Thursday, March 28, 2013

Your baseball optimism is misguided

Drew Silva at NBC's Hardball Talk is the latest to drink Uncle Clint's Olde-Timey Restorative Brain Tonic, specially formulated to balance the humours, strengthen the blood vessels and stave off the flux.

The Big Question: Can the Buccos break .500 for the first time since the 1992 season?


It is absolutely possible.

Fine. Will it happen, though? No.

The Pirates finished only four games under the .500 mark (79-83) in 2012 and seem capable of significant improvement in 2013.

Until you actually look at their roster, I suppose.

Andrew McCutchen has been a star for years but truly had a breakout 2012 campaign, posting career highs in batting average (.327), homers (31), RBI (96) and runs scored (107). His .953 OPS was higher than his previous best by a whole 112 points.

His batting average on balls in play was .375. The norm is .300. Anything beyond about .310 is sheer, stupid luck — both unsustainable and beyond the player’s control.

Maybe some regression is coming, but then again maybe it’s not.

It is. In fact, McCutchen was so outrageously lucky in the first half last year that he posted a .407 BABIP. A regression of 32 points in the second half might have been even luckier. Cutch is good. But he’s not .375 BABIP good because that does not exist.

McCutchen isn’t the only difference-maker in the Pirates’ lineup. 

Of course not. This team is outrageously deep. That’s what makes it great.

Starling Marte hit .286/.347/.500 with 12 homers, 13 triples and 21 stolen bases in 100 games last season at Triple-A Indianapolis before getting called up to Pittsburgh and giving the National League a taste of his potential down the stretch.

Starling Marte is what we at FTC like to call a stupid asshole. He walks in less than 5 percent of his plate appearances. He swings at 46 percent of the pitches he sees. About 35 percent of those pitches are outside the strike zone.

He’ll bat leadoff this year

This is such an atrociously bad idea.

…in front of Neil Walker, who proved his legitimacy in 2012 by producing a career-high 14 home runs in 129 games while lifting his average, OBP and slugging percentage all from where they were in 2011.

What you want in the top of any batting order is someone who is good at getting on base. For the purpose of and every other argument, let’s define getting on base as not making an out. By this criterion, Walker would be a better choice as a leadoff hitter than would Marte. Walker draws about twice as many bases on balls as Marte, and he strikes out significantly less, too. Don’t get me wrong, Walker is still a poor choice for a leadoff hitter. In fact, this team has no leadoff hitter. Marte is being tabbed for this job because he’s fast, and in the conventional wisdom of baseball managing — a school of thought that has about as much enduring pertinence as the notion that swinging a live chicken over your head is good luck on Yom Kippur — you want a fast guy at the top of the lineup so that he can get on and steal second, which is something else the Pirates have no business attempting if they’re serious about scoring more runs.

Hint: They aren’t.

Pirates first baseman Garrett Jones also produced a career-best home run total last season, slugging 27 in 145 games. He had 16 homers in 148 games in 2011. 

I like Garrett Jones, but this is just not happening again. At his very best, Garret Jones is half of a good platoon at first base or right field, or a nice piece to have for your bench if you’re a team making a run. Garrett Jones is none of the following:
  •      An everyday player
  •      A force to be reckoned with
  •      One of the great poets of his generation
  •      A beekeeper
  •      Someone who could be accurately described as having adequate plate discipline
To that last point, Garrett Jones is the guy who comes to the plate after the opposing pitcher walks the three guys in front of him on eight, six and four pitches, respectively, and then swings at the first pitch he sees.

And then there’s third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who is entering his physical prime at age 26 and tallied 30 big flies last year at age 25. 

I don’t know if it says more about Drew Silva’s opinion of his audience or his inability to effectively command the English language that he feels the need to point out that since Pedro Alvarez is 26 years old, that means he was 25 last year. This is the kind of analysis you can’t get from counting on your fingers because you don’t have enough fingers.

When did everyone on Yahoo become Perd Hapley?

The Bucs have a handful of legitimate power bats,

No! They don’t! They have two-and-a-half power bats. That’s not a handful. Even if one of those guys was going to hit 60 home runs this year, what the Pirates have on hand would not constitute a handful of anything. Not power hitters, not savvy veterans, not proven winners. Not leadership, grit, hustle or chemistry. Not even jelly beans. The Pirates have one premiere player (McCutchen), one legitimate power threat who costs the team runs by playing out of position (Alvarez), two decent, veteran pitchers (A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez) and several handfuls of totally useless crap.

and free agent acquisition Russell Martin should only help the run-production.

