Monthly Archives: July 2009

Weekly Beer Recommendation 7/30/09

image from beerinator.com

image from beerinator.com

So considering all that’s going on with the Pirates right now, I figured now was a good time for a nice stiff barley wine as the beer recommendation.  I think I found a good one clocking in at 10% alcohol: Below Decks Ale from Clipper City Brewing Co. (Warning: please drink this responsibly.  I don’t want to get sued).

Clipper City is located right outside of Baltimore and has a few quality beers in its repertoire.  Look for their Heavy Seas line (of which Below Decks is a member).  When they bottle Heavy Seas beers, they leave some live yeast in the bottle to age a bit like wine.  A nice touch.  It’s a fairly new brewery (established in ’95), and is relatively easy to find.  Not every brewery will take a shot at a barley wine, but Clipper City earns some brownie points (and this recommendation) by giving it a shot . Now to come clean, I’m not a barley wine fan.  It’s just way to sour for me.  But if you’re into them, Heavy Seas is a good choice.  It’s nice and complex, but still maintains a very solid barley wine flavor.

Besides the very sour taste, you can tell that this has a lot of malt in it.  Clipper City apparently also threw in some caramel and brown sugar which gives it a definite sweetness, as well.  Sweet and malt are always a good combo.  I also noticed that there was a big head on this one, and very good lacing (how the head leaves foam on the inside of the glass.  A sign of quality).  The extreme alcohol content is noticeable in the aftertaste, but they do a good job masking it for the most part.  Remember: this is a 10% ABV, so only have one of them.  I’m definitely going to enjoy one as I cry over my autographed Bill Mazeroski picture and pretend it’s 1960.

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Pirates/Giants Recap

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Pirates 2 Giants 4

Pirates 2 Giants 3

Pirates 0 Giants 1

Man, this is an depressing interesting team to follow around the trading deadline.  Two (three?) more quality players said sayanora since the Arizona series concluded.  Jack Wilson and Ian Snell are now Mariners, and (this just in) Freddy Sanchez will stay behind in San Francisco (if you don’t believe it, there’s a picture of Sanchez in a Giant uniform up top.  Just let it sink in).  In return for Wilson and Snell we get Ronny Cedeno, AAA first baseman Jeff Clement, and 3 A-ball pitchers.  So, the way I see it, we trade Snell for Clement (both are borderline MLB talent), we downgrade from Wilson to Cedeno (a journeyman, but major leaguer) and we make up for it with the young arms.  That’s fair.  Plus it gives us another shortstop for the short term.  My only concern is Clement.  He’s the supposed keystone of the trade.  The report on him is that he can hit for power, but he’s got a hole in his swing (he can’t hit curve balls.  Think Pedro Cerrano, the guy who practices voodoo in the movie ‘Major League’).  We traded Sanchez straight up for AA prospect Tim Alderson.  So let me get this straight: we traded an established major league second baseman who still has a lot of production left in him for a kid with a heck of a lot of promise, but zero major league experience.  How did we not get hosed in this deal?  It’s a gamble.  I get it.  It’s a known commodity (Freddy’s remaining production) for something that could be greater than that or less than that.  But usually a GM will add in another prospect to kind of hedge the bet a little bit.  Now, this was a quality kid.  No doubt about it.  He was #4 in their system and he’s only 20 years old.  But for him to make this trade a success, he has to be a multi-time all-star.  That’s a heck of a lot of expectations for a kid in AA.  I sure hope we know what we’re doing.  Oh, and one more thing: we’ve been stocking the minor leagues forever.  We should be kicking butt down on the farm even if we’re struggling up in the ‘burgh, right?  Well, lets look at the standings and get a whiff of good news, shall we?

