Wild Card Game: Roster and Miscellaneous Thoughts

Posted by @ 10.01.14

Giants
Gregor Blanco (L), CF
Joe Panik (L), 2B
Buster Posey (R), C
Pablo Sandoval (S), 3B
Hunter Pence (R), RF
Brandon Belt (L), 1B
Brandon Crawford (L), SS
Travis Ishikawa (L), 1B
Madison Bumgarner (R), P

So that’s pretty much a stacked deck of lefties, leaving only their pitcher and best hitters batting from the right side. I’m probably not the first person to tell you this, but Madison Bumgarner is quite a hitter himself, leading all pitchers in wRC+ this season and hitting 4 homers.

Pirates
Josh Harrison (R), 3B
Jordy Mercer (R), SS
Andrew McCutchen (R), CF
Russell Martin (R), C
Starling Marte (R), LF
Neil Walker (S), 2B
Gaby Sanchez (R), 1B
Travis Snider (L), RF
Edinson Volquez (R), P

There aren’t really any surprises here knowing that the Pirates are facing a lefty. Seven righties, a switch-hitter, and one lefty batting 8th. Jordy, a veritable lefty-killer, is all the way up to 2nd and Neil Walker, much worse in his last few seasons batting right-handed, drops to 6th. The choice of RF is interesting and I addressed it below.

The Pirates will have Clint Barmes, Chris Stewart, Tony Sanchez, Brent Morel, the odious Mr. Jose Tabata, Ike Davis, Andrew Lambo, and Gregory Polanco available off of the bench. The latter three comprise the corps of lefty bats. Tony Sanchez is on the bench because Martin and Stewart have been battling injuries over the last week.

In order of how confident I am in them, here are the other pitchers available: Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, John Holdzkom, Justin Wilson, Jared Hughes, Vance Worley, Bobby LaFramboise, and Jeff Locke.

So in total, we have the 9 starters, 8 position players, and 8 relievers available or 16 hitters and 9 pitchers.

  • It’s imperative that Clint Hurdle keeps Volquez on a short leash tonight. The Pirates essentially chose to start Volquez tonight and that decision has been widely discussed. The importance of the starter in the wild card game has been significantly overstated, but that is predicated on the idea that the starter only goes through the opposing batter order twice. It is well-documented that batters fare much better better against starters each subsequent trip through the lineup. If anecdotal evidence is required, look no further than Jon Lester’s meltdown in the 8th last night, a huge reason why the A’s are done for the year. Volquez shouldn’t face more than 18 batters tonight; the rest of the game should be entrusted to the bullpen.
  • Travis Ishikawa, yes, the one that broke camp with the Pirates, is going to be playing left tonight for the Giants. It’s an unenviable situation for them, of course, but injuries to Michael Morse and Angel Pagan have forced them into deciding between Ishikawa and Juan Perez. Ishikawa rates positively, by UZR, in the outfield but has only played 32 innings there in his career. So obviously we can dismiss his plus rating to a small sample size, but on top of that, this seems like a huge deal to have a guy play left in the most important game of the season knowing that he’s only been out there for literally three games. The Pirate lineup is going to be stacked with righties and it’s well-known that the spacious left field at PNC plays not unlike center field. This could be a huge factor in the game.
  • Likewise, there might be some merit to consider starting Polanco in right, knowing that the Giants have a lot of lefties in their lineup. Snider hits lefties (career wRC+ of 90 against them) much much better than Polanco (a ghastly wRC+ of 32 in a much smaller sample size), but Polanco is the superior defender, by far. Keeping Polanco available as a late-game pinch-hitter/runner/defensive sub is probably a little bit more valuable than holding Snider for the same role(s). This probably had to be the toughest decision for Clint in assembling the lineup.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Wild Card Preview: Giants at Pirates

Posted by @ 10.01.14

On Wednesday, our Pittsburgh Pirates will host the San Francisco Giants in the wild card game, a one game playoff that will send the winner on their way to Washington for the real playoffs and the loser home to work on their golf swing. Over the next few days, there will be a ton of articles written about the two teams, how they match up against one another, and what the statistics say.

