Monday, April 30, 2012

Jameson Taillon's Potential Workload

Yesterday Jameson Taillon pitched his 4th consecutive strong start of the season.  For the season, the 2010 1st round draft pick (2nd overall) has pitched 24.2 innings, giving up 15 hits, only 4 walks, and 28 strikeouts.  He has a 1.46 ERA to go with these stats and has not given up a home run in any of his 5 starts.

Many folks are starting to ask when he will get promoted to Double A Altoona.  Last year was Taillon's first year of full season ball and the Pirates carefully monitored his pitch counts and innings total.  This resulted in Taillon only throwing 92.2 innings.  According to Saint Tom Verducci, Patron Saint of Arm Injury Prevention, the ideal workload increase from year to year for arms under age 23 is no more than 30 innings per year.  This would put Taillon at 122 innings this year, but I'm thinking the Pirates allow for some extra innings in 2011 based on pitches thrown during extended Spring Training before Taillon got to West Virginia.

I'm thinking that 135 innings is probably where Taillon would end up.  Averaging 5 innings per start, that would be 27 starts.  Allowing for 5 days between starts and the mid-season FSL All-Star Break, that would put his final start on August 20th, approximately 2 weeks before the end of the season.

At the outset of the year, I figured that Taillon would spend the majority of the year in High A and maybe only get a taste of AA if everything went well.  Taillon's fastball is sitting mid 90's and his curveball is still fantastic.  With Taillon, this year was all about the refinement of his average-at-best changeup.  It seems as if the changeup work is progressing nicely.

There is a chance that both Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon will be moving up to Altoona within a very short time frame of each other, perhaps late May or early June.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Getting Blown In Garfield


DB~ and I journeyed over to Garfield tonight, but not to eat at Salt of the Earth (we ate at Verde, which will be a future post by itself).  Instead we went to take a class at the Pittsburgh Glass Center and make our own garden floats out of blown glass.

We didn't really know what to expect, but DB~ thought that the instructor would do most of the work.  For the most part our guy Will (and his assistant Sam) did most of it, but each student got to use these gnarly pincers to squeeze off the glass ball after their partner was done blowing it on the other end.

There were 6 people there consisting of 3 girl-guy couples, so each couple was their own pairing.  DB~ went first.  Will got a chunk of clear glass out of the 2100 degree oven (seriously...2100 degrees) and rolled the metal pole continuously in his hands so it didn't blob up.  After a quick dip in the colored glass of our choice, you sat down on a bench with the pincers while your partner squatted down and slowly blew into the hollow end of the pole to make the glass ball slowly expand.  (5'ish...I know you're reading this and yes...this is laden with sexual overtones).

The whole time Will is continually rolling the pole between his fingers to keep the glass moving and now blending the colors into swirls.  After that you go to the workbench and gently tap the end of the pole to break off the ball.  A smaller fresh piece of molten glass is placed on top and you smash it down to create a stable base.

The floats were placed in a 500 degree "cool down" oven or else the glass would just spiderweb out if let out in room temperature.  After 12 hours, they're taken out and you can pick it up.

Both of our instructors were cool guys.  Will was from Kansas and was in his mid-20's.  He had been around the country working and studying in Seattle and New Mexico, but said that by far the best facility was the Pittsburgh Glass Center.  It had at least 8 ovens that we saw and was very clean with all sorts of modern-looking equipment.  His assistant Sam has his own website and was in his early 20's.  Sam will be at the Pittsburgh Arts Festival when that opens in June.  His booth will be by the music stage.

DB~ has the bug and will probably cajole one of her friends into taking more in-depth classes in the summer.  After we all made 2 floats, Will and Sam did a demo of how to make a wavy vase (the picture above) and it was cool to watch 2 pros at their craft.  In 10 minutes, they made a vase that I would have bought right there on the spot.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Light Rail to the North - Concept Plan

Note - The following was a concept paper that I submitted to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald's Vision Team Committee on Transportation.  There was an open call for written submissions ahead of the sure-to-be painful public testimony on May 4th.

If the North Shore Connector was built solely to serve as stops for the North Shore and Allegheny stations, then it was a colossal waste of $500+ million dollars.  However, I do not believe that was the intent of the project.  Early descriptions of the project referred to it as a multi-modal center where different forms of transportation would be able to access the North Shore station.  It would be sort of a mini Grand Central Station for Pittsburgh.

