01 June 2007

Pirates Preview

by Joshua Worley

The Pirates are boring and bad. They are 23-30, with a run differential of 218-256. Their dismal record is good for second in the NL central, tied with two other dismal teams. The Pirate offense is below average. The Pirate pitching is below average. The bullpen is especially awful, with a 4.78 ERA. Just last night they blew a 2-0 lead in the ninth to the Padres. Stupid Pirates.

This is the second preview I've written for the Pirates, which is a Dodgerama first. That first preview didn't have player capsules, though. It did list the Pirates lineup along with some awful on base percentages. Below is the current Pirate lineup, along with current on-base percentages and change in OBP from the last time these teams played. The order of the lineup has changed, but none of the players in it have, which is not good news for the Bucs. I would call it rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but the Bucs aren't interesting enough to be compared with the Titanic.

pos -- OBP -- change -- name

3B -- 0.346 -- (+42) -- Bautista
CF -- 0.296 -- (-59) -- Duffy
2B -- 0.314 -- (-10) -- Sanchez
LF -- 0.385 -- (+30) -- Bay
1B -- 0.319 -- (+69) -- LaRoche
RF -- 0.319 -- (-14) -- Nady
C -- 0.259 -- (+35) -- Paulino
SS -- 0.307 -- (-21) -- Wilson

Four players have improved their OBP from the last time these teams met, while four have declined, though overall there has been a net improvement. Still, I expected to see more improvement than this.

If Kuo is called up as expected, the pitching matchups are Wolf v Duke, Kuo v Snell, Penny v Gorzelanny, and Lowe v Maholm.

edit: Eric Hull has been called up, with Kuo still down for now. I have no idea what this means for the starter on Saturday.

edit-edit: Quote from the LA times, via link from True Blue LA: "Right now, I'm leaning toward Kuo," Little said. "I'm fairly confident that will be the guy." I guess that means it's Kuo. Who else can it be, realistically? Still, he didn't say it would be Kuo for sure.

Jose Antonio Bautista -- 3B

age: 26
bats: right

0.268 -- 0.346 -- 0.404

Bautista is batting leadoff now after spending the early part of the season batting eighth. Does this mean Jim Tracy likes him, or does it means he dislikes someone else?

Bautista seems a fairly average third baseman, maybe slightly below average. He hits a lot better on the road then at home over his last two seasons with the Pirates. If all goes well he will feature in a lot of 1-2-3 innings for the Dodger pitchers to keep Bay from coming up with men on base.

Jack Eugene Wilson -- SS

age: 29
bats: right

0.251 -- 0.307 -- 0.344

Wilson has been demoted to the eighth spot after batting second earlier in the year. But that's not going to hide him from hurting the Pirates. He just doesn't offer much to a team. His defense is about average; his hitting is way below average. He's a boring player on a boring team who should hit a lot of boring ground balls to short.

Now let me describe this mediocre offensive player's home/road splits in a very depressing way. At home he has the OPS of Juan Pierre. On the road he has the OPS of Nomar Garciaparra. If Nomar doesn't start hitting better soon he's going to leapfrog Pierre as the biggest offensive black hole on the Dodgers.

Ronny Leonel Paulino -- C

age: 26
bats: right

0.218 -- 0.259 -- 0.340

Even for a catcher this is bad. I've seen a lot of bad hitting catcher batting lines while doing these previews, but this is the worst. The sad part is that he's doing better that he was the last time the Dodgers played the Buccos ... a lot better!

The only qualified ML catcher with a worse OPS than Paulino is Jason Kendall, who is having a truly wretched, awful year. If the Dodger played the A's I would refuse to print Kendall's line, it's so bad. Kendall is so bad that the distance between him and Paulino is the same as the distance between Paulino and Brian McCann. And Brian McCann is really good.

Christopher Ellis Duffy -- CF

age: 27
bats: left

0.241 -- 0.296 -- 0.348

The Pirates are a depressing team; and Duffy is a despressing player on a despressing team. Last year Duffy and Tracy butted heads in spring training when Tracy wanted Duffy to change his approach at the plate. Duffy had batted 0.341 in 2005, and in the spring of 2006 I'm sure he thought there was no way he needed to change anything. And my initial inclination is to rip into Tracy for being a arrogant meddler who thinks he knows a lot more than he does. Okay, what did Tracy want to do with him?

Tracy attempted to convert him into a conventional leadoff hitter when spring training began, and Duffy never seemed comfortable taking a lot of pitches, drawing walks or looking to bunt.

That sounds okay, mostly. But a few months into 2006, Duffy wasn't hitting, and the Pirates wanted to demote him to AAA, only Duffy refused, so he was put on the restricted list. Duffy kept in shape at home doing "baseball related activities" while on the restricted list. Finally a month later Duffy relented and accepted his demotion, and a month after that Duffy was back up with the big club and did better in his second go around with the team in 2006.

The depressing part of all of this is that all this angst and conflict wasn't really necessary. The fact is Duffy probably just isn't that good. His 0.341 average in 2005 came in only 39 games; it's not a meaningful sample. He never showed much in the minor leagues given his age in each level. Duffy isn't as good as he thinks he is, and Tracy can't mold players the way he thinks he can. If everyone had just recognized initially that Duffy is a marginal big leaguer, then the restricted list mess might have been avoided. Duffy is not a diamond in the rough like LoDuca or Gagne. He's a fourth outfielder who is starting for a bad team.

Frederick Phillip Sanchez -- 2B

age: 29
bats: right

0.285 -- 0.314 -- 0.337

Sanchez didn't walk much last year or hit for much power, but he did have a 0.344 batting average. If his batting average ever came back down to earth, he was going to turn into a below average second baseman. Sadly for the Pirates, that's what has happened.

