StrategyMarch 3, 2009

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Pittsburgh Pirates

By R.J. White

Today in “30 Teams in 30 Days,” we will be taking a look at a perennial National League doormat, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since the glory years of 1990-1992, the Pirates haven’t played .500 baseball in even one season. It hasn’t gotten any better recently, as none of the four previous Pittsburgh teams have cracked 70 wins. Will it get better in 2009?

For a closer look at the Pittsburgh Pirates and the rest of the NL Central, be sure to check out The Can of Corn NL Central Preview Podcast.

Offensive Starters

C Ryan Doumit.318.357.5017115692431
1B Adam LaRoche.270.341.5006625851492
2B Freddy Sanchez.271.298.371759520569
SS Jack Wilson.272.312.348241222305
3B Andy LaRoche.166.252.256175182223
LF Nyjer Morgan.294.345.37526079160
CF Nate McLouth.276.356.497113269423597
RF Steven Pearce.248.294.42264152109

Unsettled: Jack Wilson. Pittsburgh has tried in vain to move Wilson all winter, and with owners counting pennies in the budget this off-season it’s no wonder that the Pirates haven’t been able to trade the shortstop. That doesn’t mean that they’ll give up, though it might take the Pirates assuming someone else’s bad contract to complete a deal. Either way, a guy with no power and no speed is not someone you want on your fantasy squad. If SS opens up for Pittsburgh, deep leaguers should watch for Brian Bixler as an option for steals.

Target: Ryan Doumit, Steven Pearce, and Nyjer Morgan. He likely won’t hit .318 again, but Doumit should be able to at least keep the average around .300. Add in above-average power and you’re drafting Brian McCann-lite in the 10th round or later. Pearce has displayed good power and speed in the minors. If the Pirates commit to him as an everyday outfielder, he could have a McLouth-like impact on your team, making him the top hidden gem in this lineup. Morgan will get the first look in left, according to manager John Russell. He is great on the basepaths and makes for a great late-round pickup for SBs.

The Rotation

Paul Maholm (L)9-93.711.2813963206.1
Ian Snell (R)7-125.421.7613589164.1
Zach Duke (L)5-144.821.508747185
Ross Ohlendorf (R)1-46.461.87493162.2
Tom Gorzelanny (L)6-96.661.806770105.1

Unsettled: Zach Duke and Tom Gorzelanny. Save for Paul Maholm, the other four members of the Pirates staff had seasons they wish they could forget in 2008. Not coincidentally, Maholm is the only pitcher with a spot in the rotation locked up. The two most vulnerable rotation candidates are Duke and Gorzelanny. Duke is very hittable and doesn’t strike out enough batters while Gorzelanny needs to bring the walks back to a respectable level. Jeff Karstens and Phil Dumatrait are the two guys likely to challenge for these spots, but both have already experienced arm trouble.

Target: Paul Maholm. Young pitchers that post sub-1.30 WHIPs tend to get snapped up way before the end of a draft. At 26 years old, Maholm is still unknown to most casual fans due to playing for Pittsburgh. He forces a ton of ground balls, consistently able to induce them at a 53-55% clip. His hit rate suggests that his good 2008 season is repeatable. And unlike most young pitchers throwing 200 innings for the first time, he was actually better in the second half of last year. The epitome of a hidden gem, Maholm is going undrafted in many leagues this year. Don’t let that happen in your draft.

The 8th and 9th Innings

Matt Capps (R)213.020.9739553.2
John Grabow (L)42.841.28623776

Chasing Saves: Matt Capps is another lesser-known talent toiling away in Pittsburgh. He isn’t likely to be in the top 10-12 drafted closers, but the sparkling walk rate shows he is a great ninth inning option and that he could finish in the top ten in saves. He isn’t quite as overpowering as some ninth-inning relievers, but he strikes enough people out that he could become one of the game’s elite closers. Pay the second-closer price for Capps and enjoy first-closer production. Grabow looks to be next in line for saves, though an ugly walk rate makes him the anti-Capps and undraftable in normal-sized leagues.

Final Thoughts

Teams like the Pirates don’t generate a lot of buzz in the baseball world, which usually makes them excellent places to mine undervalued talent. Nate McLouth is really the only trusted commodity on this team, though he still might be a tad undervalued as well. Ryan Doumit and Matt Capps are mid-round guys that will outperform their draft slot. Paul Maholm has starter-quality numbers for fantasy teams yet goes undrafted more often than not. Steven Pearce has a shot at being the next surprise OF that turns into the waiver wire darling of 2009, while Eric Hinske has something to offer to those in deeper leagues. Keep Adam LaRoche in mind for your CI slot.

Yesterday we looked at the Milwaukee Brewers, and we’ll see you tomorrow when we preview the St. Louis Cardinals in the next installment of “30 Teams in 30 Days.” Happy drafting!

R.J. White (or daullaz) has been actively involved in fantasy sports for over 14 years. He is addicted to fantasy sports and loves writing, the Atlanta Braves, music, the Buffalo Bills, theatre, the Philadelphia Eagles, his family, and the number 42, though not in that order.
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