ABC News recently in with our favorite off-season minor league signings. To be honest, I still kind of thought this whole thing might be an elaborate hoax. That was until I saw them running the banana drill. You only run the banana drill if you're serious about baseball.
Every once in a while, I find a blog that I really like and I completely forget about it or I forget to share the link here and when I remember that I've forgotten, I feel quite bad about it. Cardboard Gods is one of those blogs, where you can literally spend hours lost in posts. The reason I've suddenly remembered to share it is the current top post there is an awesome piece about Andy Van Slyke and the Pirates that links back here and showed up in my referrals. Josh says some very kind words about this blog and I thank him for that, but that isn't why I'm linking. Paragraphs like this are:
If you say Pittsburgh Pirates to me I think of a raucous party, Sister Sledge blaring, free-swinging sluggers Al-Olivering line-drive doubles into the gap and speedsters Omar-Morenoing around third and sliding into home safely in a cloud of glittering, vaguely illicit dust, the giddy treble of the disco in the Pirates’ fearsome game supported by the rock-solid morally upright thumping bass of slugging elder statesman Roberto Clemente on one end of the decade and slugging elder statesman Willie Stargell on the other.
Sean's Ramblings has started a Pittsburgh Sports Blog tournament. There are some awesome blogs that he's put into the tournament that you might not know about and should check out. And Sean put a lot of work into making something fun to kick around during the down time before March Madness and the baseball season. And yes, I'm a #3 seed, so vote for me and feed my constant need for internet-based validation.
If you haven't read all the details yet, Frank Coonelly was apparently quite determined not to go to arbitration with Nate McLouth.
Not baseball related, but I've looked all over the place and I'm fairly certain that this isn't an Onion article.
After having some formatting trouble, hearing some complaints, and getting deluged by spam comments, I've decided to switch to a new comment plug-in. A big thanks goes out to Derek with Bloguin, who's done a ton of work the last couple of days to get things changed over and make sure that all the comments that have been made so far were imported, and so now I'd just like some feedback from you guys on the new system since you are the ones that use the comments.
UPDATE (10:00 AM)- As Derek notes in the comments, if you register with the site and log in before you comment, you can leave a comment without the catchpa. You should probably do this for two reasons. One of them is that by registering, you'll have access to post in the forum. The second is because I will probably eventually get fed up with spammers or something and make it so that only registered users can leave comments. If you register now, you'll be ahead of the curve when that happens.
Whether you think that hope springs eternal or not is really a personal preference, but you'll never hear the phrase more than during Spring Training. The easy fallback of almost every baseball writer is that the slate is wiped clean and even the most pathetic teams have a chance to start over. As Pirate fans, we know this is absolutely not true. Still, in keeping with spring tradition, I'm already being mildly chided for crushing people's hopes for the season before exhibition games even start. I'm not going to change my outlook here, but I'd like to try something a bit different today.
Just because I don't think that the Pirates will win the NL Central or finish .500 or win 75 games doesn't mean there aren't things I'm hoping to see this year. It's just that I'm a little more ... realistic. So these are the things I'm hoping for in 2009 that I think have a chance to happen:
- That Joe Kerrigan really teaches Ian Snell how to pitch and he recaptures the dominant form he flashed in the first half of 2007.
- That Andy LaRoche actually can hit and shows us that he can.
- That we finish ahead of the Astros. Ed Wade is just as bad as Dave Littlefield and he must be stopped. Plus, he'll never take anyone we want ahead of us in the draft.
- That we have another good draft.
- That Andrew McCutchen can handle his first taste of the majors.
- That by this year's signing date for draft picks, Pedro Alvarez has hit well enough that we've all forgotten the drama he's created.
- That Brad Lincoln has a strong second year back from Tommy John surgery.
- That Danny Moskos starts to turn things around as a reliever. Sure, Littlefield screwed up by drafting him, but no human being deserves the rancor leveled at him from Pirate fans. It's not his fault.
- That we don't lose 100 games. Think about how bad the Nationals were last year. I don't want to watch that.
Perhaps this is a sad way of doing things, but even if we don't win one more game in 2009 than 2008, I'll consider it a successful year if all those things happen.
Looks like the Pirates will avoid arbitration with Nate McLouth after all. The hearing was scheduled for today, but the Pirates inked McLouth to a three-year deal with an option for #4 earlier this morning. That's all of his arbitration years with the potential to go plus one. I'm curious to see what terms finally got McLouth to sign, but deals like this are usually good ideas for teams.
Meanwhile, you might've seen Jerry Crasnick mention that the Pirates are one of the clubs interested in Will Ohman and wondered what was up with that, given the Pirates' already-existing slant towards the left side of the bullpen and the crowded bullpen situation that already exists. DK, who's clearly still working the phones during his convalescence, explains that a trade could be in the offing:
The Pirates will be much more interested in Ohman than they are now if they can pull off a trade. I do not know precisely which trade, but one involving John Grabow is an excellent bet.
As my meandering look at the potential starting pitchers continues, we're now reaching the guys acquired in the Yankee trade. I think the Pirates like Ohlendorf the most and I think he's more interesting than Karstens, so we'll start with him.
