Improvement Since the Trades

The Ryan Doumit situation has brought up a lot of speculation, with the biggest theories suggesting that the starting catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates is disgruntled over the trades that have been made this season. Personally I don’t want to speculate on what the disagreement between John Russell and Doumit was. However, that won’t stop me from looking at whether or not there is any reason to be disgruntled over the trades.

First of all, I can’t really see how anyone could be upset over the Pirates blowing up this team. This is a team that went 67-95 last year. That’s following three more years with 67-68 wins per season (well, there was only one season with 68 wins). At the time of the Nate McLouth trade, the Pirates were 24-28, in fifth place in their division, and six games out of first.

Now let’s think about that for a second. A certain group of Pittsburgh fans will say “we were only four games below .500″. That’s fine if .500 is the goal. Luckily, it isn’t. The goal is, and should be, the playoffs.

For some reason, probably due to the losing streak, Pirates fans are willing to settle for a mediocre goal. Imagine if the Steelers came out next week and said their goal going in to the 2009 season was a 9-7 record. Imagine if the Penguins said they were shooting for a 42-40 record (well, that may be good enough to be one of the 27 teams to make the playoffs in the NHL). You’d be upset, and rightfully so, because those teams would be saying they’re satisfied with a goal that likely leaves them outside of the playoff scene. So why is .500 the goal for the Pirates?

Yes, the Pirates were four games below .500, but they were six games back from first place, and in fifth place. Let’s consider the hurdles the Pirates would have needed to jump to contend:

-Milwaukee and St. Louis were tied for first place, with a 30-22 record at the time. That puts them each on pace for a 93-69 season.

-Cincinnati was 27-24 at the time in third place, and on pace for a 86-76 record.

-Chicago was in fourth place, at 25-25, and on pace for a .500 record.

-The Pirates were 24-28 at the time, and on pace for a 75-87 record.

In order for the Pirates to pass the pace Milwaukee and St. Louis were on, they would suddenly need to go 70-40 for the remainder of the season. Putting that in perspective, they’d need to win 2 out of 3 games for almost every series for the remainder of the season. They’d also have to play at a .636 winning clip, which is better than the Yankees, who hold the best record in baseball.

We could give them the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Milwaukee really fell off from that point. Chicago still remains around .500. Cincinnati has fallen off as well, while Houston has climbed the ladder a bit. St. Louis is on pace for a 94 win season. However, the current Wild Card pace is 89 wins. In order to top that, the Pirates would have needed to go 66-44 from the time of the McLouth trade, which is still a .600 winning percentage. Once again, only the Yankees have a winning percentage that high, with several first place teams right under the mark.

In short, the Pirates would have had to suddenly play like one of the best teams in baseball to contend. Considering they were 24-28 at the time, that’s not a likely occurrence.

The Pirates were 43-57 at the time of the Jack Wilson/Freddy Sanchez/Everyone Else trades, and there’s no chance at all of a contending team there, or even a shot at .500.

Then there’s this question: did the Pirates really take a hit at any position? Let’s look at the pre-trade production, and the replacement players for each position that was changed.

First Base

Pre-Trade: Adam LaRoche was hitting .247/.329/.441 with 12 homers in 368 at-bats (30.67 AB/HR)

Post-Trade: Steve Pearce is hitting .260/.330/.448 with 3 homers in 96 at-bats (32 AB/HR).

Analysis: LaRoche has really turned it on since arriving in Atlanta. Part of that is probably due to batting lower in the order as a complementary player behind Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, rather than being expected to carry the offense in Pittsburgh. The other part is his usual late season success. So while Pearce is doing slightly better than what LaRoche was doing while he was here, Pearce isn’t matching what LaRoche likely would have done in his annual August hitting fest. That said, I doubt LaRoche would have been here beyond this season.

Second Base

Pre-Trade: Freddy Sanchez was hitting .296/.334/.442 with six homers in 355 at-bats (59.17 AB/HR).

Post-Trade: Delwyn Young is hitting .265/.296/.422 with 2 homers in 102 at-bats (51 AB/HR).

Analysis: Delwyn has really taken some nice strides with his defense at second, and hopefully the dip in offensive numbers is due to the increased attention on the defensive side of the game. Freddy is currently on the DL, although you can’t really say that would have happened in Pittsburgh. Delwyn is hitting .301/.355/.431 on the season, and if he can combine that with his improved defense, we could be seeing a younger, and possibly better version of Freddy Sanchez.