This game is a coin toss, just like it was last year. Dave Cameron at FanGraphs just posted the playoff/WS odds for the remaining teams; those odds include the estimates for both wild card games. I would encourage you to read the whole thing (and FanGraphs in general), but using two different models that account for the two teams’ sabermetric performances, the Pirates are 52/48 favorites to win on Wednesday. Coin toss.

Those numbers came from a computer. Here at TWNDAI, we don’t have computers as big as rooms or high-end algorithms to make such predictions. Instead, we (or rather, I, Tim) have MVP Baseball 2004 for the Nintendo GameCube.

Using this veritable time machine, I decided to simulate the game by playing as our Pittsburgh Pirates and hosting the loathsome San Francisco Giants. Upon inserting the disc, I was treated to a whimsical opening montage of a proposed Cubs/Red Sox World Series game. The scene was set to what I originally thought was an Offspring song. “Yes, this is 2004,” I thought.

The Pirates were ranked as the 31st best team in MVP 2004 (the AL and NL All-Stars were 1 and 2, respectively). In case you’re wondering, the Yankees were the best non-All-Star team, the Giants were 25th, the Tigers were 29th, the Brewers 30th, and the Reds 32nd. What a time to be the Cubs and Cardinals!

It’s worth noting a few things. MVP 2004 Baseball is the only baseball video game that I’ve ever owned. I was really bad at it. Part of that was my lack of experience with baseball games and the other part is owed to my refusal to play as a team other than the Pirates. I barely remembered the fairly involved controls, but it’s not like I ever had a good grasp on them in the first place. The real 2004 Pirates went 72-89 (a rare 161 game season) and the Giants won 91 games; that was, of course, the year that the Red Sox lifted their curse and swept the Cardinals in the World Series. Okay, the stage is set, on the the game!

The AI decided that Kip Wells would start the game for me/the Pirates, obviating any difficult decisions about using my better starter to try to win the division versus saving them for the wild card game. Ray Durham stepped into the box and we were on our way. Abandoning a more conventional strategy of fastball/change, I started the lefty with a slider low and away, but, forgetting the controls, hit Durham in the knee. Durham took 1st and JT Snow came to the plate. Cognizant of the runner, I wanted to make a pick off throw. Instead, I initiated the pitching sequence thing and hit Snow with a 4-seamer. The benches were warned and the Giants had two on with nobody out. I backed into a Dusty Baker strategy, of sorts. Marquis Grissom made me pay with an RBI single past Jack Wilson and brought Barry Bonds John Dowd to the plate. Things looked bad.

Instead, Kip Wells dug deep and got Dowd to pop up to short. Edgardo Alfonzo hit a sac fly to make it 2-0 and AJ Pierzynski grounded out to short to end the inning. Not too bad.

The Pirates were up to bat. Rob Mackowiak, right fielder of the past, was leading off against Jason Schmidt, a frightening pig man.

Mackowiak singled firmly! Jason Kendall struck out, something that he rarely did in 2004, before Tike Redman put the Pirates on the board with a double into the right center gap! Jason Bay and Craig Wilson left Tike stranded at 2nd. Still, the Pirates got on the board and cut the Giants’ lead in half.

Things settled down for a few innings until the odious JT Snow came up to bat for the second time. Not wanting to face the lefty, I chose the one pitch IBB and plunked him in the head with a slider, leading to Kip Wells’ early departure. I had to go to the pen and had a tantalizing pool of arms to choose from:

Remove Wells, PIT pen

Since this was a one game playoff, I opted to use a starter instead of a reliever. Into the game Oliver Perez came. He retired Grissom and struck out Bonds Dowd.

On the other side of things, I couldn’t get much going against Jason Schmidt. My plate discipline was a bit rough and Jason Schmidt made me pay. With a runner on in the bottom of the 5th and 2 outs, I brought in recent acquisition, Bobby Hill to pinch hit for Oliver Perez. Hill lamentably popped out to 2nd to end the inning. This would prove to be much more costly than I initially realized.

