Friday, September 12, 2008

It's Raining All Over the World...

From his humble abode in Greenfield, GW doesn't think there will be any baseball at PNC tonight. That's probably a good thing, given the latest burst of lethargy shown by the local nine. But while we're waiting to see if they play between the raindrops, it's as good a time as any to look over the post-deal Pirates.

Part of the problem, of course, is that since the trades, the Pirate opponents are in the hunt and actually have a reason to play through August and September. In two months worth of games, only the Reds, Giants and the Padres, who the Bucs won't see until the last series of the year, aren't fighting for their playoff lives.

Jack Splat's injury-laden year and Freddie Sanchez's hobbled bod took away two steady old heads, leaving the team pathetically short-handed. Ryan Doumit, Adam LaRoche, and Nate McLouth must look around every night and wonder if they're back in AAA.

The pups have potential, but not one is ready for the everyday role they've been given. The pick of the litter, Brandon Moss, looks at too many pitches, including third strikes. Whether he guesses too much, has a "fast ball or nothing" attitude, or just looks at one zone of the plate, we don't know. But we do know that you can't hit a ball if you don't swing.

Andy LaRoche just isn't ready. His fielding is raw, and his bat hasn't come around yet. Learning your trade in the bigs is never easy.

The pitchers have the arms, but they all have miles to go. Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf are capable of earning a rotation spot, but both leave too many balls over the plate. Karstens too often hits the wall the second time through the lineup, while Ohlendorf gets lit up by lefties. Craig Hansen just has to find the plate.

Jimmy Barthmaier is a soft thrower with a wicked curve, but only pitched 90 innings in 2007 and 125 this year. He just doesn't have enough work to tout a track record.

Dan McCutcheon showed he will go after hitters in his time at Indy and isn't afraid to pitch to contact. Unfortunately, too much of the contact against him goes yard. He'll have to learn to temper his aggressive approach a bit without giving in to batters.

Steve Pearce and Nyjer Morgan have the look of bench players right now. Neither can field a ball without the pitcher holding his breath, nor done enough with the bat to merit starting on their offense alone.

We still hold out some hope for Pearce, who has less than a season in the OF and shows a decent knack with runners on (his RISP is .294, and he has 11 RBI in 72 AB), but Morgan doesn't have sufficient time left on his clock to improve enough to pencil into the lineup card every day.

Brian Bixler and Luis Cruz? One fields well enough, one hits well enough. Pity they're not one guy. Robinzon Diaz was a depth acquisition, not a challenger to Doumit.

The two prize catches were Jose Tabata, who was all that at Altoona, and Byan Morris, still in A and just starting pitching again this year after missing 2007 due to TJ surgery. Neither is on next year's radar.

To add to the mix, the trades and poor play have weighed heavily the veteran Pirates, who almost to a man on tonight's FSN's "Inside Pirate's Baseball" segment sounded beaten down. It's not a good clubhouse for young guys to be in right now.

Don't look for much next year, other than a steady improvement in the play of the young guys. With Wilson and LaRoche supposedly on the blocks, although there's not a replacement in sight for either one, it could get uglier before it gets better.

But if the cards fall right, Pittsburgh could turn the corner in 2010. Admittedly, that's a big leap in faith, but with Cutch and Tabata on the near horizon and hopefully a return to respectability by the pitching staff, that looks like the window the new suits are aiming for in their long-range plans.


WilliamJPellas said...

I don't like Steven Pearce as much as you do, Ron. To me he has "career bench player" written all over him. If you look at his career minor league statistics, 2007 was an aberration. Prior to that, he was a .280s-gap hitter with lots of doubles and good RBI totals. He was definitely NOT some kind of transcendent slugger, as his supporters irrationally want to believe he was. Mind you, if he could duplicate his usual minor league numbers on the major league level, ehh, ya could do a lot worse than .285-15-90 with lots of doubles. But I don't see it.

Agreed re: Andy LaRoche, except that I don't think he'll ever be ready. I just hope the suits will have the guts to pull the plug on him around June 1st next year, and do what they should have done already, and that's to promote Neil Walker.

Count me as one who definitely likes Brandon Moss a lot. He has definitely shown me a much better bat than I expected, and of course his glove is an improvement over Jason Bay's. I believe his caught looking K's come more from unfamiliarity with the league and from his youth than anything else. I expect he will be pretty good pretty quickly. Perhaps never Xavier Nady circa 2008, but he might be as good as Nady circa 2007. That's good enough, from where I'm sitting.

I'd rather have Robinzon Diaz than Jose Bautista even given Andy LaRoche's looming flameout. Bautista only looks good in comparison with someone like Andy, and let's not forget we'd have to make Jose a small millionaire in order to keep him after this season, because he's arbitration eligible. Definitely NOT worth it.

I also like Karstens, Ohlendorf, and McCutchen fairly well. I think all 3 will be at least average major league pitchers. By "average" I mean that I'd settle for 3 guys who might have 4.50 ERAS but who would stay consistently healthy and able to take their turn every fifth day, versus the kind of flotsam, jetsam, and flakes the Bucs ran out there this year. Yoi and double yoi.

Don't forget that there's always the chance that Ian Snell will get his head and/or his elbow together in '09, and that Phil Dumatrait's shoulder won't explode. Both can really pitch when they're healthy, but both were lost causes this season.

Ron Ieraci said...

Yah, Will, Pearce is getting to the "show me" stage of his career. And I agree Moss is the most MLB ready; he's just not a polished product yet, but I see him as an everyday player in the near future.
Dunno what's up with baby LaRoche. He still throws on one foot and across his body instead of just stepping to the target. That's really weird for a guy that's been playing ball for the past 15 years.
The pitching is the wild card, Will, no question. Snell, Maholm, Dumatrait and Ohlendorf have the stuff to be top three pitchers (I don't think that any of them are ace material), and if a staff falls in place with a team ERA of 4.25 or so, they could get well in a hurry.