Monthly Archives: June 2009

Temporary Hiatus

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Bad news, guys.  I’m off on vacation for a week, and I’m smart enough to go to a place where computers aren’t readily available.  Therefore, I’m going to have to take a bit of a break, but I’ll be back next Wednesday (July 8th) for a wrap up of the Astros series.  I’m just going to skip the Royals, Cubs and Marlins series’.  Read the Post Gazette recaps if there’s a void you need to fill.  I may put up a beer recommendation tomorrow, but I’m not going to promise anything.  If not, see yinz next week!  Thanks for stoppin’ by n’at!


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Pittsburgh has interests in both the NBA draft last night and the NHL draft tonight.  To make life easier, I’m wrapping both of the recaps into one big post here.  I hope you don’t mind.

So last night was a major disappointment to Pitt fans everywhere.  Both DeJuan and Sam fell into the second round.  I don’t think anyone saw that one coming.  You have to imagine that no one feels worse than those two, however.  They lost out on millions of guaranteed dollars each.  The most common complaint I’ve heard from Pitt fans is that the NBA is looking too much into potential and not enough into actual results.  I kind of disagree.  I think being too willing to take a risk on potential is part of it, but I think this had more to do with the injury questions.  DeJuan and Sam are both talented enough to play.  I fully expect both of them to make rosters and play significant minutes.  But the teams that passed on them were thinking long term.  Yeah, they’ll probably give you at least a few good years, but if they can only play 4 or 5, you can’t sink millions of dollars into them.  That being said, I’m surprised that someone didn’t take a risk.  Both guys played in the most physical league in the college level for at least 2 years and flourished.  I think that if they didn’t get hurt playing 30 minutes of Big East basketball per game, they’re not going to get hurt by 10 or 20 minutes of the glorified pick-up games we call the NBA.  I guess to sum it up: passing on Sam and DeJuan was the conservative move.  I’m disappointed that just about every team chose that path.  I think the 2 teams that took a chance will be rewarded.  Remember, DeJuan plays his best when he feels disrespected.

I think the one silver lining, however, is that both guys will now get the chance to go to teams where they’re needed and will have a great shot to make the teams.  There are a few teams out there that are pretty much set down low, and would just bring one of them in to challenge a vet and keep them honest.  That’s not the case in San Antonio and Memphis.  Especially in San Antonio.  Tim Duncan is pretty much it down low, but he’s a heck of an it for DeJuan to learn under.  I look forward to watching both guys succeed on the next level, and I wish them both the best.

One final note before I move on to the NHL draft: the effect this has on the Pitt program.  The one knock on coach Dixon is that he’s never placed a first rounder.  The last Pitt player to go in the first round was Vonteego Cummings in 1999.  I remember watching him in a mostly empty Field House.  This was the year we were going to smash that reputation and get two in one year.  It would have been a great recruiting tool.  Now that Dixon’s streak of non-first rounders continues, you can bet that coaches recruiting against him will turn up the volume on that argument.  But just remember, Jamie has a great answer for that: look at where Sam and DeJuan were ranked coming out of high school.  No one expected Sam to ever get to the NBA.  DeJuan was a highly touted recruit, but the knees were still an issue and he never would have been drafted out of high school.  The fact remains that Jamie makes his players better, and that’s what my pitch would be if I were him.  He hasn’t had the highest rated recruits come in, but when he gets one (this fall, actually), look out.

