Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Pirates Roundtable

The newest Pirates Roundtable has been posted, with today's questions asking about the likelihood of Chris Duffy having a successful 2007 season and the organization's most pressing need. There are a variety of opinions on these matters, so take a look.

Pirates Roundtable has undergone a few changes recently. The first is that there will now be two new posts per week, with one on Monday and one on Thursday. Contributing writers have been split into two groups in an effort to keep posts shorter and fresher. So remember to check back frequently in the future. The second change is that the roundtable will now be using the Most Valuable Network. One improvement that results from this change is that comments can be left without requiring an MLB account. Hopefully this will allow for more discussion throughout the week.

Thanks again to Cory for all of his hard work organizing the roundtable project.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Wilson - Castillo

Jack Wilson and Jose Castillo celebrate a game-ending double play by making out in June, 2005

Over the weekend, Jack Wilson made the following comments on Jose Castillo's effort or lack thereof:

"I want whoever's going to make this a winning team. Right now, Freddy is my second baseman, in my mind. He's the guy I can trust to go 100 percent and get the job done. Castillo's got to show me something. You're going to see it in spring training. If he's slimmed down and ready to work, he's going to have a good year. But, if it's the other way around, we're going to have some problems."

I think that, as a veteran and leader of the team, this is something that Jack should have taken to Castillo in private and kept out of the media. That being said, I do not have a huge problem with these comments. Castillo arrived to camp last spring overweight and then went on to spend an entire season making mental mistakes in the field and showing a complete lack of focus at the plate. Something tells me that Jack may have already talked to Castillo in the past and nothing came of it. While I do not agree with Ron Cook's statement in this article that Wilson deserves the Dapper Dan award for this comments*, I do believe that this team desperately needs some emotion. There should be some pissed off people in that locker room that are tired of losing, and someone needs to take charge and make sure everyone on the team knows that failure will no longer be accepted. It is true that Jack isn't good enough of a player to call a teammate out for lack of production. But he is one of the more experienced guys on the team and he puts everything he has into helping the Pirates win. I would say that he does have a right to call out a player for a lack of effort and focus.

Jose Castillo drops a throw from Jose Hernandez in May, 2006

*Is this not the most ridiculous thing anyone has ever said?

UPDATE (01/30/2007, 12:30 PM): I assumed in this post that Jack Wilson spoke with Jose Castillo in the past before he brought his feelings to the media. Jack tells me in today's PG that I guessed correctly.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Could the Pirates be a surprise team in 2007? Could they reach .500? Could they contend for the wild card? Could they make a run at the NL Central title? Could they be a threat in the postseason? Could they do the unthinkable?

Of course they could. They could do anything. The probability of any of this happening isn't very high, but anything is possible. That is why we keep watching. That is why we go to the Wednesday afternoon game against the Cubs in late August, even though we have to go by ourselves because all of our friends are busy or uninterested. We go because there's the potential of a 3-run 11th and a comeback victory. We don't want to miss something special. We attend every home-opener, because we want to be able to say years later that we were there on the first day of that magical season when our lives changed. The Pirates have lost countless casual fans since that fateful day that Sid Bream destroyed our dreams, but many of us hold on to those same dreams year after year. We can not contain our excitement as we read about Zach Duke throwing off a mound for the first time in Bradenton in February. This could be the year. Our world could completely change beginning on April 2, 2007. What if the stars align and every player on the roster plays to his full potential for the entire season? What if 2006 was not simply a dream season for Freddy Sanchez? What if in reality it was the beginning of a magnificent career? What if Jason Bay keeps getting better? What if the real Adam LaRoche is the player that we saw in the second half of 2006? What if Jose Castillo stops swinging for the fences every time he comes to the plate? Why not?

I am naturally an eternal optimist. I look for the good in life, and I always believe that the Pirates can be successful no matter what the circumstances. Since starting this site last September, I have attempted to be more objective and avoid that unfounded optimism as much as possible. A week or so ago, I was at work daydreaming about the Pirates. I don't know why, but for some reason I began feeling very good about the upcoming season. That's when I decided to do an optimistic look at the 2007 Pittsburgh Pirates. Look for this in the future. I will probably start with Chris Duffy soon and go right through the lineup, over to the bench, and on to pitching.

