Thursday, April 23, 2009

Are the Pirates for Real?

At 9-6, the Pittsburgh Pirates have gotten off to their best start since 2002. After sweeping the first place Florida Marlins this week, things are looking pretty good in Pirate-ville right now.

But the question remains: is this team for real, or a fluke?

First baseman Adam LaRoche chimes in:
"I feel like we took advantage of every mistake they made, every little thing, whether it's stealing a bag, scoring on a passed ball -- we took advantage of opportunities," Adam LaRoche said. "I think that proves we're a pretty good team and it's not just a fluke. You come in and play the best team in baseball and sweep them, that's saying something."
While I admit that it's encouraging to see the Pirates play so well against the Marlins, I'm very doubtful that this team is actually for real. There is simply not enough talent there right now, especially after the injury to star catcher Ryan Doumit. The Cubs, Cardinals, and even the Reds are far more talented than the Pirates right now.

But with that said, there are a number of pieces on this team that I am intrigued by. The starting pitching, led by Paul Maholm and Zack Duke, has been fantastic so far and has enabled the Pirates to win some close games early on. No one of the Pirates starting staff has an ERA above 4.25, so hell, if they can keep this pace up, the Pirates could actually remain competitive. But it remains to be seen as to what the Pirates can expect out of young guns like Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf over the course of the entire season.

And what's been most refreshing about the Pirates start so far has been the work of their bullpen, namely John Grabow and Matt Capps. These two have combined to give up zero earned runs in 13 IP, which has been a major stabilizing force for the young ballclub. The Pirates will go as far as their pitching will take them, which in years past has been the reason why the team has fallen apart.

As for the offense, there appears to be limited upside, especially after losing Doumit. Adam LaRoche has performed magnificently well this April, but when comes back down to Earth, who will pick up the slack outside of Nate McLouth? It remains to be seen what the Pirates will get out of Brandon Moss and Andy LaRoche, but there is no doubt that the pressure to produce rests solely on these two young guys.

Simply put, I don't think the Pirates will be able to maintain this pace all season. The real Pittsburgh Pirates are not close to being a playoff team-yet. The Pirates will have to do a lot more than sweep the Marlins to prove to me that they are a good team.

In the end, if the Pirates continue to play well, it'll be a major boost for Pittsburgh and Pirates fans, however many of them are still out there. It'd be nice to see the Pirates become buyers during the trade deadline instead of sellers, for once. More than likely, by the time July 31 rolls around, potential free agents like Adam LaRoche, John Grabow, Freddy Sanchez, and Jack Wilson will all be shopped as the Pirates continue to build for a bright future that still seems far away.


Bill said...

I'm with you--I'd love to see the Pirates do well.

But everything here seems to suggest that the pitching staff has been more "lucky" than "fantastic." They have a poor strikeout-to-walk ratio and a poor GB/FB ratio; an unusually large percentage of balls in play are finding gloves, and an unusually small percentage of fly balls are going over the fence. They seem due for a big dropoff unless some of that changes.

Hope I'm wrong, though.

Antone said...

Here's my problem with the Pirates pitching staff:

1st in the NL in ERA: 3.07
2nd in the NL in WHIP: 1.27
LAST in the NL in K's: 77 in 132 IP

The first two don't seem sustainable if the Pirates pitchers aren't missing bats, unless they have a pitching staff full of Greg Maddux types, which I find very doubtful. Especially when two of those pitchers are Jeff Karstens and Russ Ohlendorf.

Bill said...

Common misconception about Maddux. He got his share of strikeouts--6 per 9 for his career, and 6.75 per 9 in his prime. Only Snell is even close to that among the Pirates' starters (and he's been the worst of them all ERA-wise, which tells you how much these stats mean at this point). And if you can't get strikeouts, you have to get lots of ground balls; Maddux did a little of one and a ton of the other, and these guys are doing neither.

Anonymous said...

You talk like success for the Pirates is if they make the playoffs. I think success for them, is winning more than 77 games. Only 3 times since '92 ended, they've won more than that. if they win 80 or more, that would be overachieving. I half think they might actually win 81 or a little more. You're right they're not a playoff team (yet?) but I think they'll probably fight the Reds for 4th place in September.

Josh said...

Bill and Antone: The lack of bats missed is very concerning and the low K rate is pretty bad. Can a pitching staff survive with a K rate like that? No. They can have some success, but this level would be completely unattainable. Not for a minute do I think that this staff can maintain that for the enitre season...but the results so far are encouraging.

I have to wait and see what guys like Karstens and Ohlendorf give the Pirates for the entire season before I judge the entire starting staff.

I would say Pirates pitchers are alot closer to the Rick Reed mold than they are too the Greg Maddux type.

Great analysis guys.

Devon: I still have a tough time believing that the Pirates have enough talent to match the Reds this season.

Great points, by the way.