Sunday, December 30, 2012

Artifacts in West End

We were both off on Friday, so DB~ and I wanted to do something a little different.  Periodically, I pass by this store in the West End on Stueben Street called Artifacts.  It advertises 20,000 items under one roof, so I figured "there has to be one thing in there that we would like".

After checking out the Toynbee tile downtown, we headed over to the West End to scope Artifacts out.  When we walked in, we were greeted by a cheerful saleswoman and saw a very cool 7 foot diameter dining table that DB~ liked.  A few minutes later an older gentleman, who we presumed was the owner, came over to extol the virtues of this table and chairs (and run down cheap furniture you get at every other store).  And this table could be yours (or ours) for the low, low price of $11,000 --- cost of chairs not included.

DB~ then turned around and saw a great chest of drawers.  Great detail, solid wood, all for the low, low price of $59,000.  At this point we realized we were way out of our element.  It slowly dawned on me that instead of finding one of 20,000 items that we would like, it would be more like finding one of 20,000 items that we could afford.  The whole first floor, as is usually the case, was the high-end stuff.  About 1/3 of the first floor was dedicated just to Persian and Oriental Rugs.

Oh, and there was a stuffed giraffe head and neck for $11,500.  DB~ petted it.

We headed up to the 2nd floor for the sheer amusement of seeing what other crazy-priced items we could find.  As soon as we got up to the 2nd floor, we passed by this giant mirror (probably 6-8 feet high) with ornate details in the hand carved wood, complete with multiple baroque-style cherubs.  Price?  A mere $125,000.  There are millionaires who would balk at that price tag.

After seeing some African tribal masks, nautical style tables and painting, and Asian themed furniture, we saw this great lamp:

It's a pitted silver lamp with burlap around it stenciled with "Paris" ,a Fleur de Lis, and some other French stuff.  It would go perfectly in one of our rooms with our existing French burlap pillows with stenciling.  Surprisingly, the lamp was "affordable".  I went downstairs to negotiate with the owner and see if he was flexible on the price.  We ended up getting 1/3 off of it and got it for $130.  As we were checking out, DB~ found a similar style lamp on Pottery Barn's website for $220.  We took it home and it fits in perfectly in our one room.

Artifacts may not be practical for the everyday person, but they do have some really interesting stuff in there. It's worth checking out.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Toynbee Tiles in Pittsburgh

A few weeks ago at Piratefest, a fellow baseball blogger told me about something called Toynbee Tiles.  Apparently these tiles are a great urban mystery across the United States, but primarily in the East Coast, and have been around for at least 30 years.

The "classic" Toynbee Tile is a piece of linoleum-like substance that is affixed to asphalt in a major downtown city street.  It has tiny pieces of the author's philosophy, albeit one that brings to mind that the creator may brush his hair once a week, have an array of facial tics, and complain about the birds flying overhead acting as spies.

Since DB~ and I are off this week, we went downtown to try and find one located at Sixth Avenue and Smithfield Street.  I was expecting it to be large and adjacent to the sidewalk, but DB~ spotted the tiny 12" x 6" (approximate) tile a few feet into the lane adjacent to the sidewalk on the Mellon Park side of the intersection.

The legend of the Toynbee Tiles is that no one truly knows who is creating and installing them.  They just sort of appear.  And considering the high traffic areas and amount of work that need to be done to affix them, it's safe to say it is done in the dead of night.  A Philadelphia recluse named Severino Verna, using the alias of James Morasco, is the most likely candidate according to those in the know about these items.

Some cities treat these tiles as graffiti, such as Chicago which actively removes them.  They are more likely the garbled ramblings of a crazy person, but they are unique pieces of urban art all throughout major cities that should be seen at least once in person.  There is also a documentary called Resurrect Dead (a popular phrase on the tiles) that I will try and track down through Netflix, as well.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Luke Wholey's Wild Alaskan Grille

A couple of Thursdays ago, DB~ and I met for dinner after work down in the Strip District.  We decided to try Luke Wholey's Wild Alaskan Grille on Penn Avenue.  We had passed by this place a couple of times on recent trips to the Strip and it seemed interesting enough.

It was a cold, dreary Thursday night in December and when I got there at 6 pm, I was the only person in the restaurant.  By the time DB~ got there, maybe 3 other tables were filled.  The interior of the restaurant is exposed brick and murals, with the one that I was staring at being a large orange-yellow fish.

While I was waiting for DB~, I was reflecting on one of the restaurant's previous incarnations, that being a nightclub known as Area 51.  It was also known as another name as a nightclub and I think it was during that name that I was there one night when Alexei Morozov and Alexei Kovalev were there.  Morozov was without a doubt my least favorite Penguin of all time.  I thought he was such a Mary that had no grit to him and not enough offensive ability to offset it.  Needless to say, those two were surrounded by a bevy of young women anxious to be Mrs. Morozov or Kovalev -- at least for one night.

Back in present day, when DB~ got there we checked out the dinner menu at Luke Wholey's.  For the scion of Pittsburgh's most famous fish family, I found the menu to be a little lacking in terms of interesting selections.  There were multiple shrimp dishes, cod, scallops, and yellowtail, but with an array of seafood available a short walk away it was puzzling that the menu was so ordinary.  The preparations were pretty standard as well, nothing gourmet or anything to separate the menu from others serving seafood.

On Christmas Eve at a family party, one of DB~'s uncles told me that he thought Luke and his uncle, who took over Wholey's after Luke's father passed, had a little bit of a falling out which led to Luke striking out on his own.  Perhaps that accounts for some of the standard fare menu selections, but it's not like Wholey's has a monopoly on fish in the city of Pittsburgh.

Our food was good, not great, although it seems as if the family secret for the recipe of lobster bisque was smuggled out during the split from the Penn Avenue fishmonger house.  It was as good as ever.  I hope that the restaurant can get a more daring chef and a more diverse array of seafood.  Otherwise it may go the way of Alexei Morozov's career with the Penguins -- underwhelming and wanting more.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

DBS Top 30 Prospects 2013 - #5 to #1

Holy cow, can you stand the excitement?  All 7 of you?  The Interwebs' most influential list of Top 30 prospects is ready to conclude.  Ages are in parentheses, as of July 1, 2013, with their presumed starting levels.

#5.  Gregory Polanco, OF (21), A+ -- I could have easily switched Polanco into the 4 spot with Alen Hanson at 5.  Polanco is a pure CF, while Hanson is questionable to stay at SS.  But Polanco is a year older than Hanson and Hanson is still at SS right now.  Polanco's .325/.388/.522 (910 OPS) year was fantastic and came out of nowhere (left field, if you will).  His tantalizing 16 HR's and 40 SB's make you daydream about him manning the OF with Marte and McCutchen at the same time.  If Polanco can have a season 90% as good in 2013 at High A, there's a chance he could jump up to the top spot next year.

#4.  Alen Hanson, SS (20), A+ -- Hanson teamed up with Polanco in 2012 to form one of the most exciting breakout duos in all of Minor League Baseball.  Hanson has a touch more pedigree, plays a premium position, and is a year younger than Polanco.  But questions remain about his ability to remain at SS, due to his footwork being sub-par.  Hanson's slash line of .309/.381/.528 (909 OPS) was virtually identical to Polanco's this year, with his 16 HR/35 SB's even more drool-worthy potentially from the SS position.  The Pirates are starved for a SS prospect so Hanson in 2013 will be closely scrutinized.

#3.  Luis Heredia, RHP (18), A -- Welcome to the "Potential Future Ace" portion of the list!  Luis Heredia is a gigantor Mexican import that is slowly but steadily making his way through the system.  In 2012, Heredia  pitched at short-season State College and threw 66 innings, allowing only 53 hits while walking 23 and striking out 40.  The walks are a touch concerning, but his 92-95 mph fastball is not.  Coupled with a nice changeup already and a coming-along curveball, Heredia may have the most overall potential of the top 3 pitchers.  Especially since 2013 will be the equivalent of his freshman year in college due to his August birthday.

#2.  Jameson Taillon, RHP (21), AA -- It must be a real drag to be 20 years old and people think that you're a disappointment because instead of being "man, this guy is doing really well" they think you should be "MAN, THIS GUY IS AWESOME!!%!^^&!".  That's the predicament that Taillon finds himself in after being the 2nd overall pick in 2010 -- behind Bryce Harper and in front of Manny Machado.  Taillon had a great 2012 with 142 innings, 120 hits, 38 walks, and 116 strikeouts.  Taillon's 6'-6" frame generates easy 96-98 mph fastballs and a curveball that is the best in the Pirates' system -- including the majors.  His changeup is average at best at this point.  Taillon also needs to keep the ball down in the zone and stay within himself while pitching.  Ultimately, I think Taillon will be more of a high-end #2 starter than a true #1 ace.

#1.  Gerrit Cole, RHP (22), AAA -- Ta da!  Not much suspense in this one.  Cole is on track to be a bonafide ace, #1, top of the rotation stalwart, staff leader.  His 6'-4" frame powered his 98-100 mph fastball, 90 mph slider (a speed most ML pitchers use as their fastball), and plus changeup to 132 innings, 113 hits allowed, 45 walks, and 136 strikeouts.  Cole just has to not try to throw the ball through the backstop every pitch and control his emotions more to avoid big innings.  He'll get a tuneup at Indy until probably July 1st.  But after that, look out....the Pirates will have their first true ace since...ever?

