Despite being only 4 games under .500, Pirates’ fans sense something catastrophic is brewing.
1. Bob Smizik- one of the only Pittsburgh sports writers apparently unfearful of speaking negatively about the Pirates- hammered the team’s farm system, arguging that it’s far more hype than substance. It’s hard to ignore. Outside of SPs Gerritt Cole and Jameson Taillon, the organization’s top prospects have struggled significantly [preseason rankings in ( )].
(#3) OF Josh Bell (low-A)- Very young (19) and in his first taste of professional ball, the Pirates’ 2011 2nd round pick has a .288 OBP and .691 OPS through 15 games.
(#4) CF Starling Marte (AAA)- Still has plenty of time to recover, but dropped from an .870 OPS at AA Altoona in 2011, to a .743 OPS through 40 games at AAA this year. Marte is the organization’s only highly-touted hitter in the upper levels of their system.
(#6) SP Kyle McPherson (AAA)- Has missed the season to date due to shoulder inflammation.
(#7) C Tony Sanchez (AA)- The future of the former 4th overall pick in the 2009 draft is in serious jeopardy. After finishing 2011 with a .658 OPS, he’s now repeating AA Altoona, to the tune of a .699 OPS and 0 home runs through 31 games this year. There’s been no improvement, despite Sanchez now being 24 years old, which is on the late side for true AA prospects. (Multiple players chosen after Sanchez are already at the Major League level.) With the Pirates’ Major League catching system in full-on trainwreck mode, they desperately need Sanchez to excel.
(#8) OF Robbie Grossman (AA)- The 2011 Pirates’ minor league player of the year is struggling to adjust to the AA level. After finishing 2011 with an outstanding .859 OPS at high-A, Grossman has a .659 OPS through 44 games this season.
(#9) SP Stetson Allie (low-A)- Once praised as GM Neal Huntington’s “steal” of the 2010 draft, Allie has an unbelievable 8 walks through 0.2 IP on the season. His control has been non-existant.
2. The offense on the Major League club is so bad that it’s rivaling historic records for futility at its current pace. The stat-heavy website Fangraphs recently quantified the Pirates’ struggles. Some highlights:
*”Their .269 team wOBA is tied for 5th worst since 1900. There are no modern teams ahead of them.”
*”Of those teams that have strikeout numbers (the K didn’t become an official hitting stat until 1913), the 2012 Pirates currently rank 2nd highest (out of 2164 teams) with a 24.3% strikeout rate.”
*”Since 1919, the end of the Deadball Era, the 2012 Pirates rank as the 12th worst offense, scoring only 0.082 runs per plate appearance (the 2012 Padres are 15th with 0.083 R/PA; the 2010 Mariners sit at 28th with 0.086 R/PA).”
3. The Pirates revealed that they would like to send down or release some of the most unproductive hitters from the team, yet there isn’t anyone at AAA Indianapolis faring much better. The club recently called up CF Gorkys Hernandez, who had a .698 OPS at AAA, and has only been given 4 MLB at bats since.
***4. Despite all of Huntington and club president Frank Coonelly’s talk over the past 5 seasons about “stockpiling depth” and “internal options”…there are no internal options. Offensively, the choices are nonexistant. The only possible callup is AAA SS Jordy Mercer, who is hitting close to .300 (.769 OPS). Unfortunately, he has a $10.5MM mistake in Clint Barmes blocking his way at the MLB level. While AAA SP like Jeff Locke and Rudy Owens are having nice seasons, most consider them to have the potential of back-of-the-rotation starters. Taillon and Cole (both at high-A) are the next available “top of rotation” prospects in the system.
5. The Pirates spent $4MM ($7.5MM with option) this offseason on C Rod Barajas. He’s currently posting a .255 OBP and .649 OPS.
6. The Pirates spent $10.5MM this offseason on a 2-year commitment to SS Clint Barmes. He’s currently posting a .206 OBP and .493 OPS. Those numbers almost aren’t even possible. That’s below what some pitchers would bat over a full season. It was just revealed that manager Clint Hurdle made a strong push to add Barmes this fall, so Hurdle now finds himself in a position where he either has to bench a player he is at least partially responsible for bringing in- costing the club millions- or continue to run him and his .206 OBP out there.
(It should be noted that this author and many fans panned these offseason acquisitions from the start. Unfortunately once again, the fans had better foresight and judgment than the men actually running the Major League ballclub.)
7. 3B Pedro Alvarez has continued to struggle after being insterted in the cleanup position, but apparently has such a “fragile psyche” according to columinst John Perrotto that the Pirates won’t move him, or even tell him anything negative. So how is he supposed to improve?
***8. The Pirates currently have TWO (2) (dos) players with on base percentages above .300. That’s not a misprint. Not batting average- on. base. percentage. And yet, because the pitching staff has been throwing out of their minds, this team has somehow been competitive, despite no offensive support whatsoever. It can’t last. Either the offense rebounds to some respectability (less likely), or the pitching staff eventually collapses with the mental and physical wear of knowing they’ll receive next to no run support each night (more likely).
9. During a recent interview, GM Huntington was apparently at such a loss for answers that he said the following, which is concurrently honest and utterly depressing:
“We’re very aware of what our weakness has been so far this season. However, our options are limited when it comes to helping the lineup. There isn’t a whole lot we can do.”
Unfortunately Neal, there IS a whole lot that could’ve been done, but it needed to be happening over the past 5 years while you were on the job as GM.
Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @jim_krug