Friday, June 3, 2011

How Much is the Pirates Defense Helping the Pitching Staff?

The Philadelphia Phillies come into town today, sporting one of the most dominant pitching rotations we have seen in years.  The Pirates pitching staff, surprisingly, is also turning some heads, as they look to be the best rotation Pittsburgh has seen in a very long time.  The Pirates are ranked in the top five in National League team ERA, and top ten in all of baseball.

Last season, things were different.  The Pirates had the absolute worst team ERA in baseball, and with seemingly mediocre pitchers signed in free agency, nobody could have predicted the success they’ve had thus far.

But the pitching staff has been spectacular up to this point, and starting pitchers had gone 13 consecutive games without giving up more than 2 runs.  The staff success comes as a surprise, though the question that must be asked is: how long can they keep this up?

At this point in the season, it seems like no starter can do wrong.  Charlie Morton has transformed from batting-practice-pitcher to Roy-Halladay-2.0.  Paul Maholm and Kevin Correia are both having career years.  James McDonald has gotten back on track with a 2.86 ERA in May, after a rough April.  And Jeff Karstens has filled in admirably for the injured Ross Ohlendorf.

The pitchers will most likely regress to some extent, however it is not known how much.  One thing I’d like to point out is that the Pirates are playing much better defense than they were last year.  This season, starting fielders possess a combined UZR/150 of 6.5, while last season they possessed an UZR/150 of -41.3, an improvement of 47.8 runs per 150 games.   What this means is that if the current starters were pitching with last season’s defense, their ERA would be increased by about .30.

Defense is a key factor in the pitching staff’s reversal of fortune.  But the pitchers, and Ray Searage, also deserve credit.  They have outpitched all expectations, and seem to be capable of being, at the very least, a middle-of-the-pack pitching staff.  Hopefully this staff can keep the success going, and keep the team in contention, or at least hold us over until the offense wakes up.

On Deck: MLB Draft 2011: Who to Look for in Round 2?

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