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NL Central Comparison: Pirates

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In an effort to get a better idea of where the Cardinals are going to fall relative to the rest of the competition in the NL Central, I thought that it would be fun to take a look at how they stack up on a position by position basis. This also gives us a chance to step away from over-scrutinizing our own roster and see what else is going on around the division. We'll steer clear of getting precise statistically since I'm not PECOTA . . . . despite the fact that we were born in the same Intel batch of processors. I figured we'd start off with a happy post and compare the Cards to the Pirates.

I can't help myself but to not at least throw in a rough number of each player's offense and defense. I'll look at their VORP numbers and UZR to ballpark their numbers on offense and defense. The totals for both players will appear after each set of players like so (Offense / Defense) in terms of runs. I'm not trying to be scientific so set down your spreadsheets and calculators and try and use a little instinct.

C - Ronny Paulino/Ryan Doumit (15/0) vs. Yadier Molina/Jason Larue (10/10)

The Pirates catchers aren't terribly impressive as an offensive unit although there's usually a yearly mention of trying to "push" Paulino to do better. I'm willing to give Molina a pretty significant run credit in terms of defense although I'm a little more skeptical of his and Larue's offensive contributions. I think I'd rather have Molina defensively and for his intangibles than the marginal upgrade that Paulino and Doumit might represent as an offensive unit.

1B - Adam LaRoche (30/0) vs. Albert Pujols (80/15)

I don't think there's a lot of argument to be had here. LaRoche could pretty easily add about 10-15 runs to that estimation since he's still young and entering his peak years of production but Albert is just head and shoulders above anyone else at the position. Some of you might think that the defensive contributions look low on Albert's side as good as he was last year but 15 runs saved by a first baseman is significant if you consider ball in play distribution. There's only so many defensive opportunities for Albert to exceed with.

2B - Freddy Sanchez (25/10) vs. Adam Kennedy/Aaron Miles (0/5)

What's tragic is that the 0 would be an improvement over last year on the order of a win; Miles and Kennedy combined for -11 runs with Kennedy being the dead weight. What was lost among the indignation in LaRussa's delivery of the Adam Kennedy comment was that Kennedy may find himself out of a job if he can't perform. I know he was injured but the track record for 2B over 30 isn't pretty. Freddy Sanchez is a quality player for the keystone position and if I was Neil Huntington I'd want to turn him into prospects as fast as my fingers could dial. He'll be entering his age 30 season and has probably peaked as a player. That said, I'd take him over our walking dead in a heartbeat.

SS - Jack Wilson (15/10) vs. Cesar Izturis (5/0)

Setting aside Wilson's nifty VORP last year he posted below 5 the previous two years. UZR isn't a huge fan of his defense but I think he's a safe bet to save 10 runs with his glove. Izturis is something of a crapshoot since he has supporters that argue he'll be better with more confidence and a full-time gig. I'm one of the detractors that thinks his bat has gone to mush and his speed has deteriorated to the point that he's not a defensive asset. I don't think either side is really going to budge in that position but hopefully both would agree that Wilson is the better bet to produce next year.

3B - Jose Bautista (5/5) vs. Troy Glaus (30/0)

It's weird to type Troy Glaus as our 3rd baseman. It'll be nice to have another potent bat in the lineup but I'll miss the outstanding defense of Rolen. There's no real competition between Glaus and Bautista as Glaus will carry the day with his bat.

RF - Xavier Nady (15/0) vs. Ryan Ludwick (20/5)

Nady is miscast as an everyday player but he accumulated 470 PAs last year for the Pirates. They don't have a lot of alternatives so I can understand why but he's overexposed playing against good right handed pitchers. Ludwick is interesting in that he used to be a well regarded prospect, was injured several times, started off slow last season and finally performed very well down the stretch. Maybe everything finally came together last year or maybe it was a fluke -- I don't think anyone knows with a great degree of certainty. His offensive production is probably somewhere in between where he started after his callup and the tear he went on to complete the season. He should be an above average fielder at the corner position as well. I'll take Ludwick.

CF - Clusterf__k (15/5) vs. Rick Ankiel (20/0)

If the Pirates have really sorted out their centerfield situation I'm not aware of it. Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth and Chris Duffy all spent time their last season. McLouth had the best numbers last year but Morgan was still getting acquainted with the majors. Chris Duffy . . . well . . . he was a warm body that caught baseballs. Ankiel had a .328 OBP in 190 PAs last season and I don't think he'll ever be a particularly patient hitter. He does have power in spades which obviously helps. Defensively, I doubt he's more than average in center despite having a rocket for an arm. I wonder who throws harder -- Ankiel or Molina? Ankiel looks better on paper to me and has more upside given that he's still new to hitting for his money so I'll take him (until Rasmus is ready).

LF - Jason Bay(30/0) vs Chris Duncan (30/-15)

I'm amazed at how terrible Jason Bay was last year. He went from 72 VORP in 2005 to 50 in 2006 to 4 in 2007. I repeat, he went from a 7 win player to a 1 win player in 2 years. Care to explain that? I'll bet on a modest bounceback since he's still young. What would a full year of Chris Duncan look like? I imagine LaRussa will still employ some platooning but Duncan is a good power threat who can also take a walk. Unfortunately, he's an absolute disaster in the field. Despite Bay's poor showing last year, I'd rather have him than Chris Duncan.

Pitching-
Ian Snell vs. Adam Wainwright
Tom Gorzellany vs. Joel Pineiro
Paul Maholm vs. Braden Looper
Zach Duke vs. Matt Clement
Matt Morris vs. ???

I'll take Wainwright and then the rest of the Pittsburgh staff please. I'll look closer at the pitching when we hit the next team (I'm thinking the Astros?), but there's definitely more potential on the Pittsburgh staff and you could argue that they're in a better position to produce now as well. Still, I don't think that the separation between the staffs is monstrous by any means. Offensively, the Cardinals appear to be the better team thanks primarily to their strengths at the corner infield positions. Albert is just crazy good and Glaus should be an above average player. In the end, I'll take the Cardinals to finish ahead of the Pirates this year in the NL Central.