Monday, November 05, 2007

Pirate Shi*

Buried in one of Buster Olney's blogs was a reference to a story by Rob Biertempfel in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The story is about the Pirates' search for a new manager, and it includes some comments by team president Frank Coonelly in front of the Sewickley Senior Men's Club. Coonelly made some comments about the new executive staff and the new direction the Pirates were taking. Then, he went on to another topic. I'll let Biertempfel explain:

A group of more than 100 men, many of them World War II and Korean War veterans, listened to Coonelly. Many of them nodded when Coonelly said the Pirates had become undisciplined in recent years.
Coonelly said he especially noticed it during the final home game of the season. When "God Bless America" was played during the seventh-inning stretch, all of the St. Louis Cardinals -- but only two Pirates -- stood at the top of the dugout with the hands on their hearts.
"That was disgusting to me," Coonelly said. "It's an example of the culture that somehow had taken hold here. I believe leadership matters. Loyalty matters. Respect for the game matters."


This comment is offensive to me on two levels. The first is the suggestion that true patriotism is standing on the top dugout step during a baseball game. There are so many ways a person can actively express their patriotism, and I don't put standing up and putting a hand over your heart at the top of the list. You'd think that after several thousand years, we would have learned that it is one thing to put on shows of true dedication and quite another for them to mean anything at all.

This is why I resent the implication of Coonelly and so many others that patriotism is some sort of contest to see who can buy the most bumper stickers, pay the most attention to patriotic songs and find the most articles of clothing with the nation's flag on it. True patriotism is shown through action and day-to-day dedication. While many of those who confuse true patriotism with mindless jingoism may indeed have the country's best interests at heart, it's just as easy for someone to pretend to be patriotic be waving flags and singing songs -- and doing nothing else. And sadly, those people would apparently fool Frank Coonelly into thinking that they're true patriots.

But I'm not here to discuss hollow jingoism or those who believe that flags, songs, and hot dogs are more important than a people and their ideals. No, I'm here to discuss Frank Coonelly's truly offensive suggestion that a lack of patriotism is somehow contributing to the Pirates' problems.

Think about it: if you were to make a list of everything that is wrong with the Pirates today, you could probably come up with several dozen ideas pretty quickly. And in the scheme of things, would an insufficient team presence on the top step of the dugout during the 7th inning stretch really merit a mention? And yet that's exactly what Coonelly has done: he's mentioned it and suggested that it somehow has something to do with the problems within the Pirates organization.

Now, let's be fair: I doubt Frank Coonelly really believes that a greater sense of patriotism would turn the Pirates into the Red Sox. It wouldn't resurrect Honus Wagner, spontaneously generate a farm system, or go back in time and suggest that Cam Bonifay take up gardening. I'm sure that Coonelly is an intelligent enough man to realize that the Pirates' organization is arguably the worst in baseball for several very good baseball-related reasons.

So if he realizes this (and I'm sure he does), why does he insult us by trying to connect the Pirates' woes with some perceived lack of discipline as manifested by inappropriate fealty to the 7th-inning stretch? The obvious answer is that Coonelly was speaking to his crowd; if there was indeed a large contingent of older veterans from foreign wars, it's understandable that you would tell them what they (presumably) would want to hear. I always wonder what a baseball person talks about when they go to those events, except just saying the same thing they say in the newspapers. I guess now I know.

In short, Coonelly is setting a new record for a Pirates executive for scapegoating the team's problems. It's probably the least convincing attempt to scapegoat I've ever come across, but that's what it boils down to. Even if you are someone who believes that true patriotism is measured by deference to symbols and songs, I doubt you would use that to explain away the poor performance of a baseball team.

So, Mr. Coonelly: you say that a lack of attention to "God Bless America" reflects the lack of leadership, loyalty and respect for the game in Pittsburgh? Do you think that more trips to the top step of the dugout would help turn things around? Perhaps you think that the Pirates went into the toilet in 1993 because someone accidentally let their American flag touch the ground and then forgot to burn it afterwards.

