I'm working on Part 2 of WHYGAVS prospect week as we speak and it'll be done tonight/tomorrow morning. Until then, tide yourself over with this great Baseball Prospectus guest piece by Jorge Arangure about why Dominican players have trouble drawing walks in the big leagues. The story traces the journey of the Indians' Carlos Santana, but could be easily applied to a lot of young Dominican players. Like Starling Marte, for example.no comments
"Manny Machado is awesome."
That's the tweet I sent out during the Yankees/Orioles series after the 20-year old infielder hit his first playoff home run. There was no deeper meaning to it than the words I typed. The reason I like watching the playoffs so much is to see players I don't regularly watch for all of my regular-season Pirate-watching. Machado was high on the list because he's such an exciting prospect and because he plays for the Orioles, who I can never ever watch through Bud Selig's Blackout Curtain Of Doom. Machado didn't have a great series against the Yankees, but he came up with a couple of big hits and it's always cool to see young players do things like that.
I closed the computer down shortly after I sent that tweet out and went out for a bit. When I came home, I realized that a bunch of Pirate fans had responded to it with some pretty heavy bitterness that Machado was an Oriole and not a Pirate. If you recall, the Pirates had more or less narrowed their choice with the #2 pick in the 2010 draft down to Machado and James Taillon; for a while it seemed like they were leaning Machado, then Taillon emerged as the pick a few days before the draft. At the time, no one had much criticism for the Pirates. The general consensus was that both players were stars in the making, that Machado was going to be a heck of a hitter as a third baseman or shortstop and that Taillon was one of the best right-handed high school pitchers in the recent history of the draft. Really, there's still not much criticism for the pick. Machado entered 2012 as Baseball America's #11 prospect, Taillon came in at #14. Machado had a pretty good year at Double-A and earned his promotion because the Orioles needed him for a playoff run. Taillon had an uneven-but-solid year with High-A Bradenton, then made a few brilliant starts with Double-A Altoona to end 2012. Taillon will probably be somewhere in the 10-20 range in this year's Baseball America list. Machado no longer has prospect status, but would probably be somewhere in the top ten if he did.
Still, I thought on this some and I realized that a very similar situation played out in the 2011 draft, too. The Pirates looked in on a bunch of players with the first overall pick in that draft and seemed to strongly consider a few of them, including Dylan Bundy, before finally deciding on Gerrit Cole with that pick. The Orioles, picking three spots after the Pirates at #4, took Bundy. Cole is still a great prospect; he's usually listed by prospect-watchers as one of a handful of minor leaguers with the talent and build and makeup to become the elusive "true ace." He's still got some rough edges and that lead to a few ugly performances in big spots in 2012, but he breezed through High-A and Double-A and will, without any unforseen setbacks, probably be in the Pirates' rotation by sometime around the All-Star Break in 2013.
Bundy, of course, has been even a little bit better than that. He started in Single-A, where he struck out 40 hitters and walked two and gave up five hits and no earned runs in 30 innings, jumped to High-A where he was flat-out dominant, made three fairly solid Double-A starts, and made two appearances out of the Orioles' bullpen down the stretch. When the prospect lists come out this winter, he'll probably be ahead of Cole for the second year in a row (Bundy was #10 and Cole was #12 at BA last year; Bundy will be close to #1 this year, Cole will probably be in the 5-10 range).
It is way too early to be making value judgments on Machado vs. Taillon or Cole vs. Bundy; Machado has 202 big league plate appearances and Bundy has 1 2/3 big league innings. Machado turned 20 in July, Bundy turns 20 in November, Cole just turned 22 in September, and Taillon will be 21 in November. All of these players are young and talented and as of today, they all have the world at their fingertips. It's more than fair to argue that Machado and Bundy are better prospects right now, but it's not nearly as easy to argue that they're certain to have better careers than Taillon or Cole.
This is, in some regards, pretty much the exact same thing as the criticisms that are being leveled at the Pirates drafting and prospect development this winter. The Pirates' farm system is much, much better now than it was in 2007. This is not up for debate. When Baseball America listed their top prospects in every league, the Pirates placed 14 players on the various lists, which was as many as any team in baseball. When Baseball America releases their top 100 this winter, the Pirates will have Cole and Taillon and Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco and Luis Heredia all on the list. Starling Marte flew up the mid-season list before being called up and exhausting his eligibility for the 2013 list. Josh Bell will be able to get himself back on the list with a strong year in 2013. With teams in the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League winning their leagues, there's plenty of reason to hope that there are more Polancos and Hansons on the way. The Pirates do not have the best system in baseball and they do still have some top-heaviness, but they have some excellent, excellent prospects that are making their way closer and closer to Pittsburgh.
