Pittsburgh Steelers training camps starts tomorrow, so basically every one who did care about the Pirates this year will stop and start following the Steelers' every move. Well not this blog. Today we're looking at how atrocious Pirates aces have been over the years.
The ace of a baseball team's pitching staff is the man who you call upon every five days to get a quality start and stop a losing skid. They are supposed to log around 200 innings and be the man for your team. He also gets the honor of starting on opening day. This post looks at Pirates "aces" since 2000. The results are not pretty. Only one had a winning record the season he pitched the first game of the season and no one had an ERA below 4.44.
Schmidt before he got fat.
Jason Schmidt, 2000: Schmidt had a solid career. Unfortunately he was plagued with injury this season. When he wasn't hurt, he was terrible. It's not the 2-5 record or the 5.40 ERA that were the most embarrassing stats, though. The 1.76 WHIP (there is worse to come), including walking 5.8 batters per nine innings was what really made Schmidt look bad. Sad thing is, the guy the Pirates received in a trade for Schmidt a little later, Ryan Vogelsong, was a lot worse.
Todd Ritchie, 2001: This man is the only guy on this list who actually broke the 200 innings pitched mark. Unfortunately he went 11-15 and boasted a 4.47 ERA. His 1.268 WHIP good enough to top this list, though. We're only at two and we're already a combined 13-20. Oh yeah, this is going to get ugly.
Ron Villone, 2002: One of four pitchers on this list to not break 100 innings pitched in the year he started Opening Day. Villone was a reliever for most of his career after this point, and there are plenty of good reasons for it. He was 4-6 this year with a less than stellar 5.81 ERA. If you're like me, you're wondering what did the rest of these rotations look like if these were the staff aces. There is not enough room, time or patience to go over them.
Not nearly as pretty as his wife
Kris Benson, 2003: You know you suck when your name is Googled and only pictures of your wife come up. She is a hottie, but it's still embarrassing. Then you remember that he is going home to that every night, so he's not that much of a loser. Benson is also the first in a long list of Pirates first round pitchers who turned into chumps. He pitched just 105 inning this season, had an ERA of 4.97 and was 5-9. I'm getting depressed.
Kip Wells, 2004: How sad that I am actually impressed with his 4.55 ERA. Well, he WHIP was 1.525 so 4.55 isn't that bad, right? Wrong. He sucked and we're moving on.
Please never show your face again
Oliver Perez, 2005 and 2006: What the hell happened to this man!? He went from a 11 K/9 season and being compared to Randy Johnson, to a 5.85 ERA in 2005 with a scary bad 1.670 WHIP. Can't get worse you say? Once again you are wrong. Perez got another Opening Day start the next season and went 2-10 as a Pirates before being traded to the New York Mets. Oh, he also had a 6.63 ERA and a 1.829 WHIP. This may have also been the season he broke his foot kicking a laundry basket. That might have been 2005, though. Does it matter?
Maybe he should have
tried pitching righty
Zach Duke, 2007: Another player who had a promising rookie campaign but moved to suck city shortly thereafter. Duke was one of the worst starters of 2007. Seriously, he had me screaming for the team to bring up John Van Benschoten. In 107.1 innings pitched, Duke had a 3-8 record, 5.53 ERA and a 1.733 WHIP. He also had an dazzling 13.5 H/9. But hey, he's a lefty!
Ian Snell, 2008: My dad has a friend who sells cars. One day Ian Snell comes to the lot to buy a car. My dad's friend doesn't follow baseball. Ian introduces himself and expects to get some special treatment. The man shakes his hand and proceeds to do his job and try to sell a car. Snell called the manager, who then came out and told my dad's friend that he did nothing wrong, but Mr. Snell wanted to speak to a different salesman. I want to know how the heck this guy had never heard of Snell when in 2008 he had an embarrassing 5.42 ERA and 1.765 WHIP? He was also 7-12 that season.
Paul Maholm, 2009: Here we have the best ERA of any Opening Day starter since 2000. It was 4.44. In his defense, Maholm pitched on numerous days when he probably should have sat out due to injury. His 8-9 record was surprisingly good. Yup, I just called a losing record good. That's how low this list has gone.
Duke, 2010: At first I kept this separate because I think Duke is much better this year than he was in 2007. But looking at the stats again shows that he really isn't. A 5-9 record, 5.09 ERA, 97.1 innings pitched and 1.603 WHIP is one ugly line. He has been very effective since coming off the DL (ERA below 3.20), but he was looking like a batting practice pitcher for the first half of the season.
For those of you keeping track at home, that's a 59-97 record combined in the seasons each of these men started. And there is no end in sight to the lack of aces in this organization. We're in trouble.
The sports world had numerous stories today that perked my interest, so rather than go into detail on each one I figured I'd just post the links and let you read them for yourselves.