Can't wait for the minors to start up in April so I can see how right/foolish I've been with these picks.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

DBS Top 30 Prospects 2013 -- #10 to #6

If you're a Pirate farmhand and you want a piece of this action, you can't have more than 50 innings pitched in the majors, 30 relief appearances in the majors, or 130 at-bats in the majors.

#10.  Matt Curry, 1B (24), AAA -- I'm too high on Matt Curry for some non-explained reason.  My only rationalization is that there are no other good candidates for the 10 spot.  Curry had a .285/.352/.480 (832 OPS)  Dickerson and Osuna have similar batting profiles and position, but Curry is further up the chain.  Herrera is too young for me to really justify putting him at 10, so here we are with Curry.  He may not have enough bat for a full-time 1B -- a full season in AAA in 2013 will determine that -- but right now he is the placemarker at 10.

#9.  Kyle McPherson, RHP (25), AAA/MLB -- Kyle McPherson sports a 92-93 mph fastball and good changeup.  His slider is workable and he has the upside of a #3-4 starter.  The downside is that he missed time at the start of the season with shoulder issues and then recently had more shoulder issues in winter ball.  There currently exists a wide open chance at the rotation and both McPherson and Locke (ineligible for the list) are the top 2 candidates.  If the shoulder problems persist, McPherson could be converted to a late-inning reliever.

#8.  Clay Holmes, RHP (20), A -- Holmes, like Nick Kingham in 2011, had a great 2012 campaign at short-season State College.  Holmes pitched 59 innings and only gave up 35 hits while walking 29 and striking out 34.  The walks are too high and that will need to be monitored, but so far the 2011 overslot pick is very promising.  Holmes will move up with Luis Heredia to form a formidable 1-2 punch in the West Virginia rotation.  Holmes is the kind of guy you'll need to be patient with as he gets refined over the next 3 years, but his upside is a #3 starter or #2 if things break right.

#7.  Nick Kingham, RHP (21), A+ -- ...and speak of the devil here's Nick Kingham.  Going into the season, I felt that Kingham had the chance to break into the ML-wide Top 100 of some publications.  Then he got off to a horrendous start in West Virginia in April (8.59 ERA).  He proceeded to right the ship over the remainder of the year, with a poor June sprinkled in, and finished with a very respectable line over 127 innings.  He allowed only 115 hits, struck out 117 and walked only 36.  Kingham's 6'-5" frame portends a workhorse #2 starter.  Kingham has a heavy mid-90's fastball and good curve and changeup.

#6.  Josh Bell, OF (20), A -- Early in the 2012 season, Bell tore his meniscus.  His normal recovery path would have put him back in August.  His knee would not drain properly, however, and remained inflamed. After a period of rest, it was hoped he could participate in Fall Instructionals, but that did not happen either.  Bell recently underwent a Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injection in hopes to reduce the inflammation.  Bell's lost season will be forgotten if he comes back strong in 2013.  His power potential is too great to ignore.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Super 2 Status Is Not Scary

The Pirates have been shopping Joel Hanrahan around for a while now, especially since they re-signed Jason Grilli to a 2 year deal for $6.75M last week.  With Hanrahan projected to make around $7.5M via his final year of the arbitration process, it just makes "Pirates sense" that committing nearly $10.5M in 2013 (out of a $70M payroll) to 2 relievers does not make sense.

In a bit of dot-connecting, one of the teams connected to Hanrahan are the Detroit Tigers after they re-signed Anibal Sanchez to a 5 year/$80M deal.  That leaves them with a theoretical excess of starting pitchers (even though a team usually needs 7-8 options).  The Tigers also lack a "proven closer", even though they have publically declared they will go with Bruce Rondon, so they could be a possible trade partner.

One of the trade candidates from the Tigers is Rick Porcello.  Porcello was a highly touted prospect after getting drafted 27th overall in 2007 (he dropped due to bonus demands).  He skyrocketed through the minors, thanks to the Tigers' typically aggressive promotion procedure, and made his debut in early April 2009.  Porcello has pitched nearly 4 full seasons and won't even be 24 until two days after this Christmas.  Porcello has had a good, not great, career to this point.  He is a sinkerball pitcher that pitches in front of perhaps the worst infield defense in the Majors, plus he does rack up a huge amount of strikeouts (typical of sinkerball pitchers).  Knowing Neal Huntington's love of sinkerballers, Porcello would seem like a natural fit.

Here's the interesting part about Porcello -- even though he has nearly 4 full seasons, Porcello still has 3 years of control left for either the Tigers or whatever team trades for him.  How is that possible?  It's possible because Porcello officially has 3 years and 170 days of service time.  In baseball terms, a year is considered 172 days.  Because the Tigers brought Porcello up a week into the 2009 season, they were able to buy a nearly full year of service from Porcello (he made 31 starts) and still reap the benefits of him to the maximum -- he pitched 170 innings a pitched to a 3.96 ERA/4.77 FIP/4.27 xFIP and produced 2 WAR as a 20 year old.

Because of those 2 days saved, Porcello became a Super 2 player in 2012 and was arbitration-eligible for the first time this year.  For Porcello's 2nd year of 4 in his Super 2 progression, he is projected to earn $4.7M.  Porcello has consistently produced 2 to 2.9 WAR in each of his 4 years, so he is a steal for his projected salaries going forward.  Imagine if he actually had a halfway decent defense behind him to catch some of his 52.3% ground ball ratio.

The moral of this story is that Super 2 is not something to be scared of or be concerned about as a fan.  The Tigers maximized their use of Porcello and could essentially have him for 7 full seasons.  The Pirates' Super 2 candidate, Neil Walker, has 2 years 166 days of service time, but approximately 30 days of that time is from his cameo appearance in September 2009.  The Pirates brought him up in late May 2010 for good, so they didn't reap the full amount of the season like the Tigers did with Porcello.

Teams have a financial interest to keep their players out of Super 2 status.  Instead of 3 full years at minimum scale and 3 years of arbitration, a Super 2 player has 2 full years of minimum scale (plus whatever time accrued during the call-up year) and 4 years of arbitration.  It's pricier for the team, of course, but for a team like the Tigers the benefits of a quality full year definitely outweigh the cost down the road.  If a player is good enough to help a team, he should be brought up just after the start of a season to gain the extra year of control -- Super 2 be damned.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

DBS Top 30 Prospects 2013 -- #15 to #11

We're now moving in to the top half of the Top 30.  Candidates can not exceed the eligibility requirements of 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 30 relief appearances.  The number in parentheses is the player's age as of July 1, 2013.

#15. Justin Wilson, LHP (25), AAA/MLB -- Wilson has been groomed as a starter ever since his selection as a 5th round pick in 2008.  His control issues have followed him at every stop, with his BB/9 routinely greater than 4.50.  This year, Wilson pitched 135 innings and only allowed 91 hits, complete with 138 K's but also 66 walks (just under 4.50 walks/9 innings).  Wilson made his debut this year as a reliever with the Pirates.  His future is most likely as a power lefty out of the bullpen to highlight his mid-90's fastball and excellent slider.

#14. Jose Osuna, 1B (20), A+ -- While most of the attention was on Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco this year at West Virginia, Jose Osuna quietly had a nice season for a 19-year old.  His final line was .280/.342/.454 (779 OPS).  His strikeout rate was less than 20% of his at-bats, which is great for a young power hitter that hit 16 home runs.  His defense at first leaves a lot to be desired, so Osuna will have to continue to become a masher.  He'll move up to Bradenton in 2013 along with Polanco and Hanson to form a great core of the lineup.

#13. Dilson Herrera, 2B/SS (19), SS/A -- Herrera has all the earmarks of being the "Alen Hanson of 2013" for the Pirates.  Like Hanson, he's a smallish middle infielder that had a great short-season debut, as Herrera hit .281/.341/.482 (823 OPS) with 7 HR's and 11 SB's.  And like Hanson, Herrera's K rate of 20% is a touch too high for a player of his size and batting profile.  Herrera has excellent arm strength, but he played primarily at 2B due to range concerns.  It seems as if Hanson will make the jump to West Virginia, like Hanson, but there is the possibility that he will go to Jamestown in short-season.  Either way, he's one to watch as a huge breakout candidate in 2013.

#12. Tony Sanchez, C (25), AAA/MLB -- There is no more maligned/star-crossed pick in the Pirates' system than Sanchez.  The player accused of being a signability pick in 2009 started off quite well in his career.  He then broke his jaw twice, once by a pitch and once in a fight, which has in turn coincided with a downturn in his offensive performance.  A player once cited as a potential Yadier Molina is now seen by some as a backup at the Major League level.  The Russell Martin signing may be the strongest indicator of that.  Sanchez hit a combined .251/.338/.401 (739 OPS) between AA/AAA in 2012, with all 8 of his home runs at the AAA level.  His defensive skills are without reproach, as many scouts feel he is defensively ready right now.  2013 is a defining year for Sanchez on many different levels.

