News, Notes and Quotes (April 27, 2005)

One of these things is not like the other; one of these things doesn’t belong

With the Pirates well on their way to a 13th straight losing season, Bob Smizik of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette penned a column last week entitled: “Pirates’ evaluation of talent leaves future in jeopardy.” It’s hard to argue with that headline, of course, and Smizik’s main point is also a fine one. He writes about how the Pirates lost a total of five prospects on waivers and through the Rule 5 draft a couple years ago, while a number of thoroughly mediocre players with limited potential took up space on the team’s 40-man roster.

As he says, “All of these players, who the Pirates believed not good enough to be on their lowly 40-man roster in 2004, are good enough to be on the 40-man rosters of better teams in 2005.” Among the five players were Walter Young and Chris Shelton, two intriguing young sluggers who are currently hitting .441/.492/.644 and .345/.435/.586 at Triple-A, and Duaner Sanchez and Jeff Bennett, two 25-year-old relievers who combined for a 4.04 ERA in 151.1 innings with the Dodgers and Brewers in 2004. And who is the fifth player Smizik’s column is based on the Pirates losing? I’ll let him tell you:

Guerrier, a journeyman at best, was claimed by the Minnesota Twins. He pitched most of last season in the minors. This season he’s pitching in relief for the Twins, a team some are picking for the World Series.

Smizik goes on to bemoan the fact that the Pirates wasted roster spots protecting Carlos Rivera, Tony Alvarez, Jason Boyd, and Mark Corey, saying:

None of the four has anything but a slim chance of playing in the majors, let alone excelling. Yet all four were kept ahead of Young, Sanchez, Guerrier, Shelton and Bennett.

Since I’m sure most of you are wondering, the “Guerrier” Smizik is referring to is Matt Guerrier. Yes, the Matt Guerrier. And no, you’re not alone if you still don’t know who that is. No offense to Guerrier, but as a Twins fan I couldn’t help but laugh when I read that. If not for Grant Balfour‘s spring forearm injury, Guerrier would have begun this season playing at Triple-A, just like fellow organizational fillers Rivera, Alvarez, Boyd, and Corey. Beyond that, I’m fairly certain that if the Pirates really wanted Guerrier back that badly, they could call up Terry Ryan, offer him something in the way of a decent prospect, and get their prized possession back.

Also, since when has saying someone is simply pitching for a good team been a legitimate way to show how valuable a player they are? Not pitching well or even pitching in a key role, just literally pitching for them. In other words, exactly what does Guerrier mopping up in long relief for “a team some are picking for the World Series” have to do with his value as a player? Would he be any less valuable to the Pirates if he were mopping up for a bad team? Would letting him go have been an even bigger mistake if he were mopping up for, say, the Red Sox?

If you’re writing a column about mistakes a team’s management has made in not holding on to talented players and you can only go four names down the list before you have to bring up Matt Guerrier, you may want to rethink the premise of your article. Guerrier, while certainly a serviceable pitcher, is 26 years old and has a 5.27 ERA in 27.1 big-league innings. As soon as the Twins’ pitching staff gets healthy, he will almost certainly find himself back at Triple-A, where he has a career ERA of 3.98 in 487 innings. Smizik, conveniently, mentioned nothing about Guerrier’s performance or qualifications other than the team he currently pitches for.

With all that said, if Smizik wanted to use Guerrier as an example of how the Pirates have screwed up over the years, he certainly could have. All he’d have to do is point to the 2002 trade that sent Damaso Marte from the Pirates to the White Sox for — you guessed it — Matt Guerrier. Marte has been one of the most dominant relievers in baseball since joining the White Sox, going a combined 13-8 with 28 saves, 50 holds, 236 strikeouts, and a 2.52 ERA in 221.1 innings. And you know what else? He pitches for a team that is currently leading the Twins by four games in the American League Central!

Swisher’s Small Sample Size Stats

After going 3-for-5 with two homers and three RBIs against the Orioles in the second game of the season, Nick Swisher has cooled down considerably. In fact, he has hit just .203 with a .305 slugging percentage in the 16 games he has played since then. Within those struggles are some pretty intriguing numbers.

For one thing, after walking 111 times in 145 games between Triple-A and the majors last season, Swisher has drawn a grand total of just three walks in 18 games this season. Take a look at just how strange his 2005 walk rate looks when compared to the rest of his pro career:

YEAR       G      BB     BB/G
2002      62      39     .629
2003     127      78     .614
2004     145     111     .766
2005      18       3     .167

Obviously 18 games is an extremely small sample size, so I’m not saying Swisher’s lack of walks is anything more than a weird stat at this point. Still, it’s pretty interesting. To put his lack of walks into some context, the hackiest hack in baseball last year, A.J. Pierzynski (19 walks in 510 plate appearances), drew .145 walks per game.

In addition to not walking, the switch-hitting Swisher had been having a lot of trouble hitting from the right side of the plate (before last night). In 54 plate appearances batting left-handed (against right-handed pitching), Swisher is hitting a very solid .275/.315/.510 with three homers and three doubles (and three walks!). However, in 13 plate appearances batting right-handed (against left-handed pitching), Swisher was batting .000/.000/.000. Yes, he was 0-for-13 with zero walks and four strikeouts. Now, I couldn’t track down his always elusive minor-league splits from last year, but I do know that Swisher went 5-for-10 with two doubles and five walks for a .500/.667/.700 line as a right-handed hitter in his September callup with the A’s last season.

Sadly (or not, if you care more about the A’s than me getting a good night’s sleep), almost as if he could sense that this column was about to be posted mere minutes after the A’s-White Sox game last night ended, Swisher went 2-for-4 against lefties Mark Buehrle and the aforementioned Marte, making my little “these stats are interesting” thing look pretty silly. Ah, the beauty of late-night deadlines, West Coast games, and small samples. At least he didn’t draw another walk.

Yes, but is it better than sex?

I stumbled across an interesting quote while surfing local newspapers for my Rotoworld gig Sunday morning. From an article by Marc Topkin in the St. Petersburg Times:

Reliever Trever Miller couldn’t conceal his excitement after striking out Mark Bellhorn with two on to end Boston’s eighth-inning threat, pumping his fist and taking a small hop off the mound.

“Any kid that ever thought of doing drugs, just go out there one time and strike somebody out with second and third against the Red Sox,” Miller said. “There’s no better feeling than that. You know, you don’t need alcohol or drugs for that kind of feeling.”

An interesting thought, of course, but Dock Ellis may tell you that Trever Miller is only partially right.

Some Random Links

  • The boys over at MetsGeek.com had a good interview with ESPN.com’s Rob Neyer last week. My favorite Neyer response? “ESPN is run as a money-making enterprise, and in the end I have to respect the company’s desire to make money, considering if they don’t make money eventually I’ll stop getting paid.” That’s just such a great sentence on so many levels.
  • Speaking of something being great on so many levels … “Dusty’s Dugout Dice.” I defy you to click that link, look at the picture, and not laugh. Then, after you’re done laughing, actually look at the picture on the box, the names on the dice, and what’s written below the dice. Photoshop at its finest, without question.
  • Friend of THT Bradford Doolittle had an interesting look at an impossibly complex topic in the Kansas City Star earlier this week, attempting to quantify the contributions of big-league managers. There are about a billion different things you could potentially rank managers by, half of which are tough to figure out using the available stats associated with them and half of which don’t have available stats associated with them at all. With that said, Bradford’s article is a good read and his final rankings (an unexpected name is at the top) are certainly worth a look.
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