Sunday, August 27, 2006

Chacon Redux

Quickie following today's 13-1 whomping at the hands of the defending National League Champions:

Shawn Chacon, after my prose below, proceeds to weaken my case. By giving up 5ER (7 total) while failing to get into the 6th inning. Well, in this case, he didn't quite get out of the 5th. And I can't even say, "At least he just got batted around for throwing strikes." He walked 4, and 3 of those free passes came around to score.

I have a saying that is hereby now trademarked as Google came up with absolutely NO matches: "Twice is not an accident."

Chacon has now walked more than his share of batters in four straight starts. Today was the first day I actually had a chance to watch his mechanics, etc. He doesn't look like he's playing hurt. He looks like he's playing scared. If he does have some kind of surgery, and even if he's with another team come next season, I will be curious to see how he does, especially if he lands in a team's starting rotation. However, I've gotta say, most of his strikes thrown were up in the zone. And a couple of them, he really paid for, particularly the one he left in Berkman's wheelhouse. K. 'nuff about him, except to say that while I haven't YET thrown Chacon under the bus, said bus' engine is running.

Britt Reames was almost enough to make Chacon started surrendering a slew of runs/free passes. John Grabow did well for 2.2 innings, giving up only one run when he was into his 3rd frame, no doubt a scenario he's unaccustomed to.

And to cap off a completely disastrous day, the Pirate offense was nowhere to be found, and they had 2 key chances in 4th and 5th innings. Bases loaded with 2 down in the 4th, Jose Castillo swings at the first pitch and grounds to short. In the fifth, bases loaded with only one out and the "big bats" coming up, only to see Bay foul out and Burnitz fly out.

Xavier Nady had 3 hits, and Freddy Sanchez had 2. During the game, after Castillo's ill-advised first-pitch swing, Nady was saying something in an obviously disatisfied (though calm) to 3rd base coach Jeff Cox as they went to commercial. And, the classic little league blunder of Mr. Reames not covering first on a bouncer up the first base line, leaving Nady hanging out to dry that resulted in an "everybody safe".

Welcome to the 'Burgh, X-man.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Defending Chacon

If that headline doesn't get (negative) attention right away, nothing will.

It's at once logical and amazing what 14 consecutive losing seasons (ok, it's not offically 14 yet, but it's only a week or so away), an admittedly non-forward-thinking GM (or two, if you count Cam Bonifay) and a pinchpenny ownership structure can do for a fan's attitude.

Year after year, almost to a man, everyone thinks "ABC" trade was bad, "XYZ" trade was lousy, and "123" trade was worse than the previous two combined. There's definite truth to the stigma, but quite a bit of that is due to the Pirates being inevitably forced into the selling role. That is, trading players that will help the other team now, while fielding prospects that may help Pittsburgh later. Dave Littlefield often aiming too low or "firing" too late also hinders, but that's a subject for a different day.

Since the trade of Craig Wilson for Shawn Chacon, I've seen nothing but reviews of "I grade this an F-", or "This is the worst trade ever", or "I didn't think it was possible, but Littlefield actually made the team worse."

First, understand that I am not intending to paint Shawn Chacon as a Cy Young winner just waiting to bloom, which many people did when I gave that trade a "C-" last month. He hasn't gone beyond 5 innings in any of his 3 starts in a black and gold uniform, and he's walked 13 in 11.2 innings while giving up almost as many home runs (4) as posting a strikeout (6). His WHIP as a Pirate (2.14) almost makes folks scream in horror as they browse the stat sheet. Take out the shelling he took at Minute Maid Park on August 9, and his whip is "merely" (1.50).

However, it seems most look at that Houston start as what should expected on a regular basis, and that he's been playing with fire in all of his starts and is fortunate to only have been burned once.

I agree with that to an extent. What seems to be ignored is that he has had the ability to make those pitches to get groundball (or otherwise critical) outs. The statistical difference, career-wise, between Chacon and ex-Pirate Kip Wells, is more or less negligible. Hence, in the general shake-up, it wasn't the drastic step down so many vehemently preach. They are certainly correct when they say it did not improve the team to any measurable degree. It doesn't help tha Chacon is "damaged goods", what with a possible meniscus tear in his knee, but those same critics don't believe that a healthy knee is going to make a measurable difference. It's unfortunate that they only need one horrendous start to push the "I told you so" button.

