A Pirates’ Life For Me

July 1, 2009
Beautiful PNC Park needs to hang some new banners (drocpsu/Flickr).

Beautiful PNC Park needs to hang some new banners (drocpsu/Flickr).

Reality can really be a drag at times. Especially when your reality is that of a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. For almost two decades now they have suffered at the hands of mismanagement, cheap ownership and doing whatever they can to pass off a group of Quadruple-A players (some not even that advanced) as a major league ball club.

That’s not what any organization’s fan base deserves. Especially one with as rich a history as Pittsburgh’s.

When Neal Huntington was hired as the 12th Pirates’ general manager in club history following the 2007 season, he brought with him a lot of hope. Hope that he could turn things around for this organization. Hope that he could bring respectability back to a proud city. Hope that he could at least make it so the Bucs weren’t the joke of Major League Baseball. Now that’s some pressure.

(click here to continue reading on Baseball Daily Digest…)

Matthew Whipps is a writer for Baseball Daily Digest. If you would like to contact him via email you can reach him at whipps15[at]gmail.com.


Which Way Is Up?

June 8, 2009

I know this happened last week but I need to address it as it is still bugging me. It’s horrible that I even have to ask this question of a pro sports team’s GM, but does Neal Huntington know the difference between up and down? I ask this because either:

a.) he thinks his explanations are working and believes his team’s fan base is stupid or
b.) he believes his explanations which means he is stupid.

It has to be one or the other. It can’t be anything else. It can’t be…

(click here to continue this article on Baseball Daily Digest)


LaRoche Ready to Shine

February 4, 2009
LaRoche looks to finally get his chance at the major league level (Matt Bandi/Flickr).

LaRoche looks to finally get his chance at the major league level (Matt Bandi/Flickr).

Every once and a while we inexplicably come across an athlete that we like for no particular reason. We don’t know why or where the infatuation comes from, it’s just there. It’s even more of a head scratcher when this player doesn’t even play for your favorite teams – or even anywhere near you. There’s just something about the player that you feel some sort of weird bond with that causes you to follow him closely from afar.

Hopefully I’m not in the minority here, otherwise this probably sounds a little creepy.

My strange attachment began as I was reviewing year end stats of minor league players at the conclusion of the 2005 season. I was sifting through the endless compilation of stats and one player happened to catch my eye. He was a young converted third baseman named Andy LaRoche who happened to have his coming out party in 2005 as he tore through A+ and AA ball for the Los Angeles Dodgers system hitting .305/.374/.553 with 95 runs, 30 homers and 94 RBI in only 127 games. I was very impressed and wanted to know more. LaRoche had a great swing and a fantastic approach at the plate. I was hooked.

Entering the 2006 season I did my best to follow LaRoche from afar (via video and stats), but of course life takes you in different directions and I started pouring more of my baseball time into writing for The Diamond Cutter which I was moving from MLBlogs.com to WordPress. But our story doesn’t end there.

Our paths crossed again following the 2006 season while I was working on my first top 25 prospects list and reviewing all my notes and devouring everything I could on each of the top prospects in the game. This was a daunting task as all the notes I had taken on prospects at the time were a jumbled mess and hadn’t been organized like I do now (this was in the very beginning of The Diamond Cutter’s prospect coverage and I really had no rhyme or reason to any of my notes). Needless to say this was not a fun time.

The Dodgers never gave LaRoche a chance (wallyg/Flickr).

The Dodgers never gave LaRoche a chance (wallyg/Flickr).

But as I came across my notes on LaRoche from footage I had watched, I was quickly brought back to how impressed I was with this kid. I had periodically tracked his progression through the previous season but did not know how he finished up. At the time I remembered how well he had done throughout the 2006 campaign and was happy he was building on his strong numbers the year before. LaRoche definitely had another strong year at the dish posting a .315/.410/.514 line with a slight decrease in power with 19 homers and 81 RBI. But despite the decrease in power, he had shown a lot of improvement in his plate discipline and pitch selection. He split time between AA and AAA and saw his OBP jump 36 points, his walks go from 51 to 66 and his strikeout totals drop from 92 to 64. LaRoche was starting to show what type of player he was – more of a pure hitter and less of a masher.

Needless to say I included LaRoche in my top 25 prospects list before the start of the 2007 season ranking him #20 overall and had him the top prospect in the Dodgers organization. I was officially back on the LaRoche bandwagon.