#11. Alex Dickerson, 1B (23), AA -- Coming out of college, Dickerson was seen as a bat-first 1B.  However, to this point his bat has not developed as strongly as expected.  His line in 2012 was .295/.353/.451 (804 OPS) at Bradenton with only 13 home runs.  Neither his OPS or home run count is where it needs to be in order for Dickerson to considered a full-time 1B at the Major League level.  Dickerson is here as much on pedigree and the lack of other appropriate options.  Dickerson is a prime candidate to drop far on this list if his offensive profile doesn't pick up in 2013.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

DBS Top 30 Prospects 2013 -- #20 to #16

We'll keep on chugging along with 5 more prospects that hope to don the buccaneer togs one day.  Age in parentheses is as of July 1, 2013 and the class designation is the player's potential level in 2013.

#20 Robbie Rowland, RHP (21), A+ -- The Pirates obtained Brett Lorin in the Ian Snell/Jack Wilson trade back in 2009.  Lorin made his way through the Pirates system, but was never interesting enough for them to warrant protecting on the 40 man roster.  The Diamondbacks selected Lorin in the Rule 5 draft last offseason.  As the regular season approached, though, they felt they couldn't keep Lorin on the major league roster, so a trade was worked out with the Pirates.  Rowland was the piece that came back.  In his first 2 years, Rowland couldn't get out of short-season with the Diamondbacks and had some control problems.  With the Pirates, Rowland had him arm slot lowered and he went to a sinkerballer delivery with great success.  In 106 innings, he allowed 110 hits, walked only 23 and struck out 62.  Rowland's youth and low 90's fastball makes him an interesting prospect to follow in 2013.

#19 Andy Oliver, LHP (25), AAA/MLB -- Hot off the presses!  Oliver was obtained last week for midgety catching prospect Ramon Cabrera from the Tigers.  Oliver has some MLB experience, but not enough innings to disqualify himself from the list.  Oliver has been rushed through the Tigers' farm system and his control has suffered greatly.  In 118 innings at AAA this year, Oliver allowed 103 hits and struck out 112, but he walked a mind-numbing 88.  In 31 total innings in the majors, Oliver has walked 21.  He has a power arm with mid-90's heat, but it won't help if he can't harness it.  His best future seems to be as a power lefty out of the bullpen, so think of him as an even more control-challenged Justin Wilson.

#18 Bryan Morris, RHP (26), AAA/MLB -- Morris will be out of options in 2013, so he will need to be on the roster or risk being lost to another team.  Morris is the only remaining piece from the Jason Bay trade.  With his conversion from starter to reliever full time in 2012, Morris profiles as a closer or setup man due to high-90's heat and excellent slider.  If Hanrahan is traded as expected, Jason Grilli will be the closer and Morris should apprentice as his setup man.  Morris is ranked here due to his ceiling only being a bullpen guy and his advanced age.

#17 Barrett Barnes, OF (21), A -- Barnes was a supplemental 1st round draft pick by the Pirates in 2012 and is said to be a 4-tool potential player (his range may push him to a corner).  Barnes had a nice debut for the Pirates, albeit one truncated by injury, with a .288/.401/.456 (857 OPS) line for State College with 5 HR's and 10 SB's.  Barnes is getting a lot of burn, with some national services putting him in the top 10 for the Pirates, but I think it's just a touch too early for that.  Barnes is expected to have a nice full season for West Virginia in 2013.

#16 Jordy Mercer, SS (26), AAA/MLB -- Mercer is a difficult player to rank, as his age is pushing him down the list even with his premium position of shortstop.  Mercer spent a lot of calendar time with the Pirates, but he only received 62 at-bats in Pittsburgh and put up a 636 OPS.  Mercer, like Morris at #18, are not going to be on this list next year regardless due to being 27 in 2014.  Both will probably also exceed the eligibility limits, as well.  Hopefully Mercer can demonstrate he will be more than a utility infielder in 2013.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pizza Party!

So Stevie Numbers invited DB~ and I to his Christmas party last Saturday night.  He didn't really give us a heads up, so we just figured, "Show up, drink some eggnog, have a green/red sprinkled cookie, call it a night."

When we walked in, there were probably about 20 of Steve and his wife's friends (most were his fraternity brothers from college, it seemed) and half of them were jammed into the kitchen.  There was Steve, flour covering his face, working like a dervish rolling out pizza dough.  Apparently, his "Christmas party" is his annual Pizza Party.  He planned on making 9, count 'em, 9 different pizzas from scratch.

His oven was cranked up to 465 and his first pizza dough was tossed on to the pizza stone.  It was a pretty interesting concept -- each dough was the same....flour, yeast, water, and some 4th ingredient.  Then each pizza is topped with different toppings and finished with the same mozzarella cheese.  Each pizza was baked for only 8 minutes or so.

First up was Buffalo Chicken.  This pizza was a good opener -- it kind of had an appetizer feel.

Next up was a Garlic Shrimp in Wine Sauce pizza.  It was a simple design but full of flavor.

The third pizza was perhaps our mutual favorite pizza -- a Pear Bacon pizza.  Steve rendered some bacon and reserved the fat.  He carmelized some pears in brown sugar and then drizzled the bacon fat over the pears and bacon placed on the dough.  What is it about Pears and Bacon that make them match up so well?

The pizzas kept rolling out every 10 minutes or so.  Next up was a Barbecue Ranch Chicken pizza that had just enough BBQ sauce, but not too much to overwhelm the seasonings.

The fifth pizza was a real artisinal treat -- a Wonton pizza with wontons that Steve made from scratch and topped on to the pizza.  The Asian flavors on the wonton, coupled with the mozzarella, were very tasty and just not the type of pizza you typically taste.

Steve's 6th pizza was a Veggie pizza (he called it a Sellout pizza, I think) with red peppers, mushrooms, and other veggies.  With all the chicken and BBQ and meat-ish flavors, it was good for DB~ to have a veggie choice.

Just as we were leaving, Steve unveiled a 7th pizza called Chicken Fried Steak with Sausage Gravy.  I just had a tiny square, but the Sausage Gravy was an inspired choice to put on a pizza.

It was a tremendous amount of work for Steve, but this was something that he obviously loves doing and everyone in attendance was a huge fan of the pizzas.  It's hard to eat a pizza on a Boboli crust now, that's for sure.  It kind of inspired me to try and make my own pizza dough in the future.

Friday, December 7, 2012

DBS Top 30 Prospects 2013 - #25 to #21

Let's keep rolling along after the first edition of this series was met with wide regard.

#25 Tyler Glasnow, RHP (19), SS/A -- Glasnow is a gigantor, standing 6'-7" and possessing a high-90's fastball already.  Chronologically, Glasnow is only a few months older than Luis Heredia, but he ranks lower than Heredia due to Glasnow being a little less refined and playing all of 2012 in the GCL.  His stats were fantastic in the GCL, as he pitched 34 innings and allowed only 19 hits while striking out 40 and walking 16. The walks are a touch troublesome, but it really is a small sample.  In short, if Glasnow joins Heredia at West Virginia next year and continues to refine his arsenal, he could be a hard charger next year.

#24 Willy Garcia, OF (20), A+ -- Garcia had the misfortune of playing on the same team in 2012 as two of minor league baseball's breakout stars, in Gregory Polanco and Alen Hansen.  Garcia showed a great deal of home run power (18), but his swing-and-miss (131 K's versus only 32 walks in 459 at-bats) and low average of .240 takes some of the shine off.  His overall line of .240/.286/.403 (689 OPS) reminds me a touch of Rogelios Noris from a few years back, but Garcia's tools are much louder than Noris's tools ever were.  Garcia still has youth on his side and plenty of time to prove himself.

#23 Adalberto Santos, OF (25), AAA -- Santos had a breakout year at the plate, albeit one interrupted by some injures, posting a .340/.425/.433 line at AA.  However, like Brock Holt in the previous set, Santos isn't really much of a factor defensively and does not have much power.  He did have a fair steal rate in 2012, so perhaps the 22nd round pick can make it in 2013 to The Show as a bench OF bat at some point.

#22 Vic Black, RHP (25), AAA -- Black was a 2009 supplemental pick for the Pirates being unable to sign Tanner Scheppers the previous year.  Black's progress has been slowed by injuries and a somewhat silly attempt to use him as a starter instead of fast-tracking him as a reliever.  Black has high 90's heat and a plus slider, but his control is lacking at times.  His 2012 was fantastic with 60 IP, 40 hits allowed, 29 walks, and 85 strikeouts.  Black's upside is most likely that of a setup man and if all goes well, he could see Pittsburgh at the end of 2013.

#21 Wyatt Mathisen, C (19), SS/A -- Mathisen is a rare bird in the Pirates' system -- a high school catcher drafted out of the U.S.  Joey Schoenfeld was the only other catcher so taken under Huntington, but he never amounted to anything.  Mathisen is a very athletic player and represents the Pirates best chance to develop a two-way catcher in the mold of Buster Posey.  Mathisen ranks at this point due his long road ahead of him, plus the odds of a high school catcher making the Majors is slim due to attrition.  Mathisen's placement and performance in 2013 will be interesting to follow.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

DBS Top 30 Prospects 2013 -- #30 to #26

It's that time of year again -- prospect ranking time!  Most of my follower(s) are here for my thoughts on food or the City, but this is my self-indulgent time to order grown men into numerical alignments and wax poetic on their futures.