Kris Benson, who was far and away the best pitcher on the ’04 Pirates, came in to pitch the 6th. Ray Durham singled, bringing up JT Snow. Benson, in a fit of rage, hit Snow with a fastball, leading to an unfortunate series of events: Benson was ejected, Snow left the game, the benches cleared, punches were (presumably) exchanged, and Jack Wilson, a well-known agitator, was also ejected. I had to bring in another pitcher and choose a new shortstop. Joe Beimel was already warming up in the pen, so he was the logical choice to replace Benson, but my options at short were pretty thin.

Sub Jack Wilson2

 

I had two outfielders, a portly 1B, and a back-up catcher. It was only then that my managerial mettle was truly tested. After some deliberation, I moved Craig Wilson over to short based solely on the fact that his last name was also Wilson and brought in Carlos Rivera to be the new first baseperson. Craig Wilson, as you probably remember, was a horrid defender, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Beimel retired Grissom on a weak grounder to 2nd. Abraham Nunez got the out at 2nd, putting runners on 1st and 3rd for John Dowd. And then it happened. Dowd hit a sharp grounder to short. Craig Wilson skillfully fielded it, flipped to Nunez at 2nd, and Nunez threw to 1st to complete the double play. CRAIG WILSON STARTED A DOUBLE PLAY AS THE SHORTSTOP. Elation washed over the pixelated PNC faithful.

Beimel wasn’t so fortunate in the top of the 7th. AJ Pierzynski hit a single to right that got past a diving Rob Mackowiak. Tike Redman got the ball in, but not before Pierzynski had himself a lead off triple. A Neifi Perez fly ball made it 3-1. Jason Bay, of course, didn’t have much in the way of a throwing arm.

A rally was needed and Abraham Nunez was leading off. Not the hero we asked for, huh? He singled to right in defiance of his own true talent. Pressing my luck, I paused the game to look up how to steal bases. Abraham Nunez and I went for it. Pierzynski ended up getting off a strong throw and nailed Nunez. It was a costly mistake, as two more singles were hit in the inning to no avail.

Josh Fogg pitched a pretty uninteresting inning, as he was wont to do. Craig Wilson made a nice stop ranging to his right at short and followed it up with an acrobatic jump throw to 1st. I think my ruse worked and I fooled MVP Baseball into thinking that Craig Wilson was in fact Jack Wilson; a y2k tactic that I will not soon forget.

The hit parade continued for the Pirates in the bottom of the 8th; Jason Bay, Chris Stynes, and Craig Wilson all singled to load the bases before Abraham Nunez popped up a high 2-0 fastball to short.

Fogg and then Ryan Vogelsong pitched the 9th and kept the Giants off of the board. Using Vogelsong in this game was, of course, controversial, as he is a member of the current SF Giants. Etiquette be damned. It was on to the bottom of the 9th.

Robb Nen took the mound for the save. Carlos Rivera was up. Nen struck him out on a 2-2 fastball. One out. Ryan Vogelsong’s spot was due up; Lloyd McClendon called for J.R. House to hit. He drew a full-count walk to put a runner on first. Rob Mackowiak stepped in and flared a ball to left to put runners on 1st and 2nd to bring up the only actually good hitter (in the eyes of this game) on the 2004 Pirates – Jason Kendall. The Kid was 0-4 with 2 K’s, which was not very Kendall-like. I decided to model his approach a little bit more and commit to taking the 1st pitch; it was, of course, a heater down the middle. He swung through the next two pitches to make the 2nd out. It was down to Tike Redman, who was batting 3rd. He took the 1st pitch – a low fastball – but the ump called it a strike. 0-1. He roped the 2nd pitch down the third base line, but the ump called it foul. Instant replay/challenges weren’t available. Redman took a pitch outside to make the count 1-2, but Nen blew him away with high heat on the next pitch to secure the win.

Final score: Giants 3, Pirates 1.

