Archive for the ‘ Analysis ’ Category

Analyzing the 25 Man Roster

The Pirates essentially finalized their 25 man roster earlier today. Technically speaking there are still a few additional players in camp but all of them are expected to begin the season on the DL. Overall the roster is constructed in a very expected manner and while it is not how I would have went about doing it most of the decisions are at least somewhat understandable. There are always going to be people who complain about the fringes of the 25 man roster but at the end of the day those fringes really do not matter much, it is the core of the team and the overall depth (bench, bullpen and minor leagues) that will determine the fate of a team. The 5th starter, the 5th bench spot and the 7th reliever are not really positions that will dramatically alter the course of a team so the overreaction to the Pirates decisions on those roster spots is likely overblown. With all that in mind let’s take a look at how the Pirates roster looks headed into Opening Day.

C: Russell Martin

1B: Garrett Jones

2B: Neil Walker

3B: Pedro Alvarez

SS: Clint Barmes

LF: Starling Marte

CF: Andrew McCutchen

RF: Travis Snider

BN: Michael McKenry, Gaby Sanchez, Jose Tabata, John McDonald, Josh Harrison

SP: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jonathan Sanchez, Jeff Locke

RP: Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Chris Leroux, Jeanmar Gomez

In reality the only players I would remove from the roster if I was in charge of its construction would be McDonald, Harrison (eventually Inge) and Gomez. In their place I would prefer to see Mercer, De Jesus and Morris. The other change I would like to see made is swapping Wilson and J Sanchez. Wilson is younger and in my opinion more likely to be able to contribute to the rotation for a few starts while Sanchez at this point is probably best suited trying to turn his career around as a lefty reliever. Even these changes though are for the most part temporary. When Liriano comes back I would most likely opt to bump Wilson from the rotation, when Karstens comes back I would most likely opt to bump Morris from the bullpen and I can even understand the argument for wanting McDonald over De Jesus. I don’t get Harrison or Inge over Mercer though. I know Mercer can’t play the outfield while the other sort of kind of can but the Pirates have enough options where they shouldn’t be considering playing infielders in the outfield anyway. The other advantage Inge has is supposedly power but people seem to forget Mercer has a little pop in his bat as well, it was just 2011 when he lead the Pirates minor leagues in home runs. Still arguments over the last bench spot are basically trivial and irrelevant. I don’t get why the Pirates need two (or even one) veteran middle infielders on the bench who can’t hit but in reality the difference between them and the other options is most likely negligible.

With that rather long disclaimer out-of-the-way I figured now was as good as time as any to take a look at the players the Pirates have opted to bring north.

Starting Infield

The starting infield is what we expected it to be all along. Russell Martin behind the dish will be counted on to provide solid defense and hopefully will produce somewhere in the vicinity of league average offense from the catcher position. The Pirates likely overpaid for him but if his superior pitch framing skills are actually real and not just a product of catching for guys like C.C. Sabathia then there is a chance he lives up the contract or maybe even provides some surplus value. I’m not expecting much in terms of offense from him but if he can be non horrible and provide the Pirates with an OPS around .700 I would take it.

Garrett Jones likely won’t be playing full-time at first base but assuming the Pirates actually stick to regularly platooning him this season he should get about 70% of the starts. Jones is here for essentially one purpose, to provide the Pirates with relatively cheap power. The rest of Jones’ game is fairly unremarkable from his defense to his baserunning but he is a fair hitter with plus power. That doesn’t make him a super valuable piece but it makes him an asset in the middle of the order. On the hot corner will reside Pedro Alvarez. Like Jones, Alvarez could probably benefit by sitting against some left handers but hopefully the Pirates give him a chance to prove his worth against them. Also like Jones, Alvarez is here to provide the Pirates with some power but unlike Jones, Alvarez has enough power potential where he could develop into an extremely valuable piece. Alvarez is going to strike out too much and not play the best defense at third but if he can show a little more plate discipline, draw a few more walks and continue blasting home runs he is going to have a lot of value.

Up the middle Neil Walker figures to get nearly every start at 2nd base and assuming Inge takes Harrison spot he better be starting everyday as the Pirates really won’t have a viable alternative on the 25 man roster. He had some back problems near the end of last season which bares watching but in reality any injury to him would really hurt the Pirates. It is unclear whether Hurdle plans to use him near the top of the order or more towards the bottom but given the fact he is one of the few Pirates players with a decent knack for getting on base placing him near the top (or eve at the top) of the order would probably be the wisest decision. Up the middle with Walker is Clint Barmes. Barmes’s value comes almost entirely from his ability to field the shortstop position very well but even so he is going to have to improve upon last year’s numbers to be of much use to the Pirates. Over the last 4 months of 2012 Barmes posted an OPS of around .650 and if he is able to do that for an entire season he won’t be the most glamorous shortstop but he will give the Pirates value.

Starting Outfield

The starting outfield is pretty much what we expected all along. There was a quasi competition for the corner spots but for the most part those were basically just made up as it was rather clear who should be the starters. In center field the Pirates will once again have their superstar Andrew McCutchen. There really isn’t a whole lot to say about him. He is likely one of the best 10 players in the game today and in order for the Pirates to have any chance of competing he will need to perform at a MVP caliber level. McCutchen did have a few flaws last year though and hopefully this season he will improve upon them. Last season he struggled stealing bases and was a little on the weak side defensively. Considering the rest of his game these are minor points of course but shoring them up would only make him more valuable.

In the corners the Pirates will use Starling Marte and Travis Snider. I expect to see both of them rested, especially Snider, on a fairly consistent basis but they will both get a long chance to prove themselves. Marte has plus speed and is a great defender so even if he struggles with the bat this season he is likely to still provide the Pirates with value. By no means is Marte’s bat weak though as he has the potential to possibly be the Pirates second best hitter this season behind only McCutchen. Marte is likely going to be forced into the leadoff spot a role he isn’t really suited for since he has some strike out issues but if he can maintain a high average and show any improvement in plate discipline he should be serviceable there. In the other corner will be Snider. He doesn’t have the speed or defense of Marte so he is going to have to hit to create value. People tend to think him hitting is less likely than Marte hitting well but in reality I think its a pretty even race. Snider has shown flashes in the past and comes with more power potential than Marte. The Pirates in order to have a shot at competing probably need one of these two to break out and become a true plus player and the other one will have to at least hold his own and be an average starter.

Bench

As I have previously stated the construction of the bottom of the bench really doesn’t matter a whole lot but the players near the top of the bench will likely get a lot of playing time so they will matter a good deal. The top player on the bench is likely Gaby Sanchez and he is expected to pick up the 30% or so of the starts that Garrett Jones doesn’t get at 1st base. Ideally Sanchez would bounce back to his 2010-11 form but that doesn’t really seem likely. In reality all the Pirates need him to be is a good bat against LHP and a good PH option off the bench two roles I think he’ll have no problem handling. Jose Tabata could potentially wind up in a similar situation to Sanchez only in right field. It is possible he winds up platooning with Snider and if that is the case he too will have to hit very well against left handed pitching. Tabata has the upside for more though. At this point he isn’t likely to develop into your traditional starting corner outfielder but he has very good plate discipline and that alone has the potential to make him a valuable asset atop the order. His speed although it has been questioned is still above average and his defense is probably around average as well. Tabata has the makings of an OBP first starting corner outfielder or a solid 4th outfielder. He is likely to be the second most important bench player.

The third most important bench spot and the last I see with much value will go to Michael McKenry. As the backup catcher he is likely to get at least 60 starts this season and will need to continue hitting as well as he did last season to provide value in those starts. His defense is decent but often overrated by Pirates fans but his bat can make him a solid backup catcher. The last two spots are currently slated to go to Harrison and McDonald but Inge will likely eventually assume Harrison’s role. In my mind the most important of these spots is the Harrison/Inge spot. This is supposedly the offensive first infield bench spot so whoever holds it down is going to have to actually you know hit at a respectable level. McDonald will serve as Barmes backup and though he is probably a touch worse both offensively and defensively his presence in the lineup for a day here or there shouldn’t really cause a noticeable difference.

Starting Rotation

Right now the Pirates rotation is a bit of mess. At the top of it the Pirates have probably one of the best one-two punches they have had in a while in AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez. Neither one is a true ace but both seem like fairly safe bets to put up solid numbers this season. At 36 and 34 years old respectively there is of course the chance that either Burnett or Rodriguez has reached the end of their rope as pitchers but with how both of them pitched last year it seems likely they probably have another year or two of value left in them at least. Behind them is James McDonald who si the ultimate wildcard for the Pirates. If there is a true ace currently in the Pirates rotation it is James McDonald. McDonald showed us in the first half of the season last year that he has the talent to be a number one starting pitcher but he showed us in the second half of the year that he isn’t ready to be that yet and possibly never will be. What James McDonald the Pirates get this year, potential ace, borderline #5 starter or somewhere in between will probably be one of the biggest factors in how the Pirates season winds up.

