signing Sano would be a major public-relations coup for the Pirates and a large step foward in the talent-rich Dominican.
Don't worry about whether or not he can play.  We're going to win the hearts and minds of everyone in Allegheny County and Santo Domingo.  
But to spend $4 million on a 16-year-old kid, well, that sounds like something the Pirates of Dave Littlefield would do.
I once read an editorial in the New York Post, written by former U.N. Ambassador, John Bolton, about how peace in Israel would be a far greater risk to U.S. security than the Iraq War had been.  That made me angry.  But not as angry as what Smizik just said.
Neal Huntington has a penchant for acquiring undervalued sleepers; both veterans and prospects.  None of his pick-ups are multimillion dollar deals.  
Dave Littlefield would go out every season and sign a couple bum free agents or trade for an overpaid veteran, few of them under the age of 30.  He'd give a guy anywhere from $1 million to $8 million for a year.  Almost all of them would either be cut in training camp, or traded midway through the season.  Here are a couple names:
Danny Kolb (age 32)
Tony Armas Jr. (age 29, $3 million)
Jeromy Burnitz (age 37, $6 million)
Sean Casey (age 31, $8.5 million)
Roberto Hernandez (age 41, $2.75 million)
Joe Randa (age 36, $4 million)
Cesar Izturis (age 27, $4+ million)
Matt Morris (age 32, $10+ million)
Matt Lawton (age 33, $7.75 million)
Benito Santiago (age 40, $2.15 million)
Raul Mondesi (age 33, $1.15 million)
Kenny Lofton (age 36, $1.025 million)
Reggie Sanders (age 35, $1 million)
This is what Littlefield would do.  This is not at all what Huntington is doing.  I can go on, but I think the point is obvious.  One guy flushed millions of dollars down the toilet, another guy wants to buy a bunch of scratch-n-win cards.  Both could lose out, but only one is in a position to win.
SpinMove has already written your paper a letter.  Please don't make him have to write a second one-- we're running out of FTC stationary.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hossa to Foote: "Learn from my mistake"

Speaking out for the first time since Detroit's game seven loss in the Stanley Cup Finals, forward Marian Hossa had words of advice for former Steelers linebacker, Larry Foote.

"Don't go to Detroit, I told him. As someone coming in expecting a championship, I was sorely mistaken. He may not get one either, and I just don't want him to make the same mistake."

Foote-- who earlier this off-season asked for his release from the Steelers only to sign for less with the Lions-- was unavailable for comment.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sometimes the PG is wrong

Last Friday, the Post-Gazette published this on its editorial page:

The team should make it official. It's time to change their name to the Pittsburgh Prospects.

That's how it feels little more than a day after All-Star, Gold Glove center fielder Nate McLouth was traded for three minor-leaguers.

The team's latest home run and RBI leader was dispatched to Atlanta after management signed him to a three-year, $15.75 million contract in February and team President Frank Coonelly declared him one of the Pirates' three core players. The Nutting ownership's latest salary dump comes two months into this year's schedule and four months before the Pirates, after 17 straight losing seasons, will claim the distinction of losingest franchise in pro sports history.

You can now be sure of that.

Front-office apologists will defend the trade by pointing to Mr. McLouth's .256 average and his replacement in the field by farm-system talent Andrew McCutchen (who was 2-for-4 in his PNC Park debut yesterday).

But this affront to the fans hurt because of more than numbers.

The Pirates ownership pledged to start winning. And after fans endured the previous painful trades of stars Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, the team promised to build around Nate McLouth, catcher Ryan Doumit and pitcher Paul Maholm.

"The long-term commitments we have made to core players developed here, both this year and last year, reflect our commitment to build a strong core from within our system," Mr. Coonelly said four months ago. "Ryan, Paul and Nate all dedicated themselves to becoming championship-caliber players, and all three demonstrated a strong desire to play integral roles in this organization's turnaround."

That assurance rings hollow and the McLouth trade breaks faith with the fans, who were the lead partner in building for this team one of America's most beautiful ballparks. Eight years later the talent on the field has yet to measure up, while each successive Pirates executive says only the same thing: next year, next year, next year.

You don't build a contender with a revolving door. You don't put a face on a team with players who are here one year and gone the next.

It's time Pittsburgh baseball had ownership worthy of the game. Mark Cuban, where are you?

Given the quality and depth of the PG's baseball coverage, as well as the Coonelly/Huntington administration's clear use of a calculated methodology in devising a concrete plan to rebuild the organization, I found this totally infuriating. And so I've written to the PG editorial board to express my displeasure. The first draft of the letter came out to 574 words, complete with mixed metaphors and misspellings, as I authored it while exhausted and slightly intoxicated. But for whatever reason, I got an e-mail back from one of their editorial page copy editors today, asking me to cut it down to 250 words or less and send it back. So I think that means they want to publish it, yeah?

