Break Up The Pirates!

July 9, 2011

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Going into play on Saturday, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in a tie for second place in their division, just one game behind the Brewers.

The last time the Pirates wrapped up a winning season, I was starting my senior year of high school.  The year was 1992.  George Bush (the elder) was president.  Jeffrey Dahmer had recently been sent away to prison, the original Dream Team was romping to victory in Barcelona,  and Hurricane Andrew had just smashed into Florida.  In other words, it has been a long time.

The fall of the Pirates has been due in large part to running the team on the cheap – pocketing revenue sharing money from teams like the Yankees and Red Sox without any attempt to use the money to field a competitive team.  The modus operandi for the Pirates has been to trade away talented players before they become too expensive to hang onto, and to sacrifice quality for affordability in their top draft picks.  For a team with a championship history – the team of Honus Wagner, Pie Traynor, and Roberto Clemente – it’s a sad state of affairs.

The Pirates hired Clint Hurdle as their manager in the off-eason.  Hurdle had struggled through several losing season with the Rockies before breaking through and winning the pennant with the 2007 club.  He was fired after a terrible start in 2009 and replaced with Jim Tracy – who led a dramatic turnaround that led the Rockies back to the playoffs.  The irony?  Tracy was fired by the Pirates in 2007 after a failed stint with the team – and the Pirates managerial job is now held by the man who was fired in Colorado to make room for Tracy!  Although I do think the firing of Hurdle was justified (things had just run their course), I do have respect for him as a manager, and am pleased to see him doing well.

There are a lot of “feel-good” stories with Pittsburgh.  Joel Hanrahan (an Iowa kid) was beginning to run out of opportunities before being installed as the closer in Pittsburgh.  Hanrahan is 26 for 26 in save opportunities with a 1.34 ERA.  Jeff Karstens has shaved nearly 2 runs off his career ERA and stands at 2.55.  Kevin Correia posted a 5.40 ERA last year for San Diego – even with the benefit of an extremely pitcher-friendly Petco Park.  This year, he’s making a run at a 20 win season, standing at 11-6 with a 3.74 ERA (he has decisions in 17 of his 18 starts, which is nothing short of amazing). (Note: all stats are through Thursday).  I’m nominating Correia as my dark horse candidate for the Cy Young award.  If he manages to win 20 games – for the PIRATES – how can you fail to give him the award?

Around the diamond

Derek Jeter returned to the Yankees lineup after his stint on the DL and once again is closing in on 3000 hits (if he had a two hit game after we went to the presses Friday night, then he’s already reached the milestone). 

It’s often noted that Jeter will be the first Yankee to reach 3000 hits.  This is interesting, but it really doesn’t add anything to the accomplishment.  Would Jeter’s achievement be diminished if he played for a team which already had some guys with 3000 hits in their career (the Pirates, for example)?  Of course not.  Neither, then, does the fact that he’ll be the first Yankee with 3000 hits add to the accomplishment.  If anything, it points out a bit of an oddity in baseball.  With all the superstars that have worn pinstripes, you’d think at least one of them would have racked up 3000 hits for the Yankees.  Had he stayed healthy, Lou Gehrig surely would have joined the 3000 hit club 70 years ago.  In recent decades, the Yankees have tended to acquire stars rather than develop them – and it’s almost impossible to have 3000 hits for a team unless you play nearly your entire career with them.

Albert Pujols returned to the Cardinals lineup on Wednesday night – a month ahead of schedule.  I discussed the issue with a friend of my who is a huge Cardinals fan.  He was in agreement that it would have made more sense to shut Pujols down until after the All Star break to make completely sure he’s healthy.  The benefit from a few extra games before the break isn’t worth the risk of aggravating the injury by trying to come back too early.  However, I’ll assume that the medical staff for the team knows that they are doing.

The All Star game is on Tuesday.  I absolutely love the All Star game.  I’m not much of a fan of the home run derby (too artificial) but love seeing the biggest stars in the game in the field.  I definitely agree with the sportswriters who would like to see the rosters trimmed a bit – and also agree that not every single player needs to get into the game.

Go National League!

The Pirates Love Their Fans – And Wrigley Field

August 28, 2010

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It’s late August, and the Pittsburgh Pirates have clinched another losing season – the 18th year in a row that they’ll wind up with more losses than wins.  At the time that I’m writing this, their record stands at 43-89, and they are strong contenders to be awarded the top pick in the 2011 draft (given to the team with the worst overall record).  The Pirates are a team with a rich history – Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell – and it saddens me to see them turn into a mere shell of a baseball team.  The Pirates have gone the direction of putting the cheapest possible team on the field, trading away any player with even a modicum of talent.  This strategy has yielded the expected results.

If you dig down a bit, things start to get a bit more interesting.  The Pirates are 46 games below .500 for the season, but their home record is a relatively respectable 30-36.  That’s not great, but it’s not awful, either.  While most teams play a bit better at home, the home/road differential of the Pirates is quite astounding.  In contrast to their respectable home record, their road record is just 13-48 – a winning percentage that is just above 20%.  This year’s record is an exaggeration of the trend in recent years – the Pirates have largely tread water at home and gotten killed on the road.

The Pirates have an overall winning record against just 4 teams this year.  They are 4-3 against my Rockies, 4-2 against the Phillies, and 2-1 against the Indians.  The fourth team against which the Pirates have a winning record are the division rival Chicago Cubs.  The Pirates have gone 9-3 against the Cubs, given up just 31 runs in those 12 games – an average of just 2.58 runs per game.

I know quite a few Cubs fans, and this is a source of great embarrassment for them.  The Cubs are having a very disappointing year overall, but nobody should lose 75% of their games to the Pirates.  Not only have the Pirates had great success against the Cubs at home, they have also had their number within the friendly confines of Wrigley Field – holding a 4-2 record in Chicago’s home park.  The Pirates set their road-high of 10 runs scored against the Cubs, and also recorded one of their two road shutouts against Chicago. 

To put this in perspective, let’s take a closer look at the rest of the Pirates road wins.  They have two wins against the Rockies, two against the Brewers, and single wins against the Diamondbacks, Reds, Dodgers, Phillies, and Giants.  That’s it.  If you disregard the games against the Cubs, the Pirates are just 9-46 on the road – a winning percentage of just 16.4%.  Their wins against the Cubs account for fully 30% of their road wins.

When the Nationals decided to call up Stephen Strasburg, his first game was “coincidentally” against the Pirates.  Or, more likely, an astute baseball move to boost the confidence of Strasburg with an easy win.  After all, even the lowly Nationals were strong favorites to win at home against the Pirates.

I look forward to the day when the Pirates franchise once again becomes relevant, rather than a laughingstock.  I’m not a fan of the team, but their current state is bad for baseball.  In the meanwhile, I urge you to go to the ballpark the next time your team faces the Pirates.  There’s an 84% chance your team will win – unless your team is the Cubs.