Frank, I don't even live in Pittsburgh, and I've had enough excuses for why this team sucks. This team sucks because it's been run at a level of incompetence unmatched in recent baseball history. Sure, there have been worse teams and teams with worse leadership, but those teams rarely maintain their incompetence for 15 years.

Do you want to know why your team sucks, Mr. Coonelly? Would you like a chance to correct your hideously inappropriate misstatement? Here's a start:

DRAFT RECORD: PITTSBURGH PIRATES

XXX (y): John Smith (1,682 G; 822 w/PIT 1994-1996)

XXX indicates draft round; (y) indicates overall pick
Games played include career games, then games and years as a Pirate


1986:

1st (1): Jeff King (1201 G; 894 w/PIT 1989-1996)
2nd (29): Mike Walker (5 G; 0 w/PIT)
6th: Tom Goodwin (1288 G; 0 w/PIT)
10th: Stan Belinda (585 G; 285 w/PIT 1989-1993)
ALSO: Rick Reed, Mike Mordecai, Tommy Shields

King wasn't exactly a franchise player, but he was a good all-around third baseman who stayed with the team for his good years. Goodwin didn't sign with the Pirates. Belinda was the Pirates' closer during their run as NL East Champions (1990-1992) but was just slightly above-average.
And although King was a fine player, it's worth noting that when the Pirates selected him #1 overall, they passed on Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Matt Williams, Kent Mercker, Greg Swindell and Roberto Hernandez.

1987:
1st (2): Mark Merchant (o G)
4th: Wes Chamberlain (385 G; 0 w/PIT)
7th: Mickey Morandini (1298 G; 0 w/PIT)
ALSO: Ben Shelton, Brian Williams, Kurt Knudsen

Not a very good showing, all told. If you can't ANYBODY from one draft year to the majors for more than a cup of coffee, then it's not a good draft. Morandini would have been nice to have, but he didn't sign; the Phillies got him in '88.
1988: Avert Your Eyes
1st (13): Austin Manahan (0 G)
2nd: Keith Richardson (0 G)
3rd: Glen McNabb (0 G)
8th: Tim Wakefield (511 G; 37 w/PIT)

Finally, a success story. King was a success, too, but he was the #1 overall pick, and it's hard to screw that up. Wakefield was a true developmental success story; drafted as a first baseman, Wakefield was converted to the mound. He was slow to get things going until he introduced the knuckleball into his arsenal.
But as much credit as we give the Pirates for drafting and developing Wakefield, we must also note this: Wakefield played for them for two seasons and has been with the Red Sox ever since. Did the Pirates get anything in return? No -- they simply released Wakefield in 1995. Betcha they'd like to have that one back.

1989:
1st (18): Willie Greene (655 G; 0 w/PIT)
2nd (48): Rich Aude (62 G, all w/PIT 1993-1996)
2nd (59): John Hope, P (24 G, all w/PIT 1993-1996)
35th: Steve Cooke, P (104 G; 103 w/PIT 1992-1997)
ALSO: Paul Wagner

Greene was considered to be a fine talent, but he never really rose to his perceived potential. And it should be said that although the Pirates got little out of Greene, they did "win" the trade that sent him to the Expos in exchange for Zane Smith. Smith was great for the Pirates down the stretch in 1990 and gave them good seasons in '91 and '92 as well. So that's a fair deal for a shortstop/third baseman who was never really better than "pretty good." Again, the Pirates weren't doing much with their high-level picks after the first round. Taken after Aude and Hope in the 3rd round were Tim Salmon, Jerry DiPoto, Shane Reynolds, John Olerud, Phil Nevin, and Denny Neagle.
For a 35th-round pick, Steve Cooke was a success. But when you're getting better production after pick #100 than you are before (see 1988), that's an issue.

