Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sano not a Pirate

Well, this is a bad sign. Miguel Sano signed with the Minnesota Twins. It is unclear yet if the Pirates offered anywhere near the money he got, but I would bet they did. It appears that Sano's agent never really negotiated with the Pirates and probably just took their two offers to the Twins to use as benchmarks.

Even though the Twins are my second favorite team, I really hope that this kid turns out to be a bust. Maybe if they suddenly prove he is 15 or better yet, 25. The Pirates are going to have to do a little more than offer money. They need to get some respect and then still offer the money.

Oh yeah, the Pirates got shut out on the road. No surprise there.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Series Victory

The Pirates just pulled off a big series win against the First Place LA Dodgers. The Pirates did this by winning the first, blowing the second game out right, and then winning in amazing come back fashion in game three. Then they absolutely put the boots the Dodgers in Game 4 with an 11 to 1 win pitched by Zack Duke. Game 4 saw Andy LaRoche open up a can with a 5 for 5 game with two homeruns, two doubles and a basehit. He had a great series and is starting to make me hope he makes a move to second base for the next season.

This series also proves my hypothesis that the Pirates depend on McCutchen to get anything going. He is the sparkplug that they have to have. He went three for four with a walk and scored three times in the 11 run slugfest. Helped in Game 3’s amazing four run last inning rally. And anyone who is between McCutchen and Jones is going to get pitches to hit, like Andy LaRoche. That is the place to stick a sub-par hitter and turn him into something worth having on the ball club. LaRoche is having an excellent end to this season.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Team USA

Just in case you are not following Team USA baseball there is great news for the Pirates and USA as a whole. Brad Lincoln just pitched 6.2/3 innings for a win thanks in part to a homerun by Pedro Alvarez. Team USA is undefeated in Round 3 and appears to be on its way to the Finals. The overall stats look good for those who think Lincoln and Alvarez should spend more time in Triple A. Alvarez is hitting .282 with five homeruns and Brad Lincoln has a 2-0 record after three starts where he has a 1.89 ERA.

These guys are ready. They both need to be on the team to start next season.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pirates lose to Padres

What else can be said after the Pirates dropped 3 of 4 at home to the hapless San Diego Padres? We are officially awful. This series can only yield a small handful of hopeful things.

1. Andrew McCutchen after a brief slump appears to be raising his average again. It was below .270 for a brief time, but is again up to .276 and climbing.
2. Delwyn Young and Garret Jones are back and injury free. After one game it appears that both maybe back to normal. Jones hit a homer, his 20th, but it was a solo shot again. And Young went 2 for 6 with a double.
3. The Pirates ought to get a real good draft pick. This series of losses ought to put San Diego behind us in the draft order for sure.

Other than that, this was a depressing and humiliating series.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Murray Chass spouts non-sense

Murray Chass is an idiot. I know he worked for the New York Times, but that may just prove my point. His article attacking the Pirates is ridiculous. It is ridiculous for several reasons.

I will be the first to admit that Morgan/Burnett deal to the Nationals for Milledge/Hanrahan is a deal where I think the Pirates may lose out in the end. But it needs to be judged fairly. Chass dismisses the age difference and notes that Morgan was a “rookie who showed he was ready to play in the majors.” True, but he had been up and down the year before never able to show he was ready. And a 29 year old rookie is pretty old. The years he should have been ready he was unable to beat out Chris Duffy for the center field spot. That is reason to worry that maybe the results this year are atypical.

The second problem I have is that he does not take notice of the two player deal. He gives it an off hand mention. Burnett was decent against lefties, but horrible against right handers. Burnett was never going to be a dominate bullpen pitcher. I still believe that Joel Hanrahan was the main player in the deal. The Pirates may have had to give up what they did to get the hard throwing bullpen guy who himself was a former closer. The Pirates pen needs that sort of help.

