2015 Season Previews: Pittsburgh Pirates

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Pittsburgh Pirates

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 80-82 (3rd in NL Central, 18th in MLB

Manager: Clint Hurdle (333-315 in four years with Pittsburgh, 867-940 in 12 years overall)

Top Three Players: OF Andrew McCutchen (6.1), OF Starling Marte (3.3), 2B Neil Walker (3.0)

Bounce-back Player: OF Gregory Polanco

After hitting .328/.390/.504 with 29 extra-base hits and 16 stolen bases in 69 games at Triple-A last season, Polanco landed in Pittsburgh to begin his career. The 6’4″, 220 pound outfielder ran like a gazelle, covering the outfield and the base paths with long-legged ease, but was somewhat disappointing in his first shot at the big leagues, posting a .235/.307/.343 triple-slash with 16 extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases over 314 plate appearances. For that reason, Polanco is here, as he is likely to see huge gains, especially considering the fact that he wasn’t over-matched during his time in the majors in 2014, posting an 18.9 percent strikeout rate with a 9.6 percent walk rate. Polanco will be in his age-23 season and it wouldn’t surprise me to see more than 50 extra-base hits and 25 stolen bases out of the lanky, future superstar.

NL Cy Young contender, Cole Courtesy: CBS Sports
NL Cy Young contender, Cole
Courtesy: CBS Sports

Fantasy Player to Watch: RHP Gerrit Cole

Cole struggles with shoulder fatigue in 2014, which is quite worrisome for a pitcher, especially one who was just 23 last season. With an offseason of rest, Cole steps into a season that will catapult him into the elite of the National League, as he’ll become the top starter on the Pirates and one of the top ten pitchers in baseball – barring injury, of course. Cole improved his K:9 to 9.0 from 7.7 in his rookie campaign, and further gains are likely as he continues to grasp and build command of his impressive collection of power pitches. The Pirates are putting Francisco Liriano on the bump for Opening Day, but Cole is the ace of the Pirates rotation, and he’ll make huge strides in 2015 and put himself in the Cy Young conversation.

Offseason Overview: The Pirates brought Liriano back, as well as right-hander A.J. Burnett, strengthening their rotation with arms that have succeeded at PNC Park already. They’ll hope that RHP Charlie Morton can stay healthy and productive and that Vance Worley‘s success in 17 starts (8-4, 2.85 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) can be duplicated, forming a rotation that is capable of carrying the club to the top of the division. The focus of the offseason appeared to be acquiring depth, which Neil Huntington and company did quite well, bringing in super-utility players Sean Rodriguez and Steve Lombardozzi, first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart, and international shortstop signing Jung Ho Kang, who hit a robust .356/.459/.739 with 40 home runs and 117 RBI in 117 games in Korea last season. The loss of Russell Martin will be a huge factor with the pitching staff, but Francisco Cervelli was brought in to cushion the blow. We’ll see if that is enough to keep things balanced for the Pirates, who have made the playoffs the last two seasons after missing out on October fun from 1993 to 2012.

The Verdict: Pittsburgh is loaded with talent. It may seem unreasonable to expect the same type of season out of Josh Harrison that they had in 2014 (.837 OPS, 58 extra-base hits, 18 stolen bases), but they should get more out of 1B Pedro Alvarez (.717 OPS, 18 home runs), while the outfield begins (or continues) to carry the offense, with likely MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen being flanked by Starling Marte and Polanco in the corners – and we haven’t even mentioned 2B Neil Walker, who is one of the most underrated players in baseball. With continued improvement from the youngsters, particularly Cole and Polanco, the Pirates are capable of overcoming the loss of their leader, Martin, and riding the on-hand talent to a 90-win season and an NL Central title.

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Accountability In My 2013 Predictions: Looking Back and Laughing

Yes, I do...Thanks.
Yes, I do…Thanks.

On March 27, 2013, I posted my 2013 Predictions and Useless Guesses, which set forth my expectations for the 2013 season. Needless to say, the latter part of the title was pretty right on, as a high majority of my preseason predictions crashed and burned like nothing the world has ever seen before. For that, I am human; however, I will gloat about the things that I was right about when that time comes.

Division Winners and Wild Cards:

AL East: Toronto Blue Jays – Actual Winner: Boston Red Sox

AL Central: Detroit Tigers – Actual Winner: Detroit Tigers

AL West: Los Angeles Angels – Actual Winner: Oakland A’s

AL Wild Cards: Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays – Actual Winners: Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays

NL East: Washington Nationals – Actual Winner: Atlanta Braves

NL Central: Cincinnati Reds – Actual Winner: St. Louis Cardinals

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers – Actual Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers

NL Wild Cards: St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves – Actual Winners: Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds

Now That We Know

I said “Bryce Harper will be better than he was in 2012 and Stephen Strasburg won’t have an innings limit. Really, this is all that you need to know, but with the addition of a leadoff hitter in Denard Span and another fantastic arm in Rafael Soriano to add to Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, the Nationals are about as good as it gets in MLB for a lock to go to the playoffs.” Not only did the Nationals finish 10 games out in the NL East, they were four back of Cincinnati for the second Wild Card spot and they didn’t get near the production out of Harper that I was expecting due to injuries. The Angels proved that you can’t win with injured veterans who are underperforming (Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton) while putting together a terrible rotation. And…about those Blue Jays…I bought into the players that they had acquired and thought that having Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista would be enough to be contenders, yet, the club finished 23 games out in the AL East, good for last place. The Dodgers, Braves, Reds, Cardinals, Tigers, and Rays did make the playoffs, while the Rangers weren’t too far behind. The Pirates and Indians contending this season and reaching the playoffs were both surprises, so maybe I get some credit despite my ugly World Series prediction…Nationals over the Angels in six…ugh!!!

AL MVP

Not. Even. Close.
Not. Even. Close.

