Results tagged ‘ Jeff Karstens ’

Position Recap: Starting Pitcher

AJ Burnett: Acquired this offseason Burnett proved to be a big boost to the Pirates rotation. After an injury which sidelined him most of April Burnett became the ace of the Pirates team and pitched well enough to genuinely be considered a borderline #1 pitcher, not just a #1 pitcher for the Pirates. As all Pirates fans hoped Burnett proved to be more comfortable in the National League, lowering his walk rate and home run rate while still striking out a fair amount of batters. Like all Pirates players Burnett did start to perform worse as the season neared its close but he was still a very strong starter for the Pirates going down the stretch. The Burnett deal looks to be one of the Huntington’s best and fortunately the Pirates have a chance to benefit from it next season as well. Burnett was an unquestioned leader this season and will hopefully continue pitching well and taking a leadership role next season. As for his performance this season it is hard to be disappointed Overall Grade: A-

James McDonald: McDonald starting off pitching as well as if not better than Burnett but unlike Burnett he went in to complete free fall in August. McDonald’s season was sort of the perfect microcosm for the Pirates season. It started off a little shaky, went on an absolute tear and then quickly fell apart at the end. Even with the horrible ending McDonald still managed to put up fairly good numbers overall for the season so it is difficult to call his year a disappointment but it is fair to say that it could have been a lot better. One area McDonald will have to work on is limiting his number of free passes allowed as that really bit him at the end of last season. McDonald profiles as a very similar pitcher to Burnett and at the beginning of the year it appeared Burnett’s presence was helping him hopefully that same effect comes back next season, as McDonald figures to have a prominent role in the rotation once again. Overall Grade: C+

Kevin Correia: Correia just wouldn’t go away this season. The Pirates tried everything they could to get him out of the rotation but alas he was the only member of the opening day rotation still making starts going down the stretch in September. He wasn’t awful this season but he really wasn’t great either. He pitched well enough to be a decent 4/5 starter which is in reality what he truly is. The Pirates could have done far worse as a backup plan this season or they could have done far better by turning to one of the younger pitchers early on. The most troubling thing about Correia this season was his inability to miss bats as his K% took another hit this season and due to this and other factors, namely bad luck, Correia had a few outings where things just didn’t seem to be going his way. Correia is now a free agent and while it could make some sense for the Pirates to bring him back I don’t think there is any mutual interest here. He did a solid job filling in and holding a back of the rotation this season so I need to give him credit for that. Overall Grade: B-

Erik Bedard: Bedard stayed relatively healthy this season which if you would have told me that at the beginning of the season I would have said would have been a huge boost for the Pirates but unfortunately it wasn’t. Bedard had a great first two months but then suffered a mild injury which forced the Pirates to push back one of his starts by a couple of days. At the time it seemed like no big deal but Bedard wasn’t the same pitcher after that. The Pirates tried to give Bedard some extra rest by going with a 6 man rotation and using off days to rearrange the rotation and give him 5 days off between starts instead of 4 but it didn’t work. So after three abysmal months the Pirates finally cut Bedard in August. I can’t really say it was a disappointing season from Bedard as he managed to stay relatively healthy, pitched two great months and even when things went sour from him the numbers suggest some bad luck was at play. Still he was a pretty bad pitcher from June one and really didn’t help the Pirates much after that point. The Pirates made a gamble on Bedard and got some production but it really didn’t pay off, still I think it was one worth making. Overall Grade: C

Jeff Karstens: Karstens did what Karstens does. When Karstens was on the field he pitched well putting up good strong numbers despite his peripherals saying he probably wasn’t that good of a pitcher. However we are used to that from Karstens but his undoing this season was his durability issues. Due to injuries and an apparent decision at the end of the season to look at younger pitchers Karstens threw only 83.1 innings. That is a major disappointment. Like I said he was good in those innings, he walked very few batters and even raised his strikeout rate again but he just didn’t manage to stay on the field long enough for me to call his season a success. The Pirates face a tough decision with Karstens as he is in the final year of arbitration and will likely command a salary of around 5 million dollars. If Karstens is healthy the Pirates won’t be able to find a better starter for 5 million dollars but the injury issues make him a potential non tender. I anticipate the Pirates will tender him but I wouldn’t rule out a trade possibility.  As for this season I have to give Karstens good marks for when he pitched but I also have to knock him for how little he pitched. Overall Grade: C

Wandy Rodriguez: Rodriguez came over to the Pirates near the trade deadline in a deal that received mix reviews. A lot of fans didn’t think it was worth giving up Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens and Colton Cain for him and those voices only grew louder when Rodriguez struggled in his first handful of starts with the Pirates. As for myself I thought that was a pretty fair price for Rodriguez although I would have hoped for a bit more salary relief but that is neither here nor there. The Pirates definitely didn’t get a steal here but they weren’t robbed blind here either. Anyway after his first few shaky starts Rodriguez settled in and actually became arguably the Pirates best starter down the stretch. The Pirates probably will have Rodriguez for the next two seasons and at this point it feels kind of nice to have a good stable veteran left hander in the rotation. Rodriguez won’t wow you with his stuff and he has to improve a bit on his strike out rate he had with the Pirates but he appears to be a good option for the Pirates next season. Overall Grade: B-

