Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wednesday Afternoon Update

Have a lot of work I should be doing, which means it's blog-about-sports time.

In football, the big news coming out of our division is that Baltimore has locked up Terrell Suggs for 6 years, while losing Derrick Mason to retirement. Considering that Mason was always a bit more of a Titan than a Raven, and thus classier than most, I'd say this is a net gain in douche-bagginess for the dirty birds.

At age 35, Mason wasn't getting better at his craft, but that's not to say he wasn't a significant part of Baltimore's offensive plans. He put up 1073, 750, 1087, and 1037 receiving yards in four years, and did it in a run-based system. What really underscores his value as the top downfield target, is his teammates' production in that same period. In the three years in which he led the team in receiving yards (2005, 2007, 2008), the runners-up looked like this: 855 (Heap); 531 (Clayton); 695 (Clayton). Mark Clayton will be 27, a former first-round WR selection from 2005. Todd Heap comes into 2009 at age 29, and is a very capable receiving TE. Both of these guys can make the step-up if needed; however, forcing them to do it and forcing Joe Flacco to go into his sophomore year without his most dependable target is still preferable to more Derrick Mason.

Final thought: Ben lost Plax after his rookie season and did okay. I tentatively like comparing Flacco's development to young Ben, but in this case, the 2005 Steelers' receiving corps. strikes me as deeper then, than the 2009 Baltimore unit will be. Hines Ward was proven and in the prime of his career when Burress left; Clayton still needs to establish that.

Okay. There's your football. Let's talk baseball.

Another All-Star Game, another American League win. Feel a little ripped off that it wasn't Duke versus Wakefield pitching the home run derby. Also, wouldn't it have been awesome to see Ian Snell striking out AAA batters in the future's game?

I can't help myself, here. Just glanced at the latest Smizik manifesto. It's a blurb about not blaming the manager. I see several paragraphs, which I assume contain grievances about how much we overpaid Jason Kendall, how the Penguins new arena deal is probably going to fall through, and why trading Kendall was a mistake. Then there's a picture of Jim Leyland. My interest is piqued.

With the Pirates in the midst of a July meltdown -- losers of 11 of their past 14 -- it is not surprising, yet still somewhat mystifying, that in searching for someone to blame fans are pointing fingers at manager John Russell.

Hear that, fans? Bob wants you to shut up and get off John Russell's back! The team is rebuilding and needs your patient, attentive support, not your irrational, misdirected whining.

How many Pirate managerial changes do there have to be before people start realizing the fault lies elsewhere?


Fans seem to forget that all this losing started with Jim Leyland, who is a brilliant manager. After his run of success with three division titles from 1990 to 1992, Leyland had four straight losing seasons. If Leyland couldn’t get this mess turned around, no manager can.

Okay. Who is this, and where's Bob Smizik?

The only way the Pirates are going to become winners is with better players -- not with better managers.

I guess it's still him, except that he's channeling his bitterness into simple, salient points; kind of like we try to do.

I'll fast forward a little, because there really isn't much to annotate. The Smize is stating that managers are only as good as the teams on the field, and that's not always something they can control. Super correct. Now he's going to say something about Jim Tracy. Probably that he's Exhibit A in proving that a manager can, at times, go far out of his way to make a bad team worse.

Do we need to look any further than the success Jim Tracy is having at Colorado to see that the 16 years of losing in Pittsburgh is not a managerial thing.

No, but... sometimes.... look, in that case, Bob, in 2006, it was a managerial thing that really put the kibosh on our already terrible team. Remember Jim Colburn, Tracy's fuckhead pitching coach? Remember how Zach Duke's ERA went from 1.81 to 4.47? That was regressing far past the mean. Remember Chris Duffy, and how Tracy wanted to change his whole approach to the tune of making the kid reconsider whether he should even be in professional baseball? Remember the "wait for the big hit" philosophy? I know these players sucked, but talk about anti-OBP lineups.

The same manager who was fingered as an incompetent in Pittsburgh is a raging success in Colorado.

Incompetent and detrimental + bad team, in Pittsburgh. Probably still an idiot + good team which happens to be getting lucky breaks in droves, in Colorado. Also, Tracy took over mid-season in Colorado. In Pittsburgh he had the offseason to do a lot of stupid shit that made us even worse.

Same with Leyland. After his four straight losing seasons with the Pirates, three of them last-place finishes, he went to Florida and won the World Series in his first season.

This is an obnoxious point to be arguing. Mainly because he's so close to getting it right, but just skims over the specifics. Managers aren't going to turn around teams without talent. They can vaguely hinder or help teams where there's already some talent, and they can retard or nurture teams that are still developing. The Pirates haven't been losing for the last 16 years because of their managers. They've been losing because they lack talent. That means the manager isn't to blame for one overall, general, vague thing; however, he can be blamed or lauded for specific things. Is John Russell getting his players to play hard? Yes. Is John Russell getting his players to play hard enough to overcome a mountain of mediocrity? No. Is John Russell doing as good a job as possible managing his bullpen? Maybe. Is John Russell managing his bullpen to a miraculous 82-80 season? No. Etc.

Hold people accountable for what's actually within their reach. That's all there is to it.

Nope, I'm wrong, there's more to it.

If the Pirates continue to lose, and that’s a pretty good bet, if it makes you feel better, take out your frustrations on Russell. He’s a convenient target. But the manager is not the guy to blame. Jim Leyland and Jim Tracy are proof of that.

This reminds me of one of those carefully worded statements from a neo-nazi group. "Even though the Brotherhood does not condone violence against the Beast-- there is no stopping the people's revolution against their federal oppressors." A subtle stoking of the fire like that.

That's all for this Wednesday Afternoon. Stay black & gold and proud.

1 comment:

The New York Times Above The Fold said...

I think i've read where managers account for 5-15 wins a year. So they do mean a great deal on a bubble team.

Leyland is one of the finest managers in baseball, Tracy is one of those managers that can get it right if you load up the talent cause some of those cockamamie strategies actually work. He is really awful without talent. Mac was learning on the job his first year, but then, I think he still holds the professional sports record for longest tenure without a winning season in any sport. He fit the pirates strategy quite nicely, he was able to take the blame, make the racist fans think it really was the manager, and he wasn't paid all that much to do it. The pirates are losing because they are a banana republic. One leader comes one leader goes and the house cleaning is thorough.
What they are trying to do is akin to making a gourmet meal out of leftovers with a limited allowance of cooking gas and electric. I've seen a lot of great chefs in my life time but as the adage goes you can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit, but you can make perogie races out of it. In someways the pirates management style is at least forthright and honest. They loose because they just can't produce miracles. People sight teams like Oakland, Florida. and the Twins as great examples of small market miricles. They are just as dishonest as the pirates, they will never win it all. What keeps them above 500 is that they are run by stable mgm and have incredible scouting. They hold onto to a valid all star or two and just churn as a AAA+team.
The St Louis's Detroit's, and chicago's of MLB all have plenty of scouting along with unlimited cooking gas and electric. The amazing thing is the pirates could be accused of being honestly fraudent in the end because they really have a strong fan base, 3rd best per capita in all of baseball. Maybe it comes down to simply not having enough people regardless if you win or not. I think this thing called Pirates Baseball will eventually be taught at Wharton and we should just get used to the reality of the major league fucking that plan B really was.