I know this is incredibly early but with news being slow this time of year I thought I would fast forward to December and take a look at the players the Pirates will have to decide to either add to the 40 man roster or expose to the Rule V draft. For the sake of simplicity I have opted to focus only on players who will be eligible for the Rule V draft for the first time in 2013. I am sure there will be others who were previously eligible who may wind up factoring into the Pirates or another team’s plans but there are too many to consider at this early point. I have divided the players into five categories and written a little bit about the players, why I think there is a chance they might be selected and how I think the Pirates will proceed with them in 2013. There are of course other first time eligible players and I make mention of that later one but to me they are notable in this discussion. Once again it is way too early to even begin thinking about this kind of stuff but hey news is slow this time of year so why not.
Locks To Be Added: Gregory Polanco
It takes a lot to look like a definite lock to be added to the 40 man roster nearly a year out from your Rule 5 eligibility so naturally there are very few players who fit this description. The Pirates have one and only one such player in Gregory Polanco. He is the Pirates number 1 or 1a hitting prospect and should start the season at A+. Usually when evaluating whether to protect prospects or not teams would like to see what the player is capable of doing at least against AA competition but in Polanco’s case that isn’t really much of a concern as he will be protected in almost any set of circumstances. I expect Polanco will get pushed to AA at some point this season but it will be based on merit not just taking a look at a guy. Polanco has a huge upside as a fast solid defensive center fielder with plus power so the Pirates would be crazy not to protect him.
Next In Line: Brandon Cumpton, Matt Curry, Gift Ngoepe, Adalberto Santos
The four players listed in this group all look like fairly safe bets to become solid major league contributors. Now that doesn’t mean star or even starter but any of these four it would appear could hold down a 25 man roster spot next season and produce at least some value and for that reason each one would be at risk of getting selected and is therefore a candidate to be added. Cumpton, Curry and Santos are all candidates to start in AAA but I would say Curry is the only lock to do so. Ngoepe appears likely to start in AA but could be held back in A+. The Pirates will take a long look at each of these players and decide whether to protect them or not at the end of the season. None of these players has the ceiling of a star but all could be quality depth for the Pirates next season. Cumpton looks like a possible 5th starter or middle reliever. Curry appears to have the upside of a Casey Kotchman type first baseman meaning one who can hit decently but not for a lot of power; most players of this type quickly fizzle out though. Ngoepe has a great glove but will need his bat to develop some in order to become a starting major league option but even if it doesn’t he might be able to find a role as a defensive middle infielder off the bench. Santos is quite simply a professional hitter but one who doesn’t have a true position. Santos has hit at every level but has shown very little power and is not really good defensively anywhere. His ability to hit though and his experience at 2B and in the OF could make him a decent bench bat though.
Possible Relievers: Casey Sadler, Zach Thornton, Jason Townsend, Tyler Waldron
Every year it seems the Pirates protect one pitcher from the Rule V draft who is a bit of a head scratcher. Some times that is a player who was previously eligible and other times it is a first time eligible player. There are too many previous eligible candidates to discuss but of the first time eligible ones the above four currently appear to me to be the most likely to be added to the 40 man roster at the end of the season. I won’t say too much about each of these players individually but they all fit the typical mold of being right handed pitchers who throw in the mid 90s and to date haven’t posted the numbers (especially strike out numbers) that one would like to see from them. Although to be fair Thornton did have a a good strike out rate last season but he was a little old for the level he did it at. All four of these pitchers are likely to start the season in AA and with the exception of Sadler they will all likely be pitching from relief. Sadler is by far the most polished of the group and it could be argued he belongs with the next in line class but unlike the four I listed I don’t think he could necessarily stick for an entire season. If any of these four make an impression with the Pirates and keep in mind that isn’t necessarily only statistics I could see them being protected.
Projects: Zack Dodson, Mel Rojas, Zach Von Rosenberg
At the time these players were drafted all of them were considered to have high ceilings but to date none of them have progressed much and 2013 will serve as a defining year for them. The ceilings these players once were to said to had are still there and outside of Polanco these 3 probably have the most talent of the bunch (with possibly one exception below). Currently I have all 3 projected to start the season at A+ but Rojas could be pushed to AA and Dodson could be held back in A ball once his suspension ends. The players who do wind up starting in A+ I imagine will be aggressively pushed once and if they show any signs of progress. Before the Pirates opt to put any of these players on the 40 man roster I imagine they will want to see them against some AA competition. At this point little should be expected of any of these players but each of them has one last chance to show just a glimmer of that upside the Pirates dreamt about when drafting them.
Other Notables: Stetson Allie, Kelson Brown, Dan Grovatt, Justin Howard, Drew Maggi
There are a lot of other players eligible but essentially I see little to no chance of them being added to the roster or selected. That is nearly a year away though so a lot can and probably will change. Of the remaining players the ones above are the names I find the most interesting. With the exception of Allie who I will get to later all of the players have posted solid minor league numbers and will be playing most likely in AA this upcoming season. A good showing in AA could put them on the radar as a possible Rule V selection but right now they all seem like long shots. The other players not listed are players who have largely not developed past A ball yet and while they may have a ton of talent they are too raw to even be considered in this discussion. The one name on my notable list that doesn’t quite fit with the others is Stetson Allie. In his current states and practically any state he’ll be in by the end of the 2013 season Allie is no threat to be selected and obviously will not be protected. Quite a fall from grace for Allie as headed into last season he had the look of one of the Pirates better prospects but now that he failed at pitching and transitioned back to hitting he appears to be not much more than an organizational player. Certainly he has talent but it appears his time to harness and develop that talent has almost ran out.
One area that causes me great concern regarding the Pirates is in the depth they have for the infield. The starters Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Clint Barmes are all fairly healthy individuals and their play is fairly solid at least in some aspects. However behind them the Pirates really do not have a whole lot. Traditionally two infielders get bench spots on the Pirates to begin the season and I am expecting that to be the case again this season. Once again this crop is fairly unimpressive but there appears to be five players with a legitimate chance of winning one of the bench jobs available. I thought it would be a good idea to review each players strengths and weaknesses and analyze why there is a reason for concern with each player.