Here's what I'm sending them now. It clocks in at 264 words:

To casual baseball fans, there’s little positive to be found in the Pittsburgh Pirates. The club has lost for so long that even its most devoted fans annually question their allegiance.

The Post-Gazette treats those remaining to something oddly special: its baseball coverage is without a peer among major league cities’ newspapers — a reward for those who’ve stuck with the Bucs throughout record-setting futility. The print and Internet reporting do a masterful job mapping the intricacies of how the organization works.

That said, it was shocking to see a PG editorial slam the club’s trade of Nate McLouth, labeling it "ownership's latest salary dump," and adding that “front-office apologists" would defend the move by pointing to McLouth’s lackluster batting average and the readiness of prospect Andrew McCutchen.

Without judging the trade, it's clear to this reader that the PG's editorial board doesn't read its own baseball coverage.

The three-year contract McLouth signed in February precludes this from being a salary dump, and no intelligent baseball fan would simply cite McLouth's current batting average or replacement as justification for the trade. The facts as reported in the PG’s coverage reveal a calculated methodology behind the club’s decision to deal McLouth, and they point to a notion that unlike his two immediate predecessors, General Manager Neal Huntington has a plan to rebuild the organization.

Nobody is asking fans to like this trade, but if you're going to disagree with it, disagree for legitimate, factual reasons rather than uninformed bitterness, and give Huntington a chance to make it work. After all, we've very little left to lose.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Dear Post-Gazette editorial board

There's certainly very little positive that any casual baseball fan might have to say about the Pittsburgh Pirates. In a general overview, the organization is commonly thought of for long-gone greatness, long-current futility and a fielded product unworthy of so stately a home as PNC Park. The losing has gone on for so long that even the most devoted in the fan base seem to annually question their allegiance to the club.

But those who remain are treated to something oddly special: the Post-Gazette's Pirates coverage -- led by Dejan Kovacevic with help from Chuck Finder -- is without a peer among newspapers in major league cities -- a nice reward for those fans who love baseball enough to stick with the team as it closes in on its 17th straight losing season. If you still follow the Pirates, chances are that you love baseball enough to care about more than just the big league club's win-loss record. Knowing this, Kovacevic and Finder write the PBC Blog, and do a masterful job of covering all the ins and outs of the game from the big-league club and the intricacies of the coaching philosophy to the very smallest nuts-and-bolts details of how MLB organizations, specifically Pittsburgh's, operate.

That said, it was shocking to see the Post-Gazette's editorial board, in last Friday's edition, slam the Pirates' trade of center fielder Nate McLouth to Atlanta in the manner it did. The printed editorial panned the deal as "ownership's latest salary dump" and an "affront to the fans..."

Without judging the trade either way, it's clear to this reader that the PG's editorial board doesn't read its own baseball coverage.

"Front-office apologists will defend the trade by pointing to Mr. McLouth's .256 average and his replacement in the field by farm-system talent Andrew McCutchen."

First of all, the three-year extension McLouth signed with the club not three months ago all but guarantees that this move was not motivated by money. Additionally, no intelligent baseball fan would simply cite McLouth's current batting average or replacement as motivation or justification for this trade, and a cursory review of Kovacevic's reporting on the deal reveals a great deal of insight as to why General Manager Neal Huntington pulled the trigger (not the least of which includes evidence of a consistent organizational philosophy and a plethora of complicated, telling statistics).

It's unfair for Huntington and team President Frank Coonelly, who haven't even controlled the club for two full years, to be judged by same stick and for the same failures as the Cam Bonifay and Dave Littlefield administrations, just as it would be unfair to hold President Obama accountable for mistakes made by Presidents Bush and Clinton.

In their brief tenures, Coonelly and Huntington have demonstrated a calculated methodology centered around investing more heavily in the farm system than their predecessors, stockpiling power arms and utilizing the newest and most accurate methods of player evaluation available. The facts as reported by the PG all point to the notion that, unlike their last two predecessors, these guys have a plan.

No one, not even anyone in the Pirates' front office, is asking fans to like this trade. But if you're going to disagree with it, disagree for reasons with legitimate factual bases rather than hersey and bitterness. And at the very least, give the men with the plan a chance to make it work. At this point, we've very little left to lose.

- Matthew Wein
Squirrel Hill

Thursday, June 4, 2009

To Nate the Great

You're in a better* place now, sweet prince.

*According to PECOTA, you're in a better place by 17 wins.  (According to our current Pythag's, you're -1 win better.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Contest...

We obviously need to do one of these, because nothing else is working.
So, as the world can plainly see, sometime after game four in the Washington series, my follicles packed it in, and pretty much handed Crosby an easy victory.  
Congrats, Sid.  You win.  
Now go take two on home ice or else you're fired!

p.s.  Thoughts on the Malkin fight, anyone?  I'm in favor.  Comment away.