AAA International League West Division

Louisville (Reds) 59-44

Indianapolis (Pirates) 50-53

Toledo (Tigers) 48-56

Columbus (Indians) 45-57

2nd place.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.  2nd place by a mile and still not above .500, but it’s decent.  Nobody’s perfect.  We were in last place last year.  So improvement at least.  Let’s continue:

AA Eastern League Southern Division

Akron (Indians) 63-41

Erie (Tigers) 57-45

Reading (Phillies) 56-46

Bowie (Orioles) 56-47

Harrisburg (Nationals) 46-55

Altoona (Pirates) 41-63

Ouch.  That smarts.  Especially since this is supposedly where all the major talent like Pedro Alvarez, Gorkys Hernandez and Jose Tabata are.  I’m not going to lie, that’s embarrassing.  But one team does not a system make, so onward:

A Carolina League Northern Division

Potomac (Nationals) 58-41

Lynchburg (Pirates) 56-45

Wilmington (Royals) 56-45

Fredrick (Orioles) 48-53

Ok.  Another solid middle of the pack showing.  Not too bad.  This team is actually above .500 unlike the other two.  That’s encouraging.  One more team:

A South Atlantic League Northern Division

Kannapolis (White Sox) 19-13

Hickory (Rangers) 18-14

West Virginia (Pirates) 17-13

Lakewood (Phillies) 18-15

There are others in the division, but no one cares.  The point is that we’re seeing a bunch of middle of the pack minor league teams in our system right now.  We’ve traded away every arguable major league player in Pittsburgh.  These minor league teams are now the future of the Pirates and they aren’t getting much better without years of drafting.  The revitalizing through trades is almost done (there are one or two more trades left, but none that should bring much of a return).  If we’re not dominating or at least playing .500 ball down there, what makes you think it will change when they’re playing the same guys in the bigs in a few years?  Just a depressing thought for the future.  Anyway, that turned into another post by itself.  I have a series to recap.  So here’s the short run-down.

Game one was a disaster.  Tim Lincecum pitched a complete game and struck out 15.  The kids good.  And he was on his game on Monday.  But jeez.  That’s embarrassing.  4 hits for the Pirates.  4 hits.  That will never win you a game.  That will almost never get you 2 runs, but we at least pulled that one off.  Waste of a decent game by Maholm

Game two was the same story.  We faced a good pitcher (Barry Zito).  We had a decent pitcher on the mound (Charlie Morton).  We got a good game from our guy, and blew it by getting absolutely no run support.  We managed 10 hits this time, but still only turned them into 2 runs.  I didn’t realize that was possible.  This game will mostly be remembered for Garrett Jones bobbling a ball in the outfield, and the amazing catch (or not) by Delwyn Young that ensued.  In case you missed it, here it is:

Cue the circus music.  Man.  Only the Pirates.  The sad part is that blown call cost us a run and consequently a shot at extra innings.  Not like we would have won there, anyway.

Game three was the worst offensive showing yet.  A shutout.  The third time we’ve been shut out in a week.  Pitiful.  Matt Cain threw a gem for San Francisco.  No doubt about it.  But this is more on us.  We managed 3 hits.  In 10 innings!  That’s right.  Due to an equally impressive 7 innings of shutout ball by Zach Duke, we  brought the game to extra innings scoreless and we STILL couldn’t do anything!  That’s the worst part.  All we needed was one run.  One stinking piece of luck or anything, and we couldn’t muster it.  Makes you want to smack your head into a wall.  But to be fair, lets look at our lineup from this afternoon and where they were last year.

Player Team @ end of ’08 Class

Andrew McCutchen                  Indianapolis                                         AAA

Andy LaRoche                            Pittsburgh                                              MLB

Delwyn Young                            Los Angeles (NL)                                 MLB

Garrett Jones                              Rochester                                               AAA

Steve Pearce                               Indianapolis                                          AAA

Brandon Moss                            Pittsburgh                                               MLB

Ramon Vazquez                        Texas                                                         MLB

Jason Jaramillo                         Lehigh Valley                                        AAA

So there you have it.  Half of our 8 position players were in AAA at the end of last year.  Add on to that by qualifying that Andy LaRoche was in AAA last year before coming to Pittsburgh, and none of the other 3 were regular starters, and you’ve got quite the lineup.  When people joke about Pittsburgh being a AAA team, they’re only half joking.  Remember that.  It’s going to be a loooooong rest of the season.


