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Pirates vs. Cubs, 19 April 2008

Tom Gorzelanny and Jason Marquis, 1:05 PM. Here's the box.

In honor of the Cubs, I declare today Pessimism Day! Well, only after I wrote what follows and realized it was a huge downer, but still. This one's for you, Chicago.

Dave Cameron's recent article over at FanGraphs about Justin Verlander's loss of velocity this year had me wondering about Gorzelanny, so I checked. Here are the average velocities on Gorzelanny's fastballs the past three years:

2006: 91.7 MPH
2007 89.9 MPH
2008 88.3 MPH

Of course, Gorzelanny's only had a few starts this year and radar guns aren't the most reliable tools in the world, but these numbers didn't surprise me; his velocity has appeared to be off all year. Taken on its own, the loss of velocity is not a trivial matter, as Verlander's case shows. Combined with the "shoulder irritation" Gorzelanny suffered this Spring and his abuse at the hands of Jim Tracy last Fall, it's grounds for pretty serious concern. That's what I'd watch for today.

By the way, it's off topic, but check out the decline in Matt Morris's average fastball velocities:

2005: 89.2 MPH, 5.47 K/9
2006: 88.5 MPH, 5.07 K/9
2007 87.4 MPH, 4.62 K/9
2008 86.0 MPH, 3.24 K/9

The correlations between those numbers couldn't be any more clear. Barring a major turnaround, Morris's days of being a useful starter are behind him.

-P- One more link: The mothership has an article about the Pirates' bench. I'm not really sure what the point of it is, but it mostly just made me think, "But the bench has been horrible, hasn't it?" So I checked the stats and yes, it has.

In fact, it's startling how much of the offense has come from just three players:

NAME OPS Comments
Nate McLouth 1.098 Great
Xavier Nady 1.019 Great
Jason Bay .881 A resurgence?
************** ***** ***************
Ryan Doumit .841 Very good
Chris Gomez .711 Useful
************** ***** ***************
Doug Mientkiewicz .658 Bad
Ronny Paulino .625 Worse
Jose Bautista .507 Awful
Freddy Sanchez .498 Hideous; shoulder trouble?
Nyjer Morgan .492 Dismal
Luis Rivas .462 Crime against baseball, but somehow not worst hitter on team
Adam LaRoche .458 Disastrous; it's April, after all
Brian Bixler .412 Running out of synonyms for "awful"
Jack Wilson .298 Fighting injuries

When the dust clears, what will we have here? McLouth and Nady are pretty plainly playing over their heads. The Pirates will almost certainly make up the difference by getting something from LaRoche, Sanchez and Wilson. Still, it's startling how little all but the top five guys are contributing.

Whatever happens, the bench is pretty likely to continue to be terrible; the Pirates just have too many marginal players for that to not be the case. They have exactly one bench guy - Gomez - who's doing a decent job. We've all hated watching Luis Rivas out there, and while Rivas is a complete abomination, it's not like we're going to run out of reasons to want to pull our hair out once Wilson returns and gets Rivas out of there, because there are several other guys on the bench who are hitting as badly as Rivas is, just in more limited roles. Once someone else gets hurt, who will the Pirates turn to? Steve Pearce is the only ready solution.

One way to improve the bench might be to send Morgan down and bring up Kevin Thompson, who's off to a pretty good start at Indianapolis. Thompson would at least provide a big of right-handed power, which the bench has too little of right now. He's probably be only a marginal improvement, but that's the best Indianapolis has.