Middle infield leading Pirates' offense

First of all, thanks to Cory and Randy for inviting me to join them here at Pittsburgh Lumber Co. I thoroughly enjoy their writing, and I am excited to be joining the site.
Early in the season, many were questioning the play of Freddy Sanchez at second base. His range was poor, most likely the result of a spring training knee injury, and some felt that the Pirates would be better off starting Jose Castillo in his place. In addition, Sanchez was not hitting much better than Castillo was. The extra-base hits from 2006, most notably the league-leading 53 doubles, were nonexistent. The .344 batting average from the previous season was a distant memory.
In the first half of 2007, Jack Wilson was performing pretty much as expected. He was not contributing much at the plate, but was doing a respectable job defensively. Early in June, his defense fell apart as well. On a Saturday afternoon in New York City, Wilson made several misplays as the Yankees swept the Pirates. The next game, Wilson sat on the bench as Castillo started at shortstop. Castillo went 2 for 3 and made a spectacular play deep in the hole between short and third. It was six days before Wilson played again and regained his starting job.
Clearly, these two infielders endured some struggles in the first half of 2007. On July 31, Freddy Sanchez had a batting line of .290/.320/.406. At the same point, Jack Wilson was hitting .252/.303/.342. The team needed more from them.
The Pirates’ offense came alive in August, and the middle infield led the charge. Since August 1, Jack Wilson has literally been engulfed in flames. Over that time, he has hit .418/.482/.694 for a ridiculous OPS of 1.176. He has displayed an uncharacteristic amount of power, with 12 doubles and five home runs. His overall line is up to .289/.345/.420, which, as Charlie notes, is not far off from his 2004 stats (.308/.335/.459). At the trade deadline, many people would have been thrilled to deal Wilson to any team willing to take on his entire salary. Right now, Wilson could bring a decent return in a trade. Or he might just be worth the huge salary that we have been complaining about the past few years.
While Wilson has been the Pirates’ best hitter since the end of July, Sanchez has not been far behind him. He has hit .373/.436/.595 since August 1, with 16 doubles, two triples and five home runs. For the season, he is at .314/.355/.461. Remarkably, he now has 41 doubles. It was almost a universal belief that Sanchez would not duplicate his 2006 season this year. However, after his knee injury slowed him for the first few months of the season, he basically has. I am not one to make statements such as, “If you throw out April, then Freddy has had a great season.” But consider the fact that Sanchez missed virtually all of spring training, and accumulated less than ten at-bats before joining the team in Cincinnati. After taking that into account, his .544 OPS in April makes sense. That month still counts, but it is not difficult to believe that the real Freddy Sanchez is the one that has hit .327/.369/.485 from May 1 to the present. That is pretty similar to what he did last season. On top of that, his defense has also vastly improved along with his health. He has played Gold Glove caliber defense in the second half of the season.
As a whole, the Pirates’ offense started terribly in 2007, only to rebound in the second half. Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson have epitomized that turnaround better than any other player.

Author: Matt Bandi

Matt has covered the Pirates at Wait ‘Til Next Year, Pittsburgh Lumber Co. and now Pirates Prospects. He served as Pirates team expert for Heater Magazine in 2009 and 2010 and has contributed to Graphical Player 2009, 2010 and 2011. Matt was also the editor of the 2011 and 2012 Pirates Prospects Annuals.

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  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates Cory Humes

    Great PLC debut, Matt, and we’re glad to have you.
    This was something worth writing about, especially given all the recent front office shuffling. Jack and Freddy are ever-so-quietly turning into a “solid if not spectacular” middle infield. I’m as wary as the next guy when it comes to second-half stats, but with these two you almost have to believe that some of the numbers might be legit.
    So, if you’re the new Pirate GM and you’ve got a tasty little middle infield combo in Wilson and Sanchez, what do you do with it? One guy’s making a little more than what he’s worth, but his contract’s not unmanageable. The other’s due to reach free agency after two more seasons. Both will hit and play defense, and just as importantly, are fan favorites.
    Keep ‘em for 2008? Trade ‘em while their value’s high?

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates Cory Humes

    Great PLC debut, Matt, and we’re glad to have you.
    This was something worth writing about, especially given all the recent front office shuffling. Jack and Freddy are ever-so-quietly turning into a “solid if not spectacular” middle infield. I’m as wary as the next guy when it comes to second-half stats, but with these two you almost have to believe that some of the numbers might be legit.
    So, if you’re the new Pirate GM and you’ve got a tasty little middle infield combo in Wilson and Sanchez, what do you do with it? One guy’s making a little more than what he’s worth, but his contract’s not unmanageable. The other’s due to reach free agency after two more seasons. Both will hit and play defense, and just as importantly, are fan favorites.
    Keep ‘em for 2008? Trade ‘em while their value’s high?

  • http://www.financecoachllc.com Travis

    Welcome Matt. Looking forward to reading more of your work.

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates/ Randy Linville

    I’ll chime in with a “welcom to the team”.
    It is amazing how much Jack has been poking the ball since Cesar Izturis was acquired. Regardless of what that might yield, assuming the Bucs aren’t going to give up much for Izturis, Jack’s performance the past couple of months with the stick makes the deal worth while. Too bad he couldn’t be hitting like this on a contending Bucco squad.

  • Matt Bandi

    Thanks fellas.
    It depends on the direction that new management wants to take. If we continue with the goal of being competitive in 2008, it would be difficult to deal either of them. There is no suitable replacement. If we are playing for the future, it would be smart to deal them now and get something worthwhile.
    I am terrified of our minor league system, so I personally would be looking beyond 2008. As painful as it would be to endure more rebuilding, it might be the best thing to do.