There is a certain type of Pirate fan that will be interested in this series. The fan that decides to finally get down to the ballpark for that LaRoche bobblehead in June, then leaves early to salvage what's left of his or her Saturday night will not want to read. This is not for Bob Smizik. This is for the Pirate fan that needs something to hope for. This is for the 12-year-old boy that loves Jack Wilson and constantly begs his parents to take him to PNC Park, despite the fact that he has never known the Pirates to be anything more than a Jay Leno joke. This is for the fan that keeps watching the Bucs even after the Steelers start their preseason schedule. This is for the fan that believed the Pirates could be competitive in 1997 despite a $9 million payroll.

Kevin Polcovich hit .273 for the surprising 1997 Pirates

Let's be honest. It's January 27th and you're reading a mediocre Pirates blog. You're desperate for something positive to dream about.

Monday, January 22, 2007

LaRoche's impact

I promise, this will be the final post on this site regarding the acquisition of Adam LaRoche [my fingers are crossed]. We all know what LaRoche brings to the plate for the Pirates: 32 homeruns and a .915 OPS that was missing from this lineup in 2006, a lineup that boasted a league worst SLG; a dangerous bat that will relieve some of the pressure to produce that is heaped upon Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez; a left-handed first baseman that fills a huge void for this team. But I've been thinking that maybe there is something more that he provides.

The excitement among Pirates' players and management immediately following the Gonzo-LaRoche trade seemed almost silly. This team seems to believe that Adam LaRoche is the Pirates' savior, and he has arrived to lead them from 67 to 90+ wins. Anybody familiar with statistics knows that this simply isn't true. The best players in the league add less than 10 wins a season to their team's total. But is all this excitement a bad thing?

Last season the Bucs were 30-60 before the All-Star break, 37-35 afterwards. Why the dramatic turnaround? They did not suddenly find their swings and start piling up runs. The Pirates scored 411 runs and allowed 474 runs before the All-Star break, while scoring 280 and allowing 323 afterwards. Some will argue that the team was simply luckier in the second half. I can see where that comes from. I remember several instances early in the season where a ridiculous bounce went against the Pirates, and possibly cost them the game. But I think there was more to it.

On June 19, 2006, the Pirates hosted the Diamondbacks for an afternoon make-up of a game rained out earlier in the season. I attended this game with a friend, and our day was going perfectly as the game entered the later stages. The Pirates had rallied from a 4-0 deficit and the bottom of the 9th inning began with the score tied 4-4. The table was set for a walk-off victory. Back-to-back singles and an intentional walk seemed to make that victory inevitable. Jeromy Burnitz stepped in with the bases loaded, nobody out, and the winning run at third. He struck out. No harm done, it was pretty much expected. Besides, Freddy was coming up, and he always came through. But he chased a pitch in the dirt and went down swinging. Now I was nervous, with the always erratic Jose Castillo at the plate and two outs. He also struck out. I vomited all over the empty seat in front of me (NOTE: Exaggeration). All we needed was a fair ball. All three had chased pitches and struck out. We wasted a leadoff double in the 10th and eventually lost 5-4 in 11 innings. Of all the painful losses that I have witnessed in the past few years, this one probably hurt the most. We were supposed to win this game, but we gave it away. It was a perfect example of why we started 30-60 in 2006.

So why did the Pirates improve to slightly above .500 ball after the break. The answer is that the players loosened up. They were out of contention, relaxed a bit, won a few games, gained some confidence, and won some more. They realized that they belonged in this league. The increase in confidence worked wonders, and suddenly these young guys weren't tightening up in important situations. The players that were a bundle of nerves in June were having fun and beating up on playoff teams in September.

Now I am not saying that a confident Pirates team will run off 90 victories in 2007. But it might make the difference between 75 wins and the sacred number of 82. Maybe the addition of Adam LaRoche is what it will take to make all of 2007 look like post-July 12, 2006. With all of the exuberance coming out of the clubhouse since this deal was made, it seems like this is a Pirates' team that honestly believes it can compete this year. If they go on to the field expecting to win, they are going to play much better and hopefully increase that number in the win column.