Longtime Pittsburgh Penguins public address announcer passes away: I didn't know John Barbero's name until I read this story, but he is one of my fondest memories from the Civic/Mellon Arena. Whenever I hear the name Mario Lemiuex, or even think it, I can hear the unique voice of Barbero announcing another goal for No. 66. To me, Barbero was as good as they come when it comes to PAs. The guy the Pens have now, and so many around the league, seem to try too hard and sound unnatural. Not Barbero. He was a class act and Pens games will not be the same without him.
"He's a real douche.": That's what Pens forward Maxime Talbot has to say about Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin. Don't believe me? Listen here. It only takes about two minutes for Talbot to share his feelings on Ovechkin.
McLouth sent to minors: When the Pittsburgh Pirates traded center fielder Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves last May, Pirates fans were irate. The man just came off a 26-home run season and we just signed him long-term. Pirates fans took up the familiar cry of the owners just trying to save money. Well, McLouth was just sent to AAA today, after batting .160 with the Braves this year. Not like the player we received, Charlie Morton is doing any better. But at least it didn't turn into Aramis Ramirez part 2.
TO signs with Bengals: The Cincinnati Bengals and Terrell Owens reached a two-year deal today. This will be an interesting combination for about two weeks. At Week 3 we will all be bored with the TO-Chad Ochocinco show. The duo is a combined 4-9 in the postseason and TO has all four of those wins. The last one was in 2002. I'm not too worried, but I could end up eating those words.
NBA doesn't want teams tampering with Paul: Earlier this week, New Orleans point guard Chris Paul said he had a good meeting with team officials and is not seeking a trade. Today, the NBA issued a memo to all teams basically telling them not to tamper with Paul. I'm thinking Paul still wants a trade and commissioner David Stern fears if he leaves, so will the team. Paul still has two years left on the deal, so teams should already know that talking to Paul would constitute tampering. Why do we need a memo? I hope Paul plays out his contract. I like him, but can't stand athletes demanding trades because they want more money or think the team stinks.
NFL to put concussion posters in locker rooms: In a stark contrast to past denials of concussion problems in the league, the NFL will issue posters in every locker room explaining the risk of concussions. If you look at the poster, you'll see it's pretty much common sense. Headaches and confusions after being hit are bad signs? No way! I know it's something, and that's a start, but a common sense poster doesn't protect players. It's like the "Play Like A Champion Today" poster in the Notre Dame locker room. It's there, but it's not like players follow it.
Rick Tocchet to join Pens coaching staff: I have no link because this is a rumor from blog contributor Mike. He would have posted it, but he shipped off to Med School and is not allowed to contact the outside world. It's just dead bodies and late nights for him from now on. Anyway, Mike said that Tocchet recently rented an apartment from his uncle and word on the street is he will be manning an assistant coach position with the Pens. Anyone want to take bets on this?
Top ten lists are never perfect.Do you judge a player based on their entire career?What about a five year stretch of dominance a la Sandy Koufax?That has to be worth something.Some say the best player is simply the one that you would select over any other to start game seven of the World Series.However you define the best player, one thing is certain: the game of baseball was played a little differently in 1890 than it is now.Comparing Cy Young to Roger Clemens is essentially apples and oranges, but it’s still fun to do.
For easy reference, each player's first name will be a link to his Wikipedia page and each player's last name will be a link to his career statistics. Each pitcher will be given a brief assessment, including their career statistics, how the league hit during his era to use for comparison, a highlight of their most impressive season, and a quote that I think describes them very well.There are many players on this list that I only know as a name or a line of numbers, so the quotes should give you a better illustration of each pitcher.
League batting average during his career: .256 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.76
Tom Seaver has the highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes in the history of baseball, meaning that only five grumpy voters did not think he was good enough to be elected in his first year.He won the Rookie of the Year Award, won the Cy Young Award three times, led the league in ERA three times, shutouts two times, wins three times, and strikeouts five times.Seaver pitched a no hitter and won a World Series with the Mets in 1969.
Most impressive season: 1971 (somehow he did not win the Cy Young this year)
League batting average during his career: .261 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.18
Cy Young is the name that is on every pitcher’s mind come baseball season.This man also has a record that will NEVER be broken.He won an astounding 511 games in his career.Let’s put that into context…if a pitcher wins 20 games per year for 20 consecutive years, he is still 111 wins short of Cy Young’s record.So why isn’t he the best pitcher ever?Cy Young played during the dead ball era, which means that the hitters he faced were worse than the defenders that Wayne Gretzky schooled every night.There are over five times as many home runs hit per game today than there were during Cy Young’s career.Also, keep in mind that Cy Young holds the MLB record for most career losses, hits allowed, and earned runs allowed.Cy Young won a triple crown, led the league in ERA two times, shutouts seven times, wins five times, and strikeouts two times. He pitched two no hitters and a perfect game during his career.Cy Young also won a World Series with the Boston Americans in 1903.