Rounding out the rotation are a pitcher who amazingly actually has a wider range of possible outcomes than McDonald and a pitcher who looks like a fair bet to be a solid a back end guy but who has yet to prove it at the major league level. Jonathan Sanchez is another wildcard in the Pirates rotation but he is even less likely to pay off than McDonald. If Sanchez can keep his control problems at a minimum he will have an excellent chance of being a solid middle of the rotation starter for the Pirates but if he can’t he will most definitely be a total disaster. The Pirates really can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be expecting much from him. If Sanchez can give the Pirates 3 or 4 non-horrible starts in the month of April without completely exploding then it should be considered a success. The other pitcher Locke is a different story. Locke pitched exceptionally well in AAA last season but in his short stint in the majors was the victim of a very unlucky high home run rate. Assuming the high home rate drops this season which it will almost assuredly do I’m fairly confident Locke can become a solid #4 starter for the Pirates and mange to keep them in almost every game. He isn’t the flashiest pitcher but his performance in AAA has earned him this shot.

Bullpen

The back of the bullpen will consist of Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes. These four actually make for a fairly solid quartet of arms. Grilli has been successful in a set up and middle relief role the last two seasons and will inherit the closer role this year. Melancon struggled last year in April and was sent down to the minors but when he returned to the majors he pitched pretty well The two of them , Grilli and Melancon, will likely be the Pirates 8th and 9th inning duo. By no means is this the best back end duo in the league but the tandem should be able to close out most leads that are handed over to them. Watson and Hughes were rather successful last season in their middle relief roles and will be counted on this season in later inning situations. Hughes will probably inherit the 7th inning role and Watson will continue being the top left handed releiver in the bullpen. The success of these two last year makes it fairly likely the adjustment should be relatively smooth.

At the front of the bullpen trying to bridge the gap to the back 4 guys will be Justin Wilson, Chris Leroux and Jeanmar Gomez. All 3 pitchers are capable of throwing multiple innings and all will likely be called upon to do so throughout the year. Wilson provides the Pirates with a second lefty and one who is more of a strike out pitcher. Leroux and Gomez will likely pick up most of the long relief duties. Both are out of options and one of them is likely to be released once pitchers began to get healthy so it will be sort of an extended competition for the duo. Leroux appears to have the more upside but Gomez has more major league experience. Leroux and Gomez are both fairly replaceable relievers so they will have to pitch well this season to remain with the team.

Lefty Relief

Clint Hurdle and the rest of the Pirates management have been on record stating they would like to carry at least two left handers in the major league bullpen. With less than two weeks remaining until opening day there are only 7 left handed pitchers left in camp and three of them, Rodriguez, Liriano and Locke, figure to be prominent members of the rotation. That leaves 4 players vying for what should be in theory two bullpen jobs. The four players left fighting it out are Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Mike Zagurski and Jonathan Sanchez. These four players come with different experience levels and different backgrounds. Wilson and Sanchez have been used up to this point largely as starters but are now being looked at as possible relievers. Watson and Wilson are on the Pirates 40 man roster and Zagurski and Sanchez are NRI with Sanchez having an opt out clause if he isn’t added to the roster by March 24th. Below I take a look at the background of each of these 4 players and try to assess each one’s chance of cracking the Pirates 25 man roster out of Spring Training.

Tony Watson

Tony WatsonHeading into spring training Watson appeared to be a lock for one of the Pirates bullpen jobs. He has been a part of the Pirates major league team for a year and a half now and has been largely effective. However Watson has only pitched sparingly this spring due to what is called by the team and Watson himself mechanical and physical issues. No specific injury has been cited and Watson has pitched in a few minor league games but still his long absence from major league camp and the mysterious issues he is reportedly having make him no longer a lock to begin the season in the major leagues.

Last season Watson was dominant against left handed hitters and was good against right handed hitters as well making him an ideal left handed reliever for Hurdle who doesn’t appear to like using his relievers strictly as matchup guys. If healthy and ready to pitch Watson is undoubtedly the Pirates best left handed option out of the bullpen and his potential absence from the Pirates roster could really hurt the team. Watson could begin the year on the DL if his issues are truly injury related or he still does have 2 options remaining so the Pirates could start him down in AAA if they believe him healthy but needing more time to get acclimated to game speed. At this point no one except the Pirates seems to know just what is really going on with Watson and what his status looks like for opening day. If I had to put a number on it right now with all I know I’d say it is 50/50 that he is one of the 25 guys heading north at the start of April.

Justin Wilson

Justin WilsonOver the course of the last two seasons the Pirates have tried Wilson as a starter to begin the year only to have him switch to relief near the season’s end. The change in roles was not due to him being ineffective though but rather to him struggling with his control. Wilson is one of the Pirates most talented pitcher in terms of just pure stuff but he has a big problem with his control. As Wilson moved up the minor league latter he became harder and harder to hit but his walk rate stayed relatively steady in the mid 4s BB/9. If he can manage to get that down to even under 4 Wilson has the talent to become a strong middle of the rotation starter and if he can get into the low 3s he could possibly become a decent #2 but as it currently stands Wilson’s best chance at major league success seems to be as a reliever.

Wilson got a cup of coffee in the majors last year and showed good stuff striking out a lot of hitters but when he didn’t do that they were mainly finding a way to get on base. Wilson faced only 26 batters in the majors last year of those he struck out 7 and allowed 13 to reach base. So far this spring Wilson has shown more of the same being tough to hit but continuing to walk too many hitters. It is difficult to tell exactly how the Pirates currently view Wilson; rather they see him as a potential starter they will want working out his kinks in AAA or whether they now think the best path forward with him is as a reliever. At the beginning of Spring Training I had Wilson on the outside looking in for a bullpen spot but with Watson’s mysterious issues and the Pirates comments on wanting at least two left handed relievers and multiple bullpen arms capable of throwing multiple innings I think Wilson’s chances of making the team are growing everyday. If I had to put a number on it right now I think I’d give him a 70% chance of coming north with the Pirates.

Mike Zagurski

ZagurskiZagurski received a minor league contract from the Pirates this past offseason and at the time he appeared to be little more than just depth for AAA but a couple of things have changed and they are the same two things I have discussed at length so far. One the Pirates appear likely to take two left handed relievers north and two Tony Watson very well may not be one of them. Those two factors along with a strong spring showing from Zagurski has brought him squarely into the conversation as a potential bullpen arm for the Pirates. His major league track record isn’t too good but he is coming off the best and longest major league stint of his career in 2012. It wasn’t good as his WHIP was 1.500 and his BB/9 were 4.6 but it was an improvement. On the positive side Zagurski has been fairly effective at AAA although he still has shown a problem with his control (something that is a theme for all Pirates left handed relief candidates). The other positive of Zagurski’s game is that he does have the ability to miss some bats although his numbers in that category have been slipping the last couple of seasons.

It should be pretty clear what the Pirates have in Zagurski and that is a below average left handed reliever who should be used as nothing more than a fill in should injuries arise during the course of the year. He almost certainly isn’t going to be a great reliever for the Pirates but his strong Spring performances gives some hope that he could be an effective one at least. The Pirates are having trouble with injuries as I stated with Watson so it definitely isn’t inconceivable he could start the year with the Pirates and be released once Watson is healthy. In fact if I were forced to guess right now I think that is exactly what the Pirates are intending to do with him. Since I have Watson as a 50/50 proposition and since I see Zagurski as Watson’s alternative I will also give him a 50/50 chance of making the Pirates out of spring training.

Jonathan Sanchez

Jonathan SanchezLike Zagurski, Sanchez was signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league camp but unlike him Sanchez came with some intrigue and in my mind some chance of making the team. Sanchez has had success in the majors before as a starting pitcher albeit one who managed to do so despite having poor control. Over the last two seasons however Sanchez’s control problems have gotten out of hand and he has been unable to still be effective in spite of them. Sanchez entered this Spring as a long shot for the rotation but certainly as a solid candidate for one of the available bullpen jobs. His first outing this spring was solid but it was followed up by 3 very poor outing where he showed essentially no control what so ever. He appeared to be out of the picture but a second solid showing a few days ago has him back in the competition although he is a long shot at this point. Still his overall numbers suggest he still has a few kinks to work out before being ready to contribute at the major league level.

Ideally the Pirates would prefer to send Sanchez to AAA, have him work on a few things and give him a chance to show that his control is now at least back to an acceptable level. However the Pirates probably do not have that option seeing as Sanchez has an out clause in his contract if he isn’t added to the roster by March 24th and from reports I’ve seen it sounds as if he intends to use it. As things currently stand Sanchez’ chances of making the Pirates appear very slim and in fact there are only two scenarios in which I can see him making it. The first scenario I think is highly unlikely and that is if the Pirates see something in him that suggests a minor tweak here and there can bring him back to his old form and don’t want him to leave. The second more likely but still doubtful scenario is if Ton Watson isn’t ready, the Pirates are intent on bring up two lefties and they deem Justin Wilson would be best served by heading back to AAA to start. Overall I’ll place Sanchez’s odds at around 10%. That leaves me at 180% for the four, the remaining 20% to me represents the possibility the Pirates opt to go with just one left hander.