This week's edition of Pirates Roundtable is up. Three outsiders contributed their thoughts on the recent shift in ownership for the Pirates. The regulars will return next Monday.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

My thoughts on LaRoche-Gonzo deal

The Adam LaRoche and Jamie Romak for Mike Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge trade is official. I will briefly break down some of the pros and cons of this deal from the Pirates' viewpoint (I will keep it short because I am sure you have already read all of this somewhere in the past 72 hours or so).

We've been talking about what Adam LaRoche could bring to the Pirates' lineup since December, so I won't go into much detail. You know all about the 2006 stats of .285/.354/.561 for a .915 OPS, along with his 32 homeruns and 38 doubles. His bat should relieve much of the pressure on Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez to carry this offense. Personally, I've looked at his statistics so many times in the past two months that it hurts my eyes anytime I pull them up these days. Let's move on.

Jamie Romak is a 20 year-old, 6' 2" 220 lb outfielder that played in single-A last season. He has some decent power potential, with 26 2B and 16 HR in 2006. He put up an interesting .247/.369/.471 line in 2006, good for an OPS of .840. His average was low and he struck out 1 out of every 3.41 at-bats, but 59 walks helped him to a solid OBP. Romak's large frame and high number of doubles should be indications that he will develop more power. He is also from Canada, and Canadian players are known to develop at a later age. With the Pirates' farm system completely lacking any power, this is a solid addition. Romak is not a can't-miss prospect by any means, but he has some upside.

Mike Gonzalez was dominant in 2006. A quick look at his numbers verifies that. But he was no use to the Pirates until they improve in other areas of the team. Also, it is very likely that 2006 was the best season Gonzo will have in the big leagues. Relief pitchers are known to be stars one year, out of a job the next. For every Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner that has had a long successful career as a closer, there are five Derrick Turnbow's, John Rocker's or Danny Kolb's waiting to quickly fall off the face of the earth. Yesterday, just for fun, I took a look at Ricky Bottalico's statistics. Take a look at them when he was at his peak (1996-1997). Now look at the same stats for Mike Gonzalez during his peak years (2005-2006). If you looked at each pitcher's H/9, HR/9, BB/9, K/9, and WHIP for those years, you would find that they look fairly similar. 1997 was the last year that Bottalico was any good. Does this mean anything at all as far as Gonzo's future success? NO NO NO. But it does show that Gonzalez's future is anything but clear. Especially if you factor in his injury history.

Brent Lillibridge was the biggest loss to the Pirates in this trade. In 2006 he went .299/.414/.522 in 74 games with Hickory, then moved up a level to Lynchburg and continued to hit well at .313/.426/.423. His career .858 minor league OPS is very impressive for a shortstop, and he also is considered to be above average defensively. Oh, and he stole 53 bases in 66 attempts in '06. The only negative thing I can say about Lillibridge is that he has been fairly old for the levels he has played at thus far.

All things considered, I feel this is a great trade for the Pirates. It actually is the type of deal that Dave Littlefield has avoided since he has been here. He traded a relief pitcher and a fast middle-infielder. Both players were currently high in value. In return, we received two power hitters. One had a very low AVG, but high OBP and SLG. He traded from positions of depth and received the type of players we desperately needed. This trade was fairly bold, and DL didn't cave and give up the starter that the Braves wanted. He patiently waited until late January and got the deal he wanted. We don't get the chance to say this often, but Dave Littlefield just made a smart move.

Good luck to Mike Gonzalez in Atlanta. I am sorry to see him go, as he was one of my favorite players while he was here. We have all been saying for months now that he needed to be traded this offseason, but that does not mean he wasn't appreciated by Pirate fans. You will be missed, Mike.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Reportedly, the Pirates have acquired Adam LaRoche from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Mike Gonzalez and an unnamed player. There has been no word as of yet on who that additional player is, although KDKA is reporting that it is a minor league pitcher. At this point, this trade appears to be a big win for the Pirates. Check back for additional information as it becomes available.

I am extremely excited right now, but I am trying to contain myself as much as possible. I don't think I could handle another disappointment involving Gonzo and LaRoche.

