Sunday, March 30, 2008

#89: 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates Preview. Sort of.

-- A reasonably brief 2008 Pirate "Preview"

---Prepare for "16" and Beyond---

This preview has nothing to do with players, coaches, or statistics.

There are plenty of those around from various sources, with varying levels of sarcasm and seriousness.

I'm not going to bother.

As most Pirate fans know, the team that takes the field March 31, 2008, in Atlanta to face the Braves is not noticeably different than the one that left the field September 30th, 2007, in Pittsburgh after falling 6-5 to the St. Louis Cardinals.

I think my fanship has become so detached that I didn't even notice that the aforementioned season-ending loss gave Kip Wells another win against his former team.

I haven't even really been paying much attention at all to how Spring Training has unfolded. I catch a headline of how well (or not) one of the Pirate starters did, or which guy who wasn't going to make the team anyway hit a late home run...

I don't take much from Spring Training, anyway. You really can't. I mean, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays finished 18-8. That's the highest winning percentage in both Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues. Anyone want to put a dollar to my two that Tampa doesn't finish in last place? Or even odds they'll finish worst in the AL? Again?

I revisited last year's Pirate preview at (a small-ish, but very intelligent message board for Pittsburgh fans that I highly recommend). I had a thought that I could almost substitute it for this year's preview. I'd just tweak a couple of names, make up a couple of far-fetched reasons to be optimistic, pick a few of the many reasons to doubt, and otherwise (somehow), write 2400 words on the subject.

I think my attention, instead, has been focused on the people who run this long-suffering ballclub. And there hasn't been much to watch the past few months.

Despite the obvious change in management, the tell-tale item that has remained the same is the ownership.

The only positive thing I take out of this new regime is that it's at least been more up front than the previous one. We were told early on that the Pirates would not be seeking to sign any prominent free agents. Not that the pool was very deep this offseason, anyway.

The Nutting Syndicate is still out to make as much bank as it can with as little cost to itself. It's a business, 100 percent. They continue to sell "the family experience" of PNC Park, when the fans were promised that if the Pirates got the new ballpark, they would build the city a competitive team.

This is the eighth year the Pirates will be playing at PNC Park, and it seems like it would take eight more years to build that winner (that's assuming the Syndicate would actually start trying).

They continue to throw out buzzwords like "accountability", "consistency", "atmosphere", and "(re)building process", without using words like, "contender", "playoffs", or "champions".

This year's team is not worth 2400 words.

I harbor no ill feelings toward the players, for they are all merely pawns in this, trying to play within an impossible system. I have not yet judged the new staff from the new President, Frank Coonely, through new General Manager Neal Huntington, and on to new Manager John Russell and his staff.

Russell has the hand he's been dealt. The difference he'll make versus what a manager like Joe Girardi (or even Joe Torre) would make is, in the big picture, negligible.

Huntington and his scouting staff will begin to shape their "legacy" by who they select with the 2nd overall pick in the draft, and the 32nd, for that matter. Also, he can't be afraid to shop his players around when their stock is high, especially Xavier Nady, Jason Bay, or even Adam LaRoche, as Steve Pearce is chomping at the bit to get regular playing time. And many fans are chomping at the bit to see it.

Let's be frank: this year, previewing the 2008 Pittsburgh Pirates does not involve where they will finish in the standings. A 16th consecutive losing season is virtually assured. Their actual finishing position in the National League Central standings is unimportant.

This year, people (and especially Pirates fans) should be previewing the folks who pull the strings, who have the power to turn this club around, and see if they will do things intelligently, patiently, and, most important of all, consistently.

Spending big money on a player is one thing. When that player is Matt Morris (a.k.a. 2008's version of 2007's Tony Armas), you can't help but slap your forehead (since former General Manager Dave Littlefield's, or Bob Nutting's, wasn't available). You can sign an aging, back-of-the-rotation pitcher (and not a very reliable one) for $10 million, but you can pass on Matt Weiters, a top-hitting catcher who's expected by many to be a star in this league for years because he's represented by superagent Scott Boras?

But not only that, you draft a relief pitcher instead?

Yes, I am one of many who are still sore over that.

The point of the above is that, while I feel sorry for the players who don the baseball black and gold, and while it's still too early to be throwing the brass' new employees under any buses, you have to believe that as long as Bob Nutting is the Master Puppeteer, the Pittsburgh Pirates will continue to be a laughing stock.

A fallen franchise.

A parasitic business, profiting off the misguided hopes of others.

Three years ago, I wrote another article urging Pirate fans to not "give up the ship before we set sail".

To my 27-year-old self, I say, "Man, we don't even have a boat."

(Including this sentence 957 words)


That was the end of the "official" preview.

If you want some statistics to chew on, or my gut feelings on how the season will unfold, here are some quick hits.

- This spring training, the Pirates were outscored in the first 3 innings 44-17 (through their first 18 contests), earning a record of 6-12. In their final 11, they outscored the opposition in the first three frames, 26-14. They went 7-4.

- By my calculations, the probable Pirate rotation gave up 60 earned runs in 105 and two-thirds innings. If I calculated this right, that's an ERA of 5.11

- Their strikeout-to-walk ratio was nearly two-to-one (48K vs 26BB).

- Zach Duke did not walk a batter this spring training in 19 innings.

- The players who made the 25-man roster hit a combined 10 home runs.

- Those same players drew struck out 117 times, and drew 80 walks (almost a 3-to-2 ratio).

Take from that what you will.

Here are my annual projected standings. From the gut. Cuz all the "studying up" I did last year caused me to pick the NL Champion Rockies to finish with 101 losses, the World Series Champion Red Sox to finish 3rd in the AL East, and the Pirates to win over 70 games.

Maybe the gut will serve me better.

American League East
Red Sox
Blue Jays
Devil Rays

American League Central
White Sox

American League West

National League East

National League Central

National League West

Wild Cards: Red Sox, Mets

ALDS: Indians over Red Sox, Yankees over Angels
NLDS: Mets over Reds, Dodgers over Braves

ALCS: Yankees over Indians
NLCS: Dodgers over Mets

WS: Yankees over Dodgers

Feel free to tell my gut why it's an idiot, and what it's missed during the off-season.

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Anonymous emma said...

Re: Tampa Bay: I will so take that action. No way they finish below the Orioles, there's too much young talent on that team.

3/31/2008 12:06 AM  

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