As a long-suffering Pirates fan, I have to constantly defend my loyalty to the team – usually, I claim insanity and let it go at that. I’m currently trapped in New York. When I point out that the Yankees buy championships, the locals respond, “The Pirates have had good players – if they had just built around Aramis Ramirez ... or Brian Giles ... or Barry Bonds ... or Jason Bay ... or Doug Mientkewicz, they could’a been a contenduh....” Obviously, many Pirates fans feel much the same way.
I say, “It just ain’t so.”
So, I’ve decided to painfully revisit part of our sordid history. What I intend to do for each year is lay out – in broad terms – how the Pirates’ year went and their strengths and weaknesses. Then, you get to be the General Manager and make a decision. Fairly or unfairly, the options are roughly the same as the Pirates had that year. I don’t believe in “magic wands,” so I don’t have an option where the Pirates sign Pedro Martinez, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Albert Pujols in one swell foop (whatever that phrase means).
All the info I’ve using is from www.baseball-reference.com. I’m not a stats guru, so I try not to bog down figuring out what UZR/BA*OPS – ∫(k/IP +whip)3 equals. I’ve grabbed players and stats that catch my eye in a quick review, but I haven’t intentionally cherry-picked the stats (meaning, I haven’t presented selected stats specifically to spin the outcome). If I recognize a player’s name, even if for an obscure reason, I may mention that player. Also, I had a difficult time finding the free agent class for each year, so feel free to help fill in those blanks. All in all, I’m just trying to pass the dull (i.e., hockey) months until spring training begins.
I’ve really only become deeply involved in the Pirates again in the last few years and since I have to start somewhere, I picked 2001. I was almost back home (living in central PA), could watch the Bucs regularly, and even went to a couple of games. Enjoy, or let me know that this is just sucking the life out of the page, and we’ll go from there.
2001 was a great year – it was the closest to home I’ve lived since 1984 and I got to see a few Pirates games, and Cal Ripken’s last game, with my son. Looking at the roster, I’m surprised to see that the Pirates’ core group of position players included Jason Kendall, Jack Wilson (only 23 years old in his first Pirates year, but only hitting .223), Aramis Ramirez (34 HR, 40 2B), and Brian Giles (37 HR, 37 2B, and 7 3B). Unfortunately, the rest of our line-up included nobodies such as Kevin Young (blocking Craig Wilson, who hit .310/13 HR in 158 AB) at 1st, Pat Meares at 2nd, and Gary Matthews and John Vander Wal in the outfield. I’m gonna’ go out on a limb and say there was nobody of note on our bench.
If you wanted to build from within, Nashville had future stars such as Ryan Secrist’s brother, Reed (well, maybe not), Humberto Cota, Tike Redman, Craig Wilson, and Rob Mack-o-wack. At Altoona, we had Ryan Doumit (for two games), John Grabow, and Mike Gonzalez. Among our rookies, 22-year old J.J. Davis had a .882 slugging percentage in A ball. We drafted John Van Benschoten (to go with Vander Wal) eighth overall in the draft and Chris Duffy (8th round), Zach Duke (20th round), and Rajai Davis (38th round). We also drafted future Arizona Diamondback Stephen Drew, but he did not sign with the Pirates (or anyone else for 3 more years while he played college ball). So, where we were just one free agent away from a dynasty?
The Pirates ended 2001 with a 62-100 record. How? It appears that we had a pretty lousy pitching staff. Our first three starters – Todd Ritchie, Jimmy Anderson, and Dave Williams – had a 23-39 win/loss record and an average ERA of 4.42. I’m not sure who Arroyo (5 wins, 7 losses, 5.09 ERA) and the 28-year old Jason Schmidt (6&6, 4.61 ERA) replaced. Our bullpen looks atrocious – Joe Beimal (7 wins, 11 losses, 5.23 ERA) and Omar Olivares (6 wins, 9 losses, 6.55 ERA) set up for Mike Williams, who had a 3.67 ERA and 1.440 WHIP. (Or they pitched middle relief, as they have more IP than Arroyo and Schmidt.) The rest of our pitchers toiled – badly – in obscurity. Too bad they weren’t more obscure. This sure seems to be the cause of our 100-loss season, as we scored about 660 runs (4/game) and allowed about 860 runs (5.3/game). I bet a lot of frustrated batters watched leads melt away after a key home run.
Before the 2001 season, the Pirates made a move that has haunted us to this day, sending A. Ramirez to the Yakult Swallows of the Japan Central league. (Alex, not Aramis – this is the trade everyone complains about, right? During the season, we traded Enrique Wilson (who I don’t remember, save for a recent post) to the Yankees for Damaso Marte, who we traded to the White Sox after the season ended. Marte appeared in 23 games for us and had a 4.71 ERA. We also traded the 28-year old, 4.61 ERA Jason Schmidt to San Francisco for Armando Rios (a middle-aged outfielder) and Ryan Vogelsong (a young pitcher). Interestingly, Schmidt’s ERA went to 3.39 pitching for the Giants – I’ve always wondered if we relied on pitching coach “Spin” Williams too much. There were, of course, a host of other moves – feel free to tell me if you think I missed a key move, like granting Rich Loiselle free agency.