Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable – 6/17/2008

Question #1:
Do you expect Freddy Sanchez to rebound in the second half of the season? Why?

Mike from Hyzdu Headquarters
I really don’t know what to think about Freddy Sanchez. I think that his shoulder is still bothering him. So I feel that will hinder any rebound talk for him. I do think he will play slightly better this year, but I don’t think we’ll see a return to form for Freddy later this season. I would think we should consider it an accomplishment if he ends up hitting .280 at the end of the season.
Andy Smith from Bugs and Cranks
I don’t expect anything more than slight improvement from Freddy Sanchez in the second half, simply because it would be hard for a hitter with his pedigree to be this bad for the course of 162 games. However, I don’t think any rebound is going to be dramatic enough to put his final numbers anywhere close to the last two seasons. I attribute this primarily to his injured shoulder, which, supposedly won’t improve with anything but offseason rest. Sanchez has never been a guy who takes a lot of walks, so his OBP is closely tied to his batting average, and, with his health the way it is, a great leap forward in this area seems like too much of a great leap of faith.
matskralc from Marooned on Federal Street
First, Freddy was never that great a player in the first place. 2006 batting title considered, he still only put up a .290 EQA that year. He followed with a very average .270 in 2007. Iím sure he wonít finish 2008 with the .202 he has right now, but Baseball Prospectusís PECOTA only saw a .263 for him this year: thatís almost dead-average. His ďcollapseĒ, while remarkable, isnít quite as bad as it may seem.
OK, so, whatís caused his collapse? Batted-ball types can help tell us. If heís still hitting line-drives, then heís just getting unlucky this year. When we look at them, we see something very interesting: his batted ball types are almost the same theyíve always been. 25.3% of his batted balls are line drives (the most likely to be a hit). In 2007 it was lower, 22.5%, and in 2006 it was 27.5%. His groundball percentage is up slightly, 43.2% in 2008 compared to 39.1% in í07 and 37.0% in í06, but not enough to fully explain his huge drop-off in production.
Freddyís .364 BABIP in 2006 was surely unsustainable and the product of very good luck, but his .264 BABIP this season is the product of very bad luck. His .328 from last season is probably more realistic. Based on his batted ball types, we can reasonably expect Freddy to perform the rest of this season as he did last year. Just as soon as the luck turns around.
Jesse from Raise the Jolly Roger!
I really do because he is hitting the ball hard, but just in the wrong spot. I expect him to hit about .290 for the year.
Matt Bandi from Pittsburgh Lumber Co
While Freddy should improve to some extent on his remarkably poor performance in 2008, I do not expect anything dramatic. He continues to sport some of the worst plate discipline in the league, and because of this, opposing pitchers have not given him much to hit. His amazing contact skills have bailed him out in the past, but it appears to be coming back to bite him as he grows older. His patience has improved a bit as the season has progressed, and he has seen more strikes as a result. But he is still swinging at over one-third of pitches outside the strike zone. That is not a good recipe for success.
Freddy just does not have much value outside of singles and doubles, and those are not falling for him right now. He will need a second half performance similar to last seasonís to approach anything resembling solid numbers. I am not too optimistic.
Steeltown Mike from Steeltown Sports
With the way that John Russell adjusts the lineups each day, I think Freddy might get back up to about .260 – .265, but I don’t think that will qualify to many as a “rebound”. With Bay, Doumit, and Nady hitting so well, and McClouth, too, when Sanchez is placed ahead of him in the order, pitchers are going to come right at him. When Bay was struggling the past couple of seasons, pitchers weren’t as concerned about him. Now that he’s healthy, opposing teams know that getting Sanchez out, particularly with his on-again-off-again shoulder injury, is very important to minimizing damage from the heart of the Pirates lineup.
Question #2:
As we near the halfway point of the season, what are your feelings on John Russell as a manager?

