Thursday, February 27, 2014

Penguins Game 59 Recap - Montreal 6, Penguins 5

I think overall this is what you expected after a really long break from the Olympics. Both teams seemed kind of out of order and the defense wasn't very good and the goaltending wasn't very good. The end result was a combined 10 goal game that went to the shootout. This shouldn't be what you should expect for the rest of the season but over the next few games I wouldn't be surprised if things were still a little out of sorts. Not playing for a couple of weeks is going to throw you out of wack and, well, here we are. At least the Penguins got a point.

The Penguins gave up the first goal of the game and once they tied it less than four minutes later they never trailed again. The problem with this is that every time the Penguins took the lead the Canadiens tied it like seconds later. No, literally, seconds later sometimes.

I think we all have an idea about what was bad. I mean for stretches it looked like players were lost on the ice and the offense really held serve, as you expected it to. The Penguins penalty kill was all out of sorts as it gave up two goals in four Montreal chances.

There was some good. James Neal sniped a goal and had a really nice all around game, Brandon Sutter scored a shorthanded goal to give them a 4-3 lead, and the power play scored twice. I know the power play only went 2-for-5 but they were so good all night. They were making crisp passes and moving the puck really well and could have had a few more goals. Really fun to watch the Penguins on the power play.

Deryk Engelland was playing defense tonight but he jumped into the rush and scored a pretty nice goal. I don't know if it was because he had played so much wing this season but he looks a lot more confident jumping in on the rush and putting the puck on net. He did that tonight and it resulted in a goal.

Olli Maatta continues to be outstanding. If you didn't watch the Olympics then you missed how good he was. He just keeps getting better and for someone that is only 19 years old it really shows why the Penguins were surprised he lasted so long in the draft. He scored a power play goal tonight and while he did have a few blemishes on the defensive end it's hard to sit there and way that he hasn't been one of the brightest spots for the Penguins this season.

Uncharacteristically bad performance by the Penguins in the shootout. Marc-Andre Fleury hardly ever gets beat and he did one time and the Penguins were unable to beat Peter Budaj. Budaj looked lost for much of the game and was fighting the puck but in the shootout he looked like a totally different guy. Sucks.

Penguins Game 59 Preview - vs. Montreal Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens

7:00 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Last Penguins Game:
February 8. 2014 - New York 4, Pittsburgh 3 (SO) [Recap]


Probables

Pittsburgh (40-15-3) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Brian Gibbons
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Tanner Glass - Brandon Sutter - Chuck Kobasew
Taylor Pyatt - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Defense
Olli Maatta - Matt Niskanen
Rob Scuderi - Robert Bortuzzo
Brooks Orpik - Simon Despres

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

Montreal (32-21-7) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Brendan Gallagher
Danny Briere - Tomas Plekanec - Brian Gionta
Alex Galchenyuk - Lars Eller - Rene Bourque
Travis Moen - Ryan White - Dale Weise

Defense
Josh Georges - P.K. Subban
Andrei Markov - Alexei Emelin
Jared Tinordi - Douglas Murray

Goaltender
Peter Budaj


Season Series (Tied 1-1)

January 22, 2014 - Montreal 5, Pittsburgh 1



November 23, 2013 - Montreal 3, Pittsburgh 2




Stats

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Alternative NHL Point Systems

About a year ago I put together a post that outlined a couple of different ways that the NHL could redo their points system. If you want a more in depth explanation you can go read that post but I will cut/paste some of the stuff I wrote then because I still think it rings true.

Other than that my opinion is pretty much the same. The NHL points system is flawed. It does not reward teams for winning in regulation and could possibly reward teams for going to the shootout too much rather than winning games in regulation or in the five minute overtime. Currently the NHL rewards two points for any sort of win. That is a regulation win, overtime win, and shootout win. You also get a point for just getting to overtime. So, essentially you could tie in regulation and in the first five seconds of overtime give up a goal and you still get a point.

This is all well and good and the shootout can be an exciting thing but I am not sure this is the best way to reward teams that don't rely on a glorified skills competition to win. If this is so good then why aren't playoff games relegated to shootouts? I get the point, you can't play all night games in mid February with an 82 game schedule. That's fine, I don't mind the shootout, but lets not reward these teams with the same amount of points that you get for winning in regulation.

With that said, here are the way the standings look over the Olympic break with the points system the NHL uses now:



Looks pretty clean. The top three teams each make the playoffs and the other two are wild cards and can come from either division.

Now, I looked at a few other options. The first is what the Olympics uses where teams get three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime/shootout win, and then one point for an overtime shootout loss. Here is what that looks like:



This changes things up a little bit. You can see that Philadelphia and Montreal go from the third seed in each of their divisions up to the second seed and over in the West Chicago takes a massive jump in the standings over St. Louis. Now they are tied and with the Olympic point system they are six points ahead. Sure, that is only two regulation wins but why should the Blackhawks be punished for winning games in regulation.

This would actually change the playoffs in the West as this format gives Dallas one of the wild card spots. Currently they are tied with Phoenix for the final spot. Dallas has three more regulation wins than Phoenix. This rewards that.

The second look I give is if you eliminate loser points all together and give teams three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime win, and one point for a shootout win. Here is what that looks like:



This does a little changing of playoff position too. Montreal would move up a spot as would Colorado. The biggest loser here is Washington who would drop from 5th in the standings to seventh thanks to losing a ton of overtime games.

