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Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh Pirates’

It seems the Pittsburgh Pirates cannot do anything right.  Faced with brutal ticket sales for an upcoming series against the lowly Nationals, the Bucs marketing department came up with a “You Score As The Bucs Score” campaign.  I do not know about you, but I would rather have my “scoring” tied to something other than the Pirates offense, which ranks thirteenth in that National League.  Either way, the point of the promotion was that for each run the Pirates scored in their weekend series against the Diamondbacks, fans would receive $1 off of a $24 dollar ticket to a game against the Nationals. 

While they did bust out in game one, scoring ten runs, they were shutout the next two games by Doug Davis and Max Scherzer.  This left fans with a $10 discount to a game of their choice versus the Nats.  I think this is a slap in the face to the fans.  Pittsburgh is only averaging 19,074 fans per game, which is fewer than 50% of their capacity.  I understand that their ticket sales against the Nationals are going to be brutal, but the fact is they are not going to sell out against ANYONE.  Why make the promotion available only for a game against the worst team in the league?  You are not going to lose any revenue if you offer the promotion for the series’ against Arizona or St. Louis that are coming up.  You are putting a crappy product on the field; at least let your fans see a good visiting ball team for a discounted price. 

Also, why tie the promotion to your little league offence?  You know they are not going to score many runs, and the promotion will probably just tick fans off.  Why not make it something like $5 off for every hit Freddy Sanchez gets, $4 off for each strikeout Paul Maholm gets, or get a free ticket if Matt Capps serves up a home run.  Ok, maybe the last one is not the best idea. 

The first point I am trying to make is that organizational mediocrity is contagious, and spreads from baseball operations.  Poor performance on the field leads to terrible promotional ideas like this.  If you put a winning team on the field, you do not have to worry about embarrassing yourself with promotional campaigns like this.  The second point is give your fans something they want.  No amount of a discount is going to make someone excited about watching a meaningless Pirates-Nationals contest.  Baseball is a business like anything else, and people do not buy something they do not want just because it is discounted.  Pride.  Passion.  Pittsburgh Pirates.  Maybe twenty years ago.

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Red Sox GM Theo Epstein once again showed why he is one of the best in the business, acquiring former 32 home run hitter Adam LaRoche for two mid-level prospects.  Going the other way are AA shortstop Argenis Diaz and A pitcher Hunter Strickland.

In LaRoche, the Red Sox get an average defensive first baseman who can give Mike Lowell some extra days off (Youkilis will move over to third when LaRoche plays), and replace David Ortiz at DH when necessary.  LaRoche’s best season came in 2006 with the Braves when he hit 32 home runs and had a .915 OPS.  He was traded to the Pirates for reliever Mike Gonzalez the following off-season, but failed to live up to his billing in Pittsburgh.  He is obviously excited to leave the sinking ship in Pittsburgh, saying “I’m grateful for the opportunity that a team like that wants me.”  Hopefully for the Red Sox their winning atmosphere will help get him back on track.

Considering what they once gave up to acquire LaRoche, the Pirates are getting very little in return, which is par for the course for them.  Diaz is a 22 year old AA shortstop with a paltry .619 OPS and brutal .947 fielding percentage.  Strickland has improved steadily since turning professional two years ago, and owns a 5-4 record and 3.35 ERA in A ball.  He exhibits good control with a 1.4 BB/9, which is important considering his fastball sits in the 89-91 MPH range.  It is unlikely much will ever come of these two players, making this a great trade for the Red Sox and spelling more years of misery for the Pirates.

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Joel Hanrahan picked up a win today despite the fact that his team, the Pirates, was not even playing.  This is because his old team, the Nationals, finished an extra innings game from May 5th versus the Astros. 

In that game, Hanrahan pitched a scoreless top of the 11th inning.  The game was then suspended and to be made up at a later date.  The date was yesterday, and the Nationals won the game in the bottom of the 11th.  Since Hanrahan was the last pitcher for the Nationals, he was credited with the victory.  It was his only victory of the year, and improved his record to 1-3.

Do not expect to see this again anytime soon.  Yet another reason why baseball is such a great sport to follow.

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A couple of weeks ago, Bart Given wrote an article for Sportsnet defending Blue Jays pitching coach Brad  Arnsberg and the number of arm injuries the Jays have incurred in recent years.  Going back to 2005, he found that the Blue Jays were in the middle of the pack when it came to DL placements and DL duration.  While I do not dispute his findings, I think people still have the right to be upset with the number of young pitchers have undergone serious procedures like Tommy John.

