Thursday, April 9, 2009

God, I hope Ron Cook is as dumb as I think he is.

This was before the game against the St. Louis Cardinals last night, at the exact moment catcher Ryan Doumit took offense to the suggestion that the Pirates' offense just might be offensive this season.

You know, offensive in the worst kind of way.

That wouldn't be too surprising, seeing as how PECOTA has the Pirates finishing 64-98 this year -- the worst projected record in the majors. Nady and Bay are gone, and Nate McLouth is the only remaining piece of last year's Bucco outfield, which, until two-thirds of it was dealt to the AL East, was baseball's most productive.

"I'm not worried about us scoring runs," Doumit fairly growled. "Absolutely, we're going to score runs."

Good call. You'll score runs. You just won't score nearly enough runs to make up for your pitching giving up -- let's see...educated guess...does six runs a game sound realistic?

First, the Pirates did it with small ball -- tiny ball, actually. They needed just about all of their 10 singles, 2 doubles and 2 walks in the first five innings to scratch out their first five runs. Then in the sixth inning, center fielder Nate McLouth finally provided a little pop with a two-run home run, his first hit of the season in his 13th plate appearance.

Fourteen baserunners in five innings is small ball, but only because two of those were walks. Stupid bastards not swinging at pitches. And because Nate McLouth is a mere 5'11'', 180 lbs., all of his home runs are tinier than normal home runs.

I'm thinking we might not see enough of those from the Pirates over the long haul...I don't quite share Doumit's belief than the Pirates' hitters can do that sort of thing on a consistent basis. I look at the lineup -- without Jason Bay and Xavier Nady from a year ago -- and see very little thump, at least not enough to carry a weak pitching staff that figures to give up a lot of runs.

I'm inclined to agree with you there, Ron. Hey, I'm going to go get a cup of coffee. Would you like one? No, no, it's on me, since we're best logic buddies now.

I will tell you this: The Pirates are going to be offensively challenged in a frightful way if their big catcher doesn't have a big, big year.

Here's your medium dark roast and 45 packets of Splenda, sir. And to that last point, I'd add that I think they're going to be pretty challenged anyway, but just how big a year were you thinking?

A monster year, actually.

I'll buy that. If Ryan Doumit hits 89 home runs and has an OPS of 2.401, that actually might be enough to get make up for what I'm sure will be an equally miserable K:BB ratio from the bullpen and a team ERA somewhere just south of 20.07.

That seems like too much to ask, doesn't it?


Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge Doumit fan. Pirates management has made a lot of boneheaded personnel decisions during the 16 years of losing, but it made a good one when it signed him to a contract that could keep him in Pittsburgh at least through the 2013 season and will pay him a guaranteed $11.5 million and as much as $27 million. Switch-hitting catchers with pop are so rare.

I don't necessarily disagree. The guy's a pretty decent player, and that contract is probably pretty close to what Doumit might have gotten after two solid years in a moderately shallow free agent market, likely from a team that doesn't look at silly indicators of performance, like on-base percentage or batting average on balls in play.

If Doumit stays healthy -- he did last season for the first time in his big-league career and responded nicely with a .318 average, 15 home runs and 69 RBIs -- he will give the Pirates their money's worth.

But a monster year?

Maybe that wouldn't be too much to expect if Doumit played first base or in the outfield. But he's the catcher and, as such, he not only has to take the daily beating that goes with that difficult defensive job, but he also has to spend a lot of energy trying to coax what appears to be a shaky rotation -- Paul Maholm aside -- and a worse front end of the bullpen through six or seven innings every night.

I'm not sure that these things are related. In fact, just his being a catcher makes him more valuable than pretty much any first baseman who would put up those numbers. A lot of teams are content to field a facemask and a pulse -- just look at how many Molinas have starting jobs. But here's the really disturbing part: last year -- Doumit's "breakout" year -- he had a BABIP of .338. That's about 38 points greater than the league average, and a lot of that is just dumb luck. For a bulk of the season, his BABIP hovered around or over .360, which is astronomically dumb luck. That said, Doumit is likely to have a BABIP over the league average most of the time because of his propensity to hit a ton of line drives (about 25 percent), but that .357 OBP last year was more a product of his inflated BABIP than what you'd hope would cause someone to have an OBP, namely plate discipline. Last year, Doumit walked just 23 times in 465 plate appearances, and he struck out 55 times. His groundball-to-flyball ratio was a solid 2:1.

I know that's a lot of numbers, but think about it. Ryan Doumit might have been one of the luckiest guys in the league last year. Not only did remarkably good luck inflate his production and make him look like a much better hitter than he probably is, but it got him at least $11.5 million guaranteed.

What this all comes down to, I guess, is that while it would be great if Ryan Doumit had a breakout year, hit .330 with 30 homers and got on base to a .370 clip, the reality of it is that he's not even a good candidate to repeat what he did last year.

Good luck to Doumit with that.

Good luck to him having anything left to hit with after a while.

I understand the idea of cadence, but this sentence, even in context, does not make any sense. At age 27, Ryan Doumit hit a career-high 15 home runs, and the Pirates are bad enough that he hits much higher in their order than he would for most other teams. So I guess Ron has a point here in that he will get pitched around, especially if he's hitting ahead of, say, Ramon Vazquez, Jack Wilson, Brandon Moss, Freddy Sanchez or anyone named LaRoche. Of course, given Doumit's history of plate discipline, I wouldn't be shocked if he wound up hitting into 48 ground ball double plays exclusively on pitches thrown as part of intentional walks.

Good luck to the Pirates if Doumit doesn't hold up and put up huge numbers.

If the 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates finish with a losing record, it will be because Ryan Doumit underachieved. Not because the starting pitching was awful and Ian Snell is a headcase. Not because the bullpen walks eight hitters per inning. Not because the club trades away performing players or expiring contracts at the deadline for minor league depth. No, it will be because Ryan Doumit just didn't want it badly enough. I can already hear Bob Smizik hammering together a cross on which to nail Neal Huntington.

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