Saturday, June 12, 2010

#152: Defeat Goes On...

---...As Does the Spin---

Before my next Pirates lament, a couple of quick hits:

1) I need better sources. No sooner had I declared that all-around baseball stud Bryce Harper was, in fact, going to fall from the top slot in this past week's draft, than I learned that Washington was undoubtedly going to take him. Talk about an unneeded hit to one's already insignificant credibility. In any event, now that Bucs have drafted the best remaining pitcher, it remains to be seen if he will be signed.

2) Chicago wins the Stanley Cup. Steeltown Sports went 10-5 this year predicting each series' victor on the Shots-on-Goal Differential scale, though predicting a hot goalie (and, usually, the number of games) remained a challenge. Make no mistake, though. Montreal's run to the Eastern Conference Final was the biggest statistical fluke we've seen in a long while.

3) Props to the Philadelphia Flyers for hanging with the 'Hawks. Four of the six games were decided by one goal (two in overtime), a fifth game could have been a one-goal game if not for an empty-netter, and had Chicago goaltender Antti Niemi not made the best save he's made all playoffs, we'd have been looking at a seventh game.

4) Today is the one-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the Cup against Detroit in that heart-stopping Game 7.

With the preliminaries done, let's talk baseball.

Sort of.

As of this entry, the Pittsburgh Pirates are 23-38 (15 games under .500), and owners of a six-game losing streak. They are in the National League Central cellar by a full game entering play tonight (which takes into account a Houston loss to the Yankees this afternoon), and they're tied for the 2nd worst winning percentage in all of baseball (with Seattle, better only than Baltimore).

And this, believe it or not, might be the good news.

One of my favorite lines from the comic play "Fools" by Neil Simon says:

"When you're going downhill, it gets faster at the bottom."

Now, while this character is misquoting the idea (replacing "toward" with "at"), this is very appropriate when talking about the Pirates and their current five-year plan (the end of this season will essentially mark the end of Year Three).

Another "plan" is virtually in shambles, and ownership and management know it.

Every year, they have a player who they can market the team around. Last year, it was Andrew McCutchen. The year before, Nate McClouth. Before that, probably Jason Bay, or maybe Freddy Sanchez.

This year, it looks like McCutchen is again the guy, but he's not as fresh. Neil Walker is showing promise, especially considering that he was drafted as a catcher, but now plays on the opposite side of the diamond in the Bigs.

I can only imagine how much the marketing department is struggling right now.

Anyway, Pittsburgh (to my surprise) finally promoted outfielder Jose Tabata and pitcher Brad Lincoln, probably hoping to generate some buzz.

To a certain extent, they even managed to screw that up.

Lincoln could have made his debut facing off against last year's number one overall draft pick in Stephen Strasburg (whom even the likes of Greg-Maddux-in-his-prime would have struggled to outduel that night, let alone Jeff Karstens).

I haven't even bothered to read why they didn't allow Lincoln to debut at the same time, giving a national spotlight (albeit on the MLB Network) on both clubs, not just on Washington. While it's unlikely that the outcome of the game would have been much different, all of the pressure still would have been on Strasburg. Instead, Lincoln had the spotlight squarely on him the following game, and he got stung.

Something tells me that Pedro Alvarez is to be their late July call-up when the entire season is in the crapper (30 games under) to get butts in seats late. Lincoln and Tabata are just to keep people paying attention so that they'll know when it happens.

You know things are bad when we start predicting the spin, rather than anything relevant to the game.

So, how bad is this team statistically?

Well, start with one of the key indicators of whether a team is at least heading in the right direction: run differential.

For the statistical novice, this is easy to compute if you can't find it on some stats page: take the total number of runs scored, and subtract the number of runs against. The Pirates are the league's worst in that category (-144). Next closest is Baltimore (-117). Then Houston (-96). Best? Tampa Bay (+101).

According to the Relative Power Rankings (RPI) at, the Pirates expected record is 15-46.

While a good many of us don't hold ESPN in the highest of esteem (I personally think its letters stand for "If You're Not in a Big City, We Don't Care" in Icelandic), it still makes you scratch your head that, given the statistical data accumulated so far this season, the Pirates are actually overachieving this season by eight games!

That's difficult to swallow, considering that they have scored the fewest runs and possess the league's second-highest ERA and WHIP.

The Bucs need a mere 44 defeats on the season, and the record number of losing seasons legally becomes an adult.

The losing streak will have to register with Selective Service. It will be able to register to vote. It can drive a car after midnight.

I think on that day when the 82nd defeat occurs (which figures to be around August 19 at home to the Marlins), I will loudly declare to anyone who asks me about the losing streak:

"That's MISTER Losing Streak, to YOU!"

At this point, you have to make your own fun.


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