The first culprit is Dustin McGowan, a former first-round pick who underwent Tommy John in 2004 at age 23.  The next two years following the surgery, McGowan threw 101 and 111 innings respectively between the minors and majors.  In 2007, his workload jumped to 191 innings.  Unsurprisingly, he was shutdown in early July in 2008, and has not pitched since.  Both GM JP Ricciardi and AGM Alex Anthopolous are on record as saying they are not sure if he will ever pitch again.  Obviously McGowan suffered from arm troubles from an early age, but the Jays were asking for trouble when they nearly doubled his workload in 2007.

Next up is Gustavo Chacin, a personal favourite during his short-time in Toronto.  In 2004, Chacin enjoyed great success in the minors, going 18-2, and pitching 153.2 innings, a career high.  The next year he was promoted to the Majors and enjoyed a strong rookie campaign, with a 3.72 ERA.  He also threw 203 innings, which placed him in the top 50 in the league.  Since then, he has only thrown 114.2 innings in the major leagues.  Here are the other two players on that list who experienced huge jumps in their workloads that year:

Chris Capuano – 101.2 to 219, has not pitched since 2007

Josh Towers – 152 to 208.2, has not pitched in the majors since 2007

The Jays were two for three that year.

More recently, the Jays have two more Tommy John victims: Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch.  I am not sure the Blue Jays have learned their lesson.  They brought Marcum along slowly, limiting him to roughly a 25 IP per year increase from 2005-07.  Tough to blame them for that one.  However, Litsch was pretty much abused.  After throwing 75.2 innings in 2005 between rookie and short season A, he was increased to 158 and 187.2 the next two years.  Once again, unsurprisingly, he managed only one more full season before going under the knife.

While you cannot always predict the future, and even guys that are brought along slowly can experience problems, the Blue Jays are not without blame.  It is well documented that guys who experience huge jumps in workloads either see their performance decrease or experience serious injury.  Justin Verlander, Noah Lowry, Fausto Carmona, Zach Duke (who has rebounded nicely this year), Ian Snell, etc..  The only team that I could spot with a history of straining young arms more than the Jays is the Pittsburgh Pirates, and we can all see how successful that franchise has been.

While the Jays have an incredible talent for finding a surplus of skilled young arms, they are also burning through them at an astounding rate.  Here is to hoping that the Blue Jays do not repeat same mistake with their young arms like Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero.

As a final note, I remember reading somewhere, but do not quote me on this, that the only pitcher in recent years to throw over 200 innings in his rookie season and go on to have an even semi-successful career is Freddy Garcia.

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A couple of days ago I wrote an article for Inside The Majors discussing the future of Albert Pujols in St. Louis.  As much as Cards fans hate to admit it, the end of the 2011 season is quickly approaching and Pujols could be gone.  While I covered all of the factors that affect the Cardinals, I did not discuss in depth something that applies to every Major League club.

“The other big question is whether it is even worth it for a team to spend 25-30% of their budget on one player, but that is a story for another day.”

That day has come.  While it is very rare for a player to make more than 25% of a team’s total payroll, it could be the reality in St. Louis, with Pujols eating $25 million out of approximately a $100 million payroll.  I want to look at the success rate of teams where they have a player who takes up more than 20% of the team’s financial resources.  After examining the numbers from 2006-2008, I lowered my threshold to 18%, still very high, to get a larger sample size of data.  All salary information is from USA Today, and these were my discoveries:

Over the last three years there have been eighteen occasions where a single player has made up over 18% of a team’s total salary.

20082008 25%

 

  

  

  

  

  

 

2007

2007 25%

 

  

 

 

 2006

2006 25%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, these teams as a whole have not been very successful, with an overall record of 1398-1517 for a winning percentage of .480.  The only playoff clubs among the group are the 2007 Rockies, and the 2006 Tigers, A’s and Padres.  That means 22% of these clubs have made the playoffs, while the rest of the teams in the league made the playoffs at a 28% clip.  Not a huge drop off, but significant enough.