So with my backing of LaRoche back in full swing, I was ready to follow him closely as much as possible on MiLB.TV and anywhere else I could get video. While I did this through the 2006 season, it was much easier to obtain in 2007 and would help me get to know his game even more.

LaRoche started 2007 with his second invitation to spring training with the Dodgers. After a strong spring training I figured there was a good chance he would be able to make the big league club. I kept a close eye on the situation but ended up being wrong as LaRoche would start the season in AAA only to be called up for his Major League debut about a month later against the Atlanta Braves. LaRoche would pick up his first big league hit with a ground rule double off Kyle Davies but would soon be sent back down to AAA. This was the first big instance that I questioned the Dodgers dedication and valuing of LaRoche.

In an odd decision, LaRoche would spend the rest of the summer in AAA posting a .309/.399/.589 line with 18 homers and 48 RBI until being recalled during the September call-ups. LaRoche was able to receive a lot of playing time for the rest of the season thanks to the fragile Nomar Garciaparra breaking down over the final month of the season. It seemed as if LaRoche would finally receive his time to shine heading into 2008.

Heading into spring training for the 2008 season, LaRoche would compete for the third base job with the veteran Garciaparra. One player was looking to get his career started while the other was trying to get it restarted. Then on March 7, Nomar was hit by a pitch on his wrist which would force him from the game. Not that you ever wish injury on a player, but it seemed as if it was LaRoche’s turn to shine with his only real competition out of the picture. I remember reading about this game after the fact and knowing Nomar’s frailty issues, knowing he would most certainly be spending time on the DL. But LaRoche’s “luck” wouldn’t last very long as the next inning he himself would experience a horrible injury as he tore his ulnar collateral ligament off the base of his thumb on his throwing hand as a pickoff throw deflected off a player and hit his hand. To say this was a freak accident is an understatement.

Fans in Pittsburgh will be happy with LaRoche (wallyg/Flickr).

Fans in Pittsburgh will be happy with LaRoche (wallyg/Flickr).

LaRoche would of course be put on the DL right next to Nomar and would have surgery to reconnect the ligament. After nearly two months of recovery, he would spend a short rehab stint in AA and AAA. While I was anxious to have LaRoche back from his injury, the Dodgers apparently were not quite as much as he once again was slighted and optioned back to AAA. The Dodgers instead decided to back Blake DeWitt as their everyday guy which confused me a great deal as DeWitt was nothing special. It baffled me that the Dodgers decided not to go with LaRoche – the superior player – now that he was back. It soon became clear to me why.

While LaRoche did get recalled on June 10, it was in more of a utility role as he spent a lot of time at first base rather than his normal third base position. It was becoming clear that LaRoche wasn’t really in the long-term plans for the Dodgers.

Then on July 31, LaRoche was reunited with his brother Adam as he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates with pitcher Bryan Morris as part of the huge Manny Ramirez/Jason Bay trade. As a distant Pirates fan, I couldn’t have been happier with the deal. LaRoche was finally going to be part of an organization that would give him an opportunity to play and wouldn’t be held back any longer by the oppressive Dodgers. What he really needed was a chance to establish himself and get comfortable at the major league level so that he could translate his success from the minors to the big leagues.

LaRoche ended up struggling the remainder of the season with his new club as the lasting effects of his injured finger appeared to linger and he never seemed to get comfortable at the plate. While his struggles have caused some to doubt his abilities, I still stand strong that his ability to drive the ball and get on base will translate to the majors now that he is healthy and has the opportunity to be the everyday starting third baseman. LaRoche just needs to rebuild his confidence in his ability (which he himself has said has dwindled since all of this has happened) and Pittsburgh is the perfect low-pressure market to do this in.

It has to be. After all, we both have a lot invested in his success.

Well I guess he has a little more than I do.

But it’s close.

By Matthew Whipps
The Diamond Cutter
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
diamondcutter[at]columnist.com

| | | |


  • Top Prospect #16: Andrew McCutchen

    February 1, 2009

    16
    NAME: Andrew McCutchen
    POSITION: Center Field
    AGE: 22 | BATS: R | THROWS: R
    ORGANIZATION: Pittsburgh Pirates

    2008 STATISTICS
    LVL AVG R HR RBI OBP SLG
    MiLB .283 75 9 50 .372 .398

    Scouting Report: McCutchen is an exciting five tool player who has been unfortunately rushed through the Pirates system. He hasn’t been able to fully develop at each level and instead of staying put and working on his skills, he has been pushed through. McCutchen has a great glove in center and despite his great defensive prowess, his impact bat may be his best skill. McCutchen has quick hands, strong wrists and a compact swing which produces a surprising amount of power for someone of his stature. He is a line drive hitter thanks to his quick bat speed and is able to hit consistently to all fields. His power hasn’t fully developed as expected, but that still has time to grow. Still learning to use his speed effectively on the bases but once he does, look out. Hopefully they give him a chance to slow things down and get his feet under him before it’s too late.

