Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Don't worry, we still suck

I'm sitting here watching us getting shelled by the vaunted Baltimore Orioles' offense, thinking I should really get in on the ground floor of the "we're about to collapse" movement.

Coming into tonight's game, our record is 32-28. Our run differential is -19, with a pythag record of 27-33. We're hitting .225 as a team with a .640 OPS. Alex Presley, Clint Barmes, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Josh Harrison, Rod Barajas, Michael McKenry, Casey McGehee, Matt Hague, Jordy Mercer and Gorkys Hernandez should ALL be batting 9th, in a minor league lineup. The Pirates' Parrot should still be in prison. Jason Grilli's K/9 of 14.6 is impossibly high for a 35 year old journeyman. Etc!

So when you see something like this, don't believe a word of it.

I have this crazy idea, an idea as crazy as believing in Charlie Brown, a balanced budget, the Cleveland Browns and pro soccer in America.

I don't quite understand the Charlie Brown thing. It kind of reads like Charlie Brown is some imaginary figure like Santa Claus or Candyman. Maybe he means that it's hard to believe in Charlie Brown's chances of success? Like he's always going to fuck up place kicking a football because Lucy is a meanhearted bitch, but sometimes we still like to believe that he'll do it? I don't know. Fuck it.

Budget was balanced under Clinton. It's not crazy to think it's possible. It is crazy to think it's necessary. Read Krugman, folks. It's all in the Krugman.

Cleveland Browns, pro soccer... points go to Verducci on those.

I am starting to believe the Pittsburgh Pirates are an honest to goodness contender.

If the season ended today, and we didn't have to play playoffs, then sure.

That's right: the Pirates. The team that hasn't had a winning season in Bryce Harper's lifetime, or since Bush the elder was president, Nolan Ryan was pitching and Barry Bonds was skinny. The team that in recent years passed up Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Jered Weaver, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Matt Wieters, Madison Bumgarner, Eric Hosmer and Buster Posey to take Bryan Bullington, Neil Walker, Brad Lincoln, Daniel Moskos and Pedro Alvarez with top-11 picks in the draft.

Keep piling on, Tom. It'll be your undoing...

The team that last year was in first place as late as July 25 and wound up with 90 losses.

There it is.

The team that has scored the fewest runs in baseball this year.

Another good point on why we should believe.

The team that is the worst hitting team in franchise history (.224) except for the outfit that finished in 11th place in the American Association 128 years ago!

I'm convinced!

Today those Pirates are tied for first place with Cincinnati in the NL Central with more wins than any of the four 2011 NL playoff teams and the best record in baseball over the past two weeks (12-3).

So, here's the thing, Tom... to be a contender in baseball, you have to win like 90ish games out of 162. Being really lucky over a two week span is meaningless.

The Pirates are 30-21 since beginning the year 2-6.

Those 8 games still count!

It would be easy to dismiss the Pirates as a pretender waiting for the fall -- a reprise of their 2011 season.

I mean, you're not exactly making it hard, telling me how historically awful they are off the bat.

But Pittsburgh was doomed to fail last year because its pitching staff was a collection of soft-tossing pitchers whose low strikeout rate and high WHIP portended the collapse. This year looks very different. The Pirates are striking out 7.41 batters per nine innings, the highest rate in franchise history by a wide margin (7.00 from 1969). Their WHIP has improved from 15th in the league to fourth. In short, the Pirates now have pitchers with stuff.

Nils has been making this same point a lot lately:
Burnett, Bedard > Maholm, Karstens

I don't disagree with the general sentiment, but I think the specifics are less encouraging.

First of all, Bedard and Burnett are perennial trade bait / DL candidates. They both have swing and miss stuff, which is awesome, and it allows us to mask the defensive incompetence of Pedro, Tabata, Barajas, Walker, etc. But they're both unlikely to pitch a full season. Better than Maholm and Karstens, for sure; how much mileage we'll get out of that upgrade remains to be seen.

Beyond those two guys, you have the dramatically improved James McDonald, the still crummy (all star) Kevin Correia, and the ever shitty Charlie Morton ("He's got good stuff!" Shut up.).

J-Mac has been a treat to watch this year, and I don't want to spend this post debating whether or not he's real. I will say that his BAbip is .040 lower than it should be, and his WHIP is .4 below his career norm. Some regression is possible, and even if it magically doesn't occur, he alone is not enough to make up for how incredibly bad our offense is.

Kevin Correia is doing everything you could hope for from a 5th starter. He isn't walking a ton, he's mostly just getting beat on the longball, and he's getting us halfway through a game before getting pulled. Over his career, 44% of his starts have been quality; this year it's closer to 55%. So we're getting what we can out of him, but that's still not much of an asset. Also, his BAbip is a shockingly low .238 coming into tonight, and for a guy who has an awful K/9 of 3.4, that means very bad things are in his future.