The Rest: Rather than break down the final four pitchers who made the Pirates other 23 starts this season I’m just going to mention them all briefly here. Morton made nine starts before going on the DL (with what a lot of Pirates fans thought was a phantom injury) and then receiving Tommy John surgery. He wasn’t particularly impressive in those 9 starts but still has a good bit of potential. I doubt the Pirates tender Morton a contract as he won’t be ready to pitch until at least June and even then the 30 day rehab he is permitted would probably not be enough for him to get ready to pitch in the majors again. I’m expecting a non-tender and a minor league contract. Overall Grade: D Next up is Jeff Locke who made 6 starts for the Pirates and has what first looks like a terrible stat line but Locke did manage to miss some bats and his xFIP suggests his ERA was unlucky. Locke right now is slated to compete for the 5th starter job and is probably currently the favorite for that position. Overall Grade: C Third on the list making 5 starts in Brad Lincoln. Lincoln was excellent out of the bullpen for the Pirates this season but as a starter (which is all I’m grading him on here) he was quite awful. I recall one good start out of the 5. His advanced numbers suggest he was a bit unlucky as well but even so he was still pretty bad. Lincoln is no longer with the team so he obviously won’t be a factor next season. As a starter I give him an Overall Grade: D Last but not least on the list making 3 starts this season is Kyle McPherson. Due to injuries McPherson didn’t start this season in AAA but rather repeated AA. He spent most of the season there before eventually getting called up to AAA and then shortly there after getting called up to the majors. McPherson had essentially the opposite season to Locke; his stat line looks good but his advanced stats say he had a bit of luck this season. Right now McPherson is a strong candidate for the #5 job next season but I would call him a slight underdog right now. Overall Grade: C+

* I’m not going to list the pitching prospects here instead I’m going to do 3 recaps for the pitchers: starter, relievers, prospects.

The Average Starting Pitcher

Since this is the offseason I have some spare time with no Pirates games to watch so I decided that since I believe the Pirates biggest and perhaps only free agent splash this offseason should be a starting pitcher I decided to look into how the typical starter does. I’m hoping to make this a multi-step series and take a look at a bunch of stats from K/9, BB/9, WHIP, FIP, xFIP, WAR and so on but for now this post deals entirely with ERA. I wanted to see the defining marks between a 1 and 2 starter, a 2 and 3 and  so on. So I took a look at the past 3 seasons of baseball that is 14,578 starts accumulated by 423 individuals.

I decided to attribute 2,970 starts to #1 pitchers, 2,968 starts to #2 pitchers and 2,880 starts to #3-#5 starters. There is some math behind this as in the course of a 162 game season a team would go through a rotation 32.4 times meaning the #1 and #2 starters would ideally make 33 starts and the #3-#5 would make 32 starts. Thirty teams, over 3 seasons playing 162 games should come out to 14,580 starts but since we were missing two (probably a game that was rained out and never made up) I took it from the pitcher number that ideally starts game 162 which is the #2 starter.

I then ordered the pitchers by the ERA they have put up as a starter over the course of the last three seasons. This means Shelby Miller, Brad Peacock, Aaron Thompson, Dellin BetancesCesar Ramos and Jeurys Familia are at the top of the list with a 0.00 ERA conversely Ryan Verdugo with a 32.40 ERA is at the bottom of the list. Now obviously these pitchers wouldn’t be considered the best and/or worst starters over the last 3 seasons because with the exception of Peacock who started 2 games everyone I mentioned has only made 1 start. However this still works for my purpose. I made the assumption that the best ERAs belong to number 1 starters, the next best #2 starters and so forth. To figure out the average ERA for a #1 starter I went down the list of ERAs gradually getting higher and adding the number of starts made by the pitcher. Once I reached 2,970 I stopped and moved on to a #2 starter and I repeated this process until I got to the end. Now of course this didn’t work out perfectly and I had 4 pitchers who had some starts in two categories so what I did was assign the ERA to each individual start and broke it apart accordingly. For example Roy Oswalt ended up being the borderline between a #1 and a #2 starter, he has made 64 starts over the last 3 seasons and I needed 28 of them to be added to the #1 starter group and the remaining 36 to the number two starter group. Essentially I broke him into two players one who made 28 starts at a 3.50 ERA and one who made 36 starts at a 3.50 ERA. I also split up the innings accordingly meaning I averaged his number of innings per start and then multiplied that by the number of starts in each category. I did this for the other 3 borderline pitchers as well.

So at the end what this gave me was 5 groups of starters separated by ERA. I then used the total ER allowed by each group and the total IP by each group to come up with an ERA for the group. It was a pretty straight forward process but as you can see the explanation of it can make it sound a little complicated. Below are the results of my breakdown.

#1 Starter: 3.06 ERA

#2 Starter: 3.74 ERA

#3 Starter: 4.12 ERA

#4 Starter: 4.51 ERA

#5 Starter: 5.47 ERA

Average Starter: 4.12 ERA

The ranges were as followed

#1 Starter: 0.00-3.50

#2 Starter: 3.50-3.96

#3 Starter: 3.96-4.29

#4 Starter: 4.29-4.80

#5 Starter: 4.80-32.40

To get rid of the extremes I took away the top 10% and bottom 10% of each category and the ranges and averages doing that were:

#1 Starter: 2.79-3.46 (Average of 3.09)

#2 Starter: 3.56-3.91 (Average of 3.74)

#3 Starter: 4.00-4.27 (Average of 4.11)

#4 Starter: 4.31-4.75 (Average 4.51)

#5 Starter: 4.90-6.37 (Average of 5.34)

I took away the top and bottom 10% just to make sure the extremes weren’t playing too much havoc with the averages. Also this now starts the #1 starters with Justin Verlander and ends the #5 starters with Sean O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan is probably not a common name to most but he has made 24 starts over the last 3 seasons so he isn’t just your typical cup of coffee starter who bombs in his 1 or 2 starts. The numbers as you can see for the most part stayed the same which validates my thought that the extremes really didn’t have much impact.

