Touching BasesMarch 02, 2010
Stakeholders - Pittsburgh Pirates
By Jeremy Greenhouse

From now through the beginning of the regular season, we will not be posting in-depth round-tables previewing each division like we have in years past. Instead we will feature brief back-and-forths with "stakeholders" from all 30 teams. A collection of bloggers, analysts, mainstream writers and senior front office personnel will join us to discuss a specific team's hopes for 2010. Some will be in-depth, some light, some analytical, some less so but they should all be fun to read and we are thrilled about the lineup of guests we have teed up. Today it's Joe P. Sheehan on the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Jeremy Greenhouse: As an alumnus of Baseball Analysts, is it difficult dealing with the constant presence of fans and media?

Joe Sheehan: No, but I get confused with the other Joe Sheehan a lot.

JG: Can you describe Neal Huntington's style as general manager, and if you'd like, you can also compare him to a character from "The Wire."

JS: I've never really seen "The Wire."

JG: I recommend it.

JS: I really don’t have anything to compare him to. He’s been very open to different ideas. I don’t work directly with him, though. It appears he listens to the different sides of an argument whether it’s what (director, baseball systems development) Dan Fox has to say or a scout. It seems as if he’s not wedded to one side or the other. I don’t want to over-state what I do, as I only have a slightly closer perspective than an outsider. I don’t want to make it sound like I know what Neal’s doing. It appears he’s doing what we would expect—using all forms of information he can get to make informed decisions. Some work out, some aren’t 100%, but that's the nature of decisions. It's very comforting to know that the process appears to be sound.

JG: Turning to baseball, I'm most interested in a Pirates' outfield that has a lot of potential. Can you talk about your expectations for all of them?

JS: Andrew McCutchen is great. Watching him last year come up from the minors without missing a beat to replace a lot of the production we were getting from Nate McLouth was exciting. He handles himself really well. His style defensively is fun to watch. He hit a couple triples that when watching the game, it’s like, "Oh my God. He hit another gear going second to third." Garrett Jones, I don’t want to say came out of nowhere, since we liked him as a minor league free agent, but I don’t think anybody expected him to do what he did this year at the start of last year. Even though he was old for a rookie, he has a shot of building on what he did last year. As for Lastings Milledge, for a long time Milledge was known with Cole Hamels for their facts, but he's coming along. I’m not really that connected with the player development side, but everything you hear since we've acquired him, the work he's put in, everything was positive. He's still on the younger side. While he hasn’t had the tremendous success at the Majors that he has at AAA, we hope that he can continue some of that minor league success going forward. Ryan Church is solid, and he'll find some at bats. And our Rule 5 pick John Raynor is going to contribute, and we've got Brian Myrow banging on the door at AAA too, depending on whether he plays first base or the outfield.

JG: I assume you still work with pitchf/x data, so what minor league pitcher do you most look forward to pitchf/xing?

JS: This year, probably Brad Lincoln because he’s the closest out of our minor leaguers. Rudy Owens is another interesting guy, but in terms of guys who are close, I’d probably say Lincoln. Rudy was in A-Ball this year, so he's further away. In the future, I'm looking forward to seeing all the high school pitchers we drafted last year.

JG: I was doing some pitchf/x work of my own and I noticed that Ryan Doumit can’t layoff pitches below his knees. He probably already knows he doesn't have the best plate discipline, but if you find something like that, will you approach the player or how does the team go about doing that? What's that process like?

JS: I haven’t interacted with any players. It’s a little tough to go to a player with very specific instructions, because it's almost like you don’t want to make them over-think things. If you tell any player that a pitcher is throwing 55% fastballs, 40% something else, 5% something else, then the right play is to wait for the fastball. But if you tell that to the player, and he doesn't get fastballs for two at bats, then he’s not going to trust you anymore. Over a huge timeline you would be right, and you’d come out ahead, but if for two at bats he’s listening to you and you get bad luck, you lose some trust and he'll think you don’t know what you’re talking about.

JG: So do you filter information through the coaching staff?

JS: That’s primarily where the interaction will take place. Dan or an advanced scout, there's something they might see, and they might communicate it to (pitching coach) Joe Kerrigan or (batting coach) Don Long. You can tell the coaching staff different stuff you can't tell players because if you're overwhelming the player, it's slowing their at bat down, and they're missing pitches. So you can talk to the coaching staff in more detail. I would think that that’s more the way the process happens.

JG: What are your and the Pirates' goals for this season?

JS: It’s to improve. It's to be better than we were last year. That's the goal for every team every year. I don’t know if there’s a number you want to say if you don’t win "x" games, you fail, and if you win "x" games you succeed. We want to get better. We want to improve our depth at the minor league level and get better at the major league level. I want to get better at my job. Everyone wants to get better at their jobs. If we do that for a good stretch of the season, the talent, wins and results will come.

Joe P. Sheehan is the Baseball Operations Data Analyst for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Before that, he wrote the Command Post column for Baseball Analysts.