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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: Aug. 16, 2013

| Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, 1:14 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Afternoon, everyone, and away we go ...

Comment From TJ: DK; Ray Searage has done a tremendous job with the Pirates pitching staff over the past couple years but fails to get any recognition nationally nor mentioned as a candidate for manager positions. Is Searage destined to be one of those pitching coaches for life?

Dejan Kovacevic: There are plenty of pitching coaches who become managers, including some in the Pirates' past such as Ray Miller, but it's not the most common path. Pitching coaches get to where they are because they know pitching and pitchers.

Searage is great at what he does and loves it immeasurably. Honestly, I'll be surprised if he ever even wants to do something else. I've never heard it from him.

Comment From Bradford: Bunting Marte after a leadoff double down by one in the 7th is inexcusable. I like Hurdle, but all the bunts are tiring. Will he ever stop wasting some of the 27 outs they get in a game?

Dejan Kovacevic: I described it as an awful decision in this morning's column, which I hope you had a chance to read. And I'm getting a ton of mail on that.

Know what I'm not getting mail on?

A.J. Burnett not making it through the fifth inning after being spotted a four-run lead.

When the Pirates win, the players get all the credit. When they lose, the manager gets all the blame.

Comment From Daquido Bazzini: What do you do in this situation with Le'Veon Bell? It seems to me the Steelers have to back away from him with their plan to start.

Dejan Kovacevic: Absolutely. Really, I've been surprised all through camp at how Mike Tomlin has gone out of his way to anoint a running back who, to use Tomlin's own general terminology, “can't stay on the field.”

That's not a knock on Bell. He looks very talented. But Tomlin's always been really tough on rookies, and he still takes jabs at Jarvis Jones for having a tight hamstring during OTAs, and somehow Bell this past week was promoted to a No. 1 tie on the RB depth chart after not playing in the preseason opener.

Yeah, it's getting dark outside. Time to look toward Isaac Redman, the other in the No. 1 tie, or Jonathan Dwyer.

Comment From Adam: Your statement “Almost every conceivable analysis decries the mere existence of clutch” implies there's no human element in sports. Why does Fluery play worse in the playoffs with higher stakes? So a putt for a golfer is the same in the 1st rd, 3rd hole, as it is for the win on the 18th in the Master's? Pressure and emotions play no effect in sports because data can't show it?

Dejan Kovacevic: That statement, for those who missed it, was in today's Morning Java blog entry for full context.

I once did my own analysis of the existence of clutch. I think it was six years ago. And the conclusion that I reached, which was received surprisingly well even by the stats community, was that clutch indeed does not exist but the absence of clutch does.

In other words, being clutch isn't a skill set unto itself. It's simply sustaining what you'd normally do in a pressure situation, rather than rising up. But there unquestionably are those who will fail when things get rough. That's true in any walk of life.

Your Fleury example is an unfortunately powerful one.

Comment From Matthew: Do you think Pitt is going to have to beat FSU,Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech just to have a chance to win the ACC this season?

Dejan Kovacevic: Don't want to be Debbie Downer here. These are college kids, and I think you do cover them a little differently than the pros. I wrote for Thursday's column about reasons to be legitimately terrified for this Pitt team but also threw in cause for some excitement.

If anyone's thinking even about beating Florida State, let alone the list you provide there, it's without being reasonable. Best I can see the Panthers doing this year is getting through the Seminoles without being embarrassed, then working toward having a good, competitive debut in the ACC, which otherwise isn't all that loaded.

Comment From Derek: Marte needs some plate discipline. I know he is a free swinger, but he has to realize he is our leadoff. OBP is what he needs to focus on. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: Marte isn't going to focus on OBP. Actually very, very few hitters do. They're taught to think aggressively, to be ready to swing violently at the next drive-able pitch they see, and it's a heck of a high-wire act to mix patience into that equation. Marte doesn't have it, and he won't have it in the future, either.

You work with the skill set that's there, hitting coaches will tell you. What Marte can do is become the type of hitter who focuses on mashing the ball but minus the really ugly lunges that we saw yesterday. That might mean, for a while, laying off sliders, for example. Or simply locking in on fastballs.

