Russell’s impact relatively insignificant

Prior to the 2006 season, there was speculation that the Pirates would hire Jim Leyland as their new manager. The team had fired manager Lloyd McClendon near the end of the previous season, and Leyland was known to be interested in returning to the dugout. However, he ended up with Detroit, and Dave Littlefield chose Jim Tracy to lead the Bucs. Many fans were upset with the team for failing to pursue Leyland, and the anger grew as the Tigers reached the World Series in his first season. Meanwhile, Tracy led the Pirates to a 67-95 finish, good for fifth place in the National League Central.
Most pointed to Leyland as being the difference between the 2005 Tigers (71-91) and the 2006 version (95-67, World Series appearance). Some even claimed that the Pirates could have had similar success with Leyland steering the ship. While I would agree that Leyland is a superior manager to Tracy, he was not the most significant difference between the two franchises.
The most significant difference was the talent. The 2006 Tigers had a team ERA of 3.84, tops in Major League Baseball. The team also had a .777 OPS, 11th in the league. The argument can be made that Leyland and his staff had some influence over those statistics, but the reality is that the players were the ones that performed. The Pirates were going to lose 90+ games each of the past two seasons, regardless of who was filling out the lineup card.
That brings us to 2008. Yesterday, the Pirates introduced John Russell as their new manager. It will be Russell’s first opportunity to manage at the Major League level, and some are criticizing the hire due to his lack of experience. These skeptics would have preferred someone with a pedigree, someone that has proven that he can be successful managing at the highest level. They saw it as a cost-cutting maneuver, one that reeks of the McClatchy era that we have grown so accustomed. That assumption might be correct. But is that really a bad thing?
The Pirates are not going to be good in 2008. If the current core is kept together, there is a chance to be mediocre. If we assume that Neal Huntington will begin dealing veterans for prospects in an attempt to rebuild, it might be an extremely long season. Why should the team pay top dollar for an established manager just to potentially win 70 games instead of 67? That is how the Pirates have operated for many years (see Burnitz, Armas, Morris, etc.), and it is something that we hope will be changing with the new regime. Management should be cutting costs, they should be playing for the future, and they should not be concerned with the performance of the team in 2008.
Russell has had success managing in the minor leagues and is respected for his work with young players. I know it sounds suspiciously like a punch line that we have heard repeatedly for 15 years, but the Pirates should be treated like a AAAA team in the next season or two. The main concern should be the motivation and development of younger players. Huntington will have the important task: adding as much talent as possible to the minor league system. Russell’s responsibilities are trivial in comparison.

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Where were the Pirates headed under Dave Littlefield?

It is a widely held belief that the old Pittsburgh regime (Kevin McClatchy, Dave Littlefield, etc.) operated without a plan. This was not entirely true. Their plan was simple: assume the current players on the team would get better as time passed. They were desperately hoping that the team could squeeze out a winning season before the majority of the offense became eligible for free agency after the 2009 season. I thought I would look at some of the Pirates’ PECOTA projections for 2009, and conclude whether this strategy was sensible. (Bryan Smith did a somewhat similar analysis in September, examining what the 2010 Pirates might look like.)
Go here for a description of the PECOTA projection system by Baseball Prospectus (BP). Note that these projections are the most recent available, made before the 2007 season. There will be variations based on additional factors, such as each player’s performance this past season (for example, Jason Bay will likely project lower in the next forecast, and Jack Wilson should be a bit better). I chose the current players that would likely make up the starting lineup in 2009 if no changes are made, and I did not consider prospects for this purpose. Here are BP’s projections for your 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates (AVG/OBP/SLG), along with position and age in that season:
Ronny Paulino C 28 – .283/.344/.443
Adam LaRoche 1B 29 – .278/.353/.513
Freddy Sanchez 2B 31 – .295/.340/.418
Jack Wilson SS 31 – .275/.319/.388
Jose Bautista 3B 28 – .253/.334/.439
Jason Bay LF 30 – .285/.387/.542
Nate McLouth CF 27 – .288/.347/.451
Xavier Nady RF 30 – .281/.338/.467
I plugged those numbers into Baseball Musings’ Lineup Analysis tool (using a lineup of McLouth, Sanchez, Bay, LaRoche, Nady, Bautista, Paulino and Wilson, and adding the National League’s 2007 average pitcher stats to the ninth spot) to find the expected run output. I came up with 4.77 runs per game, or .3 runs better than the team average of 4.47 runs per game in 2007. Over 162 games, that would come out to 772 total runs, 48 more than the 724 the team scored this past season.
The Pirates allowed 846 runs this past season. Even if the pitching and defense improved to allow 800 runs in 2009, the team’s expected win-loss record would still only be 78-83. Yes, the Pirates’ run of losing seasons could end with a little luck. However, we would be forced to rebuild at that point due to free agency. In addition, the most valuable position players on the team (Bay, Sanchez, LaRoche, Nady, Wilson, etc.) will likely have seen their worth decrease. In essence, we would be accepting several more years of ineptitude in exchange for the possibility of being average for one year. As much as I want to see respectable performance immediately, I can be patient if there is the chance for excellence a few years down the road.
The Pirates need to rebuild the offense in hopes of having impact talent reaching the Major League team as their quality young pitchers (Snell, Gorzelanny, Maholm, Capps) are peaking in a few years. With new management, there at least is hope that this might happen. That hope is something we did not have six months ago.

