Tuesday, September 21, 2004

New Stats Geek

Brian O'Neill has a new column on the state of the Pirates. I plan to offer my own soon after the end of the season, but in the meantime, here are my thoughts on Mr. O'Neill's.

The Stats Geek take is that it's not unreasonable to hope that some things go right and the Pirates compete for a Wild Card next year. O'Neill's wishes:

1. That Jack Wilson will continue his solid play.
2. That Jose Castillo will continue to improve.
3. The real Kip Wells is V.2003, not V.2004.
4. Jason Bay and Oliver Perez will show they really are this good.
5. Something different will happen in center field.

These are all nice things to hope for, but how reasonable are they?

1. Hey, I admit it, Jack Wilson's a good player and he'll probably continue to be, but 2004 is likely his career year. I've tackled this topic at length elsewhere, so I'll just repeat here that Wilson's batting average will probably dip a bit next year, although I think his power will stick.

2. I'm not sure what to make of Castillo. I thought he had turned the corner after an excellent August, but look at his monthly splits:

Month/OPS
April/.786
May/.637
June/.537
July/.512
August/.971
September/.523

There's no pattern there, and there isn't any compelling pattern of improvement in any of his other stats, either. His monthly on-base percentages are all over the place, and he hasn't hit for power or drawn walks in any month. He's fairly likely to get better simply because he's maturing, but I don't think that's a given at all.

3. It might be easier to hope for good performances from Kip Wells if his elbow were healthy.

4. Oliver Perez is one hundred percent for real - his ERA is right in line with his strikeout and walk totals, and his strikeout and walk totals are right in line with his ridiculous stuff. Just like any pitcher his age, however, he has to stay healthy.

5. It's hard to know what the Pirates will do in center field in 2005. If they stick with Tike Redman, expect more mediocre play. Tike V.2004 is just about as good as it's going to get. Redman's minor league track record looks more like that of an organizational soldier than a major league center fielder. And other than two very freakish months at the end of 2003, he's never shown much in the majors either. Next year he'll be 28. Time to let it go.

O'Neill rightly points out that we don't know what will happen if Jason Bay is moved to center next year - if Bay plays center, there's no guarantee that he'll catch the balls hit his way. But those who've watched the Pirates this year know the same is true of Redman. If Bay can play center at all, he should be moved there, and his corner spot should be filled by Brad Eldred or J.J. Davis or a high-upside youngster the Pirates might acquire (not by Randall Simon or Tino Martinez or Rico Brogna or whomever).

It's not impossible to imagine all of O'Neill's wishes coming true. But it's much easier to imagine that some of them won't. And the Pirates need to improve by about fifteen games next year in order to be a wild card contender. Pretty much all those things need to go right for the Pirates to improve that much. And that's assuming that lots of other things go right: continued excellent leadoff work from Jason Kendall, for example, and no ridiculous Chris Stynes / Randall Simon busts. But aging catchers with lengthy injury histories seem like good bets to decline, the Pirates love veteran free agents, and Ty Wigginton is Chris Stynes waiting to happen. The Pirates would need to be absurdly lucky to contend in 2005. Wait 'til... the year after next year!

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