Battling Bucs has taken the day off and what is he doing with his day off watching the Pirates play of course. I am in attendance at the Pirates and Curve exhibtion today watching not only the current Pirates play but a group of players who hope to be Pirates one day possibly even as soon as later on this season. Due to my absence any breaking Pirates news such as waiver claims or release or trades that occurs today will be not be covered by this site until later into the day. I will however have a full recap of the game and note any observations I make during a post tomorrow. Thank you all for reading my site and with the start of a new baseball season right around the corner I just wanted to say I’m looking forward to another great year of baseball and I am hoping to provide at least a couple of interesting pieces this season.
Over the past few weeks and certainly in the next few days there will be many projections and predictions made how about players and teams will perform during the upcoming 2013 season. These prognosticators will try to include every bit of pertinent information they can into those guesses they make. I myself have done it when discussing my expectations for individual players and will do it tomorrow as I wrap up that series with a final look at the team as a whole and give my official record prediction. So many things can happen in the course of a season, players can digress, players can break out, teams cans struggle with injuries, etc but in the end all forecasters worth a grain of salt try to account for these things in various ways. The methods are usually not very accurate but its the attempt that is important.
Baseball however is not just about what we can predict (or at least try to predict) but rather it is about so much more. Chances are if you are reading this blog you are a Pirates fan like myself and if you are you are certainly not a fan because of what the forecasts say. No fan could survive being a Pirates fan if it was just about the numbers and the ebb and flow of the game. There is a certain magic about baseball that many can feel but only a few appreciate and which fewer yet understand. As for myself I feel it, appreciate it and as the years pass feel as if I am beginning to understand it more and more and yet my original point of this article was to explain it and that is an even taller mountain to climb as I know no one who can do so and give it justice.
It is a strange mystical force which causes all this. It goes by man names, some call it luck, some call it karma, some call it destiny, some call it hope but none of those words truly captures it. This mystical force causes luck, decides who is need of good and bad karma, picks outs the teams of destiny and keeps fans of even the Pirates hoping that this could be their year. This presence can’t be evaluated nor predicted nor accounted for in any sort of real tangible way. It is there but then again it isn’t. Some people including myself have gone to explaining this as an act from the baseball gods and in a way that truly is what it is. I’m not much of a religious person and don’t care to get into a religious argument with anyone but I feel this needs to be said. The God or God(s) or lack there of, you believe in or not, if they exist, do not care one iota about baseball but the something not of the world truly must and that force whatever it may be is what the baseball gods truly are. Unfortunately they are not a merciful judge and they act in strange some times incomprehensible ways, I mean they have punished the Cubs for over 100 years for not leaving a goat into a stadium. What us Pirates fans have been through for the last two decades, highlighted by the last two years is most certainly not fair. And yet here I am and here you are back thinking about the 2013 Pirates team and what it might just have in store.
Talent alone will only get a team so far. The Pirates true talent level as you will see on this and may other sites is usually said to be somewhere in between 75 to 85 wins. That is a large and rather important range of outcomes and where the Pirates fall on it or possible even off of it will ultimately be determined by the force I know as the baseball gods. On paper this Pirates season doesn’t look good but it looks better than a lot of the ones in the recent past but in reality this is a team that possibly more so than any other will rely on what is thrown at them or given to them by this mystical force.
For those of you who reached this point in my article I thank you. What I wrote above is most likely a bunch of malarkey and doesn’t really say too much or add much to the Pirates conversation but once every year I like to write out a piece more for myself than anything and try to figure out just what it is that makes baseball just so … so … baseball. Alas I have no other words to describe it.
A curious thought popped into my head the other day. As things stand right now the Pirates obviously need improved production to compete in 2013 and beyond but does that production necessarily have to come from the top? What about the bottom of the roster and the so-called replacement players. By replacement players in this sense I’m meaning the people who during a season get playing time but were not being counted on to do so by their teams. For the Pirates of 2012 this would be the Drew Sutton’s of the world. How bad comparatively is the Pirates production at that level.
