Pittsburgh Pirates: Three Quick Questions

Pittsburgh Pirates baseball old logoLast year, a lot of noise was made about the Pittsburgh Pirates’ successful second half — OK, successful for them — in going 40-41 in their last 81 games (they went 27-54 in the first 81). The second-half surge seemed an indication that the Bucs were turning a corner, and manager Jim Tracy was making progress. Looking at that progress, as well as a number of bright-looking young pitchers littering the roster, it appeared that the Pirates might make a move upward in the NL Central. However, it was not to be — and Pittsburgh fans have been looking forward to the Steeler’s training camp since June.

I reached out to Cory Humes of Pittsburgh Lumber Co. to get a Pirate fan’s perspective on the Bucs’ disappointing season.

1. As a fan, how do you approach the rest of the season knowing the Bucs have no chance at all in making the playoffs? Do you watch the youngsters more carefully? Look for signs of improvement that could roll over to next year? Or start paying attention to the Steelers’ training camp?

What’s troubling, I think, is that the Pirates AREN’T watching their youngsters more carefully. We still see Tony Armas trotting out to the mound, still see Cesar Izturis making starts, still see Jack Wilson, Shawn Chacon, Salomon Torres and Damaso Marte wearing black and gold. It’s not as if the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate is brimming with loads of hot prospects that deserve call-ups, but you’d like to see guys like Ryan Doumit, Josh Phelps and Steve Pearce earn significant playing time—the Pirates have all but said those three will be counted on to contribute heavily in 2008. I’m not asking to throw them into the deep-end headfirst, but it might not hurt to test the water a little.

It’s important to develop a winning attitude, and there’s no such thing as a truly meaningless game—but at the same time, we’ve got players to evaluate and a top draft pick to earn. I’ll feel no better about the Pirates if they win 73 games this year instead of 67 or 68. We fans got burned last year when they played .500 baseball in the second half because we expected them to have that same kind of success this season.

If only Willie Parker could hit a baseball.

2. Last year the Pirates had an outstanding second half that was supposed to spill over in 2007. If the Buccos were to play, say, .600 ball from here on out, would you buy into the idea (again) that it was a sign of good things to come in 2008?

Their second half stood out last year mostly because they played such abysmal baseball in the first half. After going 30-60 to start the year, they finished with 37 wins in their last 72 games—a marked turnaround. The young pitchers progressed, guys like Chris Duffy, Ronny Paulino and Jose Bautista hit pretty well, and the team as a whole seemed to gel. Talk about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But none of that spilled over, as you pointed out, even though the core of the roster remained relatively unchanged over the winter.

This season, I don’t think I’m as concerned with the team’s winning percentage as I am individual players’ performances. If, say, Paulino hits .350 from here on out, I’d be excited. If Zach Duke comes back from his extended stint on the disabled list to throw well in a few September ballgames, I’d be optimistic. If Xavier Nady gets healthy and meshes with Jason Bay and Adam LaRoche in the middle of the order—and they’ve yet to all click at the same time—I’d consider it to be a promising turn of events.

But no, their record doesn’t mean much at this point. Until the Pirates figure out how to stay afloat in April and May, winning in August and September won’t mean much.

3. Are Dave Littlefield and/or Jim Tracy on the hot seat?

Kevin McClatchy announced mid-year that he’d be stepping down as the team’s CEO at season’s end, and so I’d imagine his successor would be in place well before the winter meetings. And any new regime would expect to bring in its “own people.” I doubt that a baseball man would take the Pirates’ job without being assured that he’d have full reign over the team’s operations. To allow your hand to be forced by tight-fisted owners is career suicide.

Given Dave Littlefield’s track record, you’d certainly believe he’d be on the hot seat. Jim Tracy’s entering a lame-duck year, so his future will be known soon enough, too. Pirate fans might be a bit too critical of Tracy—it’s hard to determine exactly how he’d manage given a half-decent roster with which to work—but everything that’s said about Littlefield is justified.

The front office changes that are certain to come might be more interesting than any free agent signings—and they’ll be infinitely more important. If the Pirates miss the boat here, they could doom themselves to another five or 10 years of failure.

Thanks again to Cory for providing his viewpoint on the Pirates. By the way, Corey asked me a few questions regarding the Mets on the Pittsburgh Lumber Co. blog — check it out and let me know what you think of my answers (teaser: follow that link to find out what falling frogs have to do with the success of Brian Lawrence).

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.