Monday, June 30, 2014

Some Second Tier Thinking About Tony Watson

Tony Watson is making a mockery over keeping ERA's for the rest of the pitchers in the league.  He's sporting a 0.96 ERA so far this year with 48 K's and just 10 BB in 37 innings.  In a fair and just world, he would be going to the All-Star Game.

When he comes in to the game, you can exhale and go get a sandwich.  This inning is on lockdown.  So why is Watson not the closer, but the stress-inducing Mark Melancon is?

Is it because Melancon is a grizzled veteran and Watson is a young pup?  No.  Melancon and Watson are both 29.  Melancon has one whole year more of experience in the majors than Watson.  Is it because Melancon has superior stuff and Watson is getting by on luck?  No.  Watson is sporting a mid-90's fastball from the left side, along with a slider that is patently unfair to hitters.  He toys with hitters by throwing a changeup, as well.  Melancon is getting by on a 93 mph cutter that requires pinpoint location, or else hitters can sit on it and serve the pitch to right field.

After pondering this, I'm left with two choices:
1.  Clint Hurdle is a stubborn idiot that can't change his thinking about Watson v. Melancon.
2.  Something else.

The something else that I came up with is that Hurdle has been instructed from on high to keep Melancon in the closer role and allow him to rack up saves, while keeping Watson in the setup role.  The reason?  In arbitration, saves get you paid.  Melancon has already set his salary base in arbitration at $2.6M.  He has two years of team control left.  Watson, on the other hand, is going to arb for the first time this year.  A first year dominant closer with 30 saves and a minuscule ERA would get paid cash money, son.

Now instead of Watson going to arb and getting $2M as a new closer, he may make $1M as a great setup man.  Is it dumb?  Sure it is, but that's the outdated method of arbitration.  Find a comparable player and go with it.  With a handful of saves, Watson would be in the same bin as most other setup guys.

That $1M potential difference may seem petty, but that's the base future salaries are built off of.  Now instead of a $2M/$4M/$6M path, Watson could be installed as the closer in 2015 on a $1M/$3M/$5M path.  The Pirates, always on the hunt for a good deal, may have saved $3M on the process.

Unless you want to believe in choice #1.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

An Afternoon with the Riverhounds

On Sunday afternoon, a small person and I attended the Pittsburgh Riverhounds match versus the Richmond Kickers.  It was my first time at Highmark Stadium, adjacent to Station Square, and I was impressed by its physical cleanliness and its cleanliness in terms of design.  The good news is that I don't have UPMC insurance, so I'll be able to come to Highmark Stadium next year after the two entities split....

We got two tickets in the Supporters' section, which is the kind term for "cheap seats behind the goal".  They were $12.50.  I was a little taken aback by the price for regular seats in the grandstand -- tickets in the center section were $27/ticket and tickets in the end sections were $21/ticket.  The Riverhounds are in the lowest classification of U.S. Professional Soccer!  I understand that the stadium cost $10M to build, but c'mon now.

And after seeing the quality of the Riverhounds in person, I can attest that the 1-7-4 was achieved through honest means.  We were barely settled in after getting a hot dog when Richmond scored the first of their 2 goals in the first 10 minutes.  The Riverhounds' full backs were atrocious and completely hung the goalkeeper out to dry.  The Riverhounds lack a cohesive style of play, especially on offense.  It felt like I was watching a basketball team play soccer at times -- the Hounds would isolate a winger who would make some moves, then pass into the center of the field where the Kickers would then collapse down on that player.  Said player wouldn't be able to do much of anything to get off a shot.  The Riverhounds lost 3-1.

What I was impressed by was the unofficial/official cheering squad of the Riverhounds, known as the Steel Army.  They were sitting just to our left and entertained both myself and the 7 year old.  Led by a hefty guy beating on a drum, the 40 person group had a wide variety of chants to amuse themselves, energize the crowd, and attempt to distract the Richmond players when they were on that side of the field.  I particularly liked the adaption of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine to "we all cheer for the yellow soccer team".

They were attempting to make it look like an English Premier League game, but that kind of bothered me in some way.  On an 85 degree day, they were wearing supporter scarves that are ever-present in the EPL and the chants were the kind you would expect to hear at a Liverpool v. Everton game.  Shouldn't we be trying to do our own thing?

The ownership of the Riverhounds have grand plans to get the Riverhounds entry to Major League Soccer within 10 years.  The same ownership that filed for bankruptcy before the season started, mind you.  To do that, Highmark Stadium would have to be greatly expanded.  It currently holds around 3,000-3,500 if I had to guesstimate it.  A typical MLS stadium, as per this Wiki stub, holds around 20,000 (San Jose is the smallest at 10,000).  I was having a hard time envisioning how they could retrofit this stadium to get there, as one side is virtually adjacent to the railroad tracks.  I suppose the northern side where the main building is could have a steep array of seats placed over top of it, the supporters' section could have a corresponding array of seats and the main section would be expanded upwards, but that's a big leap.

The Riverhounds kind of suck right now, but the 7 year old who dreams of playing with Steven Gerrard loved it, so that's all the really matters.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Chicken Picatta at Aracri's

I had a business meeting in Greentree last night, so I asked my boss if he wanted to catch dinner before we headed over to the Doubletree.  When I asked where he wanted to go, he went way out of the box and suggested an old school Italian restaurant off of Greentree Road called Aracri's.

