Sunday, March 28, 2010
Around the Diamond- Staring Pitching
Let's start at the top. Very few teams in the majors have their weakest link as the opening day starter as the Pirates do with Zach Duke. While Duke may be a nice guy and apparantly being nice is more important than producing in Pittsburgh (Exhibit A- Jack Wilson), he just flat out doesn't get the job done. Never has and likely never will.
Take a look at the numbers, and when looking at the case of Duke's performance, his numbers tell the whole story. Take out Duke's brief stint as a rookie and 2009 was his best season as a pro, yet it wasn't a good one. While he did win 11 games, out of his 32 starts, his team only won the 11 that Duke got the W. Hands down the lowest percentage of team wins per start in the majors. Duke flat out doesn't give his team a chance to win most nights out.
Other alarming numbers. Duke led the league in hits given up (231)- AGAIN, also an outrageous 9.8 Hits/9ip the worst among mlb starters, only a 2.16 k/bb ratio and a below average 4.06 era and 1.315 whip.
I have run into plenty of Duke supporters (ran into one last night as a matter of fact) and the first thing they say is well he doesn't have a good defense. Really? Wasn't it the Pirates who led the league in fielding percentage for most of the season? Defense isn't the problem as Duke gave up only 5 unearned runs in 2009. Also don't give me that he made the all-star team last season. He did have a decent first half, but did anyone watch him pitch in the second half?
My problem with Duke is that he doesn't compete and often pitches gutless baseball. He is a left handed Kip Wells. How many bad two strike pitches can one guy throw? A former Pirate who will remain nameless, once told me off the air on a radio show that I did that they really don't expect to win most of the time Duke starts and if they do it's a bonus.
Having ripped Duke apart, I still have a little faith in him. He is a very important piece in a rotation that needs to take the next step. Does he have the pure stuff of a Charlie Morton, Brad Lincoln or even a Kevin Hart (if Hart could throw strikes)? No, not even close. However, in those eleven wins last season, Duke showed that he could pitch effectively at the major league level.
He had some decent numbers as well in 2009. His control was very good, only walking 49 batters at a 2.4bb/9ip clip. He also gave the team some good innings, eclipsing 200 ip for the second time in his career. Now this isn't about bashing Duke, it's to show that a guy in his sixth mlb season needs to be much more consistent every fifth day. He is capable of doing it and if he needs to become the leader of a staff that desperately needs one. Duke is having a very good spring so far, so we will see if he can carry that into the season.
Looking at the two and three spots in the rotation- Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf, both are in similar situations. Maholm needs to take a big step forward as well. He pitched hurt most of last season and now healthy, hopefully he can put things together as well. Maholm nearly gave up as many hits (222) as Duke last season. When healthy though, he tends to keep the ball down a bit more, so I have a little more faith in him. Maholm or Duke could be pitching to see who stays in Pittsburgh for the long haul. Logic would tell you one of them has to be dealt to make room for Brad Lincoln. Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton and Daniel McCutchen aren't going anywhere. My bet is that Duke is dealt at the trading deadline or sometime before the 2011 season.
Ohlendorf was a surprise last season. Unlike Duke (and I will include Maholm here as well so I'm not just bashing Duke), Ohlendorf gave the Pirates a chance to win in a good percentage of his starts. With a record over .500 and an era under four, he was the Pirates best starter last season. One thing I'd need to see from Ohlendorf is to be able to pitch deeper into games this season. He was often a six inning guy last season, but he did his job when he was on the hill.
By far the guy with the most talent in the rotation is Morton. He really holds the key to this staff. His stuff is flat out nasty. He is a guy that management would like to see take a huge step. If Morton can learn what it take to be a successful big league starter then honestly the sky's the limit for him. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done. One thing Morton needs to realize is that it's ok to get a guy out on one or two pitches. He needs to realize that pitching behind in the count will hurt him. Also he doesn't have to go to a full count on every single hitter.
The fifth spot was won by Daniel McCutchen. McCutchen has above average stuff and could surprise some people. I like his make up and he doesn't seem to be scared of big league hitters, as he showed in his September call-up in 2009. Unfortunately for him, the Bucs will only need to use a fifth starter once the first three and a half weeks of the season.
As you can see, many questions surrond the 2010 Pirates rotation. However, there is potential for many bright spots to occur as well. This needs to become Duke's staff and Morton needs to reach his potential for anything good to come of it. One bright spot should be sometime after June when Brad Lincoln should get the call.
Position grade Compared to the rest of the league- C - Could be a B if things go their way. They are going to have to perform well because I don't think they will score many runs for these guys.