And still, there's a definite perception that the Pirates' system isn't good enough and I don't think that criticism is necessarily undeserved. It's true that the Pirates have spent more on the draft than anyone since 2008, and that it seems like their best minor league prospects are increasingly coming from Latin America. It's true that their "projectible high school pitcher" strategy is seeming more and more like a failure, and it's become increasingly clear that Tony Sanchez was a really bad pick at #4 overall in 2009. Still, it's not at all easy to know where to point the finger for this. We can criticize Greg Smith and the scouting team for poor drafting, but they still managed to pick two of the top 15 or 20 current prospects in Taillon and Cole, plus Pedro Alvarez, plus a wild card in Josh Bell. It's easy to blame them for Sanchez, but the player drafted right before Sanchez (Donovan Tate) hasn't reached the Majors, nor have the two picked right behind him (Zack Wheeler and Matthew Hobgood). Most of that first round now looks like a vast wasteland, except for Stephen Strasburg (who went before the Pirates picked) and Mike Trout (who 21 other teams passed on).
So what about development? It's easy to point the finger at Kyle Stark's crew because they're obviously unpopular with a lot of people and their methods are unconventional. It sure seems like they haven't done a great job developing the Zack Von Rosenbergs and Zack Dodsons and Trent Stevensons to this point, but it's also true that someone helped turn Rudy Owens from an also-ran into a fringe big league prospect and that Nick Kingham and Clayton Holmes are both worth watching at this point and that someone has done something with Luis Heredia. Since Heredia's pitched almost exclusively in America since his signing, you can't give credit for his 2012 success to the international staff. Both Hanson and Gregory Polanco, along with Starling Marte, blossomed from toolsy guys into legitimate prospects after coming to the Pirates' American facilities. Someone put finishing touches on Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker, both of whom you could argue have become better pros than their minor league careers at the time of Huntington's hiring might have suggested.
If it seems like I'm going out of my way to defend Huntington and Stark and Smith, I'm not. I'm pointing out that there are valid criticisms and that all of those criticisms have valid defenses. Of course every scouting department that passed on Mike Trout needs to ask themselves why they didn't see what the Angels saw in Trout. Trout went from the 85th best prospect before 2010 to the 2nd best prospect before 2011. It wasn't even a slow process; he started playing and was awesome. Of course the Pirates' scouts need to ask themselves if the upper-middle rounds are best spent drafting gangly projectable pitchers when they chose those sorts of players over both Brandon Belt and Paul Goldschmidt in 2009 (Nathan Baker over Belt in the fifth and Colton Cain over Goldschmidt in the ninth). And of course the development team needs to ask themselves why their "projectable" pitching projects don't seem to be progressing and why it took Pedro Alvarez so long to find a groove and Sanchez has crashed and burned and why their employees are so willing to sell their bosses out in the press at the drop of a hat, apparently.
The larger point is that you can't judge a development team or a scouting team or a draft class or a minor league system by each prospect that makes it or doesn't make it. The Pirates spent a ton of money from 2008-2011 on their drafts, sure, but they also didn't have a lot of high picks in those drafts and so, to some extent, that money was spent on improving their fishing expeditions after the first couple of rounds. It doesn't look like that's born a ton of fruit, but it's also still a little early to say given the nature of all of those picks. Some of what the Pirates have done since the start of the 2008 season has worked and some of it hasn't. That's the nature of scouting and development, even for the best teams. The Pirates need to be constantly evaluating their process. it's fair for us as fans, bloggers, reporters, analysts, what have you, to be asking questions about these methods, but I'm not sure this is the sort of thing that we can really, truly evaluate while we're in the middle of it and it'll be much easier to judge when we're five years out from now.