The face of victory followed by your totals:

Nen Victory

Box PIT B

Box PIT P

Box SF B

Box SF P

So, there you have it. MVP Baseball 2004 and I simulated a 3-1 loss for our Pittsburgh Pirates. The triple to Pierzynski was fluky (he’s hit 23 in his 17 year career) and caused by the game’s weird controls (confusingly giving me an infielder to try to field it at first); I’m taking that run off of the board. Also, Robb Nen didn’t even play in the ’04 season! He blew out his arm for good in the 2002 World Series. Plus, the Pirates were horrible in that version of the game and fringe impossible to play as. If you gave them two extra base hits (since I banged out 11 singles), the game becomes a 4-2 Pirate victory, which is what I’m going with.


Filed under: Uncategorized

Hunter Pence Gave a Dumb Speech at a Pep Rally

Posted by @ 09.29.14

Hunter Pence was considered to be an instrumental part of the 2012 San Francisco Giants’ World Series run, in spite of him posting a below-average 1.6 WAR on the year and hitting a not-so-useful .210 in the playoffs. Still, there are some things that you can’t quantify. Things like, an inspirational pregame speech! One that turned an 0-2 series deficit to the Reds into a 3-2 series victory, propelling them to their 2nd World Series victory in three seasons. It was the speech and not the improved play, natch.

Yesterday, Hunter Pence delivered another speech. This time, to the San Francisco faithful. The Giants are on a journey and we are all a part of it. It mostly doesn’t make sense, but he yells a lot and people chant. Welcome to Jonestown. Meet your new leader, a man who is a dead-ringer for Home Alone’s Marv, Mr. Hunter Pence:

Marv Pence
Hunter Pence is a moron with awful taste. As far as pregame speeches go, I’ll stick with John Blutarsky for now. Let’s go Bucs!


Filed under: Uncategorized

Best Second-Half Predictions: The Results

Posted by @ 09.29.14

So, for the second consecutive year (it’s an annual tradition!), we went around the webtubes at the All-Star break and asked Pirates bloggers for their second-half win predictions. We threw in a couple of algorithms/projection systems, too, for the added Man vs. Machine element.

On August 29th FanGraphs’ SQL server became self-aware

Last year, Jim Rosati of North Side Notch won by hitting the 94-win total on the nose. Nobody hit this year’s 88-win total just right, but three people came close, at 87: yours truly (yay), Brian McElhinny of Raise the Jolly Roger and…Jim Rosati again! How annoying. Dude’s like the Cardinals of this competition already.

Also worth noting that the human bloggers were closer than the average projections by more than two full wins. Take that, Matrix.


Filed under: machine overlords, Predictions!

On the Proper Use of Losing Streaks

Posted by @ 09.24.14

In my recap of last year’s Wild Card game, which I was fortunate enough to see in person, I said the following:

When people say that baseball is life, they don’t (hopefully) mean that it is the most important thing in their lives. They mean that it feels like life: there every day, often uneventful, paradoxically random and routine, and only occasionally providing us with glimmers of the extraordinary. But anyone who’s lived life and loved baseball knows that the time between incredible moments is what makes them incredible. There is no shortcut. The long, circuitous road to Tuesday’s game is what made it possible in the first place. This wasn’t the end of the futility: this was the result of it.

I’m going to get all geeky (okay, geekier) on you for a second: in The Lord of the Rings, a King named Isildur (AKA: the guy from the prologue in the first movie) has a sword called Narsil, which is shattered by Sauron. He keeps the shards of the sword, and they’re passed down to future kings. Though the sword was used in a moment of triumph, Isildur was ultimately corrupted by you-know-what, so in many ways the shards are a symbol of failure and the innate brokenness that all men inherit.

Some characters don’t understand this. Remember the scene (I know we’re venturing beyond the books, but bear with me) with Boromir? He thinks it’s cool. He picks it up and imagines using it, like a kid with Babe Ruth’s bat. He talks about the great thing it did (“the blade that cut the ring from Sauron’s hand”) with no recognition of the danger it represents. And, fittingly, while he’s doing this, it pricks him, and he bleeds. His eyes meet Aragorn’s, he feels shame, and he drops it, dismissing it as a “broken heirloom.” Which is arguably an even worse reaction than his first one, because it fails to acknowledge the failure associated with it.

