Thursday, December 31, 2009

Numerology with Pittsburgh eating

DB~ and I both have had this week off. It's entailed a lot of family stuff and catching up with friends.

On Tuesday, without planning it out beforehand, we ate at 2 restaurants in Pittsburgh that had numbers featured in their names. For a closet numerologist, I took great delight in this.

For lunch, we met DB~'s aunt at Paris 66 in East Liberty. This was a restaurant that DB~ had been to, but we both wanted to go to together as well. It was a way for us to remember our fantastic trip to Montreal this summer by eating crepes.

We got there at 12:45 and the place was packed. I don't mind waiting for a table, but the entry way to Paris 66 is very narrow. Waiting outside was not an option, as it was a bitter (albeit sunny) day. So we stood packed like sardines for 15 minutes.

Once seated, I selected the St. Germain crepe -- ham and Swiss, DB~ got the Montparnasse -- basil, tomato, mozzarella, and DB~'s aunt got a salad of sort with chicken.

I was underwhelmed by my selection. It was literally just ham and swiss inside a crepe. The crepe was "square", with the ends folded in. It needed some sort of light sauce drizzled on it or some vegetables inside. Something. C'mon. Work with me here.

DB~'s crepe was much better, but still not on par with Chez Suzette's lunch crepes in Montreal.

The dessert crepes were excellent though. All 3 of us split a lemon-sugar-creme dessert crepe and a bowl of chocolate mousse on the side. If we go back (and we will, even though I was underwhelmed), it may be for dessert crepes or just dessert.

We were relegated to the back deck, which was loosely enclosed with plastic tarping, but compensated by blasting heat with those radiant heat thing-a-ma-bobs. I felt like a rotisserie chicken that needed turned by the end of the meal, as my one side was much hotter than the side facing the plastic tarping. However, the inside is decorated beautifully and you really feel the owner's Frenchness coming through the design.

Added bonus - sitting next to us at one point were a group of 4 with a small child and they were speaking French. Nice touch.

For dinner, we met one of DB~'s co-workers/friends and his date at Bettis's Grille 36. I had the Carolina Burger, which is an orgy of tastes and sins (burger topped with pulled pork, cole slaw and an onion ring) and DB~ had the more sensible Rosemary Chicken.

I was disappointed with the small amount of fries I got with my burger. Now I'm not a pig by any means, and I've long championed the "right-sizing" of portions at restaurants, but this was a small amount. DB~ liked the rosemary chicken dish well enough.

Neither one of us was overly-impressed by the restaurant...the decor was nice enough, it was surprisingly smaller than I anticipated inside, but the food was so-so. It's my opinion that if Bettis didn't hang his name on the shingle that this place would be gone within 3 or 4 years. Even with his name, I can't see this place lasting.

Bonus points for the mens' bathroom, though. The one-way mirror at the urinals is can look out and see the patrons at the bar, but they can't see you. Also, the sink countertops may be some type of fiberglass or other type of material that allows some translucence, as there were lights that slowly changed colors beneath the countertop.

For two restaurants that add up to 102, neither came close to achieving such a high score by me. At least I'll probably return to Paris 66 at some point, though.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Pirates can rebuild and be respectable at the same time

It is no secret to anyone on OnlyBucs that I love prospects. There's something very rewarding in following a guy from draft day through the meat grinder of the minor leagues to the majors. But remember something about prospects....they're prospects. There's no guarantee they pan out. Even if they make it to the majors, there's no guarantee they will live up to their "projections" or "comps" to existing players.

Prospects are good for 2 things:
1. Providing cost-controlled talent for either slave wages (0-3 seasons) or below-market prices (4-6 seasons).
2. Being traded to get proven ML talent.

The Phillies recently traded 3 blue-chip prospects (Drabek, D'arnaud, Taylor) for Roy Halladay. And guess what? The Phillies didn't shut the minor leagues down for the year just because they lost 3 guys. There's still more (especially after they semi-replenished in the Cliff Lee trade) in the pipeline.

Many people on OnlyBucs and other boards want to see the Pirates "sort out what we got" and "wait to see what we have with Alvarez, Tabata, and Lincoln in July" before committing to any free agents. I understand that and, for the most part, agree with it.

However, the Pirates and all these posters need to realize that the casual fan...not the stats dork who obsesses over K/BB rate, FIP for pitchers, or ISO for hitters (ahem)....needs to see something positive for THEIR "internal value" when they go to PNC Park.

You need to build with the cost-controlled assets, but you also should take advantage of an available opportunity to improve if it comes along.

That opportunity is Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres.

The Padres just got new ownership, as their previous owner got divorced, lost 1/2 of his money to his wife, and sold the team. They are pretty much in the same situation now as when Neil Huntington took over as GM. They have one asset at the majors (Gonzalez, like we did with Bay) and one potential building block (Mat Latos, like we had McCutchen). And just like us in 2007, the farm is fairly barren. They need to tear it down and start over.

Gonzalez, Kevin Kouzamanoff and Chris Young are the only players they have scheduled to make decent money this year. They are stuck with Young as he is coming off injury, but they have both Gonzalez and Kouz on the block.

Here's Gonzalez's 2009:
.277/.407/.551 (958 OPS) all in that canyon known as Petco Park
His WAR was 6.3 wins above replacement
He had 40 HR's, 119 BB, and 109 K's.
In 2010 he will make $4.87M and in 2011 he will make $5.5M on a club option.
I'm pretty sure the Pirates could find a space for him at 1B.

But you hear all the wails...
"We need to find out about Clement, Pearce, and Moss!"
"We won't be contending until Gonzalez is a free agent in 2012!"
This is equivalent to a gold prospector keeping his head down so intently, studying his gold flakes in the sifter, that he misses a gold nugget floating by him in the stream.

This is a cheap, productive asset that will be 28 in 2010. With him, the Pirates would be respectable in 2010 and contend for a wild card in 2011. As for him being a FA in 2012, you have 2 years to evaluate if Alvarez can stay at 3B defensively. If he can't he slides into Gonzalez's spot at 1B and you take 2 draft picks for Gonz as a Type A FA.

