First Pitch: Random, Speculative Thoughts

A couple unrelated ramblings . . . .

**MLB apparently is considering changes to the postseason.  There’d be two more teams in each league make the playoffs, meaning 14 total, seven in each league.  The top team in each league would get a bye and the others would play three-game series.

My first reaction to this notion was to think of the day when the NHL had 16 of the 21 teams reach the playoffs.  I always wondered what was the point of the regular season.

Anyway, the primary point of the change, no doubt, would be increased TV revenue.  It’d also get rid of the stupid one-game wild card format.  But the most far-reaching change would be to alter the success cycle.

The media, of course, will adopt the narrative of the changes addressing the supposed problem of “tanking.”  It’s a much more complicated issue, and much less common, than what sportswriters portray, but that’s another subject.  We’ll expect to see more teams in the playoff chase at the deadline and, hence, more teams willing to employ second- and third-tier veterans.  For this reason, MLB shouldn’t have any trouble getting this proposal past the union.

If it works this way, I’m not sure it’ll be a good thing for the Pirates.  In theory, they’ll have more motivation to reach the postseason.  In reality, though, it could encourage them to continue their practice of aiming only at .500.  A .500 record could easily be enough; only seven teams in each league finished above .500 in 2019, with one other at .500.  Inevitably, a sub-.500 team would make the playoffs.

Commissioner Manfred likes to talk about how payroll doesn’t matter.  His favorite current example is the 2019 Rays and A’s.  But the fact is, payroll has a large influence on postseason success; no bottom-quarter team has won a postseason series in the two-wild-card era.  In the age of superteams, just making the postseason doesn’t make you a real World Series contender, and that’ll be even more true if this proposal goes through.  But it’ll give MLB cover when folks point out that there are still only a few teams truly in the running for a title.  Personally, I want to see the Pirates making the extraordinary effort required to compete for the title, not just for the occasional three-and-out.

I’m not even sure there’ll suddenly be a bunch more teams in the playoff chase at the deadline.  Think back to 2019; the Pirates were just two games out of first at the All-Star break.  The only team that was clearly out of it by early July was the Marlins.  It took an epic collapsening to keep Neal Huntington from pretending that they were going to go for it.  Does anybody really think the Pirates would have been buyers at the deadline if there’d been two more playoff spots to aim for?

**We’ve all spent time wondering about the paucity of actual changes in the Pirates’ front office.  I don’t doubt that’s the result of Ben Cherington coming on board so late and that we’ll see more changes in the fall.  That’s what happened in Baltimore with Mike Elias, who was hired at almost the exact same time, a year earlier, as Cherington.

The changes in Pittsburgh, though, might not be as extensive as those in Baltimore, which was notoriously uninterested in analytics under Dan Duquette.  Cherington has taken great pains to state that the Pirates have a lot of good people, specifically including the analytics department.  He’s also said that the front office’s main task is to communicate information to the players more effectively than has been done.  (Judging by numerous comments I’ve seen from the players, there’s dramatically more communication happening already.)

If you’re working in a hierarchical structure, you’re going to run into a certain personality type in management.  It’s the person who hoards and monopolizes information and opportunity.  This sort of manager will acquire relevant information but refuse to let anybody else see it or make use of it.  He’ll also refuse to let anybody else make decisions.  This way, nobody else has the opportunity to succeed.  I’ve seen situations where perfectly good people simply weren’t allowed to do their jobs because the person above them didn’t want the competition.

It’s quite possible that the Pirates were mired in a situation like this.  It’s hard to miss the fact that the one high level front office person they fired was Kyle Stark (aka Neal Huntington’s Evil Twin), and they did so before Cherington even started on the job.  It’s possible that they have a lot of good people who weren’t allowed to do their jobs; that’s consistent with some of the portrayals of Stark that we’ve seen.  So things could improve fairly soon, without large-scale changes.

To point out the obvious, this is just speculation.  What I’m doing here is trying to create a plausible scenario where things start getting on the right track fairly quickly.  We’ll see whether that’s the case.

SONG OF THE DAY

DAILY QUIZ

For players with three-word names, type in only the last word.


THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

By John Dreker

Two former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date and one significant trade to mention.

On this date in 1928 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded pitcher Vic Aldridge to the New York Giants in exchange for future Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes. Aldridge was 34 years old at the time of the trade and had won 15 games for the Pirates in 1927, helping them to their fourth World Series appearance. There were signs of a drop in his stuff, as he posted his highest ERA that season at 4.25 and he got hit hard in his only WS start. Grimes was also 34 years old and had gone 19-8, 3.54 in his only year with the Giants. He was asking to be traded due to his unhappiness over how he was handled late in the season by manager John McGraw. Grimes was a former Pirate, starting his career with the team in 1916.

This trade was a one-sided win for the Pirates. Aldridge continued his downward slide and his Major League career was done before the season ended. He went 4-7, 4.83 in 16 starts and six relief appearances. He played the next season in the minors and was out of baseball by 1931. Grimes lead the NL in wins in 1928 (25), complete games (28) and innings pitched with 330.2 while posting a 2.99 ERA. He finished third in the MVP voting as well. The following season he went 17-7 3.13 and this time finished fourth in the MVP voting. Prior to the 1930 season Grimes was holding out for more money so the Pirates shipped him to the Boston Braves in return for pitcher Percy Jones. Grimes had two more good seasons,then bounced around between four teams during his final two seasons, finishing his career back in Pittsburgh for a third time.

Trey Beamon, outfielder for the 1996 Pirates. He was a second round draft pick of the Pirates in 1992. He played 32 games in rookie league ball after signing, hitting .296 in 108 AB’s. In 1993 he moved to full season ball as a 19-year-old and hit .271 in 104 games with 64 runs scored and 19 stolen bases. He jumped over high-A to Double-A for 1994 and hit .323 with 69 runs scored and 24 stolen bases. He was in Triple-A by age 21 and hit .334 with 74 runs scored and 18 stolen bases in 118 games, but did not get a September call-up. Back in Triple-A for 1996, he hit .288 with a career high 55 walks. The Pirates called him up in August for 24 games and he hit .216 with six RBIs. Just prior to the 1997 season he was part of a four-player deal with the Padres. He played two more seasons in the majors, then another eight years in the minors, retiring as a player in 2006.

Hal Rice, outfielder for the 1953-54 Pirates. He began his big league career in September 1948 with the St Louis Cardinals. Rice was with the team as a backup outfielder until they sent him to the Pirates in exchange for longtime infielder Pete Castiglione on June 14, 1953. Rice played left field almost everyday for Pittsburgh and hit .311 with 42 RBIs in the last 78 games of the season. He struggled to start the 1954 season, hitting .173 through mid-June and he had played just 28 of the team’s 58 games. The Pirates traded Rice to the Chicago Cubs exactly one year after they acquired him from the Cardinals. In return they received outfielder Luis Marquez, who only played 11 games with the Pirates. Rice played with the Cubs through the end of the season, then finished his pro career with two more years in the minors. He spent three full seasons (1943-45) serving in the military during WWII. He had a .260 Major League average with 162 RBIs in 424 total games.

Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.

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