Jose Bautista, you failed me. Maybe the wrist still wasn’t 100 percent in 2013 following surgery in 2012, but the .259/.358/.498 line wasn’t what I was expecting with a star-studded lineup around him in 2013. “Joey Bats” didn’t play a game after August 20 due to a bone bruise on his hip, which hurt his final statistics, which weren’t anywhere near the likely AL MVP candidates: Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, and Chris Davis. While the award hasn’t been given out yet, I went with Cabrera with my own version of the 2013 Awards, and I’ll gladly take on your mockery for thinking Bautista was going to be a force in 2013.

AL Cy Young

Justin Verlander wasn’t the same. Maybe a part of him died when Kate Upton left him, but who can really blame him. Making an All-Star team, striking out over 200 batters, reaching 200-plus innings for the 7th straight season, and posting a 3.46 ERA is considered a down season apparently…that’s sad. Certainly, Verlander’s 2013 season wasn’t very Verlander-y, as that title seemed to go to his teammate, Max Scherzer, who went 21-3 with 240 K’s and an AL-leading 0.97 WHIP.

AL Rookie of the Year

I went with Wil Myers early in the year and I stuck with Myers on my own postseason awards. Again, the official award hasn’t been given out, but in 88 games, Myers had and OPS+ of 132 and an .831 OPS, providing punch to the Rays lineup and helping guide Tampa Bay to another postseason appearance. Myers will continue to improve and become an All-Star level talent in future seasons, and despite losing James Shields in the deal with Kansas City, the team control and cost savings will be worth much more to the Rays, even before adding in Myers potential production.

AL Manager of the Year

I went with Cleveland Indians’ manager Terry Francona prior to the season, while switching my own choice to Joe Girardi after the Yankees had a solid season with more injuries than any manager should ever have to deal with in a single season. However, the Francona choice shouldn’t be viewed negatively, and I had a tough time selecting Girardi over Francona when I was writing up my own awards. Francona shed the “chicken and beer” issues that ended his tenure in Boston, leading a mixed group of talent in Cleveland to a surprising Wild Card position. With the Tribe young enough to take steps forward in 2014, Francona could be a worthy candidate when the Indians likely take over the AL Central from the quickly aging Tigers.

NL MVP

Votto swings? Who knew!!
Votto swings? Who knew!!

I took the homer way out and selected Joey Votto prior to the 2013 season. While Votto was a tremendous asset for the Reds, he seems to be more valuable to the analytics gurus than some people in the front office and within fantasy leagues, as his patience creates a lot of on-base opportunities but a complete lack of numbers in the RBI column. I gave my postseason award to another NL Central star, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who had another tremendous all-around season while leading the Bucs to their first winning season and postseason appearance since 1992. Votto had another excellent season, but we’ll see what happens to his perceived value when he is driving in 75 runs with a strong on-base percentage while making $20 million or more from 2016 onward in Cincinnati.

NL Cy Young

It’s easy to pick Clayton Kershaw, so maybe I just wanted to be different when I chose Madison Bumgarner. A 2.77 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP over 201.1 innings is pretty solid, but it isn’t a 1.83 ERA and 0.91 WHIP over 236 innings like Kershaw posted. Bumgarner is worthy of some praise, though. He improved his WHIP for the fourth straight season, increased his hits per nine for the fourth straight season, and he reached a new career high in strikeouts (199) in 2013. If the Giants are contending in 2014 and Bumgarner continues his trends, he could battle Kershaw for the title of best left-handed starter in the league.

NL Rookie of the Year

Oscar Taveras battled injuries again in 2013 and never received an at-bat at the major league level. I was counting on a Carlos Beltran injury or an underperforming Jon Jay being benched in favor of Taveras in center field, but it never happened. Instead, the National League was overtaken by a plethora of superstar rookies, highlighted by Yasiel Puig, Jose Fernandez, Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Matt Adams. While I chose Fernandez for my NL ROY winner, several of these players are worth of consideration, and if the NL keeps getting talent like this every year, they’ll be seeing a lot of home-field advantage opportunities in upcoming World Series’.

NL Manager of the Year

I went with a laughable Bud Black, thinking that mediocrity and solid contributions from a lot of guys with average skills would be good enough to help the Padres be competitive, at least above .500, which would make Black a viable candidate for the award. After all, the NL West had the Dodgers and not a whole lot else this season. The Friars were 76-86, 16 games back of Los Angeles, and third in the NL West. I ultimately gave my postseason award to Clint Hurdle for helping the Pirates have a winning record, but Mike Matheny and Don Mattingly were also reasonable candidates.

Beyond the Awards: Several Laughs Due to My “Bold Predictions”