The Last Twenty “Aces”

With the news of Gerrit Cole being sent down today I’ve got to thinking about how good (or to be more accurate bad) the Pirates “ace” has been over the course of the 20 year losing streak. The first step to do this was to go about picking the Pirates ace from each season. I did this in a subjective way factoring in a bunch of different stats but one thing I did set as a constant was a minimum of 150 IP in a give year (this was adjusted down some for the shortened 1994 season to 120 IP). You can see the results below. Also to give an idea of how baseball as a whole pitched that year I have listed the pitcher’s ranking in terms of FIP and WAR (min 150 IP, 120 in 1994).

1993: Steve Cooke

Stats: 210.2 IP, 3.89 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 3.3 WAR

Rankings: 38th (WAR), 41st (FIP)

1994: Denny Neagle

Stats: 137.0 IP, 5.12 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 2.0 WAR

Rankings: 47th (WAR), 35th (FIP)

1995: Denny Neagle

Stats: 209.2 IP, 3.43 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 4.6 WAR

Rankings: 11th (WAR), 12th (FIP)

1996: Denny Neagle

Stats: 182.2 IP, 3.05 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 3.6 WAR *based on only his time with the Pirates

Rankings: 32nd (WAR), 20th (FIP) *based on only his time with the Pirates

1997: Francisco Cordova

Stats: 178.2 IP, 3.63 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 3.5 WAR

Rankings: 30th (WAR), 23rd (FIP)

1998: Francisco Cordova

Stats: 220.1 IP, 3.31 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 3.6 WAR

Rankings: 32nd (WAR), 33rd (FIP)

1999: Kris Benson

Stats: 196.2 IP, 4.07 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 3.7 WAR

Rankings: 27th (WAR), 22nd (FIP)

2000: Kris Benson

Stats: 217.2 IP, 3.85 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 4.0 WAR

Rankings: 24th (WAR), 24th (FIP)

2001: Todd Ritchie

Stats: 207.1 IP, 4.47 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 3.2 WAR

Rankings: 35th (WAR), 36th (FIP)

2002: Kip Wells

Stats: 198.1 IP, 3.58 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 2.5 WAR

Rankings: 56th (WAR), 46th (FIP)

2003: Kip Wells

Stats: 197.1 IP, 3.28 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 2.4 WAR

Rankings: 61st (WAR), 60th (FIP)

2004: Oliver Perez

Stats: 196.0 IP, 2.98 ERA, 3.45 FIP, 4.5 WAR

Rankings: 17th (WAR), 11th (FIP)

2005: Mark Redman

Stats: 178.1 IP, 4.90 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 2.2 WAR

Rankings: 69th (WAR), 52nd (FIP)

2006: Zach Duke

Stats: 215.1 IP, 4.47 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 3.3 WAR

Rankings: 42nd (WAR), 31st (FIP)

2007: Ian Snell

Stats: 208.0 IP, 3.76 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 3.5 WAR

Rankings: 35th (WAR), 32nd (FIP)

2008: Paul Maholm

Stats: 206.1 IP, 3.71 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 2.8 WAR

Rankings: 48th (WAR), 49th (FIP)

2009: Paul Maholm

Stats: 194.2 IP, 4.44 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 3.2 WAR

Rankings: 43rd (WAR), 32nd (FIP)

2010: Paul Maholm

Stats: 185.1 IP, 5.10 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 1.9 WAR

Rankings: 80th (WAR), 70th (FIP)

2011: Charlie Morton

Stats: 171.2 IP, 3.83 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 2.1 WAR

Rankings: 70th (WAR), 48th (WAR)

2012: AJ Burnett

Stats: 202.1 IP, 3.51 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 3.4 WAR

Rankings: 29th (WAR), 27th (FIP)

The numbers above pain a pretty gruesome picture. Only twice in the last twenty years did the Pirates have a pitcher rank in the top 20 of the league in both FIP and WAR. A lot of years the Pirates struggled to even get a player to crack the top 50 in both categories. AJ Burnett helped dramatically improve the Pirates standing last year by posting the best season from a Pirates starter since 2004 but even so the Pirates have a lot of room to go to catch up to the rest of the league. The Pirates will not be able to close that gap through external means so there only hope of doing so in the next two or three years lies squarely on the arms of Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. Yes it has been a little disappointing to see them both sent down this spring but both of them still need a little fine tuning before they are set loose. If things go right the Pirates in 2014 or 2015 could have two ace caliber seasons from Cole and Taillon matching their total from the last twenty years combined. There is a light at the end of the tunnel Pirates fans.

The Great Arms Race

I’ve been doing a lot of analysis this offseason trying to see how the Pirates stacked up against their NL Central foes in certain aspects last season. I’ve taken a look at several areas of the offensive side of the game to date but as of yet I have not done so for the pitching or defensive side of the game. This is my first attempt at such a comparison. I wanted to take a look at how the Pirates stacked up against the other 4 remaining NL central teams last season on the basis of rotation spots (I’m speaking #1 starter, #2 … #5).

This of course presented problems with defining who I should slot into what rotation spot so as I usually do I made a couple simple, logical, rational decisions. My first decisions was to take all 162 starts from each team and assume a perfect distribution meaning the number 1 starter started 33 times, the number 2 starter started 33 times and the rest each started 32 times. Obviously it doesn’t work this way in reality but I needed a starting point. My next assumption was a way to solve who to slot into what spot. I opted to order all the players who started for a particular team according to the fWAR they produced per start. I then grouped the pitchers together until I compiled the necessary number of starts. Obviously this wasn’t a perfect solution as this caused some players to be counted in two different rotation spots. I handled that by calculating the starter’s average start and assigning the correct number of average starts to each group. The stats I opted to use are ERA, FIP, xFIP, WHIP, K:BB (strike out to walk ratio) and fWAR. For comparison sake I also did this exercise on the NL as a whole and included those results. So without further ado below are the results:

#1 Starter

Reds: 2.78 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 3.65 xFIP, 1.17 WHIP, 3.47 K:BB, 4.8 WAR

Cardinals: 3.81 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 3.35 xFIP, 1.30 WHIP, 3.38 K:BB, 4.8 WAR

Brewers: 3.33 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 3.08 xFIP, 1.21 WHIP, 3.69 K:BB, 5.5 WAR

Pirates: 3.53 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 3.43 xFIP, 1.24 WHIP, 2.94 K:BB, 3.6 WAR

Cubs: 3.04 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 3.55 xFIP, 1.13 WHIP, 3.15 K:BB, 4.1 WAR

National League: 3.14 ERA, 3.12 FIP, 3.38 xFIP, 1.15 WHIP, 3.72 K:BB, 4.9 WAR

 

#2 Starter

Reds: 3.48 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 3.79 xFIP, 1.16 WHIP, 2.89 K:BB, 3.1 WAR

Cardinals: 3.51 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 3.52 xFIP, 1.18 WHIP, 3.61 K:BB, 4.2 WAR

Brewers: 3.76 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 3.51 xFIP, 1.21 WHIP, 4.42 K:BB, 4.1 WAR

Pirates: 3.99 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 4.06 xFIP, 1.22 WHIP, 2.59 K:BB, 2.6 WAR

Cubs: 3.79 ERA, 3.94 FIP, 3.89 xFIP, 1.22 WHIP, 2.73 K:BB, 2.8 WAR

National League: 3.72 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 3.80 xFIP, 1.24 WHIP, 2.90 K:BB, 3.3 WAR

 

#3 Starter

Reds: 3.68 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 3.94 xFIP, 1.24 WHIP, 3.23 K:BB, 2.7 WAR

Cardinals: 3.15 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 3.82 xFIP, 1.16 WHIP, 3.26 K:BB, 3.4 WAR

Brewers: 3.73 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 3.57 xFIP, 1.28 WHIP, 2.82 K:BB, 2.8 WAR

Pirates: 4.72 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 4.09 xFIP, 1.40 WHIP, 2.14 K:BB, 1.8 WAR

Cubs: 5.00 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 4.03 xFIP, 1.31 WHIP, 2.65 K:BB, 1.7 WAR

National League: 3.88 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 3.98 xFIP, 1.27 WHIP, 2.78 K:BB, 2.4 WAR

 

#4 Starter

Reds: 3.74 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 4.18 xFIP, 1.21 WHIP, 3.67 K:BB, 2.5 WAR

