Are We Really Getting Better? Part II

Yesterday we closed Part I of this seriesknowing that the Pittsburgh Pirates averaged winning 13.7 fewer games than the MLB average team (81 wins) over the last three years, that our offense was short an average of 71 runs scored each of those years while our pitching and defense was short 35 runs allowed per year (106 runs total), and that our pitching staff faced a tick easier opponent in the box from the average MLB pitching staff based on BA, OBP, SLG, and OPS seen.

As you probably know, baseball…

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Are We Really Getting Better? Part I

Over the last three years, the Pirates have averaged 67.3 wins whichwas 13.7 wins short from the average MLB team of 81 wins. Ask any fan
what the problem is and they will quickly tell you – we need more
offense.

Sure enough, the average MLB team scored 769 runs last three and the
Pirates averaged scoring 698.. a 71 run difference. The average MLB
team allowed 769 runs scored last three and the Pirates were at 804.. a
35 run difference.

Pittsburgh Pirate’s fans: Read more of the story on Pittsburgh Pirates Bucco Blog

New Bucco Blog is open to public today!

BIM is delighted to announce that the new Bucco Blog is open to public today!  This transition will allow us to present articles with a much more flexible platform.  Ever since Jake announced the acquisition deal of the Bucco Blog, we have been working very hard on this new website… It’s being improved every day, hope you will like it.

Here is the URL:

http://pittsburghpirates.buccoblog.com/

As part of the deal, Jake will remain as the main writer of the new website and have full authority over the editorial independence.  BIM would like to thank Jake’s support and cooperation in this trying transitioning period.  In the mean time, it is important to mention that without our most dedicated and contributing writers:  Rocco, Bill and John, you would not see this website today!

We would really love to hear your thoughts on this new site, Go the the Pittsburgh Pirates Bucco Blog Forum now, and tell us what you think. 

Does a set defensive position really help offensive production?

[This article is posted by Polka Bill, tell Polka and other fans what you think by joining Pittsburgh Pirates forum now! ]

It’s been suggested that having a player mentally prepared to enter the
season as the starter at one position will help them with their
offensive production.

I don’t buy it.

At least not at the major-league level.

I can understand wanting to draft a player and have them come up
through the minor-league system at one position so they learn
everything they can about what it takes to be a major-league at said
position. But position moves have to be made to get your best prospect
to the majors as soon as they are ready. Neil Walker was moved from
catcher to 3rd because that position is his best bet for making it to
the majors as soon as he’s ready. Jose Castillo was moved from SS to
2nd in the minors because Pokey Reese got injured and he was the best
prospect to come to the majors in case of an injury to a middle
infielder. And don’t you think it would have made some sense in having
Ryan Doumit and Brad Eldred shag some fly balls in the outfield when
management realized that to get their bats to the majors, a position
change might be needed.

At the major league level, these men are the best of the best. So does
it help the mentality of players to hear that Xavier Nady is our right
fielder, Freddy Sanchez is our 2nd baseman, Jose Bautista is our
starting 3rd baseman, and that’s that, end of discussion?

That might work for your teams that can afford to pay the best of the
best to come in and start at a designated position . But for teams like
our Pirates, it doesn’t work. When Jose Bautista got hurt last year
with the lacerated hand, did it not make the most sense to move Freddy
back to 3rd and let Castillo start at 2nd? I thought so, I think most
thought so, but because Freddy was dubbed our 2nd baseman, we were told
it was better for him to stay at 2nd and continue to improve there. But
at what cost? Castillo was your starting 2nd baseman for 3 years,
Freddy played lights out at 3rd the year before. Doesn’t seem like the
best choice for the entire team.

How about Xavier Nady. He played an outstanding 1st base after the
trade that brought him to the Pirates at the trade deadline in the
Ollie Perez deal. He showed that, when healthy, he can also play left
and center, and to know that he’s also played a little 3rd only excites
the fans more. But, the Pirates are saying they want Nady’s mind at
ease, for him to know he’s their right fielder and not worry about
position hopping. Seriously? Does that really help, knowing that it
might be better for the team to be prepared to make a position move?

But what about our players still without a position, like Ryan Doumit,
a switch-hitting power bat that is blocked in right and 1st. Well, he
wouldn’t be blocked with a little position shuffling to get your best
eight men on the field. If that means Freddy goes back to 3rd, or Nady
grabs his infield glove, or Doumit grabs his catchers mit, the object
is to win, not to pamper the players.

Is it really that big of a deal for a major leaguer to be told “Hey
pal, we’ve got an injury or we’re not getting the production from a
certain position, we need you to go there because you’re better than
the back-up.” You’d think these players would be more than willing. Are
they? Will management allow this to happen? That’s to be determined.

Four needed moves; Sickels slop; & vacation time

Four things the Pirates have to do in 2008 if they want to try and sneak one by the rest of the division:

1. First and foremost, get rid of Xavier Nady if Jason Bay isn’t dealt.

Every defensive metric known puts Nady’s defense in right at no less than -1 win.. some as far out as nearly -2 wins. That’s close to equalizing Nady’s offensive contribution from the corner. But more importantly, the Pirates can’t put pitchers on the mound who pitch to contact and then feature two marginal or below average cover guys on the corners hoping Morgan or Duffy runs down more than their share. That doesn’t work, as we’ve already seen.

Unfortunately, Nate McLouth is even worse than Nady in right and Steve Pearce projects about like McLouth, so we have a serious problem if Bay is in left. Nady’s bat plays middle of the lineup and that’s sexy to have, but not at the expense of blowing so many games.