How he heard of this place, I have no idea.  He doesn't stray out of the North Hills too much, so that made it even more puzzling.

When I got to the restaurant to meet him, it felt like I was entering a time warp back to the 1980's.  On the door of the old Tutor style building was a sticker advertising KBL with the logos for the Pirates/Pens/Steelers of that era.  Not ROOT, not Fox Sports Pittsburgh, not what was before

The interior of this place probably hasn't been touched in 30 plus years, either.  Was this place really good or popular at one time?  I'm not saying I know every restaurant in Pittsburgh, especially in the South Hills, but I have never heard anyone say, "Hey, I had a great meal at Aracri's last weekend."

I ordered the Chicken Picatta, partly to see how it compared to mine.  This one was done with mushrooms, so I was assuming the mushrooms formed some type of sauce base.  I don't like mushrooms themselves, but I like mushroom-based sauce.  They're earthy and honest and build flavor for the whole dish.

When the Picatta came out, I was struck by the gnarled pieces of chicken.  It just seemed like a cheap cut, instead of a nice pair of chicken breasts.  The dish itself was very good -- the chicken was tender, the sauce was rich, but I was missing the capers and that salty flavor.

The dinner rolls were standard and the vegetable was a dish of steamed broccoli.  Nothing spectacular.  This restaurant, if it had a heyday, has passed that peak by.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Future is Now in the Outfield

Tuesday saw the long-anticipated arrival of RF Gregory Polanco.  He was called up because of the emergency appendectomy of Neil Walker, which makes me wonder how much longer he would have to wait in AAA.  No matter, he's here now and I can't envision the Pirates sending him back down (short of him struggling epically).

The Pirates now sport an OF that is the envy of all of baseball.  All three of Marte/McCutchen/Polanco were not only top 50 prospects (and higher in the case of McCutchen and Polanco), but also capable of playing CF for nearly every team in baseball.  Each of them have a combination of power and speed that makes scouts and fans alike drool.

Both Marte and McCutchen are under team control for many years to come, at far below market value rates.  McCutchen is here until 2017 with a 2018 club option.  Marte is here even longer through 2019, with two team options in 2020 and 2021.  By virtue of his callup, Polanco is under team control through 2020, before any potential extension comes into play.

The things we build don't last forever, though.  At some point, hopefully not for financial reasons, the Pirates may look to trade one of the triumvirate in order to strengthen another part of the team.  The Pirates' cupboard is stocked in the minors with OF prospects, too.  Austin Meadows, Harold Ramirez, and Josh Bell (although I feel he's a future 1B) are all progressing at various speeds through the minors and have great pedigrees.

For right now, enjoy watching these three together.  I can't help but think that any short/medium term success the Pirates experience will be on the backs of their OF.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

How Much Would You Sign For?

The Pirates concluded their portion of the 2014 MLB Draft today when they made their selection in the 40th round.  Counting two extra picks in the compensation rounds, the Pirates selected 42 high school and college kids.  Not every kid will sign, based on a combination of their bonus demands and the Pirates' draft pool of $7.0M.

How much each kid requires to sign is a complicated calculus of figures, though, that is roughed out by the area scout who has spoken with him at some point.  I'm wondering how much it would take for me to recommend my son sign, especially out of high school.

The Pirates selected a high school pitcher named Mitch Keller out of an Iowa high school in the 2nd round.  The slot value for that pick is $886,800, as per figures obtained by Baseball America.  Keller has been rated as a 2nd or 3rd round talent all spring, so he was picked right where he was rated.  He does have a college commitment to North Carolina, so it would appear that he may take a little over slot to sign and be difficult to get under contract.

But then I found an article with an interview from last month that Keller gave to his local newspaper.  In it, he tells the story of how his older brother, Jon, gave him some advice from his own situation.  The cautionary tale tells how Jon was drafted in 2010 by the Mariners and turned down a high six figure bonus to go to college.  In college, Jon developed arm troubles and was then drafted by the Orioles in 2013 and received only $100,000, a much lower figure than what he turned down in 2010.

His brother has told him that if the money is life-changing he should take it, because you never know what may happen in the future.  The $100,000 that Jon received sounds like a lot, but after 5% off the top for agent fees and then roughly 35% of taxes, Jon Keller only cleared approximately $60,000.  Good money, but not life-changing.

If Mitch Keller were to sign for (rounding up) $900,000, he could clear $550,000 probably.  That's not money to live off of the rest of your life, but that's a real nice start to a nest egg.  He wouldn't have to worry about a ton of stuff if his career flamed out early.

For me, if my son could sign for $500,000, that would be a net of about $300,000.  That would enable him to put a down payment on a nice house and get a nice car after his baseball career was over.  He would have to work, but some of the hassles of life would be reduced for him.  That amount is the slot value at the end of the 3rd round in this year's draft.

College is always there; it's not going anywhere.  Many teams will sweeten the deal for high school picks by promising four years of tuition to a college, as well.  At that point, it's almost a no-brainer.  Allow your son to pursue his baseball dream, then he can go back to college after it's over on someone else's dime.

I hope the Pirates can sign as many of their high school picks as possible, but they won't get them all.  I just hope that some of them don't sign just because it's not for every last dollar they think their son deserves.  Sometimes it's worth getting the bird in hand, instead of waiting for two in the bush.