Results tagged ‘ 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!
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)
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.
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.
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) March 22, 2015
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.
- 2015 Season Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks (3/1/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Atlanta Braves (2/28/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Baltimore Orioles (3/4/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Chicago Cubs (4/1/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Chicago White Sox (3/4/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Cincinnati Reds (3/11/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Colorado Rockies (2/24/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Houston Astros (3/1/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Kansas City Royals (2/25/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Milwaukee Brewers (3/11/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Minnesota Twins (2/21/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: New York Mets (4/1/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Philadelphia Phillies (2/20/2015)
- 2015 Season Previews: Pittsburgh Pirates (3/22/2015)
- Season Previews: Miami Marlins (3/25/2015)
Gregory Polanco was a late signing by the Pittsburgh Pirates in April of 2009, signing as an 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, atypical from the normal rush on 16-year-old international free agents every July 2nd. Now 22, Polanco is already older than Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper, and just four months younger than Angels’ superstar Mike Trout, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t capable of becoming the next big thing in Major League Baseball.
Polanco is a 6’4″, 220 pound, left-handed hitting machine, who will soon displace the horrific combination of Jose Tabata and Travis Snider in the Pittsburgh Pirates outfield. It is fair to wonder if Polanco in right field from Day One of the 2014 season would have led the Pirates to a better record than their current 18-26 start…that and Francisco Liriano, Wandy Rodriguez, and Edinson Volquez showing some semblance of being major league pitchers in their 23 combined starts. Polanco likely would have been up by now had he not turned down the seven-year, $25 million deal that CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman said was offered earlier this month.
Like many others, Polanco sits in the minors waiting for his opportunity to be promoted, not due to lack of performance, but due to the business side of baseball. His numbers this season (going into Wednesday) and his career:
The Astros’ seemed to say “to hell with it” when determining when it was time to promote George Springer earlier this month, allowing him to come to the majors and begin his service time, while, simultaneously risking another season of team control. While costs and control are issues, the Pirates, who had their first winning season since 1992 last year, could use a player of Polanco’s caliber to ignite an offense that currently ranks 26th in MLB in runs scored and 18th in OPS. After introducing a new generation of Pirates fans to “real” baseball, it is inexcusable and a slap in the face to run anyone other than Polanco out in right field the rest of the 2014 season.
Beyond the typical production, here are some additional sweet treats:
- vs. LHP in 2014: .345/.429/.436, 19 for 55, 13:8 K:BB, three extra-base hits, 15 RBI
- Before breaking out in 2012, Polanco managed a triple-slash of .235/.303/.332 over his first 674 plate appearances
- Since 2012, Polanco has a triple-slash of .315/.384/.496 over 1,214 plate appearances
- Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus: “Well above-average athlete; long legs; more room to add strength; easy plus run; big, graceful strides; excellent range in the field; arm is plus; glove could play above average; good bat-to-ball skills; makes a lot of contact; hit tool likely to play plus; power potential is easy plus; makes quick adjustments; plus makeup.”
- Jonathon Mayo of MLB.com: “Polanco has five-tool potential. He is an aggressive hitter, but doesn’t strike out a ton and has become more willing to take a walk. His swing does have a tendency to get long, a problem compounded by his lanky frame. Still, with his hands and bat speed, he has the potential to be a special hitter with above-average power. Polanco has plus speed and covers ground well in the outfield. He is a center fielder now, but he has a strong arm and could slide over to right field if necessary. That could be his spot in PNC Park before too long.”
- John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com: “Five Tool/Seven Skill player with glowing scouting reports, dominated High-A but was merely good in Double-A, granted at age 21 that’s just fine. Spring reports continue to sparkle.”
Polanco looks like he’ll be waiting in Indianapolis for his call until June, but he, and Pirate fans, certainly deserve an earlier promotion. Look for tremendous things from Polanco in the near future. He isn’t capable of monster power numbers, at least not yet, but he can do plenty of things to accumulate value due to his tremendous tool-set, much more than Tabata and Snider.
On Sunday, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that if the Boston Red Sox are unable to re-sign Mike Napoli, they could look to make a deal with the Los Angeles Angels for first baseman/outfielder Mark Trumbo, saying:
Trumbo, who would come at half Napoli’s price, cannot become a free agent until after the 2017 season, has tremendous righthanded power (34 homers, 100 RBIs this season), and is considered an above-average first baseman. Yes, he strikes out a ton (184 times in 2013). The Angels could use a third baseman (Will Middlebrooks?) and a pitcher (Felix Doubront?). The Pirates and Rays could also be fits.