Ok.  On to the NHL draft from earlier tonight.  The Pens had the 30th selection which took forever and a million years to get to, but when it finally came to their turn they took Simon Despres (a defenseman from Quebec).   Now, this may be a bit of a surprise to some, but I don’t actually follow the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League too much, so I had to do some research on what others are saying about him.  The quick analysis is that he fell hard.  He was supposed to go around 20, 25 at the latest, and we stole him at 30.  He’s a huge kid.  He’s supposedly got a good head on his shoulders.  He’s extremely strong and hard to take off the puck, and he’s a decent skater.  But this isn’t a DeJuan Blair situation where there’s an injury that’s scaring everyone away.  There’s a major flaw in Simon’s game that made a lot of teams pass on him: his decision-making skills.  From what I’ve read, he doesn’t play the body enough, and he gets caught out of position quite a bit.  So, I don’t know.  If the minor league coaches in our system can get him making plays, he’s got a shot.  I have a feeling, though, that decision making is a gift that you have or you don’t.  Hockey’s a fast game, and you have to quickly process information about where to be and what to do next.  Some guys can do it, some can’t.  But the front office must see something.  Maybe they think there are some bad habits that they can change.  Who knows?  We’ll see in a few years.

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Pirates/Indians Recap

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Pirates 4 Indians 5

Pirates 10 Indians 6

Pirates 3 Indians 2

So two of the worst teams in Major League Baseball come together, and we get an absolute barn burner.  Go figure.  It’s also been a big week in general for the Bucs personnel wise.  Lincoln and Alvarez  move up a level which was deserved on both ends from what I understand.  Ian Snell also got demoted this afternoon.  His idiotic comments notwithstanding (if someone stuck a microphone in my face the day I get a demotion at work, I’d say stupid stuff too), it’s a great move.  He needed a mental tune-up, and that’s what the minors are there for.  They’re like a body shop when you need some minor detailing done to your game.  Going to Indy isn’t always terrible for a player.  But, anyway, I’m here for a series recap, and that’s what I shall do.

Game one was not very entertaining for 8 innings.  The Indians jumped on Snell early.  Ian held them in check for 2 innings, but as soon as trouble hit, he unraveled.  He gives up a hit to Gimenez.  Huff (in his first career at bat I believe), sac bunts him to second.  Carroll gets walked, but still no need to panic.  A ground ball ends the inning.  Then Grady Sizemore steps up and hits one into the gap in right.  Steve Pearce (who only started playing in the outfield this year) takes a horrible route to the ball, it’s gets by him and goes to the wall.  The ball was a single all the way that scores 1.  Instead, it goes for a triple and 2 runs come home.  Steve cost Ian a run.  Everyone watching knew it.  Ian got frustrated and started missing spots.  He walked the next two batters, gave up another hit that brought in two more, and was finally yanked.  Using this lead (and adding onto it by a solo shot by Peralta), the Indians were cruising behind the stellar pitching of David Huff.  He’s got an ERA of almost 6, but through 8 innings we made him look like Cy Young.  So mercifully, in the 9th, the game gets turned over to the worst bullpen in the majors.  The Pirate bats finally wake up.  Down 5-0 in the 9th, Adam LaRoche hits a seemingly meaningless home run into the Allegheny to lead off the inning.  Thanks Adam!  But something amazing happens.  We start hitting.  Everyone starts hitting.  We bat around.  Suddenly, Adam’s back up with the bases loaded, only down 5-4.  He’s got a home run already this inning.  All he needs is to shorten his swing, and push one to left to score two and take the lead.  The entire defense is playing him as a dead pull hitter.  What does Adam do?  He tries to kill another one into the river and flies out to right.  <smacks head>  That should OFFICIALLY cement him as the least clutch player on the Buccos.

Game two was almost the same thing in reverse.  Zach Duke returns to old form and throws 6 pretty good innings.  The bats wake up for 14 hits and 10 runs.  We take a 10-1 lead into the 9th.  Steven Jackson gets two quick outs.  Then the Indians start hitting, and by hitting I mean putting the ball in the direction of Andy LaRoche who kept committing errors (2 in the inning, but it was close to being 3).  The Indians put up 5 runs in the 9th to make it 10-6 before the Pirates finally put in Burnett to get the last out and end the madness.