I’ve yet to hear a coherent explanation as to how a 30-year-old guy whose numbers have steadily declined over the last six years to the point where he hit .211/.311/.403 last year, despite the outrageously low .222 BABIP, is worth this money when the Pirates have a) Tony Sanchez, a guy they drafted, handed $4 million to, and who posts respectable on-base numbers at triple-A, but= won’t get a chance because the organization seems to have developed a baseless hatred of him, and b) Michael McKenry, who is younger than Martin, cheaper than Martin and offensively superior to Martin in nearly every meaningful category. Some fringe numbers say that Martin is exceptional at framing pitches, and that there might be as many as two or three runs a year to be had in that undervalued little gem of a quality. Management decided it was worth $17 million over two years, and the Yankees, who currently have zero catchers and don’t give any semblance of a fuck about the luxury tax threshold, decided that they’d just as soon play a ghost man at catcher and ask the ump to throw the ball back to the mound after every pitch rather than retain Russell Martin for that money. This is an organization that knew when it re-signed Alex Rodriguez, it was bidding against itself and wound up overpaying by a measly $100 million, but did it anyway. When you outbid the Yankees for a player, that’s a really terrible sign.

This is not a bad National League offense,

This offense is atrocious. This team’s collective OBP is going to wind around .300. It might even sink below if they insist on giving Travis Snider and Jose Tabata equal playing time. And let's not forget about Alex Presley, who Neal Huntington has kept around as a present for all the fans too young to have ever seen Midre Cummings play.

and the rotation looks better than it has in over a decade.

The rotation is an absolute catastrophuck. But yes, it does look better than it has in about ten years. Keep in mind where the bar is.

Wandy Rodriguez registered a 3.72 ERA in 75 innings with the Pirates last season after arriving in a July 25 trade with Houston. The veteran left-hander owns a 3.48 ERA in 934 2/3 innings since 2008. A.J. Burnett has found new life in the Steel City and was almost ace-like in 2012, spreading a 3.51 ERA over 200-plus frames. James McDonald has flashed potential, and Gerrit Cole — the No. 1 overall pick from 2011 — is expected to reach the major leagues in June.

James McDonald went from being one of the ten best pitchers in the league in the first half to being appointed to the Ryan Vogelsong Chair in Mop-Up Duty in the second half. James McDonald is a question mark at best. The Pirates cut Jeff Karstens, then re-signed him for a reasonable amount, but that doesn’t matter because he’s hurt. The Pirates gave Charlie Morton a one-year deal for $2 million, despite the fact that he’s coming off of reconstructive elbow surgery which will prevent him from pitching in rehab until at least June, and pitching effectively for the rest of his natural life, since he wasn’t that good to begin with. The Pirates gave Francisco Liriano $14 million for two years, only to have that deal put on hold when he injured himself in the offseason doing god only knows what in Venezuela. Months later, the club and Liriano agreed to reduce the contract’s value to $12.75 million, which I guess is just the same deal, pro-rated for the time they expect him to miss while he recovers from the injury (FTC projection: six months). The rap on Liriano is that he’s batshit insane and “has great stuff.” But there is no indication at all, be it factual, statistical or anecdotal, that he has any idea where a given pitch will go once it leaves his hand. This is why he strikes out 14 guys per game and walks 19 each inning.

These aren’t your older cousin’s Pirates. Las Vegas gives them an over/under of 77.5 wins. I like the over, and I think they can approach something like 85 victories if their most important players stay healthy all year.

Vegas is smart. That’s why it’s called Vegas. Drew Silva, on the other hand, is a moron. That’s why he writes for Yahoo, takes the over and assumes that nobody important will get hurt.

The Pirates held a share of first place in the National League Central on July 25, 2011, only to go 19-43 over their final 62 games. They had a share of first place on July 18, 2012, and then came another late-season fade. Fair or not, much of the blame for this inability to finish strong has fallen on the broad shoulders of manager Clint Hurdle.

Broad and manly as Clint’s shoulders may be, the person accountable is Neal Huntington. He built the team. He chose the players. Did Hurdle’s stupid insistence on bunting whenever possible and playing Rod Barajas all last year help matters? No. But he can’t control how good his players are, and it’s not the players’ fault that they suck.

The Pittsburgh bullpen isn’t great. Last year’s closer, Joel Hanrahan, was traded to Boston this winter in a six-player swap. Jason Grilli was very good last season and should do fine as the new ninth-inning man, but getting leads to him may be an issue. Mark Melancon, who came to Pittsburgh in that Hanrahan deal, posted a 6.20 ERA across 45 innings with the Red Sox in 2012. Tony Watson is solid but not dominant, and Jared Hughes fits that same profile. It’s not an especially exciting group.

The bullpen isn’t going to be a huge problem. In fact, the one thing that the Pirates’ current front office has shown a special aptitude for is building palatable bullpens out of spare and unwanted parts. Are they exciting? No. But they also will not be the reason this team finishes under .500. We’re going to wind up blaming that on the offense and starting pitching and manager and front office before we’ll be in any position to point fingers at Jared Hughes for not being sexy enough, or Mark Melancon (a great bounce-back candidate, btw) for not having terrifying facial hair.

Those back-to-back late-season tumbles have only been made possible by back-to-back early-season success, which has helped pumped life into one of the most well-designed sports stadiums in the world.

The trouble with unsustainable success is that it’s unsustainable.

