Under the Microscope: Barry Zito

May 7, 2008

Watching tape of Zito throwing last night against the Pirates right now, and I have to say, although his stat line really doesn’t look too bad — 5 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, and 5 K — I really have a hard time believing the guy can be anything more than a back of the rotation innings eater, and even that is asking an awful lot.

Zito’s curveball is one of the most unique pitches in baseball. It’s big, soft, but all around one of the most spectacular pitches that any pitcher could ask to go to. But ask anybody around the game of baseball, and they’ll tell you that you can’t survive in the Majors on one pitch alone. The guys in the box are just too good.

Zito’s fastball has topped out at 85, and was usually sitting around the 83 MPH range. If you are going to toss 83 MPH fastballs to MLB hitters, it better have two things — perfect location and insane movement, ala Greg Maddux. From what I’m seeing, Zito really has neither. I can see that Zito’s fastball is pretty flat, and certainly doesn’t have the plus movement that he would need to make it even a useable MLB pitch.

Even more concerning is the lack of control Zito seems to have over the pitch, or all of those pitches for that matter, right now. Zito’s walked 17 guys over 33.2 innings pitched at this point, compared to just 16 strikeouts. It took him 99 pitches to get through 5 innings against a Pirates team that is just 23rd in baseball in walks drawn.

I’m not sure how much faith I can put in the MLB.com pitch trax thing, but based on what I can see with my eyes, and based on what MLB.com is showing, when Zito is coming into the zone, its because he’s coming right to the middle of the plate, right around the belt.

The Giants better hope that Zito figures out some way to either find some velocity or pick up some movement and start locating, because right now he looks like he belongs in the ‘pen as a long reliever at best, or perhaps he and his nasty curveball can become the first $126 million LOOGY.

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Bucco Chatter: Bay, Snell to Seattle Rumors Addressed

January 8, 2008

Saturday’s Steeler meltdown has this Yinzer a little down on his luck. What better remedy for a broken heart than Pirates baseball chatter?

…oh man, if you could only feel the sarcasm of that intro ‘graph…

John Sickles, often considered the source for MLB prospect info, has posted his annual list of the top Pirates prospects. Pretty thin, if you ask me. Time to unload and re-build?

Apparently not if your Neal Huntington. Take a look at the offers he’s supposedly getting from Seattle for Ian Snell and Jason Bay. Somebody tell Neal to pull the trigger already.

The link above reports that Huntington passed on a Snell for Adam Jones, Brandon Morrow, and George Sherrill deal earlier this off-season.

By throwing Bay into the deal, it’s more than likely that the Bucs could entice the M’s add Carlos Triunfel to the deal, if not more. My suggestion is to try substituting either Ryan Feierabend or Tony Butler for Morrow. That adds up to:

Bay
Snell

for

Jones
Triunfel
Feierabend/Butler
Sherrill

More specifically that’s:

Snell

for

Jones (B+ to A- prospect, depending on who you ask)
Feierabend/Butler (both B to B+, with Butler probably being the better prospect)

and

Bay

for

Triunfel (B+ to A-)
Sherrill (poor man’s Damaso Marte)

That leaves the 2010 Bucs with:

  • A border-line all-star outfielder in Jones, who will only be 24 years old
  • A solid, affordable lefty 1-2 punch in Gorzelanny paired with either Feierabend or Butler.
  • A shortstop of the future who should make some impact from day one (see below)
  • A solid lefty set-up guy

Considering Bay will already be years into the decline of his career by this point, and Snell will have maxed out as a number 3 starting pitcher, I’d consider that a successful deal if made.

(This is the see below part)

Triunfel is the guy that screams to me as a must have in these discussions. The kid is a stud, and is already ascending through the minors at age 18. He’s drawing some comparisons to both Alex Rodriguez and Hanley Ramirez, mostly because of his early success, and while asking him to live up to either of those two might be a stretch, expectations for Triunfel aren’t far off.

The Pirates are looking for Jack Wilson’s replacement, and let’s face it, Brian Bixler is not the answer. The smart move: get rid of Wilson to give Bixler some time at shortstop. When the experiment is deemed a defensive failure about halfway through 2009, slide Bixler over to second, where scouts say he could actually be a solid everyday player, and plug in Triunfel.

Geeze this GM stuff is easy, somebody get me on the phone with Bob Nutting, I’m ready to take Neal’s job.


