Tuesday, March 30, 2010

part 2

I didn't actually read through the rest of the Trib article, which is a damn shame. We have gems like this:

There are potential pitfalls in Russell's plan. Cedeno has a career .280 on-base percentage, which is not much better than some pitchers. Zach Duke, for example, has a .215 career OBP.

1) There are no pitfalls in Russell's lineup decisions. This is a terrible team and there is very little at stake for him to screw up. Whether Ronny Cedeno gets a few more or less plate appearances presents zero pitfall.

2) Cedeno has a career .280 on-base percentage. An average scrub player usually has an OBP in the .320-.340 range. Ronny Cedeno is terrible.

3) Zach Duke is the Pirates best hitting pitcher and he has a career .215 OBP. Last year, Maholm had a .115 OBP, Olendorf had a .083 OBP, Morton has a .129 OBP, Karstens had a .160 OBP. Pitchers are terrible hitters and Zach Duke does not represent most guys.

4) Even if Zach Duke's .215 OBP was a good representation of what pitchers can do, it's nowhere close to Cedeno's .280 OBP. Nowhere close! How dare the Trib for suggesting otherwise!

The 2010 Pirates, part 1

As you know, we FTC editors live entirely busy/lazy lives, and for as much as we'd like to blog regularly, sometimes it's just impossible. However, there is a threshold to our atrophy, and we may have just reached that by being surpassed by the Trib in offering you baseball related content.

You'll notice the proposed lineup, followed by a brief description of the player. Allow me to put that in a bit better context for you.

Akinori Iwamura - Second baseman we got in a trade with Tampa Bay, in exchange for reliever Jesse Chavez. Iwamura is going to be 31, has a career OPS+ of 98, and costs $3 million-and-change. His acquisition raises two questions about Huntington's decision making: why is Aki worth a young reliever? And why didn't we just keep Sanchez if we wanted to overpay for a mediocre hitting middle infielder on the wrong side of 30? The first question is easy to answer if you agree philosophically with Huntington. As he sees it, a reliever is typically overvalued for what they actually contribute to a 162 game season; furthermore, their development from season to season is extremely hard to predict. As to whether Iwamura is a better value than Sanchez, let's look at their career lines. Aki - .281/.354/.393, Freddy .299/.334/.417. More and more, OPS is being debunked for the inherent flaw that OBP is worth more to the equation than SLG. With that in mind, Iwamura is a slightly better offensive player. Also, for as ridiculous as $3 million is for Iwamura, Sanchez was making twice that. The final thing to consider about this deal, is that it sets up trade potential in the future. With Iwamura, Huntington knows what he'll have at the trade deadline, and can potentially acquire prospects otherwise unavailable, if he were just trading Chavez. Akinori Iwamura is not a long-term solution, but he's definitely a part of the transition plan to a leaner, more flexible roster.

Andrew McCutchen - He's the quietly great dreadlock'd fellow in center field. First-round pick (11th overall) in the 2005 draft, and the only thing Dave Littlefield ever did right. He is the reason you will pay to see baseball at PNC Park this year. Also, when the Trib says he stole 22 bases last year and is aiming for 35 this year, what they mean to say is that he OPSed .836 as a rookie and is aiming to draw more walks.

Garrett Jones - The other reason you'll come out for a game, besides McCutchen. Jones put up excellent power numbers in a short season (21 HRs, .938 OPS in 82 games), in what was also his first stint of everyday playing time in the majors. We got him virtually for free, purchasing his contract from the Minnesota Twins, who had no use for another left handed bat with limited fielding options (RF/1B). What's the catch? Well, Jones was already 28-years old last season, which is to say, his peak and decline will come a lot faster than for a guy like McCutchen. In some ways, he reminds me of David Ortiz (also plucked from the Twins' system) or Travis Hafner; both huge guys, limited in the field, left-handed, and completely under the radar until the age of 27. For several years, they each dominated, only to completely shrivel up upon entering their early 30s. Wouldn't be the worst scenario for Jones, if it happened.

Ryan Doumit - Is a switch hitting catcher who hits the ball hard, doesn't draw walks, and gets injured a lot. The Pirates took a catcher in the first round of last summer's draft, so don't expect to see a multi-year extension being offered to Doumit any time soon. If he has trade value, my guess is he's gone. One of these guys who isn't patently bad, but definitely won't deliver the change you can believe in.

