I’ve been a fan of Pittsburgh professional sports my whole life. Well over half of my life my uncle has had season tickets to the Steelers. Countless summer days have been spent driving to and from Three Rivers Stadium, PNC Park, Heinz Field and yes, even the Mellon Arena once. I will always be passionate about Pittsburgh sports because those are powerful moments that I vividly remember from my childhood: Chuck Noll retiring, Bill Cowher’s spittle, Lemiux and Jagr scoring 50 goals, Sid Bream trying to ruin my childhood and making me cry…. I could go on for hours.
Sadly for me as a Pittsburgh sports fan, my passion lies in baseball. “Why is this sad?” you ask. It’s sad because as a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, I’ve been subjected to 17 straight losing seasons (with an 18th all but guaranteed by our ownership at this point). Being passionate about a team that wins less than half of their games for 17 consecutive years is psychologically and emotionally exhausting. However, it has made me a much better fan of baseball overall.
I spend most of my summer watching what similar small market teams do that make them successful (like the Tampa Bay Rays), and then scrutinize the shit out of everything that the Pirates do that doesn’t make sense (which is pretty much everything). Baseball is a stock market-like game of numbers. You want to spend less money on a player, but by the end of the season you want their numbers to outproduce what you’re paying them. Then, you can either trade them before the Break or offer them arbitration, which they can accept or deny. If they deny arbitration, when someone else signs them, you receive a compensatory pick, which hopefully you can spin into a solid prospect at the tale-end of the early rounds (in other words, you want to buy low and then sell high).
Let me give you an example. Let’s choose a random player… oh, say… former Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth. (NOTE: This is actually not random. I’ve been in a days-long discussion about how we shot ourselves in the foot trading Nate) We drafted Nate McLouth in the 25th round of the 2000 MLB draft, which means there were a bajillion other ball players taken ahead of him who were all supposedly better and, as a result, made more money than Nate. Nate kicked around in the minors until 2005 when we called him up and by the mid-way point of 2007 he had become a full-time starter for us. Not bad for a guy taken in the 25th round, right?
Well, it gets better. In 2008, Nate was our All-Star representative and won the Gold Glove (the best defensive outfielder) all while hitting .276/26/94/113/23 (AVG/HR/RBI/R/SB). That’s a pretty dammed good season by all measures. Now Nate did all of that while only making $425,000 (sorry for those of you who don’t understand baseball economics, but that is a pittance in the big leagues). Now, after that season, Nate was so good that our organization decided to lock him into a 3 year deal (with a club option for year four) worth 15.75 million dollars. More expensive, yes, but certainly a bargain at an average of 5 million a season if he puts up those gaudy numbers year-in and year-out. Golly, Nate was so good, our new general manager had this to say about him after he locked him up for potentially four years:
“We agreed to the deal because we believe in Nate and believe we’re going to feel as strongly four years from now as we do today. We get cost certainty as we move forward. The player certainly gets the security of the money that’s coming his way. He can go out and relax and play and we can build around him.” -Neal Huntington, a total douche.
So 2009 rolls around and 168 at bats into the season, Nate was doing what he does (.257/11/31) when the Atlanta Braves came knocking at the door. The Braves outfield had been decimated by Andruw Jones and too many Big Macs, so they decided they needed some help to supplement things in their grassy knoll.
“Certainly Pittsburgh isn’t the place to come to look for outfielders. We only have Brandon Moss and Nyjer Morgan in the corners. Neither of those guys are the caliber of outfielders you need. And we just locked Nate up for four years. You mustn’t think we’d trade him,” Huntington must have said.
Actually, he must have said the exact opposite of something like that. So Neal Huntington, who just months prior had signed Nate McLouth to an extension and said that Pittsburgh was going to build around him (much like Tampa Bay did with Carl Crawford or Florida with Hanley Ramirez) and that he strongly believed he’d feel the same about Nate four years down the road traded him. It turns out he didn’t feel the same four months down the road.
And who did we pick up in that trade? Nobody. I would take the time to post the players and their average/below average stats in the minor leagues to show you how bad they are, but, as previously stated, I’m now emotionally and psychologically exhausted from wasting all of that effort explaining why Neal Huntington is a total douche. Suffice it to say, we made a terrible trade and Neal Huntington made a total ass out of himself. He certainly alienated himself from a lot of Pirates fans who were looking at him under a microscope prior to that because, well, we’ve have a lot of shitty general managers before him. Now it’s his turn on the chopping block.
Now, over at jeffpearlman.com I’ve been making this same point, and I have been using actual data to show why the Nate McLouth (and other trades) are actually not good trades… and people are arguing with me about it. I actually have numbers that show them that what we’re doing as a franchise isn’t good and they STILL are arguing with me about it. God, I don’t know what’s more frustrating at this point: being a Pirates fan or being a Pirates fan and knowing that there are other Pirates fans out there that are so dumb that they think we’re doing good things right now.
Go check out my point and everyone else’s stupid counter points here while I go sit in the corner and think about the upcoming baseball season in Pittsburgh.
I couldn’t come to terms with not posting some of those stats that I was too emotionally drained to post on here. So here were some of my favorite ones:
Player A compiled those numbers over the last two seasons (2008-2009). Player B compiled those stats since he became a full time starter and before he was traded to a new team last season (2007-2009).
Kinsler is in year three of his 5 year, 22 million dollar contract that maxes out in 2013 with a 10 million dollar club option or 500k dollar buyout.
McLouth is in year two of his 3 year, 15.75 million dollar contract that maxes out in 2012 with a 10.65 million dollar club option or 1.25 million dollar buyout.
I have yet to hear one person say that Ian Kinsler, perennially ranked in the top 30 of baseball’s 50 greatest players, is overpaid. And he’s been on the disabled list numerous times since his rookie year. I don’t wanna knock on the guy’s misfortune, but, I’m just sayin’.
So here’s what I want you to do if you doubt the statistical value of Nate McLouth and how much we undercut ourselves when we traded him: go to any knowledgeable baseball fan that you know. Ask that fan, “If your favorite team was presented the option, would you want to add Ian Kinsler to your roster tomorrow?” Keep track of how many say yes.
When you look at Nate McLouth’s last 1094 at bats in Pittsburgh, the only players who have put up comparable numbers over their last 1000 or so at bats are Kinsler and Curtis Granderson. When you factor in stolen bases, McLouth beats out Granderson by twenty (and Granderson strikes out a significant amount more).
Honestly, maybe it’s the curse of anonymity in the market he’s played in so far that’s kept Nate so far under the radar. Maybe it’s the position scarcity of Kinsler playing second base versus Nate playing in the over-saturated, power-happy outfield. Whatever the case, if you ask every GM in baseball if they would want Ian Kinsler on their roster, not-a-one is going to tell you no. I’m not sure how many GMs, outside of Frank Wren, really understand statistically what Nate McLouth has to offer a Major League team.