Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Question Of Leadership?

One thing that's bubbled up in the Ryan Doumit affair has been a question of leadership. In Jen Langosch's article, Neal Huntington explains
"I think, given the moves, we are looking for some guys to step forward and candidly need guys to step forward. As you look at Paul [Maholm], Zach [Duke] and Ryan, they are in that group of players who are entering their fourth year and fifth year of service - we do need some leadership to come from somewhere. We have players who are getting to that point in their career where they need to step up."
We think that's a pretty disingenuous statement.

Leadership is a combination of experience, confidence, and personal connections. And the Pirates, as constructed, are pretty low on all three counts.

Let's start with the most obvious qualifier, experience. Among the everyday players, not one has been a full-time starter longer than two years - Ryan Doumit, Andy LaRoche, Ramon Vazquez (whose last starting season was 2003), and Ronny Cedeno, who started in 2006 and chunks of 2009, are the only grizzled, two-year starters in the clubhouse.

The service time approximations tell the story. Vazquez has seven years, Doumit and Cedeno four, and Lastings Milledge is in his third season. Three guys have two years under their belt (LaRoche, Delwyn Young, and Brandon Moss), while the other seven are rookies among the fourteen who have seen some time in the show this season.

The 2009 pitching staff isn't much grayer. The old man is Tyler Yates, who's in his fifth big league season. Paul Maholm and Zach Duke are in their fourth year, and Matt Capps, Jeff Karstens, Denny Bautista and Chris Bootcheck are three-year guys. Six hurlers are in their second season, and five more are first-year men by service time.

So out of the 32 guys currently in the system that have played this year, two have five years or more under their belt while twenty-one are in their first or second year. And one of the five year guys has been on the DL all season, and the other is a role player. Not much experience to draw on there, hey?

Personal connections? Hey, these guys are lucky if they know each other's names. Twenty two of the thirty two guys that have pulled on a Bucco jersey this season have been in the organization for two years or less. Seven have come through the Pirate system, and up to a couple of days ago, Doumit was the only one that started regularly.

The confidence to lead is another can of worms entirely. You can count on your nose the number of players assured to start 2010 where they ended 2009, that being Andrew McCutchen. Oh, some are odds-on favorites to retain their spots, but guys fighting for their careers tend to look out for their own interests first, and that's how it should be.

So is there a leadership vacuum? Well, maybe if you consider Doug Mientkiewicz to be your prototypical leader. We don't see it that way.

When the ballyard is filled in the morning with guys like Delwyn Young taking infield, Lastings Milledge taking outfield, Garret Jones in the cage, Ross Ohlendorf working on mechanics, and Andrew McCutchen providing energy and saying all the right things, we think the team's on a pretty even keel, which is a great tribute to JR and his staff.

After all, the point is to work hard, act professionally, and hustle. You shouldn't need a cheerleader to do that.

Now we do think that the team could use a graybeard or two to provide a shoulder to cry on and some direction. But that ain't gonna happen for at least a couple of more years down the road. Hey, McCutchen is just 22. By the time he's 25, no one will have any questions about who's leading the team; he'll carry Pops torch.

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