Also this format would change the playoffs a bit. Columbus would actually get in over Detroit in one of the wild card spots thanks to the Red Wings getting a ton of points from losing in overtime.

The final one I looked at was the winning team in regulation or overtime would get two points while a shootout winner would get one point with the loser getting no points. Here is how that looks:



Again, some of the same changes here. There are playoff implications with this one as Detroit would be on the outside looking in while Columbus would get in.

I guess for me the idea of a loser getting a point really just doesn't make sense. When you are talking about getting the best teams in the playoffs they should be who was able to win more games and do that within regulation. Rewarding teams for losing might not get that done. Prime example this year is Washington. Right now they are one point back from the playoffs and they have 15 regulation wins in 59 games played. How is that worthy of being in playoff contention?

The three point game really gets me too. During the stretch run teams that are battling for that last playoff spot in the current format, it makes it nearly impossible for teams to jockey for position and make up any ground since teams are playing for one point almost on a nightly basis.

This is what I came up with on that matter last year:

This (three point games) is one that a lot of people don't talk about but is a real problem. Adam Gretz did a nice piece on teams that were pretty much out of the playoff race just over the halfway point of the season. In another piece he brought up a huge stat in another post that stated two big time stats:

-- Going back to the 2000-01 season, a span of 10 full seasons, there have been 62 teams that have been more than five points out of a playoff spot on December 20.

-- Only four of them (or a little over 6 percent) were able to overcome that deficit to qualify for the postseason: The 2010-11 Sabres (eight points), 2008-09 Blues (six points), 2007-08 Capitals (seven points) and 2007-08 Predators (nine points).

Now those stats aren't updated for last year but I think the point still stands. Three point games aren't good for teams when winning teams in regulation only gets two points.

This isn't going to change. As Kings coach Darryl Sutter said he doesn't want to do the Olympic style. Why?

“I hope not. Why? Because there are history books. The overtime change, the point change, the shootout change, that to me was enough."

So, in essence, not messing with the record books too much is more important than getting a more worthy team into the playoffs? I am sorry, there are so many different ways the game have been scored and played throughout the year that the record book could have been separated 100 different times.

Nothing will happen with this but I think this is something that should be looked at. While it doesn't change a whole lot of things I think it would make teams play a better game of hockey towards the end of the season. Take away loser points or give an extra points for regulation wins and I think you will see more desperate hockey and better chances of those fringe playoff teams actually having a chance to get into the playoffs rather than the wild card teams holding the puck and playing the left win lock just to get to overtime and get one point.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pirates In Baseball America's Top-100

A few weeks ago I broke down the Pirates throughout the years in the prospect rankings. If you haven't checked that out recently then you can click on this link and take a look at it. It's an interesting view of how the Pirates system has grown throughout the years and how much more talent is in it through the eyes who evaluate it for a living.

Anyways, I included Baseball America among the other well established outlets that put out prospect rankings but they did not have their 2014 prospect rankings yet. Well, tonight they did. They unveiled the top-50 on MLB Network and on Twitter and then threw out the rest of the top-100 after that. Here is how the Pirates stacked up:







For those that don't recognize the Twitter handles it looks like this:

10. Gregory Polanco
22. Jameson Taillon
46. Tyler Glasnow
49. Austin Meadows.

Last season the Pirates only had two in the top-50 but Polanco came in at number 51.

Rounding out the top-100 the Pirates had three others for a total of seven on the list:

64. Nick Kingham
76. Alen Hanson
81. Reese McGuire

Not bad.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

America Beats Russia. Gifs Are Awesome.

AMERICA



[via]




[via]




[via]

Rather than show all the gifs of all the Oshie goals you can [check out all of them here].

[This pass] was disgusting by Patrick Kane

[Puck Drunk Love] put together a bunch of YouTube's of reactions at different bars around the nation. Really awesome stuff.

[Russia was not very happy on Twitter with the officials.]

Wikipedia at its best:


[via]

Friday, February 14, 2014

Bye A.J. Burnett (and Other Links)

Well the news was made official this week. A.J. Burnett signed a one year, $16M deal with the Philadelphia Phillies and thus ends his two year tenure on the Pirates.

I talked a bit a few weeks ago about what I thought about the Burnett situation and if you want to see the whole bit then you can click that link and read it. I won't go over all that again because my views have never really changed. I thought it would be good if Burnett came back to the Pirates because he obviously makes them better but at the same time there are some risks to doing that.

Burnett is 37 years old. For normal human beings that are relatively healthy that is on the younger side (you hope) of your life. For a baseball player, especially a pitcher, that is old. At some point Burnett is going to fall off the cliff and I really don't think the Pirates wanted to be that team for $14-18M. I don't blame them.

I don't think that playing for the Phillies really helps Burnett at all. Citizens Bank Park is a hitters ballpark and the Phillies are what we like to call a bad defensive baseball team (27th in UZR/150 and dead last with -102 defensive runs saved. Burnett is a ground ball pitcher and the Phillies aren't very good at turning batted balls into outs. That does not bode well for Burnett. Burnett does fit the mold that the Phillies like, he's old.

This isn't about wishing Burnett has a bad season. That would be wrong. This isn't about saying that I didn't want him back on the team, because I wouldn't have minded seeing him back on the team. I just feel that it doesn't hurt the team as much as what many may want you to believe.

