Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What do these guys have in common?

Just for fun, I decided to look up the worst offensive seasons in baseball history...

 ...we see a bunch of guys from the 1884 Brewers on the list. Their wRC+ must be out of whack since they were a replacement team and only played 12 games in the only season of the Union Association league. Then we see a bunch of guys who were born before the Civil War. And then there's Clint Barmes.

Baseball in the 19th century was much different than it is today. For example, power hitter George Hall finished 2nd in the league with 4 homers in 1875. That same year, 2nd baseman Paul Hines committed 10 errors in one game for the Chicago White Stockings! In 1884, the National League decided to reduce the number of balls required for a walk. To six!

The point is, Clint Barmes is so offensively deficient this year that the only guys in his ballpark are Jim Levey from 1933 and a bunch of guys who essentially played a different game. The few guys on the list with a decent number of plate appearances are Levey, John Murphy (1884), and Germany Smith (1897).

It's unlikely that Barmes will continue to be this historically bad. He'll probably hit a hot streak that will raise him up from one of the worst ever to merely one of the worst in franchise history. But I'm kind of hoping he makes history. It will give us something to get excited about when we're 20 games below .500.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Eulogy for Nate McLouth

Sweet Christ, that took a long time. Adios, Special Olympics.

Nathan Richard Douglas Michigan Wolverines McLouth
1981 - 2012
Goodnight, Sweet Prince

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How does Bud Selig make less money because of replay?

Box of Oreo's, autographed by the entire FTC editorial staff if you answer that question in five paragraph format in the comments section.

Yep, we've gotta talk about this shit again, because Bud is:

DE PERE, Wis. (AP) Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig says he doesn't think more video review of umpires' calls is needed, at least not right now.

Know what else wasn't needed?  Lifeboats on the Titanic, you ass chump!!

Why are we still doing this ridiculous game of:
We say: Hey let's have some replay.
Bud says: Nope.
Shit that would have been solved by replay: BLAH!! HERE I AM!! BLAHH!!!
We say: See!!
Bud says: We're convening a panel to look into it.
Baseball: I'm going away for the long, sleepy winter.  

[All caps fury] tag being added.

We may never win again

The Pirates lost a 3-2 game to the Mets tonight, and in doing so, made 37-year-old knuckleballer look like Bob Gibson. But that's not what concerns me right now. There are bigger problems here.

Nils and Franco have touched on the Pirates' offense being historically terrible. Two runs a game, no walks, everyone strikes out seventeen times per plate appearance. Acknowledged. And that's really, really tough to watch. But why does it have to be like this?

Organizational disconnect is still a major problem here. 

On TribLive Radio the other day, Dejan Kovacevic said -- and I'm paraphrasing -- that the Pirates' front office is straight Moneyball. They're statistically inclined to the point where they're concerned with never overpaying and winning each individual trade. They held the Derrek Lee deal up for a few weeks, he said, because they were holding out for the price to drop a smidge. It sounded to me, and I could be wrong on this, like they're slaves to their perception of the model. If that's the case, why have they not hired a statistically inclined manager, like Joe Maddon or Manny Acta? Both of those guys embrace the numbers to a degree Clint Hurdle clearly doesn't care for. There have to be others, right? 

This organization's best position prospect, Starling Marte, has garnered that status despite never posting a walk rate of even 6.0 percent, and has thrived on outrageously high BABIP rates. They've steadily advanced this guy through the minors, and now he's being exposed as the mirage he is.

Why don't the Pirates preach plate discipline in the minors? For that matter, why aren't they preaching not getting hit in the face?

If the Pirates think that high school players who have committed to college scholarships at Big 12 and SEC schools are undervalued in the amateur talent pool, why don't they scout them more thoroughly or devote the necessary resources to developing them? Why are scouts and coaches who worked for the club under Dave Littlefield still employed within the organization? Why isn't there continuity between the plan the front office appears to have and the way it puts it into action?

In January, Geoff Baker wrote on the Seattle Times' Mariners Blog that all of this focus on cost-effectiveness in baseball is a smokescreen for the real problem, which is the game's crippled financial structure (definitely worth a read). I don't disagree with any of that. 