Cardinals: 3.82 ERA, 3.63 FIP, 3.74 xFIP, 1.34 WHIP, 2.47 K:BB, 2.9 WAR

Brewers: 3.68 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 3.93 xFIP, 1.28 WHIP, 2.59 K:BB, 2.3 WAR

Pirates: 4.15 ERA, 4.29 FIP, 4.30 xFIP, 1.33 WHIP, 2.08 K:BB, 1.4 WAR

Cubs: 4.80 ERA, 4.87 FIP, 4.61 xFIP, 1.31 WHIP, 2.08 K:BB, 0.7 WAR

National League: 4.49 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 4.22 xFIP, 1.39 WHIP, 2.12 K:BB, 1.5 WAR

 

#5 Starter

Reds: 4.66 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 3.92 xFIP, 1.39 WHIP, 2.59 K:BB, 1.4 WAR

Cardinals: 3.84 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 4.05 xFIP, 1.38 WHIP, 2.03 K:BB, 2.1 WAR

Brewers: 5.52 ERA, 5.12 FIP, 4.55 xFIP, 1.53 WHIP, 2.06 K:BB, 0.0 WAR

Pirates: 4.82 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 4.21 xFIP, 1.34 WHIP, 2.37 K:BB, 0.6 WAR

Cubs: 6.52 ERA, 5.46 FIP, 5.03 xFIP, 1.74 WHIP, 1.23 K:BB, -0.3 WAR

National League: 5.27 ERA, 5.08 FIP, 4.68 xFIP, 1.50 WHIP, 1.74 K:BB, 0.1 WAR

Statistically speaking the Pirates #1 and #2 starters in 2012 performed the worst of the 5 remaining teams in NL Central. The performance of the Cubs pitchers are relatively close but as for the 3 teams that finished ahead of them there is no contest. The #3 and #4 starters for the Pirates performed slightly better than their Cubs counterparts but once again were lagging behind the rest of the division. The #5 starter for the Pirates performed better than the same rotation spot for the Cubs and Brewers but once again was behind the Reds and Cardinals. The numbers I presented seem to suggest the Pirates had the worst rotation in the NL Central last season (Astros excluded) and that actually probably isn’t far off from reality. There could be an argument between them and the Cubs but I would lean towards putting the Cubs ahead of them based upon the numbers.

Obviously this is something the Pirates are going to need to improve upon in 2013. The team can’t be successful if every team in the division is out performing them rotation spot for rotation spot. If you look at the numbers closely you may see the same pattern I do and that is the Pirates appear to be about a rotation spot behind. What I mean by that is the Pirates #1 starter would have made a solid #2 last season and the #2 would have been a solid #3 and so on. The Pirates did not add an ace caliber arm this offseason and though there are some arms in the rotation with that capability (McDonald and Liriano) it is unlikely to expect one will emerge. Down the line Cole may give the Pirates that boost but in the mean time the gap has got to be made up in other ways. The only way to fix this problem without becoming better at the top end is to become stronger and deeper throughout. The Cardinals and Reds last season got below NL average production from their #1 starter but the rest of the rotation (aside from the Reds #2) performed above, and in some cases well above, NL average. That is the same plan the Pirates must use in 2013 but actually to an even greater extent. The Pirates do not have a 5 WAR pitcher to sit atop the rotation so what they need is a rotation of 3 WAR players to help balance out the disparity. Rodriguez, Burnett, McDonald, Liriano and some combination of Karstens, Locke, McPherson, Cole, etc has the talent to do that but it is going to take a little luck to get there but if the Pirates don’t get there and a true ace does not emerge 2013 will likely be yet another season in which the Pirates fall out of contention early on.

Neal Huntington’s Trade Record

Presented without commentary below are the 61 trades I have recorded that Neal Huntington has made during his tenure as the Pirates GM. I’m not going to give an opinion on them but rather I figured I’d share my records, see if there is anything I missed that someone wants to share with me and let everyone else form their own opinions. A few notes first though. Some of these deals in addition to the players listed also included cash but I have not bothered to list cash given or received by the Pirates in any deal. The term NA appears pretty frequently and it essentially means Not Available or Not Announced. Basically that half of the trade is unknown to me and in most cases it was likely just a small amount of cash. The trades are roughly ordered according to the order they were made but may not be exact as I only use the month and the year to keep track of them. Apologies for the format not looking the best but its the best I could do.

Salomon Torres for Marino Salas, Kevin Roberts
Todd Redmond for Tyler Yates
NA for Jason Michaels
NA for Evan Meek
Kyle Pearson for Denny Bautista
Jason Bay for Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris,   Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen
Craig Wilson for NA
Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte for Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, Ross   Ohlendorf, Daniel McCutchen
Jose Bautista for Robinson Diaz
Ronnie Paulino for Jason Jaramillo
NA for Shawn Nottingham
Erik Krebs for Delwyn Young
Romulo Sanchez for Eric Hacker
Eric Hinske for Eric Fryer, Casey Erickson
Nate McLouth for Jeff Locke, Gorkys Hernandez,   Charlie Morton
Nyjer Morgan, Sean Burnett for Lastings Milledge, Joel Hanrahan
Adam LaRoche for Argenis Diaz, Hunter Strickland
Freddy Sanchez for Tim Alderson
Tom Gorzelanny, John Grabow for Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio, Josh   Harrison
Jack Wilson, Ian Snell for Jeff Clement, Ronny Cedeno,   Nathan Adcock, Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic
Joel Collins for NA
Jesse Chavez for Akinori Iwamura
Brian Bixler for Jesus Brito
Virgil Vasquez for NA
Ronald Uviedo for Dana Eveland
Luke Carlin for Adam Davis
Javier Lopez for John Bowker, Joe Martinez
NA for Sean Gallagher
NA for Mitch Jones
Bobby Crosby, Ryan Church, DJ Carrasco for Chris Snyder, Pedro Ciriaco
Octavio Dotel for James McDonald, Andrew Lambo
Zach Duke for Cesar Valdez
Jim Negrych for Carlos Paulino
Josh Fields for NA
NA for Josh Rodriguez
NA for Michael McKenry
NA for Ryan Ludwick
Aaron Baker for Derek Lee
Tim Wood for NA
Matt Diaz for Eliecer Cardenas
Brooks Pounders, Diego Goris for Yamaico Navarro
Diego Moreno, Exicardo Cayones for AJ Burnett
Ryota Igarashi for NA
Brian Tallet for NA
NA for Drew Sutton
Drew Sutton for NA
NA for Jeff Larish
Kris Watts for NA
Shairon Martis for NA
Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens, Colton Cain for Wandy Rodriguez
Brad Lincoln for Travis Snider
Gorkys Hernandez, Comp Pick for Gaby Sanchez, Kyle Kaminska
Casey McGehee for Chad Qualls
Daniel Cabrera for NA
Kyle Kaminska for Zach Stewart
Luis Rico, Luis Santos for Clint Robinson, Vin Mazzaro
Chris Resop for Zach Thorton
Yamaico Navarro for Jhonadeli Medina
Ramon Cabrera for Andrew Oliver
Joel Hanrahan, Brock Holt for Mark Melancon, Jerry Sands,   Stolmy Pimetel, Ivan De Jesus
Quincy Latimore for Jeanmar Gomez

Why Does Marte Get A Pass?

One thing that has really been bothering me about a lot of Pirates fans this offseason is this insane idea that the Pirates are good in left field with Starling Marte but really should have looked for a better option in right field. The fans are quick to dismiss Snider, Tabata, Sands and Presley and I’m not really sure why they do so especially considering they are willing to accept Marte starting. Taking Presley out of this discussion for a moment all the players are still young at 24 or 25 years old and all of them including Presley have very similar production at the major league level. Just look at their career wOBA at the major league level.

Marte: .316

Tabata: .317

Snider: .316

Presley: .314

Sands: .313

Marte doesn’t stand out in that crowd and as I stated he is not noticeably younger than the rest of the group either since Marte is 24, Tabata is 24, Snider is 25, Sands is 25 and Presley is 27. Perhaps other ratios have been better like his ability to steal bases (SB%) or his home run ability (AB/HR).

Marte: 70.6 SB%, 33.4 AB/HR

Tabata: 62.3 SB%, 97.5 AB/HR

Snider: 72.0 SB%, 30.1 AB/HR

Presley: 63.3 SB%, 41.7 AB/HR

Sands: 50.0 SB%, 55.3 AB/HR

Well finally we may be getting somewhere Marte’s rates are clearly better than 3 of the other 4 players but the other player has him beat on both accounts. Snider so far in his career has been a more efficient base stealer and has hit home runs on a more regular basis. So once again this doesn’t explain why Marte is held so far above the rest of the corner outfield mix. Let’s look at something else, perhaps Marte has been good in some areas of Pirates weaknesses most notably plate discipline. Below are the career numbers for each players in terms of K% and BB%.