Burnett's tenure with the Pirates was a great one. When he came from New York there wasn't a lot of fanfare and he was coming off back-to-back seasons with a 5+ ERA. All he did was come to the Pirates where he added a combined 7.0 fWAR and hovered around a 3.40 ERA. He brought a killer mindset that adored him to the fan base and was a central piece in the Pirates getting to the postseason last year.

He struck out nearly 10 batters per nine innings last season and while he faded a little down the stretch and wasn't turned to for the pivotal game five against St. Louis in the NLDS that doesn't overshadow the amazing success he had with the team. Burnett didn't back down from a challenge and that is what you love about him. I don't know what a "Pittsburgh guy" is but if you could craft someone to come in and be that guy it was Burnett.

Good luck A.J. (except against the Pirates). You were fun to watch when you were here and while you choose to play elsewhere I know that all of Pittsburgh appreciates what you've done.

Other news and notes:

-Pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training. Wooooooooooooooooo.

-Today Wandy Rodriguez threw a pen today and said that he felt good [Pirates Prospects]

Rodriguez is going to be a huge piece to the team. I don't think you can really understate that. The Pirates didn't get anything from him last year and dodged a bullet when he didn't need surgery last season. Without Burnett they are going to need innings. I don't think we can really expect 200 innings from him but Rodriguez was wildly underrated by Pirates fans while he was healthy. If they can get some innings out of him this year that will be a huge help.

-Tim over at Pirates Prospects had an interesting talk with Clint Hurdle about defensive shifts for the outfield. [Pirates Prospects]

-This isn't Pirates related but FanGraphs did an article about what an extension might look like for Mike Trout. The Angels are looking to maybe extend him and they thought a 9 year/$260M deal or 10 year/$300 might look like a good point. Holy hell. The crazy thing is that is probably a good deal for Trout as that deal wouldn't expire until his age 30 season. [FanGraphs]

-Evidently the Pirates and Kendrys Morales are interested in each other. [Boston Globe]

Morales declined his qualifying offer so that comes with a draft pick for another team to sign him. While the Pirates are at the backend of the draft it doesn't seem like Pirates are in play for signing a player that comes with draft pick compensation. Morales would be good offensively but I am not sure about him overall. He doesn't play good defense and doesn't do anything else overly well but it more than a gut feeling with me that I don't think it would be a great idea to get him.

-This came nearly a month ago but I missed it. CBS Sports did a All-Time Single-Season team for the Pirates. It was interesting. [CBS Sports]

-The Kansas City Star breaks down that teams are not getting $25M more from the TV contracts. In reality it's like $5-$10M more. [Kansas City Star]

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Pirates and Reds Infield Comparison

An interesting things came up on Twitter today. As I was watching some shows on my DVR in-between watching the Olympics when this article from FanGraphs about the Reds infield and their production both last year and this year. Essentially it was an article about how good Joey Votto was and illustrated that while the Reds were one of two Wild Card teams last year that they have some holes in their infield. Granted, this article was used in terms of fantasy baseball but the stats of the article doesn't invalidate the needs for the Reds to improve their infield.

While people know how great Votto is one of the very best players in the game (no matter what a certain Reds broadcaster wants you to believe) I think people have this false assumption about the value of someone like Brandon Phillips  but looking over that article I didn't realize how they were forecasted to be mediocre at best in 2014.

This got me thinking about the Pirates. Mainly because I think that they are going to be fighting tooth and nail with the Reds for one of the Wild Card spots. While the NL Central got three teams into the postseason last year I don't think we can count on that every season and with how good the Cardinals are I think the Pirates and Reds are going to be battling for a spot in the postseason. Sure things could go pretty far in one way or the other but for the time being I am treating these teams as around equal as neither team did anything substantial this offseason so far, much to the dismay of fans from both sides.

So that FanGraphs article got me thinking about the Pirates infield. The Reds really are Joey Votto and then guys playing the rest of the infield positions. The Pirates don't have a Joey Votto in the infield but I thought they had a better array of players overall.

So with that being said I am going to compare the infields of the two and see what we really have. Much like the article I linked above I am going to go with the positions of first base, second, base, third base, shortstop, and catcher. I am going to put the combined stats of the players that should start there and who should play in backup roles. I am going to stay with what FanGraphs used and go with the Steamer projections for the 2014 season.

Before we get started I just wanted to throw out the definition of a few stats that will be used. I will be using both wOBA and wRC+. Those are both advanced stats that some might not be familiar with so here are the definition of both for your information:

wOBA - Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value. While batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage fall short in accuracy and scope, wOBA measures and captures offensive value more accurately and comprehensively.

The wOBA formula for the 2012 season was:

wOBA = (0.691×uBB + 0.722×HBP + 0.884×1B + 1.257×2B + 1.593×3B +
2.058×HR) / (AB + BB – IBB + SF + HBP)

wRC+ - Weighted Runs Created (wRC) is an improved version of Bill James’ Runs Created (RC) statistic, which attempted to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs. In Runs Created, instead of looking at a player’s line and listing out all the details (e.g. 23 2B, 15 HR, 55 BB, 110 K, 19 SB, 5 CS), the information is synthesized into one metric in order to say, “Player X was worth 24 runs to his team last year.” While the idea was sound, James’ formula has since been superseded by Tom Tango’s wRC , which is based off of wOBA.

Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) measures how a player’s wRC compares with league average. League average is 100, and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average. For example, a 125 wRC+ means a player created 25% more runs than league average. Similarly, every point below 100 is a percentage point below league average, so a 80 wRC+ means a player created 20% fewer runs than league average.

