Wednesday, May 23, 2012

We may never win again

The Pirates lost a 3-2 game to the Mets tonight, and in doing so, made 37-year-old knuckleballer look like Bob Gibson. But that's not what concerns me right now. There are bigger problems here.


Nils and Franco have touched on the Pirates' offense being historically terrible. Two runs a game, no walks, everyone strikes out seventeen times per plate appearance. Acknowledged. And that's really, really tough to watch. But why does it have to be like this?


Organizational disconnect is still a major problem here. 


On TribLive Radio the other day, Dejan Kovacevic said -- and I'm paraphrasing -- that the Pirates' front office is straight Moneyball. They're statistically inclined to the point where they're concerned with never overpaying and winning each individual trade. They held the Derrek Lee deal up for a few weeks, he said, because they were holding out for the price to drop a smidge. It sounded to me, and I could be wrong on this, like they're slaves to their perception of the model. If that's the case, why have they not hired a statistically inclined manager, like Joe Maddon or Manny Acta? Both of those guys embrace the numbers to a degree Clint Hurdle clearly doesn't care for. There have to be others, right? 


This organization's best position prospect, Starling Marte, has garnered that status despite never posting a walk rate of even 6.0 percent, and has thrived on outrageously high BABIP rates. They've steadily advanced this guy through the minors, and now he's being exposed as the mirage he is.


Why don't the Pirates preach plate discipline in the minors? For that matter, why aren't they preaching not getting hit in the face?


If the Pirates think that high school players who have committed to college scholarships at Big 12 and SEC schools are undervalued in the amateur talent pool, why don't they scout them more thoroughly or devote the necessary resources to developing them? Why are scouts and coaches who worked for the club under Dave Littlefield still employed within the organization? Why isn't there continuity between the plan the front office appears to have and the way it puts it into action?


In January, Geoff Baker wrote on the Seattle Times' Mariners Blog that all of this focus on cost-effectiveness in baseball is a smokescreen for the real problem, which is the game's crippled financial structure (definitely worth a read). I don't disagree with any of that. 


The leaking of those financial statements a few years ago confirmed that the Pirates appeared to be re-investing their profits in baseball, and that ownership wasn't walking away with cash in hand every year -- essentially, it appeared as though they'd been doing what they said they'd been doing. But that brings about this question: has ownership invested any of its own money into the team? They're re-investing baseball profits. But are theytrying? I don't doubt Neal Huntington is trying. But is ownership trying, or is it content to let the front office do all the trying, then allow it to take the fall when it ultimately fails?


What’s really discouraging about this team isn’t how bad the offense is this season. What’s discouraging is that even if someone were to fix all of the problems within the organization that allowed the offense to be this terrible, and were to do so overnight, it would still be another five or six years before we’d see any sign of improvement.


Honestly, people? Sometimes I completely lose sight of how and why we do this.

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