Original in italics – reaction in bold

  1. Bryce Harper will hit over 30 home runs in 2013, while posting an OPS near .940. —-NO. Not even close. 
  2. Mike Trout won’t hit 30 home runs again, but he will steal 50 bases. —- 27 HR and 33 SB. NOPE!
  3. Jose Reyes will stay healthy, even while playing on turf, and terrorize the AL East while stealing over 50 bases. —93 games, 15 SB…FAIL! NEVER COUNT ON REYES! 
  4. Ike Davis will hit over 40 home runs after hitting 32 in 2012 while hitting just .227. —- just 9 HR while hitting .207. Ouch. 
  5. Mat Latos will become the ace of the Cincinnati Reds, posting better overall numbers than Johnny Cueto and winning 20 games in 2013. —-Latos was 14-7 and Cueto only made 11 starts due to injuries. I think this is a win. 
  6. Mike Minor proves that his second half from 2012 (6-4, 2.16 ERA, 0.87 WHIP over 87.1 IP) wasn’ a fluke, as he becomes the Braves best starting pitcher in 2013. —Win! 3.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 204.2 IP and he was the most reliable Braves’ starter over the whole season. 
  7. Jordan Zimmerman has a more impressive 2013 season than Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez and he will no longer be overlooked in a fantastic Washington rotation. —-Zimmerman’s 19 wins were eight more than Gonzalez’s, his ERA and WHIP were second to Strasburg’s in the Nats’ rotation, and he led the club with 213.1 innings. Solid.
  8. Brandon Belt continues hitting like he has all spring, ripping 25 home runs after having a power outage in the earlier stages of his career (16 in 598 at-bats). —-Belt had just 17 HR but he still seems to be in the doghouse in San Francisco. If anyone ever needed a change of scenery, it’s this guy. He may never hit 30 home runs, but he is a very good player. 
  9. Troy Tulowitzki stays healthy and benefits from Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler having All Star seasons to hit 40 home runs, making all of those fantasy baseball players that took him in the first round feel like the smartest men alive. —-All three players battled injuries, but if All-Star seasons were based on April stats alone, Fowler would have been an All-Star, as well, along with Tulo and CarGo. As it stands, the Rockies are only as good as these three players being on the field at the same time with some solid pitching…something that may never happen. 
  10. Allen Craig becomes an All Star and hits over .300 with 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI. —-Craig was an All-Star and he finished the year injured on September 4 with 97 RBI. The home runs weren’t there, he had only 13, but he was a very productive player for the NL Champions. 
  11. Carlos Santana hits 30+ home runs and will have the kind of hype that Buster Posey has right now during the 2013-2014 offseason. —-Nope. Santana had his best full season in 2013, but hit just 20 HR while posting an .832 OPS. I still think he’ll continue to improve, but this wasn’t the breakout year. 
  12. Jason Heyward finishes 2nd in NL MVP voting to Joey Votto, posting his first 30 HR/30 SB season for Atlanta. —-Nope. Heyward struggled mightily with various injuries and failure to produce, but he’ll still be just 24 in 2014 and isn’t close to being finished. 
  13. Domonic Brown keeps the Phillies left field job all season and posts a .270/.380/.450 line with solid production across the board. Philly fans hit Ruben Amaro, Jr. with batteries for not trusting in him sooner.—-.272/.324/.494 isn’t bad, and neither is Brown, who finally played and hit 27 HR and drove in 83 in just 139 games. The on-base skills weren’t there, but they were in the minors. Amaro is a moron. 
  14. Zack Greinke can’t handle the Los Angeles pressure and spotlight and misses time due to his anxiety disorder. —- Greinke was fine and he went 15-4 with a 2.63 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. He’d be worth some NL Cy Young votes if Kershaw didn’t deserve a unanimous vote. 
  15. Chris Sale pitches 200 innings and proves doubters about his bony frame and drastic innings increase in 2012 wrong. —- Sale was AWESOME in 2013, going 11-14 with a 3.07 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and a 226:46 K:BB in 214.1 innings. Stop doubting him. 
  16. Drew Stubbs (remember him?) hits 20 home runs and steals 50 bases, revitalizing his career. —-Nope. He’ll never make enough contact to do that and he may be a fourth outfielder going forward after a disappointing .233/.305/.360 season with 10 HR and 17 RBI in 481 plate appearances, striking out 141 times. 
  17. Rick Porcello wins 17 games with a 3.20 ERA while striking out 180 batters…all because he began using his four-seam fastball for the first time in his career. —-Well, Porcello did reach 142 strikeouts with his career high 7.2 K:9 in 2013, but fell well short of a 3.20 ERA while posting a 4.32 ERA and career best 1.28 WHIP. He’ll be 25 next year and the small improvements could be a positive sign for his career, but he’ll never be the ace many expected him to be when he was drafted.

Breakout Stars

Guys who I thought would “go bonkers in 2013”

Alex Cobb, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays: Yes, he had a breakout season.  

Year Age W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 25 11 3 2.76 22 1 0 143.1 120 46 44 13 45 134 138 1.151 7.5 8.4 2.98
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/3/2013.
Moore1
Breakout!

Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays: Yes, I’d say so.

Year Age W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 24 17 4 3.29 27 1 1 150.1 119 58 55 14 76 143 116 1.297 7.1 8.6 1.88
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/3/2013.

Brett Anderson, LHP, Oakland Athletics: Not even close. Needs to stay on the field. 

Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves: Sick glove and I had no idea the power was coming. 

Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Awards
2013 23 157 658 606 76 150 27 6 17 59 6 40 55 .248 .296 .396 .692 GG
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/3/2013.

Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Oakland Athletics: Somewhat disappointing due to the injuries and dips in production, but he’s an absolute freak who should rebound in 2014. 

Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2013 27 135 574 529 74 127 21 4 26 80 7 37 137 .240 .294 .442 .737
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/3/2013.

Greg Holland, RHP, Kansas City Royals: 47 saves and a 13.8 K:9 made him one of the elite closers in baseball. 

Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals: He can hit and he posted career highs in games played, total bases, home runs, and RBI. If the other pieces produce around him, he’ll be an elite-level offensive catcher. 

Chris Parmelee, OF, Minnesota Twins: He’s a 4A guy who just can’t translate his minor league numbers into major league production. 

Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs: 40 doubles, 23 HR, and 80 RBI at the age of 23. I’ll take it. He’ll improve his slash in coming seasons, likely when the Cubs put someone worth a damn on the field with him. 

Dayan Viciedo, OF, Chicago White Sox: Still a lot of power with no pitch recognition skills. He’ll always mash fastballs, but he needs to find some other sort of identity to be a long-term piece for the White Sox. 

Dan Straily, RHP, Oakland Athletics (Bartolo Colon won’t last forever): Solid season. Not sure if his absurd minor league strikeout totals will ever be realistic in the majors, but he’s a solid mid-to-back-end starter. And…maybe Colon will last forever. 

Year Age W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 24 10 8 3.96 27 0 0 152.1 132 74 67 16 57 124 1.241 7.8 7.3 2.18
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/3/2013.

 

Finally!
Finally!

Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals: This was finally the year. 

Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Awards
2013 23 159 680 623 86 188 34 3 17 79 11 51 100 .302 .353 .448 .801 GG
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/3/2013.

Michael Saunders, OF, Seattle Mariners: After an excellent World Baseball Classic, Saunders disappointed again. He improved his on-base skills, but saw a dip in his power and speed, which were the tools that made him a trendy sleeper pick. 