PNC Park hosted 2,091,918 fans in 2012, up from 1,940,429 fans in 2011 and 1,613,399 million in 2010.

Approximately 12 of those fans have heard of third-order winning percentage — a statistic that while the Pirates were 16 games over .500 in July said, “don’t you get too comfortable there, son, because I’m about to light the house on fire.”

Pittsburgh is among the best pro sports towns in the country, and Major League Baseball is always going to better off when its team there is worth watching.

This might be the first article in the history of sports journalism to offer the standard Pittsburgh platitudes and not include the phrase “blue-collar.” That, in a nutshell, is the most important thing about this piece; that is its enduring legacy.

“Raise the Jolly Roger” and all that.

At some point this year, we’re going to have to have a serious discussion about how far we’re going to allow this “pirates” theme to go. It’s a fine name for a baseball team, but its origin has more to do with white collar crime and contention over labor laws than it does with anything involving rag-tag bunches of drunken misfits with guns and wooden limbs who sail around on schooners, raping, pillaging and lighting their hair on fire. Plus, Greg Brown is the most obnoxious man in America not named Joe Buck.

While you were sleeping, the Pens traded for Jarome Iginla, Bobby Orr, Maurice Richard, Adam Banks, Julie "The Cat" Gaffney, all three Hanson brothers, Einstein, Tesla and 14 astronauts

We brought in Aaron from Play Petr Prucha to talk about what all this means.

Aaron: Listen, I’ve crunched some numbers, and I’ve concluded that Ray Shero is a wizard.
Matt: This is factual information.
Aaron: Go with me on this. Let's assume that every career AHL player is equal, and let's assume that anyone who still has not played a single NHL game is equal. And let's assume that every low draft pick (4-7) is equal, all so that this information will be digestible at all.
Matt: Yes. This is yes.
Aaron: In his GM career, Ray Shero has given up: (if we cancel out pieces he's both gotten and received, like 4th round picks and Eric Tangradi) Colby Armstrong, Tim Brent, Daniel Carcillo, Erik Christensen, Alex Goligoski, Zbynek Michalek, Dany Sabourin, Jordan Staal, Ryan Whitney, 5 high picks, and 3 people who have still not played in the NHL yet.
And in exchange, he has received:
Pascal Dupuis, Nils Ekman, Mathieu Garon, Hal Gill, Bill Guerin, Dan Hamhuis, Marian Hossa, Jarome Iginla, Chris Kunitz, Joel Kwiatkowski, George Laraque, Brenden Morrow, Doug Murray, James Neal, Matt Niskanen, Gary Roberts, Brandon Sutter, and Mike Zigomanis
Aaron: That is the bottom line on his ledger. And that's how you get something without giving up pieces, ignoring signings and waivers and drafts and such, and just looking at how he has given up actual assets to get assets. He is a crazy wizard.
Matt: Yes. The prospects he gave up for Iginla aren't even in the team's internal top ten.
Aaron: Correct. The Flames might be worse-run than the Jackets.
Matt: Worse than the Stars? He rapes the Stars.
Aaron: Morrow-for-Morrow's a reasonable deal, and yes, James Neal is currently playing much better hockey than the stars anticipated, but that's just one guy in one deal. Pens fans like to think that's total destruction of the Stars, but really, that shit happens, and the Stars are otherwise a reasonable franchise.
Matt: They gave up on Neal very, very early. And Niskanen was a throw-in. And he's AWESOME.
Aaron: Yeah, they gave up on Neal too early. But, like, that'll happen sometimes -- that doesn't mean you don't know how to run a hockey team. Jay Feaster, you don't know how to run a hockey team
Aaron: Man. He got a 29th or 30th overall pick for Jarome Iginla, MAYBE, if he and the Bruins/Habs are very, very lucky, he got a 27th or 28th.
Matt: Of course, these guys are all impending UFAs.
Aaron: Sure. A lot of that list was for short periods of contracts, and it's kind of a bullshit comparison I'm doing, but it's still a list that is very depressing to a non-Pens fan.
Matt: Our guy is better than everyone else's guy.
Aaron: Yes.
Matt: Someone on Facebook is arguing: For everyone heaping praise on Shero right now, I have 2 words for them....Marion Hossa! [sic]