But he's not about to become Tony Gwynn, no.

Comment From Lloyds Stolen 1B: DK, great column today. If you don't believe in clutch hitting, and that the only skill is the hitting ability itself, then how can you mock the “Kevin Young HRs” that come in blowout wins/losses? All hits and homers then carry the same weight, correct?

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks regarding the column. The Kevin Young homers — man, some people have long, long memories — were a long-running joke in that it seemed like he only went deep when it never mattered.

Like a lot of things that “seem” to be true in baseball, there's almost always at least a slightly different reality once it's laid out with actual evidence. I never did a breakdown of Young homers — and I'm sure I never will — but it's entirely possible that, just because a couple of blowout-loss bombs stick out in my mind, that wasn't really the case.

It's kind of like blaming the manager for just the lousy decisions you can remember.

Comment From cosmo: Dejan, with Mlb expanding its use of replay, how do you see it affecting the games?

Dejan Kovacevic: They'll be a lot longer. That's it. Bank on it.

I'm really surprised by this, to be honest. I thought replay might be added for traps and base plays, but it's in there for everything now other than balls and strikes. With a chance for six total challenges per game.


Comment From Groat2Maz2Strangeglove: There is a certain columnist in town who has a “man crush” on Steve McLendon. However, it looked to me last week that Al Woods outplayed McLendon at Nose. What think ye (about man-crushes and nose tackles)?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ha! Yes, there is one, for sure. I'm a believer in McLendon and have been throughout, and nothing about the first preseason game changed that. Woods was really good. But in talking to a couple Steelers at Latrobe two days ago, McLendon was just as good. Lawrence Timmons told me McLendon was taking on two blockers at times, plugging the run and getting penetration when called upon.

Know this: Dick LeBeau loved Casey Hampton like a son, in large part because Hampton could clog the lanes. If McLendon is going to be an integral part of this D, he's going to have to play more like Hampton than like the McLendon of 2012. Given a choice, LeBeau will want Timmons free to make the play rather than trying to spring his nose tackle through the line.

Comment From Dom: I very much enjoyed the article you wrote about the unsung heroes for this successful Pirate season. Were there any other individuals you were considering who did not make the article?

Dejan Kovacevic: Glad you asked. There actually was one, and space didn't permit. It's a gentleman named Orlando Covo who is the Pirates' Colombian scouting supervisor. He's really made great inroads in landing talent in that country ... and he does it all while maintaining a day job at a bank.

Comment From Thomas: Can you explain why you will not provide coverage of the arena league team but will for the riverhounds?

Dejan Kovacevic: I've never written the first syllable about the Arena team for the simple reason that I don't see it as being of interest to people. Nothing more to it. And I'm not surprised that attendance has nose-dived or that the league is constantly put in a position to answer questions about future viability.

The Riverhounds are run by some serious people with serious backing, total professionals, and what they just pulled off in Pittsburgh has been so impressive that MLS' commissioner recently called our city's embracing of the sport one of the best American soccer stories of the year.

Seeing any comparison there?

The Riverhounds have sold out the bulk of their matches — 4,000-plus attendance — and are playing in a $10 million stadium they financed entirely with their own money, on a pitch they paid an extra $1 million to get FIFA international certification to draw teams like Wigan AC, which came here and played the Riverhounds a week before going home to play Manchester United.

Still seeing comparison points?

The Riverhounds have set up their entire operation aimed at eventually getting Pittsburgh into MLS. Remains to be seen if they'll pull it off, but MLS is about to add Orlando — same league — after that team averaged crowds of 7,000, not much more than the Riverhounds.

I could do this all day.

Comment From Daquido Bazzini: Have the Pirates not added a Justin Moreau because they would have to pay him $3 or $4 mil between now and the end of the year.

Dejan Kovacevic: I've never heard about Morneau from the Pirates in any capacity and, given the many other names I had heard from them in advance of the non-waiver trading deadline, I'll take that to mean they just didn't see him as an upgrade over what they have.

