Thursday, July 26, 2012

Trade Target - Hunter Pence

Let's get this out of the way right up front -- everything Hunter Pence does is awkward.  I imagine he even eats soup with his elbows extended high in the air with the same arm bar he uses when he bats.  Watching Pence hit, run, and throw is like a sex crime to the eyes for a baseball purist, I would guess.

But what he can do is play baseball and play baseball at an amazing consistent level.  Pence made his debut with the Astros in 2007 and played 108 games (2/3 of a season) that year.  In the four full years since then (2008 to 2011), Pence played in 157, 159, 156, and 154 games.  In those same four years, Pence hit 25, 25, 25, and 22 home runs.  In that first year in 2007?  17 homers.  In 2012 through 98 games? 17 homers -- on pace for 27 homers if he plays 156 games.

If you want some second tier stats, Pence's Isolated Power (slugging minus batting average, to reflect extra base power) has been a tight range of .179 to .197 in his 4 full years.  It's .180 this year.  His WAR totals for 2008 to 2011 have gone from 3.2 to 4.7, with the average around 3.8/year.  This year he is only at 1.2, but it is mostly a poor defensive rating that is dragging that down.  His offensive component is relatively the same as in past years.  That Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) has gone from .334 to .378.

This year Father Time has started to catch up with the Phillies.  Their 46-54 record has forced them to consider re-tooling their lineup, but they have some fairly immovable contracts due to veterans that have injury concerns (Halladay, Utley, Howard) or are on terrible deals (Howard).  They are in desperate need of an injection of youth to this graybeard team.  Oddly, the Phillies decided to try and spend their way out of the morass by extending Cole Hamels to a 6 year $144M deal, but he is at least in the prime of his career.

All of this brings us back to Pence.  Next year, Pence will go to arbitration for the 4th and final time.  After 2013, he will be a free agent, so any team interested will have him for more than a rental like Shane Victorino.  However, unlike Victorino, Pence is still good at baseball.

In Pence's 4 arbitration years, his salaries have been $3.5M, $6.9M, $10.4M so far to date.  If you use the 20-40-60-80% of free market value for a Super 2 player, Pence can expect to make around $14M in 2013.  That would set his free market value at around $17.5M/year.  Using the $5M/WAR estimate, that would put Pence at around 3.5 WAR...very close to the 3.8 WAR/year I discussed earlier.

If Pence put up 3.5 WAR in 2013 and was paid $14M, that would be a surplus value of $3.5M.  Assume he wouldn't give any surplus value in 2012 due to his inflated $10.4M salary and low WAR this year due to his defense.  Finally, since Pence is not a rental any team acquiring him could offer arbitration after 2013 and receive a comp pick if he turns it down.  Those picks have had a value of $2.5M in recent years.  Adding all that up gives you a surplus value of $6M for acquiring Pence.

In terms of prospect worth, that would be one Grade B hitter -- like a Matt Curry or Alex Dickerson type.  You could also make it work with some Grade C pitchers like a Bryan Morris, Zack Von Rosenberg, Justin Wilson combo.

Pence would lock down RF for the Pirates for the next year and change, all at a low prospect cost.  Of course the prospect cost would rise if Philly kicked in money, but they probably need to save a few sheckels these days.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Next Time -- Less Snobbery?

A couple of weeks ago, China Millman announced that she was leaving her position as food critic at the Post-Gazette.  I've held off on writing a post about it, but I felt that it was necessary since one of my earliest posts was about my disdain for her writing style.

Within her farewell (but still writing for another month) article, she listed the 6 meals that had the greatest impact on her career.  Predictably, she only listed 1 in Pittsburgh, but 1 in Boston, 1 in Chicago and 3 in Europe and Asia.  Because everyone is very concerned about the cuisine in Vietnam while living in Pittsburgh.

The problem with China Millman is that she tried to raise the level of discourse in an area that did not need it.  Her rating scale, at first glance, makes all restaurants look sub-par.  In her world, where she tried to adopt a more worldly Michelin-style restaurant rating, made 2 stars out of 4 stars a great rating.  But to a guy or girl just picking up the paper and wanting to read about a new restaurant, it looks like the place is average at best.

