Hey fellow Pirates fans. How've you been? Tonight, for those of you who may or may not know is Kol Nidre, the first night of Yom Kippur. For all actual Jews, Ryan Braun excluded since he isn't even Jewish given that his Mom wasn't and that he's playing tonight on the holiest night of the year, tonight marks the beginning of a day of great reflection. We spend the next 24 hours from sundown to sundown, looking at what went right and what went wrong. So I decided that prior to that self-reflection, I'd do a little Pirates-Reflection.
This past season was the best we've enjoyed since 1997. The squad was capable of beating any team in the league, anywhere until the end of July. Sure, the wheels fell off as the injuries decimated our lineup, trade aquisitions, hurt our defense and in turn our pitching, but the truth is that when healthy we all felt confident in our boys before every game. Well unfortunately though the collapse did occur and we still are picking in the top 10 yet again next June. So the first question is, what went right?
When you look at our season up to the Phillies series, we won based on pitching and defense. Since our starting pitching was based primarily on pitch to contact guys, we can directly correlate their success to a tiny hint of luck but mostly improved defense. So why did the defense improve? Well in the outfield, we stopped playing Cutch shallow and sure enough he covered more ground since he goes forward better than backwards. When at full strength, an outfield of Tabata, Cutch and Presley covered a ton of ground, and Presley and Tabata proved to have strong enough arms to keep runners honest. The team played around 500 ball until Pedro Alvarez got hurt, when our infield defense of Lyle Overbay, Neil Walker, Ronnie Cedeno and Pedro proved to be very good. When Pedro went down, Josh Harrison and Brandon Wood brought better gloves to the position and the team improved significantly in the win-loss column. As for the pitching, Karstens didn't walk people (seriously almost as many homers as walks), and for the most part got guys to put the ball in play on pitches he wanted them to hit, Maholm had his best year in ages, James McDonald overcame a slow start due to a spring training injury to become an at times dominant pitcher and Kevin Correia appeared to have his success based primarily on luck as his peripheral stats didn't match up to his early success. The big key though was Charlie Morton's new arm slot and sinker. For the first time in a long time, the Pirates had what looked like an ace. What went wrong? Well the Pirates just didn't hit well. Low team OPS, high strikeouts doomed the team in games where their starter let them down.
Ok, so now what do we need to do to make that next step and win our division? Well here's a list of what we need to do:
Step 1, Don't mess with the outfield in free agency, an outfield of Presley, Tabata and McCutchen will hit more than enough, but more importantly, it will give us one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. Furthermore, a bench of Xavier Paul or Gorkys Hernandez will ensure we have more speedy depth that can defend.
Step 2, Improve our defense at firstbase again and sign or trade for the best defensive firstbaseman NH can find. This is of the utmost importance. When we DFA'd Overbay, our infield defense just wasn't the same. Having Overbay there to dig bad throws and guard the lines changed hitters approaches against us and gave our other infielders confidence to throw balls they may have held in previous years.
Step 3, Send Pedro Alvarez's to San Diego for the offseason. What? Trade Alvarez to San Diego? Hell no... You don't trade your best power hitter just because he over rotates his front shoulder leaving himself prone to pitches away and sapping his power. You send him to San Diego to go seek out Tony Gwynn for a little bit of offseason work. Ryan Howard did this back before his MVP season. Apparently Gwynn helped him with waiting on pitches a slight bit longer and trusting your hands to do the rest. Getting Alvarez to stand up on the plate and work with a legend such as Tony Gwynn, is exactly what the doctor ordered, but more on this in the final step.
Step 4, As mentioned earlier, Charlie Morton showed to be an apt pupil and picked up a great sinker from Crotta and the arm action to may it magic from Ray Searage. One thing he couldn't do is get lefties out... at all. So if Pedro needs to see a hitting instructor, why not Charlie? My thought is to go out and steal Ace Adams, the best cut fastball teacher in all the land, from the Cardinals. Ace taught the cutter to Mike Adams, Cliff Lee and many others. With a cutter in his repetoire, Charlie would have the tools of an ace and could begin his acent to dominance. Oh which reminds me, before we teach him a cutter, let's buy a couple of those free agency years eh?
Step 5, Go nuts on minor league free agents in the pen. Jose Veras was a beast last year. Our pen was great and to ensure it stays great, we need to keep adding random bodies in the hope that we continue to catch lightning in a bottle.
Final step, Ok so what else did I forget to mention... Hmmm why did we start losing in the first place anyway? Oh riiiight, that Barry Lamar Bonds fellow left and we've been cursed ever since to lose more games than we win. Barry has always been a polarizing force to baseball fans everywhere outside of San Francisco, and he has been mostly hated in PGH since he left. I think it's about time we forgive the big guy and start remembering him in the same way we remember Stargell, Clemente, Kiner, the Waner Bros, Dave Parker, Honus Wagner and Brian Giles, as one of the greatest players ever to don the uniform of the Pittsburgh Pirates. For whatever reason, Barry hasn't been given the chance to be a special instructor in Spring Training by his beloved Giants (speaking of teams who can't hit a lick). Lets reverse the curse and bring back Barry Bonds as a special instructor to work with Pedro Alvarez, Garret Jones and Alex Presley on hitting (we'll make sure he doesn't work on throwing from the outfield, lol) and maybe have a Barry Bonds throwback jersey giveaway day and honor the guy for his great achievements pre-roids as a bucco. Curse would be reversed, and with Pujols and Fielder maybe leaving for a different division, we just might win the Central next year.
Anyways, enjoy your Jewish high holiday gentlemen.