Here's the potential lineup in 2010:

If you squint, that's respectable.
So what do you give up for Gonzalez? People think you would have to empty out the farm, but recent deals are showing 2-3 blue chips and 1 so-so guy. Alvarez and McCutchen are off limits so I would do:
Jeff Locke, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Ramon Aguero and go from there.

If that looks a lot like the package we got for Bay, it should...that was the template. The difference is that Morris was very far away, whereas Locke is closer in AA. Tabata is a hitter who could be the next Tony Gwynn in that park of Petco, Walker is Walker, and Aguero is a near-ML-ready bullpen arm.

What if Alvarez can stay at 3B and Gonzalez wants to stay here as a free agent in 2012? Then you sign him to a 4 year - $60M dollar deal. That's what real teams do. And as for the payroll in 2012...
Doumit will be gone and Tony Sanchez will be making the minimum
Alvarez will be in his 2nd year of the minimum
McCutchen will be in his last year of the minimum
Duke and Maholm will be gone and replaced with Lincoln, Alderson or others making the minimum.

In short...we can handle his salary requirements because we will have cost-controlled talent (that is actually good) around him.

It won't happen, most likely, but if it did....

Monday, December 21, 2009

Gingerbread houses - fun for all

So Dale Berra's Girlfriend (DB~) proposed an idea during the snow-filled weekend last weekend...she went to Michael's and got 2 gingerbread house kits for us to make. Of course, as with just about everything between us, it turned into a competition on who could make the better gingerbread house.

These things took a long time to make! You had to give the icing 1 hour time to set up for the walls and front pieces, then another hour for the roof. We gave each other 1 hour to decorate, separated by a makeshift wall at the kitchen table of course, so there was some real investment in these things.

As you can see from the picture, my chimney with smoke icing coming out of it (not to mention the icicles off the roof and the bushes with holly) were no match for her precision craftmanship and attention to detail.

She won fair and square. And what better place to say it then a little-viewed blog under my alias.

Just kidding, did a great job and are awesome. Totally.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Yo Rita!

Last Thursday, I went with a friend of mine to Yo Rita on the South Side (across the street from the hub of culture, Jack's) to see what all the hot fuss was about. Yo Rita used to be the Iguana Grill, which I never went to, but needed a jumpstart.

Enter Kevin Sousa.

Kevin Sousa may be the Iron Chef of Pittsburgh, for whatever that buys you. He is consistently one of the most creative chefs in Pittsburgh and has done stints at Soba, Red Room, and other restaurants around town. Not only is he a top class chef, but he also has espoused the use of molecular gastronomy, basically using chemistry to create food. His work in translating this fringe field of cooking resulted in some of the most daring and creative dishes in town.

All of this led Chef Sousa to decide to open up his own restaurant, Salt of the Earth, in the Garfield area. My guess as to why Garfield, consistently one of the most dangerous areas in town, is that he sees this as the next East Liberty. East Liberty, while still not the new Valhalla in Pittsburgh, has had a revitalization thanks to restaurants such as Red Room, Abay, the erstwhile Richard Chen (now Plum), Dinette, and the Whole Foods complex.

But in between getting Salt of the Earth off the ground, serial restaurant jumper Chef Sousa decided to kickstart the menu of the new Yo Rita.

Yo Rita is a place that you can get a la carte tacos, margaritas, and a limited number of appetizers. That's it. Don't go expecting a side of rice, or a side of pinto beans or the like.

The night I went the weather outside was dreadfully cold and my heart was a little heavy. As a result, I did not abide by the DBS rule "Always challenge yourself by getting something on the menu that you can't make yourself."

Meekly, I got the Black Eye Pea Taco (spinach, goat cheese, chick pea) and the Steak Taco (steak, potato, cilantro, mushrooms which I picked out). My buddy got the Braised Chicken taco (bbq chicken, potato, onion) and the Pork Shoulder Taco (pork, jalapeno, apple).

The tacos were very good, but I think due to my hesitation to be bold, I was left underwhelmed. The atmosphere of the restaurant is lacking, as the neon pink of Jack's from across the street bathes the front window. The inside of Yo Rita is a very plain, neutral off-white.

Basically, I felt like I was in a South Side bar that happened to serve tacos. Which I sort of was.

Would I go back? Ehh...this was on the list that I made with Dale Berra's Girlfriend (DB~), so she and I will go, but I think I will quietly rotate this one to the bottom of the pile.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What is a #2, #3, #4, #5 pitcher?

Last post, I took a look at some criteria for what constituted an ace or a #1 pitcher. The list was very small, only 5 current pitchers. During the research, by my personal criteria for a #2, I determined that there was a huge number of #2's in the league (or "almost-aces"). Here's my personal criteria for a #2:
-- between 180 to 200 innings consistently
-- less than 9 Hits/ 9 IP
-- between 7.5 K and 9 K/ 9 IP
-- less than 3.5 BB/ 9 IP
-- ERA under 3.50
As I said before, I would rather have two #2's instead of one #1's and a bunch of junk. Two #2's (or "almost-aces") spread your risk out a little more and can provide fits if both pitching in the same series. If one is a righty and one is a lefty, that's just icing on the cake.

Here's who I determined are #2's....
CC Sabathia (K level has been dropping over the past few years)
Javier Vasquez
Halladay (he's extremely durable, but has never been a strikeout pitcher)
Jared Weaver
King Felix (K rate)
Josh Johnson
Wandy Rodriguez

So that's 18 #2's, with a couple of guys to keep an eye on (Scherzer, Edwin Jackson -- ironically traded for each other) for 2010.

Let me run the basics for the other 3 rotation spots and give a Pirates-related example:
DBS Criteria for a #3 pitcher
-- 170 to 180 IP
-- 8.5 to 9 Hits/ 9 IP
-- 6.5 to 7.5 K/ 9 IP
-- 3.5 BB/ 9 IP or less
-- 3.50 to 4.00 ERA
Paul Maholm is pretty much a text book #3

DBS Criteria for a #4 pitcher
-- 160 to 175 IP
-- more than 9 Hits/ 9 IP
-- 6 to 7 K/ 9 IP
-- greater than 3.5 BB/ 9 IP
-- 4 to 4.50 ERA
Basically control is what separates a #4 from a #3, as these guys usually only have 2 pitches with an average 3rd or watch their control escape them on a given night. Charlie Morton last year was a #4

DBS Criteria for a #5 pitcher
-- 150 IP to 165 IP
-- more than 9 Hits/ 9 IP
-- less than 6 K/ 9 IP
-- greater than 4 BB/ 9 IP
-- 4.75 or greater ERA
A number 5 is a guy without a true go-to strikeout pitch, usually doesn't have above-average velocity and may only have 2 pitches. These guys can be valuable if they are slightly better than the opposition's #5, but for the most part these guys are 1 start away from going to the pen.
Jeff Karstens last year was, at best, a #5.

