Written by Joe
Spring training is when everyone starts thinking about how their team will do this season.
Predictions are everywhere, from who will win the divisions to what teams will lose 100 games. I have already seen people predicting the Pirates will lose 100 games and others predicting they will win the division. I have no divine insight into what the 2012 team will do but looking back at the 2011 season can give us some things to think about.
After the games of July 31, 2011 the Pirates were 54-52 and 4.5 games back. Think about that a second, after almost 2/3 rds of the season the Pirates were above .500 and in sight of the division lead. On July 31 they lost their 3rd game in row on the way to losing 10 in row and dropping out of contention. The question is, were the real Pirates the team that played over .500 for 4 months or the team that would only win 18 games in August and September?
The Pirates opened the 2011 season with a 6-3 win over the Cubs. The opening day lineup was Overbay, Walker, Cedeno, Alvarez, Doumit, Tabata, McCutchen, and Jones. Kevin Correia went six and was followed by Garrett Olson, Jose Veras, Evan Meek, and Joel Hanrahan.
No one knew at that time Alvarez would only play 74 games and not hit at all, Tabata 91 games, Doumit 77 games, and Meek pitched in only 24 games. Chris Snyder, the other starting catcher, would only play in 34 games. Alvarez was out from May 19 to July 25, Tabata from June 26 to August 16, Snyder played his last game on June 8, and Doumit was out from May 29 to August 3. The Pirates managed to build a winning record with their 3b out most of June and July, their starting LF out all of July, and their top two catchers out for June and July. Add the fact that they got little production from 1st base with Overbay hitting .227 with 8 home runs.
One area the injury bug did not hit, except for one player, until late in the season was pitching. Ross Ohlendorf started two games but after being replaced by Jeff Karstens the 5 man Pirate rotation started 138 of the other 160 games. Pitching did seem to tire the last two months, posting an ERA of 3.72 in April, 3.26 in May, 3.51 in June, 3.31 in July, 5.36 in August, and 5.06 in September.
The 2011 Pirates were a very inexperienced team with several players in their first full season. If they learned from the experience they should perform as least as well as last season and carry through 162 games.
As the 2012 season approaches the Pirates are likely to start the season with the following lineup:
Catcher- Rod Barajas-Last season the Pirates used 8 catchers. Barajas will not hit for the average of Doumit but he has as much power and is a better defensive catcher. Barajas and McKenry or Morales as backup should be a better catching combo than any two of the 8 they ran through last season.
1B-Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee—Jones can be counted on to hit 15 to 20 homeruns depending on how much he plays. Last season McGehee hit 13 in an off season. The platoon should produce over 20 homeruns or if one of them takes the job full time 20 homes runs is a reasonable possibility.
2B-Neil Walker- hit 12 home runs last season and should produce as least as well as last season.
SS-Clint Barmes-A steadier fielder than Ronny Cedeno with more power.
3B-Pedro Alvarez-This is the mystery position. Will we see the Alvarez who hit .256 with 16 HR in just 90 games in 2010 or the one who hit .191 with 4 HR in 74 games in 2011? At least this year they can move McGehee to 3rd if needed.
LF-Alex Presley-Presley has 236 MLB at bats and a good .294 BA. He only has 4 home runs, which would be around 10 in 600 at bats. That is not the power teams want from a corner spot. If Presley can hit gaps for doubles and triples and he can compensate for the lack of home runs.
CF-Andrew McCutchen—His 2nd half decline was surprising. After two season hitting .286 he fell to .259 and hit a terrible .171 in September. I have read that part of the problem was that he began trying to hit home runs, which usually results in less home runs and a lower batting average. If he returns to the stroke that made him an All Star he should improve his numbers over last season.
RF-Jose Tabata-Tabata will be 23 this season and should show signs of maturing. At present he has shown the ability to hit for a good average but has shown little power. Since he signed through 2016 he will have no contract worries and hopefully will take a step forward in performance. Like Presley, gap hitting can compensate from lack of home runs.
Overall the offense will not be great but should be better than last season.
It was pitching that led to the good first half. As mentioned above, the Pirates were very fortunate that the rotation stayed healthy deep into the season. This season they look to be better prepared for injury with at least 7 pitchers who have started in the majors. Those pitchers are:
Erik Bedard-Bedard seems to be overlooked people talk about Pirate signings. His injury problems are mentioned but little mention of how good a pitcher he has been. While he has had some injury problems it is not as bad it may look. 2004 through 2007 he started 26, 24, 33, and 28 games. In both 2008 and 2009 he started 15 games and he was out the entire 2010 season. Last season he started 24 games. Most impressively, his ERA has been under 4 every season since 2006, his career home runs per 9 innings is 0.8, walks 3.5 per 9 innings and strikeouts 8.8 per 9 innings. His entire career has been in the American League, where pitcher stats are usually worse. Those are stats of a very good pitcher.
A J Burnett-Burnett is a workhorse who threw more innings and had more strikeouts than anyone on the Pirates staff last season. Perhaps the change of scene and league along with being reunited with the catcher he had during his 18-10 4.07 ERA season with Toronto will lead to more well pitched games. At the least he should be better than Paul Maholm.
Charlie Morton-Morton is recovering from off season surgery but reports are that he is ahead of schedule and could be ready by opening day. At the worst he should be ready by May. Morton pitched very well much of the season. He was effective home and away and his ERA was under 4 in the first and second half of the season. If his injury affected his pitching he could better this season.
James McDonald- McDonald got better as the season went on. The Pirates have said they rushed him back from injury too soon last season. He had a lower ERA the 2nd half of the season and was pitching deeper into games the second half with his only two 7 inning games coming on August 5 and September 5. If McDonald can be more efficient and pitch into the 7th inning more often the Pirates will have another good starting pitcher.
Jeff Karstens—Karstens is the pitcher who gets little respect but keep pitching good games. His weakness is durability but he compensates by throwing less pitches than many pitchers. Last year his 2nd half ERA was more than 2 runs higher than his 1st half ERA. Karstens had one of the amazing stats of 2011 when he gave up 22 home run but 20 of them were with the bases empty. Karstens says he did offseason conditioning to improve his stamina.
Kevin Correia-Correia started the season very well but declined after that. On June 1 he was 8-4 with a 3.40 ERA. The rest of the season he went 4-7 and his ERA rose steadily to end at 4.79. He was terrible in his starts at home, going 2 and 8 with a 7.71 ERA. He was 10-3 on the road with a 2.64 ERA. I have no idea what to expect this season.
Brad Lincoln-Lincoln stepped into the rotation after injuries sidelined some of the starters. He was not great and he was not horrible. In 8 games as a starter his ERA was 4.29 but he never went over 6 innings. Lincoln turns 27 in May so it is time for him to step into a role in the majors if he wants a good career.
That leaves the pen and the bench. Pirates have a lot of options in the pen. If Hanrahan is effective and Meek returns the pen should be a t least as good as last season. The bench has to be better by default. In 249 at bats Pirate pinch hitters hit .201 with 1 home run and 21 RBI. Just having Jones or McGehee on the bench gives them a power hitter to pinch hit.
This brings us back to how the team will do this season. It is very unlikely they will lose 100 games. The division is weaker just because two of the premier power hitters in baseball have left. The only reasons they could lose 100 games are major injury problems, particularly in pitching, and total loss of confidence after a strong April schedule. They are unlikely to lose 90 for the same reasons. They lost 90 last season and should be better this season. That takes them into the 80s, somewhere between 80 and 89 losses. My predictions are guaranteed to be wrong so please don’t bet on anything I write.
Now let the games begin and we shall see what happens.