The Pittsburgh Pirates had one of the worst offenses in the major leagues in 2011. That’s no secret. Their .244 team average was tied for 23rd in the MLB and 12th in the National League. They ranked 27th in runs scored and home runs, both also good for 14th in the NL.
And despite Clint Hurdle’s obsession with maintaining a “small ball” offensive philosophy, it’s not as if the Pirates had any sort of elite speed on the basepaths to perhaps help them compete with the power hitting clubs. Their 108 stolen bases were good for just 15th in the majors and 7th in the NL, while their 52 times caught stealing were good for 5th and 2nd.
This season, the Pirates know they have to be better with the bats. The club added short stop Clint Barmes, catcher Rod Barajas, first baseman Casey McGehee and outfielder Nate McLouth to the roster over the offseason. Barmes should provide more power to the lineup than Ronny Cedeno did at short. Barajas isn’t as good a hitter as Ryan Doumit was, but he has some power and isn’t a guaranteed trip to the disabled list like Doumit and Chris Snyder were.
Here are my predictions for the team’s starting infield.
Barajas won’t hit in the same stratosphere as Doumit’s .303 last season, but he should play in more than Doumit’s 77 games and should also provide some power to an offense in need of it.
He’ll likely bat sixth or seventh in the lineup
2012 Prediction: .231, 15 HR
The 30-year-old Jones will likely play first base with a right-handed pitcher on the mound. Facing mostly righties should help Jones’ numbers, as he hit just .147 off lefties last season.
The Jones/McGehee platoon is expected to bat fifth in the team’s lineup.
2012 Prediction: .265, 17 HR
The Pirates are hoping for a season more like McGehee’s 2010 (.285/.337/.464, 23 HR, 104 RBI) than his 2011 (.223/.280/.346, 13 HR, 67 RBI). It seems to be a real crapshoot at this point whether or not McGehee will return to form in Pittsburgh, but a fresh start can’t hurt.
McGehee will likely be the right-handed part of the team’s first base platoon, even though the 29-year-old actually hit better off right-handed pitchers last season.
He hit .298 in 57 spring at bats this year. As meaningless as spring statistics are, that certainly isn’t discouraging.
2012 Prediction: .260, 13 HR
Walker has the potential to be a real catalyst in the Pirates offense this season as he’ll bat fourth in the lineup behind a trio of speedy outfielders.
Walker’s 83 RBI were second on the team last season. I certainly expect that number to rise this year.
2012 Prediction: .271, 14 HR, 95 RBI
Barmes won’t provide much in the way of offense from the 6, but he’s got one of the better gloves in the league and shouldn’t make Pirates fans miss Ronny Cedeno. Then again, I can’t name many players who would.
Barmes hit 23 home runs three seasons ago with the Colorado Rockies and had 12 last year with the Houston Astros. He’ll probably bat eighth in the lineup.
2012 Prediction: .223, 9 HR
Undoubtedly the biggest question mark on the diamond for the Pirates this season will be third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
At 25 years old, the former second overall pick had a miserable sophomore campaign in 2011, batting just .191 with four home runs in 235 at bats after popping 16 home runs and a .256 average as a rookie in 2010.
Alvarez looks lost at the plate. He can’t hit anything that breaks, making him extremely strikeout prone. Some suggested Alvarez should start the 2012 season with the team’s AAA affiliate in Indianapolis, but the Pirates seem set on getting Pedro at bats in the big leagues.
The decision to have Pedro open the season as the starting third baseman couldn’t have been based on his Spring Training statistics, as he hit just .170 with two home runs in 53 at bats this March.
The potential is still there and before I officially label Alvarez a bust, he gets another chance. If he doesn’t start hitting soon, things will get ugly.
2012 Prediction: .222, 14 HR
So there you have it. I’ve officially predicted the seasons off the Pirates’ starting rotation, outfielders and infielders. One of my favorite things to do is compare players’ final numbers to what I expected them to do prior to the season. Most of the time I’m well off the mark, but that’s part of the fun.
The Pirates officially open their season today with a 1:35 PM game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Unfortunately, this our only home series with the Phillies this year. Those are easily the best games of the season to personally attend.
Opening Day 2012.
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