I really wouldn't think money would be the issue, being that there were actual conversations with the White Sox regarding Alex Rios, a much more expensive player.

Comment From wceagles: Do you think with the number of innings that Tony Watson and Justin Wilson have thrown this year that their arms will hold up through the season and hopefully a playoff run?

Dejan Kovacevic: There's got to be some concern about Wilson, in particular. It's not so much the velocity — he's still ramping it up to 98 mph at times — but it's that he opens up his delivery and sprays at times. That's what would get him in trouble in the minors, and it was the main reason he couldn't stick as a starter. The shorter pitching spans in relief allowed him to harness that, but there have been some backward steps.

Watson, I wouldn't worry about at all. So solid.

Comment From Bradford: Great point on A.J.'s 4th inning DK. After the top of the inning I felt that we were surely heading for a series win. Tough half inning and a tough loss! Time to rebound at home this weekend.

Dejan Kovacevic: Won't be easy. Arizona's feeling pretty good about itself after all those walkoff Ws in the past week.

Comment From david d: Don't you think Hurdle gets a lot of criticism because he isn't a proven winning manager? Colorado got so hot the last month of his only winning season that any manager could of been along for that ride.

Dejan Kovacevic: That would be a fair criticism. Hurdle's had one winning season out of nine in the majors, unless I'm mistaken. But that's also not the tone of the criticism of him that I hear. It's almost entirely day-to-day.

Comment From Lloyds Stolen 1B: No need to study Young's homers — baseball reference has done it for you.

Dejan Kovacevic: Of course. Only in baseball.

Comment From fatboy1271: Dejan, when you're out here in LA for Pirates and Pens I want to buy you some awesome West Coast micro brews, assuming you drink beer! Anyway, Geno's dad lost in translation, slow media days, or something else?

Dejan Kovacevic: I appreciate that and all similar offers, but I don't drink! Never have. No particular reason for it. Just not something I've done.

Reading the Russian account of Vladimir Malkin suggesting the Stars offered his son more money than the Penguins absolutely reeked of being completely made up. No other way to put it. You just don't see tampering in sports like that, certainly nothing so obvious or blatant as that.

Comment From Guest 23: I can feel your joy about covering football when you write about it. Which is more fun to cover for you-college with the youthful enthusiasm of the kids or the pros with their media experience?

Dejan Kovacevic: They're different, for the reasons you describe. But I won't lie: I've been an NFL nut since early childhood, before baseball or hockey. Absolutely love Sundays.

Comment From Ron: Who's the best current example that just can't win with the city. It seems like there are some players that could run into a burning orphanage and still be criticized.

Dejan Kovacevic: Ike Taylor stands out to me as being underappreciated. He has that kind of job, sure, where all anyone will see is your mistakes and only a handful of coaches and teammates in a film room can really get it. But the guy's been outstanding in coverage for a long, long time, part of two championships, and you'll just never hear much in the way of praise.

Dejan Kovacevic: And with that, we embark on a Vinny-free Tampa Bay Lightning round ...

Comment From Fiddler: Are you excited about the Premier League starting tomorrow?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not an EPL guy, sorry. I watch the USMNT, I love the World Cup, and I cover the Riverhounds, but only so many hours in the day. My focus always has to be on Pittsburgh.

Comment From Mike A.: If the D-Backs are “ feeling pretty good about itself after all those walkoff Ws in the past week”, is it not unfair to worry about the Pirates not being in a good place mentally after a 1-5 trip? I don't want to be seen as a “Chicken Little”, but I readily admit, I'm a bit concerned...

Dejan Kovacevic: That's healthy. It's a pennant race. I've been hearing in the past week — all over again — how people should enjoy it. No! Don't enjoy it! Suffer! It's what fans do!

Comment From josh: Are you going to London in September? I'm going from Seattle...any must sees?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll be there again for Steelers-Vikings, yes, in late September, just as I was for a month last summer for the Olympics. The No. 1 must-see is the Tower of London's torture chambers. Unreal. Makes you believe that we are, at our roots, one seriously miserable species.