The leaking of those financial statements a few years ago confirmed that the Pirates appeared to be re-investing their profits in baseball, and that ownership wasn't walking away with cash in hand every year -- essentially, it appeared as though they'd been doing what they said they'd been doing. But that brings about this question: has ownership invested any of its own money into the team? They're re-investing baseball profits. But are theytrying? I don't doubt Neal Huntington is trying. But is ownership trying, or is it content to let the front office do all the trying, then allow it to take the fall when it ultimately fails?

What’s really discouraging about this team isn’t how bad the offense is this season. What’s discouraging is that even if someone were to fix all of the problems within the organization that allowed the offense to be this terrible, and were to do so overnight, it would still be another five or six years before we’d see any sign of improvement.

Honestly, people? Sometimes I completely lose sight of how and why we do this.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Let's pile on a little

Nils makes a great point, which I'll paraphrase as: we suck.

I declared on opening day that this is a special group.  A group incapable of scoring a single run in the month of June.  Matt countered that this group will be scoring negative runs this season.  All possible.

How bad are things?  I think that's the question we'll have to answer in regular installments throughout the season.  This week's gem:

The team slash line coming into tonight was .218/.269/.349.

Without Cutch's .340 BA, the team average slips to .203, which is comparable to a good hitting pitcher.  I've joked that our lineup is one awesome player and eight pitchers.  Turns out that is actually the situation.

Nils said I'm pushing for their bats to be taken away from them.  Fuck that.  Just replace the entire lineup with career relief pitchers.  FRANCO's dream lineup:

LF-- Juan Cruz (taken as many career BBs as Josh Harrison in 183 fewer PAs)
CF-- Andrew McCutchen
SS-- Chris Resop
3B-- Jason Grilli
RF-- Brad Lincoln (if they're not going to let him beat out Correia, he should at least challenge Tabata)
1B-- Tony Watson
C-- Evan Meek
2B-- Jared Hughes
P -- [actual pitcher] (I only put it last to give the guy a longer rest between innings; if J-Mac is starting and he wants to leadoff, why not?)


There is no plate discipline

This, from The Trib:
“You watch video, and you see we’re getting pitches to hit, but we’re not hitting them. We’re not going crazy, chasing outside. When you’re hitting what we’re hitting as a team ... it’s like blood in the water for a shark. Pitchers are going after us. They’re not backing away or trying to pitch cute. They’re not pitching around anybody. They’re pitching to the bats and having success.” - Clint Hurdle

No. No. No no no. I don't know what video Clint is watching. It's possible he's colorblind, and it's actually a tape of the Cleveland Indians. I've seen enough awful plate appearances by the Pirates this year to tell you that yes, they swing at everything within 2 miles of the stadium. I'm not sure these guys are aware that they don't have to swing at every pitch. Franco suggests we send these guys up to the plate without bats and instruct them to lean in and get hit by pitches.

How bad is it? Well, let's look at the data. The Pirates swing at 34.2% of pitches out of the strike zone. That's WORST IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL. That's right, the Pirates swing at pitches out of the strike zone more often than every other major league team. Also, pitchers aren't going after the Pirates, as Clint claims. The Bucs are in the middle of the pack regarding the proportion of pitches they see that are in the strike zone. And guess what? It took me a laptop, a coffee shop internet connection, and about 90 seconds to dig that up. Yes Clint, your hitters are going crazy, chasing outside, and there's no excuse for you to not know this.  Let's take a look at the individual hitters. MLB hitters, on average, swing at 29.5% of pitches outside the strike zone this year.

Name O-Swing%
Clint Barmes 49.30%
Josh Harrison 44.80%
Garrett Jones 41.30%
Rod Barajas 40.60%
Pedro Alvarez 35.10%
Jose Tabata 33.10%
Andrew McCutchen 31.80%
Neil Walker 30.80%
Alex Presley 30.00%
MLB average 29.50%
Casey McGehee 26.60%
Yamaico Navarro 25.80%
Nate McLouth 24.60%
Michael McKenry 22.30%

These guys have no plate discipline. It's easy to see visually, and it's even easier to look up the actual data. But I guess it's hard to fix anything when no one even thinks there's a problem.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

Post-game meeting

                                            (Garrett Jones enters Clint Hurdle's office after game)

JONES: You wanted to see me, Clint?

