Sports: Pirates 2020

Mercifully, the Pittsburgh Pirate 2020 season came to an end. The Pirates announcing team tried to put a positive spin on things, by mentioning the starting pitching over the last 2 weeks, players that would have bounce back years and some of the bullpen work. The bottom line is this, 19 and 41 is pretty pathetic, no matter how you spin it. So let’s take a look at these Pirates realistically, without any concern about how we can talk fans into buying tickets. The new management team looked at this 60 game schedule as spring training II. They would deny this, but the facts speak for themselves. They moved players around, and had a different batting order for every game. Some would point to injuries as the reason, but it can not even begin to explain the moves. Taking a gold glove finalist off second base. Putting a guy that never played outfield in the outfield. Putting players in different spots in the batting order almost everyday. Besides, most of the injuries happened to the pitching staff. I am not even being critical , because this was a team, that was never going to do well, anyway. Just come out and admit it. We are just going to continue player evaluation during this 60 game season and not even try, or worry, about winning games. Who knows, this may have been the best thing to do. We did learn a lot this year, about some of the players, and well most of it was bad, it was not all bad. Let’s look at each part of this Pirate team, and get an idea on what the future might bring.

The offense was by far the worst part of this team. In what I call the big three in offense evaluation, OPS+, OBP, and runs, the Pirates were dead last in all of major league baseball. Since the DH was universal this year, you could compare all 30 Major League teams fairly. Fairly, the Pirates finished 30th, 30th, and 30th. This was a team effort where nobody hit except for Ke’Bryan Hayes and Colin Moran. The cause for greatest concern was the poor showing of Josh Bell and Bryan Reynolds. It will be essential for them to right the ship next year if the Pirates are going to be competitive. With a couple of exceptions, the rest of players should have no effect on the Pirate’s future, as they will be gone.

The pitching, with a great statistical stretch, in the final two weeks of the season faired a little better. ERA+ which compares pitching staffs by taking in ballpark factors, the Pirates were 17th. Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which compares how well a staff does with things they can control, namely strike outs, walks, and home runs, the Pirates finished 21st. Walks Hits per inning (WHIP), the Pirates finished 18th. In all the important phases of pitching the Pirates were very close to the league average. The one thing the staff got was a lot of good experience. Derek Shelton let pitchers in longer than they should have been, to see if they could succeed or fail. This meant losing some games, the Pirates should have won, but it gave pitchers an idea of what they could do in adverse situations. The best result was with Richard Rodriguez. He blew a save early in the season, and had some other end of game meltdowns, but showed his resilience, and developed into a solid end of game reliever. Before we get too enthralled with the Pirate pitching, it is always easier to perform when the games are meaningless. Next year it would be nice to see Chris Archer pitch and Jameson Taillon come back from surgery. Regardless of this happening, the Pirate pitching staff gained a lot of invaluable experience this year, and it should pay off, next year.

The big surprise was the Pirates developed into a slightly better than average fielding team. I like the Defense Efficiency Rating, used by Baseball Reference, and the Pirates finished 15th in the league with a .697, .004 above the league average. It may have been even better, if Adam Frazier would have been allowed to play 2ond base for the entire season. The two defensive gems the Pirates have, is Ke’Bryan Hayes at 3rd, and Jacob Stallings behind the plate. They were such big upgrades at their positions, that it was probably enough to push the Pirates to be an average defensive team. The last five years the Pirates have finished between 25th and 30th when it comes to defensive efficiency. Erik Gonzalez, despite having absolutely no plate discipline, is a solid defensive shortstop which helped their overall defensive rating.

So where do the Pirates go from here except up. First, let’s look at who won’t be here, when the Pirates become competitive. In other words, as long as these players are still on the 26 man roster, the Pirates are doomed to be mired in the basement of the Central Division. This list includes, Cole Tucker, Kevin Neuman, Gregory Polanco, Jose Osuna, J. T. Riddle, and John Ryan Murphy. These players, for various and many reasons, will not be apart of any Pirate resurgence. I would have said the same thing about Colin Moran. If the DH remains in the National League, then he will fit the role quite nicely. This year Moran had an OPS+ of 115 with 100 being the league average. When Joe Musgrove is considered the fifth starter the Pirates will be contenders. The Pirates are going to have a hard time acquiring prospects. Who would they trade. Better yet, are there any teams that would want their players. I do not think it is time to give up on Josh Bell or Bryan Reynolds. What would the return be, after a very down 60 games. There would have to be a team with many bats, and a gaping hole at shortstop for Erik Gonzalez to have any value. The Pirates have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. The new management team keeps saying, they are not going to do a complete teardown. Could this be the first off season, that the Pirates are going to participate in the free agent market. They seem to be in this kind of no man’s land. They do not have a lot of prospects. They are not an old team, where they have a lot of veterans to unload for prospects. I really can’t believe, that Pirates will be active in the free agent market. But if they are going to strictly build through the draft and prospects, then this could be a long losing haul, until near the end of this decade. I suppose we could hope for more 60 game seasons, so at least it will go by quickly.