Random Ramblings Pt. 2

December 18, 2007

So I don’t have anything in particular to mention in today’s post, so I’ll just give you some interesting links and a few tidbits of knowledge that I’ve got crammed into my slightly undersized head…

  • A must read from Rob Neyer of ESPN.com. Rob came across an interesting article regarding HGH use. Turns out it might not be so helpful after all, at least if you want to believe the college professor/scientist he quotes.
  • Brian Roberts has told the Associated Press that he did in fact try steroids in 2003, but said it was just a one-time deal, and that his moral values (morals in sports????) stopped him from trying the juice again. Question for my faithful readers…Since Roberts was the one name that everyone used to question the integrity of the Mitchell Report (this means you Peter Gammons), has the report gained a little credibility now?
  • A-Rod and agent Scott Boras are no longer talking. It’s been a pretty lousy off-season for Boras, despite A-Rod getting his big contract. Teams have been sick of his negotiating habits for a while now, and looks like players may be catching up.
  • Huntington seems dead-set on finding somebody to compete with Paulino for time behind the plate.
  • I remember seeing numbers somewhere that showed Paulino was a good game caller. I can’t remember where I saw those, but I did manage to find some revealing stats about Paulino’s work with John Van Benschoten this past summer.
  • Some criticism directed at the Pirates front office about the hiring of Troy Buckley as the organizations rover pitching instructor. Some interesting stats and what not at the bottom of that article as well.
  • Another good ‘roid article from Rob Neyer that I figured I’d put in here. Raises some questions about how Hall of Fame voters should view the last 15-20 years in baseball history.
  • For all my Penn State buddies from back home, sounds like you guys might be seeing more than Nittany Lion football at Beaver Stadium in the next couple of years. Definitely something I’d like to see.
  • And finally, some much-deserved props for some Penguins rookies who have been all but carrying the team for the past couple weeks. Without Tyler Kennedy’s offensive production and Kris Letang’s clutch shoot-out abilities, the Pens would be in some serious trouble at this point.

That should give you plenty to chew on for a few hours. Depending on flight schedules and potential blizzards in Boston, I could be stuck in the dorm for a good 3-4 days straight, so there is potential for some serious post-age in the near future.

I leave you with some disheartening news from Mr. College Basketball himself. Looks as though Dicky V might have “awesome baby’d” one too many times. All the best to you Dicky V. We’ll all be eagerly awaiting your courtside return.


Mitchell Report

December 13, 2007

The Mitchell Report has officially been released. Reportedly 5-7 percent of Major Leaguers were juicing in 2003, the report said, and numerous big names have been released. I’ll start with former Pirates on the list, as this is a Pittsburgh based blog and there are a few ex-Bucco’s on the list:

  • Josias Manzinillo – We’ll start with probably my favorite name on this list, just because Josias is easily the most entertaining terrible ball-player I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. The dude was a nut, and I loved every minute of it. Josias is first accused of having used performance-enhancing substances in 1994 while he was with the Mets, and supposedly was he one of Kirk Radomski’s most consistent customers. Odds are, Josias was juicing through his entire career, including his time in Pittsburgh.
  • Kevin Young – This was an intriguing name from my standpoint. One of the main reasons the Pirates move to PNC Park wasn’t coupled by a resurrection of the franchise was Young’s sudden drop in production after the signing of a long-term deal. When I first saw this name, I assumed that Young had juiced before making the big bucks, then decided to back-off. However, the report says Young first inquired about performance enhancing drugs in 2001 in an attempt to resurrect his career. Looks like Young’s early success really was just a fluke.
  • Denny Neagle – Neagle approached Radomski in 2000 inquiring about H.G.H., and according to Radomski, Neagle was already familiar with the drug. Odds are, Neagle was juicing for at least some of his time with the Buccos from 1992-1996.
  • Ron Villone – Evidently he got on the juice on Neagle’s recommendation. Villone only spent one year in Pittsburgh, and despite probably being juiced up, he won just four games and posted a 5.81 ERA…thanks Ron.
  • Jason Christiansen – Proof that juicing doesn’t make you a good ballplayer.
  • Benito Santiago – The guy played for like, 40 years. You knew he had to be getting some kind of help.

