LaRoche, Bay, Paulino Flop in the First Half

As I mentioned this morning, the goal here is to look at what we expected the Pirates to do in comparison to how they’ve actually performed through 88 games.
The bullet points refer to the ZiPS projection system made available by Dan Szymborski at Baseball Think Factory this pre-season. Current statistics are from Pirates.com.
Catcher

  • Paulino: 452 AB, .272/.327/.378, 8 HR, 49 RBI, 1 SB
  • Doumit: 290 AB, .252/.322/.438
  • Cota: 220 AB, .223/.267/.355

ZiPS thought Paulino’s average would drop from 2006 to 2007. No one saw .234/.279/.348 coming, though. It’s no secret that Ronny’s play has been supremely disappointing.
We expected him to grow into his frame a little, maybe hit a few more home runs. We also thought that his defense would continue to improve; he’s a work in progress after all. A year and a half ago, he was a no-name minor leaguer—suddenly, he turned into the catcher of the future.
After a slow start Ronny picked up the pace ever so slightly in June, putting up a line of .261/.320/.377. He split time behind the dish, and despite all the cERA talk, it didn’t look like a terrible situation. Could we—should we—expect more? Certainly, especially as far as defense and hustle are concerned.
If Ronny continues to hit at that .261 clip, though, we can’t be too upset. The key will be finding at-bats for Doumit, who’s clearly earned them by going .305/.381/.509 (despite cooling off considerably in the past three weeks). To me, Ryan will always be a platoon player—so if I had the manager’s job, I’d be mixing and matching through the second half.
Thankfully, Humberto Cota is nothing more than a memory.
First Base

  • LaRoche: 445 AB, .279/.345/.526, 24 HR, 89 RBI, 0 SB

Doumit figures into the equation here, too, which we never would’ve guessed entering the season. The fact that at-bats were taken away from Adam LaRoche speaks to the troubles our red-headed slugger went through.
While LaRoche’s slumps were extreme, they weren’t too far out of the ordinary. Throughout his career, he’s been a second-half hitter. Let’s hope that’s the case in 2007.
Adam’s sitting at .239/.324/.439 with 13 homers and 51 RBI through 310 at-bats, so while it’s a down year, he’s still on pace to finish around .260-25-90. If he stays hot (and he’s said it looks like the pitchers are throwing beach balls), then success will follow.
Long story short, don’t expect the likes of Doumit or Brad Eldred to earn many at-bats at first in the second half. Steve Pearce might be worthy of a taste of the majors come September, but no one will be stealing playing time from LaRoche.
Infield

  • Castillo: 446 AB, .256/.304/.388, 12 HR, 52 RBI, 4 SB
  • Sanchez: 500 AB, .306/.348/.432, 6 HR, 61 RBI, 2 SB
  • Wilson: 530 AB, .270/.312/.377, 8 HR, 40 RBI, 5 SB
  • Bautista: 482 AB, .255/.338/.431

Coming into the season, we knew we had four bats for three jobs. When the ZiPS projections were released, we assumed that the starters would be Jose Castillo, Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez. Bautista earned his spot in Spring Training, though, and hit the ground running.
All things considered, the numbers are holding up. Freddy lost his doubles stroke causing a drop in his slugging percentage, and Bautista’s not putting on the same power displays as 2006. But are we surprised? Not really.
Going forward, there’s still a matter of having too many bats for too few spots. Castillo’s not developing as a bench player, and none of the starters deserve to lose their jobs. Jack Wilson could be a trade candidate, but only because he’s overpaid—he’s not underperforming.
Infield defense will continue to be a question mark. Sanchez hasn’t played like a second baseman. With Neil Walker on the rise, the Pirates may need to find a new home for Bautista as early as 2008.
Outfield

  • Bay: 530 AB, .279/.378/.521, 30 HR, 88 RBI, 9 SB
  • Duffy: 409 AB, .274/.326/.389, 6 HR, 33 RBI, 22 SB
  • Nady: 407 AB, .280/.341/.467, 16 HR, 57 RBI, 2 SB
  • McLouth: 416 AB, .267/.325/.409

Tim Dierkes of Roto Authority recently discussed Jason Bay’s struggles. Our left fielder went through a lean month and a half, causing his batting average to drop 25 points below ZiPS’ expected value.
Dierkes’ fantasy bent on Bay:

Nothing comes remotely close to what Bay did in June of this year [when he hit .173/.252/.316]. He’s been very consistent until now. This worries me, but I still won’t abandon hope in Bay. He’s been too good for too long. He’s in his age 28 season; top comparable Tim Salmon didn’t drop off until age 32. The next comp, Dale Murphy, didn’t have a major decline until he was also 32. After that is Eric Davis, who dropped off quite a bit at 29. Still, I think that was injury related. …
I think Bay will hit in the .270s and pop around 15 HR in the second half. He’ll rack up 50 ribbies and 50 runs too. I can’t pinpoint when he’ll turn it around but buying low here seems smart.

Xavier Nady has admirably filled Bay’s spot in the middle of the lineup. Before the year began, we talked about Nady as a platoon candidate. He’s hitting righties at a .284/.333/.507 clip, which is probably insignificant because of the small sample size.
Still, it’s encouraging that Nady’s demanding to be penciled into the lineup every day. Furthermore, he hustles and plays good-but-not-great defense. He’s not superstar material, but X has a job locked up for the foreseeable future.
Center is still wide open, and presumably will be until the arrival of Andrew McCutchen. With Cutch’s struggles at Double-A Altoona, that could mean that we’re stuck with Duffy, McLouth and stopgap veterans until 2009.
Duffy hit .249/.313/.357 and went 13 of 17 on stolen base attempts before landing on the disabled list with a cranky quad. If he were putting up his ZiPS line, he’d be a barely passable starter thanks to his speed and glove. At his current level of production, though, he’ll never be more than a fourth outfielder.
Conclusion
The Pirates will continue to improve throughout the year. Simultaneous slumping led to a slow start, but you have to expect LaRoche and Bay to produce in the second half. Ronny should be able to hit .260 the rest of the way, and Bautista should be a serviceable third baseman. Freddy will continue to be a prototypical two-hole hitter.
The Pirates need to get more production from center field, the bench and shortstop—preferably in that order. I doubt the Pirates will move Wilson, but I wouldn’t cry if they dumped his contract. Somewhere we need to find a more imposing bench presence than Rajai Davis. Josh Phelps was a start, but our pinch-hitting is woefully insufficient.
There’s still the pitching to consider, but you’d expect the Pirates to play better over the last 74 games. It’s hard to imagine the offense being much worse.

Author: Randy Linville

Randy is currently living and thriving in suburban Dayton, OH with his wife and two kids. He was raised in Cincinnati, OH and attended Anderson High School. He went to Miami University (Ohio) and received a degree in Paper Science Engineering from MU. He is a devout Christian and a pop culture buff. He coaches his son’s baseball and basketball teams and his daughters softball and basketball teams. Randy has been a Pirates fan since the late 1970s and has fond memories of the 1979 World Series team. He began blogging for Most Valuable Network in 5/2004 after stumbling across a help-wanted sign for a Pirates blogger. He wrote for Pittsburgh Lumber Co. until the site merged with Pirates Prospects in 2/2011.

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