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Dear Pirates Nation,

I've been thinking of closing up shop here at newpiratesfan for some time now, and after reading this post from Pat, I knew it was my time.  The few readers I have probably know that's I've been losing the "blogger mojo" for some time now (if I ever really had it).  In January, I began a new career as a stay at home father, and am finding less and less time to write about baseball as I'm discovering I need more and more time to do more productive things.  Rest assured, this has nothing to do with the Pirates collapse this season.  I had always planned on making Win #82 and the subsequent breaking of the streak my final post.  The thinking was this "newpiratesfan" is done, and now just a Pirates Fan. That still holds true, despite the record.  In fact, it's actually probably more appropriate now with the streak continuing.  After two late summer collapses, I've started to feel what it must really feel like to be a Pirates Fan, eerily reminiscent of my Red Sox fandom days.  (As an aside, I keep thinking that the Bucs collapse this year feels a whole lot like the Red Sox in 2003, when Aaron Bleeping Boone crushed our spirits by crushing a Tim Wakefield knuckleball.  2013 will be the year that The Pirates overcome, with our own Dave Roberts Moment). I have now been a fan for 25% of the streak.  It's amazing to think that I've been doing this haphazardly for 5 seasons now, long enough to drop the "new" qualifier, and the blog with it.  The ultimate goal of this blog way back in 2008 was to recapture my love for the game.  Mission accomplished!

I'm not giving up on the Bucs, and neither should you! 

Those of you still interested in following me in other endeavors, I have been trying to chronicle my new career at http://stayathomepa.wordpress.com/ but again, blogging just isn't my cup of tea.  The more appropriate web venue for me right now is my tumblr, http://tf-oto.tumblr.com/ where I'm going to try and post photography, sport and parenting.  You can also find me tweeting @tonyframpton, but I don't always follow back as perhaps I should.  But I do have a Pirates Nation List that I check quite often.

It's been a great ride Pirates Nation, and a heartfelt thanks to those who supported me.



Total Freefall

Needless to say, the Pirates are now, and have been for the last six weeks in total free fall.  Four times this summer, the ball club was 16 games over .500.  July 28, August 1, August 6, and August 8.  63-47 is the final high point, and since then they have:

  • been swept four times (Padres, Brewers, Cubs and Reds)
  • have gone 9-23 (.281 winning percentage)
  • have hit for a line of .237/.310/.365
  • watched their ex-MVP candidate hit .242/.333/.347 with only 2 steals
  • went from 2.5GB of the Reds in the NL Central to 14GB
  • saw a 3.5 game lead for the 2nd wild card diminish to 2.5GB

What's even more astounding is that last fact.  They are technically still in the playoff race.  In the same time period, St. Louis has only gone 15-17, and the Los Angeles Dodgers have only managed 14-17. The club is now 72-70, only 2 games over .500, and they still have hope of backing into the playoffs because nobody else wants the wild card (except perhaps the 22-10 Phillies or the 21-12 Brewers). 

I really don't believe they'll make the playoffs, as there are now too many teams in the mix, two of them playing great baseball, and two others that have much stronger squads.  Unless Neil Walker comes back tomorrow and hits .500 the rest of the way, they just don't have enough firepower.  We have 11 games against bad teams (Astros, Cubs and Mets) and 9 games against good teams (Brewers, Reds and Braves).  Sadly, I'm becoming less and less sure they're going to finish 82-80.  Back in March, I wrote:
Yes, this is the year the Pirates reach 82.  Actually 83-79.  They'll struggle a bit in April, then turn the jets on in May, June and July.  August will again be a struggle, but then it will come down to the last week of the season.  #81 comes at the Mets on September 27, then we'll all freak out as the Reds come into Pittsburgh, sweep the Bucs, and clinch the NL Central crown.  Just as we're all ready to jump off the Clemente Bridge, wins #82 and #83 come on October 1 and October 3 against the Braves.  Full preview on Opening Day.WINS 83 MVP Andrew McCutchen CY James McDonald
There actually seems to be about a 50/50 chance this happens, which a month ago would have sounded pathetically sad.  But in March, and in September seems wildly optimistic.  I sure hope it does, because the backlash at this collapse has been tough enough to handle.  Imagine if this becomes Season #20?