1990:
1st (5): Kurt Miller, P (44 G, 0 w/PIT)
2nd: Mike Zimmerman, P (0 G)
7th: Kevin Young (1205 G; 1155 w/PIT 1992-1995, 1997-2003)
13th: Brian Shouse (353 G; 6 w/PIT 1993)
15th: Rick White (613 G; 129 w/PIT 1994-1995, 2005)
Not that Miller was any great shakes later in his career, but I hope the Pirates enjoyed 1 year of Steve Buechele, because that's all their 1st-round pick netted them.
Finally, with Kevin Young, the Pirates got a player who would be a starter for more than two years, their first since drafting Jeff King four years earlier. Young was drafted as a third baseman, but eventually shifted to first. His batting line is pretty unimpressive as a first baseman during an offensive renaissance (258/324/438 career), but even more shameful is how long the Pirates kept him at first even after it was clear he wasn't helping anything. But the WORST part is that he made nearly $25 million over his last four seasons in Pittsburgh, a perfect example of giving a lot of money to an INCREDIBLY replaceable player.
And note once again that a pair of decent relievers in the middle rounds of the draft turned out to be more prductive than the Pirates' first 6 picks combined.
To save time, I'll only note those players who actually reached the major leagues. If I had to discuss every high-round Pirates draft pick who never made it out of the minors, we'd be here for a while.

1991: If Nothing Else, Dusty Baker Was Happy
1st (24): Jon Farrell (o G)
7th: Tony Womack (1303 G; 351 w/PIT, 1993-1998)
39th: Dustin Hermanson (357 G; 0 w/PIT)
At what point does your lack of success with first-round picks become a problem?
Womack was a lot more famous than his production merited; he was useful enough, but eventually got traded off to the Diamondbacks once his arbitration salaries started rising. Smart move to get rid of such a mediocre player, but then why draft him in the first place?
As for Hermanson, my guess is that -- with the low round selection -- the Pirates doubted they could sign him. They didn't, and he went to Kent State.
1992:
1st (23): Jason Kendall (1682 G; 1252 w/PIT, 1996-2004)
Finally, finally, FINALLY a truly successful draft pick, the first since Jeff King in 1986. Kendall was an All-Star at a premium defensive position and was a fine hitter. His contract extension was a little much, but that's for a different discussion. And thank God for Kendall, because otherwise, the Pirates struck out in '92.
1993:
1st (34): Jermaine Allensworth (342 G; 238 w/PIT, 1996-1998)
Ah, Jermaine Allensworth. The most important tool is hitting.
Only three other players from the Pirates' '93 draft made it to the majors.
1994:
1st (11): Mark Farriss (0 G)
9th: Jimmy Anderson, P: (122 G; 102 w/PIT, 1999-2002)
46th: Brandon Larson: (109 G; 0 w/PIT)
Larson didn't sign. No other player from the Pirates' '94 draft made the majors.

1995:
1st (10): Chad Hermansen (189 G; 139 w/PIT, 1999-2002)
3rd: Bronson Arroyo, P: (159 G; 29 w/PIT, 2000-2002)
38th: Brandon Larson (109 G; 0 w/PIT)
With Arroyo, the Pirates get the first moderately useful player from the draft in 3 years. Of course, Arroyo didn't become useful until the Pirates lost him to the Red Sox via waivers. To be fair, when the Pirates waived him, Arroyo was almost 26 and looked for all the world like a busted prospect. But still, it reflects poorly on your system when someone thrives immediately upon leaving town.
The Pirates were nothing if not persistent. Again they drafted Larson and again he didn't sign. But it worked out all right, since he never became much of a big-leaguer.