Harrison is probably the most familiar of the 5 to Pittsburgh Pirates fans as he has been part of the Pirates bench for the last five seasons. He is a player who is easy to like because of his all out style of play. During the 2012 season we even were introduced to his mother on the Pirates broadcasts as she watched him play in games in his home town Cincinnati, he reaction when he got hit probably was something a lot of mothers can relate to. Harrison is an interesting player as he is a free swinger and he will really go deep into the count which means he walks a small amount of time but also means he doesn’t strike out very often. As for the other aspects of his game he is a contact hitter with limited power, has probably slightly above average speed and is a below average fielder. It is really a mix bag with Harrison.
Strengths: Harrison can play all over the field, logging innings last year at 2B, SS, 3B and the corner outfield. He is difficult to strike out and is very good at putting the ball in play. He has experience with the Pirates and appears to be a player Clint Hurdle likes. In addition his base running is fairly good and he can steal the occasional base.
Weaknesses: Although Harrison has played all over the field the only position where he looks even semi-decent defensively is third base. His inability to work counts causing his walk rate to be low which in return negatively affects his OBP. He is a contact hitter but the contact he makes is often of a weak variety as he doesn’t possess much power.
Overall: Harrison has a great chance to be a part of the Pirates bench this season because of his familiarity with the Pirates coaching staff, his ability to play several different positions and the simple fact he is on the 40 man roster. On the flip side the Pirates should consider going another direction because there is nothing Harrison really does that makes him stand out. With the exception of his ability to not strike out Harrison is at best average in every other aspect of the game. The ability to play multiple positions is a plus but his inability to play them well or even decently negatively effects his value. Overall the Pirates could definitely do worse than Harrison but should try to do better.
Mercer is probably the best defensive shortstop of this group and is also one who should be familiar with Pirates fans as he was drafted by the Pirates in 2008 and has remained in the organization ever since. He spent a rather significant amount of time in the majors last season but got very few at bats as Clint Hurdle gave him the Pedro Ciriaco treatment and he was mainly glues to the bench. Offensively it is difficult to get a read on just what Mercer will be able to do in the major leagues but in the minors he has been adequate with the bat. Mercer’s strike out and walk rates for his minor league career appear to be roughly average and he does seem to have at least a little power in his bat as he led the Pirates minor leagues in homers in 2011. Defensively speaking Mercer has only played 2B, 3B and SS but he plays those positions fairly well. As for the other aspects of his game he has about average speed and really doesn’t try to steal many bases although he will occasionally sneak one in there. At this point Mercer is sort of an unknown with a high floor and low ceiling.
Strengths: Mercer’s best strength is his defensive ability as he is the only one of the five candidates who is capable of even being an average defender at the shortstop position. He does have a few other pluses too though as he is probably one of the safer bets to not be completely useless on the bench and has shown at least some power in the minor leagues.
Weaknesses: The biggest weakness with mercer is that it is really not known how is bat will translate. He has struggled in his very limited sample in the majors but that came over quite a long-span with very inconsistent playing time. He also doesn’t have the ability to play the outfield although with all the Pirates options that shouldn’t be a large concern.
Overall: Like Harrison, Mercer’s strongest case for making the team is quite simply his familiarity with the coaching staff and his presence on the 40 man roster. He also has the additional benefit of actually being able to handle the shortstop position at a good level although with an all glove guy like Barmes starting on most days that is less of a concern than it would be otherwise. I currently have Mercer as my second infielder on the bench but I feel that his position is a lot less secure tha Harrison’s. I feel Mercer is probably the safest choice of this group as his glove will at least give him some value but his lack of experience may wind up hurting him.
The Pirates signed Inge to a minor league deal this offseason and because of the new CBA he will be able to opt out if he is not placed on the roster by late March. Of the 3 players I consider on the outside looking in when it comes to battling for the two bench spots I believe Inge has the best chance of winning one. Inge is clearly on the downside of his career but was still a valuable player to the Athletics last season and could still have some value for the Pirates. Offensively speaking he is a below average player who strikes out a fairly high amount and walks roughly an average amount. He is not a contact hitter but does hit for some power. Defensively his primary position is 3B and he has spent the majority of his career there although he has logged innings at 2B and in the corner outfield and was a catcher when his career began so he could probably serve as the emergency third option at that position which is a plus. He is a very good defender at 3B and ahs shown himself capable at the other positions. Baserunning wise he is below average and he really isn’t a threat to steal any bases. Inge is a veteran and has been around the league a long time and has more experience in the majors than his other four competitors do combined.
Strengths: Inge’s best strength and what separates him from the other four is his experience. He has been in the majors for several seasons and has been a part of winning clubs so a pressure pinch hit situation is less likely to get to him than any of the other players. He also would provide the Pirates with a little power off the bench and would provide them with possibly an adequate option to rest Alvarez against tough left handers and to pull him for defensive purposes late in games.
Weaknesses: Unlike the other four players Inge has no experience at the shortstop position meaning the Pirates would only have one bench option capable of playing that position if they kept Inge. He has also been on the decline the past few seasons and is a threat to bottom out this year. Defensively speaking last year was the first time he spent any time at 2B and before that he hadn’t played a position outside of 3B since 2008.
Overall: Inge isn’t on the 40 man roster and because of that he has a slightly uphill climb to make the team. I still give him very good odds but I think he starts behind Harrison and Mercer entering Spring Training. Inge is also a player this coaching staff is not familiar with which puts him at another disadvantage. His lack of flexibility in the field will also likely play against him. However the Pirates, specifically Clint Hurdle may see some value in his experience and because of that he has a chance to make the bench. Inge has also expressed a willingness to work on other positions outside of 3B so his flexibility issue will be slightly reduced. Inge could be a decent veteran presence on the bench but his declining numbers in recent years are cause for concern.
