Last Chance to Be Smarter than Dave Littlefield

So, there was some discussion on these and I have one more left, so here it is - you are the GM for the 2003 Pirates.  On the 2002 quiz, most of you wanted to add one FA bat or one big name FA pitcher.  You should have picked "None of the Above" if you wanted to be as smart as Dave L.   

By building from within from 2001 to 2002, the Pirates picked up 11 games in the win column.  Going into the 2003 season, they again tried to build around the core of Kendall, Wilson, Ramirez ( a new report stated that Aramis Ramirez reported to Spring Training 20 pounds lighter ... determined to put a disappointing, injury-plagued 2002 season behind him...), Giles, and the three Musketeers (Wells, Fogg, and Benson) in the starting rotation.  They added a slew of mid-level free agent veterans to try to get over the hump.  Offensively, this included Randall “the Wiener Whacker” Simon, who actually had a pulse at first, hitting .275.  Unfortunately, his power skills were limited to bashing bratwursts, as he only had 10 HR and 14 2Bs in 321 plate appearances.  At least he and Matt Stairs pushed Kevin Young into some other career – if pretending to be a ballplayer was a crime, Young would be locked up for life.  Jeff Reboulet, Abraham Nunez, and Pokey Reese all started games at 2B – quick, now how many second basemen has Jack Wilson dealt with in three years?  Kenny Lofton and Reggie Sanders were added to the outfield, finally giving us some respectable hitting and power – they hit .277 and .285 respectively and Sanders had 31 HRs, double that of A-Ram (12 HRs) and Giles (16 HRs).  Craig Wilson, again playing part-time, had more home runs (18) than Giles and A-Ram.  We actually had a fairly solid bench, with C. Wilson, Stairs, Nunez, Mack-o-Wack, and Adam HyzduHumberto Cota got promoted to full-time back-up, but saw very little playing time.  Some guy named Bay also got called up, but he only hit 3 home runs.  Overall, the team’s offense sky-rocketed, with 753 runs (7th in the NL), 45 triples (2nd), 1492 hits (3rd), and 86 stolen bases (4th).  Yes, I double-checked – those are not the numbers for the pitching staff.

            The Pirates added veterans to the starting rotation, with mixed success.  Jeff D’Amico (who?) was our #2 starter. He won 9 and lost 16.  But Jeff Suppan, going in the 4 slot, won 10 and lost only 7.  Wells and Fogg were both 10 and 9, but Kris Benson fell to 5 and 9 as the 5th starter.  Their combined ERA was 4.37, or only slightly above the 2002 team ERA. 

     Was there a weak link on this team, you ask?  It’s the Pirates – of course there was.  Even though the starting pitching maintained roughly the same stats, the pitching staff had an overall ERA of 4.65 (12th among NL teams), gave up 746 earned and 801 total runs (11th and 12th), and 178 HRs (10th).  The staff’s WHIP was relatively high (1.405) and K/9 IP relatively low (5.8).  Our bullpen had to get worn out, as the last three pitchers in the rotation – Fogg, Suppan, and Benson – threw 140, 140, and 105 total innings in 2003, respectively.  Our “closer,” Mike Williams, had an ERA of 6.27, and set-up men Beimel and Boehringer both had ERAs of 5.00+.  Someone should have told them they were supposed to be setting up the closer, not the other teams’ batters.  The spot starters – Salomon Torres, Brian Meadows, and Ollie P – all had ERAs over 4.70.  Shockingly, the three of them combined to break even, with 9 wins and 9 losses.  We had three pitchers – they shall remain nameless – who had ERAs over 10.00; between them, they somehow won 1 game without being tagged for any losses.  I admittedly cherry-picked these quotes from the Pirates news archive, but they do seem to capture the year:

“But in the end, it was the clubs' bullpens that would prove to be the difference in the Cubs' 6-1, 10-inning win.”


“Four Pirates pitchers allowed seven runs on 13 hits to the Mets in a 7-2 defeat Thursday...”


“The Pittsburgh Pirates didn't expect the bullpen to be perfect for 162 games. The relievers' timing just could be a little better...”

     Something else that jumps out about the MLB roster is the average age of 28 years old.  I don’t know what the typical roster averages, but we had a 39-year old second baseman (Reboullet), an all 30+ outfield, and a 30+ bullpen (excepting Beimel).  Only seven players on the MLB roster were 24 years old or younger – Bay, J.J. Davis, Cota, J.R. House, Ollie P, John Grabow, and Duaner Sanchez.  The AAA Nashville team’s average age was over 27 years old – if an AAA affiliate is supposed to get players to the “bigs” in their “prime” years of 27-29, it doesn’t seem like our system was working.  Again, without regressing this to the mean applying an age-standardized rate to a collection of asymptotically unbiased binary variables that have a Bernoulli distribution for unreplicated factors, we can’t tell if the Bayesian inference = -2 [ln Lc - ln Ls] or D = -2 ln [Lc / Ls], which is obviously what the Stochastic Model would project for average team age.


      So getting back to the main point, how did the Pirates do when we built around the core of Ramirez, Giles, Wilson, and Kendall?  They ended up 4th in the NL Central, with a 75 and 87 record – an improvement of only 3 wins ... how do we improve now, particularly when all those old free agents we signed to get us over the top were signed for only one year?  There are potential holes at first, second (again), center field, and right field as Simon, Sanders, Stairs, Lofton, and “what’s his name at second” all leave.  In addition, the pitching staff will lose Suppan.  The help for next year – excluding the AAAA-type players – from the Nashville Sounds includes J.J. Davis (.284, 26 HR), Tike Redman (.294, 42 stolen bases), Tony Alvarez, and “old reliables” like Rob Mack-o-Wack, Humberto Cota, and Adam Hyzdu.  Arbitrarily and capriciously setting a cut-off line based on age and inning pitched, the only “young” pitching help available is Ryan Vogelsong (4.29 ERA) and Matt Guerrier (4.50 ERA).  Just like the batters, it looks like a lot of innings went to older players.

      Assuming that the appropriate age for players at AA should be a little younger, the Pirates are in real trouble here. The average age of players who spent purgatory in Altoona (I grew up within 20 miles of Altoona, so I can say that) was 25.  But that seems to be dragged down by pitchers and a lot of players who look like they were late call-ups.  Chris Duffy (.273 BA, 34 SB, 23 2B, 6 3B) and Jose Castillo (.287 BA, 24 2B, 6 3B) led the team in plate appearances and hit decently.  But after them, you go a long way down the list of position players before you see any recognizable names. (And then when you get there, its Ronny Paulino.)  Our pitching prospects at Altoona looked respectable, with Mike Gonzalez, Ian Snell, Sean Burnett, and John Grabow all pitching reasonably well.



Sorry for the weird formatting; not sure what's up with that....

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