There is also a lot of repetition among the teams, with the Rockies appearing all three years, the Royals with three players in two years, and the A’s, Marlins, Pirates and Giants all making two appearances each.  Other than the Giants, these are all small-budget teams, and it does not take much to eat up 20% of their payroll.  You will never see a Yankee make 20% of the team’s salary simply because the denominator of $200M is way too big.  On the other end of the spectrum, Willis ate up 29% of the Marlins salary in 2006 while only making $4.35M

So far, I have shown that these eighteen teams have performed below the major-league average in terms of winning percentage in playoff appearances.  However, what I have failed to mention is the total payrolls of these teams.  If you sort all of the MLB teams by total payroll each year and rank them, the eighteen teams on this list rank an average of twenty-two.  The 2006 teams are an average of $16M below league average, the 2007 teams are 20$ million under, and the 2008 squads are a whopping $31 million under the league average.  Only three of them ( ’06 Giants, Astros and Tigers) are in the top half, and thirteen out of eighteen are in the bottom third.  These teams are actually quite successful considering their financial limitations.  If you were to tell me I could run a team for $20 million less than the average but only have a 6% chance less of making the playoffs, I think I would take you up on the offer.

I honestly thought going into this that I would discover that it would almost without fail be disastrous to have one player take up a huge chunk of your payroll.  There are occasions where this is true, most notably the 2008 Royals who spent 40% of their money on Meche and Guillen, two barely above average players.  However, it is also very possible for these small market teams with one high-paid star, like Todd Helton, to succeed.

After my analysis, the original point from my Inside the Majors article stands.  John Mozeliak, get Pujols locked up.  If there is one player that is worth of that much money and such a large percentage of your payroll, it is him.    

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Tonight was the first 111 picks of the 2009 MLB Draft.  The first round was broadcast on MLB.com, adding a new dimension of excitement to the event.  Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting picks of the evening.

#4 – Tony Sanchez, Catcher – Pittsburgh Pirates

This was a huge stretch at fourth overall for the Pirates, as he was not projected to go anywhere near the top five.  He led Boston College with a .346 average and tied for the team lead with 14 home runs.  However, this power is not projected to continue in the Majors, which is not surprising for a catcher.  A solid defender, Sanchez will be a reliable starting catcher if he develops his bat and stays in shape, which has been a problem in the past.  This is not what you want with such a high draft pick, and GM Neal Huntington does not seem to be righting the ship in Pittsburgh. 

#11 – Tyler Matzek, LHP – Colorado Rockies

Matzek was considered by many to be a top talent on the mound, but big contract demands caused him to slide down the draft board as the seventh pitcher drafted.  Maybe he was hoping to drop to a big market team that would meet his demands, but he was nabbed by the Rockies at number eleven.  This was probably not what he was hoping for as pitchers do not exactly salivate over the opportunity to pitch at Coors Field.  He also loves hitting, which would give him extra incentive to play for Oregon rather than turning professional.  I could see him being this year’s Aaron Crow, and Colorado may have difficulty getting him to sign on the dotted line.

#12 – Aaron Crow, RHP – Kansas City Royals

After being drafted ninth overall by the Washington Nationals last year and failing to sign, Crow spent the year pitching for the Forth Worth Cats.  He does not have nearly as much leverage this year, as it is unlikely that he would improve his stock by going back for another year of independent ball.  This is a great pick by the Royals.  They are getting a premium talent that they will be able to sign because they will have the leverage in negotiations.  He should join Greinke within the next couple of years to give the Royals a strong 1-2 punch. 

#19 – Shelby Miller, RHP – St. Louis Cardinals

As a high school pitcher, Miller is obviously still several years away.  However, scouts love his mid 90’s fastball and potential plus curveball.  Some seasoning in the minors will also give him time to develop a third pitch.  While high school pitchers are generally considered risky picks, I like this choice by the Cardinals.  He was arguably the highest potential pitcher left on the board, and the Cards cannot continue to rely on reclamation projects like Kyle Lohse and Todd Wellemeyer to fill out their rotation.  Miller is a step in the right direction.

Pick #34: Rex Brothers, Rockies

Pick #34: Rex Brothers, Rockies

 #34 – Rex Brothers, LHP – Colorado Rockies

The Rockies have another quality pitcher fall into their laps in the supplemental round.  Brothers was expected to be a first round pick but dropped to the Rockies at number thirty-four.  His fastball can reach the high 90’s and he has a devastating slider.  This pick is not surprising, as the Rockies have spent the last three years using their top draft picks to stockpile pitchers.  With the lack of interest from free agent pitchers in Colorado, it is up to them to develop their talent from within.  Brothers fits this mold perfectly.

