The Pirates have the second best record in the majors right now. At roughly the one-third mark, we can’t ignore the fact that they appear to be squarely in the National League mix. So we’re left with the Pirates-fan dilemma: convince ourselves that this year is different (and the Bucs break the streak and push for a spot in the post-season); or resign ourselves that it’s not (and hang our heads, waiting for another epic second-half collapse). And as fans, the choice is ours…
But here’s what I’ve really been thinking about… Joel Hanrahan and Alex Presley. Neal Huntington has made two trades since last July that have, again, proven the power of the small-market paradigm.
For teams that simply have no money to spend, gambling must be a high-stakes and fearless endeavor. Conventional wisdom in the major leagues of baseball tells us that there is a certain financial investment needed for production at certain positions. If you don’t have much cash, then you simply decide which positions you’ll pay and leave the rest to chance. But the A’s and Rays (and now apparently the Pirates) keep shining the spotlight on this fallacy. In certain circumstances, the cost/value relationship is skewed. This is most obviously displayed in the case of the closer. There is no need to pay a man $10M a year (or even $5M) to throw 70 innings. I don’t care what anyone thinks of the ‘closer mentality’ or any of that. If you can give the ball to a guy that is more likely to get 3 outs before imploding (or having a stroke on the mound), then you have a closer. Same with the 8th inning closer (read: set-up man). Take a look at this…
Jason Grilli: 24.2 IP, 38:5 K:BB, 0 HR, 1.09 ERA, 0.69 WHIP
Mark Melancon: 29 IP, 29:2 K:BB, 1 HR, 0.93 ERA, 0.79 WHIP
Together: 53.3 IP, 67:7 K:BB, 1 HR, 1.01 ERA, 0.75 WHIP
’05 Mo Rivera (#2 CY voting): 78.1 IP, 80:18 K:BB, 2 HR, 1.38 ERA, 0.87 WHIP
Joel Hanrahan: 7.1 IP, 5:6 K:BB, 4 HR, 9.82 ERA, 2.18 WHIP
Brad Lincoln: 15.2 IP, 15:11 K:BB, 3 HR, 6.89 ERA, 1.85 WHIP
Together: 23 IP, 20:17 K:BB, 7 HR, 7.83 ERA, 1.96 WHIP
On the offensive side of things, the trade that saw the invaluable and versatile Brad Lincoln leave manifested the swap of lefties Travis Snider and Alex Presley in the outfield. (No stats needed for that one…)
I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to say that the two trades that reconfigured the back end of the Pirates’ bullpen has done more to put the team in the position they’re in right now – near the top of the entire league – than anything else. Effectively, the Pirates are batting 9 times against their opponents’ 7. An average offense can win with those odds most days. And it also creates more come-from-behind opportunities (which we’ve seen the Pirates take advantage of plenty so far).
In baseball’s continual battle of David v. Goliath, chalk this up as a GM victory for Pittsburgh. It’s still early (always the caveat), but it’s a great example of a shrewd tactician capitalizing on the fiction of big money economics.