Hopefully this helps next time you hear someone at a bar refer to Zach Duke or Paul Maholm as our "ace". I'll be the guy sitting next to him with an uncontrollable facial tick when he says that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What is an Ace?

You hear it all the time..."The Pirates need an Ace pitcher" or "The Pirates need a true #1 pitcher, go get one Nutting and Neil".

Unfortunately, Ace Hardware does not sell Ace Pitchers. I checked.

The term "ace" is greatly abused and misunderstood by the mainstream media and even fans. You hear it when watching the games on FSN all the time that the Pirates are sending "their ace, Paul Maholm" against the opposing team's pitcher.

Fans all the time love to toss comps on players saying a draft pick can be a future #1 or #2, or that Pitcher X can become a #3 or this guy isn't any good, he'll just be a #5.

So I thought I would like to share my thoughts on what is an ace (a #1) and what I feel the classifications are for #2 through #5 pitchers.

Let's start at the top with an Ace (#1 pitcher). Here's some criteria that I have gleaned from various sources and my own statistical observations:
-- must pitch 200+ IP/year consistently
-- have a K rate greater than 9 per 9 IP
-- have a BB rate less than 3 per 9 IP
-- allow less than 9 hits per 9 IP
-- have a sub 3.00 ERA (yes, I know that ERA is not the best way anymore)

So who are today's Aces? It's a very exclusive group:
Jon Lester, Justin Verlander, Zack Grienke, Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren
That's it.

Noticeable by their absence are some big names that many commonly refer to as aces, but I don't feel meet the true criteria. CC Sabathia's K rate has dropped in recent years, Roy Halladay was never a strikeout pitcher instead relying on the best sinker in the game, Josh Beckett's K rate is dropping, Cliff Lee has never been a huge strikeout guy, Johan Santana is losing steam, and Felix Hernandez has never had more K's than IP.

All of these guys are #2's. That doesn't mean that with 1 game on the line I wouldn't ask ANY of those guys above to take the mound. I'm just saying that they are misclassified as #1's. And frankly, I would rather have two #2's than one #1 and a bunch of junk around him.

There are some young pitchers in the game who have the capability to be #1's in the very near future, as soon as 2010 actually. Guys to keep an eye on are:
Tommy Hanson
Neftali Feliz - if he starts full time
Stephen Strasburg
Chad Billingsley
Ubaldo Jimenez
Yovani Gallardo
Clayton Kershaw
Both Gallardo and Kershaw need to control their BB rate a little more and increase their IP into the 200 range.

Next post I'll detail what is a #2, #3, #4, and #5 pitcher.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Doctor Langdon...or how I learned to stop worrying and love the chard

So we sat down to watch Angels and Demons on Friday after a dinner out with friends. The movie we selected off of Netflix was Angels and Demons, the Tom Hanks movie where he plays symbologist Dr. Robert Langdon.

In this movie, Dr. Langdon has to travel directly inside Vatican City in order to avert a potential crisis between religious factions and scientific factions. The movie was very enjoyable, but that's not the point of this post.

Not being the most religious of guys, I was surprised to learn that the Pope and Vatican City has a "Secret Service" of sorts called the Swiss Guard. Even stranger, to me at least, is that in the heart of Italy (within the Vatican City, which is a country in and of itself) the Pope's most trusted inner guards are....Swiss. I suppose for their avowed neutrality, but if my life is in danger the Swiss are not the nationality that come to mind to protect me.

So as I was watching the movie with the repeated references to the Swiss Guard, I started to think about the green vegetable Swiss Chard. I had always wanted to try cooking with it, so the next day I bought some and made it for us for dinner last night. Here's what I did:

Swiss Chard is massive, so I "de-stemmed" it and my girlfriend cut the leaves into smaller pieces. Then we sauteed some Spanish onion in olive oil until translucent and added the Swiss Chard.

I sprinkled some oregano on it and sauteed it on medium heat for about 4-5 minutes a side, then flipped it with tongs to coat the other side and cook it. When complete, we topped it with some parmesan reggiano.

It does shrink up when sauteeing, so make sure you really put a lot in there. It had a good taste, in the spinach class of things.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Crops on the Farm

It's hard for many people, even fans of the Pirates, to believe that the Pirates are actually good at something and making tangible progress. But it's not at PNC Park (yet)'s down on the farm.

The minor league talent level, thanks to the prospects infused from recent trades of name-brand Pirates, plus the excellent 2008/2009 drafts is at its deepest level in years.

But many people are slow to the idea of this, both within the prospecting sites such as Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, but also on Pirates' fan boards.

Here's the Baseball America Top 10 for the Pirates, along with my assessments of what these players will become:
1. Pedro Alvarez - 30+ HR hitting 3B, future occasional All-star
2. Jose Tabata - 15 HR hitting RF, high average, good defense
3. Tony Sanchez - above avg C, both defensively and offensively
4. Brad Lincoln - possible #2 starter, safer guess #3 starter
5. Chase D'arnaud - above avg 2B/SS, future 2 hole hitter, good speed
6. Starling Marte - 15-20 HR, 30 SB, cannon of arm in RF
7. Tim Alderson - #3 or #4 starter
8. Zack Von Rosenberg - potential #2 or 3 starter
9. Rudy Owens - #3 starter
10. Gorkys Hernandez - 4th or 5th OF

That's a lot of talent and a good amount will be at AA or AAA in 2010 (Alvarez, Tabata, Lincoln, D'arnaud, Alderson, Owens, Hernandez). This means that it is "tested" and not just slotted based on hopes and dreams.

