Pirates Q&A with Dejan Kovacevic
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Before we open, just a brief nod of appreciation to the McLouth family and other acquaintances for their cooperation in the piece (www.post-gazette.com/pg/08127/879418-63.stm) that ran yesterday. The apple surely has not fallen far ...
Q: Dejan, I understand it's still early in the season, but the Pirates' two aces from a year ago have both lost velocity on their pitches, they can't place strikes, and hitters are teeing off on them (when they're not walking to first base). Beyond that, Matt Morris certainly didn't overachieve, and Paul Maholm is inconsistent at best.
It's a lot of writing to ask one question, but when is it fair to start doubting Jeff Andrews?
Mike Scheimer of Uptown, Pittsburgh
KOVACEVIC: The results with the rotation have been poor, Mike, as they compare to the rest of Major League Baseball -- No. 30 out of 30 -- and in comparing Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny to how they fared last year.
As for the other three: Paul Maholm looks like a better pitcher sometimes but lapses back at others. That is mostly a wash. Zach Duke, for the most part, has been better than last year. And Matt Morris -- this is a veteran pitcher who simply, by his own admission, flat out lost his ability to throw the ball with any force. Tough to pin that on instruction.
Overall, though, the result is still lousy.
When is it fair to blame Andrews?
Well, he is tough enough on himself that he probably would tell you it was fair two weeks ago. And there could be merit to that, given that Andrews was no newcomer to any of these guys, save Morris and Phil Dumatrait.
My inclination, with a manager or any coach, is to give a full year, good and bad. So much of the value in starting pitching in baseball is predicated on the idea of giving your team consistency and lots of innings, with 30-32 starts a very commonly spoken goal. With that in mind, things that might have been stressed in spring training or early in the season could be aimed at developing that consistency, even if it comes with a price early.
Hard to see any of that in these cases. Snell openly told me in D.C. he was having mechanical issues. Gorzelanny's inconsistency has been there for all to see. And Maholm, right after that two-hitter, gives the Pirates little in D.C.
There is much work for Andrews and those pitchers to do.
Q: Dejan, great article on Nate McLouth. It really drives home the point how developing players and EVALUATING TALENT are critical skills needed to be a successful major-league team. It's good to see that Neal Huntington used statistical analysis and video comparisons to find out what he had in this player. All good signs.
What are the chances that the Pirates try to get Nate's name on a contract extension before the season is over? He will be eligible for arbitration, so signing him longer term will provide cost certainty.
Kevin White of Sharpsville
KOVACEVIC: Even as the guy who wrote the piece, it ended up surprising me what portion of it ended up being about how the Pirates evaluated McLouth, both previous and new management. I really had not set out on putting it together that way but, as it went along, it seemed clear to me that this has been the defining trait of McLouth's career so far.
Not much in there was new, as it was intended more for readers who were wondering who this kid is and where he came from. I had written before about previous management's failures to apply objective analyses to their players, including as they applied to McLouth and others. And about the way Jim Tracy buried him time and again, including right when it was happening. And I cited many, many times that standard line about "fourth outfielder, at best." But those things tend to resonate a lot louder once everyone sees for themselves the value of properly measuring a team's own talent, as well as the folly of failing to do so.
And hey, throw Ryan Doumit into this mix, too. His numbers are not as flashy as McLouth's at the moment, but he is in the same category: My understanding is that there were plenty of folks in the current regime who were opposed to using him every day behind the plate. They wanted him either in right field or as a backup to Ronny Paulino. But there were enough who understand the intrinsic value of having a switch-hitting, power-hitting catcher, above and beyond the value of how he handles a pitching staff (a number that again is proving negligible this year). And those people, armed with the facts, won the argument.
As for McLouth and a contract extension, no, nothing of the type has been broached yet. But that surely can be expected for McLouth, as well as just about anyone heading into a first-time arbitration year, and there are a few.
Q: Dejan, is there any chance the Buccos send Neil Walker down to Altoona?
I haven't seen his at-bats, but he must be struggling a good bit. Each day, I check for updates on him, and he is either going 0-4, 0-5, 1-5. I know it is still a relatively small sample size, but those numbers indicate he is having a tough time with Class AAA pitching and might need a confidence booster down in Class AA.
Harrison Smith of Monroeville
KOVACEVIC: It could not be any clearer from the numbers that Walker is not doing well. Eleven of his 21 hits have gone for extra bases, including four home runs, and that surely is better than those all being singles. But that .193 batting average with just seven walks and a .243 on-base percentage are anything but encouraging.
Obviously, I do not get to see these players on the field beyond spring training. But, the other night in the D.C. press box after the game, one of the TVs was tuned to Indianapolis' game in nearby Norfolk, and I caught one Walker at-bat: Andrew McCutchen was on first and visibly distracting the pitcher, who threw over to first often enough that one got away, and McCutchen took second. In the process, he fell behind Walker, 3-0.
Rather than show further patience, Walker lunged at one pitch at fouled it off, then at another and grounded out to the right side.
This has red flags all around, which say that a hitter is trying to raise his average by 50 points with one at-bat or trying to do likewise with his RBI total. A player comfortable with his numbers lays off at least one pitch.
There have been a couple decent games since the calendar turned to May, though, so perhaps that could be sustained.
You make a point about restoring his confidence by demoting him. Well, think of the potential damage to his confidence, sending a high-profile prospect back down the ladder in full view of the entire baseball community.
I will be back at the yard tonight.
Until tomorrow ...
First Published May 7, 2008 6:10 am