Career Stats: 27 Seasons (1966-1993), 325-292 Record, 3.19 ERA, 222 CG, 61 SHO, 5714 K (MLB Record), 1.25 WHIP
League batting average during his career: .256 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.78
There are two reasons that Nolan Ryan made this list: his seven no hitters and his insane amount of strikeouts.He pitched out of the bullpen during his only championship, never won a Cy Young Award, led the league in walks eight times, and never led the league in wins.That being said, he pitched for some pretty bad teams.Twelve times in his career he played for a team that had a losing record and six times his team was only a few games over .500.It’s actually pretty amazing that he managed to win 20 games twice with the Angels.Nolan led the league in ERA two times, shutouts three times, and strikeouts eleven times.He won the World Series with the Mets in 1969.His seven no hitters will probably never be seen again. To put that in perspective, there are only four players that have three or more no hitters since 1900: Cy Young (3), Bob Feller (3), Sandy Koufax (4), and Nolan Ryan (7).
League batting average during his career: .264 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.99
Maddux didn’t have the fireball to compete with Clemens and Johnson, but he had pinpoint control.Maddux won four Cy Young Awards (all four were won consecutively from 1992-1995), eighteen Gold Gloves (thirteen consecutively from 1990-2002), led the league in ERA four times, shutouts five times, and wins three times.Question…was Mike Hampton really that good in 2003 that he had to mess with the annual Greg Maddux Gold Glove Award?Oh well, in my mind its nineteen straight for the Mad Dog.Maddux also won a World Series with the Braves in 1995.
League batting average during his career: .264 … League home runs per game during his career: 1.00
Who would you want pitching for you in game seven of the World Series?I think Randy Johnson would be near the top of my list.Johnson was a five time Cy Young Award winner (including four consecutively from 1999-2002), won a triple crown, led the league in ERA four times, shutouts two times, wins once, and strikeouts nine times.He had a no-hitter on June 2, 1990 and a perfect game on May 18, 2004.Randy won a World Series MVP in 2001 with the Diamondbacks.
League batting average during his career: .254 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.88
Sandy Koufax retired at the age of 30, but he only did that because his arm was about to fall off.According to Koufax’s biography, “His elbow was as big as his knee.The only difference was his knee bent.”It is also well documented in George Will’s book, Men at Work, that Sandy’s left index finger was basically rotting while he was pitching in 1962, “The finger became numb, then white and lifeless, then a deep reddish-blue, and swelled like a grape, with gangrene about to set in.”Nevertheless, Koufax went on to throw a no hitter that year and finish the season with a league leading 2.54 ERA.Later that season in the middle of an inning, “…the finger split wide open.No blood.Just a deep cleave in the dead meat.”At that point Koufax was finally done for the season, but he was about to begin four years of dominance while battling arthritis.In his career Koufax won an MVP, three Cy Young Awards, three triple crowns, led the league in ERA five times, shutouts three times, wins three times, and strikeouts four times.Koufax threw three no hitters and one perfect game in his career.The four seasons he put together at the end of his career were simply remarkable.From 1963-1966 he had a 97-27 Record, 1.86 ERA, 1192.2 IP, 150 GS, 89 CG, 31 SHO, 1228 K, 259 BB, 0.91 WHIP.Think about that for a second…more than twenty percent of the games that he started over a four year period were complete game shutouts.Koufax is a four time World Series champion (1955 with the Brooklyn Dodgers…1959, 1963, and 1965, with the Los Angeles Dodgers) and won the World Series MVP in 1963 and 1965.
League batting average during his career: .279 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.52
Lefty Grove is the reason that I indicated the league batting average during each player’s career.For various reasons the league batting average and slugging percentage has ranged from approximately .240 to .280 throughout the history of baseball.As I write this the MLB batting average is .260, almost twenty points lower than it was during Lefty Grove’s era.This makes his 3.06 ERA look even better.Perhaps the most amazing thing about Lefty Grove is that he began his career in an independent league with Baltimore, where he pitched for five years.Lefty was forced to remain in the minor leagues because the Orioles owner did not have a major league affiliation at the time.During this time he led the league in strikeouts four times and amassed a record of 109-36.If baseball players were given more freedom in that era, Lefty Grove surely would have even more wins and ERA titles in his career.Grove won an MVP, two triple crowns, led the league in ERA nine times (MLB Record), shutouts three times, wins four times, and strikeouts seven times.He is a two time World Series champion (1929 and 1930, both with the Philadelphia Athletics).