Shortstop

Pre-Trade: Jack Wilson was hitting .267/.304/.387 with four homers in 266 at-bats (66.5 AB/HR). He also had a 11.6 UZR, which was a league best at shortstop, and averaged out to a 17.3 UZR per 150 games.

Post-Trade: Ronny Cedeno is batting .288/.316/.479 with four homers in 73 at-bats (18.25 AB/HR). He currently has a -0.6 UZR in his time with the Pirates, which averages out to a -3.0 per 150 games.

Analysis: It’s a small sample size for Cedeno, which means two things: we don’t know if his hitting is legit, and we don’t know if the low UZR is legit (there was a time where he was rating better than Wilson shortly after the trade). Anyone who has seen Cedeno play can see that he’s very talented on defense. If this offense truly is legit (and there should be doubts with his play in Seattle) then we’ve managed to replace Jack Wilson.

Left Field

Pre-Trade: Nyjer Morgan was hitting for a .277/.351/.356 line with two homers in 278 at-bats (139 AB/HR).

Post-Trade: Lastings Milledge is hitting for a .284/.327/.400 line, with two homers in 95 at-bats (47.5 AB/HR).

Analysis: Like Freddy Sanchez, I’m not going to count Nyjer’s injury against him. Nyjer has done extremely well in Washington, but it’s unfair to count that against Milledge, as Nyjer wasn’t a .351 hitter when he was here. It’s easy to say that Nyjer was playing over his head, although the hitting friendly Nationals Park could have an impact there, as Nyjer is hitting .333 on the season in his new home. The biggest hit here has been the defense and speed that Nyjer provided. Milledge has a 0.9 UZR right now, so his defense is average, which is a big drop from Nyjer’s league leading 12.5 UZR with the Pirates.

Center Field

Pre-Trade: Nate McLouth was hitting for a .256/.349/.470 line with nine homers in 168 at-bats (18.67 AB/HR).

Post-Trade: Andrew McCutchen is hitting for a .293/.362/.500 line with 10 homers in 300 at-bats (30 AB/HR).

Analysis: McCutchen has clearly been playing better than McLouth was at the start of the season. Nate didn’t really pick up the pace in Atlanta, batting for a .260 average, and actually seeing his slugging percentage drop to .419. The biggest complaint about the McLouth trade was that the Pirates could have brought McCutchen up and moved McLouth to right field. Of course Garrett Jones is hitting .289/.352/.594 with 15 homers in 197 at-bats (13.13 AB/HR), and playing primarily in right field. If you look at the numbers for McCutchen, Milledge, Jones, and McLouth since the trade, Nate ranks fourth overall.

The Pirates swapped out Nate McLouth, Nyjer Morgan, Adam LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez, and Jack Wilson for Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge, Steve Pearce, Delwyn Young, and Ronny Cedeno. It’s looking like Cedeno and Delwyn could at least equal the production from Freddy and Jack, on both sides of the ball. I don’t think Pearce will be our long term option at first base, although I don’t think Adam LaRoche was going to fill that role either.

In left field we took a hit on defense, but Milledge has played well, and hopefully can continue to progress and live up to his former top prospect hype. In center field, McCutchen has been amazing. With Garrett Jones in right field, there wasn’t really a need to keep McLouth, especially with Jose Tabata and Gorkys Hernandez possibly a year or two away.

The Pirates have arguably maintained the same level of play from each position, compared to what they were seeing before the trades. In the process they’ve added a ton of prospects to their farm system. So is there any reason to be upset over the trades that went down? If you’re looking for familiarity with the roster, then yes. If you’re looking for production, then there’s no need to be upset over the trades the Pirates have made.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • MarkInDallas

    It's amazing to me that the people who decry the loss of McLouth also continue to say Steve Pearce is a bum, when they have almost the exact same production!

    Charlie Morton is worth more than Nate McLouth all by himself. Except for his 10 run outing, Morton has a 3.33 ERA and has allowed 2 runs or less 7 out of the 12 times he's pitched. Zach Zuke has only done that 4 times in his last 12 outings.

    You would think that Doumit should understand the value of pitching, since he's a catcher. Hopefully he's just sulking at his own poor performance. If he weren't such an automatic rally killer, the Pirates probably would have a winning record since the annointing of "The Group".

  • Anonymous

    Nats Park is not hitter friendly or even close to it by any metric (Park Factor, hits, HR's, etc.) Nyjer Morgan was great for the Nationals. Providing them with the good defense that Dukes, Milledge, and Kearns couldn't give them