A Pittsburgher wants to know the style of cuisine, the dishes that were great, the dishes that fell flat, the price range, and the ambiance.  They don't need subtly veiled love letters to Kevin Sousa, constant comparisons to how the food scene is better everywhere than here, and reports from overseas locations that 92% of the Post-Gazette readers will never be visiting.

Gretchen McKay and Marlene Parrish are much more accessible to readers of the Post-Gazette and would be fine choices to follow in China Millman's footsteps.  At that point, the Post-Gazette Food section will get more realistic about what it offers its readers and less about becoming a hybrid of Travel/Food Networks.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Akron Redux - Seeing Cole in the Rubber City

Of all the nicknames a city can give itself, "Rubber City" probably sounded a lot better in theory than in actuality.  Massive conglomerate tire maker Goodyear has its world headquarters in Akron, thus the City sucks at its rubbery teat, so it probably came down to "Rubber City" or "Tired City".  Tired City would attract too many narcoleptics, I suppose.

Anywho, what brings me to this sleepy City home to the Akron Zips?  Only the Pirates' #1 prospect, Gerrit Cole, that's what.  Just out of curiosity, I Google Mapped how long it would take to get to Akron instead of going to Altoona -- turns out it is a 1/2 hour closer from where I live.

I was a little hesitant to come to Akron because my last time here was not real pleasant.  It was the summer of 2008 and my Dad and I came to the National Burger Festival -- a made up festival to generate interest in local burger joints.  It was held on Main Street, one block down from the Akron Aeros baseball stadium.  At the time in 2008, I was going through a pretty rough period and was really down on myself.  I had a lot going on and my heart wasn't really into a road trip 2 hours away with my Dad to eat burgers.  We still had a good enough time, though; I just didn't really want to be there mentally.

When I pulled into town at 5:30 p.m., on the same stretch of Main Street as the 2008 Burger Festival was now the 2012 Italian-American Festival.  The same stretch was blocked off and the same amount of people, same pavilion with music blaring, same security checkpoint was in place.  But this time was different.  Because now in 2012 I'm happy and in a good place.  I have a great wife who has changed how I think of myself and others.

The downtown area of Akron seemed just a little bit livelier in 2012, too.  Whether that's my imagination or not, I'm not sure.

The Akron Aeros play in Canal Park, which is an ode to retro neo-classical with the red brick front and plenty of wrought iron.  It is exceedingly clean and located right downtown.  It has an open concourse layout so all views are good, with one level of seats.  There's only a tiny section of seats in right field, with no other seating in the outfield.  I'm always amazed when you go to a minor league park and there's suites in the second deck.  What's the point of that?  Why would you try to big-time it at a Double A park in a big town/small city?

As I'm typing this during pre-game warmups, there's some sort of karate studio stretching behind home plate next to all four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I see a big pile of wood between the two groups -- this has a recipe for disaster/hilarity written all over it.  The one little tyke is only stretching half-heartedly; he's fixated on Donatello.  Or Michaelangelo.  Can't remember them.

With respect to Cole, I'm hoping he comes out here in a 1/2 hour and just puts on a dominant 99-mph-fastball followed by 90-mph-change followed by 88-mph-curve performance and figuratively gives a middle finger to Mark Appel.  The next time I see Cole in July, I have a feeling it will be in July 2013 at PNC Park.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Food Truck in Pittsburgh - Novel Concept

I've mentioned many times how great of a food scene there is in Pittsburgh right now.  You have restaurants that match up against restaurants in any of the food meccas in the United States.  But what has been severely lacking has been the mobile food truck.

The majority of the problem are the legal and outdated roadblocks that currently exist in Allegheny County.  This article from the Post-Gazette explains the issues well, especially the "can't stay parked more than 30 minutes" part.

However, there may be a fissure forming in the dam holding back food trucks.  In August, the Pittsburgh Taco Truck (not the most imaginative name) will be rolling around the city and the surrounding environs selling a wide variety of tacos, including vegetarian options, and an interesting grilled cheese type of item called a planchado.

