Sunday, October 10, 2010

Just Say No To Bob Walk and Andy Van Slyke

After last weeks firing of former pirates manager John Russell, several names have emerged as potential candidates. Some, such as Phil Garner and Eric Wedge would be considered good hires.

There are others though, including names such as Andy Van Slyke and Bob Walk that would be awful hires.

Over the past week, both guys have been gaining some steam popularity wise and that's a bad sign. It would be just like the Pirates to offer one of these guys the job.

This is a major decision for a franchise that hasn't sniffed a winning season in close to two decades. There is more pure talent in the organization right now then there has been at any time during that span. This could be the Pirates only true chance to be competitive soon.

If they don't turn it around soon, then there is a chance they likely never will. You can't put that responsibility on a guy that has no managerial experience at all. Considering either guy simply because he has ties to the Pirates is insane.

Walk has no coaching experience what so ever. What makes you think he is capable of handling young players and handling a pitching staff that will likely struggle for 162 games?

The same goes for Van Slyke. Good players don't necessarily become good managers. In fact, there are very few cases in sports where it happens often. Van Slyke at least served under Jim Leyland's staff in Detroit for three seasons, but to think he's ready to be a big league manager is a bit of a stretch.

I would feel differently if either guy had worked his way through the minors as a manager the way the Cubs Ryne Sandberg has, or if either guy has spent significant time on successful big league staffs, but neither guy has.

Just because a guy has Pittsburgh ties doesn't mean he will be successful as a manager. Sure it could happen, but the Pirates shouldn't lay their future on a roll of the dice.

Hiring either guy won't mean a thing at the box office either. Thinking attendance will improve because they brought back a former Bucco to manage the team is also not smart. The only thing that will bring people to PNC park is wins. Plain and simple.

That's not saying having Pittsburgh ties is a bad thing. Garner and Ken Macha have them and both should be considered, although it looks like Macha won't be.

I've been wanting the Pirates to hire Garner for a couple of years now. They need a real baseball guy who has won before and at least shown the ability to handle a young team.

My top three candidates are still be Eric Wedge, Freddie Gonzalez, and Garner.

With the Pirates bad ownership and small payroll, it's also possible that these guys could fail as well, but with such a small window to hopefully succeed in, they have to give the job to a guy that's proven something as a big league manager.

The Pirates shouldn't even consider Walk or Van Slyke, no matter how much the casual fan want them to get the job. This is a bigger decision then most people realize. The Pirates haven't listened to the fans for over two decades. Let's hope they don't start now.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What Went Wrong?

Disappointing is the word that I associate with the 2010 Pittsburgh Pirates. Others would prefer words like pathetic, awful or embarrassing.

If anyone expected this team to be good this season, well they don't know baseball very well. This was set up to be the worst season yet for the Pirates, but even I wasn't prepared for them to be this bad.

They weren't going to approach .500 this season, but 50 games under the .500 mark is a bit much even for this team.

It doesn't bother me though, as long as management sticks to the plan. They likely will be in a position to select Antony Rendon with the first overall pick. Keep drafting well.

The goal of competing may be pushed back a season though. Hitting .500 next season and competing the next is a bit unrealistic. A 50 game improvement is next to impossible.

Looking back at this season, what went wrong? Why the dramatic step backwards?

A simple answer would be everything, but I've narrowed it down a bit. This list doesn't include everything but just a quick overview. Feel free to leave your thoughts as well.

1. Starting Pitching:

It's not good when two or three of a teams starters lose double digit games in a season. It's down right awful when five starters have ten or more losses.

The sad part is that the Pirates viewed the rotation as a possible strength going into the season.

Coming off of a solid 2009 campaign, Ross Ohlendorf has exactly one win compared to 12 losses. Sure he's pitched better than than the record indicates, but in the end the numbers don't lie.

Paul Maholm and Zach Duke were counted on to have solid seasons and both took huge steps backwards. Duke was often so bad that he likely won't be tendered in the off-season.

Then there is Charlie Morton, who the Pirates had high expectations for. Instead he delivered a 1-11 record with an 8.81 era.

For the year, the Pirates have used 11 different starting pitchers, which have combined for a 29-80 record and an awful 5.50 era.

Brian Burres and James McDonald have provided bright spots the last few weeks, but it's not nearly enough to off-set the poor performance of the entire starting staff.

2. Free Agents Bust:

Pirates GM Neal Huntington thought he upgraded the roster in the off-season to the point where it could compete in the NL Central. Huntington knew he had future young studs in waiting, but the guys he added in the short term were supposed to help and add depth.

Instead, they were all awful.

Starting with Aki Iwamura, who was supposed to hold down the second base job. The Pirates didn't do the necessary homework on his knee and Iwamura turned out to be damaged goods. The former Tampa Rays second baseman was no where near the player he was in Tampa.

Iwamura had zero range in the field and only hit .182 before being shipped to the minors.

Ryan Church was signed to be a quality fourth outfielder, but hit under .200 and turned out to be an all-around lazy player.

The same for Bobby Crosby who provided zero production.

These guys were all just stop gaps and weren't going to be around anyways, but while they were here, they produced nothing and took at bats away from younger players that should have had them.

It's not all bad news though. Huntington did add some quality bullpen arms through free agency and turned Octavio Dotel and the rest of the bums I mentioned before into James McDonald, Andrew Lambo, Pedro Ciriaco, Chris Snyder and John Bowker.

Also, Iwamura's struggles opened up a spot for Neil Walker to shine.

3. Most of the Returning Players Also Sucked:

I've already detailed how bad the pitchers coming back were, but the everyday players were just as bad.

Ryan Doumit started the season batting in the middle of the line up and has practically played his way out of Pittsburgh. He's been awful both at the plate and in the field.

Andy Laroche was expected to improve, but regressed and is batting .206.

Guys that were on the opening day roster, including: Lastings Milledge, Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, Delwyn Young and others showed no consistency.

Even Garrett Jones failed to meet expectations, although he didn't have a terrible season.

Overall, Andrew McCutchen was the only everyday player on the opening day roster that continues to get better.

4. Road games:

Remember, the goal is to be able to compete. However, for those of you that feel like finishing .500 would be something special; here's an idea. Maybe the Pirates could play every game next season at PNC Park.

At home, the Bucs are a respectable 36-39 on the season. On the road though, it's a much different story, where the Pirates are a miserable 15-59.

How did they ever win 15? It's a miracle.

The Pirates finished the season 5-4 on the road against the Cubs and 2-1 against the Rockies, which means they are 8-55 against the rest of baseball on the road. That's hard to do.

The road record is a huge cause of concern. There's no reason to be that bad on the road.

More often than not, the Pirates don't even compete away from home. All of the blowouts aren't good for the teams confidence.

You can't compete when you have very little chance in 81 games of a 162 game schedule.

5. No Power:

Not having power and run producers in the middle of the line up has been tough to deal with. Especially as bad as the pitching has been.

Pedro Alvarez has shown glimpses of what he will be able to do, but as it stands right now, Garrett Jones leads the club with 20 homers.

The top three Pirates leader in homers: Jones (20), McCutchen (16) and Snyder (14, not all came with the Pirates) are only one more combined then major league leader Jose Bautista(49).

When the Pirates fell behind in games, especially early; before Alvarez, Walker and Jose Tabata were called up, they simply didn't have the bats to compete in games.

6. Fundamentals:

The finger here has to be pointed directly at Pirates manager John Russell. Way too often this season, the Pirates played lazy baseball.

A team takes on the personality of it's manager, and that's the way this team played.

Have you even seen a team lack so many basic fundamentals.

Not knowing what base to throw do. Not being able to lay down bunts. Not being able to hit behind runners. Not being able to turn routine plays on defense and finally the countless base running mistakes all were factors in the countless Pirates losses this season.

Average teams execute most of the time. Good teams execute most of the time. Bad teams, well they play like the Pirates.

That's the most disturbing part. The talent is starting to emerge, but at times it looks like these guys have never played the game before.

Changes will and must be made before next season.

Not everything was bad this season. My next column will be a look at the positive things we saw this season.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Is Zach Duke the worst pitcher in baseball?

Pop quiz: Who is the worst starting pitcher in Major League Baseball over the last four seasons?

If you said Zach Duke, then you nailed it.

The Pirates lefty has flat-out not been very good for a span that's lasted four seasons. In that time he has compiled a 26-51 record and a 4.99 ERA and more than once has led MLB in hits allowed.

He put together a decent first half of 2009, where he was rewarded with an All-Star selection, but if Duke has proved anything, it's that he can't get major league hitters out consistently.

If you say he hasn't been the worst over that span, give me a name, because I've run the numbers on pretty much every pitcher that has had a regular rotation spot.

In 2010, there is no doubt he is the worst pitcher taking a regular turn on an MLB staff. His losses are tied for fifth among pitchers with at least 120 IP. His 5.47 ERA is the second highest, and his .320 opponents batting average against is easily the worst. That's actually embarrassing.