Ivan De Jesus
De Jesus was acquired by the Pirates as the fourth piece in the Hanrahan trade. Pretty much him and Brock Holt are just consider after thoughts in the deal and are considered to roughly cancel each other out as neither one projects to be much more than utility infielders. De Jesus is a relatively inexperienced major league player but he does have some considerable time in at AAA. He definitely has some upside but it is difficult for me to see him as anything other than a utility player at this point. De Jesus has put up some good offensive numbers in AAA but that very well may be a by-product of the PCL as those numbers have yet to translate to his limited MLB sample size. De Jesus offensive game is predicated around contact as he does not hit for much power and is just an average runner. His strike out rates have been high in the major leagues but they have been right around average to a little above average in the minors. His walk rates have been all over the place from very good to below average throughout his career so it is probably safe to assume he has about average plate discipline. On the defensive side he was originally a shortstop but injuries moved him to 2nd base and he is probably unable to be a regular shortstop now although he is probably capable of being a fill in for a game here or there. His defense in the majors has been poor but that is a small sample. Overall he is probably roughly an average fielder.
Strengths: The best asset De Jesus has going for him is that he is probably the best hope amongst the 5 bench candidates to be a solid two-way player. His defense is at least serviceable at shortstop and around average at 2B and 3B and his bat has shown potential in AAA. De Jesus is not the best player in any particular aspect but he also isn’t the worst and he probably balances out to have the best mix of any of the five competing.
Weaknesses: De Jesus biggest strike against him is that he hasn’t had success in his limited major league opportunities and that like Harrison there is really nothing he does above average. He has the skills to be a nice balanced utility player but without something to make him stand out it could be difficult for him to get noticed. So his biggest weakness is not a particular flaw but a lack of a true strength, essentially its a double edge sword.
Overall: De Jesus has only very minimal experience in the corner outfield meaning he is essentially limited to strictly infield duty but once again that shouldn’t be a real issue. As of right now he appears to be the Pirates fourth choice amongst the bench infielder candidates but he has opted to skip the WBC in an attempt to move up the chart and I think that is certainly doable. De Jesus isn’t on the 40 man roster, doesn’t have an out clause and has had little success in the majors in the past; all of that is working against him making the bench out of spring training. On the other side De Jesus has some potential with the bat and really lacks a glaring weakness in his game and when combined with his ability to handle shortstop better than Harrison and Inge it gives him a certain appeal which could allow him to find a home. If he doesn’t make it out of spring training there is a chance he could see Pittsburgh some time this season but that would be far from a guarantee.
Pirates fans are probably familiar with Chase d’Arnaud from his time with the Pirates in 2011. He was a bit of a fan favorite at the time and was seen as a spark plug for the offense while he was up in the majors. Truth be told though he really didn’t play all that well. He is a weak hitter and a below average fielder but yet he might have the highest upside of all the players listed. What sets d’Arnaud apart from the rest of this crowd is his plus speed a weapon that if he would ever be able to utilize correctly could make him a solid major league player. With the bat he displays very little power but has shown an ability to maintain a decent average in AAA. His strike out rates are right around league average which is probably a little high for a speed guy like him and his walk rate is also probably about average. Defensively he has played 2B, 3B and SS and he is below average defensively at SS although he is good enough that a team could get by with him there for an extended period of time and at the other positions he is right around an average defender. He has a small sample of major league plate appearances and has mostly struggled in that time. Currently he appears to be a distant fifth in the battle for the final two bench spots but if he can show he is capable of hitting decently his speed could make for a great asset off the bench for the Pirates.
Strengths: As I’ve already said d’Arnaud’s best asset is his speed. He is probably the Pirates best base stealer and would be a nice player to have for pinch running situations. He also has the ability to play shortstop decently well and would be a perfectly adequate backup option defensively especially considering its an all glove player in front of him. Outside of his speed and ability to play shortstop d’Arnaud also has the advantage of being on the 40 man roster and having played for Hurdle. He did provide a certain spark while he was here in 2011 so with a solid spring it is possible Hurdle could consider that as a factor.
Weaknesses: d’Arnaud has many weaknesses but mainly it is his poor hitting that hold him back. If he could show himself to be even a decent hitter he has enough athleticism that he could be a solid contributor. Also working against him is his shaky defense at shortstop. d’Arnaud right now is a very one-tool specific player and that is usually a poor fit for most benches. He is going to need to show a more complete game in order to have any chance.
Overall: I would very much like to see d’Arnaud win one of the bench spots as his speed would be a nice weapon to have available on the bench. The fact that he is a shortstop, albeit a below average defensive one, is another reason it would be nice to have him around. Right now he is probably the longest shot of all five competitors but I think it is close enough that a strong spring performance could vault him into the conversation. His game right now is almost solely dependent upon his speed and that isn’t going to be enough; he needs to make an effort to be well-rounded and most importantly make some strides with his bat. If d’Arnaud proves capable of carrying over his average from AAA to the majors he could make for a solid bench player or maybe even a decent starter. If d’Arnaud does not show any improvements in his game during spring training he will head back to AAA and unless he shows something there he is going to be a candidate to be taken off the 40 man roster and would likely only see Pittsburgh as a pinch runner in September.
I thought a good way to summarize everything from above would be to rank the five players on a few different skill aspects.