Beat Em, Bucs!  At least 10 more times this year.


Pirates Panic Button

A popular topic after the Dodgers whipped the Bucs last night, one that literally drove me off twitter, is how to fix the team.  The team that is in the wild card race on August 15th.  The team that is 12 games over .500, and would only need to go 18-28 (.391, the Cubs level of play this year) the rest of the way to have a winning season for the first time in two decades. The team that pretty much nobody expected to be even close to relevant this late in the season.  The team that has the 6th best record in MLB (better than perennial favorites Tampa, Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco, and both Los Angeles teams).  The team that has a legitimate MVP candidate on the roster, and has a Top 10 pitching staff by most metrics.  The team that, if the season ended today, would travel to Atlanta for a one game showdown to face the Washington Nationals in the Division Series of the PLAYOFFS.

Well, the team has struggled this month, going 5-8.  We still have 2 games left against the Dodgers, and 6 against the Cardinals, both teams chasing us for the wild card.  Is it time to panic?  Yes and no.  Obviously if the Bucs continue to play .384 ball, we'll be in trouble when September rolls around.  But the stretch run also features 19 games against the Brewers, Cubs and Astros, 4 against the Mets, and 9 games against the Reds and Braves, the teams we're chasing.  So while the next couple of weeks will be nail biting, the team is in complete control of their destiny.  Beat up on the teams we should beat, and then any extra wins against the Reds and Braves are gravy.  Losses against them don't hurt so bad because of the extra wild card this year.

In September, we can expect the best possible relievers and hitters to come from Indianapolis to bolster the bullpen and bench for the race.  Looking at the 40 man roster, at least 4 pitchers (Hughes, McCutchen, Morris, Wilson), 1 catcher (Fryer), and 5 bench guys (Clement, Hague, Navarro, Presley and Tabata) could be added.  That's 10 guys who could bolster the team in 2 weeks.  That will drastically improve the bullpen, as well as Hurdle's pinch hitting options.

But I'm not so sure we can wait that long.  I would swap Harrison for Navarro, and dump Qualls and call up Morris, and have them meet us in St. Louis on Friday.  They're only marginal improvements, but that should be enough to tread water.  Also, ditch this 6 man rotation idea.  Starting tonight, it's Rodriguez and Burnett to finish off the Dodgers series, followed by McDonald, Bedard and Karstens in St. Louis.  Hopefully, Correia made his last start last night, and I'd use Locke as the long guy, or to give a spot start for McDonald in San Diego should he struggle again.  

There's no need to panic yet, just get through this rough patch (all teams have them, even playoff teams), and load up for what could be a hell of a run in September.

Beat Em, Bucs! 


August Update

In my almost regular tradition now of posting once a month, your August 1-ish update that nobody needs to read because if you're reading this to catch up on the Pirates, you're certainly not #BUCN

Trade Deadline/Roster Recap/Grades:  Now that the deadline has passed ....

Chad Qualls: trading Casey McGehee was probably necessary to open a spot for Sanchez. Qualls won't replace Lincoln, but I guess it's better than nothing. Grade D

Gaby Sanchez: meh. Losing Gorkys and a draft pick isn't much, but not sure Gaby is either. But is he an upgrade, marginal for sure. Grade B

Travis Snider: Well, eventually ONE of these "top prospects" has to pan out, right? Even though his inflated AAA stats were from the hitters-haven Las Vegas, if the price was our #7 starter, who is doing well in the bullpen for a young controllable OF, then kudos Neal. Grade A

Wandy Rodriguez:  Good pick up for the stretch (and for 2013), which takes Kevin Correia out of the rotation.  Adding Cain to Owens and Grossman probably was an overpay, but Houston was willing to pick up cash to increase the haul.  I would have hoped to pay a bit more and keep Cain, but oh well.  The Bucs are making a splash without mortgaging the future, so yay. Grade B