It was also unfair to evaluate the deal as if Morgan was being replaced by Milledge. Chass rightly notes that McCutchen was already in the majors with Morgan so there was no need to make room for him. But Chass fails to note that Milledge was on the DL and then rehabed in the minors for some time before joining the Pirates. Who then replaced Morgan? It was none other than Garrett Jones who is hitting about .300, just about the same as Nyjer Morgan with a notable difference. Garrett Jones hits homeruns. Maybe Chass should have at least interacted with the idea of making room for Garrett Jones. Jones is a completely different type of player than Morgan. Morgan is a speedster without power. Jones (who is fairly speedy himself) is power hitter something desperately needed by the Pirates. It appears Jones will led the Pirates in homeruns despite not playing the full season. Oh, and when Milledge did come the majors, they moved Dwelven Young to second to make room for Milledge.

The worst part of the article was the horrible attack on the Pirates as wasting money. The Pirates are paying their players post trades about 20 million and are going to get about 40 million in revenue sharing. Thus for Chass the money is wasted and not being spent. That ignores the fact that the Pirates are spending large amounts of money on draft picks. See what they did with Pedro Alvarez as proof. They spent about 10 million in signing their draft picks including inking all of their first 14 picks and 15 of their top 20. They used more than the slot suggestions to get good talented high school pitchers to skip college and come to the Pirates. This does not even cover their new facility in the Dominican and their efforts to sign a big name 16 year old down there, which takes money.

The Pirates are close to returning to prominence. It is popular to kick them now, but they are really taking the right steps. They will have no problem showing MLB where the money is going, and in a few years they will be a force on the field. I hope Chass issues an apology when they do. But more importantly, I hope he understands baseball a little better. Not every team can do what the Yankees do and just buy everything that moves.

I will be writing some follow up posts on some of the issues brought out by Mr. Chass and his sorry excuse for an article.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hillcats are the champs

The Lynchburg Hillcats have won the Mills Cup by sweeping the Boston Red Sox farm team in the High A level. The offense continued its power as the Hillcats clawed out a 8 to 6 victory. Jordy Mercer and Chase d’Arnaud each had RBI doubles (d’Arnaud’s was a two run double). But the hero of this final game was Jamie Romak. Romak was acquired when the Pirates got Adam LaRoche for Mike Gonzalez several years ago. Romak has been at the High A level for three years and frankly has to be conisdered a bust. However, for this night, he was a hero. He knocked in the three RBI’s and helped the Hillcats claim a championship.

So congratulations to the Lynchburg Hillcats. May this be a sign of good things and championships to come for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Oh and as another good sign of things to come Pedro Alvarez hit three homeruns in one game for Team USA. The other day Brad Lincoln pitched Team USA to a victory over Japan.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Pirates Bane and hope

Another series on the road and another sweep out of town. These past few games are exactly what is wrong about the Pirates and good example of why they could be very good next year.

Take for example, last night. Zack Duke pitches 7.1 innings of 2 run baseball. He gave the lead (3 to 2) to the bullpen, but they blew the save. In fact they blew two saves last night which takes some skill. Today Kevin Hart pitches six innings of two run ball, and leaves the game down 2 to 1. The bullpen gives up one more run and the Pirates lose 3 to 1. The game before that was by a call up, Daniel McCutchen. That was a 6 to 2 loss. Before that was Paul Malhom’s master piece where he blanked the Astros and Capps gave up a run, but still got the save for a 2 to 1 win. Ross Ohlendorf pitches okay, but under his usual in the Pirates 4 to 2 loss to the Astros. Ohlendorf has had a 2.74 ERA since the All Star break when they made a change in his windup. The night before that Charlie Morton actually got a quality start by giving up three run in six innings, but the Pirates lost that one too.

The point is the pitching, starting pitching has been solid. Morton is weak, but even his last outing was not awful. Daniel McCutchen is just starting. But, Malholm, Duke, and Ohlendorf have the ability to constantly keep you in a game and put up a lot of quality starts. Kevin Hart has the potential to join that group. That makes it all the more frustrating that the Pirates cannot score runs and the bullpen is garbage. Right now there is no real threat in the Pirates line up. Doumit is having an awful and injury plagued year. Andrew McCutchen is not a power threat and cannot do it by himself. Garret Jones is a power threat, but is not good enough with people on base.