Comment From josh: Beer>coffee

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll take your word for it. I don't need anyone to drive me home from Starbucks.

Comment From Dan Novak: Do you see the Pens adding Mason Raymond on the cheap ?

Dejan Kovacevic: Can't imagine Ray Shero adding until he subtracts to get under the cap. He's still got Matt Niskanen to trade.

Comment From cosmo: Do you receive any preferential treatment at the DMV? Dejan Kovacevic: I don't get even preferential treatment at my local comics shop that I've been frequenting — that's Eide's on Penn Avenue, Downtown — for the better part of my life.

Comment From Tim IW#3: I think Burnett needs to focus more on pitching & less on cream pies to the face, in other words act like a mature leader, your thoughts???

Dejan Kovacevic: No need to get into weird, intangible, narrative-type stuff. Burnett needs to pitch better, get the ball down. That's it.

Comment From Mayhay22: Who is the Pirates starting SS?

Dejan Kovacevic: Um ... hm, now that you mention it, hadn't really thought of it that way. Seems we have a non-platoon platoon going on, huh?

Comment From Brian: What troubles you the most out of the last 6 games?

Dejan Kovacevic: That they were on the road. Now that they're home, coverage is immensely simplified.

Sorry, that's how we think.

Comment From Guest 23: Football players can be some intimidating guys-ever felt secretly intimidated talking to an athlete just by their presence and persona ?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not that I can recall. There really isn't much an athlete can do to a reporter in any setting other than bark back or say no comment or storm off. On our end, that's just part of the job. Happens a few times a year in different settings, and you'll very rarely hear about it.

Comment From cosmo: Do you have any interesting stories planned for the upcoming Olympic games (ie. the curling article you previously did) , or is it way to early to think about it?

Dejan Kovacevic: Way, way, way early. Only thing I can say is that, like all Olympics, I won't limit the coverage to just the local stuff. You have to branch out to get the whole scope.

So yeah, curling.

Comment From Phil S: If you did get preferental treatment at Eides you would be the 1st.

Dejan Kovacevic: Ka-boom! Indeed! I'm pretty sure the Simpsons patterned the “Comic Book Guy” character after a visit to Eide's.

Comment From Guest: Favorite Pittsburgh cultural venue (museums, etc). Eides doesn't count.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm a softie for our dinosaurs. Never gets old.

Comment From Guest: What leverage to the Pens have if the other teams know they need to trade Niskanen?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ray Shero doesn't need any stinkin' leverage! (Insert obligatory Chuck Norris comparison here.) Ask Jim Rutherford about all of Shero's leverage in the Jordan Staal trade!

Comment From shawn: Any surprise promising players in camp that could make final roster?

Dejan Kovacevic: I find the receivers battle to be interesting, as much as any. Derek Moye, Reggie Dunn, those guys. They'll have to get it done on special teams, but they've also had moments in the passing game.

Comment From Jimmy: Favorite TV theme song?

Dejan Kovacevic: Old: “Happy Days”

Fairly recent: “Teen Titans”

Current: “Phineas and Ferb”

Seriously, don't even come near me. You've been warned.

Comment From TJ: 22 games left on the road for a .500 team gives them 11 wins; if they go 12-8 in their last 20 home games it gives them 94 wins overall... enough to make the playoffs?

Dejan Kovacevic: I have a hard time picturing scenarios right now in which the Pirates don't make the playoffs, though that's open to change if the Diamondbacks were to waltz out of here with a sweep this weekend.

That said, man, the bar's got to be higher than just making it at this point. That's why it's been dispiriting to see Burnett and Locke struggle as they have. The rotation doesn't have other Nos. 2 and 3 guys. They have to get it done.

Comment From Bigperm: Over under on Troy full games played this year, I'm betting on 13

Dejan Kovacevic: Would have agreed with you this time last year. Not now. Very different Troy in camp now. Just ripped.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's it for this week. Thanks to all for participating. The columns run Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday. The radio show is Wednesday, this here chat Friday.

The blog is like John Harbaugh's smile. Even when you aren't looking, you know it's always out there somewhere annoying you.

Thanks to all for participating.

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