First Pitch: Is ‘Collapse’ the Correct Term?

I have a few issues with the term “collapse” that is being thrown around a lot lately. The first issue is that the word is being mentioned as if something is final. It’s a hyperbolic way of saying the team has been playing poorly the last month. It’s not enough to just say the team has been playing bad. You’ve got to get dramatic about it.

The word collapse suggests that the team has collapsed, or that they’re in the process of collapsing, which suggests that a collapse is inevitable. The truth is that the team hasn’t collapsed. They might be in the process of collapsing, but there’s still enough time for them to get back on track and win. In all of the losing, they’re still within reach of the playoffs. Despite the recent losing, there has also been losing from St. Louis and Los Angeles. No one is running away with the second wild card spot. Yet we don’t hear about the Cardinals or Dodgers collapsing.

There’s probably not a lot of optimism that the Pirates can turn things around, and that’s certainly understandable after being swept by the Cubs and losing against the Reds tonight. The fact is that this is a team that quickly goes from hot-to-cold, and cold-to-hot. It’s not out of the question for them to go on a hot streak out of nowhere.

That brings up another issue, and my bigger problem with the term “collapse”. I’ve been thinking about something the last few days: Is “collapse” the correct term? Collapse looks at the team as a contender that shouldn’t have fallen like the Pirates have since the beginning of August. Are the Pirates that contender, disappointingly falling in the final months of the season? Or are they a pretender that only got this high because of two unlikely months in the middle of the season?

The term “collapse” suggests that the Pirates were contenders, and that their recent stretch is out of the ordinary. But let’s look at the breakdown of the won/loss records this season.

April/May: 25-25

June/July: 34-19

August/September: 13-24

The first two months of the season the team was at .500. Then they took off in June and July and everyone thought they were contenders. It’s hard to think otherwise when the team enters August with a 59-44 record, 15 games above .500, and three games back from the division lead. They followed that up with a 13-24 stretch since the start of August.

Right now we’re still stuck on August 1st. That’s how we are viewing the team. This isn’t a team that is 72-68 on the season. This is a team that was 59-44 and is collapsing. That might not be the correct way to look at things.

Looking at this from a larger perspective, this team looks closer to a .500 team. They played .500 ball the first two months of the season. They had two huge months in June and July. Now they’re in the process of two horrible months to end the year. That split is due to the fact that this team is very streaky. As I mentioned above, they quickly go from hot-to-cold, and cold-to-hot. That’s not what contenders do. Contenders have cold streaks, but they usually bounce out of them quickly, and usually stay consistent all year.

Nothing about this year has been consistent for the Pirates. They’ve gone from a .500 team that was lucky to be at .500, to one of the best teams in baseball over a two month stretch, to one of the worst teams in baseball since the start of August. It’s hard to be a contender when you’re prone to those wild swings in performance, especially when the swings for the worse can last for over a month.

Collapse might not be the best term to describe what the Pirates are currently doing. Collapse suggests they’re contenders who are falling from a place they should be. Looking at the season from where we are now, the correct term might be “Regressing”. That suggests that the Pirates are falling to a place they should be. They’re not as bad as they’ve been playing lately, but the fact that they’ve been playing this bad tells us they weren’t as good as June/July. They’re probably in the middle of that, which puts them close to a .500 team.

That’s probably the best way to describe this team. They’re a .500 team. The difference between a .500 team and a contender isn’t huge. If the Pirates are a .500 team, it’s good progress from where they were last year. It’s probably disappointing to think that way, considering we spent most of the summer thinking of them as contenders. Even if it’s disappointing, the team is moving in the right direction, which should be encouraging. What should be disappointing is that they don’t appear to be there just yet. They don’t look like a contender right now. They don’t look like they’re collapsing. They look like they’re regressing to a .500 club.

Links and Notes

**Win a Free Pair of Pittsburgh Pirates Headphones From BiGR AUDIO.

**The Pirates lost to the Reds 4-3.

**Pirates Notebook: Missed Opportunities Hurt Bucs in Extras.

**Pirates Recall Chase d’Arnaud, Bryan Morris; DFA Evan Meek.

**Prospect Notebook: Josh Bell Might Not Play Until Spring Training.

**Pirates Need to Put a Foot Down on Current Struggles.

**State College Spikes 2012 Season Recap: Top Prospects.

**State College Spikes 2012 Season Recap: Hitters.

**State College Spikes 2012 Season Recap: Pitchers.

About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • Bob Hungerman

    Regardless of whether you consider the Bucs a contender, if a team is capable of playing as well as they did for two months, the terrible record in the second half of the season is a collapse, not a normalizing for a .
    500 team.

    • Tim Williams

      What if they’re capable of both? It seems we’re going in to this with the thought that this is out of the ordinary. But what if this is just normal for a team that has been streaky and inconsistent all year? What if this is the extreme low that this team is capable of reaching, while June/July is an extreme high? What makes June/July the standard, and why do we not set the base line of performance for any other two months?

      • Lee Young

        Tim….doesn’t matter WHAT you call it….we’re stinking the joint up! And, whatever it is we’re doing, we did it last year also.

  • salempirate

    Regression is pretty apt.

  • Marcus J

    How can you not believe this team is collapsing? They may have only been a .500 team the first two months of the season but they weren’t giving games away. They weren’t blowing leads. They were winning series at home against quality teams. They just got swept at home by the Cubs! The Cubs were only 17-52 on the road prior to that series. This is most certainly a collapse and it is one of epic proportions.