Ground rules -- 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 30 relief appearances in the majors exhausts your eligibility.  So bid adieu to Starling Marte and Jeff Locke.  Guys that were traded such as Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens, Colton Cain, and Gorkys Hernandez (not that he would have made it) are off as well.

As I get more gray in my hair, I'm becoming a bigger proponent of "proximity to the majors".  The way I evaluate prospects is two-fold:
1) What is the player's ultimate ceiling?
2) What is the likelihood that he will reach it?

2 has to do with injury history, location on the rungs on the minor league ladder, and other non-performance factors (drugs with Zack Dodson, for instance).  So with that said, let's tackle the first five.  The number in parentheses is the player's age for the 2013 season, using the standard July 1st cutoff date.  I'm forecasting the level they may start at, as well.

#30 Gift Ngeope, 2B/SS (23), AA -- Without a doubt, Ngoepe is the top middle infielder prospect from South Africa in the minors.  The minor disclaimer is that he is the only player, regardless of position, from South Africa in all of the minors.  Ngeope has a heartwarming story that makes you root for him (cliff notes -- he was so dirt poor that he slept in the locker room of a field, because his mom was the janitor).  Ngeope's 2012 triple slash line was weak at .232/.330/.338 (668 OPS), but his hands are smooth and his range is fantastic.  He had 22 steals, albeit in 36 attempts and hit 9 homers, so there are enough things here to keep him on the radar.

#29 Brock Holt, 2B (25), AAA/MLB -- Holt had one of those years with the bat that makes everyone take notice.  He started in AA and proceeded to hit .332/.389/.432 (821 OPS) while faking it at shortstop over 102 games.  He got bumped up to AAA and went bananas in 24 games with a .432/.476/.537 (1013 OPS).  When Neil Walker started to battle thumb and back injuries, Holt was called up to the majors and hit .292/.329/.354 (683 OPS).  The problem is that he does not have the arm for SS at the major league level and he has little to no power.  If everything breaks right, Holt could be a slightly better version of Josh Harrison.

#28 Jake Burnette, RHP (20), A -- Burnette was an over slot signing back in 2011 during the halycon days when MLB allowed small market teams to better themselves through the draft.  So far, Burnette's progress has been slow and marked with some minor injuries.  Burnette only pitched 21 innings at State College in 2012 with a shockingly low 8 K's in those innings, set against 6 walks.  Small sample size and all, but let's hope Burnette was fine-tuning his fastball command and not lacking a go-to strikeout pitch.

#27 Phil Irwin, RHP (26), AAA -- Pound for pound, Irwin may have had the best season for a pitcher in the Pirates' system.  Irwin pitched primarily at AA, but he got 4 starts at Indy at the end of the year, too.  Overall, he pitched 130 innings with 119 hits, 24 walks, and 117 strikeouts.  This was a marked uptick from his previous years.  So why so low?  It's that number in the parentheses above -- his age of 26.  Irwin projects as a #4 or #5 starter due to his average fastball and lack of a plus pitch.  He's jammed up on the pecking order, too, behind the Major League rotation, Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, and Gerrit Cole poised to jump to the majors in June.

#26 Joely Rodriguez, LHP (21), A -- If you've read these before, you know I have a weakness for lefties with any modicum of speed on their fastball.  It's just such an asset to not give up on.  Rodriguez has battled minor injuries here and there, so his 64 innings at State College represents a career high.  His low 90's fastball (touches 92-93) keeps him here for now.  His lack of K's (32) may be troubling.  Hopefully he jumps up to West Virginia in 2013 and we see what the Pirates really have.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Are Sports Still Fun Anymore?

As I was driving around yesterday listening to Vinnie and Cook discuss the rampant conference-jumping of universities nowadays, it dawned on me how depressing the current landscape of sports has become.

On the college level, there has been a huge upheaval of migration from conference to conference by universities in the last 2-3 years.  Pitt has gone from the Big East to the ACC along with Syracuse.  Louisville just jumped ship to the ACC, too, leaving the Big East in shambles.  This is after West Virginia went to the Big 12 and Rutgers (off all places) left this week to go to the Big 10.  Similar jumping has occurred with SEC/PAC-10/Big 12/Big 10 schools, too.  The reason?  TV contracts.  Soon there will be just 4 "super conferences" of 16 teams and everyone else will fight for table scraps at the college level, especially for football which is the driving source of revenue for most universities.

Things are even more depressing at the pro level.  We're now moving into three months of a lockout in the NHL, which is the 2nd lockout in the last 9 seasons.  In this case it's not TV contracts, as hockey is more of a regional sport than a national one, but rather it is mega-millionaire owners fighting with millionaire players on who gets to keep more of the revenue stream.  After the 1st lockout back in the early 2000's, I thought the NHL was on solid footing with a salary cap and their recent TV deal with NBC Sports.  The Winter Classic was the envy of all sports (aside from the Super Bowl) and it seemed like all was well.  But the NHL stubbornly refuses to admit that the "Sun Belt Experiment" has been a failure and continually tries to prop up failing franchises in Phoenix, Carolina, and Florida.  Meanwhile, Toronto could easily support a 2nd franchise, Quebec has renewed interest in bringing a team back, Seattle is courting the NHL for a team for its new planned arena, and there's always Kansas City (!).

I'm not an NBA fan at all, but just last year they endured a lockout, as well.  Again, millionaires fighting millionaires, but in my mind it's even more egregious when you look at the salaries that NBA players make.  You would think that having only 12-14 guys on a roster would make owning a team relatively affordable, but salaries in the NBA are insane.

Last year, the NFL locked out their players too, but didn't lose any of the season.  That's the most unreal lockout to me, as the NFL has sports business down to a science.  A salary cap, ample revenue sharing, scads of TV deals, and multi-media licensing should keep everyone's pockets stuffed with Benjamins and not  fighting over getting more.  But greed is a real bitch sometimes....

This all leads me to the sport I followed closest and that's baseball.  Part of my sadness with sports was hammered home this week when the Dodgers announced their new LOCAL television deal with Fox that will pay them $280 million per year for the next 25 years.  Even with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement's harsh luxury taxes starting at $189M for payroll, the Dodgers have been spending like drunken sailors since the new ownership group took over last year.  And now we see the full story on why they are doing it.  Even if the Dodgers have a $210M payroll this year (my estimate), their entire payroll will be paid for before one cent is collected from the national TV deals, one ticket is sold, one boiled hot dog is put in a bun, one Matt Kemp jersey paid for by a fan.

That deal, in comparison with the estimated $20M the Pirates get from ROOT Sports, makes it seem hopeless for the Pirates to ever compete on a realistic basis ever again.  These mega TV deals signed by the Rangers, Angels, and now Dodgers (along with some other eye-popping deals in mid-markets) are just really deflating.

If you look at Cot's Contracts and click on some of the team pages, you can see at the top what the current owner paid for the team and what Forbes estimates it is worth in 2012.  For example, the Pirates were bought by McClatchy and Nutting in 1996 for $92M.  Today, they are estimated at $336M.  The Rockies were purchased in 1992 for $95M and are now worth $454M.  Look at that appreciation in value in just 15-20 years.  Then take a look at what franchises have been sold for in just the past few years:  Dodgers -- $2.1 billion (with a "b"), Astros -- $680M, Padres -- $800M.  Not that I have $92M in my pocket, but that is at least "dream attainable".  But $680M?  That's cartoonish to think that a regular millionaire can own a team anymore.  Franchises will be the playthings of billionaires and corporations for the foreseeable future.  You won't see a Rooney family own a team anytime soon.

Sports are no longer about athletics, but rather a corporate entity that showcases athletes as its product.  TV deals have ruined sports as we used to know them.  The influx of their money is what has caused the exponential growth in player salaries in all sports.  Was this inevitable?  Can it be reversed?  I guess I'm wondering if it is possible for turn back the clock on sports, but I fear that the genie is out of the bottle on this one.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Market Square Holiday Market

On Sunday, DB~ and I went down to PPG Place to check out the Wintergarden Santa display.  On our way over we passed through Market Square and saw the European-style Holiday Market set up in the square.  It consisted of about 10 "sheds", for lack of a better term, that each held a different vendor.

There were vendors selling ornaments, vendors selling hats, vendors selling food, and other vendors selling jewelry.  With a little bit of a chill in the air and some German music and dancing on the stage, you could pretend that you air dropped into Munich.  Sort of.  The Holiday Market is running through December 23rd, so there's still a good three weeks left to check it out.

After the Market, we walked over to the ice rink at PPG Place and watched a packed rink of patrons skating around the rink.  Even though, it was still November, it sure felt like Christmas was right around the corner to us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sewickley Hotel

On Saturday, DB~ and I wanted to take advantage of the seasonally nice weather and enjoy the sunshine.  We drove over to Sewickley and checked out some of the shops along the main drag of Beaver Street.  There's a lot of great little local shops down there, especially a great independent bookstore called Penguin Bookshop.  There are a couple of empty storefronts, including one that says "Buy Local.  Shop Sewickley." -- right next to a Starbucks on the corner.  Someone either has a wicked sense of humor or the definition of irony is lost on them.

