Should we really be focused on the pitching?

If you haven’t seen it yet, one of our new FanHousers, Jeff Fletcher, did a Sunday piece about the Pirates’ pitching staff and talked to Joe Kerrigan and Zach Duke about the improvement in the rotation this year (you might have noticed that we’re hiring real writers at FanHouse now). The whole thing is interesting, but what really grabbed my attention was Kerrigan talking about what he saw when he first watched film of the Pirates’ staff:

“I saw a bunch of good deliveries,” Kerrigan said. “The numbers I saw just didn’t add to up to what was on the video. I saw too many guys who were sound with their mechanics. It just didn’t make sense.”

Duke, a mainstay in the Pittsburgh rotation for the past four years, said he didn’t get it either.

“The talent has been here the last few years,” he said. “It’s just been a matter of taking that talent and putting it into actually winning games. We’re finally learning how to do that.”

I thought that was interesting, because it is kind of true. I mean, every pitcher currently in our rotation except for Jeff Karstens was a pretty serious prospect at some point in time and both Colborn and Andrews focused on mechanical adjustments with the staff. Could it be that Kerrigan is just a better “professor of the game” if you will, and he’s taught the pitchers what to do with their talent?

I guess that’s possible, but the answer is really something else. Look at this screengrab from this morning.

pitching leaders 042709

Look at the right side of that chart. You know what I’m going to say. The Pirates aren’t even in the ballpark with the other teams with good ERAs when it comes to strikeouts. In fact, they’re last in the league in strikeouts right now. I can’t imagine a team has ever lead the league in ERA while finishing last in strikeouts. Through 18 games, the Pirates’ defense has had to make somewhere between two and five more outs per game than the defenses behind other good pitching staffs. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it adds up very quickly.

For now, the Pirates are getting plus defense (according to FanGraphs’ UZR) from everyone who’s played a significant amount of time in the field except Nate McLouth and Ramon Vazquez. Can it last? Adam LaRoche is on pace for his best defensive season by a good measure. Vazquez is likely to get a lot of playing time at short with Jack Wilson out and he’ll see more time at second if Freddy Sanchez gets hurt. Freddy is suddenly playing second like a much younger player. How long can that last? Can Morgan’s speed keep making up for his awful route-running?

I know the pitching is the hot topic for conversation, but I think that the defense deserves a lot more credit and they might have a lot more control over how long this hot start lasts.

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.