1996:
1st (1): Kris Benson, P (195 G; 126 w/PIT, 1999-2004)
5th: Tike Redman (432 G; 392 w/PIT, 2000-2005)
17th: Mike Gonzalez, P (186 G; 168 w/PIT, 2003-2006)
39th: Josh Bonifay (0 G)

On one hand, Benson is a relative blessing to the Pittsburgh farm system. On the other hand, he had two above-average years from 1999-2000 and has since become an average-ish guy with injury problems. The good news is that the Pirates traded him away before his salary became exorbitant. The bad news is that they got Jose Bautista and Ty Wigginton in return. And once again, the Pirates passed on some pretty good players to take Benson, but none of them were real superstars; the '96 draft's biggest stars have been Eric Chavez and Milton Bradley.
Redman was another toolsy and ultimately useless pick. His 330/374/483 performance as a part-timer in 2003 has extended his shelf-life as a 5th outfielder, but his career batting line is 281/315/386, and that's including the aberrant 2003.
And yes, Josh Bonifay is the son of then-Pirates GM Cam Bonifay. Some baseball traditions never change . . .

1997:
1st (8): J.J. Davis (106 G; 80 w/PIT, 2002-2004)
3rd: John Grabow (271 G w/PIT 2003 - )
30th: Mike Gonzalez (186 G; 168 w/PIT, 2003-2006)
Add Davis to the list of semi-prospect 1st-round flameouts. Still on the board when the Pirates took Davis: Lance Berkman, Chase Utley, Jon Garland, Michael Cuddyer, Jeff Weaver, Aaron Cook, Rick Ankiel, Randy Wolf, Scott Linebrink, Adam Kennedy, Jack Cust.
Well, at least the Pirates are drafting their own crop of decent middle relievers. Just tryin' to look on the sunny side, here. And this time they signed Gonzalez.

1998:
1st (15): Clint Johnston (o G)
17: Dave Williams, P (82 G; 66 w/PIT, 2001-2005)
18: Joe Beimel, P (319 G; 164 w/PIT, 2001-2003)
The Pirates reached a new level of futility when none of their first sixteen draft picks from '98 even reached the majors.

1999:
2nd: Ryan Doumit (219 G w/PIT, 2005 - )
5th: J.R. House (29 G; 6 w/PIT, 2003-2004)
Even though he's 26, Doumit looks like a fairly promising catcher. He's no Jason Kendall, but he is coming off a 274/341/472 season in 83 games. He won't make any All-Star teams, but even a somewhat-reliable everyday player only comes along once every 5 or 6 years in this organization.
Was the MLB Catcher's Union secretly subsidizing the Pirates' draft picks this year? House isn't a bad 3rd-string catcher, but if a 3rd-string catcher is your 2nd-best player taken in any amateur draft, you're in trouble. And as you can see, it wasn't just a fluke performance by the Pirates baseball people.
2000:
1st (19): Sean Burnett, P (13 G w/PIT, 2004)
3rd: Chris R. Young, P (99 G; 0 w/PIT)
20th: Jose Bautista (334 G w/PIT, 2004 - )
25th: Nate McLouth (284 G w/PIT, 2005 - )
26th: Ian Snell (82 G w/PIT, 2004 - )

Burnett is still in the Pirates' system, but he'll be 25 next season and hasn't pitched in the majors since that 13-game cup of coffee in '04.
All right, with Chris Young, that's four quality starters the Pirates drafted from 1986-2000 (Wakefield, Arroyo, and Benson being the others). It would of course, be more promising if they had thrown more than 192 of their 964 career games with the team. Young was traded to the Expos for Matt Herges. ::wince::
The Pirates let Bautista go and, as mentioned before, he came back to them as part of the Kris Benson trade. Bautista is a defensively-challenged, 27-year-old, bad-body infielder with a career 240/329/395 hitting line. And to think this one almost got away . . .
McLouth isn't a bad player to get in the 25th round, but he's also not an everyday starter, but is stretched into the role because . . . well, it's the Pirates.
With Snell added to the mix, this is the deepest Pirates draft in years, which says a lot more about the Pirates than it does about the players involved. Snell isn't young and he isn't great, but he appears to be reliably above-average, and may yet give the Pirates some good, cheap pitching without attracting the Kris Benson price tag.
I should point out that we're entering the point where some still-promising players may not have reached the majors yet, or at least they haven't finished developing.

