I think I’ll go for a walk! (You’re not fooling anyone, you know.)

Sarah’s kind name-drop in her most recent Friday Football Foodie reminded me of how little I’ve written lately, in this space or others. I’ve been up to my hairline with real life. It’s just as well that I haven’t penned much. Between the Super Bowl and the Stanley Cup, I would have become That Guy sometime in July. Better to remain silent and be thought a gloating, arrogant douchetard, than to open my mouth and remove all doubt. Imagine how insufferable this town would be if the Pirates didn’t suck in historic proportion. Way to keep us grounded, Buccos!

That Foodie post also has me itching to try that breakfast enchilada recipe. Maybe the 15th. There aren’t many opportunities for game day breakfast food Back East. Especially when your team is the defending Super Bowl champion and in demand for prime-time games, not 1:00 starts called by CBS’ #4 crew. (See, there I go.)

The All-Guys-You’ve-Heard-Of Team

On last night’s Baseball Tonight, ESPN threw up a graphic showing what the Pirates have traded away since 2003, implying that we somehow gave up on a good team in the process. Other commentators have also noted the roster that could have been. The consensus looks a little something like this:

LF Jason Bay
CF Nate McLouth
RF Xavier Nady
1B Adam LaRoche
2B Freddy Sanchez
3B Aramis Ramirez
SS Jack Wilson
C Jason Kendall
P Ian Snell, Oliver Perez, Mike Gonzalez, Jeff Suppan (or some combination thereof)

Let’s start with the pitchers.

Anybody who’s followed the Pirates on this long journey through the desert knows that Snell, Perez, and Gonzalez were million-dollar arms with ten-cent heads. Gonzalez has pulled it together since he left, but Perez has been just as mercurial inconsistent for the Mets as he was for the Buccos. The jury’s still out on Snell. (It sounds like he needs help off the field, and I hope he gets it.)

Otherwise, you’ll find a whole lot of one-year wonders, at best. Every time we think we have an ace we can build a rotation around, he starts the following season with an allergy to first pitch strikes. Six starts later, after nibbling at corners and 3-run innings, we’re looking for the next guy to have a phenomenal second half. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now look at the position players in that line-up. With the exception of Ramirez and Kendall, those were the players we started the 2008 season with. Guess what?

THEY LOST!

Can any of you honestly say the Pirates were a 3rd baseman and a catcher away from contending last year? Or that they could overcome an inexperienced starting rotation and an ineffective bullpen? Were Ryan Doumit and Doug Mientkiewicz really the downfall of that team?

All of this talk about what the Pirates “could have had” is based on the misconception that the players we traded away were “stars,” when they were really just big fish in the little pond that is PNC Park. With the exception of Aramis, Bay, and Freddy, the Pirates didn’t trade away any stars in their prime. I’d argue that Brian Giles (who was traded for Bay) and Jack were on their way down when they were traded, and Kendall was never the same after that gruesome ankle injury.

Mostly, the Pirates have traded away Guys You’ve Heard Of.

What’s a Guy You’ve Heard Of? He’s the token All-Star from the perennial back-marker teams like the Pirates, Nationals, or Royals. He’s that one bright spot during a run of down years for the Padres or Astros. He’s the last man standing after the inevitable Marlins post-World Series fire sale. He’s Carl Crawford, pre-2008, or Jason Kendall, post-1999.

You build a team around Guys You’ve Heard Of, but you don’t build a team on them (as much as the Orioles try to, again and again).

That’s pretty much all the Pirates have produced since 1994, and that’s the great tragedy of the Bonifay/Littlefield Years. Our scouting and our farm system have failed to produce anything better than passable major league talent.

As I write this, the Pirates and Cubs are talking about a deal that would send Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow from one North Side to the other. Were these two pitchers ever going to be difference makers for the Pirates, short or long term? Who knows?

But there’s a good chance You’ve Heard Of them.