For reference sake I’m going to look at the Pirates six starters and compare their numbers to the above.. I’m going to use their ERA’s over the last 3 seasons, their ERA’s last season and their xFIP over the last 3 seasons and last year’s as well. The ERA’s should show us how they have compared and the xFIP should give us a fair estimate of how we could expect them to perform.

AJ Burnett

2010-2012: 4.62 ERA, 3.90 xFIP

2012: 3.51 ERA, 3.40 xFIP

Wandy Rodriguez

2010-2012: 3.63 ERA, 3.80 xFIP

2012: 3.76 ERA, 4.09 xFIP (with Pirates only it was: 3.82 ERA, 4.42 xFIP)

James McDonald

2010-2012: 4.07 ERA, 4.23 xFIP

2012: 4.05 ERA, 4.17 xFIP

Jeff Karstens

2010-2012: 3.96 ERA, 4.04 xFIP

2012: 3.89 ERA, 3.89 xFIP

Jeff Locke

2011-2012: 6.36 ERA, 4.49 xFIP

2012: 6.30 ERA, 3.61 xFIP

Kyle McPherson

2012: 3.68 ERA, 4.66 xFIP

So now the next logical step is to ask where these Pirates pitchers rank on the number scale well before we can do that we must decide on one number to assign them. Using the xFIP and ERA numbers available I’m going to make some reasonable estimates and predict the following ERAs for the above 6 starters:

Burnett: 3.60

Rodriguez: 3.80

McDonald: 4.10

Karstens: 4.00

Locke: 4.50

McPherson: 4.50

Remember these numbers are just approximations based on some educated guesses by me. Burnett, Rodriguez, McDonald and Karstens seem to fit them because that is essentially where they have consistently been. For Locke and McPherson their sample sizes are such that one can’t really get a good feel for them. I put the numbers in between their ERAs and xFIPs and assumed some struggles as young pitchers which I think should put them in 4.40-4.60 range. Basically what I feel comfortable considering either McPherson or Locke for next season is as a 4.50 ERA pitcher. I believe that is a reasonable number for either one to hit next year.

So now the question is what does all this give us?

Burnett: A strong #2 starter, maybe even a borderline #1

Rodriguez: An average to weak #2 starter

McDonald: An average #3 starter

Karstens: A strong #3 starter, maybe even borderline #2

Locke and McPherson: Average #4 starters

So that actually looks pretty good. Two #2s, two #3s and two #4s but alas we know it’s not that simple. Our top two pitchers Burnett and Rodriguez are getting up there in age and could regress. The chances of McDonald being an average #3 starter seem slim as over the course of the last two years he has alternated between looking like a decent #1 to looking like a #5. Karstens is solid and dependable when he is on the field but has durability issues. And Locke and McPherson are young unproven pitchers who could possibly step up and be solid #3s even or could bomb and struggle to hold on to good #5 status. The bottom line is the Pirates have the makings of a decent looking rotation when compared to the rest of major league baseball but there are just so many questions surrounding them that addressing that area this offseason needs to be considered.

Roster Decisions

In addition to trying to figure out the best way to supplement their roster externally the Pirates will have some internal decisions to make about their roster coming up. Basically the status of every internal player who may be on the 40 man roster can be broken down into 5 categories: 1) Rule V draft eligible 2) 0-3 Years Experience 3) Arbitration Eligible 4) Under Contract 5) Free Agents

Rule V Draft Eligible

As always there are a lot of players eligible for the Rule V draft but in reality I think only 5 have a chance at being added to the 40 man roster and of the rest few have any chance of being selected. The five players in this group are:

Tony Sanchez, C

Ramon Cabrera, C

Gift Ngoepe, SS

Phillip Irwin, SP

Victor Black, RP

Analysis: It is essentially a guarantee that both Sanchez and Black will be added to the roster and I feel almost as confident in saying that Phillip Irwin will be added as well. Cabrera and Ngoepe are the two interesting ones for me. Normally teams do not select a catcher in the Rule V draft and if they do I would think most would look for a strong defensive one so that he could at least provide that value as a backup, Cabrera is shaky defensively making it seem unlikely to me that he would be selected. Due to this I think the Pirates leave him off the roster. Ngoepe is very raw and may not be ready for a spot in AA let alone the majors but good fielding, light hitting middle infielders are fairly common selections in the Rule V draft meaning there is at least some chance Ngoepe would be selected. Due to this and the fact the Pirates seem to view Ngoepe as a legit prospect I wouldn’t be surprised to see him added, however since he is so raw right now I’m going to lean towards the side that the Pirates will not add him to the 40 man roster, though this one is a tough call.

0-3 Years Experience

This is the group that the Pirates can elect to retain for any salary that wish above the league minimum. Typically first year players earn the league minimum and players who have been on the roster a little longer earn a touch more. These players have no salary concern so the only real question is are they good enough to stay on the roster. The Pirates of course have a lot of players in this category:

Chris Leroux, Michael McKenry, Tony Watson, Josh Harrison, Alex Presley, Jared Hughes, Rick VandenHurk, Gustavo Nunez, Travis Snider, Jordy Mercer, Starling Marte, Kyle McPherson, Brock Holt, Eric Fryer, Jeff Clement, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Chase d’Arnaud, Yamaico Navarro, Daniel McCutchen, Matt Hague, Duke Welker

Some of the above will obviously be retained while others their future with the club is murky at best.