And now to the big boys:

  • Barry Bonds – Bonds’s name is mentioned, but we’re not really told anything we don’t know. To be honest, the evidence against Bonds is weaker than I may have thought though. See page 128 of the report for more. I provided a link to the report at the beginning of the article.
  • Roger Clemens – Guilty. I have more to say on Clemens’s use, expect a separate post in the next day or two devoted solely to Clemens.
  • Andy Petitte – Also guilty, although his use appears to have been strictly for rehabilitation purposes.
  • Paul Lo Duca – Lo Duca is an interesting case. When the Dodgers entered trade discussions with the Marlins in 2003, Lo Duca’s production was down, evidentally because he had gotten of the ‘roids. The following is from notes by Dodgers personnel discussing Lo Duca:

“Steroids aren’t being used anymore on him. Big part of this. Might have some value to trade . . . Florida might have interest. . . Got off the steroids . . . Took away a lot of hard line drives. . . Can get comparable value back would consider trading. . . . If you do trade him, will get back on the stuff and try to show you he can have a good year. That’s his makeup. Comes to play. Last year of contract, playing for 05.”

  • Eric Gagne – The name that really jumped out at me from this report. This guy was more dominant when he was at his best than any closer we’ve ever seen…and he was juicing. Lo Duca was the middleman between Gagne and Radomski, apparently placing his orders for him. There is undeniable evidence that Gagne juiced while in LA, including postage from a shipment marked for Gagne from Radomski post-marked on August 7, 2004 (my birthday, by the way, not that that actually matters). Also, it appears that Red Sox GM Theo Epstein knew that Gagne was a juicer when he brought him to Boston this summer. Said scout Mark Depiano about Gagne in response to Epstein’s questioning about the closer’s past:

“Some digging on Gagne and steroids IS the issue. Has had a checkered medical past throughout career including minor leagues. Lacks the poise and commitment to stay healthy, maintain body and re invent self. What made him a tenacious closer was the max effort plus stuff . . . Mentality without the plus weapons and without steroid help probably creates a large risk in bounce back durability and ability to throw average while allowing the change- up to play as it once did . . . Personally, durability (or lack of) will follow Gagne . .”

  • Kevin Brown – Also recommended by Lo Duca while in LA, Brown evidently approached Radomski after DL stints in 2001. Brown was smart enough to send cash and not use checks, although there are labels from packages sent by Radomski to Brown.
  • John Rocker – lmao…all I have to say here.
  • Mo Vaughn – *see John Rocker response
  • Glenallen Hill – *see Rocker and Vaughn responses
  • Miguel Tejada – Is anybody really surprised by this one? He was tight with the Giambi brothers and the self-appointed steroid godfather Jose Canseco, and he has also been accused by Raphael Palmeiro. It does make us wonder if there was any truth to Palmeiro’s claim that he only juiced in ’05 on Tejada’s recommendation, believing it to be Vitamin B-12. I’m still pretty sure Palmeiro used throughout his career though.

Other names as note: Larry Bigbie, David Segui, Brian Roberts, Jack Cust, Todd Hundley, Rondell White, Chuck Knoblauch, Greg Zaun, David Justice, Mike Stanton, Jerry Hairston Jr., Fernando Vina (interestingly hasn’t appeared on ESPN since the report was released, even though every analyst and their mother has already given their opinion)


Under the Microscope: Neal Huntington

December 11, 2007

Neal Huntington
New Pirates GM Neal Huntington’s resemblance to actor/director Ron Howard has Bucco fans wondering if he’s the man who can bring Happy Days back to the ‘Burgh

We’re almost three months into the Neal Huntington’s reign as Pirates General Manager, and despite some complaints about a lack of off-season activity, Huntington has been a busy man, and I think now would be a good time to stop and reflect on some of the team’s front offices moves since his hiring.

The first order of business for Huntington was the hiring of a new manager and coaching staff. While it is too early to really judge new skipper John Russell and his staff, we did find out a couple of things about Huntington’s philosophy.

Russell, who comes to Pittsburgh with 10 years of managerial experience under his belt, has been known to work wonders with young ballplayers, and is rumored to be a good motivator as well. While with Philadelphia’s triple-A club, Russell worked with former-MVP Ryan Howard and perennial all-star Chase Utley as they made their ascents to the big club.

Thus, we can assume that Huntington’s M.O. is to built towards the future with young, cheap ballplayers. Not a very uncommon approach in baseball these days among small-market clubs, and one that the Pirate faithful are more than familiar with by this point.

