Top Ten – Buccos Who Celebrated Ten Years in Black and Gold

Yesterday I celebrated my tenth wedding anniversary with my lovely wife Megan. It’s been the best time of my life and it feels great knowing there will be many more. Since I couldn’t afford a direct message from Antonio Brown for her on Cameo, she’ll have to settle for a Top Ten dedicated to her.

This list is all the “best” Pirates to spend ten seasons in the Black and Gold. It will obviously not have a large representation in the modern era, and it should be pretty obvious, if you’re on this list, you were a damn good ball player.

10. Roberto Clemente 1955-1972 – What can I write about The Great One that hasn’t already been said? Just sit back and enjoy that he is a baseball icon, a humanitarian icon and all Pittsburgh’s. OK, we’ll share.

9. Steve Blass 1964-1974 – Mr. Pirate himself. When you really think about how synonymies Blass is with Pittsburgh Pirates baseball and lore, its hard to believe he only spent 10 years in uniform, and that’s with an admitted stretch to include 1974.

8. Max Carey 1910-1926 – Max is probably the best player in Pirate’s history most have never heard of. In fact, the 1925 World Series Champion team is the least spoken of in the club’s history. He was moved during the 1926 season to the Brooklyn Robins finishing his career there in 1929 but let me lay down his career stats for you. 54.5 WAR, 2,665 Hits, .285 BA, 738 SB. In the 1925 season he hit .343 with 186 hits and led the league in stolen bases a total of 10 times.

7. Pie Traynor 1920-1937 – Hey why not double up with one of Max’s teammates. This list will only contain two of the three Hall of Famers that led to the Series, Kiki Cuyler will have to get his due another time. Pie was another burner, and his lifetime .320 BA sure helped make the most of that speed. Holding down the hot corner in Pittsburgh for all 17 years of his career.

6. John Candelaria 1975-1985, 1993 – The Candyman was somehow only an All-Star one time, but Pittsburgh understood his value, so does the prism of history. 41.9 WAR, 177 Wins, 3.33 ERA, what else can you say beside the Candyman can.

5. Roy Face 1953-1968 – This 6X All-Star and 1960 World Series Champion was instrumental in securing victory. Most of his body of work came from the pen but this was long before the one inning outing it would become. It was also before glory was attached to the save.

4. Vern Law 1950-1967 – Vern is arguably the best argument the Pirates have for “franchise ace”. A Cy Young winner and 2X All-Star, Law eclipses Bill Mazeroski for reasons they got there in 1960.

3. Honus Wagner 1900-1917 – It’s hard to make a list about Pirate’s greats without including the Flying Dutchman. Want to overlook him? Try this on for size, 130.8 WAR, 3,420 Hits, 101 HR, .328 BA, 723 SB. He won the batting title 8 times and the 1909 World Series. In 1900 he hit .381, with 45 doubles and 22 triples, out of his 201 total hits. It’ll never happen again. Period.

2. Paul Waner 1926-1940 – 3X batting champion and Outfielder extraordinaire for your Pittsburgh Pirates, a lifetime 73.9 WAR, 3,152 Hits and a .333 batting average. He was lightning and consistent topping .360 three times in his career.

1.  Willie Stargell 1962-1982 – Pops was the leader on and off the field. 57.5 WAR, 2,232 Hits, drilling 475 homeruns while maintaining a .282 BA is unheard of. His iconic left-handed swing hit some of the longest home runs the league had ever seen and much like Roberto, what more can I say.

I am 100% confident I missed some, because I fought myself on some of these, like Bill Virdon 1956-1968, or Bob Veale 1962-1972. I could have gone with Bill Mazeroski 1956-1972 or Manny Sanguillen 1967-1976, 1978-1980. But quite possibly the hardest to eliminate for me was Dave Parker 1973-1983. That’s not it, but this one was actually hard.

Friday Focus – Foundation of the Franchise

Well, as some of you know, once a week or so I like to put out a piece called Five Thoughts at Five. These always get some fun conversations going with all of you, and this one was no different Wednesday night.

The question I was hoping would draw response was number three and here is the gist, in the last forty years of Pirates baseball, which one player would you choose as your first pick if you were starting an expansion team? I asked that everyone take some pretty tough looks at this too. This should in no way just be “my favorite player ever”, there is much to consider.

Here was the exact question “If you could choose one player from the Pirates 40 years with no World Series rosters to start a franchise with, who would it be? We’re talking you’ve seen what you’ve seen, you know what you know, career still ongoing or not. Factor in everything, like Doug Drabek was really good, but pretty short career, sure you want to start your franchise with him? Gerrit Cole could have seven more excellent seasons or he could get TJ next year, want to take the risk. Barry Bonds is the all-time homerun king, but man is that the guy you want as your core leader? Think about this one and tell me why.”

The replies were anything but predictable, this one was from Joe “As far as a core leader from the last 40 years I would have to go with Jason Kendall. Though he wasn’t much of a power hitter he was able to consistently hit for average. More importantly he was able to play 140 plus games as catcher constantly every year for 9 years with us. We have not been able to have a catcher give us that kind of durability year after year since he left for Oakland.” So, Joe places a huge amount of importance on the durability factor when building his team.

Randomly, one gentleman simply said, Bob Walk. Ummm.

