Starkey: Pirates 'offense' making history
By Joe Starkey
Published: Thursday, May 24, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
First, a public service regarding speculation that the Pirates are the most anemic offensive team ever assembled.
They are not.
Not yet, anyway.
But they are on pace to become the second-lowest scoring team of the expansion era, which dates to 1961. After a lifeless 3-1 loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday, the Pirates are averaging a miniscule 2.863 runs per game. Elias Sports Bureau tells us that number would place them third among the worst offenses of the past 42 years.
The five lowest-scoring teams since ‘61 ...
5. The 1968 L.A. Dodgers (2.90)
4. The 1969 expansion San Diego Padres (2.89)
3. The 2012 Pirates (2.863)
2. The 1968 Chicago White Sox (2.858)
1. The 1963 Houston Colt .45s (2.858)
It gets worse. A college student sitting next to me at PNC Park feverishly looked up numbers on FanGraphs.com and discovered that the Pirates are on pace to post the SECOND-LOWEST ON-BASE PERCENTAGE OF ALL-TIME, behind only the Brooklyn Superbas of 1908.
What is a Superba?
The kid didn't know. Neither did anyone else. Meanwhile, the Twittersphere kept spitting out mind-blowing Pirates numbers. ESPN Stats and Info fired off this one: “The Pirates have 14 games scoring one run or fewer. That matches the most for the team in first 44 games since 1918.”
The kid wanted to go deeper on the Pirates' .269 on-base percentage.
“These numbers only go back to 1900,” he said. “Let's go back before that.”
No, no, let's not. Let's stick with the obvious here: The Pirates have put together a historically horrendous lineup — so far wasting a top-five pitching staff — and the best answer they can think of is Gorkys Hernandez, who made his first major league start yesterday and failed to get a ball out of the infield.
You'll notice a couple of the teams listed above were from 1968, known as “The Year of the Pitcher.” Bob Gibson had a 1.12 earned run average in 1968. Denny McLain won 31 games. Major League Baseball subsequently took the drastic measure of reducing the height of the mound from 15 inches to 10.
What will it do for the Pirates, bring out tees?
Though I'm not sure which player best personifies this debacle, Nate McLouth will do. General manager Neal Huntington brought McLouth back to Pittsburgh last winter on a one-year, $1.75 million contract. McLouth was mired in a mysterious two-year slump, had been sapped of his power, was coming off a sports hernia injury and turned 30 in October.
Other than that, he seemed like the perfect fit.
I realize McLouth is not the club's biggest problem. The middle of the order is a much bigger one (followed by the top and bottom), but he is annoyingly symbolic of Huntington's inability to acquire competent bats. So is Casey McGehee, whose struggles, like McLouth's, were predictable by anyone with access to a laptop. Just last season, McGehee's .626 OPS was third worst among qualified hitters. Both players have been in decline.
McLouth was supposed to be insurance in case Alex Presley failed.
Frankly, though, I'd rather see Presley up here instead of working his way back from the minors (although as of yesterday afternoon, he was near The McLouth Line at Indy, hitting .143).
At least Presley had a 12-game hitting streak. At least he provides game-changing speed.
Many of McLouth's at-bats have been painful to watch, none more so than his three-pitch cameo to end Sunday's loss at Detroit. That one had the look of a last one, but he was still here Monday.
This team cannot afford to carry an alleged fourth outfielder with no home runs, a .140 batting average and a .175 slugging percentage. McLouth is batting .000 as a pinch hitter (0 for 13) and has the same amount of RBI (two) as 49-year-old Colorado pitcher Jamie Moyer.
So when does Huntington admit the McLouth mistake and move on?
When does somebody DO SOMETHING?
Of course, the GM also must ponder the futures of McGehee, Yamaico Navarro and his manager's hand-picked shortstop, Clint Barmes (would this be a bad time to point out that erstwhile Pirates shortstop Ronny Cedeno went 5 for 11 in the series?).
Josh Harrison, with four walks in 253 career at-bats, was your leadoff man yesterday. Hernandez, a light-hitting novice, batted second. Neil Walker again was miscast as a cleanup hitter.
Huntington hung on until June 16 two years ago before shipping out .182-hitting Aki Iwamura (and his knee brace). Who knows how long he'll hang onto McLouth?
Even one more day would be amazing.
This whole thing is amazing.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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