Aaron: Christensen was always a piece of shit, Colby Armstrong is fine, Angelo Esposito has still never played an NHL game, and who did the thrashers even spend that 1st-round pick on?
Matt: Pork rinds.
Aaron: Daultan Leveille
Matt: What does he do now?
Aaron: He's a Hamilton Bulldog? The Thrashers never even offered him a contract. The Canadiens offered him one a few months ago, and now I guess he's a Wheeling Nailer or something. Meanwhile, Pascal Dupuis is perfectly competent, Crosby likes him a lot and that's good enough for me. And Marian Hossa is a seminal talent who helped the team to the Finals. It is impossible to think of that trade as anything other than a win for Pittsburgh.
Matt: Pascal Dupuis is quite good at hockey. Better than anyone the Pens traded away in that deal.
Aaron: Yes. I think Christensen and Armstrong for Dupuis is a reasonable, everyone-wins deal. One guy gets two 4th-line pieces. The other gets a 2nd-liner (maybe).
Matt: Dupuis is a top-six guy.
Aaron: Dupuis is a top-six guy on the Penguins. Dupuis fits well with the Penguins' frustratingly elite scoring talent. What Dupuis himself brings to the table is good chemistry with your already incredible roster. If Dupuis shows up on the Rangers one day (which he actually did for a week once), I do not put him in the top six. The point is: I agree, Dupuis for Armstrong and Christensen is a good trade. And Shero somehow added to that a prospect and a pick, neither of whom have seen a day in the NHL in the five years since, for Marian Hossa.
Matt: The Penguins are kinda stacked right now. If he's a top-six guy here, I imagine he'd be a top-six guy a lot of places. Unless you think that his performance on this team is purely a function of the guys he plays with. I'd grant that he's made better playing on this team and he's more valuable to the Pens than to a lot of other teams, but I think he clearly has the skill to play a big role for someone.
Aaron: I don't think it's purely a function of the guys he plays with, but I do think it is in large part a function of the guys he plays with.
Matt: Has any GM ever done a better job than Shero of turning a bunch of crap into gold?
Aaron: probably? I'd have to do a lot more reading before i called Ray Shero the best GM in history, but I'm hard-pressed to find a GM since the lockout that has somehow turned more incidental pieces into more superstars-at-the-time. Like, it's not even precognition. He's trading for these guys while they're already great, again and again.
Matt: And he's done it by approaching GMs and saying, "I’ll give you ten mana of your choice for a Force of Nature and a Black Lotus."
Aaron: hahahaha
Matt: How big is this trade vis a vis Boston's hopes at a run for the Cup this year? I have to think this solidifies the Pens as the favorite out of the East.
Aaron: Nils theorized that the best thing for the pens getting Iginla is that Boston doesn't get him. I don't hate that line of reasoning — Boston needs an Iginla more than the Pens do. I think the pens are Eastern favorites either way, by a considerable margin.
Matt: I don't disagree, but I think the best thing about the Pens getting Iginla is the Pens getting Iginla.
Aaron: hahah
Matt: The best finals matchup, in my opinion, would be Pittsburgh vs. Chicago. Agree or disagree?
Aaron: I cannot imagine a different one.
Aaron: Puck Daddy just referred to the current Penguins as "all the hockey cards you don't throw away." What happened in that Chiarelli press conference? I thought [Bruins GM] Peter Chiarelli was supposed to give some kind of talk today. And the twitters are wondering if he is going to file some sort of "grievance"?
Aaron: That last bit isn't that special, but yeah, this was never up to Feaster. Iginla wanted to come to Pittsburgh because he wants to win the Stanley Cup. And Pittsburgh seems like a very good place to do that right now.
Matt: It's called Mario's TV. It's very special.
Matt: He was contractually empowered to make that choice.
Aaron: Yes
Matt: If Jeremy Jacobs doesn't like that, he should think about being less of a douchebag.
Aaron: He wants to play for the Penguins because that is where he thinks the Stanley Cup will go, and the Stanley Cup is awesome. That was the beginning and end of the story.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rushdie, failure, etc.