Prospects to Watch

Jonathan Schoop, INF, Baltimore Orioles: Disappointed due to a stress fracture in his back.

Dorssys Paulino, INF, Cleveland Indians: Big disappointment after a huge professional debut in 2012.

J.R. Graham, RHP, Atlanta Braves: Just ok before shoulder issues ended his season in May. 

Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals: Breakout. 155 K’s in 134.2 minor league innings earned him three major league starts to finish the season.

Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays: 23 starts for the Rays – 3.22 ERA over 128.2 innings with a 1.13 WHIP. He’ll be a tremendous arm in Tampa for a number of years. 

Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals: He needed a good season to get his prospect status back on track, but it didn’t happen. He has the tools with a great power and speed combination. He could take off in High-A in 2014 like Wil Myers did a couple of years ago, but that could be wishful thinking. I just want a Bubba to thrive.

Yasel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: Nothing needed here. I am brilliant. 

Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks: Huge steps this season and he could have earned a long look this coming spring. 1.84 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 152 innings while not turning 21 until August. He could be a legitimate No.1 starter.

Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros: Very disappointing season, from a 50-game suspension for a drug abuse to lackluster effort and poor numbers. The Astros need him to click and the skills are there. Does he have the drive to make it happen?

 

Future star.
Future star.

Xander Bogaerts, INF, Boston Red Sox: He helped the Sox win the World Series, but this was an easy pick after his incredible 2012 season. He’ll be an everyday player at short or third going forward, and a potential perennial All-Star within the next couple of seasons. 

Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres: The power wasn’t there this season, but he was only 20 until August and the catching position is difficult to judge prospects within. He could be a tremendous major league receiver right now, but if the Padres let him develop, he will be a well-rounded superstar. 

Joey Gallo, INF, Texas Rangers: Power like a BOSS! Gallo hit 40 bombs this season while striking out 172 times. He is Adam Dunn without the walks. Huge raw power potential. Keep in mind, he turns 20 years old this month…40 HR at 19!!! 

It wasn’t always pretty, but I’ll take what I got right here. I’m not in Vegas for a reason, but there were quite a few good calls. We’ll see what next season brings. I’ll be sure to provide some more laughs while looking back to see how things turned out after the season.

2013 MLB Awards

awardThe Third Annual Baseball Haven “I’m Always Right Before the Media Figures It Out” Awards are officially ready. These guys may not win the awards below, but they certainly SHOULD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cabrera1AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
2013 30 DET AL 148 652 555 103 193 26 1 44 137 3 90 94 .348 .442 .636 1.078 187 353
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/13/2013.

I appreciate sabermetrics and I know that Mike Trout has a lot of value to the Angels, but Cabrera was the best player in baseball, again, in 2013. While he didn’t win the Triple Crown like he did in 2012, he still put up ridiculous numbers and helped to carry the Tigers to the AL Central title while Prince Fielder put up the worst OPS of his career. Even weakened by injuries late in the season, Cabrera put up strong enough counting stats to be considered here, and it isn’t just the home runs and RBI, as shown by his MLB-leading OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+. Cabrera may not have the all-around tools to assist Detroit with his defense and speed, but he does everything else better than everyone else in baseball. Enjoy it while you can, as Cabrera will be on the wrong side of 30 in 2014, and with the lack of performance-enhancing drugs to aid his career totals as he ages, as they did for Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, these types of special seasons could be coming to an end for the legendary career that Cabrera has had to this point.

Honorable Mention: Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels; Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles;

Courtesy: ESPN.com
Courtesy: ESPN.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
2013 26 PIT NL 157 674 583 97 185 38 5 21 84 27 78 101 .317 .404 .508 .911 158 296
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/13/2013.

Take a team that hasn’t been in the playoffs since 1992 that finally had a winning season and look for their best player? Not even close. McCutchen has been a top fantasy baseball talent for several years and this is the year that his abilities actually propelled the Pirates into contention, where they actually remained until running into the Cardinals in the NLDS. McCutchen looks like the National League’s older version of Mike Trout, posting impressive power, on-base, speed, and defensive metric numbers, creating solid, across-the-board numbers that make him one of the most well-rounded players in the entire league. As the Pirates continue to develop and plug-in talented players around him, his numbers will likely continue to take off. He is a tremendous player with a ceiling that he hasn’t even reached yet.

Honorable Mention: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks; Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves; Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals;

Scherzer2AL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, RHP, Detroit Tigers

Year Age Tm Lg W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 28 DET AL 21 3 2.90 32 0 0 214.1 152 73 69 18 56 240 145 0.970 6.4 10.1 4.29
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/13/2013.

It isn’t about the wins, although, Scherzer did have the league-lead by two games. It’s all about how effective Scherzer was all season. He posted the lowest WHIP in the American League and only Yu Darvish (.194) had a lower batting average allowed in the AL than Scherzer’s .195. Scherzer posted impressive strikeout totals, reached a career-high in innings pitched (214.1), and showcased his ability to lead a rotation while the Tigers watched Justin Verlander have a non-Verlander-like season in 2013. Even though the Tigers rotation was, quite possibly, the deepest of any team in baseball, Detroit wouldn’t have been quite as successful without the dynamic season that Scherzer put together in 2013.

Honorable Mention: Yu Darvish, RHP, Texas Rangers; Anibal Sanchez, RHP, Detroit Tigers; Chris Sale, LHP, Chicago White Sox;

Kershaw1NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Year Age Tm Lg W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 25 LAD NL 16 9 1.83 33 3 2 236.0 164 55 48 11 52 232 194 0.915 6.3 8.8 4.46
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/13/2013.