“All things considered, Grove is the best lefthander that ever walked on a pitcher’s slab. He surpasses everybody I have ever seen. He has more speed than any other lefthander in the game.” – Connie Mack
Career Stats (keep in mind that his MLB career started when he was 41 and ended when he was 59): 5 Seasons (1948-1949, 1951-1953, 1965), 28-31 Record, 3.29 ERA, 26 GS, 7 CG, 4 SHO, 288 K, 1.28 WHIP
Career Negro League Stats (keep in mind that these statistics are very incomplete as the Negro Leagues did not keep accurate statistics): 19 Seasons (1927-1937, 1940-1947), 103-61 Record, 2.02 ERA, 263 GS, 110 CG, 1231 K, 0.95 WHIP
Ah, the legend of Satchel Paige.His own mother claimed that he was two years older than his birth certificate indicated because she wrote it down in her Bible.Combine his unknown age with the lack of statistics kept in the Negro Leagues and you have one of the biggest mysteries ever in sports.I think long time Negro League player Buck O’Neil said it best, “Of course the stories about Satchel are legendary and some of them are even true.”Here is an indication of some of Satchel’s biggest accomplishments from his website.
Pitched 64 consecutive scoreless innings, a stretch of 21 straight wins, and a 31-4 record in 1933.
Satchel claims that he won 104 of the 105 games he pitched in 1934.
Started 29 games in one month in Bismarck, North Dakota.(Okay this is getting ridiculous.Next you’re going to say that it was February and it was a leap year, right Satch?)
This legendary story is a great indicator on Satchel’s talent and capabilities (at the age of 41).
“The Cleveland Indians were in need of extra pitching for the pennant race.Legendary Bill Veeck tested Paige’s accuracy before offering him a big league contract.As the story is told, Veeck placed a cigarette on the ground to be used as a home plate.Paige took aim at his virtually nonexistent target.He fired five fastballs, all but one sailing directly over the cigarette.Veeck was indeed pleased, and Paige helped the Indians win the pennant.”
Satchel didn’t pitch in the majors for very long but he still managed to win a World Series with Cleveland in 1948 and be named to the All Star team twice (at the ages of 46 and 47).What would Satchel have done in the Majors if he was given a chance?We can only wonder.Dizzy Dean can give you a good idea though, “If Satch and I were pitching on the same team, we would clinch the pennant by July fourth and go fishing until World Series time.”
League batting average during his career: .263 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.98
Yeah, that’s right.I used the asterisk.Let’s pretend for a second that steroids were legal (in his defense half of the batters he faced were on the same stuff).Between the training regimen that he was known for and the intensity that he displayed on the field, fewer pitchers were tougher to beat then Clemens.Roger won an MVP Award, seven Cy Young Awards (MLB record), two triple crowns, led the league in ERA seven times, shutouts six times, wins four times, and strikeouts five times. The Rocket’s most famous achievement is that he has struck out twenty batters in a game two times, an accomplishment that only Kerry Wood has been able to match.He is a two time World Series champion (1999 and 2000, both with the New York Yankees).Oh yeah, and then there’s the one he gift wrapped for Boston only to have his bullpen and Bill Buckner blow it.No wonder he left that city.
“That’s as dominating as I’ve seen a pitcher pitch (20 strikeout game on September 18, 1996).I’ve had Randy Johnson with a fastball and slider be dominant, but Roger was throwing a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball, a forkball and slider. He threw four pitches and moved the ball around.” – Umpire Tim McClelland
League batting average during his career: .265 … League home runs per game during his career: 0.24
Walter Johnson played for the Washington Senators for his entire career.During his twenty one seasons in Washington, the Senators had eleven seasons under .500…WITH WALTER JOHNSON ON THEIR TEAM!That being said, Johnson still managed to lead his team to two World Series, winning in 1924 over the New York Giants and losing in 1925 to the Pittsburgh Pirates.Walter Johnson was a two time MVP, won three triple crowns, led the league in ERA five times, shutouts seven times, wins six times, and strikeouts twelve times (MLB Record).
“His fastball looked about the size of a watermelon seed and it hissed at you as it passed.”- Ty Cobb
I really thought about making this a top fifteen list because in the last 120 years there have been some amazing pitchers and to leave them off this list is a shame.However, you don’t see too many top fifteen lists around, so here are your honorable mentions:
Other Accomplishments: Mathewson won two triple crowns, led the league in ERA five times, shutouts four times, wins four times, and strikeouts five times.He won a World Series in 1905 and threw two no hitters in his career.In 1905 he put on the most dominant post season performance in the history of baseball.In three starts he threw three complete game shutouts, which essentially won the World Series single handedly for the Giants.
Other Accomplishments: Spahn won a Cy Young Award, led the league in ERA three times, shutouts four times, complete games nine times, wins eight times, and strikeouts four times.He is widely regarded as the greatest left handed pitcher of all time, which makes it very difficult for me to put him behind Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, and Randy Johnson.He might have his own award for the best left hander of the year, but I feel that he is only the fourth best left hander of all time.