I cam about thinking of this because of some numbers I’ve seen earlier which suggest the Pirates “hidden” offensive numbers, as I like to call them, were far below league average in 2012. Now what do I mean by hidden offensive numbers. Well the production from the 8 positions on the field are widely talked about but not the production from the pitcher or the team’s pinch hitters. WIthout going into too much detail as this isn’t what this post is really about the Pirates last season got a .245 OPS from their pitchers and a .513 OPS from their pinch hitters, the NL average was a .330 OPS from pitchers and .655 OPS from pinch hitters. I think those numbers speak for themselves so I’ll move on from here.
All this presented a real problem though because how does one begin to measure what a replacement player is? If the replacement players do well then they become not replacement players and that is something I’m not interested in measuring. I could spend a while trying to figure out a good way to make a distinction or I could find some assumption to make and while it may not be very accurate it would give me a place to start. I choose to go with the assumption route and the assumption I made is that teams, brace yourselves for this, aren’t going to give bad replacement level players a lot of plate appearances. Shocking I know. So I decided to look at the production of players with fewer than 100 PA. For the purpose of this discussion since I’m talking bottom of the roster offensive production I decided to include pitchers in my numbers. When I say production what I am looking for is a good overall snapshot of how the players did. For me there is no better stat for that than WAR. It has its problems yes but for a general discussion like this it is a good place to start.
Now the other issue here is I didn’t just want to find out the Pirates numbers I wanted to compare it to other so I choose their 4 closest competitors the rest of the NL Central. Since this is looking more ahead than behind I excluded the Astros from this discussion. Below are the numbers on how each of the 5 teams performed.
Cardinals: 21 players, 763 PA, 2.0 WAR
Reds: 17 players, 679 PA, 0.7 WAR
Brewers: 25 players, 721 PA, 0.5 WAR
Cubs: 24 players, 623 PA, -1.4 WAR
Pirates: 24 players, 811 PA, -2.3 WAR
Now just a couple of notes on each team.
The Cardinals strong number is fueled by Pete Kozma who posted a strong 1.4 WAR in just 82 PA and is also helped out by Lance Berkman receiving only 97 PA while posting a 0.4 WAR.
The Reds number is helped by Xavier Paul who posted a 0.5 WAR in 96 PA.
The Brewers number is arrived at with no real oddities although Alex Gonzalez, who they were counting on to be their starting shortstop is included here with 89 PA and 0.3 WAR.
The Cubs number is kept from being worse by Dave Sappelt who posted a 0.9 WAR in 78 PA. The also have Marlon Byrd who posted the lowest WAR of the group with a -0.8 WAR in just 47 PA
The Pirates have only two players in this group with a positive WAR, Jordy Mercer at 0.4 and James McDonald at 0.3. The lowest total belongs to Nate McLouth at -0.5 WAR.
*Note: The WAR totals are fangraphs WAR just to avoid any confusion
Now the Pirates replacement players as I have defined them were 3.0 wins worse than the division winning Reds and 4.3 wins worse than the wild card winning Cardinals. That is of course in itself not enough to make up the difference between the club but if the Pirates can cut that difference down in 2013 they become 2-3 games closer to those teams and that is a start. Another thing worth noting is that the Pirates lead the division in PA given to this group of players. Maybe this points to a lack of back-end talent and trying to figure out what works or maybe it points to some bad luck. I’m not sure but obviously you want more at bats going to the upper part of your roster. We can’t really determine much from this data but one thing I think is perfectly clear and that is the depth of the Pirates was an issue in 2012. The Pirates have made some moves to address that problem in 2013 and let us hope it works because if so that is a step in the right direction. The heavy lifting is still going to have to be done by the Pirates top end players but the guys at the bottom can make that load a little lighter by simply not being a hindrance.
One of the many goals I have laid out for myself is to get a better grip on how baseball’s finances work. I always hear people complain about it and occasionally I complain about it as well but in all honesty I’m guessing very few people know that much about it. Sure they can share with you their opinion on if baseball should have a salary cap or not but can they tell you much about how revenue sharing works? Or even about how much revenue a typical team brings in? Forbes does their annual evaluation of each franchise’s worth and that is a good read but it is really just a snapshot and doesn’t contain too many details. There is some information out there concerning baseball’s finances but it is really difficult to get a grasp on it, so that is my goal to attempt to gain the best understanding of it I possibly can.
