Saturday, July 31, 2010
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.