For lunch we wanted to go someplace new, so we stopped into the Sewickley Hotel.  As per their menu, the building was built in the 1890's as a waystation for weary travelers, but ceased being a hotel in the 1950's.  Now it provides lunch and dinner featuring an eclectic menu that has Asian, French, and American influences.

I was in the mood for some cured meats, so I went with the Reuben and home fries.  It was a great Thousand Island dressing and the sauerkraut wasn't overly bitter.  The marbled bread was fantastic and just the right texture for the lean corned beef.

DB~ went with the Crab Melt, which was crab meat, artichoke hearts, and melted Cheddar cheese melted over tomato slices and served open face with fries.

The interior of the restaurant is a little dated, with the heavy wood still in effect from the original look of the bar, but I suppose you don't mess with tradition.  Our server was a little indifferent, especially when it came to clearing dishes and refilling drinks.  The Sewickley Hotel also hosts live music three nights a week, so maybe we'll check that out too.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Miami Marlins Hit The Ctrl-Alt-Del Button....Again

The electronic baseball world has been abuzz tonight with the rumors of a mega-trade/mega salary dump between the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays.  The final trade may not be confirmed until Wednesday, but the particulars of the trade seem to be as follows, with the 2013 salaries in parentheses:

Toronto gets -- Jose Reyes ($10M in 2013, $96M guaranteed remaining thru 2018), Mark Buerhle ($11M, $48M remaining thru 2015), Josh Johnson ($13.75M), Emilio Bonifacio ($2.5M estimate thru arbitration), and John Buck ($6M)

Miami gets -- Yunel Escobar ($5M in 2013, two club options thru 2015), Adeiny Hechavaria ($1.75M), Henderson Alvarez ($500K pre-arb), Jeff Mathis ($1.5M), Jake Marisnick (in AA in 2013), Justin Nicolino (in High A in 2013), and Anthony DeSclafani (in High A in 2013)

Where to begin....

Miami offloaded $43.25M of 2013 salaries and a total of $166.25M of future total salary commitments in exchange for a slew of younger players totaling $8.75M of 2013 salaries.  That's lopping of $34.5M of salary in 2013 and allowing them to now totally erase their 2011 offseason free agency binge (the Marlins traded another signee, Heath Bell, to the Diamondbacks last month).

Last year's offseason spree/binge that brought Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, and Mark Buerhle to South Florida, under the pretense that these players would help usher in a new era of Marlin success in a new ballpark, has now been eradicated.  Furthermore, those moves were made to justify the taxpayer-funded new ballpark constructed for the Marlins that opened JUST THIS YEAR.  Jeffrey Loria, the same man that ran the Expos into the ground and then sold them to MLB in exchange for the ability to purchase the Marlins, has completely defrauded the general populace of Miami.

But does anyone in South Florida care?  Are there really loyal Marlins fans at this point?  The term "fire sale" is pretty synonymous with the Miami (Florida) Marlins franchise dating back to the mid-90's when they bought a slew of free agents and won a title with Jim Leyland at the helm in 1997.  They burned that team to the ground and did so again in 2005 after winning the World Series in 2003.

It really is tough to be a Pirates fan at some points, like August and September of 2012 for example, but it must be nigh-impossible to be a Marlins fan.  At this point, how can any fan trust anything said as a commitment by this owner?  Just as importantly, how can any free agent agree to sign a multi-year deal with the Marlins at this point?

It has been said that the Pirates have problems attracting quality free agents due to perceptions about the competence of the front office and competitiveness, but that has to pale in comparison to the feeling on the street about the Marlins.  Imagine what the national and local media would say about the Pirates if they pulled a series of maneuvers such as getting taxpayer funding, making a massive multi-year investment in free agents, then selling those same free agents off after just one year (while also dealing another franchise cornerstone like Hanley Ramirez in-season).  It's just unbelievable that anyone would support the Marlins in 2013.

It's also equally unbelievable that Major League Baseball allows Jeffrey Loria to own a baseball franchise.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Nicky's Thai Kitchen

Last Wednesday, the IT consultants suggested that we try Nicky's Thai Kitchen for lunch.  Their office is in the Clark Building by PNC, so it's very easy for them to get up to the North Side and back for lunch.  I picked two of them up at their building and the four of us were at Nicky's in 5 minutes.

Nicky's opens at 11:30 am.  We got there at 11:25 and were waiting outside with 2 other groups.  It must be a good feeling to open the doors to your restaurant and have 3 tables waiting to come in.  The IT guys tell me it gets very busy at lunch.  There's no obvious business area to pull from -- it could be people from Allegheny Center or the North Shore, I suppose, but there were also a lot of young people, too.  Maybe they walked a few blocks over from CCAC.

Nicky's is in a row house on Western Avenue, so you feel like you're walking in for lunch (or dinner) at someone's house and sitting in their dining room.  There's about 12 tables in the dining area, but the guys told me that during warm weather they have outdoor seating of about 12 more tables.

The menu has the full array of standard Thai cuisine -- pad thai, curries, noodle dishes, and the like -- but I wasn't in the mood for something heavy and spicy.  I chose a mango curry with pork as my protein.  One of the other guys ordered a jalapeno chicken dish with peanuts, which was an exercise in language barriers between he and our Thai server.  The server didn't understand "jalapeno", so he pointed to it on the menu.  He nodded approvingly and said, "Jah-lop-e-no" chicken.  With a quizzical look on his face, Brian said "Jalapeno?" and the server said "Jah-lop-e-no".  It was like a rejected sketch from Saturday Night Live.

Here's the Mango Curry with Pork:

The flavors in the curry were fantastic and the mango slices were a nice treat to go with the generous pork portions.  The dish came with some white rice, which I periodically mixed in to the curry to thicken it up.  My only semi-complaint with the pork was that it was a touch chewy and a little overcooked.  But overall it was fantastic.  The highlight of the whole meal was this little blossom stuffed with cream cheese and crab served on the side.  I think they have a whole appetizer portion of those things (Crab Rangoons) that I might get next time.  And check out the artistry on that carrot, too!

The only other complaint, nothing that Nicky's could control, was the fact that 2 women went to lunch and one brought their infant.  The baby would periodically let out huge shrieks and squeals that really took away from the experience.

I will absolutely be taking DB~ back to Nicky's, as she is a big pad thai fan.  I just hope there aren't any screaming kids this time.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Move PGH Presentation

After going to Union Pig and Chicken on Wednesday, I met up with my friend Steve to check out the public presentation by Move PGH, the group looking at the transportation needs for the City in the future.  Their report focused on three separate areas: pedestrian/bicycle, road/bridge, and transportation.

The consultants from AECOM put on a decent enough Powerpoint presentation and then took some questions from the approximately 20 people in attendance at the Carnegie Library in East Liberty.  The bicycle contingent was full of earthy, crunchy people and that's a world I just can't relate to.

I spent most of the post-presentation session at the other two layout tables that had the road/bridge improvements and transportation improvements on large maps.  You could directly write your comments on them, commenting on the projects that scored the highest and would be the funding priority.  I put down my suggestion for turning the HOV lane into light rail transit to the North Hills.

From the previously-held workshop sessions, over 300 projects were brainstormed or pulled from Pittsburgh neighborhood vision plans.  Some of the projects that rose to the top, such as a light rail/subway extension from Downtown to Oakland were good to see.  Others like turning 21st Street on the South Side into a greenway seemed like an excuse to shoehorn green technology into the City.

It's good to see Pittsburgh Planning being proactive in anticipating their needs and how to improve anticipated congestion all throughout the City.  Whether they can find the funding for the projects that they have in mind is another story.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Union Pig and Chicken

I was meeting a friend in East Liberty on Wednesday night to attend the MovePGH Transportation workshop meeting.  It started at 6 pm, so originally he and I were going to meet at 5 pm at Kevin Sousa's Union Pig and Chicken just a couple of blocks away from the Carnegie Library.  Turned out he couldn't make it, so I went solo.

The place opened at 5 pm and I got there at 5:05 pm, so needless to say I was the first customer in the door.  It's on the corner of Harvard and Highland (more on that later) in an "economically challenged" section of East Liberty.  Yeah, the easy joke is that all of East Liberty is economically challenged, but South Highland/Centre Avenue with BRGR/Spoon/Abay/Plum, Eastside with Dinette and Whole Foods down the street are decent little zones.

The floor to ceiling glass windows at the front of the house give it a fishbowl type feel and must be unnerving for the hostess to stand there at times.  The inside of the place is a contrast between Scandanavian sweat lodge (replete with dark wood floors and dark wood walls) and preppy funhouse (with the red and pick argyle pattern on one wall to break up the dark tones).  Either way, I didn't mind the interior.

The seating is similar to Sousa's flagship restaurant, Salt of the Earth, in that it is all communal bench style seating.  The benches are broken up in such a manner that 2 people can share one sector of the bench, then there's a gap for leg room, etc.

