Tuesday, July 15, 2008

2008 Midseason Review: The Obscure

It's the All-Star Break, which I guess means it's time for me to do some kind of mid-season review, even though we're already well into the second half of the season. This year, I'm going to do three review posts and we'll call the "The Obvious" (or things from the first half that we all know), "The Obscure" (or things from the first half that I think I know and at least half of you will vehemently disagree with me on), and "The Murky" (or things that none of us know, but I will make a blind stab at figuring out). Today: The Obscure.

Adam LaRoche is not nearly as bad as he seems
I know this is not a terribly popular opinion, but it's true. In May this year, LaRoche hit .257/.328/.476. It's not fantastic, but it's serviceable. Since June 14th, he's hit .349/.430/.651, which isn't fantastic, it's MVP-calibur. That leaves us with April and the first half of June in which he didn't hit at all. Last year at the All-Star break he was hitting .239/.324/.439 at the break last year, he's hitting .251/.330/.434 this year.

LaRoche's problem is similar to the one that Jason Bay had a couple years ago. Bay's problem was that his swing is effortless and when he's not hitting it looks like he doesn't care. LaRoche's problem is that his swing is so big that when he's not hitting, it looks like he's never going to hit again. He's not a great first baseman by any means and he's not the savior of the franchise that Dave Littlefield thought he would be, but most of us knew that before the trade even happened. He's just not a guy worth getting worked up over.

Freddy Sanchez is incredibly unlucky
I should've linked to this almost a month ago, but if you check The Hardball Times, you'll see that Freddy Sanchez's batted ball data (LD%, GB%, FB%) is almost identical to his batted ball data from last year, making his huge drop in production kind of insane. Matskralc runs the numbers and you can check them out on his site, but expecting Freddy to hit well (EDIT: well for Freddy, meaning like a .760 OPS with a .300 average or so) in the second half isn't unreasonable.

Tyler Yates is a time bomb
This isn't even that obscure, but if you watch the Pirates broadcast this year and look strictly at ERA, you might accidentally get the impression that Tyler Yates is a good reliever. Good relievers don't walk 33 batters in 47 and 2/3 innings, especially when the have 33 strikeouts, and the certainly don't have a WHIP of almost 1.60. Get ready for this to become a nightmare in the second half.

Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell are not the only things keeping us from a .500 season
The statement, "This team would be in contention if they had a mediocre pitching staff," is a true one. It's also incredibly misleading. Last year, with Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny pitching very well, the Pirates gave up 846 runs. This is a ton of run and it landed them third to last in the National League. The Pirates pitching staff in 2007 was nowhere near mediocre. It sucked. This year, the bullpen probably worse (I haven't run the numbers so don't hold me to that), but Gorzo and Snell are struggling and the fifth starter spot has been even more disastrous than last year. This year the Pirates' staff on pace to give up in the neighborhood of 900 runs (incidentally, Gorzo and Snell are on pace for a VORP almost exactly 50 runs worse than last year). The offense, for all of its improvement, is on pace to score slightly less than 800 runs. If the offense scores 790 runs and the pitching staff gives up 850, we're still a bad baseball team. The point is simply this: we're miles away from a good pitching staff and having Gorzo and Snell fix themselves is only part of the puzzle.