Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. Last week we looked at the how the NL Central might shape up with the Cardinals, Reds, Brewers and Cubs. Thursday: Pittsburgh Pirates; Friday: Houston Astros.
The Bottom Feeders: Pittsburgh Pirates
Off-Season Moves: The biggest — though not big — move for the Pirates this off-season involved trading left-handed pitcher Zach Duke to the Diamondbacks for righty Cesar Valdez. Duke went 8-15 last season with a 5.72 ERA, while Valdez went 1-2 with a 7.65 ERA in nine games for Arizona last season. In two seasons in AAA, Valdez was 13-16 with a 5.90 ERA.
Strengths: If nothing else, the Pirates are young. The active roster boasts nine players born after 1985 and only six born before 1982. New addition Lyle Overbay is the oldest at 34, while the youngest, starting outfielder Jose Tabata, won’t turn 23 until August. The organization has at least some hope for the future if the young players at the top of the order — Andrew McCutchen (pictured above), Tabata, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez — progress as expected. Though not a top team in either category, the Pirates fall right around the middle-of-the-pack in both doubles and triples, which is higher than they they rank in just about anything else.
Weaknesses: These are something the Pirates have in abundance. The starting rotation would seemingly shape up like this with 2010 record, ERA and WHIP: Paul Maholm (9-15, 5.10, 1.56, pictured at right), Kevin Correia (10-10, 5.40, 1.49), Ross Ohlendorf (1-11, 4.07, 1.38), James McDonald (4-5, 3.52, 1.30), and Charlie Morton (2-12, 7.57, 1.73). That’s a combined 26-53 with a 5.13 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP. The Pirates as a whole finished last season last in the majors in staff ERA (5.00).
Offensively, the Pirates aren’t looking much better. They finished last season 29th in the majors — ahead of only the Mariners — with a .242 batting average. The additions of Overbay and Matt Diaz do little to bring that average up, but the unloading of LaRoche’s .206 average can’t hurt. Of the regular players, none hit .300, and only Tabata and Walker hit above .290. The team’s .304 on-base percentage put them 28th in the majors last season, 46 points behind the major league-leading Yankees and 10 points below the league average.
In the field it’s more of the same. The Pirates finished tied for worst in the majors with a collective .979 fielding percentage. They committed 127 errors, tied for most in the majors with the Nationals. Overbay represents an upgrade defensively at first base over Garrrett Jones, but barely.
Summary: The NL Central is one of the toughest divisions in baseball so the Pirates would do well to win 65 games this year, an improvement over last season’s 57. While the roster is almost entirely the same, the overall youth of this club provides at least some hope that they can take an even bigger step forward, but I wouldn’t bet on it. New manger Clint Hurdle will have his work cut out for him as he tries to break the organization’s streak of 18-straight losing seasons. I’d be shocked if they won 60 games and finished any higher than last in the division.Google+