CLINT: Have a seat Garrett. Is everything ok?

JONES: Well, not really...

CLINT: Talk to me Jonesy.

JONES: ...Papa Johns changed their dipping sauce. It used to be garlic-y, but now it's more of a ranch.

CLINT: I noticed that too. Did they do some kind of market research and figure out that people want ranch?

 JONES: Don't know, skip. I don't know much about data driven decision making.

CLINT: Heh, me neither.

JONES: My gut tells me people like garlic better.

CLINT: Mine too! We're getting off track here...I want to talk about your at-bat tonight where you struck out.

JONES: You'll have to be more specific.

CLINT: The 6th inning. Strasburg walked Cutch, then he walked Pedro, then he walked (local boy) Neil.


CLINT: And you swung at the first pitch.


CLINT: Jonester, it would have been nice to take a pitch there. You've got the guy on the ropes. He had no control, and you gotta make him come into your wheelhouse...

JONES: My wheelhouse is big, skip. can't be helping 'em out by swinging at pitches out of the zone. Strasburg threw one strike to you in the entire at-bat.

JONES: My gut told me to hit ball.

CLINT: Well gosh darn it, you gotta follow yer gut.

JONES: Are we done? I have go swing by Giant Eagle on my way home to pick up garlic dipping sauce.

CLINT: Yeah we're done. You'll get 'em tomorrow!

How you can tell when Stephen Strasburg is pitching

5:45 p.m.: I leave the office on Grant Street and go outside to meet Nils. We swing by Six Penn for a light dinner and a pre-game beer. 

6:45: Walk across the Clemente Bridge, enter through center field gate.

Top 1st: Two outs. Adam LaRoche, now playing first base for Washington, comes to the plate. Most of about the 8,000 people in attendance boo him, presumably because he said his heart was in Pittsburgh before signing, they're actually booing him for no reason at all. 

Bottom 1st: Jose Tabata rips Stephen Strasburg's first pitch to right for a single. Glad we got the obligatory hit out of the way early. With two outs, Andrew McCutchen strikes out swinging. It begins. 

Top 2nd: Bryce Harper puts eye black on his french fries, grounds out to second base. Danny Espinosa singles, is caught stealing second by Michael McKenry. That's, like, the second time this year a Pirates catcher has thrown out a runner.

Bottom 2nd: A really greasy, twenty-something yinzer boy situates himself in the row in front of us. He immediately begins cheering on various players by yelling out the integers on their jerseys. "Come on, two-four!" Pedro Alvarez steps in against Strasburg, only to have his heart, his dreams, his desire, stripped on three straight pitches. Fastball (95), changeup (89), fastball (97). Neil Walker manages to see one more pitch. Fastball (97), fastball (97), fastball (97), changeup (90). Strasburg toys with Garrett Jones because fastballs are boring. Curveball (81), changeup (89), fastball (97). Strasburg has K'd four in a row. The Kid leaves to get french fries

Top 3rdThe kid returns with his fries and sits down, only to realize he forgot ketchup. He makes everyone in the row get up again. Kevin Correia responds like the All-Star he is, getting a quick ground out before plunking the opposing pitcher. 

Bottom 3rdThe Kid returns with a healthy pool of ketchup. Clint Barmes goes down on a called third strike that, while clocked at 97 mph, may not have existed in the first place. McKenry foul-tips one at 98 into the catcher's glove, creating a hole in space-time. Correia fouls off a couple of fastballs before staring at two curveballs, the second of which breaks across six parallel realities. "You suck, ump!" yells Greaseball the Kid. Strasburg has struck out seven straight hitters. 

Top 4th: Bryce Harper lines 9,000-mph single to left off an 86-mph...fastball? Changeup? Hard to tell with Correia. 

Bottom 4th: Tabata lines Strasburg's first offering to center for a clean single. Two hits for Jose on as many pitches. Shockingly, Alex Presley bunts Tabata over to second. McCutchen singles to right, Tabata scores. Harper fields the hit and makes an unbelievably great, stupid throw home. Nats' catcher Jesus Flores can't handle it, and McCutchen takes second as the ball goes to the backstop. Pedro Alvarez sees two at-bats worth of pitches (six) before striking out swinging on a changeup. Walker lifts a bloop single to center, McCutchen scores. "Atta go, one-eight!" Garrett Jones inexplicably takes three straight pitches for balls, but his patience is wasted when Walker is thrown out while trying to decide if he wants to steal second or not. 2-0 Pirates. 