Power: 1. Brandon Inge, 2. Jordy Mercer, 3. Josh Harrison, 4. Chase d’Arnaud, 5. Ivan De Jesus
Average: 1. Josh Harrison, 2. Ivan De Jesus, 3. Jordy Mercer, 4. Chase d’Arnaud, 5. Brandon Inge
Contact: 1. Josh Harrison, 2. Ivan De Jesus, 3. Jordy Mercer, 4. Chase d’Arnaud, 5. Brandon Inge
Plate Discipline: 1. Brandon Inge, 2. Ivan De Jesus, 3. Jordy Mercer, 4. Chase d’Arnaud, 5. Josh Harrison
Speed: 1. Chase d’Arnaud, 2. Josh Harrison, 3. Jordy Mercer, 4. Ivan De Jesus, 5. Brandon Inge
Base Running: 1. Chase d’Arnaud, 2. Josh Harrison, 3. Ivan De Jesus, 4. Jordy Mercer, 5. Brandon Inge
Shortstop Ability: 1. Jordy Mercer, 2. Chase d’Arnaud, 3. Ivan De Jesus, 4. Josh Harrison, 5. Brandon Inge
Defense: 1. Jordy Mercer, 2. Brandon Inge, 3. Ivan De Jesus, 4. Chase d’Arnaud, 5. Josh Harrison
Versatility: 1. Josh Harrison, 2. Ivan De Jesus. 3. Chase d’Arnaud, 4. Jordy Mercer, 5. Brandon Inge
Experience: 1. Brandon Inge, 2. Josh Harrison, 3. Chase d’Arnaud, 4. Ivan De Jesus, 5. Jordy Mercer
Potential: 1. Chase d’Arnaud, 2. Jordy Mercer, 3. Ivan De Jesus, 4. Josh Harrison, 5. Brandon Inge
Finally I would like to give the percent chance I think each has of making the team. Now remember there are two open spots and the Pirates are probably going to give both of them to two infielders but there is a not impossible chance they opt to go with a 5th outfielder instead of an additional infielder. Since there are two spots the odds add up to 200% and these numbers are really just my best estimate as of now. I have no real knowledge of the situation, it is pure speculation.
Josh Harrison: 75%
Jordy Mercer: 40%
Brandon Inge: 30%
5th OF: 25%
Ivan De Jesus: 20%
Chase d’Arnaud: 10%
A curious thought popped into my head the other day. As things stand right now the Pirates obviously need improved production to compete in 2013 and beyond but does that production necessarily have to come from the top? What about the bottom of the roster and the so-called replacement players. By replacement players in this sense I’m meaning the people who during a season get playing time but were not being counted on to do so by their teams. For the Pirates of 2012 this would be the Drew Sutton’s of the world. How bad comparatively is the Pirates production at that level.
I cam about thinking of this because of some numbers I’ve seen earlier which suggest the Pirates “hidden” offensive numbers, as I like to call them, were far below league average in 2012. Now what do I mean by hidden offensive numbers. Well the production from the 8 positions on the field are widely talked about but not the production from the pitcher or the team’s pinch hitters. WIthout going into too much detail as this isn’t what this post is really about the Pirates last season got a .245 OPS from their pitchers and a .513 OPS from their pinch hitters, the NL average was a .330 OPS from pitchers and .655 OPS from pinch hitters. I think those numbers speak for themselves so I’ll move on from here.
All this presented a real problem though because how does one begin to measure what a replacement player is? If the replacement players do well then they become not replacement players and that is something I’m not interested in measuring. I could spend a while trying to figure out a good way to make a distinction or I could find some assumption to make and while it may not be very accurate it would give me a place to start. I choose to go with the assumption route and the assumption I made is that teams, brace yourselves for this, aren’t going to give bad replacement level players a lot of plate appearances. Shocking I know. So I decided to look at the production of players with fewer than 100 PA. For the purpose of this discussion since I’m talking bottom of the roster offensive production I decided to include pitchers in my numbers. When I say production what I am looking for is a good overall snapshot of how the players did. For me there is no better stat for that than WAR. It has its problems yes but for a general discussion like this it is a good place to start.
Now the other issue here is I didn’t just want to find out the Pirates numbers I wanted to compare it to other so I choose their 4 closest competitors the rest of the NL Central. Since this is looking more ahead than behind I excluded the Astros from this discussion. Below are the numbers on how each of the 5 teams performed.
Cardinals: 21 players, 763 PA, 2.0 WAR
Reds: 17 players, 679 PA, 0.7 WAR
Brewers: 25 players, 721 PA, 0.5 WAR
Cubs: 24 players, 623 PA, -1.4 WAR
Pirates: 24 players, 811 PA, -2.3 WAR
Now just a couple of notes on each team.
The Cardinals strong number is fueled by Pete Kozma who posted a strong 1.4 WAR in just 82 PA and is also helped out by Lance Berkman receiving only 97 PA while posting a 0.4 WAR.
The Reds number is helped by Xavier Paul who posted a 0.5 WAR in 96 PA.
The Brewers number is arrived at with no real oddities although Alex Gonzalez, who they were counting on to be their starting shortstop is included here with 89 PA and 0.3 WAR.
The Cubs number is kept from being worse by Dave Sappelt who posted a 0.9 WAR in 78 PA. The also have Marlon Byrd who posted the lowest WAR of the group with a -0.8 WAR in just 47 PA
The Pirates have only two players in this group with a positive WAR, Jordy Mercer at 0.4 and James McDonald at 0.3. The lowest total belongs to Nate McLouth at -0.5 WAR.
*Note: The WAR totals are fangraphs WAR just to avoid any confusion
Now the Pirates replacement players as I have defined them were 3.0 wins worse than the division winning Reds and 4.3 wins worse than the wild card winning Cardinals. That is of course in itself not enough to make up the difference between the club but if the Pirates can cut that difference down in 2013 they become 2-3 games closer to those teams and that is a start. Another thing worth noting is that the Pirates lead the division in PA given to this group of players. Maybe this points to a lack of back-end talent and trying to figure out what works or maybe it points to some bad luck. I’m not sure but obviously you want more at bats going to the upper part of your roster. We can’t really determine much from this data but one thing I think is perfectly clear and that is the depth of the Pirates was an issue in 2012. The Pirates have made some moves to address that problem in 2013 and let us hope it works because if so that is a step in the right direction. The heavy lifting is still going to have to be done by the Pirates top end players but the guys at the bottom can make that load a little lighter by simply not being a hindrance.