Game three was the most exciting of all because it was close the whole way through.  Cliff Lee was on the hill for Cleveland.  He’s a terrific pitcher on an awful team.  One of those guys who  you have to look at the ERA and disregard the record.  He was as good as advertised, but we were able to get 2 runs off him.  That was enough to push it to the Indians bullpen with the game tied.  If you get to that point with the Indians, you’ve got it made.  Their bullpen didn’t disappoint.  Matt Herges allowed two quick hits.  Jack Wilson stole 3rd (he better remember that moment cuz it won’t happen often), and Andrew McCutchen gets a game winning yank to shallow left.  First walkoff of the year for the Pirates.  I’ll take it.

The Pirate bats really seemed to come alive in this one.  Adam LaRoche hit  two home runs in the series.  But most of the damage was done against Cleveland’s bullpen.  It’s night and day between their starters and bullpen.  Kansas City come into town this weekend, and is ripe for another series win.  But as for now, I’m just going to bask in the joy of beating Cleveland (even if it was a race to the bottom kind of series).

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Why do the Pirates suck?

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So there’s no question that we have a terrible baseball team.  We’re slowly fading away from the .500 mark.  I’ve been wondering: why have we been losing?  I don’t mean in a business sense.  That’s easy.  We can’t afford the best players so we have to rely on our drafts and trades.  Something we’ve been terrible at.  I mean in a baseball sense.  I get the feeling that this team is closer, or has been closer at times this year, to being a team that can win on a semi-consistent basis.  Maybe that’s just the way we’re losing this year: a slow bleed as opposed to a two-week collapse that kills the season.  But I want to identify what area of the team needs work and question if it’s a hole that can be plugged by the current personnel.  I took a look at stats through Saturday’s game to see what I could find.

So the first question that needs to be asked is where the general problem lies.  Is it the offense, the defense, or both?  Well, take a look at these stats:

Runs For                                 Runs Against

During Wins     7                                                 2.97

During Losses  2.21                                           5.65

Looks like there’s plenty of blame to go around.  That’s staggering.  There’s a 4.79 run difference in runs scored when we win.  That’s huge.  Follow that up with a 2.68 run difference in runs given up and it’s a wonder we don’t lose more often.  It almost seems like they decide in the clubhouse not to show up that day.

So lets take a look at the offense first, since that was the bigger difference.  If we aren’t scoring runs, the next step to look at is naturally hits.  We had an average of 11.52 hits per game when we win and 7.05 hits per game when we lose.  That’s a significant difference, but an almost 5 run difference comes from 4.5 extra hits per game?  I don’t think so.  So lets look at other ways to get on base:

During Wins                        During Losses

Walks                        3.74                                       2.62

Reach on Error     0.39                                       0.24

Home Runs             0.97                                       0.30

Doubles                    2.74                                       1.54

Triples                      0.32                                       0.22

Not surprisingly, every category went up during wins.  That’s to be expected.  But look at the biggest differences.  We get a full walk more in wins than losaes.  That’s not something that requires talent.  It can be learned.  And it makes a big difference.  Power hitting was the other big thing.  We get over a full double per game more in wins.  Plus, we have a significantly higher home run average.  Overall, just look at the on base percentage: we have an OBP of .334 during wins and .328 during losses.  That’s a 6 point jump.  It doesn’t seem like much, but when you have 40 guys coming up to the plate during a game, 6 points makes a difference.  We averaged over 4 extra plate appearances per game during wins.  That’s 4 extra chances to score runs and move people around the bases and THAT’S what those 6 extra points get you.

I pulled out the big guns on this one and ran this through a linear regression.  Now, just to come clean, this is a totally reckless thing to do, and if a former professor would catch me they’d strip away my statistics degree.  If I were to do this for real, I’d spend a week going over multiple iterations of a model.  For this, however, I ran one model and  am very careful about how I phrase results.  I modeled 16 different variables against a binary win/loss variable to see what correlates with winning.  The result was a very very messy model (which is to be expected).  The R-Squared value was .619 which means that the model explained about 62% of the variance.  Or, in english, the formula accounts for 62% of the reason that the Pirates win.  The other 38% is unexplained and could result in an incorrect prediction.  That’s not a bad R-Squared.  Especially in baseball where there are so many variables (opposing pitcher, ballpark, weather, etc) that are hard to quantify but have a huge affect.  However, I think I could get that number higher if I worked at it.  The other problem with the model is significant variables.  Only 3 of the 16 variables I put in the model made a statistically significant difference in whether or not the Pirates won.  It is, however, valuable to look at those three variables: hits, walks, and reached on errors.  All three are major ways to get on base.  The model is clearly telling us that if the Pirates want to win more, they don’t need power (HR, doubles, triples, slugging percentage were are variables in the model), they just need to reach base.