There are some teams, such as the Cards, who have listed as their #1 pick a recently drafted HS pitcher (Shelby Miller for the Cards). If you have multiple players in your Top 10 who have not seen the field yet, that is usually an indication that your farm was weak enough to allow these new players to rank that high. Many of the Top 10 posted to this point (13 to date) have teams with 1 or 2 great players at the top, but the rest of their Top 10's either have older players (25-27 years old), players who are new, or players with serious injury histories still hanging around because of "potential".

What concerns me, though, is not what I think about the Pirates having a great system (most likely just outside the Top 10 of all systems, in my opinion), but what others think. These opinions may influence how other GM's pre-rate our prospects and affect future dealings with us. It seems minor, but downgrading our prospects may lead to the Pirates not getting full value for them in trades or other transactions.

Over at, we're just wrapping up the Top 30 rankings. It appears that 23of the 30 prospects will have been brought in by Neil Huntington in his 2 years on the job. That says volumes about his talent acquisition, but also the utterly atrocious job done by Dave Littlefield that after only 2 years (!!) 7 of his prospects can make a Top 30.

I'm keeping my own running rankings of the Top 10's and it would not surprise by my estimates are a Top 10 system, as it seems after further review that many farms are very shallow going into 2010. But I definitely can't see them being worse than 12-15 when the rankings come out in the spring.

The old drafting maxim is:
Draft 50 players per year
Sign 30 players
Get 20 of those players to AA
Get 2 starters and 1 bench guy out of every draft

Well if the early returns on 2008/2009 drafts tell us anything, NH and crew are off to a fantastic start living up to that maxim. And that doesn't include players he traded for such as Tabata, Alderson, Hernandez, Locke, etc. who should also make the PNC grass at some point.

This soil is no longer fallow, but actually rich and producing a high yield.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Montreal - Just like Europe but the women shave their armpits

My girlfriend and I wanted to go away this summer, so we sat down and made a list of places that neither of the two of us had been to in North America and had interest in going. That was a short list, as both of us have travelled extensively (she more than I). We eventually settled on Montreal.

Montreal is a great "challenge" city because it is truly bi-lingual. As part of province Quebec, they are very proud of their French ancestry. But unlike Quebec City, which is said to be very militant about being French, Montreal is a very progressive city (it is the banking hub of Canada) with many multi-national interests. It also gets a lot of tourism, so everywhere you go you are greeted with "Bonjour/Hi" and whichever way you respond...whether in English or the way the conversation goes.

We stayed in the W Hotel, just outside Old Montreal...the old enclosed part of the fortress while it was a military settlement. This trip was the first for my girlfriend and I and unfortunately I think I may have topped out with this hotel on my first try! If you EVER go to Montreal, I can not say enough good things about the W. It is stunningly gorgeous in its design, the color motif is cool and chic, the bars are outstanding, and the rooms are top notch. We were upgraded to a Mega room, complete with a walk up shower with rain attachment and king-size bed.

The food was great in Montreal, as well. The restaurant that I would like to highlight, as it was the most French of all of them that we ate at, was Chez Suzette in Old Montreal. We had a crepe lunch while there...I had the chicken/avocado crepe while my girlfriend had the ham/swiss cheese crepe. I've attached the menu link for your enjoyment.

If you go, make sure to get at least a 1 day subway pass. We needed to use it 3 times during the day in order to break even on the purchase versus individual fares...we ended up using the subway 8 times that day! We went to Olympic Stadium, the Biosphere, Notre Dame, Old Port, Berri-UQAM, and some other general areas. It was easy to master and fun to use. Much like Toronto, it gets so cold that they have established an underground city of sorts.

As with most of my city posts, there will be follow ups, but allow this to serve as a recommendation for the grand city of Montreal for a long weekend.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Who is China Millman (and why do we care)?

I love to eat out. The presentation, the preparation, the decor of the all goes into it. I know what I like and what I don't like.

So why do we as humans need food critics to tell us these things? Everyone always rolls their eyes and says "Boy, I would love to have that job..." and I will admit, that has to be a pretty sweet gig.

You can definitely wield some power and alter the fortunes of a restaurant with a good or bad review. But your role should really be to open the eyes of the reader to a restaurant or an experience that they otherwise may not see or know about.

Which brings us to the pedantic food critic of the Post Miss China Millman. In a previous post, I railed against the "pretentiousness" of wine snobs popping up in Pittsburgh, so I don't want to go to the well too often with that word. Instead, I'll settle on "out of touch elitist" for my thoughts on Ms. Millman.

As the food critic, I would think she is the de-facto figurehead of the Food section, right? And as such, you would think she would be prominently featured in the Thursday Food and Flavor AND have an article in on Sunday, plus maybe a restaurant review? You would think so, but you would be wrong.

Instead, most times we are treated to such fluff as her Care Packages for College Students with ridiculous earthy tree-hugger ideas that no "normal" college student would like to see from home. Care package = money, chocolate, popcorn, and more money.

Or her screed on how we should tip at a MINIMUM of 20%. Whaaaaa? I am a "rounder-upper" when I go and I usually settle at 20% (unless the service is so-so, but only a handful of times in my life have I ever gone below 15%). If the bill is $36.70, I'm leaving $7 (not $7.34+).

I enjoyed her articles when she went to Greece, but even then she injected her ridiculous viewpoints into the article.

She should be part foodie, part travel guide...even if she doesn't leave Pittsburgh. I want to feel like I'm at the table with her, but not having to listen to her talk.

As for China herself, a food critic is not to be seen or known, lest they get favorable treatment when they review a restaurant. This has always bothered me. I like to solve puzzles. So using my bachelor's in Google Search-ology, I found this link with a possible picture of Ms. Millman:

This is from a Harvard newspaper in 2002, putting young Ms. Millman at approximately 25-26. I've always pictured her in my mind as a late 20-something, slightly sullen, prone to coffee shop mopey-ness, so this sad panda picture fit my thoughts to a tee. I also expect her to live somewhere trendy, like a Shadyside or East End, but that's not something I would ever publish online if I found out.

There's a difference between solving a puzzle and stalking. A thin line.