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My Two Cents

image from reverseshot.com

image from reverseshot.com

I’ve made a conscious effort not to discuss off the field issues here.  I’m not concerned with what a player does in his free time.  I’m only about the sports.  However, this Bucco season is like the Saharah Desert for sports blogging in Pittsburgh.  Plus, I’m rationalizing that as a sports blog, I should attack some of the major issues in sports, on or off the field.  So I’m going to pitch in my opinion of some of the top stories this week.  If it’s popular, I might make it into a weekly segment that I regularly forget to do (see: weekly beer recommendation).

Should Mike Vick Play Football?

The skinny: If you’ve been living under a rock, Mike Vick was convicted of dogfighting.  He went to jail for two years.  The NFL commissioner is now debating when to let him play football again.

See this for more detail

My two cents: Let him play.  He didn’t weasel his way out with a plea bargain or a cheap acquittal due to a high priced lawyer.  He was convicted.  A judge sentenced him.  That means there is a contract between him and the American people that he must do X, Y and Z to make up for his transgressions.  He did X, Y and Z.  If you don’t think that it was a harsh enough punishment you don’t need to go see the NFL, you need to go see your local lawmaker to get the minimum sentence raised for dogfighting.  I don’t think that the sentence is what people are objecting to, however.  I think they’re objecting to the million dollar payday he’s in line for when he gets back in the NFL.  Dogfighting is a horrible crime.  It shows that you have no compassion and it shows a lot of bad tendencies in your human nature.  Bad men who kill dogs aren’t worthy of million dollar pay checks.  That’s my understanding of the argument at least.  But that’s a slippery slope of logic that you’re heading down.  If a dog killer doesn’t deserve a million dollars what is he allowed to make?  You have to allow him to earn a living.  Denying him a job and forcing him to die a slow death from starvation is meeting inhumanity with inhumanity.  So where do you set the line?  I’m educated with a college degree.  I have a professional job.  I’m not bringing home a million dollars, but I’m not hurting.  If I’m convicted of dogfighting am I still worthy of a comfortable living?  I guess the main point here is that if you deny Michael Vick the opportunity to play football, you’re punishing him because of his profession, which has nothing to do with his crime.

Brett Favre: Stay, Go or JUST DECIDE ALREADY!?

The skinny: Brett Favre has spent the past few off-seasons debating whether or not to retire from football.  Just today, he finally made the decision to retire.

See this for more detail

My two cents: I understand the dilemma, but he needs to make a decision.  I respect his obvious love of the game.  He was a successful quarterback.  He has enough money to last the rest of his life and then some.  This was about his love for the game of football and not money.  I can understand that.  But there are other people who are affected by this decision.  The team he’s dragging along (in this case, the Vikings), have to make plans for the upcoming season.  He can always un-retire a la Michael Jordan.  But he has a responsibility to others around him to make a decision and live with it for at least a year.  Now, Jordan took some heat for being confused and retiring and un-retiring.  But it was just fun and jokes because it affected no one but him.  Brett Favre, on the other hand, is being a bit selfish by waiting, and was starting to draw some genuine anger.  There’s a difference.  Will this anger taint his legacy, as I’ve been hearing?  Probably not.  People will forget about it eventually, and he’ll be remembered as a great quarterback.  This is just a footnote.

Big Ben Is In Hot Water

The skinny: Our own Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assult of a woman in Nevada.

See this for more detail

My two cents: This is an awful situation.  You can stereotype it both ways.  Either the famous athlete is trying to get away with another crime or the gold digging woman is lying for money.  Both situations have happened before.  No one knows which of those two scenarios is correct, and it will be a while before we do.  This case could drag on for another year.  But I do know one thing: someone is very very wrong in this situation, and I hope whoever it is suffers some serious consequences.  The sexual assault she describes is basically rape.  So either Big Ben is guilty of rape (which is probably one of the worst crimes you can commit), or this woman is guilty of lying (or at the very least grossly stretching the truth) about being raped and destroying his reputation for a chance at a pay day.  Either one of those is a serious challenge to society in general, and I hope that whatever happens, the truth is found and this case is not just shrugged off.  Now, I’m aware that things don’t look good for this woman at first blush.  She waited a year to tell anybody, and she’s going after him in civil court instead of criminal court (where she can get more money).  However, I’m at least willing to admit that the scenario is plausible.  If you’re going to accuse the Super Bowl champion quarterback of rape, you’re going to get a lot of attention, and you’re going to have to talk about this very painful experience a lot.  I can understand if it takes a year to get up the mental strength to do that.  I can also understand that after a year, most of the evidence is probably gone, so you have to go to civil court where the evidence requirement for a conviction is a lot looser.  So it’s at least possible that she waited a year and is still telling the truth.  The story she gave is also possible.  Therefore, we’re just going to have to wait for a decision in about a year, and hopefully a stiff punishment thereafter.

Pete Rose Finally In The Hall?

The skinny: After some lobbying statements by Hank Aaron, Bud Selig is considering putting Pete Rose up for the vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

See this for more detail

My two cents: I don’t care.  Pete Rose gambled on a baseball game that he was a part of.  That’s an obvious assault on the integrity of baseball.  Any game that Pete Rose was a part of after that was going to be looked at with a skeptical eye.  So, he was given a lifetime ban from the game.  That’s a fair and logical punishment (it’s also fair and logical to ban those who threaten the game’s integrity with continued steroid use, but that’s for another rant).  With that ban came a ban from the Hall of Fame.  Now, I can understand making an exception of his ban for that.  Being a member of the Hall of Fame who bet on the game doesn’t cause anyone to think a game is fixed.  It does question the integrity of the Hall of Fame, however.  If a man who made that kind of egregious act towards the game is let in it doesn’t speak very highly of the requirements, but that’s for the sportswriters to decide.  Which brings me to my next point.  Admittance to the Hall of Fame is an arbitrary decision by a bunch of sportswriters.  It says nothing about your career beyond what your numbers said.  Pete Rose put up some of the greatest hitting stats in history, and for that he will be remembered as a great baseball player.  Hall of Fame or not.  In the long run, that kind of honor doesn’t really matter.  Besides, most of these players spend their careers telling the baseball writers that they don’t care about their opinions.  Why should they start after they retire?

So there you have it.  The first edition of my two cents.  Let me know if this is something I should continue or not.  Or, let me know if I’ve lowered my standards of faux journalism and I should be ashamed of myself.

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Pirates/Diamondbacks Recap

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Pirates 4 Diamondbacks 11

Pirates 10 Diamondbacks 3

Pirates 0 Diamondbacks 7

Pirates 0 Diamondbacks 9

Life is not good for Pirate fans right now.  I realize that’s par for the course around here, but it’s especially bad right now.  We just dropped 3 of 4 to a fairly bad Arizona team, and we were shut out twice by some mediocre pitching in the process.  In addition, two of the only guys on the team who actually belong on a major league roster (or at least  have an argument to be on one) are involved in some heavy trade rumors.  Yeah, it’s gettin’ pretty bad around here.  But that’s our Bucs.  Win a couple of series’ to get our hopes up, then collapse.

Game one started out innocently enough.  We were tied going into the 8th, and the bullpen just puked on itself, giving up 5 runs.  We were never going to come back from that.  Disappointing for sure, but on a bad team like the Pirates collapses like that are going to happen.  The one thing that stung a little bit was that John Grabow was involved in the melee.  He’s been pretty steady.  Garrett Jones and Steve Pearce both had decent days which was nice to see.  This one was kind of a bitter pill to swallow, though.  Especially because we took a 4-1 lead in the 5th only to see it immediately disappear into a tie game again.  But these are the breaks in baseball.  Not every lead is safe.

Game two was the lone bright spot in the series.  There was a promotion where for every run scored in the last three games of the Arizona series, tickets for select seats for Friday’s game would be reduced by $1.  Not a bad idea.  And the Bucs looked like they really wanted to make up for their past poor performances by giving the fans free seats.  Garrett Jones hit another home run (what else is new), but I’m waiting for pitchers to figure him out.  I think most of his success has a lot to do with his new car smell.  Once pitchers get a book on him, he won’t last (though I hope I’m wrong).  We strung together some hits, and managed to get a 10 spot on the board!  Arizona doesn’t have the fire-power to match that.  $10 off tickets with 2 games to go: the fans were sitting pretty on Friday night.

But, unfortunately, it didn’t last.  In game three, we spread out 8 hits, and were shut out.  I will say that it was kind of a cheap shut out, though.  A timely hit in one of a number of places would have put an end to that.  Doug Davis was throwing a 5 hit shutout through 6 and was still yanked.  That’ll tell you everything you need to know about him.  But the bottom line is that we definitely didn’t deserve to win that game.  Also, Evan Meek had another disastrous outing.  He better get things together pretty soon.

Game four was deja vu all over again.  Another shut out.  It’s amazing how bi-polar this offense can be.  This time the pitching culprit was Max Scherzer.  7 innings and 5  hits.  We went 3 up 3 down in the 8th and 9th, so those were also our only hits of the game, too.  I’ve said it before this season, but that’s an embarrassment.  I don’t care who you are, getting shut out in back to back nights against a team like Arizona can’t happen.  Virgil Vasquez pitched horribly.  I know I kind of came to his defense last series, but that’s now 2 or 3 really bad outings in a row.  Maybe I was too quick with the praise.  Freddy Sanchez capped off his awful series by going 0 for 4.  Maybe he’s subconsciously trying to destroy his trade value so he can stay.  I don’t know.

So that’s where we stand.  In a heap of trouble.  On the bright side, however, Steelers training camp opens this week.  It won’t be long before we can have something else to watch around here.  Plus, there’s $10 off some tickets to Friday’s game.  Too bad it’s the Nats in town.  Oh, well.  AAA baseball is still baseball (and I’m only half kidding about that).  Yipee!

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Pirates/Brewers Recap

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Pirates 8 Brewers 5

Pirates 0 Brewers 2

Pirates 8 Brewers 7

Well, that was interesting.  Little bit of every aspect of the game in this one: a pitcher’s duel, a home run derby and even an ugly brawl.  But, the bottom line is we pick up another series win and end a very ugly streak in the process.  So you can’t be unhappy with that.

Game one was the brawl portion of the series.  The Bucs jumped out to an early 6-1 lead behind Ross Ohlendorf.  Garrett Jones went yard.  Again.  Just about everyone got a hit.  It was a very nice showing, and a well deserved win.  The real fireworks, however, started in the 8th inning.  With the game at 7-2 Pirates and out of hand, the Brewers took the opportunity to get some payback.  From way back in April.  April!  It all started when Ryan Braun hit a home run and Jeff Karstens hit him his next time up.  This is one of those things that I hate about baseball.  If a pitcher feels shown up, he plunks the hitter.  If you don’t want the hitter to show you up, don’t hang a curve.  Period.  I can understand protecting your hitter, though.  If a pitcher on the other team throws at one of your hitters, you have to retaliate to establish some consequences and hopefully prevent it from happening in the first place.  The Brewers had a chance to throw at Karstens in that game.  They didn’t.  It started a bit of a tiff in the locker room.  They threw at our guy the next night.  The Pirates took it.  We’re even.  Or not.  Karstens came up to bat during long relief on Monday, and he got plunked.  I realize that revenge is a dish best served cold, but c’mon, that was April.  That revenge is frozen by now.  Plus, you already got your retribution.  I don’t get it.  Expect it to turn into some more fireworks in the future, though.  They come back in mid-August.  The Pirates aren’t dumb.  The umps issued warning before each of the last two games.  No use getting someone suspended.  If the Brewers can wait 3 months, we can wait 1, right?