God bless columnists, who have to fill up a page in a dynamic market in a dying industry, but this is reaching. In fact, the major issue is that so many teams are rumored to have interest in Trumbo in the first place.
Trumbo has some serious power, mashing 95 home runs and driving in 282 runs over the last three seasons, but those numbers have come with a .251/.300/.473 triple-slash and a 457:115 K:BB in 1,837 plate appearances. Trumbo certainly has some power, but it is a power that will get very expensive within the arbitration process (see Ryan Howard‘s rapid salary increases) while producing very little elsewhere.
Add on the fact that Trumbo is a weak defender at first, third, and the outfield, and you’re paying premium dollar for a player who should truly be hidden at the designated hitter spot, which won’t really work with some guy named David Ortiz in Boston, while it certainly won’t help the Pirates in the National League.
More damning is why the Red Sox would give up Will Middlebrooks and Felix Doubront for Trumbo, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2014 and is already 27, coming off of his worst season (based on OPS and WAR) of his career. Middlebrooks isn’t even arbitration-eligible until 2016 and Doubront is 26, left-handed, breathing, and under team-control through 2018, while showing improved numbers in ERA and WHIP in 2013.
Certainly, dealing for a powerful bat is intelligent rather than going to the free agent market and giving nine-figures to a player like Shin-Soo Choo, but Trumbo isn’t really a “guy” when it comes to improving a roster. Considering that in 660 plate appearances, Will Middlebrooks has a .254/.294/.462 triple-slash with 32 home runs and 103 RBI, don’t the Red Sox already have Mark Trumbo?
Boston should try to get Napoli to re-sign, they should even try to get Jarrod Saltalamacchia to re-sign, but they need to be smarter than this type of trade to make sure that they don’t fall back to the 2012 Boston Red Sox instead of the 2013 champion-version.
Mark Trumbo is highly overrated due to his power production, but teams like the Red Sox could find players who are just as productive when looking over the last three season’s OPS leaders, where you’ll find Jason Kipnis, Seth Smith, Lucas Duda, and Jason Heyward, with the same .773 OPS since 2011 that Trumbo sports, while players such as David Freese (.785), Adam Lind (.776), and Brandon Belt (.798), could be more affordable options in a trade or non-tender situation in 2014, while outproducing Trumbo in the OPS statistic over the last several seasons.
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers
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;
NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
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.
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.
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
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.
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.
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;
AL Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
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.
NL Rookie of the Year: Jose Fernandez, RHP, Miami Marlins
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;
MLB Comeback Player of the Year: Mariano Rivera, RHP, New York Yankees
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.
Start the 25-year-old, speedster rookie…Derrick Robinson, of course.
Baker, long regarded as a player’s manager and lover of all things veteran, was just needing to “keep his bench bats fresh” as managers love to say. Unfortunately, starting Derrick Robinson on Saturday, an eventual loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, was not the answer, as keeping Robinson “fresh” hasn’t really been a priority – not when he has started all of four games for the Cincinnati Reds since August 1, getting all of 25 at-bats in 19 games.
Even after his mediocre season in AAA, Billy Hamilton‘s a far better leadoff choice for the Reds than Robinson, who’s always been awful.
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) September 21, 2013
While Billy Hamilton hasn’t been playing regularly, just like Robinson, his ability to make a difference has shown up on the field plenty of times in just ten games and 16 plate appearances.
On Sunday, Baker made the right choice, starting Hamilton over the still ailing Choo against Pittsburgh…the Reds won 11-3 and Hamilton was 3 for 6 with two runs and two more stolen bases.
Hamilton has reached base eight times in two starts. He has stolen six bases, he has scored four times. The Reds have won both games.
Overall, Hamilton has been on base 12 times (including pinch-running) and he has stolen 12 bases and scored nine runs.
Not only should Hamilton have been starting over Derrick Robinson, it is worth questioning whether Choo should start in left field with Hamilton serving as the Reds’ everyday center fielder until he proves that he CAN’T keep doing what he has been doing since arriving in Cincinnati. Just for argument’s sake, Ryan Ludwick has scored seven runs in 32 games since returning from the disabled list (I understand that runs are a stat that require other hitters to assist in accumulating the statistic, but Hamilton’s ability to advance himself with his speed is a skill that can’t be matched in Major League Baseball at the moment).
Once the Reds clinch a playoff berth, you’ll likely see Baker resting all of his starters, which seems silly considering how “fresh” you’ll want his bat to be when games are so meaningful in the tight National League Central. If and when that happens, the smart decision would be to still put the best available player onto the field. Billy Hamilton was that player on Saturday and he very well could be that player over the rest of the 2013 season…if the club or manager were intelligent enough to make the right call.