So here is what we got:

First Base

Cincinnati - Joey Votto
2014 Steamer - .296/.424/.507 | .400 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Gaby Sanchez
2014 Steamer - .254/.343/.406 | .331 wOBA

This really is a no brainer. Votto is clearly one of the best players in the league and hit for a .305/.435/.491 line with a crazy .400 wOBA. He was second in the league, and first in the NL, in OBP and while people in Cincinnati might want him to swing the bat more to get more RBIs (or something) he is incredibly dangerous. On the other side Steamer has Gaby Sanchez getting almost 550 plate appearances (320 PA in 2013). The Pirates still have no answer for the other side of the platoon and if they expect him to get that many plate appearances then it might get ugly. I do think people vastly underrate Sanchez for his ability to get on base but if he gets near 500 PA then it isn't going to be good.


Second Base

Cincinnati - Brandon Phillips
2014 Steamer - .266/.317/.408 | .307 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Neil Walker
2014 Steamer - .272/.345/.433 | .341 wOBA

Phillips is overrated. There, it had to be said. While he drove in over 100 runs last year I think we are all (or should be) past the time where RBIs are the way we evaluate players. He had only a .310 OBP in 2013 and for a guy that is supposed to be on the the cornerstones of the middle of the lineup that just isn't going to work. His 91 wRC+ is way below league average and his defense is decent. Walker on the other hand has been a lot better over the last few seasons. As you know I have been a little down on him for a good chunk of his tenure in Pittsburgh but he's increased his walk rate every season since 2010 and was at 9.1% last season and posted a 114 wRC+ and decent defense (some thanks to the defensive shifting). I think that if you asked most around the league they would prefer Walker over Phillips and while Walker can't hit from the right side of the plate I think this is a position that favors the Pirates.

Third Base

Cincinnati - Todd Frazier
2014 Steamer - .245/.316/.431 | .326 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Pedro Alvarez
2014 Steamer - .243/.317/.468 | .339 wOBA

Frazier is a guy who I am not really sure how people view. I have always been of a mindset that he is a good guy to have on the roster and while I don't think he is a guy I would want to get everyday at bats I think he would be a great guy to have off the bench. Last season he went .234/.314/.407 with 19 home runs and a 100 wRC+. Frazier was much better in 2012 when he hit for a .273/.331/.498 line but that was in 465 plate appearances rather than the 600 he got last season. His career line is .249/.318/.446 which is around what Steamer projects him to be at this season. Alvarez, as I have wrote a lot before, is a guy that I have no idea. Steamer has him going for a decent season with 29 home runs but he still is going to strike out nearly 30% of his plate appearances. I think I would probably give a slight edge to Alvarez thanks to the power and that shows up in the Steamer projections with an edge in the wOBA. I am not firm on that though as we know that Alvarez can be wildly up and down.

Shortstop

Cincinnati - Zack Cozart
2014 Steamer - .251/.294/.390 | .299 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Jordy Mercer
2014 Steamer - .260/.314/.391 | .309 wOBA

This would be a runaway for Cincinnati if Clint Barmes were going to be the starter for the Pirates. He isn't though (thankfully). Cozart isn't good. At all. Last season Cozart had an abysmal 79 wRC+ and had only a .284 OBP. He does play some good defense which is a plus but he is forecasted to not even be a .300 OBP guy which is actually better than his .287 lifetime OBP. Mercer is going to takeover a majority of the shortstop duties this season and while he is a vast improvement from Barmes he still is a pretty streaky hitter. We saw at times last year when he went on tears when you couldn't get the guy out only to be followed by weeks where he couldn't get on base. Last season he went for a .285/.336./435 line but is projected to regress this season. The one problem is that Mercer isn't as strong on defense but I actually think he is better than people give him credit for. Seeing Cozart a good bit last year (more than just against the Pirates) I am probably leaning towards giving this to the Pirates as I think Mercer would be the better option despite not being as good defensively.

Catcher

Cincinnati - Devin Mesoraco
2014 Steamer - .246/.308/.410 | .312 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Russell Martin
2014 Steamer - .228/.322/.369 | .309 wOBA

This is a big closer than I thought it was going to be. I am a little higher on Mesoraco than maybe I should be but he can show flashes of being a really nice offensive piece for the Reds. Once again he is not going to be an OBP guy after getting on base at only a .287 clip last season and was a well below average hitter with a 74 wRC+ in 2013. Martin is a superior defensive catcher and one of the better pitch framers in the game. He steals strikes and it helped the Pirates pitching staff in a huge way last season. Martin isn't going to hit for a high average and .230 is exactly what I expect him to do. He had 15 home runs last season so he gives you some of that but what he does a great job of doing was getting on base. He was third on the team with an 11.5% walk rate and added nearly 100 points to his batting average to get a .327 OBP. If he could somehow get to be a .250 hitter I think this is an easy win for the Pirates. If you give me the choice for 2014 of taking either of these guys though, I take Martin.

Top Corner Backup

Cincinnati - Jack Hannahan
2014 Steamer - .227/.305/.342 | .289 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Josh Harrison
2014 Steamer - .269/.310/.396 | .309 wOBA

This is about even. Harrison is going to give you a better average but Hannahan is going to get on base at a better clip. I am not really sure how I feel about that because if you are going to get on base at the same rate I think I would rather have Harrison since you will have more chances to score runs with a hit than a walk (maybe that's true?) but I am not a huge fan of Harrison so who knows. Last season Hannahan went .216/.317/.288 and has a career average line of .232/.316/.349 (84 wRC+, .298 wOBA). I don't think either of these guys are huge factors but Steamer gives the Pirates the advantage. I gave Harrison this spot because he is the most likely guy to fill in for Alvarez. I would have put the other first base platoon option here but I have no idea who that is going to be so this could be completely different in a few weeks.

