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A big part of being a professional sports writer is consistently churning out quality articles for your readers. Admittedly, I wouldn’t consider myself “professional” because of the consistency aspect. I apologize for the big gaps between Pirates’ pieces, but I hope you’ll stick with me, because when I do get an article to print, I’ve usually put a lot into it.
Random Thoughts Nearly 15% Into the Season
Obviously this picture was taken prior to Hurdle joining the Pirates; Image credit blogspot
1. Manager Clint Hurdle continues to lead this team with an old school “small ball” mindset, and is adamant about continuing it. In a game last week, the Pirates sacrifice bunted five times under Hurdle’s orders, and not even the suddenly hot-hitting Jose Tabata was immune. There’s two different schools of thought on excessive small ball in the year 2012:
Old School Approach (Hurdle’s Method)
The Pirates have few good hitters, ergo their chances of advancing a runner via a hit are diminished. It makes sense to give up an out to get a player into scoring position, so it takes only one hit to score instead of two.
New School Approach
The Pirates already have so many automatic outs in their lineup, that adding an extra 1-2 each time through the lineup spells disaster. There are so few quality hitters that when someone is batting well, it’s ludicrous to take the stick out of their hands through a bunt.
2. SS Clint Barmes and C Rod Barajas have been every bit of the disappointments this writer predicted since their unfortunate offseason contract gifts from GM Neal Huntington. Through tonight’s game against St. Louis…
Barmes .145 BA, .192 OBP, .467 OPS
Barajas .151 BA, .224 OBP, .432 OPS
That’s so terrible that it literally defies belief. So now, the Pirates are going to find themselves stuck in a quandry that seems to track them down every year: How long do you continue playing the terrible, declining FA signings to attempt to justify their salaries? While the Pirates are only tied to Barajas for this season (they can decline his 2013 option with a buyout), Barmes’ reign of OBP terror is only beginning, as the Pirates have him signed through 2013 for an unbelievable $11,000,000!
3. So what other SS and C options are there? Well…
(AAA) C Jake Fox (who this writer has been pimping all offseason): 1.158 OPS through 8 games
(MLB) C Michael McKenry (Barajas’s backup): .940 OPS through 8 games
(AAA) SS Jordy Mercer: .748 OPS through 24 games
None may be the long-term solutions the Pirates desperately need, but it’s already clear the team would be better off auditioning them than sticking with two production-anemic thirty-somethings that should’ve never donned the black-and-gold in the first place.
4. Like last season, this team’s Achilles heel continues to be its offense. Through May 2nd, the Buccos’ bats are ranked (out of 30 MLB teams)…
Batting average: 26th
And it’s not like the Pirates couldn’t see this coming. The 2011 offense was among the league’s worst, so for Neal Huntington to “address” this deficiency by bringing in two veterans who struggle to keep their OBP’s above .300, and a reclamation project (who I do like) in INF Casey McGehee, bears no real explanation.
5. And just like last season, the starting pitching continues to drag this team along, posting the following impressive marks to date…
Quality Starts: 18th
But the problem is this: Pitchers can only thrive for so long without run support. Eventually, the lack of offense exerts a mental toll, as Pirates’ pitchers know they can’t afford one mistake, or the game is lost. This nullifies the aggressiveness every effective starter needs to be successful, resulting in more walks, higher pitch counts, and unfortunately, more losses.
Alvarez; Image credit newyorkpost
6. Despite a ghastly .258 OBP thus far, 3B Pedro Alvarez’s power has redeemed his OPS to a very healthy .829 level. With no realistic chance at contention this season, Alvarez’s potential resurgence after a frustrating 2011 will be one of the key barometers of “success” for this club.
7. On the flip side, despite having a run of improved at bats, OF Jose Tabata has a current line of .233 BA / .282 OBP / .597 OPS through 19 games. Despite only being 23, Tabata will cross the crucial 1,000 AB threshold this season, generally considered a solid measuring stick for a player’s potential. If Tabata cannot reach at least a .750 OPS level of production, it may be time for the team to explore corner OF options outside the organization.
Thanks for reading. The Pirates are certainly in the midst of a very difficult 2-month opening schedule against high quality opponents. Hopefully, more positive stories will bloom through the early part of May.
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