Sometimes for no reason at all I like to look at baseball related things and analyze them. There is really no larger purpose to this article except I had a curiosity and looked to solve it. Essentially my question is what makes a number one starter a number one starter and so on and so forth. Is it a certain ERA, strike outs, being tough to hit. What is it that defines a top pitcher. Well I’m not a big statistical researcher so I don’t like to delve into things too deep without some sort of general idea what I’m looking at so I usually make some sort of assumption, see what that gives me and proceed from there. Well this is my first attempt at answering that question and as usual I went with an assumption. I decided for general purposes to call a #1 starter a player who posts a WAR greater than or equal to 4.0 and for each subsequent spot I drop 1 WAR (ie a 3.0-3.9 WAR player is a #2 starter). I then wanted to know what the ERA, WHIP and K/BB were for each group in 2012. The result can be seen below:
4.0+ WAR: 3.15 ERA, 1.142 WHIP, 3.78 K/BB
3.0-3.9 WAR: 3.43 ERA, 1.193 WHIP, 3.05 K/BB
2.0-2.9 WAR: 3.95 ERA, 1.286 WHIP, 2.71 K/BB
1.0-1.9 WAR: 4.33 ERA, 1.333 WHIP, 2.45 K/BB
0.0-0.9 WAR: 4.85 ERA, 1.434, 1.92 K/BB
-0.1 or lower WAR: 6.14 ERA, 1.588 WHIP, 1.46 K/BB
On its surface that makes sense to me. I always felt that roughly speaking the difference between each rotation spot should be about a half run of ERA. While that isn’t exactly what I have here is it is roughly close. However upon closer look I’m not sure these numbers really tell the whole story. I looked at the percentage of starts made by each group of pitchers:
In an ideal world the first 5 groups would all be even at 20% and the last group would not exist but of course we all know this isn’t an ideal world. Still the low % of starts made by pitchers on the top end suggest I’m setting the bar too high. I decided to take a different approach and order the pitchers by WAR and then split them into 5 groups each of which started approximately 972 games. In case it’s not obvious where that number comes from that is the number of major league baseball games in a year multiplied by 2 since there are 2 starting pitchers divided by 5 since there are 5 rotation spots. I didn’t bother with splitting the data set exactly as I’m just looking for a rough figure here:
#1: 3.23 ERA, 1.162 WHIP, 3.48 K/BB
#2: 3.76 ERA, 1.255 WHIP, 2.88 K/BB
#3: 4.35 ERA, 1.324 WHIP, 2.50 K/BB
#4: 4.28 ERA, 1.344 WHIP, 2.25 K/BB
5: 5.64 ERA, 1.539 WHIP, 1.64 K/BB
Relatively speaking the effect this new classification has on #1 and #4 starters in minimal but the #5 starter group is greatly impacted by the dreadful performance of the negative WAR group. Also the #2 and #3 starters are severely dragged down and it is actually an insignificant amount separating a #3 and a #4 starter. Needless to say there are plenty of problems with this data set.
In the past I have always used the rule of thumb that a 3.25 ERA was the average for a number one starter and that for each additional starter you add half a run. So number two would be 3.75, number 3 4.25, number 4 4.75 and number 5 would be 5.25. I’m not sure how accurate that really is though and my above attempts really don’t do much to enforce the opinion or not. Taking one last look at this for now I decided to ignore all the pitchers who posted a negative WAR and all the pitchers with fewer than 5 starts and focus on the remaining group. This left me with 203 starters totaling 4406 starts or about just over 880 starts per rotation spot. The results can be seen below:
#1: 3.20 ERA, 1.157 WHIP, 3.56 K/BB
#2: 3.74 ERA, 1.254 WHIP, 2.87 K/BB
#3: 4.17 ERA, 1.303 WHIP, 2.60 K/BB
#4: 4.31 ERA, 1.334 WHIP, 2.37 K/BB
#5: 4.96 ERA, 1.447 WHIP, 1.90 K/BB
Once again I am surprised by the relatively little separation between a number 3 and number 4 starter. Also surprisingly in all 3 measurements the values for a number 4 starter as remained relatively constant giving me a fairly good idea of what a number 4 starter really is. Once again the #5 spot is subject to some wild fluctuations based on a handful of horrible starters. My method made an attempt to remove some so the number is not way out of line.
Bottom line I think I need to study all this in more detail and try a few other methods of looking at how to define each rotation spot but I think these three methods give me a good starting place. My original idea of a .5 run step in ERA appears to fit the first 3 rotation spots fairly well but the drop off to the fourth small is less significant while the drop off to the 5th spot is difficult to determine which much accuracy but it can be though of as around .5 run. I want to make an attempt to research this more in-depth at a later date and I’ll make sure to share my findings but as an initial survey I thought this was fairly interesting while not all that informative.
Russell Martin, Michael McKenry, Garrett Jones, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Clint Barmes, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Travis Snider, AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jeff Karstens, Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson
Barring injury or something else unforeseen I think it is safe to assume the 17 above players will be making the Pirates opening day roster. The roles of most of these players are also known as Martin, Walker, Alvarez, Barmes, Marte and McCutchen all figure to be regular. On the pitching side Burnett, Rodriguez and McDonald will be the top of the rotation and Grilli, Melancon, Hughes and Watson figure to form the back of the bullpen. Of the remaining four players McKenry will serve as the backup catcher, Jones figures to platoon at 1B, Snider will make the team due to being out of options and his potential and Karstens will either serve as a starter or a swingman for the pitching staff. Snider currently projects as the starting right fielder but even if he loses that job he will have a spot on the bench.
Gaby Sanchez, Jose Tabata, Bryan Morris
Sanchez is fairly close to a lock to start the season platooning with Jones but he does have an option remaining so it is possible the Pirates could opt to send him down to AAA and take a look at a player like Jerry Sands. I know some will argue with me including Jose Tabata here but he has a fairly lengthy contract and is out of options so it would be rather surprising to see the Pirates DFA him without at least giving him a chance to serve as a 4th outfielder. He isn’t guaranteed a spot but I would count on him getting one. Bryan Morris is out of options and is a potential back of the bullpen reliever. If the Pirates were to DFA him there is little doubt some team would claim him. Due to the uncertainty of the final three bullpen spots and Morris’s upside it seems unlikely that he will not make the team.
