Monday, April 6, 2009

It's Bizarro World

Thing of beauty isn't it? This typically happens for, at most, one day a season so I needed to make sure I documented it in some form.

What a way to start the season of, too. One of the more dramatic Bucco games in my recent memory, probably due in large part to the fact that the season is not yet irrelevant.

Just to recap and show how much of an idiot I really am:
-I've spent weeks and months shouting about Nyjer Morgan stinks and doesn't deserve a starting spot and how the Pirates should turn him into a pinch-running specialist/ 4th outfielder and get it over with. He had the best day of anyone with 3 hits and 2 ha-yuge RBI's from the leadoff spot and looked fine out in left field.
-Jack Wilson, who earlier today I said "falls off a cliff this season at the plate and won't even be tradeable for a few spare fungos by season's end" was the late-game hero after a rusty start with that double off of the surprisingly hittable Jason Motte.
-Andy LaRoche was pretty much the worst player on the field after I pegged him more than once as the most likely breakout candidate on the roster.
-I also said Paul Maholm's numbers would regress a bit this season, but he looked very good for a first start and was definitely better than anything the Cards threw out there, especially his counterpart Adam Wainwright who just didn't seem to have it all together.

Of course, one game isn't going to change my opinions obviously and I still stand by everything that I've said. But for one day all those guys pretty much did the exact opposite of what I said they were gonna do. Nothing builds up a blog's credibility quite like that, eh?

Of course, I also said the Bucs were gonna go 71-91 and if the Bucs do the exact opposite of that and go 91-71 I will be more than fine with having those god-awful predictions on record.

For one day we have a first place baseball club calling Pittsburgh its home, so let's all enjoy it.

Opening Day At Long Last

There are few cooler things than Opening Day baseball. Even if you are just casual about the sport, you have to love the start of the season. It is the ultimate American sporting day, probably just a notch below the opening day of March Madness. And although we have some apparent postponed games today (already two are tallied up), today is still going to be an exciting one, just to know that the sport is finally back and that the games finally count after such a ridiculously long spring training period this year.

Paul Maholm will take the hill for the Bucs a bit later on today as long as it isn't freaking snowing in St. Louis. Because the season kicks off today, I wanted to finally get down my personal predictions for the players and the team as a whole, as any predictions that come after the start of the opener come with an asterisk attached to them. So here we go:

Ryan Doumit: 465 AB .297 BA/ .360 OBP/ .480 SLG
Adam LaRoche 387 AB .276/ .346/ .481 (Traded in late July)
Freddy Sanchez 573 AB .295/ .332/ .403
Jack Wilson 478 AB .270/ .308/ .369
Andy LaRoche 521 AB .271/ .353/ .445
Nyjer Morgan 237 AB .270/ .331/ .354
Nate McLouth 570 AB .275/ .357/ .461
Brandon Moss 486 AB .265/ .334/ .453
Andrew McCutchen 263 AB .262/ .340/ .384
Eric Hinske 346 AB .257/ .343/ .454
Ramon Vasquez 302 AB .248/ .314/ .384
Craig Monroe 194 AB .227/ .295/ .418
Luis Cruz 244 AB .246/ .292/ .357
Jason Jaramillo 111 AB .243/ .333/ .342

Paul Maholm 213 IP 4.06 ERA 147 K 1.33 WHIP 12-12 Record
Ian Snell 178 IP 4.40 ERA 143 K 1.42 WHIP 10-11 Record
Zach Duke 174 IP 4.91 ERA 85 K 1.55 WHIP 8-13 Record
Ross Ohlendorf 151 IP 4.65 ERA 112 K 1.48 WHIP 7-9 Record
Jeff Karstens 120 IP 4.80 ERA 72 K 1.51 WHIP 5-7 Record
Daniel McCutchen 83 IP 5.10 ERA 64 K 1.62 WHIP 2-5 Record
Matt Capps 70 IP 2.57 ERA 54 K 1.03 WHIP 37 Saves
John Grabow 46 IP 3.91 ERA 40 K 1.26 WHIP (traded in late July)
Tyler Yates 63 IP 4.43 ERA 57 K 1.49 WHIP
Sean Burnett 65 IP 4.85 ERA 40 K 1.58 WHIP
Evan Meek 51 IP 3.88 ERA 38 K 1.39 WHIP
Craig Hansen 47 IP 5.36 ERA 34 K 1.70 WHIP
Jesse Chavez 40 IP 5.63 ERA 25 K 1.80 WHIP
Donnie Veal 10 IP 8.10 ERA 5 K 2.00 WHIP

Obviously, I'm not projecting this out to be a very good baseball team. There is a definite lack of power, especially if a projected Adam LaRoche trade goes through. The bullpen is going to be a cobbled-together mess for the most part. Really, I only have a couple guys with breakout-type seasons. I like Evan Meek a lot and think he will be up with this team before May 1st and will become our best righty setup man by year's end. I also think Andy LaRoche has a nice season at third base (a .798 OPS would have placed him anywhere between 9th and 12 among qualifying major league third basemen in each of the past 5 seasons. Not too shabby.) I think Ryan Doumit will have a lower SLG, but only because the batting average may drop a bit. If anything, I'd guess his home run total increases (to 20 or so) and that the doubles total decreases a bit. Brandon Moss will be a serviceable corner outfielder at the plate (not in the field though) and can at least hold the fort down until Tabata is ready at some point in 2010.