Huntington has made only a few moves with players on his roster, and only a couple of them should really come as a surprise to Bucco fans:

  • He claimed pitchers Phil Dumatrait and Ty Taubenheim, outfielder Kevin Thompson, and infielder Josh Wilson off waivers. Dumatrait and Taubenheim may be able to find a spot in the Bucco bullpen in the near future, and depending upon future personnel decisions — e.g. the potential signing of Chris Gomez (see below) — Wilson might be able to squeeze onto the 25 man roster as a utility infielder, but odds are none of these players will have any major effect on the team’s future.
  • Selecting pitcher Evan Meek in the Rule-V draft was an interesting decision by Huntington. Meek has some potential, as he is a pretty big guy (6-foot-1), and throws a heavy, sinking fastball. His control has been inconsistent at best, and he needs to develop his secondary stuff, problems that might not be solved if he is couped up in the Pirates bullpen all season long.
  • Huntington declined options on infielders Cesar Izturis and Josh Phelps. Neither player figured to have any role in the Pirates future plans, unless the Pirates had moved shortstop Jack Wilson, in which case the job would have been left available for Izturis, who won a gold-glove at shortstop with the Dodgers in 2004.
  • My favorite move so far this winter was the agreement reached with utility infielder Chis Gomez. While the deal hasn’t actually been signed yet (I’m a little curious as to what’s happening there), both sides agreed to terms on a one year, one million dollar contract. Gomez is a respectable fielder, and would serve as a more than suitable utility back-up for the Buccos. His .261 career average is fairly unimposing, but don’t sleep on his abilities with the bat. His season average hasn’t dipped below .279 since his hit .251 with the Twins in 2003, and since 2004 he’s hitting a solid .293 in just over 900 at-bats. We just have to hope that the postponing of Gomez’s signing won’t offend the 14-year veteran out of signing the deal when Huntington is ready to pull the trigger.
  • Rumors about potential Pirate deals were flying around the internet during the Winter Meetings last week. If the Pirates go into spring training without dealing at least one of their outfielders, Huntington should be fired on the spot. The team has five guys on the 25 man roster that can do something special, whether it be with the glove, the bat, or on the base-paths, and with 20-year old stud Andrew McCutchen looming at triple-A Indianapolis, there’s no reason for the Bucs to hold onto all these guys going into the season

    Jason Bay and Nate McLouth trade rumors have been particularly wide-spread, with teams reportedly being frustrated by Huntington’s absurdly high asking prices. Look for Huntington to lower his price at some point. Odds are one of those two guys will be dealt, with McLouth being the heavy favorite to end up in another uniform next season. See my views on the Jason Bay rumors here

  • Another one of Huntington’s priorities has been to dump the salaries of his aging bullpen pitchers, thus discussions with the Yankees, Braves, Phillies, Astros, and Mets about lefty specialists Damaso Marte and John Grabow.
  • Huntington’s only trade so far this season was nothing more than a salary dump, as he traded Salomon Torres to Milwaukee for a couple of minor league pitching prospects. Torres, who was set to make somewhere in the ballpark of $3.5 million next season, was the longest tenured Pirate, and you can see my thoughts on the trade here.

I have no complaints about any of the items mentioned above. Some of the moves below, however, are a little more questionable.

  • I understand Pirate’s fans frustrations with infielder Jose Castillo. His lackadaisical approach to the game is often aggravating, and it’s obvious to even the most casual fan that his swing is far too long. But he is only 26 years old, and still has room to improve, especially with some good, motivational coaching, which is supposedly Russell’s strength.
  • This is the one that really stumps me. As was reported by Detroit Free Press reporter Jon Paul Morosi earlier today:

    TIGERS, PIRATES TALKING: The Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates discussed Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge over the last several days, but it’s not clear if the sides have made any progress toward a deal.

    Inge lost his job as the Tigers’ starting third baseman following the acquisition of Miguel Cabrera last week. He has informed Detroit officials that he would rather become another team’s starting third baseman than accept a reserve role with the Tigers.

    Of all the least sensible potential deals that I have ever come across, this one might just rank up there as the most ridiculous. If there is any truth to this rumor, Huntington shouldn’t even be fired, he should just walk out the door and quit. While Jose Bautista is no all-star, he has made tremendous strides as a good defensive third baseman. He is younger than Inge (Bautista is just 27 to Inge’s 30), and comes at a much cheaper price (Inge is set to make $4.9 million next season compared to Bautista’s $397,000).

    Inge is already on the decline of his career, having hit .236 with just 14 home runs in 2007 — Bautista hit .254 with 15 dingers last year — and unless Inge would be willing to make some spot starts as a back-up catcher, something he has already expressed serious dis-interest in doing, he would be completely worthless to the Bucs, especially for nearly $5 million per year.