But there in lies the hope for next season. McCutchen will get a little more power in his next few seasons. Jones hopefully will get better with people on base. Doumit cannot possibly be this bad again. Add in Pedro Alvarez who ought to be a legitimate power threat and good hitter to the line up and things start to change. If Clement is a wash, the Pirates can still be good by moving Jones to First Base and opening the outfield spot to someone like Tabata. If Clement is good then Tabata can spend some more time in Triple A while Jones plays the outfield. The starting pitching is there, and the hitting is on its way. The bullpen is what needs drastic attention.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Future Pirates Learning How to Win

The Hillcats continue to excite in High Single A. This time the 2008 draft class led the way to an opening game win in the finals. Chase d’Arnaud got two hits and three RBI’s to help the Hillcats offense explode for a 9-2 win.

It was not only d’Arnaud who made the 2008 draft class stand out. It was starting pitcher and fifth round pick in 08, Justin Wilson. Wilson 5.2 innings allowing only one earned and one unearned run. Wilson was able to pitch with a lead thanks to d’Arnaud and 9th round selection in 2008, Matt Hague. Hague has hit over .400 for the playoffs and flashed some power in the opening of the finals as hit a solo homerun going 2 for 3 overall on the night. Jordy Mercer, the other 2008 draft stand out, went 1 for 3 with an RBI as well.

The Hillcats did also get shut baseball from the bullpen including an inning from Harrison Bishop, the 17th round pick in 2007. It breaks the theme of the article, but worth noting nonetheless.

The Hillcats offense appears to be waking up after sleep walking through the first round. It took masterful pitching from Ruby Owens and others to get the Hillcats into the finals. The five run outburst in the deciding Game 5 was their high, but now the Hillcats have improved upon themselves with 9 runs to open the Finals. The Hillcats are waking up at just the right time. Here is hoping for a successful conclusion to something in the Pirates organization this year.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A win? You bet

After a two to one win the Pirates have halted a long and painful losing streak. And it was done by Paul Malholm. This is exactly what an ace ought to do. Throw seven scoreless innings to make sure your team gets a win. McCutchen scored the first run off a Garrett Jones single in the first inning and later Ryan Doumit landed one of his two hits over the wall for a solo homerun. Matt Capps gave up a run, but still earned the save.

During this massive slide Andrew McCutchen’s Batting average slipped from the .290’s to .270. Lastings Milledge dropped from about .300 to .280 and Dwelvn Young’s dropped even further. Only Garrett Jones and I guess Ryan Doumit stayed normal. Jones is still hitting over .300 and Doumit is sticking at about .235.

In my opinion this is the reason for the slide. The Pirates have had some good pitching performances by Ohlendorf and others, but still ended up in losses. The Pirates offense right now is completely based around Andrew McCutchen. If he is on and hitting then Jones has someone to drive in as does Milledge. When McCutchen is off the whole team suffers. McCutchen is hitting .360 with runners in scoring position just to show that his bat creates runs one way or another. He may be getting tired or trying too hard. Jones and Doumit might hit a few long balls, but it is not enough. Even LaRoche has hit a few homers, but almost always in a futile way. Unless McCutchen finds the swing again, expect more losses.

However, there is more good news. The Lynchburg Hillcats have won their best of five game series and are in the finals. They had to win both game 4 and 5 to do so and that is exactly what they did. Game four had First Round Pick Sanchez hit a two run homerun to win it. D’Arnaud hit a solo shot to seal it. Game five saw great pitching from Bryan Morris, who was aquired in the Jason Bay trade last year. It also saw Third baseman, Josh Harrison, acquired in the John Grabow deal this year, get his first two hits of the series. Those hits produced four RBI’s.

