Some recent observations IV 6-1-05

Sunday, January 28 2007 @ 12:34 am UTC

Contributed by: Staff

By Stephen Zielinski

Every so often I’ll write a few pertinent — or useless — comments for the Front Page. It keeps me out of trouble. The fourth installment:

Let’s drive for 75 in 2005

In his June 2, 2005 ‘Q & A,’ Dejan Kovacevic opined:

As for [trading] Redman, forget it. He is going nowhere. He has another year on his contract at the same salary as his current $4.5 million, and the Pirates are eager to keep him. They view him as a bargain.

And: If the Pirates were to make a trade, then

...moving a veteran — not Redman, obviously, since the team has no plan to do so — would make much more sense than moving a prospect to get more offense.

Yes, the Pirates ought to trade off veteran pitchers for offense, as Kovacevic claims. But, will they? We may have our doubts about that. After all, Littlefield has already tried to dampen fan enthusiasm for a Mesa trade (see below) and we have just read Dejan Kovacevic claiming the Pirates will not trade Redman this season and are not seeking to trade him.

Yet, if the Pirates were willing to trade a vet or two for a prospect, if they were to try to upgrade their (minor or major league) roster by moving a few of their pitchers, Wells and Redman would provide the choice bait for such a trade. Fogg is also expendable, of course, although we should not expect much of a return for him. Wells and Redman, on the other hand, have the experience, skills and track record a pennant contender would want. As an bonus, both have favorable contracts relative to their production. Given the benefits they would bring to another team, one or both should generate the kind of return the Pirates need. Yet, Dejan Kovacevic, a solid and careful reporter, does not believe Redman is on the trade block!

Let us assume Kovacevic’s claims accurately capture what the Pirates intend to do this season. We will assume, then, that the Pirates do not want to trade Mark Redman and, perhaps, Kip Wells. (Wells, being the better, younger and cheaper pitcher would be the more enticing trading chip than Redman. If the Pirates do not want to trade Redman, as Kovacevic asserts, then they are not likely to trade Wells.)

Armed with this assumption, we may begin by unpacking the assertion that the Pirates have a painful need for more hitters, position prospects and for an impact prospect or two. As of June 2, 2005, the Pirates rank twentieth in BP’s EqA for teams metric, although the team’s estimated runs scored outpaces its actual runs scored by 14 runs (which is to say that the team could and might do better in clutch hitting situations as the season progresses). Yet, whether they actually begin to drive in runs to the degree we might expect them to, the Pirates would remain a poor run-producer. Adding 14 estimated runs to their total would have augmented their Runs per Game (RpG) by a mere .27 runs. With 210 runs, the Pirates are currently (June 2, 2005) fourteenth in the NL in runs scored. They are fourteenth even though the team benefited from a strong showing in May when they were sixth in the NL in runs scored for the month. For the season, the Pirates have averaged 4.09 RpG which lags behind the pitiful 4.22 RpG they produced last season, when they were thirteenth in runs scored in the National League. At .742, the Pirates are now fourteenth in the NL in OPS. They were second in May. But, even with this offensive increase, they managed to win at only .535 pace (15-13) during the month. Yet, the team is now (June) entering a difficult stretch of games against genuine pennant contenders drawn from the eastern divisions of both leagues. Given their schedule, June could easily prove to be the nadir of the 2005 season just as it was in 2004. If it becomes just that, the low point of the 2005 season, the cause will be the Pirate offense.

Since pitching is an organizational strength, trading veteran pitchers for hitting makes sense given the team’s poor offense and its propensity to undermine the team whenever it faces stiff opposition. I thus find it very difficult to identify the good sense, if any, expressed in any decision to keep Redman a Pirate.

Consider that,

  • The Pirates have at least two rather high-ceiling pitching prospects they will need to promote by next season, Ian Snell and Zack Duke. They will also have two of their valuable prospects returning from surgeries, John VanBenschoten and Sean Burnett. They also have two pitchers at Altoona who appear to be major league starting pitchers, Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm. These are the future pitchers of the Pirates, not Mark Redman and Kip Wells. At least two if not more than two will need to pitch in Pittsburgh next season. And we should expect them to pitch here, for it is they who will take the Pirates to respectability and beyond. They need to pitch in the majors. The time to move on the pitching prospects is now, as Wilbur Miller has recently argued.
  • Mark Redman is 31 years old, according to his Baseball-Reference profile. He’s also having his career year as a Pirate, which is to say that he’s enjoying a season which greatly exceeds his rationally predicted performance for the year (PECOTA had is ERA at 4.92 for the year although ZIPs was kinder: It predicted a 4.31 ERA. Redman’s actual ERA now stands at a rather light 3.14.). It’s unlikely that Redman will repeat his 2005 season next year, the final year on his current contract. It’s also unlikely that he would want to stay a Pirate. Therefore, his value to a contending team will never be higher than it is now while his value to the Pirates will only diminish as time passes. It follows that his exchange value for the Pirates is peaking at this moment. Trading him this summer or this winter would be the optimal strategy for a team striving to contend for a championship. The key question is, of course, ‘Will the Pirates make this trade?’
  • Whether traded together or separately, Wells and Redman should bring a talented group of players in return. Assuming Littlefield can manage this with Wells and Redman, the players he acquires this summer should be sufficient to compensate, in part, for the very defective player acquisition and development system he put into place since he became the Pirates’ General Manager. Wilbur Miller has just produced a devastating critique of Littlefield’s system that points to just this kind of trade as a necessary condition for revitalizing the Pirates minor league system. His work can be found here, here, here and here. What his analysis demonstrates is the utter dearth of prospects now playing for the Pirates’ lower minor league teams. This talent-gap can be attributed to the poor drafts produced by Littlefield and his Scouting Director, Ed. Creech. Because their drafts were poor, it follows that the Pirates have not provided for the future of the franchise during the Littlefield regime. Since the Pirates lack the financial wherewithal to acquire the kind of players they need to contend for a championship, it follows that the only ways the organization will acquire these players is by drafting them or trading for them.