Mike from Hyzdu Headquarters
I really think that John Russell has done an excellent job at the helm for his first season. He has juggled the lineup at certain points this year to try to maximize the offensive production. I don’t know how much credit should go to him specifically, but the decisions to play McLouth and Doumit more have been huge. He has done an adequate job with the rotation. There have been times when he may have left a starter out there longer than they should have been but every manager does that. And his use of the bullpen has been about the same as the rotation. Perhaps the most important thing so far has been how the team has continued to stick it out this year. How much longer they can do that remains to be seen. So far I’d say JR has done a good job.
Andy Smith from Bugs and Cranks
I think it can be pretty hard for a fan to judge the efficacy of a manager, but as far as my powers go in that area, I’ve been nothing but impressed. He seems much more flexible than Jim Tracy, building a line-up around the strengths of his team rather than some pre-conceived notion of how a starting nine is supposed to look. I come back to Nate McLouth getting the nod over Nyjer Morgan in the lead off role to start the season. It always seemed to me that Tracy would have at least platooned Morgan into that spot, because with his speed he played more like the traditional prototype first hitter. Other than that, the players seem happy, the team’s flirting with .500 and he doesn’t have an irrational obsession with the 2004 National League Western Division champion Los Angeles Dodgers; works for me.
matskralc from Marooned on Federal Street
I donít like Russell a whole lot. Heís tactically poor, buying into too much of the bunting and hit-and-running and all that stuff that we know doesnít actually help that much. He does seem to manage his pitchers better than Tracy ever did (he seems to have a shorter hook and is slightly less beholden to bullpen roles, but still not enough). Iím uncertain how much credit to give him for playing time decisions (i.e. playing Doumit), as I get the feeling thatís a directive from up high.
What I really donít like about him, though, has nothing to do with winning baseball games. Russell never seems to care. I certainly prefer a laid-back guy to a constantly on-edge personality, but Russell has turned laid-back into an art form. I mean, no manager can save this team, but at least McClendon convinced me that he cared about what happened on the field. Iíve seen more fire from government bureaucrats than I do from Russell.
Jesse from Raise the Jolly Roger!
I’ll be honest, and I really don’t think he is the guy. Bautista should be playing a lot more than he is. Also, he just does not have any fire. We need an aggressive manager that will fight for his team, without looking like an idiot (Ozzie). An example would probably be Cox or Leyland.
Matt Bandi from Pittsburgh Lumber Co
I have mixed feelings on Russell. He has gotten some of the easy decisions right, starting McLouth and Doumit at their respective positions. But heís also made some moves that have been real head-scratchers. The fact that Freddy Sanchez is still hitting at the top of the order is baffling. He currently has the lowest on-base percentage of any qualified player in Major League Baseball. He has crippled the top of the order with his numerous outs. Russell also relies far too heavily on the sacrifice bunt, repeatedly giving away valuable outs.
But the most important task for Russell this season is to keep the team motivated and playing hard. The players cannot quit on him the way they did on Jim Tracy late in 2007. And he has clearly succeeded in this aspect. The Pirates have refused to concede in any game, coming from behind numerous times. That is unfamiliar territory for the team, as we have become accustomed to watching them go down quietly when trailing late in games. As long as Russell keeps his players focused, I can handle some of his questionable decisions.
Steeltown Mike from Steeltown Sports
I really can’t complain too much, actually. Here is a man without any major league managerial experience (though he has been around some…but it’s a different animal when you’re the man), given a team with several “platoon” situations when he comes in, deficiencies in their infield defense, and a team that really has little hope of competing in the next 5 years. The fact that the Pirates are only two games under .500 entering the Chicago White Sox series tells me that Russell has been running things about as correctly as a fan could ask for.
He handled the Paulino/Doumit situation perfectly (even though I’ve been an outspoken Paulino favoritist the past season and a half). He has a strong bench…something the Buccos haven’t had in recent memory. And they lead the league in Batting Average and Slugging Percentage with runners in scoring position with two outs. That’s an attitudinal change I’m not used to seeing in this team. He’s also selected his coaching staff not necessarily from his own crew of loyalists (a la Jim Tracy).
He has had a tendency to leave starting pitchers in a bit too long, but not like Tracy used to. And Russell is young enough in this that he’ll learn.
Of course, the Pirates’ ERA is among the worst in the league, so, for Russell, it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation when the game is close.
On a four-star scale, so far, Russell gets at least a three.

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One Response to “Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable – 6/17/2008”

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