By Richard A. Mathews
Contrary to common belief, I really do listen to the men and women who cover MLB for a living.
Contrary to common belief, I don't pretend to be the personal friend let alone peer of these individuals who have spent their lives either playing, coaching, scouting or covering the game.
Maybe just maybe Mr. Bob Walk might recognize me if we met on a busy street. While I have heard Mr. Walk speak at fund raisers and Pirate public events, Bob Walk doesn't know me any more than he knows any other Pirate fan.
But if you want to hear Mr. Walk's thoughts on this 2010 Pirate season shared with a common fan during our time spent together on a snowy Saturday while our wives shopped, please consider reading on.
To set the scene correctly, I noticed Mr. Walk trailing behind his wife Laurie while I was shopping with my wife and daughter.
Being a basically useless husband whose opinion didn't matter, I crossed over to Mr. Walk and introduced myself. Mr. Walk's sons attended the same high school as my children. I mentioned I had heard him speak along with the Rock at several Baseball Smoker's.
That fact broke the ice and appeared to put him at ease.
When I admitted being a die-hard Pirate fan who once wrote daily for OnlyBucs.com, he smiled.
The next thing I knew, we were talking Bucco baseball.
As he had during every pre-season discussion on the Pirates I have now heard for years, Mr. Walk began his analysis of the team based on his thoughts on the Starting rotation.
Not to burst anyone's bubble, for as long as I have heard Mr. Walk speak, his opinions on pitching begin from a unique perspective rarely heard voiced.
Owing to the privacy of the conversation, I will not put in print any words which might be taken out of context as negative.
I note his perspective because it is one often misunderstood during his analysis.
Bob Walk was a pitcher. A pitcher who had two very different careers. Mr. Walk learned the difference between striving to achieve potential based on his athletic ability and what its takes to be a successful MLB player by learning to become a competitive MLB player.
I had previously heard Mr. Walk speak of pitcher's who had all the physical tools to become Ace's yet never learned how to be successful in the majors due to the fact they refused to learn how the game must be played.
Mr. Walk believes 1 - 4, the Bucs 2010 staff is as potentially sound as any in recent memory. What surprised me in his discussions on the staff were his views on Charlie Morton.
Morton's pure physical ability in Walk's view is exceptional. But, to Walk, Morton's approach in learning to become a successful MLB pitcher could make him a future true #2 starter if not perhaps Ace.
Walk's discussion on the bullpen was admittedly guarded. Bob like many true baseball insiders understands, there is a very real risk when you build your bullpen on older pitchers which have a history of arm problems.
Mr. Walk will tell everyone who will listen, the anticipated bullpen could be very good.
But like many a former starting pitcher he will also tell everyone, if the starters don't get the job done, the bullpen cannot be expected to carry the team.
Bob has always been a fascinating analyst when speaking about position players.
No matter how hard he tries, he just can't help looking at hitters as if he was still pitching against them even today.
No matter how hard he tries to be objective, the look in his eyes and tone of his voice convey a far more positive view than his guarded comments.
The short version of Mr. Walk's assessment is,
If and that is the key work If, the projected starting lineup performs as expected, this team is going to be able to score a ton of runs at times this year.
Walk can't help thinking like a starting pitcher nor does his analysis of the team's offensive ability stray very far from his pitcher's viewpoint.
Again the short version is, If the starting staff can keep the score close, this group of hitters will see enough strikes consistently to put the ball in play or as he hopes out of play over the fence with very often.
Walk's view of the lineup with the exception of the wild card at first, Jeff Clement is very straight forward and I believe fairly well accepted.
The lineup through Clement has no excuse not to hit and hit at a position by position level which would make it competitive.
Like many realists, Mr. Walk isn't predicting Jones to simply pickup where he left off having shocked the baseball world off half season production.
That fact admitted, he views Jones as having the tools and dedication to the game to learn how to become a solid MLB hitter.
Mr. Walk isn't sure who will win the job at shortstop but doesn't feel either player will fail to be adequate at worst hitting out of the eight hole.
Those three thoughts were really the only ones which are worth mentioning as Mr. Walk views the other projected position players fairly consistent with what the Message Board largely contends.
We wrapped up our conversation with my request for his prediction on the season.
He shock his head and smiled at me before saying,
"You've heard it before for the last couple years how I lay out my reasons why the team just might surprise everyone. But it seems like every year when the team is coming close to turning the corner something happens."
I agreed but asked, "Do you think if everything breaks their way for once they might put together a winning season in 2010?"
He just smiled and said, "I don't want to jinx them but I sure hope so."
Mr. Bob Walk was and will always be a die-hard Pittsburgh Pirate.
If I miss quoted him in anyway, that is my fault not his.
When Bob Walk talks, I do listen.
Let spring training begin.