It's that time of year again. I just got word from the Hardball Times guys that they've finished printing the 2009 season preview and it's available for sale now. David Gassko gives a nice rundown of all of the features of the book today at THT, but I'll say again that this book is unique in that every chapter is written by a blogger/fan of that team. Of course, I'm mentioning all this because I authored the Pirates' chapter, but I really enjoyed last year's book because of the diversity in writers and the different perspectives on every team. If you're interested, make sure to check it out through the publisher's page.
I can't even imagine what it must be like to be Neal Huntington sometimes. From today's writeup at the PG about day 1 of Piratefest:
And, when another questioner asked why the Pirates had not yet re-signed Doug Mientkiewicz, the assembly broke into loud applause before anyone on stage could answer.
And from DK's morning linkdump:
Walked across the floor with Neal Huntington once early in the evening, as he moved from one session to the next. He was stopped once by a fan who wanted to know if Jack Wilson is staying, by another if Doug Mientkiewicz will come back. This is his life, surely.
Can you even imagine spending a full year working on rebuilding a farm system, only to be mobbed in public by people that are more concerned about Jack Wilson and Doug Mientkiewicz? It's like asking, "Hey, Neal, I know Littlefield got fired because the public hated him so much and he sucked terribly at his job, but do you think you could be a little more like him? Please?"
You know what? I actually wish I was at Piratefest this year because I have some serious questions for the front office right now.
- Is the budget for the draft going to be the same in 2009 as it was for 2008?
- Will anything that happened in the Pedro Alvarez negotations change your willingness to work with Scott Boras draft picks in the future?
- We know how Pedro Alvarez is doing, but what about the other draft picks? Where are guys like Robbie Grossman, Quinton Miller, Wesley Freeman, and Justin Miller Wilson going to start the season?
- What should we be expecting from Brad Lincoln and Bryan Morris this year, now that they're two years removed from Tommy John surgery?
Maybe there are people asking these questions at Piratefest this year, but it sure doesn't seem like it.
Photo from the PG, where Dejan has more details.
So it was rumored for a few days, and now we know: the sleeves are back and the new alt is black with a gold "P" on the chest. It's easy to know why they did it, too. When Frank Coonelly took over Kevin McClatchy's role in 2007, it was already too late to file a request for uniform change in 2008. This is pretty clearly Coonelly's way of distancing himself and his front office from the previous regime. But that's not really what I'm concerned with. What I'm concerned with is how good we look.
The new home/road combo
I can start by admitting that I'm a vest apologist. I love those vests. To me, they're the classic Pirate uniform. Something about the way the black and gold looks with the black undersleeves is timeless. I see those vests and I see Maz and Roberto and Vern Law and they're perfect. Vests don't look good on every team, but they did look good on the Pirates. That said, I guess this look isn't a bad look. It is a little bland. It's hard to see in this picture, but the collar, pants, and and sleeves all have a gold/black/gold striping pattern. I think maybe it'd be a little more distinctive if the gold and black were reversed, but maybe I'll think differently if I see more pictures. In the end, they're black and gold, they keep the subtly unique font and number style, and it's hard to complain. I think these are a little more boring than the vests, especially with that striping pattern but these are still pretty decent looking. For some reason, the home unis look substantially better (read: less boring) than the road unis to me. Maybe they should've kept the vests on the road. Also, if everyone wore their socks like Nyjer Morgan, I'd be more OK with these.
The black alternate jersey
You have to look closely (or look here), but these come with their own cap, which has the "P" outlined in white. That's a purely mercenary marketing move, which kind of irks me. The black alternates themselves aren't so bad. I kind of like the fact that they're not just the regular uniforms with a black shirt, to be honest. I know that's for marketing, too, but it's some nice variety. And we all agree that the gold "P" on a black field is one of the most badass logos in sports, so there's nothing wrong with featuring that, in my book. So long as we keep the signature number/name font on the back, I think I'm OK with these. Actually, I'm more than OK with these because they aren't brutal attempts to introduce a needless third color into the uniform scheme.
The pinstriped Sunday jerseys
I hate these, but not for how they look. I hate being a "four jersey team." I hate that if an out-of-town fan flies in for a three game series on Friday, he'll see three different jerseys on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I know that's the point, but we're the Pittsburgh Pirates, we've got 121 years of baseball history, and maybe the last seventeen years have sucked, but we've got some tradition here, dammit, and I wish we'd act like it in the jersey department.
UPDATE (1:07)- Dejan confirms ... the sleeves are back. Oddly enough, you heard it here first (thanks to K in the comments). I have to go to class, but if I find pictures of the unis on players, I'll replace the pictures below with them or maybe give them their own review post.
