Sunday, September 28, 2008

#104: Accentuating the Positives

---Always Look on the Bright Side---

Following this year's campaign, you know this is a tough task.

Despite what I view as good "baseball moves" made by Neal Huntington at the trade deadline, the mess that the Pirates created by challenging the ego of one Scott Boras and creating the opportunity to possibly lose both first-round pick Pedro Alvarez (as well as the compensatory pick that would have come with just not being able to sign him at all), nearly destroyed all of that.

And these days it's hard for me to praise a franchise that is ultimately controlled by one Bob Nutting.

That said, let's look at some of the high points of the Pirates' season.

1) Ryan Doumit. They finally settled on a starting catcher. I am one of two people who think Ronny Paulino ultimately has more upside as a backstop (Mr. Paulino is the other), but at least by manager John Russell saying, "Ryan (Doumit), you've got the job," it allowed the club to focus on other things. And Doumit, despite his defensive lapses, has tried to make amends by batting nearly .320

2) Paul Maholm. He only won 9 games this year, but that's the most on the squad (Snell was alone in 2nd place with 7 wins, Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow - that's right...a reliever - tied for 3rd with 6 wins). He also ate up innings: 206.1 (21.1 more than Zach Duke. He had the most strikeouts with 139 (4 more than Snell). While his walk rate was slightly higher this year, he did improve his own ERA by almost 1.3 runs per 9 innings from last year.

3) T.J. Beam. He won't make mention in a lot of writeups, either in professional publications or on Pirate blogs across the internet, but Beam has been effective in limited action with the Pirates. He may work his way into a setup role by the end of 2009 (if he's still with the club).

4) Some guy named Nate McClouth. As Maholm led the Pirates in many pitching statistics, McClouth is the guy who has been the most consistent all season long. Over 25 home runs, nearly 100 RBIs, a slugging percentage around .500, all in his first full season as a starter. Despite his struggles in June (.214) and August (.226), he's been the most reliable hitter on the squad this year (who made it through the trade deadline). And who was fairly close to being the MVP of the National League in the All-Star Game...if only his drive in extra innings had enough to get over the wall...

Honorable mention:

- Freddy Sanchez: 3rd in BA in National League after all star break...hopefully, he will start 2009 fully healthy.

- Adam LaRoche: Again, started late. Needs to start hitting when it really counts.

- Doug Mientkiewicz: finally, someone on the team with some argument with umpire Laz Diaz, and nearly going fisticuffs with Randy Johnson are my two favorite moments.

- Neal Huntington: Unless Jose Tabata, Bryan Morris, and a couple of the other acquisitions from the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte/Jason Bay trades (Brandon Moss, Andy LaRoche, Ross Ohlendorf, Dan McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, Chris Hanson) work out, Huntington's deadline trades will be viewed as failures.

Those people need to understand three things:

1) For Huntington to be viewed as a success, every move he makes would have to be perfect, and there's just no way to know for sure what will happen;

2) If Dave Littlefield were still the Pirates' general manager, Nady, Marte, and Bay would have been traded for far less;

3) The Pirates did not control Marte beyond this season (and he would not have been re-signed). Nady and Bay were signed through next season. When rebuidling, you trade high, and Nady and Bay were playing lights out baseball this year, particularly at the plate. Save McClouth and maybe Maholm, no one else on the team was really suitable to trade for multiple prospects, let alone a couple of major league-ready players.

And if you want to throw a fourth item on the list: Bob Nutting still owns the team. Bay and Nady would not have been resigned to high-yield contracts. The Pirates are going to have to hope for a Florida Marlin-esque deal to contend. They'll never be the Cubs, the Mets, or even the Brewers under the present ownership.

On the positive side (keeping with today's theme), Pirate fans are beginning to realize this. Attendence at PNC Park dropped for the second consecutive year, and was the lowest this year since the venue opened in 2001. The average attendence was 20,113 per game. Only the Royals and Marlins brought in fewer fans.


Some might wonder why I wasted brainpower trying to form a list of positive aspects of a season that was one game worse than last year, and the future holds several more consecutive years of sub-.500 baseball.

Simply, there has to be some level of optimism that keeps us watching and listening to, writing and reading about, and pulling and rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And keeps me standing up for Ronny Paulino.


Edit: And the Pirates absoLUTEly made the right move in firing pitching coach Jeff Andrews. I think his brand of pitching was largely successful at the triple-A level, but he showed no ability to have his pitchers adapt once they had been thoroughly scouted. I'm glad we won't have to hang onto him for years after Jim Colborn, and especially Spin Williams (who I have heard has been diagnosed with some affliction that is not good...I do not take pleasure in that. I just did not care for him at all as a pitching coach).