Game #102: Herrera Wins His First

PNC Park | 7:05 | Herrera vs. Clay Hensley | Box
Don’t know if this game is a blip on the radar or the start of a beautiful relationship. If it is only a one night stand, it was a fantastic night. Yoslan Herrera allowed just six singles and one walk over six innings while holding San Diego scoreless. That effort earned him his first ML win.
The Pirates offense continued it’s recent frenetic activity. The Bucs clouted three dingers and scored nine runs. Clay Hensley was tagged for six runs in five innings. The Pirates scored a pair in the first. Jason Bay and Xavier Nady hit solo homers in the fourth to make it 4-0. Two more runs were tacked on in the sixth before San Diego got to reliever Denny Bautista for a run in the 8th. The Pirates got their final three runs in the bottom of the 8th. Two of those came from a two run blast from Nate McLouth.
Freddy Sanchez had two more hits. Herrera’s game score was 63. Combined in 62 starts last year, Tony Armas, Zach Duke, Matt Morris, Shane Youman and John Van Benschoten had just four starts that were better than 63.
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Bucs Retreads Find Shelter Elsewhere, Thankfully

It hasn’t been a busy off-season for the Pirates regarding their on-field personnel. But a handful of ex-Buccos have found their way off the scrap heap and into Spring Training invitations.
The Nationals signed a slew of players, including Humberto Cota and Yurendell DeCaster. I wondered out loud several months ago when the Pirates shipped Cota to Indy whether he’d be back. I’m sure DeCaster isn’t mad that the Nats press release on the massive signing has his last name misspelled (de Caster). Rather, I’m sure he’s pleased that he’ll spend at least part of March in sunny Florida.
As noted elsewhere, Shane Youman was waived and then picked up by the Phillies. I wish him well. The Pirates could’ve had someone much worse than Youman make 8 starts in 2007.
Finally, Jason Kendall has hooked on with another NL Central team, the Brewers. As everybody knows, Kendall has no power to speak of and probably has little left in his tank, thanks in part to chronic overuse. But if he can get on base at a .362 clip like he did with the Cubs, that’s not bad. Not that he’s worth the $4.25 million Milwaukee is paying him. In the three years since Kendall left, Bucs catcher have compiled a .300 (in 2005), .330 (in 2006) and .325 (in 2007) OPS as a group. Putrid, paltry and pathetic.

Posted in Humberto Cota, Shane Youman. Comments Off on Bucs Retreads Find Shelter Elsewhere, Thankfully

Josh Fogg and Paul Byrd are valuable commodities

As Randy noted Monday, “post-season hero” Josh Fogg made over $3.5 million in 2007. Paul Byrd, an indefatigable veteran presence in the middle of Cleveland’s rotation, earned $7 million. Combined, Fogg and Byrd won 25 games and put up an ERA near 4.75. That’s a lot of cash for less-than-ace production.
This off-season, the Pirates’ wish list isn’t altogether different from 2006’s: We’re still looking for that right-handed flamethrower to anchor the rotation.
Last hot stove, Dave Littlefield passed on the likes of Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver in favor of picking up Tony Armas. What do Suppan, Weaver, Armas, Fogg and Byrd all have in common?
Their best days are behind them.
All the same, Littlefield acquired another re-tread, Matt Morris, at the trade deadline—much to the dismay of Pirate nation. Morris’ second-half stats would lead you to believe that the fans’ remorse isn’t unwarranted; he doesn’t put out much production for the $10 million we’re paying him.
But it seems as if every decent team has a Fogg, or a Byrd, or a Morris; they’re sturdy arms who pitch consistently. And as Batter’s Box Interactive Magazine recently concluded, a pitcher who takes the ball every fifth day is a valuable commodity.
Working with a premise not altogether different from a series of posts Jeff Sackmann wrote last winter (which I toyed with here), Batter’s Box figured that rotations run more than five deep—a concept Pirate fans should be familiar with. It’d be swell if Duke, Snell, Gorzelanny, Maholm and Armas gave us 34 starts and 200 innings each, but arms break, pitchers are ineffective and replacements must be found.
Batter’s Box’ post, “The Original 5 and the Replacements” dealt with what happens when teams inevitably have to use sixth, seventh or eighth starters throughout the course of the season.
The Pirates actually fared fairly well in 2007; their 127 starts made by the opening day rotation finished 11th in baseball. Zach Duke (19), Ian Snell (32), Tom Gorzelanny (32), Paul Maholm (29) and Tony Armas (15) laid a solid foundation for the Bucs to work from.
It’s what happened with the last 35 starts that made the difference; Morris (11), John Van Benschoten (9), Shane Youman (8), Shawn Chacon (4) and Bryan Bullington (3) were less than impressive on the hill. That second-string quintet went 6-20 with a 6.95 ERA. For comparison’s sake, the Pirates’ “original five”—the rotation as penciled in on April 1—went 40-50 with a 4.58 ERA. The drop-off in ERA was fifth worst in MLB (better than only the Padres, Giants, Phillies and Reds).
As Randy implied, another Josh Fogg-like arm would’ve been nice to have lying around. Plug him into that 35-start void and you give the offense a chance to win ballgames on a nightly basis.
In a rebuilding phase like 2008 should be, stability isn’t as important; the final win-loss record won’t matter much, and you can afford to experiment with younger options. But when you have a wide-open Central in 2007 and all you need is to be average to have a shot … well, the difference between Fogg and Van Benschoten is noticed.
That being said, teaming the up-and-coming right-handed pitcher we’ll acquire when Jason Bay is traded with Snell, Gorzelanny and Maholm will do wonders for our rotation. Having 120 starts made by four quality youngsters will give us a shot at competing in 2009 or 2010.