I think Jack Wilson falls off a cliff this season at the plate and won't even be tradeable for a few spare fungos by season's end. I also think Nate McLouth's power regresses a bit. Andrew McCutchen is not going to be the immediate savior we are all praying for. Don't get me wrong, I've seen this kid play and think he will be VERY good, but a .724 OPS probably is around the range we should reasonably expect. Any more than that, and it's a gift. This season is just about getting him comfortable with the bigs to the point that he is capable of a big 2010 season. Nyjer Morgan gives us so-so numbers but clearly isn't starter material. Freddy Sanchez's average bounces back but the power doesn't and he begins to stumble down that same cliff his buddy Jack is struggling with. I also think Craig Monroe stinks the joint out this season. I don't like Monroe much, and the only reason I see him getting as many at-bats as I have him slated for is because the Pirates need some power.

As for the ain't sexy. Paul Maholm's ERA was a bit too good last season, and while I still like Maholm and think he'll turn in a decent year I think that a 4.00 ERA is more in his range. I think Snell bounces back a bit, as he was bit by some bad luck on the mound last year, and that Duke gives us a second consecutive year of mediocrity. At this point, there's no reason to expect anything different from the Duke. I like Ohlendorf to show some flashes this season and provide a glimmer of hope as a 3/4 starter type for the coming years. And I think Karstens will be one of the better number 5 starters we have seen in Pittsburgh, but that's not really a complement. I also predict that Tom Gorzelanny doesn't pitch an inning in Pittsburgh and makes the dreaded trip to Mobile to see Dr. Andrews, as his struggles seem best explained by an injury to me.

In the bullpen I figure Matt Capps has a big year as the closer and could challenge for 40 saves. I also think this is the season that the long-rumored John Grabow trade finally comes to fruition. Other than Meek there's nothing here to be surprised or excited about.

All in all, I'm projecting a 71-91 record for the Pirates in the coming season, and the sad thing is I think I'm probably being a little optimistic considering all these issues.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Three Rivers Three Links: April 3

1. Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke brings up the very relevant topic of the economic impact not just on the Pirates this season but also on how it could damage some of their long-term plans. At some point, I'm gonna post on this myself, but that's still a work-in-progress. Still, WHYGAVS makes excellent points across the board, especially in regard to the spending the Pirates finally started last season within their system. If the Pirates aren't able to invest as much into the draft or Latin America they lose any chance of making up ground on the other organizations. Also interesting is that there is, I think, a very good description of the backwards-thinking that might occur this season among Pirate fans upset over the record-breaking losing season. "These are the fans that either don't pay enough attention to understand what Huntington's doing, don't understand the intricacies of rebuilding a baseball franchise, or simply don't have the patience to wait."

2. Hey look, this blog doesn't get a running joke when it sees one! I wouldn't think it would be terribly hard to grasp that fans making up t-shirts to celebrate beating a community college and "chirping" before the game is a running joke among the fans. When you're a Pirate fan, you NEED to have a sense of humor about yourself. It's the only way to survive. But yet this blog completely flips out for no reason and uses capital letters about how "YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BEAT THEM!!" Yeah, sure we are, but even a casual fan can look at the box score and see that it shows that the Pirates were more interested in getting different guys' work then winning the game. While some of our top prospects may have played (Cutch, Tabata, Walker, and Bixler all played but were pulled very early) the pitchers were a bunch of scrubs. Like I said, I couldn't possibly be less concerned about this loss considering Virgil Vasquez and Dave Davidson were the culprits on the mound. So please baseball blogs the world over, don't go so ridiculously over the top with your hyperbole to try and tell us that an exhibition game with prospects and scrubs losing to a college team means the Pirates "crush the hopes and dreams of their fans" for the season.

3. Jon Heyman, one of the most underrated writers out there, lists 30 breakout candidates for the 09 baseball season. Whether you are interested for fantasy reasons or just curiosity, it's worth a look. Number 1 on that list? None other than Paul Maholm. No other Bucs make an appearance, though, but I am excited about having multiple players listed here on my fantasy teams.

Reasons To Get Excited About the 2009 Pirates

When you are a Pirate fan, it can be a little bit difficult to get excited about another baseball season. Especially when there has been very little in the way of off-season change and the team that will take the field on Opening Day figures to be almost identical to the squad that was the worst team in baseball from last August onward.

So instead you have to look for little things and get excited about them and focus more on things like how future key players are progressing and other minor victories. With all that in mind, and with the start of the regular season just 3 days away, I compiled 10 the reasons that I'm excited about your 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates.