But later, the shards are forged into a new sword by Aragorn, who is Isildur’s heir. This is a powerful metaphor; it’s not enough for Aragorn to come in with a new sword and fix everything: he has to incorporate the failures of the past into the solution in order for it to hold together. He has to learn from history to avoid repeating it.

This is what failure is for. For 20 years, the Pirates chained together one losing season after another. They totaled 1,796 losses during this streak; that’s a lot of links in the chain. And every single one of those losses is valuable. The longer that chain is, the more there is to melt down, reforge, and make into something new. Dare I say…a ring?

And who is our king? Who will reshape those losses into something new? None of this would be possible without one Andrew Stefan McCutchen.

Andrew means “man.” Stefan means “crown.”


Filed under: Playoffs (I can't believe I get to use this tag)

The Bleeding Has Stopped

Posted by @ 08.21.14

You know how in cartoons when someone would run off a cliff, but they wouldn’t fall until they looked down? The last couple of weeks have been like that for the Bucs.

Obviously, it’s bad news when the most apt analogy for the team I can come up with involves comparing them to Wile E. Coyote, who usually looks like this:

Pirates fans, all year

But there’s really no other way to illustrate it: the Bucs played fantastic baseball for a very long time–they held a 96-win pace for half the season. Bad teams do not do that. But they did it in improbable ways. They did it with smoke and mirrors and glue and duct tape and Vance Worley, but they were doing it. The underlying numbers suggested a good team, but those numbers were coming from improbable places. When your team is finding that many diamonds in the rough, it’s hard not to think a few are really cubic zirconia.

So when they inevitably started to fall, it was difficult to know whether or not it was bad luck (a lot of the games were close, and a few you could safely affix the word “blown” to), or just the roadrunners coming home to roost. We played .500 ball for a bit without half our lineup and our best pitcher, which is pretty remarkable. If you combine that with the losing streak, rather than partitioning the two, the cause-and-effect seems a little clearer. We just didn’t look down right away.

Of course, the players themselves are honor-bound not to blame injuries for poor performance. But outside of the kind of competitive bubble that seems to be necessary in dugouts and locker rooms, it’s pretty clear that they do, and that the Pirates have gotten several swift kicks in in the nethers from the ever-fickle Lady Luck. It’s a boring explanation, but it’s probably the right one.

But even after all this, our third order winning percentage is still better than the Cardinals’, and basically identical to the Brewers’. And we’re a couple of games out of a playoff spot with Cutch, Cole, Mercer and Walker back. Pirates fans are down because of sequencing: if we’d been gradually winning more than we lost since our 10-18 start, and being 3 games over .500 was our high water mark, we’d all be thrilled. But because we surged to 9 over and lost it all in one swoop, everybody’s roleplaying as 1929 investment bankers.

This remains a very good team when healthy, a moderately good team when moderately healthy, and a pretty bad team when, like, four of its best five players are missing. The following sentence describes pretty much every contender, by the way.

Most importantly, going forward we shouldn’t have to smash the In-case-of-emergency-break-glass-and-start-Brent-Morel display case too often. In an appropriate and fairly disgusting irony, the bleeding has stopped because we can finally get rid of the scabs.


Filed under: disgusting analogies, everybody calm down, In-case-of-emergency-break-glass-and-start-Brent-Morel

Braves, Timothy Carey Doppelganger Defeat Pirates, McCutchen

Posted by @ 08.20.14

The Pittsburgh Pirates – re-equipped with Handsome Andrew McCutchen, Jordy Mercer (The Pittsburgh Kid), Neil Walker (The Other Pittsburgh Kid), and even a guest appearance from Pedro Alvarez, the man without a position – squared off against the Atlanta Braves in the second game of what might be described as an important series of baseball games. As with the night before, the results were equally disastrous. Francisco Liriano, The Laggard, was victimized, greatly, by the ferocity of the Atlanta bats (as most left-handed persons are, apparently). Likewise, the offense could not muster enough offense against Aaron Harang, the once-Cincinatti ace turned journey-person.

