Pittsburgh Pirates: Year in Review

Another year of baseball has come and gone for 22 cities. This one was a very noteworthy one for the beloved Pittsburgh Pirates. They gave their fans a taste of first place in July for the first time since 1992. Although they completely collapsed down the stretch, they finished with their best record (72-90) since 2004.

Instead of focusing on the huge negative that is the team’s 19th consecutive losing season, I’m going to take this space to focus on the memories that this season left me with by thanking the players. There were plenty.

Joel Hanrahan- Thank you for being the shut-down closer this team envisioned you being when they traded for you in 2009. I’d take you over Nyjer Morgan in a heartbeat.

Pedro Alvarez- Thank you for keeping it cool this year, even though it was a lost year. You took a nearly radioactive situation with your struggles and the reaction of the fan base and kept it from getting out of control. Clear your head up and come back ready in 2012. We need you.

Jose Tabata- Thank you so much for having a love for the Pirate franchise. It showed when you signed your extension this summer. You know the great history of this team and want to be a part of it. How can you not like that?

Paul Maholm- Even though this was most likely your last year with the club, thank you for being a great pitcher to watch during your time here. No matter what kind of crap you were faced with, you took the ball and tried to do your job to the best of your ability every time out. Not one complaint or excuse. It’s something I feel the younger pitchers fed off of.

Jeff Karstens- Thank you for showing in this era of obsession over power arms that a pitcher with control can get the job done too. Keep up the good work.

Michael McKenry- Thank you for making grown men cry on the night of July 8th, 2011 just by hitting a home run. Seriously.

Charlie Morton- Thank you for not giving up when it seemed everyone else had done so. One of the best stories of this season.

James McDonald- Thank you for being the lighthearted guy on the team. Your goofing around even made the 10-0 losses watchable when they cut away to you and the other guys in the dugout.

Neil Walker- Thank you for carrying this team at times when no one else could get it going. You were a catalyst all year with clutch hitting. You are a fun player to cheer for.

Andrew McCutchen- Thank you for having the breakout season that we were waiting for. You are a true “star-level” talent and it showed this year. While you faded down the stretch, you are quickly turning heads in the baseball world.

Clint Hurdle- Thank you for coming into what many consider an impossible situation and bringing hope back to this fan base. Your interactions with fans and players have meant a lot and went a long way to bringing back the positive vibes this young team desperately needed. You believed, so then we believed.

 

187 days until Opening Day 2012.

 

The Curious Case of Pedro Alvarez

This last week and a half have been trying times for the Pirate faithful. A 10 game losing streak has sent the team in a tailspin from first place to fourth, and nearly 10 games out of the NL Central lead.

There have been many lightning rods for criticism during this recent stretch, though no one seems to have more of a storm of negativity surrounding him than third baseman Pedro Alvarez.

Some of it has been warranted. He did show up for the 2011 season out of shape which somewhat affected his performance and had much to do with his injury woes this season. His .206/.274/.300/.574 line is bad, especially for a third baseman. The Pirates were counting on him for at least 25 home runs and he has hit just three. On Friday, he turned in one of the worst offensive performances I have ever seen.

Add an error to that, and you can’t have a worse game.

However, the only thing worse than Pedro’s performance has been the reaction from fans on his struggles.

Many are calling for him to be sent down to the minors again. Even worse, others are calling him a “bust” and want him run out of town.

I think the Pirates are (Gasp!) making the right decision by playing Pedro every day out there. Here are the reasons why.

1.Small sample sizes misguide the uninformed fan.
A lot of people are freaking out about Pedro’s “lost” 2011 campaign. As I mentioned earlier, it is pretty horrible and there is no denying that. However, in no way should the Pirates give up on him. Since he was called up in June 2010, he has played 145 games in the majors, roughly one season. In that time he has hit .239 with 19 HR and 71 RBI with an OPS of .715, hardly an embarrassing stat line for a rookie season. It is complete rubbish to think that a 24 year old has hit his ceiling without even playing 162 career games yet. If we are seeing what we are in 2011 two or three years down the road, then it’s a completely different story.

2. He is still developing.
Let’s play a little guessing game. See if you can guess the players based on their statistics from their first full seasons worth of games in the Major Leagues.

Player A: .196 AVG/ 18 HR/ 62 RBI
Player B: .238 AVG/ 3 HR/ 32 RBI
Player C: .239 AVG/ 19 HR/ 71 RBI

Player A is Mike Schmitt, Player B is Brooks Robinson, and Player C is Pedro Alvarez. Many Hall of Fame sluggers struggled to hit early in their careers, but eventually found their stride. I’m not saying that Pedro will be the next Schmitt or Robinson, but there is certainly evidence out there that a breakout from Alvarez could be coming soon.

