Saturday, June 16, 2012

I Am Here to Dismiss a Rumor

You see, Tom Verducci seems to think that the Pittsburgh Pirates aren't terrible. I, like any rational-minded human being, think that's completely and totally false, 33-31 record be damned.

I have this crazy idea, an idea as crazy as believing in Charlie Brown

I mean, is that like, a thing? Most people, even 4-year-olds, feel like Charlie Brown is completely and totally fictional. You totally shoulda gone with something like Santa Claus. Just sayin'.

a balanced budget


the Cleveland Browns 

I guess we're now equating "crazy" with "terrible"

and pro soccer in America

Tom, way to beat 9.4% of America to making this joke.

I am starting to believe the Pittsburgh Pirates are an honest to goodness contender.

Tom, Tom, TOMMMMMMMM. Really? The Pittsburgh Pirates? That team that's 4 games back in a pretty "meh" division and has been outscored by 26 runs? Those Pittsburgh Pirates? Really?

That's right: the Pirates. The team that hasn't had a winning season in Bryce Harper's lifetime, or since Bush the elder was president, Nolan Ryan was pitching and Barry Bonds was skinny. The team that in recent years passed up Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Jered Weaver, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Matt Wieters, Madison Bumgarner, Eric Hosmer and Buster Posey to take Bryan Bullington, Neil Walker, Brad Lincoln, Daniel Moskos and Pedro Alvarez with top-11 picks in the draft.

I'm really proud of you for looking up all of this information. Really, I am. In fact, it's mostly because of everything you just mentioned that your premise is completely and totally terrible and stupid. But I'm a glutton for punishment, so let's press on.

The team that last year was in first place as late as July 25 and wound up with 90 losses

Don't care what happened last year. Don't care.

The team that has scored the fewest runs in baseball this year. 

Uh oh, Tom. That sorta kinda totally completely insinuates that the Pirates have a terrible offense. Which they do.

The team that is the worst hitting team in franchise history (.224) except for the outfit that finished in 11th place in the American Association 128 years ago!

We get it. It's unbelievable for someone to think the Pirates are contenders. That's actually why it's a stupid thing to believe, Tom.

Today those Pirates are tied for first place with Cincinnati in the NL Central with more wins than any of the four 2011 NL playoff teams and the best record in baseball over the past two weeks (12-3). 

Okay, so I confess. This was written a few days ago. But everything he has to say is still stupid. Trust me.

The Pirates are 30-21 since beginning the year 2-6.

Note to self: You're allowed to remove any single 8-game stretch of a season to evaluate how good a baseball team is in mid-June.

It would be easy to dismiss the Pirates as a pretender waiting for the fall -- a reprise of their 2011 season. But Pittsburgh was doomed to fail last year because its pitching staff was a collection of soft-tossing pitchers whose low strikeout rate and high WHIP portended the collapse.

Yes. And now they are doomed to fail because their hitter with the 2nd highest WARP has a .183 batting average and 69 plate appearances. DON'T CALL IT A......collapse.

This year looks very different. The Pirates are striking out 7.41 batters per nine innings, the highest rate in franchise history by a wide margin (7.00 from 1969). Their WHIP has improved from 15th in the league to fourth. In short, the Pirates now have pitchers with stuff.

They are pretty decent at what probably amounts to 40% of playing baseball. They've had good pitching so far. They're also relying on guys like Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett who have chronic relapses of sucking or getting hurt.

A.J. Burnett has found refuge from the AL East with the JV lineups of the NL. Erik Bedard, another veteran happily sprung from the AL, has remained healthy. And James McDonald, courtesy of a wipeout slider discovered at the urging of catcher Rod Barajas in a morning spring training game, is a different pitcher. He just might become the greatest righthanded strikeout pitcher in Pirates history.

I fully buy the James McDonald story. W/R/T the other guys, holllllld your horses a little bit. You wrote this on June 12th. There's very few major league pitchers that survive for a career of at least a few years that don't put up a good 2.5 month stretch now and then. You want to reconsider anything?

Still not convinced this is a different Pirates team from last year? Here are more reasons why Pittsburgh is not collapsing this time:

Ya got me Tommmmm. I'm not convinced. Bring on what you have to say.

The offense isn't as bad as the numbers suggest. The Pirates were historically awful in April and May, but have hit a respectable .257 in June.

Holy shit! Stop the presses! They had 2 historically bad months, but don't worry guys, they sort of hit for an okay BATTING AVERAGE in June! This offense ain't anywhere NEAR as bad as that -0.8 collective WARP makes you think it is!

Neil Walker

0.2 WARP

Garrett Jones

-0.3 WARP

Alex Presley 

-0.3 WARP

and Clint Barmes 

-0.9 WARP

all have awakened to give Andrew McCutchen some help. 

I didn't realize that giving someone the finger and saying, "Fuck you man, we're not gonna help you win shit" qualified as "some help". But I am not as educated as Tom Verducci.