I will not communicate anymore of the details from the game. Instead, I will point out that Harang bears what might be described as a sickly resemblance to the late Timothy Carey, a character actor who, perhaps most notably, appeared in a number of Stanley Kubrick films in the 1950′s.

Harang, Tim Carey

Indeed, Pittsburgh, the Ship is sinking and the Jolly Roger is ablaze. While it might be easy to blame poor roster construction or paper-thin depth at key positions, it should also be considered that the Pirates are being the victims of a conspiracy and were victimized by a reincarnation of the not-as-late-as-previously-thought Timothy Carey using the nom de baseball of Aaron Harang. Alternatively, it is possible that, not unlike Nicolas Cage, Carey/Harang is actually a Civil War-era Vampire. The proof, readers, lies in this totally professional ABC News dispatch that can be read here.


Filed under: Uncategorized

McCutchen-less Pirates Win, Pick Up Game on Everybody

Posted by @ 08.12.14

In the second game of this two home, two away, four game set against the laggardly Detroit Tigers, the Pirates unveiled a new secret weapon – Jordy Mercer: Scourge of Southpaws, Baseball-Murderer, Three-Hole-Hitter.

While it is true that the aforementioned Mr. Mercer has been hitting quite well since the calendar turned to June (all the way back on June 1st), it is still quite a sight to see him batting in Andrew McCutchen’s spot in the order.

Still, the Pirates were able to strike early against Robbie Ray, The Asset, and Mr. Mercer did indeed contribute. After Edinson Volquez ceded a run in the top of the 1st, the Pirates struck for a pair via a triplet of double(t)s in the bottom of the 2nd. Russell Martin, Gaby Sanchez, and the now-intriguing Travis Snider struck the blows. A Harrison double, steal, and Mercer single gave the Pirates a 3rd run an inning later. With that, Easy E was able to cruise along through the 6th, going on adventures, solving mysteries, and finding love. The bat-less Alex Avila was less bat-less in the 4th when he homered, otherwise Volquez cruised, adventured, solved, and loved, as I said previously.

The bullpen provided relief and Ike Davis + Starling Marte provided a bit of insurance. The Jolly Roger was raised.

Checking the scoreboard, it is, of course, worth mentioning that the Reds, Cardinals, Braves, and Brewers were all felled tonight – giving the Pirates +1 game on all of them. As of this writing, the San Francisco Giants find themselves trailing Adam Dunn and the White Sox. A loss for the Giants would be likewise pleasing, so hope for that.


Filed under: Uncategorized

Bucs Stand Pat at (Non-Waiver) Trade Deadline

Posted by @ 07.31.14

For the second straight season, it was an anti-climactic trade deadline for the Pirates with Jon Lester heading to Oakland and David Price heading to Detroit. Still, this should not be considered a disappointment for a number of reasons:

-Last season, the Pirates acquired Byrd and Morneau AFTER the July 31st deadline.

-Gregory Polanco, Josh Bell, Tyler Glasnow, Alen Hanson, Jameson Taillon, Austin Meadows, Nick Kingham, and Reese McGuire are all still in the Pirate system.

-It is likely that the Cards will win the Central whether we have Price or not and the top wild card spot likely belongs to Atlanta. The two teams that the Pirates will be vying against for the 2nd WC – the Giants and Brewers – were largely inactive today, with the Brewers acquiring a modest defensive upgrade in the OF, Gerardo Parra.


Filed under: Uncategorized

Pirates Have Sweep in Grasp, Throw It Away, LITERALLY

Posted by @ 07.31.14

This was a silly baseball game and I hated it. Hopefully these two stills properly encapsulate the late-inning comedy of errors that cost the Pirates the sweep in San Fran. I’d explain the situations, but you probably already know or don’t need the extra anxiety mid-workday.

TOOTBLAN
That colossal gaffe was brought to you by Kay Jewelers. Every kiss begins with Kay.

And then this hilarity to surrender the lead:

Stewart Throws It Away
The Bucs have gone 7-5 out of the break and won a series against the stupid, hapless, sinking Giants. Still, the sweep was a big deal. The Pirates head to Arizona to play four against Kevin Tower’s career’s suicide note. 


Filed under: Uncategorized