That’s the main lesson, right there.  The Pirates are a small ball team this year.  That means we really need to work on getting that OBP (on base percentage) up as high as we can.  There are two ways to do this: first, try to get more hits.  Concentrate on just slapping balls to the opposite field and avoiding outs instead of crushing the ball.  That’s sometimes difficult and sometimes you’re just limited to talent.  Who knows?  Maybe the Pirates already stress this, and the players are already doing the best they can in that regard.  You can’t tell.  The easy way to improve OBP, however, is through patience.  Walks count, too.  I couldn’t find the stats, but I would love to take a look at the percentage of  first pitches that we swing at.  It’s high.  If you’re going to play sabermetrics small ball, your lifeblood is walks.  And, like I said above, you don’t need to have talent to walk.  It can be a learned skill.  That’s the good news.  The most interesting finding I came across, however, was steals.  We stole 0.74 bases in wins compared to 0.41 bases in losses.  That’s not surprising.  What WAS surprising was that we were caught stealing 0.19 times per game in wins and 0.14 times per game in loses.  We still won games despite being thrown out more often.  What does that tell us?  It tells us that we’re being rewarded for aggressiveness.  We have a speedy roster and a good success rate stealing bases.  The more we do it, the more we get runners in better position to score, and the more we win.  That goes contrary to the sabermetrics bible which says that stealing a base is risking an out unnecessarily.  But you can’t argue with the numbers.

So that about raps up the offense.  What about the defense?  They’re somewhat guilty for the loses, too.  Lets start by seeing if the problem is the pitchers or the defense behind them.  There is an average of 0.16 unearned runs in wins and 0.22 runs in loses.  That’s less than a tenth of a run per game, which is pretty negligible.  So, sorry pitching staff, this ones totally on you.  So why are runners scoring against our pitchers?  Lets take a look at the hits: an obvious place to start.  We give up an average of 7.06 hits per game in wins and 10.11 hits per game in losses.  That’s a strong reason, but once again, a 3.05 hit difference can’t completely explain a 3.44 run difference.  Unless people keep hitting homers off us.  What else is there?  Well, lets actually take a look at homers.  There are 0.58 homers per game hit against us in wins compared to 1.14 homers per game in losses.  That’s a pretty significant difference.

What about walks?  Well, that’s 3.32 in wins against 3.81 in losses, which is a pretty small difference.  But lets look closer at control.  We get 4.74 K’s per game in wins compared to 5.49 in losses.  Wait, what?  MORE strikeouts in losses?  Yep.  That’s what we’re seeing.  The problem isn’t control.  We throw 62% of pitches for strikes in wins and 61% of pitches for strikes in losses.  That’s pretty darn consistent.  So if we don’t get wild, what’s the difference?  It’s placement and just dumb luck.  That home run stat should tell you that they’re getting hit hard during losses.  That generally means throwing outside instead of inside or up instead of down.  Not enough to cause you to throw a ball, but enough to throw in the batters hot spots.  Placement is something that all pitchers struggle with.  The pitchers that can consistantly do it are in the hall of fame (Greg Maddux is a terrific example of someone who mastered pinpoint control despite a fairly low velocity and is going into the hall of fame because of it).  In other words, this is natural variance that every pitching staff presents to their team.  Good teams overcome it with their bats on occasion.  Bad teams don’t.  We’re a bad team.

