2010 Pittsburgh Pirates Preview

Paul Maholm, LHP
Ross Ohlendorf, RHP
Zach Duke, LHP
Charlie Morton, RHP
Kevin Hart, RHP

Closers and Setup
Octavio Dotel, RHP
Joel Hanrahan, RHP

Starting Lineup
Andrew McCutchen, CF
Akinori Iwamura, 2B
Garrett Jones, RF
Andy LaRoche, 3B
Ryan Doumit, C
Lastings Milledge, LF
Jeff Clement, 1B
Ronny Cedeno, SS

Player in Decline

Garrett Jones went bonkers upon reaching Pittsburgh last July. The lefty batter never worked the count particularly well in the minors, walking in slightly more than 7% of his plate appearances, but boosted that figure to more than 11% in the Majors as a result of eight intentional walks.

Player on the Rise

If he can sharpen his control and pull the string more effectively, Morton could be an above-average starter. Andy LaRoche, a career .295/.382/.517 minor league hitter, began driving the ball more as 2009 came to a close.

Top 5 Fantasy Players
Andrew McCutchen – Average
Ryan Doumit – Average
Octavio Dotel – Average
Andy LaRoche – Deep League
Garrett Jones – Deep League

Top 10 Prospects
1. Pedro Alvarez, 3B
2. Brad Lincoln, RHP
3. Tony Sanchez, C
4. Jose Tabata, OF
5. Tim Alderson, RHP
6. Jeff Locke, LHP
7. Chase d’Arnaud, SS
8. Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP
9. Rudy Owens, LHP
10. Starling Marte, OF

Overall team outlook: To assess Pittsburgh’s philosophy, look no further than last year’s opening day lineup: only Ryan Doumit and Andy LaRoche figure to return as starters. Rather than resigning the franchise to languid 70-win seasons, GM Neal Huntington took controversial, bold steps to give the roster an infusion of young, cost-controlled talent. After years of running in place, the team is now fully committed to player development.

The Starting Rotation: Paul Maholm’s ground-ball tendencies, plus control, and durability make him an asset to the Pirates, but his lack of punch-outs hinders his fantasy value. Ross Ohlendorf missed more bats during the second half of the season: 6.3 K/9 after the All-Star break, compared to 5.1 K/9 before the mid-point. Still, be skeptical of the sub-4.00 ERA. His BABIP was just .265. Ohlendorf’s fielding-independent stats suggest an ERA in the 4.50 range. Zach Duke is much like Maholm, with even fewer whiffs and a couple fewer walks. Despite the huge fluctuations in his ERA over the past three years (5.53 in 2007, 4.82 in 2008, 4.06 in 2009), Duke has been the same league-average innings-muncher. After aggravating scouts for years with incongruent scouting reports and results, Charlie Morton has a 3.1 K/BB ratio in Triple-A and was acquired from the Braves in last year’s Nate McLouth deal. The 6’4’’ righty gets grounders with a heavy low-90s heater and also has a quality curve, but his control is intermittent and a lagging change-up makes him vulnerable to lefty batters.

Former Cub Kevin Hart struck out nearly a batter per inning in the minors between the ‘pen and the rotation, but he has issued five free passes per nine innings in the Majors. He may be better suited for relief. Daniel McCutchen refuses to walk hitters and has a great track record, but his stuff is average and he’s an extreme fly-ball pitcher. Once a top prospect, Donnie Veal has serious control problems and spent last year in Rule 5 purgatory. He did have a promising Arizona Fall League season, though.

The Bullpen: With Matt Capps in Washington, Octavio Dotel takes over the ninth inning for Pittsburgh. Dotel has the second-highest K rate among relievers over the past two seasons, striking out 11.6 per nine frames. He has walked a batter every other inning over the time period, and Dotel gives up a ton of fly balls. His new home should help that latter problem, as it’s pretty difficult to go yard at PNC Park, particularly for righty hitters. Pumping mid-90s fastballs and mid-80s sliders, Joel Hanrahan has K’d 9.4 batters per nine innings in the big leagues. Unfortunately, he has also walked 5.2 per nine. Evan Meek misses bats and keeps the ball in the dirt, but with a career 6.2 BB/9, he makes Hanrahan look sharp by comparison.

The Starting Lineup: Andrew McCutchen is the sort of impact talent that Pittsburgh has lacked for years. The 2005 first-round pick has a polished approach at the plate; Olympic speed and quick wrists generate more power than you’d expect from his slender frame. He probably won’t post another ISO near .190, but McCutchen is the real deal. Akinori Iwamura won’t wow you offensively, but he rarely chases junk pitches and provides solid OBP figures. Garrett Jones packs a punch, but expecting anything near his 2009 performance would be misguided. A doubles and walks machine in the minors, Andy LaRoche was a league-average batter last season. The 26-year-old corner infielder is no star, but his big second half gives hope that there’s room for improvement.

Ryan Doumit’s season was curtailed by a wrist injury that sapped his bat control. Here’s the Catch-22 with the switch-hitter: his bat is a plus behind the plate, but catching exacerbates his lack of durability. The sheen is off Lastings Milledge; part of last year’s feeble hitting can be explained by a fractured finger, but his lack of strike-zone control is glaring. Speaking of fallen prospects, Jeff Clement may no longer don the tools of ignorance due to knee problems. That puts a big dent in his value, as his lumber would be potent for a backstop, but is ordinary at first base. Ronny Cedeno and Bobby Crosby will battle for the shortstop position, in a contest that would have been intriguing five years ago. Now, it’s just kinda sad.

The Bench: Delwyn Young’s trial run at second base reminded the Bucs why the Dodgers moved him off the keystone in the first place. The switch-hitter doesn’t have the bat for the outfield corners. Ryan Church hasn’t shown much pop lately, as post-concussion syndrome and back spasms have limited him. If healthy, he could work his way into Pittsburgh’s outfield plans. A Rule 5 pick from Florida, John Raynor hit a wall offensively at Triple-A. He’s a big stolen-base threat, however. Given substantial playing time last season, Brandon Moss scuffled and now appears buried on the outfield depth chart. Jason Jaramillo doesn’t have much in the way of secondary skills, but he’s an acceptable backup who could get 200+ at-bats, given Doumit’s injury history.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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