Yesterday, I looked at the everyday players from the '08 team and compared them to the projected '10 everyday players. Today, I'll look at the pitching staffs.
Something was bothering me after I posted yesterday. I guess it's because I didn't really address the problem I had with Smizik's piece. The premise of Smizik's post was Pirates manager John Russell and his "outrageous" belief that this year's roster is the most talented he has ever had since he began in 2008. Let's forget that Smizik tries to bring economics into the mix for no reason whatsoever and focus on the meat of the post.
I clearly disagreed, so I looked at what that roster in 2008 looked like going into the season and how they performed. Then I compared that information to the current roster and how they are projected to do. I picked the '08 team, because that was the team Smizik pointed out in the comments section below his post (I cannot stand how he posts in bold on other people's comments; why not just make a separate comment yourself?).
Despite my initial reaction that the '10 everyday lineup was more talented than the '08 everyday lineup, my conclusion was the opposite. Clearly, it was the pitching (spoiler alert, it is!). But the more I thought about it, the more I believe that my assertion was correct. The '10 lineup is more talented. They may not be more valuable, but they are definitely more talented. That '08 lineup was filled with guys that had either reached or surpassed their peak, while the '10 lineup is filled with guys who have yet to reach their peak (with Doumit and Iwamura as the lone exceptions, and possibly G. Jones). The '10 lineup is much younger, which means it is far less proven than that '08 lineup, but also means that they have potential to be better. It certainly doesn't mean that they will be better, but given the pedigree of these guys there is reason to think they may be above average/all-star players (Clement, LaRoche, McCutchen, and Milledge have all been top prospects in baseball at some point in their career). Xavier Nady was a top pick, but the rest of the '08 lineup was filled with overachievers like McLouth, Bay, Wilson, Sanchez, and Adam LaRoche.
I could easily be churning bullshit just to support my argument, but I think pedigree, age, and minor league performance should be taken into account. In all of those categories, this 2010 lineup looks a lot more potent than before. And if these guys live up to that potential, it will only prove that this bunch is much more talented than any Bucco team in recent history (like, 17 years). Well, maybe I shouldn't go that far. Although looking back at those teams, the real problem has been pitching during the streak, which includes the 2008 staff, one of the worst in team history (6th to be exact).
Ace: I am using this term quite loosely, but for arguments sake, let's just look at Paul Maholm than as compared to now. 2008 was supposedly Maholm's breakout season when he had a 3.71 ERA, and then he took a step back in '09 with a 4.44 ERA, so obviously he's going to get worse, right? Actually, Maholm has gotten better every year since '06, posting a better FIP every year (I'm going to be using FIP a lot, so read up here, it's basically a run average that is based on K, BB, and HR- things that the pitcher is independently responsible for). In '08, Maholm was worth 2.8 WAR, and is projected to pretty much duplicate this past season with a 3.3 WAR season in '10. He will be just 28 in this upcoming season and there is no reason to see regression as he's been durable and he has a pedigree of improvement. I would actually rather have the '08 Maholm, because he would be younger and more valuable, but the'10 Maholm is more "talented" and will perform better than he did two years ago. '10
Second Starter: And this is where the gap widens. Let's stick with someone who will be on both teams. Zach Duke was not as bad as his 4.82 ERA played him out to be in '08, as he put up a 4.40 FIP over 185 IP, which calculated as a 2 WAR pitcher, but he improved this past year and should be better than a 2 WAR pitcher this upcoming season unless he falls apart (the fans have him projected for a 2.8 WAR season). The biggest difference between the two Dukes is the defense he has behind him, and this year's should be much better than that '08 defense, despite missing Jack Wilson. It remains to be seen, but having Milledge/McCutchen instead of Bay/McLouth in the outfield will turn a lot of hits into outs, and extra-base hits into singles. '10