Charlie Morton, Francisco Liriano
Not much to say here. Early reports seem to suggest that Morton will start the season on the 60 day DL and that Liriano will begin the season on the 15 day DL. When healthy Liriano will definitely be guarenteed a spo but I’m not sure I can make the same statement about Morton.
40 Man Roster Players Not Competing for a Spot
Phillip Irwin, Stolmy Pimentel, Tony Sanchez, Hunter Strickland
Fairly straightforward here. THe above 4 players are on the 40 man roster but don’t have the polish needed to help the major league roster right out of camp. The only one who may be ready to serve some sort of role is Sanchez but there are already two catchers locked in on the roster leaving him with no room.
NRIs Not Competing for a Spot
Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Erik Cordier, Ryan Reid, Lucas May, Carlos Paulino, Ali Solis, Jared Goedert, Anderson Hernandez, Darren Ford
Again fairly obvious here that none of the above players have a chance of making the major league roster out of Spring Training. Most of these players were added to be roster depth and will be playing most if not all of 2013 down in AAA. The rest are prospects the Pirates wanted to get a look at.
NRIs With Little Chance to Make the Team
Matt Hague, Brad Hawpe, Felix Pie, Kyle Waldrop, Mike Zagurski
The above players do not have zero chance of making the team but the odds of them doing so appear to be highly stacked against them . The Pirates have a lot of options for 1B/OF making it unlikely any NRI at one of those positions will stick and the two pitchers I listed above, Waldrop and Zagurski, appear to be pretty far down on the pecking order.
40 Man Roster Players With Little Chance to Make the Team
Clint Robinson, Chase d’Arnaud, Victor Black, Andrew Oliver
Once again the above 4 players all probably do have a chance to stick with the Pirates but that chance is very minimal and it is likely all of them will start the season off serving as depth in AAA.
All of this leaves me with 15 players competing for the final spots. Looking at the spots open we have 2 bench spots, 1 rotation spot, 1 bullpen spot and 1 other pitching spot (rotation or bullpen depending on where Karstens goes).
Bench Spots Competition
Josh Harrison, Alex Presley, Jerry Sands, Jordy Mercer, Ivan De Jesus, Brandon Inge
To me with Snider and Tabata taking the roles as the third and fourth outfielders it appears unlikely that Presley or Sands will stick given the Pirates preference to have two reserve middle infielders on the bench. For this reason I think the competition is really down to Harrison, Mercer, De Jesus and Inge for the final two spots. As of right now the favorites would have to be considered Harrison and Mercer due to the fact they are on the 40 man roster but the other two definitely have a fighting chance. The Pirates seem to have a fondness for Harrison so I would be very surprised to see him not make the team although I do believe it would be for the best if he did not. If we assume Harrison is on the team it becomes almost a necessity that the other bench player be capable of playing shortstop which leaves us with De Jesus and Mercer. As I said right now I have to lean towards Mercer.
Rotation Spot Competition
Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Jonathan Sanchez
I’m going to approach this assuming Karstens will begin the year in the rotation but that is not a given. Assuming this is the case these three players are competing for one spot. Due to his lack of experience in AAA and the fact the Pirates will probably opt to start the year with two lefties in the rotation I find it difficult to envision McPherson making the team. That leaves Locke and Sanchez competing for the final spot. Before knowing of Sanchez’s opt out clause I would have said the spot will definitely go to Locke but the fact the Pirates could lose Sanchez if he isn’t on the roster means that a strong spring showing will definitely force him into the conversation. Still as of right now I’ll give the slight edge to Locke
Bullpen Spots Competition
Chris Leroux, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, Duke Welker, Justin Wilson, Kris Johnson, Jonathan Sanchez
Leroux and Gomez are both out of options and on the 40 man roster which would ordinarily lead me to believe they are the favorites for the final 2 spots but I think the Pirates will end up carrying two left handers meaning one of them, at least will be out. Mazzaro seems to be a long shot given that he is an NRI and there is little separating him from Leroux and Gomez but he definitely has a chance. Welker is intriguing but he has some control problems that probably need to be worked out in AAA. I don’t see two of the lefties I listed making the bullpen so that leaves Leroux and Gomez competing for 1 spot. As of now I have to assume the Pirates see more in Leroux and that he will get the nod but that could easily change. As for the last spot I see Kris Johnson as a long shot in this competition. If Sanchez were to make the rotation I think Wilson takes the job but if Sanchez shows some promise and doesn’t get a rotation spot I feel the Pirates keep him as the second lefty. As of now I have Sanchez penciled in to that role but it could easily change.
C: Russell Martin
1B: Garrett Jones
2B: Neil Walker
3B: Pedro Alvarez
SS: Clint Barmes
LF: Starling Marte
CF: Andrew McCutchen
RF: Travis Snider
C: Michael McKenry
CI: Gaby Sanchez
MI: Jordy Mercer
OF: Jose Tabata
U: Josh Harrison
1: AJ Burnett
2: Wandy Rodriguez
3: James McDonald
4: Jeff Karstens
5: Jeff Locke
CL: Jason Grilli
SU: Mark Melancon
MR: Tony Watson
MR: Jared Hughes
MR: Bryan Morris
LR: Jonathan Sanchez
LR: Chris Leroux
C: Tony Sanchez
IF: Ivan De Jesus
IF: Brandon Inge
1B/OF: Jerry Sands
OF: Alex Presley
SP: Kyle McPherson
RP: Jeanmar Gomez
RP: Justin Wilson
* Next in line should an injury occur in spring training and/or top competitors for the opening jobs.
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.