Pirates Reportedly Pick Coonelly for Club CEO

According to Ken Rosenthal on FOX’s Saturday baseball broadcast, Bob Nutting and the Pirates have decided on Frank Coonelly to fill their chief executive vacancy.
Coonelly currently serves as Major League Baseball’s chief labor council. Earlier this year, he was considered the 12th most influential man in baseball in a list compiled by USA Today:

Coonelly, who began working with MLB in 1998, has little visibility in comparison to other MLB executives. He is part of the negotiating team for the collective-bargaining agreements with both the players union and the umpires. He is also responsible for coordinating offers of arbitration, bonuses paid to draft picks (which are “slotted” by MLB according to when the players are selected) and other financial matters.

Yesterday, Nutting had this to say about his front office openings in an interview with Lanny Frattare:

Frattare: Now you said “candidates,” that’s to say then that you’re going to hire a president and a general manager?
Nutting: Well, I was talking about candidates for GM but absolutely, one thing that I have learned in the search process for the president—Kevin McClatchy’s role—is that there are two very distinct skill sets that we need; one for the general manager —single-minded focus on the baseball operation, and then a second person, the president, who has overall responsibility—needs to be grounded in the fundamentals of baseball but doesn’t have the day-to-day focus for making the moves that the general manager is charged with.

Coonelly presumably would assume that second role as team president.
UPDATE: More on Coonelly …

  • “Frank Coonelly may be the most powerful person in baseball you’ve never heard of.” – Bronx Banter
  • “Through the continued supervision of MLB senior vice president of labor relations Frank Coonelly, the average first-round bonus, which had increased at a rate of around 30 percent annually in the 1990s, has leveled off the last three years.” – Baseball America, June 2005
  • Coonelly represented the Pirates when Jody Gerut filed a grievance over his knee injury. – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

UPDATE (4:15): The news is posted on FOXSports.com:

The Pirates’ firing of GM Dave Littlefield was a precursor to their next move—the hiring of Frank Coonelly as their new CEO, according to major-league sources.
Coonelly is Major League Baseball’s chief labor counsel, and draws high marks for his intelligence, with one executive describing him as a “phenomenal” choice.

Thanks to Geeves for help with research on this one.

Posted in 2007 Pittsburgh Pirates, AAAPittsburgh Pirates Management, Frank Coonelly, Kevin McClatchy, Nutting Family. Comments Off on Pirates Reportedly Pick Coonelly for Club CEO

Pirates Reportedly Pick Coonelly for Club CEO

According to Ken Rosenthal on FOX’s Saturday baseball broadcast, Bob Nutting and the Pirates have decided on Frank Coonelly to fill their chief executive vacancy.
Coonelly currently serves as Major League Baseball’s chief labor council. Earlier this year, he was considered the 12th most influential man in baseball in a list compiled by USA Today:

Coonelly, who began working with MLB in 1998, has little visibility in comparison to other MLB executives. He is part of the negotiating team for the collective-bargaining agreements with both the players union and the umpires. He is also responsible for coordinating offers of arbitration, bonuses paid to draft picks (which are “slotted” by MLB according to when the players are selected) and other financial matters.