This is still a below-average offense, 

That doesn't cover it. It is a below replacement-level offense.

but Pittsburgh doesn't need as much firepower as most teams because . . .

Goody. This should be good.

The Pirates have a strong homefield advantage. Runs are harder to come by in PNC Park than in any other major league park this season, with teams combining for slightly more than five runs per game.

A statistic not at all attributable to the patheticness of the offense of one of the teams that participates in every single MLB game played at PNC park.

The park plays big in leftfield and left-centerfield, and Hurdle chuckles as opposing hitters try to jack balls over the rightfield wall, which is not as easy a task as it appears. The Pirates have played 18 games at home without hitting a home run and are 9-9 in those games. 


They are 19-6 in home games decided by one or two runs.

This is absurdly lucky.

Pittsburgh's bullpen is ridiculously good, sporting the lowest ERA in baseball (2.44). 

And bullpens are known for how non-fickle they are. I trust this'll last.

Hurdle is proving my theory that many managers are better in their second job (i.e., Terry Francona, Charlie Manuel, Bruce Bochy, Joe Girardi, etc.). Hurdle has been masterful as this team makes the most out of having scored the fewest runs in the majors.

Clint Hurdle honestly probably does deserve some credit, given the circumstances. However, this is pretty easy to overstate, as Verducci is about to prove.

His bullpen usage has been so sharp he has used pitchers three consecutive days only twice.

Genius! All the other managers in the majors use pitchers on three consecutive days on a routine basis!

He twice pulled McDonald from games for a pinch-hitter after just four innings -- and won both games. 

A result that, I am sure, was entirely due to pulling a good starting pitcher after 4 innings.

He has given Barmes and Alvarez three straight days out of the lineup as a "mental break" to snap a slump; each one came back swinging a hot bat.

Wow. That's brilliant. Nothing fluky about that. We found the secret to making Clint Barmes hit well, everyone. Just don't play him for three days.

The manager also has encouraged his players to run the bases aggressively. The Pirates are among the four best teams in the league at taking the extra base.

If they keep their current pace up, that'll be worth....a whole win!

It's difficult to believe that any baseball team in this era could field a losing team 19 years in a row, especially when the Pirates picked no lower than fourth in six consecutive drafts (2006-11). Other than McCutchen, however, they don't have an impact player on the roster.

But...they're contenders, right?

The NL Central champion has won an average of 93 games in the 16 full seasons since realignment, but this is starting to look like one of the five times when only 83-88 wins was enough to take the division. Pittsburgh may not be a playoff team just yet, but can the Pirates win 83 games -- a total that would have them playing meaningful games in September for the first time in a generation? Yes, they can.

You are nuts if you think 83 games is a likely win total for the NL Central division champion.

The Pirates' front office crunched some numbers before the season began and calculated that the expanded postseason format this year (with the second wild card added to each league) improved their playoff chances by 13 percent. 

Which is fascinating, because Baseball Prospectus pegs their current chances at 2.8%. That ain't the say-all-end-all, but they're significantly worse than their record after 2 months.  Trust me, Pirates,  your odds of making the playoffs never came close to 13%.  Forget about "improved by".

Pittsburgh does have a style that allows little room for error. The Pirates' offense is so bad that they must play close, low-scoring games consistently, a style that puts tremendous pressure on their bullpen.

Again, you realize that offense is like 50% of baseball, right? The way you talk about it makes the Pirates' offense sound like it's an inconvenience rather than a serious handicap. There have been teams that have been good at baseball despite bad offenses but none of them were leaning heavily on a pitching staff full of oft-ineffective pitchers without even having a true ace. It is not that difficult to see that the Pirates aren't good. They've done a great job supporting that even in the less-than-a-week since this article was published.

But in this run-depressed era of baseball -- especially in a pitcher's ballpark -- they have a fighting chance as long as their arms stay healthy. 

Said Verducci, apparently oblivious that he's kind of talking about Erik Bedard.

Maybe October in Pittsburgh still belongs to the Steelers alone, the way it has been for 19 years. But can baseball matter again in September in Pittsburgh? It actually seems possible this year.

Tom -- please see the below message from rational people everywhere:



Anonymous said...

A 13% increase in their playoff chances does not necessarily mean that their chances would be 13% or better. If their chances went from 2.8% to 13% that would be a more than 300% increase in their chances.

Anonymous said...

A 13% increase in their playoff chances does not necessarily mean that their chances would be 13% or better. If their chances went from 2.8% to 13% that would be a more than 300% increase in their chances.

Biggus Rickus said...

A 13% increase of zero is still zero.

pnoles said...

I read it the other way. Often, when people are talking about the chance of a thing happening, "increased by" means the percentages are additive.

If it was meant additive, it's ridiculous. If it's multiplicative, it's negligible. Either way, stupid.