The State of WHYGAVS: September, 2011

You need something special all right
You need something special to give you hope
But hope’s just a word
That maybe you said or maybe you heard
On some windy corner ’round a wide-angled curve

But that’s what you need man, and you need it bad
And yer trouble is you know it too good
-Bob Dylan, Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie 

The Pirates’ awful August hit me really hard. It wasn’t because I expected the Pirates to win anything of significance in 2011 or because I’ve hit some sort of threshhold for losing as a fan; it’s because the Pirates aren’t in a significantly better place on September 5, 2011 than they were on September 5, 2010. You could argue that Pedro Alvarez falling apart and the four pitching prospects between Altoona and Indianapolis not progressing means that they’re in a worse place today, at least in regards to the near future, than they were 365 days ago. 

This is what worries me: after three years of saying that it’s too soon to judge anything Neal Huntington’s done and that he has a plan and that sticking to the plan is important (and I don’t take any of that back, it’s next to impossible to evaluate a GM that inherited a team like Huntington did in less than a few years), we’re finally starting to see things take shape and I don’t really like how they look. How is this Pirate team honestly going to improve in 2012? Where’s it going to come from? They have McCutchen, who’s a legitimate star. They have Walker, who’s a legitimately useful player but who has limited upside at this point. They have Tabata, who’s not going to hit for power but might be a good leadoff hitter. And that’s all they really have. Alvarez is a huge question mark, Presley is a question mark, Starling Marte hasn’t played above Double-A, and there are huge holes in Pittsburgh at first base and shortstop and catcher without immediately apparent minor league solutions. The rotation is bad and it might not get significant help until Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon join the rotation. That probably won’t happen until 2013. Andrew McCutchen is going to be a free agent after 2015, unless he signs an extension. You can see where my concerns are coming from.

It’s true that the Pirates have enough high-upside young arms in the minors right now to put together an amazing pitching staff in 2015, but 1.) TINSTAAPP and 2.) a GM that takes over after the 2007 season should put a winning club together before 2015. I’m absolutely not saying that the Pirates aren’t going to be good before 2015 or even that Huntington should be fired, I’m just saying that I think the front office is going to have to change things up if they’re going to be successful while Andrew McCutchen is a Pirate. That’s not unusual, I don’t think. Acquiring young talent was the most important thing for the Pirates in 2007 and it’s generally remained true every year, but it’s no longer true. 

This is a scary thing. The Pirates have a razor-thin margin for error: they haven’t hit on every trade or draft pick in the Huntington era, and now they need to be creative. They need to turn over different stones in the free agent market, they need to think about trading from strengths, they need to be willing to call failures failures. These are all hard things to do, and even if they do these sorts of things right it’s no certain success. 

When I started blogging about the Pirates in 2005, I wanted there to be an easy fix to the team’s struggles. Back then, I thought Lloyd McClendon was the team’s biggest problem. I learned pretty quickly that he wasn’t. When McClendon was fired, I thought that maybe the biggest problem was Dave Littlefield and that Littlefield was a symptom of a wicked/cheap/evil/inept ownership group. Kevin McClatchy ushered out and Littlefield followed him closely behind, and now the Pirates are sinking money into places they’d never spent money before. Neal Huntington has consistently kept an eye on the future (something I desperately wanted Littlefield to do) and the ownership has written huge paychecks for the last four drafts and they’re doing all the things that people say small market teams should do and there’s still a chance that they’re not going to be any good in the near future. 

This is what’s hit me so hard about the Pirates’ terrible August. There is no one thing that holds small market teams back: it’s everything. They not only have to have the proper view of how to build a baseball team (much different than the view big market teams have), they have to be perfect in implementing that vision. Being perfect is hard, especially when you’re doing things like predicting how young athletes are going to mature as baseball players. 

After a month of wallowing in my own Pirate self-pity, I came to a conclusion. I could either shut WHYGAVS down, or I could double down and come back with more focus, more analysis, more creativity. I’m a busy guy and I think most logical and sane people would’ve said that 6 1/2 years is plenty of time blogging about the Pittsburgh Pirates, especially if I’m worried that there’s not a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not a logical or sane person, though. I’m a Pirate fan. Maybe I’ll feel differently in six months or a year, but right now, I’m not ready to give up on anything. 

Thank you for sticking with me.

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.