Lastings Milledge - This guy was supposed to be the biggest steal of a deal since Brian Giles. In his first 58 games as a Pirate, he hit .291/.333/.395, which is in line with his career .267/.327/.399 line, which has come in 318 major league games. Yes, he's still young (turns 25 on April 5), and yes, his previous experience in the majors has been shifty and not really conducive to his development. However, his continued lack of a break-out is starting to make me wonder.

Jeff Clement - A first round pick by the Mariners back in 2005, Clement OPSed .865 in 5 seasons in the minors. He's 25 now, and probably not a catcher. Whether he can have the kind of offensive success in the majors to justify his spot at first or corner outfielder is unknown. Chances of that aren't stellar, but I'll always take a question-mark with potential over a Daryle Ward or Randall Simon.

Andy LaRoche - I love Neal Huntington, I completely agree with the reality that he had to trade Jason Bay, and I think looking at the scouting reports he had, he made the right choice at the time in taking Andy LaRoche. However, in terms of return, the Pirates have gotten very little. I'm trying to look for positive trends in LaRoche's development, and nothing is popping out. He was red-hot in the last month of 2009, after being super-terrible in the three months prior to that; very good in May, very shitty in March/April. Maybe I'm being pessimistic with Milledge, Clement and LaRoche, but all of these guys should be entering their prime, and instead they're 25/26-year-old AAAA players. Is it possible that LaRoche can rediscover whatever it was that made him a .900 OPSer in the minors? God, I hope so. But he needs to do it fast, because his development years aren't indefinite.

Ronny Cedeno - Any performance you get out of this guy that is close to average is a gift. He's bad. The reason we took him in the massive Jack Wilson / Ian Snell deal is that we needed a placeholder at SS, and we were happy to take a cheap one. I have no problem with this as part of a larger plan. Just know he isn't anything special or long-term. Also, when the Trib says "Has power, but needs to make contact more often." you can absolutely believe they're talking about a guy with a .346 slugging percentage (league average = .438), and a guy with an 81% contact average (league average = 80%). Making contact is not Ronny Cedeno's problem. Ronny Cedeno's problem is that he doesn't take anabolic steroids or walks.

Okay, that's enough blistering, dark-hearted commentary for today. Maybe tomorrow we'll brutalize the pitching staff.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Brace Yourselves, Suckers...

...It's about to be another 162-game season of dog crap.

Every year around this time, you find people writing primers on the upcoming baseball season, and more often than not, there's an air of optimism in the writing-- even among Bucco fans. Not that I'm going to cite any examples, but I'd say that this year's tone is more subdued amongst yinzers than in previous campaigns. If there's an optimism to be found, it's of the long-term variety. Already in March, the tune people are singing is "Wait until the year after next-- then we'll be fine."

I'm more or less on board with that. As I've written here many times in the past, I do trust the current front office, and think that if anything is going to work in turning this franchise around, it's going to be the slow, frustrating process of rebuilding the developmental side of the organization. This takes a couple years, somewhere between three and five. And of course, it's only when the team finally begins to approach .500 that they'll be at the point where they can shed the parts they have to get the pieces they'll need to be a consistent competitor in the future.

So, as always: hang in there.

We're just now entering year-three of reboot, and there's still a lot more that needs to happen to bring us to a point of competence and stability. What you should be watching for this season is the development of young players and the off-chance success of cheap retreads. In case you missed 2008-2009, all of the old guard is gone. With the exception of only a few players (i.e. Duke, Maholm, Doumit, Iwamura, Dotel, Donnelly), everyone on the roster is a career question mark. Almost all of them are pre-peak age, and those that aren't have had some success and now it's a question of whether they can repeat it.

My guess is that this patchwork team has been built to play slightly above-average defense behind a staff that mostly pitches to contact. Then, if possible, Huntington will trade those low K/9 pitchers, as well as some of those high-slugging, low-onbasepercentaging position players. It won't be the purge of 2009, but don't be surprised if a few guys go missing in June.

In any case, there shouldn't be too much heartbreak regarding trades, since almost everyone on the team falls into one of three categories:
1) Played here less than a year, and you probably wouldn't be able to spot him in a crowd.
2) Played here for a couple years, but has really sucked and hasn't shown any of the, like, heart and high BAbip that Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez were all about, respectively.
3) Will not be traded and thus you don't need to worry about being upset over them being traded because they definitely won't be traded (this label applies to Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and maybe a few pitchers).

