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.