    By Matthew Whipps
    The Diamond Cutter
    Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
    mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com | Facebook

    | | | |


    GM for a Day: Pittsburgh Pirates

    January 20, 2009
    The fans in Pittsburgh deserve to have a winning team (drocpsu/Flickr).

    The fans in Pittsburgh deserve to have a winning team (drocpsu/Flickr).

    Now in no way can I turn almost two decades of failure around in one day and make the Pittsburgh Pirates a contender, but I can get them on the right track to finish at the .500 mark this upcoming season. Many of you have seen my genius (humble, I know) on my previous two “GM for a Day” articles where I tried to get the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs into the playoffs, but this time I just want to get this historic club back to respectability. Wish me luck.

    The Pittsburgh Pirates’ fans have been in an abyss of disappointment and losing for coming up on 20 years. Almost 20 years. I couldn’t imagine that kind of suffering for an organization that has had so much success over the generations. I’ll admit, I’m a Pirates fan from afar but not nearly hardcore enough to claim to have suffered along with the masses. But with a newish stadium (one of, if not the best in baseball) and a hungry fan base, it’s now time for Neal Huntington to step up and stop the madness. Hopefully he takes this advice on how to start patching the wounds:

    1.) Sign free agents Adam Dunn and Kevin Millar to contracts.

    Hey, you want to fix your problems, throw some power at it. Not only would this help legitimize your lineup, it would make a huge splash and get your fans excited. Could you see the left handed monster Adam Dunn hitting with that short porch of 320′ down the right field line? Can you say 50 homers? Here’s a quick peek at how Dunn has fared over the past few years:

    +------+-----+--------+-----+-----------+----+-----+-----+------+
    | YEAR | AGE | TEAM   | AB  |  AVG/OBP  | HR | RBI |  R  | OPS+ |
    +------+-----+--------+-----+-----------+----+-----+-----+------+
    | 2004 |  24 | Reds   | 568 | .266/.388 | 46 | 102 | 105 | 146  |
    | 2005 |  25 | Reds   | 543 | .247/.387 | 40 | 101 | 107 | 141  |
    | 2006 |  26 | Reds   | 561 | .234/.365 | 40 |  92 |  99 | 114  |
    | 2007 |  27 | Reds   | 522 | .264/.386 | 40 | 106 | 101 | 136  |
    | 2008 |  28 | CIN/ARI| 517 | .236/.386 | 40 | 100 |  79 | 129  |
    +------+-----+--------+-----+-----------+----+-----+-----+------+
    

    Dunn and former teammate Griffey (Erik Eckel/Flickr).

    Dunn and former teammate Griffey (Erik Eckel/Flickr).

    After looking at those stats you can see what a huge upgrade Dunn would be to the middle of the Bucs lineup. Sure Dunn will strikeout 160+ times in a year, but he will also knock out 40+ homers, score and drive in 100 runs and give you an OBP in the .380’s. He would be the perfect name to legitimize this lineup and would help make everyone better around him.

    The Kevin Millar signing on the other hand would help the Bucs in a completely different way. Millar not only would give the club a much needed right handed bat to either come off the bench or to spell Adam LaRoche at first base who struggles against lefties (.241/.298/.467, 6 HR, 24 RBI and 42 SO in ’08), but he would give the young club a much needed veteran presence in the clubhouse. While his numbers have been on the decline (although still posting power with 20 homers and 72 RBI in ’08), Millar has always been a great clubhouse leader and could really help in the rebuilding of the team and at a cheap price.

    2.) Sign free agent starting pitcher Braden Looper to a two-year, $12.5 million deal.

    Why Braden Looper you ask? I thought about Jon Garland as he’s an innings eater and would help the Bucs bullpen out a lot. But Garland’s WHIP and hits allowed has gotten a bit out of control posting a WHIP of 1.51 last season and hits of 247, 219, 237 the past three years. Then I thought about Pedro Martinez. He would bring an enormous amount of knowledge to a very young rotation. But Martinez’s age has caught up to him and he’s only good for about five innings a night now and this would be extremely taxing for the bullpen and all of this at what most likely would be at a very high price tag.