Piratefest kicks off today and if it's anything like Piratefest from three years ago, there's going to be a lot of bored Pittsburghers in Hines Ward jerseys wandering around this weekend, just dying for anything sports-related to happen. Whoever schedules Piratefest for this week every year is a genius.
This big news from today is the unveiling of the new alternate jerseys, which will replace the horrific red things the Pirates wore the last two years. They're supposed to be shown to the media at lunchtime and the Piratefest crowd around dinner. I'll try to post some pics if they show up on the web at lunch. I also want to note that we have a commenter, K, who says that while they only announced new alts, they're going to be unveiling a whole new uniform set that goes back to the early '90s. I don't really have any reason not to believe K, but no one else seems to have this information. Since the team would have to clear a new uniform set with the league, I would think someone have made a little more knowledge available to the public. Then again, Paul Lukas does say the Pirates and Rangers will be debuting new uniform "sets" today, so take that for what it's worth. My guess is that if the Pirates don't unveil new uniforms today, they will within the next few years at a point when the front office thinks they'll be competitive again to try and shed the image of the past two decades. Think about the Rays, who kicked around the idea of changing their name for two or three years, but didn't move on it until before 2008.
Anyways, if you're going to be at Piratefest and can get some awesome pictures or hear anything interesting in the Q&A, I'd love to hear about it, so go and post it in the forum. Piratefest already has a thread there, so let's start utilizing the power of the new WHYGAVS.
Also, Keith Law has posted his top 100 prospects at ESPN, but you have to pay for the last 75. Andrew McCutchen is the only Pirate in the top 25, at #18. I think Pedro Alvarez comes in somewhere in the 30s, as Law has him third among third basemen. He also has the Pirates somewhere outside the top 10 systems right now, as he only ranked their top five prospects (and put Tabata ahead of Alvarez). If someone does have insider, I'd like to know where Tabata and Alvarez actually clock in in Law's top 100.
The Road to 17 is a look at each losing season that the Pirates have had since their last playoff appearance in 1992. The object is not to wallow in the misery of the Pirates, but instead remember just what it is that makes us Pirate fans in the first place. Every team has their great moments, the Pirates' are just fewer and further between. Today, we hit the thirteenth stop on the Road to 17: 2005
I was going to say that I can't believe that we've hit 2005 already, but it occurs to me that these started running on October 27th and this series will take more than three months to wrap up, which certainly makes it the longest running series in the near four-year history of this blog. Which means, as you realize if you've done your math, that I'm now chronicling the losing during the season in which WHYGAVS was born.
The 2005 Pittsburgh Pirate team was not one that should've inspired anything. Jason Kendall was traded in the off-season and everyone roundly agreed that the financial freedom brought about by that move meant that the Pirates were more or less officially Dave Littlefield's. He and Lloyd McClendon celebrated by getting together with the dumbest computer program in history, running his players through it, and getting this starting lineup for Opening Day:
- Matt Lawton, RF
- Jack Wilson, SS
- Tike Redman, CF
- Jason Bay, LF
- Daryle Ward, 1B
- Ty Wigginton, 3B
- Jose Castillo, 2B
- Benito Santiago, C
- Oliver Perez, P
It likely doesn't come as much of a surprise that THAT lineup lost 9-2 to the Brewers. But doesn't just looking at it bring back a wash of 2005 era memories?
I mean, right at the top we've got Matt Lawton. Matt Lawton and his crooked cap, who would stand in right field and not respond when you'd yell his name, but who would cock his head back with a grin if you yelled out, "HEY! FITTY! WHAT'S UP!" Lawton was part of the Jason Kendall trade and he actually hit pretty respectably at the top of the order for the Pirates in 2005 with his .366 OBP and his ability to loop balls over the Clemente Wall in right. Of course, he may have also been the worst fundamentally sound right fielder that I ever saw play at PNC. Given that our regular seats are right on the right field wall and I was a regular in those seats the first seven years PNC existed, I feel like I'm a pretty good judge of this. Law-dawg (as he called himself in his scoreboard art-work, which also debuted that year) was the master of misplaying flyouts into triples. It was frustrating, to say the very least. We traded him at the trade deadline that year for Jody Gerut's knee brace, so I guess things could've been worse.
Of course, the way 2005 began was awful. Oliver Perez showed up in camp out of shape and arm troubles from, if I recall correctly, what he claimed came from sleeping on his arm wrong. His velocity was way down and he had no control at all when the season started. He only made two starts that even approached what he did in 2004 and in June, he kicked a laundry cart in a fit of rage and broke his toe. Honestly, when I read that I still have a hard time believing that it happened.
