- Feb 20, 2002
MINNESOTA -1½ -105 over Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh Pirates, projected to lose more than 100 games by just about every publication before the season, currently stand at 9-11. After a 1-6 start, they’ve now won series over the Cubs, and Brewers, and the Tigers, and split a four gamer with the Padres. And they’ve done it without their most promising player, Ke’Bryan Hayes, who just had a setback recovering from a wrist injury suffered in the season’s first week.
[FONT=arial !important]This isn’t one of those feel-good snapshots, don’t worry; the Pirates still sport the fourth-worst run differential (-18) in all of baseball. If anything, the flaws in the team’s roster proved even more ruinous than the computers could predict. Starting shortstop Kevin Newman has an OBP higher than his SLG, and said OBP is .215. The entire team’s production from center field prior to last night, when Bryan Reynolds moved over to fill in, was a typo-like .086/.197/.103. Right fielder Gregory Polanco is posting a .592 OPS, which actually qualifies as a bounceback given how bad things were last year. It’s those usual fun April mirages that have kept the team afloat, like Adam Frazier (139 OPS+, 123 DRC+), Colin Moran (156 OPS+, 92 DRC+) and JT Brubaker (45 ERA-, 66 DRA- … okay, Brubaker might actually be pretty promising).
[/FONT][FONT=arial !important]Pittsburgh’s 9-11 record is more of a statement about 9-11 records in modern baseball. Glance through the team leaderboards and you’ll quickly discover that the Pirates look pretty average. On offense their walk, strikeout, and contact rates put them right around the middle; their fielding is generally fine, and their net offensive output by simple measures like OPS are, again, adequate. Similarly, again just looking at results rather than process, their bullpen has come in slightly above the middle by both ERA and xERA. The rotation is a shit-show, of course, but it’s hard to be average about everything.
[/FONT][FONT=arial !important]Except they aren’t really average, even if they look average, in the standings or in the leaderboards. This is the modern game, where 10 teams are acting like there’s a super league and twenty are just relieved there’s no relegation. The lack of balance is pulling the mean away from the median, and the Pirates are here, helpfully, to draw attention to that fact. Three teams in the National League are above .500. Half the divisions in baseball have a lone team with a positive run differential; none of those teams are in first.
[/FONT][FONT=arial !important]Yes, the preseason favorites for each AL division are currently in their respective basements. And yes, it’s only a 10th of the season. But what we’re seeing right now is a league with a bunch of superteams that haven’t, at least in terms of results, looked all that super. (And the Dodgers.) And in the vacuum created by that underperformance, instead of unexpected ascendance, you have the Pirates and the Mariners and just generalized chaos. Which is fine, but we all know a correction is coming and right now Pittsburgh has a better record than Minnesota. That cannot be and thus, it’s time to get in on the correction.