 Max Stassi, Catcher – Undrafted on Day One

Stassi was projected as one of the top catchers available and arguably the top high school catcher, but somehow went undrafted through the first 111 picks.  While his stock had fallen slightly and some expected him to be drafted in the second round instead of the first, it is still surprising to see a guy who had a personal workout with the Red Sox go undrafted thus far.  With the Nationals and Padres on deck to begin day two, expect Stassi to be off the board early.  If not, expect to see him exercise that full ride at UCLA.

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Every year you hear the same arguments coming from the fans of small market teams to justify their team’s futility.  They range from “we just do not have the payroll to compete” to “it is those darn Yankees and their $200 million payroll stealing all of our talent”.  I have always felt that these arguments, while passionate, were completely unfounded.  I believe that when the first pitch is thrown to open Spring Training, any team has the chance to still be playing in October.  However, that is a difficult argument to make without any numbers to back it up.  So I decided to run the numbers and this is what I have come up with.

The Numbers

 

 

I started by listing every individual team since 1998 (the first year that MLB had thirty teams) by total payroll.  I then added wins, losses, playoff appearances and World Series titles.  For example, the row for the 1998 Atlanta Braves would have a $59.536 million payroll, 106 wins, 56 losses, a playoff appearance and no World Series.  Then year-by-year, starting in 2008, I ran regressions with payroll as my dependant variable.  What I found was that in no way was total payroll indicative of wins, losses or World Series titles.  There was, however, a very loose relationship between payroll and playoff appearances, but nothing substantial enough upon which to found an argument.  So to all the Yankees and Red Sox haters out there, I am sorry but there is not much in the numbers to back up your argument.

Of course, the data that Excel spits out is not the only way to interpret the information, so I decided to have a look with the naked eye as well.  Two things I can say for certain are that a high payroll does not equal success, and well-run teams can compete even with below-average payrolls.

 

Money Doesn't Buy Happiness

Money Doesn't Buy Happiness

What Were They Thinking?

 

 From 2001 to 2004, the New York Mets had payrolls that ranked 4th, 6th, 2nd and 4th in the league, with a final outcome of 294 wins, 352 losses, one season above .500 and as you can probably guess, no playoff appearances.  The 2003 squad was particularly inept; their 66-95 record the product of a $117 million payroll, second only to the Yankees.

From 1998 to 2000, the Baltimore Orioles were 24 games under .500 despite payrolls that ranked 1st, 8th and 3rd.  After this, ownership wisely decided to stop spending truckloads of money as it became clear the team was going nowhere.   

Bang For Their Buck

On the flipside, there are other teams that were consistently good over several years despite budget limitations.  Billy Beane’s Moneyball A’s made four consecutive playoff appearances from 2000 to 2003 despite a payroll in the bottom six in three of those years.  From 2001 to 2008,Terry Ryan’s Twins were 117 games over .500 despite a payroll that never cracked the top seventeen, and three times found itself in the bottom six.

The Three Tiers

The final way I looked at my charts was to split the league into three tiers each year, with the top 10 payrolls occupying one tier, the middle ten another, and the bottom ten the final tier.  Here is how it played out.

Top Tier  

  • Payroll: $10.696 billion
  • Wins: 9,633
  • Losses: 8,175
  • Playoff Appearances: 53
  • Word Series Titles: 6

Middle Tier

  • Payroll: $7.124 billion
  • Wins: 8,840
  • Losses: 8,975
  • Playoff Appearances: 23
  • Word Series Titles: 4

Bottom Tier

  • Payroll: $4.381 billion
  • Wins: 8,240
  • Losses: 9,563
  • Playoff Appearances: 13
  • Word Series Titles: 1

As you can see, the top ten teams essentially spent as much money as the bottom twenty to win on average ten more games per year, make seventeen more playoff appearances and win one more World Series title.  On average, this means that the playoff pool consists of five teams from the top tier, two from the middle and one from the bottom.    

Conclusion

I think this helps proves that anyone has a chance to make the playoffs and win the World Series during any given year.  While low-payroll teams do not have success as often as the high-payroll teams, it is not impossible for a $55 million team to put together a winning season or even make the playoffs.  Fans of perpetually bad teams like the Pirates, Royals, Nationals and Orioles need to stop blaming cheap owners and payroll limitations, and start focussing their anger at poor management and bad drafts.

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