UPDATE: Charlie is keeping pretty good tabs on the rumors flying around as to exactly who is involved in this trade. He links to the official site, which is reporting the trade as Gonzo for LaRoche, with at least one prospect from each team included. More when I hear it.
UPDATE (7:05 PM): The Beaver County Times is reporting that the trade is Gonzo and minor league shortstop Brent Lillibridge for LaRoche and minor league outfielder Jamie Romak. I will wait for confirmation on this before calling it a fact. Romak is 20 years old, and went .247/.345/.432 in single-A last season. I don't know anything about him, but from his statistics, he looks like he could be a decent prospect.

Monday, January 15, 2007


There is not a thing interesting to talk about, so here's a couple of quick links:

The new edition of Pirates Roundtable is up. This week your favorite Pirate bloggers answered two questions related to the Hall of Fame. The discussion might sound a bit more intelligent this week, because I did not take part. But fear not, I will return. Thanks again to Cory from A New Pirates Generation for his hard work at putting that together.

Also, Pat has written a letter to Bob Nutting. This is very well written and a perfect description of the feelings that an average, dedicated fan of the Pirates has had in recent years. I am going to label it a "Must Read."

Monday, January 08, 2007

Friday, January 05, 2007

Bill Cowher

Bill Cowher has announced his retirement as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bill, you will be missed.

Here is a nice recap of Cowher's 15 seasons with the Steelers.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Top 5 Pirate games

First of all, there is nothing interesting to discuss, outside of Jose Hernandez or Brian Lawrence. Also, I realized I hadn't done an interesting post since...well, ever. Therefore, I bring you the five most memorable Pirate games I have ever attended. Before we get started, I will admit that I used Retrosheet to fill in the details that I could not recall. Also, you may find an update at some point if I recall a game that slipped my mind. Beware, this is pretty long. Anyway, here it is:

5.) Joe Randa and Mark Smith salvage doubleheader against Dodgers with ninth-inning homeruns - August 25, 1997
It had been a lousy evening at the ballpark. The Pirates had been bullied in the opening game of the doubleheader, falling 8-2 and only managing 5 hits. Game 2 was not going much better, as the 9th inning began with the Bucs trailing 3-1. They also had only four hits and had struggled defensively with three errors. The highlight of my night to that point had been Jason Christiansen and company flicking pumpkin seeds at my friend and I, as our seats were next to the bullpen. Todd Worrell came in for the save and walked Eddie Williams. Joe Randa stepped up and lined one sharply to the right-center field gap. Centerfielder Otis Nixon (NOTE: Anyone remember Nixon saving a game for the Braves by robbing Van Slyke of a homerun late in a game?) raced back and leaped against the fence. The ball cleared his glove and the top of the wall by inches and the Pirates had suddenly tied the game. The crowd erupted with the first trace of emotion all game, wildly celebrating. We were still on our feet screaming as Mark Smith stepped in and awaited Worrell's first pitch. The crowd suddenly was shocked into silence, as Smith launched that first delivery a mile into the atmosphere. I couldn't speak, only able to mutter, "Oh my Go..." As a naive 13 year-old boy with a bad angle, I thought Smith had somehow hit the ball out of Three Rivers Stadium. He hadn't. But the ball landed in the first row of the left-field seats, and once again the crowd erupted. A night that had seemed destined for gloom had suddenly been thrust into glory. The Pirates had managed a split of the doubleheader, and a magical season dubbed as the "Freak Show" continued.

4.) Sid Bream hits walk-off homerun in 12th on Richard Caliguri Day - May 6, 1988
Richard Caliguri, who had fought to keep the Pirates in Pittsburgh during his years as mayor in the 1980's, died in early May 1988. The Pirates honored him with a ceremony before this game, and dedicated the remainder of their season to his legacy. I was four at the time, and we arrived late, so I don't recall anything about the pregame ceremony. Nor do I remember much from the actual game. Each team put up a run in the first inning, then did nothing until the bottom of the 12th. After two outs, Andy Van Slyke singled and Bobby Bonilla walked, bringing up Sid Bream. Bream promptly deposited the baseball into the right-field seats for a 4-1 Pirates win. I was too young to really understand the bigger picture of this game, as far as a beloved man's untimely passing and a city in mourning. However, I do remember the pure euphoria of that moment, as a sellout crowd engulfed in sadness was permitted to release its tortured emotions in a joyful manner. This is one of my earliest memories of the Pirates.

