Archive for the ‘Pirates’ Category

Lay Off the Pirates Already

July 31, 2009

So it’s very, very popular — fashionable, even — to slam the Pirates lately. And by “lately,” I mean these last few days, but also the last sixteen years.

And it’s understandable to a point. They are going to finish this year with their seventeenth straight losing season; no way around that. And then all those fire sales. How can you ever stop losing if you trade off all their players every year? One of the articles linked above goes so far as to call it a “losing philosophy” (should be no surprise that’s from the Red Sox’ flagship network); another calls it “business as usual” and predicts that the prospects they’re gathering in these deals will be ushered out in the same way this year’s roster was, and blames them for not drafting well…naming three players the youngest of which was drafted five years ago.

Well, it’s time to stop all that. It really is. This may look like the same old Pirates (that is, forever becoming the new Pirates, jettisoning talent to save money), but to the extent that that ever existed, this is very different.

First: It makes no sense to look for patterns in the last sixteen years. Neal Huntington has been General Manager of this club for two years. And he’s done a weird thing here and there, but it’s pretty clear that he’s smarter than the other guys.

Second: I’ve heard at least five different people talk about what a great team the Pirates could’ve had if they’d just been able to hang onto their players. Well…no.
C: haven’t traded a good one, unless you go back to Jason Kendall (2004)
1B: Adam LaRoche
2B: Freddy Sanchez
3B: Jose Bautista
SS: Jack Wilson
LF: Jason Bay
CF: Nate McLouth
RF: Nyjer Morgan or Xavier Nady

SP: Snell, Gorzelanny.

Sanchez is a slightly above average player. Jason Bay, for all the attention he gets for the RBI and stuff, is…a slightly above average player, thanks to his glove (or lack of any idea what to do with one). Ditto McLouth. Wilson and Morgan are talented defensive players who can’t hit and aren’t young enough to learn. The rest, currently, are all somewhere between subpar regulars and terrible baseball players. So depending on the rest of the pitching (and there’d better be a lot of it), this could be an 80-win team. Even if you want to go all the way back to 2003 and add Aramis Ramirez to the mix and gave them their current catcher (Ryan Doumit) back…give them 83 wins. At the best.

They weren’t going to compete with that squad, and none of those guys except maybe Morgan were going to be around the next time they might compete. Each of the guys above was worth more to some other team than he was to the Pirates. Basic rule of economics (probably too basic): if you have something and someone values that something more than you do, you should take as much as they’re willing to give you for it.

Third: They’re not giving these guys away, you know. They somehow took a freakish half-season from the very mediocre Xavier Nady and got the Yankees to give them Jose Tabata for it, now a 20 year old more than holding his own in AA. The Giants gave them Tim Alderson for Sanchez for some reason–a pitcher and another 20 year old doing well in AA. And then there’s former top prospects Milledge, Clement, and Andy LaRoche, still decent bets to be good players sometime soon. And then there’s a litany of lower-profile or too-soon-to-tell guys, and it’s not like those don’t have plenty of value too. They’ve built themselves, if not a good farm system, then one that’s much better than they could’ve dreamed of having two years ago.

Fourth: This Pirates team (as opposed to the pre-Huntington one) does draft well. The negotiations with Pedro BorasAlvarez were a farce, but he’s signed now, and is doing fine in his first pro season and could be doing fine in the Majors by 2010. Andrew McCutchen was drafted under the other regime, but is 22 and going to be a star very soon.

Fifth: They play in the best ballpark in the Majors (at least among those built in the last ninety years or so), and in a good sports town. Start to show signs of putting a winning team together, and the fans — though it’ll certainly take a while to convince them given their recent history — will come out.

Is there a chance that none of these young guys pan out, or only a few of them, and those guys are gone again as they get toward free agency? Of course there is. (And if that’s what happens, it’ll probably still be the right thing to do.) But there’s a pretty good chance that, two or three years down the road, a bunch of these guys will be household names, and they’ll be looking to bring in a few guys to put them over the top.

So maybe it happens, and maybe it doesn’t. But I like the moves they’ve been making lately, for the most part. And whatever happens two or three years down the road, hanging on to Sanchez or Adam LaRoche now wasn’t going to make that future any brighter.

So Who’s Garrett Jones?

July 23, 2009

I mean, aside from “the one ex-Twin I would’ve been most surprised to be blogging about three months ago”?

Jones was born in the Chicago-area city of Harvey, Illinois, also the hometown of Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau (though I wonder if a small city twenty-five miles from here would be considered “Chicago-area” in 1917). He was drafted by the Braves in the 14th round of the 1999 draft. He’s listed at 6’4″, 225 pounds. He’s played 1,038 minor league games and hit 158 minor league home runs.

And now he’s hitting like Babe Ruth. He played in his 17th game of the season on Wednesday, and hit his ninth home run. Through Wednesday, he’s hitting .313/.378/.821. If he had started the Pirates’ season this way, he’d be on pace for 86 homers and 48 doubles (and, because he plays for the Pirates, only 104 RBI).

He’s getting worshipful newspaper columns.

Garrett Jones is, frankly, a minor league slugger, and not a particularly great one. Or that’s what he was through July. His career minor league line was .258/.312/.450. He opened some eyes with a nice year split among high-A and double-A as a 23 year old in 2003, thereby earning himself the reputation among the team and media as the secret hidden power in the minors and holding it for the next three years or so. But it wasn’t even that nice (.302/.347/.564, 31 HR, which doesn’t project well from a 23 year old who spent half that time in high-A), and he went downhill from there, with two straight years of approximately a .300 OBP in triple-A.

His pre-this-month career major league line was .208/.262/.338, with 2 HR in 84 PA for the Twins in 2007. Yet he kept getting referred to as the potential power the Twins sorely needed, which was very successful in drawing the wrath of Gleeman.

This year, Jones was having a solid year with the Pirates’ AAA club, but not that solid: .307/.348/.502. That compares pretty well to his .279/.337/.484 line from 2008, and definitely isn’t the kind of thing that sends a signal that a 28 year old is about to break out in a big way.

But break out he has, so far. He homered in four straight games (five total), and before that happened he was slugging .613. Right now, it looks an awful lot like they won’t be missing whiny Adam LaRoche at all. But…

Jones, 2009: .313/.378/.821, 9 HR (69 PA)
Chris Shelton, first 17 games of 2006: .406/.457/1.000, 9 HR (70 PA)
Chris Shelton, rest of 2006: .246/.316/.356, 6 HR (342 PA)
Chris Shelton, since: .219/.328/.333, 2 HR (126 PA)

It’s great that, per the article linked above, John Russell thinks Jones can keep it up, and the columnist thinks that Jones “looks the part.” But in the ways that matter, he looks a lot more like Chris Shelton. In fact, he’s two years older than Shelton was in 2006, and Shelton’s minor league numbers through that time were significantly better (and he’s still raking in the minors, by the way, now for the Tacoma Rainiers; he just can’t do it in the bigs).

I hope Jones really did just flip a switch and turn into a star. The Pirates need some good news, and he always struck me as a decent guy. But the odds of that happening were really, really low when the Pirates called him up three weeks ago, and as impressive as his first seventeen games have been, not much has changed on that front. He’s still just a 28 year old, middling minor league slugger having a really solid few weeks, and it’ll take quite a bit more than that to prove otherwise.

Here’s hoping he proves otherwise.

Insert Your Own Corny Pirate-y Pun Here

June 19, 2009

Well, the Twins played three with the Pirates this week as part of the ongoing abomination that is interleague play.

Which can really only mean one thing: for the first time in, at least, weeks, I noticed the Pirates.

And hey: they don’t stink right now! They dropped two of three to the Twins, but they took two of three from the Tigers right before that and came into the Twins series at 30-33, or closer to .500 than many Pirates fans can even remember (not true at all–actually, they had about the same record at this time last year, and then everything fell apart–but it’s kind of fun to write). They have a positive run differential (+4), suggesting they might’ve played even better than that. How did that happen?

Well, Freddy Sanchez has been great; the high batting average and doubles power are back, and he’s held his own at second base. Shortstop Jack Wilson can’t hit, but more than makes up for it with his glove; ditto Nyjer Morgan, easily the most exciting 85-OPS+ left fielder in the league. Zach Duke is back looking like the ace of the pitching staff again. McLouth was doing a fine job in center, but so far McCutchen has been just as good.

Other than that, though? Really hard to say. Brandon Moss looks good in the field, but has been an even worse hitter than Morgan at the other OF corner. The LaRoche brothers have been fine, but certainly no better than average at their respective positions (but it’s nice to see Andy getting a legit chance to show he can play). After Duke, the pitching staff has been awful (it seems like every year, one of Duke, Snell, Gorzelanny and Maholm is pretty decent, and the others take a year off–though to be fair, Maholm has been at least an average starter, and even has Duke beat in FIP). They don’t have anybody that you’d really think will get a lot better anytime soon.

So anyway, I came into this hoping to be able to say “look out for the Pirates!” or something like that. But…no. They’re only six games out at this writing, but with four teams in front of them, each of whom is probably legitimately a much better team than they are. This year’s out. And you have to think there’ll be some more selling off before this season’s over; Adam LaRoche is a good bet to go, and they don’t exactly have another league-average 1B ready to step in. Jack Wilson’s probably gone too. Freddy Sanchez might stay around forever…but he’s already 31, and probably not actually this good.

And it’s hard to see them getting too much better in the near future. The Reds are up-and-comers. The Brewers will be pretty good for a couple more years, probably, and the Cubs have the resources to be good just about every year if they want to, and the Cardinals…well, the Cards have Pujols.

After McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, there’s not much on the way. Jose Tabata might still be pretty good some day…but that day is at least three years off. They took a “signability pick” college catcher with the #4 pick in last week’s draft. It’s hard to see them getting enough for LaRoche and whoever else they might get rid of to suddenly become a real contender in a year or two.

Come to think of it, it sucks being a Pirate fan. Maybe more than anything else in baseball. But hey, right now, they don’t stink!