  • ecbucs

    Collapse seems like an apt term to me. 13-24 is atrocious. So over those 37 games the team has collapsed. Sure there is time for team to rally and I hope it does. The argument in the article could have been made at this time last season too, but in hindsight it is clear that 2011 team collapsed.

  • Rob

    In 1986 the Pirates were a woeful 64-98, being led by Bonds, Bonilla, Ray, Bream, Walk, Reuschel, etc.
    In 1987 they surged to almost .500 at 80-82. Led by the same group with (my favorite Pirate) Andy Van Slyke, and Drabek. Everybody thinks, ok, here come the Bucs!
    In 1988 OVER .500 at 85-75, here we are!!!!!
    Then 1989, slid to 74-88, Bonds, Bonilla, Van Slyke, Bell Lind, LaValliere, Drabek, Walk, Smiley. How in the world did this team finish under .500???
    Then in 1990, we figured it out! 95-67 and the first of 3 Division titles.
    Fast forward to today, and I think we mirror the 1988 team. We are young, inconsistent and trying to figure out how to win for a full season. We probably won’t finish 10 games over .500, but I think we will finish over .500. I could see us slide next year and struggle to be a .500 team as Cole and Taillon work their way to the majors.
    The sooner we work out a deal for a Catcher and a shortstop the sooner we fast forward to 1990 and start winning the Division.
    Just my rambling thoughts at lunch!

  • bdale1414

    Tim and leadoff above nailed it right on the head here. Rome wasn’t built in a day. This young core of players is something to get excited about. They showed us their potential in july. Maybe they fall short of the playoffs but we have alot to look forward to in the upcoming years as they build chemistry. I know Im enjoying the ride.

  • piratemike

    Tim as a follower of you since I started to read your posts at bucsdugout I have to say recently I have started to lose faith in you. These recent posts are sort of blind faith things that don’t make sense. Who cares if the term is a collaspe or not? I have to admit I didn’t read through your article because who cares what word you use , losing is losing. The Pirates need better players. That is were the discussion needs to be. The season is lost. Lets move on to next year, lets look at ….Pirate Prospects…..all we can do is look to the future and that is what your site is all about….,.. the future….Don’t be a schill for the current management be true to your purpose for your site.

    • Tim Williams

      1. I rarely post on Bucs Dugout. There’s someone who posts there as “Tim Wiliams” (one “L”), but that’s not me. So I’m not sure what posts you’re talking about.

      2. How can you comment on an article and make claims like me being a shill, then admit you didn’t actually read the article?

  • leadoff

    First Pitch: Is ‘Collapse’ the Correct Term
    Or is the glass half empty or half full?
    has an opinion most are wrong, the Pirates are a young team that is in
    the maturation process, at this point in time they do not have enough
    experienced depth and it is showing. Young players going through a
    stretch run they never were in before, a manager trying to overmanage
    them through it. This is a very talented team and come August of 2013 we
    are going to hear it loud and clear what happened in 2011-2012, but
    players like Alvarez, McCutchen and Walker will be a year older and year
    wiser. Anyone that watched the loss to the Reds last night had a
    painted picture right before their eyes.

    Alvarez constant
    failings, no Walker, McCutchen trying to carry them by himself, worn out
    pitchers, pitchers from AAA that never pitched this far in their
    careers. I only know what the old masters like Danny Murtaugh did with
    his teams to prevent the fall fall. He substituted the regulars
    regularly during the year, Hurtle went to the whip at the half way pole,
    way to early, now he has no horse under him.When they finished
    the game with the Reds they had a AAA pitcher on the mound a middle
    infield that was all AAA, they had a seldom used AAA catcher playing in
    the field. They had an outfielder just brought up a month and half ago
    from AAA. They had a catcher that a year and a half ago was in AAA. These are not excuses, but they are reality.

  • piratemike

    “A rose by any other name…………..”

  • Paul Hartman

    Trying to see the bright side of this season? What the Pirates did
    earlier this season means nothing when you consider where they’ll
    finish, which is a disappointing 4th!

    With fifteen games left, they won’t go 8-7 to finish 82-80. I
    predict they’ll be more like 5-10 to finish at 79-83, which is
    just a so-so season, again. What consolation is there other than,
    they didn’t finish behind the terrible Cubs (whom they can’t beat)
    and the even worse Astros (whom they won’t have to kick around
    next year, a scary thought!).

    The reason for the collapse this year and last is that this team
    does not have enough talent! Period!

    They over perform, trying to turn the franchise around and trying
    to please the good fans of Pittsburgh. But the talent is simply
    not there. And Neal Huntington has to answer the question of
    “where’s the beef?”

    Last night, the Brewers made a mockery of the game, stealing seven
    bases with impunity! Up yours, Pirates!

    The Brewers had three players on the field who are better than any
    three you could name on the Pirates – Gallardo, Braun and Ramirez.
    Short and simple, that’s how you win games in baseball. The
    Pirates are a long way from being competitive with such players.

    And Starling Marte shows no reason to believe that he will join
    McCutchen as an elite player who can help this team. Ditto for the
    entire rest of the team, pitchers and position players.

    Until Huntington figures how how to steal free agents with no
    financial help from cheap Bob Nutting Jr. and until Huntington
    figures out how to draft a star player or two (he’s not got any so
    far in five seasons of drafting including Alvarez), this team will
    continue to be a sub .500 team.

    How can this team “improve” next year when there are three teams,
    possibly four (the Cubs?) who will field teams with more talent
    next year?