Monday, May 01, 2006

Bad luck or really this bad?

One of the prerecorded segments on KDKA yesterday was an interview with John Kruk talking about the Pirates. Kruk was diplomatic, perhaps realizing that he was a national guy talking to a local Pittsburgh reporter, and he asserted that their horrendous April was just a matter of bad luck. He said the predictable stuff: The pitchers are young with high upside, young pitchers are going to struggle, they have a lot of talent on the team, the veterans have all started slow, I liked the team in spring training and still do, they've made a commitment by spending some money, blah blah blah...

On the other hand, Will Carroll and Brad Wochomurka on this week's Baseball Prospectus radio podcast spent about five minutes talking about Major League Baseball's two biggest disasters, the Royals and the Pirates. They live in Indianapolis and see the Indians play frequently, and they said that some of last year's AAA prospects--McLouth, Duffy, Duke, Snell, and Maholm--fooled them into thinking that the Pirates were making progress toward respectability; but because the rest of the team is so weak, from the major leagues down through the minor league system, the young players who just moved up to the majors aren't likely to make any difference.

"They have one prospect to get excited about in their system (McCutcheon), and he's at least two years away and won't help them much anyway."

Littlefield has been on their show and they seem to like him and think he is an intelligent guy, but they agreed that he has failed and "has to go." Brad reminded Will that Littlefield had just been given a contract extension, but Will dismissed that, saying that things will inevitably get so bad that McClatchy will have no choice but to fire Littlefield before the contract is up. They also acknowledged that, for both the Pirates and the Royals, the real problem is the owner, not the general manager; but you can't fire the owner (despite what some people would like to think).

The only mitigating argument against this doom and gloom came earlier in an interview with Joe Sheehan, who reminded Will and Brad that April records don't give a reliable picture of how good or bad a team is because April records depend on a limited and unrepresentative sample of competition. One reason that the Reds and Astros are doing as well as they are, Sheehan said, is that they've played against two very bad teams, the Nationals and the Marlins.

My brother, who lives in Connecticut and follows the Pirates on the dish, mentioned to me the other day that the Pirates always seem to be playing against a good team. Maybe he's right, and we can look forward to competing when we play teams that are closer to us in talent. But other than maybe the Reds, we don't have those kinds of teams in our division. Because of the unbalanced schedule, we'll be playing the Brewers, Astros, Cardinals, and Cubs a lot this year; so far, we haven't been competitive, and it's hard to imagine that that is going to change.

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