Saturday, April 4, 2009

Pirate Preview!!!

I am continually surprised at how the world works. For example, here we are on the precipice of one of the most remarkable and cherished records of sports—the all-time franchise consecutive loss record—and people go about their lives "same as it ever was." Even more baffling is the tripe that gets passed off as Pirate Baseball coverage. Every year we hear about the "new, and improved" club house spirit, the winning attitude, or the great rapport with coaches. Was this the year for "accountability" or was that last year? A more aggressive approach? or was that the Penguins? Whatever. It is time for some real analysis, so here is the 2009 Pirate Preview!

I know, many of you don't care a whit about the Buccos or baseball, but wait. Let me explain why you should. As an English major I realize the world is a strange, subtle, amorphous place. But as an accountant and programmer, I am constantly trying to define this amorphous world with numbers. Baseball is the dream of the Accountant Poet. (Did Wallace Stevens love baseball?) It's your best chance to reduce the world to numbers in a meaningful way. Anyone who appreciates the subtleties of life, yet has an analytical bent, should embrace baseball.

With that said, "Do the Pirates have a chance?" or are they doomed to set the all-time loss record for all major sports? Contrary to the typical baseball writers' aforementioned tripe, my approach is this:
What if the current lineup for the 2009 season all have their best years? What if each batter duplicates his best batting average and each pitcher performs his best ERA? Where would we stand?

Freddy Sanchez  .344 (2006)
Ryan Doumit .318 (2008)
Jack Wilson .308 (2004)
Nate McLouth .276 (2008)
Adam LaRoche .285 (2006 with Atlanta)
Andy LaRoche .166 (2008; only 223 At Bats in 2008, only 316 AB total)
Brandon Moss .245 (2008; only 236 At Bats in 2008, only 261 AB total)
Nyjer Morgan .294 (2008; only 160 At Bats in 2008, only 267 AB total)

Before I get to where we would rank in batting, let me make some observations which jump out of the page, but which, to my knowledge, have not been reported.

First, we have 3 players who have less than 320 at bats in the major leagues. Even though they do not qualify as rookies (130 or less ML at bats), they practically are. How many teams are relying on 3 rookies in their starting eight? We are not really a young team, but we definitely have three very inexperienced players in the starting lineup. The good news is that we do have some more experienced players with better stats on the bench, namely Craig Monroe (best year, .293) and Eric Hinske (best year, .288)

Second, thus far in Spring training the big concern is "Will Nyjer Morgan hit?" In fact, among the 3 'rookies' Nyjer Morgan is the only one who has! Andy LaRoche at third base was a fan concern, but when he hit in spring training, his horrible numbers and limited experience were all but forgotten. And I have heard no skepticism about Brandon Moss—261 major league at bats and a .245 batting average for a left fielder!

OK, where would we rank in BA for 2008 with our lineup having their best years? I could not come up with a 9th spot BA, so I just chose the Mendoza Line for pitchers, .200. Using the above averages and .200 for the 9th spot, it comes to a .271 team batting average. This would be tied for 6th with 2 other teams and 3rd in the National League for 2008—not too bad.

Unfortunately, if we do the same for On Base Percentage, the best each in our lineup has done is a combined .331. (I used .300 for the 9th spot.) That would place us tied for 17th in the league or 8th in the NL. Conclusion: not so good, we definitely need to get hit by the ball more.

Let's do the same thing with Earned Run Average for our 5 starters.

Paul Moholm 3.71 (2008)
Zach Duke 4.47 (2006; he had 1.81 in 2005 but only with 84 innings pitched)
Ian Snell 3.67 (2007)
Ross Ohlendorf 6.46 (2008; only 62 innings in 2008 and only 69 innings total)
Jeff Karstens 4.03 (2008; only 51 innings in 2008 and only 108 innings total)

Again, the first thing that grabs you is that we have two starting pitchers who, while technically not rookies (50 innings or less) have very limited experience. I haven't heard this discussed by the analysts. Unfortunately here we have no experienced back ups, with the possible exception of Tom Gorzelanny, who is at AAA.

Our 'best year' pitching would give us a 4.486 ERA. This would rank us tied for 21st in 2008; 13th in the National League, only 3 places above our last place finish last year. Ouch!!

This sounds pretty bleak and definitely confirms that the main problem is starting pitching—our nemesis last year. So even if our players each duplicate their best year, pitching most likely will bring us another losing season.

However, as optimistic as "each-player-has-his-best-year" sounds, it is not asking any player to do something they are not capable of. Usually fans (and writers) expect players to improve on what they have done in the past! The good news is that we have 3 position players and 2 pitchers who have so little experience that our only hope is that they do, in fact, "improve on what they have done in the past!"—that is the only way we will avoid the dreaded record.