For my dinner, I had looked online before I went, so I knew I was going for the Beef Brisket ($13).  I wanted something to go with it, so I chose the cornbread ($3) as my side.  Didn't feel like cole slaw or baked beans and wanted something unfussy.

The portion of the brisket was extremely generous.  At least 6 slabs of the meat piled in a haphazard fashion.  It reminded me of my mom's ham loaf recipe that we had a lot as kids.  There are 3 different BBQ sauces at your table -- a standard tomato-based sweet sauce, a liquidy vinegar and chile sauce, and a habanero-infused BBQ.  I tried the first 2, as I didn't want my digestive system to revolt in the middle of a workshop meeting.

I don't know why they bothered to bring a knife out with the brisket.  There is no need as the fork easily made the meat fall apart with little effort.  The char (or "bark") on the brisket was about a 1/4" and was the shield for a small layer of fat that, literally, dissolved in my mouth without chewing it.  I liked the standard BBQ sauce, but found the vinegar chile sauce to be too "liquidy" and tart.  Just my preference, though.

The cornbread was decent, especially in size, but pretty dry.  It had some char on it so it was probably baked at a very high temp (or even put in the same smoker that did the meats?).  Here's where the vinegar BBQ sauce helped out a little bit.

By the time I walked out there were 5 separate groups in the restaurant at 5:45, so that's pretty good for an early Wednesday night.  My waitress said the wait is long on the weekends.  The way to handle the overflow has been solved by Sousa adding a cocktail lounge upstairs called Harvard and Highland (the intersection of the restaurant).  It focused on handmade cocktails with fresh ingredients and house made bitters, similar to the exceptional cocktails at Salt.  Wish I had sometime to pop up for one before the meeting, but maybe DB~ and I can check it out.

Between Salt, Union Pig and Chicken, Station Street Hotdogs, Harvard and Highland, and his under-development restaurant in Braddock called Magarac, I'm getting concerned that Sousa is going to stretch himself too thin and the quality is going to suffer.  I could see Station Street going first by being sold off, if that were the case.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Lemon Pepper Shrimp with Cilantro

Last week at Giant Eagle, I bought some colossal size fresh shrimp.  I don't usually buy colossal-grade shrimp because they are typically imported from Thailand or Bangladesh or some other Asian country where they are farmed en masse.  But these shrimp were caught wild in the good ol' U.S. of A and had a count of 10-15 per pound.  I got 1 pound for the missus and I.

I wanted to do a grand presentation of some sort for these gigantors, so I looked through my spice cabinet to try something different.  I have a whole set of spices from Penzey's that are just as much decoration for the  top shelf of the spice cabinet as they are used.  The lemon pepper spice caught my eye.  I thought that adding some fresh cilantro to an olive oil-based marinade would work well.

I chopped up some cilantro, added it to some olive oil, chopped 2 garlic cloves, and added the lemon pepper to a bowl.  After a good mix, I spooned this into a Ziploc bag and added the peeled/de-veined shrimp.  After a quick shake, I let them marinade for 30 minutes.

While that was going on, I washed some dandelion greens and put them in some low boiling salted water to wilt them down for about 10 minutes, in order to get some of the bitterness out of them.  Yes, I bought something that earlier in the summer I could have picked out of my yard and now I'm serving dandelion greens to my wife.  After they wilted, I sauteed some olive oil in a skillet with some additional garlic.  I added the wilted greens to the pan and sprinkled some salt and pepper on top.

I put the shrimp and the marinade into a skillet and cooked them on each side for 2 minutes.  The dandelions were plated on a diagonal with the shrimp placed on the same diagonal line.  I roasted some kale as an additional vegetable and also prepared some blackeyed peas sprinkled with cumin and tabasco sauce drops.

The shrimp were meaty and substantial.  It will be hard to go back to the typical 31-40 count shrimp at the seafood counter.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Offseason Target - Dan Haren

The Los Angeles Angels hold a $15.5M option for RHP Dan Haren's services in 2013.  If they choose not to exercise that option, and there are reports that they will not, the Angels will pay Haren $3.5M in a buyout and then try to find a pitcher to match or equal his production for the net $12M.

This season was not Dan Haren's finest.  In 2012, the age-31 Haren provided only 1.8 WAR by pitching 176 innings over 30 starts to the line of 4.33 ERA/4.24 FIP/4.00 xFIP.  Remember when Dan Haren was a great pitcher?  If not, it's because it happened alllllllll the way back in 2011.  This past season was the first season since Haren became a full time player back in 2005 that he did not pitch 200+ innings or accumulate at least 4.0 WAR in a season.  In 2011, he was worth 6.1.

Dan Haren never had a blazing fastball, but his velocity on it did drop from 90.0 mph in 2011 to 88.5 in 2012, which is a potential red flag.  Haren is primarily a 4 pitch pitcher, with his 4 seam fastball (88.5 mph), a cut fastball (84.6), a split finger fastball (83.5 mph), and a periodic curve ball (76 mph) as his arsenal.  Haren's 4 seam fastball has never been a great out pitch, but it eroded in 2012 with a -1.13 runs/100 pitches value.  His split finger has historically been hit most successful and it was true in 2012, with a +0.91 runs/100 pitches value.  As a point of reference to the reader, A.J. Burnett in 2012 had a range of +1.19 runs/100 on his curveball to a -1.10 runs/100 on his changeup, with his fastball at -0.09 runs/100.

In 2013, Haren will pitch the majority of the season at 32, which is not ancient by any stretch in baseball terms.  But how do you properly place value on a pitcher that is a consistent 4 to 6 win performer that suddenly drops to 1.8?  If you prescribe to the theory that the National League is the easier league, due to the pitcher spot and "weaker" lineups, then you could theoretically add 0.5 WAR to his value.  Even if you say Haren is a 1.8 win pitcher ($9M in free agent value, at $5M/WAR) to 2.3 wins ($11.5M), you're in the neighborhood of where it would make sense for the Angels to retain him, thanks to the large buyout of $3.5M.

Perhaps the Angels just want a change from Haren or perhaps they have the most information that his decline may be starting.  Even if Haren would pitch 176 innings and provide 1.8 WAR in 2013 as he did with the Angels in 2012, that still would have been the 2nd most innings and WAR by a Pirate starter this year (Wandy Rodriguez's split stats aside).  If you feel that Haren can provide an uptick in performance and re-establish himself as a 200 inning pitcher and 2.0 WAR, the 2013 Pirate pitching staff would then have three 200-inning horses in the stable with Burnett (202 IP in 2012), Rodriguez (205 IP combined in 2012), and Haren.

This move would continue to lengthen the Pirates' rotation and push McDonald down to the #4 spot.  At that point, the team would not be so reliant on his up-and-down nature and take his performance received as a bonus to what they get from Burnett/Haren/Rodriguez.  With the first four rotation spots set, the Pirates could keep the 5th spot between Locke and McPherson (if they intend to non-tender Karstens) until Gerrit Cole's performance is deemed worthy of a promotion to the Major League club.

Haren's market is probably murky at this point.  Will he be seen as a pitcher that needs to re-build value on an incentive-based contract?  Will a team snap him up immediately on a guaranteed contract for $15M/year?  Depending on how the Pirates read the tea leaves on Haren, would they be wise to shanghai Haren in a trade with the Angels and take him off the market?  Using the A.J. Burnett Model of Pitching Acquisitions, the Pirates could get the Angels to defray some of Haren's 2013 $15.5M salary in exchange for a fringe prospect.

However you want to define the Pirates' collapse of 2012, there are probably few who would debate the merits of continuing to bolster the pitching staff.  The more innings consumed by the starters means less innings absorbed by fringy middle relievers.  Having another workhorse like Haren would serve that purpose.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bites on Bryant Street

I just got back from an interesting little side jaunt at the end of my workday.  A small outdoor street party was put together called Bites on Bryant Street in Highland Park.  The time for the event was a Thursday afternoon from 3 to 6 pm, so apparently the audience that the organizers were targeting was:
The Homeless
Senior Citizens
The Unemployed

I got there at 5 pm on a gorgeous Indian summer October, with the sun shining and the temperature in the high 70's.  The organizers could not have been happier with the weather.  The event was meant to highlight the restaurants and businesses along this stretch of Bryant Street, including Park Brugge, E2, Joseph Tambellini's, The Smiling Banana Leaf, Park Place Pub, and a few other restaurants that I can't remember.

The turnout was sparse, so it was tough to "melt into the crowd" like I prefer to do.  Each business participating had balloons out front and you would go in to see a tray of small samples awaiting you.  I tried to linger for a few moments before jumping on the samples like covering a live grenade in 'Nam, as it must be rude to the owners to come in, eat, and immediately leave.  Mostly I either picked up or asked for a takeout menu.

Some of the places didn't have samples, because they either ran out by 5 (the excellent Park Brugge) or didn't have any that I could see (E2, where a post-industrialist hipster was chatting up a local).  The food that I did sample was excellent.  When you walked into Joseph Tambellini's, there was a huge tray of eggplant parm and pasta just sitting there.  It was almost like a trap, as the other places had small bites, but I was assured it was OK, so I plowed a generous portion.

