Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The 2010 Pirates, part 1

As you know, we FTC editors live entirely busy/lazy lives, and for as much as we'd like to blog regularly, sometimes it's just impossible. However, there is a threshold to our atrophy, and we may have just reached that by being surpassed by the Trib in offering you baseball related content.

You'll notice the proposed lineup, followed by a brief description of the player. Allow me to put that in a bit better context for you.

Akinori Iwamura - Second baseman we got in a trade with Tampa Bay, in exchange for reliever Jesse Chavez. Iwamura is going to be 31, has a career OPS+ of 98, and costs $3 million-and-change. His acquisition raises two questions about Huntington's decision making: why is Aki worth a young reliever? And why didn't we just keep Sanchez if we wanted to overpay for a mediocre hitting middle infielder on the wrong side of 30? The first question is easy to answer if you agree philosophically with Huntington. As he sees it, a reliever is typically overvalued for what they actually contribute to a 162 game season; furthermore, their development from season to season is extremely hard to predict. As to whether Iwamura is a better value than Sanchez, let's look at their career lines. Aki - .281/.354/.393, Freddy .299/.334/.417. More and more, OPS is being debunked for the inherent flaw that OBP is worth more to the equation than SLG. With that in mind, Iwamura is a slightly better offensive player. Also, for as ridiculous as $3 million is for Iwamura, Sanchez was making twice that. The final thing to consider about this deal, is that it sets up trade potential in the future. With Iwamura, Huntington knows what he'll have at the trade deadline, and can potentially acquire prospects otherwise unavailable, if he were just trading Chavez. Akinori Iwamura is not a long-term solution, but he's definitely a part of the transition plan to a leaner, more flexible roster.

Andrew McCutchen - He's the quietly great dreadlock'd fellow in center field. First-round pick (11th overall) in the 2005 draft, and the only thing Dave Littlefield ever did right. He is the reason you will pay to see baseball at PNC Park this year. Also, when the Trib says he stole 22 bases last year and is aiming for 35 this year, what they mean to say is that he OPSed .836 as a rookie and is aiming to draw more walks.

Garrett Jones - The other reason you'll come out for a game, besides McCutchen. Jones put up excellent power numbers in a short season (21 HRs, .938 OPS in 82 games), in what was also his first stint of everyday playing time in the majors. We got him virtually for free, purchasing his contract from the Minnesota Twins, who had no use for another left handed bat with limited fielding options (RF/1B). What's the catch? Well, Jones was already 28-years old last season, which is to say, his peak and decline will come a lot faster than for a guy like McCutchen. In some ways, he reminds me of David Ortiz (also plucked from the Twins' system) or Travis Hafner; both huge guys, limited in the field, left-handed, and completely under the radar until the age of 27. For several years, they each dominated, only to completely shrivel up upon entering their early 30s. Wouldn't be the worst scenario for Jones, if it happened.

Ryan Doumit - Is a switch hitting catcher who hits the ball hard, doesn't draw walks, and gets injured a lot. The Pirates took a catcher in the first round of last summer's draft, so don't expect to see a multi-year extension being offered to Doumit any time soon. If he has trade value, my guess is he's gone. One of these guys who isn't patently bad, but definitely won't deliver the change you can believe in.

Lastings Milledge - This guy was supposed to be the biggest steal of a deal since Brian Giles. In his first 58 games as a Pirate, he hit .291/.333/.395, which is in line with his career .267/.327/.399 line, which has come in 318 major league games. Yes, he's still young (turns 25 on April 5), and yes, his previous experience in the majors has been shifty and not really conducive to his development. However, his continued lack of a break-out is starting to make me wonder.

Jeff Clement - A first round pick by the Mariners back in 2005, Clement OPSed .865 in 5 seasons in the minors. He's 25 now, and probably not a catcher. Whether he can have the kind of offensive success in the majors to justify his spot at first or corner outfielder is unknown. Chances of that aren't stellar, but I'll always take a question-mark with potential over a Daryle Ward or Randall Simon.

Andy LaRoche - I love Neal Huntington, I completely agree with the reality that he had to trade Jason Bay, and I think looking at the scouting reports he had, he made the right choice at the time in taking Andy LaRoche. However, in terms of return, the Pirates have gotten very little. I'm trying to look for positive trends in LaRoche's development, and nothing is popping out. He was red-hot in the last month of 2009, after being super-terrible in the three months prior to that; very good in May, very shitty in March/April. Maybe I'm being pessimistic with Milledge, Clement and LaRoche, but all of these guys should be entering their prime, and instead they're 25/26-year-old AAAA players. Is it possible that LaRoche can rediscover whatever it was that made him a .900 OPSer in the minors? God, I hope so. But he needs to do it fast, because his development years aren't indefinite.

Ronny Cedeno - Any performance you get out of this guy that is close to average is a gift. He's bad. The reason we took him in the massive Jack Wilson / Ian Snell deal is that we needed a placeholder at SS, and we were happy to take a cheap one. I have no problem with this as part of a larger plan. Just know he isn't anything special or long-term. Also, when the Trib says "Has power, but needs to make contact more often." you can absolutely believe they're talking about a guy with a .346 slugging percentage (league average = .438), and a guy with an 81% contact average (league average = 80%). Making contact is not Ronny Cedeno's problem. Ronny Cedeno's problem is that he doesn't take anabolic steroids or walks.

Okay, that's enough blistering, dark-hearted commentary for today. Maybe tomorrow we'll brutalize the pitching staff.


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