    Looper however has put up some fairly good numbers since converting to a starter back in 2007:

    +------+-----+-----------+-------+-------+------+-----+------+----+
    | YEAR | AGE | TEAM      | IP    |  W-L  | ERA  | SO  | WHIP | GS |
    +------+-----+-----------+-------+-------+------+-----+------+----+
    | 2007 |  32 | Cardinals | 175.0 | 12-12 | 4.94 |  87 | 1.34 | 30 |
    | 2008 |  33 | Cardinals | 199.0 | 12-14 | 4.16 | 108 | 1.31 | 33 |
    +------+-----+-----------+-------+-------+------+-----+------+----+
    

    While his numbers don’t blow you away by any means, he has posted 12 wins each of the past two seasons and has logged just under 200 innings pitched as well. Plus the drop of his ERA down to 4.16 was also a nice sight to see and could be a sign of things to come. Either way you could get an innings eater for about $6 million per year and you always have the option if he does struggle to move him back to the bullpen without batting an eye.

    3.) Give the keys to centerfield to the long awaited future, Andrew McCutchen.

    Its McCutchens time to shine (trigger25/Flickr).

    It's McCutchen's time to shine (trigger25/Flickr).

    Some of you may disagree with me on this but I feel it’s time to cut Andrew McCutchen loose and see what he can really do. Some scouts argue he needs more seasoning at the plate in the minors and needs to iron out some things on the base paths, but I see a kid who posted a line of .283/.372/.398 with 34 stolen bases last season in Triple-A. Most notably is his huge jump in OBP from .329 in 2007 thanks in large part to him learning more patience at the plate and taking more walks. This is crucial for him as a lead off hitter and given the fact that his power hasn’t developed (yet) like many had hoped. Regardless of the reasons, I think McCutchen has the chops to cut it in center for the Pirates and now it’s time for him to prove it.

    While I do have other items in mind that could help the Pirates begin steering the ship in the right direction (no pun intended), these are the big items to get things going. Here’s how these moves will help the lineup and rotation:

    1.) Andrew McCutchen, CF
    2.) Freddy Sanchez, 2B
    3.) Nate McLouth, RF
    4.) Adam Dunn, LF
    5.) Ryan Doumit, C
    6.) Adam LaRoche/Kevin Millar, 1B
    7.) Andy LaRoche, 3B
    8.) Jack Wilson, SS

    Paul Maholm, LHP
    Braden Looper, RHP
    Zach Duke, LHP
    Ian Snell, RHP
    Jeff Karstens, RHP
    (Tom Gorzelanny as a sixth option)

    I believe that these additions would go a long way in starting the turnaround process in Pittsburgh. My only concerns are that the lineup may be a little left-handed heavy. That’s why a trade to bring in another right handed hitter would be helpful as there really isn’t too much left in the free agent market. One possibility would be to try to bring Xavier Nady back to Pittsburgh as the Yankees are shopping him around. The only thing that would hamper this deal would be the Yankees unwillingness to give up Nady for less than they gave up to get him, especially with the team they got him from.

    Regardless of what the Pirates decide to do, the bottom line is it’s time for Neal Huntington to stop screwing around and start building up this organization back to what it once was.

    Because what it has become now is a doormat in the National League Central and that is unacceptable.

    By Matthew Whipps
    The Diamond Cutter
    Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
    mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com | Facebook

    | | | |


    News and Notes: “Rafael Fur-real?”

    December 22, 2008
    Furcal continues to spin his agents wrong doings (Malingering/Flickr).

    Furcal continues to spin his agent's wrong doings (Malingering/Flickr).

    • The Pittsburgh Pirates have reached a three-year deal with catcher Ryan Doumit that will lock him up through his arbitration years. Last year Doumit had a fantastic year out of nowhere hitting .318/.356/.501 with 15 homers and 69 RBI. While my former MVN co-worker Cory Humes at Pirate Revolution believes the Pirates should trade Doumit (or hear his podcast about it), I personally believe that Doumit is an example of the type of player they need to begin to build around. With players like Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez coming up through the system as well other bright youngsters the Bucs need to start now rather than continuing to hit the “reset” button. I do however agree 100% with Humes that the Pirates should sign slugger Adam Dunn as part of the solution.

    You know what you will get with Dunn (SD Dirk/Flickr).

    You know what you will get with Dunn (SD Dirk/Flickr).