I guess maybe the only guys who don't fall into one of those categories are Paul Maholm, Zach Duke and Ryan Doumit. They've played here a couple years, have been purely mediocre, and have put up with a lot of bad baseball all around them. I think it'll be notable when they depart, but not on the scale of like, Clemente's plane going down.

Anyway, over the next couple of days, Matt and I will post things about the 2010 Pirates (if not here, then in our heads, where unfortunately you won't be able to read them). Not all of the things we write will be tragic; just most of it. Hopefully we can point you in the direction of some of the very few, very bright spots on this roster, and that'll make you more likely to enjoy a trip to PNC Park this year. No promises.

More to come...

Friday, March 12, 2010

Last time I touch the Trib, I swear...

Joe Starkey, on how the Steelers are a cesspool of immorality, etc.

The Steelers' carefully cultivated image isn't resting on Roethlisberger's innocence.

Is it resting on the vast majority of our roster being comprised of more or less good citizens? The franchise being fair with its fan base? The quality of play being consistently good? The ownership being a class-act? Is it resting on any of these things? Because if so, then the Steelers' image should be okay.

That image has long since crumbled.

Strike that.

The so-called Steeler Way is dead.

Yeah, thanks to this guy.

Don't get me wrong. The Steelers do most things better than nearly everybody. They draft better players, hire better coaches, win more championships.

But they've also produced more domestic terrorists, serial killers and pedophiles than everyone else. High price of winning.

But could we please stop pretending that they do so from elevated moral ground?

I'm pretty sure the prevailing view of the Steelers has been that they're an extremely classy organization. Whether they're morally superior?? I don't know. I mean, they don't sue their own fans (Redskins) or use indigenous people as mascots (again, Redskins). They also haven't been accused of taping their opponents game plans (Patriots). I mean they're not UNICEF, but you can respect them as an organization that tries to operate within a set of decent principles.

Rooney is not granting interviews, so there is no way to gauge his feelings on this latest legal headache.

False. There is a way to gauge his feelings on the latest legal headache. Start by closing your eyes, then imagine you've just written a check for $112,000,000 to someone who promised to play a lot of football games for you. Then realize there's the chance that he's going away from a long time, and that you're out some money and talent. Now ask yourself how that feels. There, you've just gauged how Mr. Rooney feels, using the 'common sense' method.

One wonders if he is ashamed of the Steelers' deteriorating image under his watch. Does he know that his players' off-field antics have made the franchise every bit as much a punch line as the Cincinnati Bengals?

I don't listen to or tell many jokes, but I highly doubt that "the Pittsburgh Steelers" is a punchline. "Jeff Reed" may be a punchline because he's goofy and likes to drink. "Big Ben" may be a punchline because he gets accused of raping people. "James Harrison" is certainly not a punchline because no one's stupid enough to joke about him.

Let me go one step further in disentangling things from the Bungles of Cinci; look at this list. The joke from 2005-2007 about their team sucking because everyone was in prison was actually about their bullshit team being mostly locked up. It wasn't like one dude's bad track record. It was actually a systemic lack of discipline leading to countless DUIs and scuffles with law enforcement.

Some people still buy the myth. That was obvious when rumors surfaced last summer of the Steelers having interest in disgraced quarterback Michael Vick. The Steelers? They would never bring in a guy like that. That's not the Steeler Way.

And then the Steelers went ahead and signed Michael Vick, thus supporting the assertion that "the Steeler Way" is dead. I've gotta admit, Joe Starkey, I wasn't on board when you started out, but when you prove your point like this, there's just no denying it.

At face value, such assertions were valid. The Steelers had no history of signing troubled, high-profile free agents and weren't going to sign Vick. But the implication that they only employ players of the strongest moral fiber should have insulted any reasonable person's intelligence.

People asserting that the Steelers have no place for puppy murders was true... AT FACE VALUE. Dig deeper and you'll find that Jack Hamm used to produce Foie Gras, not because he liked the taste, but because he took pleasure from an animal's suffering.

Let's consider just some of the trouble we've seen since Super Bowl XL.