Brian said, “Bonds….look at when he hit his prime. Could bat him 1st, 3rd, or 4th. Build a lineup around him yet plug him in where he fits best in regard to the other talents. Also was still more than capable of playing CF if your other two guys had to play LF n RF.” Solid argument, no? Certainly, he never was punished for his perceived use of steroids, so the “fear” of that cropping up is long gone.

This is a simple difference between super talented and someone you want to build around and I’m glad to see some out of the box thinking going on.

So, where do I come down? I was able to narrow it to three candidates and I’ll elaborate on those along with my top three who just missed the cut.

The Just Missed Candidates
1. Tony Pena
– Harkening back to what Joe said up there, catcher is quite possibly the most important place to start as he can affect the offense and defense. Tony was simply amazing. In his 17 seasons in MLB he posted a 24.7 WAR, with 107 HR and a .260 BA. These totally acceptable numbers were dragged down by his time out of Pittsburgh where he was a perennial all-star. That’s the exact reason he doesn’t quite make it, his career went on a pretty steady decline after his trade from the Burgh.

2. Gerrit Cole – He is still in the middle of writing his story and shows no signs of slowing down. He’s a fine candidate for starting a club, you’d have an anchor for years in your rotation and a chance to win even if your bats weren’t ready for primetime. But if his career did end now due to some catastrophic injury or it just changed how he pitches, there just isn’t enough already in the bank for me to pick Gerrit.

3. Austin Meadows – I seriously considered Austin. First, I hear from folks almost daily that losing him will ultimately be the most painful thing we remember from the Huntington era, and second, you could do worse than starting your franchise with a speedy outfielder who has power too. This would be the ultimate High floor, high ceiling guy, right? He just misses out for one fact; I think I have 3 betters.

The Candidates
1. Andrew McCutchen
– Let’s start with his career (so far) numbers shall we, a 44.8 WAR, 233 HR, and a .286 BA. He’s a consummate pro on and off the field and his ability to patrol CF ups the ante. Early in his career he was a real threat to steal a base every time you held him to a single and while he has evolved into less of a threat to steal, it didn’t come with much reduction in speed. He’s 11 years in and looks like he’ll go for a few more at least. That’s a nice stretch of consistency and leadership I would be very comfortable hanging my hat on.

2. Barry Bonds – Everything my man Brian said up there. Literally. At the same time, Barry had to be that good to rise above the personality traits I personally find unbecoming of someone I’d like to start my franchise with. That said, 162.8 WAR, 762 HR, .298 BA in 22 seasons. There was a time, specifically 2001 where Barry was intentionally walked with the bases loaded, more than once. Let’s just say that doesn’t happen often.

3. A.J. Burnett – In 17 seasons A.J. posted a 28.8 WAR, and a 3.99 ERA. His Wins and Losses sit at 164-157 which is pretty understandable when you consider some of the teams he played on in Florida and Toronto. He grew into leadership which does give me pause but not enough to take him out of my top three. In no way do I think he is the best pitcher to every wear black and gold, but the length of his career and the attitude he brought to the club pushed him over the edge for me.

Well, how did I do? Anyone I missed? If you have a name, bring your reasons too. Happy Friday everyone.

Baseball’s Civil War

It’s a tale as old as time, or at least one that has existed since players began taking to ball fields in an organized fashion and especially ever since they have been paid to do so. The battle between players and owners has been been the topic of countless arguments, potential game stoppages, lock-outs, strikes, salary, contract and arbitration negotiations and collective bargaining ; among many other issues that have arisen during the history of America’s Favorite Pastime. It has also been at the root of many of our favorite baseball movies, both fact and fiction. We all know about the legend of Charles Comiskey’s frugal nature that caused the 1919 Black Sox to throw the World Series, the tale of the villain, Tom Glavine during the walk-out/strike of 1994 and the evil plan of former show girl Rachel Phelps to tank the Cleveland Indians season in order to move the team to Miami. These and many other examples during this great games history have been interwoven into the fabric of time, often pitting the greedy rich owners vs. the spoiled and selfish players in a battle for our approval in the court of public opinion; and what is going on right at this very moment, during a global pandemic no less, is absolutely no different.

On the afternoon of Thursday March 12th, as I was walking around the outfield boardwalk at LECOM Park, Major League Baseball came to a screeching halt amid concerns surrounding the spread of COVID-19. Initially it was announced that Spring Training would be suspended and Opening Day would be delayed for at least two weeks. From the moment this came out MLB and its owners, along the MLBPA (Major League Baseball Players Association) began to scramble, and rightfully so. Although at this time it was thought, somewhat due to the overall ignorance of the magnitude COVID-19 would eventually have on our lives, that baseball would delay for a little bit, but things would eventually get back to “normal”; as evidenced by the first few statements and agreements that came to light in the wake of this decision.

Within two weeks of this nearly unprecedented decision, the MLB Owners, represented by Rob Manfred, and the MLBPA, led by Tony Clark had come to an agreement as it pertained to service time, the draft and salary advances. I discussed each of these in further detail after they were first announced in The Battle To “Save” Baseball. Immediately after this decision was made and upon pressure from the media and fans, a decision was also made to pay Minor League players as well. As far as the salary advances and MiLB pay were concerned only April and May were officially agreed upon or so it seemed at the time, which has become a major point of contention, but we will get to that later. Anyone who knows me is aware that I was, and still am, extremely opinionated on each of these compromises or concessions, as evidenced by My Letter To Rob Manfred : One Man’s Plea. I also have multiple opinions on the new conflict and concerns caused in part by the unforeseen ramifications that continue to unfold on almost daily basis; influencing the desire to write this and other articles.