Game two was the pitchers duel.  Virgil Vasquez and Braden Looper were all but unhitable.  Vasquez gave up 2 runs in about 7 innings, which I’ll take every time.  Especially from a 5th man in the rotation.  I think Vasquez is a fine 5th pitcher.  He shows flashes of brilliance and occasionally throws a stinker (which is what makes him a 5th starter instead of an ace).  I’ll take that.  Unfortunately, Looper also pitched 7 brilliant innings.  I’d love to shower him with praise, but I can’t.  We couldn’t hit anything off of the next 3 pitchers that entered the game, either.  That’s a surefire sign of a bad offensive night, not a great pitching night.  We managed 4 measly hits all night.  That will never ever get it done.  On the bright side, however, we only struck out once.  So, I guess that’s actually good defense by the Brewers.  I can respect that.

Game three was a slugfest.  Paul Maholm and Jeff Suppan were on the hill, so I wasn’t prepared for it, either.  Maholm’s been one of our best pitchers (which is almost saying something this year), and Suppan has been hit and miss all year.  Well, Maholm looked very mortal out there compared to the heavy Milwaukee bats, and Suppan was definitely in ‘miss’ mode.  Neither one made it to the 5th to register a decision.  There were 7 home runs in this game.  Doumit blasted two (and almost had a third), making it known he’s back from injury.  Garrett freaking Jones hit ANOTHER one.  That makes 9 already.  I wonder how much longer he can keep this up?  An interesting stat, though: all 9 home runs have been solo jacks.  A testament to the horrible OBP for the Pirates.  The biggest homer of the day, however, belonged to Brandon Moss.  His dinger in the bottom of the 9th untied the score and gave us our first series win against Milwaukee since I believe the Taft administration.

This is definitely turning into a bit of a rivalry.  I have no idea why, but any team that gets our anger up enough to hit 5 homers in a game is okay by me.  Don’t look now, but the Pirates haven’t lost a series since before the All-Star break (last week, I know, but I’m grasping at straws here).  We’re heading out to Phoenix tomorrow to start another series on the road this time.  Let hope we can keep this going.

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Pirates/Giants Recap

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Pirates 2 Giants 1

Pirates 2 Giants 0

Pirates 3 Giants 4

Alright.  When we last left the Pirates, they were on desperate times.  They had an awful series in Philadelphia where nothing went right.  They had an offense on life support.  They had made some major trades that severely downgraded their outfield, and their closer had just blown an awful game.  Coming out of the All Star break, we get Tim Lincecum and the Giants coming into town.  Just what the doctor ordered for an aching offense: a Cy Young contending pitcher.  Lets see how it went, shall we?

Well, we were lucky.  Lincecum pitched the game you would expect him to pitch.  He struck out 10 and gave up only 1 run and 5 hits in 7 innings of work.  Not too shabby.  We countered with Paul Maholm who pitched a gem of his own going 8 innings while giving up 1 run and 4 hits and striking out 7.  Everyone came to see a pitchers duel on Friday, and that’s exactly what they got.  Fantastic.  The game went to 14 innings before Garrett Jones hit a walk-off solo jack to win it.  Drama abound.  This after Jones hit another one in the beginning of the game to score the Pirates only other run.  I haven’t talked much about Jones even though he’s been on the radar for awhile, so I’ll formally introduce you to him.  He’s been in the Twins organization for a while, and after becoming a free agent this off-season, we picked him up.  He came up when we traded Eric Hinske, and has been doing nothing but hitting home runs since.  Seriously.  He has 7 home runs so far this year.  In 14 games which is a very impressive rate.  However, he only has an average of .286 and an OBP of .333.  That means if it doesn’t leave the park, he’s in trouble.  Not much of a singles hitter, this one (he’s got 16 hits including the 7 home runs).  When I said it’s all or nothing, I wasn’t kidding.  So, to recap, Jones and Maholm carry the rest of the team to a win.