Of course, this is what leads into the big question that I think occasionally gets lost for the trees when we squabble over the smaller questions or focus on one data point in a set of thousands. The Pirates' system is better than it was in 2007 and I don't think that's worth debating. Most prospect-watchers would probably call it a good system at this point, though probably not a great one. No one anywhere argues that there's some real top-notch talent in the Pirates' minor leagues. The quality of the Pirates' system may or may not match the level of spending that's been done in recent years; this is certainly a topic worth discussing. The bigger question for me, though, is if the Pirates' system is adequate to put the current Pirate team over the top during the Andrew McCutchen era in Pittsburgh. In short, the system is better, but much of that talent is very young and very far away from Pittsburgh. Does the talent that will help the Pirates in the immediate future (Taillon, Cole, Mercer, Holt, Sanchez, Locke, Wilson, Black, Welker, etc.) propel the Pirates from fringe contender to real contender in the next year or two or three? If the answer is yes, the follow-up is "Well, are you absolutely sure?" and if the answer is no, the follow-up is "Well, how do we get there?"
And that's the question that I'll try to look at in more depth tomorrow.no comments
Over the weekend and into Monday, stories about Game Seven of the 1992 NLCS were inescapable. This is logical. It's one of the most memorable games in recent baseball history, and Sunday was the 20th anniversary of it. We as Pirate fans have a visceral reaction to this kind of thing, but the reality is that that game embodies everything that people love about post-season baseball and the memory of it is only enhanced by the complete destruction of the Pittsburgh Pirates as a respectable baseball entity that followed it. It is, essentially, the game that broke the Pirates and launched the Atlanta Braves into a different stratosphere. Of course people were going to mark the anniversary.
I haven't read many of those remembrances. I've talked and written about the game ad nauseum. My own Game Seven story was immortalized for the whole world to read at Grantland this summer in what was supposed to be the closing act of an exorcism, and yet it's all still relevant in October. I had no intention of wallowing in the misery of that game again.
Baseball, however, rarely lets us forget. Last night, as I prepared for my committee meeting tomorrow, I watched the Tigers and Yankees. The Leyland-managed Tigers built a 2-0 lead through eight innings on the back of a gutty performance by their ace. Justin Verlander didn't quite have his best stuff last night -- his breaking pitches weren't as sharp as they normally are and he wasn't missing bats the way that he normally does. That didn't matter, because he's Justin Verlander and because he's Justin Verlander the Yankees had two hits and no runs through eight innings. He entered the ninth having racked up quite a pitch count, though, and it was apparent early in the ninth inning that even though his fastball was hitting 99 mph that he was gassed.
Stop me if you've heard all of this before.
Earlier this week, Jim Leyland gave a press conference announcing that Jose Valverde was going to be removed from the closer's role indefinitely given his struggles in the early portion of these playoffs. If you haven't been watching, Valverde rapidly turned a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth of Game Four of the ALDS into a 4-3 loss. Three days later, he coughed up a 4-0 lead to the Yankees in Game One of the ALCS. The Tigers still won the game, but it took 14 innings and what should've been an easy win turned into a bullpen-draining marathon.
The result of the two meltdowns was a weird press conference where Leyland both defended traditional closer usage and made a compelling case against it, announcing that he'd be abandoning it for the playoffs. It's debateable whether or not Leyland's doing this (he's more or less used Phil Coke as a closer in the two games since then but in both games Coke initially entered because the Yankees had lefties due up), but the larger point is that Leyland's abadoned his struggling closer, rather than sticking blindly with him.
Let's go back to last night.
Verlander gave up a home run to the punchless Eduardo Nunez on a hanging breaking ball. Leyland left him in face Brett Gardner and it took Verlander eight pitches to put Gardner away. His pitch count hit 132. Leyland could've left his struggling starter in a batter too long. He could've gone out and put his unreliable closer in the game. In a situation with very little room for error, a mistake would've let the Yankees cut the Tigers' series lead to 2-1 with CC Sabathia waiting in the wings for Game Four. Leyland made neither mistake this time around, and now he's on the verge of his third World Series.
This is the sort of thing that occasionally strikes me. It's been 20 years since the Pirates were last relevant. In the 20 years since then, Jim Leyland left Pittsburgh. He went to Florida, then to Colorado. He took six years off, then came back to manage in Detroit. This is going to be his third World Series in a timespan in which the Pirates have had zero winning seasons. Put simply, Jim Leyland has has a full career since he left Pittsburgh, and the Pirates have barely budged.
I'm not one of those Pirate fans that spends time wishing Leyland were back with the Pirates (show me a team that needs a new manager and I'll show you a team that's got problems that run much deeper than the manager), but I do root for Leyland. Leyland's closely associated with his mentor Tony La Russa and La Russa's one of my least favorite people in recent baseball history, but for me Leyland's qualities come from all of the ways he's different than La Russa. Leyland's cracks and flaws have always been on display for the world. He smokes in the dugout. He cries all the time. At the end of a terrible two-season stretch in 1998 and 1999 in Florida and Colorado, he looked like he was two decades older than his 54 years.
