Friday, July 8, 2011

FRANCO is the Grinch, part three-million-and-one

So let's get this out of the way, let's cut to the quick, Pittsburgh.

Baseball success in 2011 is an illusion.

You are a fanbase so thoroughly molested by front office false-promises, that it's painful to be told that you need to sell. But goddamnit, Pittsburgh, it's time to sell, sell, sell!

With the smallest budget possible at his disposal, Neal Huntington had no ability to to bid on pure hitters, swing-and-miss pitchers, or elite ballplayers in general. Instead, he pieced together a team of undervalued weaklings. The position players make the pitchers look good by playing great defense, and the pitchers return the favor by not issuing countless walks and homeruns... thus allowing weaklings with no offensive ability to almost keep pace with the competition in low scoring games.

That is an excellent model if you want to contend in a weak division and get swept in the first round (see: The Twins 2000-2010). It is also a great business ploy. Basically, Neal Huntington has made a lot of mediocre pitchers look awesome because of purely-defensive players behind them.

But... if Neal wants to win championships, he's going to be better off with elite pitchers who don't need amazing defense to succeed, along with excellent position players who are paid purely for their ability to create offense. In the last two years, he's secured four franchise arms in Taillon, Heredia, Cole and Allie. He also has their backstop for life, in Tony Sanchez. These five guys are the foundation for a swing-and-miss core that is defense independent.

As for pure hitters... we're totally lacking.

We happen to have the center fielder of the gods playing for us right now, as well as tabs on some very interesting tweeners on the corners. But as far as a true impact bat outside of Cutch: nothing.

This is why we sell.

Huntington has stocked the current roster with low-ceiling defenders who make Paul Maholm, Jeff Karstens and Kevin Correia look like Spahn, Drysdale and Gibson. I assure you, Pittsburgh: these men will be pretty mediocre in 2012, when they're pitching for the Rangers, Rays and Tigers, respectively (point of fact: the only thing bold about that prediction is that they'll be mediocre; I totally nailed the destinations).

Let's just dig a bit deeper:
Maholm: career BAbip .312, 2011 BAbip .256; ERA 3.08, FIP 3.81
Karstens: career BAbip .283, 2011 BAbip .242; ERA 2.55, FIP 4.66
Correia: career BAbip .299, 2011 BAbip .272; ERA 3.74, FIP 4.16

Those numbers tell the tale of small sample size luck, and guys who are benefiting to an unreasonable degree from their fielders.

We have (at least) three guys who are performing way better than they should who are about to crash back to mediocrity, we have (about) four guys to take their place in two years time, and we have no quality batters in the system. It is time to sell high, Pittsburgh!

For as fun as it would be to not win a championship this year, wouldn't it be so awesome to enjoy this winning-record feeling and not worry that it's a house of cards?


FRANCOfranco said...

Look, Matt and Nilesh were both game to write this post. The only reason they didn't do the dirty work themselves is because I had been talking smack for over three weeks, about how I wanted the thankless task.

Spread the hate to them.

Joe said...

Does it make sense to trade all three (not that we ever would)? Maholm, yeah because he's valuable as a lefty and we don't want to /can't afford to pay him anyway; Correia I can see because he's actually pretty old and this season is a total statistical aberration for him, but Karstens is young and could legitimately be getting better. The small sample size thing works both ways with him because even the 'large' sample is still only a couple of years in the majors. Also, I'm assuming Hanrahan is officially off the list because letting him go now would probably lead to fan mutiny.

FRANCOfranco said...

Joe, if I could trade all three for a quality return, I would.

Maholm being a lefty isn't particularly valuable. Sure, he's held lefties to a .217 average over his career, but managers have been able to platoon against him enough that all batters have a .280 average against him in his career. Match-up "specialists" coming out of the pen are generally overrated, but not nearly as much as left handed starters. You're correct to say we don't want to pay him north of $5 million. He is worth a little less than two wins more a year than a replacement pitcher, so he shouldn't be taking up that much of our budget.

Correia is only a year older than Maholm, and he has a history of being a pretty mediocre-to-bad pitcher. This season is an outrageous fluke.

Karstens is one year younger than Maholm and while I see your point that we still don't know that much about him, I know certain things about him. He pitches like a right-handed Barry Zito, going back and forth between super-slow curves and mediocre heat (to be fair Karstens throws harder than Zito ever did). His K/BB ratio is admirable, but he just can't blow it by guys. That his H/9 ratio is down and his HR/9 ratio is up tells me that he's got little future with us when we transition to more hitting, less fielding.

The fans deserve to keep Hanrahan, and so do his teammates. These guys are busting their asses right now, and it would be a major blow to lose him. But that said... there is only one untouchable on this team.

His name is Daniel McCutchen.