GW took a little side trip to his favorite hardball resource, The Baseball Reference, to take a gander at the Pirate pitching before and after Joe Kerrigan and the staff shakeup. We selected a couple of key stats, mixed well, and the results (the NL average is in parenthesis):
Pitching Age: 2009 - 26.4 (28.6) Only Florida's staff is younger, at 26.1 years-old.
Pitching Age: 2008 - 26.5 (28.9) They were the youngest staff last season.
Draw: The staff remains among the NLs youngest.
Runs Given Up Per Game: 2009 - 4.65 (4.55) 9th in the NL, and a big jump forward.
Runs Given Up Per Game: 2008 - 5.46 (4.63) Last in the NL by a wide margin.
Thumbs Up: Giving up .8 runs less per game is a 15% improvement over last season, and it shows by how many games the pitching has kept the team in during 2009. Of all the stats you can apply to pitching, this is the only one that really matters.
ERA: 2009 - 4.55 (4.25) They drop to 12th in ERA, which shows how much the fielding has helped them this season.
ERA: 2008 - 5.10 (4.30) Only NL team to have an ERA of over 5.
Thumbs Up: They're making teams earn their runs against them.
Hits Given Up Per Game: 2009 - 9.4 (8.9) 14th in the league and still way over average.
Hits Given Up Per Game: 2008 - 10.1 (9.1) Dead last, by 1/2 hit per game.
Draw: They're a little more aggressive to the mitt, and the fielding has done the job. Over the course of the season, it comes to 113 fewer hits, but until they improve their abysmal strikeout rate, this will remain a problem.
HR per Game: 2009 - 1 (1) tenth in the league and about average.
HR Per Game: 2008 - 1.1 (1) Only three teams gave up more.
Draw: Middle of the pack, this year and last.
BB Per Game: 2009 - 3.6 (3.5) 8th in the league, a great jump from last season.
BB Per Game: 2008 - 4.1 (3.4) Tied with the Cards for last.
Thumbs Up: Getting from the basement to join the unwashed masses is a serious improvement, but there are still command issues to be resolved; too many 2-0, 3-1, counts.
WHIP: 2009 - 1.446 (1.385) Eleventh in the NL.
WHIP: 2008 - 1.573 (1.391) Last again.
Thumbs Down: Too many runners, plain and simple. But they did cut the margin between themselves and the league norm by over 50%, so they're headed in the right direction.
K: 2009 - 5.8 (7.0) Doesn't seem like much of a difference, but it's 160 Ks in total under the league average and last in the league. With a NL average of .298 for balls in play, that's an extra 48 hits given up, and 25 more runs.
K: 2008 - 6.0 (7.0) Next to last to the Cards in the NL.
Thumbs Down: Fewer Ks than last year? These guys gotta learn to get ahead of hitters and to finish them off.
The Dope: The staff stayed young, and showed some improvement, particularly in runs given up and walks (funny how those go hand in hand, hey?) But it's obvious why the suits are so in love with big bazookas who can throw the ball through a wall.
The strikeout rate was terrible last year, and worse this season. Applying the league averages, those extra balls in play convert into hits three times out of ten, and two hits roughly equal a run scored.
Joe got his guys to cut the base on balls, but he still needs to get them to the next level, where they can miss some bats. The walks are down, but the guys still are running up too many good hitters counts. If he can get the staff to be aggressive with first strikes and get batters into 1-2 counts, the strikeouts will come.
So he's taken the first step of slashing free passes. The next is to improve their command to where they can dictate to the hitter. And it is a step at a time process; next year will tell if Pittsburgh can start getting over the hump.
Zach Duke and Ross Ohlendorf have made great strides this year; Paul Maholm needs some consistency, and Charlie Morton and Kevin Hart have to prove that they're big-league starters.
Tim Alderson, Brad Lincoln, Daniel McCutchen, Jose Ascanio, and Phil Dumatrait are waiting in the wings if they falter. Donnie Veal, Rudy Owens, and Daniel Moskos may or may not be ready a couple of years down the line, along with a boatload of freshly drafted arms three, four, or more years away from PNC. So there is some depth to the unit, at least compared to last season.
The bullpen is another question. Jesse Chavez, Evan Meek, and Joel Hanrahan have stepped up; Matt Capps and Jeff Karstens, well, you're never quite sure what you're gonna get from them. But it is easier to build a pen, both internally and on the market.
We'll give Joe and the suits a B- grade this season; they've taken some steps, especially in cutting runs allowed and walks, while adding some systematic depth, but still have miles to go.