To that end, its most logical next step would be to serve as a jumping-off point for light rail service to the North Hills.  I am sure that in the offices of the Port Authority, there are a multitude of studies collecting dust of shelves that are proposing very similar ideas to mine; however, I would be remiss if I didn’t submit my opinion, as well.
The “T” to the South Hills is effective and well used.  It acts more as a bus on rails, though, then a mass transit train.  There are many stops on both the Red Line and Blue Line to the South Hills, which makes it very neighborhood based.  The passengers can walk from their homes, in many cases, to the “T” or utilize small auxiliary parking lots as stand-in park-and-rides.

For the North Hills, the spine of my proposed system is already in place – the vastly under-used High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes of I-279’s northern branch.  This version of light rail service would be more park-and-ride based, as there would be many fewer stops.  As you will see, most of the 7 stops proposed are at exits along I-279 or I-79.  The HOV lanes would cease to exist for cars and trucks.  The rail beds would be placed right on top of the existing traffic lanes.
Moving north from the North Shore station, the first stop would be in the Tripoli Street zone of the North Side.  The small platforms for this stop would be down on the rail bed area, while access would be off of the Tripoli Street bridge via stairs/escalators/elevators.  The Tripoli Street bridge would need to be expanded slightly for pedestrian access lanes.  In the area of Tripoli Street and Lovitt Way, there is an ample amount of empty lots and under-utilized buildings that could be demolished to make way for a surface park-and-ride lot or small garage to serve the commuters at this stop.  An added benefit to this project is the redevelopment of neighborhoods utilizing the light rail serve as a catalyst.  Transit Oriented Development (TOD) could potentially spring up around these stops, whether it was a mixed use building with retail/commercial on the bottom and affordable housing apartments on top or small restaurants to cater to the commuter.  It would be a way to jumpstart this forgotten area of the North Side.

Continuing north from Tripoli Street, the next logical stop would be at the McKnight Road exit.  This area is the main loading node in the morning for commuters traveling on I-279 from the North.  The perfect area for the park-and-ride lot here would have been where WPXI just built their brand-new studio.  In lieu of that, the next best location may be to acquire the homes below WPXI or examine the possibility of the wooded area adjacent to the off ramp of Evergreen Road from I-279 North.
After the McKnight exit, the main hub of the potential commuter park-and-ride facet could be slanted towards the Perrysville exit.  There is already a sizeable park-and-ride surface lot available here.  By taking it from one level to a multi-level mega garage, this could be turned into the hub for commuters to use in the North Hills.  The smaller park-and-ride lot, with the salt dome, could be kept as an overflow surface lot.

Although this is the end of the present-day HOV lane to the North Hills, I am proposing that the light rail continue to extend northward utilizing the median space between the two current lanes of I-279 Northbound and Southbound traffic.  More space can be gained in the median area by shifting the northbound and southbound lanes a few feet to the side.  The bridges from this point forward do not have support foundations in the median area and a few feet could be procured from the shoulder area underneath these bridges.
The next stop would be the Bellevue-West View stop along I-279.  The most logical location for a park-and-ride lot would be at the foot of the grounds of the Sisters of the Holy Family off of Bellevue Road.  Due to the sensitive nature of obtaining ground from a religious entity, this lot would not be too large in comparison to the other lots and there would be no secondary facility or off-shoot development proposed.

Camp Horne Road would be the next stop on the Light Rail, with the vacant land adjacent to Joseph’s Lane, across from the Stone Quarry Business Park, making a good location for the park-and-ride lot.  Alternatively, the erstwhile Green Valley Golf Course land would provide a plethora of parking spots, but a small spur people mover would probably need to be constructed to shuttle people along Camp Horne Road to the platform area.
The light rail could continue to move along the median of I-279 and merge into I-79’s median in order to open up the heavily utilized Wexford exit of I-79.  The area at this intersection of I-79/Rt 910 leads to severe traffic problems during rush hour.  Installing a park-and-ride at this specific location would not help the situation in regards to traffic flow, so perhaps shifting the platform and parking area northward to the Mingo Road area would help alleviate some of the traffic here.

