Wednesday, May 23, 2007
-- Lots of Pirates-related stuff.
-- I have to root for Canada. Again. I'm not happy.
-- Other shizzle.
-- Next broadcast(s?).
It's pretty bad when I let more than a week go by without posting something. There's been a clear dip in my site's traffic because of it. Can't leave the adoring public hungry for too long.
So, let's get started...with starters.
Tony Armas's most recent, and, very possibly, final start in a Pirates uniform went shakily. He only gave up one run in the first inning, but managed to throw 40 pitches in the doing against Marlins Thursday night. I'm guessing that his middle name isn't "Efficiency".
In his place, it was officially announced this week that Shawn Chacon is being promoted from long-relief into a starter's role. I'm sure this move does not sit well with many fans for a couple of reasons.
1) Chacon has been servicable, if not good, in the long-relief role. His WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched) is not a stellar number (1.37 over 33.2 IP).
2) Since Chacon has been...let's call it "not negative"... as the long-reliever/mop-up man, trying to put someone else in that role may not work out as well.
3) Chacon is not part of the future of the Pirates. This is taking up valuable experience time from righties in the minor league system, like Bryan Bullington and John Van Ben Scho Ten.
In defense of #1, his WHIP is still better than the team average (1.45 entering game 2 at Cardinals), and right in the middle of Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny (better) and Paul Maholm and Zach Duke (worse). However, his walks per inning pitched, if my calculations are correct, is only better than the man he's replacing. And we all know how quickly a free-base can come back and haunt a starting pitcher.
As for defending 2 and 3, I really can't do that well. The only thing I can think of is that Jim Tracy is thinking to give the veteran a fair shake. After all, there are two other pitchers in the rotation who are struggling mightily. Then again, at least it's not Marty McLeary
Speaking of which, the Stats Geek has an excellent article in yesterday's Post-Gazette, using the example of using McCleary with a four-run lead and the bases loaded instead of a pitcher who has been statistically better.
You can read it yourself, but I like this particular quote:
You know how football coaches have this little chart that says when to go for a two-point conversion and when to go for just one? Maybe managers could use one to remind them the crucial moment won't always wait for the ninth inning.
I don't think such a chart would help this coaching staff. Just a hunch.
The Pirates are finally considering virtually going all-in in the Dominican Republic. That's a trip that's about 20 years late. To be fair, the guys who went down weren't with us that long. So, they're only 6 years late.
And why do I get the feeling that we won't be getting the Domincan's true top prospects? Instead, it'll be phrased, "The Pirates' top Dominican prospect..."
Heh. On a "related, but not" note: from an Associated Press article:
[T]he New York Mets were breaking ground on a new $7.5 million academy just a few miles to the south in the beach resort of Boca Chica.
My Spanish is a bit rusty, but I think Boca Chica translates to Girl Mouth.
Currently listening to tonight's Pirate game where the Bucs trail 2-0 in the 2nd off two solo shots from our ace and regular stopper Ian Snell. Naturally, the Pirates catch the Cardinals in a 5-game losing streak and instantly provide the wallowing World Champions the cure to what ails them.
And, of course, the Pirate bats are making Kip Wells look pretty good. Then again, it's always former Pirates who come back to haunt their former team. It's never a current Bucco who haunts his former team.
I can see why some people want to get off the merry-go-round.
T-minus 63 wins
T-minus 57 losses
with 117 to play.
Only hours remain to bid on Playoff Street Banners of your favorite Penguins.
Except Gary Roberts.
More on him in a bit.
No team called the "Ducks" has any business winning any championship. Period.
This was the reason I was forced to root for New Jersey in the Stanley Cup Finals when they took on the Mighty Ducks. If it had been the Minnesota Wild instead, I'd have been on that bandwagon.
So, for the second consecutive year, I have to pull for the Canadian representative. At least if the Senators do win it all, it makes the Penguins' first-round exit a little easier to take, since we went as far as any team was able to go against them (all teams have succumbed to Ottawa in 5 games so far). I don't care if it takes them 7, as long as they get it done.
Put Shamu Salami on another team, then I'll root for him.
First, a LOOONG overdue thanks to Charlie at Bucs Dugout for giving my site a link on his page. I don't remember actually sending him my link or setting up a link exchange (pure laziness on my part...it's not like I don't enjoy reading blogs written by people who tend to know more stuff than me). And, of course, a thanks for calling this rag "well-written."
Secondly, "big ups" to loyal reader and Steeltown Angel Tiffany for being what I consider the punctuation mark on a pretty amusing running gag on John Fedko's Fone Zone program on PCNC.
If I am, somehow, your only link to the Pittsburgh blog scene, the joke is that callers would Fone into the Zone and start their calls with a seemingly relevant issue in Pittsburgh sports, whether it be Pirate pitchers or injured/unsigned Steelers players, and then the call would end with the caller asking why Gary Roberts (of the Penguins) isn't being used to fill these important roles.