Commentary on commentary? SO META!

From Yahoo:

Does Gerrit Cole Belong on the Pittsburgh Pirates' Opening Day Roster?

The short answer is no.
COMMENTARY | Pittsburgh Pirates former No. 1 draft pick Gerrit Cole didn't hide his emotions March 18 after being reassigned out of spring camp. Speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, Cole argued that he pitched well enough in spring training to warrant a spot in the rotation when camp breaks...Cole's minor-league service record, albeit rather limited, seems to back up his claim. He posted a 2.55 ERA in 67 innings pitched for High-Bradenton and a 2.90 ERA in 59 innings for Double-A Altoona. He struck out seven batters in his only appearance in Triple-A Indianapolis.
I don't know Gerrit Cole personally, but I don't have any reason to believe he's a moron. He's fully aware of how service clocks and baseball's arbitration process work. He knows that barring injury, he'll pitch in the Majors this season, and he probably knows that will happen before July. Is he allowed to be miffed? Sure, whatever. But he knows full well he's going to be a big-league pitcher this year, and he knew he wasn't going to make the team, even if he threw 75 Grapefruit League no-hitters. He's the wealthiest man in the Pirates' minor league system. He needs to shut up, go to Indianapolis for two months, and carry on with the business of dominating minor league hitters.
The star prospect had some choice words for management, hinting that his demotion had more to do with finances and contract issues than his pitching.
It does.
He might have a point: 
He does.
By delaying his major-league debut, management can postpone his free agency by one year if Cole is kept in the minors long enough. That move could also set back Cole's arbitration eligibility in future years.
Here's the simple version of how this works: when a player reaches the Majors for the first time, it starts what the collective bargaining agreement calls a service clock. For the first three years of a player's big-league career, the team controls his salary, and is obligated to pay him nothing more than the league minimum -- a paltry $410,000. For the three years a player is cost-controlled, his team is obligated to pay him no more than 80 percent of his previous year's salary. 
After three years of service time, the player becomes arbitration-eligible. When this happens, the team retains the rights to the player's services if it chooses to do so, but his salary is determined through arbitration. After the off-season begins, the team sets a figure, the player sets a figure, and a hearing is scheduled for some point in February. The club and the player are free to negotiate with each other up to the point of the hearing. More often than not, teams avoid arbitration by agreeing to contracts in advance. After three years of arbitration eligibility, the player is allowed to become a free agent. 
By waiting until about mid-June to bring Cole to the majors, the Pirates can delay the start of his service clock to the point where they'd retain his rights not through 2018, but 2019. For a more detailed version of how this works, check out the Baseball Prospectus Transaction Glossary. It's unnecessarily complex and stupid.
Regardless of the true motives behind Cole's departure from spring camp, should the young pitcher have voiced his displeasure with management in such a public way? 
It doesn't really matter. The guy didn't throw a tantrum. He didn't knock over a liquor store. 
And, more important, does he actually belong on the Pirates' opening day roster?
No. This team is going to be bad. It's going to hurt -- probably as much as it hurt last year. These guys are gunning for 82 wins and that's all. Any reasonable person concerned about the long-term health of this franchise should 1) Want to see Neal Huntington fired, and 2) acknowledge that the idea of keeping Gerrit Cole an extra year is an unassailably good idea -- especially since his agent's trademark is never letting clients sign long-term deals before testing the free agent market.
Cole pitched 132 innings of minor-league ball in his first year as a professional. The 22-year-old has also pitched to a 3.60 ERA in 10 innings of spring ball, striking out seven batters in the process. 
These facts, despite their being facts, have no bearing on the question of whether or not Gerrit Cole belongs on the Opening Day roster. It's not something that should be open to debate. Even if the team was on the cusp of contending, keeping Cole in Triple-A until mid-June to retain his services for an extra year would be the right move. If a less prescient question pertaining to this club exists, I can't think of one.
Where does he rank currently in his career progression when compared to other highly regarded prospects?
Hey, look! An even less prescient question!
Let's first take a look at Randy Johnson...
Fuck. The. Heck. ?.
The Big Unit made his big-league debut for the Montreal Expos in 1988 at the age of 25 after toiling for several seasons in the minors. He pitched 372 innings from 1986 to 1988 before ascending to the majors and embarking on a Hall of Fame-caliber career. He threw two no-hitters and a perfect game during a 22-year career.
Randy Johnson was 6-feet-10 and left-handed. Gerrit Cole is 6-feet-4 and right-handed. Johnson spent three years in the minors working on control problems after he was drafted out of college. The odds of anyone pitching 22 years in the Majors are astronomically small, let alone someone starting in the Majors at age 25. There is no less germane a comparison to Gerrit Cole than Randy Johnson.
Then there's Nolan Ryan, who threw 78 innings in the minors in 1965 and 202 innings in 1966 before making his major-league debut at age 19. 
You've got to be kidding me.
There's also Roger Clemens, who pitched 127 2/3 innings in the minors before making his debut in 1984 at the age of 21. The Rocket spent his entire first season in the minors and also the first month of his second season, much like Cole now. 
Here is a series of statements equally pertinent to Gerrit Cole as the above:
Jim Abbott went right from college to the Olympic team to the Majors. Walter Johnson has a high school named for him in Bethesda, Md. Albert Einstein didn't become a U.S. citizen until he was 60 years old. Salman Rushdie attended King's College, University of Cambridge. Lew Alcindor played collegiate sports at UCLA and later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. By the time Mozart was Greg Maddux's current age, he had been dead for 11 years. 
Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg threw only 55 innings in the minors before making his debut in 2010 at the age of 21.
To compare Gerrit Cole to any of these people is perverse. The first three of these guys are among the top 10 pitchers in the history of baseball. The fourth is the single most prophetic, anticipated player the game has seen since the Majors started allowing people who weren't white to play.
It wasn't long after he tore a ligament in his arm and underwent Tommy John surgery.
Nicolae Ceaușescu was executed on Christmas Day in 1989, following a hasty, two-hour trial. What, for fuck's sake, are you trying to say?
Should Cole be angry?
No. Who cares? It doesn't matter.
The highly touted prospect clearly thinks he's ready for major-league action. And maybe he is. But there is a long and storied list of pitchers who've come before him, pitchers who are arguably more talented and pitchers who spent more service time in the minors than Cole has now. 
Many, many pitchers have pitched in the major leagues up to this point right now where we are in time. From where I'm standing, at this juncture, there have been a great many pitchers in professional baseball. Some of them have been good. Some of them have not been good. Some have been really good. Others have been flat-out terrible. Some of them pitched before the minor leagues existed. Others did not. I'm waiting for some kind of point to be made here.
Maybe the Pirates' decision comes down to finances. Regardless, waiting a month or two for a promotion should have no impact on Cole's chances of having a lengthy and productive career.
So your position is that it might not matter that Gerrit Cole won't be on the Opening Day roster, but you're not sure?
But that doesn't mean Cole stepped out of line in voicing his displeasure. His words show a fire and desire to contribute now to the major-league team, not in a month or later this season. That confidence can go a long way during the ups and downs of a long, arduous major-league season.
Gerrit Cole doesn't just have fire. Gerrit Cole doesn't just have desire. Gerrit Cole has fire and desire. If he were an 1840s army general, his nickname would be "Ol' Fire & Desire."
Cole's public frustration with management should be a moot point in several months when he finally gets that call to pack his bags and head for Pittsburgh. It's a call that is coming.