The potential return from another summer firesale- Jack Wilson and Adam LaRoche are both highly likely to be wearing different colored uniforms by August 1. It will be very interesting to see how Neal Huntington handles his second trade deadline, especially now that there isn't the same absolute desperation to add any sort of decent starting arms to the upper levels of the organization that there was last season. In addition, John Grabow, Matt Capps, and any of the established veterans on the roster are trade candidates and could at least fetch an OK return.

A Bounceback Year for Ian Snell- I'm calling it right now. Snell is in for a return to the 2007 form that made him such an intriguing player. I think he turns into a very solid number 2 starter behind Paul Maholm and would be a nice complement as a power pitcher behind Maholm's crafty routine.

Throwing a bunch of Starting Pitchers at the wall and seeing what sticks- For the first time in recent times, the Pirates have a decent amountof major-league ready starting pitchers. However, probably only 2 of those players (the aformentioned Snell and Maholm) are guys that good big-league teams would want on their staff. A key for the Pirates will be having at least 1 or 2 more guys develop into at least solid starters. Of the old hands in the organization, I am not on the Zach Duke bandwagon (nor is anyone on the entire planet I might add) as he just gets hit so hard. I also think Tom Gorzelanny is probably injured or has just flat lost it and so I'm not relying on him to make any sort of an impact in the near future. I'm intrigued by Ross Ohlendorf's ability to really throw the ball hard and I want to see more from Jeff Karstens, too. If one of those guys (more likely Ohlendorf than Karstens) turns in at least a solid season it would be big. There has also been talk about Daniel McCutchen since the Nady trade, and at some point this season we figure to see him in Pittsburgh.

Andrew McCutchen's Expected Arrival in Pittsburgh- For as long as I've been a Pirate fan (about 15-16 years), I can think of very few home-grown prospects who got the knowledgeable fans as excited as Cutch. Chad Hermansen was probably a bit more highly regarded (and I just threw up in my mouth a little bit), but let's hope this highly touted prospect turns out a bit better than the Hermanator. He has to be called up at some point this season. Whether that is in mid-May or July, Cutch will be a wildly exciting player for the fans to watch when he is finally wearing the big-league uni.

The minor league progress of star prospects Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, Bryan Morris and Brad Lincoln- This reason isn't for the casual fan or for the faint of heart. But for the real passionate Bucco fan it figures to be a very interesting subplot to keep an eye on these 4 studs. Most will dig only as far as the PG's little daily minor-league recap allows them to. Personally, that's not enough. I'll be checking up every day with the minor league sites, hoping Alvarez is tearing through the minor league system, hoping Tabata gives us a full season of the talent he showed last season, and hoping Lincoln and Morris deliver on their stud potential, as we could really use some stud pitching prospects in this organization.

The progress of intriguing prospects like Shelby Ford, Brian Bixler, Jim Negrych, Steve Pearce, Danny Moskos, Neil Walker, Robbie Grossman, Jamie Romak, Jordy Mercer, Chase D'Arnaud, Quinton Miller, Brian Friday, Matt Hague and Duke Welker- Again, not something for the casual fan. And that's especially so in this case. None of these guys can be considered elite prospects, but each of them has the ability to at least make the show some day, and the hope is that a few of them turn into starters at that level. As I said earlier, we especially need big-time pitching prospects in this organization, so if a Quinton Miller or Duke Welker or Danny Moskos could have a big year development-wise it would be a tremendous development for the organization.

Having fantasy baseball back- I know it certainly isn't everyone's cup of tea. But to me, fantasy baseball is without question the best fantasy sport going. It is way more intensive and way less luck is involved than in fantasy football, and it gives me an even bigger need to follow baseball all summer long even when the Pirates are 20 games out of first place. I've had all 3 of my drafts, and surprisingly ended up with 4 Pirates total on my 3 teams. That's actually more than usual, as typically Pirates go higher in at least 2 of my drafts because its mostly Pittsburgh-group of players. Doumit, McLouth, Snell (twice), and Capps are the guys I will have an extra rooting interest in.

A make-or-break year for Andy LaRoche- I know this is his first full season with the Pirates, but I really think this is Andy's only shot at cementing a place with the team. I still like Neil Walker and think he'll develop at some point, and Pedro Alvarez (though I think he'll switch to first) figures to tear through the system and be wearing the Pirates uni by mid-2010. With all that in mind, Andy needs to put up at least something in the neighborhood of a .265/.335/.460 in order to give himself a place in the Pirates' future. If he fails yet again, he'll be certainly given the dreaded "Quad A prospect" tag. Those aren't even great numbers. They're Edwin Encarnacion numbers, and that would be good enough for me.

The seasons of Nate McLouth, Paul Maholm and Ryan Doumit- All three had career years in 2008, and it will be very interesting to see how each fares in 2009. Personally, I'd guess that McLouth might regress a hair, but that Doumit will have an even better all-around season and that Maholm can be about as solid as he was last year.

The Draft- I know it's not a great reason, as there is at least a decent chance that the top pick might not play more than a handful of games in the system for the entire season, but with the Bucs sitting at number 4, I have to admit I am at least a little bit excited about adding another top-notch prospect to our system. Likely targets are probably 1B Dustin Ackley (a Scott Boras guy), RHP Aaron Crow (who held out last year and didn't sign with the Nationals), SS Grant Green, RHP Alex White and LHP Tyler Matzek. Obviously others will be in the mix by June, as well. I also am excited to see if the Pirates are able to get any other above-slot guys later on in the draft like they did last season.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Three Rivers Three Links: April 2

I've been slacking the past few days with stuff on the site unfortunately, but hopefully I'll be back on top of things starting today with the permanent return of your daily links and the long-awaited Pitt hoops season recap and some Pirate and Penguin stuff, too.

1. Gene Collier does an interesting column for the PG today about the improvements at Pitt over the last decade. And it's not just about the big-time sports improvement at the university, it's actually about the academics, too. Imagine that! Involving academics in a sports column. Turns out I go to a pretty good school. Not like it's helping me find a job or anything, though.

2. KDKA is reporting that because John Calipari peaced out on Memphis to go give himself gray hair and an ulcer and take 10 years off his life at Pressure University University of Kentucky there now may be a recruit Pitt could go after that was originally slated to go to Memphis. His name is Will Coleman and is a highly touted Juco recruit. If DeJuan leaves, which looks like more and more of a sure thing every day, I'd be all about going after this kid. That would of course amend my column from the other day about 09/10 Panthers. But amend it for the better I might add. The Panthers could definitely use a steady, experienced Juco guy next year inside to complement all that youth. Dude averaged a 16/16 last season. Not sure how you could not be enticed by that.

3. Frank Coonelly's always-interesting monthly chat returns just prior to the start of the season. Coonelly's candidness always amazes me in these things.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Will The 09/10 Panthers Look Like?

I'm definitely still too depressed to write about this year's current version of the Pitt Hoops team. I just tried to, and while I made it further than my last attempt, it was still nowhere near ready to be posted. I promise, some time in the next couple days I'll finally get to it.

Instead, I thought I'd try a little self-therapy by looking at just how next fall's Pitt Panther lineup will look. I must say, it helped a little bit to think about next year and how unique of a year it could be.

Also, I examined next season's roster under two different scenarios: With DeJuan Blair in the middle and without him. I have a feeling that the latter is the more likely scenario, personally.

2009/10 Panthers With DeJuan Blair
1 Ashton Gibbs
2 Jermaine Dixon
3 Gilbert Brown
4 Dante Taylor
5 DeJuan Blair
6 Brad Wanamaker
7 Travon Woodall
8 Gary McGhee
9 Nasir Robinson
10 J.J. Richardson
11 Lamar Patterson
12 Talib Zanna

Random Thoughts:
-There will be no true point guard on this team. Gibbs can be a serviceable point guard, but Tra Woodall is hyped up to be a good ball handler and figures to see some minutes at the point with Gibbs sometimes shifting to the 2. I'd liken Gibbs' role next year to what Ronald Ramon once did. Right now he is a 1.5 guard, serviceable at both but not yet superb at either. Still, I think he is definitely the best option at the point unless Woodall really breaks out next season.

-Even if Blair returns, as he does in this scenario, we are going to need some big-time scoring increases from other holdovers. My best bets are Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown. If either isn't up to the task, I think they'll start losing time to the likes of Wanamaker, Gibbs or Nas Robinson as the year goes along. There is too much talent among all these guys not to have at least one turn in a breakout season with more minutes. Dixon especially will be interesting to watch in my mind. The guy is a good defender, but he's not so good that you can allow him to be a no-show on offense as he was at the end of the season when his confidence in his shot appeared to be less than zero.

-My pick for a breakout player on this team is Gil Brown. I think he could make The Leap like Sam I Am did a year ago. I'm not saying he'll jump to Sam's level and be at 18 points per game, but I could definitely see a 14-6 line. His athleticism is amazing and sorta reminds me of a less physical and imposing version of Young. If he could just find some consistency I think he is a sure thing for a big year.

-It will be an interesting year for Gary McGhee next season. A ton of people have given up on him, and I sort of have too. But it's also worth remembering how shocking Aaron Gray's third season with Jamie Dixon was. I'm not saying Gary is going to evolve into an NBA prospect, or even that he's going to earn starter's minutes. But I could definitely see him turning into a guy who can at least give 15+ quality minutes a night and allow DeJuan Blair to maybe even play some power forward minutes. Now THAT would make Pitt a force to be reckoned with on the interior.

-It will be fascinating to see Dante Taylor next year. A big reason why I'm hoping Blair comes back next season is so that Taylor doesn't have to shoulder that entire load himself. Taylor may be a very highly rated recruit, but not every superstar prospect is created equal, and I think it would be to this kid's benefit to not be the focal point every night. Not saying he won't be able to handle it if it does happen, just that we'd all be better off if he doesn't even have to worry about that.

-The other freshman besides Taylor don't figure to have a huge impact on this roster. Both J.J. Richardson and Talib Zanna are 4/5 players who would be a tad undersized if they do play the 5. However, if McGhee struggles one of the two will get at least some minutes spelling Blair inside. Patterson, meanwhile, sounds a lot like a Nas Robinson or Gil Brown. A reasonably highly-regarded recruit who figures to either take a redshirt or play sparingly in his first year because of the logjam at the 2/3/4 spots in front of him.

