Starkey: Pirates 'offense' making history
By Joe Starkey
Published: Thursday, May 24, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
Updated: Thursday, May 24, 2012
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 email@example.com.
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@Steve Have disagree with you on one point; blaming Nutting at this point makes no sense. The Pirates spent money this off season and they tried to spend even more but were rejected by two pitchers who signed elsewhere for less. The problem once again is that the money spent was squandered on chits and role players on the offensive side of the effort instead of players who could have made an impact. The Pirates are paying McLouth, Barajas, Barmes and McGehee in excess of $13 million dollars this season to all perform below levels that many in their minor leagues have exceed when given the opportunity. The $13 millions could easily have been spent to acquire one of several free agents who ultimately signed for less and could be helping this team right now. That gets laid squarely at the feet of Neal Huntington and is compounded by the fact that the players they do have are being coached and managed by to utter incompetents name Hurdle and Ritchie. Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington share responsibility for that.
Submitted by: Paul on Thursday, May 24, 2012
Couple of responses: 1. The Pirates' "biggest problem" is not any one player. It's the fact that seemingly out of nowhere everyone in the lineup is unable or unwilling to take a walk. Everyone including walk magnets like McCutchen is preforming well below their career levels and expectations. The degree to which this is occurring throughout the roster would seem to suggest a larger problem not related to any one player. Namely Hurdle and Ritchie's "swing at the first pitch," swing at the second pitch, swing at every pitch and put the ball in play at all costs approach seems to be the culprit. 2. The person "who best personifies this debacle" is not McLouth,it's clearly Clint Barmes. McLouth was signed as a fourth/fifth outfielder and as such as big a liability as he's been at the plate he's not been there that often. Barmes, signed at the behest of Hurdle on the other hand is the starting short stop and while we don't normally expect a lot of offense from that position he's been utterly horrific. Not to mention the team is on the hook for 10 million to him and his defense has been just short of abysmal. That money, combined with McLouth's, Barajas' and what they're paying McGehee is far greater than the cost of what it took to sign Carlos Beltran, Carlos Pena and number of other free agents that could have actually helped the team while Pirates minor leaguers could have done at least as well as the four that were signed and likely better. The team certainly won't miss McLouth if he's released but Barmes is the one who has to go sooner rather than later. 3. As to McGehee, yes he's been a disaster as well but to some degree it's not all his fault as it wasn't all Mike Diaz's either. When is Neal Huntington going to look at the numbers and realize that his team's home park eats right handed hitters with mediocre power for lunch? No matter how many time Pirates' broadcasters shout about a deep flyout to left center being a home run in another ball park it won't change the fact that they don't play in another ball park 81 games a year. Quit acquiring right handed hitters who can't clear that fence and then complaining when they don't. 4. What's truly "amazing" about all this is that with the failures of Neal Huntington this off season, Clint Hurdle's lineup management and Ritchie's coaching so readily and indisputably apparent any of these three let all on all of them still have jobs.
Submitted by: Steve on Thursday, May 24, 2012
Every season, everyone thinks things can only get better but I’ll never be surprised when things get worse. Oh yeah, just like last year, pitching was good but not good enough to win 1-0, 2-1 games like they’ll need to to make up for this Slumber Company, pony league lineup. Until the Pirates have an owner who deserves a winning team, I'd rather this be the result every season. The last thing we need is another fluky reason to be hopeful like last season so that they can raise ticket prices, drum up support and try to make more money from the snake oil they are selling. The fact the Huntington has assembled this lineup of sleepwalkers and still has a job, just reinforces the fact that Nutting has no business whatsoever in owning a baseball club, let alone a winning one. He obviously got into this for investment reasons and should sell the team to someone who’s more passionate about winning if he had any respect for its fans, or the city and how his team reflects upon it but he’s not a baseball person, was never a Pirates fan, and never a fan of Pittsburgh, so he really could care less about the end result, as long as he can see a buck from it. Oh yeah, he says he wants to win but at the end of the day he sleeps just as well regardless of the situation on the field. I want an owner who will shake tress and knock down walls to make things happen and that isn’t Nutting. McClatchy and now Nutting, took what was probably one of the top few respected and storied franchises in baseball history, regardless of how well they were playing at the time or their financial woes, and turned it into its laughing stock, absolute worst. They now are nothing more than a comical punch line to any joke. Sadly, this is what this team deserves and for anyone to be confused and asking how this can be and why they can be so pathetic, you simply have to look no further than the man who owns the team and hires the people that make the decisions and give you what you get. It starts at the top folks, so don’t fool yourselves into thinking that somehow, someway they will win in spite of it. Continue to ignore the man behind the curtain because we all know it’s Hurdles fault. No, wait…it’s Barmes’. Yeah, that’s the ticket.