Thursday, February 01, 2007

Jack Wilson: Goofy face of a franchise

In case you belong to that tiny group of sports fans who doesn't rigorously follow the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jack Wilson - Pirates shortstop, $6-million-a-year eater, and symbolic face of a weird-looking franchise - publicly called out teammate Jose Castillo, an underachieving young second baseman, calling for better production out of his co-infielder in the coming 2007 season. To my bafflement, the residents of Piratestowne (a small suburb inside Steeler Country) were almost unanimously supportive of Wilson's actions.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Columnist Ron Cook writes, in his article titled "Wilson's first great play is calling out Castillo":

Wilson's show of leadership might not be as impressive as Freddy Sanchez's batting title last season. But, one day, it could prove to be more critical to any success the Pirates have.

Cook goes on to talk about the Pirates' culture of losing, history of lacking leadership, etc, all in the effort to make an incredibly short-sighted point about Jack Wilson's so-called value to the Pirates. His statement is problematic for several reasons:

Reason one, since when is publicly a teammate calling out a teammate "leadership?" If Steve Smith had called out Jake Delhomme this past NFL season, how do you think the media would have reacted? The headline on Around the Horn would have been "OK with Smith's actions?" with Jay Mariotti and Woody Page railing against how the Panthers have more important problems than just Delhomme, how adding friction to the mix isn't necessary, and so on. Pirates beat writer Dejan Kovacevic (with whom I rarely disagree) agrees with Cook, saying:

When Derek Jeter or Jason Giambi calls out A-Rod, he is hailed in New York as a hero. It shows that he cares, that he is thinking about the team first. When it happens in Pittsburgh, we check the back of the guy's bubble-gum card to see if he reached base often enough to open his mouth.

Well, Jeter is hailed as a hero for calling out A-Rod because Yankees fans are violently pack-minded morons, not because it's the right thing to do. And if you want to throw on-base-percentage into the mix, Jeter's career OBP is .388, Jack Wilson's is .306. Does this mean Wilson is automatically denied Jeter's right to assume a leadership role with his team? Of course not. It just means that Jack Wilson is not a very good baseball player, so if a franchise wants to build itself around his "leadership," they're going to get some pretty subpar offensive numbers to go along with it.

Reason two is more complicated. I freely admit that I propose this point knowing nothing firsthand about these individuals or their motives beyond what I read, but what if, just maybe, Jack Wilson is aware that he's not a great baseball player, and in order make himself essential to the franchise in some way, knows he has to gain a public reputation as a leader to justify being the highest paid Pirate and to bolster future contracts? Sort of like how Darrin Erstad and Brad Ausmus are seen as valuable leaders despite being nearly worthless at actually playing baseball, whereas fans freely admit they wouldn't want their teams to trade for A-Rod or Manny Ramirez?

Furthermore, any improvement in Castillo's game next season will generate further praise for Wilson, much as a faith healer works on a patient when their condition is at its worst, and if the condition improves, they appear to have done something. Cook is already lining up to credit Wilson should Castillo happen to improve, rather than praising Castillo himself; it's hard to say that the position Wilson has put Castillo in was intentionally self-serving, but regardless of the motives, Wilson has already deflected free praise to himself if Castillo has a decent season.

I just have trouble seeing Wilson's actions as anything more than a very calculated, very public attempt to pad his perceived value to a franchise that barely needs him anymore, and it appears to be working. Listen to this email from the PG's Pirates Mailbag from fan Doug "Yinz all wants some Primanti's?" Chrisner:

There are certain guys on our professional sports franchises that are just plain Pittsburgh guys. Hines Ward and Alan Faneca come to mind when thinking of the Steelers, and Jack Wilson clearly stands out when thinking of the Pirates. His leadership is crucial to the Pirates turning the corner, and his work ethic and tenure with the team give him every right to speak his mind and take control of the clubhouse.

The guy forgets to mention Raul Mondesi as another example, but we'll let that slide.

Seriously though, is this dude really comparing Jack Wilson to Hines Ward and Alan Faneca? Ward is the Steelers franchise's all-time leading receiver, and Faneca has been to like 50 Pro Bowls and might be bound for the Hall of Fame. Wilson had one decent year two years ago which he has followed up with OPS figures of .662 and .686 in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Basically, he's Geoff Blum at the plate, though the offensive numbers do not take into account the leadership that Wilson's 18 errors (same number as Castillo) provided.

Bottom line, the Pirates would more or less have the same offensive production without Wilson, perhaps even more, with Jose Bautista starting at third, Castillo at short, and Freddy Sanchez at second. But, rather than drift into fan-negativity-World though lackluster production at his relatively high cost, Wilson has taken the initiative and publicly called out pretty much the only player on the team who had a worse season than he did. If this helps Wilson earn another contract in the $6 million range, then more power to 'em. But if the Pirates are unable to re-sign this shining bastion of leadership with a tremendously goofy face, then I wish them good luck finding someone who can clog up the two-hole half as well as Jack Wilson.


Raj said...

You're crazy...Jack Wilson's errors were because of other players, he hustles to make up ground, Castillo had so many errors because he doesn't hustle enough on defense, maybe if he lost a few pounds by hustling, he would committ fewer errors. As for Jack's offensive game, he's one of the best guys in the game at getting his team mates set up for greatness. How many times have you seen him swing at pitches out of the strike zone to give his team mates an oppertunity to see how a pitch breaks? How many times has he hit fly balls and ground outs to set his team mates up for greatness. What has Castillo done besides have a higher SLG, more homers and more RBIs than wilson while making 7% of Wilson's salary. You my blog writing friend, have no idea what you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

You don't know that Wilson hasn't been saying these things in the clubhouse, with Castillo not taking them to heart. Say what you will about Jack's offensive game, he is a team guy that didn't complain about the way the "stars" Kendall and Giles treated him.

I've said they should try and trade Castillo, move Bautista to 3rd and Sanchez to 2nd. Or (pre-trade) they should have moved Castillo to 1st, but that option is now off the table.

Geeves said...

mr. teapot, a few facts for you:

* ron cook regularly sticks his foot down his throat. he'll make great future material, i recommend you bookmark him

* jack's comment is significant for two reasons: 1) they don't really have ANY leadership (in the traditional veteran lockerroom guy sense) and 2) castillo is one of the most frustrating pirates of my generation (in terms of alternately shining brightly and then returning his head to his ass) so the comment was not unjustified.

*sure jack is very mediocre offensively, but he is a great defensive shortstop. last year stunk because he bulked up and did it too much, and he still doesnt deserve his salary, i'm just saying don't knock him strictly on his offensive numbers.

* that previous comment about "one of the best guys in the game at getting his team mates set up for greatness" horseshit. he's average at it (as evidenced by his mediocre OBP).

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

Geeves, I think raj was kidding when he wrote about Jack being good at setting his teammates up for greatness.

I like Jack alright I guess, but which of these infields looks best to you guys:

1. Sanchez at third, Castillo at second, Jack at short

2. Bautista at third, Sanchez at second, Jack at short


3. Bautista at third, Castillo at 2nd, Sanchez at short, and Jack and his $6 million playing elsewhere?

And finally, on a totally irrelevant note, Jack Wilson looks like Steve-O from Jackass.