Stats Geek: The next 9 will reveal real Pirates
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This nine-game homestand starting tonight should tell us what kind of team the Pirates are.
The team is spinning its wheels but is only 3 1/2 games out of first place entering last night's action. If it seems silly putting an "only" in front of that number in late April, consider that on this date a year ago, the Pirates were 4 1/2 games out of fifth place.
Before they won their seventh game in 2006, they lost 18. By the time they won their seventh road game, it was June 10 and they had lost 25 away from home. The Pirates finished last April with a 7-19 record, 3-16 against Central Division rivals. Right now they're 7-10, 7-6 on the road and 6-7 against division rivals.
So they're better, so far. So what? Doomsayers, with history on their side, will tell you the Pirates are just one nine-game losing streak from Square One.
That's why these nine games against the Astros, Reds and Cubs mean something. Those teams have been spinning their wheels, too. Every team in the National League Central has played 160 games or more since last April 22, and none has a winning record in that time.
If the Pirates take this homestand, they should be right back into the thin of the division race. So what has been holding them back?
It's not what many fans worried about before the season began. Will Chris Duffy get on base enough? Can Jose Bautista hit and play a good third base? Will Xavier Nady hit right-handed pitching and show power? Can Jack Wilson hit well enough to bat second? Can at least one of the starters pitch like an ace?
All of those questions have been answered affirmatively, at least as much as they can be in 17 games. The Pirates aren't winning because the players with the longest track records, expected to be the team's foundation, haven't yet delivered.
I'm talking about you, Freddy Sanchez, Jason Bay, Adam LaRoche, Zach Duke and Paul Maholm. The team also needs more from you, Ronny Paulino, though your track record isn't as long, and you, Tony Armas, though you've been treated as an organizational afterthought.
Let's compare the batters' career lines to what they have done this year, with this season on top.ABAVGOBASLGBay65.262.360.477 1732.291.389.493LaRoche57.105.261.281 1320.267.334.493Sanchez44.273.320.364 1148.312.351 .425Paulino126.96.36.199 501.297.347.375
All these players are in their prime. Sanchez is 29, Bay 28, LaRoche 27 and Paulino 26. It seems to be mostly singles they're missing. If they start falling in, it could be a nice week and a half at the ballpark.
That is if the starting pitchers come through. Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny have been two of the best pitchers in the league while Duke, Maholm and Armas have been three of the worst. The latter three start against the Astros.
Can they return to previous form? To be conservative, let's compare their earned run averages, strikeouts per nine innings and strikeout/walk ratio this year to last year's record, rather than career numbers. That way, we throw out the tremendous rookie years of Duke and Maholm in 2005. as well as Armas' best years.IPERAK/9K/BBDuke199.002.371.25 215 1/34.47 4.891.72Maholm166.194.501.60 1764.765.981.44Armas6 2/318.902.700.29 1545.035.671.52
The team doesn't need miracles, just a return to competence. The season line for Armas, 29, looks like a long typo; he has walked seven and struck out two while giving up 14 "earned" runs in less than half that many innings.
Rumblings for pitching replacements already are in the air, and the switch-hitting catcher Ryan Doumit, now batting over .400 with power in Class AAA, seems worthy of at least platooning with Paulino. But the season still rides largely on the health and fortunes of Bay, LaRoche, Sanchez and Duke. If they return to career norms, the Pirates have a chance in this division. If not, make plans to see Yellowstone this summer, because there will be nothing in that park on the Allegheny that you haven't seen already.
First Published April 23, 2007 11:38 pm