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Thrown-Away Talent

Pirates have better pitching than they deserve

Maybe the last, best chance the Buccos have is for Snell and Gorzelanny to get good and angry.

If you think it's painful watching the Pirates lose from your seat in the left-field bleachers, just imagine how pitchers Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell feel on the mound.

As of this writing, the Pirates have 15 wins. Four of those have come on days when Snell gave them enough to win, box scores be damned. Four more came on Gorzelanny's start days. And of the three Gorzelanny starts which ended in the loss column, two were lost by one run. One lousy run.

If he ever got support from the offense, Gorzelanny's 4-2 record could easily be 6-1. Even with help against the Cardinals on April 10 -- a game the bullpen blew after Gorzelanny handed it a 2-0 lead -- Gorzelanny might have five wins. That would land him in the company of other top National League pitchers: Dontrelle Willis, Chris Capuano, Jeff Suppan and Roy Oswalt.

Similarly, although Snell sports an ERA of 2.35, he has more no-decisions (three) than wins or losses (two of each). Against the Astros in April, he gave up just two runs in his six innings, but the Pirate bats didn't wake up until the eighth inning, when they scored two runs to give the win to reliever Jonah Bayliss. Snell had given up just four hits and one walk. He'd struck out 11 Astros.

Probably because of his compact size, Snell is often compared to the great Pedro Martinez. He's not Martinez in his prime, when Pedro could will his team into the playoffs by sheer force of personality and talent. Still, Snell is a pitcher's pitcher. The wins will come for him ... either here, if his teammates start to respond, or somewhere else, when a big-market team snaps him up. (Think the Yankees would like to have Snell in their rotation this year?)

If anybody can, these two young pitchers may be the ones who drag this franchise, kicking and screaming, to the Promised Land of .500 baseball.

As everybody knows, the problem with the Pirates is their hitting. In the National League, only two teams have scored fewer runs than the Pirates: the Washington Nationals and the surprising stinkfest that is the 2007 St. Louis Cardinals. Those same two teams also sit beneath the Bucs in slugging percentages.

And while it's fun watching self-proclaimed genius Tony LaRussa squirm in the Cards dugout, it's no fun watching the Bucs whiff, as they've done 229 times. They have the lowest on-base percentage in the entire National League at .294, in part because they also have the fewest walks.

Through their first 1,161 plate appearances, Pirates batters have produced only 114 runs. In the same number of games, the Brewers have posted 169 runs. No wonder Milwaukee pitchers Capuano and Suppan each has five wins on the year. On a team with that kind of run production, Gorzelanny might be 7-0.

So if you think the Pirates are bad now, imagine what they would be without Gorzelanny and Snell, and their poise and leadership.

Snell, for his part, seems to always be encouraging the defense behind him -- almost like he's a Little League coach -- responding to his infielders turning a double play or an outfielder making a great catch.

By contrast, despite his laid-back appearance off the field, Gorzelanny does a controlled slow-burn when he's pitching. On May 9, in the Wrigley dugout, he was seething. While it's too early in the season for him to be getting angry at his teammates -- and he's probably too much of a team guy to do that anyway -- it seems clear the losing is getting to him. We can only hope it's stoking his fire.

In fact, maybe the last, best chance the Buccos have is for Snell and Gorzelanny to get good and angry. Great pitchers can do that sometimes. They can pick up an otherwise ordinary (some might say mediocre) team and make it better. They can use their arms to say, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!"

The season's not a complete washout. Yet. But at least for now, I'm going down to the ballyard only when Gorzelanny and Snell are on the hill.

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