The final stop that I am proposing under this plan would be at the Warrendale-Bayne exit off of I-79.  At Brush Creek Road, there is already a park-and-ride surface lot.  Typically, this lot is full no later than 7 am, so either expanding this or turning it into a multi-level garage would help collect traffic from this node.  Many people that live on the border of Cranberry and Marshall utilize this parking lot to commute into town or take the bus.
Mass transit is the key to future population growth in Allegheny County.  It will help take individual vehicles off of our surface roads and minimize traffic snarl in downtown Pittsburgh.  A truly great city is defined by its transit and transportation capabilities.  It is time to change the thinking from single passenger motor vehicle transit to a more efficient mass transit model.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Market Square

Let me preface this post by saying I am a suburbanite and have no true dog in this fight, but....

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl hasn't done a lot of great (or even good) things during his tenure as Mayor of Pittsburgh.  But one thing that has gone well under his watch has been the renovation and renewal of Market Square.

Market Square is the area nestled between PPG Place and the recently-constructed PNC 3 Tower (with the Fairmont Hotel and Reed Smith offices).  Five years ago, when PNC 3 was just breaking ground, Market Square was a great place if you wanted to observe hobos in the wild, doing hobo type of things: being drunk at 10 a.m., swearing, scratching themselves, buying and using drugs, pushing shopping carts.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority and the City of Pittsburgh dedicated some funding to cleaning this area up ahead of the opening of PNC 3.  The construction project entailed re-routing vehicular traffic to the perimeter of the square, rather than criss-crossing the square -- thus protecting pedestrians and creating a safe space in the center.  Market Square was torn up and had new brick and stone pavers installed for the better part of 2 years.  During this time some restaurants closed, but there were plenty of new ones ready to take their place.

Great restaurants like NOLA on the Square and Winghart's Whiskey Bar came in.  There were new lunch choices like Chipotle, Noodles and Company, and the Diamond Bar Diner.  There were some new breakfast places too, like Mancini's Breads and other new coffee shops.

After the Pirate game on Friday, DB~ drove home separately so I hung around downtown for a little bit, just seeing what things were like right now.  It was a gorgeous night (still in the 70's probably, a sharp contrast to the 30's as I type this now) and the Square was packed.  The bars were overflowing, people were still enjoying Primanti's and NOLA and the Diamond Bar & Grill.

It was good to see downtown hopping on a Friday night.  Back in my early 20's, during the mid-90's, Friday nights meant M Squared in Market Square -- you would go down and get real drunk, listen to local Pittsburgh bands that you swore would break nationally, but never did.  I wonder if the Strip District will make a comeback from its recent heyday of the early/mid-90's next?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Breakout Star - Alen Hanson

Without question, the breakout star of the nascent minor league season so far has been Alen Hanson. Hanson is the starting shortstop for the Low A West Virginia Power in the South Atlantic League. The 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic is off to a .420/.459/.783 (1242 OPS) start this season, complete with 4 HR (leads the SAL) and 5 SB's.

If you're like many who follow the Pirates, you may be wondering where Hanson came from. He is a 2009 international free agent signee that played in the Dominican Summer League in 2010. Hanson came stateside in 2011 and played primarily in the Gulf Coast Rookie League, with a 3 game cameo for the State College Spikes in the New York-Penn League at the end of the year. His overall numbers for the year were a solid .260/.349/.418 (767 OPS), which led to him being voted the 14th best prospect in the GCL by Baseball America last fall. Hanson's numbers would have been even better, but he tailed off at the end of the year.

The Pirates have enacted an interesting philosophy this year with their middle infielders. At 3 of the 4 affiliates, they have decided to flip-flop the shortstop and second baseman in terms of defensive ability. By that I mean the starting shortstop is actually weaker defensively than the second baseman; this is being done in order to give the current shortstop more exposure to the position in order to refine his skills. The only affiliate where this is not the case is at Double A Altoona, where even though Brock Holt does not have the arm for shortstop, his range is far superior to Jarek Cunningham's.

Here's a quote from the 2012 Pirates Prospects Guide Book about Hanson:
Hanson is very athletic and projects to have a number of above-average major league tools. He’s a line drive hitter who can hit to all fields with some extra base power. He also shows good speed on the bases, with 24 stolen bases in 2011. Defensively he ranks below Carvajal at shortstop, but ahead of Barrios. He profiles better as a strong defensive second baseman.
His hands are not as smooth as you would like to see from a prototypical shortstop. His range is very good and his arm is plenty, but ultimately he may wind up on the other side of the bag. But the great thing about being 19 and in Low A is that you have a lot of time to work on things to refine your game.

