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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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;

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.

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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2013 MLB Free Agents: Top 10 Starting Pitchers

Courtesy: ESPN

Below is a list of starting pitchers who will, or could, reach free agency. Some players listed have options that will probably not be picked up, while others are totally free to sign with whomever they choose or settle for.

1. Zack Greinke, RHP, 10/21/1983

91-78, 3.77 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 1,492 IP, 1,332:379 K:BB

Greinke has been traded twice in the last two years, first from Kansas City to Milwaukee, then from Milwaukee to the Los Angeles Angels. The right-hander has overcome some personal anxiety battles, but those mental battles could limit his potential suitors when he hits free agency. Those interested in the front line starter may want to consider his home and road splits, as Greinke is a true ace at home (55-30, 3.42 ERA in 138 games, 118 starts) but very mediocre away from his apparent comfort zones (36-48, 4.15 ERA, 134 games, 113 starts). At 29, Greinke will be one of two players (Josh Hamilton being the other) to cash in with a $100 million deal this winter.

2. Edwin Jackson, RHP, 11/9/1983

70-71, 4.40 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 1,268.2 IP, 969:497 K:BB

The stuff finally produced the strikeouts that Jackson’s arsenal was capable of in the second half of 2012, when Jackson posted a 92:28 K:BB in 88.1 innings, a 9.4 K/9 rate. Jackson posted a 9.2 K/9 in 2010 once he was traded to the Chicago White Sox, but could this be where Jackson finally cashes in and becomes an ace? If Jackson lands in a pitcher’s park, he could continue to take the steps necessary to become the pitcher everyone thought he was when he was outdueling Randy Johnson back in 2003 at the age of 19. He’ll finally get his long-term deal, even after pitching for seven teams in ten years.

3. Anibal Sanchez, RHP, 2/27/1984

48-51, 3.75 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 869 IP, 733:320 K:BB

Sanchez has yet to reach 200 innings in a season, but he has reached 200 strikeouts in a season once (2011). The stuff has always been there to help him reach ace levels, but there has also been concerns about his health at times in his career, warranted due to his innings limits to this point. Sanchez pitched very well down the stretch for the Detroit Tigers and could be on his way to establishing himself as the top-of-the-rotation starter that made him a part of the deal from Boston for Josh Beckett years ago.

4. Jake Peavy, RHP, 5/31/1981

120-93, 3.46 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 1,800.1 IP, 1,748:548 K:BB

Peavy had his first full season since 2008 in 2012 and his first season with at least 30 starts since 2007. It has been a long struggle with shoulder woes for Peavy, but he looked like his former self in 2012 amassing a 3.37 ERA and a 194:49 K:BB in 219 innings. Peavy is due either a $4 million buyout or a $22 million salary, so the chances of him returning to the White Sox in 2013 are about as slim as Jay-Z never dropping the “b” word again. Peavy will cash in, as some team will gamble on the shoulder staying strong and his revival being legit.

5. Kyle Lohse, RHP, 10/4/1978

118-109, 4.45 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 1,973 IP, 1,238:565 K:BB

Lohse put on a clinic in 2012, going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. The two seasons, Lohse is 30-11 with a 3.11 ERA over 399.1 innings. He’s clearly made himself a lot of money. Lohse is 34, so his contract could be limited. Teams could also be concerned about his pre-2011 form, as Lohse was just 88-98 with a 4.79 ERA over 10 seasons and 1,573.2 innings. St. Louis seems like a great fit, especially with an aging Chris Carpenter, as the Cardinals continue grooming Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Shelby Miller for rotation gigs.

6. Dan Haren, RHP, 9/17/1980

119-97, 3.66 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 1,876.2 IP, 1,585:395 K:BB

Haren has had some back issues the last couple of seasons, but he still managed to start 30 games in 2012. Haren has had issues his entire career maintaining his dominance, posting a 3.36 ERA and 63-50 record over 1,019.1 first half innings, while dropping to 56-47 with a 4.01 ERA in 857.1 second half innings. Haren rarely issues walks and is a great option for the top of a rotation. He is due $15.5 million or a $3.5 million buyout. If the Angels want to make a push to re-sign the younger Greinke, Haren could be bought out and headed to free agency. He’ll look to rebuild his value at the age of 32, still young enough for a nice, long-term commitment.