Once or twice out of 10 starts, Duke can turn in a good outing, as he did against the Mets a little over a month ago, but the overall body of work has not been good.

In his latest outing, he couldn't get an out in the second inning. There is no longer an upside to Zach Duke. He can't be a part of the Pirates rotation going forward.

What do you do with Duke?

He's making $4.3 million this year and is third-time arbitration eligible after the season. On innings pitched alone, he's going to get a raise.

The Pirates can't allow that to happen.

The only move that makes sense is to non-tender him after the season. His career as a Pirate should last two or three more starts.

It's very unlikely Duke gets a major league offer from another team. He's looking at signing a minor league deal with an invitation to some team's camp.

The Pirates can't spend over $5 million on a guy that just can't get outs.

The production Duke offers can be found on the waiver wire for a lot less money. Take Brian Burres, for instance. His 3-3 record and 5.75 ERA can be found easily and a lot cheaper than $5 million.

It's almost fitting that the Pirates have the worst pitcher in the game, but to turn the corner, management has to start parting ways with guys that are incapable of getting the job done on a consistent basis.

There is nothing about Duke that warrants him being part of the 2011 Pirates team. It's such a shame after the way he came up as a rookie in 2005. Injuries set him back, and that 2005 Zach Duke was entirely a different pitcher than the guy wearing that jersey now.

Duke fans, enjoy him while you can, because he is more than likely spending his final few weeks in a Pirates uniform.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pirates Enjoying the Role of Spoiler

The Pittsburgh Pirates have waited all season long to get good outings from their starting rotation. Little did they know that they would have to wait until September against the first place Atlanta Braves. The Bucs received back-to-back solid outings from the likes of Brian Burres and James McDonald. While that’s great for the Pirates, it’s next to crippling for the Atlanta Braves.

While the Pirates are enjoying the the role of spoiler, the Braves offensive struggles have knocked them out of first-place for the time being. The Braves have no one to blame but themselves. Quite frankly there is no excuse for a team like the Braves to get shutdown on consecutive nights by a team that is 44 games under .500 and sports a major league worst 5.12 team era.

Quite frankly, a team that scores one run in 18 innings of play against the Pirates doesn’t really deserve to make the playoffs anyways.

The Braves can and likely will turn things around, but they have to get the bats going. The pitching is there.

One guy who will be heavily scrutinized is first baseman Derrick Lee. Lee has been a total bust since the Braves acquired him and has left a small village on the base paths for Atlanta hitting in the middle of their order.

To make it a successful final season for manager Bobby Cox, the Braves offense must heat up. If they finish the season a game or two out of first, the can look directly back at this series in Pittsburgh as the one that cost them.

For a two game stretch, the Pirates are showing a combination of good pitching, flawless defense and timely hitting.  What happened the other 100 + games.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Does Brandon Moss Deserve another Look?

With a couple more September call-ups likely to be recalled after the Indianapolis Indians complete their regular season, the Pirates face a difficult decision on right fielder Brandon Moss.

Moss lost his right field job in Pittsburgh in 2009 after not being able to provide consistent production. He's coming off a fantastic season at AAA where he was recently voted the clubs MVP.

Moss is hitting for power and driving in runs, something he was expected to do in a Pirates uniform. Moss is currently hitting a respectable .265 with 22 homers and 95 RBI. Granted it's AAA pitching , but for a team that has so little power at the corner outfield spots, has Moss done enough to warrant another look from the Pirates?

A couple things may stand in the way. First, Moss isn't on the 40-man roster at the moment. The Pirates would need to create a spot for him and that seems almost unlikely.

Secondly, if they were to call up Moss, would there be enough at bats to justify it? They aren't going to bring him up to have him ride the bench.

The right field spot is open for competition. If Lastings Milledge isn't the everyday right fielder next season, then the Pirates will need another option. That option isn't Ryan Doumit, who the club will likely explore trade options for during the off-season.

It would be nice to have some power from the right field position. It can't hurt to take another look at Moss, who still has that "P" work attached to his name- potential.

The word potential is thrown around as much as the term "great stuff," but the Pirates haven't been the only club to see something in Moss.

Moss becomes a minor league free agent after the season if he's not called up, so Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington is faced with a difficult decision regarding the 27-year old right fielder. There is little chance Moss would re-sign with the Pirates if that were the case. He would more than likely pursue an opportunity that could lead to a major league opportunity.

With the team going no where, it can't necessarily hurt to take another look at a guy like Moss.

Did the Pirates drop the ball on Aroldis Chapman?

If you've been paying attention lately, the Cincinnati Reds called up left-handed phenom Aroldis Chapman and his 103 mph fastball this week.

That's right, I said 103 mph. He was actually clocked at 105 mph during a minor league game a week ago. Now, I have no problem with Chapman or the fact that he's wearing a Cincinnati Reds uniform. What I have a big problem with is why he's not wearing a Pirates uniform instead.

The deal Chapman signed with the Reds was for six years and $30 million. The sixth year is an option year worth $5 million and the money is spread out pretty liberally. His signing bonus, which is worth around $15 million of the deal, is spread out between when he signed the contract and 2020. That seemed to be the best way for the Reds to fit the big contract into their small budget.

If the Reds could do that then why not the Pirates? What the Pirates do need is a phenom left-hander who can hit triple digits. The Pirates have done a fine job of rebuilding the organization, but this was a guy to go out and get.

There's no excuse. You can't use the usual built in excuse that, "the Yankees will out bid us."

It's one thing to get beaten out by the deep pockets of the Yankees or Red Sox, but being out bid by the Reds shouldn't have happened. That's no knock on the Reds at all. I like what they are doing and good for their organization and their fans.

The Pirates were involved and it's rumored that they fell under $1 million short of Chapman's asking price.

That's absurd.

That should have been exactly the situation where the Pirates swept in and trumped everyone with a bigger number. Give the kid $7-8 million. We keep hearing that money isn't an issue and the Pirates will spend.

Yet in less than a year, the Pirates have lost out on two potential phenoms. They lost shortstop Miguel Angel Sano to the Twins over a mere $500,000 and must now watch Chapman excel for the rival Reds, when maybe a couple more million may have had him wearing a Pirates uniform.

Very few opportunities come along where you can get a guy that can make an impact like Chapman will, and while it's likely Chapman wouldn't have signed with the Pirates, the reality is that they had a chance and once again flat out dropped the ball.

If the Reds can do it then the Pirates better be able to do it as well.

That's right though, money doesn't matter. Remember that when both of these kids become major league stars and the likely only thing that kept them out of Pittsburgh was a tight check book.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Is Jose Tabata the MVP of the Pirates?

In the midst of another miserable season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, it's often tough to find real bright spots to talk about, but the Pirates have one in outfielder Jose Tabata.

Neil Walker gets the press being the hometown kid and he's deserved it. Walker is having a tremendous rookie campaign and has cemented himself as part of the future core of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Pedro Alvarez also gets a ton of attention paid to him. Coming up as "The Savior" of the Pirates hasn't been easy for Alvarez, but he's handled it well and has shown at times what type of major league player he has the potential to become in the upcoming seasons.

Having said all of that, is it possible that Jose Tabata is the best of the three future Pirates stars?

Since his June 9th call up, Tabata has been nothing short of outstanding for the last place Pirates. He's definitely been the most consistent.

Tabata has settled in very nicely in the 2-hole in the Pirates lineup. What seperates him from the others is his approach at the plate, which is the best on the team. Tabata is the one guy on the team that simply hits the ball where it's pitched. He's a very good situational hitter as well.

He's even shown some pop. The power will come. He's shown he has it. he's never going to be a 30+ homer type guy, but with time he has the ability to hit 15-20 a season.

Add to that outstanding speed and solid defense and Tabata could be a future all-star.

His 2010 numbers are very good. In 70 games, Tabata is hitting .312. His four homers and 21 RBI are modest numbers, but Tabata has shown he can hit well at the MLB level.

He's also stolen 14 bases. He's been caught seven times, but that percentage is likely to go up as he learns the pitchers around the league.

Other impressive numbers for Tabata,

. His .312 batting average ranks second among all rookies with at least 300 at bats, behind only the Giants Buster Posey.

. He reaches base consistently, reaching base safely in 58 of his 70 starts.

. He has 59 hits since the All-Star break, ranking him second to only the Cubs Starlin Castro.

. Tabata's 87 hits since his call up ranks him second in baseball behind only Albert Puljos (88). That's great company to be in.

That's quite the early resume for Tabata. He will only get better with experience. He deserves some votes for Rookie of the Year. While he has no chance to win the award, he should be recognized along with some of the other great young players in the game.