Yesterday, Nutting had this to say about his front office openings in an interview with Lanny Frattare:

Frattare: Now you said “candidates,” that’s to say then that you’re going to hire a president and a general manager?
Nutting: Well, I was talking about candidates for GM but absolutely, one thing that I have learned in the search process for the president—Kevin McClatchy’s role—is that there are two very distinct skill sets that we need; one for the general manager —single-minded focus on the baseball operation, and then a second person, the president, who has overall responsibility—needs to be grounded in the fundamentals of baseball but doesn’t have the day-to-day focus for making the moves that the general manager is charged with.

Coonelly presumably would assume that second role as team president.
UPDATE: More on Coonelly …

  • “Frank Coonelly may be the most powerful person in baseball you’ve never heard of.” – Bronx Banter
  • “Through the continued supervision of MLB senior vice president of labor relations Frank Coonelly, the average first-round bonus, which had increased at a rate of around 30 percent annually in the 1990s, has leveled off the last three years.” – Baseball America, June 2005
  • Coonelly represented the Pirates when Jody Gerut filed a grievance over his knee injury. – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

UPDATE (4:15): The news is posted on FOXSports.com:

The Pirates’ firing of GM Dave Littlefield was a precursor to their next move—the hiring of Frank Coonelly as their new CEO, according to major-league sources.
Coonelly is Major League Baseball’s chief labor counsel, and draws high marks for his intelligence, with one executive describing him as a “phenomenal” choice.

Thanks to Geeves for help with research on this one.

Posted in 2007 Pittsburgh Pirates, AAAPittsburgh Pirates Management, Frank Coonelly, Kevin McClatchy, Nutting Family. Comments Off on Pirates Reportedly Pick Coonelly for Club CEO

Dave’s Gone, but How Much was REALLY His Fault?