A little over three weeks after this agreement had be finalized, rumors began to trickle out concerning MLB’s plan to return to play, as early as the middle of May by some accounts; the Arizona Plan (aka “Bio-Dome), the Cactus and Grapefruit Plan and a third plan that brought Texas into the mix. None of these plans were met with any level of optimism from the players, the media, fans and medical experts. It was at this time that we were reminded of the original three conditions of return to play, per Jeff Passan of ESPN: 1) There are no longer any bans on mass gatherings in place that would prevent games from being played in front of fans at the ballpark. 2) There are no relevant travel restrictions in the U.S. or Canada. 3) Medical experts determine playing games would not present health risks for players, fans, or other team personnel. MLB and Rob Manfred also tried to remind everyone of the idea surrounding the possibility of asking players to take additional pay cuts if games are played without fans, which Tony Clark was quick to put the kibosh on, stating that this issue had already been worked out and the players were already happy with their prorated salaries. This statement by Clark was overshadowed at the time due to another decree from Manfred allowing MLB teams to furlough or reduce the pay of their employees.

Then on May 11th a bombshell was dropped by MLB and its owners. They had come to an agreement to propose a 50-50 revenue share for games played, an 82 game regular season, an expanded playoff system (14 teams), active rosters of 30 players with a possible 20 man “taxi squad” and the desire to have all games played in team’s home ballparks. This is when all hell broke lose. Immediately Tony Clark rejected it as as a possible cap proposal. Then Sean Doolittle unleashed, Trevor Bauer had a Q &A with his agent and Blake Snell let his feelings be known on Twitch. People automatically felt the need to dissect every piece of information that was presented and how it was presented. MLB then released bulletins about how they would produced documents as to how much they would lose with lost games, as well as without fans in the stands; totaling nearly $4 billion dollars. Pandemonium was about to break loose.

Then baseball fans realized most of this stuff didn’t matter and was only glimpses at the truth. Do Blake Snell, Trevor Bauer, Sean Doolittle and all other players in MLB deserve to be paid their salaries at the agreed upon prorated amount? Yes. Will MLB owners lose $4 Billion? No, but technically yes. Based on last years profits, 2020 will potentially produce approximately $4 billion less than it did in 2020 with half a season being played, even though the latest data showed this loss as being representative of no games being played. However, they will save a half a year in salaries or potentially more based on their current proposal. Of course without fans in the stands, certain revenues will be lost, including ticket sales, concession purchases and merchandising. So, it begs the question how much of this is about losing money and how much of this about making the amount of money you are accustomed to?

Then came the infamous 67 page health/safety manual, which I would argue is the first thing that the MLB owners and Manfred did that addressed what they claimed was their main priority, player safety. Sure it was a little over the top with the no spitting, no high fives, no licking fingers, no sunflower seeds and obviously no Ubers. However, if they didn’t go into this much detail they would more than likely be accused of not caring about their employees enough. It was a lose-lose situation. Propose something that makes it seem impossible for the game to return or propose something that could be seen as putting players at risk. Either way you can be perceived as the bad guy.

Prior to me being able to really consider any of this to the fullest extent, MLB decided to drop another bombshell in the form of an email exchange between the MLB and the MLBPA lawyers discussing the possibility of revisiting of the prorated players salaries if the games were played with no fans. Based on this new information I would ask only two questions; 1) Does MLB have the right to ask players to play for a revenue share instead of a prorated salary based on games played? 2) Does the MLBPA have the right to reject this proposal? Unsurprisingly, the answer to both of these questions is a resounding yes.

Now that we are all up to speed it is time to hurry up and wait, while arguing for our beliefs about the situation on Twitter of course. In the the end we are right back to where we were in the beginning. The tale as old as time. The greedy owners versus the spoiled and selfish players. Everyone taking a side, with no clear winners and only one real loser, the fans.

Top O’The Metric To Yinz: Pure Power

There are countless ways for MLB teams to score runs, with almost endless combinations of hits, walks, wild pitches, passed balls, stolen bases and even hit by pitches. However, the quickest way to affect the outcome of a game has almost always been the long ball; followed closely by a base clearing triple and a down the line, in the gap or bouncing over the wall double. If a team does not have a fair number of hitters that at least pose a threat to bring in multiple runs or even simply get on the board, extend a lead or scrape back into a game with a single swing of the bat it obviously makes scoring runs a more difficult proposition, but in turn it also puts more pressure on your pitchers to over perform on a regular basis.

For the Pittsburgh Pirates their ability to score runs was a clear disadvantage this past season, especially with the bases loaded. They ranked 21st in the league with 758 runs and only slashed .227/.267/.378 when the bases were full of Pirates. Of course some clutch hitting or patience at the plate could have easily allowed them to improve upon these numbers. It is also just as clear that extra base hits in these situations and others would be more effective than a bloop single or a walk. However, a quick glance at the team’s numbers as whole in terms of power provides a bleak outlook on this potential; at least as far as last year is concerned.