Marte: 27.5 K%, 4.4 BB%

Tabata: 14.7 K%, 8.1 BB%

Snider: 26.7 K%, 7.8 BB%

Presley: 19.2 K%, 5.1 BB%

Sands: 23.9 K%, 10.4 K%

Marte definitely stands out here but that is for terrible reasons as he has the highest career K% and lowest career BB%. Obviously at this point the reason Marte gets excluded from this list of question marks is not because of what he has done at the major league level because it is essentially indistinguishable from the rest of the crop. So perhaps Marte was definitely more highly touted than the rest or had a stronger showing in AAA. Below are the highest ranking each player received by Baseball America going into a season and each player’s career OPS at AAA.

Marte: 73rd, .847 OPS

Tabata: 27th, .767 OPS

Snider: 6th, .976 OPS

Presley: NA, .851 OPS

Sands: NA, .914 OPS

Marte looks to be right about in the middle of the pack as far as pedigree goes. So right now I’ve concluded that Marte has not been markedly better than any of the other players at the major league level nor does he really have a much better pedigree than the rest so the question remains why are Pirates fans giving him a free pass while criticizing the rest?

To be honest with you I’ve known the answer all along. Quite simply it’s for the same reason fans can go from not liking Jason Bay (when he was originally acquired) to getting mad when he is traded away. Pirates fans, and sports fans in general, have a very short attention span. They are only ever concerned with the flavor of the month and only want to focus on the most recent data set. This is obviously not true of every sports fan or every Pirates fan but for quite a decent amount it is the case. Marte was better than either of those 4 players in 2012 and has less major league experience so therefore he is better than the rest and has the most room to improve or so the logic goes. There is course plenty wrong with that logic but it is essentially how the casual or I might even go so far as saying average sports fan thinks. In theory there is nothing wrong with it but in practice it leads to situations like this where a group of 5 players (or 4 if you want to discount the older Presley) have nothing discernible separating them but one is held head and shoulders above the rest of the group because he is the new guy on the scene.

The truth is any of these guys, with the possible exception of Presley, has what it takes to break out and become a starting corner outfielder in 2013 and conversely all of them could just as easily fail and be relegated to bench duty or even AAA by season’s end. We are dealing with a group of players that up until this point have been league average offensively in their career. I will add a plus here for Marte as he probably has the highest floor of the bunch as his strong defense and plus speed is likely to make him at least a solid 4th outfielder even if his bat and plate discipline never develops. Then again Marte isn’t too dissimilar from another outfielder the Pirates have in camp who I didn’t even bother mentioning until right now, Felix Pie. He too was once a highly regarded prospect with a lot of tools who just couldn’t cut it.

Look this writing isn’t meant to be critical of Marte. I like him and I think he has the potential to be a very strong outfielder for the Pirates going forward but let’s just say I’m a bit more realistic here. In my opinion Marte should absolutely make the 25 man roster but so should Snider and Tabata. I discount Presley because of his age and I opt to hold Sands back because his strong AAA showing has all come in the PCL so for me there is indeed something for him to prove in the International League. Marte, Snider and Tabata though have nothing left to prove at the AAA level and deserve the chance to see what they can at the major league level. It is true Tabata and Snider have gotten longer looks than Marte already but doesn’t that say something about their talent if they have already received long looks in the majors despite being roughly the same age as Marte? I think people tend to forget that point, Tabata, Snider and Sands aren’t players in their late 20s just looking for one last chance to break out, they are players in their early to mid 20s looking to become established just like Marte is trying to do. Ideally the Pirates would have two established corner outfielders but the truth is they don’t. Less ideally but still preferable to the current situation they would have one and would let the other battle it out for playing time in the other but again they don’t have that either. I’m not asking Pirates fans to be happy with what the Pirates have, all I am asking is that they know what the Pirates have and that isn’t 4 question marks competing for 1 spot but rather 5 question marks competing for 2 spots.

The 2008 Draft

When it comes to evaluating how well a draft worked out for a franchise be it baseball, football, hockey, basketball or really any other sport I am one who always feels that 5 years is a fairly reasonable time frame. Of course in baseball and to some extent hockey the evaluations have to be done a little differently because not everyone from those drafts are going to be established players but for the most part we should have a fairly good idea as to what kind of player they are. Typically speaking I think the 5th professional year for a draft class, particularly and MLB one is a huge year. The quick risers are likely in their 3rd pro season or so, the slow risers are likely entering their first full season or just ready to contribute and the wildcards are likely on their final chance. Its been five years since Neal Huntington’s first draft class and of course 2013 will be that class’s 5th full year of professional baseball experience. So according to my rule of thumb it should be a big year for them and indeed it is. To my research there are twelve players who still have at least some level of significance to the Pirates franchise, I have broken down those 12 into 6 different categories and will discuss what the 2013 season holds for them. Think of this as a primer for what to look for out of the 2008 draft class this season.

Organizational Players: Benjamin Gonzalez, Jeremy Farrell, Zachary Foster

Essentially this group has no expectations for the 2013 season. The three above players were drafted and signed in 2008 but have evolved into organizational filler; they will likely serve as bench depth or bullpen arms for one or multiple levels in 2013. They aren’t expected to contribute to the major league team and at this point really have no discernible prospect value. +

Wildcards: Jarek Cunningham, Quinton Miller

Cunningham and Miller are not that far from bien organizational players but both remain in the system and unlike the three organizational players I have listed do have somewhat of a ceiling. Cunningham is capable of playing 2B and has plus power for the position and Miller was a fairly highly regarded prep pitcher at the time he was drafted. Both of them face uphill climbs to ever make the majors let alone become a significant contributor there but each of them have enough upside that they will have essentially one last chance to rebound in 2013 and show they have some value. Miller is likely to work out of the bullpen at A+, a level he’ll be playing at for a 3rd season and at 23 years old is pushing the high side for a prospect at that level. If he shows signs of progress the Pirates may opt to send him to AA early on to give him one last chace but that appears highly unlikely. Cunningham is a little farther along than Miller as he will likely repeat AA this season and should be the starting 2B. At 23 years old he isn’t a terrible age for the AA level but another failed year could prove costly to the little prospect status he has remaining. There is a little more hope for Cunningham than Miller as he showed progress last season with his plate discipline, if he can manage to build off that, refind his power and stay healthy (something that has been a struggle for him) there is a chance he could regain his prospect status. Cunningham is facing an uphill climb but it appears he at least has a fighting chance.

Major League Depth: Matt Hague, Michael Colla

Not much to say about these two. Hague and Colla are essentially organizational players but they have advanced far enough along that either one could be potential non horrible at the major league level meaning they will serve as depth in 2013. Hague is well known by Pirates fans because of his hot spring training last year and the fact he subsequently made the Pirates bench. He struggled with his chances with the big club though and spent most of 2012 in AAA. Hague doesn’t really profile to hit for much power so his ceiling at the major league level is limited. Hague will almost certainly start the 2013 season off in AAA but this year he won’t have a starting position and will be forced into a utility role. The utility role could be a good thing for Hague though as his best chance of making it back to the majors is probably as a utility player who can make decent contact. Colla has spent the last two years in the AA rotation. His numbers over that time are actually fairly decent. In reality he doesn’t profile as a starter and unless he returns to AA for another season will not be one in 2013 but as a reliever he has a chance to become a decent depth middle reliever who could fill in at the major league level when injuries or ineffectiveness occurs. Colla and Hague don’t come with much upside and aren’t really players that will determine if the 2008 draft was a success or failure but 2013 will be a pivotal year in determining whether either one can carve out some sort of a major league career.

Slow Movers: Justin Wilson, Jordy Mercer, Chase d’Arnaud

Wilson, Mercer and d’Arnaud are ultimately going to play a large role in determining how well the 2008 draft worked for the Pirates. A good rule of thumb is that a good draft should give you 3 solid major league contributors. Well the Pirates have one who we will discuss later and have one more who could pay some dividends for them at the major league level but if they are to get any additional help from this class it is going to have to come from these three players. Wilson undoubtedly has the highest upside of the bunch as if he were able to find some control he has the stuff to be a top of the rotation arm. Mercer and d’Arnaud look like their ceiling is likely a major league average shortstop and that may be pushing it. At the end of the day three solid major league contributors doesn’t mean three superstars essentially if the team is able to draft one very good regular, a solid back end reliever and a good bench option it has had a decent year. None of these three except maybe Wilson look like they will develop into a solid regular but they all look like potential secondary pieces. Each player has two options remaining meaning they could in theory be brought back next season if they fail to establish themselves but in reality this is a big year for all three. Should any of them not establish themselves as at least a serviceable major league player they will be in great risk of being removed from the roster after the season and unless claimed by another team that usually severely hurts a player’s chances of having a good major league career.