[Cory’s note: Be sure to check out Tony’s work at The Confluence of the Three Rivers and The Steel Tradition, MVN’s Penguins and Steelers coverage, respectively.]
Thanks to Cory and Randy for allowing me to get back up on the Buccos’ soapbox for this post.
I’ll be the first one to admit, I was screaming for Dave Littlefield’s head not even two years after he was hired as the Pirates’ General Manager. By that time, in 2003, the Bucs’ string of losing seasons had reached double digits. I was screaming just about as loud as I was for Lloyd McClendon’s head.
But now that both McClendon and Littlefield are gone, and the losing streak will soon reach 15 years, I took some time to take a couple steps back to reflect.
Was Dave Littlefield that horrible of a General Manager, or is he now looking for a new job because he was handcuffed for six years ??
Before I go any further, let me be absolutely clear; I’m not saying Littlefield should have been retained, I’m just throwing this out as a discussion topic.
First and foremost, let’s all not lose focus on the economics of baseball, combined with the penny pinching ownership of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and how that ruined any chances the Pirates had to consistently win on an annual basis even before Spring Training began.
Major League Baseball can work in small market cities, if you run your franchise efficiently. The popular franchises to look at are Minnesota and Oakland. Well yes, that may be true, but Oakland sure as hell had to let Zito, Mulder, and Hudson go to free agency and/or trades, didn’t they ?? The franchise I look at nowadays is Milwaukee. Look at their starting lineup and see how many of their starters are homegrown as draft picks. Damn near the whole lot of position players; Fielder, Weeks, Hardy, Braun, Jenkins, Hall, and Hart. The only current starting position player not drafted by the Brewers is Johnny Estrada.
The Pirates used to have some decent homegrown players. Jason Kendall was a good catcher, although he turned into a singles hitter. Aramis Ramirez, although a very mediocre fielder, was blossoming into the power-hitting third baseman the Pirates still are looking for to this day. But the Bucs gave Kendall a $60 million contract, soon realized that he was eating a huge chunk of their self-imposed salary cap, and tried for two years to trade him, finally doing so in ’04 for Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes, who were gone themselves soon after. The Ramirez trade of ’03 was a cash dump with a capital “D”, quite possibly the low point for the Bucs since Francisco Cabrera’s slap hit in the ’92 NLCS Game 7. The Bucs got a bucket of warm spit in that deal.
The Pirates had to trade Kendall, and Ramirez, and Giles, and Schmidt. That’s why, in my view, it’s so difficult to give Dave Littlefield an honest assessment. Because, to be fair, we have no idea what restrictions were ever imposed on Littlefield by the Nuttings and/or McClatchy.
The Pirates haven’t had a top tier free agent come to Pittsburgh in a long, long time. Part of that certainly is attributed to the fact that no one realistically wants to go to a team that is a perennial loser. But the other part without a doubt is that there is no way that Pirates ownership was going to be offering prospective free agents close to the money that other teams could easily afford.
Was that Dave Littlefield’s fault ?? Maybe, maybe not.
The Pirates’ record in the MLB draft has been absolutely horrible. Nearly a yearly visit to Dr. James Andrews for Tommy John surgery for a top Pirates draft pick pitcher. Year after year of passing up now-MLB regulars in lieu of failed prospects. Completely ignoring any scouting in Latin America. This past draft, the real possibility that the Bucs purposely passed on the top prospects in the entire draft in order to not pay the multi-million dollar signing bonuses that those players would demand.
Was that Dave Littlefield’s fault ?? Overall, yes he was responsible, and the overall draft results still should have been much better. But if ownership dictates beforehand that the top prospects be passed over, how many of those draft picks really make the big club anyway ??
There were certainly the blunders though.
The 2003 MLB Rule 5 draft was one of the worst sets of transactions that I can ever remember as a baseball fan. Losing Chris Shelton, Rich Thompson, Jeff Bennett, Frank Brooks, and Jose Bautista with the first five picks of the draft made Littlefield the laughing stock of MLB.
The one aspect of Littlefield’s tenure that I cannot cut him any slack over is in reference to the trades and the player releases that happened during his watch. Yes, there have been some quite good trades. Bay/Perez for Giles looks great now, although it looks like the Pirates gave up on Perez too soon. The trade for both Sanchez and Gonzalez in ’03 from Boston was a good one as well.
But boy, were there the bad ones. MLB Trade Rumors has a comprehensive list of some of the worst trades. Jason Schmidt to the Giants for Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong. Chris Young, now one of the better arms in the National League with the Padres, was traded for Matt Herges, who didn’t even make the team out of spring training the following year. We already talked about the Ramirez trade for a bag of balls. Trading Gary Matthews, Jr. for cash. Releasing Bronson Arroyo.
Moreover, it became clear that Littlefield had lost any credibility with his General Manager colleagues. He became notorious for asking way too much in his trade negotiations, it had been widely reported at nearly every trade deadline and every winter meeting.
And so, the Pirates housecleaning continues. By the time this year’s winter meetings commence, they should have a new President, a new General Manager, and maybe a new Manager.
Dave Littlefield’s track record left little doubt that he did not deserve to be retained as the Pirates GM.
But unless Bob Nutting, or perhaps Kevin McClatchy, ever have revelations, let the cat out of the bag and tell Pirate fans just how tight the leash was around Littlefield’s neck for his various transactions, in my view anyway, the book on his tenure will never be quite closed.
Until we ever find that out, as the Tootsie Pop commercial used to say, “the world may never know.”

Pirate CEO Talk Makes for Good Blog Entertainment

I think we’re all painfully aware of just how critical the Pirates’ hiring of a new chief executive is to the long-term well-being of the franchise. The results of the next decade of seasons could very well be directly tied to this one front office move. Pick the wrong guy to steer the ship and a perennial loser is indefinitely shipwrecked.
In a yet to be released interview for Sports Weekly, I chimed in with my $.02 on the issue:

SW: If you bought [the Pirates], who would you fire first?
CH: Ed Creech, the Pirates’ scouting director: We haven’t had a solid draft in the entirety of Dave Littlefield’s reign as general manager, and the farm system is hurting as a result. But Brian Graham, director of player development, and Littlefield himself would be able to join Creech on the first plane out of town.
SW: Since you probably can’t buy the team, who should?
CH: I’m not convinced that we need new ownership just yet. Bob Nutting, who became the public face of the team within the past year, hasn’t made any horrible decisions. As long as he hires a legitimate “baseball man” to serve as the Pirates’ new chief executive—as he said he is the plan—I’m willing to give him a little rope.
The popular answer to this question would be Pittsburgh native Mark Cuban, but I’m not sure the Pirates would be able to support a free-spending owner. Nutting’s every move is calculated, and if he surrounds himself with the right people, he could be the right man for this team. You don’t need a $100 million payroll to put together a contender.

