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.

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