Bottom Line: With Blair back, the Panthers would still be a force to be reckoned with in the Big East. If Taylor performs as expected and one of the numerous guys at the 2 or 3 positions step their game up to the level of averaging double-digit points, then this is a squad that absolutely should contend for the Big East title on the broad shoulders of number 45. The big question will be how the Gibbs/Woodall tandem handles the point guard duties. This will still be a deep team with some very good talent and athleticism coming off the bench. All in all, I definitely think this team would be capable of making a deep run in the tournament, and its overall athleticism would match up well with anyone in the country. They may not be as hyped as this year's squad or receive as many regular season accolades, but they could definitely win some games in the tournament and make a run equal to or greater than the run this year's squad did.

2009/10 Without DeJuan Blair
And now onto the more depressing (and realistic) scenario: DeJuan Blair leaving.
1 Ashton Gibbs
2 Jermaine Dixon
3 Gilbert Brown
4 Dante Taylor
5 Gary McGhee
6 Brad Wanamaker
7 J.J. Richardson
8 Travon Woodall
9 Nasir Robinson
10 Lamar Patterson
11 Talib Zanna
Maybe: Kyryl Natyazhko

Random Thoughts:
-This squad obviously will be filled with an awful lot of uncertainties. None would be bigger than at the center position, where I imagine there will be a competition for the starting job. For now I am giving that to the big oaf himself Gary McGhee, but any one of J.J. Richardson, Talib Zanna, Dante Taylor, or the still-uncommitted Kyryl Natyazhko could win it as well. I gave it to McGhee because he knows the system and can at least play defense the way Jamie wants him to. Taylor could be an option if Pitt really wants to play athletic small ball, but I don't like the sound of playing a 6'8 215 pound freshman at center. Sure DeJuan Blair did it as freshman, but by all accounts, and judging by his build, Taylor is not nearly physical enough to play the 5. Hell, he may not be physical enough to play the 4 and his manifest destiny in the NBA is probably as a 3. I can't envision 3-star recruits like Zanna or Richardson getting starters' minutes at center, especially when neither is taller than 6'9 or heavier than 230 pounds. Lastly we have Natyazhko. He is still an uncommitted prospect and is being recruited by other big-time schools like Arizona State, Florida State, Xavier, and Kentucky. He is a 4-star recruit, and if Blair does leave then Jamie will have to put the full-court press on to make sure he lands this kid. If they do nab him he definitely has enough talent to break into the starting lineup and at the very least should earn some serious backup minutes.

-Pitt would almost be a leadpipe lock to adopt a smallish, Villanova-type lineup at least part of the time. This team would have more athleticism than almost anyone else they might face and would need to use that trait to overcome their lack of size and bulk. Rolling out a lineup like the one below would definitely allow the opposition to outmuscle them, but they could overcome it by running with all these athletes.
1 Gibbs/Woodall
2 Dixon/Gibbs
3 Wanamaker/Robinson
4 Brown/Robinson
5 Taylor

-Without Blair, Dante Taylor and his lofty recruit status would likely become one of the alpha dogs on this team. He has the ability to probably average 15 a night right off the bat if given this opportunity, and I imagine the whole offense would funnel through him if he is all he is supposed to be. However, we would need more than just one of the swingmen guys to step up. We'd probably need 2 and maybe even 3 others to turn into reliable scorers. This would no longer be the top heavy offense of the past few seasons where everything centered around 2 or 3 guys. This would have to be a team like the 02/03 Panthers that had 6 guys average between 9.7 and 12.2 points per game. The most likely candidates would be Gil, Gibbs, Dixon and Wanamaker all joining Taylor as double digit scorers with maybe a Gary or a Natyazhko or a Richardson getting enough minutes to come close to that figure.

Bottom Line: This has the look of being the first true rebuilding year since Pitt turned back into a good team. We've said that in years past, but there would never have been as much uncertainty entering a team as with this squad. They have a freaking ton of talent, though, so they'll be fun to watch and they definitely shouldn't be discounted by anybody. However, being so raw makes it unlikely they'll be the serious title contender that this year's team was unless Dante Taylor turns out to be an even bigger stud than scouts think or Gil Brown turns into Sam Young or Ashton Gibbs becomes Brandin Knight with a better shot. Those are lofty goals, though, and for that I see this team as a good but not great Pitt squad that finishes in the upper half of the Big East but not in the top echelon and makes the tournament as a middle seed, somewhere in the 5-8 range. All that talent and athleticism would make them a handful for anybody in the tourney and yet another Sweet 16 appearance wouldn't be a shock to me.

Will Ohman disses the Pirates and other weird happenings in Bradenton

Look, I'm well aware of the many shortcomings of our local baseball club. I know they are on the verge of setting the all-time record for most consecutive losing seasons in major professional sports history. And I know how miserable that culture of losing can be for the players.

