Monday, June 11, 2007

Monday, June 11, 2007

-- Paulino needs to sit, but I still like him.

-- Offer for Bonds' ballrecord-breaking recordball withdrawn

-- The definition of Fandom.

---Defending Paulino (to a point)---

A little less than a year ago, I wrote an article defending the acquisition of Shawn Chacon for Craig Wilson against hordes of Pirate fans who thought it was the worst of the questionable trades general manager Dave Littlefield pulled off July 31, 2006. Wilson is now with his 3rd team since the trade, which further proves that the Bucs weren't going to acquire Cy Young from the Yankees for him. Chacon has been as up and down as you can be, going 7 strong innings three starts ago against the Padres, allowing only 3 hits (no runs) while striking out 10, a semi-acceptable start against the Nationals (4 runs in 5.1 innings), then imploding against a vastly-superior Yankees team. Akin to how Craig Wilson would have a couple of timely homeruns in a week, then strike out in critical situations for the following three weeks. It all evens out.

But this post isn't about him.

After a 12-12 April, the Bucs are 14-25, and, worse, 3-9 over their last 12. Many players are being held under the microscope, but one in particular hasn't needed a microscope as his miscues and lackadaisical play of late have been glaringly obvious.

Ronny Paulino completely deserves to ride the bench for a while.

Since Ryan Doumit is more used in right field, platooning with Xavier Nady, Paulino and Humberto Cota were the only true "catchers" on the roster. Last week, Cota was sent to AAA Indianapolis to make room for speedster Rajai Davis, leaving Paulino as the undisputed king of the hill. This may have gone to his head a bit.

Since June 4, Paulino has gone 5-for-20 (.250) at the plate, drawing two walks, but striking out 5 times. And that's the good news.

Ronny is infamous for his less-than-inspiring attempt to score from 3rd on a fly ball against the Nationals on Thursday. He tried to score standing up when a slide might have plated him. And it's not like he came into home plate like A.J. Pierzynski did against Michael Barrett in that (in)famous collision last season. The Pirates won that game, but the fact that people are still talking about it shows exactly how that kind of effort (or lack thereof) will not be tolerated.

As Pirate fans, we'd rather see a team that loses 105 games while putting forth 100% pretty much every time they take the field than a team that goes 77-85 going through the motions. (I'll admit, theoretically, if a major league team is putting 100% effort day in, day out, they won't lose even close to 100 games, but just go with me here)

And then there's been his play behind the plate. Surprisingly, he's only been charged with 4 passed balls, which means that official scorers at Pirate games enjoy charging wild pitches to anything thrown in the dirt. He has the third lowest fielding percentage among qualified catchers (.985), ahead of only Kansas City's John Buck and Atlanta's Brian McCann, and he is tied for 2nd worst in number of errors committed (5). Only McCann has committed 6.

Compared to last season, however, his fielding percentage was .988, 11 errors, and 9 passed balls in 124 games played. He's more or less the same defensively as last year to this point.

The reason that the grumblings have become so loud is that his offense has plummeted at the same time. We'd still be hearing things like, "Paulino should be learning from these mistakes in the field by now, shouldn't he?" instead of, "Put him in front of a firing squad and hold the blindfold."

All this said, Jim Tracy cannot be afraid to either bench Paulino for an extended period (a week, at least), only bringing him in during a rout either way, as an occasional pinch-hitter, or in case of injury. This won't happen. No doubt his benching of Jack Wilson and Paulino on Sunday was to, effectually, give each of them two days off with today's off-day.

Paulino is a young enough player (26?) who made an unexpected surge into the Majors that such a benching might be able to teach him some unspoken lessons.

Recalling Cota, or perhaps Einar Diaz, however, will bring the one thing back to Pirate fans' memories that Paulino is superior at than either of his two counterparts: the man is a much better game-caller. Check it out:

Team ERA: 4.62
Team ERA with Paulino behind the dish: 4.14 (last season, 4.13)
Team ERA with Cota: 5.71
Team ERA with Doumit: 6.29

Wow. And that 4.14 mark is in the top half of the qualified leaders, per ESPN.

And to the folks who claim that Paulino can't throw anyone out have failed to notice that he is 3rd among the qualified leaders, throwing out 38.1% of base-stealers (David Ross of Cincinnati leads all qualifieds with 46.2%, followed by Seattle's Kenji Johjima with 39.3%, so, if Ronny's not throwing anyone out, then neither is anyone else, really.

The Pirates are paying about $5M for Oakland's Jason Kendall to be throwing out 11 of 56 base-stealers (19.6%) on the year so far.