Top Middle Backup

Cincinnati - Skip Schumaker
2014 Steamer - .258/.321/.343 | .296 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Clint Barmes
2014 Steamer - .223/.274/.334 | .267 wOBA

I think it is pretty easy to say that Skip Schumaker wins this category. Steamer actually has Barmes with 79 plate appearances but I have to imagine that he will get more playing time than that, even if he isn't on the team at the end of the season.

Backup Catcher

Cincinnati - Brayan Pena
2014 Steamer - .258/.297/.376 | .295 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Tony Sanchez
2014 Steamer - .240/.306/.369 | .299 wOBA

Pittsburgh - Chris Stewart
2014 Steamer - .230/.302/328 | .283 wOBA

The Reds let go of Ryan Hanigan last season and are going with Pena this year. Hanigan had a tough year last year only hitting .198 but was able to get on base at a .306 clip despite not hitting very well. Pena really isn't all that good. Last season he hit .297/.315/.397 with the Tigers but is a career .258/.292/.359 hitter (72 wRC+, .285 wRC+) so last year might have been a lot better than what you should expect. His best season was a 0.3 fWAR and is projected to go -0.4 fWAR this season. Steamer only has Sanchez with 68 plate appearances which seems low considering that Martin isn't going to be able to take nearly that many at bats. After coming up and holding his own last season (.233/.288/.400, 92 wRC+) I think we can probably assume he is going to backup Martin. I guess I shouldn't assume that since they signed Stewart, but I am not a fan of him getting any significant playing time. He does get on base at a decent clip as compared to his average (.211/.293/.272, 58 wRC+) and is a good defensive catcher but if it were me I would want Sanchez up.


Well there you have it. I guess this really comes down to whether you like the whole (Votto) or the sum of the parts (Martin, Alvarez, Walker, Mercer). I think that is a tough question because Votto is the kind of guy that you would kill to have on your team. He can literally do it all and is probably the best hitter in the National League. He understands what needs to be done and doesn't get himself out. That being said his surrounding cast makes it really tough for him to be productive and the Pirates, in my option, have the better all around talent but doesn't have that breakout guy that even comes close to Votto.

This was a nice little breakdown to see what the infield is like on both teams. It is a little closer of a gap than I thought it was originally going to be but that is what is going to make this season so fun. These two teams should be in the thick of the race and role players like Cozart, Mercer, Mesoraco, Sanchez, etc. are going to decide who makes the playoffs and who doesn't.

Spring training is almost here and that is a great thing.

Penguins Game 58 Recap - Rangers 4, Penguins 3 (SO)

This was the first time in a really long time that the Penguins went into a shootout and lost. They are typically money in this format and Marc-Andre Fleury was before before tonight stopping all 11 shootout shots that he faced. Last night he let in two on three shots and what looked like a good chance for a three game sweep in the last week before an extended Olympic break turns into only getting five points out of a possible six. Some will complain about not getting that extra point, but those people are dumb.

This was actually a pretty good game for the most part. While the Penguins dominated play for much of the game against the Sabres on Wednesday this game was a little more back and forth. The Penguins probably carried play a little bit more but what frightens me so much about the Rangers is that they always seem to do just enough to be in the game. They have the talent and they are pesky enough to hang around and make you hate them. That is kinda what they did last night.

The Rangers had the lead three different times in regulation but the Penguins came back each time. To be honest if the third period lasted a few more minutes the Penguins probably win in regulation. They were buzzing after James Neal was basically left alone in front of Henrik Lundqvist with about three minutes left to tie the game but they couldn't get that one goal.

The Penguins uncharacteristically gave up a ton of shots last night. The Rangers managed 41 total shots and Marc-Andre Fleury was on top of his game. Sure it would have been nice if he stopped one more shot during regulation but it was just another strong performance down the stretch here for Flower. This week he played all three games and gave up only five goals in 91 shots. That works out to a .945 save percentage and was the big reason the Penguins picked up five points. Great showing.

The other guy who was sensational was Olli Maatta. Holy shit is this kid good. He's only 19 years old and last night he was the best player on the ice for the Penguins. He scored his first ever power play goal to open up the scoring for the Penguins and then he was the one who fed Neal for the game tying goal after winning a puck battle along the boards. Maatta played over 21 minutes last night and he was a large factor for the Penguins. I certainly wasn't expecting him to be this good this year but man he's really stepped up in a big way, especially with how much time Kris Letang has/will miss.

Overall I don't think this was a really bad game that the Penguins played. The top two lines were really good and the power play cashed in on two of its chances. Sometimes the other team is going to sneak one out. Certainly the Penguins weren't at their best last night. Their PK gave up a pair of goals and the defense was shaky from time to time but whatever.

As I said in the recap on Wednesday night, I thought that if the Penguins could take four points out of the three games that would be good. They took five. I will take that every single time. The Rangers are second in the Metro and the Penguins are up 16 points on them through 58 games (59 games for the Rangers).

