Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Tuesday Pirates Rant™

Another quick Rant™ for you today. Why quick? Because I honestly have no idea what to say right now. Despite having just about the worst offense imagineable, and despite having a closer with three blown saves and a 6.75 ERA, the Pirates are 12-12 through the first month of the season. What does this mean? I have no idea. So on we go...


* Ryan Doumit, previously known as the Pirates’ “catcher of the future” before getting hurt and losing his job to Ronnie Paulino, who doesn’t hit for power and allows passed balls to flow like water but “handles the pitchers well,” was finally called up from AAA (where he was batting about .425) last week and proceeded to give the Pirates their best offensive boost of the season. Through just 17 at-bats with the Buccos, Doumit has a .412 average, a .487 on-base %, 1 HR, 4 RBI’s, 3 doubles, and a .765 slugging %. He’ll come back down to earth at some point, but his quick contribution is something Pittsburgh has desperately needed.

* Chris Duffy has good weeks and bad weeks, but my goal for him was a .333 on-base %, so I can’t complain about his .350 OBP, 5 SB’s, and 12 runs.

* Ian Snell is just about the best starting pitcher in the NL. Through five outstandings starts (in which he’s earned just two wins thanks to the offense), he has a 1.58 ERA and 28 K’s in 34 innings of work. He has allowed just 35 baserunners. Eventually he’ll have a bad start, but I’m starting to think he won’t have too many of them. Then again, with everything I say in the Rant™, the exact opposite proceeds to happen, so...uhh...Ian Snell Sucks.

* Elsewhere in the rotation, Tom Gorzelanny got roughed up by the Reds over the weekend, but I won’t complain about a 3-1 record, 3.06 ERA, and 21-8 K-BB ratio. And Zach Duke and Paul Maholm responded to my negative words in last week’s Rant™ by pitching three strong starts between the two of them.

* Simply put, even with Torres’ horrid start, the bullpen has been as good as it possibly could be. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Stats Geek had a great write-up about it recently. The Pirates’ bad overall offense has put the bullpen in more pressure situations than any other team in baseball, and guys like Matt Capps and Jonah Bayliss are by far the primary reason why the Pirates are at .500 right now.

* With the game tied at 2 in the 8th inning last night, Jason Bay hit his second game-winning HR of the season, as the Pirates won 3-2 over the Cubs. That's gotta go on the 'Good' list, right?


* Defending NL batting champ Freddy Sanchez is STRUG-A-LING. He has just 3 hits in his last 23 at-bats and is batting .224 overall. He has not yet shaken off the rust that accrued when he missed most of the spring with an ankle injury. With a few more reps, he should be alright, but he’s dragging things down for right now.

(And of course, in anticipation of tonight’s Rant™, Sanchez is 2-for-2 so far tonight.)

* Salomon Torres has been very unlucky so far, as errors and hits that barely squeak through the infield have decimated him. But in 12 innings, he’s struck out just 6 and walked 5. That’s not good enough for a closer.

* Adam LaRoche has hit just .150 over his last 40 at-bats. However, that’s actually RAISED his average, to a robust .133. Ouch. But this “hot” streak has moved him ahead of Pittsburgh’s pitchers in the hits department, so...yeah.

* Pittsburgh has scored 3 or less runs 13 times in 24 games this season. THIRTEEN. Thanks to Snell, Gorzy, and the heroic bullpen, the Pirates have managed a 5-8 record in those games, but...ugh. When Pittsburgh manages more than 3 runs, they’re 7-4. I say score more runs.

So...is Pittsburgh teetering on the edge of a cliff, or are they about to catch fire? The odds of the offense picking up steam seem about as high as the bullpen imploding, so I don’t really know what to expect. Looking at their run differential and the fact that they’re 9-3 in games decided by 2 or less, you think a regression is more likely. But then looking at the fact that just about every Pirate other than Doumit and Duffy are hitting below their career numbers, and their closer has been the worst closer in the league not named Mariano Rivera (and will surely improve, right? Right?), you start to think the opposite. This is, however, the Pirates, so I think you know I'm assuming the former, not the latter.


Pat from WHYGAVS, responding to a Post-Gazette Q&A regarding crap utility infielder Don Kelly:

From Dejan's chat at the PG site today:

STricky_Kidean: Why is Don Kelly still on this team?

Dejan Kovacevic: I get the idea that the Pirates would like to groom a utilityman from within, and they feel that Kelly could be that guy for a long time. What might be the better question is why he is taking so many significant at-bats. You look at his ABs and place them against, Nate McLouth's, and they seem a little too close for comfort.
Holy freaking crap, this is insane. Why the hell are the Pirates worried about grooming a utilityman from within? Because of the severe Jose K blogger fallout last year? Utilityman is the one position that it's probably best to grab some old guy for $800K in March and toss at-bats too. We're grooming utilitymen now? I don't know what to say.
And finally, Ken from the ever-enjoyable FireJoeMorgan.com reads and reacts to a Post-Gazette article from last week about “clutch” and whether “clutch” actually exists. Read the whole thing. Here’s a taste:

There is no bigger proponent of clutch in the Pirates' clubhouse than the man in charge.

When his team wins, Jim Tracy invariably points to "big" hits that were delivered. When the team loses, he points to the lack of same.

If you win a baseball game, ipso facto, you have gotten some "big" hits. If you lose a baseball game, ipso facto, you have failed to get some "big" hits. This is tautology, Mr. Tracy. Tautology, I say! (I mean, even if you are up 15-5 in the seventh inning and you fall apart and lose 16-15, you could look back and say, "If we had only cashed in on that bases-loaded-nobody-out in the fourth..." You get the idea.)

Even after the Pirates were blanked on three measly hits in their home opener April 9, Tracy lamented, "We had chances."

Yes. At least 27 of them. Like in every game.

Tracy's view is reflected in how he forms his lineup, bucking the modern thinking that the highest on-base percentage players should be stacked at the top. Instead, he favors the more traditional approach of getting the runner on, moving him along and getting a "big" hit.

How's that working out for you, Jimmy?

"Isn't that what makes teams good?" Tracy said when asked about his value of clutch. "It's what separates you from the pack, your ability to take the big at-bat. You don't expect somebody to hit 1.000 with runners in scoring position, but you have to get your share of hits in those situations. Look at the upper echelon of clubs, and that's what you look for. And if we can get to that point, we've got a chance to become a pretty decent team."

Amazing. Just amazing. I don't know where to begin.

What makes teams good, offensively, is not making outs. And of course you have to "get your share of hits" in any situation. But what in the world would prevent you from putting your high OBP guys at the top of the line-up? Baseball Prospectus has proved that line-up order doesn't really matter that much, but the higher in the order you are, the more AB you get. And the higher your OBP, the fewer outs you make, so -- given those extra AB -- you will increase your chance of winning baseball games. This is not black magic, people. This is straightforward logic. Delivered in a exaggeratedly strident tones over a blog.