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.