Traded: Robbie Grossman (Wandy Rodriguez)

The importance of Robbie Grossman who was the key piece in the Wandy Rodriguez deal might often get overlooked when discussing the success or failure of the 2013 draft but it shouldn’t be. Grossman may no longer be in the system but the reason teams have prospects is not for only developing them for their own use but for using them to acquire major league talent through trades, in short they are assets. How Grossman performs this season is largely irrelevant to how the Pirates 2008 draft should be viewed but how his return, Wandy Rodriguez, performs is in my mind a critical part of it. Rodriguez is an established major league and a good performances by him in 2013 will help push up the value the Pirates were able to get out of the 2008 draft. As I stated this will be often overlooked but in my mind the return for Robbie Grossman may very well end up being the 2nd most important aspect of the 2008 draft.

Fast Movers: Pedro Alvarez

At the end of the day the performance of the other 11 players I’ve discussed mean very little compared to the draft 1st round pick. The success or failure of that draft will forever be linked to how Alvarez performs in his career as a Pirate. Last season saw some encouraging progress from Alvarez at the major league level but the strike out rate was too high. Alvarez at this point is an established major league player and looks like he has a strong chance of developing into a regular however his upside is so much more. He possess the power needed to develop into a true impact bat. This upcoming 2013 season will be crucial to his development. If he is able to build off his success in 2012 Alvarez begins looking like a cornerstone player but if he struggles like he did in 2011 he will once again look like a big bust. As his fortunes go so will the fate of the 2008 draft. Even in an optimist scenario where Wilson develops into a solid middle of the rotation arm, Mercer is able to be a decent place holder at the shortstop position for a year or two, d’Arnaud starts to hit and becomes a good spark plug off the bench, Cunningham regains his prospect value and Hague or Colla carves out a major league niche for themselves the 2008 draft will still feel light on talent if Alvarez fails to produce. In order for him to be a success and by extension the 2008 draft Alvarez doesn’t have to perform all that  much better than his 2012 numbers going forward but he has to prove that he can that type of player and not be subject to wild down seasons like 2011; building off of 2012 and taking another step, even a small step forward would go a long way in proving just that.

Reviewing the 2012 Bench

One area that concerns me about the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates is the team’s bench. To me it just looks weak on paper and I have the feeling that has been the case for quite some time now. The Pirates depth or lack there of has been an issue for years and while it is steadily improving I believe some spots, especially the middle infield, are still lagging behind. My belief the Pirates bench was weak in past seasons, including 2012, was not really based on any research but rather jut an observational opinion. I decided to take a look at the numbers and see according to Fan Graphs WAR just how well the Pirates bench in 2012 stacked up to the other 4 teams remaining in the NL Central (Reds, Cardinals, Brewers and Cubs).

The first step to do this was determining exactly what a bench player was. I’m not merely looking for how well a team does with its pinch hitters but rather how well a team’s non-regulars do when pinch-hitting and when giving a regular starter a day off. Two obvious constraints came to mind one pitchers are obviously not bench players and bench players will not have as many plate appearances as starters. Using those two constraints I narrowed my list down to all non-pitchers and then eliminated anyone with 400 or more plate appearances. Four hundred was really just an arbitrary end point but it seems like a solid number for a regular starter, it represents roughly 60% of a 650 PA season meaning the player probably had to have played more than 50% of the time. Going even further I opted to eliminate any player with fewer than 50 PA. Players such as that likely didn’t have a chance to contribute much off the bench and were probably either short-term injury callups or September roster expansion players. These constraints limited the player pool to a manageable size for bench players but still left me with a few oddities such as Starling Marte and Rod Barajas being listed as bench players. Obviously those two and other like them are not bench players so I decided to look at the number of plate appearance the remaining players had per game played. A typical bench player should have a lower number because while they will make some starts a lot of their plate appearances will come as a pinch hitter or late inning replacement limiting their PA in those games to 1 or 2. Again I opted to choose an arbitrary dividing line of 3.3 plate appearances per game. It may seem random but it indicates that in at least a third of his games the player was receiving at least 4 plate appearances and to me that was a good enough dividing line. Finally I opted for one more constraint and that was removing all catchers. This may seem a little odd but typically speaking backup catchers receive a larger number of starts than a typical catcher and are often not used in pinch-hitting situations. In short catchers really don’t fit my standard ideal of what a bench player really is.

These constraints left me with a various number of players left for each team. The Reds had 4, the Cardinals and Brewers each had 7, the Cubs had 9 players and the Pirates topped the list with 10 such players. I looked at the total number of plate appearances each of these groups had and at the total number of WAR they produced on the season. The Reds were low and the Cubs were high but the other three teams all had right around 1200 plate appearances. So I decided to look at the stats on the basis of 1200 plate appearances which for the NL Central at least appears to be roughly the average number of plate appearances each “bench” received. The results can be seen below. I’ve also included the actual WAR and total number of plate appearances.

Cardinals: 5.1 WAR/1200 PA (5.4 WAR, 1263 PA)

Brewers: 1.9 WAR/1200 PA (1.8 WAR, 1118 PA)

Pirates: 0.8 WAR/1200 PA (0.8 WAR, 1255 PA)

Cubs: 0.4 WAR/1200 PA (0.5 WAR, 1538 PA)

Reds: -0.6 WAR/1200 PA (-0.4 WAR, 835 PA)

A little to my surprise the Pirates actually finished third. The Cardinals total was just incredibly insane and the Reds total was much lower than one would assume a successful team to be but then again they had very little reason to use it. For those of you interest the players included for each team I have listed below:

Cardinals: Matt Carpenter, Skip Schumaker, Tyler Greene, Shane Robinson, Lance Berkman, Pete Kozma, Adron Chambers

Brewers: Nyjer Morgan, Cody Ranson, Travis Ishikawa, Cesar Izturis, Taylor Green, Jeff Bianchi, Edwin Maysonet

Pirates: Casey McGehee, Josh Harrison, Travis Snider, Gaby Sanchez, Drew Sutton, Matt Hague, Brock Holt, Jordy Mercer, Nate McLouth, Yamaico Navarro

Cubs: Bryan LaHair, Joe Mather, Tony Campana, Reed Johnson, Jeff Baker, Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Dave Sappelt, Adron Cardenas

Reds: Chris Heisey, Wilson Valdez, Miguel Cairo, Xavier Paul

In reality it is difficult to draw much from this. The Pirates bench wasn’t good but it was better than the Cubs and the Reds. That sounds good but the Cubs were awful in 2012 and the Reds used their bench only two-thirds of time that the Pirates or basically any other NL Central team did. One thing I did draw on was just how difficult it was to determine a bench for the Pirates and the Cubs. I had originally started out planning on picking the 5 most frequent bench players from each team but it became difficult to do that with the Pirates. Harrison and McKenry were easy picks but the next three proved impossible which is why I opted to go with the above formula. For the record the Pirates and Brewers would have been helped out the most if I would have included back up catchers in my analysis.

One thing I do think we can take from this is that there is room for the Pirates to improve on the bench. It might be unfair to expect the Pirates or any bench to rise to the St Louis Cardinals level but if the Pirates bench can improve to around the Brewers 2012 level which was approximately 1.2 WAR there is reason to believe some ground could be made up. The Cardinals are likely to see some sort of regression from the great 2012 season from their bench so it is possible the Pirates by improving to just 2.0 WAR from their bench could pick up as many as 3-3.5 games on the Cardinals just with their bench improving and the Cardinals returning to a more normal level. Bottom line the point I’m trying to make here and in my post The Bottom of the Roster is that the Pirates can make up ground not only by having their big names like McCutchen, Alvarez, Walker and Marte perform better but also by making some small but noticeable strides simply with team depth. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the Pirates could pick up 4-5 wins compared to the Cardinals just by strengthening their depth and having the Cardinals return to a more normal level that the Pirates.

Infield Bench Battle

One area that causes me great concern regarding the Pirates is in the depth they have for the infield. The starters Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Clint Barmes are all fairly healthy individuals and their play is fairly solid at least in some aspects. However behind them the Pirates really do not have a whole lot. Traditionally two infielders get bench spots on the Pirates to begin the season and I am expecting that to be the case again this season. Once again this crop is fairly unimpressive but there appears to be five players with a legitimate chance of winning one of the bench jobs available. I thought it would be a good idea to review each players strengths and weaknesses and analyze why there is a reason for concern with each player.

Josh Harrison

Josh HarrisonHarrison is probably the most familiar of the 5 to Pittsburgh Pirates fans as he has been part of the Pirates bench for the last five seasons. He is a player who is easy to like because of his all out style of play. During the 2012 season we even were introduced to his mother on the Pirates broadcasts as she watched him play in games in his home town Cincinnati, he reaction when he got hit probably was something a lot of mothers can relate to. Harrison is an interesting player as he is a free swinger and he will really go deep into the count which means he walks a small amount of time but also means he doesn’t strike out very often. As for the other aspects of his game he is a contact hitter with limited power, has probably slightly above average speed and is a below average fielder. It is really a mix bag with Harrison.