So that’s about all I have for now.  Take more walks.  That’s the message I’m coming away with after this analysis.  Maybe if we continue our downward spiral, I’ll do another one of these.  Until then, it’ll be neat to follow the stats the rest of the year and see if these trends hold up.  Maholm is in a tailspin.  Karstens and Ohlendorf continue to be up and down.  I wouldn’t be surprised if pitching becomes more of an issue in the future.  Unfortunately, with McLouth out and more to possibly follow, the bats don’t look like their on the uptick, either.  It might be a long season, Bucs fans.

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Pirates Rockies Recap

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Pirates 3 Rockies 7

Pirates 7 Rockies 9

Pirates 4 Rockies 5

Wow.  You can really read John Russell’s face in that picture.  It says ‘Crap.  This Pittsburgh gig is going to be tougher than I thought’.  It’s tough.  We ran into a buzz-saw in Colorado.  They had won 13 of their last 14 games coming into the Pirate series.  Every part of their game was clicking.  But, as usual, our Buccos aren’t one to mess with success (by another team).  We made a red-hot team look white-hot and dropped all three games.  Yipee!

We were never really in game one.  The Rockies put up an early lead and never took their foot off the gas.  Jason Marquis almost went the distance for Colorado, but ran out of gas at the very end.  Jack Wilson got a rare home run.  That was about the only highlight from this day.  Pretty bleak.  No Pirate batter hit over .500 for the day.

Game two was a heart-breaker.  We finally got to a pitcher and dinged Jason Hammel for 6 runs.  This is right where the Buccos want to be.  When we score, we usually can win.  We had some errors (Freddy Sanchez lost a ball in the sun while he was wearing sunglasses…..on the brim of his cap.  I don’t see how that’s not an error), but we were there.  Going into the 8th, we were up two.  Then John Grabow proceeds to give up a 3-run shot and climb into my bad side more and more.  Because we got one in the top of the 8th, that only tied the score.  In the top of the 9th, we had Nyjer Morgan on 3rd with two outs.  Adam LaRoche is up to bad.  The least clutch player on the team.  In a pressure situation like this, you can count on him to get the out you need.  So Colorado naturally walks him and brings up his brother.  I have no idea why.  But I’ll take it.  Does Andy make them pay?  Not a chance.  Inning ending grounder.  So then in the bottom of the 9th with one out and a man on first do we get the inning-ending double play?  Not a chance.  Walk off home run by Todd Helton.  Makes you want to bang your head against the wall.

Game three was just as frustrating.  It’s the 6th inning and we’re down by 1.  Our bullpen is holding strong.  The Rockies had to go to the pen early.  Heck, they even sent up Josh Fogg.  He’s gotta screw up, right?  How many times did he make Pirate fans wince?  Not this time.  The Rockies bullpen throws 3 perfect innings in a row.  That’s right.  We have 3 innings where all we need is one run to tie, and we don’t even get a man to first base.  It really makes you question your loyalty to this team.

If you can’t tell, I’m frustrated right now.  Very, very frustrated.  But at least the expectations were so low that I don’t really care.  I shake my head and move on.  This is the first series where the bi-polar bucs didn’t really rear their ugly head.  They put up some runs.  They put 7 on the board in game 2.   We just couldn’t hold a hot team down.  Tomorrow I’m looking into what makes the Pirates tick, and what makes them lose so much.  It should be interesting…..especially if you like numbers a lot.

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Pirates/Twins Recap

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Pirates 2 Twins 8

Pirates 8 Twins 2

Pirates 1 Twins 5

So the Pirates just finished an inter-league series with the Twins.  Going into the series, I wasn’t sure quite what to make of this one.  The Twins are in second place in the AL Central, but that’s not a terrific division to begin with.  The games are in the Metrodome, which offers one of the larger home field advantages in the bigs.  I guess winning 1 of 3 is probably what I would have guessed going in, but I wouldn’t have been surprised either way.