I'd never blame even the closest post-season loss on a manager; it's easy to pin That Loss on Leyland for leaving Drabek in too long or going to Belinda or leaving Belinda in for too long, but it's easier to pin it on Jose Lind for his error or for the team simply not executing at the level they should've in a seven game series. Even with Leyland's mistakes in the ninth inning of Game Seven, the Pirates should've won that series. The same would've been true if the Tigers had lost last night with Verlander or Valverde on the mound. They didn't, though, because Leyland's a very different manager in 2012 than he was in 1992. He's moved on, even if we Pirate fans haven't been able to.no comments
Sorry for the lack of posting this week; I had to give lab meeting this week and I have a committee meeting next week and that's resulted in a lot of time in lab and a lot of time trying to piece things together. When you throw in a lot of time watching playoff baseball, well, there's just not much time left for anything else.
The good news is that I did have time to talk to CocktailsFor2 and the Rumbunter Podcast on Monday evening, to talk about the Pirates both with Cocktails and SoxDetox and to listen in on the Clint Hurdle interview that's obviously the selling point for the whole thing. There's a lot of good stuff there, and so if you've got the time I'd recommend checking it out. If you're unfamiliar with SoxDetox, he's a converted Red Sox fan that brings a pretty interesting take to being a Pirate fan; there's a huge contrast between the way that he and I reacted to the end of the season. Perspective is good.
The Hurdle interview is interesting, too, if only to give you some insight into what happens at the end of the season for these guys. As soon as the season ended, Hurdle went to Bradenton to work with the young guys for fall instructionals and once that's done, he's headed into meetings with the front office to figure out how to plan for the off-season. During spring training 2011, I spent a day at Pirate City when the Pirates had a day off in their spring training schedule. As a result, Hurdle was at minor league camp for the day's scrimmages and I was really impressed by how involved he was. He was constantly moving, working with different players, standing up in the crow's nest talking to coaches, checking in on everything. It's one of those things that managers do outside of in-game management that you'd never see unless you looked for it. Hurdle strikes me as the sort manager that's really good at these things, which is why I'm often willing to overlook some of his maddening in-game decisions (at least, ones that I think are pretty common among baseball managers).
Also -- if you were thinking that Frank Coonelly's "vote of confidence" for Neal Huntington and company didn't represent ownership's view, I think that this is a pretty good indication that it does. The Pirates are in Florida and they're preparing for the winter. If they were planning on changing courses, Neal Huntington/his staff/Clint Hurdle would all be out already, because there's a limited amount of time to find replacements before the real off-season starts when the World Series ends. Huntington and his guys have one more year.
In any case, I think I'm going to use next week to do minor league writeups. That means prospect rankings, discussion of where the system is and where it's headed, etc. I'll do my best to get ahead on some of this stuff over the weekend so that next week won't be so light on content.no comments
Watching baseball's playoffs this year has been a strange experience. The playoff teams themselves are a weird mix of baseball's old guard (the Yankees and Cardinals), teams like the Tigers and Reds who've been good for a few years now and are possibly hitting the peak of the proverbial window, the Nationals just starting to hit their stride, and the two completely unexpected entrants from Oakland and Baltimore.
Seeing the Orioles and A's in the playoffs is like seeing a through-the-looking-glass version of the Pirates' 2012. Neither team was expected to do much, but they've somehow combined castoffs and young players and good luck to create contenders long before anyone really expected either club to contend. The crowds in Oakland and Baltimore in the ALDS have been crazy with fans that have fallen in love with their crazy, unlikely contenders. Every time I see the fans in Oakland going flat-out nuts, I think to myself, this could've been us.
That's a great way to torture yourself, of course, and it doesn't really accomplish much, but maybe the most torturous thing for me as a Pirate fan is that some of the cast-offs that these unlikely runs have been built on are ex-Pirates. Brandon Moss hit .228/.295/.373 with 13 homers in 195 games for the Pirates from 2008 to 2010. He only played five games in the majors for the Phillies last year. He hit .291/.358/.596 with 21 homers in 84 games for Oakland this year. Nate McLouth hit .134/.210/.175 for the Pirates this year. The Pirates let him go, and it looked like his baseball career was over. The Orioles picked him up and he hit .266/.342/.435 for them in 55 games and he came up with big hits in both the wild card game and ALDS.
