Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What if everything goes right?

The Pirates are punting on 2012.  Or they’re going to contend in a weakened NL Central that no longer features Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols.  Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes are going to age poorly and the North Side Notch is going to rob them of whatever power they might have had left. Or they are good defenders who will anchor two of 2011’s most unstable positions. AJ Burnett is too old and can’t be an effective starter anymore. Or he’s a 200 inning workhorse with a 93 MPH fastball who will benefit from a move to a weaker division. Pedro Alvarez will hit 5 home runs and strike out 30% of the time. Or he will hit 25 home runs and will strike out…well…29% of the time. With Spring Training upon us again, everybody has seemingly come up with their own opinions about what kind of season we are in for. What are realistic expectations, though? I guess the only way to answer that is to look at both ends of the spectrum. Since I’m a positive guy, I’ll start by looking at what we can expect in 2012 if everything goes right.
Outfield

This is probably the most talented portion of the Pirates 2012 ballclub. The team has high hopes for all three of the starting outfielders.
Centerfielder Andrew McCutchen is a bona fide star and coming off the best season of his young career. Still, many believe that ‘Cutch has another gear and we have yet to see his best baseball. His overall line last year was dragged down by a horrible September, but if he can bring his batting average back up, a .300/.400/.500 season isn’t out of the question. If he does, the Pirates will be (even more) ecstatic that they signed him to a long-term deal when they did.

Rightfielder Jose Tabata is a really good hitter. It’s true that he might not be the prototypical corner outfielder but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a valuable bat. Many have hoped that Tabata’s power would increase as he got older. Only 23 on Opening Day, Tabata is still young enough that it could happen but even if it doesn’t, he could be an outstanding leadoff hitter. He increased his BB% to over 10% last season and has hit nearly .300 everywhere he has played. If he can stay healthy, he could be an on base machine with good speed at the top of the Pirates lineup.

Leftfielder Alex Presley wasn’t on anybody’s radar after a lousy 2009. Promoted (some might say undeservingly) to AA in 2010, Presley started hitting. He kept on hitting and posted an .845 OPS in nearly 700 plate appearances in AAA. Last year he was called up to Pittsburgh and didn’t miss a beat. Maybe Presley simply becomes Chris Duffy v2.0 (which I guess would make him Tike Redman v3.0) but maybe he just keeps on hitting. He doesn’t walk a lot but he has surprising pop for a smaller guy and is a good base stealer.

Corner Infield

Derrek Lee does not want to play 1B for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to play anywhere. Either way, the Pirates head into 2012 with a platoon at 1B yet again. No matter how much Pirates want it to be true, Garrett Jones is not the Legend anymore. It now seems clear that his 2009 numbers were an anomaly because he just simply can’t hit southpaws. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have value, though. Jones still hits righties well and most of his struggles have come from the Pirates’ inability to find a suitable platoon partner…cough…Matt Diaz…cough. The team hopes that Casey McGehee can be the other side of that coin. McGehee, a righty, used to CRUSH left-handed pitching. In 2009 he had an .865 OPS vs. LHP and in 2010, he improved that number to .947! Then last year, that number fell off a cliff and he posted an anemic .413 OPS against lefties. A .202 BAbip suggests that he could have been the victim of some horrible luck and that the new slim ‘n trim McGehee can provide the yin to Jones’ yang. If he does bounce back, the Pirates could have a productive combination at first, at least offensively.

Third base is somewhat important to the Pirates. Going into 2011, the Pirates believed Pedro Alvarez was the long-term answer. Alvarez amateur and minor league pedigree was impressive and he had just finished a solid rookie year. After a rough 10-game start to his big league career, Pedro posted an .838 OPS over his final 85 games with a .222 ISO and a handful of highlight reel homers. Then 2011 happened. I’m not going to rehash it for everybody but it was not good. At this point, it would be unrealistic to expect him to become Mike Schmidt overnight (or ever, maybe) but he still has a boatload of talent. Coming to camp with a fresh batting stance, it’s not totally out of the question to think Alvarez could provide good pop, a palatable OBP and a boatload of strikeouts.  It might not be what people hoped for when he was drafted #2 overall in ’08 but it’s still a valuable player.