- Reds leadoff man Choo out Saturday vs. Pirates (cbssports.com)
- HBT: Billy Hamilton had a whale of a game in his starting debut (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)
- Hamilton putting charge in Reds’ playoff hunt (mlb.mlb.com)
- Designated Runners: Why They Make Sense (thebaseballhaven.mlblogs.com)
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.
- Yankees’ 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?
- There 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.
- Speaking 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.
- Yu 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.
I 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?
Twenty 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.
The 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.
However, 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.
Youth, 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.
- Pirates batter Angels’ bullpen for comeback victory (cbssports.com)
- Blog Post: MLB Free Picks: Pittsburgh Pirates at Los Angeles Angels (pregame.com)
- Colin Dunlap: Morton The Epitome Of A Great Teammate (pittsburgh.cbslocal.com)
- “Shark Tank” Now A Reality At Pirates Clubhouse (pittsburgh.cbslocal.com)
While the season isn’t quite so young anymore with roughly 100 games remaining, the early season surprises and the small sample sizes that went along with them aren’t nearly so odd. Who is legit? Who will fall off? Who is still surprising?
Surprise, surprise. When you look at Iglesias’ career .257/.307/.314 line in four minor league seasons, and then you look at this:
Iglesias’ success would still qualify as a small sample, given his 83 plate appearances, but considering his struggles in the minors, especially his .202/.262/.319 line at Triple-A in 2013, his production is absolutely incredible. His likelihood to maintain this success is slim to none, unless, of course, Iglesias was just bored playing in the minor leagues. The 23-year-old appeared to be nothing more than organizational depth or a glove-based defensive replacement as recently as a month ago. Enjoy the ride while it lasts.
Not many guys have their best seasons in their mid-30’s without “the cream” or “the clear”, but that is exactly what Cuddyer is doing this season:
Cuddyer is on pace to shatter his career highs in OPS, AVG, and OBP, while posting productive numbers across the board. The Colorado lineup has been tremendous this season, leading to their current 2nd place ranking in the NL West standings. With Cuddyer’s ability to fill in for the oft-injured Todd Helton at first base and solidifying one of the most productive outfields in baseball, along with Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez, he continues to be a valuable, under-appreciated asset to fantasy teams and “real-life teams” alike.
What appeared to be a super-productive May has continued into June:
Brown is a superstar and his early-career parallels to Braves outfielder Jason Heyward have finally reached fruition. If you take at look at his overall numbers, below, you can see how unproductive he was during the first month of the season:
Can pitchers make adjustments to make him an afterthought again in Philadelphia? It appears highly unlikely, as Brown looks like an All-Star, who is capable of reaching 30-35 home runs this season, while pacing an aging Phillies’ lineup.
Donaldson has always had a solid, gap-power approach at the plate, posting a career minor league line of .275/.365/.470 over 2,302 plate appearances. That game has finally transitioned to the big show, as his overall line shows:
With Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie, Donaldson is giving the A’s a somewhat formidable lineup to team with its young pitching, and at 38-27 and in 2nd in the AL West, Oakland will once again be a threatening team down the stretch.
At no point during his time in the minor leagues did Corbin appear to be on the same track as Tyler Skaggs or Trevor Bauer for Arizona, a top-tier starting pitcher. Corbin seemed to have back-end stuff after posting a career 3.78 ERA and 1.27 WHIP over 430.2 innings. Then, the 2013 season happened:
Corbin has dominated in several starts this season and remains unbeaten after 12 starts. While he doesn’t possess shutdown, strikeout stuff, Corbin keeps the opposition off-balance and looks like the 2013 version of Wade Miley, the Diamondbacks lefty who has struggled mightily this season, but posted a 16-11 record and 3.33 ERA in his rookie season in 2012. He’ll eventually lose a game, but Corbin should continue to solidify himself as, at least, a mid-rotation starter, capable of becoming a Tom Glavine-like winner if he maintains his success, something that could be very challenging when he is pitching half of his games in the thin, desert air in Arizona.