At The Smiling Banana Leaf, I sample a few of their dumplings which were outstanding.  The lady offered me some Pad Thai (which I should have taken), but I was ready to roll on.  At my next stop, at a bakery that I think was called Food Delicious Food, I had some fantastic raspberry torte bites.  I bought two regular sized tortes for DB~ and I to share later on, as well as a small decorative pumpkin for her that matches two others she already has and likes.  So I contributed to the local economy.

As I was walking up Bryant, I saw this Historical Society sign for a jazz musician that I had never heard of before.  Sadly, as I'm typing this and getting ready to download it from my phone, I see that it is blurry beyond recognition.  Bah.  It was marking his childhood home.  This gentleman's spirit lived on in the vacant lot down the street as an impromptu jazz band formed (guitar, trombone, bongos?) and gave a soundtrack for the event.

The Squiggle would have liked it, but she couldn't get there in time for it with her commute, so it was a solo trip.  We'll be back though, as we love Park Brugge and I've been trying to get her to try the Leaf for a while now.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy

Last Saturday night, we went out with my friend Stevie Numbers and his wife for dinner.  After running through a whole host of ideas, we selected the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy over on the North Side.  For those of you that remember, this was the site of the James Street Tavern that closed around 2001.  After that, there were some other non-descript restaurants that occupied the space until the Gastropub opened up late last year.

The space itself is decent.  They've kept the stained glass windows on the front side of the restaurant (whether they or real stained glass or not, I'm not sure).  The James Street G&S has a huge (almost too big) beer selection.  It's page after page of choices, from all over the world.

The food was also good, not great.  I had the buttermilk chicken (a fried chicken coated in buttermilk) with some greens and grits.  The grits were creamy and smooth and were probably my favorite part of the meal.  DB~ had a salad of tortilla salad of some sort and liked it.  Numbers went with the chicken fried steak, covered in a white gravy with bacon on top.  It was basically a heart attack on a plate, but it was worth cutting 10 minutes off his life, according to Steve.  Steve's wife had a hamburger of some sort and also liked it.

The way we were sitting, I had a great view of everybody walking in and then going downstairs to the "speakeasy" part of the place where there was live jazz music starting at 8 pm.  I couldn't help but notice the wide array of people going downstairs -- everything from nattily dressed African-Americans to hipster doofuses to girls that shopped at thrift stores to girls wearing cocktail napkins as dresses that looked like they were going clubbin' later that night.  I had to check that scene out just for the people-watching potential, so after dinner we all headed downstairs to take in some music and have a hand-made cocktail.

The bouillabaisse of people downstairs did not disappoint.  My personal favorite was a 60'ish year old woman that looked like vintage Rob Halford from Judas Priest.  She had the leather hat, leather vest, plunging neckline shirt that revealed the tattoo on her left breast -- very classy, especially on a 60'ish year old lady.

There was one hipster doofus that was "so ironic he's no longer ironic" in the words of Steve.  Hard to tell what tipped it over.  Was it the woman's eyeglasses?   The red skinny pants?  The ironic mustache?  Probably this is a case of the sum being greater than the parts, I guess.

The age range was all over the place -- early 20's up to 60 year olds enjoying cocktails and jazz.  The group was pretty good (the Horn Guys) and consisted of a keyboard player, trumpeter, sax guy, drums, and bass guitar.  As Steve noted, a jazz band has a different sound with a keyboard and it's not always an improvement.  The sax player was far more diverse than the trumpeter, who also doubled as the bandleader.  Each musician, except the bass player, got a solo at some point and all acquitted themselves well.

With Legends of the North Shore, Max's Allegheny Tavern, and James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy, there are viable restaurants choices on the North Side.  I probably wouldn't rush back to James Street, but it's definitely a place I would recommend, especially if you like jazz and other live music.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Replay of 1960 Game 7 Maz Homer Game

On Saturday, DB~'s father invited us to join him at the annual replay held every October 13th to commemorate the dramatic Game 7 win for the Pirates in the 1960 World Series.  DB~'s one brother also joined us for the trip over to Oakland at the site of the remnants of the old Forbes Field outfield wall.

We got there around 1 pm for the "first pitch".  The whole game is timed to coincide with the actual time of 3:36 pm when Maz hit his game-winning/World Series-winning home run.  When we got to the wall, there were probably 60-70 people.  After we came back from lunch at Fuel and Fuddle at 2:45 pm, the crowd had swelled to around 100 people.  There were people cooking out on grills, kids playing old-school pin ball games, people cheering each individual play that went the Pirates way.

It was inspiring and depressing all at the same time.  Inspiring in the fact that there are such diehard fans that are willing to get together and bask in the greatness of a once proud franchise.  Depressing in the fact that people were forced to celebrate an event 52 years ago with the same fervor as it happened back then, due to the terribleness of the franchise for the last 20 years that has been unable to provide new great memories.

Of the roughly 100 people there, I would say about 75 of them were in the 60's at least.  It made DB~ question how long this tradition would continue to go on once people continued to die off.  I can't see people our age (mid 30's) celebrating an event that occurred 15 years before our birth that we never saw live.

There were 3 post-industrial, skinny jean-wearing guys filming the event, perhaps as some sort of documentary.  They could have been college students doing this as a class project.

The best part of the day was hearing some of DB~'s father's stories about working as a 16 year old usher/janitor at Forbes Field.  He had a great story about being #402 in seniority in the union and showing up each game to see if he got an assignment.  Due to the huge number of guys ahead of him, he didn't always usher but he would stay and play cards and watch the game sometimes.  He also worked from 11 pm to 5 am sweeping up under seats (hoping that he didn't get a section where people ate a lot of peanuts).

We've been to the wall of Forbes numerous times and have seen the home plate in Posvar Hall numerous times, but this was the first time walking the whole thing at the same time.  It really strikes you how awful it was to tear down Forbes Field (admittedly a dump by 1972) for the brutalism style post-modern crap that is the soulless Posvar Hall.  It really is an ugly, ugly building.

Sometimes you can't stand in the way of progress, but when you tear a building down that has so much history and ties to the city and neighborhood it occupies, you should at least replace it with something that has the capability to make special memories too.  That hasn't happened with this section of Oakland.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Tower at PNC Plaza

When I was off last Friday and downtown for some meetings, I wandered past the construction site for the new PNC tower known officially as The Tower at PNC Plaza.  Even on my off day, I was drawn to watching the construction going on at the site.

The site has been excavated to approximately 50 feet deep and caissons have been drilled for the proposed foundation mat.  When completed the 30 story skyscraper is being billed as one of the "greenest" skyscapers in the nation.  The green technologies being considered are geothermal wells and a solar chimney (no idea what that is) to reduce carbon emissions, rain gardens and water reuse systems to re-use water, and state-of-the-art heating and cooling techniques based on occupancy of rooms.

The architect firm for the building, Gensler out of San Francisco, is the same firm that designed PNC 3 next door to the site.  There are some faint similarities between the two buildings in terms of the tinted glass and floor plans, but The Tower at PNC will stand alone on its own merits.  The Tower is scheduled to open in 2015.

I was wondering if Pittsburgh is on the same path with PNC and UPMC as they were with steel companies in the past.  If those businesses fail or move or significantly downsize, will Pittsburgh experience the same prolonged morass as they did with the failure of the steel industry.  Are we (as a city and region) putting too much faith in these two companies?  I would like to think that the region is more diversified in 2012 than they were in 1982, but you never know.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Diamond Market Grill

I took a vacation day on Friday.  I have some vacation time to burn and I'm getting a little burned out at work, too.  Even though it was my day off, I had two scheduled meetings downtown.  Between my 11 AM and 1 PM meeting, I was walking through Market Square and decided to pop into Diamond Market Grill for a quick bite.

The restaurant was packed, but I was able to find a seat at the bar.  The place reminds me of a cross between a 1950's diner and a diner you may find out in California somewhere.

I was in a little bit of a hurry, so I went with the California burger and ordered it "no pink".  Your other option is "pink" -- buncha commies, I guess.  My burger and fries came out relatively quickly, as a restaurant must do during lunch hour in Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh.

It had an avocado spread on the buns with sprouts erupting from every edge of the bun.  There was also a tomato-chipotle aioli on the perfectly-cooked burger.  But I also like my burgers medium-well, so the "no pink" was a great option for me.

The fries were a cousin of shoestring fries.  Not the ultra stringy fries like at Steak 'n Shake, say, but not a normal cut of fry.  They were quite good.  I wouldn't mind going back sometime when the restaurant isn't in full "turn and burn" mode, as I would like to try one of their shakes and something different on the menu.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Clint Hurdle Should Be Fired

By all accounts, Clint Hurdle will be returning in 2013 for his 3rd season at the helm of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club.  I've spoken numerous times about how Hurdle is a vast upgrade over the animatronic robot known as John Russell, but that doesn't necessarily make Hurdle a great manager.

Clint Hurdle is a fantastic face of the franchise and a willing participant in the fabric of the general public, as he is very active in Pirate charities.  Hurdle is a dream for reporters, as he is a walking anecdote with all his folksy charm.

However, in both 2011 and 2012 the Pirates collapsed badly in the last 1/3 of the season.  In 2011, the Pirates were 54-54 at the two-third point of the season.  They went 18-36 from that point on.  During 2012, the Pirates managed to lose-from-ahead in an even more spectacular, historic fashion.  This time, the Pirates were a stunning 62-46 and finished 17-37.  No team in history has ever been that far above .500 and finished under .500 at the end of the season.  Ever.