Middle Infield

Neil Walker’s RBI totals don’t make him a star player. Neil Walker’s RBI totals also don’t make him a bad player. Walker has an interesting situation. Forced to bat cleanup (and boasting an unsustainable line with RISP) the second baseman put up some gaudy RBI totals last year. This led to the “old school” fans to tout him as a superstar. This, in turn, led statheads to push back and downplay all of his accomplishments. In reality, Walker is an above-average offensive 2B. He has some power, his strikeout and walk ratios are acceptable and he can hit for a decent average. Defensively, he continues to get better and has one hell of a teacher in Bill Mazeroski. If he can be more consistent this season, he could be one of the NL’s better 2B.
Ronny Cedeno was like that kid in little league that the coach used to stick out in right field because he liked to play with dandelions and there was less of a chance that he would get hit in the face by a batted ball if he played RF. Sometimes, it looked like he was about to put in all together and then he would do something that made you wonder if he was paying attention to the game or trying to figure out what animal shapes he could see in the clouds that day. Enter Clint Barmes. Barmes is what he is. He is a very good defensive shortstop and is not a disaster at the plate at least by SS standards. As a right-handed hitter PNC Park might provide more of a challenge offensively than the Crawford Boxes did in Houston, but Barmes hit the majority of his home runs on the road last year away from the friendly confines of the house that Ken Lay built. Barmes won’t be a superstar but he is a good defender at a key defensive position and should be a solid contributor for the Pirates this season.

Catcher
The Pirates had 46 catchers last year. Okay, maybe it just seemed that way sometimes. Rod Barajas takes over this season for Ryan Doumit as the starter behind the dish. Like Barmes, Barajas is a good defender at an important defensive position.  Offensively, he has shown good power but little else. What Barajas has been able to do fairly consistently is play. While he does have some injury concerns, Barajas is a pretty good bet to play around 90 games this season. Given the chaos from last season after Doumit and Chris Snyder went down, that could do big things for the Pirates in 2012. The other catcher on the roster this year appears to be Michael McKenry. McKenry is not a very good hitter. He’s really not that great a defender either. Still, he is a capable backup and is not the kind of player that will cripple a team if he is given a substantial amount of playing time.

Starting Pitching
This is really what carried the Pirates on their four-month run towards relevance last summer. It is likely to play just as significant a role in the team’s fortunes this season. The rotation is likely to be led by new additions Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett. Bedard is a really good pitcher when he is healthy. The problem is that he has rarely been healthy. It’s probably unrealistic to expect Bedard to make it a full season without any issues. Still, coming off his best (and healthiest) season in years, it’s not totally absurd to think that Bedard could make 25 starts for the Pirates this year. If he does, he’ll be a true asset. Burnett, broken face notwithstanding, has been a very durable pitcher the past few years. He still throws hard and flashes great stuff so the Pirates are hoping that his defensive independent stats paint a more accurate picture of his true abilities. Reports are that he will miss 8-12 weeks while recovering from surgery. Since we're being optimistic here, let's hope for 8 weeks. That would put him back on April 27th which would only cost him 3 starts. James McDonald started off really bad last season. After missing much of Spring Training, McDonald appeared exceeding hittable for much of April. After that, though, J-Mac was arguably the Pirates’ most effective starting pitcher. Another strikeout pitcher, McDonald’s success this season is likely to hinge upon his ability to limit walks and keep his pitchcounts down. Charlie Morton took some big steps forward last season. Leaning more on his sinker, Morton was a ground ball machine. Coming off hip surgery, there is still some question about Morton’s health but he appears to be ahead of schedule. If he is able to improve his line against left-handed hitters, he could be a very good mid-rotation starter for the Bucs. Jeff Karstens throws about as hard as I do. That’s the bad news. The good news is that he doesn’t walk anybody. One of keys to being a successful pitcher is limiting the number of baserunners. By not giving out free passes, Karstens helps himself out a lot. Last season, Karstens was lucky enough to hardly ever give up home runs with runners on base. He probably won’t get off so easy this season but he can still be a pretty successful #5 starter if he continues to limit the walks. The Pirates are going to need a couple of extra starters throughout the year, too. Brad Lincoln has shown some good things in AAA the past two years. Hopefully, he can increase his big league strikeout numbers a bit which will make him a more effective spot starter.
Bullpen

Since taking over, Neal Huntington has shown an ability to cobble together some pretty decent bullpens from spare parts. 2012 appears to be more of the same. Between Evan Meek, Chris Resop, Juan Cruz, Jason Grilli, Tony Watson, Chris Leroux, Daniel McCutchen and Danny Moskos, the Pirates have a lot of guys competing for innings. Lincoln and Kevin Correia will probably get their chances to start but both are likely to work in relief as well. The star of the relief corps is obviously Joel Hanrahan. Hammer’s strikeout numbers were down in 2011 but he was nearly unhittable in the 9th. There is no reason to believe that the Pirates won’t enjoy the same kind of stability in 2012, at least until the end of July.
Conclusion

