NL Central 2012 Preview: Looking Far(ther) Ahead

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4. Pittsburgh Pirates

2011 Results: 72-90 (4th, Missed Playoffs)

Key Losses

1B Derrek Lee

P Paul Maholm

LF Ryan Ludwick

C Ryan Doumit

Key Pickups

P AJ Burnett

3B Casey McGehee

SS Clint Barmes

Look out, America – Pittsburgh just might be on the verge of becoming a baseball town again. Not since the days of We are Family have the fans of the Pirates had so much to be excited about. They have one of the most exciting players in the game, and now a slew of talent acquired in the off-season to try to make a serious push (no, seriously) at a division title in the near future. It’s very strange to see Pittsburgh on the receiving end of free agency deals.

There are a few matters of concern, however, that will keep them in the bottom half of the division for 2012. Number one is the loss of their .300 hitting catcher to the Minnesota Twins, replaced by the 250 year-old backstop Rod Barajas. The veteran catcher will be nice in terms of working with a pitching staff that still has adjustments to make, but how you let go of that kind of production is beyond me. Casey McGehee’s journey to Steeltown is one that Brewers fans will be keeping an eye on. After a brilliant two years in 2009 and ’10, he bottomed out with a .223 average and the most disappointing season of his career in 2011. There are no guarantees left for Casey any more, and this might be his last shot and sticking around in The Show. There’s reason to be hopeful about him in Pittsburgh because they’ve seen what he can do, but that hope must be swallowed with a hefty dose of skepticism.

Then there is AJ Burnett, who will never be the pitcher he once was – but is just hoping to pitch well again. He had his best years in the NL, and there’s reason to believe that a ground ball pitcher from the AL East can do well in the NL Central (See: Shaun Marcum).

2011 At-a-glance

Batting Average – .244 23rd in MLB, 12th in NL

OBP – .309, 24th in MLB, 12th in NL

SLG – .368 27th in MLB, 15th in NL

OPS – .676, 26th in MLB, 14th in NL

ERA – 4.04, 17th in MLB, 11th in NL

Looking at those numbers, it’s hard to believe that they could finish anywhere above last place. But pick-ups like Clint Barmes are going to help the team get on base more and McCutchens will continue to improve. The key to it all is pitching – the pirates were able to manage games well last year from the mound and defensively which allowed them to stay close in a lot of contests. I don’t think they’re going to break through this year, but 2012 is going to be an important year in bringing the Pirates back to the discussion in the NL Central.