Something clicked for Locke when he reached Triple-A Indianapolis within the Pirates organization. After posting a career 3.92 ERA over 629 innings prior to reaching Indianapolis, Locke posted a 2.44 ERA over 170 innings there before struggling in brief auditions in Pittsburgh in both 2011 and 2012. The 2013 season has been quite different, though:
Locke, like Corbin, doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, and, unlike Corbin, he flirts with disaster, at times, due to command. While Locke still does a solid job of keeping runners off of the base paths when he is throwing strikes, it isn’t wrong to wonder if he could succumb to another Pittsburgh flop, as the team remains without a winning record since 1992. It would be nice for the organization to have a veteran arm to rely on once Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are ready for Pittsburgh, and with A.J. Burnett dominating and potentially becoming trade fodder, Locke could be that guy. If he doesn’t improve either his walk rate or strikeout rates, though, he could be heading towards a drastic decline over the rest of the 2013 season.
A tremendous athlete, Wood is finally showing the skills that made him such a highly regarded young player when he came up with the Cincinnati Reds in 2010 and thrived. Things hadn’t gone so well the last couple of seasons, but things are back on track in 2013:
Not only has he been effective on the mound, but Wood could be one of the Cubs’ best hitters, having posted a .910 OPS with two home runs and seven RBI in just 26 at-bats – they should pinch-hit for the struggling Starlin Castro with him! With Wood and Jeff Samardzija around in the rotation, the Cubs have a couple of solid arms to build around…if they could just figure out a way to get rid of that now awful Edwin Jackson contract. Like Locke, Wood has spurts of control issues, but he is leading the NL in hits per nine and could well be on his way to establishing himself, along with Samardzija, as a dominant arm on the constantly rebuilding Cubs squad.
Didi Gregorius. A 23-year-old shortstop for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Didi Gregorius. A career .267/.319/.375 hitter in over 2,080 plate appearances in the minor leagues. Didi Gregorius. Currently hitting .324/.385/.541 with 8 doubles, 2 triples, and 4 home runs.
Can he keep this pace up?
Gregorius’ highest OPS in an overall minor league season was in 2011, when he posted a .753 OPS between High-A and Double-A within the Cincinnati Reds system. Those numbers were a tad inflated due to his time in Bakersfield, a club within the California League, where he posted a .791 OPS over 203 plate appearances. He was always pushed by the Cincinnati organization, as you can see below, only spending one season with the same club, which was his first season in the Gulf Coast League, and even moving from the Pioneer League to High-A for 22 games at the age of 19.
|2009||19||2 Teams||2 Lgs||CIN||72||299||275||36||82||14||1||1||18||8||13||36||.298||.341||.367||.708||101|
|2010||20||3 Teams||3 Lgs||CIN||163||717||653||84||167||21||13||6||50||20||45||81||.256||.311||.355||.666||232|
|2011||21||2 Teams||2 Lgs||CIN||84||363||336||48||97||18||4||7||44||11||19||50||.289||.324||.429||.753||144|
|2012||22||2 Teams||2 Lgs||CIN||129||561||501||70||133||21||11||7||54||3||41||80||.265||.324||.393||.717||197|
Gregorius has a .926 OPS, as I write this, and, after 124 plate appearances with Arizona, we should wonder now why he CAN’T keep this up. The young shortstop has several statistics playing in his favor:
- A .364 BABIP: While 45 stolen bases over six seasons leaves a lot to be desired in the speed category, Gregorius clearly has solid gap power and an ability to put the ball where fielders aren’t. The friendly-confines of Chase Field should be taken into consideration for his ability to continue to drive the ball, as well.
- A 9.5 percent HR/FB rate: Considering the top five HR/FB rate in MLB are Pedro Alvarez (29.4), Bryce Harper (29.3), Chris Davis (28.8), Justin Upton (28.0), and Adam Dunn (26.1), Gregorius and his 9.5 percent HR/FB are right in line with “league average”, so he could very well continue to put together numbers like he has to this point.
- A 31.3 O-Swing percentage: Gregorius is a smart hitter, working counts (3.94 pitches per at-bat) and swinging at strikes (O-Swing is percentage of pitches swung at outside of the strike zone).
- A 22.0 line drive percentage: Gregorius would rank right around 67th (with Andrelton Simmons and Gerardo Parra) with his current line drive rate. While that isn’t the upper echelon of hard hitters, it is right around the 20 percent league average (according to FanGraphs)
Gregorius is still highly underrated in fantasy leagues, ranking 21st among shortstops in ESPN’s Player Rater. He is no Troy Tulowitzki but he does have a similar career line as Jean Segura (without the speed), whose .969 OPS through 210 plate appearances was legit enough for ESPN to rank him as the No.1 shortstop.
The time may be now to buy into Gregorius. While he has a small sample size showing what he has, there may not be much more time to get him cheap, and the Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks sure seemed to find a lot of value in him this offseason when the three team deal with Cincinnati involving Trevor Bauer and Shin-Soo Choo was consummated.