All of this is good of course but it raises a question on just where exactly does one begin. I could read the CBA to find out more about revenue sharing or read up on the new mega TV deals, teams like the Dodgers just signed but for me at least to really begin to grasp this concept I need to start with something small and work my way up. Which is exactly what I did by taking a look at what makes a team a small market team or even a large market team for that matter? The easy and technically correct answer is physical market size but I don’t think that tells the whole story. Boston’s population is relatively average in the grand scheme of baseball markets but yet they aren’t just simply an average market. So another factor obviously needs to be considered and to keep things simple it should be fairly straightforward. What is needed is a measure of baseball interest surrounding a particular team. This can be a very difficult thing to measure so to keep things simple I opted for a crude but fairly accurate measurement, revenue from ticket sales. This information as best I was able to search wasn’t readily available but what I was able to find was an average ticket price for each team and an attendance figure for 2012 so by multiplying those 2 together I am able to creat a rough estimate.
The next step was to figure out the best way to combine these two measurements and like I usually do and plan to do a lot doing my attempt to understand baseball’s finances I kept things simple. I rated each team’s ticket revenue and metro population on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being for the highest and 5 the lowest (All numbers are based upon the 2012 season). The scale I used for estimated ticket revenue is 1 – 120+ million, 2 – 80-120 million, 3 – 60-80 million, 4 – 40-60 million, 5 for anything under 40 million. For metro size I used 1 – 8+ million, 2 – 5-8 million, 3 – 3.5-5 million, 4 – 2.5-3.5 million, 5 – for anything below 2.5 million. I then added the rankings up and the team’s with the lowest combine score should be the large market teams, whereas the teams with the highest combine score are the small market teams. The results were as followed
2 – Yankees, Cubs (143 million)
3 – Phillies (175 million)
4 – Mets, Dodgers, Angels, Red Sox (129 million)
5 – White Sox, Rangers, Nationals, Marlins, Giants, Tigers (111 million)
6 – Astros, Blue Jays, Braves, Twins, Cardinals (85 million)
7 – Mariners (82 million)
8 – Athletics, Diamondbacks, Orioles, Rockies, Brewers (77 million)
9 – Padres, Reds, Rays (67 million)
10 – Pirates, Indians, Royals (68 million)
In parantheses I put the average 2012 opening day payroll of the teams in each group. As you can see there is some noise at each end but overall the payrolls start to decrease as you move down the scale as one would expect. It becomes even more evident when you combine the tiers into an upper, middle and lower class.
Upper (2-4) – 140 million
Middle (5-7) – 98 million
Lower (8-10) – 72 million
It should be noted the upper class is actually skewed down some as the Dodgers began 2012 with a payroll of only 95 million and also the Cubs were only at 88 and the Mets at 93 million. Restating the averages with the estimated 2013 opening day payrolls we get:
Upper (2-4) – 153 million
Middle (5-7) – 98 million
Lower (8-10) – 75 million
It should be stated the “middle” includes the Astros and Marlins who have payrolls at ridiculously low levels, removing them from the discussion raise the average of the middle group up to 110 million.
As for how all of this realtes to the Pirates it tells us who their peers are in terms of market. They are the Reds, Rays, Padres, Indians and Royals. Last year that group saw a low of 55 million (Padres) and a high of 82 million (Reds). Realisticly speaking the Reds probably represent the high end of what a team in this group could have realistically pushed their payroll to in 2012. Overall it appears salaries and there by revenues are seeing a slight uptick in 2013 so it is probably reasonable to say that the high end of the Pirates current group is 85 million going forward. All of this doesn’t mean the Pirates payroll can never rise above 85 million though. The Reds are going to surpass that threshhold in 2013 and the Brewers were in the Pirates class just a few years ago and appear to be regressing back to it now. The Pirates if they are successfully and embraced by the city have a chance to rise up from the lower class and into the lower middle class and in that group a payroll of slightly over 100 million for a season or two is realistically possible.