I am looking forward to the Hillcats taking a shot at the title.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Another dismal day

While the Pirates are getting beat around at the major league level including another humiliating loss in Houston, Pirate fans are having to look elsewhere for hope. The place to look is the Single A Playoffs and the Lynchburg Hillcats.

Hillcats won the first half of the season to qualify for the playoffs, but had a rough go in the second half without their two big bats. Yet, now they are fortified with the call-ups from the West Virginia Power (Low A), and they are ready to make a go for it.

The opening game was a tough loss. Justin Wilson gave up one earned run in five innings, but could not pitch around two errors in the second inning and the Hillcats lost 7-1. Jordy Mercer hit a homerun for the only Hillcat run.

The second of the best of five had a better outcome thanks to Ruby Owens, one of those late season call-ups from the Power. Owens out dueled Danny Duffy for Willimington in a 1-0 win. The Hillcats got their run on an RBI ground out by Matt Hague. Three hitless innings of relief helped the Hillcats hold on to even the series.

Last night was another loss for the Hillcats by a score of 2-0 as Willimington hit a walkoff homerun in the bottom of the 12th inning. The Hillcats had lots of opportunities to score including a bases loaded one out situation in the 4th and a leadoff triple in the 9th, but they failed. They also had a man thrown out a home plate in the 12th. Still one has to be impressed with the pitching.

The stats are encouraging for some. Mercer looks decent with his average remembering he also has a homerun. And Matt Hague’s .417 average is exciting. D’Arnaud and Sanchez are below hopes, but Sanchez is actually raising his average after not getting a hit at all in game one.

Don’t forget to follow Team USA. Pedro Alvarez is 2 for 13 with an RBI, and Brad Lincoln is on the team as well.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Target 2012

Even though the Pirates organization will not say it publicly, I think that they are targeting 2012 as their date to return to the playoffs and serious competition. Let us take a look at why.

2012 will have this possible starting line up.
C – Jorge Sanchez
1B – Miles Durham
2B – Jordy Mercer
SS – Chase d’Arnaud
3B – Pedro Alvarez
LF – Jose Tabata
CF – Andrew McCutchen
RF – Robbie Grossman

The starting rotation will look like this.
1 – Brad Lincoln
2 – Ross Ohlendorf
3 – Tim Alderson
4 – Ruby Owens
5 – Aaron Pribonic

Now that Pirate team looks like it could actually be a threat. Alvarez would be a real power threat, something the Pirates have not had in years. McCutchen and Alvarez would be All Star contenders every year. Jose Tabata looks to be an above average ball player himself. D’Arnaud and Mercer would probably be rookies, but may have had experience from the previous year’s September call ups. Tabata and Alvarez would be in their second or third years. Durham would also be a two year vet. Even if Durham turns out to be a mediocre players, he only needs to hit .250 with a hint of power to be an improvement on the current team. The pitching staff is a little harder to project, but Lincoln and Alderson look to be locks at this point, and would be back for at least their second year in 2012. Ohlendorf showed real progress at the major league level this year, and Owens looks real good in the minors. The fifth spot could be a number of other players. Pribonic was picked more or less because he was traded for. But, the Triple A level would probably be full of pitching prospects like Victor Black and Brooks Pounders. Yoslan Herrera could also be a possibility.

The bullpen is impossible to call at this point, and would be the easiest to fill with free agents. Although you will notice that I do not have Daniel Moskos in the starting line up. He would be in the bullpen by 2012, if he is not in the rotation.

Now this line up may not have the pop or pitching depth to win a World Series, but it has enough to contend for a spot in the playoffs. The outfield has the potential to be the best in the majors and Gorky Hernandez would be the bench player from the outfield, or used to trade and fill holes for the playoff run.

It is easy to see the Pirates as the Central Division winners in 2012. The Cubs are locked into a lot of bad deals that will keep sinking them. The Brewers mortgaged their future last year, and by 2012 they may have even failed to resign Prince Fielder. The Cardinals will be holding on with Pujols, but by 2012 he probably will no longer be the dominate force that keeps the Cards afloat. Which leaves the Astros and the Reds. The Reds admittedly, could be competitive by that time. But the Astros appear to be doing strange things that does not give them the hopeful future that the Pirates have. Plus, the Pirates are consistently drafting higher than the Astros, theoretically at least, giving them better talent.