While he won't win the Rookie of the Year, Tabata should win another award and that's the team MVP. He's definitely the Pirates MVP at the moment. No one else has stood out to make a strong case this year

Maybe it could go to relievers Joel Hanrahan or Evan Meek who have both had outstanding seasons out of the Pirates bullpen. However, if you are giving the award to the guy that's had the best season, then Tabata has to be considered the Pirates Most Valuable Player.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Charlie Morton's Last Stand

The Pittsburgh Pirates will do some tinkering to the starting rotation this week. Jeff Karstens is being shelved for the time being with a tired arm. Daniel McCutchen will assume Karstens spot in the rotation tonight against the Cardinals.

They will also need a starter for Sunday, as Ross Ohlendorf won't be taking his scheduled start. The guy to keep an eye on is Charlie Morton. Morton needs this opportunity. Pirates fans need it as well.

Morton deserves at least a five-start look at the end of the season. The Pirates have to find out which guy they have. Is it the Charlie Morton that showed towards the end of 2009 that he can be a capable major league pitcher? Or, do they have the Charlie Morton that simply couldn't get major league hitters out consistently in 2010?

The Pirates should believe in Morton still. He has all the tools. He has a great arm with a fastball that can top 95 mph and can back that up with above average breaking stuff.

I vowed to never use the term "great stuff," after hearing it over a thousand times this year during Pirates telecasts, but Morton has it.

Morton has to show better command this time around. He has to locate better or he will get crushed. He has to pitch off his fastball more. It's a weapon and he needs to use it to get people out.

He also has to be much tougher mentally as well. He's too talented to fold and start giving into hitters. The scouting reports on Morton, dating back to his days in the Atlanta system, have always questioned his head. With the "stuff" a guy like Morton has, he has to have a bulldog-like mentality.

Throwing to Chris Snyder instead of Ryan Doumit should help out as well. In his short time in Pittsburgh, Snyder has shown that he will call the game to the pitchers strengths instead of working to their weaknesses, which Doumit is very fond of doing.

Morton is a much better pitcher than his 1-9 record and 9.35 ERA indicate. If the opportunity is given to him, he must take advantage of it.

This could be a second chance served up to him on a silver platter. He must approach it with that attitude or risk not being part of a future Pittsburgh Pirates rotation. He needs to succeed. The Pirates need him to succeed. The fans need him to succeed.

This could be Charlie Morton's last stand as a Pittsburgh Pirate. He needs to come out fighting.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ranking the Top 10 Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects

For all of the doubters, take a look at where the Pirates overall organizational depth is right now, compared to where it was at this point three seasons ago.

While it doesn't currently show at the major league level, Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington and staff has done a tremendous job of loading up the organization with young talent.

For a change, the Pirates have "real" prospects in the organization and that's a positive sign that things will eventually turn around. Now that another successful draft is over for the Pirates, I thought I'd take a look at the Top 10 Prospects currently in the organization.

This list was harder to cut down to ten than I originally thought, so enjoy and feel free to comment with your top 10.

10. SS Chase D'Arnaud- D'Arnaud isn't having one of his best seasons, currently batting .246, 3 HR, 40 RBI at Altoona. He's still one of the best athletes in the system though.

He's a slick fielder who has shown the ability to hit at other stops. It should only be a matter of a year or two before D'Arnaud is starting in PNC Park.

9. LHP- Rudy Owens- Owens is a lefty who opened every one's eyes a season ago with a 10-1 season at West Virginia. He doesn't have over powering stuff, but throws strikes and has great command.

At Altoona, Owens currently is 10-6 with a 2.67 era and has an impressive 118 strikeouts to only 22 walks.

8. RHP Bryan Morris- Morris was acquired from the Dodgers in the Jason Bay trade and after dealing with injuries, has shown everyone what the big deal about him is all about.

He started the season in Bradenton and quickly was promoted to Altoona. He's hit a wall as of late and will likely be shut down to his innings count, but has an outside shot at a big league rotation spot next season.

Morris features a fastball in the low 90's and has good command of his pitches; including a very good curve ball.

7. LHP-Jeff Locke- Locke was acquired as the big piece of the Nate McLouth trade and has done a lot this season to open up some eyes. Locke started the season at Bradenton where he went 9-3 with a 3.54 era.

Locke has a solid four pitches and throws strikes. He since was promoted to Altoona where he's gone 2-1 with a 3.07 era. Combined at the two stops, Locke has struck out 123 batters in 127.1 innings pitched and only allowed 22 walks.

6. OF- Andrew Lambo- Lambo was acquired from the Dodgers along with James McDonald at this seasons trade deadline in exchange for Octavio Dotel. This will go down as the best trade Huntington has made yet as Pirates GM.

Lambo was the Dodgers number one prospect a season ago, but was suspended for 50 games for PED's and fell out of favor in Los Angeles.

Lambo is a five tool player that has potential stud written all over him. In 14 games since being acquired, Lambo is hitting .340 with 2 HR and 7 RBI. Scouts have raved about the young outfielders all around talent.

5. OF- Starling Marte- Marte is another five tool talent that is part of a future Pirates outfield. Marte was slowed this season by a broken bone in his hand, but after an early season promotion to Bradenton, the 22-year old is hitting .320 with 25 RBI and 17 steals.

Marte might be the most gifted all around talent in the entire organization.

4. RHP- Luis Heredia- The Pirates made waves by recently signing the 16-year old Mexican prodigy, which could wind up being one of the Pirates best international signings ever.

Heredia projects to be around 6"6, around 200 lbs. and already throws in the mid-90's. He won't be rushed, but on potential talent alone, he ranks very high on the list.

3. C- Tony Sanchez- Sanchez ranks a little higher on the list because he likely will reach the major's by 2012. The 2009 first round pick is said to be big league ready defensively and his bat has been a pleasant surprise, hitting .312 with modest power this far in his young career.

Sanchez took a pitch to the face which cost him some time, otherwise he likely would be in AA by now. Chances are he opens the season in Altoona next year and with a solid showing could force the Pirates hands on a quick call up.

2. RHP- Stetson Allie- An organization desperate for pitching, nabs the two best arms in the 2010 draft. I've seen all these guys pitch, including Allie and the kid has a lightning bolt for an arm.

The one thing the organization was lacking is starters with ace potential and Allie is now one of two that fit the bill. He has some things to learn, including some command issues, but you can teach command. You can't teach 100mph.

1. RHP Jameson Taillon- The Pirates made the pick they had to make in Jameson Taillon and they gave him a record $6.5 mil. Taillon is a guy that can get it up to 98 mph and has four out pitches and can throw them for strikes in any count.

Taillon has the tools to be Josh Beckett like, something the Pirates have been missing for far too long. If he and Allie become a solid 1-2 punch within 2-3 years, the Pirates will be well on their way to being competitive once again.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Future of the Pirates Could Ride on the Signings of Taillon and Allie

Decision time nears for Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington and the rest of the front office staff. First and second round picks, right handers Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie must be signed by tonight’s midnight deadline.

This becomes the toughest decision Huntington has ever had to make as General Manager of the Pirates. It’s even tougher then the Pedro Alvarez negotiations that nearly turned into an embarrassing mess for the Pirates.

The facts are that if the Pirates didn’t come to terms with Alvarez, there would have been some uproar, but in the end, the situation would have been viewed as “Same Old Pirates,” and been forgotten. In the end, the decision becomes easy for the Pirates. Just pay the kids.
This case is different. The Pirates absolutely have to sign both of these kids. What would happen if they don’t?
First of all, the Pirates would alienate the fan base they do have. They would lose trust and would have little chance of gaining new Pirates fans in the future, something they desperately need.
Owner Bob Nutting would be the one and only target of the backlash. We’ve heard time and time again the past year about how the Pirates are no longer in a position where money matters. He’s stated time and time again that the club will pay for talent. Now is the time to quit telling the fans and start showing them that you are serious.
If they don’t sign both, what exactly is the point of the rebuild? It makes little sense to start to rebuild the organization with young talent to just quit and give up on it half way through. If they fail to lock up both, the terms “rebuilding,” and “future of the Pirates,” can never be used again. Fans just won’t be able to take the front office seriously.
The final and most important reason that the Pirates need to sign these guys is the on-field performance of the pitching staff. The Pirates need quality arms in the system. One thing they are lacking is arms that have staff ace potential. These two kids fit the bill. You can teach kids whatever you want about pitching, but one thing you can’t teach them is how to throw 100mph.
After the deadline passes on Taillon and Allie, Huntington must turn his attention to signing highly touted 16-year old pitching prospect Luis Heredia out of Mexico. Heredia recently said he wanted to play for the Pirates. When is the last time you heard anyone say that?
Huntington has a busy couple weeks ahead of him. He can get off to a good start tonight by simply getting a couple signatures on a couple of contracts. The decision is an easy one. Give them whatever they want. Show them the money. Fans have watched this franchise count nickles and dimes for far too long. The decision is simple. Do what it takes to get the kids signed.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Say What You Want, but Pedro Alvarez is a Stud

With all the prospects the Pittsburgh Pirates have attempted to accumulate over the years, none have had the pedigree of Pedro Alvarez. With the attempt made to focus on the draft the last three seasons, no pick has generated the buzz around Pittsburgh that Alvarez did. Alvarez tore through minor league pitching and in a little over a year after making his professional debut, got the call to the big leagues.