2001:
1st (8): John Van Benschoten (17 G w/PIT)
3rd: Jeremy Guthrie (48 G, 0 w/PIT)
4th: Jeff Keppinger (122 G, 0 w/PIT)
8th: Chris Duffy (193 G w/PIT, 2005 - )
11th: Stephen Drew (209 G, 0 w/PIT)
20th: Zach Duke (68 G w/PIT, 2005 - )
33rd: Chris Shelton (249 G, 0 w/PIT)

Van Benschoten was promising, or so I'm told, but then his arm went kaboom, and now he's a 27-year-old fringe starter.
Guthrie would be a great fit for the Pirates staff right now, but he didn't sign. The Pirates were the second team to draft Guthrie, and it was the Indians who finally got him to sign after the 2002 draft.
Duffy is a poor man's Nate McLouth. Ouch.
Stephen Drew? Well, kudos at least for aiming high (and sending Scott Boras into a fit of hysterical laughter).
Zach Duke is another solid starting pitcher, and the Pirates actually seem to have gotten a few of those in recent years. I can no longer ignore the relatively good showing the Pirates have gotten from the low rounds of the draft; if only they could do remotely as well with the upper rounds. But based on what I've heard, this poor performance in the early rounds should be at least partially blamed on upper management's reluctance to sign either expensive players or high-ceiling players.
Shelton was lost to the Tigers in the 2003 Rule V Draft. I've heard stories about one Rule V draft -- perhaps it was this one -- where the Pirates left so many good players unprotected that officials from other teams were openly laughing at them during the draft.

2002:
1st (1): Bryan Bullington, P (6 G w/PIT, 2005 - )
7th: Matt Capps, P (165 G w/PIT, 2005 - )
We could say that the Pirates are good at drafting decent middle relievers. But then we'd have to point out that -- relatively speaking -- the EASIEST thing in the world to develop is a decent middle reliever.

2003:
1st (8): Paul Maholm, P (65 G w/PIT, 2005 - )
2nd: Tom Gorzellany, P (46 G w/PIT, 2005 - )
Wait -- with Snell and Duke and now Maholm and Gorzellany, the Pirates are actually developing a -- gasp -- decent, homegrown starting rotation! And there's even the possibility that some of these guys will get better! Sarcasm aside, that's good news for the franchise. But we should also wait to reserve judgment until we get a grip on all the great players the Pirates passed on drafting in these years.
2004:
No one from the team's 2004 draft has reached the majors.

We'll stop there, since few players from the 2005-2007 drafts have reached the majors, and even then it's too early to get a good read on their abilities at the big-league level.

But let's sum up, shall we, the 18 drafts period from 1986-2003:

SUPERSTARS:
Nil

STARS:
Tom Gorzellany?
Jason Kendall
Tim Wakefield

SOLID REGULARS:
Bronson Arroyo
Kris Benson
Willie Greene
Jeff King
Pat Maholm
Ian Snell
Chris Young

USEFUL PARTS:
Stan Belinda
Ryan Doumit
Zach Duke
Mike Gonzalez
Chris Shelton
Tony Womack
Kevin Young

You could quibble with some of the designations. But this is simply an unacceptable haul from 18 years of the amateur draft, especially considering the great number of players who either never played for the Pirates or else were quickly lost to another team. Other than Kendall, the player on the list who got the most money from the Pirates was Kevin Young. Yay team.

So there you are, Mr. Coonelly. I could go on and examine the organizational track record in international scouting, free agency, and the trade market from 1986-2003, but take my word for it that I'd come away with similar conclusions. So the next time you speak publicly about your team's woes and are tempted to draw a corollary with patroitism, please -- don't. Or else I will be back -- with even more statistics.

1 comment:

Branan Whitehead said...

Please, please, PLEASE send five copies of this (in separate envelopes) to the Pirates' front office, trim it and send it to every single letter to the editor/opinion section you can find. This jackass deserves to have you spit in his face.