The Pirates Needed to Make a Bigger Statement in May

A month ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates were sitting at 13-15, two games under .500, heading in to their series against the San Diego Padres.  At the time I wrote about how the month of May was a statement month for the Pirates.  Their opponents for the remainder of the month had a 129-157 record, and not a single opponent had a winning record at the time.  At the time, my thought was that the Pirates needed to end up with a 29-28 record following today’s game with the New York Mets:

The May opponents are currently combining for a 129-157 record, for a 45.1% winning percentage.  If the Pirates play at the opposite pace (54.9% winning percentage) over the next month, they will be sitting at 29-28 on June 3rd.  The last time the Pirates were at .500 that late in the season was in 2005, when they were 30-30 on June 11th.  The last time they were above .500 that late in the season was in 2004, when they were 23-22 on May 29th.

(CLIP)

The Pirates can make a statement in the month of May.  They can come out and steamroll the struggling opponents, while holding their own against the teams like the Reds, Dodgers, and Braves.  That wouldn’t guarantee anything, but it would show that the Pirates could be starting to turn the corner.  At the same time, if they struggle to take series victories against teams like the Padres and Astros, and get hammered by the teams close to .500, it will make the statement that the Pirates are, once again, heading for the bottom of the MLB standings.

If the Pirates win today, they will have taken three of four from the Mets, but will be sitting at 27-28 (note: they had two games postponed).  It wasn’t a horrible month for the Pirates.  They took two of three against the Padres, and did the same against the Astros, two teams that were well below .500 at the start of the month.  They also beat up on other poor performing teams, such as the Cubs, Tigers, and now the Mets.  They even swept a two game series against the Cincinnati Reds, a team that was at .500 to begin the month, and currently sits at 29-28.

The Pirates are currently two games under .500, with a rough schedule ahead.

The Pirates did what they are supposed to do.  They beat up on bad teams.  If they are to be taken seriously, they need to beat up on poor performing teams like the Padres (24-32), Astros (22-34), Cubs (23-31), and Mets (25-30).  However, if they want to be considered contenders, they need to have the same success against teams that are actually winning against other teams.  They did that by taking two games against the Reds, who went 14-15 in the month of May.  They also took two of three against the Tigers, who entered the month with a 12-15 record, and went 16-11 in May.

However, the Pirates also lost two of three to the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that went 12-16 in May.  They lost a game to the Washington Nationals, who are currently 24-31, and went 11-17 in May.  They were swept in a three game series against the Brewers, a team they just can’t seem to beat.  They also were swept in a two game series against the Braves, who went 17-11 in May.

It’s definitely impressive that the Pirates have a chance to be one game under .500 on June 2nd, especially when you consider that they were the worst team in the majors last year.  However, this team doesn’t look like a contender.  They’re beating up on poor performing teams, and losing against teams with a winning record.  That’s improvement, since they weren’t even winning against the bad teams last year.  At the same time, it doesn’t give much hope for their chances going forward.

The month of June will be tougher than the month of May.  The Pirates start out with a three game series against the Philadelphia Phillies (34-22).  They follow that up with three games against the Arizona Diamondbacks (31-25).  They catch a break with four more games against the Mets (25-30), followed by three games against the Astros (22-34).  Then they have three games against Cleveland (33-20), and three games against Boston (30-26), with a three game series against the Orioles (25-29) sandwiched in between.  They finish off the month with a three game series against Toronto (28-28).

The Pirates could take two games from the Astros and Orioles, along with three of five games against the Mets (counting today’s contest).  However, in order to enter July with a winning record, they’d have to play .500 ball against the first place Phillies, the first place Diamondbacks, the first place Indians, the second place Red Sox, and the .500 Blue Jays.  Considering their lack of success to date against winning teams, the odds of them entering July with a record around .500 are slim.  If they do manage to pull it off, that might be something to get excited about.

So what does this mean for the Pirates going forward?  For one, it should affect their approach with trades.  There have been some comments about players who could be trade candidates this year, such as Paul Maholm and Joel Hanrahan, stating that those players shouldn’t be traded, and should help the Pirates try to compete.  The Pirates obviously aren’t competing this year.  That’s obvious by their results against winning teams this year.  Even if they add at the deadline, they’re unlikely to be better than a .500 team.

What this means is that, if the right deal comes along, the Pirates shouldn’t hesitate to deal guys like Maholm and Hanrahan.  Despite sitting close to .500, they have not shown themselves to be contenders.  If they can get a strong return that can help them for the long term, they need to take it.  Ideally, they could add a top prospect who could arrive in 2012, or maybe even make an Octavio Dotel type deal to get some immediate help.  Overall, the Pirates’ performance this year should not be a reason to avoid trading players.  Maybe that would be the case if they were beating good teams, but so far the Pirates have been beating up on bad teams, and losing to the good ones.  That’s a good step from last year, but it doesn’t mean they’re contenders yet.

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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  • http://twitter.com/TheMattSign TheMαττSign

    I agree with your points, but I do want to point out that last year, the Reds made it to the playoffs with the formula of beating up on bad teams and losing to good teams.  They didn’t make it far in the playoffs, but I find it interesting the everyone was high on the Reds last year and are again this year when they are doing pretty much the same thing we are this year.

  • http://twitter.com/TheMattSign TheMαττSign

    I agree with your points, but I do want to point out that last year, the Reds made it to the playoffs with the formula of beating up on bad teams and losing to good teams.  They didn’t make it far in the playoffs, but I find it interesting the everyone was high on the Reds last year and are again this year when they are doing pretty much the same thing we are this year.