The natural urge is to want to promote Hanson up to High A Bradenton, but caution should be exercised. For one thing, the Pirates have set each full season affiliate up with a prospect at the SS-2B position:
AAA -- d'Arnaud (SS), Mercer (2B)
AA -- Holt (SS), Cunningham (2B)
A+ -- Ngeope (SS), Maggi (2B)
A -- Hanson (SS), Carvajal (2B)

Unless there is some movement due to a callup at the major league level, coupled with continued good work from others above him to warrant a promotion, Hanson will most likely be at West Virginia all year. And that's probably a good thing, for as much as a 19-year-old at High A makes prospect watchers salivate, it will be important to monitor Hanson to ensure he doesn't fade down the stretch like he did last year. Hanson does have some swing and miss to his game, as he has 15 K's in 69 AB's so far, but that's relatively inline with his 17.3% K/AB rate from 2011.

The one caveat to a promotion is if the Pirates move a player mid-season to third base (or into the outfield), which would then free up a space in the chain shown above. However, that is fairly unlikely to happen.

Hanson is part of a very exciting and young team at Low A West Virginia. It will be fun to watch his progression this year as teams start to adjust to his hot start and to monitor his stamina throughout the year.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hanging with the Bourgeois at PNC

DB~ and I were quite lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy a Pirate game in a suite at PNC Park tonight. This is practically a "live blog" tonight! Along for the ride is loyal non-reader (do you still post at Dale Berra's Stash?) Stevie Numbers. Numbers took time out from spending every waking hour pursuing rumors on the future of Duquesne basketball to join us tonight. The three of us were able to get on the field during Pirate batting practice, which was super cool to see the action from that perspective. Now here we sit in Suite 7 on a perfect night of weather at the ballpark. Yes, the Pens are playing, so I will have one eye on the TV as well. Morton did some Morton-like stuff in the first inning so far. He got a strikeout on a 77 mph offspeed pitch and then induced a ground ball that Barmes turned for an unassisted double play. Holy cow! Alex Presley just hit an inside-the-park home run! The Cards CF might be dead after crashing into the wall. We'll monitor that situation closely. Presley put it off the wall right by the Pirates topiary in dead center, CF crashed into the wall, then Presley turned on the afterburners. Can't remember if I ever saw one live or not. We ordered some food for the suite as well. We got a Grilled Chicken Sandwich Platter, a Skirt Steak Sandwich platter, and a Snack Attack Basket appetizer platter. Check out this culinary goodness:
The grilled sandwich is the Grilled Chicken, Tomato, Mayo, and Mozzarella. DB~ had that one and said it was pretty good. The other sandwich is the Skirt Steak on Foccacia bread with a lettuce, tomato, and mayo mix. The appetizer basket is a standard mix of popcorn, pretzels, peanuts, and trail mix but's free.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Reyna's Taco Shack

After our trip to Regent Square for the Square Cafe, DB~ and I went to one of our favorite spots in the city, the Strip District. We didn't really have anything in particular that we wanted to shop for; we weren't playing on eating at home that Saturday night. It was just kind of a "wander around and see what strikes us" kind of day.

We got there at 2 pm, way later than we usually arrive, but it still was pretty busy on the streets. I was lucky enough to find a parking spot right on Penn, mid-zone in the heart of all the action. We headed south towards the City and went into Mancini's to pick up some rolls for family dinner on Sunday night and got a loaf of tomato-basil bread for my parents.

Next we went to Wholey's and bought a 2 lb bag of mussels for us to eat on Tuesday night and 1-1/2 pounds of shrimp for Sunday's family dinner (I was making shrimp etoufee for 9 people). After sampling some of the sublime lobster bisque and bought some cinnamon rice cakes, we left Wholey's.

A stop at Penn Mac is a must, but at the cheese counter we only bought some fresh Mozzarella for salads. We got a few other small items here, too. After getting a street egg roll from my favorite Asian trailer, we got some popcorn at Pittsburgh Popcorn (kettle for DB~'s mom, peanut butter and chocolate for mine).