So if you see this girl out and about at a fashionable restaurant and she seems to be intently studying her plate, while contemplating how to convey her thoughts to the commoners, give her a big "HI, CHINA MILLMAN!!" for ol' DBS here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

DBS' Top 30 2010 Pirates' Prospects - #26 - 30

Age in parentheses is the players 2010-season age and the level is my projected starting assignment.

26. Bryan Morris (23) RHP, A+/AA -- Morris will, unfairly, have the spotlight shining on him more than most of our prospects because he was the "key" to the Jason Bay trade. Ever since he has come here, though, he has been plagued by injuries (arm, toes, knee) and ineffectiveness. Last year he muddled through another year with injuries and a 5+ ERA in A+ ball, coupled with getting suspended by the Pirates for poor attitude after arguing balls/strikes. As I've mentioned, I value performance very highly, not just potential. And at this point, Morris needs to show me more of both.

27. Tom Boleska (23) RHP, A+ -- Once you get into the mid-20's, I think it's perfectly fine to include pure relievers. Boleska has been racked with injuries, but when healthy has shown fantastic K rates and batting-average-against (BAA) during his time with the Pirates. I think much like Moreno, he could be a multiple level jumper in 2010.

28. Hunter Strickland (21) RHP, A+ -- There are some guys that you want to rank higher, but you need to see more, even if you are certain that they will be breakouts. I think Strickland is one of those. When he over in 2009 for Laroche from BOS, I looked at his minor league numbers and was shocked how much they reminded me of Ross Ohlendorf's 2009 MAJOR league numbers (to that point in the season....Ohlendorf became an even better pitcher in August/Sept). Strickland is a pitch to contact, low K rate kind of guy, but he is effective and seems to profile as a #3/4. Reports out of fall instructional is that he was hitting 94 mph, which would add an even more interesting wrinkle.

29. Brett Lorin (23) RHP, A+ -- Lorin came over with Adcock and Pribanic in the Snell/Wilson trade with SEA. He is a tall 6'-7" pitcher, but not super overpowering. He did not get promoted to A+ when he got here, so he pitched the whole year as a slightly overage 22 in low A. If he makes it to AA for a decent amount of starts this year, his ceiling will improve, but right now his average stuff coupled with low placements does not make me very high on him.

30. Jordy Mercer (23) SS, AA -- Mercer was drafted one round ahead of D'arnaud in 2008 (3rd round v. 4th round), but D'arnaud has clearly passed him on the path to Pittsburgh. Mercer is a big SS at 6'-3", but plays it adequately. He had a huge amount of doubles and 10 HR's this year, so the thinking is always that "doubles turn into homers". But his low average to this point (.255 BAA) coupled with a low walk rate has given him only a barely above .300 OBP. He is very susceptible to pitches low and away. This year in the meat-grinder known as AA will be very telling for Mercer.

Friday, November 27, 2009

DBS' Top 30 2010 Pirates' Prospects - #21 - 25

Age in parentheses is the players' 2010-age and the level is my projected starting assignment for that player.

21. Nelson Pereira (21) LHP, A -- I had some high hopes coming in to the season for this undersized lefty. As a 20-year old, I envisioned him starting in Low A after a very dominant 2008 GCL season. However, he was placed in short season State College and got rocked early on. Pereira did rebound strongly and managed to still strike out over a batter an inning. Reports on his fastball improved, with the gun now getting him consistently in the high 80's. He is in danger of getting passed by some of the 2009 HS talent (Dodson, Stevenson) and some of the college guys drafted in 2009 (A. Baker, Inman) if his 2010 doesn't pick up.

22. Brock Holt (22) 2B, A/A+ -- Everytime I look at Holt's stats from State College this year, where he played after getting drafted in 2009, and I see Chase D'arnaud. D'arnaud was criminally underrated by most Pirates fans after his 2008 debut and Holt is no exception. I think his ceiling is lower than D'arnaud, but he could break out big just like Chase did this year.

23. Brian Friday (24) SS, AA/AAA -- Friday got off to a red hot start this year, but unfortunately his bugaboo kicked in...his injury prone nature. Friday had an inner ear problem for some time and battled minor injuries throughout the year, but he still finished with a 747 OPS, which for a SS is not bad. The upper minors are getting jammed with players playing either SS or 2B (Cruz, Friday, Bixler, Ford, Negrych) that are not going to be impact players. Plus with Mercer and D'arnaud rising fast, it will be difficult to slot everyone. But I feel that Friday will not be the odd man out, even if he has to shift to 2B.

24. Zackary Dodson (19) LHP, R/SS -- Dodson is another 2009 HS pitcher drafted by the Pirates. The only pitcher not on the 30 is Trent Stevenson, who had a very respectable debut, but I feel could be a project because of his beanpole-like height-weight. Dodson is a very projectable lefty and is getting this spot on pure projection.

25. Nathan Adcock (22) RHP, A+/AA -- Adcock came over with Lorin and Pribanic in the Snell/Wilson trade with SEA. Interestingly, Adcock was the one that went to A+ post-trade and not Lorin or Pribanic, which is why he is here and Lorin is at 29 and Pribanic is not ranked. Adcock also has one year of age (for the positive) on both of them, as well. His stuff is pretty standard, so 2010 may see a rearrangement in their ranking, but for now this is how it is.

DBS' Top 30 2010 Pirates' Prospects - #16-20

Again, keep in mind the age in parentheses in the players' age during the 2010 season, with July 1st as the cutoff. The level shown is my anticipated starting level for that player.

16. Neil Walker (24) 3B, AAA/MLB -- At this point, we can probably all shelve those dreams of stardom for Walker. However, this year will determine if he is a bust or at least a serviceable major league player. He can still carve out a nice super-utility role for himself, use his switch hitting ability, and show some power. He could be the 2010 version of Jose Bautista, but with defensive prowess. Regardless of this year, he won't be on this list for 2011...he'll either have too many AB's (130 total) or he will have proven that he is not in the Pirates' plans.

17. Brooks Pounders (19) RHP, SS/A -- I put a lot of stock in performance and potential, probably 60/40 of a split. So that's why Pounders is here and higher ceiling players like Dodson and Stevenson are not. Pounders has most likely maxed out his MPH at 90-91, which is only average for a righty, but he has 4 pitches in his arsenal already. Most likely, he will be passed by some of the pitchers ranked below him after this year, but as of right now a potential workhorse with a feel for pitching gets my vote.