But this just seems weird to me. Will Ohman was so against signing with the Pirates he turned down a guaranteed, major-league contract with your hometown Buccos to sign with the LA Dodgers on a minor-league deal that offers him no guarantee of big-league pay or time in the majors. I know Ohman wanted to play on the West Coast, but that is a BIG difference between the two deals. Suffice it to say, I think this might have had a bit to do with the letters stitched across the front of the uniform. If, say, the World Champion Philly Phillies had come calling with the same offer the Pirates extended to Ohman, I imagine the veteran lefty would have jumped at that chance. Not to mention that Ohman left the Pirates major league deal sitting on the table for 9 whole days, despite the fact that he had no other offers whatsoever at the time. If I'm the Pirates' management, I am sooooooooo pissed right now at Ohman and his agent for embarassing them like this. Unfortunately, no embarassment from not being wanted by a below-average lefty reliever can match the embarassment of the worst run in the recorded history of sports.

I'm not sure what exactly is going on down in Bradenton or what is in the water, but there is some other weird stuff happening too, it seems. Let's take a look at some of these weird happenings:

-The Pirates open up against the Cardinals in exactly 7 days, and someone named Virgil Vasquez, who may or may not have pitched in the California Penal League last season, is still in the mix for a rotation spot. I follow the Pirates as closely as almost anyone, and I have no friggin' idea who in the world Virgil Vasquez is. I'm hoping and praying he is being used just to push Jeff Karstens and will be discarded to AAA never to be heard from again just before the season starts. If he comes north as the fifth starter, though, I'm going to have some serious concerns.

-Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson are both making pushes to stay with the Pirates for the foreseeable future. And Jumpin' Jack even approached the Pirates about an extension and it appeared that they are at least willing to listen. Oh, and on a related note, I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. Look, I have no problem with Jack and Freddy holding the fort down this season. They lock down important positions on the diamond for a team that is in flux. But neither one, not even the former batting champ Sanchez, is a building block for a team that's most realistic timetable to contend is 2011. Both are 31 years old (Freddy is a whopping 8 days older) and would then be 33 before the 2011 season commences. And neither one is exactly aging very well.

Look at the numbers. Jumpin' Jack has had two good seasons in his 8 with the Bucs (04 and an underrated 07), but has never had much consistency at the plate, too often going hot and cold to be seriously relied upon. And you can't possibly tell me you think he isn't about to fall off a cliff offensively. Unless of course you want to argue he already fell off that cliff last season. Then I might listen. He was never exactly Alex Rodriguez to begin with, but I think a .270/.320/.380 is the best we can hope for this year, and that is only going to go downhill from there. Folks, those are dreadful numbers. Just dreadful.

And the exact same things can be said for Freddy Sanchez. Freddy probably can put up better numbers than Jack, but I just don't see him aging well. If he hits .290/.330/.420 that's probably as good as we could hope for. Like I said, I'm fine with that as a placeholder in a rebuilding effort while guys like Shelby Ford develop. But I am not fine when he's batting .270/.300/.380 in 2012 and unable to move to his right.

And I definitely am NOT fine with ignoring proven metrics like OPS and VORP in favor of fan logic like "he won a batting title a few years back" "he's a good guy to have around" "he makes good plays in the field" and "stats don't measure all he contributes." If either one of those guys gets an extension, especially Wilson, I am going to lose a ton of faith in this management team.

-The Jose Tabata story. I'm not even remotely going to blame the kid for what happened there, as I am only a little bit older and have definitely done some dumb stuff in my life, and I have no pressure on me and live in the same city I've spent my whole life in. Quite a bit different from Jose, so I can see where the issues come from. Tabata's life has been chaotic to this point, and I was struck most by his display in the face of the turmoil. Hell, I expected some kind of immaturity from him at some point, but I thought the character he displayed was tremendous in the face of this adversity. Good for you Jose. I hope you turn out to be the tremendous player you are expected to be, for more than just my own selfish reasons now. Anyway, let's hope he learns from this. But whatever your opinion of all this, there's no denying it certainly was a weird one.

-Nyjer Morgan has probably been one of the 2 or 3 worst hitters on the entire roster this spring, yet he is still being considered for the opening day left fielder job. I thought Huntington and Coonelly were all into sending messages and stuff. If that's the case, Nyjer should be taking outfield instruction with guys like Tabata and getting ready to make the trip to Indy to open the AAA season. That said, I won't be terribly upset if he makes the opening day roster, as he's too old to be playing AAA at age 28, but if he is starting in left over Hinske and Monroe, and especially if he is leading off, my head might just explode. That would be a Littlefieldian move. And I just threw up in my mouth a little bit again.

-Brian Bixler, all of a sudden, actually has a future as a major league player it seems. After that disastrous debut last season at the ripe old age of 25 I had just about written him off as being a noteworthy prospect. Best case scenario I figured Bix would be a mediocre utility backup infielder. Nothing to get excited about. Well, he absolutely tore it up this spring by all accounts, and while spring training results can be quite deceptive at times, everyone seems quite impressed by this. That includes Neal Huntington. I still am wary of Bix as anything more than a utility infielder, but his ceiling as a potential low-end everyday player has been re-established. And when Jumpin' Jack is (hopefully) traded this summer I have no problem with Bix getting a 2+ month tryout to prove himself at shortstop.