While many (me included), felt it was way to early to summon Alvarez to PNC Park, he got the call anyways. Despite Pirates General Manager Neil Huntington proclaiming just hours earlier that "Alvarez isn't ready," the Pirates front office caved in to fan backlash and called up Alvarez anyways.

What did they get in return? They got a kid that looked lost and over matched at the big league level. Pedro Cerrano had a better chance of hitting a breaking ball without the help of his trusted fried Jobu then Alvarez had a chance of making contact in any particular at bat. Pirates fans started to boo the young Alvarez and basically said "Here we go again."

Alvarez, or better know as "The Savior," got of to a whopping 9 for 57 start with 29 strikeouts. That's hitting at a .158 clip if your scoring at home. That includes riding a five-game hit streak into July 3rd as well or the numbers would be much worse.

Then on July 3rd, Alvarez connected with his first major league homer, a solo shot off of the Phillies Kyle Kendrick. Since that time, we've seen a different Alvarez. We've seen more of the player we expected to see all along and it's a great sign for the Pirates.

Take out Alvarez's horrible start and we see a different player. Since connecting with his first dinger, Pedro is hitting at a .282 clip with 6 doubles, 10 homers and 25 RBI's. That's a 30 game span and I will take those results. Project that out for an entire season and you are looking at a guy that will put up some serious numbers.

Has he looked like a rookie at times? Absolutely, and he will continue to do so. Has he looked like a stud at times as well? Absolutely, and he will have more days like this then he will bad days.

It was a special moment Saturday night when Alvarez hit his 3-run walkoff in the 10th inning against the Colorado Rockies. Pirates fans should get used to that feeling, as Alvarez will continue to put up big numbers in Pittsburgh for a long time.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pirates Fire Two on Coaching Staff

The Pirates relieved a couple members of their coaching staff of their duties this morning. Relax, unfortunately it wasn’t manager John Russell. Instead, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and bench coach Gary Varsho were informed their services would no longer be needed by the franchise.

While Russell and hitting coach Don Long also need to go, this is a start for the Pirates to hopefully get a quality coaching staff around their young talent for next season.

Kerrigan came to the Pirates two seasons ago and talked a great deal about what his pitchers would do, but we never saw it executed on the field. We’ve heard a ton about pitching inside and throwing first pitch strikes. Pirates pitchers have no clue what the inside of the plate looks like and more often than not begin the count behind 2-0 on every hitter.

The Pirates staff as a whole has an eye popping 5.07 era on the season, which just can’t happen. Not one starting pitcher has seen improvement on Kerrigan’s watch. In fact, most have regressed so bad, that you have to wonder if they ever will recover. That’s a long list of names that include: Charlie Morton, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, Brad Lincoln and Paul Maholm.

Kerrigan will be replaced on an interim basis by Roy Searage, who served as the assistant pitching coach under Kerrigan.

Varsho will be replaced as bench coach by Minor League Field Coordinator Jeff Bannister, also on an interim basis. Varsho’s duties included setting a Pirates defense that plays in the exact same spot, every pitch to every batter. Maybe Bannister will take a look at a scouting report or two and adjust accordingly.

As the Pirates begin plans for 2011, two down and two to go when it comes to the Pirates coaching staff.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Who Should be the Closer Heading into Next Season?

Not that it matters much for the rest of the season, but the last two months could go a long way to determine jobs for next season.  One job being auditioned for is next year's closer, between Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek.

Both have had outstanding seasons in set-up roles.  Meek made the All-Star team and Hanrahan leads the entire team in strikeouts, despite throwing only 48.1 innings on the season.

You can make a strong case for both, but I will make my case for Hanrahan. 

Everyone knows that getting the final three outs is much more difficult than getting the prior 24 outs in the game.  It takes a special mental make-up, something I feel both guys have.

Hanrahan offers a little more experience closing games, but that shouldn't have much of an impact in John Russell's decision.

However, the one real weapon that Hanrahan offers a little more than Meek is the strikeout.  He has the ability to pitch himself out of trouble a little more often.  His fastball can hit 98mph on the radar gun and if he is throwing his slider down in the zone, it's nearly unhittable. Both guys have shown that they can get outs late in games, but when the tying run is on third with only one out, I have more confidence in Hanrahan to get out of that jam.

Either guy would do a fine job in the role,  but I feel Meek would be more suited for an 8th inning role for a season, before becoming the closer. 

Let both guys get the opportunity for the rest of the season.  It will be good for both of them to have the experience and gain the confidence.  It's a good situation for the Pirates to have with two power arms at the back end of the bullpen.  Hopefully both guys continue to pitch well and it won't matter who gets the ball at the end of the game.

Friday, August 6, 2010

McDonald Dazzles in Pirates Debut

Before I write this.  I will keep trying to write fresh stuff, but I've been posting most of my Pirates work on both Bleacher Report and Sports Haze, where I make money for writing.  I will at least keep the blog going and if I can get some help, then Operation Shutdown can get back to being fresh and entertaining.  I've also been posting at Clemente at the Bat so check that out as well.

Now for today's topic.

How many times have we seen it. The Pirates trade away a veteran and get a highly thought of prospect or a young player with “potential” in a deal; only to watch these guys fall flat on their face and struggle. When the Pirates shipped closer Octavio Dotel to the Dodgers for right handed starter James McDonald, who I’ve always been very high on, and top outfield prospect Andrew Lambo, I felt that it was a steal for Pirates General manager Neil Huntington.

My next thought became “How soon is McDonald going to develop arm problems in Pittsburgh.”

McDonald was thrown right into the Pirates rotation and for a change, a Pirates acquisition delivered immediate results in a Pirates uniform. The 26-year old right hander dazzled in his Pirates debut, throwing six shutout innings, allowing only four hits and striking out eight. More importantly is that he threw strikes, walking only one, earning the victory in a 5-1 Pirates win over the Colorado Rockies.

McDonald has a very good arm. His fastball will hit 96mph and has better than above average breaking stuff. I don’t want to make too much out of just one start, but he looked great. The results were far better than what Pirates fans are accustomed to.

If ever a team needed a young pitcher to step up and be effective it’s the Pirates. Hopefully McDonald can continue upward and become a guy that can take the ball every fifth day and turn in a quality outing. There sure isn’t anyone else on the staff currently capable of doing that.

Now the Pirates also have the worst luck with young pitchers developing arm problems, a problem I point the finger at the Pirates organization. Hopefully they’ve smartened up over the years and protect the guy.

One start or not, it’s a positive sign on a team with not too many positives lately.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bucs aquire Snyder- What's Doumit's future?

The Pirates had another busy trade deadline, but unlike years past, this year there were no salary dumps or accumulation of prospects. The Pirates made three trades today and all appear to be good baseball moves. The Pirates acquired catcher Chris Snyder and minor league shortstop Pedro Ciriaco from the Arizona Diamondbacks, in exchange for Ryan Church, Bobby Crosby and D.J. Carrasco.

They also sent closer Octavio Dotel to the Los Angeles Dodgers for right hander James McDonald and minor league outfielder Andrew Lambo and also sent Javier Lopez to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for right hander Joe Martinez and outfielder John Bowker. Give the Pirates some credit for being able to sign some veteran relievers in the off-season that they were able to turn into young arms.

The biggest move of the day though was acquiring Snyder. It also now leaves a big question on what to do with Ryan Doumit. Snyder has the reputation of being one of the games better defensive catchers, something the Pirates were desperately in need of. He should be able to help the pitching staff out as well, as Snyder is know for being able to handle a staff, something Doumit wasn't capable of. The Pirates did well with this move. While Snyder doesn't do much as an average hitter, his offensive numbers are comparable to Doumit's, who doesn't offer much of anything.

Snyder is hitting .231 on the year, while Doumit is only hitting .258. Snyder's hit ten homers and driven in 32 runs, while Doumit has hit eight homers and driven in 32. The improvement though is defensively. Snyder is known for being a glove man and has a good arm behind the dish, while Doumit is the worst catcher in the game today. Doumit won't be behind the plate very often (Thank God) anymore and the Pirates young pitchers will benefit from it.

What do you do now with Doumit though? It's a shame that his fragile self got hurt again right before the deadline or there is a good chance he would have got dealt. The immediate plan is to make him the everyday right fielder and that is just an awful idea. In six seasons as a pro, Doumit has done absolutely nothing to warrant regular playing time, yet the Pirates keep finding ways to get his "bat" into the lineup. What bat?