Ground Chuck has a 1.45 WHIP right now. Last year it was 1.53; over his career it's 1.55. Fewer walks this year, more hits, more HRs, fewer Ks. Basically the same dude we've been sending out there. I don't see how he makes us any different from where we were last year.

The bullpen has been dumb fucking lucky. Hanrahan, Resop, Grilli, Cruz, and Watson all have BB/9s well over 4.0, with Grilli and Hammer edging up on 5.0. Surely this is just an early season fluke, right? Nope! Over their careers, all 5 guys have been north of 4.0 BB/9, so it pretty much makes sense that this is true to their nature. What isn't real is their K/9 and H/9 success. As I said about Grilli, 14.9 K/9 is crazy like a doorknob. The dude is 35 years old and has a career K/9 of 7.4; career H/9 of 8.8 (2012 H/9 of 4.9). You can expect MAJOR regression for him. Hanrahan's breakout season last year was super exciting, but it's time to move on. He's 30 years old, and it's looking like his 2.0 BB/9 and 0.1 HR/9 were total bullshit. The Ks will keep coming, but the current 4.9 H/9 is a mirage. Cruz and Resop both have WHIPs over 1.6, fun fact! Tony Watson may some day be the next John Grabow. Build your team around that, chumps!

Still not convinced this is a different Pirates team from last year? Here are more reasons why Pittsburgh is not collapsing this time:

If I've done my job, all six of our readers are not only unconvinced, but they're vandalizing your wikipedia page, Tom.

• The offense isn't as bad as the numbers suggest. The Pirates were historically awful in April and May, but have hit a respectable .257 in June. Neil Walker, Garrett Jones, Alex Presley and Clint Barmes all have awakened to give Andrew McCutchen some help.

"Awakened" is such a gay term. I prefer "were mediocre for two weeks, after being historically awful for two months."

This is still a below-average offense, but Pittsburgh doesn't need as much firepower as most teams because . . .

They just play for the fun of it?

• The Pirates have a strong homefield advantage. Runs are harder to come by in PNC Park than in any other major league park this season, with teams combining for slightly more than five runs per game.

That's because the Pirates score the fewest number of runs of any team in the league, and play half their games in PNC Park.

The park plays big in leftfield and left-centerfield, and Hurdle chuckles as opposing hitters try to jack balls over the rightfield wall, which is not as easy a task as it appears.


The Pirates have played 18 games at home without hitting a home run, and are 9-9 in those games.

The Pirates are bad at hitting home runs. It's shocking that they've won as many games as they have.

They are 19-6 in home games decided by one or two runs.

Home field has nothing to do with that. Luck does.

"What we wanted to do was establish this place as a homefield advantage," Hurdle said, "and I can see that taking place."

I imagine a scene similar to the one in Home Alone, when Macaulay Culkin declares "this is my house, I have to defend it!" and then proceeds to lay booby traps everywhere. Then I imagine Clint Hurdle shooting Matt Kemp with an air rifle.

Meanwhile, Pirates' attendance through 30 home dates is up 15 percent.

Has nothing to do with us withstanding a collapse.

• Pittsburgh's bullpen is ridiculously good, sporting the lowest ERA in baseball (2.44). GM Neil Huntington, as if borrowing from the Tampa Bay model, built his 'pen on the cheap. Juan Cruz, 33, Jason Grilli, 35, Doug Slaten, 32, Chris Resop, 29, and closer Joel Hanrahan, 30, all bounced around with other teams before finding a home in Pittsburgh. Tony Watson, 27, Jared Hughes, 26, and Brad Lincoln, 27, are Pittsburgh draft choices who didn't quite cut it as starters but who have found success in the bullpen. (Lincoln will start Tuesday night in Baltimore in place of the injured Jeff Karstens.)

I already went through this. These guys are over-performing to the max. We spent nothing on acquiring them, and if we want to sell high, this is the time to do it.

Grilli somehow is throwing the ball harder (94-96 mph) and striking batters out more frequently (14.6 per nine innings) than ever before in his well-traveled career. Grilli credited a vigorous offseason training routine under a personal trainer, a routine that included running in sand, steady work with a jump rope he called his "Rocky Balboa" rope, and the willpower to come back from a severe knee injury in 2010 when a loosened bone chip ripped open his quad muscle. "Dr. [Richard] Steadman told me it was the worst knee he saw," Grilli said. "He sees knees all the time I asked him if I would be able to pitch again, and he said, 'Possible, but not likely.' That was all I needed to hear. You tell me I can't do something, and I'm going to do it."

Funny thing about Jason Grilli, someone told him he couldn't put together a sensible website. Lost that bet.

Man, there's so much more article left, and it's all wrong. Mostly it talks about what a genius Clint Hurdle is, so you can take my word for it that we're in crazy country.

Bottom line: don't believe anyone who tells you we're good. This may be one of the worst teams you'll ever see. Enjoy the history! We're knee deep in it.

1 comment:

FRANCOfranco said...

Safari doubles the space between paragraph breaks. It's because Steve Jobs suffered from dyslexia as a child and hated other people's happiness.