Three Rivers Three Links: March 31

Okay we're finally back on TRS after about a 60 hour hiatus to lick our wounds about that devastating loss Saturday night by the beloved Panthers. At some point in the next week, I am going to get around to posting about that loss, and about the season as a whole and all the great stuff we've experienced, as well as take a look at the 09/10 Panthers. But right now I just can't do it. I tried to write something a little bit ago and didn't make it beyond about 70 words before giving up.

Still, I needed to get back to writing something. So, first I'm giving you your daily dose of the TRTL followed by some Pirates stuff later on today at some point and at some point in the next 24 hours a breakdown of the NL Central.

Let's get to the links:
1. It's Tuesday, so in keeping with recent tradition (2 weeks' worth), I'm linking to a 24-related blog. Today, I'm linking to the wildly popular blog Dave Barry runs for the Miami Herald. Every a Monday he does a quasi-liveblog thing for the 24 episodes. He's not bad, but the real funny stuff is due to his commentors. It's all sarcastic, though and a lot of it points out some of the uhmm.... liberties that 24 takes with reality. So if you don't like when people point that stuff out and make fun of things like that, this probably isn't the site for you. Hell, sometimes it isn't the site for me, either.

2. The Post-Gazette's The Fantasy Factor blog does an interesting breakdown of an alternate 1996 Penguins-Avalanche Stanley Cup final. Seems a little interesting, right? It is pretty solid and the thoughts evoked will be a regular walk down memory lane. But here's why I linked there: I just spent 20+ minutes going through stuff on that blog and I can't figure out what the hell the subject of that blog is supposed to be. It sometimes seems as though it actually is fantasy sports (as the title suggests) but then other times it seems to serve as a sort of catch-all category for whatever goofy shit the Post-Gazette wants to explore but has nowhere else to put that kind of random material. They have quite a bit of fantasy baseball preview stuff up there and have some fantasy hockey junk randomly thrown in too. They occasionally have breaking news about hockey posted in there...but then they don't for a few days at a time. And then they have literally fantasy games like that aforementioned Cup game or a 78 Steelers vs. 94 49ers. And then they have a SB43 breakdown. Look I have no problem with the blog, there is some legitimately good stuff on there. I'm just very confused by it all.

3. The Pirates make not one, but two appearances on this list of the Ugliest Uniforms of the 1970's from Fantasy Pros 911. Not gonna lie, that's a little impressive.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sad Day

Wow. What a tough loss. I really can't say much more than that. I think this is the most heart-breaking loss I've ever experienced for one of my teams. I actually feel depressed and sad right now.

But I wanted to make sure to come on here and say Congratulations to the Panthers on a spectacular season, a season that goes down as the best in school history in my book.

To Sam, Levance and Tyrell: Thanks for the memories of the last 4 seasons. It has been an amazing run, and I feel extra special attachment to you three because you were my classmates, entering school here at the same time as me and leaving at the same time. You guys will always hold a special place with me.

Also, congrats to Villanova, the victors tonight. It's hard for me to be objective but I think that was one of the best college b-ball games I have ever seen. I wish you guys good luck in the Final Four and I will be pulling for you to represent the Big East well.

I don't think I'll be even able to watch or read anything sports for the next couple days, let alone write about it. With that in mind, i think TRS will be on hiatus for 48 hours so that I can digest everything that just happened.

Go Panthers!

Villanova Links and Game Prediction

Some 'Nova blog links as well as the ESPN preview
Let's Go Nova put together a good preview of the game
VU Hoops. They have different statistics worth considering for this game.
The Villanovan Sports Blog also has a good preview of the game and characterizes the strengths and weaknesses of Pitt pretty well.
ESPN's preview of the game

And now the moment that I know you have all been waiting for...

The Official TRS Breakdown of this game:
In case you haven't heard, it seems like DeJuan Blair is going to be an important factor in this game. Back when these two squads played in Philly during the regular season, Blair's trouble with fouls was arguably the biggest factor in the entire game. Since the NCAA tournament started last week, we have been treated (I guess that's the word) to a new-look DeJuan. I wouldn't say this DeJuan is better, just... different. And you actually know he's going to be in the game in crunch time. That's not what concerns me, though. If DeJuan does the passive thing yet again in the first half to try and stay out of foul trouble, I really think that Villanova will just bury us. It would take another dominant first half from Sam I Am or Levance "Captain Clutch" Fields playing the entire game like it's the final two minutes of a tie ball game. Against 'Nova, I really don't see either one of those happening.

I'm not saying we need DeJuan to turn back into the reckless freight train he too often was during the regular season, but we do need him to let loose a little more, at least in the offensive zone. If he wants to cool his heels defensively and let Biggs do most of the banging inside when 'Nova's got the ball, I'm absolutely fine with that. But there's no reason for him to be unwilling to get after it on offense. Especially when it gets to late in the first and he has either 0 or 1 fouls as has been the case the past 3 games. Worst case there is he gets called for a charge or some BS call and has to sit out the last few minutes of the first half. I'd pay that price if it meant the Grizzly Blair of old crashing the net.