  • Anonymous

    I’d credit both of those losses to Hurdle’s bullpen management. A bit more astute use of the appropriate pitcher for the situation and you would’ve had your 29-28.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6KEYHS3XWH74U3LRIHGWL7XPBA Nate

      It is what it is – I think Hurdle has “added” more wins than he’s “cost” the team.

  • Anonymous

    I’d credit both of those losses to Hurdle’s bullpen management. A bit more astute use of the appropriate pitcher for the situation and you would’ve had your 29-28.

  • Anonymous

    I agree,  even if they are over 500. by July 31st roles around , I would still deal Maholm and Hanrahan if the right deal came around. Paul Maholm is a very replaceable piece in the rotation.

    I have a question Tim, do you think if Maholm keeps up this current performance and we package him with a Evan Meek or Jose Veras, we could get a prospect like a  Jesus Montero from NYY(who offered him up for Joakim Soria last year) or a prospect along that caliber? I think the Yankees could be a fit and i think Hanny could land Montero without question, but I think they need some SP help up there. I know you talked about Maholm’s value before on here, but if he keeps the low 3 ERA up how much more does it go up?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XLZWD62P3KVC73DPXCAYMDTY2A Kevin

      I think you’re overvaluing Joel and undervaluing Paul.

      • Anonymous

        Nevermind 7 ER in 5.2 IP hurts the value, especially when you had a 7 Run lead

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Two things on Montero:

      1. It was reported that the Royals turned down an offer that included Montero and Soria.  It’s impossible to know what else was involved with that offer, so I’m not going to assume it was a 1-for-1 swap.

      2. There’s a big difference in value between Montero last year, and Montero this year.  He’s still a top prospect, but the Yankees catching options are very thin.  Not that Montero is great defensively behind the plate (he would probably be a first baseman in the majors), but he can’t be worse overall than the guys they have now.

      I just don’t see Maholm and a reliever getting it done.  Maybe Maholm/Hanrahan, but I think it’s more likely that the Yankees use Montero to get a top guy.

      • Anonymous

        Are the catching options really that thin though? They have Russell Martin having a good year, ya Posada is a straight DH and Cervelli is Cervelli, but there #2 Prospect is Catcher Gary Sanchez, whos projected to have just as good as bat as Montero and even a better glove, just young and Austine Romine is also a very good Catching prospect for them also…Thats why i was thinking they could afford to trade Montero. But your right they probably would use Montero to get that TOP Big named player.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Two things on Montero:

      1. It was reported that the Royals turned down an offer that included Montero and Soria.  It’s impossible to know what else was involved with that offer, so I’m not going to assume it was a 1-for-1 swap.

      2. There’s a big difference in value between Montero last year, and Montero this year.  He’s still a top prospect, but the Yankees catching options are very thin.  Not that Montero is great defensively behind the plate (he would probably be a first baseman in the majors), but he can’t be worse overall than the guys they have now.

      I just don’t see Maholm and a reliever getting it done.  Maybe Maholm/Hanrahan, but I think it’s more likely that the Yankees use Montero to get a top guy.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6KEYHS3XWH74U3LRIHGWL7XPBA Nate

    “If the right deal comes around”… I would be very hesitant in trading Hanrahan and it has to be for quality, not quantity.  Neal H may have some ability to trade middle relief for quantity and having a prospect work out (J Mac), but I’m not anywhere near sold on his ability to get a good return for a high end player.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, can’t agree with you here on your assessment. I’d rather stick it out with Maholm and Hanrahan than flip them for more prospects especially when you have established that their value isn’t all that high.

    Yeah, we can lose without them, but hanging around .500 is more exciting than watching another 90 loss plus season. It will take a serious Dotel deal overpay to change my mind on this.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      “especially when you have established that their value isn’t all that high”

      I never said their value wasn’t high.  I pointed out that both could fetch top prospects, as long as there are teams willing to part with top prospects for them.

      • Anonymous

        If I remember correctly, we couldn’t expect a top 50 prospect for one guy and shouldn’t expect a top 100 prospect for the other. To me that means their value isn’t that high.

        Knowing how Neal likes to trade, he will probably take a quantity approach to hope that something pans out. This results in a good chance that we get back similiar guys to the ones we got over the last couple of years which I think we have plenty of(i.e alot of dead weight).

        As you have pointed out before, there is going to be a large roster crunch at the end of the season so if we trade our starters away, you better figure out how to lump in some of the bodies that you are going to lose anyways because you can’t protect them all.

        Now if we get an overwhelming offer, for a stud MLB ready player or two, go right ahead, but we can’t go for quantity. If anything we need to trade quantity for quality, lol.

        I know I am fusing a couple of thoughts together here, but they are kind of related. A) we need quality MLB ready players B) we need to trade some quantity away if that is what it takes to get quality.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          Here is what I said on each player:

          Hanrahan: “a top 50 pitching prospect, or a 51-100 hitting prospect and maybe another player”

          Maholm: “a top 51-100 pitching prospect, or a top 76-100 hitting prospect”

          • Anonymous

            I guess I misremembered. lol

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AE6VEI6QAPAROS6RIQTCZYDXKY sam

    I don’t think the pirates should be confused as a contender.  Therefore is they can get a big time prospect like Montero that can play first base with The Hammer and Maholm DO IT

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OGCKUSO5MA5VUCJHW2YSJ2K3TM Bob

    Why deal Hanrahan??? I understand Maholm but def don’t agree with any trade involving Hanrahan.