7. Francisco Liriano, LHP, 10/26/1983

53-54, 4.40 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 840 IP, 846:356 K:BB

Once upon a time, Liriano was on his way to becoming the next Johan Santana. Little did we know that once Santana’s shoulder was ripping away, that Liriano would deem himself just as useless. At the age of 22, Liriano was 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA. He then blew out his elbow and has gone just 40-49 with a 4.75 ERA since returning in 2008. Liriano can’t seem to throw enough strikes to be a consistent starting pitcher, but the stuff is still there, as evidenced by his 9.6 K/9 in 2012, to dominate…or continue to be a headcase.

8. Jorge De La Rosa, LHP, 4/5/1981

54-51, 4.96 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 780.1 IP, 688:383 K:BB

De La Rosa is another gamble, but he showed that he has the stuff to be a very nice mid-rotation starter before his 2011 Tommy John surgery. From 2009 until his injury in 2011, the lefty was 29-18 with a 4.18 ERA and 358:160 K:BB in 365.2 innings. De La Rosa struggled in his career prior to learning how to pitch once landing in Colorado. If he can pitch successfully there, can he do it anywhere? Owed $11 million or a $1 million buyout in 2013, De La Rosa is a great candidate to reach free agency to rebuild his career on an incentive-laden, one-year contract.

9. Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP, 4/12/1981

9-5, 3.16 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 125.1 IP, 101:43 K:BB

Iwakuma is an unknown, having turned down an opportunity to sign with Oakland in 2011 before signing a one-year contract with the Seattle Mariners prior to 2012. Iwakuma could bolt back to Japan or get himself a nice multi-year deal in the states after posting an 8-4 record, 2.65 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over 16 starts for the Mariners down the stretch. He has some mileage on his arm from his days pitching in Japan, but Iwakuma is sure to make more than the $1.5 million that he earned in 2012.

10. Brandon McCarthy, RHP, 7/7/1983

37-39, 4.02 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 654.1 IP, 447:191 K:BB

I would LOVE to have this guy on my team. While there will be concerns about his abilities due to the head trauma that he suffered, and his mobility due to brain surgery, McCarthy is worth a gamble by a contender or a team in need of a top starter. While there is a great deal of risk in signing McCarthy, he has overcome odds before, returning from a broken shoulder to become one of the best pitchers in baseball. Once returning from injury, McCarthy had a new, two-seam fastball that has changed his career, ala Roy Halladay in 2001. He made 11 appearances in 2010 in the minors, signing with the Oakland A’s in 2011, and going on to post a 17-15 record, 3.29 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 281.2 innings (43 starts). If he could just stay on the mound, he would be even more respected than he already is. Here’s to a speedy recovery and a fantastic rebound for a guy who seems like a lot of fun (follow him and his wife on Twitter, they’re hilarious!).

HONORABLE MENTION: Gavin Floyd, RHP ($9.5 million team option); Carlos Villanueva, RHP; Joe Saunders, LHP; Hiroki Kuroda, RHP; Jeremy Guthrie, RHP; Carlos Zambrano, RHP; Kevin Correia, RHP;

Shocking Spring #’s

Below are some guys who have impressed or have been absolutely miserable.  There are familiar names and there are some surprises.  Can it carry over if they’re doing well?  Will it carry over if they’re doing poorly?  Only time will tell, but it’s nice to dream that:

Melky Cabrera is a future Hall of Famer

.410/.425/.769, 5 2B, 3 HR, and 9 RBI

Cabrera hit .468/.471/.742 last spring, then he went on to have a career year, posting a .305/.339/.470 slash with 44 2B, 5 3B, 18 HR, 87 RBI, and 20 SB.  He is now in San Francisco instead of Kansas City, but he could use the spacious gaps to post similar numbers this season.

