Short-term lineup fixes for the Pirates
If any of you believe that the Pirates have a shot at the playoffs this year … well, I don’t know what to say. The Iron City brews and Primanti Bros. sammitches must be rotting your brain.
At the same time, though, we’d like to see changes made to allow for a more palatable on-field product. While most of us realize that winning will have to wait until 2008, or 2009, or 2010—you get the idea—we’re sick and tired of watching winnable games slip away on a nightly basis.
A .500 record is an easily attainable—and downright laughable—goal, and it’d be swell if our Suckaneers could play well enough to achieve that low level of success.
Allow me to break down the trouble spots (at least as I see them), as well as a few potential (obvious) solutions that could lead to a few more wins.
Ronny Paulino. We thought you’d be so much better, but you’ve succumbed to the sophomore slump. A .227/.267/.365 line will not get the job done.
What’s worse is that Paulino’s defense and rapport with the pitching staff seems to be slowly slipping away—not that we necessarily bought into that in the first place. The broadcast booth has on more than one occasion called Ronny lazy behind the plate, only to backtrack, passing off the adjective as a slip of the tongue.
Thing is, though, that’s exactly what it seems to be—Ronny doesn’t put much emphasis on his defensive work. When he’s not hitting, he has little to offer a major-league baseball team.
If I were Jim Tracy, I’d be splitting the playing time 50/50 between Paulino and Ryan Doumit. Try to use small sample size splits to your advantage. Ronny plays best at home (and against left-handed pitching); try to use him in situations where he’s likely to succeed.
Humberto Cota is nothing but an emergency replacement.
Lay off LaRoche. He’s waking up. It’s been a slow month and a half for sure, but it’s not like Gonzalez is doing any better.
If you’re starting Paulino behind the dish against southpaws, it might be wise to give the LaRoche the occasional night off in favor of Doumit. I wouldn’t make it a straight platoon, but sitting LaRoche once every two weeks or so might help his focus.
Freddy’s glove’s not sparkling at second, and it’s not as if his bat’s keeping him in the lineup, either—but Jose Castillo probably isn’t the answer. No changes here any time soon.
Same with Jack. You’ll get league-average production, maybe, and a decent glove. For $6 million, you’d like more—but he’ll be here at least through the trade deadline, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.
In time, Brian Bixler will earn a shot. When he does, someone will have to go. You don’t want to wish ill will on anyone, but if a contender’s shortstop went down for a few months, I wouldn’t shed any tears.
Jose Bautista has been a low-cost option at the hot corner. He isn’t hitting for any power, but that should come in time. To be honest, there aren’t any other options—that is, unless you’re a proponent of inserting Castillo at second, moving Freddy to third and shifting Jose to the outfield—so not much will change.
Would I move Bautista to center? Only as a last resort. His glove has been surprisingly solid so far, and I don’t see any reason to mess with a good thing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Jason Bay, hit more. Thanks.
Chris Duffy. Hit a lot more. Walk. Steal bases. Nate McLouth, spell him on a regular basis. The Pirates will be mixing and matching in center field until Andrew McCutchen is ready. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon. You might see Nady more in center if nothing else works.
Xavier Nady, as Travis has implied, is an MVP candidate versus left-handed pitching. I’d utilize a fairly strict platoon in right. Doumit would get the lion’s share of at-bats, with Nady spot starting against favorable pitching matchups (those arms he’s had success against in the past) and playing against every lefty. On days that Doumit’s catching, McLouth could make a start.
Of course, this all goes down in flames if Ryan Doumit cools off. I haven’t been a big Doumit supporter in the past—I just don’t think he’s done much to warrant the hype—but right now his hot bat could be a key piece of the Pirates’ offensive production. Jimbo should be making sure that Ryan’s in the lineup five or six days each week, dipping into the playing time of Paulino, Nady, Duffy and LaRoche.
With a bare cupboard, it’s going to take a creative manager to turn the Pirates into a decent ballclub in 2007.