16 July 2003

Bucked Bucs: Ex-Pirates Starting All-Star Game

My esteemed colleague over at the Illuminated Donkey, Ken Goldstein, posted some ABC (Actual Baseball Content) on said blog, regarding the All-Star game and more specifically, its impact on the World Series. He looks at the effects of home field advantage in the World Series over its history, and has an interesting theory about it…but I won’t spoil his fun. Go check him out.

Another esteemed colleague, we’ll call him “Tim” (as we always do, since that’s his name and all), sent me an email yesterday:

Hey Travo, 

Here's a topic for your blog... How about 2 former Pirate
pitchers starting the all-star game against each other?
Thank you, Cam Bonifay!


“Tim” is very observant, as this didn’t even occur to me until he mentioned it, but he’s right. For that matter, several pitchers have left Pittsburgh to have significant success elsewhere:

Tim Wakefield was 6-11 with a 5.61 ERA for the pirates in 1993, was out of MLB in 1994, but then came back and won almost a hundred games for the RedSox since 1995, with an ERA as good as or better than the league average every year but one in that span.

Denny Neagle, who went to the Braves in the trade for Jason Schmidt (I think) won 20 games for them in 1997, and 51 games in the three years after the trade, despite his lack of success since joining the Colorado Rockies’ staff.

Jon Lieber was allowed to depart the Pirates and join the Cubbies, where he became a 20-game winner in 2001. Of course he’s injured now, rehabbing from Tommy John surgery on the Yankees buck, but the Cubs got about 720 quality innings out of his arm in three and a half years before he broke down.

So what gives? Well, obviously, the first answer is money. Unlike Wakefield, Jason Schmidt was actually a pretty good pitcher when the Pirates had him, but they couldn’t afford to keep him, and so he was traded to the Giants for prospects or Wendy’s coupons or something in mid-2001, where he promptly became one of the dozen or so best pitchers in the National League. Take a look:

Jason Schmidt									

1996-01 PIT 129 799.67 6.2 9.35 3.62 6.71 44 47 4.39 101
2001-03 SF 58 384.67 6.63 7.04 3.25 9.36 29 13 3.06 134

And his salary jumped from just over $3 million to just under $5 million in 2001,
which essentially priced him out of the Bucs’ market.

Interesting notes about these stats:

1) Schmidt walks about the same number of batters now as he did then, so it doesn’t appear that he’s really gained control since his Pirate days.

2) Schmidt’s hits/strikeouts ratio essentially flip-flopped, perhaps an indication that he found a little more “heat” on his heater, allowing him to punch-out roughly two batters per game that would previously have gotten a hit. This is a really nice improvement, and more than a little responsible for the drop in his ERA, for which the new pitcher’s park at Pac Bell, or whatever it’s called this week, is also a little to blame.

3) The difference in winning percentage is largely owed to the ability of his teammates to actually hit. Eat your heart out, Kip Wells.

What about Loaiza? Well, as you probably suspect, since many of you may never have heard of him before this season, there wasn’t much to hear.

Esteban Loaiza									

1995-98 Pit 87 513.33 5.9 10.2 2.81 5.12 27 28 4.63 94
1998-00 Tex 46 307 6.67 10.7 2.73 6.07 17 17 5.19 98
2000-02 Tor 69 433.33 6.28 10.9 2.16 5.38 25 28 4.96 98
2003 CWS 19 130.1 6.85 7.4 2.15 7.33 11 5 2.21 200

Before this year, the esteemed Esteban was moderately…well, mediocre.

He’s never pitched 200 innings, never won more than 11 games in a season, never had a winning record in a season in which he pitched enough to qualify for the ERA title (162 innings), allows about 11 hits and 2-3 walks per nine innings, and only struck out about 5 or 6 per nine. M-E-D-I-O-C-R-E. Not terrible, just not a guy, at the age of 31, you would have expected to learn how to strike out two more batters per game without allowing any more walks, and to shave three and a half hits and three earned runs off of each box score.

And again, the Pirates weren't necessarily wrong to trade him. He was decent, but nothing special, and stood to make a lot more money as he entered arbitration. When you're the Pirates, you have to consider that. Especially if you want to be able to retain the services of, say, Kevin Young, Pat Meares, Mike Benjamin, and Al Martin.

Frankly, I don’t know what the hell happened here, but I’ll tell you this: I pity the poor fool GM whom Loaiza’s agent convinces to sign him for something like five years and $50 million, because you only catch lightning in a bottle once, and this was it.

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