Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here
Overall – 71 points (21st MLB, 13th NL)
Starting Rotation – 27 points (20th MLB, 12th NL)
Line-Up – 33 points (14th MLB, 9th NL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 11 points (29th MLB, 16th NL)
Offseason Additions – None of significance
Offseason Subtractions – None of significance
Biggest Strength– Top of the rotation
There were only 2 teams last year that could boast that they had two 25-and-under starters who pitched 200 innings with an ERA under 4.00. Those two teams? The Tampa Bay Rays (Scott Kazmir and Jamie Shields) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelany). It also marked the first time since 1992 that two Pirates pitchers, regardless of age, went 200 innings at a sub-4 ERA (Doug Drabek and Randy Tomlin). Snell and Gorzelany are nearly the age where pitchers hit their prime. If they can out-do last year, the Pirates will quietly have one of the best 1-2 punches in the NL.
Biggest Weakness– History
Speaking of 1992 – that also happens to be the last time the Pirates had a WINNING RECORD. Not last time they made the playoffs or the World Series, but the last time they had 83 or more wins in a season. That’s really really depressing. At this point, it’s clear they are in the midst of yet another rebuilding cycle and while those two guys at the front of their rotation will win them a few games, it’s unlikely their 15-year streak will end in 2008.
Key Player in ’08– Jason Bay
It appears as though the new Pirates GM, Neal Huntington, is looking to start from scratch. He did nothing, and I mean nothing, in the off-season to improve the team, which in place of the usual pointless signing of a washed-up veteran, can actually be seen as an improvement. His best bet to turn around the franchise is going to be to draft well, and trade a couple of his good players while their value is high. Example 1A is Jason Bay. Bay was phenomenal in 2005 (.961 OPS) and 2006 (.928 OPS) but really regressed for some reason in 2007 (.745 OPS). At 29, a long-term deal doesn’t make sense for the Pirates so the best case scenario is that he regains his ’05-’06 form and they can trade him to a contender with deep pockets for some high-level minor league talent.
Player to Keep an Eye On– Nate McClouth
If there is one hitter who could break-out for the Pirates this year its Nate McClouth. The 26 year old center-fielder led the team last year with a .810 OPS. However, in August and September, when he saw his ABs increase considerably he hit 10 HR with 27 RBI and 16 SB with a .947 OPS. I doubt he will be able to carry that through a whole season, but he has a chance to be a quality bat in their line-up who can also steal some bases.
Outlook/Prediction– 5th Place, NL Central. This is probably not the year that the Pirates will break the .500 barrier, but Pirates fans can take some solace in the fact that they are not the worst team in their division. Their top 2 pitchers will give them a good chance to win atleast 2 out of 5 games and their bullpen is decent enough that when they get a lead, they won’t blow too many games. However, their offense isn’t all the great and they will need a lot of career years to win any 10 runs games.