Since the trade deadline, I've had a bunch of thoughts bouncing around in my head about the Pirates. They kind of vaguely relate to each other, and so I'm going to use this one post to round all of them up.
There's been a lot of talk today about Jim Callis' post-deadline re-ranking of the Pirates' top ten prospects. Callis was pretty blunt in his assessment of the system and I think some people took that as a condemnation of Huntington's work:
There are no obvious cornerstones to build around other than Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, and amassing depth in complementary players isn't going to lead the Pirates to their first winning season since 1992.
We ranked Pittsburgh 18th among the 30 farm systems coming into 2009, and that evaluation doesn't figure to change dramatically when we evaluate organization talent again this offseason.
Stemming from this (and from several other places) is a general consensus that the Pirates got a lot more quantity than quality at this year's trade deadline. They certainly did, but I wish people wouldn't say that with such disdain. Most of the quantity the Pirates acquired this year was of the pitching variety. Most of the guys probably won't amount to much, but it seemed to me that Huntington focused pretty strongly on power arms (Ascanio, Hart, Lorin, Adcock, Morton, and Locke) that could break out or sinkerballers (Pribanic and Strickland) who could be underrated because of low strikeout rates that mean less to their style of pitcher.
Those guys are all guys that could end up as relievers or worse, organizational depth, but there seems to be a pretty clear method in acquiring the "quantity." Not one of those players were acquired to boost the Pirates' Baseball America ranking, they were all acquired because for one reason or another, Huntington thinks they have a chance to break out. If just one or two of these guys do, the trades become a success. With the most MLB teams operate, it's incredibly difficult to pry away a top prospect. The three best prospects the Pirates received in the trades they made this year are Jeff Locke, Gorkys Hernandez, and Tim Alderson. It shouldn't be any surpise that those players were acquired in the trades for Nate McLouth and Freddy Sanchez; the two best players the Pirates traded, and two players the acquiring teams will have for more than one year.
The other thing to keep in mind here is that some of the more interesting pieces Huntington picked up are no longer prospects. Neither Lastings Milledge nor Jeff Clement qualifies any longer, but they're both very talented players Huntington was able to snag in buy-low situations. And it's also worth noting that when Callis ranked the Pirates' system 18th last year, that was done with Andrew McCutchen still considered a "prospect." They lose him from the minor league system when next year's rankings come out, so if they rank similarly to last year it's a sign that they're bringing talent into the system.
Both the "quantity over quality" increase in organization depth and the acquisition of buy-low guys like Milledge and Clement were done to supplement the upper levels of the system while Huntington tries to establish the lower levels through the draft and international signings. It may be true that only two guys on Callis's list were acquired by Huntington through trades in 2009, but of the ten guys listed, only Brad Lincoln is more strongly associated with the Dave Littlefield era. Huntington traded for Tabata, drafted Alvarez, Sanchez, Grossman (who I think Callis sells way short), and von Rosenberg (if he signs). Of the two guys left, Rene Gayo (who's quite obviously still a huge part of the club's international operation) signed Starling Marte during the Littlefield era and while DL drafted Rudy Owens, it's the current developmental staff that's worked with him the past two seasons.
Maybe the team's Baseball America ranking hasn't improved, but that doesn't mean Huntington did a bad job at the deadline.
Now, you may be watching that Beavis and Butthead video thinking, "Damn, is Pat playing that AGAIN?!?" If that is indeed what you're thinking, you should keep two things in mind:
- The Pirates get shut out a lot.
- I spent a good half hour typing things like "futility" and "super epic fail" into YouTube trying to find a clip representative of getting no-hit by Yusmeiro Petit.
At some point in time, someone is going to no-hit the Pirates. Let's assume for a second that a no-hitter is a completely random event that occurs once per season in the National League (this is hypothetical). Thus, one team randomly gets no-hit every year in the NL, while the remainder of the teams in the League do not. That means that in 2009, the Pirates have a 15/16 chance of not getting no-hit. That means that the odds are quite in favor of not getting no-hit, but then the Pirates haven't been no-hit since 1971. Using the two assumptions made at the beginning of the paragraph and adjusting for expansion, the odds of the Pirates not being no-hit since 1971 are somewhere in the neighborhood of 5%.
Of course, no-hitters aren't completely random and they're affected by pitchers, offense, ballparks, etc. Plus I more or less made up the rate of "1 no-hitter per season in the National League." I haven't checked the data to prove this, but with the rise of the new ballparks like PNC, no-hitters seem to be down a little bit, perhaps at least partially as a result of things like foul-territory disappearing and non-symmetrical fences that give outfielders fits. This benefits the Pirates since they play in one of these parks and since this era coincides with the team being completely awful.
That being said, it still seems fairly improbable that the Pirates streak of not being no-hit has lasted this long and with their offense the way it is right now and the way it might be next year, along with the general tendency of most probability-related things to regress to the mean, it means we're going to get no-hit eventually.
