First Pitch: Can the Pirates Contend With the Cardinals?

Tonight’s blowout victory by the Pittsburgh Pirates over the St. Louis Cardinals was just one game, and shouldn’t be taken as anything more than just one game. But I did think that the game tonight was ironic, considering the off-season narratives for the two teams.

On one side, you had the Cardinals, who got a lot of praise (myself included) for upgrading their defense on paper over the off-season. They added Peter Bourjos in center field, added Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, and moved players around to positions where they have had more success, such as Matt Carpenter moving from second base to third base. The Cardinals already had a good offense and a good pitching staff. Their biggest weakness last year was their defense, and it was easy to think that upgrading the defense would pretty much ensure that they’d return to being one of the best teams in the NL, if not the best team in the NL.

On the other side, you had the Pirates, who did very little over the off-season. They lost A.J. Burnett, and had holes at first base and right field. They went with the “wait for Gregory Polanco” approach in right, and didn’t make a splash at first base. The end result is that you had a similar team to the 2013 season — good pitching, good defense, and an offense that is often inconsistent, leading to a lot of stretches where the Pirates are forced to rely heavily on their pitching and defense to keep the score low enough to win.

And then tonight, the Pirates offense exploded, while the Cardinals didn’t have the best game defensively. I don’t think this changes the off-season narratives for either team. I like the Cardinals’ defense better this year, and I think there are some legit concerns with the offense for the Pirates. However, off-season narratives have a funny way of getting blown out of proportion due to the length of the off-season.

When you think about the off-season, there’s very little to talk about, and a lot of time to talk about it. This means you’ll end up rehashing the same 2-3 topics over and over again for six months from the end of one season to the start of the following season. And if a situation doesn’t change, then somehow the team gets worse as the off-season goes along. Don’t add a player in November? People get concerned. Don’t add a player by December? The concern grows. Don’t add a player by Spring Training? Start talking about how the team can’t win without addressing this position. On the flip side, you could have a situation like the Cardinals, where you address a key area, and the constant talk about that addition leads to increased optimism about the team.

Then the regular season starts and perspective kicks in. A win like the win tonight shouldn’t be extrapolated into some grand conclusion where the Pirates are a better team than the Cardinals, and all of their offensive problems are solved. But it does serve as a reminder. It reminds us that even the best teams in the league still lose 40% of the time. It reminds us that the Pirates held their own against the Cardinals last year, going 10-9 in the regular season, and taking them to game five of the best of five NLDS. It reminds us that, even though they’ve got some holes that weren’t addressed over the off-season, the Pirates have a lot of good players on this team, and a lot of reasons who they were contenders last year.

So should you draw conclusions from one game? Absolutely not. But if you can perpetuate the same theory over and over during the off-season, then I don’t see why you can’t ask what one game might be proving, all while using that one game as a small portion of analysis on the team — analysis which is much stronger than the guessing games done over the off-season.


Links and Notes

**The 2014 Prospect Guide is in stock on the products page of the site. The book features profiles, scouting reports, and grades on every player in the minor league system, including our top 50 prospects. The Prospect Guide has been mentioned as a resource several times on the Pirates’ broadcast, and has been purchased as a source of reference by opposing MLB front office members, opposing scouts, and media members. If it’s a good resource for them, it’s a good resource for you. You can order your Prospect Guide on the products page of the site.

**How To Use and Navigate Pirates Prospects

**Pirates Prospects Shirts Are Now Available

**Prospect Watch: Casey Sadler and Chad Kuhl Dominate With Their Sinkers

**Minor League Schedule: Doubleheaders For Altoona and Indianapolis

**Draft Prospect Watch: Hoffman vs Lemond Highlights Friday Night

**Stetson Allie Joins the Altoona Curve

First Pitch

  • lonleylibertarian
    April 5, 2014 12:57 pm

    I am more than willing to enjoy a nice little run of productive ABs from TI – but he has a VERY long record of mediocre performance – so let’s chill a bit before we make him the second coming of Chris Davis.