How could it be anyone else? Someone may want to just rename the award for the Dodgers’ left-hander with the way the last few seasons have gone, although, he didn’t win the award in 2012 thanks to R.A. Dickey and his magic and rainbow season for the New York Mets. Kershaw led the majors in ERA (1.83), WHIP (0.92), and ERA+ (194), while his 232 strikeouts led the NL. Kershaw had four starts (out of 33) in which he failed to go six or more innings and only had six non-quality starts on the season. He is the definition of an ace, a shutdown starter, capable of tossing a complete game shutout every fifth day in an era that seems to make such a statistic impossible due to innings limits and pitch counts. Kershaw has gone from a starter to avoid in fantasy leagues due to his once high walk totals to the must-have starting pitching option. At 25, the sky is the limit, and with Gary Nolan and Tom Seaver at the top of his Baseball Reference similarity scores, you have to hope that Kershaw has the long, successful career of “Tom Terrific” instead of the injury-destroyed career of Nolan.

Honorable Mention: Matt Harvey, RHP, New York Mets; Adam Wainwright, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals; Cliff Lee, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies;

AL Manager of the Year: Joe Girardi, New York Yankees, 85-77 AL East (4th place)

Why would you give an award to a manager who led his team to a fourth place finish? Because that manager had his starting shortstop (Derek Jeter), starting first baseman (Mark Teixeira), starting center fielder (Curtis Granderson), and starting third baseman (Alex Rodriguez) for a combined 137 games this season, meaning those four missed a combined 511 games in 2013. While plugging in Eduardo Nunez, Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells, Zoilo Almonte, Lyle Overbay, and Jayson Nix, while maintaining credibility and competing within the toughest division in MLB. Girardi also had to juggle a disappointing pitching staff, as he got next to nothing out of C.C. Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and David Phelps, at times, in the rotation. He certainly deserved his recent extension and proved that he is much more than a guy that fills out an All-Star lineup card every night with the Yankees star-studded roster and large payrolls over the years.

Honorable Mention: John Farrell, Boston Red Sox; Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians; Bob Melvin, Oakland A’s;

NL Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates, 94-68 NL Central (2nd place, NL Wild Card)

I’m not a huge believer in Clint Hurdle and I really don’t think that he deserves the award due to some questionable moves that he has made over the years, as well as this season; However, he guided a group of miscreants and castoffs (along with Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte, McCutchen, and Neil Walker) to the Pirates’ first winning season since 1992, let alone a playoff appearance. With several veteran additions (Russell Martin, Justin Morneau, and Marlon Byrd) and the arrival of the club’s future No.1 starter, Gerrit Cole, Hurdle was able to outlast Cincinnati and have a successful season. Maybe it was the bootcamp workouts in the offseason, who knows, but the man in charge, Hurdle, will likely benefit with the award, so I’ll give it to him.

Honorable Mention: Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals; Don Mattingley, Los Angeles Dodgers;

myersAL Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
2013 22 TBR AL 88 373 335 50 98 23 0 13 53 5 33 91 .293 .354 .478 .831 132 160
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/13/2013.

The only thing more impressive than Myers’ strikeouts and home run power are his bat flips. The kid came up and was an immediately upgrade for the Rays, hitting 4th in 25 of his 88 games, the most of any spot in the order, while providing a little punch and protection for Evan Longoria and the crew. Myers production is just the tip of the iceberg, as he is quite capable of hitting 30-35 home runs annually while striking out in bunches, just as he did in 2013. The major piece in the haul that the Rays acquired from Kansas City in the James Shields deal, Myers will be a nuisance to opposing clubs for years to come.

Honorable Mention: Cody Allen, RHP, Cleveland Indians; Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays; Dane De La Rosa, Los Angeles Angels;

Fernandez

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NL Rookie of the Year: Jose Fernandez, RHP, Miami Marlins

Year Age Tm Lg W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 20 MIA NL 12 6 2.19 28 0 0 172.2 111 47 42 10 58 187 176 0.979 5.8 9.7 3.22
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/13/2013.

Fernandez had quite a few people fighting him for the award this season, but he was just a bit more dominant than the competition. While he didn’t lead the lowly Marlins to the playoffs, like some of the other rookie of the year worthy players, Fernandez oozed confidence and had a feel for pitching that hasn’t been seen from many 20 or 21 year-old players in baseball history. He was nearly as unhittable as Clayton Kershaw, actually besting him (and everyone else) with a 5.8 hits per nine innings, best in MLB. While his character came into question by the Braves and Brian McCann after his extreme home run watching episode in September, it proved very little about how fantastic he is on the mound. While it is fair to question the future of the Miami Marlins due to their horrific owner, Jeffrey Loria, Jose Fernandez is a gem, who should continue to post awe-worthy numbers as long as his 6’2″, 240 pound frame will allow him to do so.

Honorable Mention: Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta Braves; Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals; Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers; Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers; Matt Adams, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals; Khris Davis, OF, Milwaukee Brewers;

Rivera1MLB Comeback Player of the Year: Mariano Rivera, RHP, New York Yankees

Year Age Tm Lg W L ERA G GF SV IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 43 NYY AL 6 2 2.11 64 60 44 64.0 58 16 15 6 9 54 192 1.047 8.2 7.6 6.00
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/13/2013.

After tearing his ACL while shagging fly balls and being limited to just nine appearances in 2012, Rivera came back and picked up right where he left off in his storied career, finishing the 2013 with over 40 saves for the ninth time in his career. The 2013 season was his final season and it was full of terrible gifts that he received during his farewell tour, but it didn’t stop Rivera from maintaining the status quo, pitching stoically and professionally while shutting the door on the opposition with his dynamic cutter. The game will miss Rivera not because of the No. 42 officially going away forever, but because he was one of the classiest people to ever put on a uniform. His willingness to come back from his injury to leave on his terms showed his character as he now goes off to a happy retirement.

Honorable Mention: Francisco Liriano, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates; Scott Kazmir, LHP, Cleveland Indians; James Loney, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays; Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies;

When Fantasy Baseball Goes Wrong

FernandezRemember when you gambled on Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez in your starting rotation earlier this spring? Well, congratulations to you and your number one seed in the fantasy baseball playoffs, and I hope you enjoyed your first round exit against the lowest seeded team in the playoffs.