Thus I believe the 2012 is the target date when the good drafting pays off for the current Pirate ownership. From that point on, you should see a very competitive and deep Pittsburgh team.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Minor League Breakdown

The minor league season is over. That means it is time to get excited about next season, and it provides a good deal of hope for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirate organization is much stronger than it used to be. The minor leagues show this quite well, despite ESPN’s analysis. The top of the minors is still a bit thin, but the bottom is strong and will be the hope of the Pirate future. It is time to take a look at the Pirate Minor League system and put out some names to keep an eye on.

AAA – Indianapolis Indians
The Indians finished with an awful record and are clearly the worst of the Pirate minor leagues. They are still suffering from the pre-Coonellly (Pirate President) years. They finished 9th out of 14 teams in the International League with a 70-73 record. Their best players all were promoted to the majors for one reason or another. McCutchen only played 49 games, Garrett Jones 72, Steven Pearce 77 and Robinson Diaz played only 44. All saw time at the major league level. That left Neil Walker who had a disappointing year. He rallied at the end to raise his average to .264. Brian Bixler hit .275, but has never been any good when given chances at the big leagues.
The Good – The good news is that several players played well at the major league level including McCutchen, Jones, and Diaz. Jose Tabata showed up late in the season to hit .276 over 32 games. And Daniel McCutchen showed his big league promise with a 13-6 record. Chris Bootcheck had 20 saves, but has been shelled at the big league level. Brad Lincoln went 6-2 in his 12 starts after being promoted from Double A. Tim Alderson went 9-2 over all this year at Double A, and proved he was worth a trade.
The Bad – Some players did not perform up to expectations after their arrivals through trades. Jeff Clement hit only .224 through 24 games, although an injury may have had something to do with that. Argenis Diaz hit .233 through 43 games. Pitcher Ty Taubenheim went under expectations with a 7-9 record. He walked 37 over 106 innings while only striking out 63.
The Ugly – Several prospects played way below expectations. Neil Walker has already been mentioned, but he was not the worst. Shelby Ford, who the club has high hopes for at second base, had to be demoted to Double A after going .188 in 86 games. His ten errors were not good either.

AA – Altoona Curve
Altoona finished 11th out of 12 teams in the Eastern League. They were 62-80. But, they had some great things happen. They had a tail spin at the end of the season. They probably would have finished 9th or 10th if they had not fallen apart. Alvarez was out for that tail spin.
The Good – The stars on this team were great. Jose Tabata spent the first 61 games in Altoona this season and he hit a blistering .303 with only one fielding error. Pedro Alvarez was promoted to Double A and he hit an even more impressive .333 with 12 homeruns over 60 games. Brad Lincoln earned a promoting with his 2.28 ERA and 65 to 18 strike out to walk numbers. Daniel Moskos did manage 11 wins and so did Yoslan Herrera, who was 11 and 1. Several prospects began to emerge like Miles Durham (1B), hitting .275, Jason Delaney, hitting .271, and Jim Negrych, hitting .272.
The Bad – Some people did not do as well as people would have hoped. Gorkey Hernadez, who came over in the McClouth trade, did not do the organization any favors after going only .262 with 76 strike outs. Brian Friday could have done better than his .265 especially with the Short Stop position being open at the Big League level. Jamie Romak, who came over from the Braves back in the original LaRoche deal, still struggles.
The Ugly – This team’s record could not have been worse. That speaks poorly of the pitching over all. Shelby Ford arrived here to help his swing and confidence, and he only continued to stink up the place. A .233 average at Double A does not make his future look any brighter.