When I look at and for power, ISO (Isolated Power) is the metric that my eyes gravitate toward first. It isn’t the be-all-end-all in determining the ability of a player, which no metric can truly do on its own, but it gives us a glimpse into the raw power potential of each player and a team overall. ISO is also a very simplistic metric to calculate as it is SLG (Slugging Percentage) – AVG (Batting Average). Once again it must be punctuated that this will not provide you with information on the overall ability of a player or team, only the type of player or players they are and when you look at the Pirates as a whole they were not very powerful; ranking as the 25th team in MLB with a .156 ISO. With that pretty disappointing revelation out of the way we can start to examine which individual Pirates players excel in this area of their game and the ones that bring down the average, as well as how they stack up against the rest of the league.

In Major League Baseball the average ISO is around .140, while prototypical powers hitter possess an ISO of .200 or above. In 2019 Mike Trout of the LA Angels was the league leader with an ISO of .353, followed closely by Christian Yelich of the Brewers (.342) and Nelson Cruz of the Twins (.328). On the opposite end of the spectrum is where you would find Yolmer Sanchez of the Chicago White Sox (.069), David Fletcher of the Angels (.094) and Miguel Rojas of the Marlins (.095). Even though it may seem this way I must reiterate that ISO does not always clearly determine the quality of the player, only the type of player, which becomes more evident as the ISO’s move closer together. Another thing that is fairly evident is that all of the Pirates fall in between the best and worst players in league according to this specific metric.

Top 3 Pirates

1) Josh Bell (.292)

It is no surprise that Bell is the top dog of the Pirates in this category as he produced near historic numbers during the early part of the 2019 season, as well as the fact that he had career numbers in home runs (37) and doubles (37). Bell’s numbers were good enough for 10th in MLB in ISO, which begins to put him in the conversation for one of the best power hitters in the league. Even taking into account the second half slump he still would have been the highest ranked Pirates with an ISO of .196.

2) Jose Osuna (.192)

In an injury shortened season, the one thing that Osuna clearly did well was drive the ball. Of his 69 total hits this past season, 30 of them were of the extra base variety. This puts him in position to be one of the Pirates only power hitters on the roster, which makes sense as to why fans are eager to get him more at bats moving forward.

3) Bryan Reynolds (.189)

This past season Reynolds was the Pirates best example of a player that could hit for average and power. For the most part he has displayed above average power in his professional career, but this past year’s ISO would rank as his highest; especially for a full season. At only 24 years of age in 2019 there is still room for increased power potential, however I would be happy even if he is just able to maintain.

Bottom 3 Pirates

1) Jacob Stallings (.120)

For all of Stallings doubters this is another bit of ammo that can be used in their arguments to show that he is not built to be an everyday catcher in MLB. It is also one that I would have a hard time disagreeing with, as he has never been seen as and/or known to be a power hitter; in spite of his 6’4” 220 pound frame. The positives for Stalling evidently lie behind the plate, not at it.

2) Kevin Newman (.138)

There have been many talks about Newman’s possible offensive regression from last years .308/.353/.446 slash line and this seems to be another example of that potential. This is not to say that he cannot be a productive player moving forward, it will just more than likely not be in the power department; which is more fine by me for a leadoff hitter, who is tasked with getting on base and making contact above all else.

3) Adam Frazier (.139)

This number is a little disappointing for those of use who have justified Frazier’s spot in the Pirates lineup due to his deceptive power and pop in his bat. Is it possible that myself and others have overestimated this potential? Have our eyes deceived us? This is possible based simply on this number/metric.

On the Pirates roster there were only three other regulars that joined Bell, Osuna and Reynolds on the list of players with above average power/ISO; Gregory Polanco (.182), Colin Moran (.152) and Cole Tucker (.150). The last two players on this list don’t really jump off the page, but at least Tucker is young enough at 23 years old to grow into some increased power. Some may even argue that Moran still has a year or two to make that jump. However, even if these numbers do increase, it is clear that the Pirates need a shot (or two) of power in their lineup in order to compete in a game that has become more about the long ball and over powering pitchers than ever before.

Five Thoughts at Five

Hi everyone, hope you’re having a very happy Tuesday. Everyday we inch closer to that elusive normalcy we all so desperately miss. Chin up Pittsburgh.

Here are my five thoughts for today. As always i hope we can use this to start a conversation, I’d love your thoughts.

1. What do you guys think of this idea? What if when baseball restarts they primarily played all afternoon games. The arbitrary 7:05 start was to give fans time to make it to the game comfortably, maybe we can play them all at 5 now. That could be kinda cool if you ask me.

2. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Last Dance documentary, and it got me thinking, has Baseball really ever had someone like him? For instance, Hockey I could argue Gretzky, Lemieux. Football I begrudgingly nominate Tom Brady or Joe Montana. Basketball it’s possible Lebron is in fact better. Baseball, hmm. When I think of this I feel like I could make an argument that baseball is in fact the ultimate team sport. Hard to ever have success primarily due to one man.

3. If you could choose one player from the Pirates 40 years with no World Series rosters to start a franchise with, who would it be? We’re talking you’ve seen what you’ve seen, you know what you know, career still ongoing or not. Factor in everything, like Doug Drabek was really good, but pretty short career, sure you want to start your franchise with him? Gerrit Cole could have seven more excellent seasons or he could get TJ next year, want to take the risk. Barry Bonds is the all time homerun king but man is that the guy you want as your core leader? Think about this one, and tell me why.