It seems like every year that the top teams are taken out by the lower seeds, just like catching the yearly No.12 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament taking out the No.5 seed. Even teams that were riding another near-Triple Crown season out of Miguel Cabrera are now probably thinking about who they are going to be keeping this winter after the Detroit Tigers’ slugger has battled an abdominal strain while missing 11 games since late July, costing his owners victories and a title.

Whether you play in a one-year league, a dynasty league, a points league, or a standard roto-league, you’ve probably been the recipient of the late season luck or the suffering owner of another 2011-Boston Red Sox-esque collapse for your fake team.

It truly isn’t an avoidable situation.

How were you supposed to know that Brewers shortstop Jean Segura was going to crash so hard that owning Ronny Cedeno may have been a better option? Seriously…the last 28 days:

Segura:

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip sOPS+
2013 Totals 145 619 584 74 173 20 10 12 49 44 12 25 83 .296 .331 .426 .757 249 .328 111
Last 28 days 22 94 88 7 21 2 1 0 5 7 5 5 11 .239 .280 .284 .564 25 .273 59
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/19/2013.

Cedeno:

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip sOPS+
2013 Totals 84 269 247 24 64 8 3 3 21 4 4 13 68 .259 .300 .352 .653 87 .345 83
Last 28 days 22 82 75 10 26 2 1 2 9 1 3 6 15 .347 .395 .480 .875 36 .414 144
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/19/2013.

It doesn’t stop there, however.

Allen Craig‘s injuries have limited him to a .738 OPS in the second half when he has been on the field, while Brandon Belt (.922) and Brandon Moss (.989) have not only outproduced Craig, but they’ve bettered Chris Davis (.871), Prince Fielder (.840), and Joey Votto (.908) since the All-Star break.

PhillipsKhris Davis, the 25-year-old rookie outfielder for the Brewers who took the spot of Ryan Braun after his suspension, is just as likely to be carrying a team running towards a championship as Pirates’ superstar, and possible NL MVP, Andrew McCutchen. Will Venable has outproduced Jose Bautista, Kole Calhoun and Junior Lake have provided more punch than Jacoby Ellsbury and Alex Rios, and Billy Hamilton may be stealing a title right now while Brandon Phillips takes a face to the sphincter and a slump to the playoffs (a .421 OPS over the last two weeks).

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Fantasy baseball is a long season, just like the real thing. One can never truly prepare for the out-of-nowhere injuries, but if you thought that Harvey, Fernandez, or any other innings-limit candidate pitchers were going to help you, Bill Engvall has a sign for you on his redneck comedy tour.

What can you do to overcome these situations next season?

Assume that the solid young arm won’t help you in September and sell him off early?

Puig2Any small sample size that seems unreasonable probably is, so don’t assume that Yasiel Puig is a better player than Mike Trout.

Rely on veterans who have been through 162-game seasons before, who may be less likely to break down after August.

Have enough depth to cope with injuries and slumps – don’t deal it for spare parts near the trade deadline to get you over the proverbial “hump”.

Know that no matter what you do…it’s probably wrong. Luck plays a huge role in the No.8 seed knocking off the No.1 seed, and even if it isn’t every season that the upset occurs, it is just as likely to happen than not. If your league doesn’t give point values to the No.1 seed as a “home-field advantage” concept, they start off with the same likelihood of winning in the first round as the team that just snuck in.

Fair or not, you’re probably screwed. Just move on to fantasy football and figure out that Dolphins’ running back Lamar Miller and Bengals’ running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis will probably be defeating your Adrian Peterson and Tom Brady-stacked lineup next weekend. You’re living a fantasy. Deal with it.

In Case You Haven’t Noticed…

It’s late in the baseball season and there are a lot of things that could be distracting you, such as following up on Johnny Manziel’s battle with the NCAA, completing your 21 fantasy football drafts, and wondering who will be Ace or Gary when you attend a Halloween party as the Incredibly Gay Duo. While all of those things are important, I present to you the world of baseball that you may have missed due to your fascination of Miley twerking.

  • SorianoYankees’ left fielder Alfonso Soriano leads MLB with 42 RBI and is tied with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera for the lead in home runs (13) since the All-Star break. The Yankees are 21-16 since Soriano returned to New York and the Yanks are 2.5 games behind Tampa for the second Wild Card spot with 23 games remaining, including seven games against Boston (a four-game series begins today in New York) and three against the Rays.
  • New Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Marlon Byrd is leading the majors in total bases since the All-Star break with 101 (he is tied with teammate Andrew McCutchen and San Diego outfielder Will Venable), and he is tied with Minnesota Twins shortstop Brian Dozier for extra-base hits since the break with 26. Byrd will look to continue his torrid pace in helping lead the Pirates to the NL Central title after the Buccos have already guaranteed their fans with the club’s first winning season since 1992.
  • Washington Nationals’ outfielder Jayson Werth looked like a total waste of a seven-year, $126 million deal after his horrendous first season, 2011, in the nation’s capital, but he has hit .311/.392/.487 over the last two seasons while battling various injuries. If Werth continues his production next season and the Nats get a full, healthy season out of Bryce Harper and their very good pitching staff, the letdown from 2013 will be all forgiven in 2014 with an improved season. Werth, by the way, is 8th in MLB in OPS (.920).
  • Toronto outfielder Rajai Davis doesn’t receive a lot of praise or playing time, but he has 40 stolen bases in just 93 games. With his .313 OBP, Davis has made an appearance on the bases just 93 times in 301 plate appearances. When you take away the two triples and four home runs (since he hasn’t stolen home and he can’t steal a base after a home run), it means that Davis has successfully stolen a base in 46 percent of his appearances on base. With his speed, who needed to wait for Billy Hamilton for an impact base runner?
  • Davis2There are only six players with 30 or more home runs (Chris Davis, Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Pedro Alvarez, Paul Goldschmidt, and Adam Dunn) after 22 players reached the tier in 2012 and 24 players reached in 2011. With 17 players within six homers or reaching 30, and several within that group unlikely to do so (I’m looking at you J.J. Hardy and the injured Domonic Brown), the top-tier of sluggers appears to be a very rare breed with pitching being so dominant.