Notice how I don’t name names—nor have I even broached the subject in any depth on this blog. Who’s the right man for the job? I haven’t a clue. I’ve done my fair share of research as headlines are made, but I won’t claim to have a thorough enough knowledge of baseball’s inner workings to pick one candidate out of what must be a stack of dozens of legitimate resumes.
Recently, John Perrotto wrote in the Beaver County Times that he supported Pittsburgher Tony LaCava—currently Toronto’s director of player personnel—in the political race for the Pirates’ front office vacancy.
Two days beforehand, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Paul Meyer discussed Nutting’s process for the search. Previously the P-G had also mentioned Dan Duquette as a CEO possibility.
This much is known:

  • “I would be surprised if baseball people don’t [recognize the name of] the final successful candidate,” Nutting said.
  • “What I’ve learned and decided is, we want to have a single person who will be an overall team president with full responsibility for the club,” Nutting said.

Past that, we’re in the dark. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we stay that way until Nutting makes his decision. Once he does, I’ll pay him his due—that is, so long as he chooses an individual who possesses the skill—and is given the authority—to productively hire and fire at will.
If you’re interested in reading a little more about what my Pirate blog colleagues have to say about the potential candidates, check out this handful of links. I think I’m going to stay out of what’s turning into a soap opera:

I’ll say this much: Any executive with a baseball background will be a serious upgrade over our current operation. With much respect for McClatchy’s business savvy, it’s of unspeakable importance that Nutting chooses to bring aboard someone who knows how the game works.
Duquette, LaCava, Walt Jocketty: I imagine I’d be satisfied with anyone along those lines, though I don’t doubt there’s an appreciable difference even between the baseball candidates. But as long as we don’t have a newspaperman trying to learn the sporting world on the fly—or acting as another schill in an effort to make a quick buck—I’ll consider the hiring to be a step in a positive direction.
After that, we can start to talk about the futures of Dave Littlefield and Jim Tracy…

Heads Will Roll: McClatchy to Step Down

Hat tip to Tony Ferrante of The Confluence of the Three Rivers and The Steel Tradition on this one.
As Dejan Kovacevic just published in the Post-Gazette, “Kevin McClatchy will step down as the Pirates’ chief executive officer at the end of this season, the team will announce later today.”
From Wikipedia:

Kevin McClatchy was the leader and plurality investor in a group that paid $95 million for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1996. McClatchy immediately assumed the posts of chief executive officer and managing general partner, which are the offices traditionally staffed directly by owners in Major League Baseball.
McClatchy is a member of Major League Baseball’s executive council and the labor and international committees. At some point, which is not entirely known because the Pirates are a private corporation, G. Ogden Nutting and his family became the plurality and then majority owners in the franchise. Bob Nutting, Ogden’s son, is now chairman of the board. The Nuttings, however, have consistently shied from the spotlight and allowed McClatchy to be the main or even sole voice of the ownership group.

Kevin McClatchy also serves as a director for The McClatchy Company, a publishing group owned by his family.
I have yet to read anywhere that McClatchy will be selling his minority stake in the club.
EDIT, 10:50:
McClatchy published this open letter on Pirates.com:

Dear Pirates Fans:
Today I announced that I will be stepping down as the Chief Executive Officer of the Pittsburgh Pirates at the end of the 2007 season.
A decision of this personal and professional magnitude is not something you make overnight. It was something Bob Nutting and I have discussed even before the change of control took place in January, and something I decided upon a few months ago. It is a difficult decision, but I felt the time was right to step down as the day-to-day leader of this franchise so the organization can move forward with a fresh leadership perspective. …

The team’s press release is available here.
EDIT, 11:10:
So, what does this mean?
It’s hard to imagine this move being a step in the wrong direction. The McClatchy-era Pirates have had little success, save 1997’s “Freak Show” team, and few would rate his stint with the organization as being productive. From day one we heard about the team’s commitment to winning, but so far it’s been too much talk and too few results.
Much will be said when the new chief executive officer is named. Bob Nutting has emphasized his desire to win, but it doesn’t seem as if he’s been interested in having much of an impact on the day-to-day operation of the ballclub. Perhaps, as McClatchy implied, that was done purposefully—Nutting may have asked for a season to get his feet wet, so to speak. Hopefully, though, he’ll choose to bring in more of a “baseball man” to call the shots.
It should be noted that the contracts of both Jim Tracy and David Littlefield expire after the 2008 season. Their future with the team should be made known sooner rather than later.