Five Long Shot Predictions for the Pittsburgh Pirates This Year

Tom AuSenior Analyst IIMarch 24, 2010

LAS VEGAS - MARCH 19: In this handout provided by the Las Vegas News Bureau, the Mirage Resort Race and Sports Book in Las Vegas is shown crowded with basketball fans during NCAA March Madness Tournament March 19, 2010. in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Glenn Pinkerton/Las Vegas News Bureau via Getty Images)
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At the beginning of the 2008 season, the bookmakers gave 250 to 1 against the Tampa Bay Rays winning the World Series that year. The Rays in fact failed to do so, but came a lot closer than almost anyone would have expected.

Going into the Fall Classics, the odds were 7 to 5 in their favor, which is to say that someone who had paid "$1" for the bet, could have cashed out for over $100 (instead of winning $250) before the final resolution.

Low budget teams like the Rays and the Pittsburgh Pirates, are, by definition, long shots to win anything. Hence they have to take, and win, long-shot bets that other, more fortunate teams would decline.

Like trading for pitchers that others would consider fourth or fifth starters, and hoping that they can develop into front of rotation types. Or acquiring players that can maximize their usefulness by playing more than one position.

This sometimes works because in sports, as in life, there are any number of "improbable" events that, by definition, don't happen very often but have a major impact on teams' fortunes when they do.

As such, long-shot events deserve consideration, and in any case should not be dismissed out of hand. Most of the time, the odds won't be 250 to 1, but they will be less than 50-50, say one chance out of four or five.

I did this exercise by accident last year when I wrote an article about the merits of Toronto using people like former Pirate Jose Bautista. I implicitly made the following predictions in the piece, or in followups.

When some people had major doubts as to whether they would come true, I conceded that they were all long shots. But for five predictions, only one of which was expected to come true, the results weren't too bad. They were:

1. Bautista would have a breakout year, at least relative to his earlier performance. (He remained a low-batting average hitter, but his on base percentage, my preferred metric, skyrocketed from .313 to .349, his career best.)

2. Kevin Millar, the first baseman acquired from Baltimore, would outhit his platoon partner, Lyle Overbay. Wrong.

3. Marco Scutaro would become one of the better hitting shortstops. (His batting average skyrocketed to .282, but that only made him league-average in 2009.)

4. Aaron Hill, the second baseman, would continue his breakout. Wrong.

5. Travis Snider, a promising prospect, would continue his "replacement" level April 2009 performance for the whole year. (FanGraphs pegged him at 0.3 wins above replacement for 2009.)

Having done so by accident earlier, I would now like to make a similar bunch of five long-shot predictions for the Pirates this year. The chances of any ONE of these things happening is less than 50-50.

That puts them in the "possible," not the "probable," category. On the other hand, if four or five things are "possible," (to the extent of one chance in five) the likelihood is that at least ONE will actually come true.

1. Ross Ohlendorf has evolved into a "star" pitcher following adjustments made last year. That is to say his 2010 ERA will be 3.00 or less.

2. Charlie Morton will continue to have occasional control problems, but will be a star when he doesn't. He will end the year with an "adjusted ERA" (after throwing out his worst three games) of 3.00 or less.

3. The Washington Nationals will not sign Bryce Harper, a multi-position player, and he will get to the Pirates in the second overall draft pick in the same manner that the Tampa Bay Rays chose Tim Beckham over Pedro Alvarez in 2008.

4. The Pirates will have dealt successfully for the "new Nady." Xavier Nady's lifetime slash line is .280/.335/.458, for a total of 1.073. Someone not named Garrett Jones (Ryan Church, Jose Tabata, or Gorkys Hernandez) will play right field with numbers equalling or exceeding that total. (I'll concede the possibility here of being ultimately right, but early, with the occurrence in 2011.)

5. Andy LaRoche will remain with the Pirates but will not be playing third base on an everyday basis following Pedro Alvarez's arrival. That suggests a change of position, or some sort of platoon or utility role for him. (The timetable qualifier for No. 4 holds here also.)

The Pirates would become a better team if even one or two of these predictions came true. In the unlikely event that most or all came true, it could mean a major step forward for them.


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