This is the route to endless personal torture, and it's not necessarily a good direction to be headed in. The Pirates did nothing wrong in cutting Brandon Moss or Nate McLouth when they did. While you can make an argument that they failed by not getting the most of either player, those waters are murkier and I'd guess that in the long run both players' careers will more closely mirror their time with the Pirates than their time in Oakland or Baltimore. It's still hard not to see these guys and think about the Pirates' own failures on the scrap-heap and free agent markets and wonder how 2012 could've been different with a supporting cast that was better than Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes and Erik Bedard.
It's really, really heartening to see teams like the Orioles and A's in the playoffs. It means that things don't necessarily have to be perfect to get the Pirates into the playoffs, that if the Pirates keep things moving in the right direction that it's possible that someday they'll get a few breaks and that maybe that will be enough to push things towards a higher ground. Still I see these teams and I see Moss and McLouth and I can't help but feel a little bit of resentment just because they're doing it and the Pirates aren't.no comments
Another year, another set of baseball playoffs without the Pirates. My own personal rooting interests in 2012 are, in order:
- Reds (I don't care what you say about Brandon Phillips, I like the Reds; I say the Reds being good is proof the Pirates can do it)
- Giants (why do my four favorite playoff teams play each other in the division series every single year?)
- Cardinals (La Russa Legacy Hate puts them behind the Braves in the one-game playoff for me ... seriously)
- Orioles (stupid lucky jerks)
Your mileage may vary, of course.
I'm going to be writing about the playoffs over at The Outside Corner, so keep an eye for my stuff over there. Of course, whenever I post anything there that I think you might be interested in, I'll also mention it over here. Today, I gave a rundown of MLB playoff format history and why I think the one game play-in is dumb and a bastardization of that great history.no comments
I am in no way shape or form interested in reviewing the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirate season. It goes like this: it sucked, it was awesome, it sucked a lot more. I will remember a lot of individual moments from 2012 as being fantastic in a vacuum; Andrew McCutchen's incredible mid-season hot streak, Pedro Alvarez's brobdingnagian feats of strength (particularly against Cleveland and St. Louis), AJ Burnett's near no-hitter, DREW SUTTON (not just for his walkoff home run, but for his incredibly over-sensitive twitter feed and teary-eyed interviews that helped remind me that really, athletes are just human beings trying to find a place for themselves in this world), Starling Marte's career-opening homer, the way that PNC seemed to jump off of the TV screen in June and July, the way that every somewhat neutral baseball fan everywhere wanted something to go right for the Pirates for once when it seemed like maybe it could happen, and more. I will remember 2012 itself as a miserable failure of unmet possibilities.
Back in 2008, I spent much of the playoffs running FanHouse's live chats where me and the other writers and bloggers would discuss the games and take questions from FanHouse's readers. When the Rays lost the World Series, a few Rays fans seemed despondent; that they'd spent their entire existence as Rays fans waiting for something good to happen and they got SOCLOSE to it in 2008, only to have it collapse in front of them. Our response to them was that this is what being a sports fan is like. That the euphoria of seeing your team win a championship is validated and defined by all of the years that you don't win one, and that you can't truly feel what that absence is like until you've gotten close to it and fallen short. My sincere hope for all of us Pirate fans is that this is how we remember 2012. That this is the season that we all finally remembered what it was like to want something from our baseball team, only to see them fall short. That the future successes of the Pirates will only be sweetened by the bitter taste that 2012 has left in our mouths.
The Pirates are not there yet. The 2012 season made two things abundantly clear to me. The first is that the Pirates have a framework around which they can build a contender and the second is that just a framework is not nearly enough. The Pirates obviously have pitching issues. As it stands right now, they're headed into 2012 with a rotation of AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, and Locke/McPherson/Charlie Morton (if healthy). There are age issues with Burnett and consistency and durability issues with McDonald and health issues with Karstens and it's not at all apparent if Locke and McPherson can start at a big league level and Charlie Morton is a huge wild card when he's not recovering from Tommy John surgery. That rotation might be fine, but counting on it to be fine is unwise.