Olympics time after some NHL games today. Go USA.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Penguins Game 58 Preview - vs. New York Rangers

New York Rangers

7:30 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Last Penguins Game
February 5, 2014 - Pittsburgh 5, Buffalo 1 [Recap]


Probables

Pittsburgh (40-15-2) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Brian Gibbons
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Jayson Megna - Brandon Sutter - Tanner Glass
Harry Zolnierczyk - Craig Adams - Deryk Engelland

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Paul Martin
Rob Scuderi - Robert Bortuzzo
Olli Maatta - Matt Niskanen

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

New York (31-24-3) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Rick Nash
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan
Benoit Pouliot - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Brian Boyle - Dominic Moore - Dan Carcillo

Defense
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
John Moore - Kevin Klein

Goaltender
Henrik Lundqvist


Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 2-1)

January 3, 2014 - Pittsburgh 5, New York 2



December 18, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, New York 3 (SO)



November 6, 2013 - New York 5, Pittsburgh 1




Stats

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ralph Kiner: 1922-2014

This is something I don't typically do but some bad news for the Pirates organization today when Ralph Kiner passed away from natural causes at the age of 91. Kiner was a stud for the Pirates when he played for the club from 1946-52 and is one of the best players in franchise history.

Kiner was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975 and his #4 was retired by the Pirates in 1987. Kiner as also a member of the Mets broadcasting crew from the Mets first season in 1962 until he passed. He was elected into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1984.

Oh yea, before Kiner was a Pittsburgh Pirate he was a fighter pilot for the Navy from 1943-45 foregoing the chance to play Major League Baseball. That, more than anything else, might be the most badass thing that he ever did. Sure, he was a great baseball player but he fought for our nation in one of the most historical events in the world and then he can come play baseball at a ridiculously high level. When he was called into service he was in the Pirates organization at the AA level but left to serve his county, something that others at the time did but still doesn't diminish the sacrifice he made.

On the field he was one of the best to ever wear a Pirates uniform. He led the National League in home runs in each of his first seven seasons with the Pirates and was the first National League player ever to have multiple 50 home run seasons. He played eight seasons for the Pirates and hit .280/.405/.567 for the Bucs with a 157 OPS+. That is pretty ridiculous.


Kiner was traded to the Chicago Cubs in June of 1953 because of some salary disputes with Pirates GM Branch Rickey and Rickey famously said about Kiner: “We finished last with you, we can finish last without you.” Cool.

He was a top-10 MVP candidate from 1947-52 and despite having to quit the game after nine seasons he still was a remarkable talent while losing almost three years due to WWII.



Obviously I have never seen Kiner play and don't have a lot to go on but from what I have read about him and see about his play through those articles I think he is a kind of player that everyone would have loved to watch. He lived a very long and successful life and that is what we all hope to do.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Penguins Game 57 Recap - Penguins 5, Sabres 1

This game was close to start but as it progressed into the second period it turned into what most of us thought it would turn into, the Penguins being the far superior team and pretty much doing what they wanted with Buffalo. There wasn't a ton to be all that excited about for Buffalo because even though they went into the first intermission tied 1-1 but the Penguins were swarming and seemed to be ready to break out. They ended up doing that.

Buffalo actually scored the first goal of the game just six minutes in and while you might not have thought they could hold that lead throughout the game it was only the 18th time this season that they have scored the first goal. I have no idea what the league average is of scoring the first goal but I assume it is more than that. Also it seems as if there has been an emphasis on just going all out and competing for 60 minutes for this Buffalo team and you never want to give a team like that any life. Nobody likes to get embarrassed in the NHL and they are still all professionals and while they are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference they still have some wins this season.

The Penguins got the goal back thanks to Harry Zolnierczyk and then took the lead for good in the second period when Sidney Crosby decided to be the best hockey player in the world. You know, the usual.

From then on the Penguins were all over Buffalo. The Sabres only had 14 shots over the last two periods after having 11 in the first period. The defense wasn't overly sharp in the first period but they really buckled down over the second and third and held it down in front of Marc-Andre Fleury.

Speaking of which, MAF was pretty good. Sure, you are going to say that Buffalo is a bad team that doesn't score a lot of goals but with the shoddy play in front of him in the first it could have easily been a Penguins deficit heading into the second and despite the dominant play in the second and third for the Penguins you can't really expect that they would have done that had the Sabres had two or three goals in the first. Even though he didn't face much rubber over the final 40 minutes he had to make some big time, point blank saves to hold the lead and it was a really solid game by MAF. He did struggle for the better part of a few weeks but has bounced back to have a really nice stretch over the last three games. He will need that heading into Friday against the Rangers.

I mean I don't really think this needs said but the best players for the Penguins were the best players in the game. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin really took the Sabres to task and you could tell who the better team was. For long stretches they had no idea how to stop Crosby and later in the game Malkin took over with James Neal and they weren't going to be stopped. Really good stuff from those two and when they are on like that the Penguins aren't going to lose many games.

Anyways, good stuff tonight. One more game before the Olympic break and that comes Friday against the Rangers. Before the week I was talking to a friend and I told him that I would be happy with the Penguins getting four of the six available points this week and right now the Penguins already have four points. Sure, I would love to have the one or two more points from the Rangers but I think this week has been pretty successful already.