Third Starter: I should have said this is really where the gap widens. Ian Snell was coming off a great '07 season and was rewarded with a nice fat contract. And then he went out and put up a 1.4 WAR season in '08, despite his 5.42 ERA (he suffered the most from that terrible outfield defense in '08, with a FIP of just 4.57). This was the start of a complete destruction to Snell's career and he is now Seattle's problem (although the Bucs are still paying his salary). Despite people's excitement for Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton is the better pitcher. Morton put up a 1.2 WAR this past season despite pitching only 97 innings. The fans are projecting Morton for a 2.5 WAR season, while others have some good things to say about him. I don't think it's that hard to see that Morton is more talented than Snell was in the '08 season. '10
Fourth/Fifth Starter: I'm lumping these guys together to show how lackluster the rest of the rotation was for the Pirates in '08. Tom Gorzelanny amazingly threw up a 6.35 FIP over 100 IP (good for -1.0 WAR!). And then everybody remembers Matt Morris, or, as I like to call him, Dave Littlefield's last F-U to Pirates fans. Morris made five starts, pitching 22.1 innings of 7.03 FIP baseball. On top of those two studs, we threw out guys like Phil Dumatrait (actually not terrible over 11 starts, just below average), Jeff Karstens (despite the Perfect Game, he started nine games with a 4.77 FIP), Jason Davis (I remember one good start out of four, 4.90 FIP), Ross Ohlendorf (not good at all when he came over in the Nady trade, 5.29 FIP in five starts)... This is where it gets interesting; John Van Benschoten (former first round DL bust, got five starts, managed an amazing 8.42 FIP... you have to be striking no one out, walking every other batter, and letting up a HR an inning to get that high of a FIP), Yoslan Herrera (five starts, an amazing 9.82 ERA despite just a 4.88 FIP... the defense must have been taking a cigarette break when he was on the mound), and then lastly, The Great Jimmy Barthmaier (three starts, 8.07 FIP, one hell of a name).
I really shouldn't have to say that Ross Ohlendorf, despite not pitching as well as his ERA in '09, will put up thirty starts (hopefully) that will be better than any thirty starts put together by these schleps. Ohlendorf was worth only 1.1 WAR this past season, while the fans have him at 2.1 WAR for this upcoming year -if he can keep the ball in the park, I think it's doable. And then we look at guys like Daniel McCutchen/Kevin Hart/Brad Lincoln... hell, even Virgil Vasquez will be better than what the Pirates threw out there every fifth day in '08.
Bullpen: This is tough, because Matt Capps was damn good in '08, and as was Damaso Marte. John Grabow had a solid ERA (2.84), but his FIP (4.54) showed him to be lucky (because God knows the Pirates were not playing good defense behind him). But other than that, the Bucs were giving way too many innings to guys like Tyler Yates (73.1 IP/4.24 FIP- actually that's not too bad, I think it was that he started the season so well, and then became the "Eraser" in the last few months), Franquelis Osoria (60.2 IP/5.04 FIP), Sean Burnett (56.2 IP/5.16 FIP), T.J. Beam (45.2 IP/5.23 FIP), and Denny Bautista (41.1 IP/5.09 FIP). And you know what that added up to? A league worst 4.78 FIP in 567.2 IP, worth a league low 4 WAR. That is abysmal.
Let me amend what I said at the beginning of this section: this is easy. There is no way the '10 bullpen will be that bad... it's just not possible. Please tell me it's not possible... Well, instead of making the argument, Matt Bandi did it for me over at Pittsburgh Lumber Co. He has this year's bullpen as being about middle of the pack, which isn't anything special, but it must be better than the garbage we tossed out there in 2008.
Done and done. Just based on the pitching staff, there is absolutely no way the '08 roster was more talented than the upcoming '10 roster (and we're not even sure how that lineup is going to shake out). So I'm gonna have to go with JR on this one Bob, which should make sense because I'm pretty excited for the talent on this year's team as well.
I don't really blame Smizik, he's not that smart, so he probably didn't look past the names on the lineup card in thinking that that '08 team was any good (McLouth, Bay, and Nady were the best offensive outfield in baseball at certain points in the season; too bad they were where singles go to become triples), but it doesn't excuse the fact that their defense was terrible, which combined with their horrid pitching staff, led to 884 runs against (that's a mark only bested by the 2000 Buccos in the past fifty years).
If the 2010 Buccos are not as talented as the 2008 team, we are in for a longer haul than I thought. I think I can now safely say that that won't be the case, and better days are to come.