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Smizik on Littlefield

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Bob Smizik outlines Dave Littlefield's job this offseason.

There's a lot in this article I don't agree with. Smizik illustrates the thinking that might lead Pirates fans to be more disappointed than usual next year if the Bucs don't reach .500:

What appears to be an outstanding crop of young talent -- some of which was drafted by Bonifay -- is coming of age. Zach Duke and Paul Maholm had spectacular partial seasons. Both look like they will be top-of-the rotation pitchers. Chris Duffy, if he hits nearly as well as he did last season, is the answer in center field because he is exceptional defensively. Ryan Doumit has the look of a middle-of-the lineup hitter, although there are serious questions about his defense at catcher. Brad Eldred could hit 40, possibly 50, home runs, but only if he gets on the field regularly, which he won't until he cuts down on his strikeouts.

Would it be possible for Brad Eldred to hit 50 home runs? Yeah, I guess. Anything's possible. But a player has only hit 50 or more home runs in a season 37 times in the history of baseball. Eldred's walk rate isn't anywhere near as good as any of those players were in those 37 seasons.

I don't intend to seem like I'm taking Smizik's assertion that Eldred could hit 50 homers seriously. Obviously, it's absurd. My point, though, is that Eldred is unlikely to hit 40, or probably even 30, unless he becomes a better all-around hitter. Freak things do happen - in 1987, Andre Dawson hit 49 homers and drew 32 walks - but in general, even players with massive power can't unleash it that often until they have some plate discipline (or, at the very least, the ability to hit for average). I think Eldred's going to frustrate people - if he plays every day, he'll probably draw about 30 walks, hit about 25 homers, and have an OBP of .300. Which isn't going to help much. This isn't to say that the Pirates shouldn't give him a shot, but I wouldn't expect much out of him last year. I hope he proves me wrong.

As for Duffy hitting "nearly as well as he did last season," well, that's very unlikely to happen. Duffy had a .385 OBP in the majors last year, which is higher than he's had at any level since he played at Williamsport in 2001. Since he was 25 last season, it's very likely that .385 was a sample size fluke rather than a legitimate spike in performance. Duffy is clearly better than Tike Redman, but the season he had was reminiscent of Redman's in 2003. The Pirates then spent the better part of two years learning the hard way to beware of players who put up strange numbers in small sample sizes.

The same could be said of Paul Maholm, a good prospect who suddenly turned into a spectacular one the day he stepped off the plane in Pittsburgh. Maholm's 2.18 ERA in the majors this year was a mirage - his peripheral numbers don't support it. I think he'll be a good pitcher but there isn't much solid evidence to support the notion that he'll be a "top of the rotation pitcher" the way Smizik thinks he will.

It may sound here like I don't like these young players. Quite the opposite. I just hope that Pirates fans can be realistic about what to expect. There will be growing pains, and when there are, I hope that people won't blame the Pirates' problems on young players the way they have in the past.

That said, Smizik's thesis is basically right, and he's right to point to the Carlos Lee trade last year as an example of the sort of trade the Pirates should be looking for if they really are serious about raising payroll and putting a winning team on the field.