Starling Marte:  Hopefully throwing the 23 year old into a pennant race doesn't stunt his growth.  The Pirates certainly have a need for the future star, but supposedly promotions are based on merit, not need.  While he's had a good season, let's temper our enthusiasm, and remember he's only had 388 at bats in AAA (286/347/500).  In comparison to the player we all most hope he can morph into, Andrew McCutchen had 780 AAA at bats (291/367/424) as a 22 year old.  Marte's stat line is comparable at a younger age, but he's had less upper level experience.  The future looks bright, and by the time this post hits, we will have seen his debut in Houston which was FREAKING AWESOME!!  Should I make a "ready for takeoff" joke? Grade C

Last month I predicted 15-10, 57-46, and first place.  They actually finished 17-9 (why can't I count right?), 59-44 and 3 games back of the blistering hot Vottoless Reds

Looking Ahead: 17-10, 76-54, and a commanding wild card lead ....
1 @ Chicago (NL) W
3 @ Cincinnati L W L
4 vs Diamondbacks W W L W
3 vs Padres W L W
4 vs Dodgers L W W
3 @ St. Louis W L L
3 @ San Diego W W W
3 vs Brewers W L W
3 vs Cardinals W W L
1 @ Milwaukee L

Believe! Beat Em, Bucs! Raise the Jolly Roger 17 more times in August!


Mark Appel Day

Original Photo: Jake Roth US PRESSWIRE

At 2:30 on Friday the 13th, my position is I would like him to sign, but only because it means we can deal Jameson Taillon for a guy like Josh Willingham, who is under contract through 2014.  Having a little stability in LF and some power to slot between Cutch and Pedro, while Starling Marte, Alex Presley and Jose Tabata fight it out for RF and 4th OF sounds pretty awesome right now.

UPDATE 5:30pm:  Screw you Mark.  We'll win without you.


July Update

While my mojo for blogging about baseball has hit yet another valley, my love for this team has done anything but.  While I'm spending less time typing into blogger, I'm spending more time on mlb.tv, and starting to believe that this team might just be for real.

There's a whole lot of good to report.  Cutch is a legitimate MVP candidate, JMac is slowly turning into an ace.  The AJ Experiment is going very well.  Pedro is heating up again.  The rest of the Pirates are actually starting to hit the ball, and with good pitching, the Bucs are starting to look like a balanced club.  A potential game changing X-Factor, rumors of Starling Marte's ascension could mean a struggling Tabata might be sent to Indianapolis.  Jose is terribly wrong right now, and this team could use him straightened out by a September pennant race.

You have to wonder what GM Neal is thinking right now.  The conventional wisdom early in the year was to trade from the MLB pitching surplus for some positional help.  Could he even be entertaining Ken Rosenthal's notion of going all in for guys like Hamels or Greinke?  I think that would be terribly short sighted, as any trade tools found in Indianapolis NOT named Marte, Morris or Sanchez should be fair game for flipping for a legit OF corner.  Here are the three guys I'd like to choose from:  If the Rockies go into sell mode, Michael Cuddyer.  The Twins are probably looking to move Josh Willingham.  And if the Phillies really have a fire sale, I want nothing to do with Hunter Pence, and everything to do with Shane Victorino.

Last month I picked the Bucs to go 14-13, ending at 39-38.  They actually went 17-10 to end at 42-35!  Whooohooo, I love being wrong!  July looks very promising, and I'm feeling very optimistic:

1 @ STL (loss, posted too late to pick)
4 vs HOU (3 wins, 1 loss)
3 vs SF (2 wins, 1 loss)
3 @ MIL (1 win, 2 losses)
3 @ COL (2 wins, 1 loss)
3 vs MIA (1 win, 2 losses)
3 vs CHC (3 wins, 0 losses)
4 @ HOU (2 wins, 2 losses)
2 @ CHC (1 win, 1 loss)

Total month pick 15-10, ending record 57-46, and in first place!

