Monday, July 9, 2012

X Marks the Spot

Waaaay back in September of 2007 Frank Coonelly had a vision. (Or at the very least a fair idea). The Pirates president was searching for the man who could lead his team to the promised land. Coonelly desired a GM with a vision of success and the tenacity to accomplish it. The new GM was to be a baseball-minded executive, with strong leadership skills. Coonelly also wanted someone with an unwavering passion for baseball and for the city of Pittsburgh. After a two week search that winded through the scouting trails and dirty areas of baseball development, he settled on Neal Huntington.

Neal came with some pretty hefty credentials. He had spent 16 seasons in baseball player development (a place where the Pirates SEVERELY lacked), starting out with the (then) Montreal Expos and moving to the Cleveland Indians for ten seasons. He managed to work his way up the ladder of the Indians system culminating in his hire as special assistant to the General Manager. How much Neal is truly credited for in the rise of the Indians organization is open to debate. What can be said is that he was certainly involved (or at least a witness) in several key moves that helped launch the Indians into contention. The most laudable being the acquisition of Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore in a fleecing of trade with the aforementioned Montreal Expos at the very end of the 2002 trade deadline. At the time Colon was in the midst of a stellar year, he finished 2002 with a combined 20-8 record and a 2.93 ERA, including 76 earned runs with 70 walks in 233.1 innings, three shutouts, and eight complete games. The fans and press at the time flayed the Indians front office for the move. Before the season began they had unloaded Roberto Alomar, perhaps the most beloved Indian ever. First year GM Mark Shapiro new going in that he was going to have to make some unpopular moves, and if the Alomar trade didn't clue in the media, the Colon trade sure did. Fans and media alike lambasted the Indians front office for what, at the time, was perceived as a salary dump. (Deric McKamey of BP wrote an excellent article on this trade, which you can find here). In the end we all know what happened: Cleveland was horrible at first before their prospects carried them to contention in the AL central.

Right now you might be thinking you know the direction I'm heading with this piece. You may be thinking right now that I'm going to compare the Indians front office with Huntington in the mix to the current Pirates front office... In effect you're right, I am. But not quite the way you think....

When Huntington took over at the end of the 2007 season, his first order of business was to completely revamp the way the Pirates approached player development. He fired Jim Tracy, who at the time wasn't much of a folk hero (though Pirates 'fans' would later use this as ammunition after the Rockies climb to the World Series), which was expected. The intriguing part of all of this was Huntington's philosophy:

"We are going to utilize several objective measures of player performance to evaluate and develop players. We'll rely on the more traditional objective evaluations: OPS, WHIP, Runs Created, ERC, GB/FB, K/9, K/BB, BB%, etc., but we'll also look to rely on some of the more recent variations: VORP, Relative Performance, EqAve, EqOBP, EqSLG, BIP%, wOBA, Range Factor, PMR and Zone Rating. That said, we will continue to stress the importance of our subjective evaluations. Succinctly stated, we believe that a combination of quality objective and subjective analysis will allow us to maximize our probability of success and to make the best possible decisions."
99.999% of the people in Pittsburgh had never even heard the letters V-O-R and P together in a sentence, let alone in a meaningful anagram. Right off the bat Huntington was viewed as a quack, a numbers only GM completely out of touch with the pulse of baseball in Pittsburgh.

Flash forward to the present. Baseball in Pittsburgh is in the midst of a renaissance. Andrew McCutchen is being viewed as legitmate superstar by peers and pundits alike. With every homerun chants of MVP echo around the ballpark and fireworks night is no longer just a way to get fans into the stadium, they are a celebration of sorts, a booming chorus of triumphs several years in the making.

So hats off to you Mr. Huntington, you stuck to your guns, got bloodied as the first man over the wall always is. Yet you have given this city a summer nearly 20 years in the making. A dream like spectacle that no one can ever take away from you. What makes this even sweeter is that as enjoyable as this thing, this foray into the realm that is competitive baseball, might be... the future is even brighter... because of you.

22 Second Half Baseball Truths from the Crystal Ball

Roto Wizard gazes into the crystal ball and sees ...

