How ugly is the aftermath?

Forthe most part, reasonable Pirate fans seem to be anywhere from cautiously optimistic to downright enthusiastic about the trades the Pirates made yesterday. Any reaction in that spectrum is acceptable, I think, and we’ve got plenty of time to debate all of that and more as these prospects get into the system and start developing. For now, though, I’d like to do a little examination of team left in Pittsburgh. Bob Smizik has continually asserted that the 25 players left in black and gold amount to little more than a smoking crater on a baseball field, a team that’s got a real shot at losing 41 of their final 61 games and finishing with 100 losses.

41 losses in 61 games is 110 loss baseball. Nationals baseball. Historically bad baseball. The Pirates, as currently configured, certainly aren’t a good baseball team. I’m not exactly certain why so many people think they’re going to be immediately that awful, though. Let’s consider the players lost and how they’re being replaced.

Lastings Milledge will, for the rest of 2009, likely replace Nyjer Morgan in left field. This is immediately assumed to be a universal downgrade, but I’m not sure why. If Milledge can flash some of the bat he’s shown in his minor league stint with the Pirates (he’s hitting .333./425/.433 in 17 games with Indy), left field could easily be a wash, even though Milledge’s defense is a drop from Morgans.

At first base, Steve Pearce and Garrett Jones will probably share time. I don’t think that either player is a long-term answer at any corner infield or outfield position, but they shouldn’t have any trouble replacing Adam LaRoche’s production at first base, which was measured by BP as only 4.5 runs above replacement. And in center, Andrew McCutchen’s bat doesn’t quite match Nate McLouth’s yet, but depending on how you value defense you can argue that ‘Cutch immediately makes up that gap in the field. In terms of total value to the Pirates, I’m not sure there’s a huge difference between the two players.

The big losses come up the middle, because as has been pointed out ad nauseum, the Pirates don’t have immediate replacements there. Ronny Cedeno’s career UZR/150 at shortstop is -4.6, while Jack Wilson’s has been between 15 and 20 the last two seasons. Wilson’s VORP is 6.3 while Cedeno’s is an impressive -14.7. Cedeno is, without a doubt, a terrible player and a big downgrade from Wilson. Doing some quick back of the envelope math, I’d estimate that Wilson is worth, at the absolute most, about four wins per season over Cedeno (the WARP3 bears me out on that). But we don’t need Cedeno over a full season, we need him for a quarter of one. So we’ll lose one more game with him at short down the stretch than we would’ve with Jack Wilson.

Second base is harder to quantify because there’s no significant sample size for Delwyn Young’s defense there. It’s bad, but it’s not easy to say how bad. Since FanGraphs places Freddy as a +6 in the field this year, we’ll assume that for the purpose of roung numbers, Young is -15 and about two wins per season worse than Sanchez in the field. At the plate, Young’s VORP is about 11 after 189 PAs, Sanchez’s was 18.5 through 382. Young probably isn’t that good at the plate and he’ll regress a bit over a full season, but again, we’re just looking at a quarter season here. For the effect of rounding, we’ll say Young at second base instead of Sanchez is also worth about one loss over 40 games.

That’s two losses over 40 games, maybe (**maybe**) three or four if Pearce/Jones and Milledge tank, or of ‘Cutch gets cold over the remainder of his rookie year. The team is currently playing .426 ball, which I think is a fair assessment of their actual ability. That’s a 69 win team over the course of the season, or a 26-35 team down the stretch. If we knock two wins off of that, they’re 24-37, which gives them 67 wins. Sixty-seven wins, hmmm, now why does that sound familiar?

Could the team lose 100 games this year? Sure, they could. But I’d be really surprised if they did.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.