Top 5th: Strasburg doubles to right. He has more doubles this season than Neil Walker.

Bottom 5th: The Kid finishes his fries and pulls out one of those electronic cigarettes -- the kind that dominate the popup ads on the internet. He toys with it for a bit. Jones strikes out swinging. "Come on, four-six!" Barmes strikes out swinging. McKenry belts a double to right. Correia strikes out swinging. That's 11 K's for Strasburg, who's still showing the effects of the Tommy John surgery he had less than two years ago, as his fastball tops out at 98 instead of 100. 

Top 6th: Kevin Correia becomes unglued. Roger Bernadina homers to dead center. Ryan Zimmerman walks. Adam LaRoche homers to center. The kid is puffing on his electronic cigarette. Our immediate area smells like mocha flavored nicotine. 3-2 Nationals. 

Bottom 6th: Tabata grounds out. Presley goes down on strikes. At this moment, Stephen Strasburg's career K:BB ratio versus the Pirates is 26:1. McCutchen walks on seven pitches. Alvarez Walks on five pitches. Walker walks on four pitches. Garrett Jones begins the worst at-bat in the history of baseball by swinging at a curveball out of the zone. "Four-six let's go four-six! Come on, Buccos!" He strikes out on six pitches, only one of which was actually a strike. 

Bottom 7th: The electronic cigarette appears to be malfunctioning, as the Kid is tapping at it in obvious frustration. 

Top 8th: Ah, there it goes. Second-hand Internet chemicals for everyone! 

Top 9th: Chris Resop on in relief. Rick Ankeil pops a ball 14 miles into the air above right field. It's an easy out, only it lands in the seats and is actually a home run. As Jesus Flores steps to the plate, the kid takes out his phone and calls up the video camera. After watching Stephen Strasburg strike out 13 hitters in six innings and seeing Bryce Harper play, the matchup that this guy wants to record for posterity is Chris Resop versus Jesus Flores. Flores lofts a 1-1 fastball to center for a quick out. We are all witness. 4-2 Nationals. 

Bottom 9th: Interim closer Henry Rodriguez on in relief for Washington. The Kid stashes the electronic cigarette and whips out a can of Skoal. The ballpark is not big enough to contain the hilarity. Walker strikes out swinging, but reaches as Flores blocks the third strike in the dirt, corrals it, then fires it to first where LaRoche bobbles it. Garrett Jones flies out, Casey McGehee grounds out. God is real and he is on everyone's side but ours.

Epilogue: The Pirates won the first two games in their series against the Nationals, prompting some fans to bring brooms to the game with the hope of sweeping the series. The level of hubris it takes to bring a broom to a game -- especially when your team can't count a winning season among its last 20 -- is unfathomable to me. In situations like this one, where a team is going for a sweep and can not deliver, fans who do not bring brooms to games should be allowed to summarily beat it out of the fans who do. Walking back toward the center field gate, I saw someone carrying a broom, and while staring him down, loudly asked Nils what kind of window-licking jackass brings a broom to a game. He fled.

Monday, May 7, 2012

When FTC is in the house...

W/L:  0-1
RS: 0
RA: 5
our batters' K/BB:  17/3
our pitchers' K/BB: 6/4

W/L: 0-2
RS: 1
RA: 11
our batters' K/BB: 21/3
our pitchers' K/BB: 10/8

W/L: 2-0
RS: 6
RA: 6
our batters' K/BB: 7/8
our pitchers' K/BB: 14/3


Two things strike me about this small and highly meaningful split:
1) Matt is outperforming his pythag by an entire win.  He'll come back down to earth as the season goes on.
2) Who are we playing on those nights that Matt is going??  The Manatee County Community College Manatees??  We've never walked 8 times in two games, or won two games.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Clint Clouds!

Courtesy of reader C.G. (Clint Greg), here is some Clint Hurdle word art.