Game two saw another decent pitching matchup (for a Bucco game): Charlie Morton vs. Barry Zito.  Morton is pitching decently since moving over in the McLouth trade.  Zito, umm, used to be good at some point.  Morton did very well while out-pitching Zito.  He puts up a line of 7 innings, 0 runs and 3 hits.  Very solid.  So solid, I’m wondering whether this is San Francisco’s lack of offense that’s making our staff look unhitable.  But, I digress.  We eek out 2 runs on 6 measly hits and once again do juuuuuuust enough to win.  Oh, and Matt Capps picked up the save (after allowing 2 hits), and gives a huge fist pump.  Whatever builds his confidence.

Game three matches Matt Cain against Zach Duke.  I know I’m making a huge deal about pitching in this series, but these are two teams that rely heavily on their staffs to get it done.  These were three good matchups, and they didn’t disappoint.  Anyway, Duke does ok, giving up 4 runs in 7 innings.  That’s usually enough to at least keep you in the game if not let your team get a lead.  But Matt Cain is having a heck of a year, and against our lineup he did very well.  We were down 4-1 when he left after 7, got two back in the 8th, and come up just short of the sweep.  Brandon Moss hit a homer.  That’s his 4th of the year.  That number was expected to be much much higher by now.  Our buddy Garrett Jones goes 0-4 with 2 strikeouts.  Ouch.

So that’s your series.  The pitching staff couldn’t have carried this team any more if there were handles installed.  Garrett Jones continues to be Mr. Fire and Ice.  If he gets some consistency and patience, he’ll be something.  Otherwise he’ll be a very frustrating player.  We’ve got enough of those.  Jack and Freddy were offered ‘contract extensions’.  Most of the fans saw right through that ploy.  The news just came out tonight that both players rejected the contracts that were roughly half of what they were to make next year.  I guess it was a smart move, though.  Offer pitifully low contracts.  If they sign them, great.  If not, you can blame them when you trade them.  That would have worked, would this not have been the most skeptical, pessimistic fan base in baseball (and with good reason).  So you can count the days until our team becomes even worse.  We have no one in the minors to replace them.  Remember Brian Bixler’s time in the bigs earlier this year?  Remember how he struck out more times than the AV club president on ladies night?  Think about that being permanent for the rest of the year.  *shudder*

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Baseball Economics

image from miller-mccune.com

image from miller-mccune.com

I thought that I should get a quick post in here during the All Star break, with all the extra time and all. With the Buccos going through their yearly meltdown, I don’t see a better time topic than the problems with the economics of baseball. If we can’t change why the Pirates will never have sustained success in this system, the least we can do is understand it, right? Now, when the idea of a salary cap comes up, there are always some people who argue against it, and I just don’t understand their thinking. Being from a small market in Pittsburgh where you can’t buy a jersey with a name on it (because as soon as someone is successful enough to merit a jersey, they’re out the door before the investment is worthwhile), maybe I understand the problem a little bit more than most. The people against the salary cap love to (mis)quote statistics about how small market teams can succeed. I’m going to present some statistics of my own to show just how silly that argument is.