18. Jarek Cunningham (20) SS/3B, A -- With all of the talent added via trades and the draft this year, if you didn't have a great "wow" year, you were going to drop in my Top 30. Cunningham had one of the greatest GCL-debut seasons for a Pirates' HS prospect in recent memory - on par with McCutchen's and just slightly behind Aramis Ramirez's NY-P debut. With Alvarez ascending to the 3B throne in 2010, a new 3B needs groomed since Alvarez may not stick there long term. If Cunningham can return from his knee injury and show he is healthy, he could be ready when Alvarez has to move across to 1B in 3-4 years.

19. Victor Black (22) RHP, A/A+ -- Another one of my maxims of prospecting is that I will always rank a starter ahead of a reliever in the Top 20...unless that reliever could be very special. I think Black could be that guy. He had a 95+ mph fastball in his debut this year and rumors that his slider is top-notch, too. Although the Pirates may work him as a starter to build his innings and get him working on pitches, I wouldn't mind if they fast-tracked him as a pure reliever. He could be a blazer in the 8th/9th innings.

20. Diego Moreno (23) RHP, A+/AA -- Back to back relievers...the system must be thinning out, right? Wrong. I feel strongly that Moreno is a high-end reliever as well. He had a very strong season in A this year, albeit as a slightly overage 22. But he could be a strong multiple level mover in 2010.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Closers are overrated

I'm hoping that the next great revolution in manager-thinking will be the avoidance of "closers". There may be no other position as grossly overrated and typically overpaid than ML closer.

If you think about it from a money standpoint first, you are usually paying a top tier closer $8M to $12M to pitch maybe 60 innings. If you extrapolate that to a starting pitcher of any quality who can give you 180 innings, you are paying that closer the equivalent of $24M to $36M dollars!!

From a strategy standpoint, the closer has hamstrung managers and forced them to be by-the-book even more than they normally would be.

If your team is up by 1 run in the 7th inning, with 2 on and 1 out and your original pitcher is spraying gasoline all over the infield, why wouldn't you bring your best reliever in to the game at that point? If the arsonist on the mound blows the lead, you may not have any need for the "closer" in the 9th inning anyway. And don't say "what if you encounter the same situation in the 9th?"

You need to deal with the problem at the immediate hand, not deal with hypotheticals.

Relievers themselves are a fungible commodity. Their performances vary wildly from year to year, typically, and as such no team should tie themselves up financially or to a long term deal years-wise with a reliever.

No reliever should be paid more than $4.5M (in 2009 money) or be under contract for more than 3 years. The $4.5M is the assumed cost per win, as calculated by Fangraphs. Most relievers do not generate more than 1 WAR per season, anyway. The whole concept of Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is a topic for another post, if you're not familiar with it....

Ideally, a pitching staff should be:
5 starters
1 "long man" who can spot start and eat innings during a blowout
2 left handed relievers, at least one of which you feel comfortable using in a high-leverage situation where you need to protect a close lead or put out a fire
3 right handed relievers, at least two of which are high-leverage candidates

That's an 11 man staff which means that your relievers should all be able to work multiple innings and work both sides of the hitters' box. Pure left-on-left guys are another terrible waste of roster spots and resources. Learn a changeup for god sakes!

That would give the manager 1 more spot on the bench so that the premise of "the backup catcher can't pinch hit...what if the starter gets hurt?!?" can also be eliminated. Not all catchers are great shakes with the toothpick, but some teams have guys who were decent backups this year but never got the pine splinters out of their rear end unless they were starting that game.

So in this one blog post, I helped eliminate the following themes of baseball that are ruining it:
1. Closers are overpaid and not needed
2. LOOGY's are a waste of time and money
3. Use the backup catcher as a pinch hitter. Seriously.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tough night to find a plate in Pittsburgh

So on Saturday, my girlfriend and I had dinner with her aunt and her aunt's friend. We knew we were going out and we knew it would be around 7 pm, but we didn't have concrete plans about a place to go.

But it's Pittsburgh! You can always get a table at a nice restaurant, even on a Saturday. Right?

At least this past Saturday....wrong. We tried Red Room, Pangea, and Casbah and none of them could seat us until 9 pm! We ended up at Enrico's on Ellsworth, but we didn't consider that "settling".

When we walked in at 7, the place was empty except for 3 other tables. Oh, no! Did we overcorrect and go to a failing restaurant? I've been to Enrico's twice before and been pleased both times -- what happened? Well, by 8 pm the whole place was packed and people were eating at the bar as well.

All of a sudden, Pittsburgh has become chic and trendy with eating "fashionably late" as my mother says.

As for the meal itself, my girlfriend has a serious pumpkin lust in the fall, so she went with the pumpkin/sage-filled ravioli and I had the gnocchi with butternut squash. The gnocchi were light, not heavy and doughy like most places, and the filling had enough zip to catch your attention. The ravioli were fantastic as well...sage is a very underrated herb, especially for autumn cooking.

Seated next to us were two couples, both around my age (early 30's) or maybe slightly younger. They actually brought a small portable wine cooler (not a Seagram's, but a container) and it held 3 bottles of wine. And they weren't 10 dollar bottle of wine, either. This table proceeded to put down 2-1/2 bottles of wine while we were there, with the remaining part of the bottle not far behind I'm sure.

It's interesting seeing the uptick in wine interest among people my age. I'm just fearful there's a huge amount of pretentiousness to go along with it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Greek Pork Loin Roast

My job is fairly black and white, so I indulge my creative side by cooking. I'm not going to be the next Iron Chef, but I know my way around the kitchen.

One of the things that I would like to do is pair a city post with a recipe post of cuisine either from that city or from a restaurant style that I visited. Since I was singing the praise of Mezes in Toronto's Greektown, here's one of my favorite recipes to make.

This is from the fantastic cookbook The Foods of the Greek Islands by Aglaia Kremezi....