I still consider Jim Colborn to be the X-factor in how Chacon performs in his remaining time with the Pirates. A valid point was made that Dodger teams under his tutelage have led (or been right up there) with the best team ERA during his tenure in Los Angeles simply because they played 81 games at spacious Dodger stadium, in addition to having lights-out closer Eric Gagne.

Home runs have not been the Pirates problem this year. In fact, prior to tonight's game, the Bucs have surrendered the 4th fewest HRs in the league with 122 (if you think that's amazing, consider that the Colorado Rockies have given up the fewest, period with 107...which was also mentioned tonight during the Pirates radio broadcast), so it's not a matter of coming to a ballpark whose dimensions are smaller; it's hits going through the middle, flares dropping in for hits, etc, that might have similarly affected Dodger teams. So, my decision on Jim Colborn's efficiency will have to wait until the next season is underway (if applicable) before I can decide if he's truly a part of the problem, or if it was a matter of banishing the shadow of former pitching coach Spin Williams.

For now, I'll take Chacon as easily as Wells, and he seems to be an improvement over Oliver Perez, despite his own wild tendencies.

And, just for fun, here's how our acquisitions, our cast-offs (and the one guy many fans wanted, but I was only so-so on) have been doing. These stats prior to start of today's games:


I should note that Oliver Perez's latest start in Norfolk resulted in 7 shutout innings with 2 walks and 11 strikeouts against the Charlotte Knights. Keep an eye on him to see if that's the beginning of his turnaround, or if it's one of those rare starts we saw this season that quickly snowballed back into unpredictability.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Ramblings from the past few days...

The Pirates are now on another road losing skid. The previous road trip (Wrigley / Minute Maid), the Pirates won the first game, then promptly lost them all. The one before that, they defeated Florida, then lost the next four. The trip before that (before the ASB), they whomped the Mets in the first game, then lost the next three. Perhaps that's where the money should go when they go on their next trip (10 games starting in St. Louis). Pirates will no doubt be heavy 'dogs going into New Busch, but maybe the trend is on their side for that game.

Amazing (or perhaps disgusting) statistic of the night: Chris Duffy leads the team with 11 stolen bases. While this does include the brief amount of time he was with the mothership at the beginning of the year, he hasn't played in 50 games yet in '06. Nate McClouth is 2nd with 10 in 107 games played (including PH appearances). Jason Bay has played in 122 games (once as a PH) and has stolen a mind-numbing 7 bases. This from a player who, only last year, came one more consecutive stolen base than the major league record (21). The Tracy/Cox/Shelby triumvirate has some explaining to do here.

The Steelers fall to the Vikes and their ugly unis 17-10. First team offense, essentially in for one drive, looked pretty good. Ben threw a DART to Cedric the Entertainer for the Steelers' only TD, bad thumb and all. James Farrior's almost making a great defensive play denied Troy Polamalu the chance to make an even better one. Worse, it led to Minnesota's tying tally. Polamalu jumped the route as Brad Johnson was prepped to throw, but Farrior hitting Johnson's arm turned the anticipated "fastball" into a slow wobbler, and an interception (or at the least a pass defense) turned into 6 for the opposition and Jermaine Wiggins.

Rian Wallace turned in a decent performance, but Andre Frazier, apparently smarting off to the coaching staff may result in his getting cut. I don't believe it will as of right now, but if there's a repeat performance in either of the two remaining games, a heavy hitter will not be on the opening day 53-man roster. Shane Boyd was given a nickname by the radio duo of Hillgrove and Ilkin (Shotgun Boyd, changed once to Shotgun Shane), did not impress. Of course, Omar Jacobs wasn't anything to write home about. Charlie Batch couldn't catch a break, with Santonio Holmes apparently running the wrong route on Batch's INT in the 2nd quarter, and Verron Haynes almost completely whiffing on a block that resulted in a fumble by the instantly-pressured QB.