3.) Freddy Sanchez continues dream season with walk-off single to lift Pirates over Cubs in 11 innings - August 30, 2006
I admit, this game might be this high because it is so fresh in my memory. Or maybe I am biased because Freddy Sanchez is silly-fantastic. Either way, this game was the highlight of the three walk-off wins I attended in 2006. Fresh off an 11 inning, come-from-behind win against the Cubs the night before, the Pirates looked for the sweep. This was an ugly game as far as pitching goes, with the two teams combining for 19 runs and 40 hits. Take a quick look at the line score and you can see exactly the kind of back and forth game this was. As the Pirates blew a four-run lead and then fell behind by two in the 11th, I began to sink into a deep depression. The kind of depression you can only get by watching the Pirates blow a game on a Wednesday afternoon in August. When you're at the game by yourself. When the Pirates have 20 hits, but only two are for extra bases, and one of those was by Victor Santos. Yeah, that kind of depression. However, my optimistic nature held on to the hope that the Pirates could rally in the bottom of the 11th, even though they had not scored since putting up two in the 5th. Xavier Nady led off and singled to right (still alive). A groundout moved him to second (sigh). Jose Castillo singled to right (yes, JOSE CASTILLO HIT A BALL TO RIGHT FIELD). Nady scored (I sat up a bit in my seat). Humberto Cota pinch hit and singled (what the hell is going on???). It was Cota's second consecutive game with a key pinch hit. Chris Duffy flew out to left (shoulders slump slightly) bringing up Jose Bautista with two outs (Freddy Sanchez is on deck, just get him to the plate!). Bautista walked to load the bases (holy crap, we're going to win! Freddy is up!). Sanchez stepped in with two outs, bases loaded, and the Pirates down by one. Those remaining from a very small crowd were standing, their minds numbed by a 14th consecutive losing season, screaming in support of one of the few heroes they had left. After taking a called strike, Sanchez reached for a pitch and rolled it softly toward first base (heart stops, I am clinically dead for four seconds). Somehow it spun just outside the line for a foul ball. The collective sigh of relief by the 1,000 fans remaining knocked Mike Benjamin off of his feet (why was he on the field?). Sanchez returned to the box and began fighting off pitches. Finally he got the pitch he wanted. It was a slider, well off the outside corner of the plate. Almost a perfect pitch. Almost. Somehow, Sanchez stretched out and poked it over the first baseman's head and down the right-field line. The ball seemed to roll right at me as I stood in section 101, row A. Castillo and Cota scored, the Pirates won, and finished off the sweep. All of the pain from the previous 14 seasons, from the 2006 losses to Liriano and the Twins, to the Diamondbacks, to the Royals, to everyone else, seemed to drain right out of me as I jumped up and down with my hands outstretched to the sky in pure jubilation. These are the games that keep me coming back to the park again and again despite so many painful losses.

2.) Pirates rally with four-run 9th, win in 10th - July 8, 2005
This seemed like your typical Pirates game. The Bucs were down 3-1 before the bullpen faltered, allowing two more runs in the top of the 9th to apparently put the game out of reach. In the bottom of the inning, back-to-back singles after one out kept the hope alive. One out later, Jack Wilson walked to load the bases and bring the tying run to the plate in the form of pinch-hitter Tike Redman. Mets closer Braden Looper came in to face Redman, and an epic battle ensued. Redman fought off numerous pitches in what may be my favorite at-bat of all-time. Finally, he grounded one through the middle for a base hit. Two runs scored, and Redman represented the tying run at first base with Matt Lawton coming to bat. Lawton lined a pitch sharply to left-field, almost right at Cliff Floyd. However, Floyd misplayed the ball. At the last second he lunged for it, but it skipped past him to the wall. The crowd exploded as two runs scored and Lawton cruised into second with a game-tying double. He would be stranded, but the Pirates started up where they left off in the 10th. An error and an intentional walk brought Humberto Cota to the plate with two outs and the winning run at second. Cota ripped one into the left-field corner, and the Pirates improbable comeback was complete.