Doumit has had one decent year offensively as a pro, in 2008 when he hit .318. That same season, he also set career highs in homers (15) and RBI's (69). Still very below average numbers though. Yet, the Pirates continue to run him out there and bat him in the middle of the order often when his track record clearly shows he's not a talented offensive player. He's hit over .260 only one other time (.274 in 2007), reached double digits in homers only one other time (10 in 2009) and other than his 69 RBI season of 2008 has never driven in more than 40 runs in a season. Not to mention he is a huge liability no matter where you put him on the field defensively.

It's a shame the Pirates are thinking about putting him in right field. You have to feel bad for Lastings Milledge. First he has to platoon with Ryan Church, who was hitting .180 on the season and now he will lose at bats to Doumit. Once he started playing everyday again, all Milledge has done is hit. When guys are on base, Milledge drrives in runs, hitting over .380 with runners in scoring position, something Doumit would know nothing about.

It's a disgrace to keep giving Doumit at bats. Now that the Pirates have better talent, they should run their best eight guys out there on a nightly basis. There is nothing wrong with having Doumit as a bench player, getting a spot start every now and then, but he shouldn't be getting regular playing time.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Can We Finally Quit Complaining About the Nate McCouth Trade

For those that haven't been paying much attention, your once favorite player Nate McLouth was sent down to the minors by the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday.  Can we please now quit complaining about the trade?

After being dealt away from Pittsburgh, McLouth just wasn't very good for Atlanta, especially this year where he was hitting .168 on the season.  I've said it before and I will say it again.  Being the best player on a bad team makes you nothing more than that.  It doesn't mean you are great or a superstar.  It doesn't make you anything special by any means, yet most casual fans are still upset over the deal.  There are fifty Nate McLouth type players in the big leagues right now.

Granted, he was the best player on the 2008 Pirates team.  He was an all-star and won a gold glove, but his numbers were nothing more than above average.  He hit .276 that season with 26 homers and 94 RBI's.  Solid numbers, but nothing that would make him untouchable.

As for the trade, in which the Pirates received Charlie Morton, Gorkys Hernadez and Jeff Locke, I liked it then and feel it can still work out well for the Pirates.  If Neil Huntington could go back and do it over, I'm sure he wouldn't pass on the deal.  Not to mention that by dealing McLouth opened up a spot for Andrew McCutchen to be promoted.

Yes, Morton has been terrible this season, but he showed at the end of last season that he has the ability to pitch at this level.  Hopefully he can figure things out in the minors and become a solid middle of the rotation guy for the Pirates for a few years.

Hernandez still has a ton of upside.  While it likely won't be with the Pirates, he still has value and can be used a valuable trade chip.

Locke was the biggest return in the trade and it's still to be determined on how that will work out, but he's having an outstanding minor league season.  Between stops in Bradenton and Altoona, the lefty starter is 10-3 with a 3.22 era this season.

The McLouth trade still has a chance to work out pretty well for the Pirates.  Now if everyone can just let it go and realize that the Pirates really didn't give up much.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Will the Pirates Ever Win on the Road?

Since this season became a wash a really long time ago, there are still several things worth keeping an eye on the rest of the season. How will the rookies perform the rest of the season? What will the Pirates do at the trading deadline? Will this season’s team lose 100 games?

All of these areas could draw the casual fans interest, but for me there is one area worth keeping an eye on that will go a long way to determining what type of season the Pirates will have in 2011. Can these guys learn to win on the road?

The Pirates are semi-respectable 23-26 at the friendly confines of PNC Park, but are a dismal 11-38 on the road; including winning only three of their last 28 road games.

Good teams tend to play at least .500 ball on the road and the Pirates haven’t come close to that of late. In the two-plus year tenure of John Russell as the Pirates manager, the Pirates are only 61-149 (as of Sunday) away from Pittsburgh- worst in baseball.

Currently there are twenty teams in the majors sitting with records above .500 and all but seven are playing above .500 ball on the road. Out of those seven, only the Mets, Rockies, Tigers and Cardinals sit more than five games under .500 away from their home ball parks.

Teams have won before without winning records on the road, but for this Pirates team to get to the point where everyone wants them to be, they have to start winning on the road, plain and simple. You can’t compete on a nightly basis when you have no chance of competing on the road.

What’s been the problem? Pretty much everything. Offensively, the Pirates are hitting only .235 as team on the road, compared to .250 at home. Neither number is very good, but they have to hit better on the road to win.

The difference is the pitching staff is more glaring. The Pirates staff has a 4.39 era at home, yet on the road there is over a runs difference where they have a 5.68 road era.

Pretty much every statistical category needs to improve on the road for them to consistently win. The biggest thing they are missing is confidence. It seems they expect to lose most of the time on the road and when one bad thing happens, it snowballs on them.

Leadership is also a problem. The Pirates need a go-to-guy in the clubhouse. Someone that can speak up and lead by example. That guy has to be Andrew McCutchen. Granted he's only in his second season, but this has to become his team. He needs to be the guy that changes whatever routine this team has on the road.

Everything they do must change and change for the good.

The Pirates can begin to change that culture the rest of the season. The team faces 32 more games on the road and it should be a focal point to go out and compete and win more than half of these games.

Half of losing is attitude. Let’s see the Pirates start to change that attitude by becoming successful away from home. If they wind up the season well, then maybe these guys will expect to win away from PNC park next season.

That challenge begins with the current six game road trip to Colorado and St. Louis. Hopefully they come back to Pittsburgh with at least four wins.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Who Woke the Bats Up?

Who woke up the Pirates offense after the all-star break? Whoever it was, what took you so long? The Pirates entered the break with pretty much the worse offense in baseball. It looked like it would be another long and dreadful summer, but the Bucs have come out swinging the sticks to begin the second half of the season.

So far, in six games after the all-star break, the Pirates have scored 50 runs on 77 hits, going 4-2 in that span. That averages out to a major league best 8.3 runs per game and 12.8 hits per game. Looking just at the wins after the break, the Pirates are averaging 11.75 runs and 16.25 hits. While I'm not suggesting we are looking at the 1927 Yankees, it has been a nice change of pace from what we've been used to seeing from the Pirates bats of late.

What's the reason for the hot streak? I don't want to hear that they have been playing bad teams. They have, but those same two bad teams (Houston and Milwaukee) have owned the Pirates up to this point of the season. The main reason for the success is the approach. We haven't seen hitters chasing many balls out of the zone. They've been waiting for good pitches and when they have gotten them, they are putting good swings on the ball.

Another thing I like is that the Pirates have been more aggressive early in the count. They haven't been digging themselves into an 0-2 hole every at bat. They've been jumping on fastballs early, which is a good approach to have for a young team.

Even more impressive is the fact that the Pirates have been hitting well, without the services of Andrew McCutchen, who has missed the last three games nursing a shoulder injury.

Let's take a look at some numbers through the six games after the all-star break.

McCutchen- 4-12 (.333), 3 RBI's before he got hurt.
Jose Tabata- 10-27 (.370), 6 RBI's
Neil Walker- 14-26 (.538), 7 RBI's
Garrett Jones- 6-24 (.250), 1 HR, 5 RBI's.
Pedro Alvarez- 10-24 (.417), 4 HR's, 10 RBI's.
Lastings Milledge- 9-24 (.375), 4 RBI's.
Ronny Cedeno- 10-24 (.417), 2 RBI's.
Delwyn Young- 5-7 (.714), 1 HR, 6 RBI's.

As you can see, everyone other than the catcher platoon of Eric Kratz and Ryan Doumit (combined .192) are hitting well coming out of the break. Not only that, but they are driving in runs and hitting for power. The Bucs have combined for 29 extra base hits in the six games, something that has bee a huge problem all season.

I'm not suggesting that this torrid streak will continue, but it gives you a glimpse at what the Pirates could be capable of. Two things stick out at me. One is the fact that Lastings Milledge is playing everyday. Having a guy hitting a respectable .285 in the middle of the lineup is a major upgrade over Ryan Church (currently hitting .190).

The other thing is that the rookies are starting to become legit major league ball players. They've made the lineup deeper and more effective. It was just 14 games ago that Alvarez was hitting .065. He has quietly got the average up to .259 with 7 HR's and 20 RBI's in just 29 games.

Tabata looks like he is becoming a guy that will be a fixture in left field. He's hitting .266 and has a great approach and a knack for getting on base.

Walker's bat has been the biggest surprise for me, hitting .319. If the youngsters can keep getting on base and coming up with big hits, the rest of the lineup will prosper.

They still have a few holes, but at least for a few game stretch, we may have seen a glimpse of what could be a productive Pirates offense in the future. If they've done anything this last week, they saved John Russell's job for the near future.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What Exactly is the Pirates Plan?

Before I get started, this isn't bashing Neil Huntington or Frank Coonelly, but just an overall analysis of the long term plan of the Pirates.  I don't feel Huntington has done a terrible job and should be given at least another year on the job. Throughout the last 18 seasons, we've heard the word "plan" attached to the numerous Pirates re-builds.  Weather it be numerous five year plans or a three year plan, they have all failed miserably.  What exactly is Huntington's plan with this current group.