Oven Baked Pork Loin with Olive Oil, Garlic, Thyme, and Oregano (modified by portion size and use of pork tenderloin instead of roast)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp dried thyme, crumbled
1/2 tbsp dried oregano, crumbled
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lb pork tenderloin

In a small bowl, combine the oil, garlic, thyme, oregano, red pepper flakes, and salt. Rub this mixture all over the pork. Place the pork in a Dutch oven (or casserole dish if you don't have a Dutch oven), cover the dish with aluminum foil, then place the lid on top and refrigerate overnight, up to 24 hours (I usually do 8 at max).

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Remove the aluminum foil, replace the lid, and bake for 30 minutes. Baste the pork then bake for 30 minutes. Baste again and cook uncovered for 20-30 more minutes. The tenderloin should be a nice brown with the ends more well-done looking. The inside meat temp should be 155 to 165 F.

Remove the pork from the oven, cover with foil and let rest for 15-20 minutes to allow the juices to draw back into the meat. Reheat briefly if necessary.

I usually pair this with a roasted potato dish sprinkled with lemon juice and herbs. You can do a wild rice, as well. This is one of those dishes that is almost as good the next day, too. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Toronto - a city fit for a Queen

Much like what I did with Chicago last week, I'll periodically post my thoughts about cities that I have visited. Most of these cities will be over a series of posts, as there are many different stories/places/anecdotes that I would like to share.

Toronto is one of those cities. It's clean. It's cosmopolitan. It has an endless amount of restaurants and things to do.

Setting aside the citizenship/visa issues, if I could move to Toronto tomorrow to live and work, I would. Yes, the winters are mind-numbingly cold. But they've thought of that too in Toronto, by building a huge series of underground malls and pathways to essentially create an Underground Toronto.

I always like to gauge a city by its mass transit options and systems. Toronto's subway (metro) is at the top of that list. Again, it is very clean to ride and wait for underground. It is safe and relatively inexpensive, especially if you get a 1-day pass. And most importantly for visitors, it's easy to grasp and use right away.

The main backbone of downtown Toronto is Yonge Street (pronounced "young") and this spine contains the north-south main leg of the Metro. One of the hubs of the Metro is at Bloor Street, which contains a main east-west line. If you take that Bloor St metro to the east, towards Danforth, you will wind up in one of Toronto's many ethnic neighborhoods...this one is Greektown.

If you get off at the Pape station on this line, you will go top-side into the heart of Greektown. It was here that I had one of the 5 best meals of my life. Don't ask me right now what the other 4 were, but I know this one is in the Top 5, OK?!

It was a restaurant called Mezes and it is on the main drag of Danforth. I just checked and it is still in business, which is good when you're singing the praises of one of your favorite meals.

That night I had Ortikia (quail) with potatoes. The preparation and the seasonings of the quail made me feel as if I was leaning up against the Parthenon itself. Mezes itself, which I believe means "appetizers", is a fairly standard restaurant...not too fancy, not too casual.

But if you love Greek food like I do, and happen to be in Toronto, I highly recommend Mezes. Here's their website for you to peruse....

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

DBS' Top 30 2010 Pirates' Prospects - #11 - 15

Continuing on with my personal Top 30 list and the appropriate comments. Remember the age is the players 2010 season-age (July 1 cutoff) and the level my assumed assignment.

11. Jeff Locke (22) LHP, AA -- Jeff Locke and another Pirates' trade acquistion, Bryan Morris, got lumped in together this year as under-achieving players. But Locke improved down the stretch, has at least been not as much as an injury concern as Morris, and did not have "makeup" concerns this year like Morris did. Locke has the full arsenal and the additional bonus of being a lefty.

12. Colton Cain (19) LHP, R/SS/A -- Perhaps I have a blind spot for power-throwing lefties, so sue me. A lefty that can gas it at 94-95 at age 18 is a great starting point for a top of the rotation pitcher. For me, Cain is 1A behind ZVR in terms of ceiling in the high school pitchers we drafted in 2009. Cain may also follow ZVR by starting at State College before moving to West Virginia.

13. Quinton Miller (20) RHP, A+ -- Quinton Miller was like a Gatorade cooler in the middle of the desert during the 2008 draft season. Pirates fans were not used to us drafting a high-end high school pitcher under the reign of terror known as Dave Littlefield's tenure. Miller may have had too many expectations heaped on him going into 2009 (by me, too), but he had a very acceptable season for a 19 y.o. in Low A. He will move up with a very crowded staff to Bradenton this year.

14. Robbie Grossman (20) OF, A+ -- Grossman was another oasis from the 2008 draft as a high-end high school position player. Grossman in 2009 played the full season in Low A, with no extended training or short season ball in his path. However, he had serious contact issues, with an over 30% K rate and little power. So why so high? Grossman drew a tremendous amount of walks, played a competent CF, and stole 30+ bases. His K rate was disportionate while batting L (he's a switch hitter), so it may be a decision in 2010 to abandon switch hitting if the results do not improve.

15. Gorkys Hernandez (22) OF, AA/AAA -- To this point in his career, the best facet of Hernandez's game has been "tradeability". Originally a product of the Detroit Tigers, Gorkys was included with Jair Juirrens in the Renteria deal to Atlanta. Then, of course, he came here with Morton and Locke for Nate McLouth. Gorkys has blinding speed that doesn't translate well to stolen bases, a moderate amount of power, and fantastic defense. But where does he fit with the Pirates? McCutchen has CF locked down as long as he wants, so Hernandez would move to LF most likely due to the vastness of PNC. But his power does not profile well there....he actually would be much like the erstwhile Nyjer Morgan. He seems like a 4th OF, but age is on his side still.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chicago - My kind of town

I will admit right now that I don't like New York. Not because of the people, the attitude, the sports's just too big. I can't get comfortable with all the people, the congestion of Manhattan, the dirtiness.

But Chicago...yeah, that's much better.

It's probably the "biggest" city I could live in and be happy. I've been there twice, the last time being 2006. It's the type of city that you could eat out every night at a different restaurant and still keep finding great places.

Their parks system is top-notch, as well, with Millenium Park and the Lawn close to Lake Shore Drive. And of course the views from the Hancock Building are fantastic. It's the kind of city where you feel like things are happening all around you.

