Trade Deadline Review: Pirates add Lee, Ludwick

It’s a position the Pirates have been waiting to be in for some time. In 2011, they would finally be buyers at the trade deadline.

Unfortunately, it became a sellers market as the deadline came near. The most coveted players, Hunter Pence and Carlos Beltran, had too high of a price tag. Those hoping the Bucs would make a big splash were left disappointed.

The Pirates were still able to make upgrades, albeit minor ones, by acquiring first baseman Derrek Lee from the Orioles and outfielder Ryan Ludwick from the Padres.

Derrek Lee

The Pirates brought in the 35 year-old bopper from Baltimore to help get some more production out of first base. Everyone and their mother knows that Lyle Overbay has been a colossal failure this year, and it certainly made sense to bolster this position.

On the downswing of his career, Lee has posted a .246/.302/.404 line so far in 2011 that is a far cry from the numbers he has put up the past decade. He has been better as of late, reaching base safely in 14 of his last 18 games while posting an average of .309 during that stretch. On the Orioles’ past road trip he hit two home runs and knocked in seven RBIs.

With the acquisition of Lee, the Pirates are looking for just that, a couple of hot months from a player with some pop. Even so, he isn’t a piece that puts the Pirates up to the level of the Cardinals or Brewers. This move was to bring marginal improvement to first base, while avoiding the firestorm that would have come with Lyle Overbay continuing to start at that position. Since they are only giving up a middle-range prospect in Aaron Baker they didn’t give up much to pick up Lee either, which is important given the team’s circumstances.

Ryan Ludwick

After the acquisition of Lee late Saturday night, I along with many others feared that the Pirates would not be able to make another move. Sunday morning, reports began coming out that the Pirates were looking to add an outfielder. Many had hoped for Jason Kubel of the Minnesota Twins, but since they are still in the AL Central race, they would not budge.

The Pirates turned their sights on Padres left fielder Ryan Ludwick. Shortly before 4 p.m. he was officially made a member of the team in exchange for the proverbial “Player to be named later”.

Like Lee, Ludwick has had his struggles in 2011. His line is .238/.301/.373 which is pretty ugly. In fact, his OPS is lower than Garrett Jones, the player he will most likely replace in the lineup.

In his defense, he is hitting .258/.300/.358 on the road as compared to .218/.302/.356 in his former home ballpark, the cavernous PETCO Park. He has been an above average defender in the outfield, something the Pirates have shown that they sorely need after the chest-pain-inducing play from Xavier Paul, Garrett Jones and Steve Pearce as of late. His 61 RBIs while playing on a team that had the worst average and on-base in the National League is impressive.

Like Lee, he isn’t a piece that throws the Pirates over the top, but just some added production so the team can stay somewhat competitive on offense. Given the woes of the team’s hitting the last few weeks, it shouldn’t be that hard. He is also a Type B free agent at the end of the season, meaning the Pirates can get a compensation pick in next year’s draft if he does not resign with the Bucs.

Review

All in all the Pirates did a fair job bringing in players that should be able to improve the popgun offense all while giving up relatively little. I would have liked to see them get a bat for pinch-hitting late in games (Jason Giambi comes to mind) or sell high on some of their relievers such as Jose Veras or Chris Resop. Can’t argue with the results though. Neil Huntington did as good as anyone could have as a first time buyer.

Halfway home

It seems like yesterday that the Pirates were beginning the 2011 season. After Friday’s game, they reached the halfway point of the season. At the time I am typing this, they hold a 42-41 record that is lightyears beyond what anyone expected. Time to give some mid-season grades.

Offense

A main goal for the Pirates in 2011 was to improve their pathetic offense that averaged just 3.62 runs per game last year. Adding Matt Diaz to platoon in right field with Garrett Jones along with Lyle Overbay to add pop at first gave the team hope that they would be able to score more and take pressure off the pitchers.

So far in 2011, in 83 games the team has averaged just 3.87 runs per game which ranks well in the bottom third of the league. The problem is the team still has poor on-base and slugging numbers.

In 2010 the team had an on-base percentage of .304. This year the number is .310. While it is a slight improvement, it is still well below the league average. The hitters are not staying patient enough to draw walks along with hits. The strikeout numbers are very alarming too. Pirate batters have struck out

The Pirates lack power too. Their team slugging percentage of .354 is 14th in the National League and down from the .373 in 2010. They have hit just 53 home runs, which puts them on pace to have less than they did in 2010.