The Tigers have two stars and they aren’t Cabrera and Fielder

Delmon Young: .472/.487/1.000, 4 2B, 5 HR, 19 RBI

Ryan Raburn: .462/.464/1.308, 2 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 18 RBI

Raburn looks like he shouldn’t have to share second base with Ramon Santiago.  He’s always had excellent power, so this is something that should continue…as long as he keeps making contact, which is where his problem has always been.

Young is also raking, the same thing he has done since joining Detroit.  Keep in mind that Young scored 28 runs, ripped 5 2B, 1 3B, 8 HR, and drove in 32 runs in just 40 games when he arrived in Western Windsor Canada last season.  If he cuts down on his strikeouts, Young, too, could develop into a star…the one everyone thought he was going to be several years ago.

Short people can play baseball

Colin Cowgill: .419/.469/.605, 4 2B, 2 3B, 4 SB

It is still a crowded A’s outfield, and the 5’9″ University of Kentucky product will have trouble finding playing time because of it.  With Coco Crisp in left, Yoenis Cespedes in center, and Josh Reddick in right, Cowgill will battle Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes for backup outfield time and occasional starts at DH.  Cowgill may never get a serious shot due to his size, and that would be a short-coming…pun intended…by the organizations that continue to overlook him.

He Cain lead the league in OPS

Lorenzo Cain: .500/.553/.971, 7 2B, 3 HR, 5 RBI

With Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, and Mike Moustakas becoming the elite players that everyone anticipated them becoming, what would make the Royals really happy?  How about ANYONE from the Zack Greinke trade working out for them!?  Cain won’t be killing any of his brothers, but he could destroy some pitching and become one of the best center fielders in baseball in his rookie season.

Francisco Liriano is good again

2.77 ERA, 0.62 WHIP, .143 BAA, 18/2 K/BB in 13 IP

Dude can pitch when the Twins let him pitch in the Dominican Winter League…which they didn’t let him do prior to an absolutely disgusting 2011.

The most dominant pitcher this spring won’t have a job when camp breaks…sorry about your luck Wade LeBlanc

0.61 ERA, 0.41 WHIP, .083 BAA, 15/2 K/BB in 14 2/3 IP

Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, and Carlos Zambrano will be ahead of him, but LeBlanc should get a shot at some point between Johnson and Sanchez shoulder woes and a Zambrano breakdown.

The Suckers

Jair Jurrjens: 10.13 ERA, 2.63 WHIP, .403 BAA, 8/10 K/BB in 13 1/3 IP

Jurrjens would do better just sitting a ball on a tee.  The only guys who aren’t hitting against him are the ball boys, and his ugly K/BB ratio is concerning, as are his consistent shoulder woes.  Stay away.

Mike Pelfrey: 14.90 ERA, 2.69 WHIP, .426 BAA, 4/6 K/BB in 9 2/3 IP

Not even Pelfrey’s ears can hold the ball back this spring.  It looks like his two pitch arsenal is finally not working, but no one saw that coming…except Ray Charles.

Raul Ibanez: .059/.111/.088, 2 for 34 with 0 XBH and 2 RBI

Wonder why he was still available when the Yankees finally signed him?  Oh…I know.  He’s old and can’t hit a fastball.  Andruw Jones will get a lot of at bats at DH in 2012.

Freddie Freeman: .174/.191/.171, 8 for 46, 0 XBH, and 3 RBI

Freeman had some issues with a knee dislocation earlier in the spring, so he may get a small pass for that; however, the Braves need him to have it in high gear when things really get going, as he is one of their key bats.

Jason Heyward: .208/.236/.358, 11 for 53, 2 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 16 K!

So much for refining his swing.  Heyward has picked up where he left off in 2011.  There is still time for him to get it going, but if both Freeman AND Heyward are hitting like this in April, the Braves will be alongside the Mets in the NL East basement.