When Ohlendorf was traded to the Pirates in the Xavier Nady trade last summer, he was being used in New York as a reliever. The Pirates decided that they wanted to try him out as a starter before they did anything else, so they sent him to AAA Indianapolis and in seven starts there, he pitched about as well as he's pitched anywhere. He struck out 40 in 46 2/3 innings and only allowed five walks. He did get dinged for a few homers, but all in all he looked pretty good. He then got called up to the Pirates and was terrible: he struck out 13 and walked 12 in 22 2/3 innings over five starts, his ERA was 6.53, his WHIP was 2.12.
I just pulled up his PitchFX page, and it's not hard to see why he got smoked. In the minors, we heard reports that Ohlendorf was hitting 98 or 99 on the gun with his fastball. With the Pirates, he average about 95 mph and threw the fastball two out of every three pitches with the slider coming the other time. He didn't throw any other pitches. Not only was he a two-pitch pitcher, but check out his pitch selection based on count (the graph is from the same PitchFX page linked above, and it all comes from Josh Kalk's blog).
Now, divining these pitch types from the data isn't an exact science and if you check out the numbers at Brooks Baseball from his starts, Dan's system classifies some of the sliders as curveballs and registers some changeups. Still, I think it's easy to see what Ohlendorf's problems were from this chart. If we just treat the first column as "fastball" and the second as "not a fastball," the only pitch count in which he mixed fastballs and breaking pitches evenly was the 2-2 count, and besides 2-2, 0-1, and 1-1, he threw the same pitch just about 75% of the time in every count. Again, these numbers aren't perfect, but they give us a good indication that Ohlendorf was probably pretty predictable with the Pirates last year.
It's pretty easy to see that if Ohlendorf keeps pitching like that, he won't find success as a starter in the majors. You can overwhelm a lot of AAA hitters with a well-pointed, mid-90s fastball and a decent breaking pitch, but that won't fly in the bigs unless that fastball's hitting the high 90s consistently or it's got some wicked movement on it.
That means there's two things to keep an eye on with Ohlendorf early in the year. The first is velocity. Is he hitting the high 90s? Is he doing it the second time through the lineup? The second is pitch selection. Is he working a changeup in? Is it effective at all? If he can't maintain velocity and doesn't find a reliable changeup, there's certainly a place for him in the bullpen. Matt Capps lives throwing fastballs and sliders and he doesn't have anything near the heat that Ohlendorf is capable of. I'm guessing when it's all said and done, that's where Ohlendorf will indeed end up in the pen doing what Neal Huntington hoped Craig Hansen would do. Still, there's certainly no harm in trying him out in the rotation early in the year when his arm is fresh, just to see what he's capable of. Just don't expect that trial to be pretty.
There's at least a couple (here and here) articles about Joe Kerrigan today, talking about how different he is from Jeff Andrews, how much the players like working with him, etc. etc. That's all well and good, but it's easy to lose track of things in the early spring when the first bit of glowing praise leaks out into the public.
The Pirates gave up 884 runs last year. This did not happen by accident. I like Kerrigan and I do think he'll be able to help at least a couple of members of our pitching staff (Ian Snell in particular, probably Gorzelanny as well), but we have to remember that he can't actually make the pitching staff more talented. When a team is mired in a slump like the Pirates are, there's a tendency to immediately associate the old with "doing things wrong" and as an extension, the new with "doing things right." Both Jim Tracy and John Russell's first camps got glowing public reviews, but their teams weren't substantially different than the Pirate teams that immediately preceded them.
Enjoy the spring, but don't let it get you overexcited.
Some salty language that isn't safe for work, unless your boss is a baseball fan ...
Today is the first day of official workouts at Pirate City and I feel like an overstimulated little kid reading everything I possibly can about what's happening in camp. It sounds like pretty much the whole team is there right now, even though the position players don't officially report until Monday.
There's a couple of articles about Pedro Alvarez up at Pirates.com and the PG. He's been in Bradenton for two weeks trying to get back into shape after putting on a few pounds when he was laid up with tendinitis in both his knees. I wonder how much the public outcry over his figure motivated this.
Jen Langosch has some odds and ends on her blog. Ever wonder when the players shoot the Q&As and goofy scoreboard pieces that air at PNC all year? Right now, apparently.
It looks like the new PiratesReport.com has launched, with John Perrotto as the main writer (this is what he left the BCT for). There's a bunch of new content there, including a story about Brandon Moss and Phil Dumatrait's recoveries.
Kevin Goldstein's put together his top 100 prospects in all of baseball for BP. Pedro Alvarez is #4, Andrew McCutchen is #25, and Jose Tabata is #91.
BP 2009 is now shipping, which always excites nerds like me. And the Hardball Times 2009 Preview (you know, the book I contributed to) shipped last week. If you're curious how high the stack of baseball preview books I acquire each spring, the answer is, "you don't want to know."
In the self-indulgence column, I wrote a Pirate preview for the Spring Training '09 website, which has similar features written by bloggers for every team, and I wrote about the three prospects most likely to impact the Pirates in 2009 for FanHouse.
Does anyone feel an overwhelming urge to watch Major League right now?