3. Playing him in AAA accomplishes nothing.
There is a second camp besides the “get rid of the bum” one that thinks Pedro was called up too early from Indianapolis and the Bucs should send him back down. The problem behind that is he has mastered hitting in the minors. In 84 games at the AAA level he has hit .295/.384/.544/.928 (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS). In AA those numbers blow up to .333/.419/.590/1.009. Having him play against much inferior competition like that wouldn’t help him improve at all. He would become a much better major league hitter by getting reps off of major league pitching.

4. The other options aren’t much better.
The Pirates saw many faces play third during Pedro’s time on the DL. While the team won quite a few games with them, the production from this position, no matter who is playing, is actually quite poor.

Brandon Wood .236/.306/.388/.694/7 HR/24 RBI
Josh Harrison .263/.271/.305/.576/ 0 HR/ 5 RBI
Chase d’Arnaud .225/.245/.294/.539/ 0 HR/2 RBI
Pedro Alvarez .206/.274/.300/.574/ 3 HR/14 RBI

So for those who feel the Pirates would be better off with Wood or Harrison at the hot corner, the substitution would offer little to no help.

So what have I concluded here?

That there is plenty of evidence suggesting that the Pirates are better off sticking with Pedro Alvarez at third base. A lot of people may not like it, but think about this: Even if he had hit three home runs Friday night against the Padres rather than double plays, the Pirates still would have lost 15-14.

Find something else to complain about (ahem, the pitching).

Anthony Rendon: Who Will Be #1?

In a few short weeks, the Pittsburgh Pirates will be making the first selection in the 2011 MLB Draft. Being that this draft is being viewed by many in the baseball world as one of the deepest in recent memory. Since the Pirates can go in numerous different directions, the next week or so will feature posts profiling the different prospects the Buccos may select. This one is dedicated to Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon.

Anthony Rendon

Height/Weight/Age: 5’11″/190/20

Position: Third Base

School: Rice University

Scouting Report:

For being such a small player, Rendon packs a lot of punch. In 2010, he hit .394  with 26 HR and 85 RBI. In both 2010 and 2011 he has had an OPS of over 1.000. Has tremendous patience, as he has drawn 76 walks in 56 games in 2011.  Was unanimous selection to be top pick in 2011 before ankle injury in international play in late 2010. Tremendous fielder who has great range, and good arm.

Why the Pirates will select him.

Offense– There is no question the Pirates could use a player like Rendon in their lineup. He is a gifted hitter with power that would compliment the speed of McCutchen and Tabata, with a better ability to hit for average than Pedro Alvarez.

Major league readiness– The fact that he will be 21 by draft day, coupled with his advanced skills, Rendon will be up here sooner than later.

Move Pedro Alvarez to first base– Drafting Rendon will make sure there will be a capable player at the hot corner when the time comes for Alvarez’s inevitable move to first base.

Why the Pirates won’t select him.

 Scott Boras– Rendon has hired notorious agen Scott Boras to represent him. He and the Pirates aren’t on good terms after the Pedro Alvarez signing saga in 2008. There is a chance the team will want to avoid the chance of another soap opera when trying to sign Rendon.

Health– This pick would have been a no brainer before he shattered his ankle playing for team USA late last summer. There are still reports of him not being 100%. The Pirates will need to take a long look at his long health before going all-in.

Is he for real?– Certainly his 2010 season was eye-opening, however, he has seen a lot of regression in 2011. After 26 home runs last season, he only has five this year. In his defense, teams have begun pitching around him like Barry Bonds, resulting in a ridiculously high number of walks.

Final Verdict

The case for Anthony Rendon is certainly a curious one. He is the best all around offensive player in the draft. Unfortunately, there is also a tremendous amount of risk that goes into selecting him, as nothing will be guaranteed. Something tells me the Pirates will be looking for more of a sure bet with the money that will be at stake.

Stay tuned for my next post on UCLA pitcher Garrett Cole.


Back at .500 (and it feels so good)

For 29 of the 30 teams in the MLB, winning as many games as you lose isn’t really the primary goal of a team’s season. For the Pittsburgh Pirates however, a vicious string of 18 consecutive seasons below .500, fans are clamoring for the team to just be respectable, let alone competitive for a championship.

Today, after beating the Astros 5-4, the Pirates are 17-17. This is the latest the Pirates have been at or above .500 since the 2005 season when they hit the mark in June.

With the team basically written off before the season started, how have they hung around?

The starting pitching to this point has carried the team. The resurgence of Charlie Morton and the consistent play of Kevin Correia has guaranteed that the Pirates will have a chance when they take the mound. After a rough start to the season, James McDonald has settled in. The bullpen has been surprisingly good.

The offense is still problematic from time to time, but they have been getting just enough to get by. Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen, two players who were expected to carry the offense, have struggled so far this year.

With that said, the question still remains, can the team keep it up? While I am a fan, I can’t see the Pirates continuing at this pace. The pitching, especially the bullpen, is due to regress. Unless the offense can pull it together on a regular basis, they will lose more close games.

With this cautious optimism in mind, I am really looking forward to the next couple of weeks to see how it plays out.

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.