Will Be Retained: Michael McKenry, Tony Watson, Josh Harrison, Alex Presley, Jared Hughes, Travis Snider, Jordy Mercer, Starling Marte, Kyle McPherson, Brock Holt, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Duke Welker

Uncertain Future: Chris Leroux, Rick VandenHurk, Gustavo Nunez, Eric Fryer, Jeff Clement, Chase d’Arnaud, Yamaico Navarro, Daniel McCutchen, Matt Hague

Analysis: The first group that is consists of players I believe will definitely be retained is pretty self-explanatory. Some of the players are going to be expected to be key contributors (McKenry, Watson, Hughes, Snider, Marte, McPherson, Locke, Morris) while others will be brought back as depth (Harrison, Presley, Mercer, Holt, Wilson, Welker). The second group is the more interesting one when it comes to roster decisions. Not all of them will be let go but I believe a large number of them will be. Of the second group I believe Chris Leroux’s spot is the most secure as I seem him being in line to be the long relief man out of the bullpen next season. The removal of anyone else would not come as a surprise to me but I’m leaning toward d’Arnaud and McCutchen being retained and the rest being left go. Navarro and Hague were not brought up in September which says the Pirates aren’t too high on them. VandenHurk and Clement looked pretty bad during their short stints in September. I think it is nearly certain Clement will be gone but VandenHurk has a chance at staying. I can’t imagine the Pirates attempting to carry Nunez next year under his Rule V restrictions so I expect him to be gone. Finally Fryer seems rather exppendable with Sanchez and possibly Cabrera being added to the roster. As for McCutchen I think he stays since he has another option left and can be a fungible 9th or 10th bullpen option who can be stashed in AAA and d’Arnaud stays because he started to show some signs of getting back on track near the end of the season.

Arbitration Eligible

These are the players who go into next year not under contract but still under Pirates control but they can not just be assigned a salary. Typically this group makes up a rather large chunk of the Pirates payroll for a season and this season will be the same thing. This year’s arbitration class is:

Joel Hanrahan

Jeff Karstens

Charlie Morton

Garrett Jones

Chris Resop

James McDonald

Neil Walker

Gaby Sanchez

The Pirates will have to decide who of the above will be worth the salary they are likely to command through the arbitration process. I believe 5 of the above 8 players will definitely be tendered while the other 3 all have at least a chance to be. For the first time in a while I see no blatantly obvious non-tenders.

Will Be Tendered: Joel Hanrahan, Garrett Jones, James McDonald, Neil Walker, Gaby Sanchez

Might Not Be Tendered: Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, Chris Resop

Analysis: Each player in the first group will be tendered a contract by the Pirates that is all but guaranteed but there are questions about all of them such as will they play with the Pirates in 2013 and if so what will their role be? Walker seems to be the most stable but his back issues throw even his status into question. Of the other I can’t see the Pirates not tendering Karstens but there has been a lot of talk that suggests that such a thing is possible. I could see them tendering and then trading him or trading him before he needs to be tendered (ala Jose Veras) but not just non-tendering him. Morton is the one who I believe has the strongest chance of being non-tendered. His injury is going to keep him out until at least the middle of the year and paying a pitcher of Morton’s quality probably just a little under 3 million for a few months of work is something the Pirates shouldn’t do. I suspect that the Pirates and Morton will try to work out a minor league contract though so he remains in the organization. Resop is the ultimate 50/50 propositions. He is likely going to cost somewhere between 1-1.5 million this season which isn’t bad but he is a middle reliever who struggled to miss bats this season so the Pirates could choose to move on and go with a younger/cheaper option. Of this group I expect Hanrahan and Karstens to be traded, Morton to be non-tendered but signed back on a minor league deal, Resop to be non-tendered and probably sign elsewhere and the other 4 to return and play a significant role with the 2013 Pirates.

Under Contract

The Pirates have what I believe is for them an abnormally high number of players under contract for next season. Granted that is only 5 players plus 2 options but still that seems a touch higher than past year’s but then again I could be wrong on that front. Anyway those players are:

Under Contract: AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Clint Barmes

Has An Option: Pedro Alvarez, Rod Barajas

Analysis: First lets deal with the option year players because they are rather simple to evaluate. Alvarez’s option will of course be picked up and Barajas’s will of course be declined. Unfortunately I am not ready to rule out the possibility of the Pirates resigning Barajas at a lower rate. As for the players under contract Burnett and Rodriguez will be back and headlining the front of the rotation and McCutchen will continue to be the face of the franchise and the key player in the lineup. Tabata and Barmes are two players the Pirates may look to move but I’ll expect both will be back Barmes as the starting shortstop (hopefully sharing playing time with someone else) and Tabata as the 4th outfielder possibly splitting time in right field with Travis Snider.

Free Agents

The Pirates have 4 players on their roster who are going to be free agents and while it is not the Pirates way to resign players they deserve mention here as well. The 4 players are:

Free Agents: Kevin Correia, Jason Grilli, Hisanori Takahashi, Chad Qualls

Analysis: I don’t see any way Correia will return; I can see the Pirates possibly wanting him back but I don’t think that feeling will be mutual. Takahashi and Qualls are two fungible relievers whom the Pirates could possibly consider resigning when it comes time to cobble a bullpen together but I expect that they will go another direction. The last player, Jason Grilli, is one I expect the Pirates to make a serious effort to try and resign. It would not be wise for the Pirates to sign Grilli to a big contract but something in the neighborhood of 2 years and 8 million dollars could make a whole lot of sense. However I believe we have seen our last of Grill and that the back of the bullpen will have a very different look next season.

Recap

So there you have it. Below I’m going to post a summary of whom I predict will be affected by these internal roster decisions.