Anyway, back to Tiffany's capper. Go to this page. Watch the first video, and listen toward the end.
I feel kind of bad for Fedko. I know a good deal of people resent him or just generally hate him. Show me this two years ago and I'm rolling in the aisles. Now I'm just chuckling despite myself.
I'll say this again: Sports talk is a lot harder than it looks when you run the show. Let the "inmates run the asylum," as it were, it's very difficult to recover from.
I will say that the thing that irks me about Fedko is that he does seem to try to be cool in that way that your dad tries to be cool with you when you're a teenager. "What's up, my man!"
Read: Looking anything but.
But he also seems to be going for a Jim Rome kind of feel. "Let's just call 'em 'Team Turmoil'."
So, if you're trying to be the cool father-figure type AND taking a model from a terrible sports talk show host, you're begging for a run of prank calls.
Of course, I don't know what that says about me, since...
---One, Perhaps Two---
A comment in a subsequent Pensblog post read thus:
Not that I'm overly concerned, because:
1) I'll be able to laugh it (them) off and maybe play with it (them) a bit; and,
2) I'm small-time enough that if I make a total jackass of myself, it won't take terribly long to live down.
That said, I have a short show scheduled on Saturday, June 9th from after the noon news until Pirate pregame at 12:40PM.
There is a possibility that I'll have a show on either Tuesday the 29th or Wednesday the 30th of this month (next week) for an hour and a half, depending on if I'll be on remotes those evenings. I should know more by tomorrow afternoon. A VERY outside chance that I'll have both the 29th and 30th.
Monday, May 14, 2007
-- Faneca situation overblown.
-- Bucs explode. Finally.
-- Oh, Canada.
Ok. My attempt at making "Faneca-cal" read like "Fanatical" failed. Forget it.
"I've done my piece, I've done my time, I've done everything I can for this organization.
"I lived and breathed Steelers football for nine years and gave them everything I had, helped them win a Super Bowl. In my mind, I've earned the right to be treated fairly. To make me go out there this year, play football with no security ... for what I've done for this organization, in my mind is not right." -- Alan Faneca, Steelers guard
This is old news to anyone who follows the Steelers even semi-regularly during the off-season. It has a majority of the people who care saying to go ahead and run Faneca out on a rail. Most of the rest claiming that Faneca has a very valid point.
Another take on this, and I find myself believing this more than not, comes from George Von Benko, host of "The Sportsline" (Saturdays 10:15AM-Noon on 590AM, WMBS) and writer of the MLB.com recaps for the Pirates during home games. He was at that press conference and said that the whole thing was very structured. He knew what he was doing, pretty much following the textbook example set by previous disgruntled players, like Joey Porter. The other half is that other teams are paying out the wazoo for offensive linemen.
Like Right Tackle Langston Walker. Signed with the Bills for $10 million in guaranteed money. Just a year after playing for a putrid Oakland Raiders squad.
I've heard tell that one of the Bengals also signed some egregious contract, but I can't find it. It's this kind of spending that makes relievers in the major leagues so highly-paid. Fortunately, there is such a thing as a salary cap. Unfortunately, that salary cap is something that will be growing.
Bottom line, Faneca's view of his own worth as a frequent pro-bowler and a critical member of a championship squad will see him unhappy all year unless the Steelers cut him loose now or sign him to a multi-year deal.
The Steelers, in their first draft under Mike Tomlin, obviously made a commitment to attempt to strengthen the defensive side of their game first. Unfortunately, they didn't save any bones in the cupboard for the hungry dogs who will be keeping Ben the Large safe.
Of course, if the new offense under Bruce Arians is going to take on an Indy-esque feel, as Yahoo!'s Charles Robinson writes, the Steelers are going to have to do something to either keep Faneca happy for another season, whether it's here in Pittsburgh or not.
---Equal and Opposite---
If someone told you last week that the Pirates were going to score a total of 20 runs in a three-game series soon, you would have accused that person of being a hopeless homer. If they had said 20 runs in a 2-game span, you would have had no choice but to ask them point blank: "Have you been watching the Bucs this year?"
Following a 13-2 rout of Atlanta on Mother's Day and a 7-0 win tonight, the Pirate offense shows signs that it might just be waking up. A big part of that: Freddy Sanchez.
His 7-for-11 with 5 RBIs in those two games pretty much provided all the run support that studs Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny would need. Every starter except for Snell got at least one hit Sunday, and only Jack Wilson was denied a knock tonight (but he did draw a walk and scored the first Pirate run). Heck, even Jose Castillo, playing tonight because of an injury to Jose Bautista raised his average above the Mendoza line and is now at .205.
