New manager, gorgeous home stadium, same old problems. Clint Hurdle’s Pittsburgh Pirates literally have nowhere to go but up. Finishing with an MLB worst 57 wins in 2010, the fledgling, reeling, uninspiring, and whatever other adjective you can find, team is in desperate search of simple hope. Overall, the Pirates were 57-105 last year, good for a last place finish in the NL Central.
Though one might require a microscope to find the positives that came from baseball’s steel city in 2010, there were a few. As is often the case with a team that is out of the race before most people realize baseball season is even underway, the Pirates auditioned a lot of young talent in 2010. The initial reviews were pretty impressive. Offensively, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, and Pedro Alvarez turned in very solid rookie years. On the pitching side, 2nd year reliever Evan Meek appears to be the real deal. Aside from these 4 pups, CF Andrew McCutchen showed the world that he is indeed a legitimate 5-tool player and a future star.
And ohhhh the negatives. It doesn’t take a masters degree in research to find the shortcomings of the 2010 Pirates. Pittsburgh finished dead last in the National League in runs scored, runs allowed, and fielding percentage. In fact, only the anemic Seattle Mariners’ offense kept the Buccos from being dead last in all 3 categories across all of MLB in 2010. Put another way, Clint Hurdle has inherited the worst hitting, pitching, and fielding team in baseball! New pitching staff additions Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen offer little more than some potential innings-eaters for the Pirates much as Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz don’t have the makings of an offensive overhaul for Hurdle’s crew.
Does 2011 offer any hope? Let’s dissect 3 areas of strength and 3 areas of weakness for the upcoming season of Pirates baseball.
Best case scenario for 2011
Any chance of a strike this year? I suppose not. When a team finishes 34 games back in their division and 18 games back of the next closest team in the NL Central, there isn’t much cause for optimism. The best case scenario for Pittsburgh would be to improve their major league ballclub to the point of not being such a distant cellar-dweller and statistical disaster. They will finish in last place again; it’s just a matter of whether they go down fighting to improve.
Most Valuable Pirates
Andrew McCutchen is the Pirates’ lone star. In 2010, he hit .286 with 16 homers, 33 steals, 35 doubles, and 94 runs. Those numbers would be good on any team. Could you imagine the statistical increase across the board if he were on say, the Yankees or Red Sox? He’s just 24 years old and is already a stud. If only he had help…..Evan Meek was one of the few bright spots on the pitching staff. He threw 80 innings, won 5 games, saved 4, and posted a 2.14 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with 70 strikeouts. Backing up a starting pitching staff with so little to offer and having a lock-down reliever like Meek is a nice luxury for any manager.
Potential Breakout Players
Pedro Alvarez has all the makings of a legit power hitter. Playing a full season in a user friendly stadium like PNC Park should bolster the free-swinging 3rd baseman’s numbers. After a slow start, (.152 average in June), Alvarez started making better contact and finished by hitting .311 in September with 5 homers and 26 RBI’s that final month. Overall, he hit .256 with 16 homers and 64 RBI’s in just 347 at-bats. The bad news, he struck out 119 times (34.3% strikeout rate)!! RHP James McDonald came on late last year and carried the Pirates staff as much as anyone could. He went 4-6 with a 4.02 ERA in 12 starts, striking out an impressive 68 batters in 71.2 innings. Pittsburgh desperately needs the 26-year old to repeat that performance in 2011.
Worst case scenario for 2011
Umm, yeah, I guess they could win less games but to be any worse than they were in 2010 would be virtually impossible unless they wanted to break the all-time futility mark as far as wins are concerned. To make matters worse, their farm system isn’t good either. Ranked 21st by ESPN out of 30 MLB teams, they only possess 2 of the top 100 prospects in all of baseball. For a team that traded away a lot of its previous talent and has had high picks for years on end, you’d expect better promise down on the farm.
Biggest areas of concern
The lack of organizational depth is the main problem. Aside from 19-year old starter Jameson Taillon and perhaps a few others, the Pirates elevated most of their major league ready talent in 2010. The Pirates continue to draft highly rated prospects but aren’t seeing a net tangible benefit from their research as of yet. New manager Clint Hurdle is going to have to rely on what he already has, and expect little to no reinforcements along the way.
Who needs to rebound from a rough 2010
It’s hard to point the finger at too many of the Pirate players as the simple fact is, most of them just aren’t that good and can’t be expected to produce at a high level. Pittsburgh could certainly use more out of their so-called “ace” Paul Maholm. The 28-year old lefty and his $5M salary appear headed in the wrong direction. Check out his ERA trend for the past 3 years, 2008: 3.71, 2009: 4.44, 2010: 5.10. With Correia and Olsen in the fold and McDonald as a dark horse breakout candidate, a refocused Maholm could do wonders for the 2011 Pirates.
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