As I have the last couple years, this winter I helped the Hardball Times out with their season preview by writing player comments for the Pirates players expected to see significant time in 2010. This year, they've changed the format up quite a bit; instead of publishing in book form, it's now called THT Forecasts, an online database with Brian Cartwright's Oliver projections that include six-year projections and 2010 projections made with playing time estimates. Plus, as mentioned, each team has its own specific blogger writing comments for most of the players likely to play at the Major League level in 2010. Maybe the coolest part is that the 2010 projections will be updated weekly to reflect playing time and early season performance, which seems awfully helpful for fantasy baseball.
For some reason, I'm incredibly fired up for this Pirates/Yankees exhibition game that's been over for like five hours now. That's why I'm going to pseudo-blog it. Aided heavily by the fast-forward button on my DVR, I'm going to post thoughts on the game liveblog style after the jump. I won't be doing play-by-play or anything and I'm just going to post it all at once, but in honor of the first spring training game and to commemerate the annual return of baseball to our lives, follow along for some thoughts on what we all already know is the Pirates' 6-3 loss to the Yankees.
Separating meaningful performances from meaningless ones in spring training is not an easy task. With some players tuning up and others fighting for spots on every single team, playing fields are far from level. Some players are working on specific tweaks -- pitchers are refining pitches, hitters are working on various aspects of their swings, etc. -- and so even results might not mean anything.
Still, the front offices and coaches are evaluating something. These games are nominally meaningless since they don't count in the standings, but there are things that are happening that are meaningful. I won't pretend to be in the heads of John Russell or his staff or Neal Huntington, but there are a few things I'll be watching a little more closely than others as exhibition games start this week.
Perhaps the one that will be the most immediately meaningful in the 2010 regular season is Kevin Hart's control. Despite the recent talk about Brad Lincoln making the rotation right out of the gate, I just don't think that's terribly likely for a number of reasons. That makes Hart the odds-on favorite to be the fifth starter when the season starts, as per the statements made by JR when camp started. Hart's problems last year all seemed to stem from a lack of control, so his control is what's important to watch here. Since we know that Joe Kerrigan is working with Hart on his mechanics, I really think that everything he does in terms of results (ie, is he getting hit hard, his ERA, etc.) is secondary to whether or not his control has improved.
There's also the battle for the last roster spot to watch. This one might be harder to gauge because picking between guys like Moss, Raynor, Pearce, and Young comes down as much to organizational philosophy as it does to spring training performance. Pearce gives a nice platoon option for guys like Jones and Clement, Young plays a wide variety of positions decently, Raynor and Moss bring good defense to the table. It seems to me that none of these guys can really afford to hit poorly this spring, but the decision will likely be based on more than that.
Speaking of Clement, keep an eye on Jeff Clement's defense. Actually, just keep an eye on how often the team and the media-types refer to him as "uncomfortable." If that's happening a lot, I'd wager it's not a great sign for him.
In the "less likely to mean something" category, it'd be a good early sign if Lastings Milledge shows some power in camp. There are a lot of factors to keep in mind here, including level of competition and the sometimes crazy McKechnie Field winds, but if we're operating with the assumption that his hand injury cost him power at the end of last season it'd be nice to see that that's no longer the case before the season starts. Of course, he's mostly assured of both a roster spot and a starting job and so we don't really know what JR and Don Long have him working on right now and so it's not really worth getting worked up about him either way this spring.
The same thing applies to the mythical power swing of Jose Tabata. Something to look for and something it would be nice to see, but not the end of the world if we don't see it. I don't think there's a lot to look for in the race for the last bullpen spot either. Either the Pirates will give Dan McCutchen a chance, or they'll toss an inning-eater in there. The identity of the inning-eater might be determined on the mound, but it's pretty inconsequential either way.