Stay healthy, Ben. Oh, and will one of the RBs step up, please?


Plans for a live NFL Preview broadcast featuring one of the top sports handicappers in the country, Dutch Wydo, myself, and long time WMBS intern/employee Jerome Shell, are in the works. Locals should be able to pick up the station on Thursday, Sept 7th from about 5:15PM until Steelers pregame at 6:30PM. Hopefully, we'll be able to plan a format that allows for callers, but to analyze 32 teams (among 3 people in a roundtable), might prove to fill the broadcast time quite well.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Ode to the Mc-Nutting group

I'm not going to be on the blogosphere for a couple of days, so I thought I'd give you something to do while you think of which result and date you want to put in the Pirate "Baby Pool" game in the post below.

If you've ever heard the whiny song "Bad Day" by Daniel Powter (not the one by Fuel), you know it's one of those songs that's catchy, but at the same time so lyrically inane you can't help but want to throw things. Kinda reminds you of the Pirates. A bunch of good guys who want to win but are getting no help from the men upstairs. I mean WAY upstairs...

So, here are three easy steps (and a disclaimer) to perhaps kill two birds with one stone. In your head anyway.

1) Press play on the player below. If there's no player, click on the "..." next to where it should's a hyperlink.

2) Read along with the lyrics as Steeltown Mike performs from his home studio

3) Comment and tell all your friends.

4) Don't forget to place your guess for the "Baby Pool" game. (Ok...that was 4 things)

Disclaimer: I wasn't trying to "Crash Test Dummies" this song, but trust me, at this time of night, it sounds better in the lower octave than the higher one.

(MEGA props to my brother David for obtaining the background music for me)

"Bad Team (Ode to Mc-Nutting)"


Two thousand and six started off with a boast (we will)
Took only a week and the season was lost.
You tell us we’ve got Sanchez and Bay,
The rest of the team’s not far away,
And we don’t need to carry on…

Ev’ry trade deadline you hit a new low
For minor league pitching you let people go
You tell us the public’s way off line,
The PNC stars are gonna shine
But you’re not foolin’ anyone…

‘Cuz you have a bad team
Year in and year out
You don’t give a damn if we turn it around
You say you don’t know
You tell us you try
And all as you smile, taking fans for a ride
You have a bad team
The standings don’t lie
Your bank account’s grown so you really don’t mind
You have a bad team
You have a bad team

Sell and you make more than you paid
The ‘Burgh has stopped drinking your kool-aid
And we don’t want you hangin’ on…

You have a bad team
Another year down
It’s gonna take five just to turn it around
You say the payroll
Don’t need to be high
And all while you smile, taking fans for a ride
You have a bad team
It makes the fans cry
Your bank account’s grown so you really don’t mind
You have a bad team

Sometimes the system goes on the blink
And the whole thing turns out wrong.
The past ten years; it’s a sign that you stink
And it’s time that you move along
Perhaps Hong Kong

A Pittsburgh tradition now seems like a ghost
How sweet it was
The newspapers thrive while the franchise is lost

Cuz you have a bad team
The GM’s a clown
And do you have to keep Jim Tracy around?
The Nuttings say no
And Cuban can’t buy
You couldn’t care less about black and gold pride.
You have a bad team
You know what you like
Because you’re an eel, an ooze or slime
You have a bad team
You have a bad team…

(lyrics to actual song here - if you'd like to compare)

And YINZ guys, have a good rest of the weekend.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The 2006 Pirates "Baby Pool" game...

Have you ever heard of (or experienced) one of those "baby pools", wherein a woman you work with is expecting, and about 7 months in, people put a five dollars in the jar and bets on "May 11th during the PM hours" or "May 16th during the AM hours". The winner, of course, determined by the one who picks the date/time or the closest one to it, and they get half the pot. The other half goes to the mother.

Steeltown Sports is going to do this with the Pirates. The Pirates will either win 63 or more games or lose 100 or more.

