Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 Season Prediction

All right, let's do it.  This is a much more pleasant exercise than in previous years, because the Pirates actually...won.  It's a very weird feeling predicting that the Pirates are playoff contenders in 2014.  Is this the new reality or am I still being oddly optimistic?

Mark me down for 88 wins and the Pirates claiming a wild card spot in the NL.  I think the same seven teams that were in playoff contention (Cards, Pirates, Reds, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Braves) will be the same teams in contention this year.  Perhaps if the Giants' pitching staff rebounds they can get in the mix.

I think Travis Snider will have a nice rebound year now that his big toe injury has finally been resolved.  It won't be enough to hold off mega-prospect Gregory Polanco from coming up in mid-June and claiming RF, though.  Polanco will get some fine-tuning and avoid the Super 2 deadline so that the Pirates only have to go to arbitration with him three times instead of four.

Jameson Taillon had a little setback at the end of Spring Training with his elbow, so they're going to rest him and hope the elbow inflammation dies down.  Right now they're not seeing any tears in the ligament, so that's good news.  Hopefully it won't affect his mid-June arrival time, as he should require less fine-tuning in AAA.

It's almost impossible to think McCutchen can exceed, or even replicate, his 2013 MVP season.  I would be satisfied with a season that's 85% of his 2013 season.  I would like to see Marte improve on his BB rate and keep decreasing his K rate, while increasing his HR's and maintaining his SB total.  Ideally, once Polanco comes up, Polanco will leadoff and Marte will drop down to the 5th or 6th spot.


I don't know...I'm just getting such a Mark Reynolds vibe off of him, so I'm not going to be surprised by another .230 BA, with 35 HR's and 200 K's.

Quasi-bold prediction?  I think Gerrit Cole will garner some NL Cy Young votes this year.  Not really a contender, unless Kershaw gets hurt, but some down ballot votes.

I also don't think the 1B the Pirates will end the season with is on the roster yet.  There should be adequate money left in the budget for a mid-season trade acquisition, considering they had $19M to spend in the offseason and only spent $7M of it on Volquez (dumpster fire, will be out of the rotation by July) and Barmes.

So finally, here's my guess on the NL Central Standings:
Cardinals -- 96 wins
Pirates -- 88 wins
Reds -- 83 wins
Brewers -- 75 wins
Cubs -- 74 wins

Friday, March 28, 2014

Chicken Enchiladas

On Tuesday night, I made some Chicken Enchiladas for DB~ and I.  In each tortilla, I put a base drained, rinsed black beans.  Then I topped it with shredded chicken that I cooked in a skillet with salt, pepper, ancho chili powder, and the key ingredient of cumin.  I topped them off with some shredded cheese.

Once they were rolled and tucked tightly into an 8" x 8" baking dish, I topped them with a canned, red enchilada sauce.  On top of that, I added a generous amount of chopped green chiles.  I baked them in the oven at 400 for 25 minutes, enough to melt the cheese and get them hot, but not long enough to dry the sauce out.

I bedded the enchiladas on a sleeve of yellow rice.  I wish I had some sour cream to top them with when they came out, but otherwise they were fantastic.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Don't Extend Pedro Alvarez, Pirates