7) Lack of power running
8) Brief period of uncertainty over ownership structure
9) Big Ben's alleged diddling
10) Big Ben's motorcycle mishap

Where would you like to start: offense, defense or special teams?

My knee-jerk, somewhat facetious list started with special teams, then hit offense, and didn't really cover defense, because it's been outstanding in that time period.

Let's go with receiver Santonio Holmes, who was arrested twice within 25 days of the Steelers drafting him. A disorderly conduct charge out of Miami was dropped. Holmes later was charged with domestic violence and assault against the mother of one of his children.

In a police affidavit, the woman alleged that Holmes was "choking (her), throwing her to the ground ... and slamming her into a door." Charges were dismissed when Holmes' lawyers assured a Ohio judge that Holmes was participating in counseling through the NFL.

This past year, Holmes escaped a misdemeanor drug charge when his attorney successfully argued that a traffic stop violated the player's rights.

There's also Santonio's confession during Super Bowl XLIII's media day that he used to sell drugs. My favorite part of the story is that Charlie Batch called him out after his last arrest and told him it was time to either step-up and be a good citizen, or leave. Santonio stepped up and went on the record warning kids away from drugs. Soon after, he was the key player in a brilliant drive that secured a championship. Pretty cool story about redemption and character.

Another receiver, Cedrick Wilson, allegedly walked into a bar two years ago and punched his ex-girlfriend in the face. The Steelers, upon cutting Wilson, released a sanctimonious statement saying they hoped the roster move would "send a message that we will not tolerate this type of conduct."

Kevin Colbert didn't have use for Wilson so he cut him, and the Rooney's used that as a soapbox to warn other guys on the team that they need to not hit women.

That was before star linebacker James Harrison, who was arrested for striking the mother of his son around the same time as the Wilson incident, was signed to a $51.5 million contract. Charges were dropped, but Harrison had to undergo anger-management counseling — and in his autobiography, it was verified that Harrison struck the woman in the face.

Kevin Colbert had a lot of use for James Harrison and wasn't going to cut him. However, the team was serious about wanting their players to behave, so they came down heavy on #92 and made him adjust his behavior off the field.

If there was any evidence that Steelers weren't reprimanding guys, or establishing a clear policy of what's acceptable behavior, then I'd get on board with what Joe Starkey's saying. But the fact is, a lot of players don't fuck up, and those that do generally get put in their place or cut. Why did Ben get to go scott-free throughout last season? Because he hadn't actually be proven guilty of anything. Why did Jeff Reed get tagged after several years of being a drunk? Because he's a fucking place kicker who doesn't hurt a soul (just paper towel dispensers).

We could go on. We could talk about the kicker's run-ins with a towel dispenser and policemen,

Already did.

the offensive line coach who accidentally forwarded a pornographic e-mail to league offices,

On the list of great NFL scandals, this one is somewhere between Donte Stallworth killing a guy with his car and Plaxico shooting himself with an unregistered gun.

the tight end who allegedly urinated in a parking lot near Heinz Field

Matt Spaeth public pissing citation is the new this.

and even one of the team mascots who was arrested for DUI.

You got me there. Steely McBeam hurts everything about the team image.

Let's just be truthful: All NFL franchises deal with trouble. All have been known to sacrifice ethics for the sake of winning. That's the point. The Steelers are no different than the rest, though they're having a pretty rough run at the moment.

Here's what's rough: the very talented franchise QB has been accused of being a sex offender. That's very rough.

The Steelers hiring him to be their QB before these allegations were made: not at all a sacrifice of ethics.

Hey, remember the last time I did this? It was because the Trib was arguing that Ben was the clutchiest winner of all clutchampionships. WAS THAT ETHICAL?

I'll leave that for you to debate.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Monday Morning Report

I don't know how this tidbit of good news slipped under the FTC radar, but the Buccos beat annual spring training rival, Manatee Community College last Tuesday. This, after losing to them last spring.

Several thoughts come to mind regarding this:

1. How drunk do you have to be to go to a Pirates-'Tees game?
2. What's the price difference between enrolling in enough classes to play on the team, vs. the price you pay to go to a Pirates fantasy camp?
3. Should Free Tank Carter start a scholarship foundation for young men in West Florida who are interested in taking Zach Duke deep?
3A. Yes.

Monday, March 1, 2010

I love this

The Bucs are contracting out in order to whip their chunkity-asses into shape.