Beat Em, Bucs!


Rabbit! Rabbit! for June

As is customary on the first of the month, for luck ... RABBIT! RABBIT!

Last month I predicted a 15-14 May, for a month end 25-26.
Actual Retail Price? 15-13, month end 25-25

So I was pretty much right on, except for counting the days wrong. Was there a rainout I missed?

Oh. My. God.  Just awful. But it is slowly coming around, and perhaps some 4A guys like Mercer and Hague can light a fire. Look for Pedro to have a big month, which I'm guessing is what he will always be hot/cold/hot.

At least one thing is consistent this year. Hanrahan and Cruz are on the block everyone. Who has a 1B, SS, LF or C to spare?

All May, most of Pirates Nation has bemoaning Neal Huntington's record.  With the cupboards bare of hitting prospects, who can blame them? Until the front office makes a more significant move that dumping Nate McLouth, this team is destined for a ceiling of .500, which wouldn't be all that bad anyhow.

Looking ahead to June
The most exciting game of the year is coming up this month, the game I GET TO SEE!  June 7, at Cincinnati.  Since my newpiratesfandom began in 2008, I've seen the Bucs 4 times, for a record of 3-1.  Sadly I missed a game in 2011, but will not go two years running without yelling BEAT EM BUCS!

September 3, 2008, Ross Ohlendorf's Pirate debut!  W 6-5 (at Cincinnati)
May 30, 2009, First PNC Game! Skyblast! Zac Brown Band! Big Bull Rider! W 7-4 (vs Astros)
October 4, 2009, Loss #99, last game of the season L 0-6 (at Cincinnati)
May 31, 2010, Memorial Day Hat Giveaway, and I'm on TV, barely ... W 2-1 (vs Cubs) 
June 7, 2012, Dramatic Jay Bruce 9th inning 3 run home run, not enough.  Bucs win 5-4. 

The Bucs have a lot of interleaguin' to do, which historically is a bad sign.  Hopefully this month they can reverse that trend, since starting next year, it's here to stay all season long ...

3 @ Milwaukee Brewers (prediction of 2 wins and 1 loss)
3 @ Cincinnati Reds (2/1)
3 vs Kansas City Royals (2/1)
3 @ Baltimore Orioles (0-3)
3 @ Cleveland Indians (1/2)
3 vs Minnesota Twins (2/1)
3 vs Detroit Tigers (2/1)
4 @ Philadelphia Phillies (2/2)
2 @ St. Louis Cardinals (1/1)

Not a bad month, 14-13 for a month-end 39-38, fueling more "contender talk" ... 

Beat Em, Bucs!


Wanted: Hitting for Pitching

It's no secret that the Pirates have been horrible at the plate this year.  How horrible?  Here are the stats through Sunday, and the corresponding MLB ranks:

Batting Average .217 (29/30)
On Base Percentage .269 (30/30)
Slugging .346 (27/30)
Runs 118 (30/30)
Hits 287 (30/30)
Walks 88 (30/30)

Pretty much everywhere you look, the team just can't find success at the plate.  They're not hitting, not getting on base, not hitting for power, and not scoring runs.  I'm sure they'll be some that quote babip and war and iso and all those advanced statistics, but really all you need to see is above (and of course the actual games).  Up and down the roster, the Bucs are underachieving.  Jose Tabata is capable of being a quality lead off hitter but is struggling, Pedro Alvarez is menacingly inconsistent, Alex Presley was demoted, Garrett Jones and Neil Walker are having unspectacularly mediocre seasons which is about what is expected, Casey McGehee, Michael McKenry, Yamaico Navarro and Nate McLouth have been dreadful as role players off the bench, and Clint Barmes' OBP is only .002 higher than pitcher James McDonald's (who is hitting 2 for 15 this year).  Rod Barajas had a horrible start, but is now showing what he might be, which is a poor hitting catcher with a little pop.  Josh Harrison has been the only decent bench option with a 260/302/420 line.  Thankfully there is at least one hitter having a great year.  Andrew McCutchen is still seeing pitches, which is astounding considering this lineup, and is hitting 336/395/550.  At least he'll be a genuinely deserving Pirate All-Star this season.  While not a huge proponent of the fancy advanced stats, his unsustainable .374 babip means a correction should be coming.  Uh-oh.  Then what?