Other Accomplishments: Alexander won the triple crown four times (three consecutively), led the league in ERA four times, shutouts seven times, wins six times, and strikeouts six times.He also won a World Series in 1926 with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Other Accomplishments: Gibson won an MVP, two Cy Young Awards, led the league in ERA one time, shutouts four times, wins one time, and strikeouts one time.He also pitched a no hitter in 1971 and won two World Series MVP Awards with the St. Louis Cardinals (1964 and 1967).Gibson holds the MLB record for most strikeouts during a World Series (35), most strikeouts in a World Series game (17), and lowest ERA in a season (1.12).
Other Accomplishments: Carlton won four Cy Young Awards, one Gold Glove Award, one triple crown, led the league in ERA one time, shutouts one time, wins four times, and strikeouts five times.He won two World Series (1967 with the St. Louis Cardinals and 1980 with the Philadelphia Phillies).
Other Accomplishments: Feller won one triple crown, led the league in ERA one time, shutouts four times, wins six times, and strikeouts seven times.He also pitched three no hitters and won a World Series with Cleveland in 1948.
Other Accomplishments: Palmer won three Cy Young Awards, four Gold Glove Awards, led the league in two times, shutouts one time, and wins three times.He pitched a no hitter in 1969 and won three World Series with the Orioles (1966, 1970, and 1983).
Other Accomplishments: Martinez won three Cy Young Awards, a triple crown, led the league in ERA five times, shut outs one time, wins one time, and strikeouts three times.Pedro won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2004.Martinez threw nine perfect innings in 1995, but gave up a lead-off double in the tenth inning.
Hope everyone enjoys the list. Let the arguments begin.
The scenario brings up an interesting discussion. Should rookies be hazed, or should they take a stand for themselves? My stance is that it depends on numerous factors.
First, it depends on the veteran who is attempting to haze the rookie. If he is a certified star, or a captain on the team, then the rookie better shut up and take the abuse. These veterans have been in the league and earned the respect of any rookie that comes in to camp, no matter what round they were picked in. With that being said, Williams is a career underachiever who thinks himself a star. The truth is, Williams has only broken 1,000 yards once in his career and has never had more than eight touchdowns in a season.
Second, the type of hazing matters. All Bryant had to do was carry shoulder pads across a field. It's not like he had to drink until he vomited or do some other harmful act. Rookies have done squat to earn the respect of their teammates, if carrying shoulder pads, which last I checked don't weight much, get you in the good graces of your teammates, do it. But we must defer to the first point here. It's Roy Williams we're talking about. He hasn't topped 600 yards in his past two seasons. Who cares if he is mad at you, he might not even make the team.
Third, it depends on the type of person the rookie is. Bryant came in with some controversy not only from being suspended last year, but for being a selfish athlete. If a rookie has baggage coming in, and a veteran asks him to do something that does not physically harm you, do it. The rookie has to prove that he has grown out of being a tool and is ready to be a positive influence on the team. Once again though, the first point takes precedent here. Williams wasn't trying to teach Bryant a lesson or welcome him to the team. He was trying to be a bully because he feels threatened.
If you can't tell, I'm siding with Bryant here and don't think he should carry anything for Williams. If Miles Austin had told him to, then he should have done so with a smile on his face.
Readers may have noticed a certain first-round pick was left out of the last post about the strides the Pittsburgh Pirates young players are making this season. It wasn't an accident.
Brad Lincoln, the fourth overall selection in the 2006 draft, was really bad through nine starts with the Pirates. His totals came out to a 6.57 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, a 21/14 K/BB ratio in 50 2/3 innings pitched and I'm sure there are some crazy advanced stats Mike could throw out that tell us how terrible Lincoln has been. He never made it past the seventh inning he gave up three or more earned runs in all but one start. Not exactly the spark the team and its fans were hoping the big Texan would provide the team.
Another alarming issue with Lincoln was his velocity at the major league level. He was supposed to be a strikeout pitcher who could overpower hitters. But Pirates fans, and especially the team's opponents have not seen this power arm. Heck, Lincoln's fastball was between 89 and 91 mph in his last outing against the San Diego Padres. Maybe if that was late in the game, like the eighth inning, I wouldn't be concerned. But this was in the third. I'm not asking for him to be topping 100 like Washington Nationals Stephen Strasburg, but hitting 95 consistently would be nice.
Lincoln is only 25, so he still has time to fix some things at AAA. But I can't help but think of other pitchers the Buccos drafted in the first round and worry about what will become of Lincoln. He had major arm surgery (Tommy John) in 2007. Just like just about every other pitcher the Pirates have selected in the first round since I was born. Just about all of these pitchers (Kris Benson, John Van Benschoten, Sean Burnett, etc.) turned out to be huge busts. Benson is pretty much out of baseball, Van Benschoten is getting lit up in High A ball somewhere and Sean Burnett is a mediocre late reliever. With Lincoln's past injury problems and his recent outings, is there any reason to think he won't follow in these former Buccos's footsteps?