High A – Lynchburg Hillcats
The Hillcats are where the talent starts to really show through. Here the effects of Frank Coonelly drafting can be seen and the real future of the Pirates can be seen. Lynchburg won the first half of the season, but faded in the second half. The promotions of Miles Durham and Pedro Alvarez had something to do with that.
The Good – Chase d’Arnaud hit .295 over 54 games. He was the fourth round draft pick last year, and he is showing why. His glove needs a lot of work. Matt Hague, the ninth round selection last year, hit an impressive .293. Then of course Alvarez and Miles Durham were so good promoted. Jeff Locke struck out 99 batters in 127 innings. And Matt McSwain went 11-8. R.J. Rodreguiz managed 27 saves.
The Bad – Third round draft choice last year, Jordy Mercer, underachieved. His .255 batting average was not as disappointing as his 21 errors, although some of that was not in his natural short stop position, but rather at second. This is not ugly because he did lead the team in RBI’s.
The Ugly – This team collapsed at the end of the year. Admittedly they lost Alvarez, who still finished second on the team in RBIs despite playing only half a season, and Durham who was also in the top ten in RBI’s as well as Ray Chang, who was 11th on the team in RBI’s after only 36 games, and had the highest average on the team. But a stronger finish would have been nice. You could see some of the players get tired.

Low A – West Virginia Power
This team was in an actual hunt for the playoffs. They finished four games out. The team is proof that the Pirates are getting better.
The Good – Tony Sanchez, this year’s first round pick, hit a nice .316 with a .976 OPS. Eric Huber, a 2007 pick, hit even better at .318. Starling Marte, a Dominican player, hit .312, Kyle Morgan hit .296 with an OPS over .900, and d’Arnaud hit .291 before getting the promotion. You cannot talk about good unless you mention Rudy Owens. Owens, drafted in the 28th round in 2006, struck out 91 in 100 innings and went 10-1 with a 1.72 ERA. Aaron Pribonic, aquired in the Jack Wilson trade, went 4-2 with a 2.15 ERA.
The Bad – Robbie Grossman faded at the end of the year. The 18 year old 6th round pick from last year, ended up hitting .266. He hit .295 pre-All Star game, and then fell off the truck. This is not really bad, but more of what you might expect from a kid out of high school playing his first long season. He only made 5 error in center field all year. He has a good future. This was about all you could come up with for a bad.
The Ugly – There was nothing really ugly about the Power season.

Short Season A – State College Spikes
State College had a .500 season in the NY-Penn League. It is a little hard to read too much into this league, but it is worth a shot. Since these kids are so young and it is too early for them all there will be no ugly for Short Season or Rookie League ball.
The Good – Victor Black looked good. He was the 49th overall pick this year. He struck out 33 guys in 31 innings. Brock Holt the 9th round selection this year, hit .299 with six homers and three triples.
The Bad – Evan Chambers, the 3rd round selection, hit only .245. He did manage 4 homeruns.

Rookie League – The Gulf Coast League Pirates
A 29-31 record, which was only four games out is not too shabby.
The Good – Ramon Cabera, a Venezula born player, hit .291. He plays catcher and can give some competition to Sanchez in the future maybe. He is just 20 years old. The Pirates had long neglected the Latin America market, and Cabera is one of the faces that shows the Pirates are ready to compete in that area. Brooks Pounders, second round selection this year, struck out 20 in 23 innings and had a 3.04 ERA. Zack Dodson and Zack Von Rosenburg (4th round and 6th round this year) each pitched one hitless inning where they struck out one a piece.
The Bad – a losing season is still a losing season. The Pirates have had enough of those lately. The other bad thing is that it is too hard to tell what is really going on with these guys. Next year will be the year for a lot of these guys.


Welcome to my year round blog dedicated to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the greatest team on earth. I hope to give some insights and start discussions about America's greatest pasttime, baseball.

I know we have done it. We have set a major league record for the most consecutive losing seasons. But, wait. It is a record for not just MLB, but for all professional sports. That is impressive, but I am still a committed Pirate fan. And I bet the record streak stops next year. I hope you follow me and the Pirates on our journey to the top of the baseball world.