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.