Sunday, March 14, 2010

#144: Pirate Production

---Run Breakdown---

Last year at about this time, I crunched a few numbers from the Pittsburgh Pirates' spring training games.

Of course, at that time, it was to illustrate that although the Bucs were 8-4 after 12 spring training games, not to get too excited. I even posited that the team would finish 59-103. They ended up a mere 3.5 games better.

This year's squad is at 4-7-1 after 12 games (the most recent being a 10-5 win today over the New York Yankees). Incidentally, that's 3.5 games worse than last year.

However, using the same set of numbers, if we are to take anything from Spring Training, the Pirates may genuinely improve. It's difficult to say, of course, but here's what I have this year versus last. (Note: This does not include any numbers from the game against Atlanta that was postponed due to rain nor the game against the community college)

First inning runs through 12 games - (for / against): 12 / 13

2009 first inning runs through 12 games - 0 / 10

Some might say that the starting pitching may have actually slipped a bit. That's possible, but I would suggest that it takes a little longer for pitchers to get in game shape than hitters. It's one thing for other team's hitters to pound Pittsburgh's pitchers, but one would think that Pirate hitters would have also been able to get to some of the other team's rusty pitchers.

On the other hand, the Bucs have only scored first inning runs in three games, whereas they've allowed first inning runs in seven of their 12 contests so far.

Let's expand the picture a bit further

Runs in first three innings through 12 games - 21 / 22

2009 first three innings through 12 games - 11 / 27

Ten more runs scored, five fewer allowed. This is a significant improvement, presuming that that in most cases, the probable starters on offense and defense are in the lineup during that stretch.

I find this very significant.

Runs in first five innings (total, (4th and 5th only)) - 36 / 35, (15 / 13)

2009 in first five innings - 33 / 40 (22 / 13)

The Pirates have actually outscored their opponents during this stretch, which is the period before the minor leaguers and prospects completely occupy the field.

Runs scored from the 6th inning forward - 36 / 29

2009 runs scored from 6th inning on - 41 / 17

Well, it's the football version of "garbage time", so I give this the least weight, unless it's possibly measuring the AA and AAA talent of the clubs involved. In that case, there might not be as good of pitching as general manager Neal Huntington had hoped.

Still, it's very interesting to see how these numbers will continue through spring and if we might be onto something here. Given these numbers, it almost looks like the Pirates will be on the verge of a break-even season.

Still, three of the Pirates' four spring training wins have been by five runs or more. Of their seven losses, four have been by a run. It's a team that seems ok with a comfortable lead, but has trouble, so far, getting through the close ones.

With that in mind, let's peg the Bucs for 74-88 this year.

=====My anti-ownership message of the day=====

I think I would actually be more worried to see the Bucs break .500 than if they stay under.

I have said to others (and I'll go on record here now) that the Bucs would have to have two consecutive winning seasons for me to spend money at PNC Park again.

Why two? Because I'm not convinced that Pirates owner Bob Nutting will give the green light to go out and spend money on a two or three quality free agents either at the trading deadline or in the offseason if the Pirates are genuinely close to fielding a winner.

In other words, I doubt he will invest in keeping a winner together.

I fear that his master plan is to catch lightning in a bottle, hope that his high draft picks and discount free agents give him one season over .500 (even if it does not result in a playoff appearance). Then, he will be given more of a pass from the public, and even some of the current hold-outs will stop holding out and buy tickets to Pirate home games again.

Then the misery for the fans can begin anew, and Nutting's bankroll can grow exponentially.

For me, it is tough being a Pirates fan.

It's like rooting for a dog to catch its own tail. By accomplishing the very difficult goal, the poor thing is only actually hurting itself.