BREAKING NEWS: Gerrit Cole will probably pitch for the Pirates this season. He's upset that he's not going to be there in April, but that's okay. He'll be there soon. EVERYBODY CALM THE FUCK DOWN.
If that's the point of this column, I'm glad it only took 675 words to get there.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday roundup

Just because we haven't done one in a while.

Pens 3, Leafs 1
Pascal Dupuis might have scored both goals, but Sid dominated the entire third period. His no-look pass to Dupuis on the first goal adds to the mounting column of evidence that Crosby can see through space-time, and across multiple dimensions. The number of dimensions remains unclear, and we probably won't have more information on Sid's full spectrum of vision until CERN reboots the LHC in early 2015. Regardless, the dude was all over the ice, digging pucks out of corners and making huge passes the entire period. Craig Adams got the lucky empty-netter. Brooks Orpik made a couple of nice plays and took a few terrible penalties, as per his usual. Kris Letang worked his ass off, pinched in and played near the net in the offensive zone when the Pens got aggressive in the third, and did so with great efficacy. 

Tanner Glass, Dustin Jeffrey and Tyler Kennedy continue to be utterly worthless, and yet I'm still hearing talk about how great it would be to get Jarome Iginla. The Pens are already leads the league in goals per game, and by no small margin. This team doesn't need a top-six forward. It needs two bottom-six forwards and it needs a stay-at-home defensemen.
Keenan Lewis to the Saints
It was only a matter of time, right? The Steelers' cap problems notwithstanding, it doesn't seem they had any desire to pay Lewis anyway. For as good as he was last year, the Steelers remain  committed to Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen -- as well they should. It's not that Lewis got outrageous money; $26 million, $11 guaranteed, a $6 million bonus is a little high, but it's not unreasonable. But Cortez Allen is the more gifted athlete, has improved more in two years than Lewis did in four and the Steelers have quite correctly committed to William Gay for three years as their nickel corner. Before spending last year in Arizona, Gay played one year as the Steelers' No. 2 corner and was totally overmatched in that role. But he was more than competent in the as the nickel corner in 2009-2010. William Gay is Deshea Townsend: a known commodity and a safe role player.

The first half sucked. I fell asleep before the too-little-too-late comeback. It's extremely upsetting that the Panthers were so damn timid on offense in the first half, given that they have the tools and talent to pick apart the 2-3 zone. But Steven Adams didn't show up, and perhaps more importantly, James Robinson was far too tentative. So too, for that matter, was Adams. I don't expect much out of these guys in the tournament this year -- I've said that since December. 

That said, next year is should be a very big year for the program. With Robinson and Adams each a year more experienced, Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson as the seniors, reliable depth in J.J. Moore, Cam Wright and Durand Johnson, the only player this team is going to possibly miss is Tray Woodall. That shouldn't be a big deal -- Robinson is at least twice as talented as Woodall. In fact, he might be the most talented, athletic point guard Pitt has had in the Howland-Dixon years. Brandin Knight got by on guile, Carl Krauser was a ballhog with no interest in or talent for passing, Levance Fields was a gifted ball handler with zero athleticism. Ashton Gibbs was a natural gunner -- a two-guard who, like Woodall, has been forced to play the point. Brad Wannamaker had amazing moves to the basket and no shot to speak of. Woodall's become a far better player than he's had any right to, but he's not a point guard. Robinson is the real deal. But he's got to be more confident off the dribble and work on driving the lane.

Everyone associated with the Pittsburgh Police Bureau is going to jail
The Pittsburgh Police take money seized in narcotics busts and spend it on stuff like Gatorade. Oh, but it's totally okay because the people who are currently in charge of the narcotics unit, as well as the acting chief who used to run the narcotics unit, says that's how they've always done it! 
"I kind of went by what was done previously," said Chief Bryant, who oversaw narcotics when she was assistant chief of investigations. That post was previously held by Regina McDonald, now the acting chief.
At least, that's one of things they can account for. There's still a big chunk of money missing.

I'm glad someone else listens to Vinny and Cook so that I don't have to. Props to Deadspin's Dom Consentino, formerly of Mondesi's House, for getting this the attention it deserves.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

It's too early for this shit

BRADENTON, Fla. -- It might be the greatest spring training drill ever

Hitting the cutoff man? Side sessions in which you teach pitchers not to walk six guys a game? Carrying telephone poles up and down the beach at 3 a.m.?