It's really tiring to see just about every team draft young pitchers who roar through the farm system and find success at the majors before the age of 25. Tim Lincecum, Yovani Gallardo, David Price, Clayton Kershaw are just a few. When was the last time the Pirates drafted a starting pitcher that had consistent positive results? Paul Maholm is the closest thing we have, and he would be a No. 3 or No. 4 on most teams.
It can't just be bad luck. Maybe the Pirates need to overhaul the scouting system. Maybe they need to take a look at their coaches at the lower levels. Heck, maybe the trainers at these lower levels need to be held accountable.
The truth is, until the Pirates develop a quality staff, it doesn't really matter if their position players grow into good or great players. if you don't have good pitching in the majors, you don't have a chance to consistently make the playoffs. Pirates fans can only hope Lincoln rebounds and becomes the ace the organization thought he could be, but they probably can't help but think "Here we go again."
Before any readers start telling me how stupid I am and how terrible the Pittsburgh Pirates are, let me be clear in saying I still think the Pirates are going to lose more than 100 games this season.
With that being said, this past week has shown that perhaps next season and the following will be significant steps forward for this ailing franchise. Mostly because the Pirates scored 50 runs and recorded 78 hits in the past six games. In that span, rookie and top prospect Pedro Alvarez had two multi-home run games, fellow rookie Neil Walker batted .593 and Lastings Milledge's hot hitting continued without the terrible defense.
Also in that span, the team went 4-2 and are now .500 at home this season. Professional teams should be better at home, but it's a start and gives fans a reason to go to the ballpark. If you have a 50 percent chance of seeing your team win, chances are you're going to be more inclined to attend a game. The more fans the more motivated these young players will be to work harder to maintain their good play.
As crazy as this sounds, but the past week's game have led me to believe that it is a good time to be a Pirates fan right now. Yeah, I said it. The team will finish the season well below .500 for an Major League Baseball record of 18 consecutive seasons, but there are multiple players showing lots of potential. This is not like the teams of recent memory who had one or two players get hot (Tike Redman and Chris Duffy come to mind) and then tank. These are first round draft picks beginning to show what they are capable of at young ages.
Debbie Downers are already pointing out that the two teams the Pirates played this week are not exactly championship contenders. The Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers are 39-56 and 44-53, respectively (not to be confused with respectable). They are also saying other than Yovani Gallardo, who shut down the Pirates, and Roy Oswalt, who the Pirates chased out of the game in the fourth inning, the Pirates faced mediocre and just bad pitchers.
Those are very valid points. The Pirates are professionals and should be able to hit the likes of Bud Norris, Dave Bush and Randy Wolf. But how many times have Pirates fans witnessed these low profile pitchers shutting down the Buccos like a staff ace would? Too many. Seeing the Pirates jump on bad pitchers multiple times in a week is progress.
It's easy to say that this is just a lucky streak they are on and the team will go back to suck shortly. Hell, it's probably likely. But this is the first time so many young players have shown so much potential at once on this team. I know it's not easy, but now is the time to hope this is the core that breaks the losing atmosphere surrounding the Pirates. It's also the time to head to PNC Park and support this team. I'm not saying support the cheap owners. I'm saying support these young players and enjoy watching them grow into good to great players.
Remember that amazing story last year regarding Pittsburgh Pirates Jose Tabata's wife faking a pregnancy, stealing a baby and telling Jose he was the father? Well the woman, Amalia Tabata-Pereira has pleaded guilty to kidnapping, interference with custody and impersonating a public officer.
On Monday, after nearly three weeks of deliberating, left-winger Ilya Kovalchuk finally made up his mind about his hockey playing future. After flirting with the Los Angeles Kings on and off again three times, playing in Russia, or staying in New Jersey with the Devils, Kovalchuk chose the latter. Contract details have not been released, but several reports are indicating a 17-year deal worth over $100 million. I am a New Jersey Devils fan. In a few years they will be the only professional team that bares the state's name (insert a New Jersey joke here, everyone does it). The Devils won three Stanley Cups in the span of nine years, but since the last Cup in 2003, they have not made it past the second round and have not made it out of the first round in the last three years. Meanwhile, bitter rivals like the Flyers have made deep runs in the playoffs and some like the Penguins have won a Cup.
For years, the Devils would make a big splash at the deadline to add offense to the team but would never be able to retain the player they had acquired. Doug Gilmour in 1998 and Alexander Mogilny in 2001, were the biggest examples of that. But with Kovalchuk that has changed and their philosophy may have as well. You don’t pay Kovalchuk the money they are about to pay him without adapting to his style a bit. With him in the fold now, the Devils will (hopefully) finally embrace the new NHL a bit and open up the offense. Parise and Kovalchuk are a nearly as potent one-two offensive combo as Crosby and Malkin (Jeff, I said nearly, Crosby and Malkin are still the better duo). For since I can remember, the Devils have played a defensive style, known as the neutral zone trap to some (known to others as what ruined hockey) which relied on a strong defense and a goaltender and resulted in three Stanley Cups. The Devils finally have the offense to go with their strong defense and goaltending.