    • Speaking of the giant slugger Adam Dunn, why aren’t more teams interested in bringing him aboard this winter? Yes I know he had a strikeout rate of 25.9% last season and yes I know he won’t be winning any Gold Gloves in the outfield any time soon, but who couldn’t use his presence in the lineup? While his career average is .247, more importantly his career on-base is .381 and career slugging at .518. Plus you know he will be healthy and you will get 40 homers and 100+ RBI. So why do I keep hearing about teams not too interested in him or preferring a player who is a head case and will most likely miss 20-40 games a year? I would personally rather have Dunn or Pat Burrell over both Bobby Abreu and Milton Bradley. Call me crazy.

    • I’ve already covered the Mark Teixeira saga enough on here by discussing where his options are as well as my annoyance about all the back and forth about who’s in and who’s out. I really hope Jon Heyman’s report on Teixeira’s decision coming by Christmas day is true as I can’t take much more. I think the scorecard has the Orioles, Nationals, Red Sox, Bears, Knicks and three teams from the WNBA as the top contenders.

    • The New York Yankees and pitcher Chien-Ming Wang have avoided salary arbitration and agreed to a one-year, $5 million contract thus insuring the Yankees the first ever 11-man starting rotation heading into the 2009 season. Awesome.

    • And finally more on the Furcal vs. Braves situation as Furcal continues to lie about his agent’s dirty tricks. Even our poll on this site last week showed 100% of people believe Furcal and his agents screwed the Braves. Just stop talking about it Furcal, we know its not true.

    By Matthew Whipps
    The Diamond Cutter
    Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
    mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com | thefranch15e

    | | | |


    News and Notes – “Jack the Ripper”

    December 19, 2008
    Wilson voiced his frustrations for thousands of Bucs fans everywhere (urbansaddle/flickr).

    Wilson voiced his frustrations for thousands of Bucs fans everywhere (urbansaddle/flickr).

    As a new feature here on “The Diamond Cutter” we will be reviewing some of the things that are happening in baseball and around the blogosphere. You’ll see this pop up from time to time as I come across items in the news. It’s also a quick way to voice my opinions and ideas on topics without writing an entire column. So without further ado…

    · As eager as I am to see where Mark Teixeira ends up, I’m getting a little tired of the whole hoopla around it. Now I know this is a big decision for him as its planning out where he will play for the next 7 or 8 years, but I really wish he’d hurry up and decide. I talked about his options earlier this week along with reasons why he should or shouldn’t sign with these teams. And of course ESPN chimed in yesterday saying Boston is out and today saying Boston may still be in. Please pick soon, Mark.

    Furcal better watch himself in Hot-lanta (dizzy-eyed/flickr).

    Furcal better watch himself in Hot-lanta (dizzy-eyed/flickr).

    · The Atlanta Braves are furious with Rafael Furcal’s agents calling them “despicable” for the way they handled things. Brave’s Blog also chimes in on the status of the Braves and their need to reassess their team. Personally I have to agree with the Braves. It does sound as if Furcal’s agent pulled a screw job on Atlanta and threw a HUGE wrench in their off season plans. It was lining up to look as if the Braves had the ability to trade Yunel Escobar to the Padres now for Jake Peavy. This was especially important after losing AJ Burnett to the Yankees. Even if they didn’t trade the shortstop they still would have had another good bat in their lineup and burner on the base paths. I feel for Braves fans, I really do as they have had a giant disappointment this winter after having such high expectations.

    · Jack Wilson let his frustrations be heard regarding the Pirates’ lack of competition for the past 17 seasons. His actions voiced frustrations of Pirates fans everywhere as well as indirectly asked the question of “why the hell haven’t you people traded me yet?!?!” The Bucs Dugout chimes in on Wilson’s rambling with a funny twist.

    As a life long Twins fan, Id love to see DeRosa in Minnesota (chicagoenergy/flickr).

    As a life long Twins fan, I'd love to see DeRosa in Minnesota (chicagoenergy/flickr).

    · In the yearly quest to fill in a huge hole at third base, the Twins appear to be still showing interest in bringing in free agent Ty Wigginton to plug it until some prospects are ready. Both La Velle E. Neal III and Nick Nelson discuss this option and Nick brings up Mark DeRosa’s name as a potential trade target (which I would love). All I know is the Twins need to figure something out as this has been a problem for years ever since Corey Koskie left after the 2004 season.

    That was a quick recap of some of the happenings around baseball and the internet. Let me know your thoughts on these stories and this new feature too. Also make sure to chime in on our poll below on the Braves/Furcal situation.

    By Matthew Whipps
    The Diamond Cutter
    Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
    mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com | thefranch15e

    | | | |