The general guide for all-around hitting, on-base plus slugging percentage is .664 which is also 14th in the National League. What this stat shows is that the team has some of the worst offensive production in the league.

Obviously, Overbay and Diaz have been disappointments. The fact Pedro Alvarez has done very little this year along with regression from Neil Walker hasn’t helped. With the offense banged up, the team will hopefully see more production when healthy. But to this point in the season, it has been pretty awful.

Grade: D+

Defense

Another goal for 2011 was better defense. The Pirates committed the most errors in the majors in 2010 and looked like a team of little leaguers most nights. That has changed quite a bit in 2011. Take Ronny Cedeno for example. In 2010 his Defensive Runs Saved Above Average (a metric that measures how many runs above or below average a player was worth to his team based on the number of plays made) was -15, meaning he cost the team 15 runs. In 2011, turn that around to a +8 so far, meaning he has saved the team 8 runs. This is very important since the Pirates don’t score much. Ronny has been one of the best defensive shortstops in the game so far this year and has taken a ton the pressure off the pitchers. Andrew McCutchen has also seen a tremendous increase as and many members of the team have improved as well.

There still have been some flaws that these metrics don’t cover. The defense from Lyle Overbay at first has been pretty terrible, and the Pirates still don’t have a catcher that can consistently play good defense behind the dish. The outfielders, primarily Andrew McCutchen, have had a devil of a time remembering what bases to throw to and how to hit cut off men. The addition of Xavier Paul has helped out in that regard. Either way, the defense has been tremendously better than in past years.

Grade: B+

Starting Pitching

Now we’re getting into the good stuff. Gone are the days of embarrassing outings with double digit runs allowed. Gone are the days of the revolving door of starters brought in for the heck of it. The Pirates rotation has established themselves as dependable thanks to the work of Pitching Coach Ray Searage and some pleasant surprises.

Kevin Correia was signed to be a serviceable starter that would just be average and round out the rotation. He has been anything but great, keeping the team in just about every game he has pitched and is one of three pitchers in the NL with 10 wins.

Jeff Karstens wasn’t in the rotation to start the year but an injury to Ross Ohlendorf gave him a chance. He has done more than take advantage of it, as he has an ERA that ranks in the top-10 of the league. By pounding the strike zone and a little luck, he is having a breakout season.

Charlie Morton was one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2010. With the help of a tweak to his motion and a new sinker, he has made a complete 180 degree change. By keeping the ball on the ground and good defense, Charlie has established himself as a good pitcher night in and night out.

Paul Maholm, my pick to disappoint this year, hasn’t done so. A lack of run support during his starts has kept his record down, but for the most part he has shown up when he takes the mound.

James McDonald was picked by many to be the breakout pitcher for the Pirates. Unfortunately, he has been inefficient during starts and has control issues from time to time. Luckily for him, he has done a very good job limiting the damage. His stats are still much better than the average fifth starter.

All in all, the rotation is the reason this team is competitive. As long as it holds up the way it has, the team will be in the thick of things in the NL Central.

Grade: A

Bullpen

Another bright point for the team. We all know how dominant Joel Hanrahan has been converting all of his save opportunities. But credit is also due to the middle relief corps. Chris Resop and Jose Veras have been very good in set-up, and Daniel McCutchen has been a pleasant surprise in his move from starter to reliever. The team still lacks a true lefty that can get outs from those batters consistently, and Evan Meek’s arm troubles have led to a subpar campaign from him. But the good has outweighed the bad, and the team’s ability to shorten games has been invaluable to their success.

Grade: A-

Management

One of the big questions for 2011 was how this team would perform under new manager Clint Hurdle. The team has looked more motivated with the new skipper, and Hurdle holds the players accountable for their mistakes much more than John Russell. There are some parts to Hurdle’s strategies that baffle me. He likes using the sacrifice bunt, a lot even though it has been proven that bunts hurt more than they help in a lot of cases. He also has a weird way of managing his bullpen. He’ll put in left-handed pitchers to face left-handed batters, but then he’ll refuse to replace them when righties come to the plate. The team has also been reckless on the bases (as Hurdle likes having runners try to take the extra base), as only the Arizona Diamondbacks have been caught stealing more. Despite this, you can’t argue with results. The Pirates are still having their best season since 1999.

Grade B+

Summary

As mentioned before, the Pirates are having their best season in over a decade despite numerous injuries and holes. It certainly made for a fun first half of the season. If the pitching can hold up, and the offense comes around, I don’t see why the Pirates can’t keep competing in the weak NL Central. The only problem I have is thinking how good this team would be if they had close to a league average offense.

Overall Grade: B+

The Ecstasy and the Agony: Home Opener 2011

Picture this.

You’ve heard many great things from your friend about a certain girl or guy. They sound like a perfect match for you. You then finally get to meet this certain someone and they are far from what you have learned. You go running in the opposite direction.

I feel like the Pittsburgh Pirates are like that girl/guy you hear about.

They did great things on the road, starting the season 4-2. But when we get to see them in person, they laid an egg.

I was one of the 39,000+ that was at PNC Park today that witnessed the 7-1 whipping at the hands of the Colorado Rockies, but rather than focus on the negatives, like so many will, there were many great things that happened that made the day worthwhile.

I got to the stadium at 10:30. PNC gleamed in the morning sun.

I got into line and at 11:00 got into the stadium.

If you haven’t read my old blog much, you should know that I like to frequent batting practice at baseball games. There is nothing better than watching a 400 foot home run into your glove in the bleachers. Plus you get to have some cool experiences with the players in the meantime.

I’m usually worried about “getting on the board” early. However, I wouldn’t have to wait long. Just 8 minutes in, Matt Diaz bombed a home run that landed on the concrete area between the first and second deck of bleachers in left field. It took a high bounce landed halfway into the second deck and I ran up and picked it up.

(Photo taken after the fact)

Now that the pressure was off, I was able to loosen up. When the last group was up, Neil Walker hit a drive into left-center field. Though a lot of people played it in the front row, but it skipped past them. It came right to me. Two balls in 15 minutes! Couldn’t ask for a better day. I spent the rest of Pirates BP getting pics.

Josh Rodriguez

Steve Pearce (who would send the pitch .5 seconds afterwards right at me, almost breaking my camera)

It was also nice to catch up with the other batting practice regulars about what they were up to in the winter.

The beginning of the Rockies BP was quite boring, and my dad and brother met me. We then went to share the obligatory Opening Day feast of Primanti Brothers sandwiches. It could not have been a more beautiful day for baseball.

The pre-game ceremonies began with a nice tribute to former Pirates manager Chuck Tanner. Leading the Pirates to a World Series victory in 1979, he was beloved by all Pirate fans. Many members of that team were on hand, and an emotional Kent Tekulve gave a great speech. The scoreboard played this video montage.

They then unveiled a memorial in right-centerfield that will remain on the fence all season.

After the rest of the usual ceremonies it was time for the team introductions. The Rockies took their place along the first baseline, with plenty of boos for former Pirate manager Jim Tracy.

They along with the Parrot were looking in awe at this ridiculously stupid video that played before the Pirates introduction.

As Greg Brown introduced the Pirates one by one, I must say, it was the most electric of any Opening Day I have ever been to. Most of the stadium gave the team a standing ovation, giving every player from Andrew McCutchen to Michael Crotta a huge ovation. Unlike past years, the fans believe.

There are few things better in sports than the national anthem at a baseball team’s opener.

Paul Maholm throwing the first pitch at PNC Park in 2011

We all know how the game ended up, so I’ll share some photos. Here’s Jose Tabata.

Neil Walker

Lyle Overbay

Pedro Alvarez

Ryan Doumit

Garrett Jones

Cutch in centerfield

Esmil “Next Cy Young” Rogers

I had no idea Todd Helton still played baseball

Troy Tulowitzki

The Pirates are like the CBS of baseball when it comes to montages. This one aired before the team came to bat in the first and features the one of the new and always entertaining at bat pictures for 2011 at the end. Very cool.

Yesterday, the best and worst of baseball was seen at PNC Park. Yes, we could all rejoice that baseball had returned to the North Shore, but the harsh reality that the team can’t keep up the pace of their first week of play showed. Good thing for them is that there is a game tomorrow and the team is 4-3. I have a feeling that Clint Hurdle will do his best to get the team’s heads back in the game, something that wouldn’t have happened with John Russell at the helm.

Previewing the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates

A week from today, the Pittsburgh Pirates will set sail on another season, looking to get the elephant that is their 18-season losing streak off their backs. The team made some improvements to what was a disaster of a 2010 squad that finished 57-105. Is 2011 finally the year they reach the magic number of 81-81? Let’s take a look at how the 2011 roster is shaping up.