4. I wonder if my office chair misses me. Probably not.

5. If they have Spring Training 2 as they’re calling it and it is indeed hosted at PNC, I’m heading down to the Clemente Bridge with a pair of binoculars. Who’s in?

Have a great night everyone and I’m teetering on writing about number 3 so you’re responses could make an appearance, help a brother out.

Right, Wrong and Paralysis by Analysis

I’m not sure how many of you watch the Comedy Central show South Park, but on one episode they created a superhero character named Captain Hindsight. As you can imagine, his power was an “uncanny” ability to diagnose what should have been done in a given situation. The masses thanked him profusely, completely disregarding the fact that the hindsight clearly didn’t help them in their current plight.

It’s satire at its finest of course, but it made an excellent point about society in general. We love saying we were right, you were wrong. If you’re not careful you quickly slip into a whole new territory of neutral, a virtual standstill of stutter starts and baby steps that often themselves often lead to failure.

We do it in sports too don’t we? I often hear how terrible the Archer deal was and boy it sure has turned out that way. Watching Glasnow blossom and Meadows continue the path he started, and Hurdle stunted here in Pittsburgh is painful. I won’t even touch Baz but I’m sure in 3 or 4 years we’ll have a new reason to gripe. What I never hear about anymore are the litany of fans that were incredibly pumped to see their Buccos actually try to go get help for now instead of overvaluing their prospects.

It’s fine to have seen the actual results of the move and change your feelings, but it’s intellectually dishonest to pretend you were on this from day one. Surely some were on the button from the time this was announced, and social media provides a record nowadays. Good for them, honestly, good for Neal Huntington that his decisions just harmed his franchise rather than cost human lives.

Today MLB faces one of these decisions that very much so has those dire consequences. Nobody truly knows what constitutes right or wrong as we simply don’t have all the facts, Dr. Fauci himself can give you advice and it will be based on all the best information he has at the time, but he’d also tell you he can’t be 100% percent sure.

Many say, well, better safe than sorry. There is merit to that thinking of course, charging right into the unknown is typically a fool’s errand. At the same time, I could argue many of our greatest accomplishments as a species have profited from a leap of faith.

Now, this is bringing a game back as we start to emerge from a pandemic, not quite the same as storming the beaches of Normandy, nor as necessary. That said, the solvency of a major American business is potentially at stake. I know, I know, they’re all billionaires and will be just fine if a season is missed. Personally, yes, all those owners will not go belly up financially, you don’t become that wealthy by sitting around waiting to be separated from your money. Nor does it tend to happen without having taken a major risk or two.

If indeed the elimination of risk is expected entirely, team sports of any kind are very well and truly dead. No matter what any business decides as we navigate this there will be decisions that turn out to have been mistakes and there will be choices panned as reckless that turn out to be fine examples of success. When you make choices such as those faced my all the Pro Sports leagues, it must be done with the knowledge that not everyone is going to agree with you or your handling of each twist and turn. If you rely on the outraged masses on either side of a given decision the chances of falling prey to paralysis by analysis.

When baseball resumes, whether that be this year or next, the second guess community will be there to tell you your decisions were wrong. Even if baseball figures it out and comes back to action in July as has been proposed and make it through the shortened season without much incident, full battalions of  Captain Hindsights will be there to tell you they knew all along it would be ok and you should have never even paused the season. If someone gets sick during week 2, many will remind us all how fervently they supported a longer quarantine time.

For every decision with any magnitude at all there will be room for second guessing, and I’m as guilty as anyone. Sure, I write my opinion so of course I’m going to have to come down on one side or another for given situations, but that doesn’t preclude me from using the benefit of hindsight to grade the decisions of others. For instance, just last week I wrote that Rob Manfred had taken another misstep as the commissioner of MLB by putting forth and ultimately signing an agreement he ultimately wants to renege.

I could lie to you and tell you I always felt it was a stupid decision, but alas, reality is I didn’t think twice about it when the agreement was inked. I saw it as a nice compromise with an eye toward bringing back the game I love.

I believe baseball will get played this year, and as far apart as the two sides seem right now, I feel they’ll get there. Could I be wrong? Of course, I could, I’m basing this on nothing more than my gut and observation of the willingness of wealthy people to stay that way.

The best thing I can really say as we move forward is to remain patient and take a moment to allow the news cycle to evolve before deciding who the winners and losers are. If we assume the worst about people relentlessly, it becomes difficult to expect the best. Time will tell, but rest assured the worst thing that could be done quite possibly is to freeze and stand still.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

I often wonder who the Pirate’s real rival is, sure when the team is down its easy to simply hate or envy a plethora of teams, but realignment has probably played the biggest role in the answer than any one other fact.

Rivalries are different too, for instance when I was growing up the Mets were our biggest rival. When the Pirates started ramping up for the early ‘90s run the Mets were the main opposition. I hated them with everything I had, but I could not help to appreciate them at the same time. Doc Gooden, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, David Cone, John Franco, they were just so damn good. Many of these players were polarizing across the league, but you had to respect the hell out of them.

Watch this if you need a reminder.