The walk-off home run celebration. 


It was choreographed by those innovative Pittsburgh Pirates this week. And all their manager, Clint Hurdle, would say about it was this: It wasn't his idea. 

Here's what this sentence says to me: The Pirates are dicking around like the ADHD kid your little league team used to stick in right field, where he would spin in circles until he fell down, then would spend the duration of the game eating grass. And the manager doesn't care. 

"Sometimes," Hurdle said Wednesday, "you have to get out of the way and let the players do their thing." 

Yeah, I don't disagree, but I don't think these guys have done anything to demonstrate that they've earned the privilege of recess.

So whose thing was this? We skulked around and located the perpetrator -- a fellow who looked a lot like Brandon Inge. And how did this brainstorm come about, you ask? Well, it wasn't quite up there with Edison inventing the light bulb. 

"Basically," Inge laughed, "I was pulling the lazy veteran move."

Oh, so there's that veteran leadership we've been in such dire need of. You've gotta love to see the veteran utility player who came in on a minor-league contract because even the Oakland A's, for whom Inge played last year, didn't think he provided enough value for the veteran minimum. 

In his career, Brandon Inge is a .234/.303/.387 hitter. He walks about 8 percent of the time, and strikes out about 23 percent. He doesn't have outstanding strike zone judgment (25.8 percent O-Swing), and he's not very discerning in his pitch selection. He can play second, third, catcher, or any outfield position competently. He averages about 17 home runs per 162 games, and is entering his age 36 season.

Here's the deal: This great moment in spring training history occurred Monday at the end of a morning baserunning drill. Every position player involved had to run out a single, double and triple, a first-to-third sprint, a mad first-to-home dash and, for the grand finale, an inside-the-parker. 

Suicides. Windsprints. Call them what you will. Granted, this isn't really a baseball activity -- it's more of a get-your-ass-in-shape activity. That's the kind of shit you do in spring training: you get your old ass in shape.

He also happened to be the last player in line as this drill unfolded. So he turned to catcher Russell Martin and said, "I'm walking this off right here." 

“There’s no chance in hell I'm going to hit an inside-the-park home run, so I didn't see the point of practicing that,” Inge said. “I might hit a walkoff, though.” 

Remember last year when A.J. Burnett showed up at, like, 6 a.m., totally of his own volition, and ran around Pirate City alone because he was determined that regardless of how he performed, nobody was going to outwork him? Turns out that when you work really hard, you stand a better chance of playing well. Hard work paid off big-time for Burnett, who, at age 35, had his best season in five years. This team is going to need to over-perform if it's going to compete. It will not over-perform if it's full of lazy, stupid assholes. Don't get me wrong -- I like Inge as a player. If I were running a team that were primed to compete -- the Nationals, for example -- I'd want Inge as a bench piece, a defensive replacement.

This isn't the Pirates' situation, and I fear that isn't going to stop them from squeezing Inge into the lineup on as many days as possible. That, ladies and gentlemen, is bad. So is this:

So when his turn to "hit" arrived, he didn't short-change himself. He took a mighty hack -- without a bat. He watched the imaginary baseball disappear. Then he beat his chest and began to trot. 

He slapped five with a first-base coach who forgot to exist. He pumped his fist a couple of times as he rounded second. He low-fived a third-base coach who was nowhere to be found. Then he fired his cap into the sky (“I had to flip the hat. I didn't have a helmet.”) and jumped into a sea of Pirates humanity. Or something like that.

It's March 14th. We're still playing split-squad games. The Pirates haven't definitively set their starting rotation, and the makeup of their bullpen remains in question. And just because it bears repeating, the Pirates' streak of consecutive losing seasons is in danger of entering its third decade.

And yet, the hubris is every bit as real as Inge's bat was imaginary.

It was as historic as spring moments ever get at 9:30 on a Monday morning -- a team working on its walk-offs instead of its PFPs. 

“Yeah,” said second baseman Neil Walker. “You don’t see many walk-offs with nobody pitching and nobody on.” 

I'm seriously considering spending the entire 2013 season rooting against the Pirates. That's how bad I want everyone who assembled this team to lose their jobs.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

An early lead for mixed sports metaphor of the year!

Yahoo's Brad Evans, reliably equal parts loud and stupid, has thrown his hat into the ring and is swinging for the fences:
Indiana showed up for its game against Michigan...barely! They weren't strong on the forecheck, they couldn't get the puck deep and they failed to execute tape-to-tape passes. Fortunately for the Hoosiers, they were playing college basketball -- a marvelous new game requiring none of those actions.

Ode to a vicious psychopath

The Steelers released everyone's favorite psychopathic linebacker. It wasn't unexpected. Harrison's play has fallen off the last two years, partially due to his age, partially due to a very clear, though not unwarranted, declaration by the the league that it doesn't approve of the violence with which Harrison plays the game. Officials routinely looked the other way when offensive linemen held him. When he did break through the protection, the punishment he doled out often resulted in fines.