Sanchez's line drive rate has dropped from 28% to 18% this year, while he's striking out more. That's why he's batting below 0.300 now. Last year was probably a career year, this year is probably who he'll be for the rest of his likely brief starting career. Baseball is a brutal game.

In any case, here is another hitter the Dodger pitchers should get out a lot.

David Adam LaRoche -- 1B

age: 27
bats: left

0.214 -- 0.319 -- 0.352

Will he and brother Andy on the Dodgers have only one game against each other before Andy is send down to make room for Kuo?

Adam had a terrible OPS of 0.520 in April. In May his OPS of 0.805 is much closer to his career average of 0.820. The Pirates traded their best reliever of 2006 ( Mike Gonzalez ) to get LaRoche. Without Gonzalez, the Pirate 'pen has been pretty bad. With LaRoche and his crummy April, the Pirate offense has been as bad as ever. While the trade might eventually be a net plus for the Pirates, it should help the Dodgers in this series because they won't have to face Gonzalez with the game close.

Xavier Clifford Nady -- RF

age: 28
bats: right

0.284 -- 0.319 -- 0.465

Brewers, do you want to know why no one takes you and the division you lead seriously? Here's one answer: the second place team in your division has Xavier Nady as their second best hitter.

The other reason no one takes the Brewers very seriously these days is that they're in freefall with only a +8 run differential on the season.

Jason Raymond Bay -- LF

age: 28
bats: right

0.310 -- 0.385 -- 0.517

Bay has 14 hits with 3 home runs in his last 7 games. I say he's due for a slump!

Ryan Matthew Doumit -- RF/C

age: 26
bats: switch

0.326 -- 0.390 -- 0.526

This man can do everything! Bat left, bat right, catch, play the outfield, give someone the evil eye with both eyes without even trying, ride the bench while worse players start in front of him ...

I think more teams should have a back-up catcher who also can play at other places on the field. I hate it when a roster spot is wasted on a pure backup catcher who almost never plays or pinch hits. This is one area where the Pirates have it right.

Except, wait, the Pirates are carrying a third catcher! Arrrgggghhh! Not only are they not getting it right, they're getting it horribly wrong. Why exactly is Humberto Figueroa Cota on the roster? Is is just for his glorious name? He's played in all of 5 games, all catching. Doumit has played catcher in 10 games. Why couldn't Doumit have started the 5 games Cota started, giving him more playing time and allowing the Pirates to carry another useful player?

Such waste. Doumit needs to play more, get more of a chance to show what he can do, and Cota needs to be off the roster, but with Jim Tracy involved, what are the odds of either of these things happening?

All this said, the superstitious part of me hopes the Dodgers don't see Cota in this series. In Cota's five games played this year, the only one the Pirates won was a 7-5 decision against ... the Dodgers.

And a different, unrelated, but still irrational part of me hopes Doumit doesn't play because he has the most evil eyes I've ever seen. They're like two pools of pure night!

Zachary Thomas Duke -- P

age: 24
throws: left

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
5.55 -- 60.0 -- 18 -- 13 -- 8

Is Duke hurt? His strikeout total is ridiculously low. Among major league pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched, Duke ranks 284 out of 287 in strikeouts per nine innings at a horrific 2.70.

Duke's K rate has been dropping ever since his K/9 was above 9 in high A at age 21. He was at 5.5 K/9 in AAA the next year, and then 6.2 K/9 after his callup to the Pirates that year. He went 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA in the last half of 2005 with the Bucs, and everyone thought he was the next big thing.

But in 2006 his K/9 was below 5, and this year it's just horrible. Combined with all the home runs Duke gives up it's amazing his ERA isn't higher than it is. The Dodgers should hammer him; they need to hammer him.

Ian Dante Snell -- P

age: 25
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
3.14 -- 71.2 -- 58 -- 22 -- 6

Snell has a much more impressive minor league record than Duke in the category of strikeouts per nine innings. He posted a K/9 of at least 8 at every minor league stop where he pitched at least 15 games, including AA and AAA.

I hope Kuo and the Dodger 'pen is up to the task of matching Snell.

Thomas Stephen Gorzelanny -- P

age: 24
throws: left

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
2.39 -- 71.2 -- 43 -- 21 -- 3

So far Gorzelanny is following the Penny model of success: he has a decent but not great K rate to go with a fantastic home run rate. In fact Penny's line is 2.06 -- 70.0 -- 43 -- 22 -- 0, almost identical to Gorzelanny's. Eerie! We'll get to see who applies this model of pitching the best on Sunday as Gorzelanny and Penny face off. It's the battle of pitchers whose names end in "nny"!

Penny is better, though. He has the superior career track record and his ground ball to fly ball ratio is 2 this year, while Gorzelanny's is just 1. Penny has a much better shot of sustaining his low home run rate than Gorzelanny does.

Paul Gurner Maholm -- P

age: 24
throws: left

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
5.35 -- 65.2 -- 39 -- 18 -- 12

He's Gorzelanny ( or Penny ) but with a ton of home runs given up. So, I guess if Penny ever starts giving up homers he'll turn into Paul Maholm. Kerbleh.

The Dodgers have a big advantage in the first and last games of the series, with Wolf and Lowe against Duke and Maholm. The middle two games look more like tossups, though the Dodgers do have the better offense going in each of those games unless a whole bunch of starters sit. Martin will likely rest during one of the middle games.

With a three way tie for first place entering the series and the Padres playing the Nats, the Dodgers really need to pick up the sweep here. It's in their reach. Minimum acceptable result here is 3 out of 4. Losing the series would be a complete disaster.

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