Fairly or unfairly, one of the criticisms of the Pirates is that, "they could be contenders if they would have built around Bay, Nady, and other players they traded away." This is often tied to the off-hand remark that we’ve traded away our entire 2007 (or 2006 or 2008) starting line-up. I’m sure I’ll hear both of these lines from Mets and Yankees fans when I report back to the salt mines on Monday. So I wanted to jump into the "way-back" machine and see if this criticism holds up.
I looked at the 2007 Pittsburgh Pirates, who finished in 6th place with 68 wins and 94 losses under Jim Tracy. This was the season that ended with the firing (choirs singing allelujah) of Dave Littlefield and subsequent hiring of Neal Huntington in September of that year.
Here are our starting position players and an abbreviated depth chart:
5 3B Jose Bautista Jose Castillo
6 LF Jason Bay
8 RF Xavier Nady
Our team offense ranked:
* 10/16 in batting average (.266 v. a .267 NL average)
* 12/16 in home runs (148 v. a 169 NL average)
* 12/16 in runs/game (4.47 v. a 4.71 NL average)
* 12/16 in total runs (724 v. the Phillies’ league-leading 892)
* 12/16 in stolen bases (68?! The league average was 98, the Mets had 200!)
* 7th in strikeouts (that is, we had the seventh most strikeouts...)
* 8th in grounding into double plays
* Last in drawing intentional walks
Here are our starting pitchers:
1 Ian Snell 9-12 3.76 ERA 1.33 WHIP 6.5 innings/start
2 Tom Gorzelanny 14-10 3.88 ERA 1.39 WHIP 6.3 innings/start
3 Paul Maholm 10-15 5.02 ERA 1.42 WHIP 6.1 innings/start
4 Zach Duke 3-8 5.53 ERA 1.73 WHIP 5.6 innings/start
5 (Yaarrrgghhh) Matt Morris or Shawn Chacon or Tony Armas or Shane Youman and don’t forget (Double Yaarrrgghhh) John Van Benschoten. Some other sadist will have to calculate the average ERA, WHIP, and innings/start for this motley crew. I’m betting a beer that they averaged less than 5 innings per start. Our #5 choir was 15 and 24, although some wins and losses came when they were middle relievers. This group is clearly topped by JvB’s 10.15 ERA and impressive 2.15 WHIP. I’m not saying that we had to write off every 5th game, but ... the stats above reinforce my faint memories (or nightmares?) that 2007 was the year the starting pitching died. I believe the 2008 season was the year the offense died....
Here are some selected bullpen guys:
The "big five" were Matt, Shawn Chacon, Salomon Torres, John Grabow, and Damaso Marte. Between them, they finished 111 games and pitched 320 innings. The fifteen other pitchers who appeared in the bullpen (or as a spot starter) that year pitched 365 innings. In a 162 game season, your pitchers pitch approximately 1,460 innings. That means our primary relievers pitched over 20% of our season’s innings, and our middle reliever scrubs pitched another 20+% of the innings for the season. I have absolutely no concrete evidence to support this, but my gut feeling is that this just can’t be a good thing. That means our five starters (counting only Matt Morris in the number 5 spot) pitched less than 60% of the innings for the season.
How did our team pitching stats rank?
* Our team ERA of 4.94 was 14 out of 16 NL teams.
* Our runs surrendered/per game was 5.22, over ½ a run over the NL average and again putting us 14 out of 16 teams.
* We were 15/16 in WHIP at 1.48; on average, our pitchers allowed 10 hits and 3 walks per 9 innings pitched.
* But, our pitchers "pitched to contact," as we were 13/16 in strikeouts.
* And we were 1st in hits allowed.
* And we were 6th in home runs allowed
So my question for all of the "experts" who think we were one player away from the World Series is, "what the H***" was Neal Huntington supposed to do that he hasn’t done?"
We had just traded for "Lefty McThump," aka Adam LaRoche, aka Adam LaWhiff to cure our offensive woes, give us a power threat, and protect Jay Bay and X-man.
We promoted Ryan Doumit and traded Joggin’ Ronnie, something that the past regime had been reluctant to do even though Joggin’ Ronnie was clearly mailing it in during the 2007 season.
Nate the Great earned the starting center field position even though Chris Duffy was "the veteran" at that position.
Clearly Nyjer, who was a competent back-up, should have been promoted to replace either Jason Bay or X-man because Nyjer was just so great....
We had a gaping sucking chest wound at 3rd base.... I don’t see anything in the pipeline to replace him, although I understand that Neal Walker was "just around the corner."
So what single free agent outfielder, catcher, or 3rd baseman was out there that would have moved our offense into the top half, let alone the top 1/3rd of NL teams????
Similarly, our pitching stats speak for themselves. So what three free agent starting pitchers were we going to sign (even our 1st and 2nd starting pitchers were not much to write home about) to make our pitching staff respectable?
And please don’t tell me that we should have traded from our deep farm system or our Major League roster to acquire the help we needed... What exactly do we expect the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees to give up for Joggin’ Ronnie, Jose Bautista, or Matt Morris (as I recall, after he retired, no one even invited him back for a Minor League contract).
So, when someone tells you that the current regime doesn’t know what they’re doing with these trades, please give them the above facts and ask them exactly what they are supposed to be doing.
 "Joggin’ Ronnie" started 130 games, but Ryan got almost 400 plate appearances.
 McLouth got just under 60% of the plate appearances and hit .258.