Anyway, I suppose I should do some 'Nova-related analysis. Obviously, this is an excellent team, and Jay Wright continues to cement his rep as one of the money coaches in the month of March. Wright continues to run the athletic, guard-heavy style that has made him so successful for so many years there, and this is a system that can definitely give the Panthers fits. But despite the similar system, this isn't the same Nova teams we've often seen in years past from them that spread out 4 guards around the perimeter and had a Curtis Sumpter or something inside. Despite being undersized both height and weight-wise, they are a very physical squad and won't back down if Pitt starts to beat on them with their strength.

Only star forward Dante Cunningham, starter Dwayne Anderson and reserve Antonio Pena consistently bang inside with the big boys, but they have several tall 2/3-types who play well as swing men and can use their athleticism and height to get to the basket and not only grab some rebounds but also create plays. Corey Stokes, Reggie Redding and Shane Clark all fit this mold pretty much to a T and all are between 6'5 and 6'7 and average between 3 and 5 rebounds a game.

There won't be many surprises between the two floor generals, Levance Fields and Scottie Reynolds. They are both wily vets who have seen each other numerous times over the last three seasons. There is a definite contrast in styles between the two. Reynolds is as much a 2 guard as he is a point, and his game is predicated a bit more on scoring than it is on dishing it out, and while his 15.2 ppg is excellent and he is a solid shooter, his 1.3 Assist/ Turnover ratio leaves a bit to be desired. Fields, despite his late-game heroics in filling the basket, is the more traditional point guard type, more than happy to let the big-time scorers like Blair and Young do the work while he sets things up. Each is a tremendous fit for their squad, though, and they are the straws that stir their respective drinks.

What will really interest me about Villanova's scheme is how they choose to handle Sam Young when Pitt has the ball. Seemingly half their team is the type of player that we typically see matched up against Young. And honestly if it weren't for Blair we could probably throw Dante Cunningham out there as being a matchup for Sam when he inevitably plays some minutes at the 4 spot. Still, Dwayne Anderson figures to be the best matchup for Sam on an athleticism basis and I imagine the smart senior will get first crack. But it seems almost no one ever sticks with the same guy on Sam all game long. I think the task is just too exhausting and Sam brings too many different looks to his game for the same person to play on him the whole time. Reggie Redding is one of the Wildcats' defensive stoppers and despite being a little light for the job with a 6'5 205 pound frame, I think he'll get some minutes on Sam, especially if Pitt's 23 starts feeling it from the perimeter. Now that I think about it, Redding reminds me a bit of Gil Brown, actually. If he's in the game I'd say those two definitely lock horns.

For Pitt on defense, this screams to me as a game where Pitt will almost be forced to go small. Otherwise Nova will have some ridiculous speed and quickness mismatches. So that probably spells reduced minutes yet again for Tyrell Biggs. That may not be a bad thing though either, as I kind of like it when Biggs can be recklessly physical in limited minutes. That way DeJuan doesn't have to be. In Biggs' place I imagine Sam moves over to the 4 spot alongside DeJuan and that Gil Brown plays 20+ minutes at the small forward spot while Jermaine Dixon, Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs swap in and out depending on who is being most effective. Personally, I think the Panthers will be much better off if they can get the streaky Gibbs going from 3-point land early on. When this guy gets hot he is a lethal bomber and could give Pitt a legit 4th scoring option outside the Big 3. That would be a nice change of pace.

All in all, I expect this to be a spectacular game. I love watching Villanova play, but never like playing them. Their athleticism and style of play can drive you nuts because of the way they just seem to send waves and waves of the same types of athletic swingmen at you. But at the same time, they certainly aren't afraid to bang around inside with a physical team like Pitt. Anderson and Cunningham can brawl with the best of them, even a behemoth like Blair. Combine that with the fact that Villanova has been just crushing people the last 2 1/2 games while Pitt has squeaked out of three in a row, and suddenly you realize maybe the 1 seed is the underdog here.

The Bottom Line: Despite Villanova's hot streak and Pitt's sloppiness, I think this is the game we finally see the Pitt of old. The Pitt that pushed around UConn not once, but twice. The Pitt that spent 3 weeks as the number 1 team in the country. Despite DeJuan Blair's refusal to risk getting in foul trouble by playing aggressively in the first half thus far, I think he finally turns things on for the whole game, especially offensively, and stays out of foul trouble to lead Pitt past Big East rival Villanova and because of him they get to cut down the nets.

Prediction: Pitt 74-71

Also, I'm now sitting at a solid 45-11 in my NCAA Tournament game predictions after an 8-0 performance in the sweet 16. So, to keep things going here are my other Elite 8 picks:
North Carolina over Oklahoma
UConn over Missouri
Louisville over Michigan State

What can I say? I'm boring.

Go Panthers!