By Richard A. Mathews
Nothing beats debating Pirates baseball with you the best Bucco fans in America.
After having been excellently challenged over my contention, the Bucs might surprise the experts as much in 2010 as they did in 1997, I wrote the 3-part follow up series to my front page story, De Ja Vu – Will 2010 be the Year of the Pirates.
Part One today deals briefly with how the 2010 club stacks up against the pitching staff of the 1997 club with Message Board emphasis of how this year’s club will be able to compete against the NL Central.
Part Two will look at how the 2010 Bucco bats compare against the 1997 squad and again how they will stack up in the N.L. Central.
As for Part Three, well, by then the Message Board will have probably have raised so many new questions I’ll use it as my last word.
Enjoy the read.
Half a dozen phone calls and multiple emails later, the 1997 Freak Show starting staff now holds a place of even greater respect in this Pirates fans lore of the team.
It isn’t hard to understand why Baseball’s experts had no faith in the 1997 Buc’s proposed starting five of Loaiza, Lieber, Schmidt, Cook and converted 1996 closer Cordova.
You would have had to look long and hard to find any team in baseball that didn’t have at least one member of their starting five with more career MLB wins than that group had combined.
Neither MLB’s scribes nor executives could have predicted the future success of particularly Schmidt, Lieber and Loaiza.
Only Schmidt held a universal label as a high end prospect that had not yet fulfilled his potential.
Cordova was a complete wild card. Plucked from the Mexico City Reds by
Bonifay, Cordova’s career stat line reads:
3.96 era, 753 Ip, 755 h, 537 k’s, 235 bb’s.
Nobody knows how Cordova’s career might have changed if not for arm injuries.
Even the rotations lone southpaw, Cook finished his career with a solid # 5 starter MLB line of:
4.31 era, 549 Ip, 585 h, 335 k’s, 191 bb’s.
What is too easy to forget is, the 1997 starting rotation was inexperienced yet history proves that staff would go on to prove they had the ability to become extremely effective MLB pitchers.
Lieber, Schmidt and Loaiza have won 131, 130 and 126 MLB games respectfully in their careers.
Loaiza won 21 games with the White Sox.
Lieber won 20 games with Cubs.
Schmidt began a true #2 starter if not the Ace many predicted.
Another fact which is often forgotten is, the 1997 pitching staff playing on the artificial surface of Three Rivers stadium didn’t have the benefits of PNC thick natural infield or outfield surface.
Neither did the 1997 squad enjoy the benefit of PNC's the deep left field including the notch which continues to turn many a mistake into an out not a 375 foot gap shot home run.
I don’t feel many Pirate fans would argue, pitching at PNC is a benefit as opposed to what former staff’s faced pitching at Three Rivers Stadium.
Fast forwarding to 2010, both Duke and Maholm already own more MLB career wins than the entire 1997 starting staff did.
While man Bucco fans and MLB scribes continue to question if Duke or Maholm will ever be more than quality number 3 or 4 starters, both pitchers have the historical stats to be capable of earning a spot in MLB team’s rotation.
Both pitchers own nearly 2:1 kk to bb ratio’s.
Both pitchers own nearly identical career era’s of 4.30.
Both pitchers have consistently taken the ball 28-31 times a year for several seasons,
None of the above could be said for any member of the 1997 starting rotation.
In Russ Ohlendorf, the 2010 Bucs have a potential Ace who had more 2009 starts for the Bucs than Schmidt or Lieber of Loaiza had for the club during their 1996 season.
Lieber actually made 36 relief appearances for the 96 club before Skip put him in the rotation at the end of the season.
Ohlendorf is correctly compared to a young Jason Schmidt.
As a power pitcher who like Schmidt is capable of limiting opposing teams to less hits than innings thrown, Russ is considered by MLB experts as a “must watch” potential 2010 breakthrough prospect.
It is on the combined experience of Duke, Maholm and yes Ohlendorf’s 2009 success I believe 2010 will be a year when this Pirate team can play the type of baseball we the fans will enjoy.
If Duke Maholm and Ohlendorf can take the mound 90-93 times this year and finish the season with the era’s consistent with their prior success, our Bucs are going to win more than 62 games.
Baseball is a game which over the 162 season will see the worst team in baseball defeat the best.
Just having three pitchers who can pitch 28-32 games a season successfully can change the fortunes of any team in any division.
Now add in wild cards such as young Morton or the erratic Hart and maybe just maybe you can win six or seven of those one and two run games that make the difference between a 68-71 win season and something closer to .500 baseball.
Many intelligent message board posters correctly contend, the N.L. Central in 2010 will be much stronger than it was in 1997.
That point is indisputable.
I contend the 2010 Pirate pitching staff has the talent going into the season to be more competitive than it was in 2009 versus the N.L. Central and in MLB period.
Sure the Cards might be a better offensive squad than they were last year.
The Cubs should also improve just on the fact they are unlikely to suffer the injuries they did in 2009.
But on balance, I don't see the five clubs the Bucs will face within the NL Central being a greater challenge as a group than they were in 2009.
There is only so much offensive talent in MLB.
Players do indeed switch clubs year to year although rarely do you see on balance major changes in total offensive production.
As the rosters stand today, I continue to believe the Bucs starting five can be more effective against N.L. Central competition than they were in 2009.
Which brings us to the other side of the pitching equation?
How well will the 2010 Bucs support what could be very effective starting rotation?