More amazingly, only one of those 20 points came from a home run. And even that Ronny Paulino blast wasn't cheap; his laser-shot went out at just about the deepest place PNC Park has to offer.
Consecutive hits will work wonders for your offense.
The optimist looks at this and says, "Finally, the Pirates are putting together the offense we were half-expecting to see. They're making up for some of the runs they didn't score early on right now."
The pessimist says, "They're coming back to Earth very soon."
Right now, I have to lean in the pessimist's direction, and it's all based on averages. Even after tonight, the Pirates on-base percentage will still only be good enough for 2nd worst in the National League (Yahoo! hasn't updated their stats yet, so I don't officially know...it won't be better than 2nd worst). They are among the last in home runs hit. And while you don't want your team relying solely on the long ball, you have to know it can happen every once in a timely while.
The Pirate offense has a lot to make up for. Much to do to make even a slightly-pessimistic fan think: hey, the first fifth of the year was an aberration. Unfortunately, very few people will be sold on it until Adam LaRoche can break out of what we can only hope is an extended slump.
We need an equal and opposite reaction from him to mirror this Newtonian reversal that we've glimpsed from the rest of the offense the past two games.
T-minus 65 wins with 125 to play.
---Canada on Top---
And I'm not only referring to the team that our neighbors to the north sent to Moscow for the World Championships.
The Ottawa Senators have a ball-squeezing 3-0 advantage over their foes from across Lake Ontario, the Buffalo Sabres.
I haven't seen much of either, so I can't really comment on it.
But, enjoy Jordan Staal and Colby Armstrong having something to celebrate when it's all said and done:
Consider this practice for something else, Mr. Staal.
Incidently, Jarkko Ruutu of Finland scored a silver medal while Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar came up with bronze medals, accounting for all the Penguins who participated in the World Championships.
Canada went 9-0 in the tournament. Without Sidney Crosby. With whom they'd have probably somehow gone 11-0.
Monday, May 7, 2007
-- Pirates coming undone.
-- Further thoughts on the Steeler draft.
-- Grab bag.
It's getting ugly for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And everything that's been coming their way this past week has largely been of their own doing. They'd be able to get through April with a 12-12 record with one of the lowest batting averages in Major League Baseball and only a middling ERA, which has been gradually on the decline. The Pirates have given up an average of 6 earned runs per game in the month of May (3 of the 39 runs scored by Pirate opponents were unearned).
Worse, the Pirate WHIP (Walks/Hits per inning pitched) is tied for 23rd at 1.47 through May 7, and dead last in OBP (On-base Percentage) at .295 (the tops of those categories are 1.18 [Oakland] and .363 [Philadelphia], respectively).
That the Pirates are only 6.5 games back of the division lead with those statistics is nothing short of fortunate.
Ronny Paulino has been a liability defensively so far, and has not returned with his .300 average to offset some of his lapses on the field.
Adam LaRoche is finally batting in the triple digits, but the power he was to bring to the Pirates has been sorely absent.
Jason Bay has been on-again, off-again.
Jack Wilson is your best hitter for average as of this entry: .288
If this is the offense we can expect for the rest of the season, then the young pitching staff is going to have to live up to the greatest of expectations to keep Pittsburgh in the hunt.
I gave Jim Tracy a one-year pass as manager. Now he knows the players. Now he's had time to adapt. To teach fundamental baseball to the point where we should not be regularly talking about throwing to the wrong base, not dropping down to block a pitch in the dirt, poor execution of hit-and-runs, etc.
The margin for error for this team is slim, indeed. They got away with a lot. They were able to win some games by way of some good fortune. Right now, they don't look like they're any better now than they were last year as a team. Honestly, I'd rather see a team with last year's record playing good baseball (if that combination would somehow be possible), then a team playing pretty shaky baseball with a better record.
Finally, there's an article out there that many of the authors of Pirate-based blogs are jumping on.
Not me. Well, at least not enough to go out and declare it the best analytical Pirates piece written this year.
Read it for yourself and tell me what you think. I already mentioned the fundamentals portion, but where I think this story falls short is when it tries to link play of the fielders to this statistic:
The Pirates have recorded outs on 68.9 percent of all balls put in play, no matter the scorer's decision or even if they are home runs. No judgment involved. And that figure is fourth-lowest in the game.
From the games I've seen, this is more a factor of opposing hitters smoking balls past infielders. A dream infield would have difficulty catching up to many of these laser shots. This falls on the pitchers (refer to WHIP, which is tied for 5th worst in the league) far more than the offense. Oh, and since they don't filter out home runs surrendered (Bucs in the middle, surrendering 27), again, refer to the mound. I don't have the resources that DK has. I wonder what the percentage outs-to-balls-in-play ratio was then.
