SAN DIEGO -- For all the many failings of these 2008 Pirates, they have proven to be pretty good prognosticators.
In the final week of spring training, 20 players were asked a handful of questions in advance of the season and, among the results, they overwhelmingly selected Nate McLouth as the breakout player, with Paul Maholm and Ryan Doumit second and third.
"He's the man," shortstop Jack Wilson said at the time. "Nate McLouth. Write it down."
So now, with this 16th consecutive losing season nearing a merciful conclusion, a fresh survey was conducted over the past week. Again, 20 players were polled, with the only qualification that the player must have spent at least half the season on the major league roster. Each was allowed to vote for any player on the roster all season -- meaning Jason Bay and Xavier Nady could be selected -- as well as himself.
1. Who has been the team's MVP?
McLouth: 14 votes
Not much to dissect here. Most players gave their answers without a moment's hesitation, with one of the four dissents going to the self-deprecating McLouth.
McLouth had not been assured of starting duty until late in the spring, but his 26 home runs rank third among all center fielders in Major League Baseball, he has 94 RBIs despite spending about three-quarters of the time in the leadoff spot and his .281 average has come with a .346 September surge to show he could hold up to his first year of everyday duty.
Wilson was the only one to predict McLouth would be team MVP. The winner of that spring survey was Adam LaRoche.
2. The best pitcher?
"This one," Doumit said, "had better be unanimous."
And it was ...
Maholm: 20 votes
Not even Maholm could dissent with that one after a long pause.
"No, guess not," he said with a sheepish smile.
His breakout season, forecast much more accurately by pitching coach Jeff Andrews and others in management than it was by the players, ended Wednesday with numbers that do not adequately underscore how well he fared: He went 9-9 with a 3.68 ERA, but the record includes nine no-decisions in which he recorded a quality start, and the ERA includes a 3.11 mark after May 31.
3. High point of the season?
Jason Michaels' 10th-inning home run July 12 at PNC Park, which capped two comebacks from six-run deficits in a 12-11 triumph against St. Louis: 7 votes
Anything at all before the Nady/Bay trades: 5
Taking two of three from the New York Yankees: 4
The 33 comeback victories, most of those before the trades: 2
"Wow, was there a high point?" Freddy Sanchez said. "We were a disappointment."
4. Best defensive player?
McLouth: 14 votes
Despite that lone error Tuesday, McLouth is a candidate to win the Pirates' first Gold Glove since Jay Bell in 1992.
"Going back to spring training, we saw some areas where he could improve, especially with his jumps and angles," Lou Frazier, the team's outfield instructor, said. "It was a small adjustment he had to make and, really, once he did, he just took off. You could see his confidence build right away."
Food for thought: Management is considering moving McLouth from center to left once prospect Andrew McCutchen is ready.
5. Who was the team leader?
Doug Mientkiewicz: 11 votes
Chris Gomez: 1
The majority choice of the vocal, emotional Mientkiewicz was no surprise, but it probably is worth mentioning that several additional players mulled choosing Bay, even though he played only four months. That, along with the common choice of anything pre-trades as the season's highlight further underscored exactly how unpopular those trades were in the clubhouse.
Ultimately, though, most went with someone still with the team.
"Dougie's the man," Ian Snell said. "He's been there for us every single day."
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .