As is probably pretty evident by now the frequency of my postings here at Battling Bucs has dwindled down to almost zero over the last couple of weeks. This is due to conditions in my life making it harder for me to find time to commit to blogging. I have a new full time job taking some of my time, I have a wedding I am in the process of planning taking some of my time and many other factors are pulling my attention away from this wonderful blog. Although it didn’t even make it two full years this blog has meant a lot to me, no it never got to be ultra-popular or anything like that but it provided me with an outlet to speak my piece and post my opinions on a franchise dear to my heart, the Pittsburgh Pirates. It has been a great run and I’d like to thank all my readers. Your site views have been much appreciated.
For the last three months before April began I pored just about everything I could into this site and that made it great I shot up the MLB blogs leader boards all the way into the top 30 and I was climbing. My desire is to go on and see if I can’t make a run at the top spot but I don’t have the time or resources to make that possible. I guess you could say LIFE is forcing this closure. It is the ending of an era for me and in a way kind of the end of my college days, yes I have been out of college for almost a year now but this blog was born from those days and kept me connected to them. I always say I am lucky in that my childhood still lives on and in some ways always will. I have two things left keeping me tied to it The Simpsons and of course the Pirates but even those two are in some ways fading. The Simpsons for as great as the show has been is nearing the end of its run and the Pirates very soon are going to post a winning season (maybe not this year or next but its coming) officially ending the chapter of poor baseball I have endured all my life. Being a little philosophical here for a moment life or more specifically time as it does with everyone has defeated me and now I must move on.
My passion for the Pirates still grows everyday and I catch as many games as I possibly can. My desire to write about them and share my opinions and analysis with others is still there as well. Make no mistake I’m not done blogging but I can no longer upkeep this site. As some of you are probably aware a short while ago I joined some other bloggers over at the Pittsburgh Sports Forum and started writing some posts for them. I will continue to do so and I hope you all will come over there and check out my posts. It is a better outlet for me in this transition time in my life. Who knows when things settle down and if life provides me with the opportunity Battling Bucs could one day rise again but for the time being it shutting down.
One last time I would like to thank everyone who has read my site these last almost two years. It has been a pleasure to share my opinions with all of you. May our Pirates do something truly special this year and may this year be the start of a magnificent run.
Let’s Go Bucs!
Once again the Pirates find themselves with no hitting to begin the season. This year if you can believe it has actually been worse than the start of the 2012 season. It is mind-boggling that a team can hit this bad at the start of the season but it is happening. Once again though people are overreacting some, the Pirates are not this bad of a hitting team. Make no mistake they aren’t a good hitting team but they aren’t a historically bad hitting team either. In the coming weeks the Pirates will likely rebound some and becomes the below average offensive team they are but that still leaves us with the question of why we are once again seeing such a poor start.
Any number of factors could be in play here. It is possible the team did an inadequate job getting the hitters ready during spring. It is possible the collection of hitters the Pirates have assembled could be prone to poor starts. It is possible it could just simply be bad luck. Or it could be something else or some combination. It is impossible to figure out just what is at play here but I’d like to take a deeper look at the mix of hitters the Pirates have in their lineup.
The Pirates lineup is loaded with high strikeout guys. The major league average strikeout rate for non pitchers last season was 21.4% so keep that in mind when looking at these numbers.
Russell Martin: 19.6% K rate in 2012
Garrett Jones: 20.0% K rate in 2012
Gaby Sanchez: 17.2% K rate in 2012
Neil Walker: 19.6% K rate in 2012
Pedro Alvarez: 30.7% K rate in 2012
Clint Barmes: 21.5% K rate in 2012
Starling Marte: 27.5% K rate in 2012
Andrew McCutchen: 19.6% K rate in 2012
Travis Snider: 25.9% K rate in 2012
Jose Tabata: 15.5% K rate in 2012
The above are the Pirates 10 regular players. A fair number of them were below the average K rate last season but only two Sanchez and Tabata were significantly lower. What does that mean? It means on days when Snider and Jones both starts which should be against just about every right handed pitcher the Pirates are fielding an entire lineup of players who are going to strike out in at least about 1 out of every 5 at bats. In theory that isn’t a big deal but of course the strike outs don’t come exactly 5 at bats a part. Players get cold and when average to high strike out players get cold guess what they strike out a lot. Not exactly rocket science there. Strike outs in return limit the number of balls put in play and limit the chances of getting a good bounce. Without a good bounce hitters continue to hit without runners on where they see fewer pitchers to hit so they continue to struggle and the strike outs continue to mount. It’s all a cyclical effect. A couple hitters start off cold and struggle to put the ball in play creates fewer good hitting opportunities for the players hitting well so they in return get cold and start hitting fewer balls and striking out more. What this Pirates lineup lacks are some low strikeout guys who can work counts and get on base or even players who just manage to make contact a lot.
The Pirates find themselves in a tough cycle to break out of. Ideally a lineup like this would have a different type of bench supporting it but the Pirates really don’t have that. Sanchez and Tabata can mix things up a little bit but McKenry and McDonald are largely useless to change much. The last bench player Harrison is an interesting player though. Harrison won’t work hardly at all but he won’t strike out much either so having a bat like him who will make contact in the lineup could be a good thing. Problem is unless you are facing a left handed pitcher where do you play him? The Pirates really can’t sit Walker or Alvarez against right handers and Harrison isn’t good enough defensively to warrant starting him over Barmes, Marte or Snider. I thought this past weekend when facing two left handers in a row was a perfect opportunity to play Harrison for a couple games and see if his contact skills couldn’t ignite some sort of spark but alas that didn’t happen. In reality that is all Harrison brings to the table the ability to make contact on a consistent basis and that is something this Pirates team desperately needs.
With all that being said the Pirates non pitchers currently have a ridiculously low .169 BABIP. Simply put that isn’t going to continue forever and in time more balls will begin to fall in and the Pirates will in return score more runs. Still even with bad luck playing a huge role in this current offensive mess it would be nice if the Pirates lineup had or at least could be complimented with some good contact hitters who can manage to get on base at a high level. The front office has done a fair job of assembling some decent arms and some decent power hitters but it has been a miserable failure at balancing out the lineup and providing it with any kind of useable depth.
I must sadly report that with life catching up with me I am going to have to trim back my posting here at Battling Bucs. I have been doing everything I could to try to keep up my post per day rate over the last month and a half but I will no longer be able to do so. The site won’t end as I’ll continue trying to do a couple of posts per week and I’ll chime in with my thoughts on important Pirates moves. You can still follow me on Twitter and I’m doing some blogging on Pittsburgh Sport Forum so you can also check me out there. I’m not going to disappear from the online Pirates fan community but I will have to scale back. I guess life catches up with all of us in time. Thank you to all of you who have stopped by and read my blog and I hope you continue to do so even if it will be running at a reduced pace.
Apologies in advance to the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers who opened last night but today is the true honest to goodness Opening Day. Nothing warms my heart more than those two little words, this is the best day on the calendar year for me and a true holiday. On today of all days anything really does seem possible. Every Pirates season I can recall has finished the same way in disappointment but no matter the outcome the one day that does not and can not disappoint me is Opening Day. There is just something magical about it. There are a few days every year in which we say the Sports world creates an unofficial holiday. Most prominent are probably Super Bowl Sunday, the beginning of March Madness and possibly the Olympics. More so than any of those days though Opening Day feels truly special more like a religious day than just a sporting day.
Those other days I mention aren’t holidays simply because of the sport. March Madness takes on its holiday like form largely do to office pools and gambling. Super Bowl Sunday takes on its holiday like feel largely do to the event and not the game. And the Olympics are more a celebration of human achievement than a celebration of any particular sport. Opening Day however, to me at least, has nothing like that attached to it. It is quite simply and purely the celebration of baseball. It is a day to sit back, remove all the noise (PEDs, lack of competitive balance, etc) and focus on the greatness of the game. The feeling of it, the sights, the smells are impossible to describe. For me everything just seems better this one day a year, my senses feel heightened and I walk with a spring in my step.
The reason for this great feeling I and I’m sure countless others feel is difficult to describe. There is just something about baseball some force which draws us to the games. No matter how bad our teams may be the ones who truly get baseball stick with it and ride the season through until the bitter (or sweet) end. If you can’t feel this force it is nearly impossible for me or anyone else to describe what it can do to a person but if you feel this force you will know immediately what I am talking about here.
The last couple of weeks have seen many disagreements between Pirates fans and baseball fans in general but today is the day we sit that all aside and welcome our game back. For this is truly a special and magical day. Enjoy it, live it and take in the magic. This is a day of great hope and where anything truly feels possible. There is no other day quite like today. Opening Day is here and the world is right again.
Going into this offseason I identified to key areas in which I felt the Pirates needed to improve. The top priority was and should quite frankly near always be starting pitching depth. The Pirates worked on that this offseason by tendering Morton, resigning Karstens, (allegedly) signing Liriano and adding a few players like Jonathan Sanchez and Vin Mazzaro to serve as depth. The second area I pointed out was their lack of OBP and by extension top of the order and specifically lead off candidates. To address this the Pirate have done … well … nothing. Russell Martin was added and while I have heard some rumblings he might bat 2nd that really shouldn’t be an option except possibly against left handed pitching. So it appears the Pirates are going to try to address this problem internally. Let’s take a close look at the options:
The first thing we need to ask is what exactly does a team want in a leadoff hitter. The typical lead off hitter is viewed as someone who is fast and can steal bases but more importantly it is about getting on base and to a smaller extent making pitchers work. Since the primary goal of a leadoff hitting is getting on base I am going to focus most of this discussion of OBP but as a secondary number I will look at BB and K rates and finally as a third number I am going to look at stolen bases. Looking at those stats and comparing them to the league I get a very rough estimate that a good leadoff hitter should meet at least the following criteria: .330 OBP, 8-10 BB%, 15-20 K% (so 2:1 K:BB), 25 SB at a 75% rate. Those are reasonable estimates of minimum production teams would be expecting out of good leadoff hitters. So to compare the Pirates players to those standards I will use their 2013 ZiPS projections.
Russell Martin: .328 OBP, 10.3 BB%, 16.1 K%, 7 SB, 78 SB%
Michael McKenry: .297 OBP, 8.7 BB%, 24.8 K%, 1 SB, 50 SB%
Garrett Jones: .309 OBP, 7.7 BB%, 21.1 K%, 5 SB, 71 SB%
Gaby Sanchez: .324 OBP, 8.7 BB%, 14.6 K%, 3 SB, 75 SB%
Neil Walker: .328 OBP, 7.9 BB%, 18.5 K%, 8 SB, 62 SB%
Pedro Alvarez: .313 OBP, 10.2 BB%, 31.1 K%, 2 SB, 67 SB%
Clint Barmes: .289 OBP, 5.5 BB%, 18.7 K%, 3 SB, 50 SB%
Josh Harrison: .299 OBP, 3.7 BB%, 12.1 K%, 12 SB, 67 SB%
Jordy Mercer: .286 OBP, 5.4 BB%, 18.2 K%, 5 SB, 56 SB%
Chase d’Arnaud: .285 OBP, 6.4 BB%, 21.6 K%, 24 SB, 83 SB%
Starling Marte: .310 OBP, 4.3 BB%, 22.8 K%, 24 SB, 67 SB%
Andrew McCutchen: .369 OBP, 11.4 BB%, 18.0 K%, 23 SB, 68 SB%
Travis Snider: .310 OBP, 7.4 BB%, 22.7 K%, 9 SB, 69 SB%
Jose Tabata: .329 OBP, 7.9 BB%, 15.0 K%, 19 SB, 61 SB%
Jerry Sands: .304 OBP, 8.5 BB%, 25.0 K%, 4 SB, 80 SB%
Alex Presley: .308 OBP, 6.1 BB%, 18.0 K%, 15 SB, 65 SB%
Well as should have been expected no one met all the criteria listed and in fact no one at all met the 25 SB criteria. Since the Pirates do not have an ideal leadoff hitter (something we already knew) I think it is time to look at the best of the flawed options.
OBP > .330
Only one Pirates player projects to have an OBP over .330 and he is obviously the best choice to bat leadoff but the problem is he is the same guy who is the best choice to bat 3rd, 4th, 5th and well really anywhere in the lineup. With an ideally balanced lineup Andrew McCutchen is the obvious choice to be a leadoff hitter and if he can improve his stolen base efficiency he would be as near perfect a lead off hitter as one could make. However we all know he has more value to the Pirates batting in the middle of the lineup and driving those runs in than he does sitting atop the lineup, getting on base and ultimately staying on base.
OBP > .320
The Pirates have 4 players who have an OBP in the .320s and without an obvious choice to leadoff it would make sense that the player should come from this group. Those players are Russell Martin, Gaby Sanchez, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata. Looking at the secondary numbers I posted each of these players BB% and K% look fairly good as well as the BB% are at the very least near 8% and the K% for all of them is less than 20%. Where the divergence happens though is in the SB department, only one of these players, Jose Tabata is any sort of threat on the bases and while he does have the speed to swipe bases he like most other Pirates isn’t good at picking his spots. Still there is little doubt that outside of McCutchen the Pirates player best suited for the leadoff spot is Jose Tabata but there is a problem with that as Tabata’s 2012 struggles has made it very likely that he won’t be in the starting lineup. Gaby Sanchez is in a similar position as he is only expected to get consistent at bats against left handers. That leaves us with martin and Walker. In an ideal world where the leadoff hitter is determined only by the ability to get on base Martin batting lead off against lefties and Walker against righties makes a ton of sense as both players do a really good job getting on base against those particular handedness. In practice Martin is a catcher and catchers no matter how much they are suited for it rarely if ever lead off. I would not dismiss the possibility of Walker doing so however.
OBP > .300, BB% > 7.5%
Next up are 3 players who do not put up the best on base percentages but show a decent knack for working a count as shown by their projected BB%. These 3 players Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez and Jerry Sands. On the surface none of these 3 look like a leadoff hitter and when you dig a little deeper that becomes even clearer. Alvarez’s strike out rate is projected to be above 30% and his power bat is too valuable to have at the top of the order and he is better suited for a slugger role somewhere in the middle of the lineup. Similar to Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates count on Garrett Jones for his power and middle of the order presence. He doesn’t strike out a ton though and is actually has a fairly high OBP against right handed pitchers so using him at the top of the lineup against them shouldn’t be entirely dismissed. THe other player Sands faces a similar situation to Tabata as there is probably just not a whole lot of playing time to be had by him. Even so with a projected 25% strike out rate and a low OBP the top of the order probably isn’t a good place for him.
OBP > .300, BB% < 7.5%
There are 3 more players with a projected OBP above .300 but all of them do not walk a lot. They are Starling Marte, Alex Presley and Travis Snider. First I’ll deal with Travis Snider, he is a lot like Garrett Jones in that the Pirates are going to be expecting him to provide power but that his OBP is decent enough that using him near the top of the lineup can not be completely dismissed in the right situations. The other two players Starling Marte and Alex Presley fit the look of a traditional leadoff hitter. Both are speedy outfielders that can steal a base fairly well. However both have some OBP problems and Marte has a strike out problem. Presley is in the same boat as Tabata and Sands and in actuality is probably worse off so it is unlikely he gets enough playing time to be a real leadoff hitter candidate. Starling Marte appears likely to be the Pirates first choice as a leadoff hitter but his projected numbers show he really isn’t a good fit for that role. He can steal some bases but he will really work a walk and is projected to have a strike out rate more than 6 times greater than his walk rate.
OBP < .300
I have 5 other players listed above but they have even greater on base problems than the ones I have already discussed. McKenry is a solid backup catcher with a little power but he quite obviously has the OBP nor the speed to handle lead off duties. Clint Barmes is expected to be the everyday starting shortstop but that is more for his defensive prowess than anything with the bat. He quite simply should see nothing but the bottom of the order. All that leaves us with is the 3 primary candidates for the reserve infielder jobs in d’Arnaud, Harrison and Mercer. Each one has his strengths but none of their strengths are really getting on base. d’Arnaud is a decent enough base stealer but can’t hit well enough to get on base at a decent enough clip, Mercer is a solid defensive player but once again is lacking with the bat, and Harrison is a little better with the bat and is a decent base runner but lacks a true position and doesn’t have the plate patience nor the OBP ability to make any sort of leadoff hitter.
So what does all of this tell us? Quite simply that the Pirates are going to have to patchwork their leadoff spot and their top of the order. All things should be on the table. Players like Garrett Jones, Travis Snider, Russell Martin and Gaby Sanchez need to be considered for the top of the order even though they aren’t your prototypical choices. Neil Walker shouldn’t be pigeon-holed as a #2 hitter as he has the ability to be a competent lead off hitter at least against left handers. I am going to share my own ideas for lineups below and then discuss my rationale behind them.
In my lineup against right handers I am having Walker lead off because he is the Pirates best OBP man against right handed pitchers outside of Andrew McCutchen. The second spot in my order came down to Garrett Jones and Travis Snider both of whom can post decent OBPs against right handers while providing a little pop but Jones is more proven in that regard and I want the younger Snider concentrating more on unlocking his power pontential rather than trying to set the table. The middle of the order I kept the same for both lineups as I think Cutch fits well in the 3 hole and that it is time for Pedro to get a real chance to inherit the clean up job. Marte is more of a run producer than a leadoff hitter so batting him 5th gives him a oppurtunity to do and if he develops he could possible move up to the 3rd spot which would allow Cutch to inherit the lead off spot. Rounding out the lineup I have Martin and Barmes who I hope will at least be competent. If Martin sits McKenry can just slide right into the 7th spot.
In my lineup against lefites I start with Tabata as I am not ready to give up on him quite yet and feel it would be for the best to sit Snider against left handed pitching. Outside of McCutchen, Tabata is clearly the player that best profiles as a leadoff hitter so this will give him a chance to audition for that job. The second spot came down to either Martin or Sanchez and I went with Martin because I feel Sanchez brings a little more power lower in the lineup and I feel that Martin’s track record of posting a high OBP against lefties is just a touch better than Sanchez’s. The middle of the order stays the same as I want those guys to try and establish themselves. I dropped Walker the whole way down to the 7th spot because when he is forced to bat right handed he really struggles. I wouldn’t mind seeing him swapped with Sanchez though and batting 6th. And of course Barmes rounds out the lineup. When Martin sits move Sanchez up to the 2 spot and insert McKenry in Sanchez’s spot.
My lineups may be a little unconventional but I feel they make the best use out of what is the poor assortment of top of the order candidates the Pirates currently have in their stable.
One of the many goals I have laid out for myself is to get a better grip on how baseball’s finances work. I always hear people complain about it and occasionally I complain about it as well but in all honesty I’m guessing very few people know that much about it. Sure they can share with you their opinion on if baseball should have a salary cap or not but can they tell you much about how revenue sharing works? Or even about how much revenue a typical team brings in? Forbes does their annual evaluation of each franchise’s worth and that is a good read but it is really just a snapshot and doesn’t contain too many details. There is some information out there concerning baseball’s finances but it is really difficult to get a grasp on it, so that is my goal to attempt to gain the best understanding of it I possibly can.
All of this is good of course but it raises a question on just where exactly does one begin. I could read the CBA to find out more about revenue sharing or read up on the new mega TV deals, teams like the Dodgers just signed but for me at least to really begin to grasp this concept I need to start with something small and work my way up. Which is exactly what I did by taking a look at what makes a team a small market team or even a large market team for that matter? The easy and technically correct answer is physical market size but I don’t think that tells the whole story. Boston’s population is relatively average in the grand scheme of baseball markets but yet they aren’t just simply an average market. So another factor obviously needs to be considered and to keep things simple it should be fairly straightforward. What is needed is a measure of baseball interest surrounding a particular team. This can be a very difficult thing to measure so to keep things simple I opted for a crude but fairly accurate measurement, revenue from ticket sales. This information as best I was able to search wasn’t readily available but what I was able to find was an average ticket price for each team and an attendance figure for 2012 so by multiplying those 2 together I am able to creat a rough estimate.
The next step was to figure out the best way to combine these two measurements and like I usually do and plan to do a lot doing my attempt to understand baseball’s finances I kept things simple. I rated each team’s ticket revenue and metro population on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being for the highest and 5 the lowest (All numbers are based upon the 2012 season). The scale I used for estimated ticket revenue is 1 – 120+ million, 2 – 80-120 million, 3 - 60-80 million, 4 – 40-60 million, 5 for anything under 40 million. For metro size I used 1 – 8+ million, 2 – 5-8 million, 3 – 3.5-5 million, 4 – 2.5-3.5 million, 5 – for anything below 2.5 million. I then added the rankings up and the team’s with the lowest combine score should be the large market teams, whereas the teams with the highest combine score are the small market teams. The results were as followed
2 – Yankees, Cubs (143 million)
3 – Phillies (175 million)
4 – Mets, Dodgers, Angels, Red Sox (129 million)
5 – White Sox, Rangers, Nationals, Marlins, Giants, Tigers (111 million)
6 – Astros, Blue Jays, Braves, Twins, Cardinals (85 million)
7 – Mariners (82 million)
8 – Athletics, Diamondbacks, Orioles, Rockies, Brewers (77 million)
9 – Padres, Reds, Rays (67 million)
10 – Pirates, Indians, Royals (68 million)
In parantheses I put the average 2012 opening day payroll of the teams in each group. As you can see there is some noise at each end but overall the payrolls start to decrease as you move down the scale as one would expect. It becomes even more evident when you combine the tiers into an upper, middle and lower class.
Upper (2-4) – 140 million
Middle (5-7) – 98 million
Lower (8-10) – 72 million
It should be noted the upper class is actually skewed down some as the Dodgers began 2012 with a payroll of only 95 million and also the Cubs were only at 88 and the Mets at 93 million. Restating the averages with the estimated 2013 opening day payrolls we get:
Upper (2-4) – 153 million
Middle (5-7) – 98 million
Lower (8-10) – 75 million
It should be stated the “middle” includes the Astros and Marlins who have payrolls at ridiculously low levels, removing them from the discussion raise the average of the middle group up to 110 million.
As for how all of this realtes to the Pirates it tells us who their peers are in terms of market. They are the Reds, Rays, Padres, Indians and Royals. Last year that group saw a low of 55 million (Padres) and a high of 82 million (Reds). Realisticly speaking the Reds probably represent the high end of what a team in this group could have realistically pushed their payroll to in 2012. Overall it appears salaries and there by revenues are seeing a slight uptick in 2013 so it is probably reasonable to say that the high end of the Pirates current group is 85 million going forward. All of this doesn’t mean the Pirates payroll can never rise above 85 million though. The Reds are going to surpass that threshhold in 2013 and the Brewers were in the Pirates class just a few years ago and appear to be regressing back to it now. The Pirates if they are successfully and embraced by the city have a chance to rise up from the lower class and into the lower middle class and in that group a payroll of slightly over 100 million for a season or two is realistically possible.
Going into 2013 the Pirates project to have a payroll right around 68 million. That is definitely far below the 85 million max they should be able to sustain for a season or two in their given climate but is perfectly reasonable when compared to their peers. The average projected 2013 opening day payroll of the lower class teams excluded the Pirates is 76.7 million but when we remove the 3 teams who are making a run in 2013 (Orioles, Diamondbacks and Reds) the average payroll of the teams in the lower class is 68.4 million (this includes the Brewers, Rockies, Athletics, Rays, Padres, Indians and Royals). The Pirates are in no position to say 2013-14 is their window (which is essentially what the Reds, Diamondbacks and Orioles are doing) so a payroll just slightly below 70 million feels about right for 2013.
With the 4th pick in the 2009 draft the Pirates took a catcher from Boston College by the name of Tony Sanchez. At the time of the selection this was viewed as a sign-ability pick and Sanchez wasn’t considered the best player available. Obviously this selection hasn’t panned out quite like the Pirates and their fans would have hoped. Not only has Sanchez struggled in the minor leagues but none of the high upside high school arms the Pirates selected later in the draft have turned out. So this obviously raises the question what could the Pirates have had if they would have taken someone who was appropriate for that spot? Using hind sight here and saying that Mike Trout should have been the selection isn’t really what I’m looking to do instead I’m going to look at players who were rated around the #4 overall spot. To keep this reasonable Strasburg, Ackley and Tate won’t be considered as they were already off the board. So I’m going to take a look at the rest of Baseball America’s top 10.
#4 Kyle Gibson: Gibson just completed an injury plagued season in which he threw only 28.1 innings. He has yet to make his major league debut but has pitched parts of 3 seasons in AAA compiling 117.2 IP at that level while supporting a 4.67 ERA, 1.402 WHIP, 8.4 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9.
#5 Jacob Turner: Turner was traded this season to the Marlins as the key piece in the Anibal Sanchez deal. He made his major league debut last season but got his first real taste of full time action this season with the Marlins. He looked good throwing 42.2 innings and posting a 3.38 ERA, 0.984 WHIP, 6.1 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9. His AAA numbers are also solid with a 2.85 ERA, 1.239 WHIP, 6.4 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 107.1 IP.
#6 Alex White: White was traded last season to the Rockies as a key piece in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal. He made his major league debut last season and got to make about half a season worth of starts this year. His time in the majors has thus far been a struggle with 149.1 IP and a 6.03 ERA, 1.688 WHIP, 6.1 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9. He was better in AAA posting a 3.20 EA, 1.198 WHIP, 7.8 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 84.1 IP.
#7 Aaron Crow: Crow made it to the majors quickly as a relief pitcher, even earning an All Star appearance in 2011. He has been very solid out of the bullpen throwing 126.2 innings while posting a 3.13 ERA, 1.279 WHIP, 9.2 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9. Crow spent no time at AAA and struggled in his time at AA posting a 5.66 ERA, 1.584 WHIP, 6.8 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 over 119.1 innings.
#8 Tyler Matzek: Matzek has yet to make his major league debut and in fact has not pitched above the A+ level. In 175.1 innings at the A+ level Matzek has posted and 5.60 ERA, 1.762 WHIP. 9.8 K/9 and 7.2 BB/9.The Rockies are still using him as a starter.
#9 Tanner Scheppers: As most of you may know the Pirates actually selected Scheppers during the 2nd round of the 2009 draft but he didn’t sign presumably because the Pirates had concerns about his medical history. Scheppers was drafted the next season by the Texas Rangers and made his major league debut this season. In 32.1 innings of relief Scheppers posted a 4.45 ERA, 1.732 WHIP, 8.4 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. In AAA Scheppers threw 120.2 innings posting a 4.77 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, 91. K/9 and 3.4 BB/9.
#10 Matthew Purke: Purke was drafted in the 1st round of the 2009 draft but did not sign. The Nationals selected him in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft and he made his professional debut this past season in A ball. Purke pitched sparingly only throwing 15.1 innings so he must have had injury problems but in those few innings he posted a 5.87 ERA, 1.761 WHIP, 8.2 K/9 and 7.0 BB/9.
Gibson and White are two players who have reached AAA and pitched decent but not great. They both will probably get a chance (or in White’s case another chance) to establish themselves in the majors but neither is a good bet.
Turner was a very solid prospect who shown good signs of establishing himself as at least a solid major league starter. Right now he appears to the best of the group.
Crow and Scheppers have both made the major leagues as a reliever and that appears to be their path going forward. Crow is now established while Scheppers looked decent in his first stint this past season.
Matzek and Purke have a long way to go to get established. Matzek has the look of a bust while it is too early to make a real call on Purke. Purke’s injury history does make him look like a real risky prospect though.
This does not excuse the Pirates for a poor selection but their belief that the remaining talent was a bit of a crap shoot does seem to have some validity. Outside of Turner there doesn’t appear to be a major impact player anywhere in the bunch. Again not an excuse for missing on the pick but this portion of Baseball America’s 2009 draft rankings certainly isn’t looking promising right now.
I’m going to keep this simple and post just a few fielding stats for each team. I’m going to use the tradition Fielding percentage and two more advanced metric DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150). Remember for the sake of this comparison I’m excluding the Astros since they won’t be in the division next season.
Reds: .985 F%, 32 DRS, 1.7 UZR/150
Cubs: .982 F%, -7 DRS, 1.0 UZR/150
Pirates: .982 F%, -25 DRS, -1.3 UZR/150
Brewers: .984 F%, 13 DRS, -1.3 UZR/150
Cardinals: .983 F%, 13 DRS, -3.7 UZR/150
Overview: I’m going to brief here because well one my knowledge of advanced fielding stats is limited and two I’m saving most of my defensive analysis for the position by position break down I’m going to do later on. Just looking at things from a team perspective it is easy to see that the Pirates defense was below average for the NL Central. Their fielding percentage is tied for last, their DRS is last by a fairly wide margin and their UZR/150 is tied with the Brewers for second worse in the division ahead of only the Cardnals. Putting all the information together one can make a pretty good case that the Pirates were the worst fielding team in the division. As I hinted to early I’ll take a look later on to see exactly where improvements are necessary but it should be obvious from just these basic numbers that upgrades are needed somewhere.
There isn’t going to be much to this but I thought I’d gave a brief synopsis of how the Pirates compared to the rest of the NL Central this year. Since the Astros are leaving I will exclude them and focus on the 4 hold overs. The first aspect I’m going to compare is offense. I will also look at field and pitching at later dates. I will also take a look at each position later on. I’m going to look at HR and ISO for power, OBP and K:BB ratio for plate discipline, SB% and BsR for base running and wRC+ and WAR for overall value.
Brewers: 202 HR, .177 ISO
Reds: 172 HR, .159 ISO
Pirates: 170 HR, .152 ISO
Cardinals: 159 HR, .150 ISO
Cubs: 137 HR, .138 ISO
Cardinals: .338 OBP, 2.2 K:BB
Brewers: .325 OBP, 2.7 K:BB
Reds: .315 OBP, 2.6 K:BB
Pirates: .304 OBP, 3.0 K:BB
Cubs: .302 OBP, 2.8 K:BB
Pirates: 9.2 BsR, 58% SB%
Reds: 5.3 BsR, 76% SB%
Cardinals: -1.2 BsR, 71% SB%
Brewers: -1.4 BsR, 80% SB%
Cubs: -2.2 BsR, 68% SB%
Cardinals: 107 wRC+, 34.8 WAR
Brewers: 106 wRC+, 34.8 WAR
Reds: 93 wRC+, 27.2 WAR
Pirates: 89 wRC+, 21.6 WAR
Cubs: 80 wRC+, 14.7 WAR
Overview: The above numbers tell us a few things but I will look at each category.
1) Power: The Pirates power numbers are right in line with the Cardinals and Reds for the middle of the division. When trying to size up where the Pirates need to improve next season being able to bring the power isn’t really one of those areas.
2) Plate Discipline: The Cubs were last in all but two categories one was SB%, which I’ll discuss next, and the other K:BB ratio. The Pirates had the worst K:BB ratio of these 5 tams and were only slightly better than the Cubs in OBP. This is probably the Pirates biggest weakness and will need to be addressed in a big way.
3) Base Running: The Cubs are last in all but two categories and the Pirates are last in those two. As we all know the Pirates need a lot of work with their stolen base game, 58% is honestly horrible and unacceptable for a team with the speed of the Pirates. On the plus side, BsR a stat that measures everything base running related except for stolen bases rates the Pirates quite well showing that they nearly added an extra win to their total by how well they ran the bases.
4) Overall: I’m going to skip over WAR for now as that also accounts for defense. In wRC+ which is a good summary stat of offensive production the Pirates fall behind the Cardinals, Brewers and Reds. While it isn’t necessary to lead the division in this category coming in 4th is probably not going to allow you to compete to often. With improvements in plate discipline this will hopefully also improve.
I’m going to cover a mystery player here today. A Pirates player who has receive a lot of grief this season, a lot of it deservingly so, but who has been overlooked and is thought to be performing far worse than he actually is. For the past couple of months this has been my argument about Clint Barmes but I have a new player to discuss today. This player since June 1st has hit for a line of .273/.364/.373/.737. Admittedly the slugging percentage leaves a lot to be desired and the sample size we are talking about here along with being fairly arbitrary is a small 189 PA. However that .364 number sticks out to me. The Pirates have very few players who are capable of psoting an OBP like that over a sustained amount of time. In fact I would argue it is only two. One of them is the face of the franchise and MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen and the other is the much maligned, despised, criticized and basically hated Jose Tabata.
Look I’m a Tabata advocate and I’ll freely admit there is a whole lot wrong with Tabata’s game. He appears to have lost a step even though I beleive how much he has lost has been greatly over exaggerated. He is not the best base runner, specifically base stealer but really this can be said about essentially every Pirate and hios defense this year at times was poor to say the least. I believe the base running/stealing is a coaching issue which will hopefully be addressed this offseason (but that is another discussion) and I beleive the defensive problmes he showed early in the season were a result of playing hurt or gingerly (ie his head had him convinced the injury was still there and going to act back up). Tabata has problems that require a lot of work to fix but one thing he can do and do rather well is get on base. Prior to this year Tabata had two seasons with an OBP over .340. This may not sound like much but the one thing the Pirates offense is really lacking are table setters, guys to get on in front of McCutchen, Jones, Alvarez and even Walker. Starling Marte and Travis Snider don’t fit this description and quite obviously neither does Clint Barmes.
For the last couple weeks (months really) I’ve been considering ways to improve this team and I cam up with a few (I’ll discuss later) but one of the first things that came into my head was that this team needed to be deeper. It needed an outfield with on base skills who could do a good job off the bench and who was good enough to hold down a starting position should an injury arise. My search led me to a few names but the one I liked the best was Reed Johnson. Upon digging a little deeper and realizing Johnson has been rather lucky the past 2 seasons with a high BABIP and after sitting down and giving it some critical thought I’ve determined that Tabata is more suited to the 2013 Pirates than Reed Johnson or an outfielder of that ilk.
Now should the Pirates decide to not move forward with an outfield of Marte-McCutchen-Snider with a little bit of Jones sprinkled in and pursue a higher level outfielder (a possible move I will discuss later on) the issue of cutting ties with Tabata (through a trade of course) becomes much less but as of now I expect the Pirates to keep that outfiled alignment and in the likely event they do I think the perfect 4th outfielder for that group is already with the team in Jose Tabata. He can spell Snider against lefties and help ease in Marte, meaning he should play about 3 days a week and in those days will be able to solidly fill the leadoff spot.