    I have always felt that the Bucs match up well against St Louis for some reason – part of it is PNC just is not all the comfortable for right hand fly ball pitchers it seems.

    I really hope Sunday proves my worst fears wrong – will be watching and hoping for the best

  • If we can arrange to have Shelby pitch the next 18 games for the Birds against us……….

  • Ishikawa might be a very fortunate signing. Is this a Chris Davis type find?? Who was Crush before the Orioles? PNC might be the place Ishikawa finds his game.

    • Ian Rothermund
      April 5, 2014 11:06 am

      Chris Davis was always a prospect with enormous power potential. He had just yet to put it together before he was traded. I don’t think the Rangers had any idea he would turn it around as immediately as he did with the Orioles, but he’s still considerably younger than Ishikawa at 30. Let’s not forget that it’s not as if Ishikawa has been a platoon player his entire career, he has been a mediocre starter/bench player. Given his age, I wouldn’t expect a breakout season at this point in his career. That being said, Hurdle talks a lot about guys gaining traction from good performances, and Travis is doing just that. After 4 games, he has several hits including a home run, a couple walks, and has played good defense. I’ll take that out of a “hole” in the lineup any day. His production will likely not continue at that rate, but maybe he can go a month or two and represent himself well. At that point there may be another viable option, e.g. Lambo getting his swing together. For right now though, keep Ishikawa in the games, ride it out. Now, if we can just get Travis Snider out of the lineup…

      • Agreed there’s no chance Ishi turns into the next Chris Davis. But it’s possible he has a James Loney 2013 season this year. Their skill sets are very similar (patience at the plate, high OPB, less power than you’d expect from a 1B, good defense), they had remarkably similar OPS the 3 previous years and had a change of scenery. Let’s see how it plays out.

        • Call it Loney light. I’m glad we didn’t commit as much money to him as the Rays did- although we have a long-term hole at 1B I just don’t think he was worth it. Hopefully Allie will have a good year and be a candidate for next year. Ishi looks good so far- on offense and defense. He might not hit a lot of HRs but I can see some doubles, good contact, and a very decent batting average. Out of the three, at this moment (he, Lambo and McGuinness) I think they made the right choice.

      • I’m afraid we’re going to have to grin and bear it until Gregory arrives. I do agree there’s a lot more basis for playing Tabata vs. RHP in RF than there is for playing Sanchez vs. RHP at first. Neither RF option is all that appealing. I look for Snider to be a bit better than last year, but the question is how much better? I see a change in his two strike approach but not much improvement before he gets to two strikes. I don’t think he’s going to be able to provide much power. I hope I’m wrong.

        In any case, it’s only until June.

        • Snider is a terrible situational hitter. It doesn’t come into play with WAR, but in real life, in REAL wins and losses, it sure does. Get him out of the 2 hole, i don’t care if he plays, but put him at 7 please.

          • Ian Rothermund
            April 7, 2014 9:49 am

            Agreed. They were talking the other night on the radio about how valuable a good situational hitter is in the two spot. That is not Snider. Polanco and his versatility and ability to control the strike zone, however. That super status is irrelevant to me if he’s hitting .350 after a month in AAA, they’ll already have the extra year of control.

    • You might be getting a little ahead of yourself with the Davis comparison. It is a couple good games, and he doesn’t have the ability Davis does. Although, I was very upset when the O’s traded for Davis, I wanted him to be a Pirate

  • First of all, after 4 games, I want to jump on the Ishikawa bandwagon!! 1.017 OPS in the first week! Who says no production out of first base?!?

    But talking about Ishikawa and relating it to what Tim said: I think often that when we continue to repeat (or hear) the same thing over and over again that we sometimes cement a “myth” that isn’t necessarily true (or at bad as it sounds.)