Posted in Bryan Bullington, Ian Snell, John Van Benschoten, Matt Morris, Paul Maholm, Shane Youman, Shawn Chacon, Tom Gorzelanny, Tony Armas, Jr., Zach Duke. Comments Off on Josh Fogg and Paul Byrd are valuable commodities

Game #152 at San Diego

Petco Park | 10:05 | Snell vs. Chris Young | Box
Matt Capps has been pretty reliable this season. Not so much tonight. Nursing a one run lead, Capps was brought in with two down in the 8th and the tying run on third in the person for former Bucco farmhand Craig Stansberry. Capps whiffed Morgan Ensberg to end the inning. But he ran into trouble in the 9th. Adrian Gonzalez doubled with one gone. One out later, Kevin Kouzmanoff walked on a full count. Scott Hairston delivered a walk-off three run bomb.
It looked dicey early on. The Bucs actually got to (kind of) Chris Young. Nyjer Morgan led off the game with a triple and scored on a sac fly from Nate McLouth. Ian Snell allowed a lead off double to Brian Giles. One out later Giles moved up on a passed ball and Mike Cameron walked and stole second. Gonzalez singled in both of them.
The Pirates took back the lead on an RBI double by McLouth and a SF from Freddy Sanchez. And that was it. The Bucs had runners on second and third with one out in the fifth, but Young retired Sanchez and Adam LaRoche without any damage.
Snell went seven innings and allowed just one earned run. He struck out five, walked two and allowed four hits. Young had a similar line. Five walks and two K’s but in six innings of work with three earnies.
The Bucs have dropped five in a row. Does it matter? No, not really.
Speaking of Stansberry, here’s a nice piece on him from OregonLive.com. Note that the Beavers manager is former Pirate first round pick Rich Renteria. Only now he goes by Rick Renteria.
Recaps
AP recap at Yahoo! Sports
Padres Official Site
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Stock of Sanchez, Wilson is rising in Pittsburgh

