Monday, March 13

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Light at the End of the Tunnel.....

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Starting Pitching:

So there's good news here and there's bad news. The good news is that the potential upside of the rotation is fairly high. The bad news is that the actual results probably aren't going to come close to the potential. Most of the potential rests in the 1 and 3 pitchers. Zack Duke should improve on what was already a surprisingly good 2005 campaign, and is one of the few bright spots that the team has at the moment. He doesn't strike out a lot, but he gets a lot of ground ball outs, and even if he's not fantastic this year, he'll be great in 2007. (Yup, that's the Pirates right now - what 2006 season?)

The other big question is if Oliver Perez can return to his 2004 form. If he can, the Pirates will have a pretty solid 1-2 combination, although there's certainly nothing to write home about. It'll at least help them stay afloat in a packed division. If Perez is in '05 form, though.. ouch. Careful.

Of course, having Ollie and Duke as 1-2 isn't going to happen. Why? 'cause it's the Pirates, and they seem to want to throw out the human fire himself, Kip Wells, as the second starter. I guess there is something to be said for having a 5.08 ERA going every 5th day - it gives your offense plenty of opportunity to work on playing from behind. They're paying $4.15 million this year for that, by the way.

I'll be honest - I initially expected Paul Maholm to be the 5th starter. However, he's evidently the 4th starter in this rotation, which knocks his worth down a bit. I figured that he'd be sneaky in the 5th role and take one of the "better than you think" awards from the mantle, but now he's hanging on an "open season" tag. You can pretty much apply that same mantra to Sean Burnett as well.

Rough Rotation Guess:
Ace: Oliver Perez
2nd: Kip Wells
3rd: Zack Duke
4th: Paul Maholm
5th: Sean Burnett

More information:
Oliver Perez
Zack Duke

Kip Wells

Closer / Bullpen:

So here's the news that might shock you a little bit. This bullpen - at least the upper level of it - isn't too bad. Mike Gonzalez is actually quite good - solid ERA, good K rate, decent WHIP - although this will be his first year as the pure closers. As for the rest of these guys, the best two relievers they have are both old, but surprisingly effective.

It remains to be seen if Roberto Hernandez can duplicate his success from last season, but if he can, the Pirates will have a pretty dependable option. On top of that, Salomon Torres - who logged a lot of innings last year, but had a good ERA and WHIP to go with it - will play around at the end of the game, whenever the Pirates need it. Damasco Marte brings the strikeouts - and the hits. Lots of hits.

Rough Bullpen Guess:
Closer: Mike Gonzalez
8th: Salomon Torres
7th: Roberto Hernandez
Sit. Right: Damasco Marte (even though he's a lefty)
Sit. Lefty: John Grabow
Mop-up: Ian Snell

More information:
Mike Gonzalez (with a little bit of everyone)


Sadly, this team just gets more depressing the further down the line you go (with one exception). In the middle of the infield, we've got a couple of defensive intangible guys (read: can't hit worth shit) in Jose Castillo and Jack Wilson. To be fair, Wilson had a surprisingly good offensive season back in 2004, but if you put faith in that being a repeat appearance, well, you're nuts. Sorry. Castillo can at least blame youth.

So there's got to be some power at the corner positions, right? Not so much. Sean Casey comes over from the Reds, but he was kind of the other guy for a while there - he's got average, that's for sure, so he'll be on base plenty for Jason Bay to drive in. That's not a bad position to be in, to be fair, but it's also not quite what was expected of him - just don't expect too much from him and you'll be okay. The problem is that in this lineup, he could hit third.

Joe "Serviceable" Randa forms the other end of the ex-Red continuum. His middle name pretty much describes it. On a more personal note, I did get a chance to see Randa when he came up through the minor leagues and the Royals still had a AA team in Memphis. Good times - he hit next to Joe Vittello in the lineup (although I have no clue if I'm spelling his name right). I'm kind of glad to see that he's done well for himself - he's never really been a superstar, but he's always hung around.

The only thing that might be construed as a "bright spot" in the infield is Ryan Doumit behind the plate, and that's just his bat. Boy can't field at the major league level, so they might pull a Craig Wilson with him. (I'll cover what a Craig Wilson is here in a minute.)

Projected Infield:
C: Ryan Doumit
1B: Sean Casey
2B: Jose Castillo
SS: Jack Wilson
3B: Joe Randa

More information:
Jack Wilson (warning: rose-colored glasses)


So what's a Craig Wilson? Well, he's a backup outfielder / first baseman. Why? 'cause he could hit decently, but couldn't hold the glove at all behind the plate, so they shipped him out where they could use his bat. Now, since he's playing for the Pirates, he's a dual backup.

Who's he behind in right? The old-school human fan, Jeromy Burnitz. You know what you're getting with him - power. A good amount of it, too. Accept the strikeouts and the .250ish average and you'll be okay. He's not bad to have, really, especially when you need power as badly as this team.

Chris Duffy makes his first real extended period of starting in the majors in center here. While that sounds exciting - prospects ahoy! - he's 26. Not so much, although you never know.

So here's the bright spot of the Pirates organization - Jason Bay. Buried somewhere among the mediocrity is one of the only 30/20 guys in the majors last year - and guess who just turned 27? Think of him as the Bobby Abreu you've never heard of (or interchangeable with him, if you have heard of him), and if that still confuses you, the younger, less speedy incantation of Bonds. Minus the juice. I think. I hope.

Projected Outfield:
RF: Jeromy Burnitz
CF: Chris Duffy
LF: Jason Bay

More information:
Jason Bay
Chris Duffy

Extra Stuff:

I really feel for these guys - seriously. Remember I'm a Nats / Expos fan, so I'm used to suffering. I empathize well with it, and these guys remind me of the late '90's with the Expos where you would tune in (relatively speaking) to watch Vladmir Guerrero, a healthy Jose Vidro, and the ace du jour and that was about it. That's these guys.

They're gonna get hammered by the rest of the division, except for maybe the Reds, and I'll cover why in that preview. They simply don't have the hitting or pitching to keep up with them, although if new manager Jim Tracy greenlights everyone, they could be fun to watch on offense, at least. Except for Sean Casey, who's slower than dirt.

Bottom line? Come back next year.