Starting after the All-Star Break, before the epic slide was in full effect, I started to notice that the Pirates were playing "not to lose" instead of playing to win.  The 2012 Pirates set the team record for most homers in a season, yet every game it seemed as if they were bound and determined to small ball their way to a victory.  There were instances of bunting with non-pitchers when guys were on 2nd base with no outs.  The baserunning instincts of the team, throughout the lineup, were awful but the Pirates insisted on trying to steal bases in the most obvious of situations.  The small ball tactics, playing to get 1 run in an inning, took the Pirates out of numerous innings where they could have tried to have much bigger innings.

Many are calling for Neal Huntington's head as a result of the epic collapse of 2012, but was Huntington swinging a bat or throwing a pitch when the Pirates were 16 games up?  Was he swinging a bat or throwing a pitch when they finished 4 games under this year?  No.  He put the players together that were successful and got players at the deadline in an attempt to help the Pirates down the stretch.

Did I like all of Huntington's moves at the deadline?  No.  I thought the Lincoln-Snider trade would have been perfect in the off-season, but mid-season it took a key performer out of the bullpen for a player that was trying to put his career back on track.  With Lincoln, the 7th inning was under control (or multiple innings, if needed) which led to Grilli in the 8th and Hanrahan in the 9th.  The game could be over after 6 innings, which for the Pirates without a true horse (aside from Burnett) that is a huge deal.

Hurdle's in-game/pre-game management directly led to some losses for the Pirates.  After the 19 inning win in St. Louis, the Pirates had to travel to San Diego the next night for a game.  Justin Wilson and Kyle McPherson were on hand and fresh, ready to start in perhaps the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in the National League -- perfect for a rookie.  Instead, Kevin Correia (who pitched 2 innings the day before) told Hurdle he could start in his hometown of San Diego.  Hurdle, not trusting of rookies in general, went to him and he predictably sucked.  Wilson and McPherson came on and were fantastic, but the damage was done.

Letting Karstens start when his health was questionable, then watching him only go 1/3 of an inning and burning out the bullpen, was another mistake.

At the tail end of the season against the Brewers, the Pirates battled back from an early deficit to take a 3 run lead into the 8th inning at home.  Grilli pitched the 7th and dominated, but Hurdle went to the worst guy in the bullpen in Chad Qualls to pitch the 8th.  Qualls spread gasoline all over the infield and set it on fire, leaving Resop to try and finish the mess.  The Pirates ended up losing.

Getting swept at home by the 101 loss Cubs.

Losing 2 of 3 to the 107 loss Astros.

These are signs of a team not ready to play, not believing in themselves, a team without a forceful manager ready to stem the tide of a collapse.

I will always have a positive feeling about Hurdle's ability to drag the Pirates back to relevance.  But I don't feel he is the manager that will take the Pirates to the next winning level.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Feelin' Crabby

At the end of our recent trip to the Strip, we wandered into Wholey's to get some seafood for dinner.  DB~ wasn't feeling too adventurous, as I kept trying to get her to choose some interesting type of fish not usually found at Giant Eagle (really wanted to try Opah).  She wanted crab cakes, so we got two crab cakes.

As we were walking past the live fish tanks, though, we saw a man filling bags up with freshly steamed crabs in the hard shell.  Plus they were already seasoned with Old Bay (heavily).  We decided to get 5 crabs to pick apart, too.

When we got home, I put about 2 inches of water into a large stockpot and laid a bunch of metal trivets in the bottom to keep the crabs out of the direct water.  I stacked the 5 crabs in the pot and steamed them for just 8 minutes, only to warm them back up again.

Prior to the crab steaming, I prepared a vegetable hash out of the bounty picked at the Farmers Market earlier in the Strip.  I cubed some of the Japanese turnip root, made medallions out of the Taiwanese eggplant, diced the sweet red pepper, halved the blue potato, and minced one clove of the red garlic.  First I seared the veggies for a minute in a hot skillet, then added about 1 cup of chicken broth to the pan and put the whole pan in the oven for 15 minutes.

When the braised vegetables came out, they were tender and absorbed some of the broth.  While preparing them, I sprinkled some salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary on them too.

As for the crabs in the shell, I haven't had them that way since my family went to the Maryland shore (Bethany Beach, Ocean City) nearly every summer in the mid-1990's.  We spread some newspaper out on the counter and got some hand-held crackers out to crush the shell.  My technique ended up being -- twist all the legs off and set them aside for later, crush the shell with the cracker, twist the shell in the middle, scoop out the lump meat in the back of the shell, procure some meat from the legs and claws.

It was very fun and very messy to eat crab this way.  I hope that we do this next summer when they are truly in season.  Much cleaner to eat just a crab cake!  We ended up splitting 1 crab cake and saved the other one for another dinner later in the week.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Crazy Vegetables and Rick Sebak

DB~ and I went downtown to the Strip today.  I've written plenty about the Strip District in the past, but let me once again say that the Strip on a Saturday (especially in pleasant weather) is a sight to behold.  There's just so much going on with all kinds of vendors on the street.

Today we wandered into the Farmers' Market at the Firehouse up the far end of Penn, past the Penn Avenue Fish Company.  There were lots of great craft and farmer stands, but one caught my eye right away. It was Mott Family Farm from Salesville, OH -- about 30 minutes west of Wheeling, according to the owner of the farm, Jeff Mott.

Sometimes, especially in the Strip, it's easy to get vegetable hypnosis.  Pretty much every stand has the same basic tomatoes, greens, eggplants, fruit, beans.  But at the sustainably and organically grown Mott Farm, he had all kinds of crazy variations on vegetables.  There were blue potatoes, all sorts of Asian eggplants, so many different types of sweet peppers, five types of garlic, a plethora of onion types, and on and on.  It also helped that Jeff Mott is probably one of the nicest guys you'll meet and eager to talk about produce with you and how to use it.

We ended getting a bunch of Japanese turnips (tasty raw, too), a head of red garlic, two Merlose red peppers, some blue potatoes, and a type of Taiwanese eggplant that was long and curly.  All that for just $8.

After that we left the Farmers' Market and headed back towards the main fray on Penn Avenue.  As soon as  we got on to Penn Avenue, DB~ said "This guy coming towards us looks like the guy from the Yinztagram app".  I knew she meant Rick Sebak, but forgot his name.  Sure enough, it was the actual Rick Sebak.  I said, "Hey, how are you doing, Rick!" and he stopped and talked with us for at least 10 minutes while holding bags of groceries.

If Jeff Mott is the nicest guy you'll meet, Rick Sebak is the 2nd nicest.  We asked him about what his new documentary was about (25 things he likes about Pittsburgh), how he likes being on Yinztagram (loves it), he told us about getting a signed program from Sir Laurence Olivier and waiting in line for autographs from London theaters, and a bunch of other stuff.

We got a picture of DB~ and Rick, with her face bright red.  He said to leave a space next to DB~ so that we could add the fake Rick Sebak into the picture.  He was a great guy and one of the more underrated Pittsburghers out there.

You never know what will happen in the Strip District.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Man With a Pan

I mentioned earlier this month that my zest for cooking had sort of waned over the summer.  I was still cooking 3-4 nights a week, but it wasn't "challenging" stuff and some nights it was more chore than pleasure. I credit the Saveur magazine dedicated to Mexican cooking as the kindling that got my culinary fire going again, but I've also been reading an interesting book, too.

It's called Man with a Pan by John Donohue.  The book is set up as a series of short essays by guys who do the cooking for their families.  The essayists are both famous/semi-famous folks in the food industry (chefs, food writers, plus Stephen King somewhat randomly) and non-famous everyday guys like firefighters and lawyers.

DB~ has a plethora of positive qualities, but cooking is not one of them.  She can clearly do it, but she dreads the thought of making dinner and loathes going to the grocery store.  Reading this book made me feel that I'm not alone.  There's lots of stories in this book where the wives have no interest in cooking (or were awful at it) and that responsibility has been delegated to the husband.

After the essays (the ones from non-famous people are usually 2-3 pages), the author gives one of their signature go-to recipes and lists a few cookbooks that have been big influences on their life.  I'm only about halfway through the book, but already 3 people have mentioned Marcella Hazen's Essentials of Italian Cooking as a key cookbook.  Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of Hazen or this cookbook, so after a quick Google search I learned that the 83 year old Hazen is still alive.  The cookbook was published in 1992 and was actually a compilation of two earlier books of hers.  Hazen is credited with bringing Old World Italian into 1970's America.

Up until last weekend, no one I talked to had heard of Hazen or this book. But while speaking with one of my cousins about another deceased cousin who was a master home chef, she recognized the cover of the book from seeing it in her aunt's kitchen for many years.

I love to cook because it is a stress relief for me and allows me to be creative.  It also makes me feel useful to DB~, as I am providing (mostly) great tasting meals that are fairly well-balanced in nutrition.  I like to know that she is eating well and that we just don't eat out all the time.

It's good to know that other guys feel the same way.