I really don’t have anything new to add to this discussion but with the Liriano deal still being unofficial and now reports of a potential minor league deal surfacing I figured I needed to chime in and say something about this crazy situation. First let me just say can this offseason get any weirder for the Pirates. I mean think about their 5 big moves this offseason: signing Martin, resigning Grilli, non-tendered than resigning Karstens, (supposedly) signing Liriano and trading Hanrahan.
Originally it was reported that the Pirates offered him a 3 year deal but the general consensus seemed to be that the Yankees, who were known to want Martin back would eventually offer him a contract good enough to entice him to resign. It never happened and the Pirates managed to sign away a player from the Yankees who they had a definite interest in keeping. As most of you know I’m against that signing and right there is a big red flag for me but nonetheless that seems like it should be impossible to occur.
One day we heard he had narrowed his choices down to 4 teams and was supposed to sign that afternoon but the afternoon came and went and we heard nothing from Grilli. A while later it was reported that he had resigned with the Pirates but then that report was refuted by Grilli himself which only led to another report of him resigning with the Pirates to be reported just a few minutes after his denial of such a deal. The second report of his resigning was then retracted. All of this coupled with the high-profile of his agent, Gary Sheffield, and the very slow news day made Jason Grilli and his future new home a hot topic of baseball conversation, seriously it was. However the day came and went and nothing was heard until a few days later when we finally got official confirmation that the deal was done.
The decision to non-tender Karstens was a questionable one at the time and rightfully received a lot of criticism (from myself included). Dejan Kovacevic, a well-known Pittsburgh sports columnist, seemingly with some inside information even wrote that there was no way that this would be one of those situations where the player would resign at a lower rate and said Karstens was gone. This obviously seemed to point to a broken relationship between the club and the player. However Karstens had a very vague tweet about not believing everything you hear that might have been referring to Kovacevic’s statement or it might have been referring to the Pirates statement that they tried to work out a deal with him and also tried to trade him or it is possible his tweet was not connected to either case and was independent of all these events. Later when there was little interest in Karstens it was speculated the Pirates must have known something about his health and that was the reason they non-tendered him; this time Karstens directly challenged that statement saying something to the extent of come look for yourself my health is fine. All of this eventually led to him somehow resigning with the Pirates for not only less money than he would have gotten in arbitration but less money than he made in 2012.
The first reports to surface were that the Pirates were looking for a starting pitcher in return for Hanrahan. There was so much talk about a potential Capuano for Hanrahan swap that the deal seemed almost inevitable but alas of course it wasn’t. Then there was finally news of a deal being worked out with the Red Sox but no names were known and no one even to be entirely sure that Hanrahan was in the deal, although it was widely assumed he was. Later on it was confirmed that Hanrahan, Jerry Sands and Stolmy Pimentel were all part of the deal but that it wasn’t finalized yet and that more players were involved. This led to speculation that it might be Garrett Jones or even a notable Red Sox payer in the deal. Later that day we started to hear that Mark Melancon was probably going to be included in the deal but that each side was still going to give up another player. At this point the trade speculation stopped and nothing was heard about it for around a week. Things picked back up shortly after the Christmas holiday and the trade was shortly announced as official but there was no mention of the other two names, although Melancon was confirmed to be in the deal. Finally only a little after the deal was made official the names of the final two players came to light and their identities were underwhelming considering all the build up and speculation of just who they might be.
Now we get to what might be the most interesting case of all. It was reported in mid December that the Pirates had signed Liriano to a 2 year, 14 million dollar deal and that is was pending a physical. Not long after it was reported Liriano lost a little over a million dollars and the deal was said to be 2 year, 12.75 million. Nothing else was heard about the deal for a while; there was no official announcement or anything. Shortly after Christmas news came out that Liriano’s deal wasn’t finalized because with the holidays the Pirates were not able to get him in for a physical. Which ok that seems a little strange but it is at least reasonable. A week or so later we learn that Liriano had actually suffered a right arm injury that was preventing him from flying and that the deal was put on hold. The Pirates were said to be contacting other pitchers but they were also known to be staying in touch with Liriano. Come just about a week ago it was announced that the Pirates had once again agreed to a 2 year, 12.75 million dollar deal with Liriano but this time he was assuming risk in case he missed the start of the season due to his right arm injury. At this point we still had no idea what actually happened to his arm but the story continues. Over the course of the next couple days news about how he injured his arm, falling in the bathroom, comes out and we all get a good laugh out of it but still hope that this will only cause him to miss at most the month of April. However the story doesn’t stop there, the deal was never finalized and on Monday we heard reports the Pirates were in talks with Freddy Garcia who if Liriano signs wouldn’t have an obvious spot with the Pirates and on Tuesday we heard reports circulate that the deal could in fact be of the minor league variety. We still really don’t know what is going on with this situation and are not even certain if he will sign and even if he does we have no clue just how severe this injury is and what his recovery timetable would look like.
The Liriano story may be the Pirates strangest story of this offseason but it certainly isn’t there only one. Every significant move the Pirates have made this offseason seems to have at least some sort of drama surrounding it and while the moves themselves from a baseball standpoint have been mediocre the story lines behind them has made this a very compelling offseason. Best (or worst) of all is it isn’t over yet, the Liriano story lives on and who know if the Pirates have anything else up their sleeve.
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.
One aspect of the game the Pirates have struggled with a lot in past seasons is production, both offensively and defensively, from the bench. Pirates pinch hitters hit well below league average and with a team that isn’t exactly full of superstars this is a big problem as production is essentially needed from everyone. Well as we sit here more than two months away from opening day we have a good handle on 4 of the Pirates 5 bench spots.
McKenry will definitely start the year as the backup catcher and if he can replicate his performance from 2012 he will be a very good asset off the bench and should even allow the Pirates to rest Martin on a fairly regular basis.
As things stand right now Sanchez will likely platoon with Garrett Jones at 1B but since Jones will take up the lion’s share of the playing time he will usually be on the bench. At the very least he is a good right handed stick for the bench and he has the upside of returning to his 2010-11 form and returning to his average major league 1B form.