More importantly, the commitment to Kovalchuk is a clear sign that General Manager Lou Lamoirello is committed to doing whatever is necessary to winning at least one more Cup while goalie Martin Brodeur is in net. Lamoirello is one of the most shrewdest, sharpest and smartest GM’s in all of sports. No one gave him and the Devils a chance in hell of acquiring Kovalchuk in February and when the move didn’t create the success that was expected, no one gave him a chance to resign Kovalchuk given the Devils’ tight financial history and history of a lack of willingness to spend on offensive skill players.
Lou’s moves early in the summer, where all geared to bringing Kovalchuk back in the fold. From shedding the salaries of Jay Pandolfo and Andrew Peters with buyouts, to bringing in stay-at-home, physical defenseman Anton Volchenkov (a friend and countryman of Kovalchuk’s) to former Atlanta Thrashers teammate (and also good friend) Johan Hedberg as Brodeur’s back up (someone who will finally allow the Devils to rest Brodeur 15-20 nights during the regular season) to acquiring Jason Arnott to be the second-line center (something the Devils have lacked for several years).
The Kovalchuk re-signing does not come without is share of questions, like can the Devils retain Parise, who will he play with because he never really developed any line chemistry last year with anyone and how will the Devils sort of the fact that they are likely four million over the cap for the 2010-11 season.
Parise is scheduled to be a restricted free agent after next season and will surely see a big offer sheet roll-in from someone, but Lamoirello should never be underestimated when it comes to keeping his homegrown talent. Parise is the future captain of this squad (maybe even this year depending on the moves made to get under the cap) and is one of the best left wingers in all of hockey. Lamoirello will figure out a way to retain his homegrown sniper.
As for how they get under the cap, this will not be easy. A definite casuality will be defenseman Bryce Salvador and his $2.9 million dollar salary. If he can’t be moved via trade or waivers, he will be sent to the AHL, where his contract would not affect the cap. Brian Rolston is easily the most overpaid player on the roster but the $5 million per year his owed over the next two years will be impossible to move. Danius Zubrus is owed $3.4 million over the next three years and he could go, but he has been one of the few Devils to consistently show up the past three springs when the Devils have been knocked out in the first round. If I was making the decision, I would move captain Jaime Langenbrunner’s $2.8 million to clear some room. He is the player the Devils can actually get decent prospects or draft picks for and after the bitching he pulled last spring, he needs to go. For those who don’t know, Langenbrunner and former coach Jacques Lemaire did not see eye to eye and Langenbrunner was upset that he was a healthy scratch in an April game in Carolina to get some rest. Langenbrunner proceeded to give the coach and media the silent treatment before mouthing after Lemaire announced he was retiring. If you ask me, inexcusable behavior from any player and more so considering, it was the captain.
I think Lamoirello will ultimately trade Zubrus, banish Salavdor to the minors and move Langenbrunner to bring in a puck moving defenseman, clearing $9.1 million in a salary, likely leaving the Devils about $5 million under, pending the salary of the puck moving defenseman acquired in a Langenbrunner trade. Moving Zubrus and Langenbrunner would also allow for David Clarkson, a gritty, young, right winger to move to the Parise-Travis Zajac line and allow for some youngsters in the Devils system like left winger Mattias Tedenby and center Jacob Josefson a chance to get regular ice team on a third line paired with the veteran Rolston.
As for who Kovalchuk will play with, the likely early solution would be with the recently re-acquired Arnott and Patrik Elias. Elias was the only player Kovalchuk seemed to click with during his short stint last year and Elias and Arnott played very well together several years ago. Arnott gives the line a physical presence, which should provide Kovalchuk some open ice to move freely with the puck. The acquisition of Arnott, earlier in the summer, filled one of the Devils biggest needs in a second line center, which allowed Elias to move back to the wing, where has been a much more effective player throughout his career. It is also possible that Arnott or Elias could serve as the captain in the event Langenbrunner is moved.
At the end of the day, the Devils and Lamoriello have give themselves a fantastic chance for another Cup and will be right there with the Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia and Buffalo at the top of the East.
If you haven't been able to tell, I don't have much to talk about lately. Hence the YouTube clips. Here is one making fun of pop music over the last 40 years. It's so true and very impressive how they remember all the songs in order.
The signing follows the trend the Steelers have been practicing since the 1960s. They give their coaches extensions at least a year before their current deal is up as a show of confidence in their team's leader. For those of you who don't know, the organization has only had three coaches in the past 41 years.
That last fact is practically unheard of in modern professional sports. Owners want to win, and usually the coach is the first scapegoat to go if that winning does not happen.
