Monday, May 18, 2009

Scouting Report: Pirates at Nationals

After dropping four straight to one Keystone State franchise, we get the other. The Pirates will set an all time record this year with their 17th consecutive losing season, but truth be told they are probably closer to being good than the Nationals. Certainly they're doing more interesting things in their rebuilding, moving aggressively internationally, investing in the top talent available in the draft, and flipping veterans like Jason Bay and Xavier Nady for a whopping eight young players, most with at least some upside potential.

Here's my preview on Pittsburgh's hitters, bullpen, and game one starter.

When the Pirates Are Up
--"Gold glove" centerfielder Nate McLouth (he is in fact a very bad fielder) had a huge breakout season last year and has continued it this season. He long profiled as a fourth outfielder, but in the last two years his power stroke has exploded with Brady Anderson-esque fashion. He's reasonably patient and doesn't strikeout much, but he still struggles quite a bit with lefties. He also is an incredibly efficient base-stealer, succeding in 62 of 67 attempts for his career.

--Slappy hacker Freddy Sanchez is a case study in the randomness of batting average. He has no power at all and never walks, but is very hard to strike out. In 2006, he won a batting title with a fluky .370 BABIP. That number regressed all the way to a fluky low .292 last year. This year, he's back at .360 and looking again like a batting champ. Not all this is randomness, as he had a shoulder injury in 2007 that affected his ability to drive the ball and has seen his line drive fall since 2006 (though it's not up at all this year). Also for his career he has a pretty big platoon split, hitting lefties much better. I tend to think the real Freddy Sanchez is the guy who appeared headed for utility-infielder-dom a year ago.

--Notorious slow starter Adam LaRoche is finally off to a good start, and that could mean a very big season is in the offing. He's a powerful lefty slugger who strikes out quite a bit.

--Left-fielder Nyjer Morgan is a fourth outfielder who's playing every day only until Andrew McCutcheon comes up and McClouth can slide over to left. He has no power at all and actually strikes out quite a bit, but he is very fast and plays very good defense.

--Brandon Moss, part of the Jason Bay booty, is getting the chance to start for the first time in his career but isn't doing much with it. He's a corner outfielder with modest power, and this year his approach at the plate has taken a turn for the worse, with his walk rate falling all the way to 4.7%. So far this season he's been arguably the worst starting position player in baseball. He is generally regarded as a good fielder.

--Third-base prospect Andy LaRoche, more of the return on Jason Bay, was horrifyingly bad last season after he came over from the Dodgers in the three-team deal, posting a .152 / .227 / .232 line over nearly 200 plate appearances. He had a good spring, but slumped again as soon as the season started (he didn't have a hit until the 8th game of the season). Now, he's finally picking it up a little, getting on base at a .376 clip since that first hit. Still, he's shown very, very little power, and he has some work to show he belongs in the bigs.

--Jack Wilson is one of the Pirates' affirmative action "all-stars" and is kind of the face of a franchise defined by mediocrity. At 31, he doesn't have any power at all, and he never had any kind of on-base skills. The good news is that he gets hurt a lot.

--Robinzon Diaz and Jason Jaramillo are a righty/switch platoon of middling prospects, both on their second organization. Jaramillo is a patient walks machine, while Diaz is a hacker with good contact skills. Neither has much power to speak of. Ryan Doumit is out till probably July.

On the Mound
Ross Ohlendorf: Part of the return from New York in the Nady trade, Ohlendorf is a sinker-slider guy who mixes in a change as his third pitch. He can throw in the 93-94 range, though his velocity has been down a couple ticks this year, and his strikeouts have declined with it. He's got high groundball rates, which usually leads to a higher than average BABIP, but so far this year he's enjoying an unsustainable .244 BABIP, which has given him a tidy 3.77 ERA. He's done a better job consistently giving the team innings, which is one of the things they were looking for from him this year.

He projects into either a back-end starter or a good Luis Ayala-type reliever. Tomorrow he should be plenty hittable, especially for the lefties.

In the Bullpen
The Pirates bullpen has been a below average but not putrid unit. Their ERA is 4.76, 12th in the NL, but they've stranded 72% of inherited runners, 4th best in the league. Their win probability added as a group is -1.85, again bad but not crippling.

The closer is Matt Capps, who has a big arm and closer stuff, but may be falling victim to the Saul Rivera/Luis Ayala/Jon Rauch pattern of overuse. His ERA is 7.50, and his walks have skyrocketed. Tyler Yates is also used late in games. He's a hard-throwing fastball-slider guy who the Braves gave up on last year. He also is walking far too many. is on the DL. Tom Gorzelanny, who seemed a promising starter in 2007 before completely losing the strike zone, is up in his place. Sean Burnett is the LOOGY. He's got a very lucky 2.95 ERA that is nearly two runs below his fielding independent ERA.

Fearless Prediction
Season Record: 23-13
It's hard to expect Detwiler to going more than 5, and it could easily be less. That means half the game will be covered by the bull(shit)pen. Hard to bet on that. Pirates push us down a little deeper, winning 5-4 in comeback fashion.


Unknown said...

Can we officially change the name from the bullpen to the shitpen? There is nothing bullish about them. They are just shit, stuck in a pen, so lets call it the way it is. The shitpen.

Basil said...

Not that it necessarily matters all that much, but Tyler Yates has been DL'd with an elbow problem. Gorzelanny is back up in his place.

Steven said...

Good catch, thanks.