Similarly, it's easy enough to look at the offense and say that McCutchen and Alvarez and Jones and Walker form a nice enough core that if Marte and Snider step things up that they can be above-average in 2013 even without upgrading Clint Barmes or finding a real solution behind the plate beyond, "Uh, McKenry gets hot again and ... **shrug**" McCutchen and Alvarez and Jones and arguably Walker all had career years in 2012 and while three of those four are young enough to reasonably hope that they can do something to replicate these numbers, you also have to consider that one of the biggest things that changed for McCutchen in 2012 was BABIP and that while I think his power surge is real, it's also a real possibility that he hits .280 in 2013 and that doing that will ding his all-around numbers considerably. You can't ignore that Pedro Alvarez is still striking out at a 30+% rate and that that means that there's a real chance that his career takes the shape of Mark Reynolds' career, where his results vary wildly from year to year because you just can't count on a guy that strikes out 30% of the time to do anything consistently except strike out.
The point is that yes, it's possible that the Pirates could do literally nothing this winter and if McCutchen and Jones and Alvarez and Walker replicate their 2012 seasons and Marte and Snider become real contributors and McDonald can go end-to-end and Cole comes up in May and blossoms into the ace that his arm tells us he can be, that yeah, the 2013 Pirates could absolutely win 92 or 93 games and win the NL Central. It's not insane. That reality is much more possible today than it has been post-game-162 in any Pirate season in recent memory. But you can't mention that possibility without also mentioning that the Pirates are at least as or maybe even slightly more likely to see their young players give back some of the gains they've made this year and that things will go wrong with Snider and/or Marte and/or Cole and that giving a paper-thin pitching staff a year to age does not make it less paper-thin when it's not particularly young and that instead of jumping 12-15 wins forward, this same group of players could drop 12-15 wins backwards in 2013. That can happen with these players, too. That means that the most likely outcome is probably that the Pirates cruise right into a win total right around 80 or 85 wins, probably in a slightly less manic fashion than in 2012, and that we get one year closer to this team having to break apart without anything to show for it.
I said when I wrote about Neal Huntington and his team getting a vote of confidence from Frank Coonelly that I was OK with it insofar as it's every bit as easy to make a case for Huntington as it is to make a case against him. What Huntington has to do to deserve that vote of confidence is to understand that it's time for him to stop sitting on his hands and saying, "Well, this group of guys isn't so bad. Let's see how this plays out." That approach was fine in 2011 and 2012 while the front office got a read on their McCutchens and Alvarezes and Walkers and Tabatas, but the time for that is past.
For Huntington, the die is cast. If he's going to be the Pirates' GM for a long time, he's going to make the playoffs with Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez and Gerrit Cole and probably Starling Marte and Neil Walker. So what do the Pirates really have in that? And what else do the Pirates need to take those guys over the top? The Pirates turned over a huge portion of their roster last winter and most of it amounted to treading water at best; I'm not arguing that's what they need to do this winter. Instead, they need to identify what works, what doesn't, and do something about it. If that means trading Garrett Jones at his peak value, so be it. If that means trading Joel Hanrahan, do it. Determine the weaknesses, determine the strengths, figure out what can be best addressed, and do it. It's time to stop swapping Ronny Cedeno for Clint Barmes every winter and hoping that that somehow makes the Pirates better.
If you sit around waiting for a block of marble to turn itself into a statue, you'll never have anything other than a block of marble. The statue must exist inside of Neal Huntington's head; it's time to start chipping.no comments
Earlier this summer, I started thinking about how my post for the Pirates' 82nd win would look. It was a foregone conclusion that they would get there in early August; I actually briefly wondered if they'd have a chance to get to 82 around the time that I would be home for a game on Labor Day. That was going to be a stretch, of course, but it seemed like it wouldn't be long after that that the historic win came. As always for big occasions, I wanted to pick a quote out to commemorate the occasion. I decided pretty early on that the one I would use would be the last line of Infinite Jest:
And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.
I thought it was perfect for the situation; it describes a character waking up from the absolute low-point of his life, but it's also a flashback and so we know that he's going to turn his life around. The point isn't that all of the things that happened that lead to him waking up on the beach were terrible and made him change his life, it's that he woke up at all. That sometimes, waking up is the hardest part and that simply by getting that far, things have to get better. I thought that'd make a nice parallel for the Pirates finally clinching a winning season; that we as Pirate fans would wake up on our own beaches after 19 terrible seasons, unsure of where things are headed but somehow knowing that the hardest part was over.
