Pirates Notebook: Problems go beyond the pitching staff

I’m not calling anyone out with this post.  Over the last few days I’ve seen a similar message repeated by many people, whether it’s in the live blogs, Twitter, or message boards.  The message varies, but it’s usually focused around the need for pitching in the Pirates rotation.

It’s obvious that the Pirates have seen pitching struggles.  The 36 runs they allowed in the last three games proves this.  However, what seems to be ignored is the one run the Pirates scored in these last three games.  The pitching isn’t the only problem.  This whole team is playing horrible baseball.  Let’s just run down the list:

Akinori Iwamura – Hitting for a .218 average with a .317 OBP.  As the leadoff guy, Aki needs to get on base at a .350 clip or better.  His walks are fine, but he needs to increase the hitting.

Lastings Milledge – Milledge is hitting for a .254 average and a .290 OBP.  His .322 slugging percentage wouldn’t even be an acceptable OBP.

Garrett Jones – Jones is getting on base at a good clip, at a .385 rate this season.  His average has dipped to .220, which wouldn’t be a problem with his OBP as long as he’s hitting for power.  The only problem is that he’s not hitting for power.  Jones had three homers in his first five at-bats.  Since then he has no homers in 45 at-bats.  In fact, in that time span Jones only has one extra base hit.

Ryan Doumit – Doumit’s average is low, at .222, but his on-base percentage of .340 makes up for that.  Doumit’s problem is that he’s not hitting for power.  He has two extra base hits on the season, and both of those came on opening day.  That’s not what you need from the 4-5 spots in the order.

Jeff Clement – Clement has been bad all around on offense.  As I predicted many times before the season, his defense isn’t really a cause for concern, but his offense is the problem.  With Steve Pearce doing well at AAA, and Ryan Church performing in his limited appearances, Clement could be on a short leash.

There haven’t been many bright spots on offense.  Andrew McCutchen and Ronny Cedeno each have looked good, but they’re just set up guys, needing someone to knock them in.  As for the pitching staff, Zach Duke has looked good, but got destroyed by the Brewers.  Paul Maholm has been decent, improving in each of his starts.  Ross Ohlendorf was alright in his only start, and the Pirates are really missing him since then.  Charlie Morton and Daniel McCutchen have been atrocious so far.

Let’s assume the pitching staff had no problems and allowed two runs a game against the Brewers.  The Pirates still would have been swept, because they only scored one run the entire series.  That doesn’t excuse the pitching staff.  I’m just pointing out the other failures of the team recently.

There is cause for hope.  The big problem with the Pirates’ lineup right now is the middle of the order.  Ryan Doumit isn’t a cleanup hitter.  He’s more of a complimentary piece, and not a guy who can carry a lineup.  He’d probably be better as a number three hitter, or maybe a number five or six hitter.

Garrett Jones was quickly moved to cleanup after hitting for a .333/.474/.933 line in 15 at-bats at the number three spot.  Jones has struggled since, and the move may have been a mistake.  Last year Jones was a .295/.379/.552 hitter in 268 at-bats at the number three spot.  He hit for a .222/.250/.519 line as the cleanup hitter in 27 at-bats.  This year he’s hitting for a .152/.310/.182 line in 33 at-bats as the cleanup hitter.

Lastings Milledge hasn’t shown much power, and probably would be best hitting sixth or seventh in this lineup until he does show some power.

Right now Milledge, Jones, and Doumit are the heart of the order, and that’s the big problem with the offense.  The reason for hope?  Pedro Alvarez.  Once Alvarez arrives, you’ve got your cleanup hitter.  You can move Jones back to the number three spot, move Doumit to fifth, and put Milledge sixth or seventh.  The ideal situation would be to have a solid number five hitter as well, thus allowing the Pirates to move Doumit to sixth, and Milledge to seventh, but that’s not looking possible right now with this team.

As for the pitching staff, they’ve got Brad Lincoln, Kevin Hart, and Donald Veal at the AAA level, although Lincoln could use more seasoning, and I don’t think anyone trusts Hart/Veal based on a few AAA starts, considering what we’ve seen from them in the past at the major league level.  I’d have Daniel McCutchen on a short leash, and Charlie Morton on a somewhat longer leash, with those three options on reserve at the AAA level.  My prediction is that Morton turns things around, but that McCutchen gets replaced when Lincoln is ready.

Overall, the first two weeks were nice, with the series win against the Dodgers, and the sweep of the Reds, but this series against the Brewers have kind of grounded the optimism.  At the start of the season I didn’t expect much until Alvarez, Lincoln, and Jose Tabata were due to arrive.  Following the Milwaukee series, I’m now reminded why that was the case.

Goats of the Game
The bottom five players of the game, according to FanGraphs.  WPA stands for “Win Probability Added” and represents the impact the player had on his team’s chances of winning.  It’s based off of percentages, with each team starting the game with a 50% chance to win.  It is presented in decimal form, so .152 would equal 15.2%, meaning the player in question would have increased his team’s chances of winning by 15.2%.
1. Daniel McCutchen: -.245 WPA
2. Ryan Church: -.102 WPA
3. D.J. Carrasco: -.099 WPA
4. Andrew McCutchen: -.057 WPA
5. Delwyn Young: -.053 WPA
Other Stuff
-The Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect Watch for 4/22 is up.

-Chris JakubauskasSaturday’s starter?

-In case you missed it yesterday, I uploaded my video recap of Michael Crotta from 4/13.  Crotta has been a pleasant surprise this year for Altoona, with a 1.86 ERA in 19.1 innings, plus a 10:1 K/BB ratio and an amazing 2.69 groundball to fly ball ratio.  This was by far his best start, with seven innings of one hit baseball.

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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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