2010 Season Preview: Pittsburgh PiratesChristopher Reina. 30th March, 2010 - 4:45 pm
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As has become custom, the Pirates won fewer than 70 games for the fifth consecutive season and had their 17th consecutive season under .500. No matter if it has been Gene Lamont, Lloyd McClendon, Jim Tracy or now John Russell, the results have been the same in the Steel City.
2009 Opsera Finish: 27th
What Happened In The Winter
As teams like Washington spend a lot of money to prop up a loser, the Pirates continue to take the long-term strategy of rebuilding cheaply with their free agent signings all being cheap, low risk players.
Investing $3.5M on Octavio Dotel is money well spent as losing games that were there for the winning in the 9th inning is demoralizing for any team, let alone a young team that needs to experience shaking hands at second base more than 60 times per season. He has mostly been a setup man since his injuries, but he is more than competent in the role for Pittsburgh.
The Ryan Church signing for $1.5M as their fourth outfielder made a lot of sense, as did the Bobby Crosby signing. Crosby looked like a superstar in the making when he was the ROY of 2004, but has been unable to stay healthy and hasn't hit anyways. He can play a few different positions for the Pirates and he hit a little better towards the end of 2009.
The Pirates also got a competent, high OBP second baseman in Akinori Iwamura from Tampa Bay in exchange for Jesse Chavez.
Pittsburgh didn't lose much this offseason, save for Matt Capps, who had a bad 2009 after being a serviceable closer in the previous couple of seasons. He was non-tendered and ended up signing with Washington.
Pirates Offensive Preview
The Pittsburgh offense is largely dependent on how Andrew McCutchen performs in his second MLB season. The former 11th overall pick in 2005 made his big league debut in 2009 and hit for an OPS of .836 with 12 homers, 26 doubles, nine triples and 22 steals in 493 plate appearances. He also played a fairly decent center field by rookie standards. He had a home/away OPS split of .912/.757, which is something we'll have to keep an eye on as he gets more comfortable in MLB parks.
Beyond McCutchen, the Pirates will mostly be waiting for Pedro Alvarez to be join him as a future All-Star, but they aren't without some talent.
Garrett Jones came from basically nowhere to hit for an OPS of .928 in 258 plate appearances with 21 homers. He had a brief cup of coffee with Minnesota in 2007 and has been a journeyman minor leaguer until his 2009 breakthrough. Jones mashed righty pitching with an OPS of 1.046 versus .698 against southpaws. I think we'll see those numbers decrease in 2010 as the scouting book on Jones becomes more nuanced.
Ryan Doumit had been one of the better NL hitting catchers in 2007 and 2008, but was injured for much of 2009, hitting for an OPS of .714.
Lastings Milledge probably won't become Willie Mays at this point, but he is just 25 still and he his for an OPS of .729 after coming over to Pittsburgh from the Nationals. I still think he is capable of being a high .700 OPS hitter and he's always been much stronger defensively when he's been in left rather than center or right.
Andy LaRoche is another player people are still waiting on, but I think he's a Quadruple-A kind of hitter. He his for an OPS of .855 against lefties and ideally he'd be a platoon guy.
Pittsburgh acquired Jeff Clement in the Jack Wilson deal last year and he will be their first baseman. He was the third overall pick in 2005, so he has the talent pedigree and he hit a respectable .850 in Triple-A in 2009 with 21 homers.
Ronny Cedeno can't hit and isn't that great with the glove, so it is difficult to see how he keeps getting so many MLB at bats each season. His presence as their everyday shortstop demonstrates Pittsburgh's lack of organizational depth and also financial restrictions.
Pirates Pitching Preview
The Pirates don't have any budding Cy Young candidates, but they have a couple middle of the rotation guys that are decent, albeit underwhelming, starting pitchers. They uniformly pitch to contact, which means they'll have ERAs somewhere in the 4.00 -5.00 range.
Paul Mahol, Zach Duke and Ross Ohlendorf are the trio I am referring to, all of whom had K/9 rates below six, ERAs between 3.92 and 4.44 while pitching between 176 and 213 innings in 2009. Duplicating those numbers shouldn't be a lot for them to ask in 2010.
Charlie Morton will be Pittsburgh's fourth starter and he had a 4.55 ERA in 97 innings in 2009. Daniel McCutchen, meanwhile, has beaten out Kevin Hart for the fifth starter role. He had a 3.47 ERA and 6.9 K/9 rate in Triple-A during the 2009 season.
Their prospect arms of Zack Von Rosenberg, Tim Alderson and Brad Lincoln also project to be middle of the rotation guys at best.
In the bullpen, the Pirates of course feature Dotel as the closer, plus Brendan Donnelly as the veteran setup man, along with Joel Hanaran, Javier Lopez and Jeff Karstens. I like Evan Meek quite a bit, who struck out 8.0 batters per nine innings and had a 3.45 ERA; he simply needs to reduce his walk rate.
Pittsburgh's bullpen ranked 26th in ERA in 2009 and they should be in the same neighborhood again in 2010.
What Are Their 2010 Chances?
Between McCutchen, what happens with Jones, Milledge and the eventual call-up of Alvarez, the Pirates have enough shorelines offensively to keep things interesting throughout the summer. They should be at least a little bit better offensively, as they were last in the NL in runs, so they can't possibly get worse.
The pitching will be really bad, however, and it will keep them under 70 wins. Some younger teams have a chance at becoming a surprise .500 team because their pitching is simply young and inexperienced, but the Pirates have too many known commodities without that upside.
Another NL Central team could finish behind the Pirates, but they are an easy pick for the cellar.
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