The skies were starting to cry tears upon the denizens of Pittsburgh frequenting the Strip District, so we had to accelerate our shopping experience. We breezed through DB~'s favorite stores, Hot Haute Hot and Roxanne's Dried Flowers, and started to head back to the car.

I had to get a street taco at Reyna's outside their store. Reyna's has 2 ladies operating a flat top griddle to heat the meats and warm the tortillas. The tacos are topped with a mix of onions, lettuce, and fresh cilantro, with each placed in their own individual paper cartons to eat. You have your choice of 4 different salsas -- verde, chipotle, adobo, mild -- to top your own taco.

The women speak little to no English, so a young girl is there to take your order and relay it to the cooks. I had the special lamb taco while DB~ had a chicken taco. Each taco is $3, with two tacos costing $5 (but the lamb wasn't subject to this discount).

What you see above is the remnants of the cartons after we got home. Due to the rain, we hurried back to the car and ate them in the car. However, someone wanted our parking spot, so I had to pull around the block and hurriedly eat mine before traffic got thick again. No time to take a picture pre-eat.

If you go to the Strip, save some room for this delectable little slice of Mexico. It's like you're in Tijuana, minus the drunken college girls from San Diego, prevalent gang violence, and donkey shows.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Square Cafe

DB~ and I had a Groupon to use at the Square Cafe over in Regent Square, so we went today for a brunch-time visit. Regent Square is an interesting little neighborhood adjacent to Frick Park. There's some gourmet restaurants (Root 147 and the interesting looking Cibo) right across Braddock Avenue from some dirty old man bars.

A "high end consignment shop" (whaaa?!?) is next to an art gallery, right down the block from a corner express quickie-mart type of place. So it's kind of trying to find its new identity is what I'm saying.

The Square Cafe was jammed to the gills when we got there. After a short wait, we were shoe-horned into a tiny table in the corner at the back of the restaurant. It was awkwardly placed, as the very corner table had a chair turned perpendicular to our table -- this allowed each patron that sat there to back right into me and crowd my space.

I'm not a huge breakfast guy, but I felt compelled to try one of their many delectable sounding dishes. I was all set to get the Cinnamon Bun pancakes when DB~ pointed out Lemon Ricotta Pancakes on the menu. I'm guessing that the ricotta is folded into the mix in lieu of some of the milk. Lemon zest was sprinkled on top of the pancakes with a dollop of whipped cream. They were fantastic.

DB~ is an egg girl for breakfast. If you are too, this is your place. They have a wide variety of omelettes, fritatas, and dishes that incorporate scrambled eggs into them (a chorizo and egg dish was calling out to me). She ended up going with the tasty Asparagus and Goat Cheese Fritata. It came with a side of arugala/field greens that was more window dressing than side dish, as there was no oil or vinegar on it.

There were a lot of artistic types around us. We overheard some tables talking about their upcoming gigs for music or their shows for art. There were some young jocks fresh from working out in Frick Park. Young and old hippies doing whatever dirty hippies do on Saturdays.

It was a cool place and we would definitely go back. So why does the Square Cafe in Regent Square have only circles for their logo?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Seriously -- $4 Per Gallon and Rising?!

Each trip to Getgo becomes more and more depressing. This time I didn't have any FuelPerks to use so I had to pay $3.99 per gallon of gas. It cost me $56 to fill up my car. Another part of me died inside.

The odd thing is that I'm not hearing a lot of rabble-ribble on the street about this depressing turn of events. It's almost like people are resigned to the fact that there is nothing they can do about it.

The sad thing is that this is not war-related or supply and demand related. This is simply due to market forces causing oil speculation. Large players are manipulating the oil futures market for their own monetary gain, at the expense of the rest of the United States.

These are the same filthy animals who manipulated the mortgage market through derivatives. Is there no pride for these people in what they will stoop to do to ruin lives? I really try to stick to baseball, food, and Pittsburgh on this blog (and I realize how super preachy this post is), but it's something that is very frustrating and I can't believe it's not getting more Main Street run.

Gas prices are expected to be $5/gallon in the summertime. If the Justice Department and Congress have some spare time on their hands for a witch hunt, I mean investigation, why not look into this?