Pitchers

Player 2010 IP 2010 Win-Loss 2010 ERA
Kevin Correia (With SD) 145 10-10 5.40
Paul Maholm 185.1 9-15 5.10
Ross Ohlendorf 108.1 1-11 4.07
Charlie Morton 79.2 2-12 7.57
James McDonald 71.2 4-6 4.02

The Pirates are trying to improve on what was a complete and unmitigated disaster in 2010. Manager Clint Hurdle announced these five as the rotation that the team will begin the season with today. As you can see, the numbers last year weren’t pretty.

When Kevin Correia was signed in December, the Pirates figured him to be the guy rounding out the rotation. However a good spring showing by Correia has given him the opportunity to take the game ball on March 31st at Wrigley Field. While he should be serviceable, he has only pitched more than 140 innings in a season twice. He isn’t the guy you can count on to be an ace.

Workhorse Paul Maholm did what was expected in 2010: Eat up innings and keep the ball on the ground. However teams starting teeing-off of Paul more often last season and have caught on to his less than overwhelming stuff. A less than stellar spring has me thinking his days as the best of the Pirates rotation are coming to an end.

Ross Ohlendorf may have been the unluckiest pitcher in baseball last season. Despite having the best statistics on the staff, he had only a 1-11 record to show for it. To top it off, he spent a good chunk of the season on the disabled-list. He has gotten bombed this spring (0-3 10.24 ERA) which throws up a red flag in my opinion.

Charlie Morton had one of the worst seasons by a pitcher in history in 2010. After trying to regain his focus in AAA, he came to spring remarkably better and won the last spot in the rotation.

James McDonald looked stellar after coming in a trade from the Dodgers last July. He definitely has the best strikeout pitches on the staff and should rack up decent numbers. The key will be limiting the walks and staying healthy of course.

Lineup

Player 2010 Average 2010 HR 2010 RBI
Jose Tabata (LF) .299 4 35
Neil Walker (2B) .296 12 66
Andrew McCutchen (CF) .286 16 56
Pedro Alvarez (3B) .256 16 64
Lyle Overbay (1B) w/TOR .243 20 67
Garrett Jones/Matt Diaz (RF) .247/.250 21/7 86/31
Chris Snyder (C) .229 15 48
Ronny Cedeno (SS) .256 8 38

Jose Tabata showed why he was such a highly touted prospect during his half-season in the bigs in 2010. His pop and speed will make him a nice catalyst at the top of the order.

After coming out of nowhere last year Neil Walker put together a fine season in relief of Aki Iwamura at second base. It will be very interesting to see if he can keep it up and avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

Speaking of sophomore slumps, Andrew McCutchen certainly avoided it in 2010. Hurdle seems to like batting him third (a move I along with many others don’t agree with), but I guess Clint is feeling that Cutch’s power is coming along. This is the year he becomes a star in baseball.

Arriving in June as the most hyped Bucco prospect since Barry Bonds, Pedro Alvarez showed why sometimes, and completely frustrated fans at other times. His power output will be appreciated for a full season, however he continues to swing at a lot of bad pitches, and a large number of strikeouts are inevitable.

Lyle Overbay was signed in the winter to solidify first base. I didn’t like this signing at first, but this spring I’ve noticed his bat and steady defense should help this team out a lot.

In his first full season in the bigs, Garrett Jones didn’t put up crazy numbers like his debut in 2009 suggested. He struggled so much against lefties that the Pirates went out and got Matt Diaz for a platoon in right field. Jones excels against righties, and Diaz kills lefties. This should lead to some increased production.

Sick of Ryan Doumit’s overall incompetence, the Pirates brought in Chris Snyder to get control behind the dish. Though he was offensively challenged at times, and his defense wasn’t much better, he seemed to handle the pitching staff much better. Don’t really expect anything too special from him in 2011 as he’s really a stop-gap until Tony Sanchez is ready for the MLB.

Ronny Cedeno is about as non-descript a player as you get. Not much offense. Doesn’t exactly dazzle with the glove. The Pirates tried getting in another shortstop to replace him through free agency, but failed to. He’s a cheap option that doesn’t really help the team, but doesn’t hurt them too much either.

Bench

Player 2010 Average 2010 HR 2010 RBI
Ryan Doumit (RF/C) .251 13 45
Pedro Ciriaco (IF) .500 (2 for 4) 0 1
Jason Jaramillo (C) .149 1 6
Diaz/Jones (OF) .247/.250 21/7 86/31
Steve Pearce (IF/OF) .317 0 3

After failing as a starter in right field, first base, and catcher, Ryan Doumit will begin the season on the bench. After trying desperately to trade him, the Pirates appear to be on the hook for his $5 million salary in 2011. Being defensively challenged all around the diamond, I don’t figure him being more than a situational bat.