Well, thankfully the pitching is keeping us in games, just like last year.  However, as you'll recall the 2011 Pirates dropped well out of contention (and first place, haha) when the pitching correction occured.  Well, as you ponder the stats below, remember that Erik Bedard has already experienced back spasms, Kevin Correia has most likely already had his good starts for the year, and the "Electric Stuff" of AJ Burnett and Charlie Morton has actually been anything but electric.  But so far, the staff has limited runs and hits, and the bullpen has kept the leads.

Earned Run Average 3.36 (5/30)
WHIP 1.27 (11/30)
Batting Average Against .244 (11/30)
Holds 28 (2/30)
Saves 12 (tied for 7/30)

And how about this stat?  The average Pirates game score is 2.8-3.6 ... which means less concession sales because the games are shorter, which means less revenue, which means less payroll, which means (ah, nevermind I'm getting carried away there).

In April, after 6 games and half of Pirate Nation already on the ledge I said, relax the hits will come.  Well, they really haven't now after 41 games, and the season at the quarter pole.  Usually when a team "blows up for the future" it's after some success.  Neal Huntington blew up the roster once already when coming aboard, with little success before/after.  Now we're mired with arguably the worst hitting team in the bigs (with no hitting prospects doing well this year in Indianapolis or Altoona), and an unsustainable pitching staff again using smoke and mirrors to keep us only 3.0 games out of the division lead (giving false hope to legions of faithful fans).  So as the next month or so bring us ever closer to the trade deadline, here are the chips Neal needs to push all in to rebuild a balanced club (in preferred order):

1.  Erik Bedard:  Should be traded as soon as humanly possible before back spasms or arm trouble shut him down. Real contenders like the Yankees, Tigers and Red Sox have struggled to pitch well, and have way to much money invested not to trade prospects for a chance to win this year.  Internal replacement: Rudy Owens (2.50 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 38K vs 5BB in 8 starts in Indianapolis).

2.  Joel Hanrahan:  Closers are highly overrated, and Joel should be able to net a bounty in July to the desperate contenders with broken down bullpens.  It occurs every year, and in 2012 the Bucs need to strike.  If Octavio Dotel can bring us James McDonald, then imagine what Hanrahan can net us.  Internal replacement: Jason Grilli

3.  Juan Cruz:  Another hot commodity in July is the 8th inning relief pitcher who bridges the gap to the closer.  Cruz has been phenomenal this year, and is a luxury for a team like the Pirates.  Neal has shown (if nothing else) that he can rebuild bullpens year in and year out, so no big loss, but high reward.  Internal replacement: Bryan Morris (3.33 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 23K vs 5BB in 24.1 Indianapolis innings)

4.  A.J. Burnett:  Assuming A.J. is able to turn back on the electric stuff this summer, then he should be moved at the deadline, but only if the Pirates pick up the majority of his contract to increase the haul.  As the club stands now, they need to pay for prospects, because they're being spurned by free agents and have nothing in the pipeline except more pitching.  Internal replacement: Brad Lincoln or Kevin Correia (once Jeff Karstens knocks him out of the rotation).

Yes that's a lot of pitching to trade away, but this team isn't contending in 2012, and it's quite possible that as early as next fall, we'll be seeing the debuts of aces Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole to go along with James McDonald and Charlie Morton.  Wouldn't it be nice to have some hitting to match that pitching?  Isn't that really the only way to win?  The only positions that are set in my mind are McCutchen in center, Tabata in right, Walker at second and Pedro at third.  So now Neal needs to start filling the holes in left, first and short with blue chip hitting prospects in order to save his job.  He has some chips to play with, he just needs to find a game.

Beat Em, Bucs!