Paulino has enough tools that he can be more than serviceable if he can smarten up behind and at the plate. Whether the coaches can help may be the biggest question of all.


Freddy Sanchez is now in the batting average lead. Of the Pirates, that is. He's now batting .296, which is good for 24th in the National League. Ryan Doumit technically has a higher batting average, but has significantly fewer at-bats.

Salomon Torres' rubber arm has apparently, and finally, snapped. At least a little bit. His injury will help to demonstrate how truly shallow our middle-relief pool is, both in the minors and aboard the mothership.

Portent of interleague doom: Bucs start off 0-3. Will likely not go 12-0 over the rest of their schedule against the junior circuit. Heck...will not likely go over 6-6. ... Anyone else think 6-6 is still overly optimistic?

---Offer Withdrawn (but so what?)---

Heritage Auction Galleries has withdrawn their $1 million bid for the home run ball that breaks Hank Aaron's historic record over concerns for the safety of the person who will successfully (initially) obtain it.

So what?

Like HAG is the only organization that's going to be willing to pay 7 figures for the ball?

Like people aren't going to kill each other for what will be considered a huge piece of baseball history, asterisk or not?

If there happens to be a game at AT&T Park when Bonds is sitting on 755 (presuming he doesn't hit 755 and 756 during a road swing), those kayakers are going to be packed in like sardines in the bay. And should there be "splashdown", someone may very well be drowned.

Human greed knows no bounds. I wouldn't even feel safe in the presence of the security guards if I were the successful one to come out of the melee.

I'll be more interested to watch the human drama play out when that ball is hit than the actual home run (whose legitimacy will always be questioned, anyway).

---Leave Your Keys---

I don't think there was one person outside of the Pirates brain trust who had a positive outlook on their selection of a relief pitcher in the first round. Dejan Kovacevic's June 8 Q&A featured 100% negativity. I suggested in my last radio broadcast that had one person leaped into the fray saying that he didn't think it was as bad a pick as everyone else says, that letter would have made it into the column for variety's sake, if nothing else.

Essentially, that was a long preface which could have been truncated by saying:

No one is happy about our top draft pick. No one is happy about the direction the Pirates are headed in this season. No one is happy about the no-end-in-sight to the losing situation the current ownership has us mired in.

However, something that gets my hackles raised is when people relinquish their fandom. There are people who say these things half-heartedly and in jest to emphasize their displeasure with this or that (and there is certainly a smorgasbord to select from). Extreme displeasure in many instances.

And people are entitled to say, "That's it. I'm done with team."

I have trouble rectifying the above statement, though, when there is an implication that they'll be back when certain conditions are met. "I'm done with this team until there is a new ownership group." "I'm done with this team until they start spending some money on quality free agents and top prospects." "I'm done with this team until..."

Look. You're done with the team, or you're not. I have even less patience for fair-weather and bandwagon fans than I do for, say, Cub fans, or Chad Carroll.

Look at the Penguins this past season. Their attendance only went up 600 or so per home game this season, but the interest was all over the city. People you never suspected were fans of the Penguins (or sports in general), were all of a sudden "Wooooooo"ing it up and showing up to work emblazoned in black and gold and growing playoff beards.

It's easy to support a team that is closer to success than failure year in and year out. Fans of teams like the Yankees, the Atlanta Braves (of late), and the New Jersey Devils who are perennially at the top, they're called "spoiled". Steeler fans could be lumped in with this group, too. I firmly remember the playoff game against Cleveland in 2002 when the Browns had a huge lead late in the game, and I was sure I could count the people who were left in the stands.

During the eventual rally, those that left early tried to fight their way back in, to no avail. They are not fans.

They do not get to enjoy the perks without suffering embarrassment. The Steeler victory that day, for me, was nearly eclipsed by the shame that I felt for all the so-called die-hards who left "their team" for dead. I hoped that my co-workers in Chicago at the time would comment on the great comeback that Monday, rather than on the lack of intestinal fortitude my fellow "fans" displayed.

That's a loose analogy as to how I view the Pirates situation. Things are just not going well on any front. It's hard to watch. Worse, it's hard to imagine things going much better at any point in the foreseeable future.

I understand if you're not strong enough to handle the constant disappointment. Feel free to leave. Just leave your keys at the door on the way out. If and when the Pirates emerge from the doldrums and start playing competitive baseball, you are not welcome back.


Blogger Matt said...

I could not agree with you more regarding fan loyalty. There is nothing worse than bandwagon fans. Here is a post that I wrote about a month ago that touches on this topic.

Wait 'Til Next Year

6/18/2007 3:05 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home