Beyond that, I'm not sure there's much that can be read directly into over the next couple weeks (if I'm forgetting something I'm sure you'll let me know about it). It's possible that Bobby Crosby could completely outperform Ronny Cedeno and steal the starting shortstop spot or that Pedro Alvarez could strike out 25 times in a row or something, but those sorts of things are pretty obvious when they happen. In any case, this is what I'll be following most closely and by extension probably what I'll be writing the most about over the next couple weeks.
Just a friendly reminder that tomorrow's Pirate/Yankees game will be broadcast at 1 PM on the MLB Network and it's my understanding that since FSN Pittsburgh isn't carrying the game, it won't be blacked out in Pittsburgh. Which means that if you're as baseball-starved as I am that you should plan your afternoon or at least set your DVR accordingly.
It doesn't matter that Pedro Alvarez had three hits or that Eric Kratz, Brandon Moss, and Steve Pearce homered or that Bryan Morris pitched well in an inning of work after a rough season. I mean, those things are nice but given the level of competition and wind in Bradenton, they're relatively meaningless. What does matter is that the Pirates managed to beat their community college foes 6-1 this afternoon, to end their all-time longest losing streak to the Manatees at one and hopefully spare us from "The Pirates are worse than collegte teams!"jokes for a full season. Whew
To the Manatees and their players, who took a serious beating among Pirate fans and bloggers this week, I think it needs to be said that this is really all in fun and that we all wish them the best of luck during their season now that they don't play the Pirates anymore.
Also, I'd like to point out that we're covering a team a day at FanHouse for the next month and today was the Pirates' designated day, so make sure you check out Ed Price's excellent piece on the state of the team (I'm not being a company shill when I say that I love the opening line. It's so true it hurts.) and my own team primer.
Today, revenge will be ours.no comments
Since my Pirate preview stuff is due for FanHouse tomorrow and I'm busy Photoshopping Xs over manatees' faces in preparation for tomorrow's big grudge match against said Manatees, let's hit a couple light links for the night to prepare for the annual mark of baseball's beginning tomorrow afternoon.
Rob Biertempfel talked to Kyle Stark about the minor league system and Stark names some sleepers for 2010. Stark obviously knows these guys way better than I do, but I'll definitely be keeping an eye on Brett Lorin, Quinton Miller, and Jarek Cunningham this year.
I answered some questions for the Brewers Bar about the Pirates 2010 outlook.
Jen Langosch has her daily recap, including an appraisal of Jeff Clement's defense.
On a beautiful North Carolina afternoon yesterday, several of my friends and I gathered around a TV at a local bar to sit on the edge of our seats for 2+ hours and watch the gripping hockey gold medal game. We did all of the things good hockey fans do; yell and pound on the bar when the US scored, scowl at the Canadian family over at a table when they cheered the opponent's goals, laugh at the southerners who yelled "SHOOOOOOOOOOOT!!!" during a power play, bemoan the US's dump-and-chase offensive strategy down by two goals in the second period, and grimce when Sidney Crosby (on the one day that I'm not sticking up for him and trying to point out that he really is as good as people say and here's why) scored the gold medal winner.
There was one very odd moment early on in the game, though. When noted Pirate fan and NBC play-by-play guy Doc Emrick mentioned that the Pittsburgh Pirates were gathered around their TVs watching the game in Florida, all of my friends stopped and stared at me.
"What?" I said, looking into my beer. "It's not like I'm the only Pirate fan in the world."
Jeff Polman's Strat-O-Matic replay of the 1977 season kicks off tonight and since '77 is recent enough to drum up some nostalgia even in fans like me that weren't born at the time, I'm planning on giving Sunday night updates throughout the pseudo-season with two purposes; to keep everyone updated on how everyone's 1977 favorites are doing (and of course, to solicit the collective bench coach advice of anyone that cares to give it) and to post YouTube videos of awesome (and not awesome) music from 1977. If you're not interested in this kind of stuff, I'll put the body of the posts under the jump and you can just skip it.