by Stephen Zielinski
Every so often Iíll write a few pertinent ó or useless ó comments for the Front Page. It keeps me out of trouble. The tenth installment:
A three-game winning streak! With it, the Pirates are again threatening to push the Rockies out of third place in the race for the booby prize.
I like Kip Wells. And, it is because I like him that it pains me to say that his crummy pitching this year can only reduce the likelihood that the Pirates would contend for a championship sometime in the near future. The Pirates desperately needed Kip Wells to pitch near to his ceiling this year. Their need originated in the possibility that they might trade him (alone or with another player) for a lefthanded, middle-of-the-order offensive threat. The Pirates need a young Carlos Delgado, not another great pitcher.
As we know, Wells failed to pitch near to his ceiling this year. In fact, heís pitched so poorly that heís greatly damaged the confidence other teams might place in him. That lack of confidence translates into a weaker trading chip than Wellís talent would warrant. Their confidence in Wells defines his perceived trade value. The Pirates confronted a similar problem with Schmidt and Benson. With those two as a guide, the Pirates will probably resolve the Kip Wells question by trading him for players who will return less value than Wells will provide to his next team.
One need not be an accountant to find this situation disturbing. Wellsí regression this season, the 2004 trade of Kris Benson for Ty Wigginton and Matt Peterson and Mark Redmanís poor season in 2005 have combined to greatly limit the possible futures the team has before them, restricting these futures to, at best, two or three above-.500 seasons before a mean Piratesí ownership would opt to trade off its veteran players and rebuild from the minor leagues.
My prediction: The Pirates will keep Wells for the first half of the 2006 season, hope that he recovers his skills and then try to trade during the July trading period. I believe the Pirates would only trade Wells this off-season if they could package him with a Littlefield-mistake like Mark Redman.
What could we expect from a Redman-Wells trade? Very little. Trading both Wells and Mark Redman in a single transaction would amount to another salary dump for the Pirates. Who, after all, would trade a young hitter or hitting prospect for two expensive and underperforming pitchers?
Well, Littlefield might.... But, I wouldnít expect a savvy GM to give up a prospect for two floundering and moderately expensive veterans, even in a weak free agent market for pitchers.
Should the Pirates trade any of their younger pitchers?
My answer: They should trade a younger pitcher or two only if they receive an impact bat in return ó that is, the lefthanded, middle-of-the-order offensive threat they desperately need.
My reasoning: The Pirates need offense. Currently (9.18), the Pirates sit in the 28th spot (out of 30) in runs scored. They have a 4.14 Runs Scored per Game (RSpG) rate which is a ways below the league average Run Allowed per Game (RApG) of 4.57. The Pirates need to score a significantly greater number of runs than they have over the past few seasons if they want to improve their place in the standings. They wonít achieve this goal sending players like Mackowiak, Wigginton or Ward onto the field every day. Acquiring another player of this caliber, which they did when they traded Matt Lawton for Jody Gerut, would not help matters at all. It would just clog the Piratesí roster with players having minimal value in a trade and who would not appreciably increase the teamís capacity to score runs.
Hence, the problems for the Piratesí posed by the Wells and Mark Redman situations. The Pirates needed those two to pitch at a high level this year. They mostly havenít.
Geez, I thought we had heard the last of these baseball Koans when the Pirates fired Lloyd McClendon. I guess not because we still have a Mack on hand with a yen to say stuff like this:
ďHeís become too flamboyant and heís trying to do too much, instead of finding that one arm and sticking with it,Ē Mackanin said. ďItís like a bowler who consistently keep rolling the ball on the same arrow and getting strikes, then gets bored with that and starts trying to put spin on the ball and all kind of dipsy-doodle stuff.Ē
Whatís wrong with Mackaninís take on Perez? There are a few problems.
First of all, Perez did his fancy stuff last year when he was a dominant pitcher in the National League. So, if Perez is now having problems because of his penchant for changing his delivery by throwing sidearm, etc., he should have also had problems last season when he also adopted a fancy delivery from time to time. He didnít. Itís unlikely that Perezís problems this year derive from having multiple pitch deliveries.
Second, Mackanin seems to know little about bowling. Bowlers nearly always put spin on the ball. Competent bowlers always do. In fact, a bowling ball that lacks spin (one which isnít rotating) canít do any real work when it hits the pins. The spin of the ball aids it when it drives through the pins. Moreover, to control a rotating bowling ball requires good mechanics and a precise delivery of the ball to the ally. What this means is that the bowler must precisely regulate the speed of the ball, use the lane markings as guides and assess the conditions of the allies. Spin and precision are not opposites in bowling, as Mackanin suggests. They are complementary features that a good bowler will have mastered and can use to his advantage. Likewise, any Major League pitcher, who would certainly need to precisely control the speed and spin he imparts to his pitches. In short, Mackaninís analogy was a very poor one.
Third, if Perez is Ďtrying to do too much,í as Mackanin claims and as I believe he is, it would be because Perez is overthrowing in an effort to ramp up the velocity of his pitches and the break of his slider and curve ball. The fancy deliveries are a secondary problem. Itís the overthrowing, on the one hand, and the adjustments (aiming the ball) Perez has made to compensate for the errant pitches he throws which are the problem. So, while I agree that Perezís problems are mechanical in origin, I greatly doubt that they originate in the changes he makes in his arm slot (throwing side-arm from time to time). I thus do not doubt at all that Perez would have pitched poorly this year even if he had stuck with one delivery.
Mackanin is not helping things at all by talking nonsense.