Monday, May 19, 2008

What are we looking at here?

Rather than recap two games that I didn't watch, but were nothing terribly special from what I could decipher (besides the Nate McLouth stuff, that is), I'm instead going to use this post to address some issues that I've been meaning to talk about for a while but haven't really had a chance or an opening to do so until now.

Currently, the Pirates are two games under .500. They only lost by one run today, which means that with a fortuitous bounce or two, this team could very well be sitting at 22-22 today. That's an entirely unexpected turn of events for the Pirates and it's one that clearly has some people excited about the team. I'm certainly happy about this because I hate watching crappy baseball and I like it when the Pirates win. If I didn't like it when the Pirates win, this blog most certainly wouldn't exist.

That being said, I'm not all that concerned with the Pirates' record at any point in the month of May. What I am concerned about is what their performance means in the context of the whole season. That's how I think. I'm not a journalist by trade; I spend most of my time in a lab. Each baseball game is a singular event in itself, but it's also a piece of a giant puzzle that's the season. After digesting the game and the result, that's how I try to look at things. When we win, my thoughts are, "Great, we won, what does that mean." This is why I don't get excited about Zach Duke when he throws six shutout innings, but puts eleven guys on base and only strikes out one batter. A game can have a fluky final result, but seasons rarely do. Sure, sometimes Pete Vuckovich wins 18 games and a Cy Young Award without having a great season, but that's far from common. More often, the guys that have good starts that aren't supported by their peripherals come crashing back to earth.

I'm not writing this as an indictment of fans that are excited about the Pirates and their almost mediocre start to this season. I'm writing this because I take a lot of crap for being negative about this team and I think it happens because people don't always realize that I'm generally writing with a bigger picture in mind. Four years ago, I was at the double-header where Rob Mackowiak put on one of the greatest single-day individual performances in the history of the team. After his heroics, the Pirates were .500 and I was excited. I was 19 years old and I was convinced that the team I had just watched was going to be the team that finally broke the Pirates slide. When that team fell apart in short order after that May series against the Cubs, I was legitimately heart-broken. Part of me knew I was stupid to get my hopes up, but I was mostly upset that I had let a team full of bad players fool me into thinking they were different. If I'd taken time to actually look at what had happened up to that Memorial Day weekend series, I would've known that their record at that point was a flash in the pan and the other shoe was coming.

What do we have with this particular Pirate team? They're a team that's much better on offense than the 2007 version because they replaced two offensive black holes with Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit, and Jason Bay is actually hitting the ball. Unfortunately, they're getting no offense from shortstop, second base, third base, or first base. When the guys at those positions come around, the guys that are on fire now are going to cool off because their performances are generally unsustainable. The rotation is awful. Tom Gorzelanny isn't going to magically click back into 2007 form and neither is Ian Snell. Paul Maholm has always been an inconsistent pitcher that shows tantalizing flashes of competence that are spread few and way to far between. Zach Duke has a nice record and a decent ERA, but there's not one other thing he's done during the season to suggest that either is sustainable for any amount of time. Phil Dumatrait's been a nice surprise, but it's an awful sign that he's our second best starter right now and it's going to take more than a handful of starts to convince me that this is going to last, especially given his control problems. Just like the rotation, even if Gorzo and Snell start to come around, Duke and Dumatrait are likely to tail off severely.

I'm sorry to be so negative, but, as Rob Neyer used to say, I'm not a pessimist, I'm a realist. When I think something is good, I'm going to tell you that it's good (for example: Nate McLouth is awesome and while he may not slug .600 or hit 40 home runs this year, his awesomeness is not likely to go away ... I believe this to the point that when Charlie and I were working on a soon-to-be-published piece, I didn't even do a double-take when we found ourselves comparing him to Brian Giles) and when I think something is bad, I'm going to tell you it's bad. Right now I'm seeing a team with a decent record that might hang around .500 for a while due to their schedule, but in the end is going to be exposed for the bad baseball team that they are. I'm sorry if reading that ruins your day, but it's what I'm fairly certain is going to happen. I hope I'm wrong.