The answer is someone like Adam Jones, albeit his bat isn’t ready for the middle of the lineup yet.

2. Bullpen.

Could Luis Munoz or Todd Redmond make a big jump to the pen and do a better job than some of the junk we’ve signed this winter? It’s a very strong possibility.

The Pirates sorely need middle relief help and someone to setup from the right side. Osoria, Sanchez, and Davidson are only going to go so far. We need a couple of guys to step up big or to acquire someone who can sock away some innings and miss a few bats in a trade (Morrow?).

3. Third base.

I understand the front office seems high on Jose Bautista, but they really aren’t. His glove plays nowhere on the diamond and his bat runs alongside his glove. I suspect when I heard him say he didn’t want to play second a year or two ago I lost interest in him – it was the only place he had a chance in my book, and that was stretching it some.

The Pirates need a power corner infielder bad and you have to wonder why there isn’t more talk about Walker breaking camp and heading North with the club. His glove will lose games for us, his bat isn’t ready – and may never be ready, but he needs innings under his belt on the corner for us to tell.

I say start his clock, send him back to Indy for 30 days to keep the extra year on him, and then give him the balance of at bats the rest of the year. Who knows, he just might put it all together and be the #2 hitter the Bucs need so bad.

4. Centerfield.

Outside of our right field problem, this is the biggest hole the Pirates have. We can get by with a slimmed down bullpen, we can get by with Bautista at third, but we can’t get by with a league average defender in center who bats .275/.330/.395 leading off.

If Morgan opens the game in center for defensive purposes, he needs to bat 8th and Bautista needs to leadoff. As soon as possible, a double-switch should bring McLouth in for the extra bat.

Andrew McCutchen is at least two years off from being able to contribute and even then, he’s probably going to come up in right. So why not deal for the one thing this club needs – an OBP machine to play center even if he isn’t a 0-3 guy? Say.. Mike Cameron and dang the ‘culture change’ theory?

John Sickels ran out his 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates top prospect list:

1. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Grade A-
2. Steven Pearce, OF-1B, Grade B+
3. Neil Walker, 3B, Grade B (not convinced he’ll hit quite as well as they expect)
4. Daniel Moskos, LHP, Grade B
5. Brad Lincoln, RHP, Grade C+ (pending recovery from TJ)
6. Brian Bixler, SS, Grade C+
7. Shelby Ford, 2B, Grade C+
8. Duke Welker, RHP, Grade C+
9. Brian Friday, SS, Grade C+
10. Andrew Walker, C, Grade C+
..
15. Matt Peterson, RHP, Grade C

I don’t know what’s worse.. Sickels listing Peterson as the 15th rated player (he’s long gone), or Romak not even being listed.

Sickels had Neil Walker at a B rating. I’ve been dropping him each year too, and I know the fans won’t want to hear that but I agree with him. Also like Sickels, I think he needs at bats to see where he really fits in.

I think Ford deserves to be a B- based on his conversion work to second and his bat until he hurt his back, Moskos is easily a B+/A- if he repeats consistently, and how Sickles rates Yoslan Herrera in the same category with Pat Bresnahan and Todd Redmond is beyond me. Herrera doesn’t deserve a C rating while the other two guys deserve better. But Herrera has one more year to prove he is what Littlefield’s scouts thought he was.

And somehow Sickles didn’t even mention Felix, Astacio, or Benoit’s name. Felix has been a disaster but has some health reasons for that, Asacio proved to me he has some upside, and Benoit was nothing short of spectacular last year.

I understand we may not totally agree, but Sickels obviously did some sloppy work on the Pirates. It shows.

I’ve received a few emails asking why the Pirates wouldn’t want to offer Freddy Sanchez a long-term deal and I think the answer to that is obvious – he’s on the downside of his career, albeit you wouldn’t know it by his batting average.

He’s a 30 year old singles hitter who just had shoulder surgery on top of his knee problems in 2006 and a medley of other health problems the rest of his career. The Pirates own him for two more years at below average cost so why spend more than you have to?

I certainly wouldn’t. In fact, I’m surprised he isn’t being dealt.

But the real puzzle to me is why the Pirates are thinking about locking up Capps long term unless they are thinking about dealing him over the next couple of years and want to pass on cost value.

I must be undervaluing Capps like I did so horribly with Ian Snell in 2005. But my instincts tell me Capps just isn’t what the fans think he is. He looks the part, he’s got the stats to back him up, but my gut says he’s been very, very lucky and the Pirates had better keep Marte around just in case.

How Snell and Capps get away throwing Josh Towers-like straight heaters is beyond me. At least Snell has gotten a bit of a bite the last couple of years, but Capps has none. Zilch. Straight as an arrow and he doesn’t even really bring it.

I wouldn’t give Capps a long-term deal.. I think we’ll end up seeing another Jack Wilson if we do (two years off, two years on) and a lot of blown saves. Well, I expect the blown saves either way.

Tonight is the last post from me until next Sunday as I start my week vacation. If anything breaks or I hear something juicy, I’ll try to get something posted here.

Buc Fever is the winner!

Buc Fever – you have 15 minutes to email and tell me, is it behind door #1, door #2, or door #3?

Ok.. just kidding.

Pittsburgh Pirates discussion forum user Buc Fever was selected by Alex over at Baseball Interactive Media as the winner of the limited-edition Neil Walker bobblehead contest.

Keep watching – they have several more promos coming your way this year. One way to get your name out there is to send Alex 500 words or so on what trades you would like to see or not see, and why, Monday or Tuesday and he’ll post them here while I’m gone Tuesday – Saturday this week.

Good Luck!