When we hear discussion of realignment for this season, even as a temporary move to potentially get the season going, I keep hearing people talk about destroying these rivalries and how insane these ideas are. Perhaps you don’t recall the Atlanta Braves being in the Western Division. That zany Georgia, apparently the longest state in the union. At least they were nice enough to drag the Reds with them, that’s right folks, Cincinnati also a Western city back in 1990.

I actually like the idea of strictly realigning based on geography. Surely there will be some outliers, like Seattle isn’t going to get closer to anyone they play realistically.

In 1993 the league introduced two expansion teams in the National League, the Florida Marlins and the Colorado Rockies. This brought with it a three-division split rather than two and drastic realignment. 1998 brought in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (still an infinitely better name than Rays) and bucked the Milwaukee Brewers to the NL. After quite some time lobbying for the move 2013 brought the Houston Astros move to the AL balancing all the divisions at 5 apiece.

The Pirates being rivals with the Mets, ancient history isn’t it? Sure, people my age still have flashbacks to beating them down the stretch to clinch in 1990 and talk about how cool it would have been to see Darryl hit at PNC, but by in large they’re just as familiar as any interleague game.

Of course, there would be others, The Cards, Reds and Brewers have all had a turn, greedy Reds took a couple shots at it actually. Its terribly hard to be anyone’s rival if you’ve never bested them, its exactly why until recently the Steelers-Browns rivalry has paled in comparison to the Steelers-Ravens. It’s equally no fun beating up on someone repeatedly. You may hate the Cards, but the Pirates have yet to best them in the modern era. Think about it, our most celebrated success was beating the Reds in the Wild Card game, only to be beaten by the Cards in a best of five.

The Reds of the 70s provided a true rival, even while not in the same division. Simply due to the Pirates and Reds lining up as the two best NL teams in the 70s, battling each other for supremacy most of the decade. In the 80s the Buccos really stunk, but epic, heated games with the Phillies at least made my young mind consider them a rival.

I see MLB believes Detroit makes the most sense as the Pirates designated rival and based on the records of the two recently maybe they have a point. I’d like to think Cleveland would make sense, but I could just be letting football shade my mind’s eye.

In Baseball, the more you play, the more you dislike. The more familiar you are the more you study and understand your opponent. Nothing catches you by surprise because you’ve seen the mix of pitches, you know this team likes to run on 2-1 counts. You know their left fielder looks for fastballs down in the zone once you get count leverage on him. You even start to understand the oddities of their home ballpark dimensions and pitch to effectively make it work for you.

Free agency has hurt rivalries in all sports if I’m honest. Its really hard to get worked up into a lather about that, um, arrogant bas…, I can’t even pretend, Andrew McCutchen. He could have signed with the Cardinals and unless he turned down more money from Pittsburgh to go there, how could I possibly dislike the guy? Even then, how can I begrudge him wanting to win or thinking he has a better chance to do so minimally in St. Louis?

What do you think? Who are the Pirates real rivals today? Who SHOULD it be? I anticipate half the answers being Nutting already.

From The Crows Nest: The St. Louis Cardinals Farm System

So far in this series we have looked into the three NL Central Division Farm Systems who have taken some hits over the past few years and find themselves with either lack of depth or nearly barren of any elite players as it pertains to the MLB Pipeline Top 100 Prospects. The Chicago Cubs are currently ranked at #23, the Cincinnati Reds slot in at #24 and the Milwaukee Brewers are pulling up the rear at #30. The last division rival that needs to be examined, the St. Louis Cardinals, currently sit only three spots behind the Pittsburgh Pirates, landing at #18; and unfortunately they are once again a Farm System on the rise.

The St. Louis Cardinals have captured 4 of the last 10 Central Divisions Titles and 11 in total since its inception in 1994. In recent years the team from The Gateway City has held the blueprint for building a competitor from within, as well as identifying and developing talent from places and in players that many other teams had overlooked. I honestly can’t even count the number of times I have heard someone referred to as a Cardinal’s Type Prospect over the years and with them climbing the ranks there are almost certain to be a lot more.

Currently the Cardinals have three players in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects; Dylan Carlson (#17), Nolan Gorman (#47) and Matthew Liberatore (#58). As many will remember Liberatore was acquired in the often questioned trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, where the Cardinals gave up Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena. Also acquired in this trade was 19 year old catching prospect, Edgardo Rodriguez, who is not in St. Louis’ Top 30, but added catching depth to an already loaded system. Top Catching prospect, Andrew Knizner (#6), who is one of three in the Top 30, is set to graduate after being promoted during September call ups last season. It should be noted that he struggled during this time, but I wouldn’t be too concerned as he performed well at every level prior to this. In 66 games at AAA Memphis he batted .276 with 12 home runs and 22 extra base hits. With Yadier Molina nearing the end of his career, it could be Knizner who takes over in the long term form the Cardinals. As I did in the first three articles in this series, I will use the rest of my time to discuss the Top 5 prospects in the system in order to avoid writing a novel article on the subject; not something I would be totally opposed to by the way.

1) Dylan Carson-OF (MLB Pipeline #17)

Carlson was selected in the 1st Round (33rd Overall) of the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft from Elk Grove High School in California. The prep baseball star struggled at times in his first two years of his professional career, compiling a .246 AVG and a 25.8% Strike Out Rate. However, at an average of 3 years younger than his competitors, he truly held his own by belting 10 home runs and 45 total extra base hit.