About a month ago, I tried to create an organizational depth chart of sorts using a tiering system that’s popular at fantasy sports sites like Seamless Baseball and Bruno Boys. In separating the Pirates into distinct levels, you can get a feel of how I think players are (or should be) regarded by the Pirates. The result is basically a “who’s who” of our roster as of the moment the post publishes.
The first edition (published on 8/14) was received fairly well, so I’m back for a second round. Previous rankings are in brackets: Something like [1-2] would correspond to a player ranked in the first tier, second overall. Last time there were only five tiers—this time there are six. Players in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Altoona were considered in the rankings.
A lot has changed since August…
Tier 1
1. [1-1] Jason Bay, MLB, lf
2. [1-2] Tom Gorzelanny, MLB, sp
3. [1-3] Andrew McCutchen, AAA, cf
4. [2-6] Freddy Sanchez, MLB, 2b
5. [1-4] Ian Snell, MLB, sp
The biggest mover is Freddy Sanchez, who’s hitting .327/.377/.533 since the All-Star break. Ten of his 11 home runs came in July and August. He’s come back to earth a bit in September—hitting only .304—but his steady bat and glove have earned the respect of new team president Frank Coonelly, who said a top priority this off-season will be inking Freddy to a multi-year deal.
Jason Bay has an OPS of just .756, but without a doubt he’s still the most valuable Pirate. In a down year he’ll hit close to 25 HR and 90 RBI. He’s been miserable since May, but he has a proven track record, is on the right side of 30 and is still under the team’s control for two more years.
Tom Gorzelanny‘s push for 15 wins has been well documented—Jim Tracy went so far as to say with more run support and a better bullpen, Gorzelanny would be under consideration for a Cy Young award.
Andrew McCutchen earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis and is a lock to be the Indians’ opening day center fielder in 2008. Even after a slow start to 2008, McCutchen is still the Pirates’ top prospect by a fair margin.
Ian Snell‘s second-half numbers (2-7, 5.40 ERA) pale in comparison to those from his first half (7-5, 2.93), but he’s a key piece of the Pirates’ staff and would be in the upper half of any MLB team’s rotation.
Tier 2
6. [2-8] Adam LaRoche, MLB, 1b
7. [2-9] Xavier Nady, MLB, of
8. [2-5] Steve Pearce, MLB, 1b/of
9. [2-10] Matt Capps, MLB, rp
10. [2-7] Neil Walker, AAA, 3b
11. [2-11] Paul Maholm, MLB, sp
12. [3-17] Jack Wilson, MLB, ss
The second tier got a lot more interesting with the continued success of LaRoche, Nady and Pearce, the promotion of Neil Walker to Indy and the unreal hot streak of Jack Wilson.
Management will have a decision to make, as Pearce is pushing for playing time in 2008. There are four players—Bay, LaRoche, Nady and Pearce—competing for three starting jobs.
Matt Capps is still the quiet workhorse he proved to be in 2006. Through 72 games and 75 innings, he’s struck out 59, walked 15 and compiled an ERA of 2.04. In the second half, his ERA is 1.40.
Wilson is hitting .357/.408/.573 since the All-Star break. His average for the season is .295. If he’s traded, the Pirates are conceding 2008—you can’t convince me that Brian Bixler or Cesar Izturis will give you anywhere near his production. Wilson’s contract seems affordable at this point.
Tier 3
13. [3-16] Jose Bautista, MLB, 3b
14. [3-18] Ronny Paulino, MLB, c
15. [3-14] Matt Morris, MLB, sp
16. [3-15] Damaso Marte, MLB, rp
17. [4-32] Nate McLouth, MLB, of
18. [2-12] Zach Duke, MLB, sp
19. [4-28] Nyjer Morgan, MLB, cf
20. [5-UR] John Grabow, MLB, rp
21. [5-UR] Romulo Sanchez, MLB, rp
22. [3-21] Jesse Chavez, AAA, rp
This is where the tiering starts to get a little messy: I generally classified this group as those players who should contribute in 2008, but not in a significant way. Bautista and Paulino would be serviceable as starters but fantastic backups; Morris and Duke, if pitching as they know how, would form a nice tandem at the back of the rotation.
I’m comfortable with neither Nate McLouth nor Nyjer Morgan in center field every day if the Pirates are looking to compete in 2008. A fourth outfielder who can play all three positions and who can hit from the right side of the plate would be a nice complementary piece to add to the mix.
Marte, Grabow, Sanchez and Chavez should be in next year’s bullpen. If you add a strong right-handed setup main (such as Salomon Torres circa 2006), the Pirates’ relief corps could be a strength of the team.
Tier 4
23. [3-13] Ryan Doumit, MLB, utility
24. [3-20] Brian Bixler, AAA, ss
25. [3-19] Salomon Torres, MLB, rp
26. [3-22] Jason Delaney, AA, 1b/of
27. [4-23] Josh Phelps, MLB, utility
28. [4-36] Franquelis Osoria, MLB, rp
29. [4-24] Shane Youman, MLB, rp
30. [4-25] John Van Benschoten, MLB, sp
31. [5-UR] Juan Perez, AAA, rp
32. [4-26] Bryan Bullington, MLB, sp
Bixler tanked in the second half of the season with Indy. If I’m in charge, he’s repeating Triple-A, with a mid-season call-up a strong possibility.
Salomon Torres needs to prove he can stay healthy. If he can’t separate himself from the pack, he’s competing with Sanchez, Chavez and Osoria for three spots in my bullpen. I might go with the kids just to save a buck.
The emergence of Pearce has caused a significant drop in the playing time given to Josh Phelps. This winter needs to be spent learning a new position—third base or left field—and mastering catcher and first base if he wants to stick with the Pirates. Doing so would give Phelps two edges over Doumit: more defensive versatility and an ability to stay healthy.
Tier 5
33. [5-UR] Brian Rogers, AAA, rp
34. [5-UR] Josh Sharpless, AAA, rp
35. [5-UR] Jonah Bayliss, AAA, rp
36. [4-29] Chris Duffy, MLB-DL, cf
37. [4-34] Cesar Izturis, MLB, utility
38. [5-UR] Shawn Chacon, MLB, rp
39. [4-30] Sean Burnett, AAA, sp
40. [4-33] Jose Castillo, MLB, utility
41. [4-35] Brad Eldred, AAA, 1b/of
42. [5-UR] Dave Davidson, MLB, rp
43. [new] Carlos Maldonado, MLB, c
44. [new] Matt Kata, MLB, utility
The fact that Rogers, Sharpless and Bayliss are not with the Pirates right now speaks volumes about how they’re regarded by Jim Tracy and Brian Graham. Duffy, Izturis and Castillo could win bench spots with the Pirates, but the more likely scenario has them opening 2008 wearing different uniforms. No one here is worth much, but there’s one commonality: All have spent time in the show but are fighting to get re-established.
Tier 6
45. [new] Matt Peterson, AA, rp
46. [4-31] Todd Redmond, AA, sp
47. [4-27] Yoslan Herrera, AA, sp
48. [new] Brad Corley, AA, of
49. [new] Jamie Romak, AA, of
50. [4-37] Justin Vaclavik, AA, rp
51. [5-UR] Josh Shortslef, AA, sp
52. [5-UR] Tony Armas, MLB, sp
The late-season call-ups robbed Altoona of its impressive core, but quasi-prospects Redmond, Corley and Romak were given a chance to show what they can do. We’ll know more about them after winter ball and a couple month’s of play next season.
Peterson‘s old, but he dominated as the Curve’s closer. That he only spent a few innings with Indianapolis is a cause for concern.
Tony Armas is a certainty to be bought out at year’s end, so he’s fallen to the bottom of the chart. By next edition, he’ll be off it completely.