22. Andrew McCutchen wins the NL MVP. The city of Pittsburgh names 22 of it's 3,468 bridges after him.
21. Justin Upton salvages his fantasy season by hitting 16 homeruns and stealing 11 bases in the second half ... for the Pirates.
20. Roy Halladay pitches a perfect game in his first start back from injury. He then returns to the DL after suffering internal bleeding from being mobbed by his teammates.
19. R.A. Dickey will not win the NL Cy Young ...
18. ... Clayton Kershaw will ... again.
17. The Pirates will finish the season with 104 wins (including the post-season) ...
16. ... Bob Smizik still finds cause for complaint.
15.  Every team in the AL East finishes over .500 ...
14. ... only one makes the playoffs.
13. Andrew McCutchen will finish the season with 33 home runs, 33 stolen bases and a .333 AVG.
12. Mark Appel refuses to accept the Pirates offer and chooses to re-enter the draft next year... in a much deeper draft he is selected 11th overall and ends up being offered less money. This process repeats itself for 14 years until Appel decides to retire from baseball despite never throwing a pitch.
11. The Nationals lose the division race on the last day of the season but still win a wild card spot. They then lose the 1 game playoff ...
10. ... while Strasburg watches from the bench, due to reaching his innings 'cap'. In the off season he tears his rotator cuff while playing 'catch'.
9. Billy Hamilton finishes his MiL season with 188 stolen bases. Citing the economy, his opponents demand that he return them.
8. Adam Dunn will win the ML HR crown with 49...
7. ... while hitting under .200.
6. Albert Pujols hits a home run and proceeds to trot around the bases in reverse order. The Angels release a statement citing bad circuitry as the culprit.
5. The Angels attempt to trade Vernon Wells and his ridiculous contract. After every GM in baseball declines, the Angels hire a hitman.
4. Tim Lincecum inserts his virtual self into the Giants rotation for the rest of the season. He spends his summer surfing in California. The locals come to know him as "Snaggle-Tooth Tim". Virtual Tim finishes the season with a sub 2 ERA.
3. In an effort to overcome their horrendous starting pitching the Twins decide to carry just 10 position players and 15 pitchers, all of them relievers. Their success with this strategy in the second half sparks a revolution
2. Jason Kipnis becomes the top ranked fantasy second baseman in baseball. I spend the offseason gloating to anyone who makes eye contact with me.
1. During the off season, in order to make exhibition games mean something, MLB decides that spring training win/loss records determine the order of the June amateur draft.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

To the radio personalities at 93.7 The Fan, Pittsburgh

This is a response to the constant and incessant bashing of the Pirates management staff by the radio personalities at 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh.

In 1999 the Pirates drafted a young blue chip prospect that was dubbed the 'next Barry Bonds' by the media, particularly those in and around the Pittsburgh area. His batting practices in the spring of 2000 were legendary, citing repeated comparisons to the likes of Bonds, Bonilla, Stargell, and even the immortal Clemente. The Pirates shelled out a then record sum to draft and sign this young phenom, with the hopes of riding his coattails to a winning season in a fantastic new ballpark, and ultimately out of the doldrums of the NL Central. Chad Hermansen ultimately flopped and the franchise has been paying the price for buying into the hype ever since.

This June the Pirates may have the opportunity to draft another young power hitting high school slugger. Bryce Harper has been dubbed by some as the "LeBron of Baseball". The sweet swinging 17 year old catcher has been tearing apart low division college teams all year. He's hitting over .400 with 17 home runs in a shade under 200 at bats so far. What's even more enticing is the fact that he is doing all of this with a wooden bat. At 17!

Today I listened to, not for the first time, several The Fan personalities lay into the Pirates, and more specifically the owner and management staff. "He's a must draft" they say, "How can the Pirates even consider passing on this kind of talent?".

And to this, I say: Simple. He's 17.

Let's go back for a few moments, to when you were 17. Now pretend for a moment that you're a fantastic athlete, a chiseled 6'-3" 205 pound frame (by some accounts an inch and 10 lbs more than that). The world it at your finger tips. People are calling you the "Next LeBron James", you are by far the consensus number one prospect in this years draft. At 17, you'll be given 10's of millions of dollars (a low estimate for a Scott Boras client) by a team that has been playing losing baseball since before you were born. You are instantly dubbed The Savior or The Franchise, or whatever other name people take to calling you. At 17.