Pedro Ciriaco who was brought over in the Church/Crosby for Snyder deal looks to be in position to make the team as a backup middle infielder. If Cedeno scuffles, look for some extra time for Pedro, as the team will try to see if he can figure into the team’s future plans.

Despite an atrocious 2010 at the plate, Jason Jaramillo is in position to make the team as a backup catcher. Nothing really special about him, as the catcher position has become a sort of black hole for the team.

The platoon of Garrett Jones and Matt Diaz will ensure that another situational pinch hitter will be on the bench late in games.

Though the 25th man may be a toss-up, I have a feeling Steve Pearce will be the one who gets the last spot. He showed some promise before an injury sidelined him most of 2010. He has been getting reps at 3rd this spring, and if he does a good enough job, he could give Alvarez some relief against left-handed pitchers.

Bullpen

Player 2010 Appearances 2010 ERA 2010 Holds/Saves
Evan Meek 70 2.14 15/4
Joel Hanrahan 72 3.62 18/6
Jeff Karstens 26 (19 starts) 4.92 0/0
Brian Burres 20 (13 starts) 4.99 0/0
Joe Beimel (with COL) 71 3.40 20/0
Scott Olsen 17 (15 starts) 5.56 0/0
Chris Resop 23 3.86 5/0
Garrett Olson 35 4.54 1/1

Evan Meek was the team’s All-Star in 2010, however the team thought it would be better if he would be the set-up man instead of closer. His durable arm makes him a wise choice for that role.

Joel Hanrahan was named the closer at the very beginning of spring training. He has the stuff to hold down the role, and should be very successful.

Jeff Karstens figures to be the long man out of the pen. There is always the chance he could get yet another crack at the rotation if injuries and underperformance take over.

Though he was a spot starter in 2010, Brian Burres has been fairing well as both a starter and reliever in spring training. I expect him to see more time as a middle reliever in 2011.

Brought in to be a lefty specialist, Joe Beimel is back for a second go-around with the team that drafted him. Plagued with inconsistency and injuries this spring, I have my doubts about his chances for success in 2011.

Whether he likes it or not, Scott Olsen will start the season in the ‘pen. If he keeps it together, he definitely has a shot at seeing some starts. But in the short term, he’ll have to be a middle-reliever.

Chris Resop took advantage of a depleted pitching staff to put up decent numbers in 2010. He will get the chance to stick around by starting the year as a righty middle-reliever.

Finally, the Pirates got some more experience into the mix by claiming another lefty off waivers last week, Garrett Olson. He has bounced around the majors and minors, and really hasn’t done anything special with his career. However, he is the best option of the remaining relief candidates.

Predictions

Most Likely to Breakout- James McDonald. There are a lot of “ifs” but if the control comes around, he has the stuff to turn heads and make a name for himself.

Most Likely to Disappoint- Paul Maholm. He has become too hittable recently. It adds up to a recipe for disaster in 2011.

Most Likely to be All-Star Rep- Andrew McCutchen. Cutch becomes a nationally recognized star in 2011, not just that cult hero that only hardcore fans of baseball know.

Most Likely to be Traded- Joel Hanrahan. At 29, he is probably at his peak value for his career. Wouldn’t surprise me if Neil Huntington unloads him at the deadline.

Don’t Be Too High On- Pedro Alvarez. Yes he’s very good, but his hitting is still coming along. He’s not going to be bashing a ton of home runs this year or hitting for a high average.

Don’t Be Too Low On- Lyle Overbay. A lot thought this was another dead end free agent signing but from what I’ve seen in spring training, Lyle could be a nice addition to this team. His defense is much needed and the bat could have a little pop left.

Final Prediction

Using their PECOTA projection software, Baseball Prospectus projects the 2011 Pirates to a 71-91 record, 5th in the NL Central. If this were to happen the Pirates would win more than 69 games for the first time since 2004. While I like the outlook, I just don’t see the team making a drastic 14 game improvement in just one year. Certainly they weren’t as bad as their 105 losses indicated last year, but this is the Pirates. This summer will still be long, just not quite as long

Record: 67-95

What do you think the Pirates will do? Leave your predictions and what you think will happen as a comment.