Or should we wait until there is just complete and utter devestation and sift through the detritus of society?

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Tunnel to Nowhere Goes Somewhere

So after attending Opening Day for the Pirates, my Dad and I waded our way through the throngs of people and towards the General Robinson Parking Garage where we parked. We both knew that traffic would be terrible, so to kill some time we decided to check out the new North Shore Connector line of the subway under the river.

As you can see from the picture above (double click to enlarge), there was a sea of humanity waiting to take the Connector back into town. Looks like a lot of people parked in town and used either the Gateway Center or Steel Plaza stops to get off for their cars.

The new North Shore station was clean and very utilitarian, in contrast to the very bright and updated Gateway Center station where we got off. The ride itself was short and uneventful. We got off at Gateway and walked to the other side of the platform to take the train right back to the North Shore.

My father-in-law mentioned something interesting tonight at dinner. He and his wife parked at the Rivers Casino (for free in the garage), then took the subway from that station to the Steel Plaza stop, then walked up the hill to the Penguin game. Free parking, free subway, 5 minute walking time = good deal.

The North Shore Connector project was $523M total, well over the original $350M'ish estimate. It will be a worthwhile project if it accomplishes the purpose it was meant for -- to become a multi-modal center of transportation on the North Shore. If Light Rail can be extended to the North Hills, via the criminally under-utilized HOV lane on I-279, then the project will be a massive success. However, due to the state of Port Authority currently, that is a complete pipedream. Yet another reason to privatize Port Authority and move it into the present-day business model.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pirates' 2012 Opening Day

I was very fortunate to score some tickets to Opening Day (my first ever) so I decided to Dad. When I told DB~ I got tickets she was excited. When I told her I was taking my Dad, she looked like a little girl that dropped her ice cream on the ground and it was 2 nanoseconds before she was going to cry (DB~ didn't cry).

I thought it would be a great father-son bonding moment, especially since my Dad had a triple bypass last May and I realized how close I could be to losing him at any moment. He's in great health now, but it sort of hit home for me.

We got down to the North Shore around 11:30 and used our complimentary parking pass to the General Robinson Garage, the garage underneath the Fort Duquesne Bridge and the home of the North Shore Connector Tunnel (foreshadowing!!!). We went to a tailgate hosted by a guy my Dad works with at his post-retirement, 3-day-a-week job. It felt like a pre-season Steeler game with the great sunny weather, the smell of charred meats hanging in the air, cornhole games set up everywhere, but everyone (guy and girl) was clad in some sort of Pirate gear. It was great to see such support for "Pittsburgh's 3rd son".

After crushing a kielbasi sandwich, my Dad and I wanted to walk around the outside of PNC Park and take it all in, then head in to see some of the new wrinkles to the park this year. The crowds were thick everywhere we went outside, especially on Federal Street (closed off, of course, to allow walkers to come over the Clemente Bridge) that was turned into a radio row of sorts. There were 4 stations broadcasting live from the game. There were also kids of all ages, ranging from 1st grade to 12th grade, at the game so I imagine school attendance rates were down a bit today with a lot of kids sick with Pirate Fever.

We went inside around 12:30 and went to the RF corner to check out the new Budweiser Bowtie Bar. They wedged this interesting little bar in the RF corner off the main concourse, adjacent to the Clemente Wall seats. My love of chatting up strangers comes from my Dad, so it was no surprise that he started talking to an usher about the bar. We learned that they put the finishing touches on the Bowtie Bar last night. There are two rows of seats, maybe 40 seats total, that overlook the field. Each seat is $50, but you get $20 of food/drink credit too. The bar has glass windows overlooking the river side of the park and open air to the field side. Pendant lights and propane free-standing torches give a nice feel to the area, which is surprisingly roomy.

One of the new menu items are Chickie and Pete's crab fries, located in the "food court" on the 3B side of the main concourse. It felt weird getting a Philly-based restaurant's menu item while we were playing Philly (the line was short so others felt the same), but I had to see what the hot fuss was about. The fries come in a little tub and are tossed with Old Bay-esque seasonings. You get a little cheese cup that hangs on the side of the tub, too. The fries were very tasty, but were $9.75 -- even using ballpark food price scales, that was too expensive for me.