The 2018 season was a little bit of transition year for the young outfielder as he started back in Peoria with the Low A with the Chief, but was eventually promoted to the High A/Advanced Palm Beach Cardinals prior to end of the season. He did not experience great success, but the powers that be made the decision to promote the 20 year old to the AA Springfield Cardinals to begin the 2019 season. They were handsomely rewarded for their risky move with an MVP performance from Carlson in the Texas League as he hit 21 homers while slashing .281/.364/.518. For the last 18 games of the year he was promoted to the AAA Memphis Redbirds where he continued his tear; crushing another 5 home runs and posting a 1.098 OPS.

Prior to the current shutdown he was knocking on the door to the big league club. Even if he doesn’t get his shot this year it won’t be long until he is regular in the outfield at Busch Stadium, torturing my Buccos as many Cardinals players have over the years.

2) Nolan Gorman-3B (MLB Pipeline #47)

Gorman was picked by the Cardinals in the 1st Round (19th Overall) in the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft from Sandra Day O’Conner High School in Phoenix, Arizona. Immediately after being selected he was assigned to the Rookie Advanced where he exploded; hitting 11 homers and batting .350 in only 38 games. He earned a promotion to Low A Peoria before the season ended, which may have been inadvisable as his average dropped to .202, but he did hit an additional 6 home runs. Last year he started off back with the Chiefs where the power continued to be unquestionable as hit another 10 homers and he improved on his patience at the plate; decreasing his K% (36.4% to 28%) and increasing his BB% (9.3% to 11.3%), which earned him another promotion to the High A/Advanced Palm Beach Cardinals at only 19 years old. He held his own for the remainder of the year improving upon his batting average (.241 to .256) and hit 5 more homers. There is no doubt that a return to Palm Beach was in his future, however if he continued to produce I could have easily seen him in AA by the end of the season.

3) Matthew Liberatore-LHP (MLB Pipeline #58)

Liberatore has yet to throw a pitch in the Cardinals organization, but already sits right behind long time friend Gorman on the Top 30. Drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 1st Round of the 2018 (16th Overall) Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, Arizona the young left handed hurler has already pitched at 3 levels in his short career; finding different degrees of success at each. However, there have been some concerns about his walk rate as he has consistently allowed around 3.6 BB/9 and his K/9 has decreased at each level. In spite of these issues, there is a lot to be optimistic about. Each of the 4 pitches in his arsenal are average to above average; Fastball (60), Curveball (60), Changeup (55) and Slider (50). He has been focusing more on development and command to this point and still has room to grow, which points toward almost limitless potential.

4) Iván Herrera-C

Since being signed for $200,000 on July 7, 2016 this young man from from Panama has consistently shown that he can flat out rake in the box. Over three seasons he has slashed .309/.397/.431 with 11 homers, 9 coming this past season between Low A Peoria and High A/Advanced Palm Beach. As is a pattern with the Cardinals, they chose to challenge Herrera following a successful season by assigning him to the Arizona Fall League at only 19 years of age. He responded by batting .324 and showing patience at the plate, 5 walks and only 4 strikeouts. At this time his defense behind the plate is behind his presence at it, but he has been working extremely hard at blocking, receiving and framing. He has also continued to develop his arm strength, which along with his overall athleticism leaves room for further growth at the position.

5) Zach Thompson-LHP

Prior to being selected in the 1st Round (19th Overall) in the 2019 MLB June Amateur Draft out of the University of Kentucky, Thompson has suffered some setbacks in his young career; such as failing a post draft physical in 2016 after being picked by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 11th Round. That along with other injuries caused some concern prior to his senior year, until he went 6-1 in 14 starts with a 2.40 and 130 strikeouts in 90 innings. Immediately after being drafted he was assigned briefly to the Gulf Coast League Cardinals before being promoted to the High A/Advanced Palm Beach Cardinals. He only pitched in 13 games (2 starts) and 15.1 innings, but was extremely impressive as he struck out 23 batters, while only walking 4. As of right now Thompson is slated to join the Cardinals rotation in 2022, but this lay-off could obviously delay this trajectory. However, when he does arrive he should be a consistently contributor at the middle of the rotation for years to come.

Of all the Farm Systems in the Central Division, the Cardinals always seem to hold the key to identifying, acquiring and developing talent; sometimes from the most unexpected places. This along with their ability and willingness to bring in big name talent from others, makes them a tough team for others to supplant at the top of the division. It has obviously happened from time to time, but the Cardinals have never made it any easy task and with the level of talent they have in the minors, it is not going to get any easier.

Pirates Sunday Services – 003

Yesterday we were blessed here in Pittsburgh with an absolutely perfect day for baseball. You can of course take an opportunity like that to remember what you’ve lost, but I hope instead you looked forward.

The Illumination of Hank – 05-17 – Hank said unto him, through my own journey shall I lend you strength.

On May 17th, 1947 one of the most special and important events continued to make its way around the league. Jackie Robinson was at the beginning of enduring, and thriving in his rookie season, and the next stop was Forbes Field right here in Pittsburgh.

Jackie was at the beginning, but Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg was finishing his illustrious career. He spent his entire career in Detroit, gave three years plus to the United States Army Air Force and in 1947 wound up in Pittsburgh just two years removed from flying missions.