The architecture has something for everyone...from the classical style of the Tribune Building, to the office tower style of the Hancock, to the modern "what the heck is that" of the vertical bee-hives apartment towers next to the House of Blues, to the chic, clean lines of the recent buildings.

If you go, check out the restaurant called Opera. It's in the South Loop and is a Chinese restaurant set in an old movie reel storage building. Because the reels had to be kept dark, there are all these private alcoves where they have tucked 2-3 feels very private as opposed to the din of the main area. And in order to not feel too pretentious for being one of the top restaurants in the city, on Saturdays the waitstaff all dresses up with a different theme. When I went, it was "Bad 80's Prom Night".

Their website is

DBS' Top 30 2010 Pirates Prospects - #6-10

Took the day off from work today and will be going away for the weekend with my girlfriend...perfect time to post some Prospects! Remember, the ages are their 2010 ages and the starting levels are presumed by me.

6. Chase D'Arnaud (23) SS/2B, AA -- D'Arnaud seems to be an "end justifies the means" kind of guy, in that scouts are never wowed by the tools, but love his approach and obviously his results. For me, I look at K/BB rates in the minors for hitters and D'Arnaud had a nearly 1:1 ratio. Coupled with playing both middle infield positions and having a lot of speed...he could be a perfect #2 hitter in 2011 for the Pirates.

7. Rudy Owens (22) LHP, A+/AA -- Unless you have a blazing fastball, all lefties get perjoratively labelled as a soft-tossing lefty. Owens works in the low 90's, plenty of juice for a lefty, with solid off-speed stuff. It was curious as to how the Pirates treated a possible mid-season promotion for him, though, as they really made him sweat for it. I hope they don't see something we don't.

8. Starling Marte (21) OF, A+ -- Marte could be very special, a real lottery ticket for the Pirates. He is one of the rarest of birds...a Latin prospect signed and developed under Dave Littlefield...even if Gayo signed him of course. Anyway, Marte showed 4 tools this year, with only power lacking. But his frame and build suggest that will develop too. It would not surprise me at all if he is considered for #1 on this list next year after the Top 3 graduate.

9. Ronald Uviedo (23) RHP, AA -- Over at OnlyBucs, I've been voting for him since #9...and we're on #19 now. Some of it is the question on whether he is a starter or reliever long term, but his year this year was too good to ignore. He did have an injury, but he came back to be a near-dominant closer for Lynchburg in the playoffs. Barring "flameout", the worst case for him is power set-up man.

10. Zach von Rosenberg (19) RHP, SS/A -- Just typing that out, you see why he is known simply as "ZVR". ZVR is the highest-end pitching prospect drafted by Huntington. He is 6'-5" with plenty of projection and 3 current avg to plus pitches as an 18 year old. He was signed away from going to LSU and should, conservatively, follow Quinton Miller's path in 2010, by getting a taste of short season and then going to Low A West Virginia. Capable of being the elusive #1 or #2 starter the Pirates lack.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

DBS's Top 30 Pirates Prospects - 2010

Over at OnlyBucs in December of 2008, I was bored. So I put up a poll of 25 names or so and asked people to rank who they thought the #1 prospect was. I thought, maybe at best, we could do a Top 10.

Well, it caught on like a house on fire, and eventually went all the way out to 30. People love to talk and argue about prospects!

This year, we started the OBN Top 30 again and the response has increased by over 50% in votes from last year.

I struggle to not jaundice the polls with my opinions, though. But now I have a forum to put up my guys and the reasoning behind it.

The number in parentheses in the players' 2010 age, using July 1 as the cutoff. His position and expected starting level follows:

1. Pedro Alvarez (23) 3B, AAA/MLB -- Alvarez is a legitimate home-grown power threat, something the Pirates have not had since Aramis Ramirez. My concerns about his K rate have lessened and he is semi-respectable against LHP. Even if he has to shift to 1B, the bat will play.

2. Brad Lincoln (25) RHP, AAA/MLB -- Lincoln has shown that he has rebounded from Tommy John surgery and is ready to challenge for a spot in the Pirates' 2010 rotation. He has a mid 90's fastball and perhaps the best curve in the system.

3. Jose Tabata (21) OF, AAA/MLB -- So many questions swirl around Tabata that it seems like he is permanently enveloped in a fog sometimes. The rumors that he may not really be 21, his perceived lack of hustling, and his long term ability to hit for power will not go away. If he can play a competent RF, bat .300+, and generates lots of doubles and 15 HR's, I will take it.

4. Tony Sanchez (22) C, A+/AA -- Sanchez was a much-maligned pick in 2009, as he was seen as an overdraft and a cheap way out by ownership. He proceeded to put down a huge debut season with the bat, a so-so season behind the dish (the exact opposite of what was expected) and impress me with his commitment and winning attitude. Playing the most important defensive position doesn't hurt either.

5. Tim Alderson (21) RHP, AAA -- Ahh, the curse of the Pirates prospect. With SF, Alderson was #2 behind only Madison Bumgarner. He was a future #2 starter with impeccable control. He gets traded to the Pirates for Freddy Sanchez and all of sudden he is complete trash. Reports came from every corner that his velocity was way down and he would be, at best, a #5 starter. I think the Pirates will straighten out his awkward delivery and extrapolate a few more MPH on the fastball.

I'll post more prospects later....this is already turning into quite a missive.

...and here....we....go...

I've toyed around with the idea of starting my own blog for some time now, but decided just recently to just go ahead and give it a shot.

This blog spurred off of my posting on Only Bucs and getting comfortable sharing my thoughts in a forum that didn't resort to profanity and namecalling after 10 posts. But I've been holding back sometimes on my opinions, as to not dominate the board.

Also, my interests aren't just discussing the Pirates. I thought it would be interesting to have a blog with some varied topics on it.

I was thinking that 2/3 of the posts could be about sports, with 1/3 revolving around my love of cooking, some of the cities that I've visited, and my thoughts about my hometown of Pittsburgh. Those ratios are subject to change without further notice!

Even though this first post will be viewed by nobody but spambots, most likely, I hope that people come here and partake in the comments. I want an open forum where my posts are more like Conversation Starters rather than Gospel From On High.

Take off your e-shoes and stay awhile...welcome