Game one is being blamed by most people on Paul Maholm.  He gave up 8 runs, and had without a doubt his worst game of the season and possibly his career.  He only walked 1, but his control was off.  He was going really deep into every count.  He also gave up all 8 runs in only 5 plus innings, which is off the charts bad.  But, before you put him through the wringer, remember 2 things: 1)he’s the best pitcher we’ve got, and frankly one of the only ones that consistently looks like a major leaguer.  He deserves one bad day excuse  and 2)Adam LaRoche deserves a lot of blame, too.  Lets look back at the
5th, shall we?  The Bucs trailed 4-2, but they had the bases loaded with 1 out.  This was the Buccos chance to get back in the game, if not take the lead, and LaRoche grounds into the double play.  Yet again cementing himself as the Pirate’s resident choke artist.  This guy has rolled out more crushing double play balls this year than anyone in the league.  And this one was especially bad.  It totally knocked the wind out the Pirate sails (and wind in the sails is important when you’re pirates).  Maholm melts down the next inning, and you can kiss it goodbye.

Game two saw a resurgence of power from the Pirates.  I have no idea what happened (maybe the air conditioning was pointed out towards center field), but it would be great to see more of it.  Both LaRoche brothers went yard and were joined by Andrew McCutchen getting his first big league knock.  Ian Snell had another good start which means he’s on a bit of a roll.  Maybe he was threatened with a demotion and/or trade and woke up.  Who knows.  But man, oh, man.  The Twins just ran into a rare buzzsaw and there’s nothing you can do about it .

They got their revenge in game three, though.  The Twins got two dingers of their own, but all they needed was pitcher Nick Blackburn.  He pitched a gem, going the distance while only giving up 6 hits.  He would have gotten a shutout, too, if it wasn’t for a cheap run in the 9th.  Guy’s a quality pitcher.  He’s 6-2 on the year with a WHIP of 1.25.  It’s ok to get bested by the best, but I’m not sure he’s good enough to get a shutout on us.  Whatever.  I’m already sounding like a broken record about the Pirate batting.  I won’t pound the inconsistency topic any more.

So that about raps it up.  It was just what you would have expected from this series.  The Twins have some terrific young bats and a couple of ok arms.  They just don’t have the depth of the lineup that a team like the Yankees has.  Problem is, the Pirates don’t have any depth at all in their lineup, so they made them look like the Yankees, anyway.  Oh, well.  We go to Coors Field for 3 games this weekend.  If we don’t see any more of that power we saw in game two, it doesn’t exist.

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Weekly Beer Recommendation 6/18/09

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Well, I told you I owed you one more for this week, so here it is.  I’m going a bit off the map for this one, but bear with me.  It’s worth it.  Terrapin Beer Co. is a fairly new entrant in the microbrewery race (their first beer was released in 2002), but they’ve been just racking up the awards with every beer they’ve put out.  Terrapin Beer takes its name from the Grateful Dead song Terrapin Station, which may  explain some of its artwork, and its located in Athens, GA (not in Maryland which would have been my first guess).

Terrapin’s India Brown Ale is a really original beer which you know I always love.  They took a great thing (Brown Ale) and mixed it with another great thing (India Pale Ale) and got a better thing.  I’ll admit that doesn’t always happen (just try putting ketchup on your ice cream sometime……doesn’t work).  Terrapin managed the feat by separating the two tastes.  When you first taste the India Brown Ale, it could pass for a normal brown ale.  It’s got a dark brown/copper color which looks like a brown ale.  It’s got the real heavy malt taste like a brown ale.  It even combined in some typical brown ale accents like coffee and caramel.  Just as the flavor starts to fade, though, the IPA kicks in.  All of a sudden you get hit with a lot of hops and a fairly bitter aftertaste.

So I guess you can call this a brown ale with a kick.  How they managed to get the hops to wait until the end to kick in, I have no idea.  But I like it.  Plus, I have to give Terrapin props for trying something new.  This is still a new brewery with only four beers, but they’re still fairly easy to get a hold of.  That should tell you about the quality.  I’m anxiously looking forward to their follow-up performances.  They’ve set the bar high.

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