Rule V Players Added: Tony Sanchez, Phillip Irwin, Victor Black

League Min Players Let Go: Rick VandenHurk, Gustavo Nunez, Eric Fryer, Jeff Clement, Yamaico Navarro, Matt Hague

Arbitration Eligible Players Not Tendered: Charlie Morton, Chris Resop

Options Not Picked Up: Rod Barajas

Players Traded: Joel Hanrahan, Jeff Karstens

Players Leaving Via Free Agency: Jason Grilli, Kevin Correia, Chad Qualls, Hisanori Takahashi

Pirates Offseason Needs

Heading into this offseason the Pirates seem to have a lot of positions set on the 25 man roster but that obviously doesn’t mean that there are not spots that could and should be upgraded. Trying to upgrade these positions the same ways as in year’s past (signing middling free agents) is probably not the best way to solve these problems as is evident by the failures of the last several years. So a new direction is needed and that could possibly include trades, NRI signings, Rule V draft, internal solutions, international signing, etc. My preferred strategy for the Pirates this offseason is to be minimally active in traditional free agency and instead focus on finding players through other means. Still free agency can not be entirely ignored and the idea of going for just one upper level free agent should also be considered. With all that being said I have found six positions that the Pittsburgh Pirates would be well served to upgrade. So in no particular order the positions are:

1. Starting Pitcher

2. Bullpen

3. Catcher

4. Shortstop

5. Corner Outfield

6. Bench

Now I will go over the type of player I believe the Pirates should be looking for at each position and I’ll give the best fit of the available free agents and where necessary I’ll give an example of the type of player the Pirates should look to acquire via a trade. Again I’ll reiterate I’m not necessarily advocating acquiring these players just giving an example of the type the Pirates should be looking for.

Starting Pitcher: The way I see it the Pirates have only AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez locked into the rotation to begin next season. James McDonald should also probably be in there some where but his end of the season struggles make him a question mark. Karstens is the other obvious candidate but he has durability/injury issues. The rest of the candidates, Locke, McPherson, Leroux, VandenHurk, Wilson, etc seem best suited for 5th starter or depth duty for now. So with three question marks of some variety in the rotation starting pitcher is an obvious need. In fact if the Pirates decide to go the route of one decent sized free agent signing I hope it is in the rotation as a Gavin Floyd or Edwin Jackson type could do a lot to help stabilize the rotation. However I am advocating different strategies this season so a trade for a good starter would be a good thing to consider as would a signing of a high upside risky pitcher. For example the pitchers I see fitting into this category are Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana and Scott Baker. All 3 of those pitchers have a ton of upside and could get a reasonably large sum in free agency but conversely all 3 have significant faults which could drop their respective prices making them prime targets for the Pirates.

Bullpen: The only two players who should be considered near locks for the Pirates bullpen are Jared Hughes and Tony Watson. I also expect Bryan Morris and Chris Leroux to be part of the pen but they aren’t guarantees but we will say the Pirates are looking for 3 players to fill out the pen. Hanrahan of course is someone who could take one spot but I think the Pirates will and should trade him, hopefully doing so fills one of the other holes. Resigning Grilli should be another move the Pirates consider but I wouldn’t go with a big salary for him, I think my max would be 2 years at 4 million per season. To fill the other spots I think the Pirates should do what they have done the past few seasons which is scour for players like Jose Veras or Juan Cruz or even select someone in the Rule V draft. Waiver claims and low-level trades could also work. It is always difficult to predict which relievers will be available for low salary contracts or NRI but some names I like are Kyle Farnsworth, Randy Choate and Jon Rauch. Internally guys like Justin Wilson, Duke Welker and even Chris Resop are candidates to fill out the bullpen.

Catcher: Let me start by saying unequivocally that Rod Barajas should not be brought back at any price. Now as for McKenry he is a decent part of a catching tandem but give him anymore than 90 starts and I have a feeling things won’t be looking so good. So obviously some help is needed for him. Eric Fryer and Tony Sanchez are the internal options but Sanchez could use more time in AAA and Fryer well just isn’t that good. There are bound to be some available catchers that can be acquired via a trade such as Hank Conger and the Pirates should seriously consider that route but if they want to go the free agent route there is a pretty decent free agent market for catchers. Napoli is obviously the best available but is not someone the Pirates should ideally locate a lot of money to. Other catchers such as Russell Martin, Kelly Shoppach and David Ross make sense as well. I wouldn’t rule out a trade here but I think I would prefer going after a catcher like Shoppach and using the trade resources to go after some of the other needs.

Shortstop: Clint Barmes wasn’t as bad this season as most Pirates fans would lead you to believe. He had an awful April and May but was exactly what the Pirates should have expected to get the remainder of the season. With all that being said Barmes production shouldn’t have locked down the shortstop job for next season. The Pirates could look at free agency for an answer but the pickings are slim. Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta headline the class but Peralta may not even reach free agency and Drew is coming off a season argubly worse than Barmes. Still something needs to be done to address the shortstop problem because at the very least another solution is going to be needed in 2014. If the Pirates choose to go the trade route I hope they look for someone who has good on base skills and could hit near the top of the lineup. Players like that are rare from the shortstop position and are usually pretty expensive in terms of salary and what it would cost to acquire them via trade. One name that sticks out to me who by all accounts isn’t available but I imagine could be for a good offer is Jed Lowrie. Lowrie can play good defense and has consistently put up a good OBP. If the Pirates can acquire a shortstop in that mold that is the way to go otherwise when considering the options available through free agency sticking with Barmes and adding in more Jordy Mercer to prepare him for 2013 is probably the way to go.

Corner Outfield: The toughest need to really explain. Let me start by saying I am assuming Garrett Jones will split time with Gaby Sanchez at 1B meaning he will only play in the outfield sparingly if at all. If the Pirates decide to make him a OF the need for a corner outfielder greatly diminishes but the need for a 1B to compliment Gaby Sanchez increases, however I’ll ignore that possibility for now. The Pirates production from the corner outfield this season sans Jones was awful. The Pirates received the 2nd worst offensive production from LF this season and were only marginally decent in RF thanks to Jones playing there about half the time. This would seem an obvious spot to upgrade but yet it isn’t. The Pirates have 4 players vying to man these two positions with 3 of them being 24 years old (1 of the 3 will be 25 for all of next season). The Pirates have a ton of youth and potential to fill these 2 positions in Marte, Snider, Tabata and Presley but not much actual success to go on. I would assume Marte has got to be given a chance in one corner due to the fact he has the highest upside of the bunch and had the best season of the four last year. The other spot is where the need comes into play Snider will be playing next season at 25 years old and Tabata will be playing most of it at 24 years old. The two of them look like they could make a decent platoon in RF but with the uncertainty in LF this is not something the Pirates should count on. If the Pirates wanted to make a big splash for an offensive player this is where they should do it. A player like Angel Pagan makes a lot of sense as he could come in play a OF corner and hit atop the order. However due to the youth and potential the Pirates have here I’d rather see a big splash investment go to the pitching side and this be solved with a less splashy option. I envision the type of addition that makes the most sense is a veteran outfield who has good on base skills and who wouldn’t mind being a 4th outfielder but is capable of being a borderline starting option. The two players in free agency that best matches this description are Juan Pierre and Reed Johnson, however I am not too enthused about either of them. Just to give an example of the type of player I’m talking about I’ll mention David DeJesus. Now I doubt the Cubs will actively be looking to move DeJesus but a player like him capable of playing all 3 positions in the OF and maintaining a .340+ OBP is exactly what the Pirates should be looking for. If they can’t find one and they don’t choose to make a big splash I think the best option is to play Marte in LF, have Snider and Tabata platoon in RF, have Presley available in AAA and be open to using Jones in the outfield once again. That may not seem like a great option but neither is bringing in a middling free agent.

Bench: If there is one theme to what the Pirates need to do this offseason it is they have to get deeper. Deeper in the rotation, the bullpen, the lineup, the minor leagues and the bench. This past season the two Pirates who received the most pinch hit appearances were Josh Harrison and Jeff Clement. Both of them struggled and Clement for one shouldn’t be back. Going into next season the Pirates bench figures to include a backup catcher say McKenry, T Sanchez or an outside addition, Gaby Sanchez, a young middle infielder say Mercer, Holt or Harrison and a 4th outfielder say Snider, Tabata or an outside acquisition. That leaves one final spot which this past season belonged to Harrison. Harrison should absolutely be given a chance to win a spot on the bench but only the reserve middle infielder job. The Pirates should allocate some resources to improving this spot with offense being a key focus. Just looking at free agency the Pirates could choose to go for a pure pinch hitter and sign a 1B like Jason Giambi or Carlos Lee. Or since they seem to have a desire to carry at least 4 middle infielders at all times a guys like Maicer Izturis or Adam Kennedy could be pursued. Or they could carry 5 outfielders on the roster (which with Jones on the team seems like overkill) and get a player like Austin Kearns, Raul Ibanez or Reed Johnson. The other option is of course to go with a Mike Fontenot or Jeff Baker type who can play all over the field but that would likely sacrifice offensive production. It is very difficult to speculate on who else the Pirates may be able to acquire here so I’ll just leave it at that but something needs to be done to improve the Pirates bench.

The Rag Tag Pitching Staff

The Pittsburgh Pirates have built a pitching staff a bit differently than the two traditional models. When thinking about how to build a pitching staff most people think about the Yankees who sign a lot of high profile free agents or the Rays who draft and develop a large stable of good arms. The Pirates however has done none of these. I’m going to explore how the current 12 man pitching staff plus the top reserves came to join the Pirates.

Drafted: Tony Watson, Brad Lincoln, Daniel Moskos, Jared Hughes

Traded: A.J. Burnett, Charlie Morton, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Joel Hanrahan

Free Agents: Erik Bedard, Kevin Correia

Minor League Free Agents: Jason Grilli, Juan Cruz

Waivers: Chris Resop, Chris Leroux

Rule V: Evan Meek

So lets take a closer look at each of the above 17 player’s situations:

Watson: Converted starter, who was given up on by the Littlefield regime

Lincoln: Former top draft pick, who has the look of a bust and is trying to recover some value

Moskos: Highly criticized 1st round pick, who failed as a starter and is trying to make it as a reliever

Hughes: Probably the most typical of the group but he too is a failed starter trying to make it in the bullpen

Burnett: High profile free agent signed by the NYY whom essentially paid the Pirates to take him away

Morton: Major league pitcher who was traded along with two prospects to acquire a decent outfielder in Nate McLouth

McDonald: Major league pitcher who was traded along with a prospect to acquire a relief pitcher, Octavio Dotel

Karstens and McCutchen: The two lesser players the Pirates received in the Nady/Marte deal who’s return was headlined by Tabata and Ohlendorf

Hanrahan: Swapped for Sean Burnett to balance out trade because Nationals thought Milledge for Morgan deal favored Pirates slightly

Bedard: Oft injured fragile pitcher who after a rocky showing in Boston drew little interest this past offseason

Correia: Low level free agent starter signing who the year before the Pirates signed him was sent to the bullpen because of poor perfroamnce

Grilli: Signed from the Phillies AAA team and the Pirates had to give no compensation

Cruz: Minor league free agent signing

Resop and Leroux: Expendable relievers picked up off the waiver wire

Meek: Selected by the Pirates in the Rule V draft and after failing to stay on the roster the Rays essentially gave him to the Pirates

So there you have a collection of cast aways, failed starters, busted first round picks and non-desirables make up your 2012 Pittsburgh Pirate pitching staff. This is a miss-mash rag tag group if I have ever seen one yet I’m rather weirdly comforted by this staff. It isn’t a great staff but this has the ability to be a very good starting staff and with any semblance of offense could help lead the Pirates to a record they haven’t seen in quite a while.

On the flip side the offense, which I have little confidence in, is made of highly touted first round picks, big time former prospects, mid-level free agent signings and depth players who had very successful minor league careers. Just looking at the two side’s resumes one would assume the hitters are the good half of the Pirates and the pitchers are struggling but we all know that is not the case.

2012 Expectations: Starting Pitchers

STARTERS

Erik Bedard: Signed this offseason to a 1 year 4.5 million dollar contract Bedard instantly becomes the Pirates most talented pitcher. Bedard’s “stuff” is that of a high end number #2 starter but he comes with the downside of a long injury history. From 2008 through 2012 Bedard only pitched 164 major league innings of baseball. He is coming off a 129.1 innings performance from last year though. It would be foolish to expect a full season of work from Bedard but if the Pirates can get similar numbers from last season (20-25 starts; 8+ K/9: 3.6 ERA) he would be well worth the price they paid for him and that is basically what I am expecting.

A.J. Burnett: Burnett, the newest addition to the Pirates staff. His acquisition has been much debated during the week long process it took to acquire him. Some say he has lost it others expect him to rebound. Me? I think the Pirates could have gotten him for less but I think he will prove to be worth the price they paid. I don’t see him becoming a top of the rotation starter but I can see him pitching 180-200 innings, striking out nearly a batter an inning and having an ERA in the low 4s. His ability to eat innings will greatly help out the Pirates bullpen and by all accounts I’ve heard he works well with young pitchers so the Pirates have that going for them. Above all he adds depth and that is much needed.

James McDonald: McDonald is coming off what appears to be a poor showing in 2011 but in fact he did end up pitching better than his numbers indicate. After missing mostly all of spring training due to injury McDonald struggled to begin the season in April but rebound nicely posting an ERA below 4 for the months from May-August. I see McDonald being the Pirates breakout pitcher this season. This does not mean I see McDonald becoming an ace but rather I see him pitching 180 innings while compiling an ERA of around 3.80 and a strike out rate near 8 K/9.

Charlie Morton: Last year’s surprising breakout star finished the season with worse numbers than one would have expected. His season wasn’t bad by any stretch but he did struggle going down the stretch and especially had trouble getting lefties out. Coming into this season the main concerns about Morton is sustaining his success and improving against left handers. I have little doubt that he will succeed in doing both this season but to what extent? I don’t see him regressing to his 2012 numbers and I do see him improving against left handed hitters but on the flip side I see right handed hitters faring better against him and I see him slipping mildly. There is an injury concern here to start the season but I see that becoming a non issue by May. I do not see great things from Morton but I see a solid season with an ERA around 4.00.

Jeff Karstens: Ah, Kartsens. What to say about him? He is everyone’s pick to seriously regress this season and while that probably will happen I think most people are going a little too far with it. Karstens can pitch, always could, he is the type of guy you want on your staff either as a back of the rotation starter or as a utility pitcher in the bullpen. I see no way he keeps his ERA below 3.5 again this year but I don’t see him bombing out of the rotation. I must admit Karstens is a favorite of mine and I have always been rooting for him with that being said my outlook is not just based in that but rather his performance. Karstens got lucky last season but his xFIP was still 4.00; that isn’t great but that isn’t horrible either. I see Karstens falling back to earth and settling in as the Pirates #5 meaning an ERA in the 4.20 range.

DEPTH

Kevin Correia: Correia started the season on a hot streak last year, leading the league in wins through the first few months. He was the face of the new found Pirate road warrior approach at the beginning of last season. Truth be told he is not as good as he started last season and we seen that in his late season collapse but he is also not as bad as his late season collapse. All offseason Pirate fans have been talking about getting him out of the rotation and with the acquisition of A.J. Burnett it appears the Pirates have done that. However Correia is still going to be counted on to start a lot of games. Injuries and underperformance are all going to come into play and force the Pirates to send someone else out to the mound. Correia has an option left  but due to his experience would have to give his consent to be sent to AAA, he may give it knowing staying with the Pirates is his best chance at starting but if he doesn’t he would make a good long man / spot starter out of the bullpen. I expect another replacement level year.

Brad Lincoln: Once a highly regarded pitching prospect Lincoln has fallen from grace but he still appears as if he could be a useful player. Coming in is as a depth starter once again, Lincoln will almost assuredly find himself called upon sometime this season, possibly even early on. He comes with a little upside but at this point Lincoln looks like little more than possible a very solid #4 starter. Lincoln should start the season in AAA and while he doesn’t need any more experience there he will be there for major league depth purposes. Lincoln will get a chance to prove himself this season and I think he will do a respectable job. He won’t post great numbers but I see an ERA in the 4.5 area. He will pitch well enough to give the Pirates some confidence in him possibly making one of Karstens/Morton/McDonald expendable.

Jeff Locke: Despite the fact Locke came up late last season for a cup of coffee in the majors Locke is still a work in progress and needs more time in the minors. Locke appears to have a very limited upside at this point but conversely his floor looks like a back of the rotation starter, meaning there is value in him. To me Locke appears to be something of a Paul Maholm-lite. Once again I see nothing spectacular coming from Locke but if called upon he should do a respectable job in the majors.