He was a bad, bad dude. But he was our bad dude.

This team is in need of a pretty extensive rebuild, both in the linebacking corps and the secondary. To keep Harrison around for another year for the more than $6.5 million he was due doesn't make much sense for a team looking to rebuild its defense. Between his age and the league constantly out to paint him as the face of the product it's trying disingenuously to distance itself from, I don't think the Steelers will miss Harrison too much. I'm sure we'll touch on this more as the draft nears and we see which linebackers the team carries into the season, but for now, let's just celebrate the man.

Before Harrison became the flesh-devouring monster we've all come to know and love, I put together a primer on Harrison and why you should love him. I e-mailed it around a little, mainly to engage a particular girl in a football conversation, but never posted it. Here now, to serve as a look back on the great years of havoc and bloodshed, is an updated version of the James Harrison primer from September 3, 2008:

Some information on the Steelers' James Harrison, and why you should love him:

Harrison is known as the Steelers' team gym rat. When asked about his weight-lifting abilities on a recent airing of the Hines Ward Show on Pittsburgh local station KDKA, he replied that can bench 465 pounds and squat 700 pounds.

Harrison gained some attention and popularity when he bodyslammed a Cleveland Browns fan in a 41-0 Pittsburgh win. The fan charged the field, Harrison grabbed the intoxicated fan as he approached his teammates and took the man to the ground. Harrison restrained the fan until authorities took him away.

They call him "Silverback," because, as a Mr. Clark Haggans once said: "They're big, strong gorillas from the Congo, the silverback gorilla. They spend their days swinging on trees and breaking stuff. All the other apes and everyone in the jungle are afraid of him."

This from a 2006 piece by Jim Wexell about one of the Steelers' other players, Joey Porter, being named the NFL's most feared defensive player:

I mumble something to Porter about the award, something about wanting to get Harrison's thoughts, something about a bullseye on his jersey, never really asking him outright if he thinks he deserves his new moniker. I just don't want to eat a Peezy sandwich today, thank you very much.

"I don't understand your question," Porter said. "If you want Silverback's thoughts, go ask him."

Okay. If you say so.

Harrison dresses in the near corner of the locker room and he's in his chair. He's seated, but bending over and untying his shoes. Practice had just ended and that's when the locker room heats up. Most reporters ask their questions before practice. The players are more pensive then. But after practice the pads are coming off, the kickers are throwing balls around, the players are happy, loud.

Um, James, I'm doing something on Joey's cover about being the most feared man in the NFL.


Yes, that's an all-caps scream. He wanted to make sure I heard him because he wasn't going to sit up until he completed his task.

, I'm wondering what some of the other linebackers think.


Well, what do you think about him being named the most feared man in the NFL?


Um, I thought you might receive some consideration for that.


Let's call it a day on that happy note then. Thank you.

And this? This is the probably the best. From a November 27, 2005 profile of Harrison by the Tribune-Review's Joe Bendel:

"I don't trust you," Harrison told a reporter during a recent one-on-one interview. "Why? Because you're a reporter. Everything in the newspaper, half of it is B.S."

"I trust my teammates ... to a certain extent," he said, matter of factly.

"I need them, that's true," he said. "I trust my teammates to do everything they need to do on the field. But I'm saying outside of football, do I trust anybody? No."
What about his mother, Mildred, who has seven biological children (James included) and 15 overall? 

"No," said Harrison...

As his siblings got older and moved out, James was left on his own with his parents. He soon developed a core of 5-6 friends and made it a point to keep an eye on everyone in the neighborhood.

In one instance, he was forced to confront the local bully, who finally pushed James to his boiling point. Moments later, the bully was out cold.

"I hit him with a brick," Harrison said. "My momma told me to pick up the nearest thing to you and hit him with it, so I did. I didn't have to worry about him no more. I never saw him again." 

Harrison went from a brick to a BB gun his senior of high school, which got him into major trouble. As Harrison tells it, he shot the gun at some teammates in the locker room at Coventry High, where he was one of a handful of black students. Harrison claims he was just being playful, but a teammate brought assault charges against him, and Harrison faced six months in prison. The charge was later reduced, and he was forced to pay a $100 fine.

From a 12.19.08 piece on the Steelers' defense by's Dave Fleming:

They rapped for the cameras. They flexed. They posed. Smith said he had been working on his Zoolander Blue Steel look all day. And when the players found out the shoot was intended for a possible cover (I'll never tell), half of them jumped down and started doing push-ups to bulk up for the newsstand.

"Smile," the photog yelled to Harrison.

"I don't smile," the 'backer replied.

"What do you think of the super spread that Texas Tech runs?" I asked him a few minutes later during a break.

"Texas Tech? Who's that?" he asked.

Come on, man. Be cool.

"Seriously, I don't watch football when I go home, man," Harrison insisted. "I don't watch ESPN or none of that -- I watch cartoons."

This last one is especially sweet.