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Look at every column except wins and losses, and it appears that the Pirates have actually gotten slightly worse since the All-Star break. So what has happened?
Obviously, the pitching results have been better in the second half. Part of the reason is that the Pirates figured out who their bad pitchers in the first half were, and got rid of them - Kip Wells, Ryan Vogelsong and Oliver Perez pitched 130 terrible innings before the break. After the break, Victor Santos and B.P. Chacon have been nearly as bad as those three were before it, but they haven't had as many innings to do damage.
Another factor in the Pirates' apparent improvement is that Salomon Torres rebounded from a mediocre performance before the break to post fantastic numbers after it - he has a 1.13 ERA since the break. After Torres, there's some shuffling in the performances of relievers - John Grabow and Mike Gonzalez have been better since the break, Damaso Marte and Matt Capps have been worse, and Roberto Hernandez is gone. All that is pretty much a wash.
So the rest of the apparent improvement has to do with the young pitchers. Tom Gorzelanny has been excellent for the Bucs since the break, but as we learned with Zach Duke and Paul Maholm last year, it'd be unwise to expect Gorzelanny to continue to post a 2.88 ERA next year. Speaking of Duke and Maholm, both have significantly improved ERAs after the break, but neither have peripherals that suggest that they've actually gotten much better (though Duke has been fantastic in his last three starts, and both have improved their walk rates). Maholm still doesn't have the K:BB ratio most starters need to have sustained success, and Duke's strikeout rate has been even more alarmingly, Rueterishly low than it was before the break. Ian Snell is about the same.
So that's it. The apparent improvement by the pitching staff since the break consists mostly of the elimination of a few bad pitchers, the re-emergence of an aging, rubber-armed reliever, a good but unsustainable performance by a young starter, and, I think, improvements by two young starters that don't appear to be real improvements at all. There is reason for a bit of optimism that this group will carry some of its gains forward into 2007, especially since many of them are young, but the improvement they have shown since the break has not been especially dramatic.
The hitting, in contrast, has been far worse since the All-Star break. This is somewhat surprising, since we've seen little of Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa since then. So what has caused the regression?
First, Jose Castillo has taken a huge dive - he had a rock-solid 777 OPS before the break, compared to 578 after. Jose Bautista, too, has completely vanished, with a 646 OPS after the break. Freddy Sanchez is still batting .321 since the All-Star break, but he hasn't hit for nearly as much power he did as he did before it. His 766 OPS after the break is, in my mind, a much more realistic expectation for his 2007 performance than the 917 OPS he put up before it - we'd be very lucky if he split the difference. Xavier Nady after the break has been a downgrade from Craig Wilson before it.
Ronny Paulino, Jack Wilson and Ryan Doumit have been somewhat better since the break and Chris Duffy has been substantially better. Overall, though, the numbers speak for themselves - the Pirates have had the worst offense in baseball since the All-Star break, and most of the reasons why have to do with players they're counting on to produce in the future. Castillo and Bautista aren't nearly as bad as they've been after the break, but I think it's fair to say they aren't as good as they were before it, either.
These trends, I think, should scare us at least as much as the trends among the pitchers excite us. Look at the Pirates' hitters since the break. There's a star in Jason Bay, two players in Sanchez and Paulino who hit extremely well for contact but do little else on offense, an okay offensive shortstop and centerfielder in Wilson and Duffy, and nobody else who's been an average hitter at his position. That's not the foundation of a good offense, and it would take a whole lot of ridiculous pitching to make up for that.
So, have the Bucs actually improved since the All-Star break? Well, only if you believe that winning more games than one would expect based on runs scored, runs allowed, and the components of those runs is some sort of skill. If you ever pointed out that the Pirates lost a ton of one-run games in the first half as proof that they were better than their record, I assume you'll agree that it's not a skill. The Pirates' turnaround in wins and losses is based very heavily on an extreme turnaround in its record in one-run games. Bill James shows us that teams who outperform or underperform their runs scored and runs allowed tend to come back to the norm. By runs scored and allowed, these Pirates are about as good as they were before the break - it's just that now the pitching is a little better, but the offense is a mess. The Pirates are still far from being a .500 team, and they shouldn't try to act like one this offseason.