March 29, 2011

Your 2011 Pirates Offense

With Opening Day three days away, the Pirates have decided on the 13 hitters who will be in uniform Friday in Chicago. Four of these roster spots were undecided entering spring training, and the fact that these guys won them gives hope to all the Jaramillos, Pearces, Rodriguezes and Bowkers of their lines of business. We've all known truck drivers who couldn't drive a truck and tax accountants who couldn't do taxes. It's heartwarming that we have those guys in baseball. It seems unimportant who goes north in April, but know that this means a lot to those players at the margins in Major League Baseball. Here's the breakdown:

Starting catcher Chris Snyder (.207/.320/.376 in 2009) will start the season on the disabled list with back problems. The Pirates are spinning this as a minor injury - but lingering knee or and back issues are rarely resolved quickly.

The injury opens the door for Ryan Doumit (.251/.331/.406) to make his fourth consecutive Opening Day start. After a summer of unsuccessfully shopping their switch-hitting, defensively challeged catcher, some more regular playing time might be what the Pirates need to boost Doumit's trade value. Doumit has never failed to hit while healthy and he is healthy now. He gets a chance to move on from the disaster of 2009.

By default the backup is Jason Jaramillo (.149/.227/.207). Jaramillo is a reliable defender who simply can't hit enough to warrant a spot in the lineup more than once a week. Let's hope that Clint Hurdle doesn't give him more playing time than he merits.

First Basemen
Your everyday starter is Lyle Overbay (.249/.323/.433). No major league club has any business making Lyle Overbay their main offseason acquisition, but Overbay is a legitimate MLB first baseman which is more than could be said for anyone who manned the position for Pittsburgh last year. He's a solid middle of the order hitter against righthanders. Against southpaws, let's just hope this devolves into a platoon.

Steven Pearce (.276/.395/.414) made the team as a pinch hitter and will back up Overbay. Widely viewed as a disappointment at the MLB level, Pearce has actually torched lefthanded pitching to the tune of a .304/.372/.557 career batting line. He hit .286/.333/.408 this spring which was enough to win a job, given that realistically there weren't many good options. It's a perfect platoon situation - I'd rather not see if Overbay can learn to hit lefthanders at age 34.

Second Basemen
Native son Neil Walker (.296/.349/.462) returns as we all wonder whether he can repeat the success of his rookie year. Walker has gap power but needs to learn plate discipline to be a truly effective hitter year in and year out. Defensively, I think he showed enough tools to be an MLB average second baseman with continued improvement.

The backup here is Josh Rodriguez, a Rule V pick with no MLB experience who had a decent spring hitting .278/.381/.361. Count me happy to have seen Rodriguez get a meaningless hit in a meaningless game this weekend to cement his spot on the roster. A certain Post-Gazette writer has been spinning this as a controversial move, but it's obvious that the Pirates didn't drat Rodriguez first in the Rule V with aims of giving him back. In any event, Rodriguez isn't likely to get enough playing time for it to matter.

Third Basemen
This year's wild card, to me, is Pedro Alvarez (.256/.326/.461). He had a solid debut season, but more lies ahead. Pedro hit only 16 home runs in 95 games in 2010, and had 37 walks to go with 119 strikeouts. He still reminds me of Ryan Howard. It wouldn't shock me if he hits 35 home runs this year. It would shock me if he doesn't hit 25.

Rodriguez is the backup here, and he won't see much time. Even if Alvarez is injured, the Pirates will likely recall Andy Marte to play every day.

Back for another year as a starter is Ronny Cedeno (.256/.293/.382). No one knows how this happened. The less said about it the better. Rodriguez is the backup here too, and he merits more playing time at shortstop. I watched all of three innings of spring training, but it's hard to imagine Rodriguez is worse than Cedeno.

And here we are, the strength of this offense. Andrew McCutchen (.285/.365/.449) led the league last year in Being a Productive Pirate and is poised to break out with a 20/40 year out of the leadoff spot. We are all witnesses. Jose Tabata (.299/.346/.400) has PNC Park's huge left field in capable hands and barring injury will start over 150 games while hopefully translating a little of that doubles power into home runs. And in right we have a platoon of Garrett Jones (.247/.306/.414) and Matt Diaz (.250/.302/.438), two halves of a good player if I ever saw two halves of a productive player.

Winning the coveted 25th man job was John Bowker (.219/.281/.371). Bowker will start a game pretty much never but with any luck will have one of those all-important 100 game, 100 at bat seasons. A good lefthanded pinch hitter is a tremendous asset in the National League. Bowker personifies two of those three all-important adjectives, and who ever said a baseball player should be "good"? He rounds out a versatile and disappointing bench.

1 comment:

  1. At least there are more major leaguers in the batting order. Pitching is shaky, but here's to no more Zach Duke or Tom Gorzelanny!!