1.) Kendall's single, Vlad's error give Pirates win in 9th - May 30, 1998
Beach Towel Night is by far the best give-away the Pirates have had in recent years. Every time I have attended, the crowd is electric and the Bucs seem to play extremely well. The opportunity to wave a towel in the air must remind Pittsburghers of the Steelers or something, adding adrenaline. Any way, this game was my first experience at Beach Towel Night. I don't recall much from the major portion of the game. The Pirates entered the 9th inning trailing 7-5. They quickly loaded the bases with one out, putting the tying run at 2nd and the winning run at 1st. This is the point that this becomes my favorite game of all-time. As Jason Kendall walked to the plate, Three Rivers Stadium was the loudest I have ever heard it for a Pirate game. A sellout crowd waved their beach towels hysterically, and I was unable to think because of the deafening noise echoing around me. Kendall gave the fans what they wanted, lining a single into right field. As Tony Womack stormed around 3rd base with the tying run, Vladimir Guerrero fielded the ball and unleashed his powerful arm. To the delight of the crowd, the ball sailed well over the catcher's head and into the stands. This allowed Al Martin to score all the way from first base and the Pirates had won. The noise level grew as a full house celebrated with no restraint. This atmosphere was the best I can remember ever being a part of at a Pirates game, and that is why it tops this list of memorable games.

UPDATE: I promised this would be coming. There are a couple games that I forget while making this list, mostly because I can't recall much about them. I can't even find them on Retrosheet to get the details. The first was a walk-off homerun by Brian Giles at Three Rivers Stadium. Sadly that is all I can recall about this game. I am slipping in my old age. The second was a 15-inning win. I was very young at the time, and remember nothing about the actual game. The significance of this night was, as my dad and I returned to our car with big smiles on our faces, we found that the car was gone and had been replaced by a large pile of broken glass. I did get to ride home in the back of a police car though. Oh good times.

Some links

Just a few quick links:

Cory has been analyzing the Pirates starting rotation with a couple posts the past few days.

Charlie makes some predictions for 2007. It would be funny if it didn't sound so realistic.

Pat gives a more serious outlook for 2007. There is nothing more encouraging here.

Pirates season ticket sales are down. There is no Pittsburgh All-Star Game in 2007, by the way.

Dejan receives some angry mail from readers about the recent signing of Jose Hernandez.

Time for some holiday catching up

It's been over a week since my last post, so let us catch up on some holiday news:

The 2007 Pirates ZIPS projections were released, and they were scary. If these are even close to accurate, the Pirates are going to be in trouble this season.

Aubrey Huff signed with the Baltimore Orioles. I was against the Pirates signing Huff, so I was glad to see this. However, the list of available free agents continues to get shorter and shorter, and the Pirates have yet to address a single need this offseason. Unless DL pulls off a decent trade, 2007 could be a long season.

Pirates Roundtable #6 was posted, and included questions about veteran relievers and Ryan Doumit. Take a look for various opinions on these topics.

Changing gears for a moment, the Steelers finished 2006 with an exciting overtime win over the rival Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs, indeed a very disappointing season. But they finished strong after an absolutely terrible first half, and received the satisfaction of knocking the Bengals out of the playoffs. Greg Easterbrook (aka Tuesday Morning Quarterback) awarded the Bengals the worst play of 2006 for their role in the winning touchdown by Santonio Holmes. Here's hoping Bill Cowher chooses to return for another season in 2007.

The Pirates resigned Jose Hernandez. Don't get me wrong, I am a Jose Hernandez fan. He is a solid 25th guy that has been around the game and can play almost anywhere on the field. But that doesn't help a team with a complete lack of offense. He will only take at-bats away from younger players who need development, and will put up numbers that are mediocre at best. Also, don't let the fact that he was signed to a minor-league contract fool you. Jose Hernandez will without a doubt be on the Pirates opening day roster. I have never been more sure of anything in my life. This signing was absolutely worthless, but not surprising at all.

Dejan reports that the Pirates are interested in free agent pitcher Brian Lawrence. Lawrence was a decent pitcher for the Padres a few years ago, but missed all of 2006 with a severe shoulder injury. Pirates' officials would know more about his health than I do, but I do know that torn rotator cuffs are pretty serious.