Rudy Owens: Owens entered last season as the prospect that appeared closest to major league ready but after a strong first two months Owens hit a rough patch and was passed up by Jeff Locke. Owens is still a talented pitcher and could very well help the Pirates at some point this season but it is apparent he still has some work to do. He has a higher upside than Locke but he also comes with slightly more risk. I have always been a fan of how Owens pitching and I see him coming through with a strong season in AAA and getting a chance in the majors. By the end of the season I could see him passing both Locke and Lincoln on the depth chart.

Others: If the Pirates need another starter outside of the ones I discussed hopefully it will be late enough in the season that a prospect like Kyle McPherson is ready. If not the Pirates will likely be forced to turn to a pitcher like Daniel McCutchen, Jo-Jo Reyes, Daniel Cabrera or Shairon Martis. McCutchen I will discuss amongst the relievers as he is likely to start the season there either in the majors in AAA. Reyes will also probably be given a chance to win a bullpen job because of the Pirates dearth of left handed relievers but he has been a barely passable spot starter so the Pirates could turn to him if needed. Cabrera is probably well past his time of usefulness but if he shows something down in AAA he too could be in a line for a spot start. The most intriguing of all the last ditch starting options available to the Pirates is Shairon Martis. Martis will begin the season having just turned 25 and actually has a little bit of upside. He pitched respectably in AAA in 2010 and was pretty good in AA last season. Martis will probably be nothing more than a spot starter but his slight upside makes him the best bet to be promoted should the need arise.

TOP PROSPECTS

Gerrit Cole: Cole is universally considered one of the Pirates top 2 prospects. He has yet to throw a major league pitch but due to his pedigree and the fact he is coming out of a high profile college Cole is expected to move through the system quickly and make an impact on the majors some time during the 2013 season. As for the 2012 season it appears Cole will start the season in A+ but it is my thinking that it may just be to have him skip the early season cold weather in Altoona. I would not be at all surprised and in fact I am expecting Cole to be promoted to AA around Memorial Day. Expectations are high for Cole this season I do not think he will disappoint.

Jameson Taillon: Taillon is the other prospect who is universally regarded as one of the Pirates top two prospects. He is a similar player to Cole but is a behind him in his development because he came out of high school. There were questions last year about how the Pirates handled Taillon in A ball last season but I think they did the right thing by just easing him to pro ball; this is the season where they need to loosen the reigns a little bit. Like Cole, Taillon will likely start the season in A+ but unlike Cole a quick promotion to AA is probably not in the cards. The Pirates are likely going to take it a little slow with Taillon and let him spend most if not all of the season in A+. I think Taillon is going to have a good season but I think his overall line is going to disappoint people, as I have said before the Pirates A+ team, the Bradenton Marauders play in a hitter friendly stadium so I expect his numbers to suffer slightly.

Luis Heredia: Heredia might have the highest upside of any Pirate pitching prospect but at 17 years old he is very raw and very far from the majors. His numbers last year may not look too impressive but if you stop and consider the fact he was essentially a high school sophomore pitching in a pro league they begin to look fairly good. The Pirates are going to proceed cautiously with Heredia so expect him to start the year in extended spring training and then be assigned to short season ball. Short season ball is usually where just drafted college players go so the level of competition he will see there should be a good test for him. At this stage in his development it is too early to say what will be a successful season just by statistics alone but nevertheless I am expecting a good showing from Heredia in short season ball this year.

Kyle McPherson: Of all the Pirates top pitching prospects McPherson is the closest to being major league ready. After putting up very strong numbers in A+ last year McPherson was promoted to AA and continued to pitch well. His upside is not as high as the other top pitching prospects but his close proximity to the majors makes him the safest bet to make an impact in the majors. McPherson will likely start the season in AAA and could be ready for the majors by mid season. I don’t expect him to put up dominating numbers from the start but I see him settling down as the year progresses and putting up a solid season. The Pirates have a few other options in Owens and Locke who will likely get a chance before McPherson so I don’t expect to see him in the majors until September.

Nicholas Kingham: Often overlooked Kingham was the Pirates 4th round pick in the 2010 draft. At the time he was overshadowed by fellow draft picks Taillon and Allie however that changed last season when Kingham put up dominating numbers in short season ball. After last season’s strong showing Kingham is now considered a borderline top 10 prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates system. He will likely start this upcoming season in A ball and it will be interesting to follow him and see how he performs. Kingham has a good bit of upside and could one day develop into a top of the rotation starter but he still has a good ways to go in his development. There is no reason to assume his numbers last year were not legit so I am expecting a strong showing from Kingham this year and I could see him as a candidate for the Pirates minor league pitcher of the year.

Colton Cain: Cain is one of the many high upside project-able high school arms the Pirates took in the 2009 draft. At the time he was drafted he was considered by most to be the second best of all the arms but his performance since joining the organization has vaulted him over Zack Von Rosenberg and he is now the most highly regarded prospect of the group. Cain will likely move up to A+ this season and along with the rest of the pitchers the Pirates took in his draft class this could be a very telling year in whether Cain is a legit prospect or nothing more than organizational filler. My expectations is for Cain to post a good season; it won’t be enough for him to appear as a top prospect but enough for him to look like he could be a solid major league contributor one day.

POSITION OVERVIEW

Summary: This year’s Pittsburgh Pirates rotation is probably the best the team has had in a few years. There is no true ace amongst the Pirates options for this season but there are no obvious black holes either. I think the best way to sum it up is the Pirates starting rotation will scare no one, opposing fans or Pirate fans alike. While it seems possible this year’s rotation will be the best in a long time for the Pirates, brighter days are ahead. The Pirates minor leagues are filled with quite a few high upside pitchers and if just a few of them reach their potential the Pirates will have a dominating rotation in the years come. In summary the Pirates rotation is improving and there is little reason to think that it will not continue to improve; this is one of the Pirates biggest strengths.

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