By John Perrotto
Only so much can be culled from spring training statistics as a number of factors can skew the numbers, including a very small sample size, a disparity in competition and windy conditions that can turn Grapefruit League ballparks (especially the Pirates’ McKechnie Field in Bradenton) into a home run haven.
Yet it is still fun to look at the spring stats. Some of those numbers might even provide some clues about how certain Pirates might fare in 2010.
The most alarming statistic is that Pirates pitchers have walked 77 batters in 150 innings through the first 17 exhibition games. That works out to an ugly 4.62 per nine innings, or more than one every two innings.
The biggest offender of the bases on balls has been right-hander Kevin Hart, who has walked 13 in just 4 2/3 innings. The Pirates badly want Hart to be the fifth starter rather than Daniel McCutchen because they see the see the great potential he has with a 95-mph fastball.
However, Hart has done nothing since coming from the Chicago Cubs in a trade last July 30 to suggest he can be an effective major-league starter. He went 1-8 with a 6.92 ERA in 10 starts after the trade last season with 26 walks in 53 1/3 innings.
Charlie Morton has walked eight in 13 2/3 innings and also been tagged for three home runs. There is little doubt Morton has the best pure stuff of anyone in the Pirates’ starting rotation. However, the walks and homers suggest that he hasn’t figured out what to do with that stuff.
The bases on balls bug has even bitten left-hander Zach Duke, normally a reliable strike thrower. He has walked six in 8 1/3 innings. Couple that with him going 3-8 with a 5.17 ERA in 14 starts in the second half of last season and it seems the Pirates should have sold high on Duke last summer and traded him after he was selected to the All-Star Game for the first time in his career.
Meanwhile, some Pirates’ hitters are putting up good numbers, none better than reserve outfielder Delwyn Young, who has five home runs in 33 at-bats. The Pirates couldn’t jump off the Young bandwagon fast enough at the end of last season, trading for Tampa Bay second baseman Aki Iwamura and his $4.85-million salary in 2010 before the World Series even ended.
Granted, Young hit .219 in his final 53 games last season when he became the starting second baseman following the trade of Freddy Sanchez. What the Pirates did not take into account is that Young was exhausted at the end of the season after they had him work out at second base for at least a half-hour in the mid-afternoon before nearly every night game.
It seems the Pirates would have helped their offense more and saved money_ something owner Bob Nutting cherishes more than winning_ if they had just stayed with Young as their second baseman instead of sacrificing promising reliever Jesse Chavez in a trade.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Pirates is whether right fielder Garrett Jones can become a reliable middle-of-the-order hitter or if his fine 2009 season was nothing more than a fluke by a 28-year-old rookie.
So far, Jones has had mixed results. He has showed power with three home runs and three doubles in 34 at-bats while driving in 11 runs. However, he has also struck 10 times, nearly one-third of his at-bats, while drawing only one walk.
Thus, the jury is still out on Jones.
Jeff Clement appears to be flopping badly in his attempt to become the starting first baseman as the left-handed hitter acquired from Seattle in a trade last July has a .143 batting average. However, that’s not necessarily the case.
The fact that Clement has as many walks as strikeouts_ five each_ suggests he is showing a good eye at the plate and isn’t overmatched. Thus, it’s way too early to write him off.
The Pirates have 12 more exhibition games left. Then, the statistics will start counting for real April 5 when the Pirates host the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park in the season opener.