Meditation: All or Nothing

There seems to be a lot of all or nothing thinking out there now a days. In fact this kind of thinking seems to be related to anxiety and depression. It’s also given the name of negative thinking pattern. It is also termed splitting which is defined as the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together the dichotomy of both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is a common defense mechanism.[1] The individual tends to think in extremes (i.e., an individual’s actions and motivations are all good or all bad with no middle ground). On the internet there are lots of websites, ready to help with the problem. This type of thinking is associated with the use of the words never, always, no one, every one, ruined and anymore. Most of the examples given are for the big things in life, relationships, the workplace and self-worth. This thinking can lead to certain types of behavior or emotions. When things do not go our way we have a tendency to use extreme wording as a way to react to the situation. Relationships going bad, missed opportunities on the job, and just a feeling that everything is going wrong. This is when the word never and always come to the forefront. I will never be able to have a good relationship, or I will always be passed over for a promotion. This kind of thinking can lead to some severe mental problems. I want to discuss this type of thinking in the more mundane things in life and see if this can help the problem on the bigger scale.

I knew a women who had 5 aquariums in her house plus she had what she called a hospital tank for when any of the fish became ill. She had the tanks for 4 or 5 years. She was really into her fish and really seemed to enjoy the whole process. Then one day I came to her place for a visit and the tanks were gone. I thought maybe she had had some kind of accident with the tanks and a lot of fish had died. She said that she just got tired of all the work. This made me think, but not say, why don’t you just have one tank, instead of not doing it at all. I can understand her reasoning, but cutting down to one tank would cut the work load by 80%. She opted to quit altogether. Another all or nothing decision. I have seen other people quit other endeavors, that at one time they seem to enjoy. I quit playing golf back in the mid 90’s, but I knew I was coming back to it some day. Does this all or nothing mentality about activities, carry over into the more important decisions and happenings in life. Do we quit these activities because of depression and/or anxiety? Why do we not see the option of moderation or the middle ground? Could the I want it all syndrome, be at the heart of the problem. Is it the people that seem to achieve, the I want it all goals, be part of the issue. There are many stories out there of people that have achieved fulfillment it seems at every level. When these stories are told, they seemingly, are meant to inspire people, to try and achieve the same success on all levels. However, these stories may wind up making people even more depressed and anxious, because they do not have the capabilities of achieving success on all levels. Let’s face it, we all can’t be Tiger Woods in golf. So what is a person to do.

The solution is in moderation and acceptance. Moderation to me, is one of the keys to living life to the best of your abilities. You can apply moderation to every aspect of your life. Even things that may be good for you, such as exercise, rest, and time for yourself, should be done in a moderate way. Trying to keep yourself in balance can be challenging but it is well worth it, as you move through this crazy thing called life. Acceptance is just as important. Accepting the fact that you are doing the best that you can, under your circumstances. This does not mean that you can not try and do better. Between moderation and acceptance you will realize that things are changing all the time, some for the good, and others for the bad. There are many options out in the world not just leave or stay, do or don’t do, and can or can’t. Many small steps can be made to make one’s life better. There are enough hours in the day. There is always the next day. Try and apply moderation and acceptance on the smaller things in life, like your everyday activities and hobbies. Then, if you are successful in achieving this balance in the routine things, then you may be able to apply the principles to the big things in life. Be thankful for what you have and where you have a chance to go. If you can’t have it all, half of it is better than nothing. Twenty five per cent of it is better than nothing. In fact anything is better than nothing. The grays in life is where it’s at. Stay close to the middle and you will always feel better about what is coming next.