    The big one this off-season that was continually repeated by fans and writers alike: The Pirates have a “hole” at 1B and RF. And I think when you continue hear “The Pirates have a HOLE at 1B”, “The Pirates have a HOLE at RF”, that it almost cements this image of a complete disaster and collapse of the team, when, in reality, it’s not nearly as bad. It gets used all the time. Especially when a starter goes down and a rookie has to take his place. A HOLE implies zero production, but in reality, the situation is more of a POTENTIAL FOR UPGRADE, than a HOLE. When I hear hole, I get this image that the guy is just going to stand at the plate with his bat on his shoulder all year and never swing, and that suddenly every ball thrown to first base will end up in the stands.

    I’ve read lots of people say, well because of this HOLE, the Pirates will drop from a 94-win team to a 75-win team, almost forgetting that the Pirates achieved their 94-win season with pretty poor production from Jones and the battling of injuries of Snider and Tabata. And even terrible 2013 Jones contributed something. The difference between terrible Jones and average Ishikawa, isn’t enough to alter a team’s year by 20 losses. And it would be the same if Lambo were over there.

    If the Pirates record drops 20 games, it will never be because of 1 or 2 players, but because of problems across a number of positions or players.

    • impliedi…also, very few talked about the fact that we get Morton, Cole and Liriano for the (hopefully) WHOLE season.

      I am quite fine that we didn’t go out and get a mediocre 1bman. I wanted AJ back, but that ship has sailed.

      Now, if we could just do something about that hole called Edinson Volquez…lol.

      • And Lee,you are ABSOLUTELY certain Volquez is a ” hole ” ? And the number 5 guy in the rotation is the key to the entire season ? Please……..

        • I’m pretty sure he was joking leo. Everyone’s dumping on Volquez just like they dumped on 1B and RF that implied pointed out.

          • I am hoping you are right sticky,but apparently Y2 thinks he is dead serious !

        • he’s the key to roughly 20% of the games. Those 20% make the difference
          between being a playoff team, and third place, so yes……he is a key.
          not “the” key, but a key. you lose 2/3 of the games he pitches and suddenly you fall behind the Reds, lets not kid ourselves

          • And you just know that if he is a disaster they will run him out there until September is over ? If you really think they are that stupid,I feel sorry for you.Besides Y2,do you think Lee is incapable of answering me himself ?

    • I just saw an article that showed the worst position player and pitcher WAR’s of all-time (since 1901). The lowest WAR for a position player in a single season is -4.0 (George Wright, 1985 TEX and Jerry Royster, 1977 ATL). Brian Giles’ 2009 season with the Padres is third on the list with -3.9.

      And, unfortunately, we all know the worst single season for a pitcher in terms of WAR was Steve Blass’ 1973 season where he had a -5.8 WAR.

      So, only the rare worst seasons in history could single-handedly swing a teams’ W-L record by more than a handful of games.

      In case you were wondering:
      Pirates’ 5 worst single-season WAR’s:
      Jose Guillen – 1997 (-3.5)
      Doug Strange – 1998 (-2.3)
      Mike Kingery – 1996 (-2.1)
      Doug Baird – 1916 (-2.1)
      Marvell Wynne – 1985 (-2.0)
      (In addition, George Hendrick’s 1985 season (-2.3) and Marvell Wynne’s 1989 season (-2.3) included some time with the Pirates.)

      Steve Blass – 1973 (-5.8)
      Jeff Robinson – 1989 (-3.3)
      Glenn Spencer – 1932 (-2.7)
      Charlie Morton – 2010 (-2.5)
      Erv Brame – 1932 (-2.4)

      • If Burnitz and Matt Morris aren’t on that list then I don’t know if I can believe in WAR anymore.

      • IF you trust WAR as an accurate true measure of wins/losses then yes. and the definition of a “replacement level player” needs to be understood properly.

    • the 94 wins were bound to regress to the mean without upgrades, our pitching played over their talent level historically and with downgrades a potential 87 team last year who somehow won 94 games becomes an 84 win team that wins…..? who knows, but it does effect the ability to win the same amount of games. Anyone whom can’t see that is silly. We will compete, but will we be the championship team we want? no. I was under the impression we wanted to be the best, not just compete for a wildcard this year

  • Tim…….great points. As you stated….what else is there to talk about?