So does Tomlin deserve the extension? Yes. Pretty simple answer. He has been to the playoffs in two of three seasons, and he has a Super Bowl under his belt. to put that in perspective, he is only one of four current head coaches in the NFL with a Super Bowl ring.
His critics say he just took over a talented team put together by former coach Bill Cowher, but that is a load of crap. Cowher has all that talent and didn't make the playoffs in his final season. Tomlin still had to win over the respect of the team and lead them, which he has done very well during his short tenure. At some point you have to hold the players responsible for not playing up to their abilities, which the team didn't do last year.
The city is fortunate to have a guy like Tomlin. Look across the league and find a coach you would rather have? Maybe Bill Belichick? Sure, if you like jerks who cheat. Maybe Sean Payton? He could work, but he may or may not have an addiction to Vicodin. Tomlin is the man for this job and the Steelers once again will be rewarded for committing to him.
By the way, how awesome would it be to have Tomlin and Payton on a coaching staff. Combine Tomlin's resemblance to Omar Epps with Payton's possible addiction to Vicodin and you have half of the original cast of "House" on your football team! Not only will they lead their team to victory, but they will also solve any medical issues surrounding the players.
As promised, here's my take of Franciso Liriano's season thus far. If you had to pick the best/most valuable pitcher in the AL off the top of your head, who would you pick and how far down the list would you place Liriano? The only pitchers with a higher WAR this season are Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson. However, here's a rundown of Liriano's stats from this season:
Some of those numbers are great, others are just OK. But why do sabermetrics show Liriano as the most valuable pitcher in the AL? WAR isn't just the only advanced statistic that looks great for him, either. Fielding Independent Pitching is a metric used to quantify a pitcher's ability by removing all luck and factors outside his ability, as the name suggests. His FIP is 2.18, meaning his peripherals suggest his ERA to this point should be 2.18, and his xFIP predicts his ERA should be around 2.97 the rest of the year. I'm going to break down some of these peripherals, which should (hopefully) naturally lead into figuring out what the heck is going on.
Looking at his record, his pitching performances in his game log more or less reflect that record, if being a tad unlucky in deserving another win, maybe 2. He has 3 losses where he only gave up 3ER, but the other 4 involved him getting shelled. In 2 of the last 3 he was rocked, with his last start being 1.2 IP and 7ER. I'm not saying his last start should be ignored, but for perspective, if you do take out that last start, his ERA drops to 3.29, further indicating he's been pitching great.
So if we do assume this, why in my last post did I say he's tough to read, as he's been lucky and unlucky all at once? First, his WHIP is surprisingly high for a guy who doesn't have all that many walks so far. Where he's getting unlucky is with a .361 BABIP. That number throws off his WHIP by itself. Here's some quick pencil and paper math: for argument's sake, if you regress his BABIP to league average to .300 (slightly rounded up), proportionally, he's given up 18 more hits than he should have. Subtracting out the 18 hits, his WHIP drops from 1.28 to 1.13, which would tie with Tim Hudson him for 15th in WHIP, and tie with John Danks in AL only for 7th.
Finally his K/9 rate is great at 9.83. This ratio hasn't been this good for him since his 10.71 in his rookie year in 2006, right before he had Tommy John surgery. With the league average of 7.02 K/9, he's really cleaning up here. Ks are a big predictor in FIP, so he's getting a big boost from this alone.
Now after going through all that, it's a little more obvious why his WAR is so high. However, I did say I felt he is getting very lucky in some places. The one that really jumps out is allowing only 2 HR, which were in the same game in Boston on May 20th. His HR/FB% (Home Run/Fly Ball) is a paltry 2.6% right now. The league average is around 9-11% and normalizes around 10.6%.
There are a bunch of studies about how pitchers can control their FB% (skill) but have almost no control over their HR/FB% (luck). Target field's yielded the second fewest home runs in the league, so it's definitely a pitcher's park, but 2.6% is unsustainable. It won't happen all at once, but I'd expect that number to creep up over 7% by the end of the year, even if he continues to pitch very well in the 2nd half.
After going through these numbers, I was actually surprised for them to come out this favorably to Liriano. Going into this, I anticipated the numbers to indicate that he would trail off, but I'm beginning to think more and more that he could sustain his level of pitching in the standard pitching categories for the rest of the season. Fangraphs indicates his slider is back to being dominant again, saving him 14.9 runs this season, which hasn't been this high since his breakout 2006 season. Also his percentage of batters swinging and missing is 12%, which is a huge number---as a reference, the league average is 8.4%.
His stuff may be back and could be in for a nice run, assuming his last start was only a hiccup and not a sign of things to come. He may not have the numbers or record at the end of the year to be in the discussion for any of the end of the season awards, but don't be completely shocked if a couple analysts start mentioning his name come the end of August.
The Friendly Indians - I Know You Know (Psych theme-season premier tonight!)