Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pirates 2012: A Periodic Assessment (1 of 8)

(note: I think it’d be interesting to do periodic assessments of the Bucco season at key benchmarks – say eight times during the year at quarterly, and semi-quarterly intervals. This is the first of the eight planned assessments. )
Let’s talk record.
Fact is, Pirates are two games under .500. At the end of the day, that’s the stat that counts in the record books, and it seems to me that if the Bucs find themselves two games under .500 in July or August, most fans will be pretty ecstatic with a wild card perhaps a possibility.

So that’s the good news.  There’s also some good news in the performance of the starting pitching and the bullpen, which are replicating what we saw in the first half of last year – solid, keeping the team competitive, and giving the team a chance to win on most days. No blowouts to report so far.
The hitting is (newflash) worrisome. We’re still fielding four batters with batting averages under .200, but there are positive signs from Walker and Tabata.  For a team that relies on “smallball” to scratch out any run it can, that’s something to be thankful for. Hopefully there’ll be more to come.  McCutchen is our most consistent performer, but zero home runs with April almost in the books is a concern.  I give him the benefit of the doubt here though.  I recall a spring training interview where he said that he got into trouble when he went for the fences, so I’ll assume that the knows what he’s doing and that the power will be there sooner rather than later (though it’s something to keep an eye on). It better – I drafted him in the third round in one of my fantasy leagues!
As for Pedro…well, what can I add on that topic? We need him to hit. Oh, you knew that already?
So I am trying to keep my focus on the overall record and the fine start from our pitching staff. But my BIGGEST concern is that we’re leaving them no margin for error.  We’ve seen it over and over again – just last year in fact. Playing three or four months of excruciatngly tight baseball wears a staff down and performance declines. It’s inevitible. Unless we do something about the hitting, we’ll see it again. You can count on it.
No one should be surprised by the problems with the hitting. Many of us clamored for significant investments in the offseason to improve the hitting. The front office did a good job on the pitching side, with the additions of Cruz, Bedard, and Burnett.  But they only invested in Casey McGeehee on the other side of the ledger. I like Casey McGeehee and as I’ve said before I expect him to get more playing time as they get over the Pedro infatuation. We’re seeing signs of that already, or at least I hope we are.
But the off season is over and now our options are less promising, in my view, than they were over the winter. We can give Dmitri Young or Vladimir Guerrero a shot…but aren’t we tired of being the laughing stocks of baseball? We can consider trading for Hanrahan, something I summarily rejected until recently. Because I want to win NOW, I would have preferred that the FO build up the hitting in the offseason. Now though, if we can get a legitimate power hitter for Hanrahan, I say we consider it.  I keep coming back to LA Angels as the logical trading partner, but they’re not the only ones that need a legitimate closer. Still, Mark Trumbo in a Bucco uniform would be something worth salivating over…
Option three is to stick with the plan. Walker and Tabata will mature and find their power strokes, Pedro will get lots of at-bats and turn it around, Barmes and Barajas will provide some power too, and Presley will continue to do his thing. Could work…but there’s a lot of hope and a prayer there.
What do I see happening (the Bold Prediction department): I think the Bucs will trade Bedard at the deadline for a legit 1B power bat, and bring up Starling Marte around that time. If you could essentially trade Bedard for say, a Brandon Belt (or Ike Davis?) to man 1B, then add Marte to the OF to add some oomph in Tabata’s place, would you do it? If you were in contention or close to it? Or if you were thinking of the future and looking for a long-term investment?  I would – given that we seem to have decent pitching options and Bedard will be a Free Agent at the end of the year anyway.
Let's be honest: isn't that why we got Bedard in the first place?
So my overall grade for the team? I’ll give them credit for their record and their pitching staff. But without some change in the hitting, it’s hard to get too carried away.
Grade: C-, but as always in Pirateville, a work in progress. The hitting has GOT to wake up.

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