Let's take a look at where the Pirates currently sit at 30-58.  They are on pace to lose roughly 105 games this season.  That's fine.  I didn't expect much this year anyways.

However, a majority of the public has been eyeing next season as the year the Pirates get to .500 and start to compete.  That is just not a realistic goal.  Hypothetically, let's say the Pirates improve by 15 games next season off of their projected 57-105 record. A fifteen game improvement is quite a stretch, but that still would only make the Pirates a 72-90 team.  Then let's say in 2012 they improve on that and win 81 games, hitting .500.  Where does that leave us?

It's quite realistic that those numbers could be pushed back by a year.  It's realistic to say that without some real veteran talent; not your Ryan Church's or Bobby Crosby's, but some real talent, that the team could be just as bad next season.  That would lead to an improvement in 2012 and not hitting .500 until 2013, which means competing is 2014 or later.

Depending on which theory you subscribe to, where does that leave the team.  The core of youngsters that include: Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and Brad Lincoln will be three, maybe four years into their first contracts.  This is assuming they all become legit major league players, and it's not a guarantee that they all do. Will the Pirates front office make the attempt to keep them here long term to see this "plan" out?  That doesn't even include Andrew McCutchen, who surely will be due for big money when his current deal expires.

Remember, the goal here is to win a pennant and compete year in and year out.  It's not to just get to .500 and be happy.  There is talent at Bradenton and Altoona, but they are still a couple years away.  As for this years class that includes Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie?  They still have to be signed.  If they do, they would still be a few years away from PNC park as well.

Assuming Lincoln develops, the Pirates are still thin on pitching at the big league level for the next couple of seasons.  All of the talent they are counting on, including : Bryan Morris, Jared Hughes, Jeff Locke, Rudy Owens, Justin Wilson, Nathan Adcock, Tim Alderson, Hunter Strickland and Aaron Pribanic are at a minimum two years away.  Morris could be fast tracked to the big leagues, but the rest won't be around anytime soon.  That's not even considering the fact that once the young pitchers do arrive, they will likely struggle their first go around at the major league level.

Not everything is so great down on the farm though. Alderson has been demoted.  High regarded prospects such as: Starling Marte, Tony Sanchez, Victor Black, Quienten Miller, Brock Holt and Colton Cain have all suffered long term injuries that will push back their development.

So exactly what is the Pirates plan?  Do we wait around until at least 2014 to see if these guys are a good judge of young talent?  More than likely, based on past results, they aren't. Was it worth calling up all of the young guys this season, starting their major league clocks?  Do we have to cross our fingers and hope they team can lock up all of our young players?  We may have to.

I've said it many times before.  Once the Pirates get some of their young core in place, they have to start adding to it from the outside.  They are simply not going to win a pennant operating at the current pace.  Granted, there is more talent in the system now then at any time in the last two decades.  The Pirates overall farm system has improved from dead last to the middle of the pack.  That's quite the improvement in a little under three years.

Most of the talent though is viewed as borderline major league talent.  There are very few game changers currently in the system.  We've been hearing for years that this is the core they wanted to build around, so let's see them do it.  I have no problem this season if they deal every veteran on the current team.  Trade Ryan Doumit, Zach Duke, Octavio Dotel, Church and others. They can't quit adding talent to the system.  Also, continue to draft well.  The plan should be to have a continuous pipeline of talent to the majors.

As for the big club, the time is now to start to add to this group of young players.  That needs to start this off season.  You can't run a major league team on nickles and dimes.  Now the pressure is solely on Bob Nutting.  If you don't want to spend money or can't spend money, then this franchise will always be a loser.  You have stated you have no problem spending the necessary money.  The time is upcoming. Show us, quit telling us.

They don't need to go out and spend $200 mil on one superstar.  That doesn't make sense at the moment.  What they need to do if add some quality bats and arms to the current group.  They will be out there next year.  Then we will see exactly what the "plan" really is.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pittsburgh Pirates second half Preview

The Pirates first half record of 30-58 is another indication of an 18th straight losing season and another possible 100 loss season. The first half gave fans very few things to be happy about, but there were a few.

For one, the performance of the bullpen, which has been very good. The Evan Meek- Joel Hanrahan seventh and eighth inning combo has been very effective.

Another positive first half thing has been the promotion of youngsters: Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and Brad Lincoln. That, coupled with many youngsters performing well throughout the minor leagues, give fans some real hope going forward.

The final positive thing of the first half has been Andrew McCutchen. He’s been around over a full calendar year now and keeps showing signs of being a legitimate stud.

So what should we look forward to in the second half of the season? While the record likely won’t get much better, there are several things that should keep fans intrested for the rest of the season.

For one, the youngsters should slowly start to get better. All four of the guys up right now should make the team worth keeping an eye on the rest of the way.

The trading deadline should also be worth keeping an eye on. While there won’t be a fire sale similar to years past; if the Pirates are smart, they will deal some of the current dead weight on the club. That includes: Ryan Doumit, Zach Duke and Ryan Church, among others.

They should also look into dealing some productive bullpen arms such as Brenden Donally, Octavio Dotel and DJ Carrasco. Stick to the plan and keep bringing in young players to the system.

With trades, you need new bodies to take their places, which means we could see even more young players promoted to the big club. Shortstop Argenis Diaz and left handed reliever Daniel Moskos are likely the first two on the radar.

As for the play on the field, it can’t get much worse fundamentally than the first half. The fundamentals have to start to improve all the way around, which could lead to a few more wins. Also, the starting pitching has to get better and the Pirates have to start to hit as a team.

One main area of focus has to be the play on the road, where the Bucs are a major league worst 11-38. They have to find ways to win on the road.

The plan to do this should be to continue to get younger at the big league level. The current mix of vets just flat out haven’t produced and their time should be up. Turn things over to a group of talented young players. While they will initially struggle at the major league level, let them grow together and learn to win together. It’s a risky plan, but it worked for the Rays. At this point, it’s worth trying to an extent, the current group won’t get much better until changes are made.

If anything, in the second half, the Pirates aren’t likely to improve their win total much, but are more likely to improve their chances at landing the number one overall pick, where they currently sit only one game ahead of the Baltimore Orioles.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A look at the Pirates Mid-Season Awards

Tonight's game has already made me angry and it's only the third inning, so I figured I'd get a column written.

Since we are approaching the all-star break, let's take a look at the Pirates mid-season awards.

MVP- Andrew McCutchen.  Cutch is really the only choice here on a team filled with under achievers.  McCutchen is hitting a solid .292 with with 8HR/26 RBI.  He has also racked up 20 steals and played a solid center field for the Bucs.  You also would think the numbers would be even better had John Russell not foolishly taken him out of the leadoff spot for most of the season.

LVP- Charlie Morton.  I considered several players here, but Morton is actually an easy choice.  The Pirates needed Morton to emerge into a potential top of the rotation guy and instead have received a 1-9 record and a 9.35 era.  Also considered for the prestigious award were: Zach Duke, Ryan Doumit and John Russell.

Rookie of the Year- Neil Walker.  Walker has surprised many after his call-up in late May.  He looks like a natural at second base and his bat has been a big surprise, hitting .289, 3/12 at this point.  Also considered were:  Jose Tabata, Brad Lincoln and Pedro Alvarez.  Walker has done the most to impress at this point.

Unsung Hero- Jeff Karstens.  Karstens was designated for assignment in the off-season, but accepted his demotion to AAA and made his way back to the big club.  Once he arrived again, Karstens has filled any role asked of him and has done so effectively.  Quite simply, Karstens just takes the ball and does his job.

Best Moment- April 5, 2010- Opening Day.  Just to see real excitement back at PNC Park was a special thing to witness.  The crowd created the most energy on that day than it has for the past decade.  The game helped also as Garrett Jones hit a pair of homers to help the Pirates to an 11-5 win over the Dodgers.  That day alone still gave me hope that people can support this team.  Hopefully we can witness that on a nightly basis in the near future.

Worst Moment- April 22, 2010- The 20-0 loss to the Brewers. In what seemed to be a long stretch of blowouts with the Pirates on the wrong end, this one was the worst as the Pirates suffered their worst loss in franchise history.  What made the loss even worse was the carefree attitude of John Russell, explaining, "These kind of games happen from time to time."  Really JR?  The last time I checked, they have happened only like five times in MLB history.

Most Glaring Stat- Stolen bases against the Pirates.  This has become embarrassing.  Teams have attempted 94 stolen bases against the Pirates and have been successful 82 times.  How did we ever throw out 12?  It's a miracle.  If your scoring at home, teams are stealing at an 88% clip on the Pirates.  A change has to be made in both the catcher and the way the Pirates control the running game, from both the bench and the mound.  Which leads me to.......

Player that has to be Dealt at the Deadline- Ryan Doumit.  It's just wishful thinking, because the organization is in love with Doumit, but he brings nothing to the team. he is the worst defensive catcher in the game and his bat doesn't offer much. he's a natural rally killer and has a lazy way about him on the field.  Sure he can get on a hot streak twice a year for about two weeks at a time, but the time is now to move him.

Doumit has had plenty of opportunities throughout his six seasons with the club and has failed to produce.  He's not a middle of the order type hitter. He's not a run producer.  He is a liability to a young pitching staff.  He has very little value to this team.  His time in Pittsburgh should be up.  Move him now.

Biggest Surprise- Evan Meek.  You could tell Meek was going to be good.  His power right arm started to flourish at the end of last season in the Pirates bullpen, but no one could have expected the first half Meek delivered.  After last night, his ERA finally rose above one, but Meek has been nothing short of outstanding.  He is headed to the all-star game and it's well deserved.  Meek should end up as the future closer of this team. 

Also considered as a surprise could be the Pirates record at home this season, where they are a respectable 19-20, and the fact that John Russell still has a job is very surprising, but Meek is the easy winner of the award

Biggest Disapointment- Starting Staff as a Whole. Going into this season, it looked like the Pirates rotation would take a big step forward and help this team become competitive.  Instead, the combination of: Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, Brian Burres, Brad Lincoln, Daniel McCutchen, Dana Eveland, and Chris Jakubauskas have combined to post a 16-46 record to go with an awful 5.70 era.

Maholm leads the staff with five wins, with Duke the next closest with three.  The Pirates also became the first team in MLB history to have three starting pitchers record their first wins of the season at the end of June, which they accomplished on three consecutive days.

What's worse about the starters is the general approach.  Outside of Maholm, no Pirates starter will work the inner half of the plate. Too many hitters are hanging out over the plate against the Pirates because they aren't worried about them coming inside. The strike out to walk ratio is also very alarming.  Pirates starters have only struck out 285 batters, yet have issued 181 free passes, not nearly even approaching a 2-1 ratio.  Maholm leads the starters with 56 punch outs.  Joel Hanrahan has 51 strike outs out of the pen in 60 fewer innings pitched, more than any other Pirates starter.

There have been plenty of other first half disappointments, including:  Ryan Doumit, Andy Laroche, Ryan Church and the play of the team on the road, but nothing has been more disapointing than the way the starting staff has pitched.

Dumbest Quote- Frank Coonelly. This was a very tough category to award a winner in because Pirates management has fed us a long line of bad quotes, but four come to mind and Coonelly takes home the trophy.  Coonelly said during the initial gathering of the team during spring training, "'Don't let people tell you that the Pirates have a great future, but it's not today.' Today is our future. 2010 is the beginning of the next dynasty of the Pirates."

Runner-ups- John Russell- "These guys don't realize how close they are to being a really great team."

Neil Huntington- "Dana Eveland is a 26-year-old left-hander who has shown the ability to be an effective major-league starting pitcher. He has an interesting four-pitch mix, and we feel this acquisition is a potential upgrade for our current rotation with the upside of years of control and improved production.”

Eveland lasted 9.2 innings as a Pirate, going 0-1 with an 8.38 era.

I love the enthusiasm of all the quotes, but please don't treat the fans like we are stupid.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Looking at the Pirates Trade Options

With yesterday's minor acquisition of reliever Sean Gallagher from the San Diego Padres, I got asked many times today, "Why would the Pirates acquire a reliever when their bullpen is so good?"

Quite simply, the answer is that the bullpen won't be as good for long because potentially as many as three Pirates relievers could be on the move before the July 31st trading deadline.  Gallagher then becomes a healthy arm that John Russell can use for the rest of the reason.

Here are the best candidates to be dealt by the deadline.

5. Ryan Church- Church signed a one-year, $1.5 mil deal in the off-season.  While he has underachieved big time as a Pirate, some contender will look to acquire an extra left handed bat off of the bench.

4. Ryan Doumit- Doumit should be priority one to deal, but the Pirates love him way too much.  He is in the second year of a three year, $11.5 mil deal that includes a club option for 2012.  The Pirates must realize that this guy can't not handle a major league pitching staff and send him packing.  He has done nothing in his six seasons as a Pirate that warrants him being a part of the future.

The time has likely passed to get a decent return on Doumit, but some American League team might be able to use him as a DH, so there is a chance he can be dealt.

3. Brendan Donnelly-  He will likely be in demand.  He signed a one year, $1.5 mil deal this past off-season, so money won't be an issue here. Several teams could use a reliable reliever that has pitched for contenders in the past.  The bad part about dealing guys such as Donnelly is that they typically don't fetch much in return.

2. Octavio Dotel- Dotel has had a solid season, but with all-star Evan Meek sitting as the closer in waiting, Dotel is a good bet to get dealt.  His contract isn't much of an issue.  Dotel signed a one year, $3.25 mil deal with a club option for next season at $4.5 mil that certainly won't be picked up by any team.  More than a handful of teams would love to acquire a power arm to use down the stretch run.

Other guys to keep an eye on include Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Andy Laroche. One of the pitchers, hopefully Duke will be dealt, but the guy most likely to be traded is.............

1. DJ Carrasco-  Carrasco has value to teams as he can eat innings and pitch in any role a contender will need.  He signed a minor league deal in the off-season, so another team won't be assuming salary.  However, while I feel Carrasco is a sure bet to go, it's another case where you shouldn't expect the Pirates to get much in return for him.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Evan Meek- A Deserving, Yet Improbable All-Star Selection

With the National League All-Star team announced yesterday, the Pirates lone representative came as a bit of a surprise to many.  It wasn't Andrew McCutchen.  It wasn't even Garrett Jones.  Instead, the honor went to reliever Evan Meek.  To, me Meek was the most deserving Pirate, but also the most improbable to be selected.

Why is he deserving?  The numbers don't lie.  Meek currently has the lowest ERA in the majors at 0.96.  He's made a staff high 37 appearances and has 42 strikeouts to only 11 walks and has a .178 opponents batting average against.  Meek has become John Russell's go to guy in the middle innings.

Why is he such an improbable selection.  Take a look back at Meek's Rule 5 season of 2008.  Meek was quite awful.  You could tell he had a power arm though.  At that time he was really the only hard thrower in the organization.  The problem was he was all over the place.  He was so erratic, it was almost comical.  If you would have told me then, that Meek would be an all-star a quick two seasons later, I would have laughed at you.

There another reason why Meek's selection is so improbable. Is there a more low-profile position in sports than pitching middle relief, much less middle relief for the last place Pirates?  The Pirates haven't had a middle reliever selected to the Mid-Season Classic since 1938.  Pitching well against the Phillies and Charlie Manuel this weekend probably strengthened Meek's case.  Even doing so though, in most cases, middle inning guys usually give way to starters and closers when it comes down to all-star selections.

To me, this is just the tip of the iceberg for the young Meek.  He has great stuff and has learned to pitch.  He will be the future closer of the Pirates within a season or two.

Give two people credit for the success of Meek.  First of all, Meek himself.  After his struggles in 2008, he could have went in the tank, the way some young athletes do.  He instead, worked extremely hard to get to this point in his young career.

Secondly, give Neil Huntington some credit as well.  Meek was his first major league acquisition upon taking the job.  After his immediate struggles, he could have returned the Rule 5 pick back to Tampa and nobody would have criticized him for doing so.  He saw the potential in Meek and worked out a deal to keep him in the organization.  For all that Huntington gets thrown under the bus, he deserves some credit here.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What Should the Pirates do With Charlie Morton and Daniel McCutchen?

In what appears to be the year of the starting pitcher, the only team that seems to have missed out on the trend have been the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Entering today with a major league worst 5.38 team era, the Pirates have to do something with their starting staff, which has a combined era of 5.91, also a major league worst.

The current guys obviously aren't getting the job done, so what should they do between now and the July 31st trading deadline?  The two first steps are to deal both Zach Duke and Ryan Doumit.  Their value was higher last season, but now it's to the point that Neil Huntington has to get what he can for these guys.  They have had plenty of chances each, and simply haven't got the job done.

Step two is to acquire a veteran catcher.  Someone that is capable of working with a young pitching staff.  I want a good veteran defensive catcher who can handle a staff.  I could care less about his bat right now, especially with the way the offense has performed to date.  Having a good veteran catcher behind the plate could go a long way into developing some arms at this level.  Believe me, Doumit isn't that guy.  Take last night for example.  How many times did we have to see Daniel McCutchen throw fastball after fastball on the outer half of the plate.  You want to get crushed? Keep throwing 88-90mph fastballs to the middle and outer half.  It's not just McCutchen though, that's how the game is called on a daily basis.

Pirates pitchers refuse to work the inner half of the plate. The mentality has to change to be effective.  Since there is no way John Russell or Joe Kerrigan's job is in jeopardy, let's get a quality backstop and let them handle the young staff.  I don't care if Huntington has to overpay for one, but these young arms need a real catcher.

