Friday, April 2, 2010

2010 Pittsburgh Pirates Preview: Pitching

The Pirates season is approaching fast and furious and if you are like me then you are ready and pumped for this year of Pirates baseball. This is going to be a turnaround year for the Pirates, we hope, in the quest for becoming a contender in a low market situation. Going into this season there isn’t too many question marks for the Pirates team in terms of position players and pitching staff. What is the real unknown is how these players will take to a full season in the major leagues and how they can segway into players such as Tabata, Alverez and Lincoln. Here is a little preview I have put together for the Pirates season and this starts with the pitchers, both starters and bullpen for the Pirates in the 2010 season.

The Pirates will undoubtedly be led by Zach Duke and Paul Maholm at the top of the rotation. This will be the Pirates 1-2 punch and will be looked upon to continue from a good 2009 campaign. Last season Duke recorded 11 wins, tied with Ross Ohlendorf for tops on the team. Duke also recorded a 4.06 ERA in 213 innings pitched. He was tops among starters with 2.16 SO/BB ratio, which is what he has to do. Zach Duke is not going to get you 500 strikeouts in a season or throw a 98 MPH fastball like Randy Johnson used to. He understands what his limitations are and he can work the corners and hit his spots, which makes him a good pitcher. Duke’s downfall is giving up home runs, 23 of them last year, but that is what you get if you miss when you only throw in the high 80’s. Whatever the deal Duke is probably a number three pitcher that is forced into a number one role so he needs to produce for this staff to be productive.

Paul Maholm is Duke’s partner at the top of the staff as another reliable lefty at the top of the rotation. Maholm finished a subpar 2009 season with a 4.44 ERA in a little over 194 innings pitched after a 2008 season where he blew up with a 3.71 ERA and anchoring the starting staff and accounted for nine wins after winning 10 in 2007. If Maholm can pitch like he is capable the Pirates can have a pretty solid base of the rotation. Like Duke he is not going to overpower anyone so he must by methodical and hit his spots and not worry about striking batters out. Maholm has averaged over five strikeouts per nine innings in the past five season so he can get the punch out, but working the zone and letting hitters put the ball in play is going to be his strength. I feel it should be a good season for both Duke and Maholm and if they can both secure double digit wins then they can push some confidence in the rest of the rotation to pick up the slack and get some wins.

The rest of the Pirates rotation should consist of Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton, Kevin Hart and/or Daniel McCutchen. Ohlendorf is the best of the rest when looking at the rotation and should pick up from a very solid end to the 2009 season. Ross came to the Pirates from the Yankees in the Marte/Nady trade and racked up a sub-4.00 ERA last season while grabbing 11 wins, tops on the team with Zach Duke. Along with the strong numbers Ross put up as a starter last year he was also an intern with the U.S. department of agriculture so he is also one smart cookie. Being smart and intelligent could be the biggest asset that a pitcher can have, and Ohlendof has that.

The last two spots of the rotation will be taken up by Morton, Hart and McCutchen. Morton is thought to have the spot locked up and right now it looks as if McCutchen has the inside track on the fifth spot. The Pirates got Morton from the Braves for Ted Williams, I mean Nate McLouth, and only pitched in 18 games for the Pirates, starting all 18. He picked up five wins and supported a 4.55 ERA. Morton actually had a decent year, albeit short with the Pirates, and if he can cut his walk ratio of 3.7 per nine innings pitched he will be successful in the four spot for the Bucs. Kevin Hart has been downright shitty in the spring so Danny McCutchen should get the fifth spot. Last season McCutchen appeared in six games and gave up 17 runs in over 36 innings pitched. That was the first McCutchen has pitched in the big leagues so we can assume he will be better this season but there will be growing pains. He will struggle this year but this is the fifth spot in the rotation so you can’t expect 19 wins, although it would be nice wouldn’t it?

The rotation only got 30 wins last season so it wouldn’t be too much trouble to expect more wins than that out of the rotoation. I see bigger and better things and if Duke, Ohlendorf and Maholm can continue to build off their strong performances it will be a better season. Not a playoff season, but a step in the right directions.

The pen is a whole new territory for the Pirates. It was nothing less than terrible last season with blown save after blown lead during the season. There are the returners including Even Meek, Joel Hanrahan to join newcomers Brendan Donnelly, Jose Ascanio, Octavio Dotel, Chris Jakubauskas and Javier Lopez for a much stronger bullpen than last year, at least on paper.

Octovio Dotel will be the Pirates closer this season after being with the Chicago White Sox for the past two seasons. Dotel was a closer last in the 2007 season when he was with the Royals and was in more of a set up role with the Sox most recently. Dotel posted a 3.55 ERA and averaged 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings and only 65 batters in 167 innings pitched over the past two seasons. He will be back in the closers rold and it will be interesting to see what goes on from a closers roll. He will defiantly pick up more than 11 saves he had for the Royals in the 2007 season, pending health.

Joel Hanrahan will be the Pirates set up man even though he has been hurt much of spring training on the DL with an arm problem (go figure right). After coming over from Washington he supported a 1.72 ERA in 33 games pitched. He is by far one of the more exciting pitchers in the Pirates bullpen with a lot of potential. Imagine what a change of venue. In 34 innings with Washington last season Joel put up a 7.71 ERA and was much better in the Steel City.

The rest of the pen will be shouldered on newcomer Brendan Donnelly who has been as steady as it comes out of the pen. In his eight years in the big leagues he has posted under a 4 ERA in seven of those years with the exception coming in 2008 after a comeback from Tommy John surgery. He will be solid this season, it is in the numbers.

Meek, Ascanio and Lopez should also be big parts of the bullpen. Meek will mainly work some middle and long relief for the Pirates after a 3.45 ERA last season in 41 appearances. Meek can gas it up but can be all over the place. It will be interesting to see his development. Ascanio is a hard thrower that has pitched in 35 career games with a 4.99 ERA, while Lopez had a terrible 2009 season (9.26 ERA) so it will be interesting how much work he gets early for the Pirates.

The pitching staff should fair better than last year but you never know. I could give you all the stats in the world but that doesn’t mean anything. If the Pirates can throw strikes and not walk hitters then they can be successful. If they walk batters and throw balls down the middle of the plate then it is going to be a long year for a team that can’t rely on the three-run home run.

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