Penguins Game 57 Preview - @ Buffalo Sabres


Buffalo Sabres



7:30 p.m., First Niagara Center, Buffalo, New York

Last Penguins Game
February 3, 2014 - Pittsburgh 2, Ottawa 1 (OT) [Recap]


Probables

Pittsburgh (38-15-2) (via Empty Netters)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Brian Gibbons
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Jayson Megna - Brandon Sutter - Tanner Glass
Harry Zolnierczyk - Craig Adams - Deryk Engelland

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Paul Martin
Rob Scuderi - Robert Bortuzzo
Olli Maatta - Matt Niskanen

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

Buffalo (15-32-8) (via Empty Netters)

Forwards
Linus Omark - Tyler Ennis - Drew Stafford
Steve Ott - Cody Hodgson - Matt D'Agostini
Philip Varone - Zemgus Girgensons - Brian Flynn
Marcus Foligno - Matt Ellis - John Scott

Defense
Jamie McBain - Chad Ruhwedel
Mike Weber - Christian Ehrhoff
Henrik Tallinder - Alexander Sulzer

Goaltender
Ryan Miller


Season Series (Pittsburgh leads 2-0)

January 27, 2014 - Pittsburgh 3, Buffalo 0



October 5, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Buffalo 1




Stats

Monday, February 3, 2014

Penguins Game 56 Recap - Penguins 2, Senators 1 (OT)

This was a pretty outstanding hockey game to watch. It was wide open hockey with some great goaltending and when it was all said and done in the end the Penguins got a goal from James Neal just two minutes into overtime for another regulation/overtime win.

While the game was wide open the Penguins got 48 shots off on Senators netminder Craig Anderson. Anderson stopped all but two of them but in the end that is all the Penguins needed. Anderson was really good tonight and really was the main reason the game was in overtime. I must say that Ottawa overall did a pretty nice job. While the Penguins had a high shot number they weren't all high quality chances but if you get enough rubber at the goal a few are bound to go in.

On the other end Marc-Andre Fleury was the reason the Penguins won. He only faced 25 shots and stopped 24 of them, none better than a save he made on Erik Karlsson late in the third period. The game was tied 1-1 with a little over 10 minutes to go in the game and Karlsson had the puck on his stick with a wide open net. Karlsson is one of the best offensive defensemen in the league and this is what happened:


(via)





Oh baby what a save. Maybe one of the best, if not the best, of the season and if Karlsson scores there and it's probably over. He didn't get a ton of action but he made sure that Ottawa wasn't going to get any more than that one goal. He didn't face a shot in overtime but the reason they were even in overtime was because of him.

The Penguins were all over the Senators in overtime. Not sure Ottawa even touched the puck the entire two minutes that overtime lasted. James Neal made it all happen as he picked the pocket of some Senator (OK, maybe they did touch the puck) and then go it to Malkin who found Robert Bortuzzo wide open. Not sure Bort knew what was going on but he put the puck on net and Anderson made the save. Neal gathered the rebound and showed unreal patients to score the goal:



A little interesting that only four different players took face-offs for the Penguins tonight. I am not sure what the average is for a game but I would imagine that it is a few more than that. Jussi Jokinen had only two face-offs and Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Brandon Sutter took every other one. Again I have no idea how often that happens but it seems unique to me.

The rest of this recap can just be you watching that save by MAF. Man.

Penguins Game 56 Preview - vs. Ottawa Senators

Ottawa Senators

7:00 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Last Penguins Game
February 1, 2014 - Phoenix 3, Pittsburgh 1


Probables

Pittsburgh (38-15-2) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Brian Gibbons
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Jayson Megna - Brandon Sutter - Tanner Glass
Taylor Pyass - Craig Adams - Deryk Engelland

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Paul Martin
Rob Scuderi - Robert Bortuzzo
Olli Maatta - Matt Niskanen

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

Ottawa (24-21-10) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris - Bobby Ryan
Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Mika Zibanejad
Colin Greening - Zack Smith - Chris Neil
Cory Conacher - Stephane Da Costa - Erik Condra

Defense
Jared Cowen - Erik Karlsson
Marc Methot - Eric Gryba
Patrick Wiercioch - Cody Ceci

Goaltender
Craig Anderson


Season Series (Ottawa leads 1-0)

December 23, 2013 - Ottawa 5, Pittsburgh 0




Stats

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Penguins Game 55 Preview - @ Phoenix Coyotes

Phoenix Coyotes

9:00 p.m., Jobing.com Arena, Phoenix, AZ

The Last Penguins Game
January 30, 2014 - Pittsburgh 4, Los Angeles 1 [Recap]


Probables

Pittsburgh (38-14-2) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Brian Gibbons
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Jayson Megna - Brandon Sutter - Tanner Glass
Taylor Pyass - Craig Adams - Deryk Engelland

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Paul Martin
Rob Scuderi - Robert Bortuzzo
Olli Maatta - Matt Niskanen

Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury

Phoenix (25-19-10) (via Dailyfaceoff)

Forwards
Tim Kennedy - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Lauri Korpikoski - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker
Shane Doan - Mike Ribeiro - David Moss
Paul Bissonnette - Jeff Halpern - Kyle Chipchura

Defense
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Zbynek Michalek
Derek Morris - Keith Yandle
David Schlemko - Connor Murphy

Goaltender
Mike Smith


Stats

The Pirates Prospects Rankings Through The Years

It is that time of year again. The time when the preseason prospect rankings come out from all the big outlets and that means that the season is right around the corner. As a Pirates fan the thought of the rankings coming out has been a scary situation in the past. I outlined during last season how putridly awful the Pirates system was back before the current front office and to be honest if you don't like throwing up then I wouldn't click on it (you should click on it anyways, you won't really throw up. I think).