What's striking about that line and that ending is that you know something as the reader that the character doesn't know. You as the reader feel a muted sense of optmism, knowing that things will get better for the guy on the sand. The guy on the sand has no idea; he just knows he's woken up from something terrible and that something about himself has to change. In the last 60 games, the Pirates pulled the rug out on us fans; instead of that line applying to me as an omniscient reader, now I feel like the guy on the beach in the sand, waking up after a terrible bender, wondering where to go next.
The truth is, I haven't thought about writing the "82nd win" post in at least a month. When I was home and witnessed the team's Labor Day debacle I mostly gave up on my hopes of the Pirates making the playoffs. They hung around in the race for a while after that game, but they were never honestly going to get back into it and I understood that somewhere in the pit of my stomach after watching how lifeless they looked against the Astros. Just four days after that game, the Pirates turned in their worst performance of the last 20 years. They lost 12-2 to the Cubs, committing seven errors, bumbling their way to a loss that a T-ball team would've been embarrassed by. At that point, I realized that they weren't even going to finish .500.
This next part is not an exaggeration: I have watched maybe a sum total of one full game's worth of Pirates baseball since then. I watched most of the extra innings of the next Monday's loss to the Reds. I turned the game off immediately after the dumb, ill-fated suicide squeeze that Wednesday. I watched the early part of that Sunday's game at Wrigley Field that saw the Pirates blow leads of 6-1 and 9-5. And since then? I've been done. I don't think I've watched one pitch. I had no idea that the Pirates got no-hit on Friday until after the fact because I didn't even bother to take my phone out to check the score.
I haven't been writing much either, obviously. I've had quite a few posts written, only to be deleted in whole because I couldn't get them were I wanted them and I just didn't feel like putting in the effort to get them there. That's never been something I've had to worry about in the past. I told quite a few people that I thought maybe it was time to hang up the keyboard, that I'm burned out, that beyond the blog I'm incredibly busy with trying to finish my PhD, that maybe after eight seasons (eight seasons!) I just don't have much left.
All of those things are true. Life happens, you know? In some ways, I'm such a ridiculously different person than I was when I started this blog that I feel like pretty much the only thing that's the same about me is that I write a Pirate blog. Why force my 27-year old self to do something that I'm not sure I enjoy anymore just because my 20-year old self thought it was a great idea? And then I ask myself if that's really true. Do I really not like baseball or the Pirates enough to write about it anymore?
I've been sitting here for the past five days writing and re-writing this post. One time, I quit for forever. One time, I said that I wasn't going to quit, but that I wasn't going to promise to write that much either and that maybe I'll see you when I see you. One time, I swore to forge on ahead despite myself and pretend like nothing was wrong. I thought about just disappearing, leaving the no-hitter post at the top as a memorial to the futility of being a Pirate fan. None of it felt right at all, which is why the blog has been quiet since Friday's no-hitter.
And so here it is: it's just not time for me quit WHYGAVS yet. Six weeks ago, when Michael Weinreb wrote his story in Grantland about the Pirates seemingly finally breaking out of their infinite slump -- the piece that heavily featured my own experiences in its first half -- I got a slew of e-mails from other Pirate fans. Some were from friends I'd lost touch with, some were from long-time readers, some were from new readers. The reason that I'm mentioning this is because thinking about it now is a reminder that all I've ever really wanted WHYGAVS to be is a chronicle of being a Pirate fan. It's never been my goal to tell Pirate fans how to think or what to think or how to feel or what to feel, only to explain how I think and why I think the way I do and how I feel about things and why I feel the way that I do. I've never wanted to speak for every Pirate fan and I would never presume to do so, but simply to look at things from the perspective of this one Pirate fan and to share what that's like. To paraphrase Tolkien, somehow what started off as a dumb little selfish story has grown in the telling. I don't know how this particular story ends, but what I am certain of is that it's not over yet.
I can't promise to write every day this off-season. I can't promise to be on top of every news story as it breaks, or to be able to post about every single rumor and whisper. I can't promise to address every single misstatement from the front office. But I can promise that I'll be writing all winter, even if the blog by necessitity takes on a slightly different form in terms of content and presentation. I can promise that WHYGAVS isn't dead. Not quite yet.
The Pirates play the Braves at 12:35 today. Ben Sheets takes the mound for the final start of his career against AJ Burnett. Maybe I'll turn the radio on.no comments
A month ago, I probably would've had more to say about this. Homer Bailey no-hit the Pirates and for the 20th straight year, they won't have a winning season. What are we all doing with our lives?no comments