It's raining again...must be in Pittsburgh, dang global warming! Good weather to gather a few thoughts on the Pirates at the halfway point of the season:
> We give John Russell and staff a B for their work so far. Russell has shown a maddening tendency to do the unexpected in the field and with the lineup, which we attribute to first year experimentation and also a heavy dose of trying to make lemonade out of lemons.
But he's kept the team on a steady keel psychologically and gotten them through some injury stretches that would have left past squads lurching. He's also quite obviously a player's manager.
He does a decent job of not playing teacher's pets and not throwing players under the bus, ala Jim Tracy. Russell also gets everyone in the lineup, which is key to long term happiness and success in the locker room.
> Don Long has generally sold the hitters on a more patient attitude and focus at the plate, turning a team that's statistically a very average bunch into a scoring machine.
> Jeff Andrews has had some successes and a couple of notable flops. A pitching coach is less a teacher than a voodoo man, and his problem is reaching a staff that needs less work on mechanics and more on attitude. Long's got most of the batters to buy in; Andrews needs to do the same with the hurlers.
> We're eagerly awaiting a year's worth of work from Nate McLouth. In April he hit .324, in May, .279, and only .214 in June. We think this is to be expected in the constant give-and-take of the MLB learning curve, as pitchers adapt to him and he reacts to their patterns.
He can help himself by reestablishing his eye - he walked 15 times in April, 12 in May, and only 5 times in June. To became a competent leadoff man, he needs to work a few more free passes and get his motor revving on the bases.
> Freddie Sanchez has to quit channeling Pops and get back to what made him a .300 hitter - waiting on the pitch and spraying it the opposite way. He's committing to pitches too soon and pulling the ball way too often. We hope its' just a case of trying to live up to a contract, though its been three long months so far.
His batting average of .229 is 60 points worse than his lifetime average, and his OBP of .257 is 80 points below his career standard. It tells us he's not being very patient or selective at the dish.
> With Gorzo, it's the old real estate adage - location, location, location. When he's in a pitchers count - ahead or even on a batter - he's pitching beautifully. When he's behind in the count, he gets clocked. Getting that first pitch over and attacking the batter is crucial for him.
> Ian Snell needs more home cooking. At PNC, he's 2-2 with a 3.52 ERA and OBA of .297 with an average of 5-2/3 innings per start. On the road, he's 0-5 with a 8.14 ERA and opponent average of .352, lasting 5 innings per outing.
He needs to be more efficient with his pitches - his pitch counts are horrendous - and regain that pre-contract swagger. We still think his problems are between his ears, not with his arm.
> Jay Bay, Xavier Nady, Jack Splat and Ryan Doumit are a core that some teams would kill to have. We think the Bucs will keep two or three out of four around. (We're still not entirely sold on Nate McLouth - we'll check in again on him in September, though he does look like a keeper as a corner OF'er.)
It's no mistake that the Pirates are loading up on SS's, as Wilson has spoken often of hanging up the spikes after 2010, the option year of his current contract. He'll be 32 with 10 big league years in, and says he'd like to be a full-time dad, though he should have one more good deal left at that age.
> The bullpen has been pretty solid when not grossly overexposed, as has the bench.
> All in all, with a couple of new arms, we think the team could be competitive in 2010 and with some luck, a contender afterwards. But that depends on landing a MLB arm or two; the minors are barren and there's no cavalry riding to the rescue in the short term.
> In the news of the day, the Pirates DFA'ed RHP Bryan Bullington to make room on the 40-man roster for outfielder Chris Duffy. Bullington, 4-6 with a 5.52 earned run average in 15 starts for Indy, was the No. 1 pick overall in the 2002 draft.
After riding the pine during his ten day stretch in Pittsburgh, the move comes as no surprise. The Pirates have 10 days to trade Bullington, release him, or send him back to Indianapolis if he clears waivers.
> Dejan Kovacevic of the Post-Gazette reports that the Pirates expect to have one of the top prospects in Latin America under contract soon.
They were negotiating yesterday on the final details of a signing bonus for Jonathan Barrios, a 16-year-old SS out of Colombia who made the top-25 lists of two publications. Barrios was the star of the Prospect Sport academy, owned and operated by Chicago White Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera.