Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pirates in 09

On Friday the Pitchers and Catchers are required to be in camp for the Pittsburgh Pirates in what ought to be an encouraging year for the club. Now, I do think that they will miss out on the playoffs this year unless they can grab a wildcard on account of other teams folding up with injuries, but it should be a year where they can reach .500 winning percentage. Next year will be the year they win the World Series or at least the NL. The first of a long line of championship seasons.

The thing to watch in camp is the pitchers. Only one starting rotation spot is set with Paul Malholm having that spot. Ian Snell, Tom Grozelanny, Zack Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, and Phil Dumatrait competing for the remaining four spots. Dumatrait was the best of that group in 2007 before he missed the rest of the season with an injury. Word is that he will probably even start this season on the DL rather than in the bullpen. He will probably take a second spot once he recovers. Ian Snell has not been promised a spot on the rotation, but he is making more money than the others, so I think he is likely in as well. If he would throw inside, he could be a great pitcher. The new pitching coach ought to be able to help Ian out and getting him back to top of the rotation status. This year’s success in my mind is attached to Ian Snell. If he has a bounce back year the Pirates are in good shape. If not, then they are going to be off to another slow start and the gloom will set in. Zack Duke is also making over a million dollars this season so it is hard to imagine him in Triple A, but his performance for years has been sub-par. I think he will be the message sent to players this year. If he does not earn it in camp, I think he will be sent down. McCutchen is too young, they won’t take a chance on him. Ohlendorf and Karstens are the two wild cards. They have great talent and if they can live up to part of that this year, then the Pirates will do well. Tom Grozelanny needs to regain his 14 win form in order to make the club. Another person to watch. I am not sure he will make it back.

The bullpen is also in flux, which is why I think they will miss the playoffs. Matt Cappas is the closer. Tyler Yates and John Grabow are the right and left hand short guys. I assume also that Sean Burrnett will make the team as lefties only hit .171 against him last year. That gives them another lefty in the pen and a middle distance kind of guy. The rest is up in the air. They picked up Donald Veal from the Cubs in a Rule 5 draft, which means they have to put him on the team or the Cubs could take him back. They did this last year with Evan Meek and put him on the team despite his obviously not being ready. I think they will do the same with Veal. Meek could make the team again. Craig Hansen was traded for, but really showed he was not so good. If he does not make the team, he is out of options, which means he will go on waviers. That would fill the roster, but I doubt Meek will make the team, so at least one more spot is open. Also Hansen could be one of those examples because he was really, really, bad last year.

The starting line up actually looks really good. The Pirates have Doumit and McClouth returning from great seasons. They still have Jack Wilson who can .300 as can a now healthy Freddy Sanchez. Nyjer Morgan looks ready for the Big Leagues and other outfielder Brandon Moss hit well from them last year after coming over from the Red Sox. The two LaRoche brothers at 1st and 3rd are the question marks. Will Adam continue starting slower than a car out of gas? Will Adam’s off-season swing change help him actually be able to hit the ball? Those are big questions. Thankfully, both have answers beneath them in the organization. The Pirates did sign Eric Hinske in the off season, and he can play either of those positions along with corner outfield. He will also add power from the bench, which has been missing. Neil Walker will be waiting in Triple A at 3rd and Steven Pierce will be a possible back up at 1st and the corner outfield spot from either Triple A or on the bench. It will be interesting where they put him. Back up catcher has a back log of talent. They got Jason Jaramillo in an off season trade for Ronnie Paulino, not to mention the star catcher from Triple A last year and the trade after the deadline that sent Jose Bautista to Toronto last year. Three catchers and one spot is a good problem to have.

In the end, the Pirates have the offense to compete. And they have the talent in the starting rotation, the question is will they put it together. Each year the start from the previous year has collapsed under the weight of being the ace. First it was Duke, then it was Snell, last year Grozelanny did not even stay with the big leagues he stunk it up so bad. This year it is Malholm. He has to respond. And one of the previous fallen aces has to return to form. They have plenty of other guys waiting with talent, but shuffling people around to find out who is going to perform is a recipe for a bad year. They need to get it right in Spring Training. The bullpen will fail them this year as well. They are putting together some arms down there, but they are not there yet. Too many Rule 5 picks to fill holes in the pen. That is a bad sign.

This year the Pirates have to find out who is big league material on their pitching staff. If they can do that this year, then next year the sky is the limit.


Jay said...

Like you, I can't wait for spring training. Thought I'd give you some data on the Pirates from Baseball Prospectus, which uses a complex formula to project records and stats.

Baseball Prospectus is projecting 64-98 for the Pirates this year. They say the pitching staff will be Maholm, Duke, Snell, Karstens and Dumatrait, and that Karstens and Dumatrait will be truly terrible (over 5.70 ERAs). Gorzelany is also projected to start a lot.

Offensively, McLouth projects very well, Doumit and Adam LaRoche pretty well. They're saying .286 for Sanchez, but only .324 OBP and .399 SLG. Left field looks like a gaping hole, with some guy named Steven Pearce getting most of the time (projected .246/.304/.412).

I'd paste the whole thing in here, but I think it violates the terms of my subscription. Anyway, it's interesting stuff. I think there are significant weaknesses in their projection methods, but for players who have played multiple years in the majors and weren't injured for significant time last year, it's usually pretty accurate.

Lee said...

That is interesting. They are projecting Steven Pearce (whose name I clearly misspelled in the post) to get most of the time. The Pirates clearly think Brandon Moss is going to get more time than Pearce, and I have not seen anyone actually state that Pearce will be on the team for sure coming out of Spring Training.

The Pirates also seem to be higher on Ross Ohlendorf than they are on Karstens despite the fact that Ohlendorf went 0-3 last year in the majors. The Pirates beat reporter projects the rotation coming out of Spring Training to be Maholm, Snell, Duke, Gorzelany, and Ohlendorf with Dumatrait on the DL to start the season.

It will be interesting to see how their projections hold up. I think they are low on Sanchez. He has been injured for two solid seasons. He had the knee problem at the beginning of 2007 and then the shoulder in Spring Training of 2008. He is healed up now, and I think it will make a world of difference for the guy.

Also they Pirates got a new Pitching Coach. His impact on the staff ought to be interesting, and probably does not fit into the projections. I am hoping it makes a big difference.

I also think the win total is a little low. The Brewers are coming back to the pack without CC. The Cardinals continue to get worse as do the Astros. The Reds also lost a lot with Dunn, and while they may have some good young guys, I do not think they are that far ahead of Pittsburgh. Only the Cubs stand head and shoulders above the Pirates (with the Brewers still better, but no longer miles ahead). And remember at the beginning of last year before Jack Wilson went down the Pirates were very competitive with the Cubs. They played six games near the beginning of the season with three of them going extra innings. The Cubs won them all, because of bullpen issues for the Pirates. This year I think they can make that next step and start taking some of those close games.