The next two pressing questions are what to do with Daniel McCutchen, and more importantly Charlie Morton.  First let's look at McCutchen.  Nothing he does really jumps off the page at me, but I feel he should get a longer look.  Your already 24 games under .500, so it won't hurt to let him pitch.  You have to see what you have and don't have in McCutchen. The kid has the ability to throw strikes and I hate to keep nagging on the veteran catcher thing, but it could help big time with guys like McCutchen, Morton and Brad Lincoln.

 How smart were the Washington Nationals when they signed Pudge Rodriguez?  Don't overlook how that signing will help their young arms in the long run.  They can send McCutchen back to AAA, but after the trading deadline, he should be a part of the rotation for the rest of the season.

Now for Morton.  The Pirates just don't need Morton to rebound.  He HAS to rebound.  First, read the Braves scouting report in 2007 on Morton by clicking HERE.  As you can see, they had the same questions about Morton that we currently have.  Weather he has it mentally or not to pitch effectively in the majors is one thing, but there is no questioning his stuff.  He can be nasty when he's effective, but he hasn't nearly been as effective as often as he should be as a Pirate.

If the Braves organization are left scratching their heads over Morton, then the Pirates won't have a clue.  Though reading the scouting report, you have to hold out hope for the very last line to come true- "The sky's the limit for Morton."  It's getting a little late to believe that, but Morton has to be a big part of what will be the future rotation. Again, a veteran catcher would help Morton a great deal.

Morton's  rehab assignment ends July 3rd, so the Pirates have to make a decision soon.  Morton's last start at Indy was his best as a pro, firing a 2-hit complete game shutout.  Charlie Morton can pitch at the major league level.  He showed what he could do at the end of last season.  The smart thing to do is to insert him right back in the rotation and give him the ball every fifth day. Let's just forget about the start of the season for Morton and let's just start over.  It's vital to the future that a guy like Morton figures it out.  Let's just hope the trip to the minors was a wake up call.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Top 10 Pirates Moves the Last 10 Years

I didn't feel like re writing this so I'm just posting the link for it on Bleacher Report.  Way to many pictures to fit on here.

Click Here to read it

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Why is Ryan Church getting so many starts?

What is John Russell's obsession with playing Ryan Church so much?  Please, someone tell me.  Church should be the fourth outfielder on this team and nothing more.  He should be a left handed bat coming off the bench and nothing more. He is on this team to be dealt at the deadline.  Somebody will look into acquiring an extra left handed bat off the bench.  Why then is he taking so many at bats away from Lastings Milledge?

Don't say it's because of the DH either.  Even Delwyn Young offers a better bat to use as the DH rather than Church.

When you are sitting at 25-46, play your best eight players please.  Russell shouldn't be worried about keeping guys like Church fresh. He offers very little to this team.  He doesn't hit, he's average defensively and overall he appears to be a lazy ballplayer.

The Pirates signed him, hoping he could produce similar to what he did in 2007, when he hit 15 homers and drove in 70 runs for the  Washington Nationals.  Instead they got the guy that has combined to hit only six homers and drive in 53 over the last two seasons. If you look over a three year span, he's only hit 18 bombs and driven in 102 combined.  I didn't mind the signing, but it didn't work out.  Can we please stop running him out there?

Church's numbers on the season aren't good.  He's hitting .186 with two homers and 13 RBI's in 129 at bats.  Yet, Russell continues to bat him in the middle of the order.  He is a rally killer.  Batting him, or Ryan Doumit fifth in the order is asking for quick innings when the top of the order is getting on base.

What does he do better than Milledge?  Not much.  Milledge may not be the best defensively, but he's going to bust his butt for you, which is more than I can say for Church.  Milledge may make some stupid base running mistakes, but at least he's being aggressive all the time, which is more than I can say for Church.  Keep running Milledge out there.  He should be the everyday right fielder until the club finds someone better.  That option doesn't exist on this current team.

Sure Milledge offers no power, but neither does Church.  Milledge is at least hitting a respectable .270 and has driven in 22 runs.  He offers the team a much better bat with men on base as well, hitting to a .392 clip with RISP, while Church is hitting a whopping .161 in similar situations.  How does that go ignored?

Do I feel like Milledge is the answer to all of the problems?  No, of course not, but he is the best option at the moment. Now, Russell doesn't have great talent at the moment, but his sole job is to put his guys in the best position to succeed.  He is simply not doing that.  When your 21 games under .500, stop picking the lineup out of a hat and run you best eight guys out there everyday.  There is no reason to see Ryan Church getting three or four starts a week, while Milledge is losing playing time.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What to do with Ross Ohlendorf and the Other Pirates Starters

Another Pirates game, another Pirates loss and another up and down outing from a Pirates starting pitcher.  Last night it was a typical Pirates start.  A few very good innings and then one thing goes wrong and the starter goes down hill both mentally and physically.

Ross Ohlendorf last night cruised through three innings. Yet,  the second time through the order struggled big time once again.  The problem always seems to be that the opposing hitters adjust the second time through, but the Pirates pitchers aren't capable of making adjustments as well.  If you want to throw some of the blame at Ryan Doumit as well, I'm fine with that;  but take Brad Lincoln out of the equation and these guys aren't rookies anymore.  They need to be better as a group.

What should the Pirates do?  Looking at all of the young guys they brought up.  For argument's sake, let's just say that by next season things start coming together and they have an above average offense that can score at or above the league average.  If that happens, well they still have no starting pitching.  I don't care what league you are playing in, you have to have good starting pitching to compete.

Let's take a look at the current crop of arms.

1. Zach Duke (3-8, 5.49era)-  The gutless wonder as I like to call him.  Duke may be a fifth starter on an average team.  It amazes me how he is aggressive in the zone until he gets two strikes on hitters.  I felt they should have dealt Duke last season when his value was at it's highest. It will now never be higher.  Duke simply doesn't have the ability to get consistent outs on a consistent basis.  He may throw you a gem every two months, but that's what fifth starters do for you.  Top of the rotation guys are supposed to take the ball every fifth day and give you a chance to win.  Duke isn't in that class of pitcher.  He will always be more than a hit an inning type of guy.

2. Paul Maholm (4-5, 3.77)- Maholm is hands down the team's best pitcher.  He battles and gives the team an opportunity to win most night's out.  That's all I can really ask for.  He doesn't give into hitters the way Duke does.  He doesn't have the greatest stuff, but will challenge hitters all game long.  Maholm is a three or four starter but he is a keeper.

3. Ross Ohlendorf (0-6, 5.43)-  Ohlendorf is similar to Charlie Morton, to the point I can't figure either out.  Ohlendorf has had some bad luck, but like Morton, seems to suffer mentally when things start to break down.  I'm concerned about his dip in velocity. He still may be having some back issues as well.   I don't think Ohlendorf is as good as his numbers from a year ago, but I don't think he's as bad as his current numbers.  In a perfect situation, Ohlendorf is a good back of the rotation guy.

4. Brad Lincoln (0-1, 6.50)- I'm not concerned with Lincoln at all.  He's pitching like most rookies pitch-up and down.  He has glimpses of looking dominant and at other times, well he looks like a rookie.  Rookie pitchers in the majors aren't supposed to look like Stephen Strasburg, They tend to fare more like Lincoln. He's got great movement on his pitches.  I would like to see him utilize his changeup more, especially to left hand hitters.  Overall, Lincoln should be fine.  It's three starts.  I don't think he will eventually be a one or two type starter, but instead; will be a solid middle of the rotation guy.

5. Jeff Karstens (2-2, 4.72)- Say what you want about Karstens, but Karstens flat out does his job.  He doesn't necessarily have major league stuff, but what Karstens does is compete.  Karstens hangs around just long enough to give the team a chance to win most night's.  He's not pretty and definitely not overpowering, but he is gutsy.  Team's often need a guy like Karstens.  I have no problem giving him the ball.

Overall, you look at the current crop of starters and basically, we have a pair of number three's (Lincoln and Maholm) and really three guys who wouldn't be in most rotations around baseball.

Facts are the Pirates need pitching as much as talented position players such as Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata.  The next wave of arms to come through are all performing well at Altoona.  That list includes Rudy Owens, Bryan Morris, Tim Alderson (although his drop in velocity concerns me as well), Jared Hughes and Justin Wilson.  Also keep an eye on Nathan Adcock and Jeff Locke, currently performing well at Bradenton.

Add to that a draft class that includes power arms Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie (who the team MUST sign both), the future staff has some promise, but that's still probably two years away.

You can root for Alvarez and for the Pirates to promote Tony Sanchez all you want, but any success for the Pirates in the future depend solely on the arms in the organization.  Hopefully, a few can get to the big club within the next season or so, because the current crop of arms just won't get the job done.