I wanted to find the nachos with lime cilantro seasonings and creme fraiche, but the stadium was too packed to wander around. It was the biggest crowd in PNC Park history as 39,500+ attended the opener. I'll find them in a couple of weeks when DB~ and I go to the game.

Some people ask me if I would love if the Pirates got so good that the games all were near-capacity. I always recoil in horror and say "Oh, no way!" and here's why:
If the people in said PNC Park were actual fans and knew what was going on -- yes. But yesterday, these two drunk girls were in front of us and were texting/taking pictures/harassing vendors/being obnoxious. People were blatantly standing up in the aisles talking with friends, like this was a social hour, while the game was in play. Repeated shouts of "Take a seat!" from the crowd had no effect. The lines were ridiculous and I nearly stepped on not one, but two midgety-type people because they just ran out of nowhere.

I think 25,000 is probably the ideal crowd at PNC Park. It's packed enough to be loud, look good on TV, get revenue for the team, but still have the fan experience be enjoyable. Above that it gets hard to move around and enjoy the different food lines or even go to the bathroom without missing 1-1/2 innings.

PNC Park looked great again, as it always does. Pittsburgh is a fantastic city to be in when the sun is shining and the Pirates are playing.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Case For Neil Walker's Extension

With Andrew McCutchen's extension finalized last month, the attention has turned to Neil Walker to be the next Pirate extended. Oddly though, there has been some blowback from the online Pirate community about the wisdom of such a move. It has gone so far in some articles as to say that if Neil Walker was not from Pittsburgh there wouldn't be much interest in extending him.

That doesn't make any sense to me, especially once you look at Walker's stats objectively.

In 2011, Walker's triple slash line was .273/.334/.408 (742 OPS) for a 103 OPS+, indicating he was 3% better than league average. His weighted on-base average was .322, which placed him 9th out of 19 2B with at least 500 plate appearances in all of MLB.

Walker's defense was slightly below average with a -2.5 UZR/150. Coupled with his offensive output, this gave Walker a WAR of 3.0 last year (2.0 is considered league average).

Considering that Walker is playing 2012 at age 26, still on the cusp of the presumed prime years for a baseball player, it sure seems like an extension would be great for all sides. Slightly complicating the extension proposition is that Walker will be a Super 2 eligible player next year, meaning he gets 4 cracks at arbitration instead of the usual 3, but it's not impossible.

I'm proposing an extension similar to the one that Ian Kinsler signed back in 2008, but not adjusted much for inflation, due to the fact that Kinsler is a far superior offensive player than Walker at this point. Kinsler's extension was 5 years for $22M with a club option for 2013 for $10M. It breaks down like this:
2008 - $500K
2009 - $3M
2010 - $4M
2011 - $6M
2012 - $7M
2013 - $10M option

Walker's could look something like this:
2012 - $500K (plus a $500K signing bonus)
2013 - $2.5M
2014 - $4M
2015 - $6M
2016 - $8M
2017 - $10M option

That's 5 years for $21.5M, with a $10M option at the end. Hardly on the same level of commitment as McCutchen's 6 year/$51.5M extension, but you lock up another key player and continue to show the fanbase that you are serious about this core group.

Walker is still learning and improving the position as he enters into his prime years. He is already a 3.0 WAR player; if he can improve to a 4.0 WAR player with a modicum of offensive improvement and average defensive posture, that is a very valuable commodity that shouldn't be dismissed so easily.

The critics say that 2B is the easiest position to fill. And they're right. Most 2B are failed SS that don't have the range and/or arm to fill the position, so they slide to the left of the bag. But I'm a firm believer in "a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush". If and when the Pirates have a player show they are ready, both offensively and defensively, to replace Walker then the discussion can happen. Walker has already proved that he can handle 3B defensively. His bat wouldn't play as well there, but it wouldn't be crippling. He is also a good enough athlete to handle some OF duty, as well.

In short, Walker should continue to improve for the next 3 years at least. Even if he stays at the same level, he is a valuable commodity for the salaries proposed above. Perhaps the $8M proposed for his last arbitration year may prove unwise, but that's the benefit of locking him down for some lower-than-expected arb-1 and 2 salaries.

Walker should be extended at a reasonable contract similar to the one I've proposed. After Walker though, I don't see any current Pirates that would warrant an extension, so his may be the last one for a while.