Would you like to know how many star athletes have been successful as adults after being given millions as a teenager? You can count them on one hand. The number of failures, however, is vast and well documented.

All this before you even take into account Bryce Harper's attitude or in scout vernacular: Makeup.

This is a direct excerpt from a column written by Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus:

"This should not be underrated. It's impossible to find any talent evaluator who isn't blown away by Harper's ability on the field, but it's equally difficult to find one who doesn't genuinely dislike the kid. One scout called him among the worst amateur players he's ever seen from a makeup standpoint, with top-of-the-scale arrogance, a disturbingly large sense of entitlement, and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents. "He's just a bad, bad guy," said one front-office official. "He's basically the anti-Joe Mauer."
(you can read the rest of this excellent Harper piece, here)

So the final question is this: If the Pirates have the opportunity to give an arrogant 17 year old 10's of millions of guaranteed dollars, how will the headlines read? Hopefully they speak of Pirates brass learning from past mistakes and not making the same one over.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hockey Musings

With the hockey season in full swing let's take a look at several players that are underachieving, overachieving and those that are... uh... achieving?

Quick Hits:

1. Anze Kopitar F, LA Kings - The leagues current leading scorer at 24 points has nearly single handedly turned the Kings into an early season power. Kopitar has scored 60 or more points in all three of his NHL seasons, but his current pace would put him in line for an astonishing 90-138-228 season. Obviously that kind of production over the course of an entire season is unrealistic. So what can his owners expect from here on out? His current shooting percentage of 25% is more than 10% over his career average. His shot pace puts him in line for right around 240 shots which is about what he had last year. So if we adjust his shooting percentage down to around the 15% mark we can pencil him in for around 30 more goals which would give him the first 40 goal campaign of his career. Not unreasonable for a talented player skating in his fourth full season. Much more intriguing is his rapid accumulation of assists. As stated he's currently on pace for an astounding 138 helpers, nearly a 100 more than his career average. The uptempo style of play of the Kings has them clicking on all cylinders, they are a young talented team that passes well and attacks the neutral zone as good as any team in the league. Kopitar has 4 points in the Kings 5 losses and 20 points in their 9 wins, so it appears Kopitar's production is tied directly to the teams quality of play. The Kings will certainly stumble for stretches during this season as their youth and inexperience are exploited. That being said I still believe Kopitar could be in line for a 40-60-100 season which would place him among the elite scorers in the NHL.
Trade Value: A-: I would strongly consider shopping Kopitar around as his value is unlikely to get any higher than it is right now, and his pace will almost certainly slow down.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

April Musings

It's been a very interesting April as we continue to analyze players out of the gate. I'll take some time here to go over each division and the players that are making fantasy noise in some way.

National League

East: Florida Marlins

Emilio Bonificio 2B/3B Marlins - His play, and subsequent lack there of, has been beatin' to death in blogs and fantasy articles since day one. As a fantasy manager there are only two things you'll need to pay attention to. His OBP and his place in the batting order, if he keeps his lead off spot and can reach base at a .350+ clip he's worthy of a roster spot. He's all ready shown he'll be a streaky player so tread with caution. But in the remaining 5 months he should be good for 70+ runs 25+ stolen bases and a modest .280 BA. Personally I wouldn't bother rostering him unless you're very weak at second or third, but that's just me. (Think Chone Figgins, with less experience).

Ricky Nolasco SP Marlins - In 4 starts he has givin up less than 4 ER just once, has yet to go more than 6 innings and is averaging less than 6 IP per start. His ERA and WHIP are a nasty 6.86 and 1.67 respectively. There is some silver lining here though. He has averaged less than 2 walks per start and his 17/6 K:BB ratio is almost a healthy 3:1 which is actually pretty stellar. His biggest problem at the moment is his hittability, if he can keep the ball low and limit the number of mistake pitches, he could easily go on a tear. There's no reason to panic here and he's an excellent buy low candidate.