You may have guessed it from the last name, but Hank had himself dealt with racial intolerance. Being a Jewish man, he too wasn’t accepted with open arms. Here was a person who played 11 full seasons in MLB and won 8 MVPs in his career. Never discount how important it was that players like Hank and Jackie were also damn good at baseball. Tolerance unfortunately takes a special person both on and off the field if history teaches us anything.

Early in the game Jackie collided with Hank at first base, both walked away but Robinson was a little worse for wear. He didn’t dare tell anyone if he was hurt, nor was this unusual, taking shots at Jackie was as routine as a can of corn to right field. There were players on every team that didn’t want him there, and any opportunity the game could provide to show him physically was taken.

When the game was over, Mr. Greenberg approached Mr. Robinson and asked him if he was ok. When Jackie replied he was, Hank came back with this “Stick in there. You’re doing fine. Keep your chin up.”

A few days later Jackie told writers that his “diamond hero” is Hank Greenberg.

Friends, you never know the power of a kind word. You can never fully understand why you are going through something in your life until one day you meet someone who needs you to use the knowledge you gained to lend them a hand up. Would Jackie have quit if Hank didn’t say anything, if he just let Jackie believe there was one more guy who wanted to show him how unwanted he was? My gut says no, but these two men meeting on the hallowed grounds of Forbes Field is a stirring reminder of the very real hatred endured on the path to equality.

Hank Greenberg’s legend doesn’t belong to Pittsburgh, he is a Detroit legend and rightfully so, but even though 1947 would be one of the 3 seasons he did not receive the MVP, perhaps he did earn something even more important in his time here in Pittsburgh, the adoration of a young man isolated and fighting everyday to simply be treated like a human. For that reason, in 1947 Hammerin’ Hank may very well have been the Most Valuable Person instead of player.

Blessings my friends, be kind to each other, you never know the impact it could have on a person.

Top Ten Pirates “Fish That Got Away”

Today we’re going to talk about some players who had little more than a cup of coffee with the Buccos before finding their way out of town. Some will have exploded once leaving, while others never found the success they once had in Pittsburgh.

  1. Steve Pearce – Steve played in parts of five seasons for the Pirates from 2007 through 2011. He bounced to a few more stops before finding a home and his swing in Baltimore. Being a utility type player who was capable in the corner outfield spots as well as corner infield, finding a place to play shouldn’t have been that hard, that said, the onus is on the player to make you see him.
  2. Brock Holt – I still remember how exciting Brock was when he came up in September of 2012. Maybe I just wasn’t as plugged in back then as I am now but he seemingly came out of nowhere. He was fast and had a quick swing that just simply looked unstoppable. After that 21 game cup of coffee with the Bucs, he was traded to the Red Sox along with Joel Hanrahan, four players came back from the Sox but the impact player was Mark Melancon.
  3. Jose Bautista – I mean, how do you make a list like this without tossing a mention at Joey Bats? He played parts of 4 seasons with the Bucs and he did show some of that power he had under the surface, nothing like the 54 he would hit in his first full season in Toronto though. I can’t blame the Bucs for moving on in many ways, he was given quite a nice look. Classic late bloomer.
  4. Rajai Davis – He spent part of two seasons here in Pittsburgh and really came into his own with Oakland. Maybe I’m just bitter about how acquiring Matt Morris worked out for our Pirates, but Rajai brought speed and gap power that would have looked awful good in black and gold.
  5. Austin Meadows – While he was here the Bucs seemed to do everything they could to prevent him from getting a foothold, a lesson they surely would have repeated if injury didn’t provide Bryan Reynolds the opportunity Austin wasn’t given. Even in his short audition he looked the part, still he was treated as little more than a throw in to get Chris Archer. He already looks like a perennial All-Star.
  6. Tyler Glasnow – Why not just go for the jugular right? I’m not going to say he looked like a great pitcher while with Pittsburgh, but every scout, every coach outside of our clubhouse anyway talked about his stuff and how difficult it is to harness height like that and control pitches with that much movement. Still he was given away happily again for Chris Archer only to immediately show he could be coached. Time will tell exactly how bad this was.
  7. Reese McGwire – He’s not the best catcher I’ve seen, but a team starved for catching depth sure would be better off having him in town. Instead he was a pay off for taking the contract of an aging Francisco Liriano off our hands, which in and of itself might have been a bad idea.
  8. Moises Alou – He was traded before he had a chance to blossom to acquire Zane Smith. It’s not that the Bucs didn’t need a pitcher, its more about missing out on one of the best outfield prospects to come along since Barry Bonds.
  9. Charlie Morton – Much like Glasnow, Ground Chuck had more than the Bucs were capable of getting out of him. His lights out stuff was stifled with pitch to contact ethos and eventually he found his way to Houston where they banged the can the right way and Charlie was suddenly a Cy Young candidate.
  10. Brandon Moss – He spent parts of 3 seasons in Pittsburgh but never really caught on. A brief stop in Philly and it looked like the Bucs were right to let him go. Then he arrived in the sewage filled dugout of the Oakland A’s where he discovered his power stroke and played a key role in the playoff bound, moneyball loving Oakland Squads of the early 2010’s.

So who did I miss? Ten is enough pain for this writer.