So what does this all mean? To try and answer this question, I created some optimistic predictions for your 2012 Pirates. I then ran the statistics (along with their 2011 defensive numbers) to determine each player's projected fWAR. The tables below show the stats from the key players that I looked at. A team made up entirely of “replacement level” players would win between 47 and 48 games so I added the cumulative fWAR for all of the players (including ones not listed in the tables) to 47.5 and came up with 86.9 wins. Since this was meant to be an optimistic look at the Bucs, I rounded up and came up with 87 wins for your 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates. You know what? I’d take that in a heartbeat!
Player
PA
HR
SB
AVG
OBP
SLG
OPS
BB%
K%
wOBA
fWAR
Tabata
575
7
29
.296
.370
.411
.781
10.4%
14.4%
.350
2.4
Presley
534
9
21
.294
.337
.438
.775
6.0%
15.7%
.338
2.0
McCutchen
670
25
28
.287
.378
.507
.885
12.4%
17.5%
.379
6.2
Alvarez
585
27
1
.253
.330
.457
.787
10.1%
29.2%
.340
3.1
Walker
650
18
7
.278
.345
.442
.787
9.1%
16.6%
.340
3.3
Jones
418
15
5
.256
.325
.445
.771
9.3%
18.9%
.332
0.8
Barajas
330
14
0
.234
.282
.421
.703
5.2%
18.8%
.301
1.3
Barmes
436
10
3
.247
.312
.390
.702
7.8%
16.5%
.307
2.5
McGehee
231
10
0
.276
.329
.467
.796
7.4%
16.5%
.331
1.0
McKenry
222
4
0
.230
.288
.357
.645
8.1%
23.0%
.274
0.5
McLouth
204
5
5
.240
.328
.392
.720
11.8%
16.7%
.314
-0.9


Player
ERA
G
GS
IP
WHIP
H/9
HR/9
BB/9
SO/9
FIP
fWAR
Burnett
3.89
29
29
172
1.374
8.6
0.93
3.77
8.33
3.92
2.0
Bedard
3.53
25
25
135
1.292
8.1
0.82
3.53
8.73
3.54
2.2
McDonald
3.49
31
31
175
1.422
8.9
1.12
3.9
7.68
4.32
1.3
Morton
3.77
28
28
166
1.432
9.4
0.48
3.49
6.22
3.66
2.5
Karstens
4.14
26
26
155
1.278
9.6
1.25
1.9
5.3
4.28
1.2
Hanrahan
2.22
71
0
70
1.101
7.4
0.26
2.51
9.07
2.28
1.5
Meek
3.45
63
0
68
1.268
7.6
0.52
3.81
7.79
3.41
0.5
Resop
3.61
73
0
67
1.350
8.1
0.83
4.05
10.26
3.26
0.7
Cruz
3.94
54
0
47
1.407
7.7
0.91
4.96
8.81
4.03
0.0
Grilli
3.54
48
0
56
1.403
8.7
0.86
3.93
9.38
3.44
0.4
Watson
4.09
46
0
45
1.366
8.5
0.92
3.79
7.77
3.81
0.1
Correia
4.68
28
4
48
1.386
9.6
1.15
2.87
5.5
4.60
-0.2
Lincoln
3.85
16
12
75
1.331
9.2
0.86
2.78
6.69
3.66
0.8
McCutchen
4.57
28
0
35
1.501
9.9
1.24
3.61
4.96
4.80
-0.3
Moskos
4.03
35
0
33
1.422
9.5
0.66
3.30
6.20
3.85
0.1
Leroux
3.08
20
0
25
1.314
8.5
0.36
3.33
8.34
2.74
0.4

6 comments:

  1. i'm very excited about our chances this year. thanks for your post. its very well researched and written. i think nh did well at ss and catcher, not big upgrades but upgrades. casey m as a corner contigincy plan, incase pedro fails. the outfield is set, the bullpen is a strength. starters are going to be alright. i think fort goes to indy. the biggest question who makes it evans, fox or boggs? morales is injured, didn't they just sign a new cather? navarro has looked good. i think the rule5 guy goes back. nh hates to give back cheap talent. sorry this is not well organized, its been that kinda day.

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    1. hey if i could write, i might have my own blog. lol, keep up the good work.

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