The Stats Geek writes about why he thinks the Pirates can hang with the rest of the NL Central next year.
I'm not buying this - I need more than one hand to count the number of arbitrary endpoints in this article. For the uninitiated, "arbitrary endpoints" involve the use of endpoints that don't actually mean anything to support a point the author wishes to make. "The Pirates have XX-XX record since the All-Star break" is an arbitrary endpoint, since a sentence like that is usually designed to make the Pirates look good, as if the first half of the season didn't matter and the second half represents the Pirates' true level of ability.
Okay, so the Stats Geek's endpoints aren't all totally arbitrary. He points out that the current team is pretty different from the team that started the season, what with all the Sean Caseys and Jeromy Burnitzes either gone or banished to the bench.
But there are still two problems with the line of thinking that says that since those guys are gone or invisible, there's reason to believe that next year will be better. Pat has a good new post explaining the first problem, which is that you know the Pirates are going to grab a new crop of the same veteran retreads next year. It's easy to do so, and it's convenient. The Pirates should have a bunch of money coming off the books next year with the departures of Burnitz, Casey and Joe Randa, but remember that those guys were only signed for 2006 anyway. The Pirates could have spent all that money wisely last offseason, and they chose not to. If they don't waste their money again, it won't be because they actually learned anything, it'll be because the All-Star game isn't in town anymore and they'll feel they don't have to spend money at all. The Stats Geek doesn't say the Pirates aren't going to fall for the bad free agent trick this year - in fact, he seems to be implying that they should avoid it - but I don't think any of us believe the 2007 Bucs aren't going to have a Luis Gonzalez or two.
The second problem is one the Stats Geek acknowledges, and then essentially ignores. The "the Pirates are XX-XX since date X" stuff is largely irrelevant because the Pirates' record doesn't match their run differential. They got a dose of bad luck in the beginning of the season but have had good luck since then. (I don't know the exact run differential numbers on several of the Stats Geek's time frames because they're not the usual time frames, but I do know that he mostly omits the bad luck and includes the good.) In the end, the 2006 Pirates have been about as good as their overall record, which is 26 games below .500. They could improve by 15 games and still be nowhere near playoff contention. And even improving by 15 games will be extremely difficult to do, especially since the Pirates' management has shown no signs of being committed to winning.
I applaud the Stats Geek's apparent intention here, which is to convince fans that the Pirates aren't helpless, and that they can get a leg up by avoiding the first problem - paying lots for bad veterans. The Bucs play in a terrible division, a division that shouldn't be hard to win. Indeed, the Pirates aren't helpless, except insofar as a complete lack of brains and vision makes one helpless.
But the Stats Geek implies that the Pirates' path out of their awful holding pattern involves doing something smarter than and better than but essentially similar to what they usually do, which is to grab a couple players in the offseason and prepare for the short term. Unless those players are top-notch free agents, which they won't be, I don't think that will work.
And unless the Pirates can completely scam some team in a trade (which, let's be serious), it also probably won't help much to trade for a good young hitter who will be around for a few years, since the Pirates simply have very little to trade. There's no starting pitching depth whatsoever, and, other than Jason Bay and Freddy Sanchez, no one who can hit. The only valuable, tradable chips they really have are in their infield, and with the way Jose Castillo has played recently, I wouldn't bet on the Pirates being able to swing a deal that way, either - who would trade an Adam LaRoche for a guy who's hitting the way Castillo has recently? That leaves relievers, and who wants to trade a good young hitter for relievers? Well, the Rockies did it with Ryan Shealy, but the Pirates didn't even try to plunder that ship before it sailed.
The NL Central is, indeed, extremely weak. But the Pirates are still a long way from being competitive in it. The franchise is a mess. The Pirates still need to undergo a serious rebuilding effort. They haven't done it since they started losing in 1993 and they probably won't win until they do.