On their website, the Taco Truck folks mention some of the other food trucks in the City and highlight 5, including 3 of them that don't move anywhere.  That's not a true food truck; that's a restaurant that has the ability to move in an emergency.  Portland has 5 food trucks on one block (if not more), probably.

Regardless, it is great to see a mobile food truck on the scene.  Selling tacos is probably one of the easier, less labor-intensive ones to start with and tacos have mass appeal.  I know I will be following their progress and picking something up as soon as they come on the scene.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Trade Target - Carlos Quentin

As we sit at the All-Star Break, the Pirates are surprisingly in first place.  Even more stunning is the fact that they are 11 games over .500 at 48-37.  The dynamics of this season have shifted dramatically from not only the start of the season, but even in the last 3 weeks.  Now it's not just that this team could eke out enough wins to break the 81 win mark, but (to the dismay of Jim Mora) there is legitimate talk of making the playoffs.

To that end, there have been some strong rumors in recent days about players the Pirates are sniffing around.  One of which is Padres outfielder, Carlos Quentin.  Quentin would not be my first choice for slugging outfielder, as I have stated in the past that would be Josh Willingham.  But the Padres seem motivated to sell and the Pirates are motivated to buy, so here we are.

Quentin is a slugger.  Pure and simple.  Not stolen base quota from him.  Not a lot of average and just an average amount of walks.  And certainly no defensive ability.  But he does hit dingerz and chicks do dig the long ball.

Quentin was hurt at the start of the season, but in the 33 games he has played he has hit like a ball of fire.  His line on the season to date is .268/.406/.518 (924 OPS, 1.7 WAR).  His career line is .253/.349/.491 (840 OPS), so there may be some regression to the mean in store.  Quentin's career WAR total is skewed by the utter disdain that defensive metrics (and the eye test) hold for his defensive disabilities.  However, his career wOBA is a nice .364, so he would be here for his stick and not his glove.

The 29 year old San Diego native is being paid $7.025M this season and he is a free agent at the end of the year.  If you assume 1.7 WAR for the remainder of the season (to allow for some regression), that's a WAR value of $8.5M.  Subtracting 3/8 of his salary, to account for the remaining games after a July 31st trade, he would have a trade surplus number of $5.87M.  That's roughly a grade B hitter on John Sickel's list (think Robbie Grossman) or a slight overpay would be a grade B pitcher (think Nick Kingham).

Quentin would replace Garret Jones in RF, with Jones moving into a strict 1B platoon with McGehee.  Both Jones and Quentin have roughly the same isolated powers this year (.250 to .239), but Quentin has more on-base ability and is not a platoon player.  Quentin would slide nicely into the cleanup spot and give protection for Andrew McCutchen, while also allowing Pedro Alvarez to hit in the 5 hole potentially.

The Pirates are on the verge of something special and the addition of Quentin, coupled with the promotion of Starling Marte, could give them an exciting outfield and batting order.  My favorite sports saying is "Flags Fly Forever" meaning if you have a shot to win, you take it when it is presented to you.  Trading one B-level prospect will be worth it if they make the playoffs because of Quentin.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

We're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

Around these here parts, DB~ and I have delineated responsibilities during parties this way -- I'm Director of Food and she's Director of Ambiance. Typically for her, that means the right place settings, music, invitations, etc.

We decided to host a Fourth of July cookout for both sides of our families yesterday. DB~ had found and come up with a bunch of great ideas for things to make the event cool, but in doing so she blurred the lines between Ambiance and Food. Using her favorite website, Pinterest, DB~ found a how-to-make for this watermelon shark shown above.

It looked so cool, with the Swedish Fish tossed in its mouth looking like freshly chomped sea creatures and the blue paper to make it look like the shark is jumping out of the water, that we didn't have the heart to toss it after last night. So now it sits on our kitchen table, under plastic wrap, so we can admire her handiwork for a few more days.

Check out the attention to detail on those teeth! She even cut gills in to the side of the watermelon, plus put a blueberry on a toothpick to represent an eye. It was quite a conversation piece when people walked in to the party.

DB~ Says: While it made a total mess of the kitchen, I loved making this shark. I found the directions here. I'm thinking of one of these for our next party. Thoughts?