Pirate Roster: What Can Coonelly, New GM Do?

I think there have been enough words written discussing the hiring of Frank Coonelly as president and dissecting his announced philosophies that I can skip out on posting about that stuff here.
If you haven’t already done so, check out this five-minute video clip at the Post-Gazette, this article about the search for a new general manager and the open letter Coonelly wrote to Pirate fans. There’s a bio available, too, but I think we’ve been over most of that.
From those sources, you get a good understanding of what Coonelly says he wants to do in Pittsburgh. No sense in my attempting to rehash any of that when you can go straight to the horse’s mouth.
Rather than put Coonelly’s words under the microscope, let’s consider the hand he’s been dealt and his possible actions. Speculating about what we’d do in his shoes is infinitely more palatable than attempting to determine if this was an acceptable hire before the Pirates have even finished engraving his nameplate.
From where I’m sitting, there are distinct decisions to be made in five areas:
1. A new general manager
2. The glut of first baseman and corner outfielders
3. The long-term futures of Bay, LaRoche, Sanchez and/or Nady
4. Aligning the farm for most efficient returns
5. Piecing together a pitching staff
What Coonelly and his hired help do with this quintet of question marks could determine the fate of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club for the next decade.
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Game #135 at Milwaukee

Miller Park | 8:05 | Youman vs. Dave Bush | Box
Well, it’s a new month and the song remains the same. Shane Youman was bombed for eight runs in two innings. Juan Perez gave up three runs (including two homers) in two innings and Milwaukee rolled behind Dave Bush’s strong six inning performance (one run, four hits, five whiffs).
If the tune is to be changed, Steve Pearce’s hand might well be the one pushing the buttons on the juke box. Pearce made his ML debut and had two hits. Bill Hall robbed him of a third. Nyjer Morgan also collected his first hit in his first AB.
Recaps
AP recap at Yahoo! Sports
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