Meditation: Fear

Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. A phobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. There is no doubt that fear is the most powerful emotion that exists. In my last blog I wrote about how the news media uses fear to control the masses. Fear is a very valuable emotion. It is fear that keeps us safe and from making very risky decisions in our every day life. When fear develops into a phobia, then it can become a real problem in our life. It can make a person helpless and unable to move. The most common phobias include, heights, flying, death, darkness, public speaking, spiders and confined spaces. There are other ones, but you get the idea. This is the best example that I have seen, that shows how powerful fear can be. I knew someone who was a smoker, who had smoked for over fifty years. I can’t say this person was a heavy smoker, but at least a pack a day. When the person developed chest congestion, an x ray showed a spot on the lung. Immediately the person quit smoking for the next 6 months. The 6 month x ray showed that the spot had disappeared. The next day, the individual starting smoking again and continued for the next 10 years, until cancer developed someplace else in the body. It is amazing what fear can make a person do, and what fear can keep you from doing.

Fear can lead to the emotions of worry and anxiety. How are we going to handle this powerful emotion? There are various strategies and plans that can be helpful. Some are more practical than others. You can always avoid fears. The best way to deal with the media. This is looked upon sometimes, as the cowards way of handling fears. Like most labels this is not really true. Sometimes avoiding a fear for a finite period time, gives you time to realized that you may be able to overcome it. Looking at something from afar, so to speak, can give a different perspective on the problem. Getting away from something for awhile, and then going back to it, works as a very good problem solving method. It is used for many problems, why can’t it work for a paralyzing fear. Another way of handling fear is imagining you are doing what you are fearful of, and seeing this in your mind. That is where the fear is originating, and if you can see overcoming the fear in your mind, then you may be able to overcome the fear in the real world. There are other psychological methods to overcome fear. They range from experiencing the fear in a safe environment, cognitive-behavior therapy, virtual reality, and good old medication. I am not going into detail of the various methods, but there are many methods to handle the problem of fear.

How did fear get so powerful? As discussed earlier fear is the one thing that can keep us alive. That’s why we don’t jump off building, walk leisurely across interstate highways, and think we can out wrestle a bear. There is true power in saving one’s existence. Fear is a necessity, where other emotions are not. However this emotion then seeps down into the very fiber of our being, and keeps us from performing the simplest of task, or really enjoying life. As powerful as fear is there are other emotions, anger, lust, sadness happiness, and dismay that may get out of control or become irrational. However, when these emotions get out of control, there is some kind of action or movement. It may not always be the most appropriate movement or action, but none the less something does happen. It is only fear that seems to be so paralyzing. There is no question that meditation can help this. However, the biggest factor on why people do not meditate, is fear. Fear of what they are going to find inside. Fear keeps people from even doing nothing. Does Nike give us the answer when they say “Just do it”. Oh, if it could only be that easy. I do know that a bad plan is better than no plan, which is what fear will cause. Roosevelt said it best when he said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I do not think there is a solution to fear if you are not meditating, but I do not believe that meditating is a guarantee to overcoming fear. This powerful emotion at least for now is the ruler of the world. The solution has not been found, but when it is found, the world will be a better place.

Meditation: News

The definition of news is, newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events. I first started meditating in 1993, and at the same time, I stopped reading newspapers, and watching newscasts. It was one of the best things I ever did. Any big events, I heard about from friends and neighbors, but not listening to newscasts, made my life much less stressful, and more relaxing. Then came the pandemic of 2020, and to keep up with something so historic, I started watching some news shows, the Today Show and Sunday Morning on CBS. I also started reading more news stories on Apple News. Thirty years later, when it comes to news reporting, I see nothing has changed. It is a sad commentary, that the sole purpose of the news media, whether it be print or broadcast, is to create fear in the minds of their readers and listeners. They equate this with keeping people well informed. Do we really need to know ,that killer bees are invading the country, that social security benefits could be gone by the mid 2030’s, and more bad weather is on the way? The pandemic has fueled this type of reporting even more. They continue to report on ways that the environment can kill you, from the air we breathe to the food we eat. They report on stories that have very little affect on our daily lives, but show the worst sides of people. They very seldom follow the rule of reporting noteworthy information about important events.