So, tell all your friends to visit this site, and comment below to when you think the Pirates will either win their 63rd or lose their 100th (e.g. Pirates will lose their 100th game on October 1 against the Reds, Pirates will win their 63rd game September 28th against the Astros).

There's no prize except bragging rights (who do you think I am? Mondesi's House?). Of course, you don't have to put five bucks in a jar, either.

My hat gets thrown in the ring with the following prognostication:

The Pirates lose their 100th game on September 27th against the Houston Astros.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Catching up...

It's been awhile, but first...

Pirates drop a 6-3 decision to the Brewers at PNC Park tonight. Tom Gorzelanny is actually beginning to impress me, having been strong in his last few starts. He gave up a home run to Cory Hart with 2 outs in the 2nd inning after giving up 5 consecutive flyball outs (those, in my opinion, being the warning for the VERY deep center blast that was coming). I am still at a loss as to why Greg Brown said "five consecutive flyball outs" without the caveat: "Gorzo's gotta get the ball down a bit more." [heavy sigh] I guess refer to my previous post. Anyway, please comment and leave your vote for "Goat of the Game"

My three candidates in alphabetical order:

1) Jeromy Burnitz - After Jose Bautista patiently draws a four-pitch base on balls, Burnie takes two hacks with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth. The first is a clean whiff. The second results in a game-ending double play right to the shortstop. Bucs had some momentum. His approach at the plate continues to anger me more than a little, but we're just looking at one game. Does entering the game cold in a high-pressure situation get him off the hook with the fan base at large, or does his veteran-ness exclude him from that type of "big-pressure" situation?

2) Jose Castillo - Two errors after a pretty defensively-sound game last night, a caught stealing, and a GIDP in the 7th with none out and two on. Not that Jose Bautista would have ended up homering had Castillo reached, or at least moved both runners into scoring position, but I'm sure some would argue that Castillo tried very hard to lose this game by himself.

3) Damaso Marte - He was the first reliever for Tom Gorzelanny, who had just qualified for the win, courtesy of the Bautista go-ahead homer less than 5 minutes before. He faced two batters, and left the game with runners at the corners and no outs. And both runs ended up scoring. At least neither of them were the result of walks...

4) Feel free to write in your own choice.

Personally, I pin the blame on Marte, though I'm receptive to any intelligent arguments for either of the other two candidates.

Some bloggers might blame Tracy's lineup, but with Wilson and Bay ailing, I'm not quite sure what they're expecting. Randa can play first; he can't play right field. Duffy has been hot lately, so batting him leadoff isn't a stretch; Jose Hernandez represented himself well; Randa or Nady at cleanup is a cointoss; and Paulino should absolutely be batting 6th. It's a sin to have a player batting well over .300 in the 8th slot. I understand Paulino's speed is an issue, but he should be the guy cleaning up the heart of the order. All of the starters ended up with at least one hit (except for Gorzo). They just weren't all strung together. Of course, they also didn't draw a walk until one out in the ninth.


Other Pirates stuff...

- Despite the loss, they still have a winning record at home (32-29). Some folks out this way are mystified how the Pirates are drawing as well as they are this late in the season. Two reasons: great weather and they have a 50/50 chance of seeing a hometown win. And if I didn't have to work most evenings, I would head out to PNC sometime this season. I'd rather have a team that sucks perennially (as is the case) than no team at all (which some would inexplicably welcome).

- Still a 4-2 homestand isn't awful. As it is, they can go to Cincinnati after a 5-1 appearance at home. Yes, their day game record is not so good, but they beat Milwaukee in their last day game that ended a series...both in Milwaukee and Pittsburgh.

- I guess Ryan Doumit is dead. Either that or Humberto Cota sneaks into wherever Doumit is and silently reinjures him in his sleep.

- The race is on. Only 17 wins needed in the next month and a half to elude the feared 100-loss season, but 26 losses would get them there. Only 8 losses needed to OFFICIALLY give them their 14th consecutive losing season, though even the Detroit Tigers or New York Mets will lose at least 10 games between now and then. Maybe we should have one of those contests where everyone takes a guess at which game will represent loss #82. Can't think of the names of those..