Strengths: Harrison can play all over the field, logging innings last year at 2B, SS, 3B and the corner outfield. He is difficult to strike out and is very good at putting the ball in play. He has experience with the Pirates and appears to be a player Clint Hurdle likes. In addition his base running is fairly good and he can steal the occasional base.

Weaknesses: Although Harrison has played all over the field the only position where he looks even semi-decent defensively is third base. His inability to work counts causing his walk rate to be low which in return negatively affects his OBP. He is a contact hitter but the contact he makes is often of a weak variety as he doesn’t possess much power.

Overall: Harrison has a great chance to be a part of the Pirates bench this season because of his familiarity with the Pirates coaching staff, his ability to play several different positions and the simple fact he is on the 40 man roster. On the flip side the Pirates should consider going another direction because there is nothing Harrison really does that makes him stand out. With the exception of his ability to not strike out Harrison is at best average in every other aspect of the game. The ability to play multiple positions is a plus but his inability to play them well or even decently negatively effects his value. Overall the Pirates could definitely do worse than Harrison but should try to do better.

Jordy Mercer

Jordy MercerMercer is probably the best defensive shortstop of this group and is also one who should be familiar with Pirates fans as he was drafted by the Pirates in 2008 and has remained in the organization ever since. He spent a rather significant amount of time in the majors last season but got very few at bats as Clint Hurdle gave him the Pedro Ciriaco treatment and he was mainly glues to the bench. Offensively it is difficult to get a read on just what Mercer will be able to do in the major leagues but in the minors he has been adequate with the bat. Mercer’s strike out and walk rates for his minor league career appear to be roughly average and he does seem to have at least a little power in his bat as he led the Pirates minor leagues in homers in 2011. Defensively speaking Mercer has only played 2B, 3B and SS but he plays those positions fairly well. As for the other aspects of his game he has about average speed and really doesn’t try to steal many bases although he will occasionally sneak one in there. At this point Mercer is sort of an unknown with a high floor and low ceiling.

Strengths: Mercer’s best strength is his defensive ability as he is the only one of the five candidates who is capable of even being an average defender at the shortstop position. He does have a few other pluses too though as he is probably one of the safer bets to not be completely useless on the bench and has shown at least some power in the minor leagues.

Weaknesses: The biggest weakness with mercer is that it is really not known how is bat will translate. He has struggled in his very limited sample in the majors but that came over quite a long-span with very inconsistent playing time. He also doesn’t have the ability to play the outfield although with all the Pirates options that shouldn’t be a large concern.

Overall: Like Harrison, Mercer’s strongest case for making the team is quite simply his familiarity with the coaching staff and his presence on the 40 man roster. He also has the additional benefit of actually being able to handle the shortstop position at a good level although with an all glove guy like Barmes starting on most days that is less of a concern than it would be otherwise. I currently have Mercer as my second infielder on the bench but I feel that his position is a lot less secure tha Harrison’s. I feel Mercer is probably the safest choice of this group as his glove will at least give him some value but his lack of experience may wind up hurting him.

Brandon Inge

IngeThe Pirates signed Inge to a minor league deal this offseason and because of the new CBA he will be able to opt out if he is not placed on the roster by late March. Of the 3 players I consider on the outside looking in when it comes to battling for the two bench spots I believe Inge has the best chance of winning one. Inge is clearly on the downside of his career but was still a valuable player to the Athletics last season and could still have some value for the Pirates. Offensively speaking he is a below average player who strikes out a fairly high amount and walks roughly an average amount. He is not a contact hitter but does hit for some power. Defensively his primary position is 3B and he has spent the majority of his career there although he has logged innings at 2B and in the corner outfield and was a catcher when his career began so he could probably serve as the emergency third option at that position which is a plus. He is a very good defender at 3B and ahs shown himself capable at the other positions. Baserunning wise he is below average and he really isn’t a threat to steal any bases. Inge is a veteran and has been around the league a long time and has more experience in the majors than his other four competitors do combined.

Strengths: Inge’s best strength and what separates him from the other four is his experience. He has been in the majors for several seasons and has been a part of winning clubs so a pressure pinch hit situation is less likely to get to him than any of the other players. He also would provide the Pirates with a little power off the bench and would provide them with possibly an adequate option to rest Alvarez against tough left handers and to pull him for defensive purposes late in games.

Weaknesses: Unlike the other four players Inge has no experience at the shortstop position meaning the Pirates would only have one bench option capable of playing that position if they kept Inge. He has also been on the decline the past few seasons and is a threat to bottom out this year. Defensively speaking last year was the first time he spent any time at 2B and before that he hadn’t played a position outside of 3B since 2008.

Overall: Inge isn’t on the 40 man roster and because of that he has a slightly uphill climb to make the team. I still give him very good odds but I think he starts behind Harrison and Mercer entering Spring Training. Inge is also a player this coaching staff is not familiar with which puts him at another disadvantage. His lack of flexibility in the field will also likely play against him. However the Pirates, specifically Clint Hurdle may see some value in his experience and because of that he has a chance to make the bench. Inge has also expressed a willingness to work on other positions outside of 3B so his flexibility issue will be slightly reduced. Inge could be a decent veteran presence on the bench but his declining numbers in recent years are cause for concern.

Ivan De Jesus

Ivan DeJesusDe Jesus was acquired by the Pirates as the fourth piece in the Hanrahan trade. Pretty much him and Brock Holt are just consider after thoughts in the deal and are considered to roughly cancel each other out as neither one projects to be much more than utility infielders. De Jesus is a relatively inexperienced major league player but he does have some considerable time in at AAA. He definitely has some upside but it is difficult for me to see him as anything other than a utility player at this point. De Jesus has put up some good offensive numbers in AAA but that very well may be a by-product of the PCL as those numbers have yet to translate to his limited MLB sample size. De Jesus offensive game is predicated around contact as he does not hit for much power and is just an average runner. His strike out rates have been high in the major leagues but they have been right around average to a little above average in the minors. His walk rates have been all over the place from very good to below average throughout his career so it is probably safe to assume he has about average plate discipline. On the defensive side he was originally a shortstop but injuries moved him to 2nd base and he is probably unable to be a regular shortstop now although he is probably capable of being a fill in for a game here or there. His defense in the majors has been poor but that is a small sample. Overall he is probably roughly an average fielder.

Strengths: The best asset De Jesus has going for him is that he is probably the best hope amongst the 5 bench candidates to be a solid two-way player. His defense is at least serviceable at shortstop and around average at 2B and 3B and his bat has shown potential in AAA. De Jesus is not the best player in any particular aspect but he also isn’t the worst and he probably balances out to have the best mix of any of the five competing.

Weaknesses: De Jesus biggest strike against him is that he hasn’t had success in his limited major league opportunities and that like Harrison there is really nothing he does above average. He has the skills to be a nice balanced utility player but without something to make him stand out it could be difficult for him to get noticed. So his biggest weakness is not a particular flaw but a lack of a true strength, essentially its a double edge sword.

Overall: De Jesus has only very minimal experience in the corner outfield meaning he is essentially limited to strictly infield duty but once again that shouldn’t be a real issue. As of right now he appears to be the Pirates fourth choice amongst the bench infielder candidates but he has opted to skip the WBC in an attempt to move up the chart and I think that is certainly doable. De Jesus isn’t on the 40 man roster, doesn’t have an out clause and has had little success in the majors in the past; all of that is working against him making the bench out of spring training. On the other side De Jesus has some potential with the bat and really lacks a glaring weakness in his game and when combined with his ability to handle shortstop better than Harrison and Inge it gives him a certain appeal which could allow him to find a home. If he doesn’t make it out of spring training there is a chance he could see Pittsburgh some time this season but that would be far from a guarantee.

Chase d’Arnaud

Chase d'ArnaudPirates fans are probably familiar with Chase d’Arnaud from his time with the Pirates in 2011. He was a bit of a fan favorite at the time and was seen as a spark plug for the offense while he was up in the majors. Truth be told though he really didn’t play all that well. He is a weak hitter and a below average fielder but yet he might have the highest upside of all the players listed. What sets d’Arnaud apart from the rest of this crowd is his plus speed a weapon that if he would ever be able to utilize correctly could make him a solid major league player. With the bat he displays very little power but has shown an ability to maintain a decent average in AAA. His strike out rates are right around league average which is probably a little high for a speed guy like him and his walk rate is also probably about average. Defensively he has played 2B, 3B and SS and he is below average defensively at SS although he is good enough that a team could get by with him there for an extended period of time and at the other positions he is right around an average defender. He has a small sample of major league plate appearances and has mostly struggled in that time. Currently he appears to be a distant fifth in the battle for the final two bench spots but if he can show he is capable of hitting decently his speed could make for a great asset off the bench for the Pirates.