Thirty games gone. One hundred 32 to go. Roughly one-fifth into the season. Not quite. Jack Wilson committed 18 errors in 2006 during Operation Bulk-up. He changed that regimen this past offseason, and is on pace for 10 or 11 errors. Improvement is improvement, and shortstop is one of the busiest defensive positions in ball. Freddy Sanchez, maligned in said article for his lack of range, has also committed two errors so far, for a fielding percentage of .981 at his "new position". He is doing no better or worse than last year when he played most of his season at the Hot Corner. Jose Castillo had a fielding percentage of .975 for last season at second.
Of course, the thing about statistics is that you can skew them in any direction possible. So, by comparing these statistics to those of last year, I'd say the defense itself is not the problem. Defensive alignments may be something else. I don't see Pirate players shading too many lefties toward right field (i.e. Jack Wilson is almost never standing behind 2nd base with LaRoche playing the line and Sanchez playing in between against a Jim Edmonds-type.
I will think on this.
Bottom line: starting pitchers need to adapt to what opposing team's scouts are finding about them to stay a step ahead of the game. The offense needs to stop trying so hard to get an opposite field hit or to put one over the fence. We'll worry more about the defense when the first two issues start to come around.
T-minus 71 wins.
The more I read on message boards and blogs and the like, the more I am finding that there are a lot of people who would say last year's wide receiver-heavy draft was better than this year's.
A major complaint: A punter taken in the 4th round. "You never take a punter in the 4th round. Ever."
Well, when losing field position battles virtually all season was a major problem, I think there's a strong argument for taking a guy whose greatest weakness might end up being out-kicking his coverage. But if he can angle one of his booming punts to approach the sideline inside the 10, we may have a true hero on the team (who will, of course, go largely unsung).
A jock on 105.9 FM, Grim (or perhaps, "Grimm"), said it best, "You're not going to fix all of your 8-and-8 team's problems in one draft."
An improvement on defense and special teams will help give the offense a slightly easier time. Next year, they'll probably end up looking at offensive linemen. I don't know if the Steelers looked ahead and said, "Hey, you know what? The 2008 class looks to be loaded with more O-lineman than here in '07. Let's stock up on defensive players." Again, I don't follow College ball enough to know who's who. Again, I invite those in the know to let me know if there are any seniors (or draft-eligable underclassmen) that people already have an eyeball on.
And did I ever mention that Randy Moss + Tom Brady = Uh oh?
Training Camp opens in 77 days...
I am complete mud when it comes to my sports-related predictions this year. My Stanley Cup champion pick (New Jersey) fell in a relatively easy 5 games to the same team that victimized the Penguins. NJ's defense was unable to trap the Senators' offense enough during the series, and Marty Brodeur looked human at times when he would normally look God-like.
Why was I pulling for the Devils? Well, I like defensive hockey, first off, and they are a franchise that epitomizes that. Secondly, I want Brodeur to eclipse Patrick Roy in as many records as possible, because I could not stand the former Hab/Nordique/Av.
Ah, well. At least, Detroit currently has a 2-0 lead against the Sharks after 1. If they hold on to win, at least one of my Stanley Cup Finalists will still be alive entering the next-to-last round...
Oh, back to my being mud: I thought Oscar de la Hoya would be Floyd Mayweather on Saturday. Decisively.
There was no ownership in that match, but Mayweather prevailed in a decision.
Being on pay-per-view, live from Las Vegas, I figured that there was a better chance of either fighter being knocked out in Round 1 or 2, than for the fight to go the distance and be decided by decision. I have to get out of this funk, or I'm going to be taken less seriously than I already am. Sheesh...
Sidney Crosby will probably win the Hart.
Roberto Luongo will probably win the Vezina.
Evgeni Malkin will probably win the Calder (but my gut is telling me that it'll be Jordan Staal, despite his low assists).
The folks at ThePensBlog love them some "Heroes". Of course, so do I. I am grateful to the modern-day technology that lets me record shows and view them online with limited commercial interruption. Why? Because I usually work Monday nights at WMBS, and have no TV access (and have to be paying attention to other stuff anyway). Worst of all, "Heroes", just HAD to run opposite of my other favorite TV show: "24".
I will grant that "24" this season has been more of a "shut your brain off and enjoy the ride." Nowhere nearly as cerebral as it's been. And "Heroes" is much fresher, and has fielded a team of writers who've been consistently good. And the heroines (and villainesses) are measurably hotter.
At left, Ali Larter of "Heroes". At right, Mary Lynn Rajskub of "24".
So, I record "24" on the VCR and watch "Heroes" online. Otherwise, I would be depriving myself of the entertaining TV that I haven't had since the days of "The X-Files" and "Millennium" running back to back in the mid-90's.
Frank Black owned Friday prime time.
Incidently, Lance Henriksen just turned 67 on Saturday.
Oh, and don't confuse Frank Black of "Millennium" with Frank Black of "The Pixies".
The Original Debaser