Microsoft has created Counter-Reality Distortion Field Tech

Gizmodo: Microsoft Gloats: Apple Begged Them to Stop Running “Laptop Hunter” Ads

DailyTech: Apple Begs for Mercy, Asks Microsoft to Stop Airing Laptop Hunter Ads

Engadget: Microsoft exec says Apple asked them stop airing Laptop Hunters ads

Ars Technica: Apple demanded Microsoft to stop its Laptop Hunters ads

Want to know what all these articles have in common?

None of them bothered to contact Apple for confirmation or comment. A Microsoft officer said it, so it must be true, right?

You know damn well that, had Steve Jobs or Tim Cook said something this outrageous during a keynote, those web sites would be in a balls-to-the-wall race to scoop the others for a comment from Microsoft.

Starting The Countdown To Seventeen

This idea started, as so many ideas have before, at a performance of Les Misérables. During the intermission of Saturday night’s performance, I checked the score of the Pirates-Phillies game, and saw that it was 7-3 Buccos. Right around the time Jean Valjean was rescuing an unconscious Marius from the barricade, unbeknownst to me, Matt Capps was blowing that 7-3 lead. When I walked through the lobby of the Benedum Center and saw “PHI 9 PIT 8” on my phone, I declared to the room at large that I was done with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Upon returning home, I had an idea: Could I project when the Pirates would lose their 82nd game of the season? On what date would they be mathematically ensured of their record-setting 17th consecutive losing season? To the spreadsheets!

I started out by determining the pattern of wins and losses that would result from the team’s current winning percentage. Then I applied that pattern to the Pirates’ remaining games, to see where Loss #82 would fall on the schedule. Then I decided to adjust the winning percentage by factoring in their record over the last ten games. After tinkering with that, I decided on a ratio of 75% overall winning percentage / 25% last-ten winning percentage, so a hot or cold streak could move the date a little bit.

(Oh, and if any sabermetricians are steaming from the ears, relax. This is just back-of-the-envelope scribbling, in the name of One Man’s Futile Act of Defiance against the McClatchy/Nutting regime. Frankly, they don’t deserve anything more serious than this.)

So what does the spreadsheet come up with?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009, against the Chicago Cubs, at PNC Park.

Pencil that in on your calendars, folks. And if it’s at home, don’t forget the rotten fruit.

I’ll be posting updates in my Twitter feed (@LegendOfVinnyT. You did notice that over on the left, didn’t you? All two of you who read my blog?) Watch for the #CountdownTo17 hashtag.

Been Dead Before

We were left for dead in July, when Marian Hossa went all-in with Detroit and the Lightning paid a king’s ransom for Ryan Malone.

We were left for dead in October, when all the talk was about the Runner Up Curse.

We were left for dead in December, when we could only muster 15 shots on Tampa Bay’s rotating-door defense.

We were left for dead after the Valentine’s Day Massacre that cost Michel Therrien his job.

We were left for dead in February, when a 1-0 win over the Islanders wasn’t enough.

We were left for dead when Washington won their first two games at Verizon Center.

We’ve heard this before. We’ve been here before.

We’re not dead.

Some folks have to be persuaded to upgrade.

The change notes from the new version of Google Mobile App for iPhone:

  • Speed improvements for search by voice.
  • Support for British and Australian English accents.
  • Various bug fixes.
  • Longer version number.
  • Ninja.

I wasn’t sure I needed to upgrade to this version, but come on, there’s a ninja.

I Turn to the East, and Listen…

Crosby what?

Crosby what?

I’m sorry, Philly, I can’t hear you.

CROSBY WHAT?

Explaining Microsoft’s New Ad Campaign

Steve Jobs is sitting at an intersection in his Mercedes-Benz, waiting for the light to change.

While he waits, Steve Ballmer pulls along side in a neon green Mitsubishi Lancer. Not an Evo, mind you. A bog standard front-wheel-drive Lancer DE with a booming subwoofer causing a buzz from somewhere around the trunk, a gaudy aftermarket rear wing, an obnoxiously noisy exhaust, and an unmodified 2.0 liter naturally aspirated four-banger making only 152 hp.