 Recently, the Atlanta Braves extended their 1B Freddie Freeman with an 8 year/$135M contract.  Freeman was just entering his first arbitration year, so this contract buys out those first three years plus five free agent years.  The cost breakdown per year is:
2014 – $5.125M (w/ $2.875M signing bonus)
2015 – $8.5M
2016 – $12.5M
2017 – $20.5M
2018 and 2019 – $21M
2020 and 2021 – $22M
He’ll finish this contract up in his age-31 season and be ready, injuries aside, to look for another 5-6 year deal probably.
Pedro Alvarez is entering his first arbitration-eligible season and negotiated a contract for $4.25M for the 2014 season.  At first blush, he and Freeman seem to be on the same salary track, so one would think that the Pirates should follow suit and think of extending their power-hitting third baseman.
But they shouldn’t.  Because Pedro Alvarez isn’t that great of an offensive player.
In fact, the Pirates should stick with Alvarez in 2014 and 2015, then re-evaluate the texture of the team.  If they are a title contender for 2016, then they should keep Alvarez and become comfortable with letting him walk after the 2016 season for draft compensation.  If they don’t think they’re a contender, then the Pirates should trade him after 2015 for a package of prospects to reload on the fly.
The thought of not having Alvarez around, a season after he hit 36 home runs, causes some fans to have panic attacks and rail against the Pirates’ for being cheap by not extending him.  Rather, it’s my contention that the Pirates would be smart to just play out the string with Alvarez and let him walk away as a free agent or trade him with one year of control left.
It’s the Linus Blanket Syndrome.  The fear of losing a security blanket, in this case all the DINGERZ that Alvarez hits, causes people to worry.  But aside from home-runs, Alvarez does not contribute much to the offense.
Let’s compare Alvarez to Freeman:
2013 StatsAlvarezFreeman
BB %7.8%10.5%
K %30.3%19.2%
wRC+ stands for Weighted Runs Created over Average.  What this means is that Alvarez created 11% more offense than an average player, while Freeman created 50% more offense than an average player.
So by raw numbers, it’s pretty obvious that Alvarez would not be worth Freeman’s contract, even though Alvarez hit 36 DINGERZ to Freeman’s 23.  There are other facets of the offensive game that Alvarez does not contribute to and, in fact, hinders thanks to his high strikeout rate.
The strange part about the Freeman deal is that I don’t think he’s worth it.  Up until the 2013 season, Freeman was just slightly above-average when it came to offense for a 1B.  His excellent 2013 season was based on a very high .371 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play), where the average player is typically .300 to .310 and Freeman was a .320 career BABIP coming into 2013.  So there is some regression due to happen for Freeman, most likely, in 2014.
Also, the 2014 season will be Alvarez’s age-27 season.  The Pirates potentially control him through his age-29 season, so they may be seeing the best years he has to offer anyway, as players with 30% strikeout rates and low batting averages do not age well (Adam Dunn is Example A).
The end of the world will not occur if El Toro is not extended or if he’s allowed to leave in a few years.  Actually, it would be good business sense to not be weighted down by a potential albatross contract.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Time for Snider to go for it

There are many things that Travis Snider can do.  There are many things that people think Travis Snider can do.  What Travis Snider has done is somewhere in the middle.

Look at Snider's minor league numbers and his stocky profile and you think he's a guy capable of hitting 25 home runs every year.  Just last year he started off hot in April, hitting .300 with an 11.8% BB rate and 7 doubles in just 68 plate appearances.  Not a ton of power, but doubles are good and walks are great, especially out of your 6/7th place hitter.

But then his toe injury flared up and Snider just fell off the cliff after that.  After May 1st, he hit .182 and was a complete afterthought for Clint Hurdle, especially once Marlon Byrd rolled into town.  He only had 20 plate appearances in September and October combined.

Now here we are in 2014 and the Pirates have one opening in their outfield in RF.  It appears as if Tabata and Snider can job-share (maybe not a straight platoon) that spot in 2014.  But on the horizon looms mega-prospect Gregory Polanco.  Polanco is scheduled to get a tune-up in Triple A Indy, then wait out the Super 2 arbitration deadline, with a scheduled arrival in mid-June if everything goes well.

Snider and Tabata can delay his arrival if they come out en fuego and force GM Neal Huntington to keep Polanco on the farm.  Polanco is clearly the future, as the Pirates are practically salivating over the possibility of an OF of Marte, McCutchen, and Polanco with that power-speed combo in each of them.

But Snider can help himself be more marketable in a trade to a decent destination by performing at a decent level.  He can easily stay around for 2014 as the 5th OF and spot starter, but it's hard to see him being here beyond this year, as 2015 is his 2nd arb-eligible season.  Snider could be packaged with something else for a 1B, if that position continues to be an issue at the trade deadline in 2014.