Can there be any purpose in trying to keep a population frozen in fear? Is it to keep people distracted by this constant barrage of fear inducing stories, so they will be incapable of moving on with their lives, and improving their respective position in life. I think the stories speak for themselves. We had to shelter in place because of the Covid 19 outbreak, but the media have been trying to keep people indoors for 75 years. Just today on my default browser there were stories of all the celebrities that died of Covid, China responding to a U.S. move restricting their diplomats, and how opening colleges is not working. Almost everyday there is a story about nuclear weapons. There is nothing an individual can do to stop a foreign power from making nuclear weapons, so why tell us about it. The 1950’s is a perfect example. The media frenzy over nuclear weapons had people building bomb shelters. Things have not changed over the last 60 years. Threatening weather makes the headlines all the time, like the entire country is under some kind of environmental attack. Obviously, this type of news reporting sells, or it would not be happening. Unfortunately, there are many people who like to see and hear about suffering, and tragedy, and the news media has no problem, in showing all the death and destruction. It is time for me to go back to not watching the news. Maybe, occasionally, getting a Covid update, to see if this thing is ever going to end anytime soon. Meditating is a way to relieve this stress of the news reporting, but the best way to avoid all the bad effects of watching the news, is to stop watching. It is never going to make your life better. It is time to forget about the big world, because the big world will take care of itself, it always has. It is time to take care of your world. Meditate, breath, relax, and ignore the news. While the pandemic continues, check some stats, about once a week. Be aware of what the disease is doing in your area, and any area, that you may be visiting. But forget about killer bees, and unknown forces, that are going to destroy your food supply, and render yourself helpless. Relax, and enjoy your little microscopic space in the world, because everything can be just fine there, if you follow your inward self.

Baseball: Halfway Through, Sort Of

We have one month of baseball left in the regular season and with the exception of the St. Louis Cardinals everybody has played at least 30 games. With 8 teams in each league able to make the playoffs, almost everyone has at least an outside chance. The American League is again separating out into the good teams, and the bad teams, with some surprises at that end of the spectrum. There are 5 teams that are going to have to make big turn arounds, if they are going to have a shot at making the expanded playoff picture. The Angels, Red Sox, Rangers, Royals, and Mariners, are all floundering and there playoff chances are growing slimmer every day. The Orioles are fading fast, and will soon follow. That leaves 9 teams for the 8 spots. It looks like the Astros will make the playoffs, something I wrote they would not do. The big surprises at the bottom of the barrel are the Red Sox and the Angels. After all the hype on MLB Now, it looks like that Shohei Ohtani is nothing more than a .189 DH who is not going to pitch again until 2021. Unlike basketball having the best player in the game does not even get you to mediocrity. Right now, I think that the teams that are in the top 8, are just going to stay there. They may change positions, but you are looking at the 8 playoff teams right now. They are from top to bottom, the Rays, A’s. White Sox, Indians, Astros, Yankees, Twins, and Blue Jays. The White Sox and Blue Jays are the new up and comers, and should be a threat in the playoffs. The Tigers are on the outside looking in, and probably will stay that way. The more balanced National League is a little different story. There are only 3 teams, that seem to have very little chance of making the playoff field. The defending champs Nationals, the Diamondbacks, and the hapless Pirates. That leaves 12 teams for the 8 spots. The surprise team is the Miami Marlins, who are in the thick of the race. Certainly with all the moves at the trade deadline, the Padres are trying to make a serious run. Don’t think they will catch the Dodgers. I think there will be a change in the 8 teams, at the end of the season. I think the Giants and the Brewers will move into the playoffs, and the Marlins and Rockies will move out.

My home team, the Pirates have been pathetic. Again, the injury bug has hurt them, but this is a team that can’t hit, field, pitch, or run the bases. Other than that, this is a damn fine team. Of course, they did not do much during the trade deadline, because what team, in their right mind, would want any of their players. They do not have any big contracts to really unload, so this team doesn’t seem to have much hope in the foreseeable future. Free agency or bust. They would need to have the the three greatest drafts in baseball to just field a respectable team. They need to start, by getting a new owner, but I don’t see that happening. Hopefully, they are learning something out there, and the current group can show some improvement. We have a month to go in the abbreviated season, and we will see how an expanded playoff format, works in baseball. I feel once the playoffs start, that baseball may have some real surprises, on who makes it into the World Series. In my view baseball is not a playoff based sport, if you want to find the best team. Only six times, since 1990, has the team with the best record won the World Series. The playoffs level the playing field when it comes to baseball. The season should really get interesting once the playoffs start. See you then.