That's how I feel about most of 2005, really. Do you remember the Pirates pulling to 30-30 in early June with an 18-2 trouncing of Tampa, only to lose the chance to go above .500 with a Matt Lawton base running error the next day, then roll into five ugly losses in six games against the Red Sox and Yankees? What about Ty Wigginton bull-dozing anything that got in his way on the base paths? Or Michael Restovich? Or David Ross? Or yet another hot start (.940 OPS on May 27th) and huge fizzle (.649 the rest of the way) from Rob Mackowiak?
And that's more or less what 2005 was like. There were some interesting story lines, there were some good games, but ultimately, the season was a disappointing mishmash of bad baseball. Sadly, it happened in Jason Bay's career year, when he hit .306/.402/.558, whacked 32 homers, stole 21 bases in 22 attempts, and finished 6th in the whole league in VORP. Bay's had good years since then, but he's never matched what he did in 2005. Pittsburgh has swallowed several great careers in the past seventeen seasons, and while Bay got out quicker than Brian Giles and Jason Kendall, it's still a shame that his best years happened in obscurity.
Of course, hope springs eternal. 2005 was bad enough to cost Lloyd McClendon his job, but the second half was marked by Zach Duke and Paul Maholm showing up and dominating their first turn around the National League, with Duke putting up a 1.81 ERA in his first 84 2/3 innings and Maholm following closely behind in his 40+. Both were extremely adept at putting runners on base and getting out of innings and that really helped their numbers look more impressive than the two of them really were, but when you're a Pirate fan, all you really ask for is hope.
Despite Duke and Maholm, things started to look pretty hopelessin 2005. Maybe it was because I started my blog that year and really began to take a close look at things, but 2005 was certainly the year that I, as a fan, began thinking "maybe next year will be the year." By 2005, it was starting to become obvious that Littlefield wasn't accumulating the talent necessary to rebuild the team. Sean Burnett and John Van Benschoten, who were both very promising talents once upon a time, missed the whole season with arm problems. Littlefield's first draft pick to make it to the majors was Brad Eldred and while he thumped an impressive 12 homers in 208 PAs, his OBP was just .279 and he struck out 77 times. Duke and Maholm looked great, but it was clear things were going the wrong direction.
Holy cow. I've been looking at various types of projections for about four years now and I don't know if I've ever seen a set worse than the ZiPS projections for the Pirates in 2009. Only three hitters, (Adam LaRoche, Nate McLouth, and Ryan Doumit) are projected to have an OPS+ of over 100 (that is, better than average) and only Matt Capps and John Grabow (two relievers) are projected to have an ERA+ of over 100.
If you've got time, there's some good discussion as to why some of the projections are so low and why they might not be accurate (Ian Snell and Andy LaRoche figure prominently), but that doesn't change the fact that we could be in for one awful year of baseball this summer.
When do pitchers and catchers report again?
It looks like Pirates took care of all of their arbitration cases this morning except for Nate McLouth and Paul Maholm. That means that John Grabow, Zach Duke, and Tyler Yates all joined Adam LaRoche in signing contracts. They're all about in line with what's expected for players of their experience levels with maybe only Duke's being a bit higher than I expected (though not much higher).
Of course, the news is that the Pirates aren't particularly close with the two best players of the sextet. Both McLouth and Maholm have asked for $3.8 million, while the Pirates have offered them $2.7 million and $2.65 million, respectively. My gut feeling here is that the Pirates are probably going to win both of these cases, if they go to an arbitrator.
Starting with Maholm, check out his most similar players at BBREF. Zach Duke, who just signed for $2.2 million, is the fifth comp. Maholm's certainly better than Duke and he might be good enough to deserve the increase over Duke's pay that he wants, but I think he'll have a hard time making a case that he's $1.6 million better than Duke when their career ERA is just 0.09 runs different. If he has another good year this year, his big raise will be coming this winter.
McLouth is a little harder to predict after last year. Like Maholm, there's some reason to believe as fans that McLouth's breakout year wasn't a flash in the pan. Unfortunately for him, like Maholm he's really only had one solid year in the big leagues and it seemsthat more often than not, these arbitration hearings are based on past production, not future projection (Side note: Corey has a good write-up of financial aspect McLouth's long-term future in Pittsburgh). Which is to say that you and I and Neal Huntington know that Dave Littlefield screwed McLouth, but that doesn't necessarily wins his arbitration case this year.
And that's it. Huntington seems optimistic that progress can be made with McLouth and Maholm. If I had to guess, I'd bet they work something out with Maholm, but may have to go to an arbitrator with McLouth. It seems unlikely that anything's going to get too contentious, though, which is all you can really hope for at this time of year.
Goodbye, red uniforms. Though more new alternates scares me. If they're black-on-black vests like the Rockies wear, I'm not going to be pleased. I guess nothing is worse than the McDonald's vests that we were wearing on Fridays.