Post Script:
Even though the chance of a winning Pirate baseball season seems relegated to the "field of dreams" in 2009, there is another 'reductio ad numerical' which is more positive. The average ticket price of a Major League game in 2009 is $26.74 with the Yankees' new stadium topping the list at a mind-blowing average ticket price of $72.97. The Pirates' average ticket price in 2009 is down from 2008 and 2nd lowest in the league (after Arizona) at $15.39. So, based on 2008 home records, you only pay $31.96 for a win at PNC Park.

While this is not as good as $24.15 for a win at Arizona, think of the poor Yankee fan who must fork over $123.14 to see a win in Yankee Stadium.


Big Myk said...

Our local paper's forecast echoed some but not all of what Jim says. Essentially, its view is that, with youth in so many key positions, the pirate losing ways are bound to continue. The Harrisburg Patriot predicts the Pirates to wind up in last place of NL Central.

But, the paper also says that the Pirate hope is actually in it's pitching staff. It suggests that it's not unreasonable to expect continued growth from Paul Maholm and rebound years from Ian Snell and Zach Duke.

James R Harvey said...

Wow! What an opening day! More exciting than the Super Bowl. Three Pirate errors (and 2 more unofficial ones) were overcome by the 6 walks and 1 hit batsman (see the request for more hit batsmen in the above analysis) by St. Louis pitchers. Also per the analysis, the 2 unproven 'rookies' were 0 for 6 while Nyjer Mogan was 3 for 5.

The Highmark Highlight of the game was Mgr. John Russell letting Adam LaRoche run for himself in the ninth inning when Hinske spanks a double. Of course Adam only makes it to third. Thank goodness for Jack Wilson and the fact that it is 3 strikes til you are out in the old ball game..

Peter H of Lebo said...

My "oh no, here we going again moment" occurred when the pirate outfielder needed to three-hop the ball to the plate from the outer edge of the infield. The play was capped off by bouncing off the pirate catcher's face and allowing a score that should have been an easy out at the plate.

The awesome rally and Capp's pitching however made me forget the previous inning.

James R Harvey said...

I'll continue Peter's "What was that?!" play of the game. Tuesday I guess it was showing up, but Wednesday's 17 hit Lumber Company imitation had a play I have never seen before. With 2 strikes Duke throws a fast ball to the outside corner when apparently Doumit called for an off speed pitch. Doumit puts his glove down to catch the sinking pitch that he realizes too late is not going to sink. He tries to protect himself as he is hit in the shoulder as strike 3 called comes in. The ball bounces away as the batter gets 1st base on a called 3rd strike.

James R Harvey said...

In 2nd place in Wednesday's game was catcher interference by Doumit. where Ludwick was awarded 1st base and later, after a stolen base, scored on a sacrifice fly.

Big Myk said...

We don't get the Pirate games here in Harrisburg, so I'm missing all the fun. It sounds like they've pretty much abandoned all pretext of trying to win games and are going for the laughs.

Big Myk said...

Actually, that should be "pretense" and not "pretext" that the Pirates have abandoned. See what happens when you try to use big words.

James R Harvey said...

For Thursday's game the Pirates were trying to win 1-0 despite the St. Louis pitcher, Chris Carpenter, pitching a no hitter. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. In the 7th the pirates got a hit and gave up 2 runs.

As the preview indicated, don't look for (pitching) help in the minors as Altoona is 0-2, giving up an average of 9 runs per game and Indianapolis 0-1 gave up 16 runs in their opener.

James R Harvey said...

There were many highlights in today's (Saturday's) 10-2 clubbing of Cincinnati, but my two favorites were Nyjer Morgan's two hockey checks. One was a shoulder first, full speed smash into the Reds' plate-blocking catcher in which he scored. The other was a full speed take out of the short stop breaking up the double play. He actually knocked the ball out of his hand. Avoiding the double play later led to a grand slam by Ryan Doumit.

James R Harvey said...

Despite the 2-0 Easter loss to Adam Harang (the only pitcher to lead the league in ERA and wins and not win the Cy Young award—he did not receive any votes), the pirates continue to play interesting baseball. The triple play was great, but the double play of Wilson's laid-out dive and flip with the glove to Sanchez who has to dive to make the catch and throw for the double play, was even better.

James R Harvey said...

First time in 4 years the Pirates win the home opener 7-0 behind Zach Duke, who perhaps this year will live up to his great name. I'm still waiting for the announcers to say, "Those aren't 'boos' those are 'Duuukes'." There is no excuse not to drink beer as the Pirates did not lose the opener nor the home opener.

James R Harvey said...

I'd like to use this day off to report on the minor league system. We have 4 minor league teams playing now. The only one with a winning record is Lynchburg where Pedro Alvarez is playing and he is batting .143. The other 3 have a combined record of 1-13. Two of the three haven't won yet.

James R Harvey said...

The statistic for today is that the Pirates are 5-0 when Maholm or Duke start, and are 0-5 when any other pitcher starts.