I'm still happy that it didn't happen at the hands of Yusmeiro Petit tonight, especially in such close proximity to the trade deadline and at a time when so many Pirate fans are so vocally upset about the team. Frankly, I'm just not prepared to write the sort of post that such an epic event would require. I'm much happier posting Beavis and Butthead videos at the moment.
I don't really have any problem with the Diamondbacks, but hey, if we're continuing our nerd-romp through literature and comic books from this morning, why not toss an Indiana Jones quote into a post title?
Anyways, I'm excited to finally get my first look at Lastings Milledge in black and gold tonight with the Nats out of town. Delwyn Young gets his night off on John Russell's carousel and Zach Duke takes the mound against Yusmeiro Petit, the only D'Backs pitcher we beat on our sojourn out west last week.
To say that I saw the Pirates' meltdown and the Nationals' eventual win tonight coming would be inaccurate, but only because I couldn't actually see the game on my television. It was pretty easy to infer early on that the Mock Turtle* on the mound for Washington didn't have much and it was all he could do to keep the levee from breaking. When the Pirates couldn't pile on in the first, I figured it was OK because we'd already scored three runs. When we left the bases loaded in the second, I was a little worried. When we chased the Mock Turtle in the fifth with the bases loaded and nobody out, but failed to score, I knew how the game was going to end. Even with a three-run lead, the doom was imminent.
So we lost and split the series with the Nationals. On the bright side, the Nationals' terrible pitching staff has lead to 'Cutch finding his power stroke (he homered to lead off the game tonight, which means he's only got 80 more leadoff homers before he catches Rickey Henderson) and Lastings Milledge got off to a pretty decent start before his 0/5 game tonight. I could probably find some more positives from this series, but it feels inappropriate after a split against the Nationals.
* If you see "Mock Turtle" and assume it's an Alice in Wonderland reference, you're partially right. At some point in time, I will almost certainly look back on the era that preceded this one and refer to Kevin McClatchy and Dave Littlefield as Tweedledum and Tweedledee and when I do, I'll be one of those insufferable people that knows that that reference comes from Through the Looking Glass and not Alice in Wonderland. But if you see "Mock Turtle" and think to yourself, "Hey, wasn't he a lame bad guy in that endless Astro City arc about the guy made of steel?" well, then you and I are on the same wavelength.
Keeping in mind that I'm being rather dramatic here, I think tonight's game is the most important game of the season for the Pirates. The Nationals are bad enough that the first pick in the draft is well out of our reach, but if we split this series with them we're going to have to hear endlessly how this team was "just as bad as the Nationals" after the trade deadline, and this series will be cited as proof if we lose tonight and split. I don't think this team, even as currently configured, is worse than the Nats and I don't want to hear about it all winter, so I think we have to win tonight.
Charlie Morton gets the start for the Pirates against a gentleman named Garrett Mock. I know next to nothing about Mock (literally, the very first time I've ever heard his name was looking up the lineups right now ... I'm not kidding), but his stats and his role in the Nationals rotation lead me to deduce that he's not a very good pitcher (this sort of reasoning is why they let me into grad school, I assume). Of course, that's a double-edged sword. Our bad offense has made the worst of the worst look good this year. Hopefully, that won't happen again.
I will be the first to admit that Jeff Locke and Bryan Morris have been fairly disappointing this season and I'm not writing this post to try and say otherwise. Their performance this season illustrates why Charlie's reservations about trading Freddy Sanchez straight up for Tim Alderson are valid concerns (though trade strategy is another subject to talk about on another day ... tomorrow, for example). That being said, I've been looking at their numbers with the Pirates' affiliates this year and I think it's still too early to write either of them off as a poor acquisition.
Developing a pitcher is much different than developing a hitter. There are more moving parts and things to consider and it seems to me that a pitcher can be progressing while still putting up numbers that aren't necessarily great. It seems to me that both pitchers are working through things that could explain their rough numbers in Lynchburg this year. It's still incumbent upon them to work through their struggles this year and progress as pitchers, but I don't know that it's an impossible pipe dream to think that they will. More after the jump.
I wasn't the only person going to minor league games over the weekend. Wilbur Miller saw the West Virginia Power play and got some good pictures that are posted at Bucs Dugout, while WHYGAVS reader Andrew13 saw Pedro Alvarez's ridiculous 1/1, 1 HR, 4 BB performance on Saturday. His home run came on a 3-0 count which means that he more or less got one pitch to hit and he hit that pitch over the fence. He posted the video to YouTube, and you can see it below.
Next up? Well, I see Lynchburg is going to be in Winson-Salem in a few weeks ...
Hopefully, Neal Huntington's Pirates can keep putting runs on the board this afternoon. It's Paul Maholm's turn on the mound and he's generally been very good inside the friendly confines of PNC Park this season. He gets the same lineup behind him today that put 11 runs up on the board last night, which either means that they'll do it again or that they're completely tapped out and will make Colin Balester look like an All-Star.