Going into 2013 the Pirates project to have a payroll right around 68 million. That is definitely far below the 85 million max they should be able to sustain for a season or two in their given climate but is perfectly reasonable when compared to their peers. The average projected 2013 opening day payroll of the lower class teams excluded the Pirates is 76.7 million but when we remove the 3 teams who are making a run in 2013 (Orioles, Diamondbacks and Reds) the average payroll of the teams in the lower class is 68.4 million (this includes the Brewers, Rockies, Athletics, Rays, Padres, Indians and Royals). The Pirates are in no position to say 2013-14 is their window (which is essentially what the Reds, Diamondbacks and Orioles are doing) so a payroll just slightly below 70 million feels about right for 2013.
Just wanted to wish all of my readers a very happy new year. Battling Bucs took some time off for the holiday season and is planning on a very light posting schedule for the month of January, a event filled month from the Pirates could change that rather quickly though. I’ll have some summary posts and I’m reworking on a rather large project for me which I’ll talk about more later. So best wishes to all this year, I hope 2013 is your best year yet.
Exciting news here at Battling Bucs. I was able to get tickets to the Pirates and Curve exhibition game on March 30th of next year. It will be my first live look at the 2013 bucco squad and will allow me to catch a glimpse of the new AA crop. I am hoping to get my first view of Taillon but right now I’m not sure if they are going to have him pitch or not.
Regardless of whether Taillon pitches or not I will make sure to provide any notes I manage to take on both squads involved. Since both teams are Pirates related it will be of very much interest to myself and I am sure to the vast majority of my readership. I think this will be a great experience for myself and will hopefully allow me to provide some additional value to all my loyal readers.
No one is going to like this post but I think it needs stated anyway. Nutting is a vilified owner in Pittsburgh with some just cause and Lemieux is hailed as a great owner again with some just cause. However Nutting just completed his first six years as majority owner of the Pirates and I was curious how much the team improved in those six seasons compared to the previous six seasons. Just for fun I thought I’d compare that improvement or lack there of against Lemieux and the Penguins improvement or lack there of in his first six seasons as owner. Now remember this is dealing with just the 6 seasons before and after each owner respectively took over their franchise. To keep things simple I’m going to use winning percentage (wins/games played).
Six Years Before Nutting (2001-2006): 415-555 (.428 winning percentage)
Six Years With Nutting (2007-2012): 405-566 (.417 winning percentage)
Note: It seems the Pirates have essentially stayed the same. There is a slight regression which of course is now what we would like to see. One would hope that the franchise would have made more significant steps forward. That is definitely a failure on Nutting’s part. Now lets see what a “good” owner can do in six years.
Six Seasons Before Lemieux Took Over (1993/94-1998/99): 238-162-60 (.583 winning percentage)
Six Seasons After Lemeiux Took Over(1999/00-2005/06): 179-274-39 (.403 winning percentage)
* Ties are considered .5 win and .5 loss
Note: Um well it doesn’t appear a “good” owner really helped out within six years. The Penguins were vastly worse under Lemieux’s first six years as owner. Granted he had a much higher standard to live up than Nutting did with the Pirates but wow that is certainly far from acceptable as well.
Bottom Line: So can we read anything into these numbers? Not really a whole lot, no. In reality they are fairly meaningless but one thing we can take from them is that judging an owner on six seasons worth of data probably isn’t a good idea. I mean the Penguins over Lemieux’s first 6 seasons were actually a tad worse than the Pirates have been over Nutting’s first 6 seasons and Lemieux started with a playoff caliber team and Nutting started with pretty much the same talent level he continued to throw out there. There are of course other elements to consider here, Lemieux took over a team with a large amount of debt but Nutting also took on a fair amount of debt, not as much as Lemieux though. Unlike Lemieux, Nutting actually had some hand in the decision-making prior to officially taking over as owner but then again Lemieux was gifted enough to actually go out and play after acquiring the team. We could go point, counter point all day like Lemieux took over when the sport was in a financial mess can be countered with yes but Lemieux’s first 6 years include a salary capped year where the Pens could more easily compete and Nutting’s doesn’t. I’m not really interested in all that though, my only point in bringing up these numbers is that more than 6 years worth of data is needed before an owner should be applauded or vilified.