Penguins thoughts...

- Kudos to Evgeni Malkin for getting the hell out of a bad situation. Until Pens season has been underway with Malkin in uniform for some time, I don't want to jump to any major conclusions, but should that come to pass, I'd like to take a glimpse into a parallel universe wherein Malkin did not have cajones and stayed in Russia...go a year down the road, and see if the Russian team would try to strongarm the young man into staying yet another year.

- And I'd like to see what the Crosby/Malkin duo is capable of for the one remaining year the Pens are in Pittsburgh. Even if it's just winning the season series against my least-favorite player of all time and the Philadelphia Flyers.


Steelers thoughts...

- I can't believe the first preseason game is already come and gone, but I'm happy for it. Of course, I'm not happy that the Steelers lost, but at least Ben's nose didn't fall off when he was contacted by defenders in red.

- What I REALLY can't believe is that The Sporting News is projecting the Baltimore Ratbirds to win the AFC North. I'm in the initial stages of putting together my NFL Preview for, but I can tell you that Balmer, Hon will be either 3rd or dead last once I determine how badly Charlie Frye's protection is in Cleveland.

- I need to see a bit more of the starters before I start making any real assertions of how the Men of Steel are shaping up.


Comment away, my friends.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Think before you speak

Today's gripe isn't about Duke letting at least 4 of the first 9 batters he faced in August 5ths game against the Cubs go right up the middle, nor the bullpen for failing to hold the Cubs when it was evident the offense was chipping away at the lead. It's not even about just losing, period, to the Cubs (my least favorite team in all of baseball).

It's about two guys who are in the booth. One everyday, the other every road game.

I marvel at how Greg Brown keeps his job all these years. This is the first year in a while that I've been able to listen to Pirate games regularly on the radio. Check out this gem that has just came over the airwaves during August 6th's game at Wrigley (paraphrasing ahead):

GB: All fans will receive a Homestead Grays Cap. One of the great Negro Leagues of all time.

Huh? The word "team" clearly belonged here. I'm being picky? Did any of you catch the July 30th radio cast vs. the Giants?

Jose Hernandez rips game-winning single up the left field line, plating Jack Wilson.

GB (seemingly disintersted): Line drive, base hit, Pirates are gonna win it. (Suddenly realizes what's really going on) LINE DRIVE, BASE HIT, PIRATES ARE GONNA WIN IT!

That's right. He repeated himself, as though no one would notice.

Was it just because he'd been at the ballpark so long (due to a 2hr, 5min rain delay + 10th inning in addition to his regular stuff)?

In general, he's the antithesis of Lanny Fraterre. He is verbose. He repeats himself. He talks bunches and often says nothing. Anyone else agree?

Now to John Wehner. Always nice to have a homer in the booth. He's not as savvy as either Brown or Fraterre, but that's because he's an ex-ballplayer, not a "broadcaster" in the pure sense of the word. However, he does have his own segment in the pregame show called "The Other Side" where he interviews a player, coach, someone associated with the opponent. Today's interview was with Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs.

I've never heard so much hemming and hawing, taking 40 seconds to ask a question that should only take 10 to 15, and not playing off Zambrano's answers. The second question almost started with an "Ok, so, um," as though he didn't understand a word (granted CZ is pretty difficult to understand sometimes).

It's to the point where I pray for Fraterre and either Walk or Blass as the color guy when I come to work to run the Pirate games at either WMBS or WJPA.


Side note: Another call is reversed against the Pirates as Jason Bay just made an incredible catch against Ronny Cedeño (originally ruled a catch, then changed to a trap). I think those may be the only two calls I've EVER seen reversed in major league action, and both result in a run scored against the Bucs. You'd figure they'd have reversed the A.J. Pierzynski "strikeout" against the Angels last year in game 2 of the ALCS, too. Nah. I guess they'll just save those kinds of things for the bottom feeders.

And just before the fated reversal, GB had announced that there would be a pause for affiliate station ID tags "after the Cedeño strikeout". Seems like a curse of "He hasn't thrown an interception in 130 pass attempts" variety.