In short, a fully healthy Snider can be an asset for the Pirates.  Both on the field and in the trade market.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Butcher and The Rye

DB~ and I have had six Valentine's Days together.  For each one of them, she has either figured out or cajoled out of me where we were going for dinner.  A couple of years ago, when I thought I had her fooled, she handed me a slip of paper on the drive to the restaurant.  It had the name of the dinner dish she was going to order that night from the restaurant she figured out.

This year, I was bound and determined to get her.  I set the reservation back in mid-January at Butcher and the Rye and promptly tried to get it out of my head.  I figured that if I wasn't thinking about, she couldn't guess it or figure it out by inadvertent clues.  Just two days before Valentine's Saturday, she had it down to three restaurants: Bar Marco, Grit & Grace, and Butcher and the Rye.  I was worried, but I thought she would pick Grit & Grace.

I was wrong.

Perhaps next year...

As for the actual restaurant, if there is a restaurant with a better interior in the City of Pittsburgh, please let me know.  When you walk in on the bottom floor, there's a lot of communal seating on large butcher block tables.  The lighting is very low (which means none of our pictures turned out, because we didn't want to use the flash).  The motif is rustic elegance.

We were seated on a mezzanine level that combined a library with a hunting lodge vibe.  There was a jar with a conjoined rabbit right above our head.

For an appetizer, we ordered the focaccia with three spreads: a ricotta spread with parmesan, an olive tapenade, and an eggplant/hummus type of spread.  We both preferred the ricotta one, but all were excellent.

DB~ ordered a pan roasted trout that had some root vegetables.  She really liked it, but felt the fish skin wasn't crispy enough and lost some taste on the plate.

I went with the skirt steak that was served with an Asian squash and a rice cake.  On top was a large fried egg that I slipped off and didn't eat it.  I'm not an egg guy under normal circumstances and certainly didn't want to chomp one with a well-prepared steak.

As a whole, we loved the restaurant.  It's owned by Richard DeShantz, owner of Meat of Potatoes.  He's got another hit on his hands with Butcher and the Rye.  Oh yeah...they also make killer cocktails, if you're into those, too.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

An Intriguing Concept of Pre-Three Rivers Stadium

I am a complete sucker for artistic renderings.  Today's computer-generated ones are a little cold and soulless, as I prefer the hand drawn pencil/pastel sketches of yesteryear gone by.  I want the people in them to have no faces, preferably with just a hint of having feet.

Combine that with my love of baseball stadiums and I give you Stadium Page.  It's a whole website dedicated to drawings of present and past stadiums for different teams.  The best is the Unrealized Concepts section.  I found one in there from 1958 that I have never heard of before and it is super wild.

Apparently some company was presumably paid scads of money to come up with a concept that would never fly in today's bureaucratic, environmentally over-conscious world.  Imagine the Smithfield Street Bridge and then remove that and put in a huge superstructure that would span the Mon River and support:

  • A baseball stadium
  • Two office towers
  • A parking lot 
  • A roadway network for the fans to get to/from the stadium
It's a wild idea, but complete unfeasible and probably not constructable at all.  The look of a stadium, essentially, floating on the Mon River would be iconic, but from an engineering standpoint not doable.

I wonder if part of the reason, aside from the unbelievable cost to build and the aforementioned construction issues, is that what would you do with the space when it was time to demolish it?  This stadium if built in let's say 1960 would be 54 years old this year, making it the 3rd oldest in the league, just ahead of Dodger Stadium.  No one's in a rush to tear down Dodger Stadium or Fenway or Wrigley, but we do live in a disposable society.

Would it just become a giant green space?  That would a great use, even though it wouldn't be a profit driver.  I would be a huge space.  Just by a rough estimation, it would be bigger than Point State Park.  Maybe that could have been the end point for the aerial skyline concept that was floated around town about 15 years ago.  That would have stretched from Mount Washington to Point State Park at the time.

I consider PNC Park to be the finest baseball park in all of MLB.  Its location, view, and amenities can't be beat.  But I do find myself thinking about what this stadium would have been like, too.