Speaking of pitching…

  • Max Scherzer is sitting at 19-2, but the names of other starting pitchers ranked near the top in wins is quite surprising: Jorge De La Rosa (16), Francisco Liriano (15), Chris Tillman (15), and Bartolo Colon (14) rank in the top eight in the strange statistic. While some writers will look at the win as valuable in determining who should win the Cy Young, it clearly has little use in determining who has been the best pitcher.
  • It’s somewhat disappointing to see numbers fall with the drop in velocity, but that is exactly what has happened to former Cy Young favorites like Justin Verlander (12-10, 3.59 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) and C.C. Sabathia (13-11, 4.86 ERA, 1.35 WHIP). With the fall from grace, though, has come exciting young arms like Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, and Matt Harvey (R.I.P.). Unfortunately for the aging arms, it doesn’t appear to be getting better, as Sabathia has a 6.88 ERA in the second half, while Verlander has a more respectable 3.77 ERA since the break.
  • FernandezSpeaking of those young arms and specifically Jose Fernandez, the young, Cuban-born right-hander has been filthy in the second half. His 0.83 WHIP is tops among all starting pitchers and the 70:13 K:BB in 54 innings is downright nasty. With the Marlins possibly looking to deal their only source of offense, Giancarlo Stanton, this winter, Fernandez will likely continue to post ridiculous numbers without wins going forward, although he has won five games since the break.
  • For all of those still sitting back and waiting for Chris Sale‘s arm to explode, it hasn’t happened. The White Sox ace has been even better in 2013 than he was last season, posting a 2.97 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP while improving his strikeout rate AND his walk rate on a per nine inning basis. After being locked up for five-years, $32.5 million (with team options totalling $26 million over 2018 and 2019), the Pale Hose look very wise in their string-bean investment.
  • R.A. Dickey‘s knuckleball didn’t carry over to the AL East. The veteran right-hander has a 4.30 ERA and 1.27 WHIP after posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP from 2010 through 2012 with the New York Mets. The small parks, the strong teams, and the patient hitters are all a factor in the decline, but when you don’t really know which way the ball is going when using a trick pitch, that kind of makes things difficult, too.
  • DarvishYu Darvish is having an absolutely stupid season. He leads MLB with his 12.0 K/9 and he has struck out 240 of the 722 batters that he has faced (33.2 percent). While some Cy Young voters will look at Scherzer’s 19 wins and look stupid years from now, it is the unhittable Darvish, who has allowed 124 hits in 179.2 innings and a .192 BAA, who deserves the award.

My 2013 MLB All-Star Team

Because so many people are clamoring over what I think, I figured it was time to make my All-Star ballot public, while filling up the rosters so that each team is represented. Feel free to ridicule and taunt my choices if you wish, but you’ll have to defend yourself.

 NLNational League – 35 players

Starting Lineup:

1. Carlos Gomez, CF, MIL: Continuing his awesome breakout.

2. Brandon Phillips, 2B, CIN: Huge production behind Votto in Cincy lineup.

3. Joey Votto, 1B, CIN: His numbers would look much better if he was pitched to.

4. David Wright, 3B, NYM: Hometown hero and best 3B in the NL.

5. Carlos Gonzalez, LF, COL: Hitting everywhere this year, even away from Coor’s.

6. Carlos Beltran, RF, STL: Defying age with a healthy, productive season.

7. Michael Cuddyer, DH, COL: Helping to make the Rockies a contender in 2013.

8. Buster Posey, C, SF: Tough choice over Molina, but his bat is still bigger.

9. Jean Segura, SS, MIL: Huge breakout by one of the key pieces in the Greinke deal with the Angels.

Starting Pitcher: Matt Harvey, RHP, NYM: Probably the biggest story in the biggest city in all of baseball, he gets the start at Citi Field.

Pitchers:

Jeff Locke, LHP, PIT

Jason Grilli, RHP, PIT

Jordan Zimmerman, RHP, WAS

Clayton Kershaw, LHP, LAD

Patrick Corbin, LHP, ARZ

Cliff Lee, LHP, PHI

Adam Wainwright, RHP, STL

Shelby Miller, RHP, STL

Aroldis Chapman, LHP, CIN

Craig Kimbrel, RHP, ATL

Edward Mujica, RHP, STL

Rafael Soriano, RHP, WAS

Travis Wood, LHP, CHI-C

Jeff Samardzija, RHP, CHI-C

Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, PHI

Bench:

Yadier Molina, C, STL

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, ARZ

Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL

Marco Scutaro, 2B, SF

Everth Cabrera, SS, SD

Giancarlo Stanton, RF, MIA

Yasiel Puig, OF, LAD

Domonic Brown, OF, PHI

Matt Carpenter, 2B, STL

Andrew McCutchen, CF, PIT

Biggest Snubs: Sergio Romo, RHP, SF; Kevin Gregg, RHP, CHI-C; Lance Lynn, RHP, STL; Allen Craig, 1B, STL; Mat Latos, RHP, CIN; Madison Bumgarner, LHP, SF; Rex Brothers, LHP, COL; A.J. Burnett, RHP, PIT; Nate Schierholtz, OF, CHI-C; Shin-Soo Choo, OF, CIN; Ryan Braun, LF, MIL; Bryce Harper, OF, WAS; Ian Desmond, SS, WAS; Chris Johnson, 1B/3B, ATL; Pedro Alvarez, 3B, PIT; Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, LAD; Wilin Rosario, C, COL; Evan Gattis, C/OF, ATL;

ALAmerican League – 35 players

Starting Lineup:

1. Mike Trout, LF, LAA: Having a “down” year when compared to his 2012 rookie season, which was one of the greatest in baseball history.

2. Robinson Cano, 2B, NYY: Tough choice but his bat is still huge and he gets the start in NYC.

3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, DET: His numbers are even better than his 2012 Triple Crown winning season.