It appears as if Travis Snider is going to get first crack at starting in right field which means the out of options Jose Tabata will be relegated to the bench. It is possible Tabata will receive some playing time in the OF especially if the Pirates sit Snider against lefties but he appears likely to be the usual 4th outfielder. He has shown some decent OBP skills in the past and if he can refind his stolen base ability he could be an interesting option, otherwise he is probably just another averageish bench player.
Although the Pirates technically have Jordy Mercer and Ivan De Jesus who will be competing with Harrison I find it difficult to believe the Pirates will not keep Harrison in the majors. Harrison gives the Pirates a very flexible player who can play 2B, 3B, SS and even a little RF. He isn’t really a good hitter but he has shown some decent contact skills so he does have some value.
The last spot basically comes down to another middle infielder on the bench, which is how the Pirates usually go or another 1B/OF type who will give the Pirates a better bench offensively. Mercer and De Jesus are the top candidates should a 2nd middle infielder be carries and Sands and Presley appear to be the top candidates should another 1B/OF be carried.
There are pros and cons to carrying either one but I think considering how Ciriaco (2011) and Mercer (2012) were wasted on the bench the Pirates need to strongly considering carrying a better offensive option and of the two main candidates the left handed Alex Presley appears to be the best option as the 4 people I previously have mentioned are all right handed. Another option I think the Pirates should strongly consider is bringing in a middle infielder from free agency but with my preference for him to be a left handed batter the only two real options appear to be Adam Kennedy or Kelly Johnson. Johnson has gotten little interest in the free agent market and if the Pirates could convince him to come be part of the bench and an insurance policy for Walker’s back he could be the perfect addition to the Pirates bench. Johnson would need to be willing to try to be a little more versatile than just 2B as he would probably be asked to dust off his OF glove and maybe even take some reps at 3B. Kennedy on the other hand plays 1B, 2B and 3B and would be another decent add although his bat is a little weak. Johnson would provide some power for the bench and Kennedy would probably be not much more than an average left handed bench stick.
The Pirates recently avoided arbitration with Garrett Jones by signing him to a 1 year, 4.5 million dollar contract but yet there remains rumors and some debate about whether the Pirates should consider trading him. This is a situation that isn’t quite as clear as many think it is. There are two relatively vocal groups in the blogosphere one who thinks the Pirates need to capitalize on his peak value and trade him and another who believes he is too valuable to this Pirates team to be dealt. In truth the answer as it almost always does lies somewhere in between.
First lets start by getting an idea of what Jones is and what value he may have. Jones ic going to spend most of the 2013 season as a 32 year old meaning he is most likely past his baseball prime and probably on the downside of his career. We can’t say this with certainty though as Jones got a late start and could still in theory have something left in the tank but it seems reasonable to suggest that his 2012 is likely the best full season of baseball he is likely to produce in his major league career. Exactly how good was Jones career year though. Well FanGraphs recently named him one of the most average-ish position players in baseball for 2012 and he managed to produce a 1.9 WAR. He also continued to struggle against lefties something he is well known to have issues with. So what we have here is a guy who at his peak was an average MLB player. That may not sound all that good but average can’t be dismissed so easily, it can be difficult to find average or even slightly below average in baseball.
So what is Jones trade value. Well conventional wisdom says a player is worth about 5-6 million per WAR he produces. Jones is under control for 3 more seasons and while his WAR has been erratic the past 3 seasons (0.3, 1.0, 1.9) I think a nice sound prediction is somewhere between 1.2-1.5 WAR per season. Let’s split the difference and say Jones will be worth 4.0 WAR over the next 3 seasons. As far as his salary is concerned Jones is set to earn in 2013 exactly double what he did in 2012 which is what you would in theory expect from a Super 2 player. So base on that his salary should be 4.5, 6.75 and 9 million over the next 3 years respectively (or 20.25 million total). Chances are a 34 year old Jones in 2015 isn’t going to be worth 9 million dollars. So lets cut that year off and let’s be optimistic and call him a 3.0 WAR player over the next seasons and assume his salary will be 11.25 million. Taking 5.5 million per WAR that give Jones approximately 5.25 million in value. So in terms of prospects according to all the research I have seen that would make him worth roughly a Grade B hitter not in the top 100 or a C+/B- pitching prospect. For the Pirates that would be a Josh Bell or a Tyler Glasnow.
If the Pirates could truly get that kind of value for Jones he should in my opinion be moved but in reality we are probably shooting high. The price I put on Jones is probably similar to how the Pirates value him but most teams probably won’t value Jones that highly. Chances are they will see his excess value at something closer to 3 million. That would mean probably something like a C+ prospect with a little upside but less impact potential. The Pirates have a plethora of those in the system and for them Jones is more valuable than a guy like that. On the other hand the Pirates have replacement options for Jones who they probably at least have to consider giving playing time to in Snider, Sands, Tabata and Sanchez.
All of this information leaves the Pirates in an odd situation. The Pirates have a player who is reasonably priced for this season and probably next who has a relatively high value to them but not such a high value to outside clubs. However despite the disparity in value the Pirates have two incentives to trade Jones, one is that he an older non-essential player at peak value and two is that they have younger higher upside players ready to be given a chance. It is really a conflicting situation. If the Pirates are only receiving low ball offers there is no reason to move Jones right now and if they are receiving offers equal to the value he currently has to the Pirates there is no reason not to move him right now but if as is usually always the case the situation is somewhere in between the Pirates face quite a predicament. Another possible situation is what if the Pirates can get a major league player for Jones that can help them at a position of need such as SS or SP then would it make it sense for the Pirates to make a deal and in trust the position to the other alternatives? I say yes but I see the case on either side.
The bottom line is that in my opinion the Pirates should keep an open mind to Jones and trade him only under two sets of circumstances: 1) They get equivalent prospect value to him to what his value is as a Pirate (Grade B hitter, Grade C+/B- pitcher) or 2) THey get a major league piece that immediately improves SS or SP.