Jobs glances at the car next to him, rolls his eyes, and returns his attention to the traffic light. Ballmer revs his engine and looks back at Jobs, the time-honored challenge issued.

The light turns green, and Ballmer floors it. With a flatulent rasp, the Lancer surges forward as quickly as 146 lb.-ft. of torque will allow. The monotone engine note of a CVT echoes in the street. As the next green light streaks by overhead, Ballmer looks to his left, and the Silver Arrow is nowhere to be found!

Later that day, Ballmer brags to all his friends about how he dusted Jobs and his precious SL, about how he isn’t cool enough for a Mercedes, how much money he saved on a Lancer, how Mitsubishis are about performance, not flash.

But he missed one thing.

Jobs made a left turn at that light.

Nice To See That SI Maintains Some Objectivity

si-fair-and-balanced

Falling VORG*: Pens Trade Whitney

* Value Over Replacement Goligoski

“Personal reasons,” eh? Maybe I should have checked the Bruins schedule last night. (Update: ESPN’s Scott Burnside is reporting that Whitney’s mother had successful surgery to remove a brain tumor yesterday. The whole “family in Boston/Anaheim at Boston” thing turned out to be a coincidence, and one that’s working out well for the Whitney family in the end.)

The Pens have traded defenseman Ryan Whitney, his significant cap hit, and his deteriorating hands to the Anaheim Ducks for left wing Chris Kunitz and junior left wing Eric Tangradi.

I say “deteriorating hands” because Whitney’s play since returning from foot surgery has been typified by the sudden inability to make or receive a pass. I was never part of the crowd screaming for Whitney to hit somebody. Expecting a defenseman valued for his positional play and offensive skills to suddenly become Scott Stevens makes as much sense as expecting him to become a chipped ham sandwich. But puck-handling was one of Whit’s best assets, and he hasn’t been doing that well at all this year. He was whiffing on outlet passes. On the power play, he’d send dangerously vague floaters along the blue line to Gonchar. He might as well have been using a length of rebar for a stick, the way received passes would clank three feet away.

The final straw for Whitney was the emergence of Alex Goligoski this year. Both players are cut from the same cloth, but Goligoski is younger, cheaper, and (at least this year) more reliable. The only thing he was missing was experience and playing time, especially after Gonchar returned from his shoulder injury, so he’s back in Wilkes-Barre, a victim of the numbers game.

In return, we’re getting another attempt to solve the riddle of Sidney Crosby’s Scoring Winger, at least indirectly. Kunitz is a consistent 20-goal guy, but I’m not sure if he’d fit with Sid right off the bat. If nothing else, he’ll give Dan Bylsma a little more flexibility when line-building.

Tangradi was Anaheim’s 2nd round pick in 2007, and is in his second year of juniors with Belleville. A 6’4″ 20 year old from Philly(!), he’s posting strong numbers in a power forward role this year.

In salary cap terms, Ray Shero has opened up a little bit of space, but not much. Whitney’s cap value is around $4m, and Kunitz’s is $3.75m.

With less than a week to go before the deadline, this could be the move that sets up the move, if the Penguins are looking to be buyers. Here’s the playoff situation as it stands today:

  • The Pens are 2 points out of 8th in the East.
  • Buffalo has lost Ryan Miller indefinitely to a high ankle sprain, and they have no confidence in backup Patrick Lalime.
  • Nobody knows what to make of the Canadiens’ circus.
  • John Tortorella still has to stop the free-fall of the Rangers.
  • Florida has 2 games in hand, but 3 of their 4 games with the Pens are after the trade deadline.
  • Carolina is the forgotten contender, lurking in the shadows, with one more game against the Pens, in Raleigh in early April.

If I’m Ray Shero, I like my chances for the playoffs, but I also don’t think there’s a season-turning blockbuster deal out there. I’m anticipating some trades that keep the team competitive this year, while also freeing up cap space for the free agent market.