2005 All-Star Break Team Update: Pittsburgh Pirates

By Keith Glab 7/11/05

1st Half Record: 39-48 (13th in NL)

1st Half Runs Scored: 365 (tied 14th in NL with Houston)

1st Half Runs Allowed: 403 (10th in NL)

Keithís Pre-Season Prediction: 81-81 (8th in the NL)

So far in 2005, the Pirates have had an up-and down season. They had two stretches of winning 9 of 12 games, but also three stretches of losing five in a row. Jason Bay has managed to avoid a sophomore slump to say the least, but Oliver Perez has gone from the most exciting young pitcher in the NL to the main reason that the Buccos have a losing record.

Here are the top five reasons that the Pirates will still finish the season at .500:

  1. Oliver was righting his ship before his injury

After a 15-day hiatus between starts in May, Oliver Perez has gone 5-1 with a 4.66 ERA, striking out 52 and walking 26 in 46.1 IP. These numbers donít even approach his dominant 2004 form, and heís still giving up homers at a Franklinesque rate, but Oliver now seems able to give the Pirates a chance to win every time heís out there. Unfortunately after his start on June 26th, Perez broke his toe kicking a cart in disgust. Perhaps this will give him another chance to work on his mechanics with pitching coach Spin Williams and once again exponentially improve his performance after the brief layoff.

  1. The Pirates have a soft 2nd half schedule

There are only four NL teams that went into the All-Star Break more than two games over .500. The Pirates only play 14 of their remaining 75 games against such teams. They have 17 games against Colorado and Cincinnati, each of whom entered the break playing sub-.400 ball. They also have only four series remaining against NL East teams, which are arguably the 2nd-6th best teams in the league. Any way you want to look at it, the next 75 games look very manageable for Pittsburgh.

  1. Craig Wilson is healthy and vigorous

Last year, in the first full time duty of his career, big Craig Wilson had this stat line through May:

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB+HB

AVG

OBP

SLG

183

33

65

15

2

12

34

26

.355

.435

.656

This is how he performed the rest of the way:

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB+HB

AVG

OBP

SLG

378

64

83

20

3

17

48

54

.220

.317

.423

Clearly, Craig was not used to the wear and tear of playing every day, and fizzled out exhausted after an amazing start. Well, Wilson has unwillingly rested most of the first half due to a broken finger, and should be strong for the next 75 games even if Lloyd McClendon decides to use him every day, which is unlikely, given the Piratesí

  1. Glut of offensive weapons

Thatís right. A healthy Craig Wilson allows Jason Bay to move to center field (where he made a spectacular play on Sunday, by the way). The Pirates are now deep enough offensively and versatile enough defensively to create favorable matchups for their hitters. Hereís how their lineups could look:

Versus Lefties

Pos

2005 OPS vs L

#

Versus Righties

Pos

2005 OPS vs R

Sanchez

SS

.386

.500

1

Lawton

RF

.399

.491

C Wilson

1B

.439

.394

2

Mackowiack

3B

.376

.471

Bay

LF

.430

.580

3

C Wilson

LF

.406

.357

Restovich

RF

.323

.466

4

Bay

CF

.366

.533

Castillo

2B

.333

.459

5

Ward

1B

.371

.530

Doumit

C

.348

.421

6

Cota

C

.325

.421

Redman

CF

.326

.535

7

Castillo

2B

.307

.387

Hill

3B

.533

.364

8

J Wilson

SS

.266

.349

Pitcher

   

9

Pitcher

   

Now Lloyd McClendon may not elect to use optimal lineups such as these, but he now has the power and flexibility to not make such gaffes as starting Ward against lefties (83 AB, .562 OPS) or Sanchez against righties (126 AB, .589 OPS).

  1. ZACH DUKE!!!

Zach Duke, Zach Duke, Zach Duke is on fire!

We donít need Oliver, let the mother#&@!er rest.

Rest, mother#&@!er! Rest!

---Bastardization of a mid-90ís dance song

Duke has a quiet confidence all the time, even off the field. He's about as determined and as serious as it gets. One manager told me that if he could clone him, he wouldn't have to say anything to his pitchers all year. I think the spike in his velocity through improved mechanics definitely helped him shoot up his stock this year. But also the improvement of his changeup, giving him a legit third option.

---Chris Kline, Baseball America

Some facts about Pirates southpaw Zach Duke:

Zach Duke isnít the sole savior of this franchise, but rather a symbol of its future: Soon Ian Snell, John Van Benschoten, and a host of killer prospects will join the young nucleus already in place for Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, Mark Redman, Dave Williams, Kip Wells, and Josh Fogg each allow less than one earned run per two innings pitched. With a spark of excitement like Zach Duke as an emotional ignition, and the likelihood of Oliver Perez being able to take his time and return near his 2004 form, expect these Pirates to hit the .500 mark by the end of the season.

And donít be shocked when they contend in 2006.

Keith is a Pirates fan. Fortunately, he didnít let this bias show at all in the writing of this piece. Congratulate him by emailing keith@baseballevolution.com.