Proponents of free market baseball love to say that “24 of 30 teams have made the playoffs in the past 10 years”, and “we have 8 different world series champs since 2000”. Both are true statements and seem to present indisputable evidence that small market teams get their moment in the sun. Which is true. But that stat is made true by one policy: the slary structure for new players. Because players have low fixed salaries for their first 3 (possibly 4 with arbitration) years in the majors, teams can horde prospects in the minors and bring them up together in a wave that will help them compete…for a year or two. To build a continual stream of top of the line prospects that can compete their first 3 years in the majors and make a continually competitive team is next to impossible. Just ask Oakland. They held the fort for a while, outsmarting the other 29 teams, but it didn’t last. To see what I mean, just look at this. It’s a table with the average salary team from 1999-2008, the number of times they made the playoffs, and the number of titles they had in that span:

Team

Avg. Salary

Playoffs

Titles

New York (AL)

$155,791,897.70

9

2

Boston

$111,823,842.40

6

2

New York (NL)

$100,865,243.00

3

0

Los Angeles (NL)

$ 97,257,251.30

3

0

Atlanta

$ 90,590,089.40

7

0

Chicago (NL)

$ 82,760,642.90

3

0

Seattle

$ 82,690,632.10

2

0

Los Angeles (AL)

$ 81,984,799.00

5

1

St. Louis

$ 80,025,990.10

6

1

Texas

$ 76,509,696.70

1

0

San Francisco

$ 75,312,136.70

3

0

Arizona

$ 72,839,073.00

4

1

Houston

$ 72,366,366.80

4

0

Baltimore

$ 72,148,439.00

0

0

Philadelphia

$ 71,257,559.20

2

1

Chicago (AL)

$ 70,240,283.20

3

1

Detroit

$ 68,167,443.10

1

0

Toronto

$ 64,694,619.70

0

0

Cleveland

$ 64,301,721.30

3

0

Colorado

$ 58,919,140.50

1

0

Cincinnati

$ 55,199,034.50

0

0

San Diego

$ 54,678,100.20

2

0

Milwaukee

$ 49,168,005.90

1

0

Oakland

$ 48,477,649.10

5

0

Minnesota

$ 45,340,877.20

4

0

Washington

$ 42,058,966.60

0

0

Kansas City

$ 42,000,300.00

0

0

Pittsburgh

$ 40,998,248.90

0

0

Tampa Bay

$ 37,580,820.80

1

0

Florida

$ 33,118,129.30

1

1

That looks a whole lot more realistic, eh? Now, the playoff category follows generally right along with the salary numbers (save a few outliers like Oakland and Minnesota who outsmarted the system for a while). There is a definite correlation that more expensive teams are generally more successful over the long run (as they should be). The titles category, however, is more homogeneous. Boston and the Yankees both have 2 and are at the top, but the other 8 are pretty much spread over the salary spectrum. What does that tell us? Well, it tells us that the playoffs are a crap shoot.

Take a look at this. Since ’99, the teams that make the playoffs have always spent significantly more than the teams who don’t. The smallest gap was last year (mainly because of Tampa Bay). Playoff teams had an average salary of about $102.9 million. Everyone else had an average salary of about $82.4 million. That’s a difference of over $18 million in the best year. In the playoffs, however, it’s a different story. The winning team has spent above the average salary of all playoff teams in 6 of the past 10 years. 4 times they spent below. So it seems to be that the higher payroll teams rise to the top to make the playoffs (along with maybe 1 or 2 surprise teams), and from there its anyone’s game. That makes sense. Baseball is a game where anyone can beat anyone on any given day. There’s a lot of luck involved. A few seeing eye singes, a few balls go just foul, and you’ve got yourself an upset. Over the course of a long season, the cream generally rises. But the playoffs are a very small sample size, and its basically a crap shoot.

So, in essence, the playoffs is like the lotto. Getting a ticket is hard to do, but once you’re there it’s mostly whether or not the breaks go your way. The big spending teams can buy their ticket year in and year out (see the Yankees and their 9 of 10 playoff appearances), but it doesn’t guarantee a championship (see their 2 titles out of those 9 appearances). So the notion that because the championships in baseball are generally spread around doesn’t mean that there’s parity. It just means that the playoff structure is flawed as well. There’s definitely still the haves and have-nots. We’re unfortunately a have-not. So I guess we’ll just have to wait for our once in a blue moon streak like the A’s, Twins, and Rays. I hope it comes soon, because the stadium is starting to get really empty.

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