4. Chris Davis, 1B, BAL: An absolute monster season from the toss-in in the Koji Uehara deal with Texas.

5. Jose Bautista, RF, TOR: Production is slightly down, but Joey Bats is still a huge fan favorite.

6. David Ortiz, DH, BOS: Still producing as a member of AARP.

7. Adam Jones, CF, BAL: Continuing where he left off in 2012 and becoming one of the top players in baseball.

8. Joe Mauer, C, MIN: The power won’t ever be there again from his 2009 MVP season (28 HR), but he can find the gaps and be productive in ways that no other AL catcher can match.

9. Jhonny Peralta, SS, DET: Quietly having an incredible season as one of the worst defensive SS in baseball – loving his production, though.

Starting Pitcher: Yu Darvish, RHP, TEX: He just struck you out and you didn’t even know he threw three pitches. Having a dominant season.

Pitchers:

Jesse Crain, RHP, CHI-W

Felix Hernandez, RHP, SEA

Justin Masterson, RHP, CLE

Max Scherzer, RHP, DET

Mariano Rivera, RHP, NYY

Joe Nathan, RHP, TEX

Clay Buchholz, RHP, BOS

Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP, SEA

Ervin Santana, RHP, KC

Greg Holland, RHP, KC

Bartolo Colon, RHP, OAK

Matt Moore, LHP, TB

Bud Norris, RHP, HOU

Glen Perkins, LHP, MIN

Jim Johnson, RHP, BAL

Bench:

Jason Castro, C, HOU

Adam Lind, 1B, TOR

Prince Fielder, 1B, DET

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, BOS

Jason Kipnis, 2B, CLE

Evan Longoria, 3B, TB

Manny Machado, 3B, BAL

Jed Lowrie, SS, OAK

Nelson Cruz, OF, TEX

Coco Crisp, OF, OAK

Biggest Snubs: Josh Donaldson, 3B, OAK; J.J. Hardy, SS, BAL; Adrian Beltre, 3B, TEX; Kyle Seager, 3B, SEA; Howie Kendrick, 2B, LAA; Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/3B/DH, TOR; Carlos Santana, C, CLE; Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, NYY; Chris Sale, LHP, CHI-W; Addison Reed, RHP, CHI-W; Grant Balfour, RHP, OAK; Casey Janssen, RHP, TOR;

 

Why This Year Will Be Different in Pittsburgh

BreamI was 12 years old when the Pittsburgh Pirates mattered, 1992 to be exact. The club lost to the Atlanta Braves in seven games in the NLCS when Sid Bream scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth off of Stan Belinda, the Bucs third straight loss in the NLCS between 1990 (Cincinnati Reds) and 1992 (Braves, twice). After the 1992 season, the Pirates lost Barry Bonds to the San Francisco Giants, and they haven’t had a winning season since. Is it the curse of the BALCO-bino?

PNC ParkTwenty consecutive losing seasons is pretty devastating for any professional franchise. Somehow, in the midst of all of the losing, Pittsburgh approved a publicly-funded stadium (1998), as the Pirates and the Steelers received money for PNC Park and Heinz Field. In the twelfth season in PNC Park, the 2013 season will finally be the year that the Pittsburgh Pirates develop into a contender.

TaillonColeThe change all started in late 2007 when the Pirates hired Neal Huntington as their GM. While the process has appeared tedious, the farm system has gradually become loaded with high-end pitching prospects and several toolsy position players. Huntington drafted Pedro Alvarez in the 1st round of the 2008 MLB Draft and followed that up with Tony Sanchez and Victor Black in 2009 (Sanchez just got his first call and Black is a solid relief prospect), Jameson Taillon in 2010, Gerrit Cole in 2011, and while they didn’t sign Mark Appel in 2012, the Pirates were able to get Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire in the first round due to a compensation pick in the 2013 draft. Add on the international signings of solid prospects like Alen Hanson, Gregory Polanco, and Luis Heredia, and the future appears bright for the Pirates.

CutchHowever, it doesn’t stop with the future when the future is this year. At 46-30, the Pirates are two games back from the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central. While the offense has struggled throughout the season, Pittsburgh still has Andrew McCutchen in center and budding star (if he can get a handle on the strike zone) Starling Marte in left. The team’s .241 average ranks 25th in MLB, they’re 21st in runs scored (293), and 22nd in OPS (.693), but their pitching is what has made the difference this season.

The starting rotation (Jeff Locke, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Cole, Wandy Rodriguez, Charlie Morton, and a host of others) have combined for a 3.37 ERA, 3rd in MLB, while the Pirates’ bullpen, led by Jason Grilli and his MLB-leading 26 saves, has a 3.03 ERA, good for 6th in MLB.

It may be questionable as to whether the Pirates will continue to outscore their opposition or if their pitching will hold up as the season progresses, but that is exactly what they will do.

With a little help from the injury gods, the Pirates will get more production out of McCutchen, whose .810 OPS is the lowest of his entire career, continued improvement from Alvarez, who is hitting .310/.395/.704 with 8 HR and 21 RBI in 20 June games, and if Jordy Mercer can solidify the shortstop position and keep Clint Barmes on the bench, the team will be much more potent offensively, even if Mercer doesn’t have a great track record.

The Pirates could get some additional starts out of Cole and Taillon, if they want to push him, this season, or utilize them in the bullpen to limit their innings if the current staff falters. Locke may not have a history of success, but his ability to keep runners from scoring (NL-best 2.01 ERA) doesn’t seem like something that will just vanish. I watched him in Cincinnati on Wednesday night and the Reds couldn’t touch his fastball and change-up, as Locke’s ability to change speeds could warrant his early statistics as legit. All of the arms in the rotation have shown strikeout potential in the past, Burnett and Liriano especially, so if the Pirates get consistency over the rest of the season, there is no reason to doubt them.

Marte3Youth, veterans with talent, and depth…three reasons why the Pittsburgh Pirates will continue to be contenders in the 2013 season. Buster Olney ranked the team 4th on his recent power rankings, and while I think Buster Olney is a putz most of the time, I’m beginning to buy on the Buccos.


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