Hanley Ramirez SS Marlins - Obviously it's still April, and it's not as if H-Ram has been bad, but this is a guy that has always played well in April. He's average a HR every 20 ABs, a SB every 13, a .333 BA and a .991 OPS. At the moment he's on pace for an 86/22/119/22/.270/.753 OPS line, which isn't bad but not good enough for the 'best player in baseball'. Most people will tell you not to be worried, and frankly they are probabbly right, but the last three years have been very worrisome as his BA, SB and Runs have all trended downwards while his HR and RBI have only had modest gains. Now, he could easily finish April on a tear and get back to his 40/40 line which is what most people have paid for, but the Fish have been on a tear since the start of the season but Hanley has only had a moderate impact on this. I would quietly shop him for Pujols or perhaps a multi package player. H-Ram still commands a good deal of quan in leagues but if his season continues on pace, you might be left with much less than you bargained for.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Food for Thought

The first week of baseball has been pretty exciting and there are several side plots developing quickly. It's also been very tragic. 22 year old Angel's rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart died in a car crash outside of Fullerton, CA in the wee hours of this morning, just hours after stifling the A's through six innings. In times like this you'll hear people use words like 'tragic' and 'heart wrenching' but in reality there is nothing you can say when moments like this arrive. I, like many others, will simply be shaking our heads in near disbelief, and can only wonder what it must be like for his friends, family, teammates and those in the Angels orginization. Because in all honesty, can anyone outside of those people, and the people who have been touched by similar tragedies, even begin to understand the emotion involved? Just keep the Adenhart family in your prayers, for that is simply all that we can do.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spring Update

Position battles between players is what spring training is all about. So here's an update on some of the more fantasy relevant soiree's going down at the moment:

Clint Barmes Col 2B - Going into the off season the Rockies expressed interest in having him keep the second base job all to himself. He played well in the absence of Tulo and ended with decent numbers given his limited ABs.
Why this is relevant: Almost every Rockies position player will be rostered, and a power hitting infielder with multi-position eligibility getting 400+ ABs with a decent track record is a huge deal. Especially given that he's pretty much universally unowned.

Rick Porcello Det SP - This one is a really big IF, but he's been lighting hitters on fire and having one of the best camps of any Tigers pitcher. It all rests on the shoulders of Jim Leyland and whether or not he wants to give the kid a shot.
Why this is relevant: Over the last 4 years there has been a HUGE rash of talented young pitchers making fantasy waves at the major league level. If he breaks camp he's a must own.

Ian Stewart Col OF/3B - Tough break here as it's looking more and more like he'll be splitting his at bats between third base and the outfield when different players need rest. I still think he should be starting in place of Seth Smith, but given the injury history of Helton and Tulo, it's very possible Stewart can still reach 300+ ABs.
Why this is relevant: See Clint Barmes (above). The same applies here.

Jason Motte StL RP - As of now he's ahead of Chris Perez, which is a good decision by LaRussa. Motte has shown excellent control this spring picking up right where he left off in '08. Perez hasn't been horrible, but he's been shaky enough to make it an easy decision for the coaches.
Why this is relevant: Great example of why you should wait on closers. Chances are this will be one of many switches, as always.

Andrew McCutcheon Pit OF - This was one I was watching closely ever since the Nady and Bay trades last August. Unfortunately he has been having a pretty awful spring and seems destined to start the season in Indianapolis. He's still one of the top OF prospects in all of fantasy baseball and a true 5-tool player, but he's still learning and this is probably for the best. Watch for a mid season call up, especially if the glut of mediocre Pirate outfielders underwhelm.
Why this is relevant: 5-tool yumminess is always a welcome fantasy edition to every team.

Andruw Jones update: He's picked it up at the plate a bit, but I would still stay away. There are positive signs, but honestly I don't see where he fits in with the Rangers unless there's a rash of injuries. Unless you're in an AL only league or a REALLY deep mixed league, he shouldn't really be on your radar. He was a marginal fantasy producer when he wasn't hitting 50 HR, and IF he does manage to get some PT in a crowded Texas OF, he's still a tough guy to play.

Roto Wizard