    The analysis above suggests that the Pirates would do very well if they were to trade Mark Redman or Kip Wells for a high ceiling prospect or two or more. And it should come as no surprise that the rumors have already begun to circulate. It’s difficult to envisage the team failing to make such a trade or trades, unless, of course, one also accounts for one simple fact, namely, that the team has strongly committed itself to ‘winning games’ in the present term, to winning about 75 games this year and next. We can be reasonably certain the team has made this commitment because Littlefield has told us so. He’d rather win a few more games than trade Jose Mesa (or Matt Stairs, Reggie Sanders, Jeff D’Amico) for a prospect. He’d rather trade Kris Benson for Ty Wigginton and Matt Peterson instead of, say, Lastings Milledge. He’d rather have Wigginton because Wiggy would help the Pirates win games in the here and now while Milledge might never make it to the major leagues (he’s currently playing in the Florida State League). It is this kind of thinking, which is specific to the ‘Drive for 75’ strategy, that would keep Redman and Wells Pirates.

    Retaining Redman and Wells would help the Pirates realize their short-term business goals. Both look poised to have career years in 2005. If they have great seasons, they would surely help to build fan interest in this year’s team as well as next year’s team. But, refusing to trade Redman and Wells would not contribute in anything at all to building a contender for Pirate fans. With striving for mediocrity as the organization’s secondary goal, short- or long-term profit-taking being the primary goal, Redman and Wells would provide crucial parts of the 2005 and 2006 teams. They would provide the veteran presence, pitching skill and name recognition the Pirates seemingly value over position talent and offensive potential. Since they have a track record in the major leagues, they help give Pirate fans hope the team will finish near .500 this year or, perhaps, next year. But, that is the only hope they would provide. Keeping them would be a business decision, not a baseball decision. If one limits baseball decisions as those made in the spirit and for the sake of winning a championship, then holding on to Redman and Wells would be a business decision.

    Littlefield talks from both sides of his mouth

    Shocking, but true! We know he does because he has given us so much evidence over the years which demonstrates the truth of this claim. For instance, with respect to the impending Draft and the ‘strategy’ he and the team will use when they make their selection, Littlefield recently asserted the following:

    “To get the best player the quickest to big leagues,” said Littlefield. “We’re looking for the guy who has the most significant upside that is the closest to the big leagues.”

    He then goes on to claim that:

    “In the Major League draft you can’t draft for need,” said Littlefield. “The players are so far away from the big leagues. Bringing need into the equation will confuse things and probably give you a less-percentage chance of selecting the right players.

    Well, if the players drafted ‘are so far away from the big leagues,’ as Littlefield claims, then drafting the player ‘that is the closest to the big leagues,’ one part of Littlefield’s goal for the draft, would seem to be a meaningless goal. He too would be too far away from the big leagues because every drafted player is so far away from the majors by definition. Thus, sacrificing ceiling (talent) for time to the majors would be a senseless trade off for a GM who thinks as Littlefield claims he does. To avoid making this mistake, the team ought to draft the best available player. Of course, whomever the Pirates draft should also be a player who reflects their strategy, presumably a feasible one, for building a pennant contending team in Pittsburgh. Given this feasibility criterion and the reality of TNSTAAPP principle, which ought to be clear to Pirate fans from the injuries suffered by Burnett, Bradley and VanBenschoten, it is clear that the Pirates ought to draft a high-ceiling position prospect, all other things being equal.

    No comment

    The Pittsburgh-Post Gazette’s Paul Meyer recently interviewed Ed Creech, the Pirates’ Scouting Director. Creech informed us that

    “You have a budget and you go by the budget — like any other household,” he said. “It’s like a wife who doesn’t know what her husband makes and she has a budget. I’m the wife.”