Anyways, the Pirates have faired much better in the recent past with the organizational ranking and this year was no different. Here is where the Pirates looked like in rankings from Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, and MLB Network above others. Here is how the Pirates panned out in those rankings:

Baseball Prospectus (7)
Jameson Taillon (19)
Gregory Polanco (24)
Tyler Glasnow (42)
Reese McGuire (59)
Josh Bell (77)
Nick Kingham (80)
Austin Meadows (89)

MLB Network (6)
Gregory Polanco (13)
Jameson Taillon (16)
Tyler Glasnow (27)
Austin Meadows (45)
Alen Hanson (67)
Josh Bell (74)

Keith Law (7)
Gregory Polanco (13)
Tyler Glasnow (20)
Jameson Taillon (27)
Austin Meadows (35)
Nick Kingham (73)
Alen Hanson (74)
Reese McGuire (97)

Really interesting to see the variety of what these outlets rank. Obviously all of them are high on the few guys at the top but at the bottom we see a lot of variance. Austin Meadows was anywhere from 35 to 89 and Reese McGuire was on and off lists.


Just to see how these things progressed in terms of how the organization is viewed here are how the Pirates faired in the past on some lists:

2013

MLB Network (4)
Gerrit Cole (9)
Jameson Taillon (15)
Alen Hanson (54)
Gregory Polanco (65)

Baseball Prospectus (5)
Gerrit Cole (3)
Jameson Taillon (11)
Gregory Polanco (44)
Luis Heredia (53)
Alen Hanson (66)

Keith Law (5)
Gerrit Cole (8)
Jameson Taillon (20)
Alen Hanson (34)
Gregory Polanco (55)
Luis Heredia (84)

Baseball America (5)
Gerrit Cole (7)
Jameson Taillon (19)
Gregory Polanco (51)
Alen Hanson (61)
Luis Heredia (78)

2012

MLB Network (4)
Jameson Taillon (8)
Gerrit Cole (11)
Starling Marte (40)
Josh Bell (69)

Baseball Prospectus (6)
Gerrit Cole (9)
Jameson Taillon (13)
Luis Heredia (42)
Josh Bell (43)
Starling Marte (56)
Robbie Grossman (76)

Keith Law (5)
Gerrit Cole (10)
Jameson Taillon (16)
Josh Bell (67)
Starling Marte (72)
Robbie Grossman (86)

Baseball America (4)
Gerrit Cole (12)
Jameson Taillon (15)
Josh Bell (60)
Starling Marte (73)

2011

MLB Network (1)
Jameson Taillon (9)

Baseball Prospectus (3)
Jameson Taillon (8)
Stetson Allie (39)
Luis Heredia (81)
Tony Sanchez (93)

Keith Law (2)
Jameson Taillon (30)
Tony Sanchez (63)

Baseball America (3)
Jameson Taillon (11)
Tony Sanchez (46)
Stetson Allie (76)


2010

Baseball Prospectus (3)
Pedro Alvarez (6)
Tony Sanchez (75)
Jose Tabata (90)

Keith Law (3)
Pedro Alvarez (35)
Jose Tabata (57)
Tony Sanchez (82)

Baseball America (2)
Pedro Alvarez (8)
Tony Sanchez (79)

2009

Baseball Prospectus (3)
Pedro Alvarez (4)
Andrew McCutchen (25)
Jose Tabata (91)

Keith Law (3)
Andrew McCutchen (18)
Jose Tabata (32)
Pedro Alvarez (38)

Baseball America (3)
Pedro Alvarez (12)
Andrew McCutchen (33)
Jose Tabata (75)

2008

Baseball Prospectus (3)
Andrew McCutchen (24)
Steve Pearce (43)
Neil Walker (94)

Keith Law (3)
Andrew McCutchen (12)
Neil Walker (89)
Brad Lincoln (97)

Baseball American (3)
Andrew McCutchen (14)
Neil Walker (61)
Steve Pearce (89)

2007

Baseball Prospectus (2)
Andrew McCutchen (15)
Brad Lincoln (83)

Baseball America (3)
Andrew McCutchen (13)
Brad Lincoln (69)
Neil Walker (74)

Now these are fun to look at and talk about how these players might impact the future of the team. You can look at guys like Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez and see that they lived up to the hype in most situations but then you look at guys like Steve Pearce and Jose Tabata and you can really see how this is a flip of a coin.

Prospects don't always work out. That is an understatement. Just because the Pirates have over double the players in the top-100 lists doesn't meant they are automatically going to be good and have great players that are ranked in the top-25. The fact remains that the Pirates have done a much better job through the year giving themselves a better chance to develop the top of the line talent like McCutchen.

I am more of a prospects guy who love this stuff so many this is more interesting to me than it might be to someone who only cares about the wins and losses of the big club but at some point guys like Polanco, Taillon, Meadows, etc. are going to need to be contributors if the Pirates are going to have any sort of long term success. It is no secret that they can't go out and spend with the top money teams so the minors leagues is how they have to do it.

You can click on the link in the first paragraph and see how laughably bad the Pirates farm system was and then look through the prospect listings to see how they have improved, at least on paper. We are starting to see the fruit of that on the field and that makes this stuff a lot more fun to follow.

If you are looking for a more league-wide approach Sports on Earth had a semi-breakdown of prospect lists since 1994. Good stuff.