Strengths: As I’ve already said d’Arnaud’s best asset is his speed. He is probably the Pirates best base stealer and would be a nice player to have for pinch running situations. He also has the ability to play shortstop decently well and would be a perfectly adequate backup option defensively especially considering its an all glove player in front of him. Outside of his speed and ability to play shortstop d’Arnaud also has the advantage of being on the 40 man roster and having played for Hurdle. He did provide a certain spark while he was here in 2011 so with a solid spring it is possible Hurdle could consider that as a factor.

Weaknesses: d’Arnaud has many weaknesses but mainly it is his poor hitting that hold him back. If he could show himself to be even a decent hitter he has enough athleticism that he could be a solid contributor. Also working against him is his shaky defense at shortstop. d’Arnaud right now is a very one-tool specific player and that is usually a poor fit for most benches. He is going to need to show a more complete game in order to have any chance.

Overall: I would very much like to see d’Arnaud win one of the bench spots as his speed would be a nice weapon to have available on the bench. The fact that he is a shortstop, albeit a below average defensive one, is another reason it would be nice to have him around. Right now he is probably the longest shot of all five competitors but I think it is close enough that a strong spring performance could vault him into the conversation. His game right now is almost solely dependent upon his speed and that isn’t going to be enough; he needs to make an effort to be well-rounded and most importantly make some strides with his bat. If d’Arnaud proves capable of carrying over his average from AAA to the majors he could make for a solid bench player or maybe even a decent starter. If d’Arnaud does not show any improvements in his game during spring training he will head back to AAA and unless he shows something there he is going to be a candidate to be taken off the 40 man roster and would likely only see Pittsburgh as a pinch runner in September.

Overview

I thought a good way to summarize everything from above would be to rank the five players on a few different skill aspects.

Power: 1. Brandon Inge, 2. Jordy Mercer, 3. Josh Harrison, 4. Chase d’Arnaud, 5. Ivan De Jesus

Average: 1. Josh Harrison, 2. Ivan De Jesus, 3. Jordy Mercer, 4. Chase d’Arnaud, 5. Brandon Inge

Contact: 1. Josh Harrison, 2. Ivan De Jesus, 3. Jordy Mercer, 4. Chase d’Arnaud, 5. Brandon Inge

Plate Discipline: 1. Brandon Inge, 2. Ivan De Jesus, 3. Jordy Mercer, 4. Chase d’Arnaud, 5. Josh Harrison

Speed: 1. Chase d’Arnaud, 2. Josh Harrison, 3. Jordy Mercer, 4. Ivan De Jesus, 5. Brandon Inge

Base Running: 1. Chase d’Arnaud, 2. Josh Harrison, 3. Ivan De Jesus, 4. Jordy Mercer, 5. Brandon Inge

Shortstop Ability: 1. Jordy Mercer, 2. Chase d’Arnaud, 3. Ivan De Jesus, 4. Josh Harrison, 5. Brandon Inge

Defense: 1. Jordy Mercer, 2. Brandon Inge, 3. Ivan De Jesus, 4. Chase d’Arnaud, 5. Josh Harrison

Versatility: 1. Josh Harrison, 2. Ivan De Jesus. 3. Chase d’Arnaud, 4. Jordy Mercer, 5. Brandon Inge

Experience: 1. Brandon Inge, 2. Josh Harrison, 3. Chase d’Arnaud, 4. Ivan De Jesus, 5. Jordy Mercer

Potential: 1. Chase d’Arnaud, 2. Jordy Mercer, 3. Ivan De Jesus, 4. Josh Harrison, 5. Brandon Inge

Finally I would like to give the percent chance I think each has of making the team. Now remember there are two open spots and the Pirates are probably going to give both of them to two infielders but there is a not impossible chance they opt to go with a 5th outfielder instead of an additional infielder. Since there are two spots the odds add up to 200% and these numbers are really just my best estimate as of now. I have no real knowledge of the situation, it is pure speculation.

Josh Harrison: 75%

Jordy Mercer: 40%

Brandon Inge: 30%

5th OF: 25%

Ivan De Jesus: 20%

Chase d’Arnaud: 10%

Defining the Rotation Spots

Sometimes for no reason at all I like to look at baseball related things and analyze them. There is really no larger purpose to this article except I had a curiosity and looked to solve it. Essentially my question is what makes a number one starter a number one starter and so on and so forth. Is it a certain ERA, strike outs, being tough to hit. What is it that defines a top pitcher. Well I’m not a big statistical researcher so I don’t like to delve into things too deep without some sort of general idea what I’m looking at so I usually make some sort of assumption, see what that gives me and proceed from there. Well this is my first attempt at answering that question and as usual I went with an assumption. I decided for general purposes to call a #1 starter a player who posts a WAR greater than or equal to 4.0 and for each subsequent spot I drop 1 WAR (ie a 3.0-3.9 WAR player is a #2 starter). I then wanted to know what the ERA, WHIP and K/BB were for each group in 2012. The result can be seen below:

4.0+ WAR: 3.15 ERA, 1.142 WHIP, 3.78 K/BB

3.0-3.9 WAR: 3.43 ERA, 1.193 WHIP, 3.05 K/BB

2.0-2.9 WAR: 3.95 ERA, 1.286 WHIP, 2.71 K/BB

1.0-1.9 WAR: 4.33 ERA, 1.333 WHIP, 2.45 K/BB

0.0-0.9 WAR: 4.85 ERA, 1.434, 1.92 K/BB

-0.1 or lower WAR: 6.14 ERA, 1.588 WHIP, 1.46 K/BB

On its surface that makes sense to me. I always felt that roughly speaking the difference between each rotation spot should be about a half run of ERA. While that isn’t exactly what I have here is it is roughly close. However upon closer look I’m not sure these numbers really tell the whole story. I looked at the percentage of starts made by each group of pitchers:

4.0+: 12%

3.0-3.9: 12%

2.0-2.9: 23%

1.0-1.9: 24%

0.0-0.9: 21%

-0.1-: 8%

In an ideal world the first 5 groups would all be even at 20% and the last group would not exist but of course we all know this isn’t an ideal world. Still the low % of starts made by pitchers on the top end suggest I’m setting the bar too high. I decided to take a different approach and order the pitchers by WAR and then split them into 5 groups each of which started approximately 972 games. In case it’s not obvious where that number comes from that is the number of major league baseball games in a year multiplied by 2 since there are 2 starting pitchers divided by 5 since there are 5 rotation spots. I didn’t bother with splitting the data set exactly as I’m just looking for a rough figure here:

#1: 3.23 ERA, 1.162 WHIP, 3.48 K/BB

#2: 3.76 ERA, 1.255 WHIP, 2.88 K/BB

#3: 4.35 ERA, 1.324 WHIP, 2.50 K/BB

#4: 4.28 ERA, 1.344 WHIP, 2.25 K/BB

5: 5.64 ERA, 1.539 WHIP, 1.64 K/BB

Relatively speaking the effect this new classification has on #1 and #4 starters in minimal but the #5 starter group is greatly impacted by the dreadful performance of the negative WAR group. Also the #2 and #3 starters are severely dragged down and it is actually an insignificant amount separating a #3 and a #4 starter. Needless to say there are plenty of problems with this data set.

In the past I have always used the rule of thumb that a 3.25 ERA was the average for a number one starter and that for each additional starter you add half a run. So number two would be 3.75, number 3 4.25, number 4 4.75 and number 5 would be 5.25. I’m not sure how accurate that really is though and my above attempts really don’t do much to enforce the opinion or not. Taking one last look at this for now I decided to ignore all the pitchers who posted a negative WAR and all the pitchers with fewer than 5 starts and focus on the remaining group. This left me with 203 starters totaling 4406 starts or about just over 880 starts per rotation spot. The results can be seen below:

#1: 3.20 ERA, 1.157 WHIP, 3.56 K/BB

#2: 3.74 ERA, 1.254 WHIP, 2.87 K/BB

#3: 4.17 ERA, 1.303 WHIP, 2.60 K/BB

#4: 4.31 ERA, 1.334 WHIP, 2.37 K/BB

#5: 4.96 ERA, 1.447 WHIP, 1.90 K/BB

Once again I am surprised by the relatively little separation between a number 3 and number 4 starter. Also surprisingly in all 3 measurements the values for a number 4 starter as remained relatively constant giving me a fairly good idea of what a number 4 starter really is. Once again the #5 spot is subject to some wild fluctuations based on a handful of horrible starters. My method made an attempt to remove some so the number is not way out of line.

Bottom line I think I need to study all this in more detail and try a few other methods of looking at how to define each rotation spot but I think these three methods give me a good starting place. My original idea of a .5 run step in ERA appears to fit the first 3 rotation spots fairly well but the drop off to the fourth small is less significant while the drop off to the 5th spot is difficult to determine which much accuracy but it can be though of as around .5 run. I want to make an attempt to research this more in-depth at a later date and I’ll make sure to share my findings but as an initial survey I thought this was fairly interesting while not all that informative.

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