    Also, Neil Walker will be spending the early part of this season preparing for his September cameo at PNC Park, and if he meets expectations, it won’t make a whole lot of difference if Inge or Bautista has been at third, because they will both be out of a job. Might as well save the cash, lord knows the Pirates need it.

There have been a lot of grumblings about Huntington early on, but honestly, its too early to judge his worth as a GM at this point. It will be interesting to see in what direction he decides to take this team.

There’s potential here for some big deals that could make or break Huntington very early on in his GM career, and its an Anthony Smith-guarantee that Bucco fans will be watching him closely.


Bucco’s Trade Torres, Recchi Heading South

December 8, 2007

The Pirates have agreed to trade relief pitcher Salomon Torres to the Milwaukee Brewers for a couple of minor league prospects. Torres, the team’s longest tenured player, had been a mainstay in the Pirate bullpen since 2002.

Torres is a perfect fit for Milwaukee, where he will probably get a spot setting up games for new closer Derrick Turnbow. Since losing closer Francisco Cordero and set-up man Scott Linebrink to free-agency, the Brewers have been scrambling to find bullpen depth, and with Torres, it looks like they’ve plugged up one of those holes.

Torres’s disappointing ’07 campaign was a fluke. He spent the entire season very unhappy with management (a.k.a. ex-GM Dave Littlefield). Littlefield somehow “tricked” Torres into signing and undervalued contract, promising to help fund a baseball facility in the Dominican Republic. I don’t know exactly what happened, but for whatever reason Torres was not happy.

Torres’s ’07 is no indication of what Torres can still do. Injuries, alongside his growing feud with the front office, really hindered his performance last season. So long as the injury doesn’t linger, expect Torres to return to his ’06 form, when he was baseball’s most used reliever.

This is a deal the Pirates needed to make at some point, and as far as I’m concerned they did a pretty good job. They pick up a couple of guys who might be dependable bullpen guys in a couple years, and they managed to dump Torres’s 3.5 million dollar salary. Expect to see a few more moves in the coming months designed to simply cut back payroll as GM Neil Huntington keeps trying to clear out some of the garbage that Littlefield has left behind for him.

Mark Recchi
The Penguins waiving of Hall of Famer Mark Recchi signifies a sad day in the life of this Penguins’ fanatic

And now to the sentimental portion of today’s post. The Pen’s tried to waive my all-time favorite Penguin (sorry Alexi Kovalev) Mark Recchi to the minors this week, but the Atlanta Thrashers stepped in and claimed the future Hall of Famer.

Recchi, a part of the 1991 Stanley Cup champion Penguins’ squad, was traded near the end of the 1992 season to Phucking Filly. Two year old Jake balled his eyes out when mommy tried to explain to him why the team traded.

Anyways, its a sad day for Penguin hockey, although the Pens did make the right move in cutting him loose. Also, I was happy to see GM Ray Shero and company gave Recchi all the respect he deserved.

Doesn’t change the fact that I’m going to dearly miss the Recching Ball. I’ll be crying in my dorm for the next few days if anybody needs to find me.


A Little Inside Scoop

December 6, 2007

I would like to take advantage of recent Damaso Marte trade rumors to post a suggestion to the Pirates, based on some inside knowledge I have of the Yankees’ farm system.

Any trade the Pirates make with the Yankees needs to include Scott Patterson. Patterson grew up about five minutes from my house in Pittsburgh, and this past spring I had the opportunity to catch a couple of his bullpen sessions. He has a low-90’s fastball with good, sharp sink to it, along with a plus splitter and a curveball that both break late and sharp. I’d say his stuff would be a little above average on for a major league pitcher, but what defines him is his control.

I kid you not when I say that every pitch he threw was exactly where I put the glove, and according to those who have seen him work in live game action, his accuracy almost never waivers, even in tight, pressure-packed situations.

Patterson made 43 appearances for the AA Trenton Thunder in 2007, accumulating a minute 1.09 ERA and an even tinier .81 WHIP. Most impressive: he struck out 91 guys — in just 74.1 innings. That’s a K/9 of 11.02.

The only downside to Scotty P. is that he’s already 28-years old, which is probably the reason the Yanks seem to have been hesitant to make him a priority in their farm system. Fortunately for the Buccos, this means he could come pretty cheap, possibly as a near toss in on any deal the Bucs and Yanks do agree to.

I realize I have the tendency to be a bit bias in situations like these, but I would bet everything I own that Patterson could be a successful pitcher in a middle relief spot.